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Misconceptions about NSC

In his address to the nation last Friday the President touched briefly on Afghanistan before turning to the major event in the future, the general elections on Oct 10, 2002 and the proposals for constitutional amendments thereof for good governance. He was extremely eloquent in elaborating the concept and mechanics the next day at the editors briefing. While the complete subject requires profound analysis and debate, one would like to concentrate on the fundamental misunderstanding of the concept and role of the National Security Council (NSC) as proposed in Pakistan and in vogue in other countries. This misconception badly needs to be corrected, at the moment we are jumping to conclusions because of misnaming of the entities, at least in the Pakistan context.

In the political sense, the NSC, as being proposed by the President, is an 11-member body composed of the President, the PM, the Leader of the Opposition, the four Chiefs Ministers and the four Service chiefs. This NSC would give the Armed Forces an indirect role in governance and act as a escape valve to avoid military intervention in the future. This would also put some restraint on the President in using his arbitrary powers under clause 58(2)b of the Constitution. Given the history of martial laws and dismissal of the PM (twice each Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif), there needs to be a mechanism to serve as a check and balance between the President and the PM. Critics say that the proposal gives too much power to an indirectly-elected President, they conveniently forget that in a parliamentary democracy the PM is also indirectly elected and derives his strength from the same source that gives the President the mandate also. As for giving the Armed Forces a role in governance, the proposal does not give any role in day-to-day governance but in fact mandates a monitoring function expressed as a minority (4 members out of 11) in the NSC.

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The Song, Not the Making

Entering the political arena for any soldier is like an infantryman trying to cross a minefield covered by massed artillery including a fair amount of air-bursts. Being a commando, Pervez Musharraf is certainly more infantarian than a gunner, moreover he is anything but “lean and mean”. Calling for a referendum seeking the peoples’ approval of his policies for the past 30 months and continuation as President thereof past Oct 2002, the President proceeded not to heed the advice of a small number of his real friends who were deadset against any Referendum, he went with the majority, i.e. the “yes-men”.

Informed legal eagles are both for and against the Referendum, making constitutionality a matter of legal opinion depending upon which side you represent, so that is not reason for apprehension. The electability of Pervez Musharraf is also not a source for worry, he is extremely popular among the masses and the polls predict a good percentage will vote for him to stay in power and continue his governing the country, or rather, his monitoring of good governance of the country. What is worrying is that while he has been very effective in ruling the country by single fiat without association with any politicians, in this new political environment, one he (and we) could have done without, he has to be vary of perceived friend and foe alike. It was scary looking at the politicians in the front row in Lahore on April 9, on a corruption-meter they exceeded all that NAB has hauled up till now.

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The Rule of Law

That separates society from the jungle is that civilization requires adherence to the rule of law. There is a general perception that the arbitrary nature of military rule is on a fine line between civilized society and the laws of the jungle, this perception is patently false, true only when individuals in the military hierarchy bend the rules to suit vested interest. Former PM Mian Nawaz Sharif could well have been dealt with summarily in a military court for his civilian coup on Oct. 12, 1999 but the successful counter-coup followed a route different to that of any known previous military rule. Press freedom and the noticeable absence of military courts has in fact set a dangerous precedent, men in uniform in third world countries with endemic bad governance may be encouraged to apply the nouveau Musharraf-formula for this different type of martial law. A trial before the Anti-Terrorist Court (ATC) was always a gamble for the military regime, in hindsight it was a risk well-taken. Finding him guilty on two out of four counts, namely hijacking and terrorism, Judge Jafferi convicted the former PM with two life sentences, six other co-accused were found “not guilty” on all the charges. Pakistanis and foreigners alike breathed a deep sigh of relief, a death sentence could have set off protests based not on the merits of the sentence as equated to the crime but on political and constitutional precedents past and for the future. The Presiding Judge was quite Solomonic in conducting a “fair and transparent trial”, accepted as such by friend and foe alike except perhaps the immediate family and close friends. The former PM could well have been awarded the maximum allowable under law but the good judge adjudged his actions were taken “in a fit of passion”. Exonerating him on all counts would have knocked the prop from under the raison d’etre of the present rule, leaving no fallback option except one, thankfully that extreme did not come to pass.

