Archive for the ‘Express Tribune’ Category

Media Freedom…For Militants

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

The News (Jang Group)Any pretense of media freedom was washed away by the ink in Kamal Siddiqi’s pen when he wrote to instruct Express Tribune reporters to write “nothing against any militant organisationand its allies like the Jamaat-e-Islami, religious parties and the Tehrik-e-Insaf”. This is not a judgment against Express Media Group which has suffered repeated terrorist attacks, including the recent life attack against Raza Rumi. But it is worth noting that while pro-democracy voices of reason are being silenced both under threat and at the instruction of the media groups themselves, there is another voice that remains free to spread its ideology: jihadi militants.

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A perfect example of this is the decision by The News (Jang Group) to publish an extensive pro-Taliban interview with jihadi leader Hafiz Saeed. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief excused militant violence inside Pakistan by blaming ‘foreign enemies’ and claiming that ‘Those who are destroying peace in Pakistan are directly or indirectly working on the foreign agenda’.

Hafiz Saeed speaking at rally

Meanwhile, the jihadi leader also justified use of terrorism.

“The Lashkar-e-Tayyaba is active in Indian-held Kashmir and pursing a legitimate struggle. It has no presence in Pakistan.”

This clever distinction between condemning terrorism inside Pakistan while promoting terrorism outside Pakistan has been Hafiz Saeed’s practise for long. He is known to give interviews where he condemns blasts inside Pakistan, but he also collects money and weapons and recruits militants to carry out terrorist attacks outside Pakistan.

In a fiery Friday sermon, Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed called on the people to wage jihad against America in order to save Pakistan and Islam. “Come to us. We will teach you the meaning of jihad… The time to fight has come.”

The sermon was held at the JuD head office Jamia Markaz al-Qadsia in Lahore, where Saeed had his own security. Some of the security personnel were also seen carrying weapons with silencers. A box was placed at the exit and men asked for people exiting the mosque to give funds for jihad.

Media gives a platform for militant leader Hafiz Saeed to project jihadi ideology, but silences moderate voices that criticise all violence and promote peaceful solutions and communal harmony. Ironically, by publishing jihadi propaganda and silencing moderate voices, media is contributing to the problem which has resulted in increased attacks on media. There is no easy solution to this situation, but promoting religious extremists like Hafiz Saeed is not the answer.

Express Tribune’s Blank Page: Censorship or Protest?

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Readers of Express Tribune were greeted with an unusual sight last week: A large blank space on the front page.

Express Tribune blank space

What was missing was a report, first published by The New York Times that accuses former DG-ISI Gen Shuja Pasha and an independent section of ISI of having either helped hide Osama bin Laden or, at the very least, having known he was in Pakistan the whole time.  The piece, by British journalist Carlotta Gall, makes serious accusations of aiding and abetting terrorism by national agencies. When the piece was first published, it was immediately dismissed by all and sundry, even before ISPR had a chance to issue a statement terming the report as ‘baseless and ridiculous‘.

Regardless of official denials and any doubts about the report’s authenticity, most newspapers did report on the piece – it was simply too controversial to ignore completely. These reports consisted largely of theories about why the report could not be trusted. One newspaper, however, was in a peculiar position. Express Tribune has an agreement to be the international distributor of New York Times content in Pakistan. In this role, they were responsible for printing the controversial piece and distributing with regular content. As seen above, though, the newspaper instead chose to replace it with a blank space. This decision has resulted in accusations of censorship against Express Tribune, but actually these accusations may be missing the point.

Much attention has been given to Express Tribune’s recent decision to avoid writing against ‘militant organisations and its allies‘ among other controversial topics. The decision was made in response to a series of attacks against Express Tribune offices by terrorist groups. But it should be remembered that jihadi militants were not the first or the only ones to attack journalists whose reporting they did not appreciate. In 2010, investigative reporter Umar Cheema was kidnapped and tortured. Cheema, however, lived to tell his tale. Saleem Shahzad was not so lucky.

