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India Shining?

Show-cased as an annual event, the ”India Economic Summit” of the “World Economic Forum” offers a tremendous networking opportunity for both foreign and Indian businesses, providing a rare encapsulated insight into new products and developments for participants. India’s high growth rate is sustained and force-multiplied by foreign direct investment (FDI), a combination of western entrepreneurs, non-resident Indians (NRIs) and dynamic local industrialists and businessmen taking good advantage of the vastness of India and its teeming population. While the talent and expertise exhibited by both the public and private sector are impressive, the major components of the booming economy include “Information Technology” (IT), and “Outsourcing”. The opening of the aviation sector has initiated another surge, new private airlines adding more and more aircraft as passengers turn for long hauls from trains and buses to the air. With public-private sector investment in roads and highways, multiple number of high-rises are being constructed in many cities and towns, force-multiplying the economic boom.


Think South Asian

Foreign Minister Natwar Singh’s visit to Pakistan was an important milestone on the road to a full and lasting peace in South Asia. While the two agreements signed were not substantial in nature and the expected agreement on Siachen did not materialize, the body language was very positive and boded well for the future. While we are still skirting on the core issue of Kashmir, there is need to instill confidence in the ongoing process by showing actual progress in Siachen, Sir Creek, Baghlihar Dam, etc. Natwar Singh is no ordinary diplomat, he has first-hand knowledge of Pakistan, indeed all of South Asia. With his own considerable skills as a negotiator and inherent knowledge of the problems between Pakistan and India, his has been a very positive role in overcoming the obstacles to peace.


Two Countries, One Nation

For over 30 years now we have been carrying the burden of the horrific experience of the break-up of the country, in one symbolic measure the President set the ghosts of 1971 to rest. A simple apology meant a lot to the Bangladeshi psyche, the President being a uniformed person the effect was force-multiplied many times. The official Bangladeshi reaction was swift and concise, 1971 is now behind us, it was time to move ahead and strengthen relations to the benefit of both countries. Both for Pakistan and Bangladesh it was important to get over 1971.


Voodoo Policies or Noora Kushti? – Searching Questions. Ambiguous Answers

With the postponement of the visit of the IMF Mission to Pakistan, for all intents and purposes the economic battle lines seem to have been drawn with Pakistan heading pell mell into default. Already being labelled as an international basket case, it seems we have no choice but to unilaterally declare a debt moratorium. Within the grace period of a series of small defaults, we seem to be resorting to populist rhetoric to provide answers to the many questions that have arisen to bedevil this country. Because of the looming recession worldwide, temporarily arrested by lowering of interest rates by the US, Pakistan does not figure prominently on international economic radar screens, others being more vital to western interests. A recent article in TIME magazine clearly documented changing western perceptions vis-a-vis the continued integrity of a country once acknowledged as the cornerstone of US policy in the region, to its present outcast status as opposed to the interests of India. On a whole range of issues, political, social and economic, Pakistan is under severe pressure. Unfortunately instead of addressing the issues, Mian Nawaz Sharif seems to be adopting a confrontationist course, this is a deliberate policy that could well be a smokescreen. Is all this for real or are we the witnesses to an elaborate “sting” operation? There is growing suspicion (and uneasiness) that an agreement of sorts may have been reached with IMF on the basis of a secret commitment on CTBT, that all this bluster is meant to mobilise domestic public opinion. Whatever, this head-on policy has worsened investor’s last remaining confidence in Pakistan’s economy, they have been pulling out of blue-chip stocks even, leaving Pakistan teetering on the brink of economic catastrophe. Could this also be a ploy for raking in short-term profits? Maybe we are reading too much into conspiracy theories.

