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Archive for August, 1996

Trade with India

An intense debate is going on within Pakistan, orchestrated mainly by government and trade circles about conferring the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India in reciprocation in the implementing of the new World Trade Organisation (WTO) Accord which has replaced GATT. Pakistan reached an Accord last December (1995) with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Trade Agreement (SAPTA) identifying 226 items for preferential treatment in import trade between the member countries. Customs notification giving India preference in 106 items and Pakistan in 35 items have been issued. Along with business colleagues throughout the country, the Federal Commerce Minister, Choudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, is campaigning for full scale trade with India, the commercial-minded see only pots of gold at the end of this rainbow in utter disregard of any other considerations.

Pakistan Steel is presently importing iron ore from Goa and the emergency import of 200000 MT sugar by TCP is likely to be repeated. The greatest advocate of a strong two-way trade with India is the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA) whose members look with some anticipation at the cheap machinery in place of the expensive machinery presently being obtained from western sources. It is believed that all the five committees sanctioned by the Government of Pakistan (GoP) to examine the opening of full scale trade with India have recommended an early resumption of such trade.

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Terrorism, law and order

Two very meaningful sayings must preface any dissertation on “Governance including countering of terrorism and other law and order problems to safeguard the country”, the first by Carl Jung, “the only thing we have to fear on the planet is man” and second, “who is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark or the man afraid of the light?” by Maurice Freehill.

The perception of terror was previously the domain of the unknown, of animals in the jungle, of spirits in the night. Today, at the fag end of the 20th century, advancement in science and technology has force-multiplied terror as a deliberate creation of man to psychologically overwhelm the focus of his adverse attention with fear. What to talk about individuals and communities, entire nations can now be held hostage to terror. Even more than drugs and nuclear proliferation, terrorism is the subject of major attention of civilized society. Leaders of the countries apprehensive of being the major targets of terrorism met after the assassination of Israeli PM Rabin in an extraordinary session, followed very recently by the security ministers of the same countries after the downing bombing of TWA Flight 800 out of JFK and the bomb at the Atlanta Olympics. Terrorism is a potent weapon for those who lack numbers, weaponry and money, the security environment in a host of countries is now braced with anticipation of terrorist strikes. High tech equipment is being rapidly outdated as sophisticated terrorists find ways to circumvent them. Increasingly terrorists are targeting soft targets, the forces of law and order are in disarray, finding themselves unable to cope with the variations in the threat perception, the level and the mode thereof.

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The gathering storm

Pakistan is today in a state of deep economic and political crisis, almost everybody who is anybody seems to accept this as a fact except the so-called “ruling troika”. Obviously they know something the rest of us do not. The demeanour and response of the President and the COAS to media questions displays either a blissful ignorance of realities on the ground or a deliberate effort to play down the issues motivated out of their own individual interests. What is worse is that they tend to first give bland answers to the media that are ambiguous in nature and then subsequently proceed to deny the perception that is taken by the public as to the real meaning behind their pronouncements. Putting it bluntly, they have been playing such with public emotions that a stage is coming where the veneer of character and integrity of these gentlemen is going to wear off sooner than later. After all there is a limit to giving them the benefit of doubt. As far as the Constitution is concerned, the indignities that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is being presently subjected to speaks volumes for the dubious respect that the present regime has for the dignity of this august office as enshrined in the Constitution.

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The De Beers make-believe

Nearly 50 years after Pakistan became an independent country, the diamond people have discovered we exist and seem to be coming to town in rather a big way. Having flouted a bevy of teasingly clad models wearing expensive diamonds and hip-hugging saris in front of a very select and wowing audience, De Beers is now seductively talking about “inexpensive” diamonds for the “average Pakistani pocket”. Since this South African diamond conglomerate is hardly a philanthropic institution and the sales promotion in Pakistan is being locally handled by an experienced advertising/PR firm that has obviously done its homework, they probably know something that we don’t. According to most analysts Pakistan is in a deep economic crisis, the average man in the street, the middle class and the moderately wealthy have all been hit hard in descending order of misery i.e. the most miserable are synonymous with the most poverty-stricken. Even the upper middle class and moderately wealthy (the upwardly mobile or “yuppies”) have food and utility bills rather than diamonds on their minds. So have the De Beers market analysis team gone bonkers in trying to penetrate such a rapidly disintegrating market or have they suddenly discovered a hitherto latent love for Pakistan that has aroused their philanthropic instincts? Given Pakistan’s strong parallel economy (may it last long!), rapid decline of the Pakistani Rupee against most international currencies, the growing enthusiasm of revenue officials with respect to ferreting out real estate acquisitions (and the official and/or unofficial tax thereof), the increasing lack of lustre among the “upwardly mobile” for gold as a hedging asset, etc diamonds may have acquired a new meaning for so many reasons, prime among them being as a status symbol in this very material world for the nouveau rich. Someone had the effrontery in this poverty stricken land to display diamond-studded jeans, it is believed that there was no dearth of buyers for this sickening monstrosity. Selling diamonds to suit the common pocket in Pakistan may not be a sick joke after all!

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Where Do We Go From Here?

The recent Federal Budget has increased the threshold of pain that the common man has to endure because of the misconceived policies that a “democratic” regime is implementing in horrendous fashion through an errant bureaucracy. Despite what Mr. VA Jafarey claims, and Mr. VA Jafarey has been making quite a number of claims to the contrary recently, the economy is in serious trouble. If it were not for our much vilified parallel economy, the same that everyone (and his/her IMF uncle) wants to document and cannot, we would be up the creek with only a begging bowl for a paddle. The Pakistani Rupee is sliding ominously against the US dollar and the country’s stock markets are barely kept afloat by frequent doses of massive public sector intervention. An economic disaster-in-the-making is not a startling revelation, not only does it cost the man in the street more to go on living, everyday drives him deeper into debt. The middle class cannot afford to die even, their hard-saved life insurance may not be worth the paper it is written on, given that the Ministry of Finance (MoF) has requisitioned almost all of State Life’s funds to create the instant liquidity Government of Pakistan (GoP) seems to acquire whenever an IMF deadline approaches. Creative accounting be damned, we have resorted to outright fudging to maintain the financial lie that all is “milk and honey” with respect to our economy.

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