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Archive for May, 1998

The China Factor

In its enthusiasm to justify reasons for exploding the nuclear bomb, India has been openly accusing China of undermining its security by “passing on nuclear secrets and material” to Pakistan. The pattern of China-baiting was earlier established by the Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes who declared China as India’s “enemy number one” soon after he assumed office, he repeated this ad nauseam during the first-ever visit of a senior Chinese defence official, the Chief of General Staff, thereby (not so diplomatically) embarrassing not only a guest but his Indian military hosts. China immediately rebuked Fernandes in no uncertain terms and then took the Indians to task for using China as a whipping-boy to try and divert attention from its nuclear explosion. The Indians went on further, they trotted out the Dalai Lama, supposedly an apostle of peace, to justify Indian’s exploding of the nuclear device. This got an immediate reaction from China, they called the Dalai Lama a “hypocrite” for supporting an Indian bomb even while preaching peace and non-violence. Rhetoric aside, one is astounded by the BJP’s stupidity in annoying a sensitive and self-respecting nation like China thus. For a people that prides itself in “face”, the Chinese have received quite a lot of unnecessary “egg” from the Indians. It has been a long haul since 1962 when immersed in the arrogance of power after “conquering” Portuguese Goa, Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru, urged on by his Defence Minister, Krishna Menon, tasked his favourite armchair strategist and tactician rolled into one Lt Gen TN Kaul, to “expel” the Chinese. “Jawans swing into action” screamed Indian newspapers as the Indian Army went on the offensive in North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and Ladakh. Emboldened by the withdrawals made by the Chinese patrols in the face of Indian forays, the Indian Army further penetrated Chinese territory, only to be routed within days by the Chinese who virtually threw them out of all of the territories in question. In a typical practice of duplicity and falsehood, the Indians claim that it was the Chinese who “attacked” them. Anxious to separate India from its links with the Soviet Bloc, US airlifted (and later shipped) thousands and thousands of tons of arms and equipment. To no avail, India sided with the Soviet Union on issues 99% of the time, at least till the Soviet empire crumbled. China had recently to rebut another Indian Minister who aired the outright lie that Chinese were the aggressors. In 1962, the Chinese had declared a unilateral ceasefire and then proceeded to give back all the territories they had occupied as well as the vast defence material that had fallen in their hands, both in good condition.

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Ganga almost revisited

As if Pakistan did not have enough troubles already, three hijackers tried to take PK-554, on a flight from Gwadar to Karachi in the afternoon of Sunday May 24, 1998, to New Delhi. No words of praise are enough for the cockpit crew of PIA’s Fokker who used their presence of mind to make a landing at Hyderabad, faking it to be an airfield in Rajasthan. Thereafter a combination of civil and military officials kept the bluff up till the hijackers were locked into a situation where they were overpowered and disarmed. Again our security personnel deserve high praise for their swift and surgical operation that resulted in injuries (resulting in his death later) to only one hijacker, all the passengers and crew remained unhurt. One of the rescuers, an Army Major, was injured but from available reports not too badly. Chief Secretary Sindh Zubair Kidwai showed the true mettle of an honest, dedicated civil servant very much conscious of his responsibilities. By leading from the front he provided that special factor of leadership that is otherwise in short supply in Pakistan.

The authorities are yet to unravel all the secrets from the disturbed minds of the two survivors from the three who attempted the hijacking. It could be an isolated incident of summer madness but it is more probable that it was a calculated move to embarrass Pakistan and they were simply puppets on a string being manipulated by civil masters with malafide designs on Pakistan. Visions of “Ganga” in 1971 were revived. Their antecedents, motives, connections, etc need to be obtained in a hurry and the Marquess of Queensbury rules need not be applied to such terrorists who put the lives of innocents including women and children in danger. Failure to obtain information swiftly and concisely will add to the intelligence and security failures that allows such events to take place. However, it must be said that terrorists are sometimes dedicated persons who will always manage to get through any obstacles, human or electronic.

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Fail-safe limits of dynamic restraint

For two weeks now, Pakistan has been patiently evaluating the response of the world to the series of nuclear blasts by the Indians, it is now a confirmed fact that it has been mostly an exercise in futility. Except for economic sanctions by USA, Japan and a handful of other concerned nations, lip-service condemnations with negligible physical economic effect has been the order of the day. Countries like UK and France, whom one would expect would have been more activist, have been almost apologetic in their admonitions. Russia, as should be expected, has been almost laudatory, even offering to sell to India a nuclear arsenal. In the United States long time Indian friends like Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Stephen Solarz have come out openly advocating India’s stance. Only China has been steadfast, the OIC has issued a very belated and weak, toned down statement of solidarity. As expected our hereditary friends Saudi Arabia and UAE have responded with moral support as have some other countries in the region. Meantime, everyone and sundry among the western powers and Japan have been sending carrot and stick messages, damned if you explode, maybe a basketful of goodies if you don’t. World pressure on Pakistan to exercise restraint is enormous, on the domestic scene enormous pressure to detonate is mounting.

