DAWN - Opinion; 24 May, 2004

Published May 24, 2004

Lessons from Indian polls

By Dr Kamal Munir

The recent elections in India should send a stark warning to Pakistan's ruling class: beware of your own rhetoric. When you see it on television, read it in the newspapers, and hear it from your sycophants day and night, you might come to believe in it yourself. That, apparently, is what happened to the BJP and India's mainstream political pundits.

For at least a decade now, we have been hearing how India is the new Asian tiger. We have been told how India's middle class now stood at 250 million and is growing; how it was the world's biggest powerhouse in knowledge-based sectors, especially IT and IT-enabled services (ITES); how it's software exports had increased from $128 million in 1991 to $62 billion in 2001; how it is the fastest growing telecommunications market in the world, adding 1.5 million mobile phone subscribers every month; how India had been sucking any and all western jobs that involved a computer or a phone; and how one million new jobs were created every year in India.

This was the new India, shining India. Gone were the days of self-reliance and Nehru's quasi-socialist philosophy. The reforms that Rajiv Gandhi and Manmohan Singh started in 1991 had paid off handsomely. Even detractors like Joseph Stiglitz admitted that India had been a success story of globalization.

The myth of "India Shining" was given further credence by the international media, which highlighted how ingenious Indian entrepreneurs had "grabbed" the liberalization process with both hands and carved out their own, unique position in the global marketplace.

Goldman Sachs published a report suggesting that by 2050, India would become the world's third largest economy after America and China. Global corporations like General Electric, Citibank or American Express had shifted thousands upon thousands of white-collar jobs to India, and this trend was only expected to grow.

Entrepreneurs like Narayana Murthy and Azim Premji were held up as examples of what Indians could achieve, given the opportunity!

Ironically, Murthy and Premji, themselves always candidly admitted that the spoils from India's IT boom were limited to the middle class and the rich and this growth would be unsustainable without providing adequate health, education and equal opportunities to the other half. However, the chattering classes chose to believe the yarn spun by their kin. Being part of the class which benefited from the consumer revolution in India, they were taken by the glittering malls, and ubiquitous mobile phones. They read World Bank and IMF reports which held up India as an example for all developing countries.

But, while the glamour of IT was sufficient to elicit praise from the WB, apparently it did not quite cut it with the masses. The digital divide only became sharper and more visible with the so-called IT revolution. IT did not deliver clean water, sanitation, healthcare or education to the poor.

In fact, by aligning the interests of India's industrialists and multinationals, the whole IT "revolution" served to make India's poor more vulnerable to the perils of globalization.

Take Indian farmers, for instance. Economic suicides among them have multiplied since India's liberalization. These people traditionally grew pulses and millets and paddy but were enticed by seed companies to buy hybrid cottonseeds.

These hybrid seeds, which were supposed to make them millionaires, have taken them to financial ruin. They need to be purchased every year at high cost. These are also vulnerable to pest attacks, and spending on pesticides in many areas has shot up 2,000 per cent since 1997.

As Vandana Shiva describes it, "now farmers are consuming the same pesticides as a way of killing themselves so that they can escape permanently from unpayable debt."

The Indian government was too busy collecting kudos from the World Bank and gloating over its new IT-powerhouse status to care about these travesties of globalization.

The fact that more than 80 per cent of India's one billion people live in what is usually called the "bullock cart economy" was conveniently brushed under the carpet, as was the fact that about 47 per cent of India's children suffer from malnutrition.

When they grow up, unemployment is waiting for them. There is no denying that IT created about one million jobs every year in India, but there is also no denying the fact that about nine million people enter the workforce each year.

In India, the people struck back at the first opportunity they got. In Pakistan, the ruling class has done away with elections, and wisely so! The spin on this side of the border is even more prodigious.

We are told that the economy has never done better. Don't believe us? Just look at the foreign reserves, or even the remarkable growth of the stock market. And then there is our four per cent growth rate not to mention the nascent IT revolution of our own.

And it is of course just that: spin. If anyone can take credit for our high foreign reserves it is George Bush, not Shaukat Aziz. It was Bush after all who started the witch-hunt for Muslims in the US.

