Pakistan: the tale of an auction.
When Asif Zardari [aka Mr 10 percent] became President of Pakistan in 2008, one needed no flight of imagination to predict that open season on Pakistan's slender coffers had been inaugurated. One knew that on every financial cum economic activity henceforth, a presidential tax will be levied to assuage the hunger worked up by Mr Zardari's years in the wilderness.
But now, about nine years later, as the real story of the plunder and rapacity visited on Pakistan is being daily exposed, the sheer scale and brazenness of the theft committed on Pakistan is such that it stuns the imagination. No single example exemplifies the unconcern of the government for the interest of the state better than the fact that [as per reports] one PIA Boeing went missing, and no one even took notice of this fact; or that as per claims of the Chinese company which built the Multan Metro, the profit it made was 32.5 million dollars in a contract the total value of which was 37.5 million dollars; or that Pakistan has signed a 15 year contract with Qatar for the supply of LNG at the highest rates in the world, but the contract document has a secrecy clause so that no one may examine the terms and conditions of the contract; or the fact that the Pindi Metro, the Orange Train, the Multan Metro, or indeed any mega project one can think of, has been contracted out at the highest rates compared to similar contracts in the rest of the world.
Indeed, if you were to bet that EVERY single fair sized project was a money making scam, you would be in scant danger of losing the bet. Thus in these nine years Pakistan has run up a debt of nearly 35 billion dollars, give or take a few billion. Nothing could have crippled Pakistan more effectively than this onslaught by its leadership.
There is little doubt that during this period the country has been run for theft by its leaders, and the proceeds of this theft have been parked abroad. The underlying principle of running the state has been to steal funds meant to run the state, and to take loans to fill the vacuum thus created.
About three years back I read a quote from Dr Ashfaq Hassan Khan to the effect that in 2018 the first installment of Pakistan's debt retirement becomes due, but that Pakistan did not have the resources to pay this back. In short, bankruptcy was staring Pakistan in the face! And there was nothing conjectural about this looming bankruptcy. This eventuality was underpinned by mathematical certainty. But no one in Pakistan seemed to be concerned or to care!
No single threat to national security could be more potent than national bankruptcy brought about by massive theft. If twenty Indian divisions and all its armour were to be massed on our border with the clear intention of launching an attack, the level of threat would have been weaker than the consequences of national bankruptcy. There would be a good chance of Pakistan beating back such an Indian attack. We've done this in the past. But bankruptcy would unite much of the world against us, if for no other reason, than simply to take away Pakistan's nuclear assets. India we can handle, but not the rest of the world acting in unison.
Thus it was that three years back I began writing that as the de facto overseers of our national security, the army must redefine national security, and include mega corruption among the national security imperatives. I wrote this repeatedly. I know too, from very credible sources that what I was writing then, was getting through to the Army Chief and DG ISI. But sadly, I have good reason to believe that this subject was never discussed in the higher reaches of the army, nor the consequences of national bankruptcy, and its impact on national security, analysed.
It is beyond imagination that the most plausible threat to national security, staring the country in the face, would not even merit a thorough discussion of the issue among those who are charged with ensuring this security. Could this have come about because of lack of comprehension, or was it perhaps, lack of courage to come face to face with the implications of the disaster?
The second most prominent threat Pakistan is facing, is that of two insurgencies, one in Baluchistan and the other in the rest of the country, being fueled by both Pakistan's enemies and its friends. This is the most important war that Pakistan has had to fight thus far. It is a war of national survival. Dovetailed with the looming bankruptcy, these two insurgencies raise the quantum of threat faced by Pakistan to a level which promises to become larger than Pakistan has the resources to defeat.
The Army did a credible job of containing and partially defeating both these insurgencies, but was not allowed to go the whole hog. The Rangers' operation in Karachi was not allowed to expand into interior Sindh, and such operations were not allowed to even touch the Punjab. The obvious fear was that certain insurgents taken alive would have proved the existence of a nexus between the insurgency and looted wealth on the one hand, and between these insurgents and certain political leaders on the other. Thus in order to save their skins, certain political leaders threw their lot with the enemies of the state, against the state and its armed forces.
In so doing, the governments of Sindh and Punjab, and the government at the center, became abettors of the insurgents, and an impediment to the successful prosecution of the war effort.
In a time of war all persons who assist the enemy are declared enemies of the state. If caught, they are tried and shot for the crime of treachery. But our constitution has been so amended that it now affords complete immunity and freedom from accountability to chief criminals of the state, so that they have colluded to take down the state. Here the constitution in its present form, by virtue of the 18th Amendment, is shorn of checks and balances on the executive, and thus can be manipulated to stand against the higher interests of the state, when the executive chooses to stand against such interests. In the hands of a criminal executive, it favours criminals because the basic assumption on which constitutions are based i.e that those elected to govern will stand with and for the interests of the state, has proved to be a flawed assumption in our case. Those who govern us would rather subvert the interests of the state to their own.Thus the constitution, with checks and balances on the executive eradicated, has virtually ended up giving protection to those who have hollowed out the state and sold it.
In similar situations, constitutions in many other countries empower the President to take steps to remedy the situation. But the 18th Amendment has deprived the President of all such powers.
In any other country the opposition would have stood up to the ruling criminals, but in our case, the "Charter of Democracy" has brought the opposition in partnership with the criminals in government.
In most constitutions when the state is overwhelmed with serious issues concerning national security, emergency may be declared and certain articles of the constitution may temporarily be held in abeyance. But the 18th Amendment does not allow any article of the constitution to be held in abeyance, besides, the very people who have created the present mess are the ones empowered to declare a national emergency!
