Apr 252008

A reputed Singapore-based think-tank says the world is well on its way to its worst recession in 30 years. The US has been showing telltale signs of this for months, but one expected the EU countries not to be as badly hit. Asian countries like China, India, Japan and the ASEAN nations are expected to generally fare better than Europe. The situation has been further complicated by the constantly rising oil prices. The level of economic pain may differ, but all countries, almost without exception, will face some economic problems. Food shortages in Asia, particularly rice, has virtually dried up exports as countries scramble to feed their own populations. Africa will suffer greatly. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s ability to withstand economic disaster has been considerably weakened, shortcomings of economic management contributing to multiplying multifaceted domestic and political problems. We must shuffle and reallocate resources to prevent the situation turning to anarchy. The world may be facing a multi-dimensional tsunami-like situation, Pakistan is facing a full-blown catastrophe.

The elections rigging game plan failed spectacularly because the army did not play ball. However, some very visible remnants of the old order remain. A major sword of Damocles is the judges’ issue. Political differences will force-multiply the impending economic and food crisis. We must put this behind us, sooner rather than later.

Shortage of “roti, bijli and pani” could be our undoing. Uninterrupted provision of “atta” to the masses is a must, as the temporary shortage in Islamabad graphically illustrated. The government has moved to curb or eliminate smuggling to Afghanistan by empowering the Frontier Corps in Balochistan and the NWFP. Implement this fully by enacting a law enhancing considerably the punishment to food smugglers, making public examples of the fat-cats indulging in hoarding and/or smuggling. The Philippines has recently promulgated a law declaring hoarding of rice “economic sabotage”. While we could well earn up to US$ 1-1.5 billion from rice exports, doing this make rice at home costlier. The priority should be to feed the people of Pakistan and not fall for the machinations of a handful of fat-cat grain merchants. Similarly, the only wheat allowed into Afghanistan should be that imported by the Afghans on the Afghan Trade Transit Agreement (coincidentally the acronym spells ATTA). The priority must be on feeding the people of Pakistan, not excluding the three million Afghan refugees who still enjoy our hospitality, Hamid Karzai and company’s ingratitude notwithstanding. Find me another nation in the world having so many refugees. Unfortunately, when they go across the Durand Line these Afghans become ‘Pakistanis’.

With fuel prices running astronomically, something must be done about electricity shortages, because the summer months will generate more than heat. Our elected representatives must be part of the awareness campaign for energy conservation and a planned rotating load-shedding campaign, priority being given to hospitals and communication centres, followed by manufacturing units. Industries without electricity will create unemployment, with food shortages and rising food prices; loss of jobs will cause even greater frustration and desperation. These are evil twins that need to be kept in control to prevent anarchy. Small power-generating units, including second-hand ones, should be sourced and set-up on a makeshift basis, speed being of the essence.

Rains in the catchments areas have ensured minimum water levels. Whether further augmentation will sustain quantity requirements through summer, one does not know, and one must plan for water scarcity throughout the country, directing minimum flows to agriculture, and distributed equitably. Watch for greedy landowners who deny water to the tail-enders by diverting major flows for their own use. Provision of potable water is a dire necessity, particularly in areas of perennial shortages. Conservation of water has to be a national effort. One of the major failures of the Musharraf regime was to let the Kalabagh dam issue become a political hot potato. One doubts the politicians have the will to impress upon the population, particularly in the NWFP and Sindh, the vital urgency of having storage dams. Production of electricity would be a double blessing.

We tend to mix up militancy with terrorism. All militants are not terrorists. We can negotiate with them, but from a position of strength. Terrorists are another matter. Attacking soft targets like funeral processions, women and children, they are clearly outside the pale of civilised society. One cannot (and should not) negotiate with terrorists. Baitullah Mehsud is a terrorist, showing scant regard for human lives, particularly non-combatants. Kayani’s briefing of major political heads must have had some effect. Mian Nawaz Sharif, thereafter, has not been as voluble about being friendly with the Taliban (and by extension Al-Qaeda) as he once was. We need to augment our heli-borne capacity urgently and coordinate electronic means with firepower. By creating bases within FATA we have not only annoyed the tribals, we have allowed initiative to pass to the militants. Remember the age-old military maxim, “Let us not reinforce failure.” Moving out of FATA does not mean abandoning the war against terrorism. It gives greater balance for effective combat. The Army’s action a couple of weeks before Feb 18 must have caused grievous damage because Baitullah Mahsud immediately asked for a ceasefire. Those who fight and run away live to fight another day! The Army gave them space for negotiations, instead of pressing the offensive home. One hopes that they do not live to regret this. Good information will be helpful in ferreting out terrorist cells. A well-coordinated plan based on “actionable intelligence” will be the key to eliminating this menace from our streets.

We have had several wars with India and yet we talk to them, dialogue being the only way to narrow down our differences. If one can sit down and have civil conversation with those we once considered implacable enemies, why can’t we enter into constructive dialogue within the country between the opposing political parties? The PPP and the PML-N were hereditary foes, constantly lunging at each other’s throats till Musharraf managed to unite them. Why wait for tomorrow and all our sorrows, if Mian Sahib and Asif Zardari can sit in a coalition, why not a national unity government of all political parties to meet the impending multi-faceted national crisis? The PML-Q and the MQM must be drawn into the process. While the whole population will suffer, most misery and privation will be the lot of the under-privileged; more than 50 per cent fit the category.

There is a time for politicking and a time for governance. One cannot be permanently on a campaign trail, there must be a transition from politicking to providing good governance. Our leaders must put substance before rhetoric, national necessity before personal ambition. Posturing and political drama for advantage is the stuff of nonsense. We owe it to the poorest of the poor to curb our prejudices and our individual ambitions for the greater national good. Our leaders have to show political maturity and bite the bullet. Otherwise, ground realities will make them bite the dust. The poor of Pakistan should not have to swallow that dust, without water, because of the inadequacies and shortcomings of our leaders.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com

Courtesy: The News, 25/4/2008

 Posted by at 6:54 am

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