Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An economic mess

That the Pakistani economy is in tatters is no secret. However, what is being kept a secret is exactly how the government plans on remedying this economic free fall. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has, of late, been running from pillar to post to convince the public that the government, its economic team and the political parties are elbow deep in consensus and dialogue to chalk out a ‘comprehensive’ economic reform plan. In a recent meeting with senators in Islamabad, the PM assured all stakeholders that an economic turnaround was imminent. He also met the Board of Investment (BOI) Chairman Saleem Mandviwala to assure potential investors of the government’s commitment to safeguard foreign and local investments, aimed at boosting the country’s economic welfare. All this sounds very good, but traditional rhetoric is not going to get us anywhere. Pakistan has come to a state where, until solid results are not seen, no one will believe that this new round of efforts to revive the economy will bear fruit.

In this entire scenario, the ordinary people are worst hit with prices of commodities getting out of their reach. Alarmingly, reports are filtering in that the health ministry is looking for a massive seven percent increase in the prices of various medicines. Only the over-burdened masses will suffer if this move is approved. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is withholding the next tranche of cash promised to us because of the government’s failure to get the reformed general sales tax (RGST) approved by parliament. Therefore, a mega 50 percent cut in the country’s development programme as part of the new economic plan has been proposed. How does the government hope to get the economy back on track without money being spent on vital infrastructure such as roads, bridges and the uplift of rural areas is beyond comprehension.

The country is devoid of electricity and natural gas. Industries are shutting down left, right and centre with the textile industry going bankrupt because of irregular power supply. The Obama administration is discussing a preferential trade access programme for Pakistan in the Congress, especially for its textile sector. If the Congress approves this programme, it has the potential to provide a boost to the economy by creating jobs. It remains to be seen what we will export when the industry is shutting down due to the inability of the government to develop our power resources and infrastructure.

The PM can attempt to assure potential investors, but the fact remains that they are highly suspicious of Pakistan’s security and profitability. Daily corruption scandals traced back to the incumbent government are sending red signals to all those who could inject the country with a healthy dose of investment. Until some concrete plan is approved with transparency and accountability being main priorities, no investor will come to our aid.

It is bordering on vulgarity that in a country where the flood victims are sleeping out in the cold without food, warm clothes and shelter, the PM recently gave the go-ahead for luxury parliamentary lodges that will cost the national exchequer a dizzying Rs 3 billion — a move the PML-N is opposing. When the government is contemplating cuts in development, when the masses are facing massive inflation, when even simple medication might become out of reach and when electricity and gas have become privileges, such trivial pursuits further disillusion the public and the investors.

It is time the government introduced some credibility to its words by following them up with actions. No exports or new investments are possible without addressing the issues at hand.

The new world balance

At the dawn of the 21st century, the US was the undisputed global superpower with no apparent peer on the horizon who could challenge its interests in trade, diplomacy and military might. In the last decade, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when the US was engaged in its twin wars, aspiring new powers were slowly and gradually building their spheres of influence. China, Russia, Brazil, Turkey and India are the five emerging powers ready to take their place in world affairs.

China, throughout its history, has played a dominant role in South and Southeast Asia. Although China has competed with Japan for regional influence for over a thousand years, its one key distinguishing characteristic has been never to go beyond its seas. This has changed; for the first time in its history China may be extending its reach beyond the South China Sea. The Chinese have carefully chosen their expansion plans to include countries that are rich in mineral resources to satisfy the hunger of their vast manufacturing appetite. They have executed plans to have direct influence in Africa and Asia while they have formed a strategic alliance with Brazil and Turkey for an indirect influence in South America and Europe respectively. The first phase of their strategy was to use their vast cash resources to build a network of seaports in Asia and Africa. These ports are fully financed, built and operated by Chinese companies. The next phase in their development is just starting, which is to have trade and security pacts with these nations to ensure a smooth sailing of Chinese merchant ships from these ports. The recent naval influence exerted by the Chinese navy in the South China Sea is a message to the world to be aware of their activities in their backyard.

The US embarked on the strategy of expanding NATO during eight years of President George Bush to induct the former Soviet state Ukraine as a member along with plans for a missile defence system in Poland. This produced an angry response from Russia, so much so that it had to create a military crisis in South Ossetia to express its intent to use force if needed. When President Obama took oath of office, he immediately embarked on mending relations with Russia.

From the media polls it is quite clear that Prime Minister Putin, a passionate Russian nationalist, might emerge as a leading contender to grab a second tenure as the president of Russia in 2012. If that happens, there would be no doubt that Russia would accelerate the creation of a regional organisation of former Soviet states to create a cartel of commodity-rich countries. The recent signing of a currency deal between Russia and China is a step in creating an economic collaboration between this emerging bloc and China.

India, in recent weeks, has been in the limelight because of visits of world leaders starting with US President Obama, who endorsed India’s candidacy for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) permanent membership. This was followed by Angela Merkel of Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy of France, David Cameron of UK, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China and ended with Dmitry Medvedev of Russia who also endorsed India’s candidacy for the UNSC. These visits clearly indicate that India is recognised as a player on the world stage but not yet fully capable to handle the diplomatic and military requirements of an international power.

This would mean that during the next few decades India has to align itself with one of the three dominant players, i.e. the West led by the US, Russia, which is an old ally, or China, which is a traditional rival. Their long history of alliance until the dismemberment of the USSR and the socialist character of Indian society would suggest that Russia is a natural partner. But this time around, economic growth has been the main driving force of Indian foreign policy to maintain its annual growth of seven percent. With the adoption of capitalism, large numbers of non-resident Indians (NRI) in western countries and a democratic government, it is likely that India will align itself with the West in the form of trade and security alliances. There is a possibility that NATO will remake itself to be a global alliance with India as its member in South Asia.