It was he who scared Pakistani expatriates into sending their savings to Pakistan. For their part, the Pakistani CFO (chief financial officer) has been unable to use any of it to boost the nation's economy.

The money has only served to blow up the property bubble, boosted consumption of imports, or invested in stocks, which are curiously divorced from Pakistan's actual growth. The rest is sitting pretty in banks.

Similarly, the stock market, which has grown close to 200 per cent in the last couple of years is a completely bogus indicator of our progress. Of its about 700 listed companies, only 15 to 20 account for 90 per cent of the total trade volume, indicating that the vast majority of the market is in fact dormant.

Secondly, and more importantly, this record growth in the market is quite divorced from the process of Pakistan's economic and industrial development. The liberalization of the Pakistani financial market has removed almost all barriers to foreign investors with little loyalty to Pakistan's development needs.

At the same time, local companies are provided with little incentive to invest and expand. Despite its record growth, then, the stock market has failed to attract new issues from local companies in any significant manner.

Our four per cent growth rate, which our CFO bandies around, tells an equally dismal story. Jeffrey Sachs, the Harvard economist, likes to talk about his rule of 70.

He says that if you divide 70 by the growth rate of a country, that is how many years it is going to take for that country's per capita income to double. So if Pakistan is growing at four per cent it is going to take 17.5 years to double our per capita income, from $490 to $980, and then another 17.5 years to double that.

Countries that grow at such meagre rates do not catch up. Right after the Russian or the Chinese revolutions, their growth rates were close to 100 per cent, not four or six.

But the truly sad part is that while every other country may think Sachs' rule is overly pessimistic, Pakistan makes it look too optimistic. Indeed for the last 30 odd years, our per capita income has been essentially the same. All the while various CFOs have been telling us how the country is prospering.

And then there is our IT revolution. Whereas Indian companies moved towards greater value-added segments of the market, Pakistan is struggling to even exploit the basic "body shopping" call-centre opportunity that beckons.

India was able to achieve its current status in IT through initial development in its domestic market. Pakistan's de-industrialization does not even afford that opportunity to its IT entrepreneurs.

The fact is that while the government is busy putting spin on every number it can get its hands on, the level of poverty in Pakistan has risen to 33 per cent from 20 per cent in the last 15 years, and this is according to the government's own State Bank.

The State Bank acknowledges that large-scale budget allocations are needed in healthcare and education. What the government has given the people instead is more privatization and increased disparity.

The poor in Pakistan are now deprived of even basic amenities like clean water, education and healthcare. But listen to the government, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank or the UN, and you will hear only praise for Pakistan's economic condition.

Bear in mind that these bodies painted the same picture in India. While farmers in Hyderabad committed economic suicides, its chief minister became the poster child for World Bank campaigns.

While privatization reduced the accessibility of healthcare and education for the poor, the focus never shifted from the "innovative" ways in which healthcare or education was now being delivered by the private sector.

It is only a matter of time, before the people of Pakistan will remind the emperor that he stands naked. All the praise from the World Bank or the IMF and all the bogus economic indicators that the CFO conjures up may be able to bury the facts deep but they cannot change them.

The election in India should serves as a warning for Pakistan's ruling class: If India's far more imposing economic indicators could not prevent the gloss from being taken off its economic reality, Pakistan's don't stand a chance.

The writer teaches strategy and policy at Cambridge University, UK.

Pyramids of shame

By Qazi Faez Isa

Iraqis resisting Tamerlane's invasion were killed and their bodies piled up in pyramid formations. Six hundred years later, another occupier has displayed a penchant for a different kind of pyramid.

Abul Mansur Taimur or Taimur-Lang (langra) and hence Tamerlane, consciously used shock and awe tactics to conquer. Afterwards, he endeavoured to deal justly with those he had conquered.

The Americans in charge of Abu Ghraib prison made their pyramids for no apparent reason; simply to humiliate and denigrate. However, the sadistic techniques used by jailers are not a fleeting fancy applied impromptu, but demonstrates a lesson taught and well learnt.

