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Archive for April, 2001

Clearing NAB’s Webs

Brilliant Aitzaz Ahsan will go down in legal history as truly one of the outstanding practitioners of law in Pakistan. Shoring up his remarkable legal acumen by painstaking research carried out along with his legal aides much before he enters a courtroom, his presentation is incisive and analytical, delivered in a voice that is hardly ever raised, bass in content rather than treble. Having no time for histrionics, the calm demeanour and attitude reflects an inner confidence impressing friends and foes alike. A tremendous asset to the PPP, not only a credible, seasoned politician but an effective, functioning lawyer, his submissions before the Supreme Court (SC) recently about the provisions of the extremely draconian National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Ordinance were concise and logical. Senior legal counsel representing other clients were no less in stature, among them Akram Shaikh, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, Basit Ali, etc. To hold one’s own among such talent is impressive by itself, to stand out among this gathering of legal eagles is remarkable.

Despite agreeing with many of Aitzaz’s legal submissions (and those of the others) the SC detailed 372 page judgment did not find NABO ultra virus of the Constitution. Chief Justice Irshad Hassan Khan is a genuine Solomonic surprise, his well-thought out and pragmatic legal presentations is doing much to mend the tattered reputation (audio-tapes, etc) of the superior judiciary, case by case, a slow but deliberate process. The balanced judgements are rebuilding the confidence of not only the Pakistani populace but interested foreign observers as to the fairness of the judicial state of the nation.


You Can Hide, You Cannot Run

The arrest of former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Mansurul Haq from a select posh area in Texas, USA marks a significant step forward for the process of accountability in Pakistan. Substantial evidence is on record about the Admiral’s financial indiscretions, even the lavish abode and the manner of his living in the US was way beyond the means of a retired Naval officer. His incarceration, pending extradition to Pakistan, will act as a model to bring other fugitives to justice. The Chinese say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, to get the American system of justice to acknowledge that the evidence being presented from Pakistan was not tainted by prejudice is one very giant step. From the statement of witnesses it is apparent that the Admiral’s only salvation lies in becoming a prosecution witness, i.e. blowing the police whistle on his collaborators, among them politicians, bureaucrats, uniformed (and retired) colleagues, arms merchants, brokers, etc all those involved in skimming millions of dollars from purchases made by the Pakistan Armed Forces over the years.

The ruling military elite cannot be accused of bias against the Navy, this case was instituted by the political regime of Mian Nawaz Sharif, as against Air Marshal (Retd) Waqar Azim, jailed because of the PIA computers case. The Army has utilized the maximum portion of the Defence purchases, rumours abound of several hundreds of millions of dollars pocketed in commissions, ranging from helicopter gunships to artillery shells to tanks, etc why has no senior person ex-Army been prosecuted for corruption in arms trade? The perception of justice being seen to be fair and equitable is only when it is applied even-handedly, on friend and foe alike. The much vilified former Senator Saifur Rehman did yeoman’s work in going after the corrupt, unfortunately some cases were blatantly politically motivated, on the contrary very obvious evidence leading to logical conclusion of indictment and prosecution against PML’s politicians, friends and colleagues was conveniently ignored, this blatant partiality undermining his credibility and that of the entire accountability process during Mian Nawaz Sharif’s regime. The Supreme Court (SC) recognized this bias in setting aside verdict in the Bhutto-Zardari SGS/Cotecna, however on the basis of the evidence has ordered a re-trial. Having given the SC a clean bill of health it will be virtually impossible for Ms Benazir to tar and feather them the next time around if she is declared guilty, hence the overtures to the military regime. While blowing hot for the general public, she is busy trying to strike a pre-emptive equal to sustain her political longevity. As a political animal, Ms. Benazir has no living equal in Pakistan, at least at her level, except Abbaji, of course. She out-manoeuvred “master manipulator” Ghulam Ishaq Khan twice to become the PM, the second time she ensured he remained out in the cold never to return to power.