The two minor powers with long histories of regional influence are Brazil and Turkey. Former President Lula da Silva’s economic policies have produced a strong Brazil, which is confident in its roots and culture. Brazil has traditionally competed with the US to have influence in South America. This rivalry has created an opening for China to form trade relations with Brazil with an eye towards increased cooperation in other spheres of influence. For the foreseeable future, Brazil will focus inward with an occasional role on the world stage like the recent tripartite, along with Turkey, agreement with Iran to contain its nuclear ambitions.

Turkey was an alliance partner with Germany in World War I, which ultimately resulted in the disbanding of the Ottoman Empire that existed for 700 years. This long history of global influence has endowed Turkey with deep knowledge of diplomatic, military and trade relations. For most part of the 20th century, it focused inward to improve its economy and strengthen its social fabric. At the dawn of the 21st century, Turkey has emerged as an important player in the region that can play a significant role in the resolution of conflicts. In almost all negotiations in the last five years, Turkey has played a major role. Whether it was a back channel discussion between Syria, Israel and the US, or negotiations on the containment of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or a summit meeting between the Afghan and Pakistani presidents, Turkey has been centre-stage. On the other hand, Turkey has reached out to Russia and China for trade pacts to strengthen its position as a gateway to resource-rich Central Asia and Europe.

While these relationships and players emerge, the most important development that would establish the balance of power will be the reorganisation of the UNSC. The negotiations are already underway for this purpose, but it is clear that the opening will be for more than one new permanent member and that the veto power will be democratised. There are many formulas in play to promote candidates but one thing is significant. Representation of the Muslim bloc will be important to provide a voice to over 33 percent of humanity that are connected by a shared system of beliefs. Turkey meets many requirements as representative of the Muslim world. First, it was a global player during the Ottoman rule for over 700 years. Second, it has a long history of relations with the West. Third, it has the diplomatic goodwill among the Muslim countries to represent their interests. And last, it understands global diplomacy to resolve conflicts.

Almost all countries have Muslim communities and most conflicts involve their interests. Radicalisation of Muslim societies is a political phenomenon and results from the absence of their voice on the world stage to resolve these conflicts. It is important for world peace that the voice of Muslims is heard by seating them at the UNSC.

Corruption and economic development

An overwhelming body of empirical evidence suggests that the impact of corruption on economic growth and development is highly devastating. Corruption impedes foreign and domestic investment, and increases transaction costs. It raises uncertainty and is responsible for low incomes and underdevelopment as it sands the wheels of economic growth. Validity of the literature that sprang up in the context of the ‘Asian paradox’, i.e. miraculous growth of most East Asian countries despite the prevalence of corruption stands discredited in the light of the latest empirical studies on the subject. There are a number of channels through which the negative effects of corruption are transmitted to the economy.
Corruption misallocates talent and resources, and distorts technology choices. People, being rational human beings, join the fields of employment that possess maximum potential for rent seeking. For example, university graduates may prefer to become tehsildars or police station house officers (SHOs) rather than agriculturists and business entrepreneurs.
Public sector employment in Pakistan is a pertinent example of this misallocation of talent. Up until the last few years, a dominant majority of the graduates appearing in the civil services examination hailed from medical and engineering backgrounds — students who had burnt the midnight oil to become ‘pen pushers’ despite having good qualifications in the fields of medicine and engineering. Although other factors such as respect for the civil service in society (which is fading now), security of service tenure and passion for public service delivery should not be ruled out as motivating factors, yet the fact remains that rent-seeking by grabbing power remains one of the potential reasons for joining the public sector in Pakistan.
As regards sectoral misallocation, huge deals in arms by developing countries are pertinent examples. Scandals have surfaced from time to time in several developing countries (like the Bofors scandal in India and Agosta submarine deals in Pakistan) where allegations of receiving fat commissions were levelled against politicians and those at the helm of affairs. If the incentive for commissions had not been there, there is every possibility that the funds would have been funnelled to other sectors like physical infrastructure development, directly related to economic growth and development.
Corruption also distorts technology choices. One of the motivational factors for imports of capital-intensive technology by developing countries stems from the potential opportunities of corruption attached to such deals. It may be pointed out here that most developing countries are abundant in labour, so labour-intensive technology generally is the best fit for these countries as it creates more employment opportunities. The health sector presents another glaring example of distortion in technology choices. Big hospital infrastructures and sophisticated medical equipment are generally preferred to rural health clinics specialising in preventive care even in the poorest countries.
Corruption hampers the ability of the state to raise taxes, encouraging informal businesses. The reasons are obvious. Due to corruption in the tax machinery and complex procedures of tax collection (upon which corruption thrives), businesses avoid getting registered for tax purposes. This direct correlation between corruption and the informal economic sector is easy to understand. In countries where corruption levels are high, informal sectors of the economy are huge. Again, Pakistan is a pertinent example. According to various estimates, the informal sector constitutes 50 to 60 percent of our total GDP.
Further, corruption impacts decisions to start businesses because you need information on bribes to start and run the business in a corruption-ridden set-up. Thus potential entrants to business face uncertainty as to what bribes to pay and when to pay. In this way, corruption acts as a barrier to the entry of new firms into business. Additionally, it acts as a heavy drain on existing businesses as well. Whenever there is an upward increase in tax revenue targets, it is the existing tax-paying businesses upon which the hammer falls, as governments are unable to tax the businesses operating in the informal sector. This eventually harms economic growth. We can also say that the low tax base has a direct link with corruption.
Moreover, the impact of corruption is differential and discriminatory. It falls heavily on small businesses and disadvantaged sections of society. Corruption deepens the chasm between the poor and the rich, big businesses and small enterprises, the powerful and the powerless, the big man and the small fry. It is a well-known fact that strict enforcement of the canons of rule of law is lacking in developing countries. The elite are well connected socially as well as politically. They can buy public services/goods like utility connections, access to law enforcement agencies for redressal of their grievances and dispensation of justice, whereas the cost borne by the less powerful for such public goods in a corrupt institutional set-up is very high. Corruption is regressive for small businesses as well. One of the potential reasons for the less developed small and medium enterprises (SME) sector in Pakistan can be traced to corruption. Corruption creates, sustains and perpetuates poverty and inequality traps in society.
The question is: why is corruption so widespread in developing countries? Surely it is not due to difference in the quality of human beings. The reasons are many but the chief reason is over-regulation of the economy. Over-regulation basically stems from the fact that developing countries are low-trust societies. Unnecessary rules, procedures and multiple layers of checks and supervision are common in developing countries. Added to this, accountability mechanisms are weak.
Our understanding of the corruption issue is fallacious. If corruption is high and the state feels that it needs to tackle it to recoup its eroded legitimacy in the eyes of the public, an immediate prescription is to set up one more anti-corruption agency, which is generally as corrupt as other institutions. Rather, in some cases, the level of perceived corruption about such watchdogs is higher when compared to the institutions they are supposed to oversee.
Corruption should not be viewed merely as an administrative problem. The corruption issue has economic dimensions as well and requires economic insight for its solution. Economic reforms aimed at simplifying cumbersome laws and procedures, doing away with inefficient regulations and redesigning the incentive system for the civil services can go a long way in reducing the levels of corruption, both real and perceived, in the ‘land of the pure’.

