New Age Islam Edit Bureau
September 16, 2015
The UAE Syndrome
By M Ziauddin
From Fata To Pata?
By Ayaz Wazir
Pakistan Embassy Sales’ Scandals
By Dr Qaisar Rashid
The UAE syndrome
By M Ziauddin
September 15, 2015
The writer served as Executive Editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014
There are many factors that make one feel seriously uncomfortable about the health of Pakistan’s economy. But three among them take the cake. All three are exclusive to Pakistan. First, our most important donor-cum-sole economic adviser, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), continues to refuse to come to Pakistan to discuss the latest health bulletin of the recipient country, diagnose the ailment on the spot and prescribe the ‘right’ medicine in the ‘right’ dose at the ‘right’ time.
Instead, a high-powered economic team led by the finance minister visits the UAE whenever the Fund wants to discuss in detail the progress of the three-year Extended Fund Facility programme, signed in 2013, amounting to $6.6 billion. According to anecdotal reports, the Fund is only following a UN advisory to all its agencies banning travel to Pakistan. This leads one to wonder to why any investor, foreign or local, would be willing to invest in Pakistan if the UN and the country’s main lender, the IMF, have classified Pakistan as a ‘no-go’ area.
Let us keep China’s proposed $46 billion out of this discussion because even before a single dollar has come our way, a discussion has ensued in the bilateral official circles about raising dedicated forces by both China and Pakistan separately, specifically to safeguard the Chinese investment. Even the successes of the almost 16-month long Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the two-year long Karachi operation in curbing terrorist activities in the country do not seem to have convinced either the UN or the IMF to lift their self-imposed barriers on travel to Pakistan.
While we await the Fund’s ‘all clear’ certificate for the resumption, hopefully, of foreign investment activity in the country, another such ‘all clear’ certificate from seemingly an unrelated avenue, but decisively crucial for Pakistan’s economy, looks even more distant at this point in time.
And this brings us to the second Pakistan-exclusive factor that has continued to undermine our economic health since 2009, when terrorists attacked the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. It is now six years since we hosted any international cricket meet at home except the recent visit of the Zimbabwean team, which had remained wrapped in a very tight security envelope during its short stay in Pakistan. Since that fateful year, we have been hosting all our home international cricket meets in the UAE, where we also meet our lender of the last resort. And now we have completed the paperwork to hold our own million-dollar Pakistan Super League in Qatar.
International cricket is today an enterprise of billions of dollars. And every time we host our home tournaments in a foreign land, we lose millions because we have to share our ‘gate-money’ and income from advertising and sponsorships with the country which hosts our home matches. There is also a lot of associated business that goes with international cricket, which is denied to Pakistan that also adds to the negative sentiments about the country politically, socially and economically, causing further damage to our economic health.
And this negative sentiment has given rise to another Pakistan-exclusive factor, the third one, undermining our economy. This concerns our craving for real estate. Indeed, most savers in this country invest their savings as well as their ‘unearned’ incomes in real estate because that is considered to be not only the safest investment avenue, but also a profitable one. Those of us with ‘surplus’ savings, wanting to keep them out of the reach of the Federal Board of Revenue, invest these resources in real estate in, again, the UAE. This way billions are said to be siphoned off from the white economy, every year, and invested in the UAE real estate.
And since most of our moneyed classes have their luxury flats, villas and spacious houses in the UAE, they now prefer to do their politics in the safe environs of that country, where politics is virtually banned. In the last couple of months, especially since the Rangers turned their attention from militancy to corruption, the provincial government of the PPP has been holding most of its important meetings, even perhaps cabinet meetings, in the UAE.
From Fata to Pata?
By Ayaz Wazir
September 16, 2015
Parliamentarians from the tribal areas have moved a bill in the National Assembly for merger of Fata into the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Whether they will be able to muster enough support for the bill to be passed when presented in the House and whether the political parties responsible for incorporating Article 247(7) in the constitution vote in favour of bringing Fata back into the jurisdiction of parliament is yet to be seen. Nonetheless the very fact that it will be debated in parliament is a step in the right direction.
These parliamentarians have probably not done their homework for securing the required two-thirds majority to amend the constitution and thereby merge Fata into KP. It appears they are only banking on the sympathy wave for mainstreaming Fata; they have neither held meetings with the top political leadership to garner support of their parties in parliament nor do they seem to have convinced ‘the powers that be’ to let the bill sail smoothly.