Serving on the US Supreme Court from 1902 to 1934, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. is considered as one of the greatest jurists of all times. He annunciated the concept of “clear and present danger”, the example of a man in a movie theatre who stands up suddenly and without any reason shouts “fire, fire”, thereby setting off a stampede for the exits in which many die or are injured. By trying to unseat a COAS while he was on a foreign trip, Mian Nawaz Sharif became that “man in the movie theatre”, setting off events that included endangering besides the COAS and his wife, the crew and the passengers, unwitting innocents in the Machiavellian drama being staged in (and around) the PM’s House in Islamabad on the afternoon of Oct. 12.

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Overcoming the FX Crisis, Pragmatically

Brutally expressed, there is no further credibility left in our written sovereign commitments. That erosion of confidence has seen a massive outflow of US dollars as witnessed by the depreciation of the Pakistani Rupee, the difference being unofficially upto Rs 9 at one time. From May 28 onwards there has been a series of ill-considered initiatives, starting with the deep-freeze of all foreign exchange accounts, that has undercut Pakistan’s future as a guarantor of any financial agreement or transaction. The net result is that inward foreign exchange remittances have mostly dried up, at least along the legal route and in the present environment, and for the foreseeable future, because no one is going to trust Pakistan’s word. The crucial element in the gameplan to the sanctions was remittances by expatriates, these will not be forthcoming anymore, unfortunately that confidence flow has dried out.

Why did things come to such a pass? Unfortunately out of the US $ 11 billion that came into the foreign currency accounts since 1992, almost 70% was used up by the Benazir-Zardari government. What the Caretaker Regime inherited in late 1996 was almost a bankrupt kitty, in turn they passed on only a few weeks of foreign exchange reserves to the Nawaz Sharif regime in 1997, about US $ 300 million only and that took some doing by Shahid Javed Burki who was looking after the Finance portfolio in the Caretaker regime. Fresh remittances and austerity measures had built up the Reserves to US$ 1.5 billion over the past 18 months. It is now a fact that withdrawals of almost US $ 150-200 million from May 23 onwards convinced the government that the nuclear blast would cause panic withdrawals because of the anticipated economic sanctions. The result was the imposition of emergency and the deep freeze of all foreign currency accounts. As a temporary measure it could have been overlooked by the investing public but when it became apparent that the government wanted to Rupee-fy the deposited US dollars on GoP terms, the public confidence rapidly eroded. Since then the erratic course followed has been a multiple disaster for the country. Since credibility is a must factor for those seeking to establish financial havens, we are a non-starter in this category. As this article goes into print, the zigzag policy persists and as Maxim suggested in last week’s (Saturday July 4) cartoon in THE NATION, someone would have to be mental to send money into Pakistan.

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Damage Control

Rip Van Winkle woke to a new world after sleeping for twenty years, this nation had to wait for 40 years since the Tamizuddin case to wake up from its extended slumber. The immediate feeling is that of euphoria, of complete freedom, the casting away of bureaucratic shackles that have suffocated this country for almost all its life span. For the foreseeable future the rule of law seems to have been restored but the subsequent dissolution of the Punjab Provincial Assembly has shown that the potential of the Evil Empire for mayhem remains alive though somewhat diminished. For the first time in four decades, the actual rulers of this country, bureaucracy and its “Republican” political allies (mainly from among the landed class) are under pressure from real democracy, not their stunted, guided version of it. The main prop in the persistence of their bluff has been the support of a usually gullible military, in the absence of that support they have been badly exposed as paper tigers at best, at worst as connivers and manipulators. The Nawaz Sharif regime does not have time to gloat over the return of fortune, they have to shift into high gear to rescue the nation from the flat spin that we are now in economically, politically and in the realm of foreign affairs. Mention must be made of the memorable photograph of the Honourable Justices walking out of the Supreme Court Chamber after delivering their historic verdict, the shortest man by far, Chief Justice Mr. Nasim Hassan Shah, seemed to be tallest among a group of men who had good reason to be walking tall. In the individual context, the stoic forbearance of Justice Shafiur Rahman in the face of a profound personal tragedy will remain a shining example in the putting of duty before self.

