Monday, September 24, 2012

Is Pakistan a developing country?

Enjoying the breathtaking views of the Northern Areas of Pakistan I was able to forget, rather overlook the collection of problems awaiting me back home. I am sharing these problems with 160 million of my fellow Pakistanis and this collected suffering has strengthened my emotional bond with them somewhat like the victims of great tragedies. Coming back to the topic, I was driving on the KKH with my family enjoying the exotic spectacular views thanking the Good Lord for blessing me with such fabulous assets wondering why privileged Pakistanis spend fortunes in Europe and other countries while being totally unaware of the marvelous vacations Pakistan offers. The air was clean; wind was cool and the road, well; acceptable. In these far off places the health standard was excellent and the pink cheeks of the residents were a proof of that. Education standards were probably better than even Punjab and illiteracy was practically unknown in the younger generation. Law and order situation was excellent and some friends boasted that there hadn’t been a murder or serious violent crime in a hundred years and what more electricity was cheap. All this made me ecstatic and I smiled obstinately after a long time while enjoying the stunning view of the cathedral peak in Passu, Upper Hunza convinced that if there actually was a Shangri-La, it was here.

Next day we tried to socialize with these wonderful people and discovered some interesting facts. Government of Japan funded the school, the Danish government financed the hydroelectric power plant, the local health center by another foreign donor and the road was financed and built by the Chinese. Something absolutely invisible in the development and progress of the area was the government of Pakistan. We didn’t even give them the right to vote, whatever it means in our peculiar setup. This is how we treat our brethren who fought for independence against the Dogras joining Pakistan. Not a very good message for the independence seeking Kashmiris of the other side.

The story doesn’t end here as it has more interesting turns. After building the hydroelectric project, the Danes handed it over to some government agency to maintain it and the things started going wrong. Now there are power breakdowns exceeding down under. After building the road (KKH) the Chinese handed over partial maintenance to our government and the things started deteriorating. Anyone who traveled the road in 1980 can certainly testify that the road was much better then and now it is a set of potholes from which you have to find the road, a bit like the GT road of the late Zia era. My first exploration of this road on a motorcycle in 1980 was on a much smoother road. The moment you cross over to the Chinese side you find a wonderful shinning new road of international standards but the decay on the Pakistani side was obvious. Fortunately the education and health facilities survived in a relatively better condition but then again due to foreign NGOs enticed by Agha Khan foundation and the exotic culture of this area.

Regression everywhere is all too evident all over Pakistan. This might be the only privilege we handed over evenly to all parts of the country. Any thing or service that came close to any government agency just collapsed leaving a trail of suffering and debt to be paid by the original victims. In 1947 we inherited a reliable Railways network that worked which is now cracking and leaking from all places and has become a huge drain on the national exchequer. In 1947 we were the most educated after the Europeans and the Americans and now our whole educational system is crumbling. We have been lying to ourselves ignoring this most important prerequisite of any improvement. Our performance of health sector can be clearly illustrated by the Mayo Hospital example. The exploiter colonial government made this hospital more than a century ago for Lahore with a population of 1 lakh, which has now swelled to 8 million. This would clearly require another 80 hospitals of this size and we failed miserably. Interestingly out of the new government hospitals in Lahore Sheikh Zayed hospital was built by UAE and Jinnah Hospital by the Chinese. The GOP couldn’t maintain the public welfare delivered by the colonial government.

Leaving the physical aspects apart our performance in democracy and other nation building endeavors has been equally pathetic. After earning the country democratically we criminalized the word politics repeatedly packing the elected civilian governments. Arguably the constituent assembly of 47 was more independent than the current one. Constitution and courts were also stronger and more respected. Law and order problem was unheard of like the ethnic and communal violence. Our record of maintenance of sovereignty is even worse as foreign forces routinely bomb and kill Pakistanis and play pivotal role in the internal politics. Not a very impressive progress report.

This regression comes in stark contrast to what we hear about the other progressing countries. People visiting China, India or Malaysia after an year or two testify that it can be difficult to recognize the place because the speed of development is enormous and it can be hard to keep track. Naturally I am talking about the positive developments and not the kind we just enumerated. This is how the nations progress and not the way we are proceeding.

