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Unconventional problems need unconventional remedies

COLUMN-ENG-06-05-2020

Millions of people have lost their jobs and more will lose. The pandemic is not only taking lives but is badly aggravating the economic crisis. As time goes on, many industries and commercial entities will go down, some permanently. It will be no easy task to revive the economy. But we must try to recover.

How do wekick-start the revival of the economy, or least a partof it? The Western world is risking lives by gradually easing lockdowns. Even then, the economy is projected to take 12-18 months to revive somewhat, provided a second wave does not hit. There are signs that the pandemic could spike in the US.

In the time of crisis one must use all of one’s resources. Unconventional times require the use of non-conventional means. The support of unconventional people must be sought. Talents of people must be harnessed for the State even if these people are controversial and have problems with the law of the land.

One such example is the Italian-born American gangster and mafio so “Lucky” Luciano's deal with the US government during World War II. In 1942, the Office of Naval Intelligence was concerned about German and Italian agents entering the US through the New York waterfront. Sabotage of naval and port facilities added to their worries with the mafia controlling the waterfront. The Navy, the State of New York and Luciano then reached a deal in exchange for a commutation of his jail sentence, Luciano promised the complete assistance of his mafia organization in gathering intelligence for the Navy. More than that, Luciano promised there would be no dockworker strikes during the war. Far more than that, he provided the US military with Sicilian mafia contacts for intelligence ahead of the 1943 allied invasion of Sicily.

The US government utilized the access to Luciano’s knowledge, contacts and his organization. As a reward for his wartime cooperation, Luciano's jail sentence was commuted on the condition that he did not resist deportation to Italy. Luciano’s intentions in accepting the deal may have been less than patriotic and rather selfish: get relief from all his sentences that were hanging above his head and get back his freedom (and that of his many associates).

While one can debate the moral side of the deal and whether justice was served or not, the danger that the country was in at that point of time, made such a deal acceptable to the government. They acted according to the best interests of the US.

Though totally different in nature, another example of using the best possible expertise in a crisis was the reinstatement of Khalid bin Walid as Commander of the Muslim army just before the Battle of Yarmuk. Beloved of the Prophet (PBUH), Khalid Bin Walid was given the title “Saifullah” (the Sword of Allah). Those interested may read the wonderful book by that name by Maj Gen Agha Ibrahim Akram, room-mate (as cadets) of my father in Officer Training School at Mao in 1942 and father of Maj Gen (Retd) Agha Masood.

A gifted military strategist, Khalid would often exceed the orders of the Caliphs who succeeded Mohammad (PBUH). He was not a great favourite of Hazrat Umar. When Khalid repeatedly flouted Hazrat Umar’s instructions, he was demoted to a common soldier. Khalid continued his service as a soldier with his successor, Abu Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah, leading the army.

The Army of the Byzantine Empire confronted the Muslim forces of the Rashidun Caliphate at Yarmuk. On seeing the armed might of the Byzantine Empire (about 200,000 soldiers in full armour) stretched out before him reportedly outnumbering him by 8 to 1, Abu Ubayda realised this was beyond him. Without any fanfare he handed over command to Khalid just before the battle. Khalid regrouped the Muslim forces and kept most of his cavalry in reserve. A series of engagements near the Yarmuk River lasted six days in August 636, along what are now the borders of Syria–Jordan and Syria–Israel, east of the Sea of Galilee. On the sixth day when he finally launched his cavalry under Zarrar, it resulted in a decisive victory. It ended Byzantine rule in Syria.

Historians credit the Muslim victory at Yarmuk to the cohesion and "superior leadership" of the Muslim army, in essence of Khalid’s "ingenuity". Yarmuk is eulogised as an outstanding example of battlefield tactics and innovation by Maj Gen JFC Fuller in his book “The Decisive Battles of the Western World”.

While Khalid certainly had his shortcomings, in the hour of need in a crisis he rose to the occasion and did his patriotic duty. One must give due credit to Abu Ubayda for recognizing Khalid’s military genius at the right time, and for the sake of all Muslims, not stand on his ego during a crisis.

Can our politicians learn something from this? Hazrat Umar did not punish Abu Ubayda for handing over his command. Indeed he subsequently made Khalid the Commander of the Army till the walls of any city were breached, thereafter Abu Ubayda was to take over and deal with the captives and the treasures.