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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.

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Heeding Lessons Learnt

During the years Mian Nawaz Sharif was out of office, one got the distinct impression that he was willingly embarked on a “learning curve”, that in keeping with the fundamental principles of leadership he was taking into account his own mis-steps and failures in order to benefit and not make the same mistakes again. Out in the cold from government he was an interested observer to the full range and complement of Benazir’s misdoings from which to draw lessons from for a possible future tenure of government. For any student of politics, which one should always be before becoming a full-time practitioner, the last decade provided a virtual plethora of instances of bad governance, none so potent as the misrule of the last 3 years. Has Mian Nawaz Sharif really learnt from the mistakes made or is he caught up in the strait-jacket that usually cocoons our leaders in an aura of self-delusion and despite their obvious leadership qualities, drags them into failure at governance, unfortunately at the cost of the country? Field Marshal Slim of Burma’s “Defeat into Victory” is an epic saga of the lessons he drew from his mistakes that led to his drubbing by the Japanese, the analysis of which took his 14th Army to eventual total victory. However, it is his “Unofficial History” that is recommended for every subaltern in the Army to read as an example of learning from one’s own mistakes and the reinforcing of success rather than failure, maybe it should be also made mandatory for our top political leaders before they don the mantle of high office.

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Mid-year Economic Review

The Government’s rhetoric expounding the economic miracle that they are supposed to have wrought in the space of a year and some is so different from the actual facts on the ground that when compared with the relatively moderate performance by the present regime, it comes out in bad light. Given that the economic morass we had descended to in 1993 due to the political freeze, for which the present regime has to accept a major share of responsibility because it was the gridlock of administration that they, as the then Opposition, used as a modus operandi to bring down the Nawaz Sharif government, we are not in as bad a shape as we could be, again relatively speaking. The general performance of the economy is considerably short of the over-ambitious expectations and targets, that is the major reason for the increasing loss of confidence in the policies of the Government of Pakistan (GoP). Four areas can be highlighted to give a comprehensive overall economic review, viz. (1) Growth, GDP and Production (2) Public Finance (3) Relations with IMF and lastly but most important (4) Inflation and Prices.

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Air Wars Over Open Skies The Battle of Pakistan

In keeping with its policy for liberalising of the economy, the Nawaz Sharif regime set about deregulating the aviation industry. As a part of that process, permissions were granted to a number of airlines for operating on domestic sectors. Going further, the then government decided that reciprocal sovereign agreements were not to be enforced for operating to and from Pakistani international airports, the initial opening being confined to Karachi. While “letting a hundred flowers bloom” was a positive move with respect to the domestic skies, a proliferation of non-sovereign airlines started a cutthroat price war on the Dubai-Karachi-Dubai international sector. If the “Open Skies” policy had been restricted to sovereign airlines, as is slated to be done with effect from Jan 1, 1994, the dubious proliferation of fly-by-night operators who took advantage of the situation to the detriment of both the national interest and the national airline would have been avoided. While the government should have opted for a more phase-wise approach and annunciated a more clear-cut policy, the CAA rather than the government are to blame for the mess because there is enough evidence on record to suggest that the regulating authority misled the government, even circumventing the spirit of the liberalisation, to suit certain vested interest. In effect, this amounted to daylight robbery and one must commend PIA for not succumbing to unfair market pressure on its most lucrative route. As it is, they have taken a sustained hit because of the open-ended approach. Besides being potentially unfair, the CAA stance was extremely discriminating against the national interest and somebody should be taken to task for it. The limited aviation “rollback” on “Open Skies” on external sectors is a more suitable and considered policy, one that should have been the responsibility of the CAA to implement in the first place.

