Random thoughts
On Matters Economic

By Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan


Anjaan ho to us-say koi dard-e-dil kahey
Jo jaanta ho us-ko main aagah kya karun

The political atmosphere in Pakistan is quite charged at the moment. As a consequence of the terrorist attack in Mumbai and the death of so many innocent people, we are again facing the gun barrel. Without providing any solid or convincing proof, the Indian government and the press have put a noose around our necks and are trying to hang us without a fair trial. Our so-called friends are giving them a helping hand. The people of Pakistan, already under the crushing pressure of poverty, inflation, food shortage, load-shedding, etc., are now forced to think about the threat of war.
The recession, starting from the USA, quickly engulfed the entire world, including Pakistan. The fall of the rupee, an inflation of about 30 percent and rumors of the possible bankruptcy of some banks shook the confidence of the common man. The governor of the State Bank took some precautionary measures to stem the tide, but our past experience with financial wizards has been extremely disappointing. Starting from Dr Yaqub, the State Bank and those at the helm of our financial affairs have continuously sung their own praises without much to show for it.
Load-shedding and the high cost of living had already put an unbearable load on the poor people and then came Eid-ul-Adha with its own demands. It seemed to be the last straw that broke the camel's back.
The availability of mobile phones had at least one advantage. People saved both time and money by sending greetings through SMS. A true picture of the situation was aptly illustrated by a cartoon in which a man was tied to a peg with a rope around his neck with a goat sitting on his back holding a knife in each front hoof and drooling. The downside of mobile phones is that, instead of buying milk, fruit, etc., for their families, many people buy a Rs200 card or more to chat with friends.
Our financial system and controls are worth copying by the world. We turn our banking clerks into financial wizards and economists overnight. In Pakistan bankers usually collect money at low interest rates and lend at higher rates. When the kitty is nearly empty, the financial wizard has a quick fix: raise taxes on oil, gas, food items, diesel, ghee, sugar, etc., and, lo and behold! A few billion rupees are made in a few weeks.
The so-called strict regulation by the State Bank on giving loans is a farce. We recently saw the shocking example of how influential borrowers had almost $800 million written off with a stroke of the pen. Similar actions were taken during Gen Zia-ul-Haq's time. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was misguided into freezing the foreign accounts of locals and expatriates after the nuclear tests of May 1998. In this way the government violated all international and local commitments. I tried to convince the authorities concerned to at least defreeze the accounts of the expatriates, pointing out that most of the locals had taken loans from the banks against their foreign currency deposits, but to no avail. Crooks always find willing listeners. That one act by the Nawaz government destroyed all the goodwill we had earned from the nuclear tests. If the prime minister had appealed to overseas Pakistanis to send their foreign deposits to help our economy against western sanctions, I am sure we would have received $5 billion in a short span of time. I could even have helped since Pakistanis abroad have never let me down when assistance was asked for.
Rulers don't jump down a well of their own volition. They are usually pushed from behind by their "wise" advisors. History has witnessed many examples of competent, intelligent advisors making a ruler popular, whereas selfish, incompetent advisors forced their ruler into failure.
The above refers only to our self-confessed financial wizards. I spent 15 years in Europe, living, working in and visiting many countries. A true financial wizard headed their financial ministries. I saw wonders taking place in Germany under Prof Erhard, in Belgium under Prof Eyskens and in Holland under the guidance of Nobel Laureate Prof Tinbergen. In our neighborhood, look at the credentials of Dr Manmohan Singh and compare it to our people, who often don't have any degree in finance. Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan was the only finance minister who, with his vast reading and knowledge and his sheer determination, proved to be a successful finance minister.
Here I would like to narrate an interesting episode. I was on extremely good terms with Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan since 1976 because of our nuclear program. I respected him almost like a father and had the feeling that he also treated me like his own son. Sometimes I used to take the liberty of telling jokes during the planning of the GIK Institute at Topi. We used to have frequent meetings in the guesthouse next to my residence. I was the project director of the proposed Institute and responsible for its planning, buildings, curriculums and laboratories. Upon my request, my former teacher at Delft (Holland) and Leuven (Belgium), Prof MJ Brabers, agreed to be the first rector of the GIKI. I can never forget how Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan, whenever he came to preside over these meetings, always made a point of first taking a few minutes to come to see my wife, enquire about her health and to thank her for supporting me in our nuclear program. One day during our meeting I jokingly asked him why it was that the western countries usually produced financial wizards whereas we were blessed with financial lizards, lazy and slow. He laughed, looked at H U Beg Sahib sitting next to him and said, "Dr Sahib, there is a Qur’anic injunction that people always get the rulers they deserve." I immediately thought of the French Monarchist Joseph de Maistere, who had more or less described it in these words: "Every nation has the government it deserves." Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Mr H U Beg undoubtedly made the best financial managers this country ever produced. Their support allowed us to complete our task at Kahuta successfully.
We are now used to the fact that, wherever there is an act of terrorism, a finger is pointed at us. There is a well-rooted, well-planned policy and reason behind this. The Western world has been unable to swallow the bitter pill of Pakistan being a nuclear and missile power. They will keep on harping on this issue with the sole aim of disarming us. It is a pity we could not produce nuclear power plants to divert their attention. We should have produced at least 10 plants by now, but inefficiency and flawed planning brought us to a situation where load-shedding has almost destroyed our industrial capacity. To achieve anything, one has to work hard and with sincerity. In Surah-e-Anfal, Ayat 53, the Almighty clearly ordained that He never changes the fate of a nation until it changed it itself.
The continuous load-shedding and contradictory statements by Raja Pervaiz Ashraf bring me to an important topic. People can bear anything, even hunger and thirst, but not the false assurances of their rulers. If you tell a hungry man that he will get food after two days, he will have patience and wait; but if you tell him that he will get it after two hours and he doesn't, his anger, discomfort and agony can't be imagined.
The dignity and standing of a nation is a reflection of the character of its leaders. They can take the public for a ride with false promises or tell lies to them for some time, but they cannot always fool them. In the end the leaders are the losers, not the public. They will damage their reputation and have lost respect. We recently witnessed the exit of Gen (R) Musharraf and his Q League by the supposedly uneducated, simple people. Making false statements or promises not only lowers one's standing in the eyes of the public, but is abhorred by the Almighty. If we tell the truth and take the public into confidence, they will go along willingly, bearing all hardships for the sake of the motherland. Today, more than ever before, there is need to follow the golden motto of the Quaid-i-Azam of "Faith, Unity and Discipline."
Again, a humble advice to the rulers: Never take the people for a ride or consider them stupid. Almost 2,500 years ago, the famous Chinese philosopher, Tao Tzu, gave a very clear warning, "People are difficult to govern because they are intelligent and have too much knowledge." I sincerely hope they get my point. (Courtesy The News)


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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