Volume 22 Issue 7, July 2018
By Soha Sheikh

Pakistan’s parliamentary elections are slated for July 25 with plenty of debate, healthy and at most times not, around whether the elections will be delayed or will even take place to begin with.
From a technical and organizational standpoint, it appears that the Election Commission of Pakistan is more prepared this time around to conduct elections. Most development bodies assessing governance and technicality indicators are concluding that elections in 2018 will likely be better managed, technically sound and more organized, thereby assessing a larger environment of peace, continuity and stability as opposed to 2013.

S. M. Hali

The general elections in Pakistan are around the corner. The main concern that people have is whether these polls will be transparent. Most people are under the impression that the electoral system in Pakistan is rigged. Their discernment is based on past practices. Each and every election held in Pakistan has been tainted with cries of foul practice or pre or post poll rigging, apart from the elections in 1970.

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Syed Jawaid Iqbal

Zeba Jawaid

Javed Ansari

Faizan Usmani
Syeda Areeba Rasheed

S. G. Jilanee

Adnan Aamir
Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan
Dr Murad Ali
Dr. Raza Khan
Javed Ansari
Khawaja Amer Khurram Ali
Mirza Aqeel Baig
Mubashir Noor
M. Shaiq Usmani
Noor Javed Sadiq
Noureh Mourad
Prof. S. Shafiqur Rehman
Sajjad Ahmad
S.G. Jilanee
Shabana Mahfooz
S. M. Hali
Soha Sheikh
S.R.H. Hashmi
Syed Khawar Mehdi
Taha Kehar
Taj M Khattak

Neha Ansari

Kamran Ghulam Nabi
Haroon Rasheed
Riaz Masih


Syed Ovais Akhtar

Aqam-ud-Din Khan

SouthAsia is published every month by Syed Jawaid Iqbal for and on behalf of JAWZ Communications (Pvt.) Ltd.

Views expressed by the contributors are not necessarily shared by the editors.

Published since 1977 as Thirdworld, the magazine was re-launched in 1997 as SouthAsia.



By Javed Ansari

Does Pakistan really need an election? Because it is a democracy, it probably does. Elections are a part of the democratic polity and an election must be held at set intervals, say every four years or five years, to elect a new set of parliamentarians to select a new leader of the house. This leader of the house is then asked by the President of the country to become the Prime Minister and choose a cabinet of ministers from among the successful parliamentarians so that he can run the country’s administration.

What led to the downfall of the Abraaj Group? Founded in 2002, it turned out that despite stiff competition from all directions, the Abraaj Group became the Middle East’s biggest private equity company. It grew into a respected global institution that invested in growth markets across Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Turkey. It was the Group’s founder Arif Naqvi, a South Asian and Pakistani, who pioneered the private equity industry in many of the markets where it operated. The journey of Abraaj thus became one of innovation and entrepreneurial initiative. In fact, Abraaj was at its peak until the beginning of 2018. At one time, the company had assets of more than $13.6 billion. However, the magic went wrong somewhere when, some time back, concerns began to be raised about the Group’s investments in particular sectors. The lenders lost their confidence in the Group and Abraaj had to seek approval from the Cayman Islands Court for provisional liquidation and restructuring of its business.

Abraaj became an important name in global investment finance because it built a reputation for itself as a daring company that made successful investments in risky markets and thus achieved a level of growth that could only be described as meteoric. The Group grew exponentially because it took bold decisions to invest in markets that others shied away from. In this, Chairman Arif Naqvi showed an incomparable astuteness and was able to continuously move on a fast success track. However, the downfall of the Group came as quickly as its rise. It all began when the Group faced criticism from one class of investors. This grew rapidly into what has been described as an ‘investor revolt’. According to market experts, it took 10 years to build the Abraaj Group but it was almost destroyed in less than 10 months. Nowhere was the company the target of any government action. Some say it fell apart under the weight of its own commitments. Analysts are of the opinion that the Group did not face any liquidity constraints but difficulties did begin to appear and ultimately led to Abraaj’s filing for liquidation. Among other things, the problems are said to have stemmed from a corporate culture of weak internal controls, lax regulatory oversights and operation in a non-transparent environment. But Arif Naqvi was a man of confidence. In the presence of Bill Gates, the Microsoft billionaire, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Naqvi remarked: “Like Bill, I’m an optimist, I believe the glass is half full, very firmly. I don’t believe it’s half empty.”

It was Arif Naqvi who promoted the concept of “impact investing,” the notion that private capital can be deployed to alleviate some of the world’s most intractable problems like poverty, climate change and social inequality. The Abraaj health-care fund was a prime example of how private money can be profitably and virtuously used in Africa and South Asia. An audit commissioned some time back suggested that money from the health-care fund was being diverted elsewhere. Another review also pointed to potential discrepancies the way the fund was being operated. Abraaj’s leadership team later focused on executing a re-organization of the business, engaging with all investors and driving value in the Group’s portfolio companies across its operating markets, besides announcing broad changes to the company’s governance and operating model.

