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Benazir Blinks!

The Bhutto family functions on the premise that most Pakistanis have very short memories, unfortunately they are quite right. Ms Benazir was the first major politician to welcome the military regime’s dispatching of Mian Nawaz Sharif on Oct 12, 1999, the “honeymoon” went on for sometime. The PPP Chairperson finally realized that the one-sided “love affair” was going nowhere, the military regime being in no mood to drop corruption charges against her or her husband, Asif Zardari. Frustrated in the hope that on the basis of “an enemy of an enemy is a friend”, the military regime’s animosity towards Mian Nawaz Sharif would force political compromise with her. Ms Benazir did a smart U-turn, transforming her politics into virulent opposition. A consummate political animal, she gave the appearance of keeping back channels open to the COAS, mainly to shore up the morale of her increasingly demoralized supporters who were expecting some relief in Nawaz’s ouster. When the military regime denied any such contact, she declared “war” on the Pakistan Army.

For the past eight months Ms Benazir has been assailing the defenders of this country, synchronizing her attacks on our men in uniform in line with India’s contention, i.e. Pakistan Army is to blame for cross-border terrorism across the LOC, the attack on Indian Parliament, harbouring and sponsoring terrorism of all kind, etc. To retain the loyalty of her party workers while in self-imposed exile, she has kept a barrage of misleading propaganda going, the latest being that she would return to Pakistan by special aircraft on August 14 and fight the elections despite the election laws. This brinkmanship may be brilliant politically, the fact remains that other than being forced to knuckle down to the existing reality of the military regime’s ground rules for politics in Pakistan, she has succumbed to internal pressure within PPP forcing her to nominate Makhdoom Amin Fahim as the head of a newly created Parliamentary entity of the PPP. Her choice as rubber-stamp was Aftab Shahban Mirani. Winking at the military regime for sometime, she then tried international pressure to stare them out, Ms Benazir has now blinked.


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.


Striking Out

The Opposition put on a very public display why they have failed to unite by themselves for over two years; it took the Government of Mian Nawaz Sharif a combination of a series of blunders and mis-governance to bring the Opposition’s act together. Having staged a successful strike on Saturday 4 Sept and a moderately successful one next Saturday on 11 Sept they had nothing to show for it except for a rush of adrenaline in playing hide-and-seek with the police near the Quaid’s Mazar in Karachi. On the shaky foundations of the protest against the GST by traders they decided that they had achieved omnipotence and grandly announced that the succeeding Sunday and Monday would see a continuation of their political protest by strikes. Except for Hyderabad the result was embarrassing, bad enough for us to keep hoping that in the face of a lack of credible alternates with any sense at all if not common sense, Mian Nawaz Sharif will at the very least feel sorry for the country he rules over as a virtual monarch and decide to govern it properly as per his promise and the mandate given to him, all 16% out of a voting populace of 50 million, 6% if one takes the whole population of 130 million.

Incurable optimists like me see silver linings even in the darkest of moments. The fact that MQM had to depend upon PPP and other allied Opposition parties to embark upon a strike call in Karachi is very significant. That it completely failed on subsequent days except in District Central should be of concern to the MQM. This is the same city which lived on the word of one man and his whims. The reality that Karachi as a whole belonged to the MQM has now become the subject of myth. One has no doubt about the MQM stamp on District Central but Malir District and District South are definitely out of the MQM camp, Districts East and West being marginal at best. While Altaf Hussain’s once dominant party continues to command the greatest majority in the city, its days of total control over the city are over. With sought-after (by the law enforcement agencies) MQM stalwarts surfacing in UK at frequent intervals, one expects that the coming Altaf initiative will be meant to be detrimental to the interests of Pakistan, however one believes we should welcome this now as we are far better equipped to deal with separatism rather than the early 90s, moreover Altaf Hussain is now increasingly out of sync with the mood of the vast mass of Mohajirs who remain patriotic mainstream Pakistanis. Leadership by remote control seldom succeeds particularly when the leader lives in luxury in contrast to those whom he professes to lead. Karachi is in for interesting times if any attempt is made to turn this city hostage to the anarchy we witnessed for a decade or so at the hands of MQM militants.


IMF Prescription Time Again

If the diplomatic and media backlash from Kargil was not enough, IMF tightened the economic squeeze on Pakistan. Insisting on GST of various percentage on electricity, water and gas, IMF delayed the release of the tranche expected by Pakistan in July, the latest date for expecting IMF funds is September. The Finance Minister Mr. Ishaq Dar is quite confident about receiving the IMF funds and the market seemed to agree with him, various financial experts remained pessimistic. Even without IMF adding to the proverbial pound of flesh, we are in serious economic straits. The Finance Minister, an incurable optimist, kept a brave face as he sought to minimise the effect on the common man but he might as well be speaking into the wind, which as everyone knows, can howl but cannot read. More financial misery is in store for the man in the street.