SECP registers 23 cos having foreign investment

The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan registered 23 companies having foreign investment in December. In addition, 3 foreign companies were also registered.
Out of these 23 companies having foreign investment, 5 have foreign investment by foreign nationals from Singapore, 4 from China and the remaining from the UK, the US, Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Spain, Iran, Egypt, Germany, and Oman.
Among these, 11 companies were registered in Karachi, while 6 in Islamabad, 4 in Lahore and one in Quetta and Multan. As for the sector-wise breakdown, 7 companies were registered in the transport sector, followed by 4 in trading sector, 3 in miscellaneous sectors, 2 each in services and communication sector, and 1 company each in IT, chemicals, education, food and beverages and mining. Of the three foreign companies, 2 companies have South Korean origins. They plan to do business in engineering and construction sector each, while one company has Netherlands’ origin and it works in the IT sector. Two foreign companies were registered in Lahore and one in Karachi.

The republic of silence

“We were never more free than during the German [Nazi] occupation. We had lost all our rights, beginning with the right to talk. Every day we were insulted to our faces and had to take it in silence. Everywhere, on billboards, in the newspapers, on the screen, we encountered the revolting and insipid picture of ourselves that our oppressors wanted us to accept. And, because of all this, we were free” — Jean Paul Sartre, La République du Silence (The Republic of Silence).
Jean Paul Sartre writing about the Nazi occupation of France said that the occupation and oppression made the French more conscious of the freedom that they possessed than they ever were. Pakistan today faces similar occupation, similar oppression and consequently similar freedom. Like occupied France, venom today has seeped into our society, our thoughts, into our beings; every accurate thought is now a conquest. Tyranny today coerces us to hold our tongues; every word takes on the value of a declaration of principles. As we are and increasingly will be tracked and hunted down, each and every gesture has the weight of a solemn commitment. The circumstances, as atrocious as they are similar to Nazi-occupied France, have finally made it possible for us to live without pretence or false shame. Salmaan Taseer’s martyrdom has compelled us to be free.
Hegel writes in The Phenomenology of Mind, that it is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained; the individual who has not staked his life may, no doubt, be recognised as a person, but he has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness. Salmaan Taseer’s martyrdom has obliged us to achieve this self-consciousness, has forced us to be humans.
Unlike Salmaan Taseer, most of us do not possess the courage to willingly sacrifice our lives, but like Salmaan Taseer all of us have Qadris confronting us every day. According to Sartre, the very cruelty of the enemy drove the French to the extremities of this condition by forcing them to ask themselves questions that one never considers in times of peace. For the secret of a man is not his superiority complex or his inferiority complex: it is the limit of his own liberty, his capacity for resisting torture and death. Salmaan Taseer was an exceptional warrior; he pushed the boundaries of these limits. Today, in times of war in Pakistan, we are painfully aware of the limits of our liberty.
Many of us want a compromise; we are afraid of defeat, pain and death. We want to be non-confrontational, to blend in. The choice is no longer ours to make. Qadri sees right through our deceit, he will never accept us as one of his own. Qadri today constrains you and me to be liberated. The choice of being an apologist is not available to us anymore. The battle will continue, whether we choose to actively participate or not is only relevant to the extent of determining if it will be combat or slaughter. After Salmaan Taseer’s martyrdom, Qadri frightens no one; he no longer even has the means to intimidate: he is beginning to horrify, he is just grotesque, and that is all.
The Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP’s) stance today puts Brutus and Judas to shame. Many of us have voted for and supported Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s PPP; we will fight Babar Awan’s party. Many of us have nowhere else to go, but we will go nonetheless. The choice of going back is becoming increasingly difficult; if the trajectory does not change, soon the place we are from will not exist anymore. The PPP does not only betray Salmaan Taseer it betrays the legacy of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed. BB preferred martyrdom over compromise. The PPP I know of and support is one where BB recites “main baaghi hoon” (I am a rebel) in 1988. The sermons of Babar Awan and the diabolical statements of Rehman Malik are surrealistically insulting to BB’s memory. The ostensible reason for compromise by the PPP is self-preservation, ignoring a countervailing consideration of infinitely superior magnitude; the liaison is vile, it is indecent.
Protect, support and cherish Sherry Rehman. Bending over backwards and kneeling before tyranny will not get you Qadri’s vote; it will certainly lose you mine. I personally would want them on board, but the PPP needs to understand that this fight will go on with or without them. Freedom is no longer optional.