They expect the political parties will support this move simply because earlier they had agreed on the 11 points for reforms in Fata. I would like to reiterate something I had said some time back when invited to speak at one of their meetings. My suggestion to them was to not waste time in seeking support afresh by travelling from place to place but to focus on their members in parliament, where they all had the required majority, to amend the constitution. However, instead of doing that they are playing politics by only paying lip service to the cause of Fata. If they really want to help the people of Fata they can change its constitutional status in no time. Either they do not want to or are not allowed to change its status by those calling the shots in that area.
Another important factor that contributes to the unresolved problems of Fata is the lack of unity among the members of parliament from that area. They have neither displayed a united resolve to extinguish the flames of militancy that have engulfed Fata nor made efforts to stop further destruction of houses, villages and market places in Fata. They have also not been unified in their struggle for the quick return and rehabilitation of IDPs from their area.
Soon after announcing unanimity on the proposed change in the status of Fata through a press conference three of their members were ‘kidnapped’ and taken to a palatial house in the capital of that province. According to well-informed sources they had fallen prey to the tactic of buying members to derail the process. The rest, however, put their unity to test the very next day in a meeting. How many of them will remain together to support the bill will be seen in the days to come.
One agrees with the need for reforms in Fata but this process should not be done in haste at the risk of a disaster, which is likely if people’s participation is not ensured. Not too far back the case for Scotland’s independence was decided not by the few members in their parliament but by the general public through a referendum. Similarly Fata’s case should be referred to the public rather than leaving it to the few in parliament.
One idea that is floated from time to time is that if Swat and Malakand could become Pata in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa why not turn Fata into Pata as well? Let us not confuse the two while dealing with a very sensitive subject. The two have vast differences in almost every field including history, culture and tribal customs and traditions. The case of Fata thus cannot be compared with that of Swat and Malakand, which were merged into the province without doing any homework which is why what happened later cannot be corrected even to this day. So let us not repeat that in Fata. The tribal areas have already suffered a lot from the ill-conceived policies of those ruling over them. Fata cannot afford to suffer more in the name of reforms on the pattern of Swat and Malakand.
One is not against any change for Fata but change should be for the better in the quality and life of its people not otherwise. Those of us who have lived abroad or in the country elsewhere can accept any change, adapt accordingly and live under it happily. But for those who have no alternative and live there permanently any new system, different to the one they have been used to for centuries, will need to be looked into thoroughly before it is implemented. Otherwise it could lead to difficulties and resentment.
Whether they agree to the overnight replacement of the tribal system by the law of the land and whether it will be beneficial for them and the state is what matters and needs to be deliberated upon while deciding the future course of action for the tribal areas. The people there have lived under that system for ages and are not used to the ‘thana culture’. Replacement of that system would require them to report matters to the police and resolve disputes through the tedious and time-consuming judicial system instead of the expeditious tribal jirga; that would be asking too much of them and too fast. It would certainly invoke widespread reaction which is neither good for them nor for the state at this particular time.
Nobody denies the importance of mainstreaming Fata but it should be done gradually, in harmony and with the will of the people living there and not otherwise. The difference in opinion about mainstreaming our tribal areas lies in the way one goes about the process and nothing else. The devil, as they say, is in the implementation and not in the actual mainstreaming of idea itself.
Experiments conducted on Fata for the last 68 years by people from ‘outside’ have ruined the area. What Fata is today is only because of the wrong policies of outsiders ruling the area and not the people there. They (outsiders) do not care what happens to Fata or its inhabitants as long as their wishes are carried out because there is no one to question them or seek an explanation for their actions. This must stop; the people of the tribal areas should decide for themselves what is good for them and what is not instead of others doing that for them.
Now that the fate of the people of Fata is to be decided it is even more important that its people are involved in the process. They must be allowed to exercise their due right and decide, through a referendum, one of the three options that have so often been debated in the media – Fata to be made a separate province; Fata merged into KP; Fata remaining as it is but with a separate governor/administrator, with a ‘Fata Council’ to decide matters for themselves.
In order to ensure that the referendum is conducted fairly and not influenced in any manner, someone with impeccable character and credentials from Fata should be appointed as governor/administrator for the interim period since ‘outsiders’ have lost their credibility and will not be trusted in such an important matter. A referendum under their supervision will not be acceptable under any circumstances to the locals.
The outsiders should refrain from playing with the destiny of the people of Fata if the area is to remain an integral part of this country. The people of Fata will be within their constitutional right to reject a system imposed on them by others.
Pakistan embassy sales’ scandals
By Dr Qaisar Rashid
September 16, 2015
Over the years Pakistan’s bureaucracy has developed its own expertise of indulging in corruption, called white-collar crime. To proscribe corruption there are anti-corruption departments. However, if corruption is committed outside Pakistan, these departments face limitations in investigation in terms of bearing the high cost of investigation and difficulties in having access to documents and bank accounts. This is why culprits get off scot-free.
In the beginning of the coming month, two cases are to be presented before parliament’s public accounts committee. These belong to the embassy sales’ scandals that took place in Jakarta (Indonesia) and Tokyo (Japan). On both counts, the land having the embassy’s building and the ambassador’s house was illegally sold to local companies and in return kickbacks were secured allegedly by the embassy staff, especially the ambassadors.
In 2000, a directive was issued by the then chief executive of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, saying that with a view to curtailing the huge expenditure on rentals, the government should purchase or acquire offices and residences for Pakistan’s missions abroad. Consequently, the government formed an inter-ministerial committee having representatives of the ministries of foreign affairs, finance and housing and works. It is noteworthy that the directive issued by General Musharraf allowed only the purchase of offices and residences and not the sale of existing ones.
In February 2002, the then ambassador of Pakistan to Indonesia, Major General (retired) Mustafa Anwar Hussain, overstepped his authority and sold the embassy’s land and buildings to a company, Era Victoria, belonging to his Indonesian wife at a throw away price under the pretext of buying a new piece of land or building for the embassy elsewhere; he made the sale and purchase a household affair. General Hussain did not seek the obligatory prior approval from the inter-ministerial committee or even the ministry of foreign affairs of Pakistan, as the strength of General Hussain lay in being once the instructor of General Musharraf. Consequently, General Musharraf, who had taken over the country in October 1999 under the ruse of cleansing it of the menace of corruption, came to the rescue of General Hussain and overruled the objections of the inter-ministerial committee (and those of the ministry of foreign affairs), and approved the deal by countersigning it. This point exemplifies that the top military brass (i.e. army generals) is also not immune to corruption when it finds a chance to indulge in it. Secondly, the top military brass condones malicious acts by one another while it leaves no chance to besmirch civilians of their misdeeds.
Encouraged by the episode in Indonesia, Kamran Niaz, the ambassador of Pakistan to Japan, also became active and, in 2007, during the one-year extension period of his service tenure (from March 2007 to February 2008), and through another embassy officer, Asghar Ali Golo, disposed off the land along with the embassy’s building and the ambassador’s house for two main reasons as per the embassy letter Pakistan News, issue number 22/2007. First, the local government’s regulations of a 60 to 40 ratio (in respect of the covered area) were unsuitable for building a new embassy complex there. Secondly, the local government of Tokyo did not allow more than three-storey buildings there. Hence, a new piece of land had to be bought to construct the embassy premises.
In Tokyo, the embassy and the ambassador’s residence were located on a land area measuring 2249.16 square metres at Motoazabu Minato Ward, which was valued as one of the highest per square metre land areas price-wise in Tokyo by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), Japan, in 2008-2009. The MLIT measured the value of one square metre of land here against more than two million yen. On the other hand, the premises of the embassy complex where it is located currently is on land area measuring 2400.42 square metres at Minamiazabu Minato Ward, which was valued by the MLIT as one of the lowest per square metre land areas area price-wise in Tokyo in 2008-2009. The MLIT measured the value of one square metre of land here against less than one million yen. In other words, compared to the previous land, the price of the existing land is less than half. Additionally, a diplomatic mission can buy land from the host country at half the market price. This point further lowered the price of land in Minamiazabu Minato Ward to another half: less than half a million yen.
In 2007, Pakistan’s mission to Japan sold the land and the embassy’s buildings at Motoazabu Minato Ward, Tokyo, to Nomura Real Estate (and construction) Company privately without calling any bids, tenders or announcing any expression of interest through advertisements in the national dailies of Japan. Nomura relocated the embassy staff to a temporary work place and constructed a new embassy complex at Minamiazabu Minato Ward in 2008. It cannot be called a swap deal because, as per the documents of the local government (Tokyo), not Nomura but the government of Pakistan bought the new piece of land from Japan’s ministry of finance. Resultantly, one can surmise that the new piece of land in Minamiazabu Minato Ward was bought at half the market price and that, in the name of the government of Pakistan, the payment was actually made by Nomura. The then Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz, countersigned to protect the deal.
Interestingly, in August 2007, Nomura obtained a no objection certificate from the local government (Tokyo) to construct an eight-storey commercial, residential building (two storeys under ground and six storeys on the ground) on the land where the Pakistani embassy was located at Motoazabu Minato Ward. Secondly, Nomura did not follow the 60 to 40 ratio rule when it constructed a residential commercial building there. Hence, one can conclude that either Nomura was smarter than Pakistan’s mission to Japan or both were in collusion with each other to share the windfall.
Dr Qaisar Rashid is a freelance columnist and can be reached at email@example.com