Significant Events

As much as one admired Ms Benazir Bhutto for many leadership qualities that escape lesser beings, in the matter of corruption she has been a major disappointment. As much as one thought that the BJP ultra-nationalism militated against Pakistan, one had to concede that they at least had coalesced a political mandate to effect meaningful changes in India’s policies. For the moment both are derailed, albeit probably temporarily, but the manner of their leaving may leave behind festering wounds that may never heal.

Ms Benazir Bhutto has led the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for over 20 years. She has effectively carried the baggage of the legacy of her father, late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had his own extreme moments, contributing significantly to the break-up of Pakistan in 1971 but then almost single-handedly consolidating the western wing as an independent entity. Giving the country a workable constitution in 1973, he emasculated it simultaneously by a number of amendments. His tinkering with the growth-oriented economy by nationalising everything in sight put us back two or three decades at a crucial time with respect to our place in the world economy. In short, he beggared us, put us in a hole that every successive government since then has put us deeper into. Maybe because of her youth, maybe because of her courage, certainly because she was educated and articulate and certainly because she had charisma, a number of us forgave her the sins of her father and looked at her as a national leader having international standing and instant name recognition. The crowning moment of her glory came when she came to Lahore in 1986. The accolades of the mass population were well deserved. Even when she went and married Asif Zardari, one gave her the benefit of the doubt. To almost anyone but Karachiites who knew him far better, Asif Zardari was a good match. The fact of the matter was that his family was in hock to the banks. A scion from a landed family fallen on hard times, one could forgive AZ his ham-handed attempts to play the rich dilettante, a playboy. Playboys have money, by the time he met up with Benazir, AZ (and his father) needed a golden goose badly to stay financially afloat. AZ wanted money alright, and tons of it, but to Benazir’s (and PPP’s) detriment he hankered after power more. After a few ham-handed attempts at petty extortion during Benazir’s first term, AZ came into his own post-1993 i.e. during her second term. As much as people say that he ran a government within a government, he actually ran the government and everyone and sundry paid homage and obeisance to him. These included politicians, industrialists, businessmen, bankers, generals and senior bureaucrats, etc, some of whom became “specialist advisors” in guiding him in milking the Pakistani cow. This was not an open secret, it was good public knowledge and anybody who denies this is a liar. Throughout this period, we gave Benazir the benefit of doubt. We were ready to believe anything but the obvious, we wanted to believe that she knew nothing of what was going on and even if she knew, she was not a willing party but was being emotionally blackmailed by her husband.

The SGS-Cotecna case has removed that doubt. However, the trial may have been conducted, whatever the antecedents of the judges and their credibility thereof, the evidence on record is damning. The fact remains Boomer Finance, an off-shore company, was owned directly/indirectly by AZ and Benazir was a recipient of funds from SGS through this conduit. No doubt she says the truth when she says the government of the day is victimizing her to remove her from politics. What is also true is that while she may fight on technical grounds, she is as guilty as her husband is, whether in all his “enterprises” one does not know but certainly SGS is a “smoking gun” she cannot escape. As PM Ms Benazir advises all those targeted by her regime to seek justice from a court of law, surely she will appeal but if the verdict goes against her in the Supreme Court (SC), will she abide by it?


A Juma Janjh Naal!

To the credit of Former President Sardar Farooq Leghari, instead of waiting at the sidelines till the present government succumbs to the consequences of attempting Hari-Kari every fortnight or so, he has adopted the legitimate route of political activism to try and come to power. On 14 August 1998 he launched his much propagated Millat Party, long on rhetoric but seemingly short of new ideas and/or a cohesive framework for political action from a still to be unveiled manifesto. Except for a handful of persons who one can label as electable or technocrats, a majority of those who attended the Convention do not inspire much confidence for the future. However that is the start of any Party, PPP began on Edwards Road Lahore in the late 60s with very few human assets. One agrees that the idea is right, fresh faces must be encouraged to come and clean up the political scene in the country. This will be an uphill task. In the sub-continent Moghul Emperor Akbar the Great set the trend of bucking the system when he tried to set up a parallel religion to amalgamate all those existing then. His “Din-e-Elahi” ultimately became the butt of jokes through history, Farooq Leghari will have to work really hard politically to avoid the “Zillat Party” tag that people have already started to label his new found political grouping with.