Oil down as dollar rises, Brent close to $100

Oil slipped on Monday while the dollar strengthened and equities faltered as OPEC said the market was well supplied and inventories should build in the first half of the year.
North Sea Brent crude futures on the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) consolidated around $6 above US crude oil futures and were not far below $100 per barrel, a level not seen since the beginning of October 2008.
US crude for February fell 40 cents to $91.14 by 1243 GMT, while ICE Brent for March lost 50 cents to $97.88.
The spread between the two futures contracts has narrowed since the ICE Brent contract for February expired on Friday. At one point on Friday, the spread between the two February contracts hit more than $8.00 a barrel, its widest in 23 months. US markets were closed for the Martin Luther King holiday and traders said that was likely to help keep oil futures within fairly narrow ranges on Monday.
Christopher Bellew, at broker Bache Commodities, said the stronger dollar had put pressure on commodities markets: “The oil price has been in an uptrend since the middle of November and now we are getting close to $100. The weather in the northern hemisphere has turned a bit milder, and the end of winter is in sight,” Bellew said.
OPEC said on Monday the world oil market remained well supplied and inventories should build in the first half of the year, even it raised its 2011 global oil demand growth forecast. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries increased its global oil demand growth forecast by 50,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.23 million bpd in 2011.
OPEC said in its monthly report the early onset of winter weather and an increase in investment flows into commodities were among the factors behind a recent surge in prices. The group maintained its view that consumers have enough oil. The UAE’s oil minister said fluctuating prices were not a worry: “The price keeps going up and down and all I can say for now is that we are happy,” Mohammed al-Hamli told reporters.
Al Hamli said markets were well supplied and prices reflected market conditions. But the head of the International Energy Agency, Nobua Tanaka, said on Monday oil prices were alarming at current levels and would have a negative impact.
OPEC Secretary General Abdullah al-Badri told an Austrian newspaper that, while the organization was ready to act to address supply shortages in the oil market, it would not intervene if prices were driven by speculation..
At this stage, higher output would not stem a rise in oil prices, as the climb is driven by increasing demand in emerging countries, chief executive of French oil major Total Christophe de Margerie told Reuters on Sunday. News a key Alaskan oil pipeline was about to reopen after being closed for over a week also put some extra pressure on oil prices, analysts said.
The operator of the 800-mile (1,280-km) Trans Alaska Pipeline System, which has been struggling with a leak in piping at the Prudhoe Bay intake station, said the oil artery would resume normal operations later on Monday. “We are seeing the end of exceptional support due to supply disruption on this pipe, and also the weather has become much warmer than usual both in Europe and in parts of central and eastern United States. So we are losing some support from cold temperatures,” said Christophe Barret, oil analyst at French bank Credit Agricole.
Asian shares mostly fell on Monday, led by Shanghai after China’s latest attempt to contain inflation. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index closed down more than 3 percent. The index lost 1.7 percent last week amid fears over monetary tightening steps.

Euro falls on fading hopes for bailout fund

The euro fell broadly on Monday as hopes for an increase in the eurozone’s bailout fund faded and as investors reassessed a recent rise in European Central Bank interest rate expectations.
Uncertainty about whether Germany would support an increase in the lending capacity of the rescue fund, known as the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), clouded sentiment.
Europe set up the safety net fund, which can borrow on the markets with eurozone government guarantees of up to 440 billion euros, in response the debt crisis that forced Greece and Ireland to take bailouts last year. But a new package of anti-crisis measures is seen as unlikely to come any time soon.
Attention on Monday was focused on a meeting of eurozone finance ministers, at which an increase in the effective lending capacity of the rescue fund is expected to dominate discussion.
Senior European sources told Reuters the sense of urgency in Berlin for boosting the fund had diminished after successful bond auctions last week in Spain and Portugal, the two countries seen most at risk of needing any further bailouts. Instead Germany is pushing for broader anti-crisis measures to be agreed at a summit of European Union leaders in March.
“It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Germany doesn’t want an increase in the rescue fund and that’s weighing on euro sentiment today because there were positive expectations building last week,” said Manuel Oliveri, currency strategist at UBS in Zurich.
“We believe the euro is a sell on rallies because investors are not minded to buy euro-denominated assets while structural problems in the eurozone persist,” he added. The euro traded at $1.3270, down about 0.8 percent on the day after falling as low as $1.3243 on trading platform EBS.
It was off a one-month high of $1.3458 hit on Friday when speculators went long after solid debt auctions from Spain and Portugal, hawkish comments on inflation from European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and hopes that eurozone policymakers may expand their rescue funds. ECB policymaker Athanasios Orphanides played down rate hike expectations, saying last Thursday’s statement was not overly hawkish and that there was sometimes an overreaction to the underyling message.

SBP injects Rs 33.85bn in money market

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Monday again injected Rs 33.85 billion in the banking system for four days through a reverse repo (open market operation). Whereas on last Saturday the central bank injected Rs 19.95 billion.
The primary dealers have offered Treasury bills worth Rs 42.5 billion, but the central bank accepted bids of Rs 33.85 billion at 12.85 percent per annum.
The banking system is facing a liquidity shortage for the last few days because of higher outflows, the dealers said. The rupee has been supported by higher remittances sent home by Pakistanis working abroad.
According to SBP this week, remittances rose more than 24 percent to $4.531 billion in the first six months of the (July-June) financial year.
The dealers said that the rupee might further lose strength to more than 85 percent to the dollar if global oil prices start rising again.

