Ex-chairman SITE Association— Karachi
Mar 31 - Apr 06, 2003 



The world is teetering between becoming a simmering cauldron, as it is on the precipice of an impending war, and edging into a global village where there would be apparently no trade restrictions, no heavy-handed obstructions in people movement, and no unilateral discriminations. The advent of the WTO regime that is practically round the corner has initiated a paradigm shift in the international relations mindset of many a nation. The looming thought that is paramount for us is what is in store for Pakistan.

Let us begin with the aftermath of the 9/11 episode. Pakistan was again propelled into the front ranks, this time with a lingering suspicion whether we would go all the way in the war against terrorism. Of course, the underlying factor this time was that the word "terrorist" was synonymous with the word "Muslim" and this created a schism between the Islamic nations and the US-led coalition. The rout of the Taliban and the disappearance of Osama Bin Laden from Afghanistan put pressure on the Pakistani government since it was declared that his exodus was into Pakistan. Thus Pakistan was engulfed in a paradoxical situation. While countries like USA, Canada, Japan, and the European nations were busy pledging and promising debt relief, loan write-offs, and fresh funding to us, we were, at the same time, subject to intensively negative projection in the western media. We were being accused of harboring terrorists, we were being accused of cross-border terrorism, and we were being accused of exporting nuclear technology. Moreover, certain global events taking place, subsequently again fanned the putrid hate campaign against our country. The Bali nightclub bombing, the Mombassa resort blast, and the Naples swoop saw Pakistanis being the first to be arrested and the name of our nation again taken with obvious venom.

The world had just gotten out of the shadows of the Afghan War when Washington decided to complete its unfinished agenda in Iraq. The world focus shifted to Baghdad and the western press got another opportunity to spike up its malicious campaign against the Islamic Ummah. Saddam was and is being vilified and the American forces have geared up for attack at a moment's notice. The Pentagon calls this strategy as "shock and awe" and is designed to bring Saddam and his cohorts to their knees and create catastrophic consequences. It is again the "you-are-with-us-or-against-us" syndrome. President Bush and his advisors are hell-bent on achieving their objective of getting rid of Saddam and "liberating" the Iraqis from the yoke of despondency that was their fate during the despotic Saddam regime. However, inspite of the American "or-else" ultimatum, the world has witnessed an unprecedented rejection of the American point of view. The United Nations Security Council, which had time and again proved to be the handmaiden of the United States, showed its pragmatic side in full glory. Only four countries support the US contention while the permanent members have vociferously expressed their disdain over the American stand.

The world is waiting with baited breath for the next American move. Meantime, the US media continues its vilification campaign. We saw how some US journalists tried to link Pakistan with North Korea. We were accused of exporting our nuclear technology to Pyongyang in order for North Korea to become another member of the exclusive nuclear club. Since North Korea is one of the three countries designated as the "axis of evil" by Washington, this accusation of supplying nuclear technology gained added importance. Notwithstanding the loud denials from Islamabad, the western newspapers and television harped on and on much to the delight of our eastern neighbor too. The INS issue further put Pakistan on the spot. Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri had to air dash to Washington to convey the country's concerns. Although it was futile to think otherwise, the government accumulated some political mileage out of this yatra. Pakistanis continue to be under the microscope in USA.

Coming to the home front, Pakistan has a democratically elected government and lately, the Senate elections have been completed too. Pakistan can look forward to sensible decisions being taken in the Parliament and the four Provincial Assemblies. The devolution scheme, inspite of hic-cups and resentment, allows decision making at the grassroots level all over the country. The world wanted a democratic set-up in the country, and the President provided the "guided democracy" that was his objective. Prime Minister Jamali is getting his bearings in place and hopes to fulfil his manifesto and turn his vision into reality. Of course, all this is dependent upon the ramifications of the Iraqi imbroglio that would be the decisive factor of things to come in the very near future.