Eighteen months into his rule, the PM has thankfully discovered Karachi, the linch-pin of economic activity in Pakistan. The worsening law and order situation has actively contributed to economic apocalypse and general depression among the intelligentsia and the elite of the city. When the PM very rightly supported a suggestion by prominent concerned citizens for Metropolitan Police in Karachi, the bureaucracy promptly tried to shoot it down point-by-point. In a Catch-22 situation, how can they afford to give up power that ensures systematic chaos and confusion, that in turn allows them to rule the roost in the name of law and order without any check and balance? Not surprising, while the whole exercise is still a zero sum game, it has given a PR photo-opportunity to the PM to “show his concern for the people of Karachi”. The Rs.24 billion economic package will certainly be of indirect benefit to Karachiites in the sense of easing the transportation/communication problems for the benefit of those up-country but what Karachi needs is direct government investment in creating more jobs, both in the public and private sectors in the fields of education, health, transportation, electricity, water, sewerage, gas, roads and other community-oriented socio-economic infrastructure. What Karachi badly needs is local self-government. For such an elaborate scheme to be successful one needs not only political will and the money to back that will but also an honesty of purpose and dedicated approach. Unfortunately we are sadly bereft of these attributes. So unless we can come up with a miracle, the immediate and long-term prognosis is bad for the country. With contempt we noted when Kissinger labelled Bangladesh an international basket case, in the space of one day (May 28) we have gone into two different directions, we became a nuclear power, sort of, and simultaneously commenced our journey down the road to economic ruin.


Horse Trading

One of South Asia’s problems is the ridiculous claim that our democracy is moulded according to the “genius of the people” while in actual fact it is an imperfect electoral exercise that is copied from western models with very little relevance to the local environment. This type of democracy bedevils good governance, particularly because the low rate of literacy provides opportunity for a high rate of malfeasance. The voters in India having given a mixed verdict, parties and individuals in a “hung Parliament” have been engaged in compromising ethical principles in the scramble to acquire the seat of power. The commonly used term for this ambiguous post-electoral exercise is “horse-trading” and except in Sri Lanka, which delivered a complete mandate for change, things are the same in Pakistan, Nepal, India and in the near future will most probably be the same in Bangladesh. With every passing election, the verdict of the electorate is increasingly being blatantly corrupted, with a commensurate loss of public confidence in the electoral process. The crossing of the ideological floor is not confined to post-election power plays only, candidates and parties now search for each other pre-election to determine the best electoral winning combination. One begins to wonder whether a commitment to any party line can survive serving the motivated interests of one’s personal self, materially more important than ideology.

A hung Parliament sets in motion forces that are morally repugnant to the exercise of the free vote. To attain a majority Atal Behari Vajpayee’s BJP government is now engaged in a scramble to influence smaller parties and individuals, who on their part want a binding commitment from the would-be suitors for their special interests or more directly, money and lots of it. This democratic farce of “horse-trading”, is not confined to India or South Asia but is a common practice in most third world countries. Accountability, which is at the heart of the democratic process, is lost at the very outset when stepping into the governance mode. Having violated ethical principles and compromised on election promises to accommodate potential allies in reaching for power, the incumbents are ill-suited as responsible mentors of any exercise in accountability. The result is that increasingly governments rely on the rewards of corruption for survival. In some countries it has become a socially acceptable thing to be blatantly corrupt i.e. the Marcos Syndrome where the rulers brazenly flaunt illegal wealth knowing that a significant part of the gullible public will keep on believing their denials about corruption. Faced with retribution in various forms if they do not conform, senior government functionaries are now finding it more profitable to join in with the loot, some even falling over themselves to ingratiate themselves with the political rulers by teaching them how to increase their looting of the public till while carefully skirting around the laws of the land. A democracy without accountability is akin to dictatorship, a dictatorship that does not compromise on nepotism and corruption would then logically be better than such a democracy. Given that dictatorship almost never accepts accountability about itself, the whole thing slides into a Catch-22 situation.


