Manzoor analyses Shaukat's budget! View from the gallery

We are publishing this article written by Nusrat Javed which appeared in the Pakistani newspaper Daily Dawn on June 20, 2004 about Comrade Manzoor’s analysis of the recent budget and his speech which he made in the National Assembly.

We are publishing this article written by Nusrat Javed which appeared in the Pakistani newspaper Daily Dawn on June 20, 2004 about Comrade Manzoor’s analysis of the recent budget and his speech which he made in the National Assembly.

ISLAMABAD: Not many supporters and sympathizers of Pakistan People's Party know much about Ch Manzoor Ahmad. As a student activist turned journalist, I have been closely watching the growth of this party and the astounding rise and falls it experienced on power roller coaster since 1967. Yet, Munno Bhai, the veteran poet, playwright and columnist, "introduced" me to Ch Manzoor in his absence.

We were together at a seminar in Bangladesh last year and during one of its breaks, he praised this National Assembly member from Kasur. What amazed Munno Bhai about Manzoor was the communication strategy he had adopted for defeating Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri for a seat to the National Assembly from his ancestral town during the elections of October 2002.

Although hailing from a family of hardened politicians, my very dear Kasuri Sahib does not believe in winning elections through the motivating messages only. He employs all resources to ensure his victory by "other means" as well. Ch Manzoor was no match to his calibre and resources. Yet he defeated him from the city of Kasur by repeatedly staging a street theatre act.

With a dedicated team of committed workers, Manzoor would chase Qasuri to his public meetings. A day after his leaving the same spot, Manzoor would gather the local people around and after due warming of them with political message, simply ask for a glass of water. Someone in the crowd would instantly rush to the closest tap for filling whatever drinking vessel was around. Manzoor would gulp from it there and then. After doing the same before the public eyes, Manzoor would only request his audience: "Ask Khurshid Kasuri to drink the same water from a public tap of Kasur; if he does that, please vote for him and forget me."

Of course, he knew very well that no one would ever dare asking the elitist Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri to ruin his tummy with tap water of Kasur. The unregulated proliferation of tanneries in this town had turned this water highly injurious to people's health and none of our successive governments ever bothered doing something about it.

Despite hearing very interesting stories about Ch Manzoor, one never noticed him while sitting in the press gallery of the National Assembly. His low-key and laid-back conduct during the parliamentary proceedings would rather compel you to conclude that he is just an old "lefty", gathering and sustaining a crowd of admirers around him with populist gimmicks and eventually reaching the assembly by manipulating voters with motivation.

Speaking on Shaukat Aziz's budgetary proposals during the morning session of the Saturday-sitting, Ch Manzoor Ahmad revealed a forceful orator in him, who does not rely on rhetorical gimmicks but presents a solid sounding case with acute analysis of cold statistics. Also very impressive was his knowledge of the current trends of the global economy.

Only a thinking political activist like Manzoor could evaluate the much-hyped "macro economic stability" that a suave banker of global reputation -Shaukat Aziz- presumably brought to Pakistan under the encouraging protection of General Musharraf, in an appropriate historic context.

Starting from Chile, he reached the economic crisis of Brazil that had occurred only the last year. In between, Ch Manzoor also remembered the disaster stories of Argentina and Indonesia. In all these countries, the mass of people were violently denied the right of deciding for themselves through the normal means and channels of democratic governance. They all tried to turn their economies around under the command of a stern but delivering dictator, mostly in the military uniform.

As we all know, some prestigious schools of "good governance" in the USA feel very strongly for the dismal state of living in poor countries of third world. Hordes of whiz kids, trained in these schools desperately want to contribute in alleviating the accumulated misery of the abandoned masses in these countries. Surfacing of a "strong man with vision and courage" in any of these countries excites these kids. After his taking over, they immediately board planes to advise a "benevolent dictator" in drawing the strategies for economic revival.

Ch Manzoor was very right in recalling that "Chicago boys" did the same when Pinochet took over in Chile and then were the "Boston boys," who volunteered their brilliance for the oligarchs of Argentina. The similar was the story of Indonesia and Brazil. All through the periods US-trained whiz kids controlled the economic and fiscal management of these countries, when run by the "strong men with vision (and a punitive leash in hand)," indicators of "macro economic stability" remained glittering. But the amazing indicators of "unprecedented growth and development" always led to political crises and explosions. None of these countries ever experienced the "trickle down" magic.

After a quick scanning of the global scene, Ch Manzoor came to Pakistan for building the thesis that since General Musharraf's taking over, a "peculiar set of Washington boys" is devising and managing the economic and fiscal policies for this country. Everything appears honky-dory and rosy on the "macro economic front." On the hot and dusty grassroots, though, things have turned more dismal and surely heading for political explosions.

Although broadly agreeing to Manzoor, one would still insist that he did not need travelling all the way to Latin America for imagining the ultimate consequences of the "macro economic stability" that we hear about a lot in Pakistan these days. In our own country, we had already experienced a "decade of development," under another man "with vision and courage (and in a military uniform)," Field Marshall Ayub Khan. All through his decade from 1958 to 1968, the growth rate remained "stunning." The economic prosperity was backed up with political stability that sprang from his "basic democracy, which suited the genius of our people."

Instead of celebrating the culmination of this miracle-producing decade, however, mass of the people of Pakistan took the streets in 1968. The popular revolt of that year violently exploded the myth of "trickle down" economics. Pakistan appears emulating the Ayub model these days, but hardly a thinking person talks about it with any concern.

A truckload of youthful graduates from Ivy League schools of the USA, with special training in economics and finance, had reached this National Assembly in October 2002. With millions of dollars, donors like the USAID also did everything for building their "capacity" as productive legislators through incessant workshops in "good governance." Hardly a person amongst this crowd took the mike for sincerely discussing the budgetary proposals of Shaukat Aziz, since the debate on them had started Tuesday. Most of these self-styled whiz kids represent the third or fourth generations of our usual "notables," and thus sit on the government benches. Like their elitist ancestors, they would never dare coming out into the open with whole truth. They only seek "patronage" from rulers of the day and that requires sycophantic praising. Thanks to immoral silence of our elitist politicians, the illusion of "macro economic stability" perpetuates and prevails. We desperately needed the likes of Ch Manzoor Ahmad for waking up to unbearable realities.

Quoting from the officially provided economic survey, he revealed very disturbing things during his speech. To measure poverty, for example, the economic managers of this government use a bar, which is far below the level employed for measuring the same in rest of the poor countries. Counting unemployment last year, the economic surveyors of Pakistan registered everybody, who had spent "an hour in a week" in any wage earning activity, as "employed." This year "an hour of the surveying period (without quantifying it)" was used as a measure. Little wonder, "unemployment" appears on the decrease and poverty arrested at tolerable levels, in officially distributed reports and surveys along with the budget.

Squeezing the measuring rods to their comfort, economic managers of the Musharraf-Jamali government had invented the feel-good figures and statistics. It will never disturb the conscience of good governance merchants, working per diem for the World Bank etc, however. "War against terrorism," you see, is intensely on in Afghanistan and Pakistan of General Musharraf is a great ally in this regard. Fudging some figures and economic indicators must not come between friends.