What then is the immediate scenario for Pakistan? The answers may sound ominous and there would be some recourse to a doom and gloom mental mode. Yet, the thinking should be rational and on a practical level. We are at a critical juncture and we are located in an area that would be very much impacted by the consequences of a war in Iraq. We have to face the fact that we depend on Middle East for oil and, overall, we are net importers. The rise in oil prices has already put a marked strain on our economy and if this escalation continues, then we could see a major disruption in economic activity. We can brace ourselves for extended load-shedding, for high gasoline prices, for abnormal rise in gas rates, and for increase in transport charges. We should understand that we would be again subject to War Risk Insurance, this time at a higher cost than what was prevalent during the Afghan War. We must be ready to tighten our belts and our development projects may come to an impasse.

Our exports would surely enter into a reversal mode, as our global importers would be unsure of getting their consignments in time. Moreover, the foreign buyers would extract as much discounts as they could since we would be with our backs to the wall. The self-expressed notion that is gaining circulation in our country that Pakistan could be next has made life more difficult.

Is Pakistan ready to face the onslaught of sinister external factors or are we perpetually in a state of inertia? Are we waiting for manna to fall from heaven or are we prepared with a concept that would steer the country out of the anticipated deluge? Would Pakistan manage to come out of the situation unscathed or would we be the secondary target doomed towards oblivion? The answer lies in creating an effective synergy between the policy-makers and the concerned citizens. There has, so far, been just a bare outline of the strategy to survive this horrid scenario. The government has not taken the country into confidence, and there have been sporadic attempts to create a euphoria that Pakistan is in full readiness. We are obviously aiming for a replay of the Afghan War and hoping to cash in the bounties that would come our way. Events may not turn out in the manner we earnestly desire. We are still in slumber land as far as our ideas go. We would be the recipients of such repulsive and sickening media blitz against us that we would compel ourselves to believe that we are the root cause of evil. The Indians would find every conceivable excuse to impose their hegemony over the South Asian countries and create uncontrollable havoc in the Kashmir valley. We have witnessed the Indians resort to futile and destructive terror attacks in Kashmir. Isn't this blatant state terrorism practiced by New Delhi or not? Do the Western policy makers consider this as justified? Suffice to say that the Indian obduracy would be further solidified by its massive lobbying assault at international fora. Pakistan has been deficient in universal promotion of ideas and opinions. This has affected us seriously and we are never able to effectively project Pakistan in a true positive sense.

We have to understand the fact that the poor countries have been and are being oppressed and terrorized by the rich countries. Naturally, the poor are bitter and angry and have lost faith in justice and honor. If terrorism is a response to terrorism, then terrorism will prevail, and all such terror acts would then be deemed imperative to attain whatever is the objective. So we are now between the devil and the deep blue sea. We have to justify each and every action when we are being looked upon with suspicion and contempt.

What about the good side? Well we have to display resiliency and get out of the depressing stupor that is our bane. We can exhibit a positive outlook by getting our act together. We can surmount the impending problems with comparative ease if we put our house in order immediately. We have to become one nation in letter and in spirit. We have to shun the sectarian differences, we have to shed the parochial aggressiveness, and we have to divest the slavish mentality that is rife in our daily lives. We have to develop self-esteem and must re-orient ourselves to the ground realities. We have a lot of miles to cover and we have to do that in a firmly united way. We are fortunate to receive massive infusion of foreign remittances, thanks to new worldwide banking rules. We thus have ample breathing space to maneuver and this could really be needed in the months to come.

We have survived the Afghan conflict and we have edged forward. Advisor to the Prime Minister on Finance, Senator Shaukat Aziz, has just presented the Mid-Year Review of the Economic Performance. He is optimistic about the economy and sees significant signs of recovery. The Report states that "notwithstanding subdued world economic outlook, sluggish global trade, rising international price of oil, and uncertainty arising out of the threat of war in Iraq, Pakistan's economy has once again showed remarkable resiliency. The performance of the economy during the first seven months of the current fiscal year are encouraging." The foreign exchange reserves are something to be proud of, the exports are well on target, agricultural products are remarkably in abundance, stock exchange is bubbling with frenzied activity, foreign investment is flowing in, tax revenue figures are making the CBR hierarchy smile broadly, debt situation is well under control, and poverty alleviation schemes are understandably quite focused. We have managed to survive with our heads held high.

