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Remembering my Mother!

An early vivid recollection of my mother is in Shalwar Kameez riding a bicycle, my infant sister on a basket on the front handle, my father and myself pedalling furiously on either side on separate bicycles, during my father’s postings in different cantonments from 1949 to 1953, successively Sialkot, Kurmitola, Jessore, Quetta and Comilla. My mother was always an original whether teaching classical dancing or music, playing cards or just socializing, etc proud of being Bengali and proud of being Pakistani, never afraid to say what she felt and without a care to whom she said it or how she said it. To those who saw the frail, shriveled person in semi-coma for about four months till she died peacefully in my presence at about 9:30 pm on Saturday May 19, 2001 at the age of 76, all this may sound rather incongruous.

Ruby Bano Zia Paiker Sarwat Ara Sehgal, daughter of late Magistrate Badruddin Ahmad and granddaughter of Khan Bahadur Mohiuddin Ahmad of Bogra, Boga, Paanch Bibi and Sukanpukur (to name the parameters of the Nawada Boga Estate, spread over 65 villages in Northern Bengal, (Paanch Bibi being famous as Moulana Bhashani’s home village), the heartland of Bangladesh, was married in September 1944 to a Punjabi Army Officer from Sialkot, the heartland of Pakistan. Too long a story to be told in a few paragraphs, suffice that her two uncles late Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy and J A Rahim had something to do with their vision of the Pakistan-to-be. The powers-that-be in GHQ Rawalpindi decided in 1949 in their infinite wisdom that her Bengali lineage was enough reason to post my father (then a Major and die-hard of 7/16 Punjab, now 19 Punjab), kicking and screaming in protest, to lead a Company-sized contingent from “Sat Sola” to raise 2nd Battalion The East Bengal Regiment (2EB), he went on to command the JUNIOR TIGERS in Comilla from early 1956 to 1958. Two of his adjutants Shafiullah, Ershad and another officer Ziaur Rahman, rose to Chief of Army Staff rank in the Bangladesh Army post 1971, Zia and Ershad went on to become Presidents. At least six others became major generals in Bangladesh. In Pakistan, Maj Gen (Retd) Nasrullah (his 21C in 2EB) and former Governor Balochistan Lt Gen (Retd) Sardar F S Lodi (who came to him in 2 EB as a subaltern) were present on May 22 on the “Dua” for my mother. Late Gen Iqbal Khan, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, was attached as a Captain with 2EB for over six months time in 1957 with two companies of 2 FF and also functioned as his Adjutant during anti-smuggling “Operation Close Door” in then East Pakistan.


The Case for a Mixed Economy

Alarge number of Asian and African countries got independence from their European rulers in the 50s and the 60s. Since socialism was in the forefront in shrugging off the yoke of imperialism and capitalism, almost all the leaders were ideologically socialist. Socialism was the romance of the times. Invariably the nationalist leaders followed the Soviet model in their economic thinking, inevitably it led to disaster for their respective economies. While they were certainly right in maintaining that the State had a responsibility to safeguard the socio-economic rights of the common citizen and look after their welfare, by shunning free enterprise altogether they created an inefficient system without any incentive or motivation. The monarchical prerogative of appointing managers was replaced by the qualification of individual loyalty to the socialist system irrespective of ability. Over the years, concentrated education ensured that managers of better quality were created in Soviet Russia and Communist China but those also fell away eventually without incentive. Countries such as Zaire, Angola, Uganda, etc had very little experienced managers among locals at their respective independences. The exodus of expatriates devastated their potential. The most potent example of a sea-change in change in thinking is that of Nelson Mandela, who realized that the loss of white managers would send South Africa into the darkness as had happened to many African countries despite being rich in resources. On the surface, Mandela made a historic black-white compromise, in real sense he compromised on ideology for the economic sake of the people, opting for a pragmatic mixed economy instead of the ideally romantic pure socialist concept. Mandela had the advantage of the Zimbabwe experience to back his ideas, not so leaders like Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, etc who took their people into darkness while promising them light. Desperate to be considered one of the great non-aligned leaders of the 20th century and egged on by socialist ideologues like J.A Rahim, Mubashar Hasan, Shaikh Rasheed, Mairaj Mohammad Khan, late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took us down the nationalism route into economic disaster in the early 70s. In his defence one can only say that he did rein in rampant capitalism that saw inordinate wealth concentrated in the hands of only 23 families, he simply went too far in his nationalisation binge.


