Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Praising Military Regimes

At times I get somewhat allergic to unsolicited advice given by Pakistanis who have left the country for better pastures abroad.

Most of these people are enjoying all the freedoms that come with living in democracies, nevertheless some of them insist on advocating a continuation of the dictatorial rule in Pakistan; perhaps the worst of these are retired international bureaucrats from the Bretton Woods institutions residing comfortably in suburbs near their city of former employment, Washington DC.

The faceless bureaucrats of World Bank and the IMF, who followed instructions from the U.S. Treasury Department, are indeed responsible for making a complete botch of developing world economies. Their mindless obsession with sweeping free market reforms is directly responsible for destroying the livelihood of millions of the poorest citizens of the world.

If you don’t believe me then please Google and look up what 2001 Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, a former chief economist at the World Bank, has to say. Stiglitz resigned his job after becoming completely disillusioned with the incompetence and irresponsible practices indulged at the IMF and the World Bank.

And please don’t think that all the people who get into these Bretton Woods institutions get there purely on merit; like the United Nations favouritism and cronyism goes a long way. Many of the Pakistanis working at the World Bank are believed to have got there because of Moin Qureshi. (In the late 80s there was ‘some chatter in the international banking world of a Qureshi-created Pakistani ‘mafia’ at the World Bank).


So with the World Bank high on my personal list of odium, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my bĂȘte noire of the day happens to be an ex-World Banker by the name of Shahid Javed Burki, who took it upon himself to write a rejoinder to The Economist’s political survey on Pakistan.

See my previous Blogs:
The Economist : Pakistan Desperately Needs Democracy
The Economist: Problem in Pakistan is Musharraf

Here are some excerpts from Shahid Javed Burki’s op-ed piece
Is Pakistan in a mess?

Burki wrote:

Let me begin with the state of politics. That the military has intervened four times in Pakistan’s nearly 60 years of existence is a fact of history. The first time the military ventured into politics was in October 1958. It came in because of both conviction as well as personal ambition. At that time most observers of the Pakistani scene recognised that the politicians had created a big mess — they had practised putrid politics. They had struggled for almost 10 years before giving the country a constitution, they continued to play “palace politics” even after the constitution was promulgated.

Wrong, the military was involved in politics soon after the pushy Ayub Khan took over as the C-in-C.

For instance in October 1954 when Prime Minister Bogra returned to Pakistan from Washington he was, according to newspapers, ‘met by the largest crowd since those that had greeted the popular Liaquat Ali Khan’. But then, as the British High Commissioner informed the UK Foreign Office, Bogra ‘was hustled into a car by a couple of Pakistani generals and taken straight to the governor-general’s house’.

The autocratic governor-general, with Ayub Khan at his side, then dismissed the National (Constituent) Assembly, declared a ban on public meetings and imposed press censorship.
Shortly afterwards he announced a new government which effectively handed over real authority to just two men: Major-General Iskander Mirza, the interior minister and General Ayub Khan, the new defence minister.

Burki lashes out at the politicians of the 1950s, whom he accuses of practicing ‘putrid politics’. On taking a closer look at the late 1950s when prime ministers came and went like bowling pins, one soon discovers that the political chaos was largely orchestrated by Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan’s backroom shenanigans. These two did not want anyone to threaten their grip on power. With the press already in shackles the uninformed public of the new country could only blame the figures squabbling on the political stage, quite unaware of the puppeteers manipulating the strings from behind and creating the ‘putrid’ scene for their own personal benefit.
Extolling the virtues of military rule Burki then writes:
While this is not the space to write a paean to the performance of the first military government,Ayub Khan’s 11 years in office still represent a golden era in Pakistan’s history.

While Mr Burki will find more space one day to write paeans to Ayub Khan, it should not be forgotten the plagues of corruption and nepotism were given birth by the self-inflated Field Marshal. Since then these twin cankers of national destruction have spread, spread and spread.

And one should not forget the substantial economic disparities between the East and West wings that were created during this so-called 'golden era' of Ayub Khan, which would then lead to rebelion in East Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh.

It should also be remembered that it was this fatuous ‘Field marshal’ who recklessly embarked on the ‘65 war with India, in the childish belief that ‘one Muslim soldier was equivalent to ten Hindu ones’. This was a war that destroyed Pakistan’s bid for prosperity seemingly for good. (Being an economist, it might do Mr Burki some good to re-examine the 1965 war and its economic after-effects).

Then eulogizing Musharraf, Burki writes:

I continue to maintain — as I have done on a number of occasions in these columns — that of the four military men who have gone on to become president, General Pervez Musharraf is the only one who does not seem to have been propelled by personal ambition. He didn’t carry out the coup that placed him in power; it was done on his behalf by a group of senior generals who were not prepared to accept the manner in which the prime minister sought to change the military leader.

A dose of cold hard reality would insist that an operational plan for the coup was already in place - after all that is how any army operates – in the event Nawaz Sharif opted to sack Musharraf. I am sure if Musharraf had been present in Pakistan he would have led the coup personally. And a nervous Nawaz Sharif, who was already anticipating a military takeover (and had privately complained to the US President seeking his help), then tried to pre-empt the coup by sacking Musharraf while he was mid-air between Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

So Burki by purposefully splitting hairs lauds Musharraf for not being ‘propelled by personal ambition’ just because he was not in place to carry out the coup himself. Obviously, if Musharraf had been present in Pakistan he would have led the coup that helped him retain his job. The fact of the matter is that he wasn’t physically present in Pakistan, so his subordinate generals simply carried out his set of instructions in his absence.

Coincidently I was at lunch yesterday where a senior and well known ex-federal bureaucrat was holding forth to the assembled company in a manner common to most retired officials. Then out of the blue he began quoting Burki’s eulogy to Musharraf, especially the bit about him not being a ‘propelled by personal ambition’ – obviously this statement seems to have got other people’s goat as well.

When I asked the ex-bureaucrat why he thought Burki had praised military regimes and Musharraf in particular, the former bureaucrat snappily replied, ‘He was a caretaker minister a number of years ago, and right now he appears to be looking for a job with the current military regime’.

I guess it must be tough to be a superannuated has-been in the wilderness of surburban District Columbia.

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