The Article has been published in Pakistan Today.
To be in harmony with a nefarious and unscrupulous system: this is not a plausible desideratum. It can be achieved only through disavowal of what surrounds us. Sadly, we are in complete harmony with our surroundings and ‘denial’ has become the most abundant renewable resource in our country. Denial of corruption being a nom rather than exception and the impunity of ruling elites from all sorts of accountability. Whatever could be legally gotten away with, is being tolerated through a passionate spinning of erroneous narrative, blaming someone for something and then everyone for everything. Repudiating our own contribution and moral inconsistencies, we are in a cognitive dissonance between political idealism and hard wired evolutionary psychology that sways man’s mind to be awed by the rich and powerful. We are overwhelmed with a presumptuous desire for being like them. Consequently we follow their footsteps.
We lie, cheat, intimidate and exploit others for personal gains. Those with particular advantages such as contacts and political connections are able to move more effectively within the system, trampling everyone else in their pursuit of happiness. Honesty and integrity are gone extinct. Morality requires authentication from some sort of superior authority. Ignorance gets celebrated and honored. As a result, we have insane idiots talking for us, while stealing everything from us. We are being lied to, cheated and intimidated. The three branches of control which includes government, establishment and bureaucracy. We are told that we are directing this insane three ring circus, an illusion that keeps us voting for a change that never comes. Voting simply placates, pacifies and preserves the illusion of choice, while transferring the guilt and responsibility onto the people. Until the reality impacts us to a point of extreme discomfort, we defend our fantasy of a benevolent government, run by altruistic public servants and true representatives of people.
It is the paradoxical nature of our co-creative ‘reality consensus’, which makes it nearly impossible to discuss the current conditions we’re existing within, without sounding insane, to the majority of dumbed down and trance induced people, who aren’t firing on all cylinders. The fact is, that we never had the choice to decide who will run the system and how. Initially it was British trained bureaucracy then dictatorship and eventually a civilian, chosen and promoted by the dictator. People were given the right to choose for the first time in 1970 and the results created serious problems. Out of 320 seats, 160 were won by a party belonging to East Pakistan, but the government was formed by a party winning 80 seats in West Pakistan. And then we blame external interference for 1971 incident. The only lesson learned by the powers behind the scene was, that people should not be allowed to choose, rather given an illusion of choice.
In retrospect, Pakistan has always been the case of elite adjustment and plutocracy. One administration got replaced by the other, while plunderers and blunderers came out with clean chit every time. Politicians and dictators have always been each other’s creation. Ayub Khan created Bhutto who then created Zia Ul Haq. Zia created Sharif brothers who in turn created Pervez Musharraf, who then created Chaudhary’s of Gujrat and few others. Creations had their differences with creators, but things remained strictly within the closed loop, revolving door politics of too much blame but no accountability. Everyone having dirty hands is ostensibly the reason. The ruling class, particularly the military and civil bureaucracy has no religion, caste, ethnicity or tribe, instead they have vested Interests that promotes the unsustainable plundering of social surplus.
This process of theft is unsustainable and it has severely limited qualitative development in exploited masses. A reality often disavowed, as we are in a comfortable complacency and not willing to face it. But the fact remains that we, have adapted to this unscrupulous paradigm, instead of resisting it. The latest report by Transparency International ranked Pakistan among the top most countries where corruption has gone rampant. We are moving on a path towards self-immolation without even realizing it, and will find ourselves in the dustbin of history in less than a century.
The question is, are we really aware of what’s actually going on in the country? How the oligarchs, schooled in the mechanisms of manipulation, subtle and overt repression and exploitation to protect their wealth and power at the expense of common man, are suppressing the qualitative development in exploited masses? Let’s have a look;
Professor Anatol Lieven of King’s College in his book Pakistan: A Hard Country quoted Dr. Mahbub ul-Haq (the renowned Pakistani economist who is credited with the idea of UNDP’s human development index –HDI); “every time a new political government comes in, they have to distribute huge amounts of state money and jobs as rewards to politicians who have supported them, and short term populist measures to try to convince the people that their election promises meant something, which leaves nothing for long-term development. As far as development is concerned, our system has all the worst features of oligarchy and democracy put together.”
