Friday, January 8, 2016

Rangers provide comfort zone in Karachi

Majyd Aziz

Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry led the vociferous chorus for continued deployment of Sindh Rangers in the metropolis. The worsening law and order scenario in Karachi had reached a crescendo, prompting the representative body of 21,000 direct and another 30,000 indirect members to demand immediate deployment of the Army to usher in sanity.

Although the Rangers were conspicuous by their presence in the city, they had a limited mandate and not authorized to tackle instances of dacoities, extortion, or kidnapping for ransom. Trade and industry became every day victims. When matters reached the boiling point, KCCI issued the final ultimatum. Enough is enough. Give widespread powers to Rangers. Cleanse the city of the menace of desperadoes. KCCI leadership had always expressed deep concern over politicizing of Sindh Police since most of recruitments were being done on political grounds, a prime reason for the ongoing lawlessness. Police must be de-politicized on priority basis, because the Police hierarchy was subservient to the political forces much to the chagrin of the citizens. Nazim Haji, a former Chief of Citizen Police Liaison Committee, very harshly commented, "The Rangers have done an excellent job so far in spite of coordinating with a Police force led by a corrupt and incompetent Sindh IGP".

In October 2014, Maj Gen Bilal Akbar, DG Sindh Rangers, visited KCCI and had a closed-door session with the members. After listening to a litany of complaints, he assured them that Rangers officials were working round-the-clock to share the grievances and risks suffered by Karachi citizens with special focus on creating a secure business environment. He highlighted the action plan to improve the law and order situation.

On May 16, 2015, we, the Alumni of National Security Workshops of National Defence University, Islamabad, organized "National Seminar on Peace, Security & Governance in Karachi" where Karachi Corps Commander Lt. General Naveed Mukhtar was the Chief Guest. In a highly quoted and much discussed speech, he identified the parallel power centers in the city as obstacles for law and order. He stressed on the need for operational and professional independence of local administration, particularly, Karachi Police, in order to achieve peace and stability. He said Karachi was targeted to disrupt Pakistan's international trade and economic engine since the city accounted for 65% of Pakistan's revenue. He made it clear that the targeted operation would continue until its logical conclusion. His address was a morale booster for trade and industry and helped restore confidence.

A couple of weeks later, Maj Gen Bilal Akbar revealed the astonishing news that Rs 230 billion was the annual illegal collection in Karachi. This was done through extortion, kidnapping for ransom, distribution of water, sale of snatched hides of sacrificial animals, illegal marriage halls, and other criminal activities. He disclosed that, "a systematic and regular distribution is in place for these amounts to reach certain influential people". What was disturbing was that huge amounts from these collections were used to procure illegal arms and ammunition.

It was with shock and consternation that the business community found out that the Sindh government was playing politics in the case of renewal of the Ranger's tenure. The Sindh government's stand was that Rangers exceeded their mandate by hitting on corruption cases. Its fury was in response to the high profile arrest and incarceration of a close confidant of PPP Co-Chairman. The business community, on the other hand, applauded the publicized action of Rangers but expressed disapproval and contempt at the escape from the country of those who were branded in media as very corrupt. There were whispers in markets of secret deals enabling the corrupt to flee.  The leaders of seven Town Associations, representing all industrial estates, and some trade Associations organized a protest at Karachi Press Club to demand extension of the mandate. They warned that playing politics would incur the wrath of industrialists and their workers. The next day, the mandate was renewed. At an informal meeting, one trader even demanded that Karachi should be separated from Sindh. Surprisingly, there were no arguments against this by others.

The law and order situation in Karachi improved due to the ubiquitous presence of Rangers and the many raids made daily. Lyari was transformed from a war zone into a safer place of residence and for commerce. The focus of Rangers was to rid the area from the menacing and dangerous Lyari Gang War. Moreover, those pockets that had become strongholds of Taliban were freed from their influence. Militant wings of political parties were contained largely while most of the extortionists went underground.