Despite strong evidence to the contrary this unfortunate nation is fed on a regular diet of some intangible and unverifiable achievements like making of different bombs and missiles. Our Foreign Ministers confession of helplessness regarding securing our sovereignty in the face of foreign bombings is a clear proof of exaggeration of our claims. History tells us that whenever these claims were put to test in 65, or 71 or Siachen or Kargill, they proved to be bordering on lies. Pakistan has a very dubious distinction of being the only country in the world with regularly shrinking borders.

All this very clearly explains the current situation in Pakistan. We are losing our brightest people regularly to other countries and also the most valuable capital, which always shies away from the insecure and unpredictable places. This uncertainty is translating into depression causing most of the young to yearn to leave the country for a better future. Nothing can be more unfortunate for a country aspiring to grow than having a dissatisfied populace not associating their hopes or future with it.

Munhasir marney pey ho jis ki umeed
Naumeedi us ki dekha chaahiye

We also have this inopportune distinction further tarnishing our hopes for the future.

Reality has to be faced which tells us that as a nation we are not progressing rather regressing. With this speed of regression we might be heading towards disaster in not very far future, which we must prevent. Those destined to live and die here cannot afford the luxury of inaction and must take the matters in their own hands closing the doors for self proclaimed deliverers who brought us to this stage. The civil society must rise to protect itself, its rights and the country denying the foreign supported autocrats opportunities to takeover the country again. The recent mobilization of the civil society in the judge’s movement is certainly a visible ray of hope but it must be further built upon. The civil society must protect the country from its rulers and the best way of doing it is by establishing the rule of law. Governments and its officers must be assessed and rewarded by progress reports with third party evaluations like anywhere else in the world. The immunity of the government and its officials from law or other constraints must be withdrawn. In short the government and the government servants must be made subservient to the people they are supposed to serve.

The newly developed nations have defied the old Chinese proverb that progress has little to do with speed but much to do with direction and advanced at tremendous pace. We must correct our direction and start moving forward. If we still cannot mange to stop our regressive tendencies we might re classify ourselves from a developing country to a regressing country. This accurate classification might be painful but honest.

In the end let me confess that in the heat of the argument I unintentionally ignored observations showing the overwhelming presence of government of Pakistan and its different agencies. Everywhere we went burning diesel in our 26 years old car at the rate of Rs. 55/litre we encountered lines of fancy government jeeps, colored and green, serving the government officials and their families arranging lavish picnics whose costs will never be calculated.

Politics of compromise

Dr. Umar Khan

Dr. Khan works for a Lahore based Think Tank.




Politics of Compromise


People of same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. Adam Smith (Does this hold true for capitalists only?)


President Asif Ali Zardari has been practicing politics of compromise with big fanfare. This compromise includes nearly everyone in the assemblies including those once accused of murdering BB. Governance of compromise might be an appropriate term to describe this ingenious political setup because those outside of the assemblies aren’t included. Everyone was offered a share in government and those who were reluctant were ably coerced into it with a bit of arm-twisting.


For the last 4.5 years every political party in the elected assemblies is in government at different level and the elected assemblies only comprise of allies. This kind of politics has effectively taken out the opposition from the political scene. In the centre PPP is in the government along with MQM, ANP, FATA PML(Q) and others. Same with KPK and Sind. Punjab also had such setup of PPP, PML N&Q but later PPP ministers were withdrawn. Maulana Fazal is always in the govt, even when he is officially leader of the opposition. Balochistan assembly traditionally consists of treasury benches alone and now the rest of the country is following it. In this strange setup everyone is in the government and opposition is non existent.


This has resulted in a bizarre political setup where there is no genuine opposition. Lately some politicians have been working hard to give an impression of opposition, while enjoying the perks only governments in Pakistan can give, but the Pakistani nation isn’t showing the gullibility of believing them.


