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DAVOS UPSTAGED!

The theme for the Annual Meeting 2011 of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the beautiful ski resort of Davos-Klosters, “Shared Norms for the New Reality, very aptly mirrors the topmost concern of many leaders today. The erosion of common values is growing in a world that is increasingly becoming more complex and interconnected as well as undermining public trust in leadership, future economic growth and political stability. The rapidly developing events in Egypt emphasized the importance of the four thematic clusters under consideration, aiming to provide each participant with strategic insights, viz (1) responding to the new reality, (2) the economic outlook and defining policies for inclusive growth (3) supporting the G20 agenda and (4) building a global risk response mechanism.

Contrary to common perception, far from being a get-together of global leaders with a club of rich people to exchange notes in the daytime and have a ball at night, Davos provides a unique platform for leaders of governments, civil society, industry and the media as well as a wide spectrum of decision-makers to trade ideas on how to solve common pressing problems.

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Master Of The Game?

Thirty six years ago almost to the day a good friend, Capt (later Maj Gen) Amin Ahmad Chaudhry (of Bangladesh), told me about Telemachus, a Christian monk who jumped into the ring at the Roman Coliseum to separate two gladiators fighting to the death with swords. The gladiators turned on him and he was run through by their swords. Shocked into silence at the tragedy, the crowd left the Coliseum. Some historians disagree, they say he was set on by the crowd, furious that he should prevent their entertainment they stoned him to death. Whatever the real version, because of his selfless act Emperor Honorius stopped all further gladiatorial events from Jan 1, 404 A.D. The moral of “Telemachus” is don’t try mediation, you will either be set upon by both the warring parties or by the bystanders. Normally one shoots the messenger bringing bad news, in the super-charged political atmosphere presently in Pakistan, the polarization is so defined and acute you shoot the mediator. As much as we decry President Bush for it, his doctrine is alive and well in Pakistan, “you are either for us or against us!”. Being even-handed and objective is not smart in Pakistan!

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Compassion And Callousness

If anyone in Pakistan thinks that we have seen the worst of the great disaster that has engulfed northern Pakistan, they ain’t seen nothing yet! As the cold of the winter sets in, the race against time is to provide minimum shelter, warm clothing and adequate nourishment, particularly for children. Seventy-five heavy lift choppers are already operating, another 75 are on the way. Adding about 30-40 light-helicopters the total should top 175 in the air in the affected areas. Field hospitals are now more in number and better equipped to forward the injured to well appointed recovery and recuperation centers, not to exclude sophisticated trauma units. For the many amputees the cold is devastating, without proper medical care and supervision it could be fatal, more field hospitals are required.

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Idealism versus Pragmatism

In matters of State objective idealism always gives way to rank pragmatism. Gen Pervez Musharraf articulated his seven-point agenda within days of taking power, the vision was that of an idealist. In preparing the nation for real democracy, his solution is that of a pragmatist. And by the way there is no duality of personality here, over the past 38 years one has seen it to be in consonance with his character. Between the idealism the President embodies and the pragmatism he has adopted, the fault-line is blurred by the doctrine of necessity. In the hard world of realities and given the adverse circumstances, pragmatism is perhaps the only course that any leader of a beleaguered nation, such as ours could have adopted, not only for the sake of the nation, but being inexorably linked with the reforms he has enacted, for his own continuity. The starkest example was his swift decision in Sep 11, 2001 to abandon decades plus of foreign policy alignment to seek security for the State in a region made suddenly untenable for countries like Pakistan to continue civilized existence. Musharraf’s decision was certainly not popular, it was hugely unpopular among the masses, but in the given environment it was correct, Our heart may have been with the Taliban but it was neither logical nor right, we stepped at just the right time away from an extremism to which our masses have never subscribed to.

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Roll of the Dice

Every military ruler of Pakistan has had an extended honeymoon with the US, Pervez Musharraf is no exception. Ayub Khan’s towering personality was tailor-made for the Cold War period when the US needed staunch friends in the region to counter the spread of communism. His autobiography “Friends, Not Masters” said it all. When the US imposed sanctions on both India and Pakistan because of the 1965 War, Ayub became a very disillusioned and disappointed man. Yahya Khan was tacitly encouraged on his accession to the President-ship in 1969, but it was his facilitating of Pakistan as a bridge to China (for Henry Kissinger’s historic, secret visit in July 1971) secured his position with the US. Even though the US Seventh Fleet never materialized in any Pakistan-supporting posture in the Bay of Bengal in 1971 during the Indo-Pak war as hinted by Henry Kissinger, the US dissuaded Indira Gandhi from expanding the war in the West Pakistan. Ziaul Haq was a pariah to the west when he ascended the throne for any number of reasons and remained so for the hanging of an elected PM, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in April 1979. When US President Jimmy Carter visited India, he pointedly ignored Pakistan. Thanks to the Russian misadventure in Afghanistan in late 1979, Zia became the darling of the west and Pakistan a cornerstone of US policy. It was only after Zia’s death that the US decertified Pakistan because of its suspected nuclear capability. When Pervez Musharraf countered the civilian “coup de etat” of another elected PM, Mian Nawaz Sharif, the US recognized by their diplomatic silence that the masses who thronged the streets were not registering any disapproval but were distributing sweets. In contrast to his imperial visit to India, President Clinton did make very brief whistle-stop stopover in Pakistan during his South Asian tour. And while he did not read out the riot act to his Pakistani military hosts, the US body language conveyed their muted displeasure at the state of affairs in Pakistan sans democracy. Pakistan’s hope of change of heart on a Republican taking over the White House took a nose-dive when the Bush Doctrine made it clear the US was ready to sacrifice Pakistan to gain India’s love, the US desirous that India (a la Chester Bowles May 1965 memo) be a counterweight to China in Asia.

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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.

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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.

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The Sahibaan Enigma

Speaking at his brother’s residence soon after arrival from the USA, former Caretaker PM, Moeen Qureshi said that keeping in view the political and economic challenges confronting the country as well as the internal and external problems all segments of the society should give up confrontation and evolve national consensus. MQ said that the law and order situation in Pakistan was deteriorating and until the problem was resolved the country could not develop. While declaring himself as “not a supporter of Martial Law” since democracy was restored in the country after a long struggle, MQ said that during general elections in the country he had insisted on the formation of a national government as according to the results of the elections, both the largest political parties of the country had won equal votes. The former PM said that as per democratic spirit an in-house change could be made in the country as a national government was the need of the time. During this Press Conference, he was flanked by the Minister for Information during his tenure, Mr. Nisar Memon, the long serving IBM Chief in Pakistan. Thankfully, other members of the American Business Council (ABC) and the Overseas Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who made up a fair segment of his Caretaker Cabinet, were not present as then it would look very much as the kick-off of a selection campaign by this expatriate Pakistani to become PM of another “national” government.

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