Jinnah’s Pakistan as a rallying cry

Salmaan Taseer was a man of great moral clarity whether his detractors care to admit as much or not. He was from an increasingly rare breed of idealists who believed in Pakistan as envisaged by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, i.e. a liberal democratic state where faith would be a personal matter. I submit that it was this belief in Pakistan’s destiny that drove Salmaan Taseer to stand up for the rights of minorities in Pakistan. Therefore, when his children write that their father died for Pakistan, Pakistan’s self-appointed guardians of ideology should take note and learn a thing or two. The need of the hour is for Pakistanis to stand up for that ideal, for this is our only homeland and if we do not save it, no one else will.
It is for these reasons that I found Ammar Rashid’s article ‘Moral medievalism and the state’ (Daily Times, January 13, 2011) to be most disturbing. At a time when Pakistanis should be united in realising that Salmaan Taseer’s death and the subsequent polarisation around the assassination is indicative of state failure and the state’s abdication of responsibility for its people, self-proclaimed intellectuals regurgitating a flawed interpretation of Marxist ideology are in the forefront of efforts to sabotage all attempts to gather the less fortunate on a platform against bigotry and hate. To begin with, the reasoning of the author is entirely muddled. Blaming modern information-age capitalism and its confluence with the historical memory and ‘logic’ of the Pakistani state is akin to making excuses for an abandonment of common sense and reason. The “historical memory” of the Pakistani state as it were is much warped and distorted. The great leftist historian Hamza Alavi examined the causes and the events leading to the creation of Pakistan in many of his works and rejected in entirety the state-sponsored narrative introduced largely during the Zia era. In his enlightening paper Pakistan and Islam: Ethnicity or Ideology, Hamza Alavi traced the formation of the ‘salariat’ or the secular Muslim middle-class, which became the engine for the Pakistan Movement. He showed how the basic ideas of Islamic modernism had moved into the sphere of conventional wisdom for this group. Therefore, far from arguing a moral superiority based on Pan-Islamic religious identity, Muslim nationalism as it emerged was the attempt of a nascent Muslim bourgeoisie in the subcontinent to secure a foothold economically and politically. It was also indicative of an internal struggle between the professional and secular-minded classes amongst Indian Muslims led by Jinnah and the clerical class that opposed them. This is what prompted Jinnah to declare in 1938, “What the League has done is to set you free from the reactionary elements of Muslims and to create the opinion that those who play their selfish game are traitors. It has certainly freed you from that undesirable element of maulvis and maulanas.”
Salmaan Taseer was the foremost symbol of the professional and secular-minded Muslim bourgeoisie that created Pakistan. He was a self-made man, a professional and a businessman. The late governor was the physical embodiment of the confluence of Pakistan’s genuine historical memory and modern, information age capitalism.
There is no reason why we should complicate a simple issue. I submit two points: a) all nationalisms are exclusionary and, as Eqbal Ahmad said, “the ideology of the other”, and b) states are duty bound to be above issues of identity and nationalism and this is precisely why we have constitutions. Secularism, historically, has developed from confessional societies, and pluralism is almost always a desired by-product. The example before Jinnah, as the creator and the first governor general of the new state, was Britain which he alluded to in his famous August 11 speech, which, mind you, was not the only speech he delivered where he outlined in clear terms his idea of what the Pakistani state should be. Great Britain’s history is defined by the protestant nature of its monarchy and the struggle between the clergy and the state. It has in its history seen gruesome violence on religious questions including blasphemy. In due course of time, however, the Protestants and Catholics did learn to live together as citizens of Great Britain.
So what is Jinnah’s Pakistan and why is it increasingly becoming the rallying cry of all Pakistanis who want to bring about a change? Jinnah’s Pakistan means a Pakistan where dialogue and constitutional means are the only available choice when resolving disagreements and discord. How then can today’s Pakistan be Jinnah’s Pakistan when the very essence of the man is sacrificed in the name of political expediency and the doctrine of necessity? Jinnah’s Pakistan will remain the only credible answer for positive social change because Jinnah represents something much more substantial than a dead secular politician. He is, for most Pakistanis, a deep structure of identity that remains on a higher pedestal for them. It is for this reason that Jinnah’s Pakistan remains the only viable option for this state to dig itself out of the hole it finds itself in. Without Jinnah, the liberals of Pakistan are like fish out of the pond.

Pak-US: bridging the trust divide

President Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington to
attend the memorial service of US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. At the service, US President Obama said, “Richard is gone now, but we carry with us his thirst to know, to grasp and heal the world around us.” Mr Holbrooke was a great advocate of Pak-US friendship and was of the view that for a viable solution in Afghanistan, the US would have to bring Pakistan on board. As Britain’s former foreign secretary, David Miliband, wrote: “The key [to success in Afghanistan] is, and always has been, a political settlement that can make withdrawal possible on terms that protect regional and global interests. Holbrooke is gone, but we must learn his lessons.”
Apart from attending Mr Holbrooke’s memorial service, President Zardari held a meeting with President Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. According to Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, Mr Obama and Ms Clinton assured Mr Zardari that “the US will over the next few days find ways to strengthen Pakistan’s economic reform process, while taking into consideration social and political factors”. If the US wants to help Pakistan economically, it will have to use its clout to persuade the IMF not to cut off Pakistan because of the RGST imbroglio. The reason this government has not yet been able to implement RGST is political. Despite the fact that the RGST would in effect be good for Pakistan’s economy, most of our political parties are not ready to support the PPP-led government because of an anti-RGST sentiment amongst the masses. Without a political consensus, the government cannot move an inch on economic reforms.
The US is one of the biggest aid donors to Pakistan. However, there is a rise in the anti-American sentiment in our society. One of the reasons is because of the way the US abandoned Pakistan after the Afghan jihad in the 80s. The US has always been dubbed as a ‘fair-weather friend’ but it is imperative that now that the Americans do not have any plans to leave us in the lurch, cooperation in all fields is forthcoming. Through USAID and other such initiatives, the Americans have been giving developmental aid to Pakistan. In November 2010, USAID officials lodged a complaint with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after receiving a significant number of complaints about the misuse and misappropriation of funds by the NGOs under the Kerry Lugar aid package. International donors have been reluctant to give money to the government directly because of corruption charges and instead rely on local NGOs to disburse aid money. But this idealisation of NGOs and demonisation of the government is not without fault. This is not to say that all NGOs are dishonest, but donors need to implement a proper mechanism system to monitor aid money. It is also important that our government and media project the efforts by the US government in an honest manner so that all the positive steps taken by them are properly highlighted.
President Obama vowed to “continue to work toward building a moderate, democratic Pakistan, which is the strongest guarantee against the success of terrorists”. In the past, the US has supported military dictators like General Ziaul Haq and General Musharraf instead of democratic dispensations. Now that democracy has finally returned, the US and other countries must stress the importance of a democratic set up in Pakistan and in case of any undemocratic move, they must rally against it. Democracy in Pakistan is not just important for the local populace but for the international community as well. *