Junaid Makda, President SITE Association of Industry, the largest industrial estate in Pakistan, disclosed, "I am in constant communication with law enforcing agencies and I convey to them the concerns of industrialists. Rangers have now become an integral part of the SITE landscape. There has been a substantial decrease in crimes in SITE. Recently, when Sindh government was hesitating to renew the Rangers tenure in Karachi, we saw an increase in mobile snatching and looting of wages of workers. However, since last couple of weeks there is peace and security due to presence of Rangers".

There has been a marked slowdown in going after the corrupt since the arrest of Dr Asim Hussain. The business community feels that the tough statements emanating out of the Sindh government have resulted in Rangers losing the momentum in arresting corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. A vocal exporter, Shabir Ahmed, Chairman of Pakistan Bedwear Exporters Association, remarked that "Those of us who are primarily involved in exports have to face a barrage of questions from our foreign buyers regarding the petty politics of Sindh government in trying to hinder the excellent operation conducted by Rangers. They are amazed that a civilian government was impeding the process of improving law and order in Karachi just to protect known corrupt people. This is unheard of in any civilized society. It is shameful".

Notwithstanding this anxiety, people who have an ear in the right circles keep reassuring business leaders that there has been no receding from the action plan, and criminals, terrorists, and corrupt would be nabbed despite any political pressures.

The law and order improvement in Karachi can be gauged from certain revealing statistics comparing 2015 with 2013. Car snatching down 71% from 1128 to 329 while car thefts reduced by nearly 54% from 3841 to 1775. Target killings went down 27% to 153 from 209 while other killings went down 69% from 2789 to 874. Extortion cases reduced by 60% from 533 to 210 while kidnapping for ransom went down 58% from 85 to 36. The only blot was motorcycle-snatching statistics. These went up from 16583 to 17551, an increase of 6%.  

Poor economy and bad governance put together would always result in excessive crime, in high unemployment, and in dissatisfaction. The deteriorating law and order situation in Karachi was mostly due to these factors. The economy is improving, law and order is much better, but bad governance is still critically prevalent in the Sindh government. The Rangers are striving to play a prominent role in introducing good governance. The ball is now in the court of Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah. He has to decide between peace and mayhem in Karachi, the vibrant soul of Pakistan.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Birthday Diplomacy in Raiwind

Majyd Aziz

A Pakistani business leader pens his thoughts on Modi's stopover in Lahore

Bus diplomacy. Cricket diplomacy. Handshake diplomacy. Now, Birthday diplomacy. India and Pakistan excel in unpredictability and abnormality. Sometimes, they are so hostile that their leadership refuses a handshake, whereas sometimes they go for the bear hug. India and Pakistan leaders have strange ways to project to the world that when they so desire, they meet and create the desired hype to display sparkling lights of optimism. Although the hoopla created by these initiatives does not last long, but for whatever it is worth, it surely generates the excitement and hope that are blatantly missing factors in the bilateral relations of the two neighbors. 

December 25 is a day of solemn reflection of the ideals and teachings of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Founder of Pakistan. His birth anniversary falls on Christmas Day, when most of the citizens felicitate their Christian fellow citizens. It just happens to be the birthday of Pakistani Prime Minister, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. For his political party members, this is a three-event celebration day.

The TV channels were keeping the viewers occupied with programs on Jinnah and Christmas. Panelists on TV talk shows were motivating the viewers through the deeds and words of the Quaid. Then came the breaking news. More of a bombshell. Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, was about to make a pit stop in Lahore on way home from Kabul. Why? To convey his best wishes and felicitation to Sharif on his birthday as well as on the nuptials of his granddaughter. Personal diplomacy at its best. Why? Is the ice melting? Climate Change meeting in Paris, National Security Advisors meeting in Bangkok, Heart of Asia meeting in Islamabad, and now Modi visiting Lahore/Raiwind for a birthday/wedding bash? All of a sudden, it is Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah in Indo-Pak bilateral scenario. It cannot be better than that. 