The torturers knew the Arab mindset well: abhorrence of nudity, particularly before women, homosexuality and sexual mockery by women; elements which were pointedly focused upon and depicted in the infamous photographs.

And who best knows the Arab mind than those living in their midst. Israeli officers, such as those of their internal security service, Shin Bet, have acknowledged such knowledge.

Israel was the first to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iraq to cripple its nascent nuclear programme. But Saddam did not learn, he made the mistake of sending a few Scud missiles over Tel Aviv during the Gulf War.

America had no apparent self-interest in invading Iraq. Given Israel's stranglehold on American politics is it farfetched to presume that America came to Iraq to complete Israel's unfinished agenda: American might deployed to fulfil Israeli yearning for a final solution, complete subjugation and total Arab humiliation.

For the last 50 years, the world has witnessed the odious treatment of Palestinian Arabs at the hands of Israelis, although propaganda channels have justified Israel's right to co-exist. The right of a fanged wolf in a chicken coop.

Yet lies too have a maximum shelf-life. The excuses put forward for justifying the keeping of stolen land and continually depriving people of their rights are starting to peel away and the truth beginning to emerge. Public opinion has started to shift. A recent survey in European Union countries cited Israel as the greatest danger to world peace.

The numbing persecution one sees as Israeli helicopter gunships kill and tanks bludgeon homes and lives, and America lifts not a niggardly finger in protest but targets its ire against the suicide bomber, who already stands punished by his or her own act, is a mockery of justice approved by the most powerful nation.

When American contractors were being butchered and torn limb from limb in Fallujah, one's heart went out to the victims; nothing justified such inhuman treatment. But let us reflect on whether the treatment of the jailed inmates freed the beast that lurks within from its moral moorings.

America cherishes freedom and democracy at home but eschews it when considering the Arab Palestinian. The greatest friend of Israel has failed in rising to its ideals; instead America has come to share the swamp in which its friend remains mired.

America today is besotted with Israel and appears to be in servile compliance of Israel's agenda. Sanctions are slapped upon Syria because it is supposedly supporting freedom fighters, who only attack Israel.

Little Jordan is kept off-balance by allegations that it is not combating terrorism. And Iran is not permitted to go nuclear because "the Middle East must remain free of nuclear weapons", Israel notwithstanding!

The Israeli interest becomes self-evident in little matters too, which have long-term consequences. If America invaded Iraq to cleanse it of weapons of mass destruction, rid it of Saddam's tyranny and sow the seeds of democracy then what was the need for ordering Iraq to change its flag.

A flag depicting Arab nationalism and demonstrating an affinity with other Arabs; the flags of Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Sudan, Kuwait, Jordan, Oman and Yemen are similar in colour and design. Is the association dented if a new flag is hoisted which resembles the Israeli one?

The command structure within established armies reflects a pyramid shape, with each tier below following what emanates from above. Armies and those it employs must follow orders or else pay dearly.

Even the world's celebrated barbarian Tamerlane understood this. In his own words, "I so firmly established my authority that the amirs, and the vazirs, and the soldiers, and the subjects, could not aspire beyond their respective degrees."

He understood too that without a moral compass all is indeed lost. "Every empire, which is not established in morality and religion, nor strengthened by regulations and laws, from that empire all order, grandeur and power shall pass away. And that empire may be likened unto a naked man, who, when exposed to view, commandeth the eye of modesty to be covered: and it is like unto a house, which hath neither roof, nor gates, nor defences; into which whoever willeth, may enter unmolested."

Tamerlane was not a hypocritical sermonizer. After having vanquished the mighty Othmanli ruler Bayizid, the one-eyed Bayazid was brought before him. Tamerlane laughed out loudly.

Bayizid took offence. Taimur apologized: "Surely God does not think much of the kingdoms of this world because he gives one to a lame one and another to a half-blind one and lets the lame one take away the one-eyed man's kingdom."

Sermonizing from the pulpit of power on the virtues of democracy, whilst forgetting that it is a means to an end, and not the end in itself, is all that is on offer. Man has lived for centuries without democracy but rarely without justice.

