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In 2021, Pakistanis need to shed complacency

TOP NEWS-04-01-2021

The year 2020 demanded the utmost from all individuals and governments across the world. Pakistan has acquitted itself well, much better than neighbouring countries, including India. With a high population of daily wagers Prime Minister Imran Khan recognised that the hard-lockdown policies followed by other countries would be fatal, and that people would die of hunger instead of the coronavirus. Most of his programmes to fight poverty and help the poor were effective. 

But not all the money, measures and support reached those who were meant to be helped. Many structural problems enhanced by corona will have to be tackled when the crisis is over. Planning for 2021 must address some major issues that are important for the country. 

Commodity prices rose sharply in the second half of 2020 as the global economy rebounded leading to higher prices for finished goods. Failure to take strong measures allowed crooks to exploit the situation. Prices rose far more than they should have. People’s patience is running thin. It is at a political breaking point because of high prices and, at places, artificial scarcity of food items.

The judiciary must apply the spirit of the law instead of simply applying its words. While the mind-boggling release of the murderer of Daniel Pearl really undercut the credibility of the judicial system, the Sindh High Court (SHC) ordered the provincial government on December 2, 2020 to submit the details of employees who had opted for the Voluntary Return (VR) of ill-gotten money or opted for a legal bargain with the NAB. 500 of these NAB certified crooks are still holding important positions in the Sindh civil administration continuing to loot the public till at will. Allowing those convicted for corruption to continue in public office is a disaster for governance. 

Corruption is not only being condoned but institutionalised. The corrupt need to be sacked forthwith, so should those, whoever they may be, who allowed them to remain in public office. Can any government continue in office given this blatant institutionalising of corruption? What is the SHC going to do about it?

Like Prof Stephen Leacock’s hero “jumping on his horse and galloping off in all directions”, our accountability is all over the place, a lot of smoke but very little fire. The NAB’s success is limited to targeting only the small fry. If political leaders of any consequence get incarcerated they quickly get bail. The Lahore High Court (LHC) is infamous for setting crooks free. The big culprits are in London or in a special hospital ward somewhere. 

Tackling money-laundering and illegal offshore accounts are now the priority for terrorists. Convictions for money-laundering in their home country will get bank accounts and assets frozen abroad and transferred back to the home country, at least in theory, if seldom in practice. The NAB must stay focused and not go off in wild goose chases and/or after petty crooks only! Conviction will lead to further criminal cases for tax evasion, acquiring of assets without known means of income etc. 

The opposition in the country is busy trying to save their own power structures (and skins) to protect themselves against action for looting and taking the money abroad through fake accounts. Money laundering helped them in the past to rule in a game of ‘musical chairs’, no more! Consider this irony: Bilawal is demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan for the problems that governments headed by his father and others created over the years! 

Changes for the better 

However, in many areas – political, economic, international – changes for the better are in sight. While the rank and file of the Pakistan Army loves Imran Khan because of his inherent honesty and sincerity, in their villages they face misery. Their families are bearing the burden of high prices of essential commodities. 

A cardinal mistake of successive governments has been to neglect agriculture. During the pandemic crisis, wheat, rice, fruit, vegetables in plentiful supply have been our saving grace. Our problem is the supply chain from the farm to the market and the commission agents-in-between. Self-sufficient in agricultural production we were once able to export a good amount of different fruits, vegetables and other cash crops. 

While the growing population is certainly a factor, there are other major issues. Sinking productivity, outdated cultivation methods, institutional negligence and corruption have to be tackled. The sugar barons’ machinations in a number of matters including subsidies are an example. I consider Jahangir Tareen a good friend, I am looking forward to a credible explanation from him.

Smoking and other forms of consumption of tobacco are creating health hazards for the consumers. Fields, where tobacco is raised, are lost for food production. Tobacco consumption is addictive and takes away the free will of people which is why it has been censured by the Qur’an. We must limit production and consumption of tobacco. When it cannot be stopped immediately it should be taxed heavily. Many senior former bureaucrats pack the Boards of the local affiliates of the world’s major tobacco companies in Pakistan, especially picked to influence government policy, taxation measures, permits, licences, etc. For too long cronyism has had precedence over the country’s interest.  

Karachi Electric is an example where successive government have, for the sake of money and/or friendship/relationships, granted undue advantages to investors at the cost of the common man. Has anybody ever valued the real estate KE possesses? KE possesses vast expensive land at prime locations in Karachi. This has much more value than what KE is being offered for its shares.

KE got tax and other tariff advantages from every government starting from Zardari’s in 2008 then Nawaz Sharif’s in 2013 and even from Imran Khan's till recently. Why did successive governments help the Al Jomaih Group and Abraaj? And who is giving them "concessions" now?

While the 18thAmendment adopted in 2010 has some excellent features as a step towards devolution of power to the provincial level, it has in fact impeded economic and political growth and perhaps even societal evolution, creating more problems than it has solved. It can bring a country’s economy, even the state to its knees. Over-devolution led to the disintegration of the Yugoslav state. The taxation system and NFC Awards are examples. The 18th Amendment must be discussed as the first priority after the March 2021 Senate elections. 

Senate elections are a farce in Pakistan and the Superior Judiciary knows about the blatant electoral corruption. Secret ballot ensures that Senatorial seats are sold to the highest bidder every three years. Only an open vote will preserve the sanctity of the State. 

The matter of census must be rectified and corrected to reflect the correct numbers. A democracy that uses census cheating and politically motivated drawing of constituency lines to stay in power or to keep others out of power creates ethnic unrest and strife.

We are in a confused state about the most vital aspect of national security, education. Education is a devolved subject under the 18th Amendment. There is uncertainty around the medium of instruction with conflicting viewpoints. One view is that Maths and Science should be taught in English while all other subjects should be taught in Urdu or the mother tongue. The Single National Curriculum (SNC) is looking to create equality between Public, Private and Madrassah schooling systems in the country. The Federal Government has developed the curriculum and textbooks for the Pre-Primary and Classes 1 to 5. However the authority to issue 'Clearance Certificates' for Textbooks/Supplementary Reading Materials (SRMs) rest with the Provincial Textbook Boards, which lack the capacity to swiftly review and approve textbooks. A central body formed at the Federal level must act as a single window for reviewing textbooks and issuing Clearance Certificates to be effective nationwide. 

Threats of more false-flag actions from neighbouring India require our Armed Forces to be on realistic alert. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) allows Pakistan to function as the gateway of Eurasia, serving as the convergence of civilisations across the Eastern Hemisphere. New alliances are being forged literally by default to add to our strong relationship with China. Russia is changing its perception about Pakistan from a partisan Old Cold War-era type to a neutral “balancing” force in global affairs. Several important signals were sent by Russia’s participation in the AMAN-2021 military exercises. An agreement with Russia on the long-discussed pipeline plan will give us added energy security. 

It is troubling that those in position to do something tend to look the other way and maintain the status quo. Why do good people tolerate corrupt leaders, threatening the existence of the state? According to Wikipedia "Hypocrisy is the failure to follow one's own expressed moral rules and principles". British political philosopher David Runciman maintained "that among others weaknesses hypocrisy includes claims to knowledge that one lacks, claims to a consistency that one cannot sustain, claims to a loyalty that one does not possess, claims to an identity that one does not hold". According to American political journalist Michael Gerson “political hypocrisy” is "the conscious use of a mask to fool the public and gain political benefit". 

With the existence of the country at stake the life of millions a stake, can those whose responsibility it is to protect the State afford to be complacent? We can plan to correct this in 2021.

 

(The writer is a defence and security analyst)