21st Century media challenges

For dramatic transformation, no century has been like the 20th. Starting with the radio to interactive multi-media, the last 100 years have been a revelation, inculcating a mind-boggling information revolution. Only 40 years ago, as we prepared for college-entry examinations, the radio was still considered an amazing contraption in countries like Pakistan, dimensionally making information available from across the globe, today the world has been brought almost physically into our drawing rooms and bedrooms, encapsulated by the TV, Lawrence J Peter pronouncing that, “an ounce of image is worth a pound of performance”. The 20th Century started with the print media only, despite being almost overwhelmed by the rapid technological change, it was still not the force it has become today. The written word remains a common denominator for the media. Centuries ago, the Greek culture and civilization, which was till then a victim of morality, was transformed into literacy because of writing and the willingness of the Greek to accept the written word.


Solomon’s Justice

A few days ago, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, came up with their version of Solomon’s justice, setting aside the conviction of former PM Ms Benazir and her husband, Asif Zardari, by the Ehtesab Bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) in what is generally known as the SGS case, ordering a re-trial for them. Without the benefit of a detailed judgement we can only surmise that they accept that the LHC Bench was biased but the evidence may be too compelling enough to make a new trial necessary. By the time Solomon, son of David, died, he had become the greatest King of Israel. According to Encyclopedia Britannica King Solomon was known for establishing Israelite colonies in the mid-10 century BC to handle military, administrative and commercial matters, the subsequent demand for fortresses and garrison cities making him embark on a vast building programme. In fact the First Temple’s construction was completed by him in 957 BC. Only a part of the second Temple, known as the Wailing Wall now survives on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Ground Zero in the strife between Israelis and Palestinians. Known mainly for his sagacity, Solomon was also a poet but history knows him best for what is called “Solomonic justice”.

Maxim had it right in his cartoon in THE NATION last Sunday, he had Ms Benazir saying, “When a court convicts me it is a kangaroo court and if it acquits me it upholds the dignity of the judiciary”. Once the damning audio-tapes of conversations between Justice Qayyum of the Lahore High Court (LHC), then LHC Chief Justice Rashid Aziz, then Federal Law Minister, Mr Khalid Anwar and Saifur Rehman, former Chairman, Ehtesab Bureau were brought on record, it would have been a travesty of justice to convict the wife-husband former ruling duo, howsoever strong the evidence. While Benazir and her supporters may congratulate themselves that she was exonerated, the Court actually let her go on a technicality as it should have. Any time a court is perceived to be guilty of partiality of any kind, the justice meted out will be deemed to be tainted and will never be acceptable.


Interpreting Greek

As we go the final stretch into the next Federal Budget the economic indicators are not good, certainly not for want of trying on the part of the government. A whole range of factors beyond the control of our rulers have taken its toll on the economic situation, making it from bad to worse, with only a very faint glimmer that things will improve. Moreover, while revenue collection may have shown improvement, what was needed was a dramatic rise. Electricity has registered a price increase, another hike is definitely on the cards pre-budget. And though to their credit, the government has made a token decrease in fuel prices, the bad news from OPEC is that they intend to decrease production to keep oil prices at between US$ 22 to 27 per barrel, triggering an upward revision in the near future, definitely again pre-budget. And post-budget we all know what happens, every Federal Finance Minister in recent memory has been forced to resort to what is termed as “mini-budgets” to cover the widening revenue deficits.

The major dynamo of any economy, a vibrant consumer-hungry middle class has had the stuffing knocked out of it by spiralling prices. So much of the population has moved below the poverty line in the past few years that while the middle class has not become extinct yet, they are definitely an endangered species. No wonder, our national savings are at an abysmal 13%, it is the middle class that fueled the consumer economy and then put away something besides for a rainy day. Given that any developing country has to be nearer the 22% savings rate to keep an even keel, we are forced to borrow money from external sources to meet this gap viz (1) to repay our debts, particularly retiring the more-expensive ones and (2) to bridge the existing adverse budgeting gap. Since we are looking for an inexpensive credit, in return IMF and World Bank demand their pound of flesh. Technocrats can give solace to the world financial institutions but only by ignoring the impoverished millions. With widespread rains in the Punjab, NWFP and the mountains, the much-needed water increased the moisture level of the wheat crop in the irrigated areas when it was badly needed just before harvesting, but in many rain-fed areas the wheat crop has been badly affected. The rains did feed the two main reservoirs of Tarbela and Mangla, even so the sceptre of drought has not faded.