Different Strokes

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Even though in the past week both the President and the PM crossed the Atlantic separately to meet the presently unchallenged Lord Manor of Earth, US President George W Bush Jr, and receive plaudits respectively for, viz (1) being in the forefront of “the war against terrorism” and (2) being the torch-bearer of the “new democratic order in Pakistan”, the uneasy apprehension in the mind politic of Pakistan that things are not so rosy as portrayed persists. In a contradiction one also gets the feeling that neither are they as bad as being bandied about by politicians left out in the cold in the present process. One should not count the nonsense emanating from the BJP rulers of India, one can never expect anything good about Pakistan to ever originate from them.

External Affairs is a good area to start from when discussing media shortcomings. Hardly had Ariel Sharon’s visit to New Delhi evoked deep apprehension about an Indo-Israeli axis (supposedly mentored by the US) against Pakistan, than we had to cope with news about US-India high attitude military exercises in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. To top it all the Chairman of the British Defence Chiefs of Staff Gen Sir Michael Walker was in Indian-Held Kashmir and seemed to agree with his Indian military hosts about cross-border terrorism emanating from Azad Kashmir. As if on cue, TIME Magazine took out a lead story on Pakistan at about the time Pervez Musharraf was in New York, asking whether Pakistan was a “friend or foe?” TIME magazine usually depends upon an excellent source in the form of a leading hair dresser of Karachi, who can be better informed about defence and security affairs in Pakistan? In its wildest fulmination even RAW could not have come up with more scurrilous trash about Pakistan. We have our problems and they are enough to make one cautious, but certainly not more apprehensive than in India which is host to several violent full-fledged insurrections in many states.

Unfortunately there is a particular lot of scribes who pander to the world perception to make themselves saleable by mixing fact with fiction. About non-Pakistanis the motivation is clearly discernible, money or some other such influence. When they happen to be locals, no amount of damage control can contain the harm they do to the nation out of their own motivated personal interest. One must be objective and focus on what needs criticism, not invent facts.

We need to get our act together and that means being pro-active about supporting the private sector in the print and electronic media. The President gave a great speech in the UN but most of it was disseminated to a domestic audience instead of an international audience. On the other hand, Vajpayee got more international attention in delivering a speech which was short on substantive issues but focused his rhetoric on Pakistan, including the usual deliberate “spin” given to what Gen Musharraf had said in the UN earlier. Credible Pakistani media personalities could have been pre-positioned in New York, London, Dubai, etc to support the President’s viewpoint, taking the critics head on by debating the issues on live TV. By not planning strategic media initiatives we left the media’s potential open to the Indians to exploit, a very meaningful and forceful speech by the President was wasted internationally. Moreover it is noticeable that Vajpayee is not the only one targeting Pakistan among the Indian cabinet, LK Advani, Yashwant Sinha, George Fernandes and Jaswant Singh outdo each other at attacking Pakistan on a number of issues. From time to time one hears Shaikh Rashid taking on India, but with all due respects he has a limited nuisance value, and that too domestic. The Foreign Minister Mr Khurshid Kasuri remains diplomatic but what about the others who have an official duty to speak up for Pakistan. Unfortunately one or two do not do so to curry cheap favour with the Indians. Gen Musharraf should crack his whip and get his minions to speak up for the country at the right forums.

Sometimes one has to sacrifice personal PR (Public Relations) for the good of the country one has sworn an oath to, such an oath also brings an onerous responsibility on the person taking the oath eg., it is obligatory on anyone who knows to give the names and account numbers of those Pakistanis who took the route of “private banking”.

Talking about financial issues and account numbers, the country’s public coffers have lost lot of money recently because of a lacuna that provided a window of opportunity to the unscrupulous and greedy. Since the mark-up kept falling and the banks were awash with liquidity, a small coterie of favourites of the banks have been loaned money at 4% (and even less) against purchase of Defence Saving Certificates (DSC) at 9%. After catering for bank charges, etc, the individuals made a neat 3-4% on the given spread of 5%. There are rumours that the total money lost could be as much as Rs 30 billion before the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) stepped in and closed this door for legalized looting. Since the commercial banks were awash with liquidity, they were more than happy to give out the loans at 2.5% above the present T-bill rate, earning money on commissions, service charges, etc. Instead of lamenting about the money lost, the commercial banks must publish a list of all those who got these spurious loans. This “elite list of looters” could be studied by the Central Board of Revenue (CBR) for taxation purposes. If the DSCs were bought after the loan was disbursed, it is an illegal transaction, it is also not legal if the DSCs have not been declared in the individual’s tax returns, viz (1) who are the influential (and others) who are benefiting from looting the public exchequer? (2) who are the bankers who have facilitated this loot? (3) who are the bankers who have violated Prudential Regulations and made individual gain either in their own name or a proxy, i.e. any other name, viz wife, son, daughter, uncle, servant, etc? (3) how much public money has thus been looted? (4) what has the SBP done about it? (5) indeed, what has the Finance Ministry done anything about it? It will be tragic if we were to let this opportunity slip, this cannot be passed off as simply a business opportunity which businessmen have utilized, in fact many of the beneficiaries of this “sweetheart” deal may not be in commerce and industry at all. There is a moral responsibility on the part of those who benefited by this scam, do such people have the integrity and credibility to be left in high positions of fiduciary responsibility? Of course this will be resisted by all the banks on the stance of “privacy” but why should looters’ names be kept private, some of them may have benefited from this looting exercise, mostly by using proxy names. We have had the “Cooperatives Finance” scam, the “yellow cab” scam and now the “Defence Savings” scam, I predict nothing will happen.

The other day with great fanfare Lt Gen Munir Hafeez the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman gave back about Rs 1 billion plus looted on the EOBI scam that the NAB had got back on plea-bargaining. In the “Defence Savings” scam, the amount may not be as much as Rs 30 billion but it will be certainly many times the EOBI amount, what is the NAB Chairman going to do about it? For that matter, I challenge Governor SBP Dr Ishrat Hussain to take advantage of this God-given opportunity to bring the looters of the public coffers of this nation to task.

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