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Robber barons, oligarchy & oppressed  

Dr. Ikramul Haq

The economic misery of millions of Pakistanis in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, monopoly of State oligarchy on resources and abuse of robber barons of their position in power to fleece the masses and get extraordinary benefits have once again exposed the cruel elitist structure of a land claimed to be secured in the name of Islam. The reality is that Pakistan is a classic example of a State where successive governments have been protecting and strengthening the exploitative system but even bothered to provide basic necessities, what to speak of a comprehensive social security system, for the weaker segments of the society.      

Since State is controlled by elites—military-judicial-civil complex, businessmen-turned-politicians and landed aristocrats—its economic system is pro-rich. Even in the present difficult times when millions are becoming jobless due to closure of businesses, the ultra-rich are behaving as usual. The government, failed in providing the citizens basic amenities like safe drinking water, health, education, transport and housing, is now demanding kudos for giving Rs. 15,000 per family to a certain segment of society. Authorities are scrutinizing millions of claims—they never bothered to collect/update the data to reach out immediately to them without their asking. In the midst of this sorry state of affairs, making public of two inquiry reports on sugar and wheat shortages, diverted debates about legality or otherwise of subsidy given to sugar mills. They appeared in media and claimed nothing was wrong, subsidy, selling wheat flour, ghee, sugar and other eatables at exorbitant prices, due to demand-supply conditions. This, according to them, is permissible in tijarat (trade), per fatwas (edicts) of muftis & fuqaha (religious jurists).

Politicians posing as champions of the cause of the poor during election campaigns make tall claims to improve their conditions, but as soon as they capture power, totally alienate themselves from masses. The usual scapegoats for this loathsome behaviour are bureaucrats! This is recently alleged by Jahangir Khan Tareen, once considered Imran Khan’s right-hand man. Many allege that with money power, he hijacked Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). Resultantly, many visionary, old-guards of PTI working with dedication, were either ousted or pushed back.

In a TV interview, Mr. Tareen said: “I developed differences with PM’s Principal Secretary Azam Khan nearly six months ago”. He claimed that his advice to the Premier “to establish a “strategic resource unit” to “transform the country”, with the bureaucracy’s role must be reduced to “execution of policies” was opposed by Azam Khan who allegedly said, “We run the government and there cannot be an alternate system”. Mr. Tareen said that the Prime Minister “tried his best but his Principal Secretary did not budge”.

It may be recalled that the role of robber barons in winning elections and then influencing government policies for self-aggarndisement and creating monopolies was discussed in detail in ‘Politics and sugar wars’, Daily Times, September 17, 2017. It was reconfirmed by Mr. Tareen in interview: “After losing 2013 elections…I told Imran Khan that we would have to bring in our fold ‘electables’ as 60% members in the Punjab Assembly belonging to this class”. He took credit of win of PTI in 2018 through ‘electables’, whereas the Opposition calls him “selected Prime Minister”!

On August 18, 2018, in a tweet [https://lnkd.in/fpPRtKK] by me and later in a TV programme, objection was raised on appointing Azam Khan as Principal Secretary by Premier on the ground that like Nawaz Sharif who selected Fawad Hassan showing favourtism, Imran Khan did the same ignoring merit-cum-competence criterion—for details see https://youtu.be/_6LkH7F7fv8?t=1216. Mr. Tareen till recently never raised any objection and/or allegation against Azam Khan. Why did he start finding faults with Azam Khan, after an inquiry accusing him as one of main “beneficiaries” in the sugar-subsidy-scam? By targeting Azam Khan, Mr. Tareen, in fact, implies that the Prime Minister is helpless/captive in the hands of his Principal Secretary! But Mr. Tareen did not justify how after being disqualified by the Supreme Court, he had asked to establish a “strategic resource unit” under his command to run the country!!

Had the sugar and wheat inquiry reports been released in any other country then by now the ruling party would have distanced itself from those, who profited influencing the government policies. However, there were only cosmetic changes, some adjustments in the Cabinet and team of advisers. This proves the existence of an unholy anti-people alliance in Pakistan of law-makers, law-keepers and law-breakers that is the root cause of failure of democracy and dominance of State Oligarchy. Now, the nation is asked to wait till April 25, 2020 for “suitable action” against the culprits after forensic audit. We have heard the same kind of promise in the case of a real estate tycoon, who later not only escaped punishment but was allowed to pay proceeds of crimes in easy instalments. This is the reality of much-trumpeted accountability process in the Land of Pure.

The common people are now highly frustrated due to apathy of elites in the face of lockdown after coronavirus outbreak, lack of socio-economic justice and inability to meet the rising cost of life. In days of harsh economic days, indomitable State Oligarchy is still enjoying unprecedented tax-free perquisites at the expense of taxpayers. The powerful in the Land of Pure live in palatial homes with free utilities, servants, subsidized facilities of golf and clubs, rest houses etc—just to mention a few. While they are living lavishly at the expense of taxpayers’ money, the sufferings of the poor are increasing with every passing day (about 60 million lack even basic facilities like clean drinking water, sewerage etc.) and out of 8.5 million migrant workers, some 3.78 million to face immediate lay-offs.

The powerful members of higher judiciary who daily criticise the government for not doing enough to fight coronavirus outbreak, are getting unprecedented perks, including superior judicial allowance, all exempt under clause (56), Part I, Second Schedule to the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001.

Even, the so-called powerful media cannot dare to expose the predatory elites—militro-judicial-civil complex, businessmen-turned-politicians etc—for fear of retaliation. The unholy alliance between State Oligarchy and politicians and unscrupulous businessmen is the root cause of our many ills—undue subsidies, politically-motivated loan write-offs, tax evasions and then amnesties etc. Billions are lost annually due to this unholy alliance and now in this testing time, they are asking common people to give “donations” in relief fund. At the same time, the rich and mighty after getting two amnesties in 2018 and 2019 are again extended another one, that is invest in real estate/construction by December 31, 2020 and no question would be asked about the source. However, the rich developers/contractors are not made bound to provide social security/health insurance to the workers as quid pro quo of extraordinary benefits. The people voted for PTI as it promised to take the powerful, greedy predatory elites and rent-seekers to task. Now they are disillusioned and wondering, why Imran Khan, contrary to his tall claims, is succumbing to money power.

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The writer, Advocate Supreme Court, is Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

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