Despite all this, it seems the Abraaj Group and Arif Naqvi fell victim to the same kind of fate that befell the Bank of Credit & Commerce International (BCCI) and its founder Agha Hasan Abedi back in the early nineties. The BCCI too had become a prominent player in world banking and was even described as the ‘Titanic’ of the financial world. It was again the brainchild of a South Asian and Pakistani businessman Agha Hasan Abedi, who envisioned the bank as an organization focused on the third world. The rapid rise of the BCCI with the backing of the UAE, had unsettled many a banker and governments around the world. Since the bank was expanding at a very fast pace, they managed to eventually charge it with allegations of money laundering, bribery and fraud. The Abraaj Group and Arif Naqvi developed financial institutions that gave financial backing to growth markets in developing countries in Asia and Africa. It seems though that such an approach was not acceptable to the West which could not tolerate any financial institution from the developing world reach the top and show independence with financial backing from Middle Eastern money and expertise from a poor country like Pakistan. For them, their initiatives could simply not be challenged and, if they did, doom was the only option.

Syed Jawaid Iqbal
Editor in Chief


Menace of Child Labour

The World Day against Child Labour was observed last month. On that occasion, the International Labour Organization (ILO) issued its annual report on the current status of child labour in the world. The report says around 73 million children are currently engaged in hazardous work across the world. This constitutes nearly half of the 152 million 5 to 17-year children who are engaged in different types of labour and are deprived of education and basic health facilities. According to the ILO, most of child labourers work in mines, in factories and in agricultural fields and are exposed to dangerous conditions as well as long working hours. The South Asian countries have signed the ILO Convention No 182 Against the Worst Forms of Child Labour. However, despite the ratification they have yet to fully implement the convention. This shows how non-serious the region is about protecting its children.

Arjun S. Kumar,
Chhattisgarh, India.

Rampant Election Fraud

The people of Afghanistan are quite familiar with the massive election fraud and malpractices that widely take place during the presidential, provincial and district council elections, which are held after every five years under the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan. To the Afghan people, the whole democratic process in the country is nothing more than a façade while those who are elected through constitutional means are mere stooges who propel the others’ agenda in the name of democracy, a Western political concept with hardly any relevance to a feud-prone country like Afghanistan. Overall, the people’s confidence level in the electoral exercise is low, but they do participate in elections to capitalize on the available opportunities to make some difference to their own lives one way or the other. Since the presidential elections are scheduled to be held late this year, we hope a true leadership will emerge to lead Afghanistan to peace and prosperity.

Shahzad Qadar,
Kabul, Afghanistan.



Value of the Vote

This is with reference to last month’s cover story on the value of the vote. A vote represents the people’s voice on political matters and plays a decisive role in the making of a new government. However, our political record suggests that the vote has never been given the respect it deserves and the forces of doom and gloom tend to intervene in the democratic process to meet its vested objectives, giving no regard to the sanctity of the people’s choice expressed through balloting. Practically speaking, the general elections are a facade and are nothing more than mock balloting exercises conducted at regular intervals to keep public opinion in check and to channelize the popular disenchantment towards non-violent and peaceful directions. This time again when the people of Pakistan will happily cast their votes in droves in the forthcoming elections, there will be de facto movers and shakers who will actually be deciding the fate of the nation.

Kamran Ali,
Swabi, Pakistan.

Questioning the Planning Commission

There is a need to review the performance of the Planning Commission of Pakistan, a financial and public policy development institution that works under the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms. In 2013, the organisational structure of the Commission was revised to enhance its overall efficiency and performance and many highly-qualified members were inducted in the Commission on higher salaries. During the last five years of the former PML-N-led government, however, the Commission could not deliver up to expectations and turned out to be another white elephant being fed and nurtured at the expense of the taxpayers’ money. Corrupted by rampant nepotism, power politics and fraudulent dealings, the country’s social sector is at the brink of collapse while the Planning Commission seems indifferent to the role it has been mandated to perform.

Rana Fayyaz Ali,
Islamabad, Pakistan.

Electioneering in Local Elections

The Election Commission of Bangladesh has recently introduced several changes to its City Corporation Election Code of Conduct Rules 2016. The most significant amendment is related to allowing the parliamentarians to take part in electioneering in local bodies elections. The change was hastily approved by the Election Commission without discussing the matter with other political parties, mainly to appease MPs from the Awami League who are in a clear majority and will now use the given prerogative to manipulate the forthcoming local elections. The move is highly objectionable and needs reconsideration as this allows parliament members to campaign in local elections and that too at the expense of public funds. Knowing the fact that the latest development has been made to accommodate Prime Minister Hasina Wajid’s long-term vested interests, the future of local bodies in Bangladesh is in the balance.

Khawaja Mehmud Zafar,
Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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