A state of dread – 15 Nov 2022

Following the ideas of Keynes, some Keynesian economists make a sharp distinction between risk and fundamental uncertainty. Risk refers to the probabilistic character of the world and our ability to articulate our probabilistic view of that world. So for example, it is not certain what the weather is going to be in the future but we can make statements about what the chance of rain is.

Then there is fundamental uncertainty, a state in which according to Keynes “we simply do not know” and we are unable to articulate our view of the future in terms of probabilities and chance. We felt this kind of uncertainty when borders began to close like falling dominoes at the start of the pandemic. We felt it when Imran Khan refused to accept the vote of no-confidence which went against him and we felt it yet again when news broke that he had been shot.

In a complex social system, fundamental uncertainty and the anxiety that comes with it can only be quelled, but they never go away. Variations in how this anxiety is felt and corresponding variations in spending are part of the cyclical character of modern economies. In depressions, this state of uncertainty remains heightened and the anxiety keeps consumption and investment expenditures, which together form demand and drive the economy, low.

“But this is politics”, I hear you say. “This is political uncertainty”. There is political uncertainty, yes. But make no mistake: this is a vicious economic contest where various actors are making competing claims to economic resources. The parties making these claims are many: the industrialists and traders, the feudal lords and the real-estate tycoons, the salary earners and the urban middle class, the bankers and financiers. Then there are the political parties who will oppose or support these interests, in a variety of real life permutations. For example, see the very public and blunt warning given to the federal minister of finance by the MQMP’s Amin ul Haque (the present federal IT minister) over lack of cooperation and relief to the IT sector in his remarks at the launch of an IT park in Karachi on November 2, 2022. Over this economic contest looms the shadow of a state of uncertainty which preys on the public and its consciousness.

This naked contest for power over the command of real resources (the public’s labour, mobility and energy) is taking place, ironically, in the name of public interest and it is taking place without any ground rules. It’s not that the constitution has been thrown out the window. The constitution was already lying on the window sill, withered, neglected and covered in mould. It simply got tipped over as a fight broke out in the room: a push, a shove, a wild hook, and whoops! There it goes! Nobody even noticed. Nor do they care. It was the rulebook after all and the brawling boys wanted to throw punches anyway rather than follow the rules. What’s that? The book got tipped over the edge and fell out the window? Good riddance!

Since the contest is taking place without ground rules, we should not be surprised or caught off guard if it brings the country to its knees. We are stuck in a crisis equilibrium since at least the start of the calendar year, if not longer. People who have little will consume what they can and what they must. But those who have much, the leisure class, continue to spend and consume in order to amuse themselves to the point of numbness as they watch the brawl. Investors hold on to their capital dearly and move around the brawl to avoid getting knocked over in the process. If they can find an escape route out of the room, even better.

The pathologies of our economic system – well represented by the phenomenon of the appreciating money value of cars even as their physical value depreciates with use – which wishes to be a society of contract but cannot rid itself of its image and reality as a society of obligation and reciprocity, are too many. As an economist, one sometimes doesn’t know where to begin unpacking the mess and untangling the so many rotten threads of this story.

I do believe that the constitution is a good place to begin. But a rulebook and verbal commitments to follow it can only do so much because they are the bare minimum. It takes years to recover from socio-economic trauma, if individuals and societies ever do. Psychiatrist Dr Bessel van der Kolk, in the prologue to his classic book on trauma, ‘The Body Keeps the Score’, writes that “Trauma, by definition, is unbearable and intolerable.” The many compounded traumas which the Pakistani body politic keeps the score of and bears witness to are intolerable and unbearable. Cricket matches, nationalist slogans and false pride will be little consolation. This economist is filled with dread – and is certainly not alone. You think getting an economy out of a depression is tough? Try getting it out of the clutches of a state of dread.

The writer is an economist. He tweets @khand154

Read more

Pakistan’s Big Lie and Great Truth – 15 Nov 2022

Pakistan is in prison. A polycrisis prison. How will Pakistan escape this metastasized set of crises of economy, security, polity and society? Not the way it got into it. That has to be the starting logic of a way out. You cannot exit a complex maze by trying to take the same path that you took to get there.