D Minus 8 and Counting

Going into the final stretch, one is struck by the fact that while positive factors of the two major political groupings may be important for their success, the negative factors would be much more lethal for their failure. This is politics upside down instead of right side up but this is Pakistan 1993, that’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s going to be.

Ms Benazir remains a great crowd-puller and if the election gauges were to be calibrated on the volume of the crowds and the number of party flags, the PPP would be a sure thing at Ladbroke’s. However, the only thing that keeps betting shops like Ladbroke’s profitable is that people lose more often than winning. On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif’s performance has been extraordinary for a person whose previous record was largely believed to be propped up by Establishment support. Not only is he matching Ms Benazir crowd for crowd but he is the first non-Sindhi leader who has drawn a segment of support within Sindh during his repeated forays into the interior to deny PPP a complete sweep in the Province.


The Countdown Begins

The Caretaker PM, Mr. Moeenuddin Qureshi, has given as his first priority the conduct of free and fair elections. With 70 days to go the polls for the National Assembly, the Countdown may have started but electioneering has not yet commenced in earnest. Despite that we are much further advanced today in the pre-election process than we were on May 26 when the Supreme Court scuttled the July 14 date set by Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Co, which only goes to show that there is much more confidence about the elections of October 6 being held in comparison to the July 14 date. One must also state that the present Caretaker arrangement inspires confidence about their neutrality as opposed to the Supreme Court-terminated Balakh Sher arrangement which was clearly partial.

While elections are certainly a priority, the first priority remains the economy. Because of the prolonged state of limbo, Pakistan’s economy has been under severe pressure. The uncertainty has added to nervousness among potential investors thereby knocking down the sequence of events that was to lead us towards economic amelioration. Inflow of investment is the main prop for bolstering the economy during the state of transition. To cater for the shortfall, PM Moeen Qureshi will certainly ask his friends in the World Bank and IMF for international aid to start flowing immediately. One feels that he would do better by asking for a Debt Moratorium/Debt rescheduling for a three-year period. The policy of liberalisation has meant the removal of bureaucratic controls in order to attract investors to a free economy. Unfortunately investors have stayed away due to the political instability but the free economy environment and its lack of checks and curbs has created an adverse economic imbalance to the detriment of Pakistan. Our foreign exchange reserves have dwindled alarmingly. Massive devaluation by India had already effectively undercut our major export earners, cotton textiles, the hiatus in early reaction has contributed to taking us to the verge of economic apocalypse.


The State, Industry and Commerce – I

History records the after effects of takeover of the assets of the British East India Company by the British Government in the name of the Crown subsequent to the 1857 War of Independence as a sordid example of the excesses of private enterprise being replaced by the inadequacies of bureaucracy’s lack of enterprise. Economics aside, it took almost a century for the foundations of the British Indian Empire to crumble, the residual of Imperial rule still afflicts South Asia, most particularly in ethnic and religious tension that sweeps the region. Our bureaucracy, no match for its British antecedents, particularly in honesty and sincerity of purpose, adds to its Atlas-like Administrative burden by ham-handed attempts to guide the economy of the nation, concentrating everything in the public sector, at the cost of private enterprise. Under the garb of a misguided sense of socialism that became the fashion of politics of the world in an era of slogan-mongering politicking in the 50s and 60s, more particularly the new emerging nations of the Third World, the State became a major (and dominating) participant in industry and commerce in Pakistan rather than acting to simply regulate the process in a laid-back manner, a sure recipe for disaster manifest in the despondency and hunger afflicting the masses of one of the Superpowers of today, the Soviet Union and its former proteges and client-nations of Eastern Europe. People who talk about the Marxist-Leninist type of socialism should be made to stand in queue in the bread lines of the USSR and the former COMECON countries.