America is kept captivated by the tantalizing web of Israeli democracy; which ensnares an old and settled population. The tangibles of freedom and justice lie crushed under the new dogma. The Israeli mahout leads the pachyderm to do its bidding in Iraq sonorously drubbing democracy's drum under a canopy of blue and white.

Despite investing heavily in its snooping abilities for the last several years, America has once again demonstrated its failure to look under its own rug. It did not know what its troops were up to in Iraq.

Donald Rumsfeld who was in charged of them is quizzing and studying whether arranging nude prisoners in pyramidal fashion constitutes "torture" or is simply an "abuse".

"As often as a study is cultivated by narrow minds, they will draw from it narrow conclusions," said John Stuart Mills. The torture (or "abuse") is compounded by the abject failure of the American presence to be kept informed about its own army.

Tamerlane's book on political and military instructions stresses the necessity, quality and accuracy of information. "I ordained that on every frontier, and in every country, and in every city, and in every camp a writer of intelligence should be established; and that each should write to the imperial presence, with truth and perspicuity, full accounts of the conduct and behaviour of the governors, and of the officers; and of the soldiers.

And I commanded that these accounts should be transmitted unto me day by day, and week by week, and month by month. And I ordained, that a thousand swift camel-men, and a thousand swift horsemen, and a thousand expeditious foot-men should be selected; and that they should return unto the presence, and give me information thereof, that I might provide the remedy before the evil arrived."

Tamerlane's informers no doubt brought to his attention that the Persian poet Hafiz had offered to give away his beloved Samarqand and Bukhara for the mole on the face of a fair maid of Shiraz in return for her love.

"How dare you give away my choicest cities for the mole on the cheek of some girl," thundered the much-feared Taimur, when Hafiz was brought before him. But Hafiz's quick reply pleased Taimur and Hafiz came away with expensive gifts. "Alas, O prince, it is this generosity which is the cause of the poverty in which you see me."

America looks at the world through Israeli eyes and sees only the mole on the Arab face as the entire Arab enterprise. The elephant blunders and tramples in Iraq but remains paralysed in Israel; double-standards wound the Arab and Muslim conscience. The world yearns for America to overcome its fear of Israeli mice, swing its trunk, trumpet a warning and stomp a little justice there.

A fortnight to remember

By Anwer Mooraj

This has been an action-packed fortnight. First there was the Shahbaz Sharif saga which ended in the former chief minister of Punjab taking a ridiculously long aerial detour to get back to Riyadh.

Then there was the display of that dreadful picture of a female American soldier hauling a naked Iraqi prisoner as if he was a dead goat, followed by a gallery of snapshots of sadistic abuse, which nearly cost the American secretary of defence his job. And finally, there was the tale of the signora in the sari declining an offer to take over the stewardship of the world's largest democracy.

The Shahbaz Sharif episode was ridiculous to say the least, and amply demonstrates the truth of the Urdu saying about the buffalo belonging to the man who wields the heavy stick. The facts speak for themselves.

Taking note of the government's failure to produce the alleged agreement under which Nawaz Sharif, his brother and their families had been exiled to Saudi Arabia, the Supreme Court of Pakistan observed that Shahbaz Sharif had a constitutional right to enter and reside in this country, as he was a citizen of Pakistan.

A bit of legal gobbledygook followed. The counsel of the petitioner contended that instructions had been issued at all airports that in the event his client tried to enter his homeland, he would be grabbed and deported to Saudi Arabia.

The judgement ruled that the contention was without any tangible evidence and its legal adjudication was not possible, nor could it be made a basis for invoking the extraordinary jurisdiction of the court.

Shahbaz Sharif's counsel subsequently filed a petition before the Lahore High Court in which protection was sought against possible deportation. But the efforts of the counsel came to naught, and the man whose action apparently turned the vast punitive machinery of the state on its head, landed, and was unceremoniously packed off to the holy land.

Sheikh Rashid, spokesman for the government, then held a press conference, aired on television, which was basically a hatchet job. Though he tried his best to assume a lugubrious dignity and an air of candour, he was grilled by the battery of journalists who had assembled and a lot of questions remained unanswered.