Lest we forget

Qambar Chakar’s story begins on July 10, 2008 when he, Khurshid Baloch and Qayyum Baloch, then studying in Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences (BUITMS), began a hunger strike unto death to protest the discriminatory admission policy. Based on open merit for the entire Balochistan, it meant that students from backwaters could not even hope to enter BUITMS. Qambar and his protesting companions wanted the open merit to be devolved to district level to afford equal opportunities to all areas.
This university, then six years old, had some 3,000 students enrolled in five faculties. Seventy percent of the students were from Balochistan. Its stated policy, “Admission is purely on merit without any distinction of race, religion, colour or ethnic origin provided the learner meets the entry requirements,” was deceptively just and fair. Certainly, a student from Dalbandin could not compete with a Quetta elite school student.
Qambar Chakar and protestors believed it was aimed at excluding Baloch students from acquiring higher education. He elucidated his stance candidly: “Though 70 percent open merit is fixed for the entire province, 62 percent of the seats were secured by the Quetta city students where the majority of the population is that of the non-Baloch elite.” He added that only nine percent students admitted to the 2008 BUITMS Spring Programme were Baloch. He said this merit system deprived 70 percent of Baloch districts of higher education because those students, unable to compete with elite school students, would always remain deprived.
His co-hunger strikers also articulated the reasons for their extreme measure. Stating that the open-merit at the Bolan Medical College and the Engineering University in Khuzdar, both professional schools just like the BUITMS, had been devolved to the districts, thus giving opportunity to students of all districts, they demanded a similar policy at BUITMS.
When the condition of the hunger strikers worsened, they were taken to the Governor’s House by the protesting students on stretchers. The governor asked the representatives of the protestors to meet him but the protesting students demanded that negotiations should be held in front of everybody. He eventually came out to meet the protestors but rejected their demands and said a committee consisting of all political parties would meet and discuss it soon. The protesting students reaffirmed that if the Baloch students did not get the opportunity to study, they would not willingly allow others to reap the benefits. They were ready to sacrifice their careers as examinations were scheduled for July 21.
On July 21, after 11 days of fasting, when the condition of the striking students deteriorated further, Balochistan Assembly Speaker Aslam Bhootani and some members came with a notification and constituted a committee in which representatives nominated by the Baloch students were also included. They also agreed to change the existing system, so the strike was called off. They may have honestly promised change but they do not decide, so, to date, that policy remains unchanged.
Qambar Chakar was now a marked man as were other activists including Qambar Malik and Tariq Karim. These two were named in the FIR of burning of buses. Qambar Malik was arrested and later released while Tariq Karim went underground; unfortunately, he was arrested on October 21, 2010 and is still missing. His brother Asim Karim, a student in Multan, addressed a press conference in Quetta on October 26, protesting his brother’s arrest. On his way home from a wedding on October 30, he was injured by the security forces’ firing and taken away. His dead body was recovered from Khanozai area on November 1, 2010.
Qambar Chakar Baloch, 24, member of the Baloch Students Organisation-Azad (BSO-A) central committee, was an economics student at BUITMS. He was first abducted on July 10, 2009 in Quetta on trumped up charges of possessing a grenade, but released on April 22, 2010, after a long series of agitations and protests. You certainly cannot expect the tortured to sing paeans of their torturers. He was abducted the second time on November 26, 2010 from Shahi Tump Turbat with his cousin Irshad Baloch.
On January 5, 2011, the brutally tortured dead bodies of Qambar Chakar Baloch and Ilyas Nazar Baloch were recovered in Pedark near Turbat. Ilyas Nazar was also a journalist. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) termed it an act of barbarism and said killings had made it almost impossible for Balochistan journalists to perform their professional assignments without fear.
The tragedy that the Baloch people face due to enforced disappearances of their loved ones came across ever more poignantly with the death of Qambar and Ilyas because a day before, when General Kayani had turned the Sui Cantonment to a military college, which he termed as a gift from the army to the Baloch people, making it even more permanent and therefore more disagreeable to the Baloch, Governor Magsi had surprised all, perhaps himself as well, by his demand that steps be taken for the recovery of missing people. He had said, “It is a very serious and important issue of Balochistan and should be resolved without any delay,” and asked, “Where are these missing people? It is the right of their families to know their whereabouts.” He stressed if they were in the custody of a civilian agency or with the ISI and MI, they should be handed over to police and tried in a court.
What message this appearance of two prominent activists’ bodies after his appeal was supposed to deliver could be better interpreted by Governor Magsi, but the Baloch think that it was meant to emphasise that no appeal is likely to be heeded. The issue of missing persons deserves attention and condemnation of all but is, sadly, ignored. No one, not even Governor Magsi, uttered a word about these killings. This horrible silence accords legitimacy of sorts to the atrocities.
Zakir Majeed, Abdul Hamid Jamal, Mehboob Wadhela, Faiz Mohammad Marri and hundreds of other Baloch — it is impossible to name all — are missing. The unrestrained impunity with which they are disappeared, tortured and then thrown along highways just shows the epoch that the perpetrators suppose they live in. The greater tragedy is that they have transformed it into a reality and can get away with it. The pain, agony and trauma of the missing persons and their families should never be forgotten. We all would do well to remember that:

