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Capital bits and bobs

February 02, 2014


IT’S been one of those weeks, so let’s deal in bite-size nuggets. Here, in no particular order, is the chatter on Pak.

Musharraf: When Nawaz turned up in parliament, Mush and his lawyers knew everything was riding on that one speech: if a military operation was announced, the trial was dead in the water.

There’s just no way you can send soldiers to their death while simultaneously going after their former chief for treason.

Theoretically, it could be argued that those parallel events could strengthen the democratic order. But let’s get serious. This is Pakistan. An operation in NWA and the trial would have been over.

So now what? Now it has to move quickly. A few weeks, a month tops. Anything longer and uncertainty will creep in again.

Right now, the ducks are lined up for the prosecution. The fabled Jadoogar of Jeddah has missed a step or two, perhaps misreading the national mood and maybe his client’s too.

Nawaz is solidly behind a trial and has assured everyone involved that he won’t blink. (Of course, the pre-speech nervousness exposed the fickleness of a politician’s word.)

The outside powers are suggesting they’re OK with a trial and conviction as long as there’s a quick pardon and ticket out of Pakistan.

But ducks in a row for the prosecution still means someone’s got to knock ’em over. Which is why the word from the prosecution is: this has to move fast.

Meanwhile, the word on the prosecution is that it may have led Nawaz into a right ol’ mess by convincing him that a trial would be quick and clean.

Talks: We already know that everybody was ambushed by the talks-again talk of Nawaz. So what will it take to take talks off the table?

Let’s not pussyfoot around: Punjab will have to burn. Like it did in ’09, ’10.

Karachi burns? They’re a bunch of maniacs anyway. Peshawar? They’re used to it. Quetta? Who cares. Fata? It’s not really part of Pakistan.

But Punjab. Lahore is the mother lode; Isloo an irresistible international headline; but even the lesser abodes matter much. If that sounds offensive to many an ear, it is — and because everyone knows it’s true.

There’s another angle to it though, one already mooted. If Nawaz is going to march on the TTP, he’s going to make sure it’s a three-legged march — with Imran strapped to his side.

The reason is obvious. There’s only one threat to Fortress Sharif in Punjab: you-know-who. Except, the maths of the argument as usually presented is a bit off.

Nawaz is plenty shrewd. He knows the chances of him getting wiped out or overrun in Punjab are low — even if it’s Imran on the other side.

But Nawaz’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. To stay relevant nationally, to vie for power at the centre, Nawaz doesn’t just have to hold Punjab, he has to utterly dominate it.

With no real base outside the province and Punjab’s population set to hover around 50pc of the national whole, the political maths is clear: PML-N wins power nationally only if it completely sweeps Punjab. Like it did last May.

And the only person who can dent a Punjab sweep — and thus force the PML-N into noxious coalition politics — is, yes, him: Imran.

So best to keep him strapped to your side when taking the single biggest risk with your prized possession. If Punjab suffers, Nawaz sure as hell won’t let Imran get away with claiming it’s Nawaz’s fault.

Privatisation: Or call it Mansha-isation. The lurid tales you’ve heard already? All true. Evidence of epic corruption as yet? No.

It’s not just Mansha. Everywhere you look, billionaires with money to spend and/or a decent credit line — and there’s a fair few of them — are salivating at the thought of the goodies about to be offered up.

Meanwhile, the quasi-socialists — barely outnumbering the billionaires — are bleating about fat cats and how privatisation doesn’t work. Surprise, surprise, neither side is telling the whole truth.

The basic PML-N philosophy is simple, and ugly: the rich are meant to look after the poor, so make the rich richer and they’ll be able to look after more of the poor.

Implemented from within the state that means selling off assets to the few who can afford them and throwing fistfuls of cash at the poor — lower middle class, really — via the pet schemes that characterise PML-N governments.

It’s a hybrid, private-public type of patronage state they want — and of course it won’t work because it’s patronising and ugly.

The basic PPP-type, anti-privatisation philosophy is also simple, and equally ugly: the rich are meant to look after the poor, and since no one is as rich as the state with its endless supply of money and credit, let everyone suckle at the teats of the state.

It’s not like anyone in the anti-privatisation camp really believes the state is any good at running businesses. The nakedly political view is that it’s a good way to give people jobs for free.

The slightly more nuanced view is that when the state is broken and the economy so thoroughly skewed towards special interests, why deny a few billion in salaries to tens of thousands of families who genuinely need it to get by?

Bottom line: nobody is talking about the stuff that truly turns around economies — good structures and well-thought-out reforms.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm