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Archive for April, 1995

The Majority Vote

Over 30 million French voters went to the polls in the first round of Presidential elections to decide their preference in a full slate of 9 candidates. In a major upset that stunned political pundits, Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin secured nearly 7 million votes (or 23.24% of the votes cast) to come out first in the pack while the favourite Jacques Chirac, a Gaullist, was grateful to scrape through to the second round with about 6.2 million votes (20.64%). Chirac was just ahead of his former friend, fellow Gaullist and handpicked PM Edouard Balladur, who had deserted his mentor in a bid for the Presidency but fell just short by 600,000 votes, getting only about 5.6 million votes (or about 18.54%). Not to be denied his place under the French sun Jean Marie Le Pen, the Far Right candidate, secured 15.15% of the vote, translated into 4.6 million votes, slightly above par than his previous performances. Next came Communist Robert Hue with 2.6 million votes (3.72%), then Trotskyist Arlette Laguiller with 1.6 million votes (5.34%) followed by Nationalist Phillipe de Villiers (1.4 million votes 4.78%) and Ecologist Dominique Voynet with 3.33% of the vote representing 1 million votes. At the very tail was the Extreme Right candidate Jacques Cheminade with 83,472 votes (about 0.27%).

Since none of the candidates got an outright majority (50%), a second run-off election will be held on May 7, 1995 between the Socialist Party Candidate Lionel Jospin and “Rally for the Republic (RPR) Party” Candidate, Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac. Contrary to pollsters’ speculation a few months ago that pitted Conservatives Chirac and Balladur against each other, the early front runner French PM Balladur self-destructed in the final weeks to make it a straight Left-Right contest. On the surface, the Right (Chirac, Balladur, Le Pen, Villiers and Cheminade) picked up about 18 million votes (60%) to 12 million votes of the Left (Jospin, Hiz, Laguiller, Voynet), about 40%. However, this is rather a simplistic calculation as not all the voters of the Right will vote for Chirac or for that matter Jospin will not automatically sweep up all the votes on the Left. A fair estimate is that a vast majority of each side may still favour their ideological inclination (and a fair amount may stay at home) but most voters react to individual candidates in preference to their political leanings. The inaccurate French Polls had shown Chirac getting nearly 27% of the vote or about 8 million votes, he fell short by a massive 1.8 million votes, nearly 25% less than predicated by pollsters. On the other hand Jospin did better than expected by about 1.6 million votes and Balladur was short of the projections by about a million votes. These represent very wide margins of error and expert analyst are of the opinion that Chirac almost got clobbered because of (1) voter apathy inasfar that they expected him to win anyway and stayed at home (2) the Right-Right split of the Gaullist vote and (3) desperate Socialist attempt to keep their candidate Jospin alive by concentrating the left vote. At the same time Le Pen, who had no chance anyway, profited from his rabid rhetoric against immigrants, the symbolic backlash maintaining his performance of the past. The Extreme Left (in Hue, Laguiller and Voynet) got a better than expected 5 million votes (about 17%).


Ms Benazir’s American Odyssey

There is no doubt that Ms Benazir’s US visit from which she returns today after completing a 10-day journey, has been a media triumph for her personally. The Prime Minister happens to be one of the more charismatic leaders of the world, having more name recognition and goodwill than any other leader of Pakistan, past and present. This has been extremely well exploited to the advantage of her person and in extension this country. If she stands as the Asia candidate for the UN Secretary General’s job, God help those who stand against her candidacy. All this has resulted in a not-so subtle pressure on her US hosts to recognize that Pakistan has a case for favoured treatment in contrast to the doghouse-status we have been consigned to. Even making others recognize a reality is some achievement.

Nothing is more becoming to Ms Benazir Bhutto than aggression and defiance, that has always been her finest moment. She has used it within the parameters of diplomatic nuances to good benefit for the country with both the US Establishment and Congress. She had the President of the US very visibly on the defensive in accepting that a fair standard was not maintained in the business of our paid-for arms and equipment (in the pipeline) that had been virtually confiscated. In a manner of speaking, she ticked off her hosts in the Thatcher-style, calling a spade a spade, maintaining viz. (1) new equipment or our money back (2) trade not aid and (3) no deal on nuclear non-proliferation unless tied with commensurate treatment to India. For good measure she brought Kashmir into international focus making India truly squirm with discomfort. Since Americans like nothing better than an underdog and are hyper-sensitive about fair-play, things went down well in Peoria, Illinois. With a better understanding of our vital necessities and reminded about our cold war role culminating in the turning of Afghanistan into Soviet Union’s Vietnam, it is to be expected that US will search some way to assuage our feelings of hurt and abandonment, one hopes by some material help rather than symbolic rhetoric only.


