Economic Impact of Terrorism

The following article has been published in Daily Nation, dated 22nd December 2014

(E-Paper (Print Edition): http://nation.com.pk/E-Paper/lahore/2014-12-22/page-9)

(Online: http://nation.com.pk/business/22-Dec-2014/economic-impact-of-terrorism)

Economic Impact of Terrorism

Prof Dp

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

The menace of terrorism engulfing Pakistan culminated in the worst tragedy in recent history with the barbarian killing of children in the Army Public School Peshawar. While Pakistan was dragged in this quagmire by a dictator searching for the legitimacy of his rule, the complicated regional “grand game” has now reached the stage where the country is tearing itself from within, something the enemies always desired.

Leaving aside all other complicacies and debates, killing children can never be condoned no matter what the reason. Islam’s fundamental war principle baring one unique incident has been the strict instruction to not harm the children, women, elderly and even the non-combatant men of the non-believing enemy let alone the Muslims. The massacre in Peshawar was therefore anything but Islam. It was infact an effort to tarnish the image of Islam and a direct assault not just on Pakistan or Islam but entire humanity. Having said that, let’s focus on the lesser examined aspect of the terrorism faced by Pakistan, the economic impact.

The USA-started war on terror that General (R) Pervaiz Musharraf brought into Pakistan while claiming as his success, the meager assistance from USA had actually negatively hammered Pakistan’s economy to the tune of well over $ 103 Billion as per National Economic Survey and various other reputable studies. The loss in addition to the direct costs resulting from infrastructure damage and cross-border attacks involves loss of investor confidence, loss of productivity, wasted time, reduced exports due to increased security costs, business loss due to law and order situation, lack of developmental funding due to diversion to security-related expenses, e.t.c.

Although most of the above costs couldn’t be fully monetized and the biggest factor, the human cost has not been considered, still the conservative estimate of over $ 100 billion should be an eye-opener. To fully appreciate the significance of this, compare it to the total foreign debt of Pakistan currently standing at around $ 64 billion. This would mean an extra $ 39 billion to spend on development and betterment of the lives of the people of Pakistan even after paying off all the foreign borrowings to date. These borrowings as of now account for most of our national budget on account of debt servicing, even much higher than the total defense budget.

Meanwhile the total US aid to Pakistan during the above mentioned war has been under $ 20 billion. It touches the mark of $ 25.9 billion as per the most lavish US claims which still results in Pakistan ending up $ 77.1 billion in red. What’s ironic is that a lion’s share of this “aid” was actually the reimbursement of expenses directly incurred by Pakistan for the conduct of US-led coalition’s war operations. This means the actual truly no-strings attached aid was even less than $ 10 billion as per the most lenient studies, against a loss of over $ 100 billion. It is therefore no surprise that the US embassy in Pakistan vehemently opposed Pakistan’s decision to reveal the economic cost of terrorism in the economic survey of Pakistan released earlier this year, a fact revealed by reputable officials privy to the discussions.

However, with the Peshawar school massacre this American started war on terror has turned a new chapter. It is now closer to home and has turned into a war for the survival of Pakistan. It is an established fact that no country can thrive economically without peace. Therefore the deteriorating law and order situation in Pakistan has a huge economic cost and is burdening an already shaky economy guided by a policy based on failed measures from the past.

The fact of the matter is that there isn’t a sector left in Pakistan which has not been affected by terrorism, either directly or indirectly. Agriculture which is the backbone of the national economy has taken hits over the years with uncultivated lands captured by non-state actors besides law and order issues making people leave their lands for their lives. This is in addition to the water and energy crisis already pushing this sector to the brink. Manufacturing has also been crippled resulting in lower exports. No foreign business personnel are ready to visit Pakistan and such meetings now normally take place in UAE. But even worse than all this, culminating from the Peshawar school attack, is the wide-spread panic with resulting shockwaves across all segments of the society as well as the economy. If not checked the ramifications of this can be much more than what we’ve already faced.

