Bringing down the Sharifs

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

The Panama Leaks are the sort of story that was needed to shake the firm grasp of the Sharif family on the politics of Punjab.

Unlike the uproar in the media and warnings of a protest movement from PTI chairman Imran Khan, I am not convinced that the people of Pakistan are particularly bothered by the revelations in the Panama leaks. To some people, avoiding tax payment is a terrible sin, but let’s admit it, most people in Pakistan hardly believe in paying taxes or trusting the government with their money. Others consider smuggling fair trade. These views may outrage many liberals, but people are free to see the world that way.

Naturally, most businessmen and investors, particularly those who fear their assets would be frozen by a certain state for political reasons, would be attracted to offshore tax havens. Or perhaps they have a genuine desire of paying low taxes. In the past, the Swiss accounts of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari have been a matter of major controversy, and now the offshore assets of the Sharif family have surfaced.

To many people, the crime of the PML-N leaders lying about their offshore assets is far worse than the act of possible tax evasion. They would have to produce clean taxation and remittances records to eliminate the suspicion of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, such behavior seems more suited to businessmen than the leading political family in a developing nation.

However, what makes the leaders of the PML-N the hypocrites of the highest order is that they have gone to all lengths to demonize the PPP leadership for what they have been obviously doing themselves. 1999 actually taught them a lesson that heads of state not only need a haven for their financial assets but one for political asylum as well.

Instead of freaking out by Panama Leaks, it does not hurt to be optimistic about their aftermath. Personally, I would not like to see the Prime Minister go as long as he ends up clarifying his position, as did Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain. However, if he fails to present a strong case and succumbs to the pressure of the opposition, good riddance.

Some people are also seeing the military intervening as the ultimate solution for accountability as always, but nothing would be more disastrous for the progress of democracy. At least, for the development of the economy and services to the people of Pakistan.

In any event, you cannot ignore the fact that the Sharif brothers have become a bit too comfortable in their almost absolute political power in Punjab. The landslide in the last election stunned the rest of the parties, but their continual abuse of power hardly goes unnoticed as well.

A strong opposition, and ideally alternate terms for different parties, is good for democracy. Historically, Punjab does vote to balance the power between two leading parties, but due to the popular emergence of PTI, the opposition vote has been divided between PTI and PPP.

The PML-N infrastructure projects particularly require continuation of terms, but regardless of whether the party is good for the country, or at least Punjab, they need to be challenged. The PTI and the PPP will probably not find a better opportunity to strike a dent in the formidable wall of the political support of the PML-N in Punjab. In terms of producing electoral results, both the political parties would have to set aside differences and form an alliance in Punjab.

While the metro bus projects have been much the needed mass transit in the urban areas in Punjab, at least the twin cities, they reflect on how executive power is exercised in Pakistan by political governments. PTI and other liberal critics also make sense when they make a case for the lack of government funds in the health sector while such mega projects are being developed.

Opposition parties sense instinctively that something is wrong with this spending pattern, but are not able to make an effective case for some reason.

Unfortunately, the idea of limiting the executive power is not popular in Pakistani politics. As a matter of fact, these very opposition parties, with the possible exception of PPP, would favor more executive power, so that they are able to exercise it when they are in power. After all, elections are about getting things done.

So while we need to address the problem of corruption and tax evasion, the procedures on government spending and the permitted abuse of executive power need to be taken into account as well.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2013: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Source: geo.tv

Source: geo.tv

For reasons right and wrong, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is my Pakistani Person of the Year for 2013.

He has taken office after a massive victory in the May 2013 elections in which people, of the Punjab at least, have clearly voted for economy ahead of any other issue. And his party PML-N had heavily relied on promises of economic prosperity in its election campaign too. Since government is the sole provider of many utilities, it was just a change of subscription from the same source.

While his party, like every other party in Pakistan, believes in big government and big spending and has to offer its fair share of idiotic socialistic election stunts, it still happens to be the best hope for greater economic liberalization in Pakistan.

Perhaps, another hope is its conservative sister PML-Q, which may or may not vote to support many economic reforms out of political rivalry, while PPP and PTI could oppose based on their ideology. It is a shame that both parties have parted ways on anything but issues, and it is mostly Nawaz Sharif’s fault.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, he has inherited a financial wreck from the PPP led coalition government, which doubled the total debt in its term ending in 2012-13. So it is hardly a surprise that the PML-N government is desperate to finance the state any way it can and adding on further debt.

However, Pakistanis have grown sick of excuses and passing on the blame to the predecessor. The PML-N government will have to make tough decisions and it partially seems headed that way as well, at least in terms of reducing the size of the government. But it could damage the economy to some extent in its own right by irresponsible spending.

At the same time, Nawaz Sharif is far from perfect. He has a reputation of a democratically elected dictator, whose second term legacy is still crippling democracy in Pakistan. His party tolerates Islamic fundamentalism, though there is no other way to win an election in Punjab, and he almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen.

I can never forgive his 14th amendment and never will. But if you still look at him with hopeful eyes, it tells you of how bad things are. Perhaps he is the wrong choice, but I am not liberal, or idiotic, enough to think someone else would be a better choice at this point. I didn’t vote for his party, but would have voted for him had the Prime Ministerial ballot been there.

There is this fool’s hope of keeping your fingers crossed that he has learned something from the second term mistakes. And so far, he has not managed to offend my sensitivities.

Given the usual election cycles in Pakistan, most people are likely to vote for a more populist and pro-socialist government in 2018 in any case. While PML-N can compensate its loss of reputation with its trademark wasteful infrastructural and welfare stunts, even though it could either carry out those schemes or control inflation effectively without widening the deficit, it should at least do the needful about the economy on the larger scale in the mean time. Regardless of the cost.

If PML-N is able to privatize major departments currently administered or influenced by the government, especially PIA  and the Steel Mills, and partially at least, it would leave government with a productive legacy.

I would rather have much lesser government control in the oil and power market as well, though this is harder to achieve. The privatization is the easiest measure and would go a long way in the improvement of the economy and standard of living of Pakistanis.

But he has just rejected a recommendation of OGRA to increase oil prices. I don’t even mind the continuous subsidies if either the size of the government is drastically reduced or the income tax revenue is drastically increased. Failing to make one of the two unpopular decisions would mean continuing the same old disaster.

You cannot have big government without a lot of taxes and cannot expect government to look after every single aspect of the economy without paying taxes. Pakistani people do not seem to understand this.

Most Pakistanis are under the impression that a “good government” can solve all their problems. To them, a “good government” should be like a messiah that would come to their rescue. Can you blame them?

But this is why there is an excess supply of messiahs in Pakistani politics.

This is why you have MPs walking out of the legislature all the time, including PML-N, whenever oil and power prices are increased, so that the government can further subsidize these commodities.

This is why you have parties restoring laid off employees in ancient history with pay and benefits in retrospect at the taxpayer’s expense and call it a fulfilled promise.

And this is precisely why Nawaz Sharif is the best man to lead the country at the moment, until we can find someone better and less messianic. At the moment, only he is really able to bring about the changes that the Pakistani economy actually requires. He could fail, but his direction does not look too bad.

We can put off whatever political correctness we are missing right now to a later year.

My Pakistani person of the year for 2012 was Malala Yousafzai.

Happy New Year.

Pakistanis and Double Standards

Source: Express Tribune

Maybe it’s just not exclusive to Pakistanis. Of course, it isn’t. It would be most unfair to say that, but because I live in Pakistan, I cannot help but notice it with a greater sensitivity in its case as compared to other nations around the world. Although it can safely be said that more or less the entire species is suffering from this condition in one way or another, but let us be specific over here.

It’s the annoying double standards that I am talking about.

Actually, you could make a huge list of the things for which Pakistanis have double standards, but there are quite a few incidents that occurred recently, which has pushed me to write something about it.

However, I will make the list nevertheless for the benefit of those who are not aware of the following issues.

CNG Strike and the Troubled Pakistani Economy

Alright, it’s true that the GST on the CNG for vehicles and increased prices will be a burden on the people, but what about the fact that using this resource for vehicle deprives the country of sufficient natural gas supply in the winters? While I am all for welfare and controlling poverty, people simply take it as an excuse to cover up their own corruption. Yes, I am talking about the CNG filling station owners’ body APCNGA.

