Who dares hope?

Pakistanis generally tend to give an impression about a pessimistic outlook towards life, in fact we are incurable optimists. We are quick to see light at the end of the tunnel whenever there is change in the reaches of power, a welter of hope springing eternal we seldom plan for the worst. More than anywhere else in the world, the Norman Cousins quote applies to Pakistan, “hope is independent of the apparatus of logic!”. This is probably just as well, one can at least live on a diet of hope, better than being more dead than alive in a permanent state of depression. Shaukat Aziz is officially now a directly elected member of Parliament, the constituency he has to satisfy is not the Parliament but the senior military hierarchy presided over by the man whose single vote (or veto) counts for more than all the thousands and thousands he collected in Attock or Tharparkar. One must be fair in stating that if the business community could have voted for Shaukat Aziz in any one constituency, he would have won by a landslide.

Circumstances have contributed more towards Pakistan’s economic turnaround than any one individual, Pakistan being a net economic beneficiary of the 9/11 tragedy, the fact remains that Shaukat Aziz was (and is) the Finance Minister presiding. Nothing succeeds like success, if the good fortune that inexorably associated with Pervez Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz is rubbing off on Pakistan, why should be buck this luck? All this is not due to destiny alone, capability has to go with one’s luck, given their respective backgrounds and the ethnic handicaps both started from, one cannot deny them that merit had as much to do with their success.

Shaukat Aziz has his work cut out for him! This Cabinet that came into being with the advent of “democracy” in late 2002 was heavy on politics and short on merit. Square pegs were fitted into round holes and compromise was the order of the day. People’s expectations were aroused but the ground reality of actual achievement was missing. Deep-rooted frustration swept through the masses both individually and collectively, engulfing the smaller Federating units, it is threatening to boil over in Balochistan. For the first time since 1973, there are hints of armed rebellion in parts of the Province, they have been too well conducted and synchronized to be ignored. The Federal Government sent in Tariq Aziz, Secretary General of the National Security Council (NSC) to see Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, thereafter PM Ch Shujaat Hussain announced a Senate Committee to reach understanding with Baloch leaders on the issues troubling the Baloch. Off course Bugti’s railing against the 1973 action ordered by late PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is rather incongruous given that I was a company commander in the infantry unit that escorted him in an army helicopter to the lawns of the Governor’s House in Quetta to take over from the dismissed incumbent, Ghous Bux Bizenjo. Incidentally Pakistan needs to make it quite clear to our so-called “friends” in the region that interference in our internal affairs can become a two-way street, over the years we have become used to terrorist acts, are they ready to face the music in their turn?

Having almost fell victim to a suicide bomb attack Shaukat Aziz should have no problems about his first priority as PM, tackling the growing terrorist threat. The present regime would have us believe that given their recent performance on successfully nabbing some medium-profile Al-Qaida suspects, we are winning the war on terror, that is patently untrue! While our law enforcement agencies (LEAs), with no little help from the US covert agencies, have done a remarkable job in apprehending quite a few terrorists, that represents only the tip of a very dangerous iceberg. Terrorists are hydra-headed monsters because of the blurring of the fine-line between those activists who practice their beliefs about Islam publicly and these muslims who use the cover of Islam to practice that what Islam certainly doesn’t teach, violence, and at that against innocents. Unfortunately the public mood defies explanation, while there is widespread In anger and anguish at innocent deaths through bombs in mosques, car bombs etc that immediate resentment is not translated into condemnation, in fact it is almost non-existent in the areas away from the scene of actual violence, in fact the grudging sympathy for the perpetrators in sections of population defies reasons and logic.

The new government must educate the masses that terrorists must not be allowed to persist and proliferate, They will destroy not only our present but also the future of our children, the message must not seem to be blatant propaganda, it must be subtle and effective. Ham-handed propaganda has a bad habit of back-firing, the “decade of reforms” meant to give Ayub Khan cult status spawned great anger and resentment against the late President and was the main reason for his downfall. As any normal human being, Ayub Khan reveled in the popularity he enjoyed among his countrymen particularly after the 1965 war, he died broken-hearted without understanding why the people had begun to hate him. Was the “decade of reforms” meant to promote him or was it a covert bureaucratic plan to create revulsion against him and do what it ultimately did, bring him down? All leaders, Musharraf included, are susceptible to flattery, only the wise and perceptive are able to separate fact from fiction, and motivated fiction at that.

It is no secret that Shaukat Aziz has to address the economy as his priority. Given that we were close to default on Sep 15, 2001, the economic turnaround has been providential (of the 9/11 kind). The mega projects in the works will certainly invigorate the economy, he has to concentrate on carefully milking the economy to ensure that its effect trickles down to the masses. A combination of socio-economic projects at the Thana level and incentives to industries and services sectors must generate more employment, all this while keeping strict control over the price of essentials. This tall order can be accomplished provided the PM about-to-be shuns cronyism and puts in a professionally competent economist with hands-on experience in the Finance Ministry. There will be no “take-off” without hands-on pragmatism. Why is Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh not already in the Finance Ministry slot if merit and technocracy are to be the touchstones of what Pervez Musharraf expects from the new regime? Not using the services of Dr. Shaikh in his field of expertise and excellence is mind-boggling, he is a proven quantity as Sindh’s Finance Minister, is the PM-about-to-be big enough to take such decisions which may not be personally palatable (for some odd unknown reason) but is vital for this country at this crucial economic juncture? This should be an acid test of the economic salvation he plans for the country as a whole, Shaukat Aziz must give priority of purpose and intent to Balochistan and assuage the grievances of the Baloch masses (as separate from the Baloch Sardars who except for Ataullah Khan Mengal are for removed from their fellow tribals).

It is no surprise that the agenda for Shaukat Aziz is far more elaborate than the “seven points” spelt out by Pervez Musharraf on Oct 17, 1999, what must be included is pride of priority is good governance. Pakistan’s biggest problem is that we are mostly badly governed, on whims and fancies and personal prejudices, the rule of law and the presence of institutions counting for nothing unless they fit in with the ruler’s scheme of things. Good governance based on merit and performance may be difficult for a man whose political existence depends upon those likely to circumvent and/or bend the rules of governance at will to suit their own personal agendas. While one does not expect him to commit “hara-kari”, the new PM can set the tone and tenor of his regime by personal example and shunning cronyism and opting for merit-oriented rule. Is this possible? Who dares hope? Incurable optimists, we Pakistanis do!