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A Flicker of Hope

Written by S.G. Jilanee  •  Region  •  March 2011 PDF Print E-mail

Hope springs eternal in the human breast, Man never is, but always to be blest.” -Alexander Pope

The number of problems Pakistan is beset with is countless. Their magnitude defies assessment. Living on alms from foreign donors and being led by the United States has become second nature for the Pakistani people. It is therefore not looked upon as degrading and a challenge to national self-esteem. To supplement the charity, the country borrows. The IMF exacts its pound of flesh “nearest the heart,” the U.S.A. not only demands that its charity be acknowledged in speech and writing and thanks be offered with head bowed low; it also asks for sacrifice of Pakistani lives.

And the money so received, whether outright charity or loan, goes not to improve the lives of the people. It goes to buy BMWs for the civil and military honchos and ministers and sustain a battalion of ministers, advisers and other hangers-on, and to pay for foreign junkets by the top brass.

Then there is the endless war with the Taliban (TTP); the military keeps on pounding them and they go on with their suicide attacks targeting police and military, besides burning schools and attacking shrines.

Meanwhile, Balochistan simmers. Sporadic explosions killing people and destroying gas pipelines are routine. Baramdagh Bugti, Nawab Akbar Bugti’s son and a rebel, so long enjoying the hospitality of the Afghan government is reported to have left for the more salubrious climes of Switzerland. This may be a response from President Karzai to Pakistan’s pressure. But there is no let up in the sabotage activities of the Baloch separatists.
Pakistan also feels hot under the collar as America continuously asks for more to deny “safe haven” to its bogey, Osama bin Laden. But it has no answer to the question why, even after almost ten years, the U.S.A. has been unable to locate him, even though it has located water on Mars and life on other planets. Nor, to how Osama has been surviving so long without food or water or medication for his illness to plan attacks on U.S. mainland. 

Meanwhile, Mian Nawaz Sharif is miffed because the PPP government at the centre does not appear to give any urgency to his “proposals” for good governance and his ultimatum. Instead, as tit for tat, the PPP has sent Mr. Sharif a lengthy inventory of its grievances against the PML (N) government of Punjab that it would wish to be urgently redressed with the threat of dharna before the Assembly in case they are not met within a fortnight.

According to the State Bank governor, inflation rate at the end of January stood at 15 per cent. Prices of essential food items have skyrocketed, and rising, in sympathy with the spike in the price of petrol and electricity. The government is also caught in a bind on raising taxes. The U.S.A. and IMF insist on levying General Sales Tax and withdrawing various subsidies.

A 17 percent ST is already being levied on a number of items but there is popular resistance to its universal outreach. On the other hand, the government would not even hear of imposing any tax on agriculture.

However, corruption overshadows all other maladies the country is afflicted with. Ten per cent has been the rate sanctified years ago during the first stint of Benazir Bhutto, by none other than her consort. And people had got used to it. But greed has no limits. Besides, there was also the need to compete with India.

If in India the telecommunication minister could make Rupees “176 thousand crore,” by selling away licenses at throwaway price, why shouldn’t Pakistani officials try to outsmart the Indians? Here, it is counted in billions, but a billion is equal to 100 crore. And some of the scams that have so far been unearthed run into tens of billions which means thousands of crores.

Corruption has permeated even into a holy operation like Hajj and in a noble sport like cricket. In the case of Hajj, the Hajis were shortchanged in the rent charged for their accommodation. The Hajj minister was sacked and the Director General Hajj is being prosecuted in a court of law.

In cricket, three players, including former test captain Salman Butt and pace bowlers Asif and Aamer have been banned for varying number of years by the International Cricket Council (ICC) tribunal “on solid proof of corruption” - colluding in a “spot-fixing betting scam organized by British-based agent Mazhar Majeed.”

But, unlike India, in Pakistan it is the superior judiciary that has assumed the responsibility of bringing the culprits to justice. There is a long, unending line. Hamesh Khan the ex-president of the Bank of Punjab has been brought back from the U.S.A. Arrest warrant has been issued for Moons Elahi, son of former chief minister of Punjab Pervez Ilahi and his bank accounts frozen for his involvement in corruption.

Some of the mega corruption cases include, Pakistan Steel Mill (PSM) and National Insurance Corporation Limited (NICL). In one of the hearings Supreme Court’s Justice Javed Iqbal termed the corruption in PSM as a massive dacoity in the national history. The sum allegedly embezzled amounts to 22 billion (22 hundred crore rupees). The chairman Moin Aftab and others have been indicted. But, as Justice Ramday observed, people involved in Steel Mills corruption were not identified even after passing one year.

In the case of the NICL after the Supreme Court Chief Justice took suo moto notice of alleged corruption of Rs. 18 billion, the chairman Ayaz Khan Niazi has been indicted.

But, there is little progress in any of the cases. At every step the Supreme Court is stymied by the uncooperative attitude of the executive. If an investigating officer is vigorous, he is moved away as in the case of the Steel Mill case. Interior Minister changed the FIA investigation team abruptly in the midst of the investigation even though the court was satisfied with it. When the court asked him the reason for the change, his simple answer was that it was not mala fide.

Time and again the Bench lashes out at the FIA for its pusillanimity and shoddy reports. Once, the Chief Justice even remarked that FIA is “trying to save the influential people.” His allusion was evidently to certain people involved in the Steel Mills case who the FIA dare not lay its hands on.

The Hajj corruption case is another instance where, expressing dissatisfaction with the FIA’s probe, the Supreme Court has called for a comprehensive report from the newly assigned investigating officer.

Such remarks and the latest decision to recover all written-off loans since 1971, sustain hope in the hearts of people that perchance the judiciary will be able to recover the stolen billions. But it is not more than a flicker, because the cases are dragging on with no result in sight and the famous NRO case on which a storm raged for some time seems to have been quietly buried.


S. G. Jilanee is a senior political analyst and the former editor of Southasia Magazine.
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