Immigration Blues

One of the major factors contributing to Karachi’s bad law and order situation is the unchecked flow of illegal immigrants. Of the estimated population of 10.8 million, 4.8 million are new Sindhis (or Mohajirs), 1.5 million Punjabis, 1.5 million Pathans, 1.4 million Bangladeshis, 500,000 ethnic Sindhis, 500,000 Kashmiris, 200,000 Afghans, 150,000 Balochis, 50,000 Iranians, 50,000 Burmese (Arakan origin), 150,000 miscellaneous. 1.2 million Bangladeshi illegal immigrants reached Karachi after 1971 in different stages, viz (1) 1972-1977 approximately 200,000 (2) 1977-1985 approximately 300,000 (3) 1985-1995 approximately 1 million. The Afghan population, also illegal, has now reduced by about 50% from its mid-80s high of 400,000. Most of the Burmese Muslims of Arakan origin entering Karachi after 1978 are illegal, while the illegal Iranian immigrants came in three waves. About 750,000 Pakistani citizens of Mohajir origin stranded in Bangladesh have come to Karachi, half a million during the period 1972-1977 whereas 250,000 have come from 1978 onwards leaving a balance of 250,000 still stranded in Bangladesh who want to come to Pakistan. Pakistan has a moral obligation to accept these Pakistanis of Mohajir origin stranded in Bangladesh. About 150,000 each of Punjabi and Pathan origin also came back from former East Pakistan, very few to Karachi. Of the original 1.5 million refugees from India and their descendants, 500,000 have since merged into the Bangladeshi mainstream. Between 1972 till date, almost half a million Mohajirs (between the ages 15 to 25) directly from areas in India have joined their brethren in Pakistan, almost all of them illegally and mostly now resident in Karachi. Between 1972 till date, there has been an addition to the population of 3 million people from outside Karachi, only 750,000 legally. Karachi’s population being 5.5 million in 1971, has almost doubled now, the maximum influx being 1.5 million Mohajirs and 1.2 million Bangladeshis. With employment opportunities increasing in Punjab, NWFP as well as Kashmir and as the law and order situation has worsened, depressing the economic opportunities in Karachi, on the average there has been a consistent reverse flow in the direction of Punjab, NWFP and Kashmir. Though there continues to be a fair turnover, the population figures of those originating from these areas has decreased (especially in the last 5 years) by about 15% on an average over the past two decades.

The natural growth of any modern metropolitan city is to rise by 15-20% every ten years. Given this computation, Karachi’s population should have been maximum around 8 million today, even then the present socio-economic infrastructure and services would have been barely adequate to cover the needs of the citizens. Imagine then the plight of a city that has to cater to 3 million more residents than its already overburdened services can cope with. In fact Karachi’s housing, water, electricity, gas, sewerage, roads, transportation, medical facilities, etc can give only “below average” service to less than half the present population. The quality of life available in this city has, therefore, rapidly deteriorated. With the reduction of employment opportunities in the city, the social structure has started to coalesce around ethnic lines as each racial community competes for the steadily reducing number of jobs. Though in numbers, unlike the Pathans, the Punjabis and Kashmiris do not live in “ghettos” and as such are non-existent as a community force in Karachi, even compared to the illegal Bangladeshis. This sharing of the ever-reducing economic pie, which as a process remained quite fair till 1985, became a racially selfish exercise after the “Bushra Zaidi” incident (named after the riots when the school-going girl was run over by a yellow minibus). The youth of the Mohajir community came together at perceived discrimination and persecution due to their ethnic background, making a political movement called the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM). While the other communities did not resort to the same “circling of the wagons”, with its solid vote bank in “ghettos” the MQM quickly became a major political force in the urban areas of Sindh. Linked with its problems in the other urban areas of Sindh where the ethnic Sindhis in rural areas surrounding these urban enclaves were in an overwhelming majority, MQM’s birth inadvertently initiated the present decade of racial strife (1985-1995).


Sindh Situation

To revive the Sindh economy, pragmatic and bold initiatives must commence with Karachi which is not only the prime city of Sindh but that of Pakistan, being its only port. Karachi remained economically buoyant during the 70s because of a construction boom fuelled primarily by expatriate funds from the Middle East. While the money for housing is still there, the lack of water and power have rendered housing starts to virtually nothing. Consequently, a large percentage of the traditional labour force is unemployed, the residual effects spiralling upwards and cutting into white collar jobs. The net result has been an economic downturn of enormous proportion that has degenerated into (1) ethnic strife as the population has increased but the economic cake has become smaller (2) deterioration of law and order as the jobless have turned to crime and (3) consequently residual political factors breeding a general state of anarchy. This has been further accentuated by the machinations of RAW, (the terror arm of India), drugs and arms proliferation, activities of armed militants of various political parties, dacoits from the interior seeking kidnap victims from richer urban areas rather than their traditional rural hunting grounds, etc. To complicate the economic scene, entire industries have shifted northwards to safer havens, deepening the unemployment crisis.