When the New York Times published Carlotta gall’s report about the ISI knowing about Osama bin Laden, Express Tribune found itself faced with a difficult decision. It could publish the piece and not only run afoul of its policy against writing against terrorism, but also find itself on the wrong side of both militants and security agencies. This is where most media groups would replace the report with one of two things: Either a piece that criticises the report, or something that doesn’t mention it at all. Express Tribune did something else. They published nothing.

As noted above, this has been heavily criticised as self-censorship. But it can also be considered as part of a long tradition of journalistic protest against censorship also. In the 1980s, South African newspapers protested official censorship by including blank spaces where controversial information was supposed to appear. Similar protests have appeared in Chinese newspapers and Egyptian newspapers also.

Actually, the New York Times complaint about censorship may actually provide a clue:

Though the article appeared to have been excised from all copies of the newspaper distributed in Pakistan, the story seemed to be available to Pakistani readers online.

By publishing a large blank space, Express Tribune may have withheld the controversial information, but they also drew attention to the fact that there was something that someone powerful didn’t want people to read. And the fact that it is available on the internet means that readers, who are now alerted that there’s something what they’re not supposed to know about, can still read it.

So did  Express Tribune censor the piece? Or did they protest the increasingly narrow window of what we’re allowed to talk about? It’s entirely possible that they did both.

Is PPP The Last Acceptable Media Punching Bag?

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Express Tribune LogoWhen we were first shown a copy of the email sent by Kamal Siddiqi advising Express Tribune staff against writing against Jamaat-e-Islami, PTI, extremism, militancy, TTP or any other terrorist group, a debate began about whether we should say anything. After some heated discussion, an agreement was finally made that out of respect for the journalists who were facing the very serious life threats from Taliban militants, we would refrain from making any statement either supporting or condemning the decision by Siddiqi Saab, who is a respected and accomplished professional in our field. Not being in his position, we decided that we should not second guess his position. If Express Tribune began to write only about sport and entertainment…it would be sad, but there were certainly worse things to worry about. Since that time, though, something we did not expect has happened and we feel that we must break our silence.

It is one thing to tell staff to avoid criticising terrorists out of fear of retaliation. We can disagree on whether such a move is worthy of a media group of Express Tribune‘s prestige, but it is one that honest people can agree to disagree about. If Express Tribune does not want to be part of the solution, to terrorism, however, turning their guns on the only people who actually do speak out against the terrorists makes them part of the problem. Unfortunately, this is what we are seeing more and more of each day.

Last May, PPP lost re-election and were relegated to the opposition benches. Despite losing power, there were no threats made to disrupt the country through extended street actions. Jiyalas did not take up arms and begin savagely murdering innocents by the bus load in an attempt to force the government into ‘peace talks’. Rather, the outgoing party did what political parties are supposed to do in a democracy: They licked their wounds, accepted their defeat, and after some reflection, began re-organising and speaking out in opposition.

One of the most visible changes since PPP’s loss has been the emergence of Bilawal as the public face not only of the PPP itself, but as a boldly outspoken critic of the Taliban and religious extremism in the country. While some corners of media continue inciting attacks on religious minorities, Bilawal has appointed a Hindu journalist as his advisor and has Tweeted that he wants to see a Christian PM in Pakistan during his lifetime. In greatest contrast to most of the political leaders, Bilawal has spoken out strongest against the Taliban, terming them as ‘stone-age‘ and publicly urging the military to ‘beat them on the battlefield‘.

Having been instructed not to criticise JI, PTI, TTP, or other militant groups, Express Tribune is left with few punching bags. The PML-N is one, certainly, but criticising the party in power threatens the two A’s crucial to any media group: Access and Advertising. This leaves only the PPP for Express Tribune to beat up on. Recent pieces published by Express Tribune have taken a noticeably harsh tone, including terming Bilawal as ‘incompetent‘ and even going as far as predicting ‘PPP’s end‘.