Hold on, say the critics. Not so fast. Modi while leaving Afghanistan aboard IFC-52 of the Indian Air Force with IFC-54 as the second security decoy, made a rough and tough blame of cross border terrorism on Pakistan even while Sharif was on his way to the airport to receive Modi with all smiles. Where were both NSA? Where was the media? What was the agenda? Kashmir, Siachen, MFN, Afghanistan, Terrorism, border conflict, cricket series, etc? Were all these ignored and only pleasantries exchanged while partaking cashew, almond, and pistachio nuts and tea? Sharif was the perfect host by keeping contentious issues away from the festivities of the day. In true traditional manner, he welcomed a neighbor, albeit a foe, he accorded all protocol, the neighbor being a Prime Minister, he accepted the felicitation and good wishes, as it should be done. So why the carping and ranting and raving by critics on both sides of the Line of Control?

Two categories of people had their day spoiled with black clouds on them. The fundamentalists belonging to the politico-religious parties and the retired uniformed personnel. The less said about the fundamentalists who just cannot fathom peace in the region. The retired officers of the Armed Forces in India and Pakistan, having nothing to do, no golf to play, living comfortably on pension and investments, spend their evenings on TV talk shows. They become expert analysts and commentators and they usually see a red handkerchief in all issues and initiatives taken to normalize bilateral relations and usher in peace in the region. They went all over like a raging bull. They knew that this small step by Modi might turn out to be a giant leap for the denizens of the sub-continent. 

The Indian opposition to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Indian involvement in Balochistan, the incessant blame game played by Delhi accusing Pakistan of terrorist activities, the Non-Tariff Trade Barriers that India uses to hamper Pakistani goods to have a level playing field, and not allowing Pakistan and Indian cricket teams to play, are some of the genuine complaints of those who are vehemently and vociferously against any progress in the tense bilateral relations. 

Leave aside the conspiracy theories. Forget who initiated the Birthday Diplomacy. Ignore presence of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at Heart of Asia in Islamabad. Disregard belligerent outbursts of so-called analysts. Think positive. This was no selling out by anyone nor was it a Composite Dialogue. It was a much desired goodwill gesture by both the leaders. For crying out loud, even an estranged paternal aunt shows up at weddings. 

Industrialists and traders were in a bullish mood. Sajjan Jindal, the Indian steel tycoon, became the role model overnight. What Godrej or Ambani in India or Mian Mansha and S M Muneer in Pakistan did not have the critical mass to play a game changing role, Jindal did it, (or so they say). The naysayers alleged that the "steel" connection enabled the tycoon to be the go-between. So what? Jindal did it (or so they say). Barkha Dutt revealed that Jindal got both leaders in his hotel room during the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in 2014 for 60 minutes of tête-à-tête (so she says). While FPCCI, FICCI, or SAARC CCI just talked and issued position papers and resolutions, Jindal did it (or so they say). 

Trade and industry leaders are sanguine that the trade normalization process would pick up momentum, the visa regime would again move towards liberalization, and maybe, just maybe, banks would be allowed to set up branches across the border. Munabao-Khokhrapar route may be allowed to function. Special Economic Zones at the border is also a distinct possibility. The consensus among businessmen is that although India should not be allowed transit passage to Afghanistan, many are open to the idea of India using Gwadar Port and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor to access Afghanistan. 

What next? For one, the Foreign Secretaries are meeting to resume dialogue on January 15. This is what is so imperative. Dialogue must not stop at all cost. No excuses, no hard posture, no back-pedaling. The future of the sub-continent and the region is stake. Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington in his Tweet summed it up fabulously. He said "Many winners from Modi in Lahore. One of them, quite frankly, is the civilian leadership, and democracy overall, in Pakistan." 