Craven or Rainbow Hearts? Chasing Shadows, Losing Gold

At the Industry Collection Exhibition, supported by world renowned NM Rothschild & Sons Ltd in association with the World Gold Council and the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA), being held from Feb 9 to May 14, 1998 at the Bank of England Museum in London, Dubai-based Pakistani-origin ARY Traders are displaying ARY Rainbow Hearts gold pendants and ARY gold bars. The Sydney 2000 Olympic Coin Programme, a Joint Venture (JV) between the Royal Australian Mint and the Perth Mint, have appointed ARY Traders as the official distributor of their programme in the UAE. In defence of ARY, which had been named by the Ehtesab Cell, led by Senator Saifur Rahman, of alleged wrongdoings relating to his getting the sole rights to import gold into Pakistan, Mr Rolf Schnebeli, Chief Executive, Middle East & India, World Gold Council said, “ARY is a well-reputed company in Dubai with a long-standing presence in the UAE and during my time I have had very positive experience (of them). I have no reason to doubt ARY’s statement (which had rejected GoP’s alleged charges and challenged them to prove any wrongdoing).

On Mar 14, 1998, in a Reference filed before the Ehtesab Bench of the Lahore High Court against (1) Asif Zardari (2) Brig (Retd) Aslam Hayat Qureshi (3) Salman Faruqui (4) Jawed Talat (5) 4 Directors of ARY Traders led by Haji Abdul Razzak and (6) Jans Schlegelmilch, the aforementioned were charged with causing a loss to the public exchequer of approximately Rs.1820 million, and having committed offence of corruption and for corrupt practices within the meaning of Section 3 read with Section 4(2) of the Ehtesab Act, 1997. In a complaint filed with the Dubai Police on July 12, 1997 MCB had accused Hussain Lawai, former President MCB of committing fraud by transferring US$ 10 million in two instalments of US$ 5 million each on Oct 5, 1994 and Feb 23, 1995 via American Express to the directors of ARY in Dubai for “services rendered”


Selection and Maintenance of Aim

The primary mission of any government in the world is to tend to the economy. A vibrant economy is the source of life for the people of any country, divergence from the selected aim has meant disaster for many a nation. In the struggle for power since the country was divided in 1971, the economy has been given a very low priority and the result has been that on a pro-rata basis the quality of life in 1997 is far inferior to that enjoyed by the average citizen 25 years earlier in 1972. For divergence from the primary aim we have only got an inferior leadership to blame, a leadership that gives only lip-service rhetoric to its major responsibility, subordinating it to a myriad number of issues with their own priority given to survivability and how to ensure longevity. The unfortunate part is that if the government would concentrate on fulfilling its promise for the service of the people (and only people) as its primary aim, the issue of longevity would resolve in its favour as a side effect of its greater success. However every government that comes to power gets itself so involved in working for the “next” term that they never finish their first term. Despite our hopes for a sea-change in attitudes, we find that Mian Nawaz Sharif’s regime is no different in their approach to governance than their predecessors, they have fallen into the same routine of riding to power as democrats with the “mandate” of the people, then shedding their democratic cloak for absolute monarchy and then attempting to elongate their civilian dictatorship by any number of means. Less than a year into a massive “mandate” from the people, the Mian Nawaz Sharif regime is reeling, mainly because of a penchant to rail against windmills, with the advice of mule-headed Sancho Panzas.


A Half Year Scorecard

For those fed up with the “civilian coup” that saw Asif Zardari virtually take over the affairs of governance in lieu of his wife, Ms Benazir Bhutto, great expectations are vested in the success of Mian Sahib, who came to office with the largest mandate, seat-wise, in this nation’s democratic history. These mainly centre around sound governance, the country having been reduced into economic apocalypse by acts of both commission and omission. Given the limitations of our leaders in matters of governance, expectation as to radical change is a pipedream that we must now grow out of hoping and longing for, unless we are masochists who revel in our frustration because that’s all we are likely to get. Public memory being notoriously short, perception usually overwhelms reality.


The PIA Story – Excellence Resilient over Nepotism

(This is the SECOND and CONCLUDING article of the national airline)

That PIA has survived the likes of Asif Zardari is a story of excellence being resilient enough to withstand the vagaries of nepotism and corruption. Throughout PIA’s history many opportunists and self-seekers have undermined its efficiency and credibility but no one ever mounted such a sustained assault on the structure of the organization as Zardari did, he ruined the rest of the country in the same very unique manner.

PIA’s strong points are its pilots and engineering staff, despite the skepticism of many one may also make the same comment about the core of a very dedicated management cadre, at least for the most part. Which other commercial airline in the world flies such an old fleet of Boeing 747’s and Fokker-27s in such a cost effective and safe manner? Both aircraft have more than outlived their commercial utility by at least a decade if not more. This displays a tremendous inherent self-confidence within PIA’s staff about their own and each other’s abilities, that potential is a corporate asset of tremendous value. Barring a few black sheep among the cockpit crew as well as ground and flight engineers, the rating mark as to the performance of the vast majority is well above average. Some of the cockpit crew have unfortunately been politicized and since they frequently fly those who matter, a few also consider themselves “armchair experts” on geo-political and economic affairs, they should concentrate on improving their own professionalism and stay away from politics or enter politics full-time as a profession. Hopefully we will keep politicians and intellectuals from trying to learn how to fly an aircraft.