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The Demise of Objectivity

The fag end of the 20th century saw freedom of the Press run on a fail-safe line in many first world countries. One of the major casualties of the 21st Century is objectivity in (and of) the media. Objectivity for the most part remains an endangered species in third world countries run by authoritarian rule, raising its head as an aberration for brief periods. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, while the rumours of its demise (in the free world) are greatly exaggerated, there are increasing signs that the media torch the Viet Nam generation lit in the US in the 60s and early 70s has come a full circle. In the wake of 9/11 the conservatives who tried to muzzle the free media in the US in the 50s using the bogey of communism (McCarthyism) are now increasingly active again. In the late 20th Century, Fox TV would have gone bankrupt with its hard rightist stance, today one of Fox’s leading anchors has become the US President’s Press Secretary.


A Time for Decision

The more endearing features of the Musharraf regime are its relative transparency and patience when compared to previous military and civilian regimes over the past 50 years and so. For a nation that is generally pessimistic about promises made, indeed cynical about the rhetoric that goes with it, someone actually keeping to the pledges made, is a novelty. Military regimes and a free press have never co-existed in history, the present Pakistani example of maintaining a honeymoon of sorts, is rather difficult to comprehend for most observers, friend and foe alike. As the clock winds down to October 2002, this liberalism on the part of the uniformed ones will be severely tested, particularly by the dual personalities who will have something to hide.

The President’s sincerity in unveiling a roadmap for a return to democracy has been tarnished somewhat by the conduct of the Local Bodies elections. The military regime’s detractors point to ham-handed manipulations as evidence of the military’s ill-intentions, to stage-manage a controlled democracy rather than seemingly allow the unfettered type that had brought us close to apocalypse. If ever “the doctrine of necessity” needed to be applied, “ground zero” was Pakistan in October 1999. One can understand the military’s apprehensions about returning to the bad old ways, but one cannot correct the system by imitating the perpetrators of wrongdoing and misconduct.


Power Play

This week saw the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) plummet by record levels because of the HUBCO crisis, the Government of Pakistan (GoP) having filed various criminal charges against the management. Subsequently GoP went ahead and cancelled the power contracts of HUBCO and Kot Adu Power Company (KAPCO), with National Power Company of UK playing a prominent role in the management of both. The ongoing negotiations with IMF may be affected, foreign direct investment may be a long-term casualty. A great majority of professionals, particularly in the financial field are decrying the heavy-handed tactics of GoP, led in this case by Senator Saifur Rahman of the Ehtesab Bureau (EB). Their contention is that the tough tactics mechanism of using FIA and police will deter foreigners from any financial commitment to Pakistan. On the other hand GoP seems to have done its homework in being confident about applying the stick rather heavily, HUBCO seems to have been a roller-coaster profit ride based on amendments contrary to the spirit and content of the original contract. These additional clauses gave them windfall profits, allowing HUBCO’s sponsors to recover their entire equity in less than a year’s time, a “miraculous achievement” even in terms of capitalism gone crazy. That certainly must arouse suspicion if not outright doubt as to the integrity of the entire process.


Living Beyond Reality

When “everyone” and her uncles were expecting a sanctions-oriented tough budget, the Federal Finance Minister did his usual Houdini-act again. This took the political wind out of the Opposition’s sails and they were left mostly spluttering “Kalabagh.” With unrestrained glee they have been joined by the likes of Jatois, etc i.e. those most likely to be affected by a firm implementation of land reforms. Despite the fact that as Pakistan’s financial guru Senator Sartaj Aziz was symbolically bound in chains, bundled in a sack and thrown into the deep end, he has emerged, wet and shivering perhaps, with a surprisingly liberal but (in the circumstances) enterprising Federal Budget.


Democracy and Corruption

Because of the lack of accountability, totalitarian rule creates an ideal breeding ground for corruption even though the risks may be greater. Why is it then that democracy, whose touchstone is accountability, a prey to rampant corruption, particularly in the developing world? As the third world rid itself of colonialism, quite a number of the “free world’s” leaders were military dictators/absolute monarchs who not only looted their country blind but revelled in it. The west mostly looked the other way, it being convenient to support them in the name of “democracy” and “freedom” in the fight against communism. Money laundering, evasion of taxes, flight of capital, etc very much frowned upon in the west, were all conveniently ignored. The 60s and early 70s saw leaders like the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Suharto of Indonesia, Mobuto of Zaire, etc as the darlings of the west, the leading edge of the cold war. As this era wound down in the 80s, these leaders became embarrassments for their former mentors. Their riches were deposited in banks in places as diverse as Switzerland, Luxembourg, Cayman Islands, Isle of Man etc, their real estate holdings and other investments spread all across the world through a myriad network of dummy corporations, off-shore companies, front-men, etc. The developed world had accountability because of a free media, systemized documentation and public knowledge because of the high percentage of literacy, this accountability was denied to new found “democracies” where demagogues and so-called populists held sway, misusing their mandate to make financial bonanzas while making their future bright, in some cases attempting to also make their past bright.

