The Biggest Mafia
By Humayun Gauhar
When an army intervenes or conducts a coup, it signifies the failure of politics and its practitioners the politicians. This is truer of Asian countries than Africa or Latin America. The moment one states this obvious one is immediately branded by those who are mentally enslaved to western social and political constructs, as being anti-democracy and pro-military rule.
Actually, one is being more pro-democracy than they are. For those branded as ‘anti-democracy, democracy means ascertaining the real will of the people undiluted by intermediaries such as Electoral Colleges and parliaments, of course without electoral fraud. The ones who warn that political failure could lead to military rule are the ones who are really wedded to democracy in its correct sense because they are trying to prevent political failure to prevent military rule. That can only be done by correcting an unworkable political system and crafting one that delivers to the people, ensures the internal and external security of the country by making it economically strong and prosperous and not trapped in a huge web of debt. Today, the highest mountain in Pakistan is not K2 but our Debt Mountain.
Those who protect the pro-elite-anti-people status quo would never want genuine, authentic democracy but prefer sham democracy – indeed they would give their lives for it – because it benefits them and their class. It is very difficult to rise above one’s class and accept the essence of genuine democracy and its purpose which, first and foremost, has to be a struggle to achieve human well-being, life, liberty and happiness by making a continuously and significantly improving the human condition the fulcrum of their political doctrine and constitution. Universal literacy and modern education, particularly in the sciences and vocational education would decrease the birth rate, Pakistan’s biggest crisis. But this does not suit the beneficiaries of the status quo because it would lead to people becoming aware of their fundamental rights, the Intent of the Creator and demanding those rights. For the beneficiary class, life liberty and happiness is but a hypocritical slogan to divert attention from their real nefarious purposes of getting richer and richer while the people get poorer and poorer.
Such people find willing support amongst those with pretentions to education but who in reality are mentally colonized because theirs is an education without understanding, those that are slaves to alien concepts of democracy and its alien political, economic, social and legal constructs and philosophies without relating them to local conditions, cultures and histories and the spontaneity of their peoples. Such people regard political failure a stage in political evolution, little realizing that if your are evolving in the wrong direction and indulging in ideological crossbreeding it leads to mutation, not evolution. Thus it is that most old colonial and contemporary Third World neocolonial countries are mutants unable to deliver to their people, the vast majority poor, mired in poverty, wretchedness, degradation and want while the charmed few benefit. Egalitarianism is nowhere in sight. Any wonder that the borders of such mutants are in danger of changing again to make them normal?
Gone are the immediate post-colonial days and the hyper-phobia of Soviet communism that was at its peak during the Cold War when the US would cause army coups simply because the government of a Third World country, be it political or military, was suspected of being ‘soft’ on the communist bloc. And governments of the time, whether political or military, particularly in Asia and most especially in Pakistan, invariably opted for the US bloc regardless of proximity to the Soviet Union instead of being truly non-aligned and multilateral.
In those days democracy was a bad word for there was no gainsaying that it wouldn’t throw up socialist governments, as happened in Iran and later in Chile, and CIA sponsored monarchy or military rule was foisted on them. Now that the Soviet Union is gone and the Cold War is over, democracy has become a good word because practiced as western electoral systems it invariably throws up pliant governments in the Third World. Many products of democracy, lacking original thought and spine, feel they have no option but to be obedient to the US regardless of whether it is good for their countries or bad, simply because they have become so indebted that they inevitably need regular bailouts from the US, its western allies and their multilateral agencies to survive. To develop, they also need US funding or approved funding, often knowhow and technical expertise to develop. No approval, no funding, as has happened to the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Neocolonialism, now using debt and western style electoral democracy as a weapon is at its nadir; most Third World countries at the nadir.
Many moons ago, during the last People’s Party government, I said that the biggest Mafia in our country was the Government of Pakistan with franchises given out to provincial governments. The Godfather is always the prime minister while the local dons are the provincial chief ministers. This Mafia as ‘government’ works in tandem with urban and rural private sector Mafiosi, letting them get on with their nefarious activities by looking the other way while periodically launching ‘police operations’ against them as red herrings to divert attention and give the impression that the Godfathers and dons are cognizant and doing something about it.
The Mafia’s biggest strength is that it has two-faces, the country’s official government and friendly opposition, and in those guises loot people and work their rackets ‘legally’. It has many arms to extort money and subjugate the people and make them supine: political parties, parliaments, executives, the judiciary and lawyers, tax collection agencies and a large part of the media that supports their criminality under the excuse of democracy, legality, freedom of expression etc. The biggest fraud perpetrated on the hapless people is sham democracy. And hegemons go along with them for their own benefit.
