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Archive for October, 1998

Voodoo Policies or Noora Kushti? – Searching Questions. Ambiguous Answers

With the postponement of the visit of the IMF Mission to Pakistan, for all intents and purposes the economic battle lines seem to have been drawn with Pakistan heading pell mell into default. Already being labelled as an international basket case, it seems we have no choice but to unilaterally declare a debt moratorium. Within the grace period of a series of small defaults, we seem to be resorting to populist rhetoric to provide answers to the many questions that have arisen to bedevil this country. Because of the looming recession worldwide, temporarily arrested by lowering of interest rates by the US, Pakistan does not figure prominently on international economic radar screens, others being more vital to western interests. A recent article in TIME magazine clearly documented changing western perceptions vis-a-vis the continued integrity of a country once acknowledged as the cornerstone of US policy in the region, to its present outcast status as opposed to the interests of India. On a whole range of issues, political, social and economic, Pakistan is under severe pressure. Unfortunately instead of addressing the issues, Mian Nawaz Sharif seems to be adopting a confrontationist course, this is a deliberate policy that could well be a smokescreen. Is all this for real or are we the witnesses to an elaborate “sting” operation? There is growing suspicion (and uneasiness) that an agreement of sorts may have been reached with IMF on the basis of a secret commitment on CTBT, that all this bluster is meant to mobilise domestic public opinion. Whatever, this head-on policy has worsened investor’s last remaining confidence in Pakistan’s economy, they have been pulling out of blue-chip stocks even, leaving Pakistan teetering on the brink of economic catastrophe. Could this also be a ploy for raking in short-term profits? Maybe we are reading too much into conspiracy theories.

Eighteen months into his rule, the PM has thankfully discovered Karachi, the linch-pin of economic activity in Pakistan. The worsening law and order situation has actively contributed to economic apocalypse and general depression among the intelligentsia and the elite of the city. When the PM very rightly supported a suggestion by prominent concerned citizens for Metropolitan Police in Karachi, the bureaucracy promptly tried to shoot it down point-by-point. In a Catch-22 situation, how can they afford to give up power that ensures systematic chaos and confusion, that in turn allows them to rule the roost in the name of law and order without any check and balance? Not surprising, while the whole exercise is still a zero sum game, it has given a PR photo-opportunity to the PM to “show his concern for the people of Karachi”. The Rs.24 billion economic package will certainly be of indirect benefit to Karachiites in the sense of easing the transportation/communication problems for the benefit of those up-country but what Karachi needs is direct government investment in creating more jobs, both in the public and private sectors in the fields of education, health, transportation, electricity, water, sewerage, gas, roads and other community-oriented socio-economic infrastructure. What Karachi badly needs is local self-government. For such an elaborate scheme to be successful one needs not only political will and the money to back that will but also an honesty of purpose and dedicated approach. Unfortunately we are sadly bereft of these attributes. So unless we can come up with a miracle, the immediate and long-term prognosis is bad for the country. With contempt we noted when Kissinger labelled Bangladesh an international basket case, in the space of one day (May 28) we have gone into two different directions, we became a nuclear power, sort of, and simultaneously commenced our journey down the road to economic ruin.


Power Play

This week saw the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) plummet by record levels because of the HUBCO crisis, the Government of Pakistan (GoP) having filed various criminal charges against the management. Subsequently GoP went ahead and cancelled the power contracts of HUBCO and Kot Adu Power Company (KAPCO), with National Power Company of UK playing a prominent role in the management of both. The ongoing negotiations with IMF may be affected, foreign direct investment may be a long-term casualty. A great majority of professionals, particularly in the financial field are decrying the heavy-handed tactics of GoP, led in this case by Senator Saifur Rahman of the Ehtesab Bureau (EB). Their contention is that the tough tactics mechanism of using FIA and police will deter foreigners from any financial commitment to Pakistan. On the other hand GoP seems to have done its homework in being confident about applying the stick rather heavily, HUBCO seems to have been a roller-coaster profit ride based on amendments contrary to the spirit and content of the original contract. These additional clauses gave them windfall profits, allowing HUBCO’s sponsors to recover their entire equity in less than a year’s time, a “miraculous achievement” even in terms of capitalism gone crazy. That certainly must arouse suspicion if not outright doubt as to the integrity of the entire process.


Raiwind, we have a problem!

Those who have been privileged to have been taught by the former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) Gen (Retd) Jahangir Karamat in the Command and Staff College, Quetta, know him to be an eloquent speaker. However, he is also a very reserved person, not given either to small talk or levity. He chooses his remarks with care. In an address to the Naval War College on Oct 4, 1998, he (in his own words) “did not mince words” when describing the situation Pakistan is now placed in, particularly with respect to the internal situation and the decision-making process that has led us pell-mell into dire straits. Within 48 hours thereafter, after a couple of meetings with the PM, Gen Karamat “resigned”, three months preparatory to his retirement on Jan 7, 1999 and was succeeded by the third-in-line in seniority, Lt Gen Pervez Musharraf Comd 1 Corps. Musharraf superseded two course mates from 29 PMA Lt Gens Ali Kuli Khan, CGS and Khalid Nawaz, QMG. Even in normal circumstances superseding of these two illustrious general officers, given that nothing much separates the three on merit, would have raised eyebrows, the circumstances here borders on the abnormal. In the real-life movie “Apollo-13”, when the US spaceship develops a series of problems that turns critical, the spaceship commander very laconically informs his base in Houston, Texas “Houston, we have a problem!” Since everyone knows that all decision-making emanates from the patriarch of the Sharif family, it is only right that all Pakistanis collectively turn to the Sharif Homebase, “Raiwind, we have a problem!”


Life after CTBT

As widely expected, in his address to the UN General Assembly the PM held out that Pakistan was not averse to signing the CTBT before the mandate runs out next September, provided that US-led sanctions that had caused suspension of the IMF programme and other aid programmes were lifted. Before the PM’s visit to New York a well-orchestrated media campaign to support the government’s stance leasing towards CTBT-signing culminated with a claim by prominent national nuclear scientists, led by Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, that with the series of tests of Chagai there was no need for further tests for weaponisation (and subsequent deployment) of nuclear warheads. Given that till very recently, acknowledged members of the nuclear club like France and China, had risked world approbation to carry out tests far beyond their actual physical deployment of nuclear weapons in various mode, this claim borders on the miraculous, but then we live in the age of miracles, mostly contrived, in this day and age.

Whether Pakistan carried out secret tests in the 80s is not known but the fact is that controlled laboratory environment can simulate actual conditions and a crude nuclear weapon programme is possible to be developed without necessarily going through actual physical tests. One cannot know for sure till an actual explosion whether theory has been safely converted into practice and since friend and foe were actually questioning our capability (for their own reasons India had resorted to hooting at our “claimed”capability after their May 11 explosion), the Chagai series was useful to put that doubt to rest.