Amir Mateen


ISLAMABAD: The very notion of tabling a resolution in the National Assembly on poverty alleviation seemed bizarre. As if anybody would say ‘NO’ to it and that mere words would resolve the problem.

In a country where roughly one-third of the hapless multitudes cannot afford two meals a day, our legislature took less than 15 minutes to wind up discussion on poverty alleviation. The contents of the debate were even more pathetic.

Jamaat-e-Islami’s Sher Akbar Khan had a simple solution to this intricate problem: introduce Shariah and ban usury. Well, the mullahs got their chance to form the KP government in 2002 but it was hardly seen as a model. We also saw a crude version of Taliban Shariah in Swat and the macabre images of ‘Khooni Chowk’ are still fresh in our minds. The neighbouring Afghanistan still reels from the scars of the Taliban interpretation of Shariah.

Our Maulanas forget that Constitution is basically a consensus on how much of religion or a particular interpretation of Shariah, the old and the new ways that a nation wants to retain to govern its life. It cannot be dictated by a small band of Jamaat-e-Islami with less than one per cent representation in Parliament. And nobody stops Jamaat to try its model in the KP. The way Imran is turning into Taliban Khan, he should not have a problem with that. Asad Omer, we hope, is well versed in Shariah economics to enlighten us on this.

Other parties were equally frivolous in their contribution. MQM’s Sajid Hussain failed to impress us as the champion of middle class politics. And ANP’s super rich Haji Ghulam Bilour, who can take the credit for wrecking Railways in successive tenures, did not have much credentials to speak on behalf of Pakistan’s poor. Trust Sheikh Rasheed for at least adding some colour, if not content, to the debate. Sheikh Rasheed may have moved on from poverty to the world of cigars and SUVs but he keeps his fingers on the pulse of hoi polloi around Lal Haveli. His theory was simple: the poor man is suffering because the government fuels hyper-inflation by printing notes. He disclosed that workers of the Printing Press of Pakistan are not being allowed off days as the government keeps the machines running 24/7.

He warned the PML (N) that it should learn a lesson or two from India’s Aam Aadmi Party, which “broomed out” the ruling Congress Party in Delhi.

Sadly, this had no effect on the government benches. In fact, the entire three front rows of the Cabinet were vacant. The trio of super ministers – Nisar, Dar and Asif – have got sand bags in the shape of state ministers and parliamentary secretaries to absorb their punches.

And the prime minister continues to stay away from Parliament – this being his fifth month of absence after the budget. This gave the PML (N) backbenches enough reason to enjoy the ‘inevitable rape’ of the masses from sidelines. The newly appointed parliamentary secretary for finance, Rana Afzal, made a feeble attempt to respond but it lacked substance.

It just showed the deterioration of quality in our political elite. It hurt more as it coincided with Nelson Mendela’s burial. The shallow debate was a stark reminder about the state of our affairs – the utter lack of visionaries and ideologues amongst our ranks. We are not looking for Mendelas here but expect the government to at least give us some explanation, if not hope, of basic issues.

PTI’s Shafqat Mahmood was not wrong when he accused the government of becoming increasingly anti-poor. It continues to favour the big corporations, big traders and big agriculturists. The indirect taxation crosses the 70 per cent mark, which everybody knows, affects the masses. And the taxes on the wealthy segments, the corporate sector and the stock exchange continue to be withdrawn. Shafqat came down heavily on the recent amnesty scheme that allows the rich classes to, once again, whiten their black money.

We see a blind repetition of the much-maligned trickle-down theory where cartels are handed over public units through dubious privatisation; wealth gets concentrated in a few hands but nothing trickles down. What happened to the schemes like Qarz-utaro-mulk-swaro, asked Shafqat. One tends to agree with economist Nadeemul Haq who blames accountants and bankers who are given what should be the job of economists. He argues that we need a master plan before we go ahead with privatisation. The government is overly focused on revenue, ignoring growth generation. Well, it’s difficult to generate growth when the government happens to be the biggest borrower. We had to learn our basic economics from, imagine, Sheikh Rasheed who disclosed that banks do not have any money to give to the public. The government has printed money to the tune of Rs850 billion in the last few weeks. “So how will you control inflation in such a situation,” asked the Sheikh of Lal Haveli.

The Punjab government is yet to explain why it opposed Abid Hassan Manto’s petition, which seeks the implementation of land reforms. This means that nobody will be able to hold over 150 acres as stipulated by none other than Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. But then what do you expect when the landed aristocracy – along with their industrial class – monopolises power in Parliament. Funnily, even ZAB’s very own PPP government in Sindh has opposed the same proposal.

Tail piece: Abdul Qadir Baloch definitely went overboard in rebuking the PTI over its “immature” attempt to block Nato traffic on the drone issue. He believed that the PTI should have returned to the APC instead of playing to the galleries (dukan chamkana). Many believed that this was aimed at appeasing the visiting US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel. Our pundits think that the PML (N) relations with Washington are not as bad as being portrayed by Nisar’s recent statements. The Chaudhary of Chakri seems out of the loop and may have already been cut to size. In the meantime, Washington has agreed to kill our enemies and Islamabad does not mind the killing of their enemies (read Haqqanis).

Anyway, it was odd for Baloch taking up the issue which should have been the domain of Sartaj Aziz. But then he is busy clearing up the mess at the Foreign office, which has seen a flurry of reversals in recent years. Perhaps it is time to have a full time FM. Any takers?

The News

December 11, 2013