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Where Do We Go From Here?

The recent Federal Budget has increased the threshold of pain that the common man has to endure because of the misconceived policies that a “democratic” regime is implementing in horrendous fashion through an errant bureaucracy. Despite what Mr. VA Jafarey claims, and Mr. VA Jafarey has been making quite a number of claims to the contrary recently, the economy is in serious trouble. If it were not for our much vilified parallel economy, the same that everyone (and his/her IMF uncle) wants to document and cannot, we would be up the creek with only a begging bowl for a paddle. The Pakistani Rupee is sliding ominously against the US dollar and the country’s stock markets are barely kept afloat by frequent doses of massive public sector intervention. An economic disaster-in-the-making is not a startling revelation, not only does it cost the man in the street more to go on living, everyday drives him deeper into debt. The middle class cannot afford to die even, their hard-saved life insurance may not be worth the paper it is written on, given that the Ministry of Finance (MoF) has requisitioned almost all of State Life’s funds to create the instant liquidity Government of Pakistan (GoP) seems to acquire whenever an IMF deadline approaches. Creative accounting be damned, we have resorted to outright fudging to maintain the financial lie that all is “milk and honey” with respect to our economy.


Recurring Song, Fresh Singer

Confirming widespread speculation, cricketing hero turned social worker and philanthropist, Imran Khan finally took the plunge into politics in Pakistan. Addressing a crowded Press Conference in the historic city of Lahore a few days after the bomb blast that destroyed the OPD of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital (SKMT), he launched a political movement Tehrik-i-Insaf (Movement for Justice), ostensibly to change the much-disfigured face of Pakistan politics. Most nations face a moral crisis of sorts in varying degree, blatant nepotism and corruption has made our particular descent rather precipitous to a level once associated with the so-called “banana republics” of Latin and South America. With the track record of our political parties rather bleak and without moral authority as a check, excess has reached new heights. With the Opposition repeatedly failing to mount a credible challenge to stem the decay of the fabric of the nation, Imran Khan’s advent into politics thus fills a vacuum of sorts. We are in such desperate straits that any person or organization willing and able (with his/her eyes open) to take us out of this morass is more than welcome to try.

By opting for a movement instead of a political party, Imran wisely stays above the political fray in pursuit of a greater cause than narrow political ambitions in simply chasing after political office. Despite appropriate public pronouncements, his appearance on the political scene has not been well received by either side of the political spectrum. If the bomb was a crude warning delivered by the “more loyal than the Queen” Brigade on the Becket pattern of “who will rid me of this mad priest?”, it had the opposite effect. In an actual exercise of adult franchise, analysts say he would wean away more votes from PML (N) than PPP, for the moment his campaign against various wrongs will help PML (N) put enormous pressure on the incumbent PPP Government. Riven with avarice and greed, the soul of our political parties is encapsulated in the ever increasing outrageous demands of our Parliamentarians, taking us deeper into an economic black hole. Desperate to cling to office, principles of ethical governments have been compromised by successive incumbents lacking the moral strength to take a tough stand. The theoretical touchstone for advancement in a merit-based society is competition, here it is a farcical sop meant as a palliative for the masses since only a privileged few with connections take prized appointments irrespective of performance. The latest example are the 60 cadet pilots chosen for PIA, notwithstanding the fact that flying passengers is a discipline where it is fatal to compromise on skill and experience. Some people do advance in the face of the prevalent norm (a la Gen Jahangir Karamat, the present COAS) but these are exceptions, in his case not only because of sheer merit but because the “court favourite” was too horrible an alternative for the public (and the Army) to stomach. Merit is not only a disqualifier it is also suspect in an environment where the few with merit who do rise find themselves on the receiving end of jealousy and suspicion, being perceived as a threat by those who have risen on the nepotism-route and refuse to accept that success can be possible without favouritism and/or manipulation. Quotas in Pakistan are meant to protect the rights of the minority, instead they are flagrantly misused to perpetuate the dominance of a privileged elite and their clientele, an extension of the feudal system into democracy. The vast majority within Parliament are a privileged elite of tax-exempt feudals who have the effrontery to impose legislation to tax the not-so influential salaried class and the self-employed. Unless this feudal gridlock on the country’s spine is broken, this country is doomed. The major objective of contriving to position the wrong people in the right places is to checkmate any opposition in the wholesale looting of the public till at will, corruption being the Siamese twin of nepotism. Dr Mahbubul Haq, former Finance Minister in Junejo’s cabinet and world technocrat, estimated annual loss to the national exchequer due to corruption conservatively at Rs.40 billion in 1988, today it could be well over Rs.100 billion. A decade or so ago one had to pay a bribe to get something wrong done, now in utter contempt of the law even something that is right can only get done by greasing the right palms. Ill-gotten wealth was kept hidden in overseas accounts, now it is flouted openly and proudly in luxury trappings by the nouveau rich. The silent majority may not be corrupt but compromise their self-respect to pay homage at the feet of those in power, institutionalizing corruption by making it socially acceptable to be corrupt. Those who abrogate their right as citizens (and functionaries) to voice their protest in the “see no evil, hear no evil and do no evil” syndrome are a pathetic lot beneath contempt. Wearing blinkers behind the flimsy fig-leaf of “Constitutional obligations” does not make them any less culpable, their fawning empathy makes them as much guilty as those whom it helps to loot this nation.


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?


The State, Industry and Commerce – III

Among the designated HIT LIST of the Disinvestment Committee for Privatisation are the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP), the Rice Export Corporation of Pakistan (RECP) and the Cotton Export Corporation of Pakistan (CECP). The performance of TCP, except for a brief period under Mr Yousuf as Chairman during 1983-85, has been more or less atrocious, more due to mala fide intervention (or benign negligence) of the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) as opposed to its own shortcomings. RECP and CECP could have performed much better, in the final analysis they have more than served the national purpose. The efficacy of top management and national requirement may have varied directly proportional to the quality of bureaucrats posted in but Pakistan has had a world position for the last two decades in rice and cotton because of the monopoly situation created by RECP and CECP.