Where is the Ideological Defense of Privatization?

Source: channel24.pk

Source: channel24.pk

In Pakistan, the intellectual superiority of the center left is almost taken for granted. The legacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is considered a holy cow without which the idea of democracy could not have existed in the country and without which the middle class could not have possibly existed. Of course, in order to achieve these much necessary goals, it was necessary to nationalize some industries and to initiate others a la Soviet Union. Ah, what a wonderful place Soviet Pakistan would have been, oozing with social justice and equal opportunity misery.

Why blame the center left political workers for their passionate ideological beliefs from high school years? It is misguided criticism. These are merely political positions after all. Our civil and military bureaucratic philosopher-kings are great believers and pushers of these opioid myths themselves. The only difference is that unlike the well meaning socialist political workers who seriously want to change the world for the better, they want and extort welfare for their own ruling class. This has been the story of the Pakistani welfare state for six odd decades.

In the tradition of the allure of the distant social welfare state, which happens to be as elusive as the Jannat-ul-Firdaus itself, the people of Pakistan continue to be hooked on myths about the role of the government in their lives. It’s more like a theory of everything in terms of solutions. Somehow these stories always help enable the establishment and expansion of bureaucratic agencies, even at the cost of avoidable billions on the debit side of all sorts of financial statements. However, only a diabolical neo-liberal without a conscience could dare question these excesses and stand by wasteful luxury urban mass transit projects at the same time.

Many of us would have thought so, but members of PML-N are certainly not made of any such material. Supposed to be center right fiscal conservatives, because you have to label the other side with something, they are nothing of the kind. Pretty much like their opposition. They probably far outspend any other liberal or center left parties who have ever had the chance to present a fiscal budget. They also pretty much don’t care about the national debt. They are happy to add on external debt as much as possible, not that anything is wrong with that, probably because they can actually get hold of the money from international donors for a change.

What the heartless part of this very heartless political party does get right about governance, and let’s not even get into the economy, is their alleged commitment to Privatization. An evil word that brings out the Che Guevara in every sophomoric philosopher in Pakistan. Releasing schools of red herring, pun intended, about the slippery slope of crony capitalist takeover and rants about selling off the law enforcement. How dare you speak of selling our mother’s jewelry to crony capitalist burglars? Especially if they happen to be Arab or Jewish.

In a country with army generals and civil bureaucrats constantly aspiring and conspiring to become business tycoons, who can blame them for being so cynically skeptical? It’s simply common sense. This is why it is indeed important to appreciate their opposition to privatization to national liabilities such as the PIA and the Steel Mills. This is why I am such a fan of the bicameral legislature. For political parties such as the PPP, it is the last thread of relevance that they are hanging by.

Nevertheless, substantial ideological opposition to the intellectually bankrupt center left political parties is almost absent in Pakistan. The slightly-right-to-the-center-of-left PML-N has managed to win repeatedly in Punjab on the basis of perceived performance, but they would hardly stand up to them because most of them don’t even believe in privatization themselves. Primarily disciplined by the autocratic Sharif brothers, most of them would be jumping up and down the Constitution Avenue if the opposition party were proposing similar terms when set loose.

It would be such a relief that instead of defending their pathetic departmental record as a solution, (you have to pander to the voters) they would try explaining that the government simply does not have business running some corporations. Also, nationalizing industries is not how you prevent crony capitalist monopolies, it is how you ensure them. This bit of ideological purity could have been ignored if the corporations in question were not such living pictures of the failure of government administration. Even most apologists for nationalization agree on remedial action and the impossibility, if not the irresponsibility, of their sustenance.

This brings us to the question of our public unions who make a living out of blackmailing the hard earned money of the taxpayer. Institutions which are ensured and protected by the corrupt idea of nationalized corporations. There is a reason why the deadwood freaks out at the very mention of private sector because they know they would run out of financiers of their incompetence. They would also miss patron politicians like Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari reinstating employees laid off decades back, with benefits. Political hiring and political firing. Sounds like a plan for eternity.

Of course, the forever held hostage taxpayer is obviously not able to offer much resistance to the similar excesses by the military state capitalism complex, and is bound to hope for some change promised by the “right wing” majority federal government. Probably because they seem to be the only ones agreeing to do something about it. However, the good folks at the PIA and their regressive center left allies are at it again resisting the privatization of their corporation on life support, as is their democratic right.

This is where the PML-N government needs to ignore the much misguided popular opinion in Pakistan and stand up to the public unions. No harm in threatening to fire them, instead of firing at their chests, and actually acting on it unless they get their act together and return to work on reasonable terms. Otherwise, the taxpayer does not owe them any obligations to support their per-hour loss that runs in hundreds and thousands of US dollars. Otherwise, someone would prescribe disinfectants for this parasite-infested body sooner or later.

It is time to grow a spine, kill public unions, completely privatize PIA and stop taking every word from the center left as gospel.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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Lessons From Gaddafi

Source: The Daily Telegraph

So the reign of the old Colonel, Moammer Gaddafi, has come to an end. Finally.