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Keeping one’s cool

Advertisement is basically propaganda, the science of converting the feelings of a targeted entity towards a particular belief. At this point of time we are being subjected as a nation — and a religion, to sophisticated and adverse propaganda, literally inviting reaction. The western media is being fed with an irrational viewpoint that the wave of Islamic resurgence for the past decade is the modern version of the Muslim on horseback holding the world at ransom with his scimitar. Whereas in the western world it is considered fashionable to search and identify with one’s roots (a la Haley or for that matter, Dukakis), one’s fundamentals so to say, this same penchant is looked on with deep suspicion whenever Islam is involved. An intricate smear campaign has been particularly mounted against our Armed Forces as an institution, both internally and externally, with certain voluble and immature neophytes in political circles being used as puppets on a string by those vested interests who would rather do without a strong and credible Pakistan Army. Our major political leaders of all shades have however shown great maturity by not indulging in similar muck-raking. Some blatant misconceptions are already being floated around externally, the modern sword toted in Pakistan’s hand being depicted as a nuclear bomb. As propaganda goes, these canards must rank as the most successful of efforts at misinformation ever planted universally into the educated human psyche, the picture of Muslims as a modern day terrorists, capable of demolishing the world with their suspected cache of nuclear weapons. Sadly, we may have contributed unwittingly to these preposterous suggestions by our on-going search for the fundamental basis in our religion. This has not been helped by our share of kooks holding forth from time to time. As the Iran-Iraq war winds down to a ceasefire, the ending in a stalemate of this horrific entanglement only brings to focus the unreasoning basis for continuing fighting for over eight years, exposing our religion to western contempt – and universal suspicion, other than the awesome human and material damage inflicted on each other.

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Democracy Needs an Opposition

Without check and balance, even a democracy can become a dictatorship. For too long, we have had total rule unfettered by an opposition strong enough to effectively counter the totalitarian urges of the rulers, elected and unelected. The result has been that those who are mandated by the people to enforce the rule of law have invariably become the major violators of law in the land. Other than an extremely faulty system of democracy that enjoins “the first past the post” system rather than an actual majority of the votes cast, thereby giving a minority a rule over a majority, the practice in South Asia is to centre “democracy” around personalities, with only lip-service given to ideology and constitutional mores. The result has been voter apathy as more and more people are frustrated in the democratic process, with progress denied to the masses and confined to a privileged few or those whom they choose to associate with them.

In Pakistan the present Opposition lacks credibility. As much as Ms Benazir may try and charm foreign audiences to deny her corrupt governance, this is now a documented fact of life. She and her husband can invent any number of technicalities to escape the process of law, there is a pretty open and shut evidence against their corruption on scores of counts. What is amazing is that despite her known indiscretions, she continues to be blatant about her denials. This leads to a more serious charge, of brazen faced misrepresentation of the truth on a daily basis — and this is the stuff of leadership she has provided to the people of Pakistani! And she does not stop at that, having subjected the people of Pakistan to economic misery to accumulate illegal wealth, she is actively engaged in activity that is detrimental to the interests of Pakistan. And she is not alone, party workers mesmerised by her charisma one can understand but mature party leaders who privately acknowledge her and her husband’s corruption should only have contempt for her instead of publicly defending her. These include party colleagues as well as the smattering of allied leaders like Nawabzada Nasrullah, Hamid Nasir Chattha, etc, etc, who are guilty of abetment, having turned a glazed eye to the Zardari shenanigans. They have put the person (and their own selfish interests) before the national interest and any person who does that does not deserve to be called a leader. Leaders must have credibility and in the face of facts all those who are still supporting Ms Benazir lack the moral responsibility they owe to the people they profess to lead. That leaves only erstwhile ally ANP in the opposition and while one may disagree with them on any number of counts, the fact remains that they are at least credible and not prone to tell outright lies repeatedly as some of their colleagues in the Parliamentary Opposition do. The MQM, which despite being in the government, oppose their colleagues on most counts, has also lost its credibility over the years. A once-fine movement, founded on the rightful need to give the Mohajir community a rightful say under the sun, has now degenerated into corruption. When a leader is away in self-exile far away as is Altaf Hussain it is difficult to control the party’s militant cohorts who have made collection of “protection money” or “Bhatta” into a fine art, or for that matter their white-collar leaders who have mastered the art of siphoning off big money in Karachi’s mega-projects. As such their once-vaunted simplicity and credibility have been rather shot as they have descended into “business as usual”.