One can understand the government's predicament and reluctance to allow the Sharif brothers to return to the country whose passports they carry. Not only do they still have a considerable number of supporters.

Their very presence might induce some of the turncoats to return to the fold, and weaken the establishment parties, where cracks have been discernible in the ruling coalition.

After all, on May 8 Kabir Ali Wasti, vice-president of the PML(Q) predicted that Prime Minister Jamali would resign in 90 days because of his poor performance and inability to run the government in accordance with the president's seven-point agenda.

What has given the whole issue an interesting twist is Shujaat Hussain's contention that Shahbaz Sharif could have been deported under the banishment accord. Now here comes the sting in the tail.

An ATC judge had declared the PML(N) president a proclaimed offender. Under the law a citizen who has allegedly committed an offence is required to appear in court, and failure to do so could result in forfeiture of his property.

Now how can a citizen appear before a magistrate or a judge when the government is preventing him from entering his own country and denying him the right to defend himself?

Where the government is batting on a weak wicket is its inability to come up with any documentary evidence that even vaguely suggests that the brothers willingly accepted exile.

Even if documentary proof were available and was being withheld for reasons of lese-majeste, surely this information could have been submitted to the Supreme Court. Three and a half years have passed since the challenge was posed by the Sharif brothers, and the issue has remained as contentious as before.

The day after the world received the startling news that Sonia Gandhi had turned down the premiership of India, the caricaturist of a Pakistani English daily came up with a delightful cartoon. The picture was presented in two sections.

The first, entitled "Over Here" showed three desperate men rushing towards an empty chair. And the second, entitled "Over There" described a single woman in a sari, her pallu flying in the breeze, running away from an empty chair.

Irrespective of some of the editorial views expressed in this country about the damage done to the Congress by this momentous decision not to sit in parliament, Sonia Maino Gandhi has grown enormously in political and moral stature.

There is considerable sympathy and respect for this lady, not only in India and Pakistan, but also among intelligent people around the world. There is probably no other example in living memory of a politician who has come up with such an extraordinary act of political renunciation, and displayed the courage to stick to her decision in such extremely difficult circumstances.

Nobody will probably ever know the real reason why the lady just walked away from being prime minister of the world's largest democracy. She did speak about listening to her "inner voice" which aides close to her believe might have referred to security considerations.

After all, her mother-in-law and husband, both prime ministers, were assassinated while in office. Could there be a collective proclivity to ensure that the temporal existence of all members belonging to and connected with the dynasty of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, should be terminated?

Some political analysts believe that her decision was purely pragmatic. It has removed the emotive punching bag which the opposition BJP and their allies had been using in the run-up to the 14th national elections, and would have continued to use had she become prime minister. The threat to boycott the swearing in ceremony by the opposition was real and ominous and smacked of pure spite.

However, as events have shown the attack on her foreign birth and antecedents, although in extremely bad taste, apparently had little effect on the outcome of the elections in which the Congress emerged as the largest single party. It only demonstrated the desperation felt by the Hindu fundamentalist parties. After all, as one Congress supporter put it, "Sonia is as Indian as Mother Theresa."

Other critics believe that she, like Mahatma Gandhi, has never really been interested in holding an official position in government. She could have probably taken over as prime minister when she rode the crest of the wave of national sympathy which followed the assassination of her husband.

But she chose instead to retreat into the background and keep her family out of politics. According to her aides, she appears to be more interested in defending and protecting India's secular traditions, by introducing a people-oriented government. She does not want to provide the pretext for further chauvinist attacks by the opposition that is bent on subverting the electoral verdict.

When the euphoria has finally died down, and Manmohan Singh begins to grapple with the onerous task of governing a population of a little over a billion people, historians will see Sonia Gandhi as an exceptional leader who achieved considerably more by giving up an assignment than by taking it, by reconstructing a largely comatose and moribund party and leading her followers to a stunning electoral victory.

Could there be a greater tribute? The Pakistan Foreign Office should take comfort from the fact that the new rulers of India are interested in continuing the peace process and further normalizing relations. This is a hopeful sign and augurs well for the future.



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