As a frequent critic of PIA, it is a pleasure to note the superb manner that PIA has conducted itself in the past few months to meet the challenge. It is beginning to look like the Airline of two decades ago in the first Nur Khan-tenure. Both on the international and domestic routes there has been a marked change for the better with respect to the visible operations, particularly ground handling and in-flight service. To that extent, more than anything else competition seems to have aroused the dormant loyalty within PIA personnel and motivated them to perform in the able manner that they are capable of. There is no substitute for courtesy and caring. Some of us who travel constantly on domestic routes, particularly on the Karachi-Islamabad-Karachi sector and have been spoiled by the attention we get on the ground in Islamabad, were still unprepared for the depth of company spirit within the PIA staff, particularly those who manage the First Class Lounge (Mrs. Najam, etc). That such protective emotion could have been aroused is a credit to PIA, to all its management, past and present. While doing many things wrong, in balance (and in all fairness) it seems that PIA has been ahead in also doing things right. With their livelihood in danger at the advent of many airlines, PIA personnel have banded together and raised their performance. If one may say so, the stark difference is clearly visible.

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Thinking Positive

Almost all political pundits within and outside the country had predicted a major victory for the PPP over the PML(N) in the National Assembly elections followed by a complete rout in the Provincial Assemblies round a few days later. As a part of overall PPP strategy the first round knockout of Nawaz Sharif was necessary as they were apprehensive of a repeat performance circa 1988 when the Punjab remained a thorn for the PPP Federal Government. However, contrary to the soothsayer’s hopes (rather than any calculated analysis) the PML(N) made a surprisingly strong showing in the general elections, emerging with a slight edge in voting percentage over the PPP nationally but losing out in the commensurate overall tally of seats. All the fears of a “hung” Parliament seem to have come true.

For the first time since the inception of Pakistan in 1947, PML has fought an election as an independent political entity and not as the contrived creation and/or appendage of the Establishment. Nawaz Sharif has provided the PPP its first real democratic Opposition in 25 years. By any reckoning, this has been a phenomenal performance given Ms Benazir’s undeniable charisma, the PPP’s well organised campaign machine and a strong grassroots support among the electorate. On the other hand, the bifurcation of the PML into various factions pre-elections meant that the PML(N) started bereft of a campaign machine, an almost non-existent party organisation that was cobbled together by a bunch of amateur but dedicated Nawaz-loyalists combining with a smattering of experienced professionals. Creating order out of chaos, they were able to translate their enthusiasm into political potency. However, there were glaring shortcomings e.g. the initial euphoria on October 6 night when the sweep of the urban areas convinced the PML(N) that they were well on the way to an overwhelming majority but were later embarrassed by the rural returns and that of the Seraiki belt. On the other hand (the much vilified) Hussain Haqqani of the PPP PR and media team gave a professional performance by disseminating accurate figures on both nights and did his credibility a world of good. For PPP this was the second time they went to the polls with home ground advantage (the first being the 1977 polls) because despite the cosmetics being aired about transparency and fairplay, the Caretaker Administration seemed to be supportive of a PPP victory. However, to the lasting credit of the Army and the civil administration, except for an odd exception or two at higher levels, they generally and genuinely remained neutral. For the Army this has been their finest hour, they maintained a “hands off” policy that contributed to the psyche of free and fair elections, they also managed to maintain commendable peace and harmony throughout the country. While the COAS must take credit as the head of the institution, congratulations are in order all around down the pecking list. One must commend the excellent role played by ISPR in keeping the Army’s public image free from controversy, this time they have functioned with maturity as per their mandate.

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