Three faces of love

Farzana Ahmad is a short story writer who is routinely published in leading Urdu periodicals. She is the wife of Feza Aazmi, a writer, social and political analyst, lawyer, journalist and poet of great repute. He emerged as the founder of a new genre of poetry, i.e. a series of book-length poems on major national and global issues in their historical and analytical perspective, and has written seven book-length poems on wide ranging topics. The book Poet, Beloved and Philosopher is Farzana Ahmad’s translation of the captivating and lyrical book-length ghazal ‘Shair, Mehboob aur Falsafi’ by Feza Aazmi. Here, I would like to mention that it is extremely difficult translating a book, and that too a good book, into another language and when the book involved is one of poetry, this difficulty increases manifold. More often than not, when people have taken up this crucial task, they have ended up either falling short of the original texts or exceeding them. However, Farzana Ahmad has done a commendable job translating this ghazal and has succeeded in keeping the lyrical formation and meaning of the original text intact.
The book begins with a few reviews by Dr Farman Fatehpuri, Sardar Zaidi and Anis Ahmad. I agree with Dr Farman Fatehpuri’s opinion that unlike all other professions, there is no qualification, no education and no training that can turn one into a poet. Poetry is an art that one is born with — you either have it or you do not — and good poetry is the result of uncontrollable emotional tumult and sensitivity, and not of deliberate effort or acquired knowledge. Dr Farman states in his review that Feza Aazmi is a true poet and has quoted some of the verses from his ghazals to confirm his statement. One of my personal favourites among these verses was, “Mujh ko bhi ho chala tha wafa’on ka kuch yakeen/ Lekin wo muskura diye ehd-e-wafa ke baad” (On her pledge of love, Almost convinced was I/ But for her parting smile, that was winsome but wry). This verse was unique in nature as it was marked with simplicity yet it carried a deep meaning. I have always believed that a good poem is one that brings a smile to your face, one that you might not even be aware of or have a reason for but you just cannot resist the urge; let me just say that this particular verse did the trick.
The poem Poet, Beloved and Philosopher can best be described as a philosophy of life where Feza Aazmi has taken up the role of all three, poet, beloved and philosopher and has explained life through the perspectives of a romantic, idealist poet, a teasing, tantalising beloved and a curious and rational philosopher. How he has brilliantly switched from one role to the other throughout the poem is commendable. As a poet, lost in his own world of fantasies, he writes, “Mein uske paas hoon aur woh hai mere pasih-e-nazar/ Haseen, shoakh, dilaawaiz, misl-e-shams-o-qamar/ Hazar baar who khoya hai mujhsay mil kar/ Woh kaun hai, yeh khayalon ko hai har aan khabar/ Magar nazar se nehaan hai ke chha raha hai kaun” (So close in proximity her I behold/ Like the sun and moon her enchanting allure and charm unfold/ She crosses my path often yet I fail to capture, to hold/ Aware is my heart of a luminous presence untold/ But woebegone! My eyes are oblivious/ Of that which my heart is desirous). As is evident from this verse, Feza Aazmi’s ghazals have been composed in rhyme and meter, yet he has not fallen victim to replicating his thoughts, which proves his mastery over the art of ghazal writing. His use of idioms, e.g. the sun and moon, to describe his beloved’s beauty is a quality that only a real artist possesses and, together with the way he has expressed his desire for her, without appearing even slightly vulgar, is a trait that distinguishes him from many other poets of his time. Moving on to the role of an iconic, elusive beloved, he writes, “Tujhe talaash hai meri tou mein ayaan hojaon/ Teri nigaah mein khursheed ka nishan hojaoon/ Wagar na kehtay rehkar hazaar pardon mein/ Teray khayal ki khatir teri zaban hojaoon/ Hayat-e-zauq-e-nazar ke siwa mein kuch bhi nahin” (I will reveal myself surely, if you so desire/ Dazzle your eyes like the sun’s blinding fire/ Or make myself obscure behind a thousand veils/ And let your pen weave magic in your tragic tales/ I exist not but, as a treasure-house of life’s yearnings entire). Here, Feza Aazmi has exquisitely described the behaviour of a beloved who is cajoling her lover into proving his devotion to her, to tell her how much she is desired and, in the end, she humbly accepts that she is everything beautiful that life has to offer. Then suddenly, he transforms into a rational but thoughtful philosopher and writes, “Meri nazar ko tamanna hai teri kurbat ki/ Meri khirad ko zaroorat hai teri soorat ki/ Mere khayal sulajh jaa’engay tujhe paakar/ Ke inko aaj talab hai teri haqeeqat ki/ Nazar ke vaastay tera shabab leloonga” (My eyes in their search crave your vicinity/ My reason demands you be in close proximity/ The aura of your presence will calm my turbulent thoughts/ My contemplations command you surrender before my majestic mind’s onslaught/ Your charisma youthful I will steal to be the cynosure of my eyes).

Living in Karachi

Every evening in Karachi we hear bursts of gunfire. We sleep armed behind locked doors with guards and guard dogs patrolling the ‘moat’, which separates the house from the street. ‘Brinks’ alarms and ‘panic’ buttons in each room add not to the sense of security, but rather the contrary. Police patrols pass by now and then, but no one feels reassured because they are as likely to be filled with criminals as the police who, in Karachi, are often one and the same. Only the poor are safe because they have nothing to offer bandits.
Three houses in the neighbourhood have thus far been pillaged, at the cost of one dead, a chowkidar (gatekeeper), who was beheaded. The other two houses escaped comparatively lightly. In one the bandits had the wife of the owner cook them breakfast, as they were loading her generator on to the truck which they had thoughtfully brought along; and in the other they left with the belongings although not all because they returned some weeks later to pick up the rest.
Even the president is wary. Whenever he arrives to survey his properties, whole streets are blocked off and new forts spring up in our midst. When he moves, it is as if a war is ongoing. However, considering the speed with which he decamps the battlefield, this war appears to be yet another war that we are losing.

