In the past year we have lived through a historical watershed. First of, Agra was an illusion created by the magnificence of the Taj Mahal, India never really wanted to discuss Kashmir seriously. The whole Agra exercise was an Indian drama meant to show to the world that as an emerging regional power with potential to be part of the second string of Superpowers Club (the US on the top only a club of one) comprising Russia, China, UK and France, India was serious about peace and stability in the region, and ready to discuss contentious issues with the only neighbour on its periphery that it had not Balkanized. The others, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal can hold forth about their independence and sovereignty, that is sheer hypocrisy, they do what is virtually dictated to them, India simply taking care not to rub their noses in the dust too much lest there be a grassroots peoples’ reaction against India. Except for Pakistan, all the countries of South Asia gingerly toe the Indian line, for their part the Indians let them live the illusion of independence. The ultimate irony is that these countries talk loudly of self-respect when they know very well that no self-respecting entity will ever accept such dictation. This is the same sort of “independence” enjoyed by the Central Asian States vis-a-vis Russia, on crucial matters Russia is very much “big brother” in the Commonwealth of “Independent” States (CIS). In any case all these States have converted ex-communists as their leaders.
While a horrific tragedy for the US, Sep 11 was somewhat of a Godsent to Pakistan. First of all it rid us of the Talibaan that we were nurturing as a yoke around our image in the world. Next it disabused us as to how much Afghans love Pakistan, they hunted down and killed like animals those poor misguided creatures who had gone to Afghanistan mostly on the strength of their religious leaders’ clarion calls that Islam was in danger. For two decades we have played host to 3 million ungrateful Afghan refugees, other than being an economic burden on us, they are the main cause of the breakdown of not only law and order but the erosion of the fabric of our society. The likes of Riaz Basra, etc took open refuge in Afghanistan and the Talibaan thumbed their nose at us when we asked for their extradition. However, let us look at the bright side, the religious parties were found to have only limited street power, Musharraf was vindicated in taking the calculated risks of joining the Coalition irrespective of the fact that US President Bush had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. With the religious parties exposed as having feet of clay, their nuisance value needs to be eliminated on a permanent basis by simply banning them. The same must apply to ethnic parties, it is anathema to the ideology of the country to have these fringe elements take part of the population off on a tangent from what should be a common national goal for their own motives. Will the west permit such extremist religious or ethnic parties to take part in the electoral process? Only those parties should be allowed who confirm their commitment to the ideology of the nation, there is no future in permitting any deviations and rank aberrations.
If Sep 11 had not happened, we would have been close to a default. With aid flowing in, with debt rescheduling and with the “Hundi” system under virtual eradication in the world because of the nexus between money-laundering and terrorism, the economy was on the way to stability before the hormones of Advani and party started to act up. Even though export orders dried up, the lifting of sanctions, increased quotas, trade incentives, etc meant that there was light at the end of the economic tunnel. Even though the present economic team are far from being economic Einsteins, they are honest and more importantly, not only are they lucky, they have a very lucky leader. Look what a mess the IMF has made out of Argentina, three Presidents in two weeks and a currency change has still not stopped the economic meltdown. Fortunately for our economists, our parallel black economy, the unregulated sector, keeps us afloat, otherwise with the country awash with weapons, anarchy let loose in Pakistan would have different ramifications than in Argentina, in Pakistan stone-throwing and car-burning is kindergarten stuff. The bright side is the State Bank of Pakistan, small-in-size Ishrat Hussain is a giant on the economic map of Pakistan. He has continued the re-surrection of the nationalized commercial banks (NCBs) even though I personally think his patience with some Heads of NCBs and senior banking executives is overdone. There is method in his madness as he has shown in Allied Bank, even though corrupt people like Effendi who were the actual bagmen for people like Usmani and Jauhar still manage to live in clover on Bank’s salaries. However, we have not done much in the matter of revenue collection and unless that is done no amount of brilliance, honesty, dedication, etc is going to change the economy in a hundred years. The principle of taxation is (1) make the rules simple and (2) decentralize collection as much as possible. Unless Gen Musharraf appoints a full-time Revenue Minister, and puts CBR directly under the charge of a Special Task Force, no amount of reforms is going to increase the flow of revenues. At present, we collect only about 30% of the revenues that should accrue to us. It is estimated that at cost of 10% to the taxpayer, which goes into the pocket of our corrupt revenue collecting staff, 70% is lost to the State. Even if we were to increase the quantum of collection to 50%, there would be a sea change in Pakistan’s economic fortunes. That is this military regime’s weak point.
On the subject of corruption, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has done an excellent job, but selectively. The other criticism is plea bargaining, eg. the case of Admiral Mansural Haq, the former CNS. According to reports, he is to pay back US $ 7.5 million that he stole from Pakistan, but he is to be set free and keep some assets like the palace in Naval Colony, next to Clifton, Karachi. As a self-confessed thief who occupied a very high post in the Service hierarchy he should have been stripped of his rank and kept in jail, made an example of. All his available assets should have been seized and he should have been made to publicly disclose who bribed him, who were the others involved, of particular interest being the scam in the Bahria Township Schemes, the submarine deal etc. Similarly take the case of Yusuf Beg Mirza, MD PTV and his manipulation of PTV accounts after he contrived the ouster of Government appointee Finance Director Asad Elahi. No government or semi-government firm can have a Finance Director who is not an appointee from the Ministry of Finance, yet for four years Iqbal Hussain, a permanent employee of PTV, has been acting as Finance Director. Moreover it is only recently that Board of Directors was constituted from non-PTV employees as per the norms, uptil now all the Directors were rubber-stamping back-scratching employees who had a vested interest in covering the financial shenanigans of each other. PTV served me a legal notice through their lawyer when I called Yusuf Beg Mirza “corrupt”. Well I am again doing so and he should have the courage to sue me for defamation himself, not hide behind the money of PTV. He should spend money from account No.24077658 with Natwest on 125 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, London. The 96 Sterling drawn every month for child support from the UK Government will help. In fact, one would like to know how much PTV has spent on lawyers fighting on Mirza’s personal behalf, both here and abroad?
Well into the third year of the military regime, the problem of deep rot in the system has been identified mostly but not eradicated, the client-patron relationship that derails fairplay and justice contrives to survive, and well. This client-patron relationship is at the very heart of all nepotism, favouritism and corruption. No system can be reformed without breaking its evil shackles. And by the look of it, since this sincere and honest regime has itself become a victim of this virus, how can it ever be eliminated?
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).