Articles of the year 2006

Pakistan's Loss
Published on February 10th, 2006

It is not very often that an Academic can cross over into the hurly burly of Politics.So used are they to the cloistered safety of their institutions that they do not have the protective skills necessary in the world of business let alone in murky Political waters. Politics has always been a dirty game and the most famous exponents have always retained the stigma that goes with the occupation. Nixon for one never shook off the 'Tricky Dick' nickname even though his Presidency was one of the more successful tenures in recent history. On the local level, the late Jam Sadiq Ali once elevated to the Chief Ministership of Sindh, ran the Province in a manner that was politically very successful, he brought wheeling and dealing to a state of the art, but both his friends and foes badmouth him to this day. His funeral was the most well attended of any politician in our history, with all the Governors and the President and the Service Chiefs present, some to wish him a fond farewell, and others to make sure he had indeed passed on and was not coming back.

For Hafeez Shaikh to be brought from the cosy environment of the World Bank where he had been picked from his Harvard teaching assignment, and then given the Finance Ministry of Sindh was a transition fraught with pitfalls. The Bureaucracy of Sindh is notorious for its indolence, and for its corrupt practices, in a different league from the other Provinces in as much as the officers are all well connected and have Godfathers who position them, and then protect them. He ran the Ministry with a silk smooth touch, and surprisingly enough, very few detractors. When the Prime Ministership was conferred upon Shaukat Aziz after some interesting games of musical chairs, where each appointee was allowed to display his incompetence, we were all surprised that the Finance Ministry was not entrusted to Hafeez, who had already proven his ability for the job. Instead he was given the BOI and then Privatization. Where he has performed admirably. His deft handling of the KESC disaster of the investor defection, replacing the Saudi with a bigger and better Arab, was welcomed with a sigh of relief all round. The PTCL deal was much more complicated, and I for one had written that the Buyers should have been penalized, and lost their deposit—all 250 million $. The good Doctor persisted, and the Bid price remained intact, a good 1 billion $ more than the second and third place runners. Many critics are saying that undue advantage/concessions were given.A1 billion difference is not small change, and looking at the political leverage that the UAE has with the GOP, we are lucky that the deal has remained in tact. In fact there are quite a few power brokers in Islamabad who must have been offering 'better' deals to the buyers, so we are indeed fortunate that the extra 1 billion stayed in Pakistan.

Meanwhile the Finance Ministry could have done with some naysayers, especially when it concerned the lavish expense on bullet proof Mercs, and jet planes, and at the same time asking the Saudis for a handout. I shudder at the thoughtlessness of the request itself, and would like to express to His Majesty that we the people of Pakistan were not privy to nor are we the beneficiaries of either the cars the planes or a reduction in the price of our petrol regardless of the Saudi largesse. Our elected representatives have arrogated to themselves a right that we the people did not give them. A Hafeez Shaikh is essential to the sanity of the Cabinet, for I cannot see the good Doctor allowing such situation to arise, nor such a request to be made to the Saudis. Viewing the outrageous performance of the Ministry of Finance, as this is the Ministry that controls the purse strings of the Nation, the loss to the Nation by Hafeez Shaikhs exit from Pakistan, should be measured in what could have been, if only he had been entrusted with the Ministry. The Loss will be far greater when his voice is removed from the corridors of power.