Economic Crises, Bureaucratic Red Tape, and Gaajar ka Halwa...

Zulfiqar Haiderali

First appeared in Dawn

Let's talk business for a paltry change. Our key economic indicators (for those ill-versed in business conventions: these are carefully selected pieces of chicken drumsticks and prawn cutlets) paint a gloomy picture of the government's lack of interest in liquid snacks served during various State Bank-IMF negotiations.

On the other hand, western credit rating firms (these are American companies hired and paid by local companies for letting them know that they exist and are able to continue paying them in the future for knowing this) have reportedly shown their dissatisfaction over serving them stale gaajar ka halwa and increased corporate perks being bestowed upon various government employees.

A Gallup phone survey conducted on behalf of a few concerned officials of the Ministry of Economy has some surprisingly alarming findings: More than half of Karachi's war-raid sirens have been unscrupulously re-located into religious extremist groups' headquarters!

According to a more relevant study, an average Additional Under-Secretary to the Assistant Director General of One Municipal Roundabout Appointed by the Special Advisor to Deputy Local Nazim, gets more allowances and benefits than a top Microsoft executive!

This outrageous application of executive luxury results in obvious impediments to civic development -- such as lack of sunshades and water-coolers for roadside beggars.

Extremely shocked at these irregularities, the Ministry hired a special IMF Consultant (this is a person working for a huge international Bank, hired part-time for a small country whose net worth equals the Bank's 3 regional-vice-presidents).

He constituted an ad-hoc supplemental sub-committee to check the blown-up rise in government-owned vehicles' tyre-puncture/replacement expenditure.

The committee performed a rigorous 68-week study, during which its members visited hundreds of tyre manufacturers and puncture-pluggers -- in UAE and Australia.

Their report is an eye-opener to the sleepy heroinchies near Burns Road.

What the committee proposed, is a broad-based over-haul of the entire Bureaucratic Structure of government functionaries (this is an abominable, invisible and uncontrollable beast described by economic scientists by many names, such as 'the System', 'the Establishment', the 'Machinery' etc).

The committee's proposal promises far reaching results and objectives: it has laid out a twenty-five-year plan to gradually bring down the amount of milk used in officially served tea to pre-1990 levels!

Given the enormous socio-political implications of such a revolutionary proposal, and potential religious unrest -- a huge blow to pro-jihadi funding by doodh patti outfits in North West -- the appointed committee has reportedly asked the highest authorities to promulgate a Presidential Ordinance (this is a rule that can be changed later) and subsequent constitutional amendments (this is a change that can be ruled later).

Only such an act, they argue, will ensure proper law enforcement -- in Chaman, for example.

But some provincial milking experts do not agree.

In the absence of civilian representative bodies (these are easily identified as of heavily built, paunchy and mostly clad in white shalwar kameez and black coaties), they suggest a more judicial role (ask Cowasjee, I'm too young) rather than executive. Why? Because a heavily subsidized government jalebi can never compete in a free-market environment, thus building a dangerous monopolistic federal case against local gulab-jaman merchants (for this, further reading of Dawn Business Pages on mondays is recommended, given the complexity of the issue).

As if things aren't so complicated for the federal mithai experts, the recent war in Afghanistan has only multiplied our problems.

The price of an Afghani has lowered considerably (the currency, that is) after Northern Alliance's conquest of Kabul. This has sparked one of the worst foreign exchange (money that is, not people) disasters known to the financial analysts of Tora Bora.

Commenting on this situation, a spokesman for the local money changers -- on the condition of anonymity -- blamed the falling Dollar rates on the recent draconian directive imposed by the nationalized banks. It states: "Article 420(b): No provision for saada khushbu paan and gutka to money market executives, with immediate effect."

The spokesman argued that in a market as extremely competitive and volatile as foreign exchange, the ban on this key consumption will have severe teething problems on their manager's communication skills. Reason? Because paan and gutka are a scientifically proven stimulants in highly vocalized trader terminologies in Karachi, especially the ones regarding female siblings and maternal relatives -- a must-have skill.

But while the country seems helplessly drawn into these looming socio-political crises, there is one piece of news that should cheer up even the most pessimistic of a political observer (this is a person waking up to read Letters to the Editor religiously). And that could silence the ever-cynical critics of our law-enforcement agencies:

A short while ago, during a press briefing in front of huge international media presence, a senior police investigation official pointed out (and I'm not making this up) that the recent discovery of a highly-explosive time-bomb at Islamabad Airport "appeared to be an act of terrorism."

In the lilting, lifting words of Julie Andrews, I'd say " Edelweiss, Edelweiss, bless my homeland forever."