While the economic impact briefly outlined above is important, the immeasurable cost of the lost lives and the related potential can never be monetized. Therefore, now that the American started war on terror has turned into the foreign-sponsored TTP menace engulfing Pakistan, we’re faced with a problem we’ve to resolve ourselves. The benefits of resolving this amicably will not just be economic but the social positives from such a strategy can be manifold. Though for such a drastic step to succeed we’d need to rid ourselves of the American interferences and subjugation too. It is high time that the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis take control of the national narrative to direct the course of action as the extremes of the society, both right and left, have harmed the country enough. The way of the Prophet PBUH followed by the majority of Pakistanis, one of maintaining balance and level-headedness, is the need of the hour.

The author is Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, chartered financial analyst, qualified accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

PTI, PAT vs PML-N: Sagacity in short supply

The following article has been published in the Sunday Edition of Pakistan Today, dated 24th August 2014
(For online version: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/08/23/featured/pti-pat-vs-pml-n-sagacity-in-short-supply/ )

(For Published Version, Page 9:   http://issuu.com/abidoon/docs/dna_issue_38/9?e=3820687/9038422 )

PTI, PAT vs PML-N: Sagacity in short supply

Take the third umpire’s advice seriously

Prof Dp

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

The author is a Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, qualified accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer  or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

A small problem that could’ve been resolved easily has been turned into a national crisis. It’s often said that to understand complex issues one should go back to the root-cause of the problem. The current political crisis began with Imran Khan’s very reasonable demands of investigating four selected constituencies for rigging and taking corrective action for the shortcomings. The government logically asked for same number of PTI won constituencies to be investigated too and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) readily agreed to that. Unfortunately there had been no concrete development on the issue since which has led to the stance of PTI getting much more stiffer with the ultimate demand now of PM Mian Nawaz Sharif’s resignation and mid-term polls under a reformed Election Commission after the alleged “culprits” of rigging in 2013’s General Elections are punished.

The government on its part was worried that if there were any issues to be found in the four constituencies, it may lead to the calls for mid-term polls as the legitimacy of the set-up would be called into questions. However the crisis has lead to exactly that situation and this could’ve perhaps been averted had the Government took positive actions before. What’s been interesting is the changing narrative of the incumbent Government which claimed that it was not authorized to and cannot open up the four constituencies after Chaudhary Nisar, the Federal Minister for Interior agreed to open up “40 constituencies” in National Assembly. However as the crisis peaked, the same Government proposed asking Supreme Court for forming a commission to investigate the allegations of rigging while there were also proposals of bringing “Ordinance” to open up the four constituencies initially selected for audit and verification by Mr. Imran Khan’s PTI.

Certain quarters claim that atleast some of the four key ministers, Speaker National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Federal Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique, Federal Minister for Planning and Development Mr. Ahsan Iqbal and Federal Minister of Defense Khawaja Asif did not wish to let their “victories” be examined and as such used their influence to push the PMLN Government to a harder line by selling the above narrative within PMLN in order to ensure their own seats were not in danger.

It wasn’t as if the pressure of the campaign re four constituencies by PTI was sufficient to bring matters to the current boiling point. If we recall, things were actually looking quite comfortable for PMLN Government until that fateful incident of Model Town slaughter. Operation “Zarb-e-Azb” was announced, differences with Military Establishment were substantially reduced, public opinion was against protests during such an important operation, PTI had already announced cancellation of its Bahawalpur Jalsa while Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) was about to do so. Than somewhere, someone decided to “teach a lesson” to Mr. Qadri and set an example for opposition as accepted in less straighter words by ex-Minister for Law (Punjab) Rana SanaUllah during television programs. However the operation on Minhaj-ul-Quran cum PAT secretariat to remove barriers backfired and gave blood of unarmed civilians to the opposition. From there on, the anti-government movement gained momentum culminating into “Azadi” and “Inqilab” marches.

That momentum should make one wonder that how the opposition lost the steam going into the marches. PAT was always going to be the determined religious cult beefed up by the Minhaj associated youth and workers. It was PTI who was deemed the bigger player, the game-changer on its own. However over the past eight days what we’ve witnessed, though unprecedented in terms of the determination and zeal shown by PTI supporters, has left many surprised by a less than expected show of power by PTI. So let us examine what exactly went wrong?

