Mar 24, 2009

For money’s sake!

Rejoice, celebrate and kill the fatted calf. This mood energizer is not about the chief justice, but the windfall expected our way. The Obama administration plans giving us 1.5 billion dollars a year as spending money. And it will not ask us for receipts; nor will it demand anything in return. It is gratis! Hold on. There’s more. For starters, a tranche of $5 billion bonanza can arrive to stall our rotten decline. Additionally, Pakistan’s military will get over $300 million annually to fight terrorists. If our military fails, there will be questions asked, conditions laid. Lest you take me to be a grasping moneybag and that too from Uncle Sam, consider what options we have with our country running on empty. The bald truth is that Pakistan needs hard cash to fight the ‘religious’ thugs and prevent it from becoming ‘Thug-istan.’ America is the only one willing to dole out the dollars. Our fair-weather ‘Friends’ who meet at fancy capitals from time to time have promised us but so far delivered little. We hear it’s because of the ‘trust deficit.’ Put simply the ‘Friends of Pakistan’ consortium worries whether the money they gift will filter down to the poor or get pocketed by the people at the helm. Forensic evidence of money laundering by our top leaders has established their guilt in international courts of law. For ‘democracy’s’ sake, the Americans and the British have disingenuously found a laxative to de-worm the black into white money. The one-time treatment goes by the name of NRO or the National Reconciliation Ordinance. It’s the most loathed acronym countrywide. For our rulers, it’s manna from heaven, nay the west. Obama and Brown are gung ho on making ‘democracy’ work in Pakistan. The hands-on management is fully involved in day-to-day domestic and international matters lumbering out of the Presidency, the Governor’s House Lahore and the Raiwind palace. Hillary Clinton is the glorified governess, if you please. Her assistant, Ambassador Anne Patterson, the flinty-eyed nanny, is tasked with keeping a strict watch on Zardari’s, Taseer’s and Sharif’s minute-to-minute movements. The troublesome three are acting like spoilsports. The only adult around them is COAS Kayani. Admiral Mike Mullen, the US military chief has taken a shine to General Kayani. They have long tele-conversations where confidences are exchanged. Kayani is seen as the “key to US strategy in the region.” But some warn America not to put all their hopes in one hamper. “It’s a complete replay of what took place with Musharraf,” says Christine Fair, a senior political scientist with Rand Corp. “We have a love affair with whichever chief of army staff is in office at any one time until they thoroughly disappoint.”Individuals! That’s the malignancy killing institutions. The cancer is metastasizing rapidly. To every American and Pakistani, Zardari is the government, Nawaz Sharif is the Punjab and Kayani is the army. Period. And of course, the PPP is Asif Ali Zardari, again. Where individuals matter more than institutions, that country is called a ‘banana republic.’ “The word is occasionally applied to governments where a strong leader hands out appointments and advantages to friends and supporters, without much consideration for the law. A banana republic can also be used to describe a country where a large part of its economy and politics are controlled by foreign powers or even corporations.” This description borrowed from Wikipedia fits us well today, doesn’t it? A week after the PPP got the highest votes last year, Asif Ali Zardari put his loyalists in key positions. The first of a string of broken promises by the president was to Amin Fahim whom he had vowed the premiership. To follow was the N-League resignations from key cabinet posts because the chief justice had not been restored. The resignations came at the cost of the country. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had begun work on the budget, he suddenly quit leaving the treasury to a clueless Naveed Qamar. That proved disastrous. Zardari meanwhile was roundly rewarding loyal supporters with appointive public offices that most didn’t deserve to hold. This is so nineteenth century-ish thinking: “that to the victor belong the spoils”. While the developed world today recognizes the “merit system” our Pakistani rulers continue the systematic sacking of merit.Nobody focuses on our scorched institutions begging for funds. Most are dead. But nobody wants to conduct a post-mortem. Nobody, and that includes America, wants to hear the voice of ordinary Pakistanis and what they want. Ask the man on the street how to spend the $1.5 billion and he will show Zardari how to fix things. The president and his party don’t have to be Ivy Leaguers with Ph.Ds in economics (And do stop calling it “economical”!). Ask an ordinary housewife and she’ll tell Shaukat Tareen and the IMF how to husband money. Yes, yes, we know the Americans are sending truckloads of money our way. That’s the best news coming out from Washington after a long time. But what we don’t have are shake and bake recipes on how to spend money wisely and well. Of course, our rulers know how to pocket it!We seek transparency. The president must end power games. He should instead invite proposals from economic experts, the intelligentsia and the initiated layman on drafting and executing a budget for the people, of the people and by the people. That’s democracy. Governor Salmaan Taseer should return to his business empire and give up his dream of making Punjab a PPP bastion. “If he is to have any chance of turning his administration round Mr Zardari needs to put in place an able executive team and cut loose toadying cronies,” says the Financial Times. When things finally fall in place, the president’s “Cheshire-cat grin” will be better-served. Until the wheels of governance begin moving, Mr President, hold off that smile. “I wish Hillary Clinton injects an antidote against corruption, lying, sycophancy, nepotism, favouritism, injustice, fund siphoning and human smuggling,” writes an emailer who thinks that unless the Americans genuinely and sincerely guide our leaders to serve the people (no lip service, please!) the thugs will take over. The fear is giving Ambassador Holbrooke a migraine. Recently at the Brussels Forum, he bracketed the terrorists who planned 9/11; killed Benazir Bhutto; attacked Mumbai, terrorized the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, under one umbrella. “They are in Pakistan. They are terrorizing Swat.” Then there is the Wall Street Journal, which recently carried a report which said that while General Kayani’s popularity may have surged among US officials for putting “experienced, nonideological officers in charge of two of Pakistan’s most important security arms: the Inter-Services Intelligence and the 60,000-strong Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force that is taking the lead in battling the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas,” the reality on the ground is somewhat different. A very knowledgeable insider told me recently of reports of a tug-of-war in Peshawar between the paramilitaries and their cousins in khaki – for reasons that have to do with performance on the ground and perception of this performance by the ultimate powers that be. “It’s pretty clear that we’ve got to really be dealing with institutions and with the government as a whole,” US officials continue mouthing such brain-numbing phrases. “We can’t just say ‘this guy is our man.’” Until Americans actually match this message by starting to notice the little ‘guy’ on the street who is the corner stone of ‘institutions’ in Pakistan, their money will go to waste.There’s a quiet revolution taking place in our society (maybe the Americans haven’t noticed?) The disenfranchised and the disempowered millions are adopting the hijab and the beard. At Islamabad’s fashionable watering holes, you see women fully veiled with just the slit of their eyes showing eating ice cream and enjoying a family outing while caring two hoots about the political shenanigans of our rulers. This class of modestly dressed and conservatively mannered middle rung is interested in providing a better future for their children. Oblivious of Mullen, Mueller, Panetta and their likes, the ordinary Pakistani wants the basic necessities of life.Surely this is not asking too much of President Zardari and our money-masters, the Americans?
Anjum NiazThe writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting

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