Thus it is that while we keep lamenting the many Mafias in our country, hold seminars on the issue and write endless articles and hold regular daily television talk shows, we little realize that the biggest Mafia in our country are the federal and provincial governments that indulge in highway robbers daily, primarily through shameless over taxation, multiple taxes, levies and charges under the guise of taxes and overbilling utilities. Yet they are still unwilling to balance their books because they refuse to properly document their economies and apply income tax on the incomes of agriculturalists in the tax slabs to retain feudal primacy and hold over every lever of power. And industrialists, stockbrokers, banks and financial houses and what have you acquire the feudal mindset to join the loot. To finance their deficits Mafias as governments always have the industrially developed countries of the North and their lending agencies who happily dish out more and more money to keep our governments dependent and colonized to do their will that is good only for them, not their people. Today, every newborn child is economically dead at birth because of the heavy burden of debt on its shoulders. But our governments merrily keep taking more and more loans, almost always to service current debt while increasing the debt burden and deepening the debt trap. The loan givers don’t give a hoot that they are giving debt to illegal rulers who don’t give a hoot about their people or countries. This, my dears, is the new colonialism. And the fault lies entirely with us for choosing and tolerating Mafias disguised as governments that create dynasties from prime ministers down to constituencies. Worse, industrial and business families are also creating dynasties at the same time, often making the boardroom a joke and stock, commodity and money exchanges casinos. As to regulators, ours don’t know what regulation is and disable business instead of enabling it. There is conflict of interest not only amongst our regulators, even in the West with, for example, bankers and brokers becoming financial regulators and after they are done, returning to banks and financial houses again – sometimes poacher, sometimes gamekeeper. Just study your utility bills and see how many extra taxes are put on them and how much overbilling is done with fast meters by bankrupt utilities. Just study your airline ticket and see how many taxes are loaded on. I recently bought a PIA business class return ticket to London for Rs 2,50,000 and was angered to read that Rs 80,000 of it was taxes. These ruling Mafias deliberately run public sector enterprises into the ground so that they through their front men and business cronies masquerading as entrepreneurs can buy them for a pittance and make a killing. It is blatant daylight robbery and we remain helplessly mute. As long as the hegemon has pliable, stooge Third World governments they turn a blind eye to their becoming dynastic Mafias that plunder their people and loot their national assets and family jewels and give them more loans to trap them further. It’s a massive global scam.
How to get out of this debt trap? This is where the concept of ‘Odious Debt’ comes in. “In international law, Odious Debt or illegitimate debt is defined as: national debt incurred by a regime for purposes that do not serve the best interests of the nation. According to International Law such a debt is not enforceable upon the State and are considered as personal debts of the regime/government that incurred these debts. In some respects, the concept is analogous to the invalidity of contracts signed under coercion.
“The concept of Odious Debt was formalized by Alexander Nahum Sack, a Russian Legal Theorist. The basis of Sack’s legal formalization were precedents such as the repudiation of Mexican debts incurred by Emperor Maximillian’s regime and the denial by the United States of Cuban liability for debts incurred by the Spanish Colonial regime.”
According to Sack: “When a despotic/dictatorial regime contracts a debt [and our ‘elected’ governments are dictatorships in the camouflage of democracy], not for the needs or in the interests of the State, but rather to strengthen itself, to suppress a popular insurrection, etc., this debt is odious for the people of the entire State. This debt does not bind the nation; it is a debt of the regime, a personal debt contracted by the ruler, and consequently it falls with the demise of the regime. The reason why these odious debts cannot attach to the territory of the State is that they do not fulfill one of the conditions determining the lawfulness of State debts, namely that State debts must be incurred, and the proceeds used, for the needs and in the interests of the State. Odious debts, contracted and utilised for purposes, which, to the lenders’ knowledge, are contrary to the needs and the interests of the nation, are not binding on the nation – when it succeeds in overthrowing the government that contracted them – unless the debt is within the limits of real advantages that these debts might have afforded. The lenders have committed a hostile act against the people; they cannot expect a nation, which has freed itself of a despotic regime to assume these odious debts, which are the personal debts of the ruler.”
Take the example of Ecuador’s debt write off. “In 2008 Rafael Correa, President of the Republic of Ecuador, declared that much of Ecuador’s $3.9 billion in foreign debt was illegitimate odious debt that was contracted by corrupt and despotic prior regimes. Ecuador managed to successfully reduce the price of foreign debt letters significantly before it paid off the remaining debt.”
Keep this in mind for the future – if indeed there is a truly democratic future for Pakistan.