Dr. Mahbub also said; “we have not been able to deregulate the economy, despite several years of trying, because the politicians and officials both like the system, Bhutto put in place. It suits them both very well, because it gave them lots of lucrative state-sponsored jobs in industry and banking to take for themselves or distribute to their relatives and supporters.”
Individuals belonging to the exclusive elite club, obtain loans to set up businesses and have their loans written off to get more. Loans waived off in Pakistan are far greater than anywhere else in the world. For the first time in history of Pakistan, a major crackdown was launched against the loan defaulters in November 1999 and government estimated the default amount at around PKR. 146 Billion. According to the figures provided by Governor SBP, Mukhtar Nabi Qureshi, 325 defaulters owe more than PKR. 100 million each amounting to PKR. 72 billion. About 590 legislators were defaulters of PKR. 9.64 billion, mostly of Agricultural Development Bank of Pakistan (ADBP). National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was entrusted to recover the loans from the defaulters but only 3% of the default amount was recovered during the campaign. Remaining 97% left unrecovered due to compromises, nepotism, deals and negotiations.
Lt Gen Shahid Aziz, a former Chairman NAB, while speaking to news media (referring to 6th & 8th Dec 2009) after expiry of two year’s mandatory period that prevented him to discuss service matters, said; “I was appointed as the NAB chairman with a pre-condition that I would not open old cases against politicians and other prominent people and was pressurized into formally closing down cases against politicians supporting Gen Musharraf. I was told repeatedly not to create problems and not to destabilize the government, otherwise the system would collapse. They (the president and his team) gave a strange logic that corruption and economic development goes hand in hand”. He quoted Lt Gen Khalid Maqbool, a former NAB Chairman, as saying while trying to convince him that: “If you stop corruption, there will be no development. If ministers and politicians are not given personal benefits in contracts, why would they pursue development schemes? They have to be given personal incentives such as awarding contracts to their sons and kinship.” Try to read the mindset of Oligarchy.
Ten years later, the loan defaulter’s list was placed before the Supreme Court but deferred because Shareef family was also among the defaulters and CJP Iftikhar Chaudhary, being the part of their feudal legion, had to protect them. Instead of taking action, he ordered constituting a commission for loan recovery. Till today, not a single loan has been recovered, not a single property confiscated and not a single man is jailed or convicted. In Pakistan it is very old and tested technique that if the government or the court wants to thin out some issue or to detract people’s attention, or to make the fools forget corruption; make out a commission or committee. The poor people having short memory will forget everything including the fact that Pakistan owes approximately $ 65 billion to IMF, its people owe $ 75 billion as internal debt and the current government has signed another $ 35 billion as external debt from China. They will not even remember that London financial market indicators have already contemplated a default-like scenario for Pakistan recently.
It is an open secret that over the past few decades, Pakistan’s ruling elite has transferred huge amounts of money to Swiss and other banks. This money, generated through illegal activities by rapacious politicians, avaricious bureaucrats, terrorist and drug-for-arms networks and greedy businessmen, was never declared for tax purposes. Pakistan’s black economy is said to be three times its regular economy. In 1996, a lawyer Javed Iqbal Jafree filed a petition against political leaders holding assets abroad and requested the court to issue notices named in the petition. The petitioner alleged that the respondent politicians transferred at least 300 billion US dollars to foreign countries through money laundering. He said by doing this the politicians caused a huge loss to the national exchequer. Subsequently, court notices were issued but for lack of any follow-up measures, the case has remained pending.
On October 1, 2010, the Swiss Parliament passed the historic “Return of Illicit Assets Act” (RIAA) to make it possible for developing countries to recover billions of dollars shifted to Swiss banks by their unscrupulous ruling elites. In October 2011, then Senator Muhammad Ali Durrani filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court for the recovery of about “500 billion dollars looted from Pakistan and kept abroad in unnamed bank accounts in the West and also in the shape of unnamed properties operated through agents and the front-men for the corrupt Pakistani politicians, civil and military bureaucrats and businessmen. Once again no serious action taken by courts and no serious attempts have been ever made by the NAB, FBR, FIA, Anti-Narcotics Force and other government agencies to conduct an in-depth study to quantify the magnitude of black money and the amounts shifted abroad.
It is to be noted that Pakistan is a resource rich country and its natural resources including Gold, Copper and Concrete at Riko Diq alone are estimated at a value of around $300 billion. Who is extracting these resources and who is benefiting from the deals? BHP Billiton initially signed the exploration license with the Balochistan government in 1993, forming Tethyan Copper Company (TCC) later in Australia, having 75 per cent and 25 per cent stake respectively. With gold and copper established in substantial quantity, BHP sold its stake, 37.5 per cent each to the Chilean conglomerate, Antofagasta Minerals and Canadian company Barrick Gold. Why the agreement was signed so secretly and not debated with people? Who gave the waiver to BHP Billiton to transfer its 75 per cent share in the TCC? Was the agreement in accordance to the local laws? Apparently not, because when PPP government was trying to renew the agreement with TCC, a three-judge bench of Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry gave its ruling that the agreement of July 1993 was in conflict with the laws of the country. TCC then filed compensatory claims in the international arbitration court.
Interestingly, soon after the change of government, Iftikhar Chaudhary got his son Arsalan Chaudhary, appointed as vice-chairman of the Balochistan Investment Board and this appointment was Reko Diq-specific. Spokesperson of PML(N) Mushahidullah Khan defended this appointment, stating it as a reward for Iftikhar Chaudhry’s services to the nation. Services to the nation or services for Sharif Family? Arsalan Iftikhar later announced an open global tender for Riko Diq, attracting widespread criticism, and was forced to resign. Meanwhile Arsalan also got involved in a scandal with Malik Riaz and both parties were found guilty of massive tax evasion. Surprisingly no action was taken against either of the two. Malik Riaz Hussain, a former military contractor, turned billionaire within a short span, has been involved in quite a few controversies. A former Chairman NAB in his interview to Dawn on 8th Dec 2009 pointed out that once Gen Musharraf personally called him and said; “drop the name of Malik Riaz Hussain from the exit control list. As President of Pakistan, I give my personal guarantee that he would not run away. Isn’t a personal guarantee of the President of Pakistan sufficient to satisfy you?” Malik Riaz was one of prime accused in a multi-million-forest land scam and his name was subsequently removed from ECL. Ironically, the jails of our country are filled with petty thieves and poor people under long pre-trial detentions, while the robber barons are getting saluted and honored for their atrocities and malfeasance.
Currently, the PML (N) Government is trying to get an out-of-court settlement with TCC on Riko Diq, in an attempt to plunder whatever they can, just like its predecessor, the PPP government. As usual the oligarchs are doing their dirty work, all in the name of people, while people are being kept occupied with the dominant myths like Indian threat, Kashmir’s liberation, Islamization vs secularization, war against terrorism and democracy vs dictatorship.
The three ring circus has always been backed by various elite groups. Whether it was the stock market barons minting money from an artificially stable economy and a fictitious boom during Musharraf’s regime, whether it was real estate barons and commodity speculators making fortunes during Zardari’s era, all followed the same pattern of defending each other’s plunders and blunders. The current regime of PML (N) is on its way to break all the previous records of corruption. What trickles down is being grabbed by the opportunists such as political activists, bureaucrats, contractors, media anchors, journalists, members of academia and civil society, lawyers and businessmen, leaving 99 percent of the population deprived, clueless and completely out of the picture.
A question that is never asked. What are we paying them for?
As Lawrence Ferlinghetti said; “Pity the nation that raises not its voice, except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero … pity the people who allow their rights to erode and their freedoms to be washed away.”