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The Perils of PIA

Given the once-vaunted reputation of PIA, very few analysts are now either objective or positive about the airline’s performance. An airline is supposed to take passengers and cargo from one location to another, in safety, comfort and on time. As a corporate entity it is also supposed to earn profits and for the most part, PIA performs reasonably well on both counts. Then why is it that PIA gets a lot of flak from travelling passengers, mostly Pakistani nationals since it is increasingly clear that foreigners prefer alternatives and unless it is a package, say for the Maldives or for connections to Bangkok or Dhaka, they take PIA as an airline of least preference, even when journeying to Pakistan?

As an illustration of the point, one would like to relate events of Thursday April 30, 1998 when I took PK-314 from Karachi to Lahore at 06:00 am on my way to Islamabad after a few hours stay at Lahore. When I reached Lahore Airport at 2:30 pm to embark upon PK-303 at 3:30 pm I was told that the flight had been delayed till 5:55 pm because the aircraft had left Lahore late for Bahawalpur at 12:00 noon. Since I had time at my hands I decided this was as good an opportunity to test the system, so I requested the concerned traffic staff to put me on any earlier flight. There was no other flight in-between except Aero-Asia and their flight at 5 pm had been cancelled. However PIA had PK-728, an international flight, landing at Lahore and continuing onto Islamabad at 4:50 pm. It was quite possible to accommodate the 30 passengers on that flight. It could be done I was told, if the District Manager could speak to the Station Manager, who in turn would get permission from the Customs and Immigration. So with some difficulty I got through to Mr Arif Khan, the District Manager, who at least spoke to me, though his tone suggested that anything lower than the PM and the Punjab CM was far below his status or attention level. In any case he did speak to the Station Manager, Mr Azeem Zafar, who in turn cheerfully told me that it was entirely his fault and that I should blame him since he could have acted earlier and didn’t. Now the Customs and Immigration authorities were not available as it was past their office hours. For good measure I rang up the Director Marketing PIA, Mr Haider Jalal, in Karachi but couldn’t get through to him, first because he was on a long overseas call and then had to sit in on a Promotion Board. When I explained to his staff the urgency of the matter, they conveniently passed the buck. I was put through to the Passenger Sales Manager Mr. Abid Jaffery, who told me, again quite cheerfully that I was wasting his and my time, that Mr Arif Khan in Lahore was the man to contact. During all this time, the attitude of the PIA ground staff at Lahore was excellent, they were courteous and hospitable to all the passengers. I was personally in no real hurry but there were passengers who were thus discomfited at the delay and the inability of PIA to improvise even when a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) should have been in place. This was a singular case of lack of decision-making. Both the District Manager and the Station Manager should have been concerned about the delay but it was quite obvious they were not pushed. There must be a system within PIA that caters for such delays but quite obviously it was not functioning and the decision-makers on the spot were not pushed. Could it have happened to another airline? Maybe, but in the circumstances, the lack of decision-making is endemic to PIA and as it goes higher up the management ranks, it gets worse. For the record, it is still far better than what it was a couple of years ago where all major decisions emanated from the former PM’s very decisive spouse and/or his hand-picked minions in PIA, mostly for personal profit or rank nepotism.

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Craven or Rainbow Hearts? Chasing Shadows, Losing Gold

At the Industry Collection Exhibition, supported by world renowned NM Rothschild & Sons Ltd in association with the World Gold Council and the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA), being held from Feb 9 to May 14, 1998 at the Bank of England Museum in London, Dubai-based Pakistani-origin ARY Traders are displaying ARY Rainbow Hearts gold pendants and ARY gold bars. The Sydney 2000 Olympic Coin Programme, a Joint Venture (JV) between the Royal Australian Mint and the Perth Mint, have appointed ARY Traders as the official distributor of their programme in the UAE. In defence of ARY, which had been named by the Ehtesab Cell, led by Senator Saifur Rahman, of alleged wrongdoings relating to his getting the sole rights to import gold into Pakistan, Mr Rolf Schnebeli, Chief Executive, Middle East & India, World Gold Council said, “ARY is a well-reputed company in Dubai with a long-standing presence in the UAE and during my time I have had very positive experience (of them). I have no reason to doubt ARY’s statement (which had rejected GoP’s alleged charges and challenged them to prove any wrongdoing).

On Mar 14, 1998, in a Reference filed before the Ehtesab Bench of the Lahore High Court against (1) Asif Zardari (2) Brig (Retd) Aslam Hayat Qureshi (3) Salman Faruqui (4) Jawed Talat (5) 4 Directors of ARY Traders led by Haji Abdul Razzak and (6) Jans Schlegelmilch, the aforementioned were charged with causing a loss to the public exchequer of approximately Rs.1820 million, and having committed offence of corruption and for corrupt practices within the meaning of Section 3 read with Section 4(2) of the Ehtesab Act, 1997. In a complaint filed with the Dubai Police on July 12, 1997 MCB had accused Hussain Lawai, former President MCB of committing fraud by transferring US$ 10 million in two instalments of US$ 5 million each on Oct 5, 1994 and Feb 23, 1995 via American Express to the directors of ARY in Dubai for “services rendered”

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