Firstly the administration was ill-planned and organizational communication minimal if any. The arrangements were redundant. Several PTI’s office bearers left Islamabad on 15th owing to a lack of even basic arrangements, non-presence of party representatives/organizers and no-communication from party as to the expected arrival of the main procession led by Imran Khan. A prime example of the mismanagement was that despite the extreme weather forecast, the organizers didn’t bother to arrange for even a basic and cheap item like umbrellas which would not only have protected the participants from elements but also provided shade and sense of safety without the need to hold sticks. Furthermore post the infamous intra-party elections, the losing party workers who are in majority as only one of the five to ten contestants won, feel disgruntled. This majority was not taken on board or reached out to. As a result they didn’t attend or work for the success of the “Azadi March” nor did they ask their supporters to do so.

Against all mainstream analysis and despite all the internal setbacks and unprecedented failure of march organizers, Imran Khan’s own determination, resilience and charisma has done wonders in not only getting a very decent number of supporters out but motivating them enough to stay on the streets for an unprecedented eight days till now. Most of the analyst believed that PTI’s supporters were too soft to stay on roads for long and that too in extreme weather conditions. However the determination of highly motivated PTI cadre has been no less than PAT’s religious zealots.

This whole situation, however, has serious implications for the country. The pride and stubbornness of the Government has resulted in missing key moments for resolving the conflict. For fourteen months PTi kept asking for audit of just four constituencies which was ignored, the deadline by Imran Khan during Ramadan was also brushed aside and more foolishly instead of capitalizing on an initially weak show by PTI on arrival in Islamabad, PTI by mocked by key ministers of PMLN. PTI has since gained much of the lost ground. Khan has now repeatedly stated that he won’t accept anything sans PM’s resignation while PM is as likely to resign as Imran is of backing off his own words. The negotiations ended in cruel joke when Government suddenly decided to put up containers back and IG Islamabad was transferred for allegedly refusing to use force on protestors.

While PMLN rightly states that majority of the parliamentary parties are on its side, this stalemate virtually melting down the economy cannot go on forever. If this situation is not resolved amicably, the army will intervene which may even lead to wrapping up of the whole system. The responsibility for such a disaster would lie more with the incumbent government as not only it has the power, authority and responsibility but also more on stake than the protesting parties. It should therefore act more magnanimously to accommodate rather than ridicule PTI and PAT. Letting loose its own workers would only exacerbate the situation more. As the “third umpire” recently said let sagacity and maturity prevail.

Azadi march

The following article is published in the Sunday edition (DNA) of Pakistan Today, dated 13th July 2014

(For online version: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/07/12/featured/azadi-march/ )

(For published version: Page 6 at:   http://issuu.com/abidoon/docs/dna_issue_32/7?e=3820687/8589798  )

Azadi march

Sane heads should prevail, or the fallout can be disastrous

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

The author is a Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, qualified accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer  or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

Once again Imran Khan takes a stand that will take serious convincing for many even within his ranks to go along. Decisions made out of necessity are understandable, but fully believing in them is an entirely different phenomenon.

Let us revisit some recent history. We’re not prepared for this yet. Think about it, we just had a massive success in Lahore which can go to waste. Going to Karachi after this is just too risky. That’s MQM’s territory. We don’t even have a proper organisational structure there. MQM is too strong and its militants would never allow us to hold a successful “Jalsa”.

These were some of the “rational” responses from senior Karachi-based PTI politicians when Imran Khan’s intent to go to Karachi after the infamous 30th October Jalsa in Lahore was made clear to them. None of them could comprehend it. It just did not make any sense to them. Why take such a big risk when you had it your way and that too after a long wait? Khan’s response to them was not to think what may be lost but rather to think what may be gained. He turned out to be the eventual winner that time. The same story was repeated in different manners earlier in Lahore and later in Quetta, Rawalpindi, Waziristan, etc. All those times he turned out to be a winner though the odds always seemed to be stacked against him.

