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Archive for January, 2000

Beyond 100 days

Politicians make for natural infantrymen, when under fire they know it is prudent to keep their heads down. Now that things seemed to have eased down plus/minus a few days of the 100 since Oct 12, 1999, “the natives have started to get restless” and talk about the restoration of the Assemblies “so as to restore the democratic image of Pakistan”. The assumption here is that whatever passed for democracy in Pakistan was not a con game, that the military regime should disqualify a handful of corrupt politicians, thus cleansed the Assemblies can be allowed to function according to an agreed formula giving an acceptable constitutional role to the Armed Forces. This way the representatives who want to be elected would remain happy, the Armed Forces would be satisfied and who cares about the people anyway? Whereas an early return to democratic rule must be the ultimate aim of the military regime, those who would be comfortable with a partial solution are incurable optimists or simply gone cases. Nobody wanted the coup, once it became a fait accompli full accountability to weed out the corrupt of this Earth must take place.

Let’s face it, reforms are in the works that will not only restore the institutions but will make them far more pragmatic in future. It is a slow process that does not cater for the impatience of the masses, on the contrary it requires them to trust in the credibility of the military regime to do the right thing by the nation. A 100 days are enough to confirm that the regime is sincere in interest and is not trying to sell the Eiffel Tower to the people of Pakistan. Let down by the experience of three martial laws, the public is necessarily cautious about giving time to the rulers to come good and redeem the promises made.


Economy and Accountability, the Inseparable Twins

On Thursday Jan 25, the military regime will have been in power, give or take a few hours, for a full 100 days. With the masses waiting with increasing impatience and cynicism for their “great expectations” to be fulfilled, some forward movement is discernible both in effecting accountability and in repairing the economy, enough not to write the khakis off just yet. The rumour machine, fed by motivated interests, has been working overtime. Gearing up for accountability has taken some time, not helped by the badly drafted Ordinance creating the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), a dozen or so holes appearing in it the moment it was unfolded for public view. As for economic revival, the measures enacted are in the right direction but the tap-dancing with respect to tough decision-making about GST, etc must come to an end. Cheap popularity comes with populist initiatives but that will hardly be the salvation of Pakistan economically. Sustainable long-term measures may be temporarily unpopular, that is the only way out of the black hole we are in presently mired in.

One cannot forsake public perception, for the sake of our present rulers NAB has to come good quickly. Given that investigation and prosecution of white-collar crime is not a piece of cake, NAB should have first gone for those easily nabbed. All politicians, who took part in the 1990, 1993 and 1997 elections, have had to declare their assets. The discrepancies/deficiencies between their declarations and income/wealth tax returns would be guilt enough to convict them for a period extending from 1-3 years, the conviction automatically disqualifying them for a period of not less than 10 years. Since the evidence is a matter of record, the process would hardly take more than 2-3 weeks. A more detailed scrutiny could then be done in a more elaborate fashion and acquisition of wealth beyond known means would then become a reason for further conviction, confiscation of illegally acquired property (with penalty thereof) and enhancement of the period of disqualification. This exercise would eliminate almost 60% of all politicians who took part in any of the last 3 elections, the first phase taking care of the impatient public desire for punitive action against those who they trusted in vain with their valuable votes to give them good governance.


Horses for Courses

Pakistanis savoured a special delight in the cricket team winning both their fixtures in the first round of the Carlton-United one-day World Series in Brisbane, Australia. That it happened on Eid (and the day immediately after) made the holidays that much sweeter, that the victories came against the rampaging World Champions Australia and arch-rival India, the latter a virtual impossibility contrived by Saqlain Mushtaq and Waqar Yunus on the last ball, made it much more enjoyable. Memories of Miandad’s last ball six at Sharjah came floating back. To round off a good beginning to the year, the century and the millennium (give or take a year), the much-awaited rains finally came to Pakistan (in place of the severe drought that threatened our already fragile and reeling economy), in time to ensure a possible bumper wheat crop. On cue, the Karachi Stock Exchange Index went up 70-80 points in one heady day (12 Jan 2000), the next day their computers went bust. In the general euphoria of nothing-succeeds-like-success, we ignored the obvious failings of our beloved cricket team, namely the constant failure of our front-line batsmen in a record six back-to-back one-day matches.

To put it bluntly, Pakistan’s batting problems stem partly from Aamer Sohail’s non-inclusion (1) mainly because of his attitude problem (2) a mutual aversion with Wasim Akram and (3) the Selection Committee putting personal egos, likes and dislikes ahead of the national interest. Aamer Sohail has also to put the national interest (and his own career) ahead of his over-developed ego, in the national interest some accommodation and compromise must be made in the knowledge that prima donnas all over tend to behave in like fashion. Chairman Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) did well convincing the ICC Chairman to have the outrageous decision to suspend Shoaib Akhtar put in abeyance, Lt Gen Tauqir Zia has now to ensure merit in selection, that only the best in Pakistan walk into any international cricket field. The tremendous pressure on Saeed Anwar to not only score every time he dons his pads but to hold down one end, has had disastrous results. If anyone expects Ijaz, given his sorry scores over of the last 2 years, to perform more than once every 10 matches or even more, he (or she) is really optimistic. To quote Humayun Gauhar in a recent article, a person who bought a Rolls Royce discovered after a mile or so that the Rolls had no engine. On return to the Showroom he asked the salesman how the Rolls had managed to go a mile without an engine, he was told, “on pure reputation, sir, on pure reputation”. Unfortunately, reputation will only take you so far, beyond one needs capability, not simply good wishes and hoping against hope.