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Archive for January, 1996

Privatise, but Carefully!

Pakistan’s golden economic years were the 60s. While there were aberrations, e.g the disproportionate distribution of wealth among only a handful, they were nowhere as serious as those confronting the nation today. A mixed economy with benevolent central direction was a model for the other emerging economies of Asia. Today we will be lucky if we can regain any semblance of the momentum lost to us over the past three decades. By the early 70s, despite the fact that it had become quite apparent that the concept of socialist economy was a dismal failure and many of those countries that had followed the romantic notion of socialism under the leadership of charismatic leaders were already re-thinking their economic strategy, we started to head pell-mell in that direction. The first major breakaway from the pure socialist model was the Peoples’ Republic of China, which under Deng Tsao Peng started to gradually brake and reverse the socialist Soviet model and by the early 1980s was well on the road to a mixed economy. In retrospect it seems they followed Chinese cousin Lee Kwan Yew’s Singapore model of the late 60s/early 70s on a far bigger scale. The far smaller Island-State provided the blueprint for opening the economy to free enterprise with public utilities under State control, at places in partnership with the private sector. The leaders of both Singapore and China were careful to keep the opening up of the economy ahead of the loosening of controls over freedom lest the public’s aspirations overcome achievement. In the early 80s Thatcherism was born when Margaret Thatcher established her policies on the dual Chinese experience (Singapore and China), to quote “when you copy from one person it is called plagiarism, when you copy from many it is called “research”.

The father’s penchant for sweeping nationalism has only been transcended by the daughter’s for complete privatisation, an orgy of extremes and excess, both at the wrong time. Late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at least had his own vision, neither Ms Benazir’s vision or her objectives seem to be her own. Bhutto went about dismantling Ayub’s economic legacy with wholesale vengeance but this paled in comparison to the bureaucratic excess during Zia’s Martial Law that followed. Given a veritable treasure package to handle, bereft of political control and with the military men-in-charge having no sense of economics, bureaucracy went berserk in personifying the worst of Soviet-model control in industry, ushering in inefficiency, pilferage, corruption, etc in so rabid a manner that despite free-wheeling movement towards free enterprise over the past 5-6 years we cannot stop our economic slide downwards. One saving grace of the Soviet model was that those corrupt or profligate with the public money or property faced firing squads, has any of our corrupt managers in the 1977-1985 period faced any punishment?


Re-engaging the Economy

The year 1995 has been a hard year for Pakistan. On the receiving end for most of it, the bad news in cricket and hockey has only been exceeded by the economy turning from bad to worse. While we pulled back a few winners in spite of the best efforts of the ruling regime in the last few days of the year, things are grim. Our investment in Afghanistan has become a major foreign policy disaster and we may have lost our special relationship with Iran in the process. Despite spectacular success in dealing urban terrorism crippling blows in Karachi, the lack of serious political initiatives has alienated the core of Mohajirs from the national mainstream. While she remains a great political fighter, the PM stands alone in her manhood among the shambles of an inept, inefficient and corrupt administration. Surrounded by atrocious advisors who overwhelm the few dedicated ones around her by doses of outrageous flattery and public displays of adulation, the Head of Government has only shown flashes of the brilliance she is capable of, and that too when her own survival is threatened. From time to time, she has come perilously close to going off the deep end, particularly because of histrionic displays at some public meetings. She has compounded her own problems by not carrying out a ruthless purge of her economic team, choosing loyalty to some rather questionable bureaucratic ability in super-session to the vital economic interests of the nation.


Sectarian wars

At about midday in Karachi on our 48th Independence Day, two activists of SSP were killed and 13 wounded in an exchange of fire with law enforcement agencies. The LEAs suffered first at the hands of the SSP, taking three casualties, including one ASI badly wounded, before returning automatic fire directed from Masjid-i-Siddiq Akbar (one gunman was in the minaret with an AK-47) where about 600 SSP supporters had taken “refuge”. Before the LEAs could fully cordon off the mosque, most of the gunmen slipped away but even then six firearms including one AK-47 (Kalashnikov) were recovered from the possession of those in the mosque. In trying to get at the gunman holed up in the minaret, two policemen entered the mosque with their boots on. On Aug 15, 1994, an emotional Maulana Azam Tariq, MNA of the SSP displayed blood-stained clothes of his supporters in the National Assembly and gave a 48-hour ultimatum for action against the officials of the LEAs who had committed “sacrilege” by “desecrating” the mosque. As a respected Muslim elder, one would expect that Maulana Azam Tariq should have, in the same breath, condemned those of his supporters who initiated the process of sacrilege by taking arms into the mosque in the first place and using this place of worship as a fortress to rain bullets on their opponents and the members of the LEAs, equally indiscriminately.


