Articles of the year 2011

The Karachi Time Bomb
Published on January 16, 2011

On a short trip to Islamabad, where all is well, and all the troubles are elsewhere one had the opportunity to sit back and tally the score of the Zardari Government, as the midpoint has been reached and passed without any major hiccups. The talkshow hosts have already calmed down and have stopped predicting the imminent fall of the Government. While the politicians are busy hurling insults,fists and sometimes chairs in the manner of politicians in most countries. Scandals, charges of corruption are rife, with the CJ issuing Suo Moto notices, but no one has started a fast unto death as in our neighboring country. Corruption, seems to have lost it's malodor, and countries are happy just to get their money back. The Zardari era will be remembered as a Cliffhanger of Hitchcock proportions. With the shrill cries people running for cover, and applying for asylum, the few waiting in Dubai and other havens are realizing that making money abroad is not a simple matter, and the laws are stricter, not to mention the lurking tax man. The success of Zardari has been to ignore the screams in the aisles and to concentrate in protecting his loyalists, keeping them in the fold, which is enough to add to his numbers. Much to the consternation of his enemies. Politicians are not nice people and Zardari has read them beautifully, the Mullahs or the MQM, he knows the price, and the risk, when to negotiate, and when to pay. To each he deals with the carrot or the stick and with remarkable success. The MQM somersaults were a treat to behold, and the ringmaster watched the performances and never scolded, but with the Sindhi's sly banter ensured that the performer knew full well who was obeying whom.

In assessing the Zardari era, the surprising part is the absence of a team. Zardari is seemingly operating on his own without a team. His MNAs are unbelievably mediocre, and flawed-- most would be disqualified by the Election Tribunal in just a cursory scrutiny. The best part is that the members know their own shortcomings, and are more than happy to serve Zardari --- at any cost. Knowing this, makes their manipulation even easier. His team leader consists of Salman Qureshi , the head of the Civil service, and the de facto head of the Government. With thirty years training in the Civil Service of Pakistan, an institution that was perfected by the British two hundred years ago, one ythathas successfully run the British Empire. ( But of course in Pakistan a General thought he could improve the Civil Service, and Gen Musharraf let him have a go at it costing the Nation millions, with a complete breakdown in the administration, till eventually the old system was replaced.) Under the watchful eye of Mr Qureshi the rules of the Civil Service of Pakistan will be followed, and corruption will be contained. That is the reason that the Zardari era is not caught in the massive corruption that the Benazir I and II Governments had become so famous for.

The major problem with Zardari is the focus on survival, and the allowing of the Ministry of Interior to be in the hands of Rahman Malik, who has neither the skills nor the acumen to perform in this intricate and difficult area. The sooner a wiser and more experienced replacement is found the better.

The cronyism policy should be replaced, bringing in talented people into the power sector. For here the power riots are the most dangerous for any Government, and to have angry people on the streets continuously is very very dangerous. Combined with unemployment it is an explosive mix, just waiting for a spark. The mobs in the streets also gives the impression of instability, which in turn drives foreign investment away, worse, the local investor also decides to sit back and wait for better times. Hafeez Shaikh the finance whiz is doing the best he can with the little he has , but Zardari will have to ensure that he neutralizes the malevolent forces that are dominating Karachi --- the industrial engine of Pakistan, which can lead to a total collapse of commerce and Industry. If there is no commerce what will a stock market cater to? Or for that matter the banking sector, who will they lend to?

No, survival is not the only thing. Pakistan has to be put back on its feet, and starting with Karachi. Sanity has to be brought here, with peace. Today Kabul is looking better, and a lot safer. If Karachi is to continue in this fashion, then the blame for the collapse will also be upon the PPP, and this would be such a pity for the only National Party to collapse, taking with it the hopes and dreams of the millions of people that are committed to that dream-- the dream of the poor and the underprivileged.