In other countries if a government is deemed guilty of a signal outrage, members of the legislature can protest against their own government by voting their conscience against their party line, but in our case the 18th Amendment does not allow this.
What makes our situation doubly serious is that we have no way of knowing if our government and the opposition are motivated just by greed, or are they also following an agenda to take down the state. And I don't make this assertion lightly at all. No other issue in the world today will command a greater international consensus than the nuclear disarmament of Pakistan. And if Pakistan were to be pushed to become a failed state, international law will oblige the U.N Security Council to authorize a take down of these assets. A bankrupt nuclear country with a black mark of nuclear proliferation against it, which could well be declared a state sponsor of terrorism as well, threatened with the attendant anarchy guaranteed to follow in the wake of its bankruptcy, would nicely fulfill all the requirements to be declared a failed state. This is potentially the point to which the Zardari-Sharif partnership has pushed Pakistan in the last nine years. And I will venture to suggest that this attempt was deliberate.
Two incidental issues if considered seriously alongside the plunder of state assets, would add credence to the fact that both our government and our opposition may be following an agenda crafted by outside powers. Consider the following:
a. The Kashmir issue has been the very lynch pin of our foreign policy from day one, quite as much as is the Taiwan issue in case of the Chinese foreign policy. Never in its history has Kashmir boiled and seethed and risen up against a brutal occupation as it has in the last few months. Never was it more in need of our support. And never has the situation in Kashmir been met by a deeper silence from Pakistan than it has during this time, so that so India may be spared all discomfort. This is one way of standing by the enemy.
b. In the recent past our enemies have made concerted efforts to have Pakistan declared a state sponsor of terror. To counter this narrative, Yadav fell like a ripe plum in our hands. Instead of using Yadav to prove that it is India which has been sponsoring terrorism against Pakistan, what does the government of Pakistan do? It goes into an even deeper silence, and comes up with the Dawn leaks instead, to bolster the very position which our enemy has taken against us!
How better or more loyally could Nawaz Sharif have followed the agenda of the enemy?
The Panama case was indeed a miracle from the blue. It carries within it a promise of redemption for Pakistan. But at this point in time it remains little more than a mere promise. The fulfillment of the promise will only come if this miracle is to find consummation. And that will come only if EACH step which brought us to the edge of the precipice is fully reversed i.e if the state can prosecute the war against terrorists unhindered and to its logical conclusion, and those responsible for erecting obstacles against this effort are tried and punished; and if all the looted wealth is brought back to the country and we can stave off national bankruptcy.
Pakistan is facing a catastrophe. The constitutional safeguards to contest this catastrophe are in the hands of the very people who have brought this situation about. They can either save their own hides, or the state, not both. If they decide to salvage the state, they will have to sacrifice themselves and their looted wealth. If they had the love for their land to sacrifice themselves for it, we would never have been in this situation in the first place. So it should be a given that they will let the state fall, so that they can save themselves.
In a situation like this when no remedy is available to the state in a situation of dire national emergency, the only legal resort left to the state is to resort for such remedy to the highest court of the land. And this court, in the situation in which the state finds itself today, would be obliged to interpret the law of the land in a manner such that the state be saved. But someone has to petition the court to come to the aid of the state. In the present situation, it should be the army which should become the petitioner. The army should ask the Supreme Court for an in-camera hearing. In this hearing it should present all such evidence which it has on record, to prove the collusion of the government with the enemies of the state, insofar as the government hindered the prosecution of the war against the terrorists, by blocking the army's plans to flush out terrorists from interior Sindh, and Punjab. The army should also take to the court the evidence it has of financial terrorism inflicted on the state by both the government and the opposition, much of which the Supreme Court is well aware of by now. On the basis of this evidence the army should pray to the Court for the dismissal of this government, and with the relevant help from the Presidency, for the formation of a national government, so that a national cleansing operation may be completed before the next elections can take place. If this is not done and the tools are still in place for the next government to exploit and use against the state, a repeat of the present would be the only thing that could be safely bet on. And if the repetition of the same scenario should be the only expectation, then it would be fair to ask what the need was for the Panama trial in the first place?
Extraordinary times call out for extraordinary measures. If these measures are not taken, the state will implode, or in no more than two years it will have to be salvaged by martial law. And that really will be no solution at all.
It is, therefore, for the Presidency, the Supreme Court, and the Army to come to the relief of the state. There is no hesitation of effort among those dedicated to bring down the state. Their efforts are brazen and "in your face". Why then the quite palpable hesitation among those who are standing by the interests of the state? Is not about time that they too took their gloves off and staked their position clearly and eloquently for Pakistan? Do they not owe this to the people of Pakistan who are looking up to them, quaking with anxiety and uncertainty?
The clearest statement by the thugs that have looted Pakistan with impunity over the last decade lies in the fact that there is no let up in their plunder despite the Panama verdict, and not a single bureaucrat cum technocrat who facilitated the debauchery of Pakistan, has been removed from his post.
This is a statement of dare and defiance which is destroying the confidence of the people of Pakistan. The Supreme Court, which has exhibited much grace in its restraint now needs to bare its teeth. In one day it can break the back of the enemy. It can do this by charging and convicting for contempt, all those against whom irrefutable evidence of such contempt exists. The court's reserve served a purpose when it was first exercised. Today this continued restraint is making the state and the court look weak, and this appearance of weakness will serve the ends of anarchy. And anarchy will serve those that have dragged the state to its present nadir in its fortunes.
The court needs to put the enemies of the state where they belong and begin the process of salvaging of the state. Just one bang of their gavel can begin this process. So why be so conservative in its use!
Saeed A. Malik.