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View from US: PPP’s last tango

July 07, 2012

Think hard. And anything is possible. Even in Pakistan. No, I don’t mean the lady in a sling off-the-shoulder dress with long legs sheathed in tights surrounded by staged vintage décor including wall hanging bazookas reminiscent of the Raj telling the New York Times “we’re not all a bunch of terrorists with beards.” Zahraa Saifullah Khan, publisher of Hello! Pakistan, thinks it helpful to showcase seductive couture.

Forget the softer image baloney that pseudo-liberals in Pakistan dole out to the outside world. Let’s get down to hard news like people’s power. The genie who can work magic is Pakistan People’s Party. More specifically Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. Now, now… don’t go rolling your eyes and start calling me crackbrained! I know the man carries extra baggage like accusations of taking kickbacks on the privately funded power plants and with the money buying property in London thereby earning the nickname ‘Raja Rental.’

If you believe in miracles, then suspend your disbelief. Reserve your judgement. Think perhaps Providence has given Ashraf an opportunity to rectify the wrong he has allegedly wrought on the people of Pakistan by willfully depriving them of electricity.

If Ashraf is able to reverse his role – instead of a taker, he becomes a giver; we will hail him as Bijli ka Raja. Were he to get down to work as we speak, he may yet woo back the investors who can revive the plants left to rot after the party chief reportedly shooed them away. Even threatening to grab some for himself. I personally know of one such case, where the investor had to flee in the darkness of the night for fear of his life when he refused to sell his flourishing power generation plant. I know of another businessman who travelled from US to Islamabad accompanied by American investors who held meetings with the highest in the land to secure the deal. When all was done and the team was to fly back to the US, lo and behold, they got a midnight knock from our head honcho in security demanding 30 per cent commission for himself!

“That’s it!” declared the investors. “We’re out of here!”

The above two incidents are just a sample of the kind of corruption that ‘democracy’ has bequeathed. I say again: Raja Ashraf with the blessings of his president can yet restore power to the people by giving them gas and electricity. Just stop being greedy. And all will be well.

Stop the helipad in Gujjar Khan! Kill the plan! It is unconscionable. Stay humble. Never forget your modest beginnings. At a multi-storey apartment building in Islamabad which is ready to be occupied but cannot be handed over to the owners because the government will not sanction a gas connection (layers of palm greasing being the case), I get a full profile of our new prime minister. The year is 2010 and Raja Ashraf is the minister for water and power. A man sitting behind the booking desk inside the sale’s office tells me of the time when Ashraf rode a “scooter” selling houses to prospective buys. “He was a small-time realtor and look where he’s reached today!” Well, give credit to the man for successfully climbing up the power pole. Not everyone can frog jump to the top. But having reached the pinnacle, Ashraf slipped and fell flat on his face when he continued giving us a date for load shedding to end. The only road where electricity never went off was the one leading to the minister’s official residence in Islamabad. It was always lit bright while the rest of the capital swallowed the darkness.

Perhaps, a purified spirit now inhabits the PM’s soul.

Another gentleman who promised us a better lifestyle is our reigning army chief. Perhaps he too has forgotten what he vowed to the people of Pakistan a year ago. General Kayani told his generals that he wanted the US aid meant for the military to be converted to civilian assistance. He thought that money being spent to support Pakistan’s defence forces was more urgently needed for “reducing the burden on the common man.”

Nobel sentiments; honourable aspirations; virtuous gesture. But what next? How does one know that the money for the army was indeed diverted to “reducing the burden on the common man” as pledged by the Army Chief? Can the GHQ give us a breakdown of the money that their chief has diverted towards the welfare of the common man? But first, let’s get a handle on the term ‘common man.’ Is he just a number?

Okay, the apology from Americans for killing our soldiers is necessary, but while ‘yes-you-will, no-we-won’t’ Tom and Jerry runaround continues, is it not in the fitness of things that General Kayani should be pushing the Americans to help us with our energy deficit? The Wapda chairman has already pronounced his verdict. Last summer, Shakeel Durrani spoke out loud and clear before the National Assembly Standing Committee on Water and Power. He said that load shedding will continue till 2018. It is the seven-year itch, according to the man who should know.

In simple math, the ‘itch’ is 2,557 days.

Since General Kayani’s former boss is wholly responsible for bringing upon us the scourge of load shedding, does it not fall on COAS’s soldiery shoulders to rescue the country now? The army has already blown $20 billion from the Americans. Is it not the turn of the citizens to enjoy the fruits of funds so generously given out to the generals, admirals and air marshals and their underlings now?

“Energy crisis is worse than terrorism,” declared the president of Pakistan Economy Watch (PEW) Dr Murtaza Mughal. Instead of making such la-di-da statements, we would have been better served if he had sent his suggestions to General Kayani. Maybe Mughal did, but the advice never reached the General’s desk as it got intercepted by the GHQ security/ personal assistants/ stenos.

Cynics may say that neither Raja Ashraf nor Kayani can salve the suffering of the people facing 12-14 hours of load shedding. That is indeed true. But they can at least try and get help from any crusader ready to wage a war against the blackout.

The last word is: raja kee aye gi baraat, rangeeli ho gi raat…