May 222008

The born again independent media has been predictably anti-Musharraf. Given the nature of this beast, it would only be a question of when it would cross swords with the new masters

I have heard it said that it was a “good coalition” – I also heard that it was unique – two diagonally opposed politically parties had come together for a common cause after years of acrimony and distrust. That it took a tragedy of monumental proportions to bring them together was seen as a sign of political maturity and wisdom.

Less than three months into its partnership, it all, sadly, seems to be coming apart. The PPP of Asif Ali Zardari is seen as unwilling to acquiesce to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s demand of restoring the judges, which the latter had considered all along the sine qua non of his agreeing to be the PPP’s “coalition partner”. All that now seems to be in the past leaving the declared arrangement of Bhurban effectively flat lined.

Mr Sharif cannot step back from the brink and Mr Zardari in his wisdom is now seen as the man who stepped back, leaving Mr Sharif no choice but to do the honourable thing and withdraw his “core commanders” from the coalition that is now running the country.

In the early foggy dawn of the post-election euphoria, the strategic alliance struck between the two leaders had all the makings of a formidable force. A devastated adversary suddenly stood mauled and shaken in the aftermath of the election results. But tactically the plan relied too much on a weakened and – at the time – vulnerable and “isolated” adversary.

Beyond the obvious media hype and the kudos of wannabes and the bonhomie, there seemed to have been little understanding of the long term strategic implications of facing an adversary who was trained and honed on battle plans – tactics, strategic withdrawal and the like. The ball may have been in the coalition’s hands but the ballpark still belonged to the adversary.

The soft underbelly of the adversarial forces was not allowed to be exposed for long either. While the coalition forces bickered and bargained, their adversaries after reeling from their initial shock quickly recovered and set about realigning their forces and observed with a glittering eye the movements of its enemy from the high ground they still occupied. The thinking in their camp was: “They may have lost a battle…but the war was yet to come.” Somewhere along the way the gauntlet thrown down for “war” by the lawyers had also been picked up.

Incomprehensible to a layman outside the political fray was the stand of the victors that accepted the elections and the results and yet were still not willing to accept the Presidential election results – although both had been shaped out of the same rib.

When the coalition forces set about trying to find a new commander, it found itself embroiled in an unseemly game of musical chairs which dragged on for precious weeks. Stalwarts came, faltered and fell. Other coalition partners watched the comings-and-goings at the camp while their battle-hardened troops chomped at the bit for action.

Between the dialogue and the diatribe, at the party HQ, the television channels and the mean streets of Karachi, alliances were made only to be broken the next day, hatchets were buried but swords were drawn again, the spectacle of a victory turning into a farce becoming more evident as the days ticked by. The strength, the energy and the euphoria was seen to be slowly being drained away. The coalition, once labelled as the “The Dream Team”, began to unhinge as all such marriages of convenience do.

Meanwhile a politically fatigued populace reeling under the paucity of food, rampant inflation, crippling load shedding began to agitate. The choking summer heat offered no respite and the rumble of discontent has begun to go from a growl to a snarl.

The mood is sullen and it is shifting; political pundits no longer refer to the “adversary” as the beleaguered party. That epithet now seems more appropriate to describe the coalition.

The born again independent media has been predictably anti-Musharraf. Given the nature of this beast, it would only be a question of when it would cross swords with the new masters. We didn’t have long to wait. Predictably a bar room like brawl of threats between a swaggering anointed “facinoroso” and a media person triggered the first of the tempests on this front.

The chewing gum and band-aid solutions of importing second hand power generation plants to augment the present capacity is a hazardous route to take. Power generation plants worth their name are only decommissioned when they have almost given up the ghost and when they are repositioned in foreign lands they are like the proverbial silent sentinels of an age gone by.

They can neither produce their declared capacity nor run efficiently. Power plants that have been put to the pasture notoriously run on cannibalised parts because the original manufacturer’s parts have long been discontinued. The price tag of 2 to 3 million dollars per plant will buy you the plant but it will cost you twice that amount to bring it on stream. If it is a 20 megawatt plant – you would be lucky if it produced half of that in the best of times. Buyer beware!

Now to separate the wheat from the chaff, Pakistan has been buying or getting American wheat for close to sixty years now, under one program or the other – PL 480, World Food Program and from the country’s own cash reserves. Traditionally the grain has moved from the elevators in the US Gulf and the Puget Sound areas. That it is sold via an impeccable system of transparent tenders by the big Grain Houses – Continental Grain, Dreyfus, Cargill, Bunge et al in Washington – under the aegis of the USDA and the Pakistan Embassy is a tried and true method. Let us not try to reinvent the wheel here.

USDA inspectors put each vessel that is to carry the grain through a vigorous inspection protocol and ensure that every kernel of grain being exported conforms to stringent health and safety standards. There have been many occasions recently when Pakistan has bought wheat from countries where quality control standards are virtually non existent. The result has been an unmitigated disaster.

After sixty years of consuming American Red Hard Winter wheat or Soft Wheat which the Pakistani palette is accustomed to why have we started to experiment with sub standard wheat simply because it is cheaper. A nation that short changes its populace on basic essentials and disregards the nutritional importance of the staple diet that its people live on is writing its own recipe for disaster.

The newly appointed Ambassador to Washington ought to forcefully emphasise to the Bush administration the need for earmarking grain shipments for the one ally that stands most exposed in the line of fire in the War on Terror. You want to win hearts and minds, well here is your chance to do it! There should be delegations visiting Washington, Buenos Aires and Canberra booking buying and shipping grain for the even longer hard winter ahead.

There is only so far that the people will be willing to go on populist slogans and fiery diatribe, on an empty stomach.

Mahmud Sipra is a best selling author and an independent columnist. He can be reached at

Source: Daily Times, 22/5/2008

 Posted by at 12:27 pm

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