Hairet Hai Ke Toofan Se Hum Kaisay Guzr Aai Shahid Abhi Duniya Ko Zaroorat Hai Hamari

We, therefore, have to see what the future holds for the nation. The immediate worry is the Middle East imbroglio. Pakistan is again in a central and pivotal position in the global scenario. We are members of the UN Security Council and are perched precariously on the fence in the Iraqi matter. As is always the case, whatsoever is decided by the policymakers will of course be the nation's policy. The majority of citizens are against the war and this is becoming a serious anti-American issue. The government is keeping its cards close to its chest and thus there is no clear-cut idea where we are headed for. Nevertheless, the powers that be are considering all options even though the options are sorely limited. The matter is very sensitive and it would have monumental implications for the country.

The damned-if-we-do-and-damned-if-we-don't situation is definitely disturbing. The scenario calls for taking the nation into confidence. So far, we have heard words of caution from the highest quarters that Pakistan could be next. We have seen protest marches and rallies, although these are poor imitations of what went on in Western capitals. We have seen foreigners making a beeline for the nearest airport all set to leave our shores for presumably safe havens.



Another aggravating factor is the return of the natives from foreign lands. The Pakistani brain went out for quality life and a peaceful and safe environment for the family. The changing scenario is driving them back home where suddenly things seems better than their new abodes. These Pakistanis are bringing back money, skills, and ideas. However, they may not have jobs or positions to make their return worthwhile. This time, they have no choice. If they left after burning all boats, then they are in for some difficult days. If they have families and assets here, then there is a cushion for them to rest upon. If they are returning after a long gap, then adjustment would become wearisome. Alongwith them, there are others who are returning home, albeit per force. These are the expatriates who have been in the Middle East, either doing menial jobs, or driving vehicles, or making their money as petty shopkeepers. This would also put a severe drain on the economic activities, as they would be strong contenders for the meager employment opportunities available in the country. There would be many returnees who would be displaced once the US-Iraqi conflict flares up and they would be compelled to head home. One more worrisome factor that is actually a continued saga is the inflow of refugees and illegal immigrants into the country. The uncertainties in Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, and even Afghanistan, result in this illegal influx of people into the country.

All factors point towards an immediate and imperative answer to any of the three scenarios related to the US-Iraqi conflict. The first is where the United States goes solo or with whoever is with Washington, even though the Security Council, and that includes Pakistan, is emphatically against attacking Iraq. Pakistan can go with the broader world opinion but it would have to cross tentacles with USA. Would that be in the larger interest of the country considering the fact that nearly a quarter of the exports are to USA and considering the fact that Britain is side-by-side with Washington in this matter? Are we ready to face petroleum shortages, edible oil shortages, and food shortages? What will happen to our industries if the export orders are cancelled? Do we have a game plan to absorb the unemployed? Would IMF, World Bank, ADB, etc look favorably towards Pakistan when we have annoyed Big Brother? It is high time a Crisis Management Council is set up at the highest level that should be empowered to take immediate concrete measures to ensure price stability and establish guidelines in case of a war in Middle East.

The protestors want to boycott American goods. Easier said than done, because there is always the other side. What if the discerning customer in Muncie, Indiana or in Stillwater, Oklahoma organizes a movement to boycott our products? Think before you leap. Would our leaders contemplate in a rational manner by going with the Bush program or would they go along with the tide that is very much agitated over American policy? The dice is loaded against Pakistan and the gains that we accumulated during our stint as a frontline state against terrorism precludes any deviation from this frontline state position. The Afghan War did not bring formidable market access for our textiles nor did we get any tariff advantage even though our case was strong, even though we fought hard to convince Washington, and even though we had toed the US contention unconditionally.

The second option is that United Nations gives its approval to the US-sponsored Resolution and in this way, either there is a limited war or Saddam Hussein is forced into exile. Most probably, a pro-American regime would be then installed and assurances given for a freer flow of oil to the developed nations. In this scenario, the Pakistani government is given enough ammunition to convince the populace that it is a universal decision and that this nation is an integral part of the United Nations and thus world opinion matters. Pakistan may get fringe benefits for the support she is providing but it would not be substantial. We may have the usual backlash in the domestic streets, but it would become lukewarm as time went by. A large number of Middle Eastern nations have only protested in a tepid manner and this demonstrates their tacit approval of US policy.



That leaves the third option for Pakistan to consider. We declare our total support and backing to whatever is decided by the United States and the coalition. We throw our weight and vote behind the US and UK moves to oust Saddam and his cronies. Our vote is crucial in the 15-member Security Council. The other permanent members, France, Germany, Russia, and China, veto the US-sponsored Resolution and they have some support from the other non-permanent members. The war is on and the situation becomes dangerous, but we are with USA. There are riots in the streets of Pakistan, there are massive demonstrations in small towns and villages, and there is uproar in the Parliament. The government is with Bush and Blair. The European Union is flabbergasted with the Pakistani stand and announces restrictions on Pakistani products to Europe. War Risk Insurance is heavily levied and trade barriers are put in place. Washington is happy with Islamabad and the General is once again favourist of the US media. Colin Powell announces that Pakistan would get substantial market access for textiles on an immediate basis, but the politicians from the Southern States warn about a filibuster in Congress against this concession. We would get debt relief, we would get new financing for our poverty alleviation programs, we would get more funds from USAID, and we would be considered a true friend. Sadly, we would neither get additional market access nor would we be exonerated from the various accusations that are routinely directed against us.

All in all, no matter what the options or what the scenario, one thing is sure. We would support USA whether we want to or not. We are not in a situation where we can say good-bye to the American market. We do not have oil and gas in plenty that we can do without external assistance. We have a belligerent neighbor who is breathing down our necks. We do not have a strong intra-regional trade regime that would enable us to sell our goods and products in this region. We are still talking about SAPTA and SAFTA while India and Sri Lanka are already partners in trade thru the Free Trade Agreement. We are getting billions of dollars worth of smuggled and under-invoiced goods from our time-tested friend China and also from some ASEAN countries while our industries are suffocating. We are not getting too much support from Middle Eastern nations because these countries are pragmatic and do immense trade with India and other countries in the region. We should be worried about the Tel Aviv-New Delhi nexus that is targeted against our sovereignty. We have lost the CAS market.

The ramifications of the war both in the short-term as well as in the future would be strongly felt by Pakistan. We are moving out of the woods but we are headed towards a quagmire. We have to do some serious re-thinking on the national plateau as well as at the grass-roots level. Where do we want the country to go? The answer is blowing in the wind. We must unite, we must face the world, and we must ensure that the government is a working entity and not a device filled with hot air. The coming days would be very important for the country. Just having a Wasim Akram or an Inzamam-ul Haq would not win victories. The mindset and devotion to the cause would make the difference. The glory of attaining super records can be washed away in one stroke of a backlash. This is the situation in which Pakistan is placed. We support the fight against terrorism and evil. We prove to the world that we are against terrorism and evil. The world knows we are against terrorism and evil. But when the dust settles down, we see terrorism and evil amongst us. All our efforts go down in vain. Let us make certain that when anyone says Pakistan, the meaning is loud and clear. That Pakistan truly means. The Land of the Pure.



Khud Ba Khud Toot Ke Girti Nahin Zanjeer Kabhi
Badli Jati Hai Badalti Nahin Taqdeer Kabhi