Nov 3, 2009

NRO on highway to hell

Anjum Niaz

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting

With men like Peter W Galbraith (Benazir Bhutto's old buddy), Matthew Hoh and Nick Horne around, we can dare to hope. We can also dare to dream of a fairer world order. The three have raised the bar for truth. They have challenged the UN and the US for following a trajectory in Afghanistan mined with iniquity, death and deception. As the UN deputy special representative in Afghanistan, Galbraith rang the alarm bells back in August against Karzai's electoral fraud. He got promptly fired by his boss, the UN secretary-general. Matthew Hoh, an American diplomat stationed in Afghanistan, resigned recently against US occupation in Afghanistan. Richard Holbrook's sweet persuasion failed to convince Hoh not to quit. And Nick Horne, another UN political affairs aide in Kabul, has just resigned for similar reasons.

"Among the greatest mistakes of the international community has been its laissez-faire approach to the corruption, cronyism and venality of the Afghan government," said Horne. Galbraith too said the United Nations not only ignored massive fraud in the August election but also told him to keep quiet. UN officials told a lie to reporters saying there had been a "personality clash" between Galbraith and his senior, Kai Eide. "I might have tolerated even this last act of dishonesty if the stakes were not so high," wrote Galbraith in The Washington Post. "For weeks, Eide had been denying or playing down the fraud in Afghanistan's recent presidential election, telling me he was concerned that even discussing the fraud might inflame tensions in the country. But in my view, the fraud was a fact that the United Nations had to acknowledge or risk losing its credibility with the many Afghans who did not support President Hamid Karzai." Besides, the sacked diplomat said he felt loyal to his colleagues who worked in a dangerous environment to help Afghans hold honest elections. "At least five of whom have now told me they are leaving jobs they love in disgust over the events leading to my firing."

While one can't expect these resignations to have rocked the US or the UN, still there is something called the "domino effect." The revolt has begun, and there's no saying where and when it will end.

While the White House and the State Department has declared Karzai the president of Afghanistan, his counterpart and brother across the border is facing his own demons crying for his blood with the NRO. President Zardari struck a special friendship with Karzai in recent months, with the latter declaring him his "Bhaijan." They are brothers in arms on hell's highway -- marooned in their presidential palaces fearing for their lives. Spurned at home, spawning a tainted track record, the American acolyte pair have duly been sanitised and declared kosher by Washington.

Don't you think Secretary of State Hillary Clinton erred on the wrong side of grandiosity when she archly asked Pakistani businessmen why the rich didn't pay income tax? "At the risk of sounding un-diplomatic," she intoned, "Pakistan has to have internal investment in your public services and your business opportunities… The percentage of taxes on GDP is among the lowest in the world... We (the United States) tax everything that moves and doesn't move, and that's not what we see in Pakistan," she sneered.

Great observation, Madame Secretary! But wait. Is it not your great country that exonerates corruption by devising devilish laws like the NRO? Was it not your predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, who baptised the NRO? Was it not Washington that connived with the Pakistani Army (read Musharraf), the PPP (read Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari) and the ISI (read Gen Kayani) to wash away the sins and crimes of our leaders now facing Pakistanis' frontal wrath?

"You do have 180 million people," continued Clinton. "Your population is projected to be about 300 million. And I don't know what you're gonna do with that kind of challenge, unless you start planning right now," she said. Great observation, once again, Madame Secretary! But your concern has such a hollow ring to it. Why, because the US has never considered the interests of the "180 million people" but has cherry-picked a handful few to rob a country screaming for help.

Mrs Clinton was huddled with Zardari and Gilani in Islamabad when the Peshawar bombing occurred. She, along with Zardari and Gilani, shed crocodile tears at the "loss of human life." (Oh, how empty and hypocritical these words sound!) Better it would have been had the good lady and our "grieving" leaders asked the Hoti government whether the following factoids were true: One ambulance per 200,000 persons in Peshawar; seven ambulances for Lady Reading Hospital, four of which are 1986 model and (needless to add) in pathetic shape, the only new one reserved for VIP use. Can young Hoti confirm reports that the 260-or-so wounded were taken to the hospital on motorcycles and rickshaws?

If the chief minister's answer is in the affirmative, then Hillary Clinton as the representative of America, the NRO-tainted leadership of Pakistan and their elected high priests in Peshawar have lost their moral compass. Death stalks Peshawar daily and not to even have one new ambulance is simply criminal. Where has the Hoti government spent all the money from USAID, the UN and donor countries? We need answers. But who will ask when their bosses in Islamabad steal with impunity?

Needed, then, are a few brave men in Pakistan who will stand up and say "enough!" Shahbaz Sharif sang Habib Jalib, Main naheen maanta/Main naheen jaanta, last year in support of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Why is he not singing now? Why did he allow his party MNA turncoat Zahid Hamid, the fellow who as Musharraf's law minister passed the NRO, to abstain from voting on the bill in the standing committee because Hamid had a flight to catch? Are the Sharif brothers and the MQM leader Altaf Hussain duping us by publicly opposing the "National Robbers Organisation" (NRO) while playing footsy with Zardari? And why is America-returned Aitzaz Ahsan causing more confusion by giving conflicting statements on the NRO, instead of taking a firm position? Is he with the masses or with Zardari?

One brave citizen of Karachi, Naeem Sadiq, has launched "People's Resistance," inviting all to join in a peaceful protest walk against the NRO: this "black law will rob Pakistani citizens of all equality and justice while providing indemnity to those who indulge in the biggest crimes and corruption." Huzaima and Ikram, another brave couple teaching at LUMS recently wrote: "Pakistan's economic crisis is due to criminal culpability of our ruling elite. The policy of appeasement towards tax evaders, money launderers and plunderers of national wealth--NRO is a classical example--is proving disastrous. The state is going bankrupt, but those at the helm live lavishly--see their residences and investments in London, Dubai and elsewhere."

And they don't pay taxes either! Corrupt and inefficient departments like the police and revenue, "faithfully serve their masters" and, in the process, also make huge money for themselves. The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) not only failed to tap the actual tax potential of Rs4 trillion but the Rs1,130 billion it raised in 2008-2009 in taxes got "plundered and wasted by the ruling elite. The ministers, state ministers, advisers, MNAs and MPAs alone squandered 700 billion on perks and perquisites."

Thank you America for gifting us the NRO and giving crumbs to the poor after our leaders have had their feeding frenzy under your benevolent eye.

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