The killing of Benazir Bhutto and the havoc that followed her death made us Karachiites yearn for the democracy dividend for which she had so bravely given her life. And it was not long in coming, in the form of daily targeted killings of scores of city dwellers. The authorities had no explanation or none that were remotely plausible.
So now it is taken as a given that you can be shot at anywhere and hence must take your own precautions. One of which is that, before assaying out for work every day, we Karachiites phone each other to ascertain the score. If one side has lost appreciably more men than the other in the previous day’s killings, then those areas where the ‘victors’ live are best avoided lest one should get caught up in the ‘surge’ mounted by their opponents to even the score. Because, curiously in our kleptocracy, money is not the only item in demand; taking a life on whim, fancy, party and belief is more so. Actually, it is the vogue, nay it has become a fad. Pakistan, one is happy to announce, no longer has an image problem. We have finally succeeded in doing away with our image problem. It is reality, which is the problem now.
As there is no ‘image’ left to project, and because reality is better conveyed by embedded journalists, certain cost-cutting measures come to mind. The first of which is that scores of our embassies abroad that are meant to project a non-existent ‘image’ can be closed. In any case, all that they do is provide subsidised holidays for our diplomats. Why on earth, for example, do we have an embassy in tiny Ireland, which has more horses than people, and much better bred to boot, unless it is to ensure that Amin Fahim’s daughter appointed as a First Secretary out of the blue has a job. Or is it out of some kind of solidarity with the Irish, who, it is said, like us, never speak well of one another; or perhaps because the Irish too do not know what they want but are prepared to fight to the death to get it. But surely in these cash-strapped days that is a luxury, which we can ill afford.
At least 40 of our approximately 60 missions abroad serve very little purpose. Of course, the prime minister’s recent directive that henceforth Pakistani officials travelling abroad should, as a cost-cutting measure, kip down in embassies and consulates suggests that embassy buildings will double up as hotels and hostels. This has intriguing consequences, considering the rush of officials wanting to visit Rome and Paris, one of which is that hoteliers, rather than those versed in international relations, can now also be considered for appointment to our embassies. And why not, if convicted felons, shore-based admirals, amateur chefs and shrine devotees are already in situ or in the running for such jobs?
A corollary of mission closures would be to downsize the Foreign Office, which sports as many as 1,000 or more babus of all grades. If downsized by 70 percent, it would still be more than the strength that existed in 1971, when Pakistan was united and our population was very roughly the same. Anyway, having outsourced foreign policy to the military, there seems little justification for further expenditure on the Foreign Office. Such an exercise would account for savings of tens of millions of rupees. The moneys so saved could be divided up between our main cities with Karachi getting the lion’s share for obvious reasons.

One other benefit of living in a city like Karachi, which is run akin to a criminal enterprise, is the savings that could be made on security. Law and order in designated areas could effectively be outsourced to forces best able to establish their writ, which, as it happens, is not the police. Thus privatised, it would be more effective and cheaper. In fact, had the government not decided to retain the police force as an excuse to provide jobs for its supporters at the expense of the taxpayer, the proposal may have won acceptance. After all, the Karachi police today are armed mostly to protect themselves from irate citizens and fundos or from deserving candidates for police recruitment who were turned away for lack of patronage rather than to safeguard the common man. Hence, yet more millions saved.
Guarded and preserved for very different reasons by the Americans and the Taliban, Karachi could become a thriving metropolis. And with the savings thus effected, water, gas, oil and electricity could be had for the asking. There may even be some left over to ensure that the Edhi centres continue to run and the drug addicts wallowing in filth under the many underpasses be relocated elsewhere and be provided clean needles. And, finally, there would be a modicum of security for the hapless inhabitants to look forward to.

What was he thinking?

Addressing envoys from various western countries in the capital on Thursday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani seems to have forgotten a few basics when it comes to reassuring Pakistan’s donors about how we plan to spend their aid money. Urging donors to fulfil the pledges made to Pakistan after 2010’s devastating floods, the PM rather carelessly said that checking corruption would be like walking a “tightrope”. He further went on to elaborate that balancing matters like development activities, resolving outstanding national issues and tackling corruption simultaneously would be “difficult”. Now, it is common knowledge that the government has plenty on its plate that it must take care of, but was it really necessary for the PM to reiterate this to international guests whose job it is to assess whether or not Pakistan actually deserves the money it has been promised?
The fact that Pakistan received pitiful little after the worst floods witnessed in recent history spoke volumes about the lack of trust that western countries have in us. It is because of debilitating incidences of corruption that Pakistan, ravaged by extremists, plagued by natural disasters, depleted of natural resources and on the verge of economic collapse, has seen an international community that has not been generous in coming to our aid. In such a climate, for the PM to state that handling corruption would be a tough task is a very negative message to relay. It is worth reminding our incumbents that to remedy the malaise that has seeped so deep into the national fabric, it is corruption that has to be dealt a firm blow. Without corruption being minimised if not eliminated, development will suffer as all projects will be affected by siphoned off money.
One just needs to see the rulings delivered by the Supreme Court (SC) lately to understand just how pervasive corruption has become. The SC has ordered rental power companies to give back with interest the millions they had taken as advances from the government for their failure to initiate power generation projects. It is little wonder then that citizens live in the dark. The SC has also ordered three retired generals to reply to allegations concerning the leasing of lands belonging to Pakistan Railways allegedly for a pittance during the Musharraf era, costing the national exchequer an astounding Rs 25 billion. This case may have been a legacy of the previous incumbents but the problem has not stopped there. As the rental power case exemplifies and, whether true or not, the recent reports pertaining to the Hajj scam that point an accusatory finger at the PM’s own family only show that even the highest ranking officials in this country are not going to be easily trusted by international donors. Frankly, who can blame them?
The task, as stated, will definitely be a hard one. However, it is not impossible and it certainly is a task that needs a serious beginning to be made and demonstrated. Corruption may well prove the straw that broke the camel’s back if it is not wiped out. It was imperative that the PM, during this visit of foreign delegates, show how committed his government is to cleansing the system but, alas, they have been sent back probably even more sceptical than before. The ruling incumbents still have two years to implement some vestige of a policy to rid us of the corruption menace and to clean up their own act. We hope that they manage to convey such a commitment to the international community soon. *