The Sabres of Paradise

Early in the morning of Monday Jan 15, 1996, Russian forces surrounding Chechen rebels holding hostages in the village of Pervomaiskaya on the borders of Chechnya and Dagestan, opened a general assault. The infantry/armour charge was preceded by an artillery barrage and rocket-firing by helicopter gunships. On the TV screens one could hear the thump/crump of shells and mortars, one could make out scurrying Russian personnel in the snow. The desolate landscape was lit with a slow burning fire and smoke swirled from a number of huts. Outnumbered almost 100 to 1, outgunned many times more than that, cut off from all supplies and support, the outcome cannot be in doubt. Probably by the time this goes into print, the Chechens would have gone down in a hail of fire. Not many will remain to surrender alive, then again not much quarter is likely to be given by the Russians. Given the Chechen history of resistance over hundreds of years, the failure of the Russians despite overwhelming force to overcome them quickly was also never in doubt.

The confrontation had started a few days ago when a Chechen raiding party of about 100-150 persons led by Salman Rudayev, the son-in-law of Chechen leader General Dudayev, stormed a hospital in Dagestan, taking over 2,000 hostages, emulating an earlier successful raid led by Shamyl Basayev across the Chechen border in mid-1995. This time, having drawn them away from the hospital with a number of false promises, the Russians encircled the convoy away from the Chechen border in the village of Pervomaiskaya in Dagestan. With the Chechens determined to get to freedom or die in the attempt, killing the hostages if need be, and the Russians equally determined not to allow the Chechens to escape, the situation had to come to a head. Since most of the hostages were Dagestani and not Russians, it made it easier for the Russians to gamble their lives in an attempt to overcome the Chechens. The end result has been a predictable massacre of Chechens, Dagestani hostages and Russian troops. To quote BBC, “the Russians have solved their moral dilemma by maintaining that the punishment of terrorists is more important than human lives,” unquote. Since almost all the hostages were Dagestani and Muslim, this must have helped their decision-making process.


Changing of the guard

As the COAS Pakistan Army, Gen Waheed has borne a heavy burden for the past three years. In contrast to the “Coronation” of the past the simple ceremony on Thursday Jan 11, 1996 signifying changeover will be in keeping with the austere professional bent of both the retiring COAS and the appointee. Every time the old guard gives way to a new watch, besides the buck stopping firmly at the desk of the new incumbent there is anticipation and opportunity. In the case of the new COAS, expectations may have been raised beyond possible consummation. A world of opportunities have opened up to shape the Army according to a vision Gen Jahangir Karamat must have nurtured from the day he entered the portals of the Military Academy. There is general anticipation that the new COAS will firmly take up the challenge of opportunities and not become straitjacketed into the routine of day-to-day management.

Into the final stretch of his retirement in early 1992, Gen Waheed was thrust into an awesome responsibility on the untimely death of Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua. Before he could get his own team in place he had to rely on that of the late COAS. Unfortunately for Pakistan, this lot had their own collective particular “agenda”, the problem was that Asif Nawaz’s demise let loose their own individual demons of ambition. The irony of fate is that all of them lost out. This was a very sensitive period politically and the honourable, patriotic Gen Waheed came off worst in the political controversy that he was manipulated into despite his own best intentions. Having been stung by the political fallout for which he was ill-prepared as an upright soldier, he retreated into a professional shell while the politicians who benefited by default proceeded to take good advantage of his studied non-interference. However in concentrating on the Army and Army alone, Gen Waheed in his very dogged way did the one thing that had been missing for over a decade in the Army, merit in supersession to any other consideration became the only qualifier for further advancement. In three successive Annual Selection Boards, those who deserved promotion to higher rank were promoted and influence-peddling/favouritism that had become the touchstone for advancement since 1977 came to a dead-stop. Normally 70% of those to be promoted get their next rank based on their merit, it is the balance 30% where manipulations, personal preferences, etc occur, i.e. those who should be promoted are not and those who are not deserving, are. By insisting on merit for advancement alone, Gen Waheed has gone a long way in changing the officer demography of the Army, setting precedents for the beneficiaries of his policies. The chief beneficiary of the merit factor is the new COAS, Gen Jahangir Karamat. By a process of selection and weeding out, Gen Waheed has left his successor and to the Army a professionally competent hierarchy, leaving aside one or two aberrations, one slated for retirement on April 15, 1996 (just over three months away). Nothing became Gen Waheed more than his insistence on retirement on his given date rather than accept the temptation of extension. In departing with such grace, this straight-forward soldier has set a healthy precedent. Given that new COAS comes to his post on the basis of merit, he owes nothing to anybody except to the Army and the country. One may well ask, why has Gen Jahangir Karamat’s appointment been received with such acclaim within and outside the Army?


1996 – The year ahead – Challenges before the Nation

The past year has been exceedingly tough for Pakistan. Some notable indicators did surface about the end of 1995 that point to a better 1996 if the trend continues. Perhaps the best news for the country is that the President has become the Head of State of all Pakistanis, not the rubberstamp of a single political party. The knowledge that their actions may be subject to check and verification will certainly make the elected government perform better. There remain certain questions of vital national importance in supersession to many others in which the President must intercede on behalf of the nation, among them (1) the basic anomaly of corruption that is wrecking the economy (2) the Sindh Urban problem and (3) the regional geo-political situation.