These are interesting times for the Pakistani people. How else to view two gifted brothers, raised in the safe and secure ambience of military cantonments, competing for political careers in opposite camps?
They are not playing the script of any old Bollywood film where one brother would rise in the police force and the other in the underworld and their confrontation predictably ending in the good triumphing over the bad.
Our two brothers too are in a confrontation but to save the national economy, one for the collective good and the other … Well for the same but by putting the levers of economy in private hands. There could have been two brother more separated ideologically than Asad Umar of PTI and Muhammad Zubair of the PML-N.
And they are different from the two brothers who competed for popular support in the united Pakistan of the 1960s – Field Marshal Ayub Khan as President of the Islamic Republic and Sardar Bahadur Khan as the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly.
Times have changed. Today politics demands intellect, and economic management more so.
Our present day competing brothers, sons of an army general, received the best education and peaked in their careers in the corporate world – Umar in the national industrial giant Engro and Zubair in the American multinational IBM before they plunged into politics.
For their political careers, Umar chose the rough and tumble of PTI and sits in the National Assembly. Zubair went for the secure and resilient PML-N and sits in the Privatisation Commission as its chairman. They have little common in their jobs, except, perhaps, the swivel chairs they sit in.
They are often found arguing their divergent views on privatisation of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the print and electronic media.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his economic team are intent upon privatising some 30 SOEs, which they say have become an unbearable burden on the national exchequer because of gross mismanagement.
Recently Mr Zubair said the government did not have the money to keep the giants like PIA and the Pakistan Steel Mills floating. “Yes, the government has the capacity and can turn them around who will guarantee that next government repeats the mistake of our predecessors (the PPP) and rip them apart again?” he asked. In his opinion privatisation is “the permanent solution”, as the PML-N did in the 1990s “with good results”.
That view his brother Umar has challenged in the National Assembly and most recently in a newspaper article, which dismissed the results of “the 1990s privatisation under the IMF stabilization programme” as dismal.
To support his dismissal, he quoted from an evaluation report of the Asian Development Bank issued in 1998 that only 22 percent of the privatised SOEs were found performing better under private-sector management and 34 percent of the units’ performance had worsened.
Umar fears the PML-N’s latest privatisation plan “may be the grand sale of the century”. He debunks the claim that the 31 SOEs put on the line were a drain on government finances.
He wrote, “The budget documents that government paid Rs367 billion in FY13 (financial year 2012-13) to SOEs for subsidies/losses out of which Rs350 billion, or 95 percent, was accounted by only two entities – Wapda and KESC. As we know, KESC (new name Karachi Electric) is now a privatised entity. If we take out Wapda and KESC, the losses of the SOEs paid by the government in the FY13 budget were only 18 billion.”