Naturally, every event attracts jokes, cartoons, and humorous tit-bits. The latest joke doing the rounds is worth mentioning. MNS: "What do you say, shall we talk about Kashmir? NM: "Why not" MNS: "Waiter, bring two cups of Kashmiri Chai, pronto."

Monday, December 21, 2015

Business Leadership for SAARC Economic Integration

Majyd Aziz

As Former President of Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as Former Chairman of SITE Association of Industry and as Founder of a few Bilateral Forums, I often assess the contributions of my elders and my peers who are business leaders. When I interact with business leaders of other countries and discuss their roles, I am convinced that we are potent stakeholders who should play a decisive and exemplary role in spearheading sustainable economic development, atleast among the regional nations.

What is the role of the business leadership in ushering in sustainable economic development through a focused and cooperative approach? How to effectively channelize the critical mass that regional trade organizations have into regional economic prosperity? The ground reality, disappointedly, is far different from the steps taken by business leadership to be Track II motivators and lead performers. Thus, as a representative of trade and industry, I offer a mea culpa, as I am of the opinion that business leaders have not been as pro-active as their position and status accords them and that they have not been successful in bringing about fundamental changes in the policies of their respective governments, bureaucracy and even judiciary.

Trade organizations have been, by and large, transformed into personal fiefdoms of many leaders in the same manner like most of the political parties who have adopted dynastic succession modes, whose leaders have become cult personalities, or who have cliques that tightly control the organizations' activities and policies. The stranglehold over these is primarily responsible for the ineffectiveness of most of these organizations. I shall highlight a few of these organizations and would restrict myself to the regional scenario.

SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry is composed of trade representatives of all eight SAARC nations. The Headquarter is based in Islamabad and the President's office is rotated among the member countries. SAARC CCI was touted as the focal point for promoting, protecting, and presenting the interests of the SAARC private sector. Well and good. SAARC CCI held elections, organized conclaves and seminars in various cities, and prepared studies and reports for members as well as policymakers. It was instrumental in getting approval for SAARC visas that were issued to designated applicants. Pakistan's quota was 100 visas. This multiple-entry, one-year visa enabled the holder to travel to SAARC countries without additional paperwork or bothersome immigration requirements. However, what actually transpired was that 80 to 85% of the visas were issued to the same people who dominate and who may or may not be doing bilateral trade with other SAARC countries. The ruling elite in each country seldom accommodated genuine businessmen.

Despite the significance of SAARC CCI, the bare fact is that the leadership succumbed to the dictates and dynamics of the political, bureaucratic, and military exigencies and thus gradually lost its effective importance. One unbearable reason is that there is only a facade of synergy, in short, more talk than action about cooperation, harmony and mutual understanding of issues. The policymakers rarely accept the decisions taken at various conclaves and thus pragmatic solutions are waylaid and, even if accepted by the regional political leadership, are seldom implemented.

The efforts of the private sector are further hampered by the lack of seriousness in working towards attaining an all-inclusive regional economic integration program that would lead towards a common approach in assuring sustainable development of the South Asian nations. It is widely accepted that this region is the least integrated region in the world. The attitude is focused on self-benefits rather than combining resources and experiences for the overall development of all the countries.

The South Asian region has severe energy deficiencies, high poverty figures, escalating cross-border conflicts, and demanding domestic constraints and pressures that have ensued into an environment of distrust and disharmony. While the political and military establishments are engrossed in their own spheres, the onus of ushering in sanity should have been on the economic stakeholders, that is, the business and industry leadership.

The global dynamics are in a rapid changing mode. Regional economic blocs are integrating their economies and finding workable and acceptable solutions to their contentious issues among themselves. This development has enabled the countries in these regional blocs to address the myriad domestic and international dimensions both individually or from a common platform. ASEAN, EU, NAFTA, MERCOSUR, SCO, etc are vivid examples. SAARC regional bloc is oscillating between a stagnant level and a diminishing course. The concept of shared challenges is unheard of within SAARC.