Of course, they are protesting for their profit cuts and their strikes are only adding to the troubles of the people, who have been spoiled by this inconveniently convenient fuel. Clearly goes to show that Pakistan’s people and businessmen are the part of the problem that is the troubled Pakistani economy. They criticize the government for having no money and no fuel, but gladly deprive it of any opportunity of collecting whatever money it can in order to operate and to sustain the hideous CNG network in the country.

So the government doesn’t have money, right. How can they when they subsidize fuel?

Let the people pay for fuel and let the government subsidize the staples and see to it that the private enterprises and government organizations inflation-adjust the income of the people.

The Case of the Son of the Chief Justice & the Media vis-a-vis the Corruption of the Politicians

It was really striking, though not as shocking, to see that the tone of the Pakistani media was entirely different than usual when it came to the case of alleged financial favors that the son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary took from a real estate tycoon. Of course, we know nothing about that. The reason why I found it a bit odd was that they always sound absolutely convinced when there are corruption allegations against politicians, such as the cases against the sons of Prime Minister Gillani.

Source: Express Tribune

There are several other factors for which double standards are practiced. Briefly.

Drone Strikes and PAF Strikes

Drone strikes on Islamists militants and FATA civilians are wrong because the United States carries them out, but certainly that would be fine if the technology is handed over to Pakistan and when Pakistan would make these strikes. Also, the PAF bombings are pretty cool.

Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban

But of course the Afghani Taliban are called freedom fighters because they are fighting for their domain that the United States and NATO captured, but the Pakistani Taliban are terrorists because they are fighting against the Pakistani state.

Taliban Separatists and Baluch Separatists 

Both Baluch separatists and Pakistani Taliban are fighting against the state. Baluch separatists are not a part of an Islamist movement. Therefore, Baluchs are separatists to one group of people while the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan are terrorists and the other way around in other cases. However, both carry out bomb blasts, both harm state infrastructure, both are killed by military. Maybe the Baluch separatists are not idiotic enough or intellectual enough to carry out suicide bombings.

Though it can be argued that they are also widely different since the Pakistani Taliban do include people who are not natives of the land they are occupying.

But hey, I am only talking about separatists here.

Only speaking in objective, technical terms, not supporting or opposing anything.

Source: The Daily Telegraph

Blasphemors Outraging at Blasphemies

I know many righteous Pakistani Muslims, Sunnis in particular, who would gladly blaspheme against the Shias, the Hindu gods and even against Christians, who are supposedly in the same Abrahamic league, but would outrage when somebody blasphemes against the Koran or Prophet Muhammad.

Different Rules for Drinking Classes

Ameer piye to class. Ghareeb piye to cchaapa. 

The rich and the high can drink the prohibited liquor in peace. The poor either die of the poisonous spirit or the torture of police.

Different Rules for Men and Women

Men can practically have sex with as many women they want, can marry up to four. Kill women if they try to live like that or talk to someone or have sex with someone or even try to live like just another person, or even better, throw acid on face. But hey, that does not qualify for conflicting double standard, does it?

Sheltering Osama Ben Laden

Enraged by the violation of the sovereignty of the country by US Navy Seals yet many are not bothered by what the Most Wanted Terrorist in the World was doing in the lion’s den of the Pakistani military.

Misplaced Patriotism

Claim to be very patriotic, flag-waving, cricket-team-cheering, anthem-bowing, Quaid-saluting. Defy law in Pakistan, observe diligently abroad and do a lot of things that hurt the country’s economy such as tax evasion. Does that not hurt the country? While this is a common observation though sounds like a generalization, a lot of responsible Pakistanis in this category.

And finally the best of all.

Hate USA But Want Green Card

There is a widely spread misconception that Pakistanis hate the United States. They don’t.

They may burn the US flags all they want, but even the most fundamentalists of them would prefer US citizenship over the Pakistani any day.

Now of course don’t go on assuming that every Pakistani is like that but a lot of them do somehow think like that collectively.

In other words, Pakistan is a nation of double standards in many ways.

And it is suffering its consequences every single day.

Deal with it.