Posts Tagged ‘ Musharraf ’

Have We Hit Rock Bottom Yet?

By Shahzad Chaudhry for The Express Tribune

Attending conferences and travelling to them are the two most testing tasks these days for most Pakistanis. The airports tend to give you a full low-down as soon as the ‘green’ passport is presented: I am told by authentic sources that in as friendly country as China it takes twice the time to clear immigration for a Pakistani traveller than for someone with any other passport.

Just so that we may place our ‘higher than the Himalayas’ relationship in perspective, I was also informed that there was a daily flight between Delhi and Beijing compared to only two a week between Islamabad and Beijing. The disparity in trade figures between Beijing and Delhi, and Beijing and Islamabad, respectively, are already well-known. Call it anything, size of the economies or economic pragmatism, or whatever, the fact is China and India are unlikely to go to war with a $100 billion stake, keeping the two tied in an interdependent embrace; wish what you may, Pakistan, bosom love ain’t coming to the rescue. That is the new world ‘geconomics’.

One thing that always strengthened my hand as an ambassador for Pakistan during the Shaukat Aziz years was the perpetual good news that came out on the economic front from Pakistan. Now there may be more than one opinion about Musharrafian economy, but I have always held, and with some conviction I might add, that economies work on few sound fundamentals and a lot of good sentiment. This last word is key. So if the services sector — telecom, construction, finance — all seemed to be galloping under Shaukat Aziz’s mantra of economic progress, he perhaps understood well the significance of looking dapper and sounding happy. He held the dollar pegged and the stock market boomed: the first was clever policy, the latter sentiment. After all what is in the story of an ‘Incredible’ India — the incredibility indeed of a well-manufactured fable and from there on the critical mass of success takes on.

It was famously reported that a particular British chancellor of the Exchequer was singing in the bathroom: the veil of pessimism lifted and the economic sentiment began its own hum. But when you sit on a dredged economy and scooped-out resources there is little that you can offer to the world as hope. Words remain just that, words. Give Hafeez Shaikh something to hum about, and he will hum. The difficulty is he himself remains incapable of carving one.

I haven’t heard a sicker pronouncement of Pakistan’s economic predicament than someone quoting to me the likely $12-16 billion flowing in remittances, as the ultimate trigger for turning around our fortunes. There cannot be a darker indictment of our lows. Incapable of generating revenues inside, we hope like hell for the world and the people to resuscitate us from the outside. Even in that, though, madness must have a method. Investments, portfolio or otherwise, flow into congenial environs; some, Hafeez Shaikh will have to conjure, some we, as partners in crime, will have to relent and enable.

I am not an economist, and certainly never pretended to be one, but I have been subjected enough to the pains of a few that even I could venture to suggest a course to the hapless finance minister. For instance, capital flight is a growing reality and industry needs an injection of support and sustenance under a dwindling availability of energy. The approaching winter months may just provide some respite from domestic energy consumption, enabling diversion to the industry sector. Where possible, policy measures can enable relief and sectoral benefits to industries that wish to work through the difficult times. That might just sustain the benefits emerging from an export boost last year.

Many have tended to qualify the boost in different ways and perhaps each has a point but then how long can you keep a merchant down; there is something called “recess fatigue”, and he must break from it to keep the wheels going. One hopes that a finance minister may recognise such trends and then have the wits to turn them into triggers of rebound. If not, paralysis may just be a more enveloping reality in Islamabad.

Agriculture is half policy, half divine. The policy side has seen some attention while divinity is mostly earned. Our erstwhile brothers in East Punjab seem to have hit a good combination and are worth a reflection. So if there is a formula for our finance gurus to follow in the short-term, it must reside around energy, industry and agriculture. Once out of the hole, we can then begin to embellish our societal existence.

What will bring back a smile on the finance minister’s face? An enabling environment? A country in war, and a 10-year-old war at that, cannot be given to economic congeniality. We need to wean this country away from war. Seriously taken, the All Parties Conference urgings to ‘give peace a chance’ is a worthy, if catchy slogan, and must find the necessary politico-military resolve. The difficulty in our prevailing discourse is that few are willing to find solace in a political effort alone. As the refrain is that military runs the policy, perhaps that is where one may head. So then, over to General Kayani.

With two years to go in his tenure, here are a few things that General Kayani must do: get us out of this war — the lesser the pain the better; shun militancy in all its manifestations — and here the word manifestation to my mind carries all its consequences; and cleanse the military system of this ill-advised and ill-conceived baggage of the yore. We need not depend on the augmenting effect of an irregular effort in enhancing our national agenda. For some time let us simply look inside and avoid external diversions. With General Kayani convinced of such disposition, no arm whatever can practice any part of our rather sad legacy in regional ambitions.

I do not know who killed Rabbani and why; I also don’t know if the Pakistani military alone supports the Haqqani network and to what extent, but I do know that defending accusations of Pakistani culpability is becoming a harder task. The time when any such insinuation will stick is when we will have hit rock bottom.

