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Archive for May, 1995

Pre-budget Economic Review – Economic Fortress Pakistan – III

(This is the FINAL instalment in a series of THREE articles)

Unlike Deng Tsao Peng who put economic liberalisation in China far ahead of the gradual awakening of political freedom, Gorbachev was so eulogised (and pampered) by the western media that he went overboard and attempted Glasnost (openness) ahead of Perestroika (economic revolution) in the Soviet Union. An inefficient centralized economy under the strain of the extended Afghan War was pummelled by Gorbachev’s ill-planned denationalisation and disinvestment, raising the expectations of the masses beyond the capacity of the State to fulfil and resulting in economic disaster. By focussing on Gorbachev’s ego, the west succeeded in its aim of disintegration of the Soviet Union, winning a war “without bloodying swords” (Sun Tse Tsu) against one of the two communist Superpowers. The same was precipitated to short-circuit China’s process but failed because of China’s refusal to cow down before student pressure in Tianenamen Square on prime time TV. Germany and Japan had surrendered unconditionally to the western powers, fifty years later they have put the victors to the economic sword without fighting a single battle. Arguably Soviet Union’s economic fate was best depicted by former Warsaw Pact’s Russian Commanders selling arms and equipment in Eastern Europe in order to pay salaries to their soldiers. For those keenly interested in the direction national security is taking in Pakistan, this should serve as a horrible example.


Pre-budget Economic Review – Benazir’s Choice – II

(This is the SECOND in a series of THREE articles on the subject)

Statistical indicators clearly show the deep malaise in the economy with inflation, deficit spending, corruption, etc eating away like a bunch of rats at the vitals of our economy. With revenue collection falling way short of projected targets and non-development expenditure on the rise despite Government of Pakistan’s (GoP) best efforts, GoP’s budget makers have to accomplish a Houdini act to get out of this financial Gordian knot. About the only positive indicator for GoP at this time is the blizzard of MoUs that signal the PPP regime’s all-out resolve to get foreign investment into the country at any cost, even by “mortgaging the country’s economic assets” according to a recent statement of the Faisalabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FCCI). The MoUs notwithstanding, all other indicators point to a gradual slide to impending economic doom.


Flashpoint Kashmir

On the night of Wednesday May 10, 1995 when Eid was being celebrated in Pakistan (and Kashmir), Indian security forces surrounding the small group of Mujahideen encamped inside the holy shrine of Charar Sharif and attempted to expel the occupants by force of arms. Houses in the vicinity of the shrine had been set on fire a day or so before, eye-witnesses have testified that the fire which destroyed the shrine was a deliberate act of wanton arson on the part of the attacking troops to gain their objectives. Quick of the mark, Indian Internal Security Minister Rajesh Pilot, immediately put the blame “squarely” on Pakistan and threatened that India “would complete the unfinished business of taking over (Azad) Kashmir” or words to that effect. In an outstanding display of rank calumny, Indian High Commissioner in UK appeared live on BBC last Thursday morning and labelled Charar Sharif as a Hindu shrine that “Pakistanis had desecrated”. That statement set the tone of the blatant falsehood churned out by the Indian propaganda machine in a sustained attempt at “damage control”, it was not till Saturday when foreign correspondents reached the vicinity of the outrage that details of Indian perfidy were sifted by the world media.

Since Rajesh Pilot has explicitly threatened Pakistan with war (as no incursion in Azad Kashmir could be confined to that region), Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Sardar Assef Ali, was obliged to issue a denial about Pakistan’s supposed involvement in the incident. He also made it clear that Pakistan would defend itself if attacked. Consequently, alarm bells have started to go off all over the world as the threat of a possible “Fourth Round” between Pakistan and India a distinct possibility. India put its security forces on its borders in a state of high alert and Prime Minister Narasimha Rao has called an All Parties Conference at short notice in New Delhi on Sunday May 14, 1995. On her part Pakistan’s PM Ms Benazir Bhutto has strongly castigated India for the atrocity and called an emergency meeting of the Federal Cabinet the same evening to consider the situation and Pakistan’s options. In the face of accelerating escalation, the first steps leading to an all-out war between Pakistan and India seem to have been taken and as the long, hot summer gets into its stride tensions will increase till we cross a mutually recognizable fail-safe line. But we in Pakistan must seriously ask ourselves, is war the answer to the Kashmir solution or for that matter other simmering disputes between Pakistan and India? For many reasons that need to be analysed in some detail, it is in Pakistan’s interest not to go to war while it is in India’s interest to force the issue at this time.