Opposition is an integral part of parliamentary democracy which cannot function effectively without it. It is necessary and indispensable. The opposition keeps a check on the government finding weaknesses in its policies and performance while offering a credible alternative. Moreover, by overseeing and criticizing the action of the government, it works to ensure transparency, integrity and efficiency in the conduct

of public affairs and to prevent abuses by the authorities and individuals, thereby ensuring the defense of the public interest. Government institutions like NAB or judiciary can never keep the governments in line as oppositions do. It is the fear of the bright and active politicians in opposition which has been proven as the most useful check on government’s performance. As someone said aptly, “Conscience is basically the fear of being found out” and so it protects from untoward behavior. Freedom of this fear can encourage people to indulge in all kind of improper behaviors this poor nation can ill afford. Opposition less democracy gives the people the roughest of deals, somewhat like capitalism without competition, making the common man the ultimate loser.


The effects of this strange political setup without opposition in the assemblies are too obvious. Some of the simpler but not less cunning politicians, openly declared on the media that equal opportunities should be provided for corruption and now it is their right to indulge in it. Surprisingly these elected officials weren’t penalized by their parties or even the media and shamelessly continue to be part of government although deserve to be in a correction house or a psychiatrist’s couch. All encompassing governments are functioning for the last 4.5 years and juicy government departments and corporations have been doled out generously. Railways, PIA, Steel Mill and KPT, to name a few are in the hands of different allies of compromise. Not going into the innumerable stories of corruption and limiting to tangible and verifiable results, we can say with certainty all of them have been wrecked costing hundreds of billions to the national exchequer, or may I say the common man on the street working hard to feed his family. Railways that were working well for over a hundred years is nearly finished losing all its credibility and service denying the middle classes of inexpensive travel option. PIA is practically bankrupt as is Steel Mill risking hundreds of thousands of jobs. Many of them are surviving on artificial life support of government infusions of funds which can’t last long.  Economy is in shambles and job creation non existent. Inflation is rampant and electricity expensive but unavailable. Law and order situation a mess. Not a flattering picture of democracy. 


Interestingly the collapse of each state institution brings a few more smiles on the faces of allies in the government. Strangely these economic disasters instead of causing cracks in the “Compromised” coalition somehow strengthen it even more. No one has ever been held accountable for the poor performance of these state institutions jeopardizing the national economy and innumerable jobs. To date the coalition is going strong apparently at the cost of the state. 


This kind of political compromise has it roots in the charter of democracy signed between the late BB and Nawaz during the dark days of military rule. After the COD was signed in May 06, within months BB and Musharraf reached understanding on transfer of power under the close watch of Condy Rice and the Americans. Immediately after Jan 07, BB, who was being treated as a con woman for over a decade by Americans, started getting treatment of a stateswomen and celebrity. Ms. Rice exposes it clearly in her book that PPPs government was decided in Washington and further steps were to be taken to ensure the predetermined façade of democracy in Pakistan. A strange democracy where the results are preordained in a foreign country.


The said COD also talks about education, economy, unemployment and condition of the poor, but they have been conveniently ignored.


While signing of COD it was decided that PPP govt will rule Pakistan for 5 years and after that it would be Nawaz’s turn and the two won’t undermine each other’s govts. No wonder Nawaz openly declared that he would support PPP govt even if its own people deserted them. Distribution of provincial govts among these two parties also appeared to be there with Punjab reserved for PML(N) and Sind for PPP. BB’s unexpected sad demise changed the understanding nominally and Zardari replaced BB effectively. This understanding and setup worked smoothly for first couple of years with just a few hiccups.


 Lacunas don’t exist in nature and whenever they are made artificially they don’t last long and forces appear from nowhere fulfilling them. Rise of PTI and judiciary effectively   taking the role of opposition are direct results of this.


Reasons given for this politics of compromise without opposition are certainly noble. There is a feeling that we have had 4 bouts of martial laws in Pakistan with devastating effects damaging our society and its basic fabric, basically because the oppositions of those times invited the military. Although this argument might have some substance if considered as making conditions suitable for military takeovers, it has some serious flaws. This argument makes COAS looks like a feeble post very reluctant but obedient and subservient to the politicians, opposition only. Nothing can be farther from truth. If they are so obedient to the politicians they should be showing the same when asked to leave. It is a strange but very selective and opportunist obedience. It appears that the unscrupulous generals of those times had been planting people to invite them and they always tried to look reluctant.