It scares me to write these words. The immediate implication one may draw from this is that a constitutional and democratic way out is not possible. Whilst an honest and critical mind must acknowledge the possibility of this being true, an honest observer must also acknowledge the other truth. There has never been an attempt to allow Pakistan’s constitutional and democratic reality to exist. The mechanisms, processes and systems designed by the 1973 constitution and the pluralist and federalist democratic institutions reinforced by the 2010 amendments to the constitution have never been truly tested. Can we honestly declare someone to have failed a test when the test has never actually been attempted?

So the way out of the current Pakistani polycrisis is to not repeat the practices and narratives that got us into it. What got us into this mess? For many (some with vested interests, others too stupid to know better) the answer is ‘democracy’. Pakistan has supposedly arrived at and entered the polycrisis because of corrupt, incompetent and egotistical democrats.

The answer therefore is either no democracy, or less democracy, or at best, a vastly altered democracy that flips the logic of denying a single individual monarchical powers (like an all-powerful president), and invests in the myth of a man (or woman) of destiny that can change the fate of this great nation of 235 million people. Of course, all of this is the wrong answer. Why? Well, first, how did this wrong answer become the go-to response for so many well-meaning and otherwise intelligent folks?

The proliferation of this spurious logic about Pakistan’s incompatibility with democracy has been a grand disinformation project in which decades of effort have been invested. The nonsense of democracy having driven Pakistan into this ditch has been uttered without fear of contradiction with more passion and fearlessness than any other lie in the country’s history. Indeed, this may be more responsible in getting us into this polycrisis than any other single factor. This is the big Pakistani lie that has been repeated so many times, and so shamelessly, and so repetitively, that even the most rational and discerning mind will often find itself acknowledging the validity of the hateful incompetence, corruption and egotism of the Pakistani democrat.

All the while, the big Pakistani lie’s greatest oxygen is the obfuscation of the great Pakistani truth: the military enjoys an unaccountable and unlimited ingress into social, political and economic affairs that it has neither the legal authority, nor the competence, nor the capability to engage in. Let me repeat this, because the truth merits repetition. May Allah protect our soldiers, our chain of command, and the purity in the hearts and heads of our soldiers, spies, seamen and airmen. Pakistan’s great truth is that its military enjoys an unaccountable and unlimited ingress into social, political and economic affairs that it has neither the legal authority, nor the competence, nor the capability to engage in.

Until the mechanisms, processes and systems of Pakistani democracy are purged of the illegal and contaminant interventions – micro, meso and macro – by elements of, or associated with the Pakistani military, there can be no exit from Pakistan’s polycrisis prison.

In practice, this all seems like idealistic nonsense. The entire spectrum of politics today hinges on the retirement date of a four-star general. This is the kind of power that the military has cultivated for itself. This is also the kind of power that the people of the country have afforded to the military – out of the nation’s sense of gratitude for the services of our soldiers, spies, seamen and airmen. In the last several months, we have seen two things evolve.

The first is a diminishing of the overall power of coercion enjoyed by the military. It turns out that when a spoilt brat is thrown out of the VIP room by the same people that let him in in the first place, the brat doesn’t go quietly. That noise that Imran Khan made (and before him, the noise that Zulfi Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif made) is a direct challenge to the authority and power of the military.

That the military always wins is not a product of any kind of brilliance in the officer corps of the Pakistan Army or the dark, smoky rooms in Aabpara. The military always ‘wins’ because its power rests on the permanence of the state. Yet to keep winning, it has to maintain a place in the Pakistani imagination that places it above the muck and grime of Pakistani politics. Imran Khan has dragged the military into the public square, like Sharif had before him. Recovery requires a time out for the military. And everybody knows it. What happens to the coercive power of the country’s most important corpus when it is challenged the way Khan has challenged it? This is a big question for the next chief to grapple with.

The second is the threat of a full-scale economic meltdown. In the last 18 months, four highly capable and experienced finance ministers have had a chance to serve the country and keep it solvent. Imagine this being the job description for a finance minister anywhere, much less a country of nearly 120 million people below the age of 23.

Abdul Hafeez Shaikh was probably let go because he was not willing to be as aggressive as Shaukat Tarin. Shaukat Tarin decided to play Russian roulette with the fiscal deficit, with a full chamber, Miftah Ismail managed to avoid and delay what seems like an increasingly likely catastrophe, and Ishaq Dar came in all guns blazing, but discovered that the world isn’t where it was in 2013.

The problem isn’t Shaikh, Tarin, Ismail or Dar. The problem is the viability of Pakistan as an economic proposition. Neither Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, nor the IMF, nor the Communist Party of China can continue to bail out an entity whose only economic direction is the next bailout. This isn’t about friendship or brotherhood. It is about credibility. There is no knight in shining armour that can change this.

Only a credible change in direction will convince outsiders to come back to investing in the idea of Pakistan as a stable and reliable partner.

This change in direction requires three elements that the current military and political leadership seem incapable of providing.

One, a domestic political and social compact and ecosystem in which there is no threat of mass unrest. Dozens of countries have raucous politics. None of them seems to be on the edge of anarchy. Protest marches and dharnas that shut down businesses, cause containers to be assembled in the capital city, and scare off investors are cancer for Pakistan.

Two, a compact for decision-making that is not a spectacle. No country needing as much confidence building among investors and donors dares to manufacture as many foreign-relevant crises as Pakistan does. The TLP wants to define relations with France. Imran Khan wants Joe Biden to kiss the Taliban’s forehead. The Sharifs want China to disapprovingly wag their finder at Khan. Pindi, Islamabad, Bani Gala, Aabpara, Jati Umra, Naudero all need to be able to talk and resolve some issues without resorting to fighting ALL their fights on prime time television.

Three, a renewal of state capability that prioritizes quick, litigation-free decision-making – especially on issues related to the economic well being of the country. The existing PAS dominated decision-making system has already collapsed. It is held together by the helplessness of politicians, the benefits afforded to Pindi of invisible governance via DCs, and the paralysis of bright and honest individual officers. In sum however even with a perfect set of the existing mechanisms, processes and systems, the Pakistani state is incapable of serving its people. It demands urgent and immediate structural alterations.

All this requires the underwriting and guarantor-ing of the military, but it also requires the complete dissociation of the military from intervention – micro, meso or macro.

If this seems an impossibly delicate task, it is because it is impossibly delicate. But these are the wages of overseeing the wreckage that is the economy, polity and society today. It is time to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

The writer is an analyst and commentator.

Read more

First Lady inaugurates Genetic Screening Centre at LGH – 15 Nov 2022

LAHORE: First Lady Samina Alvi said that awareness about breast cancer and its timely diagnosis were highly important to minimise the harm from this disease. She said this at the inaugural ceremony of Genetic Screening Centre of breast and ovarian cancer at Lahore General Hospital on Monday.

Mrs Alvi said that genetic screening facility would help in getting high quality screening for women in the country and ultimately enable timely diagnosis of this cancer. “There is a dire need of getting mammograms done, but affordability is not possible for all sections in a developing country. Therefore, it is necessary for all women to carry out self-examination on monthly basis as it is vital for early detection of the disease”, she added. Samina Alvi said, “We have started breast cancer awareness campaign for the last four years and it has really helped in creating awareness.” All tools including helplines, mobile applications etc should be used to spread the awareness about breast cancer, she maintained.

She said the data of Shaukat Khanum Hospital showed that breast cancer patients at first and second stage visited the hospital in a large number. She urged the male members to take women of their family to hospital if they talk about any sign related to breast cancer. She said that efforts were also being made for the betterment of differently abled persons. However, she said there was a need to focus on mental health as it was most important aspect when it comes to facing any challenge. Samina Alvi said there were 13 hospitals in Karachi, which were offering free treatment of breast cancer, around 8 in Punjab, 3 in Islamabad and 5 in Kyber Pakhtunkhwa.

She further said that collective efforts were required to control the spread of this disease and to reduce mortality rate, which was around 50 percent. She said the awareness campaigns were being conducted in all major cities of the country, adding that screening and awareness activities were facilitating people of Wana and other far-flung areas also.

Principal Postgraduate Medical Institute/Ameer ud Din Medical Institute, Lahore General Hospital Prof Dr Sardar Al-freed Zafar and Prof Dr Ayesha Shaukat, Prof Ghazala and others also spoke on the occasion. Dr Al-freed Zafar also presented a shield to the First Lady.

Read more

Growers urged to avoid burning of crop residue – 15 Nov 2022

LAHORE: Widespread burning of crops residue has become a major reason of pollution in winter and growers must avoid it, said Political Assistant to Chief Minister Punjab, Iftikhar Ahmed Buttar.

Talking to APP here Monday, he said that this practice hugely affected the environment as well as health of people.“There is an urgent need of initiating integrated management of crops residue, including its use as fertilizer, cattle feed, bio-energy, substance for growing mushrooms and industrial use etc”, he suggested.He regretted that burning of crop residue was a common practice in Pakistan, India and some other countries as well.

Read more

‘No second FIR can be lodged on same subject’ – 15 Nov 2022

ISLAMABAD: “In any manner whatsoever, no second FIR can be registered on the same subject as per a verdict announced by a full bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2018,” advocate Rizwan Abbasi said on Monday.

Abbasi is a public prosecutor in four cases two against Imran Khan, one against Shahbaz Gill and one against Azam Swati. When contacted to know the legal standing of a second FIR sought by the PTI leadership, he said: “Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan is not just giving names but is implicating institutions safeguarding the country, something if acceded would please the forces working against Pakistan.”

Abbasi said the purpose of an FIR was to set the state machinery into action pertaining to criminal investigations. “Prior to 2018, there was a concept of registering multiple FIRs like in the case of Mir Murtaza Bhutto. In his case, three FIRs were registered.

He said so far as the Wazirabad incident was concerned, one FIR had already been registered. All the aggrieved parties might bring their stances through statements under Section 161 CrPC and those could be made part of the main FIR already registered with the confessional statement of the culprit arrested from the crime scene. He said it was not understandable why the PTI wanted to lodge the second FIR when its purpose could be resolved if it produced tangible evidence and record its version under Section 161 CrPC.

Read more

Call to curb bullying, corporal punishment at schools – 15 Nov 2022

Physical and mental torture, not only causes mental and intellectual distress in an individual but in the society

KARACHI:
A theme-based Children’s Week was launched under the Sindh Education Department for the first time in the province in connection with the World Children Day to create awareness about issues such as corporal punishment and bullying in schools.

Directorate Private Institutions Sindh and All Sindh Private Schools and Colleges Association have collaborated to mark the week aimed at raising awareness on children protection, nutrition, health, education and to highlight issues directly related to children and offer solutions.

In this regard, Secretary Education Schools Ghulam Akbar Laghari said that teachers try to establish discipline by corporal punishment, but they affect the mental abilities of children in the long-term. He said that along with meeting physical needs of children, it is also important to take care of psychological wellbeing and their self-esteem.

Physical and mental torture, not only causes mental and intellectual distress in an individual but in the entire society.

In this regard, Additional Director Private Institutions Rafia Malah said that during these four days, there will be a theme daily to raise awareness through various interesting activities for children, teachers and parents.

Sindh Private Schools and Colleges Association Chairman Haider Ali said, “we are against punishing children. Now the incidence of physical punishment is on the down ward trajectory.”

Students said that teachers should not beat children but should treat them with compassion. Students said that there should be more such awareness programs.

Read more

Revenue officer killed during anti-encroachment operation – 15 Nov 2022

KARACHI: A government official was killed and four others, including three policemen, sustained injuries due to firing and stone throwing by alleged land grabbers during an anti-encroachment operation in the Surjani Town area on Monday.

Windows of several vehicles were also smashed during the violence that started when an anti-encroachment team accompanied by police went to remove encroachments by land grabbers on the land of a welfare organisation in Surjani Town.

According to police, members of the land mafia started pelting the anti-encroachment team and police with stones, as a result of which three policemen were injured and several vehicles damaged.

Unidentified persons then opened fire on the government officials, injuring a revenue official, Manghopir Mukhtiarkar Aijaz Ahmad Chandio, and his driver Saeed Alam. They were rushed to a private hospital on the Stadium Road where Chandio succumbed to his injuries during treatment.

As soon as the incident was reported, a heavy contingent of police and the Rangers reached the scene. Karachi police chief Javed Alam Odho said the police were investigating the violent incident and the perpetrators would be arrested.

According to anti-encroachment officials, the additional deputy commissioner I District West had written a letter to take action against the encroachment in Surjani Town but as soon as the staff started the operation, firing started.

Police said the deceased revenue official was the brother of MPA Mumtaz Chandio and hailed from Naushehro Feroz. He was the father of four children and lived in Gulistan-e-Jauhar. His burial would take place in his native town.

Sindh Governor Kamran Khan Tessori and Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah expressed grief at the death of the revenue official and directed the inspector general of police to arrest the land grabbers involved in the incident. The CM also sought a detailed report from the Karachi commissioner on the incident.

Read more

Youth shot at, injured by Dolphin official – 15 Nov 2022

LAHORE: A youth was shot at and injured due to firing of a Dolphin Squad official in the Ghaziabad area Monday. Altaf-ur-Rehman, father of the victim, said that his son Hassan along with another person was going somewhere on his bike. As he reached near Laal Pul towards canal, a Dolphin Squad team signalled to stop him. When he did not stop, they shot at him. The victim received bullet injury and was moved to hospital.

CCPO Lahore Ghulam Mehmood Dogar took notice of the incident and ordered an inquiry into the matter. An FIR was registered against the suspected Dolphin Squad team under attempted murder charges. Police said that the bike had alteration. Such bikes are used for one wheeling purpose and the area is also considered to be conducive for the purpose. CCPO assured of taking action as per law.

CHILD HIT TO DEATH: A four-year-old child died and his parents were injured after passenger bus hit them in Begum Kot, Shahdara. Reportedly, the victim identified as Abdullah, his father Waqas and mother were going home. As they reached Begum Kot on Sheikhupura Road, a speeding bus hit them. The victims fell down and received injuries. Abdullah died on the spot. His body was moved to Mayo Hospital morgue. The injured were shifted to hospital. Meanwhile, a police team reached the spot on information and arrested the bus driver.

SHOT AT: A suspected burglar was shot at and injured by a security guard in Cantonment Division on Monday. Reportedly, the suspect had barged into a house. Suddenly, a security guard noticed him and tried to capture him. He offered resistance and tried to overpower him. The guard opened fire leaving him injured. He was identified as Azhar Hassan.

Read more

Demo against PTI MPA for ‘sheltering’ three bothers’ killers – 15 Nov 2022

LAHORE: Family members of three real brothers, who were shot dead in Malka Hans Pakpattan 12 days ago, staged a protest demonstration in front of Punjab Assembly on Friday, against PTI MPA Ahmed Shah Khagga for allegedly providing shelter to the murderers.

The protesters chanted slogans against the PTI MPA and demanded PTI Chairman Imran Khan look into the matter and forbid the MPA Ahmed Shah Khagga from sheltering the murderers. Tariq, paternal cousin of the victims, accused the MPA Ahmed Shah of not only proving shelter to the murderer Zafri Baloch, but also hindering investigation by pressurising the Punjab Police.

He along with family members has appealed to the former Prime Minister Imran Khan, Punjab Chief minister and Chief Justice Supreme Court and Punjab IG to look into the matter and provide justice to the victims’ families.

Tariq said that the accused Zafar Ali, Muhammad Asif, Farooq, Faiz, Imran, and Adnan with two unidentified accomplices had intercepted the victims when they were on their way to the court of a local judicial magistrate for hearing. The accused opened indiscriminate fire, as a result of which, three brothers Arshad, Tanveer and Mumtaz died on the spot.

Read more

Illegal arm holders held – 15 Nov 2022

RAWALPINDI: Police have arrested eight illegal arm holders and recovered arms and ammunition from their possession during crackdown here on Monday, informed police spokesman. Police have registered separate cases against all the accused and further investigation was in progress.

Read more