All things must pass away, they say. A man, for example. Nothing lasts forever. But perhaps these taken for granted facts were something the illustrious dictator of Libya forgot. I would not go into the political echoes of the event, but just human lessons you could extract out of it and what the historian could tell you about it. Still politics is as related to the matter as the eye is related to sight.

Everyone has a loathing for Gaddafi for being brutal and cold-hearted and cruel for bombing his very own people. But at the same time, I could also imagine what would be going through his mind and in his heart. A falling dictator is the most desperate man in the world. So while I despised him for being cruel to his own people who paid for his luxuries, I also had a bit of sympathy for him and his family. Like I had for Hosni Mobarek of Egypt and his family.

I don’t want them to flourish on the luxuries they do not deserve but I want them to live. For those who want them dead because they were responsible for the death of their loved ones is a different story. I can’t fully understand death for justice so I would leave the subject to those who do and be thankful as long as I am not the one facing the shooting squad. But I still think their families are innocent and deserve to live.

Establishing this point, let us move forward. Royalty. which need not be hereditary and let me integrate it to the modern times despite the general despise of monarchies and the popularity of republics, bears the burden of the sins attached to its name. This is what the history tells us. Think of the Romanovs, murdered in cold blood in some oblivious house and picture the young Alexei and Anastasia and their other sisters dying, simply because they were the children of Czar Nicholas II. Cruel from a human viewpoint, but just the right thing to do maybe from the Bolshevik perspective. Maybe it was necessary because an Anastasia appeared in Germany several years later.

In the modern times, families of government figures may be allowed to live in peace if they remain quiet, just like the son of the exiled Shah of Iran. Gaddafi had a choice of fleeing Libya much earlier than he did. He could have read the writing on the wall. Even a child watching TV could. But maybe Gaddafi wasn’t watching TV or he would have known. Instead, he was hoping to cling on to the throne he had been clinging on to for nearly four decades. It is was too dear to him, maybe more than his family, which is why he lost his sons and grandsons in the battle for it.

It is not a question of right and wrong or good and evil here. It is a question of being a victor or a loser. The rebels were backed by the NATO and Gaddafi could not have expected to resist them for long, so in the end his rule was limited to his palace in Tripoli. So he retreated too late. I was keenly waiting for the news of his escape to another country, but the more it was delayed, the more I became convinced of his delusions, erratic thought process and messed up priorities. He was stuck somewhere in the middle of being a man who never wanted to give up and who was too afraid to die.

A spectator and a historian would never be able to make up their minds about whether to hate the man or whether to have respect for him. Most of them would comfortably eliminate the latter option, as you cannot really have a lot of respect, if at all, for a man who cannot really make up his mind between his family and his throne, and not sure of what was more prized to him. But maybe anyone else in his place would be torn apart in the same dilemma. Being as resourceful as he was, it is easy to say that he could have easily found his way to a safe country with his family.

For a moment, I thought Gaddafi was fighting for his pride and his glory. That he would fight to the last bullet in the barrel and the last drop of blood in his veins. The kind of dictators who would rather commit suicide than be overpowered by the enemy and captured and humiliated, like Adolf Hitler of the Third Reich or the great warrior kings of Rajputana. But no, he even wasn’t that type. A confused man or one who was caught in the whirlwind of circumstances. Who can tell but himself. But we can see where he was wrong and what he could have done to minimize the damage. The throne was already lost and there was no other way to it.

Had family been the first priority of Gaddafi, he could have left Libya with them way too early than when he really did. I heard the news that his daughter gave birth to a child when he reached with his family in Algeria. This is what the difference can mean. Life and death. I guess one of his sons died in the action, fighting against the rebels, or in a NATO bombing. Maybe they did not have to do that. Maybe he did not have to be so brutal to the public. Maybe he could have had enough foresight to realize that his end was near. He could have run away way before the Bastille was overrun. He did just that but he also assigned the task of guarding it to his loved ones, if that is the right term to use here.

Not all dictators give their power away so violently. There was Pervez Musharraf of  Pakistan, for example. Not all are too smart, recall the way Saddam Hussein ended up. Maybe he didn’t have many friends. A huge mistake for a dictator. Gaddafi was made to give up his power just like every other dictator, but he seemed more like a child separated from his toy, if you ignore the innocence part. But still you would expect him to foresee it.

I think it could be a completely seperate and dedicated area of research, how dictators should escape their impending doom. Survival can make man do crazy things and the things that Gaddafi did would go down in the history as among the craziest. So if you are a dictator and love your family a bit more than Gaddafi did or love your throne a bit less and if you are fighting against the NATO, it is better to make an early, safe and pleasant escape to a country like Algeria if Saudi Arabia refuses to accept your entry.

It remains to be seen if he will be tried for crimes against humanity. That also depends on how many friends you have, and how many you run out of. I just happened to glance past a New York Times photo feature based on the family pictures of Gaddafi found in his palace, which now lay in ruins. I have no idea why the American publication felt the need to publish it, maybe to emphasize the humiliation faced by the man and his family, but I leave you with it.

In the end, you have to come to the point when you need to decide whether you are a dictator or a human.