The problem is not that PPP or Bilawal should not be criticised, but that if PPP is being criticised while others are not, the appearance is that Express Tribune is against liberals and, by not giving equal criticism to Taliban and their sympathisers, it ends up actually appearing like it is projecting a pro-Taliban ideology, even if unintentionally.

As we noted at the beginning, terrorist attacks against Express Tribune offices and the memories of journalists who were martyred make the decision of whether or not to continue reporting on terrorism a difficult one and one that only Kamal Siddiqi is in a position to make. With all due respect, though, media cannot decide to stop criticising one side only without at least the appearance of taking sides. If Express Tribune believes it is in their interest to stop criticising some political groups, they have a responsibility to stop criticising all political groups.   Express Tribune provides a valuable perspective in the national discussion, but only when it is free and impartial. When it is not, it can lead to confusion.

Latest Media Hoax: No Agreement On Aafia Siddiqui

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

aafiaLast week, reports of a breakthrough in efforts by some groups to repatriate Dr Aafia Siddiqui filled the print and electronic media as reporters rushed to report that the US had agreed to return the Pakistani neuroscientist in a ‘prisoner swap’. After several days of heavy announcements, statements by political and government officials, and countless hours of analysis by so-called ‘experts’, it turns out that this is nothing but the latest media hoax.

Headlines announced that ‘US Agrees on Aafia Siddiqui’s Extradition’ and even quoted spokesman for Foreign Office Umar Hameed confirming the US offer, and electronic media was filled with talking heads debating and analysing the ins and outs of the agreement.

Politicians, too, chimed in with their own statements. PTI gave a press release rejecting American conditionalities.

Today, though, we learned that all the debating, analysing, and responding to the agreement was nothing but thin air.

A spokesman for the US Embassy in Islamabad has officially denied that any agreement has been made. But this is not even a case of premature celebration. It turns out there was never even a discussion of extraditing the convict Aafia Siddiqui.

“No, the United States government is not in discussions with the Government of Pakistan on a prisoner exchange or transfer involving Dr. Aafia Siddiqi,” said Meghan Gregonis, a spokesman for the US embassy…”The United States and Pakistan do not have and are not negotiating a bilateral prisoner exchange agreement.”

There are three important points to be taken from this case. The first is to show just how quickly lies can spread through the media and create confusion in even the highest levels of government. Politicians and high-level bureaucrats have once again been humiliated by the media that has given them false information. And the most humiliated of all, of course, is the national media which appears to be filled with gullible fools who will believe anything.

The second point is just how easy it should have been to avoid all of this humiliation. Missing from the false reports of the extradition agreement were statements from any American officials. Did no reporter call the US Embassy to ask for a statement? Did no editor ask to check their reporter’s evidence for such a serious story of international relations? Obviously, the answer is no.

The third point that should be considered not only by our dear readers, but by every reporter and editor also, is just how easy it has become for someone with an agenda to manipulate our media and use it as a tool not to inform, but to mislead the masses who rely on media for factual information.

The consequences of these failings are greater than the humiliation of certain egos only. If we as a nation are willing to be led by the nose, never asking critical questions and demanding the inconvenient truth instead of convenient lies, how can we address the grave issues facing the nation and overcome even the simplest of obstacles? The success of the nation requires a media that reports facts.

What Ikram Sehgal Forgot To Mention About His Purchase of G4S

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Ikram Sehgal with Gen. MusharrafThe Express Tribune reported earlier this week that foreign security firm G4S’s stake in Pakistan operations was recently purchased by its local partner, Ikram Sehgal. We have noted before that Mr Sehgal has a small problem with disclosing relevant facts and conflicts of interest related to his business ventures when talking to media, and unfortunately it appears that this time is no different.

According to the report in Express Tribune, Ikram Sehgal told reporter Kazim Alam that “G4S officials were simply taken aback by our offer. They never expected that a Pakistani company could raise so much capital on its own.” He went on to note that “Bank Alfalah, Silkbank and Summit Bank helped him raise the money”.