What actually causes martial laws is not invitation of the opposition politicians but opportunity presented to the devious generals. Economic conditions and dissatisfaction of the common man with democracy is the biggest factor making military interventions possible. Conditions deteriorate when common man shows dislike for democracy and starts longing for generals. Maligning of the politicians, pliable judiciary and foreign support are the other major factors. No wonder the buccaneering generals are delighted with the current situation showing everyone that our people are unfit to rule themselves needing a big brother looking down their necks.


The government has harmed the cause of democracy with its politics of compromise a lot but it is still surviving due to 2 unexpected allies, the Americans, having shown their dislike for military govt in Pakistan and the judiciary, outright rejecting possibility of legalizing any unconstitutional step. Judiciary appearing to be going against the govt is its biggest ally and savior although democracy has taken a real drubbing in the public opinion.


Democracy, like love, can survive almost any attack, except neglect and indifference. Our people must show their concern and give clear message to those in power that they can’t be taken for granted using names of dead people or underage children, any more. Gimmicks and demagoguery won’t work anymore.  They have grown and aren’t gullible any longer getting bribed by small goodies bought from their own money.


The PPP government might be well advised to broaden its compromising politics and compromise with the judiciary instead of taking it head-on. Focusing on the people instead of the greedy allies is the only way Zardari’s govt can fare better in the next elections not far away. Otherwise they are destined to get what govts with history of bad management deserve and get in elections, if somehow saved from military takeover.


Diverting the energy and resources towards the people instead of allies can be a much needed service to democracy and not coalitions created by compromises on principles.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The New Pakistani Politics

Dr. Umar Khan

Dr. Khan belongs to a Lahore based Think Tank.




The New Pakistani Politics

Khawaja Asif of PML (N), in the company of stalwarts Mushahidullah Khan and Pervez Rasheed, came on prime time TV and launched a barrage of very serious allegations on Imran Khan and Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital. As expected this well planned attack was followed by another onslaught by Ch Nisar of PML, again on the prime time. These allegations were refuted by Imran personally and also SKMTH and counter allegations were made on PML (N). There are rumors that the next round is about to start and its going to be even uglier and more vicious. It has become a routine for dubious people coming on TV making serious allegations on people of stature, including CJ, and getting attention while diverting the focus from their performance. Welcome to the politics Pakistani style which has made politics the biggest entertainment for the nation, more popular past time than TV dramas, sports or movies.

Before analyzing the content and effects of the allegations lets have a look at the people making them. Khawaja Asif has a history of working in a financial institution and is expected to understand its intricacies. Unfortunately it doesn’t end here; the financial institution he worked for was very notorious known for its dubious practices and was finally closed down after being convicted of facilitating drug trade. Stretching it further we find that he got this lucrative job on recommendation of our most notorious dictator trying to please his crony who happened to be Kh Asif’s ----- I’ll end it here. Fortunately despite a dubious past Khawaja sahib appears to be one of the cleanest politicians in PML (N) as there aren’t credible allegations against him.

This was certainly a vicious attack comprising of the following,

  1. Shady investments of donated money with losses.
  2. Zakat invested for “interest”, a religious allegation.
  3. Money from Pakistan taken out and invested abroad.
  4. A simple guarantee sought instead of a bank guarantee.
  5. A board member given the investment creating conflict of interest.

A banker knows that all this was well within the norms of business but rhetorical words like “satta” and “sood” were used ruthlessly and an impression was created which temporarily made me suspicious too, but for a very short time. This was an excellent exercise of dysphemism. These allegations cant stand in any court of law or electorate and should follow their natural course so don’t need any commenting. Coming from the side with hundreds of millions of dollars invested abroad and history of PM doling out subsidies with his family being the biggest stake holder appears ridiculous. Or maybe it was a confession that we are guilty but others aren’t clean either; interesting politics.

