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Archive for May, 1999

The year after

The nuclear explosions by India at Pokhran in the Rajasthan desert in May 1998 plunged Pakistan into a “damned if you will, damned if you don’t” crisis. As a knee-jerk reaction, a tit-for-tat blast was a non-starter but the venom flowing out of the BJP leadership governing India was startling, if not altogether shocking, the Indians clearly annunciating their intention to rub our noses in the dirt. And they did not let up even when the entire world rebuked them, they pushed us into a corner and unless we reacted we would not have been left with any options as a deterrent or have a credible defence left. In a perverse way one must be thankful to the Indians, they let us come out of the nuclear closet without facing the retribution we would have if we did not have a cast iron “casus belli”.

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Saying no to drugs

In 1997 a source report went the rounds of various intelligence agencies before coming to the desk at Karachi of the Regional Director, Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) Sindh. An informer claimed that a very large shipment of heroin was to be smuggled out of Pakistan through Karachi. The informer’s report was not being taken seriously by the other agencies but Brig Mukhtar Ahmad, newly appointed as Head of ANF in Sindh, and his deputy Lt Col Javed Aslam, thought it prudent to get in touch with the informer. After verification they raided a flat in an Apartment Building near Clifton. From a flat occupied by a young married couple the ANF recovered 580 kgs of heroin, stacked behind a revolving closet. This was easily one of the largest seizures ever, having a street value (in the US and Europe) of between US$ 240-250 million. The resulting interrogation/investigation led to a number of senior drug figures being hauled up, among them many relatives and associates of Farooq Memon, confidante of many senior politicians and bureaucrats. Farooq Memon himself escaped; many others are on the run. Because of this big bust, an entire network was decimated and drug smuggling out of Pakistan put back many years.

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Freedom or licence?

All good, functioning democracies need a strong media, in the face of almost obsessive state control over the electronic media, print takes on a special monitoring role in the Third World. It remains almost the only restraint to absolute power, an instrument of accountability in an environment that tends increasingly to be authoritarian in the absence of the checks and balances that any healthy democracy envisages. Over the past two weeks, events in the country affecting press freedom have created an uproar. Some known editor journalists have been arrested, some have been harassed. In the process objectivity has become a casualty. An official media campaign has been aggressive in its bid to cow down opposition in the press, the government has also been boorish in defending the action of its marauding minions. While the press of any country takes freedom of expression to be its God-given right, the functionaries of government (as in all governments eventually) take it as licence. The same standards that applied when the elected people now in government were in opposition do not seem to be applicable anymore, “inoperative” in American parlance. Without going into specifics there is room for debate, one that can generate a consensus on what constitutes freedom and what constitutes licence.

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Mixed Signals on the Economy

For sheer optimism, turn to Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. And why not? When he took over as the nation’s account manager, the foreign exchange kitty was bare and IMF was on a fang baring relationship with Pakistan, mainly because of the nuclear blast but also because of the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) issue and the fact that Islamabad was failing on collecting revenues as well as controlling expenditures. More important there was foot dragging on the institutional reforms IMF desired. Reading correctly the vibes emanating from the White House (courtesy of old IMF and Washington hand State Bank Governor Mohammad Yaqub), troubleshooter Ishaq Dar counselled the PM to hang tough and sack the negotiating team consisting of Advisor Finance (Hafiz Pasha?) and Secretary Finance Moeen Afzal. He then took over the Ministry of Finance in addition to his own duties and lo and behold, the White House’s arm-twisting of the IMF resulted in the long-delayed package for Pakistan being agreed to and the first tranche released. Once the logjam broke, money flooded in and the result saw a strengthening of the Pakistani Rupee on the open market. Nothing succeeds like success and Ishaq Dar has been on a roll since negotiating the minefields with aplomb and confidence, sometimes getting carried away in his use of gender to describe achievement. To his credit he not only explained but also apologised quickly to put the incident behind him, even though his detractors are trying best to keep it alive in order to embarrass him.

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Intellectual morality

The saga of Marcoses and Jayalalitha earlier and now Benazir Bhutto, confirms the fact that no matter what the corrupt of this Earth do, if they are charismatic enough a die-hard bunch of followers will remain faithful to them, come what may. Even when they know that their beloved leader is a crook, they will not leave them. Given their political nuisance value, these leaders have to be handled with care or they may benefit from a sympathetic backlash that could well sweep them back into power. Without a qualm of conscience, those in uniform or without will salute them again, citing “constitutional” necessities. As much as those presently in power would like to gain maximum political mileage from their legal discomfiture, their propaganda has to guard against over-kill, particularly in low literacy areas like Pakistan where perception has far greater weightage than reality with a rather naive general public. Public memory is notoriously short and economic conditions being what they are, it does not take much for mass opinion to swing to extremes because of extraneous factors.

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