What Ikram Sehgal failed to mention to the reporter is that he sits on the Board of Directors of Bank Alfalah, which may put his use of the Bank for fundraising for his own purposes in direct conflict with Bank Alfalah’s strict Code of Conduct which requires Directors to:

  • Disclose any conflict of interest
  • Adhere to the highest moral conduct and best practices
  • Exercise independent judgment

Bank Alfalah defines Conflict of Interest as:

when any employee permits the prospect of direct or indirect (e.g. through family connection) personal gain to influence his/her judgment or actions more generally, when he/she favors someone else’s interest over that of the Bank’s or any of such customer in the conduct of Bank’s business.

The Conflict of Interest policy goes on to explicitly prohibit any Director from seeking to do business with the bank:

An employee may not hold a position of director, consultant, employee, representative or agent with any supplier, competitor or organization either doing or seeking to do business with Bank without prior written consent of the Bank’s Central Management Committee, CEO or Board of Directors.

It is not known if Mr Sehgal has obtained the required written consent prior to using Bank Alfalah to raise money for this multi-million dollar purchase because the reporter seems to have been unaware of the relationship. Whether or not Sehgal obtained the required written consent, however, may be irrelevant if his action is viewed as ‘Self-Dealing’ which is when a person takes advantage of his position to act in his own self interest rather than the interest of his Bank. This type of conflict of interest can have more than ethical consequences only. The global economic crisis has been blamed in part on self-dealing by banks like Merrill Lynch and Citigroup, both of which ended up being among the biggest losers in the crisis also.

However, these are questions for Ikram Sehgal and his investors, including his own Bank Alfalah. If they believe using their customers’ money to help Mr Sehgal purchase a private security company for himself is a good investment, that is their business decision. But as journalists, our business is reporting all the facts – even if we have to uncover them ourselves – so that people can make their own decisions.

Nadir Hassan’s Missing Link

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Nadir Hassan wrote for Express Tribune that it is time to de-link drones and terrorism. Nadir Hassan’s analysis is based on a commonly accepted idea: that TTP and Afghan Taliban are two distinct groups with different goals.

Much of the terrorist violence in the country is the handiwork of the TTP, a coalition of various militant groups that operate inside Pakistan, while drone attacks chiefly target militant groups that have found refuge in the tribal agencies but are mainly interested in carrying out attacks in Afghanistan. Linking the use of drones on the latter with the violence of the former makes about as much sense as blaming Protestants for the sins of Catholicism. They may have similar ideologies rooted in the same religion but they have goals and aspirations which rarely overlap.

Unfortunately, this appears to be more wishful thinking than verifiable fact. In February 2009, Geo TV reported that TTP leaders in Waziristan formed a new group named Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahideen and swore allegiance to Mullah Omar as Amir-ul-Maumineen.

The basis for this thought is that militant groups that attack American targets in Afghanistan don’t usually attack targets in Pakistan. Some of these groups, like the followers of Jalaluddin Haqqani who has also sworn allegiance to Mullah Omar, are even considered by some to be ‘pro-Pakistan’. Since these fighters of the ‘Haqqani network’ are not carrying out attacks inside Pakistan, it is assumed that they are not a threat. Nadir Hassan repeats this in his piece also.

In pursuing its own interests, the US uses its drone technology to target those it sees as a threat to its troops and interests in Afghanistan. That same instinct of self-preservation leads the US to constantly pressure Pakistan to carry out a military operation in North Waziristan against the Haqqani network, which has attacked targets only in Afghanistan. We have obviously refused to do so since the Haqqani network poses no immediate threat to Pakistan.

We should examine the claim that Afghan Taliban are only fighting an occupation by the Americans and don’t have broader goals. If this is true, why such attacks at the suicide bombing of the Eid Gah mosque in Maymana that killed almost 50 people including women and children? Why the Afghan Taliban threaten consequences to girls’ schools, including the killing of the headteacher of a girls’ school? Why the beheading of 17 people including women for attending a mixed-gender party? These are not the acts of a liberation army, they are the acts of militant group seeking to force its ideology on the people through violence and intimidation.

It is worth noting that the same types of attacks are carried out by TTP in Pakistan. The suicide bombing at Data Darbar, the attack on Malala for promoting education of girls. Yes, Afghan Taliban also attack American military bases, and TTP attacks Pakistan military bases, but even this raises an obvious question: Are TTP and the Afghan Taliban fighting two fronts of the same ideological war?

Hassan’s conclusion is worthy of consideration:

“The only distinction our military has drawn is that of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. This may be about as unhelpful a designation as one could get. ‘Good’ Taliban are described as those attacking Afghanistan, while the baddies are those who go after us. Instead of moralistically differentiating between them, it would be far more persuasive to differentiate on the basis of practicality.”

So then the question we should be asking is whether it’s ‘practical’ to let a militant threat develop on our Western border. This is the question that neither Nadir Hassan nor anyone else seems willing to address.

⸮پھر وہی ڈرامہ پھر وہی امریکی سازش

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

پاکستان میڈیا واچ کی ٹیم اپنے قارین کی توجہ روزنامہ جنگ کی ایک رپورٹ کی جانب مرکوز کروانا چاھتی ھے۔ نیچے ملاحظہ کییجئے۔

Daily Jang 09-25-2012

یہ سب باتیں مجاہد کامران صاحب نے روزنامہ جنگ کے ساتھ خصوصی گفتگو میں کیں۔ اس سے قبل مجاہد کامران کا انگریزی اخبار ایکسپریس ٹربیون میں بھی بیان آچکا ھے۔ نیچے ملاحظہ فرمائیے۔

Abbotabad raid was staged, claims PU VC

پاکستان میڈیا واچ کی ٹیم چند چیزوں کی نشان دھی کرنا چاہے گی۔ اورساتھ ہی چند اہم سوالات اٹھانا چاھے گی۔

⸮کیا پاکستانی سکیورٹی ایجنسںیز کو اس بات کی خبر نہ تھی

⸮ یا یہ سب معلوم ھونے کے باوجود انہوں نے اس بات میں ذلت اٹھانا بہتر سمجھی کہ امریکی فوج نے پاکستان کی خود مختاری کی خلاف ورزی کی

⸮کیا اسامہ بن لادن کے بیوی اور بچے سب جھوٹ بول رھے ھیں

⸮کیا ایبٹ آباد کمیشن بلا وجہ وقت برباد کر رہا ھے

⸮اگر بن لادن پہلے ہی مر چکا ھے تو اس کے چھوٹے بچے کیسے موجود ھیں

⸮اگر مجاہد کامران صاحب درست ھیں تو اس کا مطلب ڈاکٹر شکیل آفریدی پر بنا کیس بالکل بے بنیاد ھے

ان سب سوالوں کے جواب دینا بہت ضروری ھے۔ وائس چانسلر پنجاب یونیورسٹی ایک اہم پوسٹ ھے اور پاکستان میڈیا واچ کی ٹیم مجاہد کامران صاحب سے ہوش کے ناخون لینے کی درخواست کرتی ھے۔

Express Tribune Editorial Repeats Rumours, Ignores Facts

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Express Tribune LogoIn its editorial on 17th September, The Express Tribune leaves out pertinent information while speculating about information that is easily confirmed or denied. Ultimately, these mistakes lead the editors to a conclusion that is divorced from reality.

The Express Tribune describes the anti-Islam Internet video (calling it a film seems to give it far too much credit) as “put on YouTube by individuals in the US, backed by anti-Islamic pastor Terry Jones, who is based in Florida”. When we first read this we were struck with such a bizarre construction. It seems like the editors bent themselves backwards in order to avoid writing that the video was created by an Egyptian convict and promoted heavily by hardliners on Egyptian TV.

The editors then go on to describe the violent protests that resulted from the widespread promotion of the film (by Egyptian TV) as a success for Terry Jones “whose desire to spark hate-filled behaviour amongst Muslims, has once again been successful”. Why did they say nothing about the desires of religious hardliners who actually promoted the film.

The strangest part of The Express Tribune editorial, however, comes in the second paragraph which speculates that there is different treatment for anti-Islamic material in the US than there is for anti-Jew or anti-African-American material.

Surely, some provision must exist within US laws to reprimand derogatory attacks on particular religious or ethnic groups, intended to incite anger. It is difficult to imagine that such false and offensive diatribes against African-Americans, Jews or other communities would be tolerated to any degree had it occurred in the US itself.

This is a claim that has been circulating widely. Rather than research the claim, unfortunately, The Express Tribune simply repeated it without question. A simply search of YouTube’s content easily finds thousands of videos that are anti-Jewish, anti-African-American, anti-Buddhism, anti-Hindu, anti-American…anti-everything, really. Additionally, a 2008 article in The New York Times about free speech laws in the US makes the point clearly:

Under the First Amendment, newspapers and magazines can say what they like about minorities and religions — even false, provocative or hateful things — without legal consequence.

What about hate speech against Jews and minorities?

“In much of the developed world, one uses racial epithets at one’s legal peril, one displays Nazi regalia and the other trappings of ethnic hatred at significant legal risk, and one urges discrimination against religious minorities under threat of fine or imprisonment,” Frederick Schauer, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, wrote in a recent essay called “The Exceptional First Amendment.”

“But in the United States,” Professor Schauer continued, “all such speech remains constitutionally protected.”

What if the speech is intended to hurt the sentiments of a group?

But merely saying hateful things about minorities, even with the intent to cause their members distress and to generate contempt and loathing, is protected by the First Amendment.

In 1969, for instance, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction of a leader of a Ku Klux Klan group under an Ohio statute that banned the advocacy of terrorism. The Klan leader, Clarence Brandenburg, had urged his followers at a rally to “send the Jews back to Israel,” to “bury” blacks, though he did not call them that, and to consider “revengeance” against politicians and judges who were unsympathetic to whites.

Instead of speculating that “surely, some provision must exist”, why didn’t the editors at The Express Tribune spend some small amount of time to research the question? It took us only a few minutes to find examples where hate speech against both Jews and African-Americans was protected.

After repeating these typical rumours and speculations, The Express Tribune concludes it’s editorial by blaming Washington for the anti-American outbursts.

It is hardly surprising that we see such outrage. Even worse is the fact that it appears to have been very deliberately provoked by placing the highly offensive film on a public website and then going out of the way to promote it. What Washington does not appear to realise is that such actions will not curtail the growing hatred for it, thereby making global issues harder to resolve.

This is an ironic conclusion since the people who went “out of the way to promote it” were not in Washington but were in Cairo, and may very well have had their own reasons for deliberately provoking outrage. Unfortunately, none of this was found worthy of mention by The Express Tribune.

If media groups do nothing but parrot the rumours and speculation peddled for cheap in the street, what is the point of pretending it is journalism? Such behaviour might be expected from certain quarters, but from The Express Tribune it is particularly disappointing.

US Refutes Express Tribune Article, ISPR stays mum

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Express Tribune reported on Monday that the US is ready to give control of three Afghan provinces to Haqqani militants if they promise to stop supporting the Afghan Taliban. The claim is based on the statements of an anonymous ‘senior American military official’. According to the anonymous source, the Haqqanis are nearly invincible as both Pakistan military and US military are both helpless against them.

The top US military official acknowledged that the Haqqani network was posing a real threat to the Nato/Isaf mission in Afghanistan. “The Taliban use IEDs but the Haqqanis have the ability and capability to cause the maximum damage to the foreign forces in Afghanistan,” he said.