It is not hard to imagine what PML (N) wanted to achieve by this exercise. They wanted to halt the slide of their popularity and improve their image in public. For this they needed to stop Imran attacking them. It shows the extreme nervousness and jitteriness in their camp. There is a certain gloom of impending disaster which is very obvious on their faces. PML (N) was certainly the most popular party in March 2009 when Nawaz Sharif led the march in support of judiciary but since then it has been a downward trend. His support for democracy by supporting the PPP government has been construed as support for Zardari government and now he has to put tremendous efforts to negate it. His statement “we will support the PPP government even if their own MNAs desert them” is clinging to him like Bhutto’s “Wahan tum, yahan hum”. Forming and running of a coalition government for years makes it even hard to defend despite resignations of federal ministries. When rug below the feet is suddenly pulled such reactions are not uncommon. It might also be a rude reminder of need to unite the rightist against PPP.

Whatever were the intentions the affects of this tirade are clear; Zardari is the apparent winner. Despite 4.5 years of misrule he is not being scrutinized instead people who have never had power are. The words “corruption” and “immorality” are being ridiculed and desensitized; hopefully unintentionally. No wonder there is a hidden sarcastic smile on the faces of PPP leaders who were extremely depressed earlier. PML has effectively distracted the nation from PPPs misrule, something Zardari was trying to hard to achieve, no wonder some might call it a joint effort. This episode has an even more important side effect; it has once again exposed the scruples of PML (N) and its leadership. Pakistani political scene had never seen an uglier political campaign than the campaigns of 1988 and 1990 in which with the help of ISI and its money, PPP and BB were ridiculed shamelessly and even the anatomy of BB being a women was not spared. Interestingly all this was done under the banner of “sharafat ki siasat” and it worked. It is strange how unworkable things work in Pakistan with the support of agencies.  The people had forgotten this old story, but now ably reminded they are expecting a few more Sitas or Terrians. I wonder how long would “Sharafat ki siasat” survive without the outright state support.

The intended losers appear to be Imran Khan and PTI with SKMTH the collateral damage, might survive this attack if not outright benefit from it if able to refute effectively. In this case PML (N) might become the real collateral damage along with the reputation of its leadership. The political class which is already heavily maligned in Pakistan might get even more maligned, something beneficial to other claimants of power who have been arguing for decades that civilians are not fit to rule. No matter how bad the situation you can always lose your nerve and worsen it, that’s exactly what PML (N) apparently did here.

The political attack on PML (N) is severe and their response absolutely necessary and expected but not of this kind. They should have dwelled on their achievements and performance of decades in power. Unfortunately they couldn’t do this because their performance wasn’t good enough. Hospitals and schools are responsibility of the governments, PML has controlled for long without desired results. It is the inability or failure of the government that makes room for welfare organizations in the private sector to do this duty with the help of Zakat. The govts inability and corruption forces respectable people seek treatment on zakat which can be an emotionally devastating experience for many. Except Shehbaz’s shown ability to get the desired results despite a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy there is nothing much to show. Slogans of nuclear explosions or doling out anything from the national exchequer have ultimately lost their luster. Still they might use propaganda and communication techniques to package their performance in a presentable way and get better results.

Khawaja Asif, one of the most admirable people in party, didn’t look very comfortable making these allegations nor during following them up on the talk shows. Knowing the working of Pakistani politics this was the duty given to him and he had no right to refuse or even give an argument against it. This is how our political parties work. PML with a name of a person (Nawaz) attached to it doesn’t give a right to object to its cadres. Pakistani political parties are like personal properties which have shown their ability to be transferred on the basis of will until coming of age of the children. These are routinely inherited by the family members as any other ordinary property making a joke of the claims of political party. Kh Asif is in a difficult situation here, no matter how and what he does, he is destined to remain junior to anyone with the name Sharif in the end. He has to please and obey the whole extended Sharif family with the power to extradite him from politics and decades of service. The only comfort he enjoys is that being a Kashmiri he can expect a slightly better understanding than non Kashmiris in the party as Nawaz family is Kashmiri too. In this case there are not many options available to him between a national level leader and an ineffectual angel, and Kh Asif made the pragmatic choice.