I wish we were out of this predicament. I wish to see my country relevant and respected; and, I wish to see a smile on a humming Hafeez Shaikh.

The Tragic Case of Mukhtaran Mai

As Reported by The Express Tribune

The decision by the deputy speaker of the National Assembly on April 22 to disallow any discussion on the Supreme Court’s verdict on Mukhtaran Mai is most unfortunate, especially given that it was PPP MNA Sherry Rehman who wanted to speak on the matter.
The Supreme Court decided earlier this week to uphold a Lahore High Court verdict that had acquitted all the accused in Mukhataran Mai’s gang rape in 2002, except one.

The gang rape was ordered by an illegal panchayat of Meerwala in Muzaffargarh, Punjab, after which an anti-terrorism court in Dera Ghazi Khan sentenced five of the six accused to death. The fact is that a powerful local tribe has been able to prevent its men from being punished by the justice system. The powerful in our society can first cause a delay in justice — nine years in this case — and then cause a miscarriage of justice through manipulation of the lower ranks of the police.
Mukhtaran Mai is one of many women who have to put up with violence at the hands of men and are forced to keep quiet because the investigative-judicial system is biased against them. Because of ‘anticipated injustice’ in Pakistan’s judicial system, Mukhtaran Mai was made into a global symbol of an abused woman, a challenge which she accepted. Unfortunately, the state became defensive about the publicity and support she got from all over the world; it also manifested a clear conservative bias against the women’s rights movement in Pakistan, which is demonised by powerful religious lobbies.

There was more than ‘anticipated injustice’ in the Mukhtaran Mai case. This was the impunity of the powerful, seen in relation to the terrorist elements in Pakistan which are supported by sections of the state. According to official statements, no terrorist caught after horrendous acts of killing has been punished. Those who view our judiciary politically say that the kind of out-of-the-box jurisprudence applied by the courts to matters such as the NRO will never be applied to Lal Masjid and Mukhtaran Mai. This view holds that the judiciary has always been drawn from a largely conservative legal community and it tends to agree with religious constraints to justice when it comes to women, while tacitly accepting the reign of the powerful in society.

The Supreme Court had intervened after the Federal Shariat Court in 2005 contested the jurisdiction of the Multan Bench. It heard the case and, agreeing with the Multan Bench verdict, ordered the release of the accused. Mukhtaran Mai went in appeal and the latest decision has come after over five years of hearings. Now, in 2011, two of the three judges on the bench have decided to go along with the earlier findings while one judge thought the Court could have taken a more pro-reform view and focused more closely on the notorious methodology of registering an FIR in areas where feudal power trumps justice all the time. The Musharraf government — illegal in the eyes of the Court — pitted itself against this wronged woman and put a ban on her travel abroad. If the liberal elements in Pakistan had stood behind the so-called ‘liberal reforms’ of Musharraf, this was one case that they did not support his government on. Alas, the Supreme Court’s latest decision will be seen as being supportive of Musharraf’s policy of hiding the truth of women’s disabilities in Pakistan from the world.

The judiciary takes the position that its power is not only derived from the Constitution but also from civil society, which stood up for the judges dismissed by Musharraf and finally got rid of the military ruler through street agitation. But civil society also includes women and their rights must equally be defended; more so because Pakistani society needs reform before it learns to treat women as desired by the Constitution. And the Court remains the guardian of the Constitution. If the Honourable Court is today dubbed as being ‘activist’ in favour of the people, let it be clear that it is not the Court of the conservative elements simply because they are powerful.

Cutting Hillary Clinton Some Slack

By Mosharraf Zaidi for The News International

Poor Americans. This is the fellow that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has to stand beside as she tries to squeeze more juice out of a Kerry-Lugar Bill that had its lifeblood squeezed out of it last year by the Pakistani establishment, when it first became US law. The frustration from that reaction still riles the Americans. So much so that Hillary Clinton, who is a role model and an inspiration, can’t seem to let go. On every trip she reproduces a Bin Laden outburst that is militarily and strategically irrelevant for the US, but that serves as an enduring cancerous tumour for America’s public diplomacy goals in Pakistan.

Still. Mrs Clinton needs to be cut some slack. Her tireless advocacy for health care around the world, and her enduring compassion for South Asians — Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Muslims, Hindus, men, children, and most of all, women — is singularly unique among either Democrats or Republicans.

The western media seems as fabulously smitten by Mrs Clinton as I am. The wires, the newspapers and the electronic media all reported Mrs Clinton’s announcement of the allocation of $500 million worth of projects as headline news, when really, it represents the fulfilment of only one-third of Kerry-Lugar-Berman’s sacred covenant with the Pakistani people. One of the most telling things about that covenant? It was signed by the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. It was, in short, a covenant between the US government and the American people, with the US government acting as a proxy for the Pakistani people.

