Put your mouth where your money is

By Anjum Niaz
After China’s reluctance to bail us out, what next? The Saudis were shy to say they will give us oil on deferred payment; they have since gone silent. The Americans did promise us some millions but are today scurrying like scared rabbits stopping their own economy from collapse. The UAE royal family will cough up cash for old time’s sake but only if we hand over our family silver to them on a platter. We have no cash to keep the IMF wolf away from the door. Pakistan has begged from all, but none has come forth with money, only hollow promises.

Knock, knock. Enter the big bad wolf. With our economy in the emergency ward, the IMF will shove its painful economic drip down our throats to revive us. Do we deserve it? Yes, because our leaders, military and civilian, present and past, have been too busy living like emperors, building their own palaces in Pakistan and abroad, junketing abroad with toadies unlimited, lining their own pockets, hoarding dollars in their own foreign banks and looking the other way while their honchos have done the same. The rape by our leaders continues. The fear of God doesn’t work on our leaders; the fear of IMF does.

If the world’s second richest man Warren Buffet is willing to invest in his country’s future by buying American stocks why can’t Pakistan’s suggested second richest man President Asif Ali Zardari and the fourth richest man Mian Nawaz Sharif invest in energy projects that can save Pakistan from going bankrupt? Just think about it. This is no idle talk but a practical solution to our biggest problem today: lack of energy.

“Put your mouth where your money is,” writes Warren Buffet in a column recently. “Today my money and my mouth both say equities.” A simple rule dictates his buying: “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation’s many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now.”

Pakistan cannot come close to America and its wealth. Cynics may point out that my citing Warren Buffet is therefore way off the mark. They may point out that Zardari and Sharif are no Warren Buffet. Granted. Darn, it’s time we talked shop. Sharp-suited-smiler has done the international rounds but returned home empty handed. Zardari’s last resort was China. He hoped that the Chinese would deposit $1.5 billion to $3 billion in the State Bank of Pakistan before his plane touched down in Karachi. That did not happen.


The much-celebrated democracy dividend engineered by the US and UK envoys and seconded by the Saudis and the UAE earlier this year saw the emasculation of Pervez Musharraf. The dictator was forced to issue the NRO which washed away the years of corruption our politicians were accused of and indicted for in courts here and abroad. The death of Benazir Bhutto left in its wake a power vacuum that Zardari and company were not prepared for. The PPP co-chairman overnight became the accidental candidate and in turn got crushed under the welter of his own power. Consequently he bungled not once but many times. He allowed Farooq Naek and Latif Khosa to block the return of the chief justice. He allowed his ego to guide him in his choice of a subservient prime minister. He okayed Rehman Malik’s underhand move to take control of the ISI. He let loose the dogs of war in Punjab all the while schmoozing with the Sharifs; trooping with the Americans (Ambassador Anne Patterson in Islamabad and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in New York); cajoling the Saudis for free oil; humouring General Kayani and pampering Altaf Hussain of the MQM giving him what he wants.

The president is sagging under the tonnage of national and international pressure. Before going to China he told the reporters here that he was visiting Beijing after “24 years.” Correction. He went in December 1993 (15 years ago) as the spouse of prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The couple was given a warm welcome and Benazir was simply outstanding. She won the hearts of the Chinese leaders. Witnessing her meeting at the Great Hall and her press conferences sent waves of pride among us, the media party that accompanied her. We were genuinely proud of our leader.

Today, her widower, the president, is trying too hard to emulate her. It’s backfiring. Why did he make the ridiculous announcement to visit China every three months to educate himself and learn business secrets that enabled China to amass two trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves? It’s nothing but sanctimonious chatter. If he’s sincere then he should look for answers in his own backyard, a country of 170 million working hard stiff. For too long our civilian governments have kept us drugged by feeding mind-numbing words like “democracy” and “awam ki khidmat” while engaging in widespread state plunder. The money they pocket is conveniently transferred to their Swiss banks with no questions asked by the greedy Swiss. Pakistanis wake up only after the deed is done and the government sacked. Everybody – the press, successive government, TV anchors and human rights champions suddenly scramble into the act of catching the thieves.

But it’s too late and of course the IMF is called to clean up the mess.

Let’s end this thieves and robbers statecraft. Our present leaders should cut out the long lectures and instead put their mouth where their money is. They need to set an example for the rest to follow. Begin by being honest, sincere and transparent. Let Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, minister of water and power, suffer the loadshedding as all others in Islamabad do. No exceptions please. Let his street in F-8 be in darkness and his home without electricity when our homes and streets are unlit. Let the president and prime minister show the awam that they too are burning the midnight oil looking for solutions to get back electricity in our homes and industries. Zardari deserves praise for getting a promise from the Chinese to build two more nuclear power plants, but in the meanwhile, he must pump up the public’s confidence by investing his overseas wealth in the local banks. He and his cronies must jumpstart our economy by ruthlessly husbanding expenses.

Does JUI chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman deserve to enjoy perks and privileges meant for a federal minister? No Prime Minister! Why have you singled this man who changes his political affiliations like the weathercock? Why shower state largesse on him? Yusuf Raza Gilani, if he loves the maulana so much, should pay him a stipend from his own personal bank accounts, which like the other leaders, is hefty. Do you know how much our parliamentarians cost us annually? Each one of them at least us of Rs32 lakhs. In five years these 534 MPs would have deprived the national exchequer of Rs85,440,000,000 (more than 800 crores). This is only their direct costs. Add to this a couple of more millions that our lawmakers, not all of them but most, make in shady deals and graft. We, the people, must demand that these fellows who come on television or make tall promises in print should put their money where their mouth is. They should invest in projects that generate electricity. And pronto!

The Zardari government has allowed the Dubai-based Abraaj Capital to control KESC. Farrukh Abbas has been appointed the CEO of Abraaj Capital Pakistan. Reliable sources inform me that he’s drawing a monthly salary estimated at US$ 46,000 plus perks. In rupees this comes to Rs40 lakhs a month. Abbas, it may be said is related to Mrs Timmy Hakim Ali Zardari through marriage. Is this a case of sheer nepotism or merit? The jury will only come out when this government is a thing of the past. But you can’t stop tongues from wagging. Everyone, sans the jiyalas is aware how the PPP is mismanaging governance.

Well, now you know why our foreign friends have shafted us. But hope springs eternal. The ‘Friends of Pakistan’ may yet rescue us from the IMF.

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting
Email: aniaz@fas.harvard.edu

Source: The News, 21/10/2008

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