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Archive for October, 2000

Return of the Undertakers

Caretaker PM Moeen Qureshi is on his annual “yatra” to Pakistan. On Friday last he spoke on “Pakistan and its economy in the global context” to a gathering in Karachi organized by “The Reformers”, the brainchild of one of the Caretaker Ministers of 1993, Mr Nisar Memon, former long-term Chief of IBM in Pakistan. This elite audience consisting of businessmen, technocrats, intellectuals, bureaucrats etc was carefully selected to get the maximum mileage from Moeen Qureshi’s thoughts to the Pakistan populace. His message of “doom and gloom” was well articulated, he spoke about the eminent collapse of Pakistan’s economy. Our man who lives in Washington (but will agree to live here either as President or PM) has been saying the same thing for some years now, and the inference is that it was only because of his three months Caretaking in 1993 that Pakistan’s economy has managed to survive this long. Moeen Qureshi pontificated a few “priorities” for the military administration, viz (1) long-term loans from world financial institutions at low interest rates (2) restoring investors confidence (3) law and order situation to be improved (4) administration to be strengthened and (5) a long-term poverty alleviation programme to be structured with help of IMF and World Bank. Well, I have news for Mr Moeen Qureshi, with some adjustment to substance and priority, and with all due respects, isn’t that what the military regime has been trying to do for the past year? And Shaukat Aziz as Finance Minister has done a reasonable job in stabilizing the economy, we may default on our debts but not for any fault of Shaukat. Moreover, the heavens will not fall in case of Pakistan default even though there may be wailing in the corridors of the IMF and the World Bank because of the deviation from their prepared script. As much as I have read history and about economies, one cannot come across a single instance where a nation that can feed itself has collapsed economically. Moreover, any child in Pakistan knows that we spend too much on defence, that same child also knows that even that is not enough (by far) to retain parity with the enormous increases in defence spending that India is presently engaged in. What Moeen Qureshi is asking us to do in sophisticated language is to roll over and play dead. He may be a super-salesman for “signing of the CTBT crowd”, disarming and playing second fiddle to India will take some selling to Pakistanis, especially those who live in Pakistan.

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Vision, and the Lack of It

The last Federal Cabinet meeting saw the Chief Executive exhorting the Finance Minister to process proposals for water for Karachi on a “fast track” basis. Simultaneously he tasked the Ministry of Water and Power to solve KESC’s financial and technical problems so that Karachiites would not be subjected to the acute discomfort of 2-3 hrs of daily loadshedding at prime office time. The Chief Executive probably does not know that one member of his Cabinet made a historical “contribution” to the lack of potable water and uninterrupted electricity being faced by Karachiites in particular and Pakistanis in general.

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Snakes and Ladders

In keeping with speculation in the media, Javed Jabbar ultimately quit the Federal ladder, resigning also as Advisor to the Chief Executive (CE) on National Affairs. In a surprising move, Shafqat Jamote, the Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture, also departed, albeit for different reasons. Rumours of an internecine battle for media turf had been fanned assiduously by those with motivated interest. One feels Javed Jabbar was not slotted properly, his genius of speaking should still be used by the CE to articulate the government’s viewpoint at the higher levels in world capitals. He would have been more than useful as a Foreign Minister, however since one strongly believes Shaukat Aziz would be much more potent in that role, as an Ambassador-at-Large with the rank of Federal Minister. Javed Jabbar could be a trouble-shooter extraordinary whenever and wherever Pervez Musharraf feels Pakistan’s basic message was not getting across to those who mattered or that Indian propaganda needed to be countered where it mattered. Shafqat Jamote acted rather hastily, one feels he could have exercised greater patience.

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Performance evaluation

When Lt Gens Mahmud and Aziz in Islamabad and Rawalpindi respectively and Lt Gen Muzzafar Osmany in Karachi removed Pakistan’s democratic government on the evening of Oct 12, 1999, the deafening silence in the streets confirmed that Mian Nawaz Sharif’s “heavy mandate” had evaporated. One of Musharraf’s strong attributes is his unswerving loyalty to the subordinates handpicked by him, loyalty essentially being a two-way street it is hardly surprising that at crunch time they remained loyal to him. The national leadership in the hands of the “Kargil boys” (as Musharraf, Mahmud and Aziz had come to be known) may have been seen with some trepidation by the intelligentsia but was welcomed generally, both by them and the masses, such was the universal disappointment in democracy’s performance over the past decade and a half. The former PM’s vain attempt to play ducks and drakes with the military hierarchy had been well anticipated, the counter-coup had semi-tragic (uptil now at least) consequences for himself and his family. Whether the trio seized power to save their own jobs or in the greater interest of the country is a moot point, ipso facto they became relevant to Pakistan’s destiny, they remain so one year later. Performance evaluation can only be rooted in whether the country is a better place to live in than it was a year ago.

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Defence purchases

Our politicians have reacted to reported kickbacks in defence deals like a pack of hounds taking off after a fox in a fox-hunt no sooner the trumpet is blown. On the receiving end of accountability for the past year, it must be satisfying for the politicians to see the catchers themselves in the rye. Unfortunately their contention that corruption in arms trade is an evil confined to Pakistan alone in time and/or space is wrong, industrial conglomerates like the Germany’s Krupps actually orchestrated wars between nations at one time or the other in order to facilitate sales of their products. Remember Basil Zaharoff? Only a short time ago, the US Congress reverberated with revelations about US $ 600 toilet seat covers and US $ 120 screwdrivers, etc. In France former Defence Minister Cheysson is facing prosecution. Many major US firms have run afoul of the “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act”. Garage-to-riches wonder US businessman Ray Guerin of International Signal Corporation (ISC), the maker of cluster bombs (among other things), went to jail for fraud in the early 90s (that some senior officials from our Ministry of Defence were involved is another story). After a M1-8 helicopter accident in 1970, I was shocked to learn that a canvas pitot tube cover, costing about Rs 10-12 in Massey Gate Rawalpindi, was to be replaced by the (not-so-capitalistic) Russians by one costing nearly US $ 50. The Indian defeat on the McMohan Line in 1962 at the hands of Chinese revealed massive corruption in procurement deals. Very recently in Kargil, the Indian Army faced similar deficiencies in everything, from socks to boots to gloves and ammunition etc. And there was no corruption?

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