Unlike the public position, the US official candidly admitted that Pakistan’s reluctance to go after the Haqqani network was linked to its fear of a strong backlash and not necessarily because it considers the group as its proxy.

“Pakistan can hurt the Haqqanis but General (Ashfaq Parvez) Kayani is reluctant to target them because he is worried about reprisal attacks,” he said.

Spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan Brig Gen Stephen Twitty released a statement rejecting the report immediately.

“Assertions made in an article today in The Express Tribune that the United States is willing to cede Afghan territory as part of a rapprochement with the Haqqani network and that the U.S. sees the Haqqani Network playing an ‘…important role in the future political dispensation of Afghanistan,’ are categorically false.

“These comments, attributed to ‘a senior American military official’ are inconsistent with U.S. policy.  Further, only the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has the authority to take political steps on behalf of the Afghan people.”

ISPR has issued no comment on the article’s claim.

Mythbusters: Are Generals better stewards of the economy?

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

RupeesDr SM Taha’s opinion column for Thursday’s Express Tribune, ‘Fake democracy’, repeats the myth that the nation has done better under military dictatorship than democratic governance. This myth is widely projected by apologists for dictators and martial law, but is based not in facts but economic smoke and mirrors.

Dr Taha writes that “the unpleasant fact is that the economic growth rate achieved during democratic regimes has compared poorly with the rates achieved during military regimes”. However, former Senior Economist at the World Bank and Finance Minister of Pakistan Shahid Javed Burki explains that this is a myth in his book Changing Perceptions, Altered Reality: Pakistan’s Economy Under Musharraf, 1999-2006.

During the eleven years of the period of Ayub Khan, the GDP increased at a rate of 6.7 per cent a year. In the Ziaul Haq period, which lasted also for eleven years, the GDP grew at 6.4 per cent a year. This should not imply that the Pakistani economy does well when men in uniform are in control. What it does show is that during periods of military rule Pakistan was able to draw significant amounts of foreign capital which augmented its low rate of domestic savings, and produced reasonable amounts of investment. But during military rule the economy also became extremely dependent on external capital flows. This created enormous vulnerability.

The economy under Ayub Khan in particular benefited from the infrastructure left behind by the British. Despite being a young nation, Pakistan started off with world class roads and canal systems. Much like the old joke, “What is the fastest way to get rich? Be born to rich parents…”, Ayub Khan has been given credit for an economy that was largely a product of historical chance instead of specific policies.

Describing economic growth during the dictatorship of Gen Musharraf, Dr Burki explains that,

“According to one point of view in this debate, the brisk performance in 2004-5 was the consequence of the happy confluence of a number of events. Those who held that view – and I belong to that group – thought there was a low probability of that happening again.”

Even during the alleged economic growth that took place under Gen Musharraf’s rule, not everyone gained. The poor, in particular, actually suffered more, says Dr Burki.

How did the poor fare under President Pervez Musharraf? Slow recovery from the economic slump in the 1990s which was the result of the economic stabilization policies adopted by Islamabad under the pressure of the International Monetary Fund had one serious negative consequence. It exacerbated the situation of poverty; although firm estimates are not available, the number of people living in absolute poverty continued to increase at the rate of 10 million a year from 1999 to 2002.

The Musharraf government was warned of increasing poverty rates by reports from both Karachi-based Social Policy and Development Centre and UNDP, but “both reports were ignored by Islamabad”.

The poor fared better under Gen Zia, but despite some improvements due to his introduction of zakat, “the two more important reasons were the growth rates based on agriculture and the large amounts of remittances sent by Pakistani workers in the Middle East”. According to the internationally renowned economist Dr Burki, “more than anything else, remittances played a significant role in reducing the level of poverty”.

The idea that generals have been better stewards of the economy than civilians is, in short, a myth. It is a myth based on decontextualised data that ignores inconvenient facts. Dr SM Taha is entitled to believe that democracy as a system is flawed, but he should present his case without relying on myths.