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Khoda Pahar.....

Daily Times(PK) logo Daily Times(PK) 22/05/2020 Syed Haider Raza Mehdi

My apologies. Part 4 of “The Elite Capture – The Zia Years” will Insha Allah appear next week because of this week’s commentary on the Sugar Commission report made public yesterday.

I’ve reviewed the report in as much detail as I could in the few hours between receiving it and writing this piece. I’ve also subsequently watched Jehangir Tarin’s TV interview and Shahzad Akbar’s press conference.

Here’s a subjective perspective.

It’s a great day for Pakistan to see the publication of a Commission report on the same day it was submitted to the Federal Government. Fantastic!

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This, irrespective of the fact whether it did justice to its TOR’s, whether it was objective in apportioning responsibility, whether its own contents will stand up to a professionally conducted forensic diligence and most importantly whether this is the start of that revolutionary change in Pakistan as promised by PM Imran.

But definitely a first given that reports like the 1971 Hamood ur Rehman Commission Enquiry into the Fall of East Pakustan and hundreds of others lie buried under tons of dust and weightier and corrupt vested interests.

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Also heartening to see a serious if questionable attempt to forensically tear apart the business, financial and tax practices of the different stakeholders of a major sector of our economy. And in the process trying to identify policy and regulatory capture of government policy makers and regulators.

Political power is cruel. All alliances, friendships, relationships, associations melt away in the desire to acquire or remain in power. Even for the best of reasons

These by themselves are earth shaking developments in Pakistan, a country totally in the stranglehold grip of elite, policy and regulatory capture

And for this full marks to the PM and nobody else!

There is, however somehow, a sense of quiet disquiet, a lurking shadow of something amiss. Of something not as black and white and cut and dried as the report writers would want to present.

There’s an overwhelming feeling of the presence of a huge white invisible elephant haunting the 347 pages of that report in the form and shape of Jehangir Tarin.

As I read the report, its TOR’s, the names of the members of the commission and those who helped put it together and their areas of expertise, the various conclusions and recommendations, the painstaking dissection of cost structures, pricing mechanisms, financial reports, tax evasion, satta practices, double bookkeeping, policy planning and implementation and its capture, there’s an uneasy feeling of “Is it a witch hunt against Tarin with lots of smoke and mirrors to muddy the waters”?

Why does it leave one feeling that there’s something not right in the entire thrust of the report and the subsequent Shahzad Akbar press conference?

Why is there a sense that this whole exercise is really an attempt to pillory, charge, indict and “hang” Jahangir Tarin for the sordid act of high sugar prices.

Why does one get a sense that somehow Khusro Bakhtiar and Razzaq Dawood will escape, as Shahzad Akber very painstakingly attempted to put across their innocence in his monologue to the press?

By the way and for the record there’s very little love lost between myself and JKT.

My views about him have been fairly consistent for several years, much before IK became PM and he’s certainly not very happy with me. Especially after what I wrote about him in my weekly OPED, some weeks ago.

So this is not an attempt to whitewash him or his business practices or political actions. This is purely my perspective on the report.

To begin with I’m still not the wiser, certainly not from the report about what led to the price rise. I’m still clueless about the role of the MSP. I’m still unaware why the subsidy was granted. What were our level of stocks at the time of the shortage? Did the export result in a shortage? Who hoarded sugar? How much?

I don’t know why Zardari was completely let off the hook without a single Omni group sugar factory being investigated?

But yes I had to painfully navigate a highly questionable attempt by the commission to teach us basic accounting. How to calculate cost of production? What should and should not be included in a Profit and Loss statement? What is “cost of goods sold”? How sucrose content should and should not be calculated? How brokers execute “satta”? How companies evade tax and keep two sets of accounting books etc etc? And how to fix Pakistan.

But I’m still clueless about.

Why did price increase?

Why were exports allowed?

Why was subsidy granted?

Then I found Shahzad Akbar’s press conference quite interesting. Especially how he directed his barbs at JKT even sparing his number one targets the Sharifs and Zardari, who merely got passing mention.

He’s clearly a bright man and has made a name for himself as the PM’s anticorruption wingman. Quite a journey from a former lawyer with a 4 year stint as deputy prosecutor in NAB and an advocate for human rights against drone attacks, the last which brought him into contact with PM IK in 2012 when Imran was actively demonstrating against USA drone attacks. And something I’ve personally supported as well.

This last also involved Shahzad in the controversy of exposing the name of the CIA Station Chief based in Islamabad. An action which I’ve also supported and also attributed to a deliberate leak by a Pakistani agency. So clearly he has some very powerful “friends” in high places.

But since his very strong, vocal and vigorous defence of Malik Riaz, I have had a feeling of disquiet about him and his “snow white credentials”.

Malik Riaz, as we recall was earlier charged with corrupt practices by the UK National Crime Agency, NCA, in an “unexplained wealth order” under which Malik Riaz agreed to a $190 million settlement, without admitting guilt.

This whole episode was conveniently side stepped by Shahzad when questioned, pleading that under a confidentially agreement signed with the UK government he was unable to say more.

He also conveniently explained away receiving a bag from Malik Riaz in London by saying “Malik Riaz was returning my laptop”. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. But his defence of Malik Riaz does raise eyebrows.

Political power is cruel. All alliances, friendships, relationships, associations melt away in the desire to acquire or remain in power. Even for the best of reasons.

As objective realities and external environments change, leaders find new bedfellows, new fellow travellers who they find more useful than previous ones and will even throw them under the bus if it helps their cause, their politics or current objectives.

Earlier Hamid Khan was dumped for Jehangir Tarin. It was now Jehangir’s turn. And those who currently feel safe in their relationship with the PM. Think again.

One hopes PM Imran is not taken for a ride by smooth talking snake oil salespersons, is correctly advised and is able to see through political intrigues.

And we see the start of taking Pakistan back from the clutches of the elite. But genuinely. Not through witch hunts!

Happy Birthday!

Haider Mehdi is a Geo political commentator / blogger on National and International affairs. Formerly a media anchor, corporate leader, management consultant, start up entrepreneur and military officer, he tweets @HaiderKonsult and blogs on shrmehdi.com

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