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Rescuing Fact From Fiction

Pakistan’s economy is on the move, and why not? We are a geographical crossroads country blessed with (primarily) an agriculture economy and increasingly finding our industrial bearings. In the high-tech and services sector we are poised to take a quantum leap forward. We have a long coastline waiting to be exploited and a vast hinterland that can be developed for agriculture. The stock market is overvalued but not by much, the present benign govt attitude is of “letting a hundred crooks bloom” in the hope that the benefits of the booming economy will “trickle down” to the masses, the players who control the market and manipulate the “corrections” are not about to be corrected. Take NAB’s hasty withdrawal from investigating sugar shortages! It is in the political arena that we are badly mired, reliance being placed on corrupt elements who will pocket the goodies of “trickle-down” economics themselves rather than allowing it to fitter down to those who really need succour. Such chameleon loyalty does not mix well with the image of honesty that Gen Pervez Musharraf brought with him when he came to power. They are the ones who need Musharraf’s patronage, it is not the other way around. They cannot (and will not) deliver for anyone except themselves.

The honesty and integrity of the first few years of the Musharraf regime were assets best symbolized by the incorporation and activity of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). NAB started to go off at a tangent with “plea bargaining” and “voluntarily return” abominations, establishing a horrible precedent. During Munir Hafeez’s time as Chairman NAB this became institutionalized. What happens if a burglar decides to give back the goods he has stolen? Will the Courts free him? NAB’s reputation was further compromised during the run-up to the Oct 2002 elections when the need to break-up the political parties became the imperative of the hour.

Musharraf’s personal reputation for honesty has generally survived in the same manner as of late Gen Ziaur Rehman of Bangladesh with another striking similarity, the common belief that political objectives cannot be fulfilled without overlooking corruption  among  political  followers  (to a far less extent in Gen Musharraf’s case than in BD’s Gen Zia who had people in his Cabinet called “Chor Mantri” (thief minister)). This significant naivety is common to all leaders of military background, they sincerely believe that as long as they themselves remain honest they can conveniently overlook corruption among their politicos in pursuance of the greater national objective, inculcating democracy as required by the comity of nations. This is an incorrect supposition! There is no better serving example of this than Gen Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, a man who voluntarily relinquished power obtained through a coup de etat, and was duly elected by adult franchise a few years later on the merit of his honesty and integrity. As President of Nigeria (and remaining an honest man) Obasanjo is tarnished by the actions of his corrupt compatriots. To the present regime’s credit, at the Federal level corruption is under control for the most part, it is in the Provinces, with or without PML rule, that corruption is endemic.

What is the present equation availing in the country? Expressed simply, the nation is economically resurgent but headed into a possible political quagmire unless corrective actions are taken. While Waziristan is the major problem, military and economic initiatives must go side by side, to a lesser extent in two (out of 26) Districts (Bugti and Marri) of Balochistan. The danger in FATA is that we are fighting against time, tribesmen must not be alienated further, blood cycles have long memories among the Pathans. In Dera Bugti force is required to first restore the rule of law and remove the State within the State, the govt has done well to bring back the Bugti exiles home. However the situation pales in comparison to that developing in other areas of Pakistan if remedial measures are not taken immediately, most urgently in Sindh. Punjab has more or less the similar problems, for many reasons the situation is far more acute in Sindh and fraught with danger, not only to the Musharraf regime, but to the country.

While the regime can hardly be expected to carry out wholesale political surgery given that elections are only a dozen or so months away, or maybe even less, shuffling of political personalities in Sindh is necessary so that the general public perception  is changed and the masses start to have confidence in governance. Despite the success of the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) against terrorists, and to a lesser extent against petty criminals, organized crime is very much alive and flourishing, with criminals given patronage by political parties. The situation in the urban areas is worse than what it was three years ago, in the rural areas it is horrendous, near anarchy. This lack of security, pervasive corruption, nepotism, etc is the cause of extreme frustration among ethnic Sindhis, this is ultimately laid at the doorstep of the Federal Government which has put controversial, corrupt and inefficient leaders, without mass support, to rule over Sindh. Given the sound urban base of Coalition partner MQM having mass grassroots support because of the middle-class background of their leaders, the tragedy is that in the PML stables in Sindh there is a paucity of credible leaders who can deliver. MQM is risking its reputation for middle-class honesty by associating with such people in the Coalition.

Gen Pervez Musharraf must come up with a winning formula for Sindh. When the urban mass party is with him, he simply has to leverage his asset of honesty in Sindh though an ethnic Sindhi who is clean (and not controversial) as Chief Minister. The problem is that motivated interests have successfully bad-mouthed ethnic Sindhis loyal to him (and who have the ability to deliver). The subtle bad-mouthing is an art perfected by the silver-tongued who depend upon PR attributes rather than any ability to achieve their own status and position. Pervez Musharraf is smart enough to understand that those who flatter him publicly do so for a deadly purpose so that he becomes dependent on their “loyal” services. The track record of such people are no secret, will it be any surprise if those loyal to each and every regime before Musharraf, will also be “loyal” to whomsoever comes in the future? The President has a number of means to check out (and cross-check) the real truth (and also why the person/s affected by the bad-mouthing was so victimized). Can any leader afford being cocooned from the truth? That is tantamount to committing leadership suicide!

There is merit in Pervez Musharraf staying in power for the  foreseeable  future  but increasingly there is a perception that he is not as well informed as he was a couple of years ago. The Pervez Musharraf one knows will not be fooled by a rosy picture that colours his judgment, he will certainly modulate his stance to suit what is good for the country if he gets the correct facts put before him. It is not the duty only of the intelligence agencies to present him the factual situation but that of Musharraf’s sincere friends and supporters who have a vested interest in his staying in power to apprise him of the ground realities, sooner rather than later. They must brave the risk of “shooting the messenger who brings bad news” syndrome so that Pervez Musharraf can take the right decisions he is capable of, not only for his own good but that of the country.

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