The past few years witnessed a flurry of activity in the normalization process of Indo-Pak trade and investment relations. The signals emanating out of the trade bodies as well as from political corridors were encouraging and positive. The two Prime Ministers, Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif, were known as corporate oriented and both desired trade normalization. This gave impetus to the private sector leadership to strike while the iron was hot. At this present moment in time, although Indo-Pak bilateral trade is moving along supplemented by an increase in informal trade, the business leadership have become silent spectators or have retreated into their shells. There are no revolutionary initiatives under consideration and thus no apparent advancement in removal of Non-Tariff Trade Barriers, granting of Non-Discriminatory Market Access by Pakistan to India, no progress in issuing licenses to banks to set up branches across the border, no modalities of allowing investment in each other's countries, and no concrete steps to reduce informal trade. At the same time, the India Pakistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry has become dormant, the India-Pakistan Joint Business Council has lost its luster, the Mumbai-Karachi Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry is just on paper, and there are no delegations from FPCCI, FICCI, CII or local Pakistani and Indian Chambers.

Over in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani was billed as an economic czar and his initial pronouncements were directed towards peaceful co-existence and economic deliverance. Another grand opportunity for business leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nevertheless, when events became unsettling for the political governments in each of these countries, the back-pedaling commenced and camaraderie was hijacked while menacing rhetorical outbursts became the common every day event. This was the moment for private sector, especially Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Business Council to catch the bull by its horns. The depressing truth is that the private sector leadership became invisible bystanders rather than strategic participants who could have rallied the decision makers by becoming active anchors instead of passive players.

There is still a vacuum that needs to be filled, and it is high time the dormant regional business leadership shapes up, wakes up, and sheds double standards and hypocrisy. Business leaders of South Asia have to make an immediate paradigm shift. They have to stress their role as prime stakeholders. They have to persistently lobby not only with their own political governments but also from a joint platform to reduce tension, to create harmony, and to seriously tackle the issues that have made SAARC ineffective and a waste of time. Business leadership must become the 'tipping point' because once over this point, the stronger positive results from regional cooperation would push the region to a higher growth trajectory, thereby generating beneficial impact in support of cooperation and integration. They must sincerely address the four key elements of regional economic integration, i.e., integrated SAARC market, seamless physical connectivity, financial cooperation, and shared vulnerabilities and risks.

Business leaders must remove existing barriers and roadblocks by ensuring that the concepts of economic policy, technical and business innovations, information technology, human resource development, diplomatic and military conflicts, and regional economic integration are not just debated and discussed but are implemented in real time and accepted by all SAARC member countries

The private sector must learn, understand, and promote what the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 are and, why these are imperative for them, their motherland, and their fellow citizens. The SAARC Heads of Government Conference in Islamabad in 2016 could become the game changer if all countries really want to bring about lasting peace, economic prosperity, and sustainable well-being of the denizens of all eight SAARC countries. This is the hope because there is no other practical way to achieve the goals. Business leadership must take comfort from Alexis de Tocqueville, the French thinker and historian who very aptly stated that, "Trade is the natural enemy of all violent passions. Trade loves moderation, delights in compromise, and is most careful to avoid anger."

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Lalu Firecrackers

Majyd Aziz

India with over 1.3 billion people is the most populous democracy in the world. It is a federal constitutional Republic governed under a parliamentary system consisting of 29 states and 7 union territories. Pakistanis get excited during national elections in India but seldom has there been passionate interest in a state election. Ordinarily, Indian state elections create a minor ripple in Pakistan unless these are in Indian-occupied Kashmir. The common Pakistani citizen is concerned with NA-122 or the Local Bodies elections. They do not give two hoots whether there are elections in Bihar or Tamil Nadu.

The election process in Bihar would have been of academic interest to a small segment of analysts who come up with their hypotheses or expert opinions, but then, more often than not, the viewer would soon surf other channels. Lalu Prasad Yadav is a known commodity in Pakistan, and widely preferred over Narendra Modi or even Sonia Gandhi. Was it because of LPY that interest in Bihar elections became a hot topic in Pakistan? No, the credit goes to someone who was catapulted to the prestigious position of President of Bharatiya Janata Party.