The difference between PML (N) and PTI over here is all too obvious. Dr Faisal Sultan, an employee of SKMTH, while defending the hospital, publicly referred Imran Khan as “Imran” on TV without any sahib or other prefix of respect, something unimaginable in inheritable political parties. I still remember Kh Asif speechless on a TV show during Musharraf era when asked if he would quit PML in case it joins a military dictator. He just couldn’t afford to say what he wanted to, as it could annoy people and ruin his political future. This also shows the scare of our established politicians whose monarchies are at stake here. High stakes do attract severe responses and that’s exactly what’s happening here.

Now that the allegations are made they should be explored and explained. If discrepancies are found, responsible people should be held accountable irrespective of their stature. IK should let the professionals (accountants, managers, lawyers) do their job and stay away from it. In case allegations are found malafide, the culprits should be made accountable in the court of law. Court of people will do their justice in the next elections. Nothing more or less is required, let the law prevail.

“Yahan pagri Uchalti hai,The  ise maikhana kehte hain”

Maybe we should not let the two mingle so that neat and clean people should also be able to participate.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Maneuverings of Zardari's PPP

Dr. Umar Khan

Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank.



Maneuverings of Zardari’s Peoples Party

PPP under Zardari is acting differently from the PPP we knew of. When Supreme Court in the NRO case demanded the government to revoke Malik Qayyum’s letter and leave it to the Swiss authorities it flatly refused. PPP has insisted that the Swiss cases can’t be reopened due to weakness of evidence and President’s immunity and there might be some substance to this claim. Still the PPP government openly defies the Supreme Court creating a huge commotion in the country. They could have gotten away with one small simple worded letter easily without any complications but chose not to and instead got into in a nerve wrecking standoff with judiciary getting their PM convicted making his future unsure landing the nation in an impasse. This PPP government guided by President Zardari has never tried to take stands and backtracks easily claiming to rule by compromise deliberately getting in an ugly confrontation with the judiciary is strange. This standoff has one major affect; it has practically changed the topic for new elections in the election year from performance of the government of PPP to its victimization. Considering the performance of Gillani/Zardari’s government for last 4 years this seems to be the best strategy available.

Taking on the judiciary by a civilian government in a country with a history of military takeovers appears strange at first. Judiciary is the most important guardian of constitution very important for political government especially in Pakistan. There are numerous somewhat credible reports about the judiciary not giving green light to the potential military adventurists always insisting on constitutional ways. Bangladesh model and other such proposed steps were actively resisted by this judiciary not out of love for the PPP’s government but constitution. Some people consider it the single most important factor in this government finishing its term along with legal community’s threat of actively resisting any extra constitutional step. Still political expediency has put natural allies on confrontational course and Zardari led PPP is confronting the judiciary brutally.

This is not an isolated incidence but a continuation of a trend where attention is being diverted from people’s issues towards unimportant and emotional issues allowing the government to evade the scrutiny of voters. Raising and highlighting the issue of Saraiki province after 4 years in power also is a step in this direction as are other a bit less brash ones like bringing Bilawal on the scene looking somewhat of a regal prince watching over the throne ordering the PM more than twice his age as an overbearing boss. Bakhtawar has also been brought in picture focusing on the social media. How far these unusual antics will work needs to be seen but they certainly point to a very tricky mind.

PPP under Zardari has certainly shown superb understanding of political dynamics of Pakistan unlike the BB days when Nawaz Sharif always kept it on the defensive ridiculing and humiliating it at will. In addition he has been unbelievably superb in making strange allies and then keeping them united. MQM had never been a very faithful ally but is staying put loyally despite a few hiccups. ANP with lots of grudges after the Hyderabad trials by ZAB has been a very staunch ally and best of all the sworn enemies of PPP, the Chaudhries of Gujrat, are more devoted than the rest. Arm twisting or other tactics were certainly used but they are common in our political culture and even acceptable to an extent in the more developed world too. It certainly speaks a lot about the skills of the sponsors.

