Great Aspirations, Missed Opportunities

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The present military regime came to power with greater potential in its leadership to do good for the country than its predecessor three martial laws, the professionalism of the hierarchy being more potent than their counterparts in earlier regimes. For the most part the senior officers are sincere and dedicated people, well motivated to do their best for Pakistan. The agenda unfolded by Pervez Musharraf aroused great aspirations among the people of Pakistan, and while much has been accomplished in the way of establishing good governance, the past 24 months has seen many missed opportunities, as the clock winds down to Oct 12, 2002, these will haunt the legacy of this military regime.

The economic record, priority No. 1 is a mixed bag. There is certainly financial stability when compared to the dark days of Oct 1999, yet in the President’s own words, “we are not out of the woods”, unquote. The banking sector is doing well but the initiative for reforms of the nationalized financial institutions was one of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s few achievements, it was he who brought back expatriate Pakistanis like Shaukat Tareen and Zubyr Soomro to run Habib Bank (HBL) and United Bank (UBL) respectively. But even the Sharif regime looked the other way while Allied Bank Limited (ABL) was being looted in broad daylight. And why did State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Ishrat Hussain wait nearly two years before ridding ABL of crooks like I A Usmani and Jawaher Hussain, even now he has left their close henchman Tahir Saeed Effendi in place? And despite their public intentions even the Sharif regime decided reforms was too much of a good thing when they (and their friends) were asked to also return overdue bank loans and pay due taxes, they then started to target their own appointees. As far the present meltdown at NDFC, SBP was quite aware about Asif Saeed’s reputation before approving him as Chairman, so after he had taken NDFC to the cleaners, who allowed National Bank (NBP) and UBL to acquire his services as a highly paid Consultant? Hundreds and thousands of small depositors have been running from pillar to post, mainly pensioners with their life savings, yet we persist in giving protection to a man who is most responsible for their miseries.

Another leading priority for the country is revenue collection, it is pathetic in the face of what people should pay. Two years have gone while the regime-appointed Chairman CBR Riaz Naqvi, light years different from an activist like the late Moinuddin Khan, made the whole exercise even more bureaucratic and cumbersome. Tax reforms require simplification of taxation as well as lowering the quantum thereof. At the moment we are further burdening the already over-burdened few and giving only lip-service to broadening the tax base. Gen Pervez Musharraf needs to do speed reading of Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged”. Moreover, conventional wisdom demands that the cost of utilities such as gas, electricity, water, etc be brought down to rejuvenate the economy, by raising the prices there is greater chances of corruption on the one hand and failed businesses on the other. In the military, Clauswitz’s First Principle of War is read over ad nauseam, viz “Selection and maintenance of Aim”. There is nothing more important to the country and good governance than increasing the quantum of revenues, too many people are presently dependant upon too few.

Despite my deep personal reservations about the Devolution Plan being applied equally without pragmatic adjustments in urban and rural areas in all the Province, any initiative that gives power to the people at the grassroots lead has to be supported. But the exercise in elections has some very major fault lines. Accountability should have been focused on the likely candidates. Too many candidates took part who should have been disqualified, many have even got elected. Moreover, elections have been manipulated at many places, undercutting the credibility of the regime in power. Whatever one may say in theory, victory in elections everywhere is about how much “funds” are poured into the constituency. The bedrock of electoral success being mostly corruption, what can one expect of the quality of the political leadership? The predicament is that in the absence of a level playing field even known criminals will get elected and be in a position to bargain with the military regime. Indirect elections of any kind is an invitation for manipulation, influenced by power and money. With a run-off stage if the first candidate fails to get an absolute majority, many new faces will come to the national stage. What we have done is readied the scenario for political blackmail, a dress rehearsal of sorts is now taking place in Karachi in different forms. An golden opportunity to wipe the state clean has been missed!

Despite Mr Sattar, we have not done too badly on the foreign policy front. While credit must go to the Musharraf regime for having stayed internally on the roadmap to democracy and thus allayed long term fears of the world’s democratic nations about continuing autocracy in Pakistan, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Bush regime for cozying upto India in order to contain China. This fresh geo-politics initiative has re-created an opportunity for us, our long-term friend China has come back to Pakistan’s side with a bang. With a flurry of support in critical projects in Pakistan, among them strategic Guwadar port, China has been obliquely registering its disapproval of the developing US-India nexus. The visit of the Pakistani ISI Chief to Washington at this time has been very significant notwithstanding the Bush administration putting sanctions against Pakistan and Chinese firms due to suspected transfer of missile technology and components thereof. Even US Assistant Under Secretary of State Richard Arimitage has spoken of Pakistan’s “deep relationship” with the US, the revival of the China-Pakistan friendship does not seem to have gone unnoticed. On the broader foreign policy front there is better understanding of Pakistan’s position, particularly on Kashmir after the Agra Summit. Agra has been an unparalleled success, the credit of most of which goes to the President himself and a significant part to the free Pakistani print media. Some thanks must be given to the free Indian electronic media for freely airing the view of Pakistani analysts, even though they later had second thoughts as their gameplan to corner Musharraf through his own compatriots and they created an uneven playing field, sometimes putting four (two analysts and two comperes) against one. The performance of the administration’s favourites only was shown on Pakistan TV, not that it mattered to those who hold the country over their own interests. But it only goes to show bias and narrow-mindedness among our media bosses. Unless this rot in the thought process is checked, eventually the chickens will come home to roost and muddy the reputation of the entire military regime, why do not the Corps Commanders tell the boss what’s going on? Public perception is a dangerous weapon to confront, for the sake of advancement of one or two very unsavoury, arrogant individuals this regime seems to be prepared to sacrifice all their gains.

This government’s bedrock to fame was justice for all and one must say it has done what it promised to do, for the most part. But the acid test of justice is when it is applied even-handedly when personal interests are involved. One case being under arbitration is sub-judice but specific allegations have been made that defame the individual reputation. In reaction to a particular claim, a semi-government corporation made accusations against the firm, these if correct amount to outright fraud and cheating. Being pure defamation, requests were made in writing to the power-that-be, including NAB, to investigate those allegations and if found correct, the owners were ready to accept exemplary punishment. On the other hand if the allegations were proven false, than (1) those making the allegations needed to be brought to justice. Unfortunately this regime, like their predecessors, protects its “favourites” for reasons best known to them (and to others). Justice is the foundation for good governance. Rhetoric aside, what the masses require is better management, delivered honestly from men and women of integrity. Protecting favourites for the same crimes that one prosecutes another undercuts fairplay, that is the foundation on which the credibility of the regime stands. Accountability begins at home, for all its worth, charity doesn’t!

This regime still has a wonderful opportunity to carry out ruthless accountability to ensure that there is a level playing field whether in politics or business, for that matter for those in service too. If we allow the corrupt to gain advantage in competition because of their ill-gotten riches than we are not only condoning misdemeanor, we are force-multiplying the factors leading to bad governance, that in turn will lead to anarchy. For the most part, the military regime is composed of good men who have risen on dint of their own merit, it is their destiny to inculcate the same system in the country that benefited them. In the face of the great aspirations of the military regime, great expectations were aroused in the minds of the public, the Army cannot afford to miss further opportunities.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).

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