Amit Shah is a politician from Gujarat and a close associate of Modi. His claim to fame was his political acumen and organizational capabilities that enabled BJP to win 73 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 elections. His relationship with Modi and his success in UP made him a hot favorite to become BJP President. Come the Bihar elections and he proceeded to wield his magic wand to get Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and LPY out of the Bihar political landscape. His presence and his track record was so overarching that many political pundits and some in media predicted a landslide victory for BJP.

This is where Pakistan phobia got the better of Amit Shah. Playing heavily on the high stressed tension between India and Pakistan, capitalizing on the growing influence of Hindu fundamentalists, and relying on the self-publicity seeking global yatras of the Prime Minister, he went to Bihar in full swing. It was during one of his addresses to the voters that this politician, who has a murky past being involved in corruption, obstructing justice, ordering fake extra-judicial killings, and abuse of power in Gujarat, went overboard. Indirectly accusing the Bihar ruling party leadership of being unpatriotic, Shah hollered, “If by mistake BJP loses the polls, crackers will go off in Pakistan”.

One sentence, regurgitated by an arrogant politician, put paid to the dream of his mentor while at the same time rekindled the patriotic fervor of the voters. This was not a cricket match where jubilant spectators set off firecrackers when Team India is winning. This was a tough election campaign with high stakes. This was a plebiscite against the Modi Sarkar policies, philosophy, and actions. The die was cast. The Grand Alliance winning 178 seats out of 243 while BJP hobbling with just 58 seats.
Of course, Pakistan was never the issue in the elections and the credit for the BJP rout definitely goes to LPY, Nitish Kumar and the other leaders. The fact is that hysteria against Pakistan is dominant on the mindset of the BJP leadership. This self-centered thinking has gravely boosted the activities and influence of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, its militant wing, Bajrang Dal, the Maharashtra-based Shiv Sena, with its avowed advocacy for Hindutva, and other religious fundamentalists. Modi seems to be on the same wavelength with these extremist organizations despite the fact that they are a black blotch on the secular fabric of India.

The electorate outright rejected the extremist philosophy of these organizations and the anti-BJP vote reflected the voters' disgust for fanaticism and militancy. The Bihar result may or may not be replicated in the elections in other states nor there would be such a huge anti-BJP vote. This is beside the point. The Bihar debacle required some serious soul-searching in the ranks of BJP hierarchy. Global investors and foreign governments, eyeing the profitable prospects of the burgeoning middle-class market, realizing the skilled potential of Indian human capital, and recognizing the importance of India in the regional context, are bending backwards to accommodate New Delhi. 

Hence, lip service or ignoring the forced conversions of minorities, high incidences of rapes and sexual assaults, torturing of Muslims, Christians and Dalits, indulging in hostilities against neighboring countries, and interfering in the internal affairs of other SAARC countries by encouraging separatist movements and financing of terrorists, are vivid examples of hypocrisy and lust for profits.

The Indian government needs to revisit its penchant for making a mockery of international diplomacy, for assuming a self-appointed role of a bulldozer in her neighborhood, for harboring notions of hegemony in the region, and for not realizing the futility of obsolete fundamentalist rhetoric and the gravity of its consequences. In the India-Pakistan context, it is incumbent upon India to come to the negotiating table and sort out the contentious core issues so that trade and investment can be normalized, people-to-people contacts and movements are facilitated, and the clouds of armed conflicts are dispersed. The Bihar result would not be the catalyst to impel Modi Sarkar to jump-start the normalization process but it is surely a message that negativity about Pakistan will not earn brownie points from the mainstream electorate. Meanwhile, for Amit Shah and his ilk, they should pay heed to what Chanakya advised: "Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions: why I am doing it, what the results might be, and will I be successful. Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead."