Bring Benazir Back
by Bashir Riaz – July 24, 2001
The spin-doctors of the Musharaf regime claim he did a great job in reviving the economy. Their impressive speeches gloss over the stark ground realities of a failed economy. The economic failure has led scholars to describe Pakistan as a failing state. The prestigious Rand Corporation made the same prediction.
Yet, as the two Benazir led terms show, Pakistan’s moribund economy can be turned around. It needs a leadership that gives confidence to the people and creates confidence in the economy. Benazir, like Musharaf, lacked a magic wand. But she knew how to speak, had her constituency and marketed Pakistan successfully. Record amounts of foreign aid and investment flowed in. General Musharaf is neither as articulate as the PPP leader, nor as well educated, and lacks her charisma and popularity inside the country and out. The plain fact is that she could give jobs while all her successors have thrown people out of them.
Across the country, there is resurgence in the support for the PPP. The military regime may play around with the Nazim elections but it can hardly play around with the political reality. Today even businessmen, who traditionally supported Premier Nawaz and welcomed the Musharaf coup, are routing for the return of Benazir.
The revival in the fortunes of Benazir and the PPP are related to economic performance. Even corruption accusations fall flat. The common response is, “the people had money then. Now only the rulers have money while we starve”.
The Finance Minister, who ate every word of his previous year’s speech, droned on with the usual wrong figures. He will subsequently revise them downwards as previously done without a word of apology or a blush. He has the ear of the Chief Executive and cares little about critics. This is the worst part of dictatorship. With Parliament silenced and without an Opposition the rulers run riot without checks and balances. This is the most powerful argument to restore democracy. Without it, development is a dream.
Reportedly, the Finance Minister is telling financial institutions that Musharaf is around for a long time. According to other reports, Musharaf told Indian Premier Vajpayee that he would be around for five years. That reminds me of Nawaz Sharif. His supporters said he would last as long as Suharto. Every one knows what happened to him.
The General has failed to build internal consensus, revive the economy or conduct a successful foreign policy. The West has its own reasons for spinning the spin of the Summit being a great success. Yet the Summit showed what’s wrong with Musharaf. His casual dress and attempts to show him as an ageing matinee idol were an insult to the serious business of men and women dying in Kashmir. His poses with his wife near the Taj Mahal and his taj mahal tour was best pr for indian tourism. His neharwali nostalgia filled visit were pathetic attempts to show that the Kargil Killer had reformed into a benign tourist keen on discovering India.
President Bush wears casual clothes to show an America at peace with the rest of the world. That is not the case with Pakistan. The informality of the short sleeves and the poses near the Taj Mahal, the toasts at the banquet for “India’s distinguished son appearing back after fifty four years” was a betrayal of the seriousness of the issues that separate war and peace and place India and Pakistan at potentially nuclear loggerheads.
General Musharaf failed miserably in his game of deception. To the Pakistanis he claimed that he was a hawk. To the Indians he claimed he was a dove. One party he was misleading. A ruler without the strength of his own convictions is unqualified to rule. Foreign Ministers Jaswant Singh and Sattar both parroted the same lines: that the Summit was a success. The Americans did the same. What does this mean? It means that Musharaf reached some secret understanding with Premier Vajpayee in his final farewell call that went on for one and a half hours. Obviously Musharaf is ashamed of the agreement he reached, otherwise he would have told the Pakistani Nation about it. He harps on about the centrality of the Kashmir Dispute as though he is saying something new. Perhaps he should look up Premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s speech at the United Nations Security Council in 1965.
But Musharaf and his clique have little time for history. They are consumed with power struggles and saving their chairs. Consequently, the country is suffering and soon the army will start suffering too. Its
professionalism is under serious assault with the latest bout of military intervention.
Washington also rebuked Musharaf, criticizing him for reneging on Simla, Islamabad and Lahore Agreements. When it suits the Musharaf clique, they claim Washington is with them. When it suits them, they care two hoots about Washington. All this turnaround does is expose the Musharaf clique as a clique without principles, integrity or a national purpose.
Such spinelessness fails to create the confidence that is necessary for the economy to turn around and save the people from hardships.. Musharaf’s first year was a year of some of the worst economic times. GDP growth fell to its lowest. Per capita income, according to the regime’s own economic survey, dropped to $ 429 from $ 446 the previous year. This alone should lead to the replacement of the government.
The problem is that a military is more difficult to dislodge. Were this regime subject to an eighth amendment, its dismissal would have taken place amidst public joy and outpouring. Since it is a military regime, its overthrow is more difficult. People will need to come out on the streets before that can happen. But the people, bogged down in their economic difficulties, are presently unable to do so. However, the time will come when the people will rise given the continued unemployment, drop in per capita income and misguided policies threatening the integrity and unity of the country.
