STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

Saudi Arabia is an economic juggernaut. Late King Faisal Al Saud triggered this process when he challenged the West and their Oil Companies. He changed the dynamics to make Saudis major beneficiaries of the “black gold” emerging from its massive oilfields. Starting in the seventies, Saudi Arabia embarked on its journey to convert itself from a primitive, underdeveloped society into a developing nation. The eighties saw an economic boothat attracted businessmen, entrepreneurs and adventurers towards Saudi Arabia. Those were heady days that I witnessed at close quarters for fifteen years working with Sheikh Abdul Latif Alsheikh of Al Emar Group.

During this period huge opportunities arose, massive fortunes were made and some gold-diggers made their pound of flesh. A few traits are common to inhabitants of harsh deserts and treacherous mountains; they have sharp survival instincts, toughened to face adversity, well grounded and confident. l saw all this unfolding as Western Educated professionals took control of the economic management of their country. While participating in corporate decision making, I saw their laser sharp analytic capabilities despite portraying calm, disarming mannerism. Whichever way the coin fell, the Saudis would come out ahead. This skill set and sophistication has grown hugely over the many decades since.

This backdrop came to mind when I see our present rulers rejoice and claim that huge petro dollars are moving into Pakistan in the near future to participate in the mineral wealth of Baluchistan and planned agricultural revolution. Saudi Arabia will be the first with 25 billion dollars, UAE will be next and other oil rich kingdoms will follow. There are arguments in favor; Reko Dik copper, gold reserves are huge. Saudis prefer to deal with army strongmen;General Raheel Sharif’s facilitation is huge and there are big profits to be made. That is only one side of the story.

In reality nothing concrete has been signed. Army Chief may be raising hopes prematurely. There are many considerations for such a huge undertaking; ability to maintain law and order, provide political stability, strong legally enforceable framework and above all continuity in governance. None of these exist today. General Asim Munir has only one tool; a huge hammer to flatten any dissension. He has deployed it since he got into office and the size of the hammer continues to grow. In his recent meetings with the business community, he has taken on the role of controlling finance, foreign affairs, law and order, planning, institutional reforms, and much more. The same coterie of self seeking leeches amongst businessmen, media person and spineless politicians are gravitating to General’s grandiose plans like they did with General Musharraf.  

This is a remake of a film we have seen bomb at the box office many times before, starring previous dictators. Sycophants will sing your praises when one is in power. Tall claims to end smuggling, elimination of corruption and massive expansion of tax net are just a good storyline. The good General maybe able to make some progress if he declares Martial Law and comes out in the open rather than play this game of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Does he have the guts to face international censure, internal turmoil and unsustainable economic rot?

There is another huge inconvenience dear rulers; Pakistan has a Constitution that sets the rules of governance. The revolutionary General has to suspend it ASAP; he cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. It is clearly an either or situation. Constitution dictates that elections have to be held within 90 days of dissolving an Assembly. This regime’s agenda requires a decade of uninterrupted rule. So the rulers have to drop their pretenses and come out with their real intentions.  

In a recent address, the Chief stated that after May 9th alleged rebellion the armed forces acted with restraint, patience and dignity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Reality is evident from kidnapping of Chaudhry Pervez Ellahi, abduction by commandos of IK, disappearance of Imran Riaz Khan, disrespect and harassment of women, mass arrests of PTI workers, continued humiliation and jail of PTI leaders and destruction of private property belie such claims. Further,complete subjugation of media is a simpleton’s solution in this day and age of social media. Previous dictators did not face these technology based challenges.

Print and electronic media under-reported the seismic shudders emanating from the lawyers convention in Islamabad. Yet every Pakistani, local or abroad knows all the details. Many major peoples movements, whether in Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt or anywhere, succeeded despite complete press censorship. The free and unaccountable license given to the police and bureaucracy got a severe jolt in Islamabad and Lahore High Courts. Justice Babar Sattar could be the silver lining to kick start checks and balances absolutely required to end this senseless reign of terror.

Discounting the fantasyland stories of the powerful; the real world issues revolve around backbreaking energy costs, crushing inflation and the economic debacle unfolding. Mostly freedom movements are spearheaded by intelligentsia with support of masses. It is coming together under the leadership of the lawyers.

PTI’s oppressive chokehold continues; yet its leader’s unfazed commitment to the country continues to grow his respect and stature. The rulers power-drunk role of bulldozing everything in sight will eventually run into a roadblock; sooner than later. We have to stand tall and show our commitment to fight for freedom from these mafias, as long as it takes.      

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