VIEW: Another failure of a saviour —Isfundiar Kasuri - Sunday, October 17, 2010

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Blame the PPP all you want for Pakistan’s numerous problems; the government they inherited from President Musharraf was essentially bankrupt and not reflective of an economy that had experienced record growth

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein was not thinking of Pakistan when he said these words. I, however, am. By repeatedly pushing upon us six decades of failed leadership, Pakistan’s elite have played a fundamental role in relegating the nation to the status of a failed state. Yet, I find myself surrounded by people insisting that somehow Mr Musharraf will save this nation from failures that he himself helped perpetuate.

Why does he inspire some of Pakistan’s elite and trendy urbanites? As I am vociferously told by his affluent supporters, Pakistan experienced an economic boom like no other in its history — a magnificent growth rate of seven percent per annum. His was a time of ‘enlightened moderation’, a time of security, a time for music, the arts, fashion shows, etc. There was the free media too, at least for a while. Even the middle classes benefited from this boom through the extension of credit for cars and cell phones. Good times, if of course the other 75 percent of the population did not exist in your reality.

A more factual analysis is in order. The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2006-2007 established that during the so-called ‘boom period’ from 2001 to 2005, the Gini Coefficient, universally regarded as the most efficient measure of income inequality, changed for the worse. According to the government’s own records, costs of healthcare (up 14 percent), transportation (up 50 percent) and food (up 11 percent) rose for the poor due to inflationary pressures caused by the ever-increasing supply of money. The fact that the agricultural sector grew by 1.5 percent and the banking sector by 30 percent was much touted as a measure of success. This growth ensured that stock indices and corporate profits boomed. Unfortunately, if you were not at the top of the food chain, it was a jobless boom and meaningless to the hapless majority.

It gets better. One would assume that during this period of economic growth a country would implement policies designed to build reserves and reduce government debt. However, during the period from 1999-2007, debt levels rose by a staggering sum of Rs 2.7 trillion. This figure is especially interesting if you consider that from 1947-1999 the government accumulated a total debt of Rs 2.9 trillion. Moreover, it took the Musharraf regime eight years to equal the debt generated during the preceding 50 years of Pakistan’s history. Of course, it is easy to miss if you belong to the wealthiest classes in this country, most of who are preoccupied with exerting influence to evade taxes and default on their own obligations. The wage-earning middle and lower classes unfortunately wield no such influence and bear the brunt of the nation’s increased indebtedness.

Blame the PPP all you want for Pakistan’s numerous problems; the government they inherited from President Musharraf was essentially bankrupt and not reflective of an economy that had experienced record growth. As Ishaq Dar put it, after being appointed finance minister, “Those who claim to have broken the begging bowl have actually enlarged it.” It is no small feat for Musharraf and his outsourced prime minister to wreck the financial position of the government so much that the PML-N would refuse control of the finance ministry. In all fairness to the Citibanker though, he merely did to Pakistan what his organisation has repeatedly done to the world.

This last point brings us to the issue of poverty. Per the World Bank, Pakistan’s poverty levels were reduced by as much as 50 percent during Musharraf’s tenure — on first glance a crowning achievement. It is important to note here that the poverty line was set at Rs 868 per capita per month. Ignoring for a moment the absurdity of that figure, it is not much of an achievement if, while you were in office, the trends began to reverse. To illustrate this point, independent agencies ascertained that between 2005 and 2009, Pakistan added 14 million people to the ranks of the poor.

At the other end of the spectrum, for parliamentarians during the Musharraf era, it was business as usual. According to a report from the Pakistan Institute for Legislative Development and Transparency, the value of their wealth jumped by 15.6 percent in 2004-2005, by 22.6 percent in 2005-2006 and a whopping 87.1 percent in 2007-2008. Robust times indeed for the scourge of our society.

Of course, there was ‘enlightened moderation’. I, personally, was ‘enlightened’ to find out, as per a Wilson Centre study on education published in 2008, that Pakistan’s allocation towards education dropped to two percent of GDP, committing it to the ranks of the lowest 12 countries on earth.

Musharraf also did not tackle Pakistan’s energy crisis and the circular debt associated with that sector. So what were his long-term goals if not to address education and energy concerns? His idea of planning for the future was to pander to the West, so much so that he distinguished himself as the first Pakistani head of state to sanction illegal drone strikes and renditions in his own country. A moderate and well thought-out policy indeed, one that has ensured the continued alienation of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan from the federation and Pakistan’s continued role of subservience to its masters in Washington. Such loyalty to US objectives would be forgivable, if only he had paid half as much attention to the needs of his own people.

The icing on the cake though was the assault on the Supreme Court. Desperate times called for desperate measures. His strategy backfired and in a last-ditch effort to save his presidency he reached a compromise with the PPP by giving us the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). His supporters must realise that for all their claims that the present regime is corrupt and inefficient, Musharraf’s NRO was the primary reason that it is in power today.

Thus, once all the facts are considered, there is absolutely no case to be made that he was any less self-centred and inept than his political adversaries. One of his supporters contended recently that his opponents have had multiple opportunities (to fail) and that he too should be given at least one more chance. The logic is unsound. Pakistan is on the brink of disintegration; even the army recognises the gravity of the situation. Clearly, it is long past the time to celebrate the ‘lesser of evils’. Apology or not, Pakistan simply cannot afford another failure of a saviour.

The writer is a TV journalist and can be reached at

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