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The “Willing” Crowd

As is usual for this time of the year, a number of Pakistani expatriates settled abroad are visiting Pakistan, among them former Caretaker PM Moeen Qureshi (MQ), potential Prime Minister Shahid Javed Burki, former Finance Minister Dr. Mahbubul Haq, etc, (the last named is believed to be returning home to settle in Pakistan permanently). Whether by coincidence or design, they seem to visit Pakistan every time there is some sort of a political or economic crisis in the country. In keeping with past practice, they are doing their usual well-organised rounds of speaking on various platforms, meeting the civil and military hierarchy as well as a cross-section of the people who matter in the Opposition and the Establishment. Dutifully, the print media is effusive about the “pearls of wisdom” that emanate from these economic intellectuals about the measures to be taken to “save” the economy and turn it around so as to provide for a glorious future for the people of Pakistan. Gifted with the gab, having years of experience to back their known brilliance and academic achievements, their solutions still are very much in line, except occasionally perhaps for Dr. Mahbubul Haq, with the known prescriptions of the IMF and the World Bank, the institutions they served faithfully over the years. Dr. Haq has a penchant for human resource development as an agenda of one point, except for him the other two have scant experience in the running of Third World Governments on a day-to-day basis till called to serve, as in the case of MQ as Caretaker PM.

As much as one respects Mr. Moeen Qureshi (MQ) for his outstanding performance as a Pakistani in reaching almost the top slot in a world finance institution despite the BCCI tag on Pakistanis as far as financial credibility is concerned, his ready acceptance of the IMF conditions in August 1993 despite the fact that the Mian Nawaz Sharif Government had initialled a draft in April 1993 having much easier terms, is the raison d’etre for our economic morass today. As the successor elected Government, Ms Benazir was obliged to accept the stiff IMF conditions which certainly gave immediate resuscitation to an economy ailing because of civil strife, but which strait-jacketed her flexibility to manoeuvre in the coming months and years, resulting in economic doldrums as we broke through every danger indicator on the economic path, particularly deficit financing in the past year. If MQ had spent more time in Pakistan, he would have been perhaps more inclined to stiffen up Pakistani resistance to the IMF conditions that were not pragmatic or conducive to the prevailing economic environment. With the opening up of the economy, there was a necessity for increased documentation, but slowly and gradually so as not to “disturb the natives and make them restless”. The second issue one takes with MQ is about shedding crocodile tears for the Muhajir community. Today’s law and order problem in Karachi is not of MQ’s creation but the basically unstable political structure presently in Pakistan is because the MQM did not take part in the National Assembly elections in 1993 when MQ was Caretaker PM and it was his duty to ensure every citizen got due representation at the national level and was not psychologically cast out of the national mainstream. What did MQ do then to redress the MQM’s grievances that in effect changed the entire political balance in Pakistani politics? And which 26 months later remains an insoluble sore point in the list of MQM’s demands? As far as corruption is concerned, at least 1 or 2 of his own ministers made use of their office for personal benefit during the 90 days or so of his Care-taking, why does he not denounce them publicly as he seems to be asking others to do? Or does charity begin at home?

One cannot take issue with the excellent prescription Shahid Javed Burki gave regarding “poverty alleviation” in a situation “compounded by a large population that continues to grow rapidly, by a society with a terribly low level of social development, by a serious downturn in the rate of economic growth, and by growing macro-economic instability”. With our worsening income distribution patterns, the prognosis is grim with bad social, economic and political consequences. One of the reasons Mr. Burki gave was monopolistic tendency of certain businesses in order to dominate — and thus wreck — the concept of open economy. Mr. Shahid Javed Burki spoke about the “BIG OFFER”, an opportunity such as the Quaid got in 1947 and Bhutto in 1971 to change the destiny of the people. But who is to bell the cat? Who is there to instil accountability through the whole spectrum of society? We cannot even make an example of those who use monopoly to hike prices at will? This stands for the stock market as well as normal businesses. While it is true that the insecure law and order environment, the overall economic downturn, the world economy doldrums, shortage of liquidity, etc have all contributed to the falling value of shares, what about the manipulations that have seen only a few privileged brokers make money wherever the share value may be going, upwards or downwards, at the cost of the small investor? A perfect example of monopoly in business is that of Lever Brothers that owns both Brooke Bond and Liptons, the two tea packeting companies that provide almost 90% of Pakistan’s packet tea, has any action ever been seriously contemplated against this MNC that hikes its prices at will? The problem is not that there are not enough people with theoretical solutions around, the problem is that vested interest ensures that no theory ever becomes practice. Bureaucracy’s response to visitors such as Burki is to allow a few media-heavy events to take place for image-building and then to slow down the process till each new idea dies a sudden death. With inexperience in local administration and conditions thereof, most policies that Shahid Javed Burki (SJB) would hope to inculcate would create crises duly orchestrated to be counter-productive to his original ideas. The one person who has had substantial hands-on experience in Pakistan is Dr. Mahbubul Haq, both in the economic and political sectors. Changeable as a chameleon as regards economic policies, Dr. Haq matches both MQ and SJB in integrity and honesty of purpose. It was a decade ago that MQ launched his “documenting of the economy” drive in May 1985 at the fall of Junejo’s Government. As the architect previously of the Suzuki-isation of the Establishment, Dr. Haq set forth trends that will continue to haunt those who do not use accountability as the first line of attack against vested interests. However, he also fell by the wayside when his policies failed him at the altar of convenience. In sharp contrast to these technocrats who come to us only during the holiday season are those who have preferred to stay in Pakistan and serve the people, in and out of office, among them people like Sartaj Aziz, Ijlal Haider Zaidi, Roedad Khan, etc. They have elected to put their faith and expertise in one or the other political parties, as such can justify their claim to be successful technocrats turned politicians. Senator Sartaj Aziz, now Secretary General PML(N) led the sustained drive toward opening up of the economy and privatisation as Mian Nawaz Sharif’s Finance Minister. In the process there were natural hiccups but the public perception was that things were on the move and that is the base for Mian Nawaz Sharif’s popularity today, a populist image of can-do in the face of many obstructions nurtured deeply in the mass mind-set as a policy of self-reliance. This was best annunciated in Sartaj Aziz’s pragmatic interview given to THE NATION only the other day.

In the book, “David Copperfield”, one of the male servants, Barkis, is anxious to marry a maid servant but does not know how to convey the message to the lady in question. Barkis tells David to tell the maid, “Barkis is willing” (to marry her, that is). Everyone of our visiting expatriates have denied any willingness to handle affairs of State but it is quite clear that a number of Barkis’ are waiting in the wings, willing to take up cudgels on behalf of the “people of Pakistan”, whose ignorance in such matters remains profoundly a bliss. What about Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif, right or wrong, should their struggles over the years in the democratic way come to not? What about their trials and tribulations, let alone their ability and willingness to face the people without having problems about being skin-deep to criticism? While we respect MQ, SJB, etc, we cannot have part-time people to deal with our long-term problems. Whatever their merits and/or de-merits, both Ms Benazir and Mian Sahib have a proven commitment to the people of Pakistan in sharp contrast to the backdoor “Barkis is willing” crowd.

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