Among the worst cases at the present time are the Suhartos of Indonesia, everyone of the siblings is a billionaire in his/her own right while the country is bankrupt. However the Suhartos do not make such a pretense of democracy as do the leaders of South Asia. The Bofors scandal in India is an open-and-shut case against the late Rajiv Gandhi. One of the major reasons why Italian-born Sonia has abandoned her recluse-like existence and stepped into politics is to have a nuisance value to keep the Bofors case-file from going public. The son of late Bangladesh President Gen Ziaur Rahman is a slur on the known honesty of his father while former President Lt Gen HM Ershad is still a democratic force despite the fact that it is widely believed, even by his supporters and friends, that he diverted millions in public money for his own private use. Pakistan’s great democratic hope, Ms Benazir Bhutto, has been discovered to be a looter-extraordinary, glib rhetoric and smart remarks notwithstanding, courtesy mostly of her incarcerated husband. Not only is the loot well-documented but thanks to an extraordinary effort by Senator Saifur Rahman and his lot, much in variance to his Mr Hyde personality, the foreign banks where some of the loot landed up have been detected and in many cases the accounts frozen. Brazen-faced the former PM had the gall to first deny their existence even, well knowing that she is not telling the truth. What is more extraordinary is that mature political leaders have fallen for her misleading spiel. If other leaders, even with little political standing, get in alliance with her it gives her credibility with the masses, such is the sham that goes for democracy in Pakistan.


Finally, the Swiss Connection

In Sept 15, 1997 the Ehtesab Cell in the PM’s Secretariat announced that the Swiss Government had agreed to the freezing of accounts in the names of Ms Benazir Bhutto, Begum Nusrat Bhutto and Mr Asif Ali Zardari on the basis of credible evidence about transfer of ill-gotten wealth. Their accounts, vaults and lockers were in the Union Bank of Switzerland, the Barclays Bank, Citi Bank S.A. and the Contrade Ormond Burrus Banque Privee SA. Senator Saifur Rahman, Chairman of the Cell, who was flanked by the Federal Law Minister Khalid Anwar, disclosed that the seizure order, effective from Sept 8, 1997 was conveyed to the Cell by the Federal Office for Police Matters (FOP), Berne. The Swiss have given Government of Pakistan (GoP) three months until Dec 7 to come up with more evidence. With this seizure, the Bhutto/Zardari duo take their rightful place in the history of the infamous and the corrupt, along with the likes of Marcoses, the Shah of Iran, Rajiv Gandhi and Mobutu, leaders who looted wealth from the countries and the people they professed to love. For the record, Ms Benazir has denied these allegations, her defence is ingenious, “who doesn’t have accounts abroad?” One may well ask, why not declare them then? And also where did all the money come from?

Obviously someone close to the Bhutto/Zardari clan has squealed. The obvious suspicion falls on Javed Pasha who benefited most from Zardari’s largesse and had intimate knowledge of his dealings or it could be Hamid Asghar Kidwai who had a bone to pick. Whoever has turned State’s evidence to spare his own neck is not important, the fact is that for the first time in the history of Pakistan illegally held assets abroad have been disclosed. Their existence in actual fact should mean automatic disqualification for the royal duo and the Queen Mother from Parliament and public life since these were not declared in their assets. The filing of assets being done under oath, it amounts to also committing perjury. Since CBR and SBP laws have also been broken, at the very minimum all their local assets should be confiscated. If indeed these foreign accounts are not really the property of the accused, then let them certify that its contents should be handed over to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). On the other hand, if the threesome want to contest the ownership then there is the question of where they got the undisclosed sum, ranging between US $ 65-80 million? There is also the problem of justifying as to why they needed six offshore foreign firms; among them Bomer Finance Inc, Mariston Securities Inc, Capricorn Trading SA, Cotechna Inspection SA, etc. The disclosure of details of all the transactions would allow private investigators to trace back the umbrella tree identifying all those “holier than thou” foreign firms doing business in Pakistan who benefited by the support of the royal duo and for which in return they received this illegal largesse. There would also be a catalogue of a number of Pakistanis who have been paying money to the royal couple for unspecified favours. More than the treasure trove available on the accounts, these links should provide clues to a number of mysterious transactions, some of these may have also bordered on the fail-safe line of national security. Persons who loot the country at will, normally have no qualms about selling the country’s secrets to the highest bidder. It is upto the Chairman of the Ehtesab Cell to commission private investigative companies without delay to trace out the origins of each transaction. It would also be very interesting to clear the air about the purported cheque of US $ 5 million given to the Government of Pakistan (GoP) in 1972 by the Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi, ostensibly to help Pakistan out in nuclear research. The cheque was supposedly in the name of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and he is supposed to have deposited it into his own personal account with Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) in Geneva, purchasing (it is believed) about 10-12 tons of gold. Then there is the matter of the many boxes of Swat emeralds that disappeared without a trace from Pakistan in 1972, suppose they should turn up in some vaults?