Back Home All is Not Well

Even her detractors do not attempt to deny that Ms Benazir is a charismatic figure tailor-made to exploit the best out of the western media. Given a gift of the rhetoric, Pakistan’s PM is also a forceful advocate of Pakistani causes when she puts her mind to it. As a well educated, intelligent leader of international acclaim, it was always an even bet that she would vow her hosts in the US. What goodies she comes back with will make a considerable impact on her fortunes at home which are dependant upon a more cynical lot who tend to be impressed more by the birds in hand (F-16s) rather than promises in the bush.

Ms Benazir’s festering problem is Karachi, Pakistan’s major and only port city. While every shade of public opinion recognizes that it is imperative to restore democracy at the grassroots level, she was recently quoted in an interview to NEWSWEEK as dismissing the Local Bodies election option in Karachi for 2 or 3 years. While she may be right in speaking about the prevailing conditions in the city as an obstacle of sorts, the fact remains that any solution requires democracy as a pre-requisite. The leadership vacuum at the street level has become too dangerous to ignore. Unfortunately since her electoral base is in rural Sindh, the PPP is heavily dependant upon the quota system to safeguard the interests of its prized constituents, that is directly in confrontation to the merit factor which is the main component of the urban-based MQM platform. While the ideological divide is such that though a temporary marriage of convenience is possible, Rudyard Kipling’s “the twain shall never meet” adequately describes the possibility of an MQM-PPP rapprochement. However one lives in hope and given the Mandela-De Klerk meeting of the minds in South Africa and the Arafat-Rabin patch-up of sorts in the Middle East, it is quite possible that our leaders will take into account the devastation that will continue to happen if an agreement of sorts is not hammered out soon. The problem for the PPP is that while MQM is central to Karachi’s quagmire, the PPP is as much incidental to the city’s present and future as the PML, as such the option is very much available to the MQM to choose either. While practically it may make sense to the MQM to come to a compromise with the rural majority, given historical connotations their preference would be the PML. We thus have an eternal triangle of sorts with no one prepared to come to terms by giving some leeway.


Geo-political spectrum The importance of reliable allies

We are a people of extremes, if we do not like somebody, we truly hate him, on the other hand we cannot find fault with those whom we like, objectivity is for the birds. George Washington, in his farewell address, cautioned the US of A against “making inveterate enemies or inveterate foes” in its policies towards nations. Today’s evolving world situation shows that 200 years later, this remains true. In the civilized world (or should one say, the organised world), there is a fine line defining the difference between friend and foe, on an individual basis on the social circuit one can never find out because almost everyone hates everyone, some because of jealousy and peevishness, some through sheer churlishness, most because of some reason, a minority because they simply love to hate. As a nation, Pakistan invariably gets a short end of the stick from friend and foe alike, barring off-course true friends like China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and despite our unforgivable lapses, Iran. One reason for our bad media attention has been continued antipathy towards Israel because of our sympathies for the Palestinian cause, Yasser Arafat has recently been indicating his feelings for our sensitivities regarding Kashmir by accepting the Nehru award from India, the actual ceremony happening even as a dozen or so Kashmiris were being felled by Indian bullets.

We are now gripped in the vortex of a major crisis, one which has not been of our making, Kashmir. The genuine home-grown revolt has set the Kashmir valley aflame, we find ourselves drawn deeper into the possibility of an unwanted armed conflict with India. With Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Prime Minister of India, flouting his manhood by sustained sabre rattling, we are increasingly seeing the escalation bearing towards a relevance to war. Prudence demands that we must resist any inclination to initiate hostilities, unfortunately the Indian PM has boxed himself into such a corner by his bellicose accusations against Pakistan that it will take a much greater man than him to resist the pressure of Indian public opinion (1) fed with the glories of the omnipotence of the Indian Armed Forces (2) getting increasingly frustrated with VP Singh for not “teaching” Pakistan a lesson. The Indian leadership has become a victim of its own great lie, with the situation within Kashmir made worse by Indian brutality, we may be forced into giving truth to that lie by cross-frontier help.


The defence industry

As the war of words with India escalates into the real thing, we must take a hard look at our defence industry. While nothing that we do today will affect the course of the present situation, our aim should be beyond the immediate future. Over the last two decades the concept of defence production has undergone a sea change, once upon a time everything that mattered was lumped under the public sector, the private sector has only recently been invited to play any role. That is at it should be, except for honourable exceptions the public sector is notoriously inefficient, the cost benefit to be derived from profit-saving is more than offset by overheads galore. Not to say that all the big bucks have been spent by the public sector, in the non-lethal area of military industrial activity, the private sector has been very much a fact of life, most of our Quartermaster stores and supplies comes from the private sector. In the context of overall defence spending, a major share has been taken by engineering services, almost all construction activity being handled by the private sector, one daresays that public sector enterprises like the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) responsible for the development of the Silk Route, the Karakoram Highway Project (KKH), acted in part like the public/private role of the US Corps of Engineers.

