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Archive for April, 1999

Significant Events

As much as one admired Ms Benazir Bhutto for many leadership qualities that escape lesser beings, in the matter of corruption she has been a major disappointment. As much as one thought that the BJP ultra-nationalism militated against Pakistan, one had to concede that they at least had coalesced a political mandate to effect meaningful changes in India’s policies. For the moment both are derailed, albeit probably temporarily, but the manner of their leaving may leave behind festering wounds that may never heal.

Ms Benazir Bhutto has led the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for over 20 years. She has effectively carried the baggage of the legacy of her father, late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had his own extreme moments, contributing significantly to the break-up of Pakistan in 1971 but then almost single-handedly consolidating the western wing as an independent entity. Giving the country a workable constitution in 1973, he emasculated it simultaneously by a number of amendments. His tinkering with the growth-oriented economy by nationalising everything in sight put us back two or three decades at a crucial time with respect to our place in the world economy. In short, he beggared us, put us in a hole that every successive government since then has put us deeper into. Maybe because of her youth, maybe because of her courage, certainly because she was educated and articulate and certainly because she had charisma, a number of us forgave her the sins of her father and looked at her as a national leader having international standing and instant name recognition. The crowning moment of her glory came when she came to Lahore in 1986. The accolades of the mass population were well deserved. Even when she went and married Asif Zardari, one gave her the benefit of the doubt. To almost anyone but Karachiites who knew him far better, Asif Zardari was a good match. The fact of the matter was that his family was in hock to the banks. A scion from a landed family fallen on hard times, one could forgive AZ his ham-handed attempts to play the rich dilettante, a playboy. Playboys have money, by the time he met up with Benazir, AZ (and his father) needed a golden goose badly to stay financially afloat. AZ wanted money alright, and tons of it, but to Benazir’s (and PPP’s) detriment he hankered after power more. After a few ham-handed attempts at petty extortion during Benazir’s first term, AZ came into his own post-1993 i.e. during her second term. As much as people say that he ran a government within a government, he actually ran the government and everyone and sundry paid homage and obeisance to him. These included politicians, industrialists, businessmen, bankers, generals and senior bureaucrats, etc, some of whom became “specialist advisors” in guiding him in milking the Pakistani cow. This was not an open secret, it was good public knowledge and anybody who denies this is a liar. Throughout this period, we gave Benazir the benefit of doubt. We were ready to believe anything but the obvious, we wanted to believe that she knew nothing of what was going on and even if she knew, she was not a willing party but was being emotionally blackmailed by her husband.

The SGS-Cotecna case has removed that doubt. However, the trial may have been conducted, whatever the antecedents of the judges and their credibility thereof, the evidence on record is damning. The fact remains Boomer Finance, an off-shore company, was owned directly/indirectly by AZ and Benazir was a recipient of funds from SGS through this conduit. No doubt she says the truth when she says the government of the day is victimizing her to remove her from politics. What is also true is that while she may fight on technical grounds, she is as guilty as her husband is, whether in all his “enterprises” one does not know but certainly SGS is a “smoking gun” she cannot escape. As PM Ms Benazir advises all those targeted by her regime to seek justice from a court of law, surely she will appeal but if the verdict goes against her in the Supreme Court (SC), will she abide by it?

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Joint Chiefs

One of the living beings I respect most in this world is Gen Sharif, the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC). Not only is he upright and correct he remains one of our finest military minds. For many of us Gen Sharif remains the role model of a professional soldier par excellence. Unfortunately, like MacArthur, he has chosen the adage, “old soldiers never die, they simply fade away”. Therefore, he mostly keeps his own counsel and does not find it professionally responsible to publicly comment on various issues. However, it is always a privilege to listen to his mature, considered views in private, particularly about Higher Defence Organisation (HDO), the concept of which he conceived and authored in the early 70s. In brief, Gen Sharif has always been a strong advocate of the necessity of a superior HQ to control the three Services, both in peacetime and during war. While agreeing with him about the imperatives, one begs to disagree with him on one vital issue, the question of who is to command the JCSC.

The PM has recently corrected two grave anomalies in the defence structure. First of all he has filled the post of the Chairman JCSC, albeit temporarily for a period of one year with acting Charge, and second and more important, he has opted for giving the charge to the Land Forces Commander, which is at it should be. Gen Sharif wanted the Chairman’s slot rotated among the three Services, primarily to give the smaller Services the feeling of a vested stake in a coordinated command echelon and to avoid the feeling of being a perennial minority. While the basic feeling of Gen Sharif on the issue to create goodwill by apportioning of the command hat in turn is commendable, regretfully it is not practical.

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Pakistan’s “Gold Coast”

If any other country in the world had the type of coast that Pakistan has, long stretches of virgin beaches with vast empty spaces hinterland, it would have been commercially exploited to the limit by now. But Pakistani planners being what they are, more akin to a mule with blinders, their focus has been more or less along the Indus Valley, with only lip-service attention to other areas. Whereas in the early days of the country it made sense, for a country with one seaport serving a population of 130 million (not counting the hundreds of millions in countries beyond) it is imperative to have alternatives. Furthermore domestic population congestion and economic factors because of the emerging markets of Central Asia require that a new sea-land dimension along a different axis be added for expansion or otherwise all facilities and opportunities are likely to be clogged and choked up.

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Haj-e-Akbar

Seven days before we left for Haj we had no way of knowing that the “call” (Bulawa) had come, my wife and I had not even thought about it this year when everything seemed to happen at once and suddenly we were Haj-bound. Haj on a Friday meant that it was a very special occasion, Haj-e-Akbar, this was confirmed when we landed in Jeddah. The same milling crowd that seems to misbehave at Karachi suddenly inculcated discipline. All Haj passengers are processed at the Haj terminal, allocated Moallims by computer and then led to buses for transportation to Mecca. The Pakistani staging point was well-marked by flags but none of the senior officials were present, a relatively junior official tried to be helpful as he could but he had very little to impart. Given the fact that the Haj terminal processes about 1.5 – 2.0 million intending Hajis in a 30-day period arriving from almost a hundred countries, the mechanics of shifting pilgrims from aircraft to buses was relatively efficient, however some people had been waiting for as much as 6-9 hours. Our group reached Mecca in about 3-4 hours. We spent the next 3-4 hours till 5:30 am being bounced around Mecca searching for a Moallim who could take us, finally being allocated Moallim No. 5 and all the wait and anxiety was more than worth it. We simply got the best that one could hope for. From the owner of the company downwards, they were simply magnificent, giving care and attention when all we had heard about were horror stories. They were firm but efficient and cheerful. One would like to talk about Aamer Amin Attas and all his staff but one must specially mention Ahmad Dahan here. No amount of praise can be enough for him, the man was simply magnificent and is a credit not only to his company but to his country, not the least because this good Muslim comes across as such a helpful, caring ambassador.

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