The situation inside Indian-Held Kashmir is that despite overwhelming numbers, Indian security forces have not been able to stop the various Mujahideen groups from proliferating while the guerilla activity has increased in a manner that has stopped economic and routine activity in the Valley. Indians have tightened security all along the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir to avoid material help from Pakistan and they were given a surprise gift by the closure of the logistics route which the Sikh militants provided to the Kashmiri Mujahideen through Indian Punjab when PM Ms Benazir Bhutto “helped” Rajiv Gandhi (by her own admission) in the tackling of the Sikh question during her first tenure as PM. In the face of such sanitization, any movement that is not indigenous is bound to fail. There is no way that any outside force can sustain guerilla movement inside Indian-Held Kashmir for so long without the people of Kashmir themselves being inherently involved in the forefront of a freedom struggle. Given that this armed struggle has now attracted adverse international pressure for India, intense diplomatic activity has intensified to solve the Kashmir dispute. Above all, the Indian Armed Forces have been drawn into a debilitating struggle that is sapping morale and equipment. As an endless black hole for hard earned revenues, the Indians see their “economic miracle” in jeopardy if there is no end to the budgetary revenues being drawn into supporting a no-win situation. At the same time the Congress Party has seen its support from Indian Muslims, who were attracted by its secular nature, gradually erode and transferred to other parties as atrocities and miseries of Kashmiri Muslim have become common knowledge. This withdrawal of traditional support has led to Congress losing many State elections.

India may well feel that Pakistan is diplomatically isolated with only lukewarm support possible from its traditional allies Iran and China. With Saudi support emasculated because of US-Iran diplomatic confrontation, India would possibly believe that Pakistan would be hard put to depend upon outside help to counter overwhelming Indian numbers and sophisticated weaponry. With Pakistan’s economy in shambles and the Armed Forces bereft of induction of new equipment and spares for some time. India may surmise that Pakistan would be at its lowest ebb in successfully sustaining a war environment. This is further jeopardised by the unnecessary civil strife in Pakistan’s only port city of Karachi. Whereas our struggle in Afghanistan should have created favourable conditions that would have ensured Afghanistan’s help in any future war with India, a short-sighted policy has seen India reap the dividends of a war she opposed tooth and nail in the 80s as a dependable Soviet ally.

If the Indians (and those who would appease them) think that given all those conditions, the Pakistan Armed Forces and the Pakistani people are going to roll over and play dead, they are sadly mistaken. Over the past few years there has been a qualitative change for the better in the Armed Forces and there is no better occasion to display that quality except when defending one’s homeland. The calibre of generalship has also much improved relative to what we have once had, the best is concentrated in the middle levels, the Brigade Group being the most probable composite fighting unit in a war in the near future with India. Motivation is a tremendous asset and that will be on Pakistan’s side rather than the Indians who incidentally have to contain the Sikh separatists their own backyard in Indian Punjab along their Lines of Communications. Ultimately the Indians will also have to ask themselves that given what has happened over the years, will the loyalty of the Sikhs, who still form the backbone of the Indian fighting machine, hold? So take heart, those who could believe that we are a lost cause, there is hope yet!
Given all the aforegoing, it is in Pakistan’s interest not to go to war. We should not lose our patience at India’s flamboyant rhetoric which is desperate to increase the tensions. Sun Tze Tzu said, “if you wait by the river long enough, you will see the corpse of your enemy go floating by” and Patton gave the immortal “no man ever won a war by dying for his country, he only won a war by making the other man die for his country.” Whatever hardships the heroes inside Kashmir are facing will be much worse if we should be drawn into playing the Indian game. Invoking late PM Shastri (circa 1965), let us wait for “a time and place of our choosing”. Let us not fall into the trap of threatening nuclear retaliation, let us keep cool while the Indians fret. It is in India’s interest to stop its haemorrhaging, it is in Pakistan’s supreme interest to let the Indians bleed without going to war.

