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Archive for November, 1998

High Noon in Sindh

In dismissing the petition before the Supreme Court against Governor’s Rule in Sindh, Chief Justice Ajmal Mian articulated the wishes of the masses if not of all the intelligentsia in stating, “everybody wants peace in Karachi and the interest of the country and its citizens is of paramount importance instead of a particular individual or party”, unquote. During the course of the hearing, the Chief Justice repeatedly observed that the Supreme Court had already upheld the government’s move of proclaiming Emergency as a consequence of which the Federal Government could invoke any clause of provision of the Constitution under which the Emergency had been imposed.

For the past 10 years Karachi has gone steadily downhill in all senses of the word. Living under the shadow of the gun of different mafias with varying vested interest, one could excuse the MQM’s initial need for a militant wing. Gaining power by the ballot was impossible without having the cover of weapons to get to the ballot box. The gun soon became an addiction, an aphrodisiac as well as a means of enforcing one’s will for what is politely known as “Bhatta”, collecting “protection money”. On joining government, the first split within the Party was natural, the broad mass separating from the hard-core militants, most of the whom went and made the “Haqiqi” faction, nurtured and funded by the ISI, starting an internecine war that has outlasted two Benazir regimes and is well into the second Mian Nawaz Sharif regime. When Ms Benazir as PM, wanted the Army to come in under Article 147 of the Constitution and deal with her allies now-turned foes, the MQM, the lack of adequate powers led the then COAS, Gen Aslam Beg, to decline politely since he did not want the Army to be engaged in “chasing shadows”. During his first tenure Mian Nawaz Sharif also fell out with his MQM allies and “Operation Clean-Up” was launched in 1992 on a massive scale but again without the powers requested by the then COAS, Gen Asif Nawaz. While a lot of terrorists were caught, almost all walked free because prosecution witnesses were intimidated and the Courts lacked the will to convict them. Operation Clean-up, which promised much was left in confusion and frustration with Field Intelligence Teams (FITs) running amok and giving a bad name to the Army. Affected by paralysing strikes and complete shutdown of economic and social activity, the second Benazir regime handed matters over in 1995 to Gen Babar the then Federal Interior Minister.

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The reaches of merit

The Punjab Chief Minister, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, never ceases to surprise everybody. From time to time he pulls a rabbit out of a hat that goes a long way to show that while democracy may not be well in Pakistan, at least the concept is alive. In the final analysis, democracy is about institution building and accountability thereof. Despite rumours of an early demise, given the right environment for the parameters of democratic norms, the reaches of merit can be sustained.

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Balancing the Costs

When the Indians went public with their series of nuclear blasts in May 1998, we were already in serious economic straits. This is an enduring legacy of many past governments but more recently a gift of the Bhutto-Zardari combine that ruled over us from 1993 to 1996, the Mian Nawaz Sharif regime has since been fighting a losing battle. The Indian nuclear blasts presented us with an opportunity to come out of the nuclear closet but it was quite clear that the western powers would make us pay an economic price for the luxury of exploding the bomb. Even then, we could have perhaps survived on the strength of repatriation of salaries from Pakistanis abroad but the foreign exchange freeze of May 28 simply blew us apart. In one surgical strike on ourselves we stopped the in-flow of foreign exchange and destroyed our financial credibility for the future almost irretrievably. Take for example, the innovative US Dollar Bond Scheme recently unveiled by the PM, very lucrative but few takers. Not that the in-flow from Pakistani expatriate earnings has been eliminated altogether, it continues on the basis of “Hundi” but that credit is not counted officially in the exchequer’s data, remaining a part of the parallel economy. That the country has not come apart economically is very much because we are kept afloat by the unofficial sector.

Having shot ourselves in the foot with respect to one of the major props of our foreign exchange reserves, economic sanctions imposed on us by the US and other developed nations affected us in varying degree. Thanks to Indian belligerency after their own nuclear explosions, this proforma application by the US and others did not have much enthusiasm. However, if it had not been for China to start with, and then Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait providing critical “bridge-financing” funds, we would have been bankrupt and in default, in fact we are already almost at the end of the grace period. At the same time IMF, bent on extracting its own pound of flesh, set conditions guaranteed to make the common man come out in the streets in violent protest. Such harsh terms would be unacceptable to any self-respecting government in Pakistan, caught in an economic vice, between the devil and the deep sea, we had few choices but to opt either for seeming confrontation or roll over and play dead. One may or may not agree with either Mian Nawaz Sharif or Ms Benazir, as different from each other as chalk from cheese, on any number of counts but they have one feature in common admirable in any leader, both not only have plenty of courage but on vital issues can stand their ground even to the perils of the seats — and their lives. It is only when they take up confrontation on extraneous issues less than a matter of life and death that one questions their judgement. On the core issue of routine IMF conditionalities like raising electricity tariffs, etc Mian Nawaz Sharif took the route of populism, lowering the tariffs by as much as 30%, positioning himself as a champion of the masses. This reduction was also meant to serve as a factor to stimulate the economy by lowering the price of production across the board. That premise fell apart at the altar of the greed of our industrial bosses who have not responded in kind, opting for profit-taking rather than passing on the benefit to the consumer.

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Governor’s Rule in Sindh Reaping the Whirlwind

Liaquat Jatoi was an unmitigated disaster as Chief Minister not only for the Province and PML(N) but also for the country. Stepping in as an acceptable compromise to keep Ghous Ali Shah’s grubby hands from the Chief Minister’s slot in Sindh, Liaquat Jatoi ruled over a fractious coalition. Assisted by two brothers, Salik Nazir and Shahid Nazir from the bureaucracy (known locally as the brothers Nazirov), Jatoi governed on the “Zardari” premise that all was fair game in the Province and his partners were deserving of sharing in the loot and booty. As the party that got the maximum seats in Sindh in 1973 elections, PPP could not muster enough strength to form a majority and a weak coalition came into being in which every faction functioned on the principle that every man was for himself in utter negation of duty and responsibility not only to the Province and the country but also to their own conscience. If Liaquat Jatoi was not being periodically blackmailed by Pir Pagaro’s Functional Group then there was a dissident group within the PML legislators who kept him running for cover to Islamabad. The only people he was comfortable with were the solid phalanx of MQM legislators who looked to their sole leader in London for advice in the obtaining of their pound of flesh and some, deriving maximum advantage from Jatoi’s misrule. Karachi is always a big economic cake where a lot of foreign-aided projects are on order. A triangular relationship developed between Liaquat Jatoi, MQM and the Brothers Nazirov to ensure that most of the projects went to companies of British origin. Investigation revealed that the scam started from the pre-qualification stage. By ensuring that major international companies stayed out of the bidding, one can always stack the deck and easily manipulate projects in favour of one’s favourites. As in Asif Zardari’s reign, huge contracts were directed towards the British or those aligned with them. This seemed to suit everybody and a constant stream of visitors became not-so-accidental tourists between Karachi, London (and back). Logistically it suited everybody, where MQM leader Altaf Hussain was living in comfortable self-exile and most of the British companies were headquartered there. With MQM all powerful in the Sindh Government, Chief Minister Liaquat Jatoi was content to remaining only as a puppet on a string. The Federal Government well knew all this but in order to sustain their provincial government in power they had to look the other way at the excesses being perpetuated by their coalition partners. As such they ignored all the clear indications about the Government, being in power in name only. The Kalabagh Dam issue set off alarm bells in the PML(N) hierarchy, particularly when Liaquat Jatoi came out in true colours to show that he marched to a different beat than that of the party.

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