He has now announced a million-march towards Islamabad on the independence day of Pakistan, 14th August 2014. Many within and outside Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf are questioning the timing for the call of this long-march. They point out the human tragedy unfolding from the displacement of over 800,000 IDP’s (per recent reports), possible ramifications for operation Zarb-e-Azb, and limited time available to prepare for such a mega event. Some even point towards the possibility of another coup.

We need to remember that a million-strong show is something that even PTI, despite its massive popularity, has not achieved to date and if successful would add another dimension to the perception of its street-power, leaving every other party behind by miles.

Khan’s formal stance is straightforward. He’s been asking for verification of votes in four (4) constituencies for over a year to no avail and is not prepared to give this government any more time. Imran’s reason is that if the federal government does not have anything to hide than why did it go to such pains to ensure that the verification of the symbolic four constituencies did not take place? The treatment of the presumably independent ex-head of NADRA is cited as are the verification results of NA-118, proving manipulation and the disgraceful act of stuffing up bags with fake votes, which was proved in court. Furthermore, 14th August holds special significance. The potential for coup seems a distant possibility with over-stretched establishment as well as a relatively active judiciary. Also, Khan seems to believe that the IDP issue has been manipulated by the federal government by keeping not only him but also the provincial government of KPK in the dark regarding the operation, thereby not allowing them to prepare for the fallout. An interesting question here would be how aware and in control of the operation was the federal government, but it warrants detailed analysis.

We need to remember that a million-strong show is something that even PTI, despite its massive popularity, has not achieved to date and if successful would add another dimension to the perception of its street-power, leaving every other party behind by miles.

Having said that, perhaps there is more to this “tsunami” march which was more recently termed “Azadi” march by Imran Khan at an event hosted by PTI Punjab. After all, what difference does waiting for another month make after waiting for fifteen months?

First and foremost, by raising its voice PTI has given an outlet to the masses suffering from rising inflation, high load-shedding during an extremely hot summer and the ever-increasing menace of unemployment. The pressure on the government in Islamabad can be taken to the boiling point. The recent series of successful “Jalsas” have rejuvenated faith of some key leaders within PTI who were badly shaken following the 11th May election results. Also, perhaps lesser known is the fact that internal rifts within PTI have also subsided. As is natural, the key support-base of PTI, particularly the youth, has been motivated to face an external “foe”.

By raising its voice PTI has given an outlet to the masses suffering from rising inflation, high load-shedding during an extremely hot summer and the ever-increasing menace of unemployment.

However what concrete political mileage can PTI gain from this march is not clear to many. What makes sense is the “competition” with Tahirul Qadri. Although not a match for PTI, either in terms of popularity, street-power or even parliamentary strength, Mr Qadri posed the threat of swaying at least some of the PTI support base as well as the disgruntled general populace. By announcing the Azadi march before Qadri, PTI and has out-maneuvered the latter.

There are, however, important considerations that PTI should to take into account too. One key lesson any student of politics can highlight is that mere agitation has never been able to shake any government in Pakistan without the implicit or explicit support of the establishment. As of now, the establishment is not only bogged down in a multitude of serious problems but over-stretched too. The Nawaz government’s relationship with it has also improved and it is not as sour as it was a few weeks ago. If anything, the placating of the establishment, particularly regarding Operation “Zarb-e-Azb” by PMLN, has helped bring them out of the negative ambit they were in. Therefore clarity is needed as to what PTI plans to achieve from this Azadi march politically and what exact road-map they want to follow. Not many seem too certain about it right now.

PMLN’s government is also in a political fix over this issue. If they cede to Imran’s demands they risk opening up a Pandora’s box which may put in question the legitimacy of the entire electoral process and thereby the government itself. If they continue to hide behind technical excuses such as claiming the issue at hand should be dealt by the Election Commission, while pressuring, transferring and even removing key officials including tribunal judges, then they have to face a possible barrage of street protests by the most popular party of the youth of this country. Add to this the Qadri factor and it makes for a perfect quagmire for the incumbent government. How PMLN deals with it would define what course the matter would take. One hopes wisdom prevails and a repeat of the Model Town incident is avoided.