In the meantime, we cannot afford to put our guard down as India will certainly use this opportunity to try and Balkan-ize us, incidentally an interest that western nations (and Israel) who are apprehensive of our nuclear potential share. Indians may launch a limited incursion in Kashmir, possibly heliborne operations to try and cut off Pakistani forces in Azad Kashmir or launch an air strike against suspected nuclear facilities in mainland Pakistan. Already Neelum Valley has been more or less cut off by the Indians for regular supplies, with about 50-60,000 people affected but we have kept our patience. We rushed into war in 1948 and 1965 while being forced into a self-created no-win situation in 1971. This time lets keep our heads. This is the time to stand together behind the Government as a united nation, encouraging the PM to use her considerable diplomatic and personal charm to gain world sympathy and material support for Pakistan, especially from the only remaining Superpower, the US. In this crisis there can be no debate, we must stand solidly with the Government no matter to what political or religious shade one belongs. In the end, one can only advise our leaders to keep their cool and not to succumb to grave provocation, “we should not rush in, where even angels fear to tread”.


Pre-budget Economic Review – Economic (or Bubonic) Plague? – I

This is the FIRST in a series of THREE articles on Pakistan’s economy)

The Government of Pakistan (GoP) has boxed itself into a corner by its rhetoric about a supposed economic miracle which is far removed from the actual health of the economy and the portents of its future. A relatively moderate (but reasonable) performance by the present regime in the face of concentrated domestic and external economic adversity has come out in bad light because of unnecessary bombast. About expectations and targets set forth far beyond bureaucracy’s ability to accomplish, particularly because adequate documentation of the economy is lacking. Four areas must be studied to obtain a comprehensive overall economic review, viz. (1) Growth, GDP and Production (2) Public Finance (3) Relations with IMF and lastly but most important (4) Inflation and Prices.


Direct Vote and Democracy

The basis of democracy is that every individual has occasion to exercise his or her vote freely to choose individuals for a particular seat or post. This vote is not transferable and cannot be exercised by proxy. Given the basic concept of adult franchise, any indirect vote is bound to be controversial, particularly since it transfers the basic individual right of choice of electors of one constituency to another individual who then takes a solitary decision on behalf of others which may not be really representative. In third world countries where individuals are invariably more susceptible to the influences of power, money etc than in western countries, there is always the possibility that for various considerations the indirect vote may be cast against the actual aspirations of the basic unit of a democracy, the individual citizen. Therefore, it inculcates an element of corruption at its very inception. Moreover, it circumvents the process of a candidate’s accountability before the masses that is one of the basic premises of democracy.

The Federal structure in Pakistan is composed of the directly elected National Assembly and an indirectly elected Upper House called the Senate. Albeit peopled by some very fine men and women for the most part, the indirect elections to the Senate (each Province has equal number of seats with a number reserved for technocrats, etc) offers an opportunity for chicanery inasmuch as the Electoral College is composed of the members of the respective Provincial Assemblies (with Punjab having the maximum of 240 electors for 20 Senate seats i.e 12 electors can vote into office a Senator while at the other end of the scale Balochistan’s 45 electors vote also for 20 Senate seats, i.e. only 2 votes to get a Senator elected). While the Senate is supposedly a higher body than the National Assembly (NA), this lop-sided indirect elections to fill its seats contradicts its higher status, undercutting the basic principle of exercise of adult franchise to fill all electable slots in a democracy. It gives an inordinate advantage to those with money and/or influence to become members of the Upper House. Conceivably those who have made their money illegally and do not want to go through the exhaustive “accountability before the masses” process of a full fledged election campaign, can avoid the elections to the Provincial (PA) or National Assemblies (NA) and “purchase” the small number of necessary voters to get elected to the Senate by either giving “donations” to individual legislators or to the political party whose support they want. One should not forget that this concept of indirect vote was firmly rejected by the Pakistani populace in the form of Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s 80,000 Basic Democrats who formed an Electoral College to elect (Provincial and National) legislators, etc as well as the President. The Opposition to this concept stemmed from the fact that the masses were effectively disenfranchised by the indirect method and that the smaller number of elections could be influenced to cast their vote in particular manner by various means, some of them coercive in nature. The same principle must apply to the Senate, being a higher body than the National Assembly, it’s claim to legality can only be borne out if its members are directly elected by the populace. To give continuity to the democratic process, direct elections to the Senate, where members’ terms should only be of four years, can be held during the mid-term stage of the NA (and PA) elections (whose terms must also be shortened from five to four years as per Ms Benazir’s pre-election promise).