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Archive for March, 2001

De-Tararising Pakistan

Military regimes in this country have a triple choice of acts to follow, the Ayub, Yahya or Zia role models. Or they can do the smart thing, be selective about what is good for the country from all three models and shun what is bad. Ayub and Zia took the manipulative route to extend their respective tenures, in hindsight Yahya probably should have manipulated the elections to maintain the unity of this country. The Yahya model was easily the best with respect to governance but he gambled free and fair elections against the country’s future and lost, the good points of his regime have been long forgotten. Ayub’s formula was indirect elections through an 80,000 strong electoral college, while Zia, more of a hands-on politician, mastered the art of manipulating a few hundred parliamentarians. Except for a profound belief in God, Zia never meant what he said and never said what he meant. Both the dictators enjoyed favourable international environment, reasonably good economies as well as having their considerable military outlays shored up by countries that had a self-interest in doing so, at least so long as it suited their geo-strategic grand designs.

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Second oldest profession

The Vajpayee Government has been rocked by the Tehelka scandal, the scam exploding the self-propagated myth of BJP’s pristine conduct while in governance. For the moment the Parliamentary decorum of Lok Sabha is in shambles and sessions have been repeatedly adjourned in the face of violent protest by the Opposition bent upon exploiting the widening chink in BJP’s armour. Outspoken Defence Minister George Fernandes (and leader of his own party in the BJP-led coalition) has resigned in the face of his close friend and party colleague Jaya Jaitli accepting a bribe in front of a hidden camera. The carefully crafted facade of the corruption-free administration of super-India has been blown away by an enterprising investigation team that has exposed the utter degradation of the arms procurement process of the Indian Armed Forces. Several holier-than-thou uniformed luminaries recently appeared on various Indian TV channels to squeeze the last drop of anti-Pakistan Army propaganda out of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission (HRC) Report. But is there anything more demeaning than to see uniformed officers on video-tape not only engaging in polite conversation how to short circuit the procurement process but also receiving bribes? Whether civilian or army officials, politicians or party activists, all were recorded by a hidden TV camera to be part and parcel of a giant corruption combine that has been milking India dry for decades. The greatest number belonging to the world’s oldest profession live in India, they even held an open air world convention in Kolkata (Calcutta) a few weeks ago. These ladies may have been some way ahead in morality when compared to the arms trade, the world’s second oldest profession. The transcripts make amazing reading, the video-tapes amazing viewing. The entire gamut of civil and military leadership in India is seen on prime time TV as being not only thoroughly corrupt but being dangerously ignorant of defence equipment and their potential use.

Col (Retd) Ravinder Pal Singh ( of the Mahar Regiment) wrote two books on “Arms Procurement Decision-making” when he was leader of SIPRI’s Procurement Decision Military Project in Stockholm, I have taken the liberty of quoting extensively from his research. The effectiveness of a free press in democratic India holding defence procurement accountable is limited by a number of factors. Academic research in national security studies is constrained by a relative lack of public information, in any case defence subjects are normally taboo in India. Lack of interest in the Lower House of the Indian Parliament (the Lok Sabha) is because of the low electoral value of defence issues. An under-informed but vocal society treated defence procurement (till the Bofors Scandal) like a sacred cow.

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Rhetoric Yes, Solutions Also

Some of the potentially crippling problems we are faced with are not of the military regime’s making but having toppled an elected government, albeit with sufficient reason, the buck now stops firmly at their desk. Or at least till they let go the reins of absolute power inherent in any military rule and start down the road to civilianisation (as opposed to democratization, or should we call it civilization). Those without political ambition have no reason to resort to rhetoric but in the absence of any absolute denials from those who matter about the Chief Executive becoming President soon and relieving Tarar from his gilded misery it is safe to assume that those who matter in the military regime want to remain people who matter even after their military regime becomes history. The “Charge of the Light Brigade” crowd (ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die) has done “selection and maintenance of aim” as per Clausewitz principles of war, the elevation of the CE to the top slot. Except for a handful of principal supporting cast (two will supposedly take up the two four-star slots becoming available unless a third slot can be safely invented), the rest will pass into history as all extras do in a movie production. After shedding their uniforms, these khaki-collar workers will face the simmering wrath of civilian bureaucracy who will stoke the approbation of the masses into believing the ridiculous canard that all the khaki-clad made millions while in service. With all their acknowledged good intentions and their professionalism the military regime seems blissfully unaware of the major catastrophe we are heading into. It is almost as if they want to ignore problems seemingly apparent to everyone else. It is said elephants wear dark glasses so that Tarzan may not recognize them but that Tarzan wears dark glasses so that he may not recognize the elephants. The gravest water shortage in the history of the nation, potentially the most serious of a long line of our many serious problems, requires our immediate attention.

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Creeping Economic Anarchy

In order of priority the three major sectors of our economy are, viz (1) agriculture (2) industry and (3) services. Our planners set very ambitious targets for Financial Year 2000-01, most of which cannot (and will not) be met. Because of acute shortage of water (and other reasons including WAPDA’s shift to metered electricity in place of a flat fee), farmers were forced to reduce acreage under cultivation. The output of sugarcane and rice declined by as much as 19.1% and 11.4% respectively. Cotton registered a slight increase of area under cultivation, the overall production remained the same. Punjab harvested more wheat, it was offset by decreases in Sindh due to lack of irrigated water, even if grain production manages to reach 700,000 tons if the rains do come, it will be well short of the projected 772,000 tons. Given that cotton, rice, sugarcane, grain and wheat account for 94% of the agriculture sector, there will be an overall decline in all the levels forecasted. According to the Islamabad-based dream merchants’ optimistic predictions the people will not starve, shortages will be made up from buffer stocks but even they concede that the overall economic outlook for the year 2001-02 is exceedingly bleak. Given that acute water shortage is imminent, we are well on our way to a creeping economic anarchy.

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The Pussycat ain’t Purring Yet

Despite Pakistan’s economic travails and the battering it has taken with respect to fudging of statistics, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) survives in international financial perceptions as a credible institution, this reputation derived from being blessed with good leaders. While disagreeing with Dr Yaqub on some issues, among them the freezing of foreign currency accounts which made his inclusion in the military regime’s initial National Security Council incongruous, he ran a very taut ship in deteriorating economic circumstances, balancing the economy on a fail-safe line between the penchant of two successive political governments alternating in taking us down the slippery road to economic apocalypse by contradictory self-serving economic policies. Instead of abandoning ship under fire, Dr Yaqub remained on the burning deck to try and limit damage to the economic fabric of the nation, together with the then Finance Ministers holding off IMF-savaging of our poverty-stricken masses, during this period almost the whole of the lower middle class, mostly salaried persons, slid below the poverty line. Inheriting an exceptionally horrific economic situation but Dr Ishrat Hussain’s no-nonsense performance-oriented abilities have been complemented by the singular authority of a military regime, the perfect recipe prescribed for economic recovery, provided sound policies are conceived and implemented by those who are supposed to do so.

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