There were opportunities for President Zardari with the nation wary of military rule in a mood to accept and support politicians of any kind and he cashed in skillfully as far as survival in the seat of power is concerned but failed in delivering a good life to the voters. The opposition parties, media, judiciary and the civil society have become very distrustful of military governments utterly convinced that the worst form of democratic government is better than the best military ones. This fear of the third force made people and institutions to tone down their opposition to the democratically elected government imparting certain impunity. All this is basically aimed at the good of the people and should not have been overstretched or abused and we might be bordering on that.

Why Zardari’s PPP is trying to evade its performance is all too obvious. The country has been terribly misgoverned to the extent of making it look ridiculous. In its 65 years of history we have had terrible periods of misgovernance but none as bad as this one. All state institutions like railways, PIA, steel mill or electricity are on their knees surviving on state support on daily basis. Inflation is rampant, power shortages, despite installed capacity, has worsened the already bad employment situation. Hardly any major development work has been done and there is a sense of hopelessness seeping in our society. Law and order situation has worsened to an extent that allegations of failed state are gaining weight. Stories of corruption by the government and its allies abound and that might be the reason of unquestioning loyalty of the allies. A blank check for faithful support is hard to resist for many. The other advantage of sharing ill-gotten wealth from the national exchequer is that those allies lose their option of leaving as they become prone to blackmailing and arm-twisting due to their dubious doings. 


Unfortunately despite these very clever maneuvers Zardari/Gillani’s PPP government has failed miserably in improving the lot of the people making them nervous at the thought of going back to the voters and distractions are devised. Since the conviction of the PM, talk of load shedding, inflation, unemployment etc, showing governments inefficiencies have been replaced with Saraiki PM vs Punjabi and PPP vs PML etc etc.

To be fair to the government it has pleased some quarters too. It exorbitantly increased the defense budget, increased the salaries of govt employees, gave decades of arrears, generously adjusted the allies and their ministers etc. It got to the extent that they hardly refused anyone including demands of their allies when payment from the national exchequer was concerned. These temporary political favors increased the budget deficit resulting in unmanageable inflation. Needless to say the common man or the taxpayer was the biggest victim of this scheme of things and he was to pay for all this squandering as the rich don’t pay taxes in Pakistan.

The real price of misgovernance and corruption is always paid by the common man. He is suffering because of electricity, fuel prices, unemployment and inflation due to policies of this government. Political maneuverings do work and pay dividends but without concrete results these are of very short term nature. For long term benefits these should be complimented with real progress and benefits to the poor which are nonexistent. Just the thought of conning a poor man, unable to make his ends meet due to incompetence or corruption, into voting for his tormentor appears naïveté.

This PPP under Zardari is not ready to face elections and the electorate on the basis of its performance which can be labeled nothing but disastrous for the poor. It is desperately trying to find distractions and irrelevant emotional issues to carry it through the elections which are only months away dwelling on thoughts of royal family and PPPs committed vote bank. Few isolated bye election victories are also lending weight to their optimism.

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, .but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. Pakistani public lacks education, behaves emotionally but is very clear about its interests. In the last elections world powers were with the PPP, as has become clear with Condy Rice’s memoirs, along with military under Musharraf and then the extremely emotional atmosphere created by BBs death that led to PPPs government under Zardari. With the current trends if Zardari fails to distract the people from its performance, it wouldn’t be a surprise if PPP is annihilated at the polling stations in the next elections and Zardari gets the credit for doing something Gen Zia couldn’t ie finishing the PPP. In 1997 elections PPP under BB failed to get a single NA seat from Punjab, ZABs domain, due to her performance and it might get even worse this time. Zardari is sharp enough to appreciate it and would go out of the way in its confrontation with judiciary and other lingual issues; after all he is not short of understanding of political dynamics.

So readers get ready for more dramas; they are beneficial, or rather necessary for some who would be working overtime to distract people from their performance. PPP has come a long way from ZAB’s days.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Our obligation towards our fallen sons of Siachen

Dr. Umar Khan

Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank.



Our obligation towards our fallen sons of Siachen

Avalanche in the Giari sector of Siachen glacier destroyed a battalion headquarters along with its 139 inhabitants. It’s certainly a national tragedy but much more serious for the families and their dear ones. All of these were someone’s sons, fathers, and brothers. One of them was like a son to me and a father of a very young lady who would never remember her loving father. Sleeping deep in the snow with diminishing, maybe extinct, possibilities of survival the nation owes a lot to its fallen sons. It owes to them a confirmation that their sacrifice was really necessary and nothing could be done to prevent the disaster. Finding answers to these questions might be even more important than singing their praises and mourning them ritually.

How this senseless war got started at the top of the world where nature becomes the biggest enemy might be debatable because of the policies of our neighbors so I won’t comment on it. Let’s focus on the reasons within our control.

This is not the first time that we have lost men due to natural calamities nor would it be the last time but there is a difference here. As an old amateur trekker I know one thing for sure and that is that everyone in the mountains must know the places where avalanches are a possibility and camping must be avoided there. Some daredevils do camp at such places for a night or two but then they are taking a calculated risk with their lives. Constructing a whole permanent battalion headquarters in the line of a possible avalanche risking hundreds of lives might simply be gross incompetence bordering on stupid. As Oscar Wilde said “there is no sin except stupidity” this negligence might have caused more loss of Pakistani lives than any single act of terror and must be investigated as seriosly. It’s worse than a crime, it’s a blunder.

We spend millions of dollars to keep our men at these heights. We buy equipment and stuff for them from the most expensive professional stores and spend a fortune supplying them. When we spend this much on our soldiers why couldn’t we simply get expert advice of professionals about where to camp and where not to. We didn’t have to import expensive experts for this; any local guide could have done that accurately. Apparently this was not done here.

Our state apparatus has caused us serious losses and embarrassments but has never been held accountable. This matter-of-fact impunity has encouraged the negative behaviors of criminal negligence and incompetence causing further pain to the nation and its people. Gross misjudgments and incompetence embarrassed the nation in Kargil misadventure, Afghanistan’s strategic depth policy, East Pakistan and 65 war to name a few. The earthquake of 2005 in which over a lakh people lost their lives was for many more of a massacre by corruption rather than a natural disaster because most of the government buildings collapsed whereas the privately built stood better. Government schools full of innocent children were the first to fall killing many. We seem to have acquired some strange habits to stay in the news; I hope it’s not vanity. All these ill thought of actions cost this nation very dearly economically, in reputation and also human lives nearly making it an isolated pariah nation where no tourists or sports teams visit.  Memory is the mother of all wisdom and we should not forget our mishaps only because they suit certain segments.

Corruption and incompetence by the state and its functionaries has caused more deaths and sufferings of Pakistanis than all the enemies combined. Pakistan and the Pakistanis cannot let off this incompetent state apparatus unaccountable for long and must start questioning and making it accountable. An independent investigation must be carried out to figure why a battalion headquarter was constructed on the way of possible avalanche. Who didn’t follow the procedure or maybe who made the wrong procedures. Once we are able to identify the people and procedures responsible for the avoidable disaster we can take steps to avoid future embarrassments and loss of lives. We can’t afford to let people responsible for deaths of Pakistanis go scot-free just because at a stage they were holding Pakistani passports, would be unfair to our heroes.

To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible and responsibility we must ascertain accurately. Only if it is established by independent inquiry that no one was responsible for this tragedy should it be considered a natural disaster until then it should be treated like a case of criminal negligence as is the routine for police firings across the globe. If not, we must hold the people responsible either due to malicious reasons or incompetence accountable for the tragedy they caused. Even if they are retired while enjoying their privileges they should be made to pay as they owe them to the fallen heroes and their kin.

Let us for a change assure our children in the service of the nation that we value their lives and do everything to secure it. Praying and giving monetary compensation to their families with the national exchequer might not be enough. Holding the people responsible accountable and punishing them might be much more important in this endeavor. This taking away of impunity might be the most important step to avoid further unnecessary disasters. We have to do it; we owe it to our fallen heroes/sons and make sure their sacrifice at Siachen doesn’t go in vain this time.