Perhaps now Pakistanis can better understand the frustration of the John Kerrys, the Hillary Clintons and the Richard Holbrookes of the earth. Top US policymakers have fought for over two years to win the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Since then, two things have kept that money from flowing into Pakistan. The first is Mr Holbrooke’s decision to dispense with the Clintonian (Bill, not Hill) model of US aid disbursement through large contracting firms that Americans often refer to as Beltway Bandits. That decision, while long overdue, was rushed and was made in the wrong country, at the wrong time. American development assistance, which is not routed solely through USAID, but often through half a dozen different US departments (or ministries), has been in desperate need of an overhaul for years. But to attempt to reform the instrument of aid delivery in Pakistan, at the climax of Obama’s war in Afghanistan, has been a disastrous decision. The American international aid community is so removed and so distant from the mainstream of western assistance thinking (spearheaded by the OECD and captured in the Paris Declaration) that it doesn’t quite know how to deal with large sums of money without the Beltway Bandits. This has meant that the Kerry-Lugar money has been parked in Washington DC, with a clear destination, but no vehicle to take it there.

The second thing that has kept the Kerry-Lugar money from being spent is the government of Pakistan itself. Pakistan has no clarity whatsoever about what its development priorities are. It required the intervention of the military chief back in March to summon the federal secretaries to begin to articulate a wishlist of pet projects this government would like to see come to fruition. Indecision and the absence of any coherent development strategy within Pakistan have meant that the US government has had to try to figure out what Pakistan wants, kind of on its own. This may seem like comedy noire, but it’s really not funny at all.

The problem with Pakistani government today is that it doesn’t enjoy the competent stability it once used to through the bureaucracy. Today’s Pakistan’s bureaucracy, while made up of individually brilliant officers, is a collection of inward-looking dinosaurs that cannot see beyond their GOR houses, their I-8 plots and their post-retirement benefits. Those officers, in years past, used to be the eyes and ears of oft-changing governments that would seek the guidance of senior bureaucrats in the federal ministries and at the provincial headquarters. While there’s been no discernable change in the quality of governance that democratically elected politicians can render, there has been a severe nosedive in the quality of officers available to either the federal or provincial governments.

Part of the reason for the exodus of top-tier officers during the Musharraf era was the curtailment of powers of district managers, under decentralised local governments. But the decentralisation argument is a red-herring for a much more fundamental shift in Pakistani bureaucracy. While being a CSP or DMG officer was an instrument of social mobility in the 1970s or 1980s, it is now a barrier to the personal and professional growth of officers. Many of Pakistan’s brightest officers can afford to be well-paid UN, World Bank and IMF staffers. Many others can do even better at Wall Street and on Madison Avenue. Still others can be brilliant academics. Across the board, since 1999 we have seen exactly this. An exodus of top-shelf talent that might have been able to deal with rents, with incompetence, and with the heat, but not with the disrespect that the military and political class have for educated Pakistanis in the employ of the government of Pakistan.

So how does all this relate to Mrs Clinton’s troubles in Pakistan? Simple. No matter how democratically legitimate, when the blind lead the blind, there is a problem of vision. Pakistani politicians are so disconnected from any kind of global narrative that it will be a generation before we produce a Chidambaram, a Krishna or a Mukherjee that can win elections without the help of their gaddi (see: Shah Mehmood Qureshi), or the kindness of the Arbab Ghulam Rahims of the world (see: Shaukat Aziz). The nauseating outburst of the foreign minister on Friday was a demonstration that winning an election does not enable you to win an argument. In short, Pakistan’s current political class cannot muster politically legitimate actors that are also competent at statecraft.

Enter the advisory class. This is where the Husain Haqqanis, the Shaukat Tarins and the Dr Hafeez Shaikhs enter the fray. No fake degrees here. Only pedigree. Their problem is of an entirely different nature. They don’t have any stake in Pakistani politics — they enter as unknowns at the thaana kuthchehri and galli-mohalla level, and they leave as unknowns at the thaana kuthchehri and galli-mohalla level. They can talk about all the right kinds of reform, but they can’t deliver. More worryingly, their reform-speak is often deluded, because it is devoid of any political rigour. “Let’s clip military powers by marketing bold ideas in Washington DC, instead of Rawalpindi.” Well. We’ve seen how that has turned out. “Let’s raise taxes!” Sure. Because nobody else has ever thought of that! “Let’s improve education.” Sure. Because it takes genius to figure out that education is a problem. Advice that is anchored in Rubinomics and Bretton Woods theology has been failing Pakistan for the entire duration of Pakistan’s lifetime. This should hardly be a surprise. It never works anywhere.

And that is why Shah Mehmood Qureshi is wrong, again. Perceptions won’t change. $500 million worth of pet projects is a supremely sweet gesture. But even $500 billion worth of aid, delivered through Beltway Bandits, NGOs, budget support or otherwise can’t change the lives of Pakistanis. Only organic reform can achieve such noble goals. When the strategic dialogue in October picks up where this one leaves, Pakistan will still have no CT strategy, no development strategy, an inflated defence budget, no civil service reform, and no hate-speech legislation. All the money in the world can’t change that. And that’s not Hillary Clinton’s fault. That one’s on us.

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