Did we not use Seth Abid when we needed to? The only thing that deters India from any misadventure against Pakistan is the latter’s nuclear deterrence. Countless others came out of the "grey" when US sanctions against Pakistan almost crippled its Armed Forces. And have Pakistanis not turned to forbidden countries to get the critical equipment necessary to furbish their combat aircraft?

Even in normal times means that are not strictly legal (or rather quite illegal) are used by every State in the interest of the country. Because of national security reasons one cannot give examples. The precedence exists for something similar in Pakistan today.

Need for low cost housing

One of the ways to kick-start the economy is to deliver on Imran Khan’s promise of 5 million low cost houses for the common man. This would not only require mobilisation of enormous resources but also implementation of the plans.  “Housing Starts” is what keeps the US economy going (other than “automobile starts”). This is because of the vast number of other industries and professions it provides employment to.

Born in 1954 in a lower middle class family, housing tycoon Malik Riaz is a self-made talent who built his construction empire “Bahria Town” all on his own. While one is astonished at the many housing schemes he has executed, one also admires the sheer quality of his work.  Above all, he got the best out of Pakistani expertise talent and hard work. His is the largest privately held real estate development company in Asia today. He has done it by using ‘unorthodox means’ and certainly dirtied his hands, with several cases pending against him with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and various courts.

But he should be given the task of reviving Pakistan’s construction industry that would create jobs not only in the constriction business, but in allied domains like cement and construction material production, artisanship and others. A deal must be negotiated with the government and the NAB. Riaz must be persuaded in the national interest to return some of the ill-gotten money and pay at market rates for the government land that he has grabbed. Moreover, he should concentrate on low-cost housing and be allowed to complete his ongoing projects only.

Malik Riaz has worked with all the previous governments and his good connections in the Establishment do not exclude the superior judiciary and the senior military hierarchy of yesteryear. The fact remains, he knows how in our corrupt and bureaucratic environment to successfully build an industry. He has openly said that without dealing with such people across the board, anyone of them could scuttle any scheme at any time. He has not forgotten the plight of the social class from where he has come to this position. Doing business in Pakistan means bribing and using connections with the “Deep State” to good advantage.

Please do read my article “The Untouchable Malik Riaz” dated October 17, 2018.I am not a fan of his shady deals, though they were forced on him by our corrupt environment. But I am certainly a fan of his performance. Despite his machinations and not paying taxes he comes across as a patriot (and I for one believe that), a religious person and a known philanthropist who has given billions of rupees for charity. Creating jobs for people to earn their living is more important than philanthropy.

The latest and most prominent deal Malik Riaz made in the last year was the one with the UK government when he settled out of court with the National Crime Agency (NCA) paying a lot of money to cut a deal in the best interest of the UK Govt. Why was his “money-laundering” condoned by the NCA? The agreement remains a secret (certainly to save UK Govt from revelations which could be embarrassing to it).

Those who revel in the British monarchy ignore the fact that most of the titles from the 15th to the 19th centuries were purchased by English pirates and from 1857 onwards by the employees of the East Indian Company through their ill-gotten gains from plunder and loot. Even nowadays Lordships and Baronetcies are mostly obtained by vast donations to charities (royal ones are preferred) and/or such "worthy" causes.

“Lucky” Luciano was an out and out criminal. On the other hand Khalid’s excesses had no criminality about them even though they did tend to exceed his mandate.  While Malik Riaz is no mobster and he certainly cannot even be remotely compared to the great warrior Khalid, given the freedom to do what he is really good at, construction, I believe he can deliver for Pakistan.

So let’s break this impasse and use his abilities to do some good for this nation. Maybe he will recognize this great opportunity to redeem himself from the criminal label that will persist and keep him in the “twilight zone” of respectability.  Breaking this logjam will be a win-win position for both the country and Malik Riaz.

While certainly this is an unorthodox suggestion, we should remember that we are living in extraordinary times. We must avail of all means available for economic recovery and for feeding our people. An important factor is that Malik Riaz did not hoard, steal or plunder at the cost of the poor of our country. We should not compare Malik Riaz to Lucky Luciano or Seth Abid.

Consider the striking coincidence of similar names (US) “Navy” in English translating into “Bahria” in Urdu? Let us bring this man out of limbo and put him back into construction for the good of Pakistan in the extreme existential crisis we are facing.

 

(The writer is a defence and security analyst).