The Finance Minister talked about a three-year plan for a budgetary framework. It is strange that he thinks he should be given as much time as civilian governments were given. Or perhaps he is unaware that in three years time he will probably take the place of the Nawaz and Benazir ministers in prison facing charges of money laundering. Its really unimportant what he says about being innocent. We know one is either a respected minister in power or an out of government criminal. Since this regime is continuing the practice, it is digging its own grave. The Finance Minister was a private banker and his Pakistani clients, as well as the sources of their money, could interest the public as his attempts to find out the sources of the traders and their bank balances. Moreover, the Finance Minister has a lot to
tell on his relationship with the Harriri’s, the proposed sale of PTCL and why there are public complaints of something fishy going on in the process. Some say that the something fishy is in the region of one hundred million dollars to be distributed fifty fifty. Of course the minister will say he is innocent and the NAB will need to find out the truth. As far as the public is concerned, all governments are crooks. The only difference is that some earn their keep by showing some modicum of efficiency.
The question that the Musharaf cronies are unable to answer is as to how Benazir Bhutto could give a 6.7 per cent growth rate while they can only promise four up to the next year. Was it that she was brighter than them or that she had few technocrats? Whatever the reason, she gave Pakistan an over six percent growth rate and since she left, taking confidence with her, capital fled. To regain strength, the country needs capital, it needs confidence and it needs Benazir Bhutto. Neither the Hum Khayal nor the Jamaat nor the GDA nor any of the other bright politicians inspire her following nationally or come anywhere near the confidence she gives.
Her handicap is the smear campaign launched against her. Yet more and more Pakistani are prepared to forget the smear campaign and have her lead them again. She took up per capita incomes. The ordinary person is more interested in their pocket than what maybe in someone else’s pocket.
When she talked to Rajiv Gandhi and his team they were prepared to ink important agreements. They inked the non-attack on each others nuclear installations. That helped Pakistan more given India has strategic depth. They set up hotlines amongst their militaries, increased trade and travel and even decided to redeploy to Kargil. Think of the lives that could have been saved. To make sure that fewer soldiers died, she built up the Siachin area in solid fortifications that are unrecognizable from what they were in 1988. She didn’t have a house in neharwali but she had the biggest capital in the political world: brains, public support, vision and courage. She could deliver. Now more than ever, peace is necessary and she is the leader who can deliver. She is popular in Pakistan but I hear she is also popular at the public level in India. Of course the Indians still hold it against her that she shrilled about Kashmir but they know that she is a realistic leader that is committed to avoiding war. There were no hot pursuits or cross border violations in her two tenures or that of her distinguished Father’s.
Musharaf’s ministers claim that inflation is coming down. Others say that no one has money to buy goods. This is an artificial and unhealthy situation. It would be more accurate to say that Pakistani goods are too expensive for Pakistanis to afford. Pakistanis are paying astronomically high process for
electricity and telephones. Yet the Musharaf clique is oblivious to these difficulties. Generals, I am told, do not pay electricity or telephone or petrol bills so how would they know?. Gone are the days of General Tikka, a noble General who never declared Martial Law. Instead now we have the five star Generals who live in five star hotels commanding five star life styles. Perhaps General Musharaf and his colleagues to release to the public the electricity, telephone and petrol bills of theirs for the last ten years. Neither the American army, the Arab army nor any other army lives as luxuriously as our Generals do. General Zia was responsible for the excess. None had the courage to change his corrupt ways. In fact, he is their hero. Like his son, they too would like sons fighting elections and declaring that they have fifty crore as cash in hand.
No accountability for corrupt Generals. Not one person has questioned where the sons of General Akhtar and Zia got their money although it is widely reported that they stole jihad funds. One would like a commission and hear the offspring tell us about the marvelous work they did earning the big bucks that allowed them the lavish lifestyles. Perhaps they have an explanation and if they do, the Nation is entitled to it.
The economic situation will continue to deteriorate until the military expenditure is reformed. There are ninety thousand batmen, that is valets in the army. Can this highly indebted Nation afford to keep an army of servants for its officer class? There are twenty-seven corp. commanders giving the public lectures on how to manage electric utilities and election processes. Yet there are only nine corps. This is criminal waste of public amounts.
The religious parties pointed out the corruption of the Generals. Qazi Hussain Ahmad was forthright in making statements against the ruling Generals. If the civilian politicians keep quiet currying favor with the Generals for winning power, they could be outclassed by religious fanatics posing as revolutionaries promoting musawaat.
The Generals have made one thing clear: they are going to stop the two major political parties. That is wrong. The people have the right to choose a government of their choice and not that of Musharaf and his holy cows. Musharaf did not give the PPP a chance. It was the people who gave the PPP a chance. If people want the PPP again, the General should allow it. Otherwise I am predicting that with the PPP out, and the PML split, the big winner is going to be the Jamaat e Islami. Qazi has already gone to Washington as part of the soft sell program.
When Farooq Leghari dismissed the PPP government, he naively thought that his protégés in the Shaheed Bhutto and the Punjab breakaway group would win the day. Now Musharaf naively believes that his protégés, the Hum Khayals, are going to carry the day. They could wake up to a fixed election giving the Jamaat power. And where will that leave Musharaf? In the same shoes as Farooq Leghari who was thrown out less than one year after Nawaz formed the government. History repeats itself, especially for those ignore its lessons.
Jamaat is now poised to win Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi. The PPP and Nawaz will find it hard to stop local supporters switching sides. Political leaders at the grass roots need to survive. Jumping on the winning bandwagon is the way it happens. Right now there is a freeze: people are unsure whether the PPP can stage a come back or not and whether the elections will be fair or not. However, if it appears that the PPP is out for a six because Musharaf dislikes the lady, then we may all end up with the ascendancy of the Beard. Is that what the Rand Corporation and others had in mind when they claimed that Pakistan could become a failed state?
Foreign Investment, which flowed in when Benazir marketed Islamabad as the crossroads of the modern trade routes of the twenty first century, has dried up. Even the rains have dried up. Villagers claim when Benazir comes, there is rain, there are crops, there is money and when she goes, the good luck goes with her. This may be superstition but in a country like Pakistan, superstition does play a role. The Martyr’s daughter with her visits to saints and shrines is seen as the public symbol of the ordinary persons aspirations. She is modern but she is one of them. They relate to her but they cannot relate to all the medals jangling on the Generals uniforms. The Generals are ramrod straight, stern, unfeeling. They are a distant breed. She is the daughter of the house, the sister that every Father and brother needs, the one with compassion and feeling. As one taxi driver told me, “I vote for Benazir because she lost her Father and her brothers. She has been through pain and understands our pain. The rest are all rascals.”
Despite the many travels of Musharaf, with large entourages, he failed to bring in foreign investment. Even domestic investment fled. His Finance Minister, who missed testifying before the Senate Committee regarding Citibank’s practices relating to money laundering, claimed to know all the bigwig capitalists of the world. They were supposed to come running to Pakistan to invest. Other than his friend Harriri, who travels in his private plane to have confidential discussions with Shaukat and his pals, no one of repute is in the Pakistan market. The dismal state of the stock market is before everyone. Needless to say, it reached the highest mark under Benazir and needless to say, she took her luck with her when booted out of office.
Muslims believe that a nation gets the ruler that it deserves. We Pakistani are largely Muslims and we have the right to elect a government of our choice. If that right is taken away from us because Musharaf dangles India as the carrot to keep him in office before the west, then we could be in deep trouble. The West can look the other side as Musharaf massages Vajpayee’s ego calling him courageous for killing our soldiers in Kargil. Musharaf would be happy prancing around other Taj Mahals in short sleeves changing clothes five times a day. But what happens to the other one hundred and forty million Pakistani? We too have a right to life, to liberty, to dignity, opportunity and to determine a government of our choice.
If that right is taken away from us, the real threat of Qazi fulfilling his dream of seizing control of Pakistan could become a reality. That would be an irony. The party that opposed the creation of Pakistan, opposed the Founder of Pakistan, that was the junior partner under every military dictatorship, will become the senior partner. Musharaf has already created the institutions for one-man rule. Qazi just has to step into his shoes after dispensing with him the way Nawaz dispensed with Leghari.
Of course then there would be no need for foreign investment. Those of us that could afford it would shift in droves to other countries, many going even to seek refuge in India, as Pakistan became an economic basket case like Afghanistan under the Taliban.
There are three stark realities: the first is the failed foreign policy, the second, the failed economic policy and the third the determination to keep out the two major leaders without whom their parties are weak. These lead to one conclusion: if not Benazir and if not Nawaz, then whom? Certainly not the humkhayals who were duped with promised revival of assemblies.
The only organized force with its presence in the urban centers which are the arenas for trouble, with armed men at its command, with links to jihadi generals is the Jamaat e Islami.
The Generals keep talking about whom they will keep out. Since deception is the name of their game, they keep dangling different leaders before the mass audience (and in particular the western audience). It could be Hamid Nasir Chatha, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Azhar, Shujaat, and Soomro. Each of these
leaders have their respect and their personality. But the one with organized force behind him, who has made the biggest gains without winning the elections of councilors, is Qazi of Jamaat e Islami.
Qazi could only be poised to capture Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi with the support of the the Generals and the ISI. Of course the histrionics will verge on the “wrongs of the PPP” amongst those scared to take on the ISI and its role in cobbling together a majority for the Jamaat and undercutting the PPP councilors and others. The reality is that the ISI is a political party. It bankrolls candidates, does public relationing for them and cobbles together majorities for them. It’s the only political party with state funding and coercion at its disposal.
I am calling for fair elections and the return of Benazir Bhutto and her party and allies. But if that fails to happen, the big winner is Qazi Hussain Ahmad. He is the jihadi from Zia’s days rising from the ashes, edging out Zia’s biological and political sons (Ejaz and Nawaz) to claim the crown of the Zia legacy for himself.
And then when Osama shifts to Islamabad, our talibinisation will be complete.