A New Deal for Pakistan?

view: A new deal — Brain Cloughley
Daily Times, October 29, 2008

There are many approach avenues, and there are plenty of clever people in Pakistan who can choose the best ones. Let them be given free rein to do so, because Pakistan can rise on the skills of its people — or it can fall and fail if their potential is not properly developed

I arrived in Pakistan last week, on the day that India launched a rocket to the moon. On the way from the airport there was the normal traffic chaos compounded by ineffective security checkpoints, and on arrival in Islamabad there was a power cut. India appeared to be shining while Pakistan looked dark.

When I went to the Rawalpindi bazaars the atmosphere was bleak. Shopkeepers, some of them friends of almost thirty years, were not so much complaining as gloomily despondent. The price of staple foods was rising and the amount of shop trade was falling. The spectre of terrorism didn’t seem to present as much of a threat as the close and very personal one of actual privation. Where would it all end was the feeling. And no answer came.

The newspapers recorded further strife in the Frontier. There was a major ambush of a supply convoy in Swat, killing several Frontier Corps soldiers, and continuing operations in Bajaur. There were riots in Lahore over power cuts and excessive electricity charges. It seemed that the rupee was declining in value by the hour, and the International Monetary Fund, that fixer of last resort, was crafting a plan to help Pakistan out of its financial crisis.

This seemed to be shades of Britain in 1976 when the government had to call in the IMF in the middle of a similar financial predicament. As the BBC noted at the time “By the autumn, the pound was indeed plunging and the government called in the International Monetary Fund, the body co-founded by the UK to tackle economic crises. The IMF demanded massive public spending cuts in return for urgently needed loans.” There was, as in Pakistan at the moment, much despair and depression.

There came to my memory a chat I had with an army chief many years ago. A most likeable man, he had just returned from a visit to Malaysia and Singapore and came to a small dinner party in my house. He was not his usual outgoing happy self, and after dinner I asked him what was wrong, because he had told me the visit went well, so it couldn’t have been anything to do with his trip that had affected his spirits. He sighed unhappily and said that even though the visit had been excellent, there was one thing that was nagging at him. He had been shown a great many sights in Malaysia, and had been most impressed. He was equally admiring the lot of ordinary people, having had briefings from the high commission on this aspect. And he sighed again, and said “what really upsets me is that we could have been like that.”

He wasn’t being critical of the then government in Pakistan, he said, because it had been democratically elected and was no doubt doing what it could to improve the country’s economy, infrastructure, and social programmes. What concerned him was the fact that so many years had been wasted — which was an implied criticism of the years of military involvement in the country’s governance.

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