Spending on defence can be a substantial drag on the economy or a shot in the arm, depending upon the level of indigenous production as opposed to imports. During the Vietnam years, the US economy had an unprecedented boom, revived during the modernisation drive of the Reagan era. Between Vietnam and Reagan’s military revival, American economy remained in the doldrums. At this time, despite our efforts, the ratio of Pakistan’s dependence on foreign manufactured items to domestic production is not at all favourable, we have, therefore, a severe strain on the economy as a result, a negative flow from Pakistan to foreign manufacturers. This is compounded by other structural imbalances that affect our normal economic growth. Lip-service palliatives are resorted to for the benefit of the gullible intelligentsia and our (more than gullible) masses from time to time. Has anyone come forward with a comprehensive plan to energize the defence industry in such a manner that reduces our total dependence on foreign imports? This is despite the fact that the size of our armed forces is enough to generate a favourable economy of scale by the sheer volume of numbers required to be produced. Buy-back schemes have still not been implemented despite good faith, the vested interest of “Agents commission” is too powerful a money-force to be surmounted.


Triumph of merit

Lt Gen Jehangir Karamat, the Chief of General Staff (CGS) Pakistan Army, has been designated as the new COAS by the President, being promoted to the rank of General immediately but to take over as COAS on the retirement of General Abdul Waheed on January 12, 1996. This has set to rest months of speculation about this critical appointment.

Much has been said about the desired attributes of a likely COAS. Since Gen Jehangir Karamat is the first COAS who has made it to the top slot on merit and no other consideration, for once the interests of the country got priority over other extraneous factors. There is a wider dimension to this appointment, the President has come of age. One can well understand the pressures that must have been put on him on behalf of vested interest, in the end Farooq Leghari has confirmed what we had belatedly come to realize, he is now beyond Party considerations and has opted to take on the national mantle of being President of all the people’s of Pakistan.


Threat to Pakistan’s security

Pakistan resembles an aircraft carrier in the sea of vast Asia, a bridge between the Near and Middle East. Our foreign policy stance arouses exasperation among Superpowers who recognize that Pakistan is ideally placed geo-politically as a springboard for interdiction in the region. As the only nation other than Israel owing its raison d’etre for existence to ideology, Pakistan has itself become a fertile ground for interference. As a stumbling block to the Indian Grand Design for regional hegemony, this nation is the rock on which Indian dreams have been frustrated. As the front line nation of the free world against Soviet incursion in Afghanistan in the 80s, we are now witness to a total turnaround within one year in esteem we enjoyed in the free world and are now subject to vilification on any number of issues, whether it be suspected nuclear activity, as a conduit for drugs smuggling and as the natural home for BCCI, the most vilified financial institution in history.


Red herring

Whenever there is a forest fire the usual modus operandi to control the main conflagration is to start small backfires. Scandals that affect vested interest are no different, the Ungodly will invariably pick out something that may not be central to the case but which would be sensational enough to excite the public interest almost to the exclusion of everything else. This is an old time-tested diversionary ploy to cloud over the main issues. The hottest scandal in the country today is Mehran-gate, the charmed life and financial liberties of Yunus Habib. Everyday that goes by sees some new startling disclosures, some facts are being selectively leaked to the media, others are being obtained by journalistic resourcefulness. While information remains sketchy about the entire spectrum of Mehran’s misdemeanours, a gradual mosaic of white collar crime seems to be taking shape. In keeping with his normal penchant to throw around the names of the influential and the mighty, Yunus Habib has sought to frighten his former patrons into supporting him to escape justice. The “Rs.14 crore Gen Beg donation” seems to be in this mould, being used as a bait to lure an impatient media, straining at the bit to satisfy the appetite of the masses for sensation, down a garden path away from real findings. Yunus Habib seems to have succeeded to an extent, however, a closer look will reveal that the Rs.14 giveaway crore is too pat, it can be too easily explained away. While they will always draw a certain amount of flak, red herrings must be credible to be effective.


A Star-Spangled visit

Even when the US of A was one of the two major Superpowers, a visit to Washington was always considered a much more important event than to Moscow. Symbolically London remains a priority place for Pakistanis and even for a State visit ranks above Moscow which gives way in importance to Beijing and Paris. For us Riyadh, Tehran and Ankara are equally important ports of call along with Beijing. Almost every ruler in this world vies for a time slot in the White House, the incumbent having to diplomatically fend off the not-so-accidental State tourists as best as he can to accommodate friend and foe alike hear the strains of the American national anthem “The Star Spangled Banner”. The theme of the welcome speeches of successive US Presidents for some time is invariably the same, viz. (1) US holds the country of the visiting Head of State Government as a crucial ally and/or friend (the usual “front line State against communism” phrase having become redundant (2) US admires the visiting individual himself or herself in high esteem for the individual’s struggle for democracy or as a “front-line State” against drugs, terrorism, etc and (3) the US admires the free market policies of the visiting ruler and will support this by continued economic investment through the private sector. On the crest of her charm offensive, the words of adulation that Ms Bhutto will receive from President Clinton in the White House will essentially be a variation of the same. There is neither disparagement nor exhilaration at the process, this is standard operating procedure.