Fighting the sugar mafia – Javed Chaudhry   Leave a comment

JAVED-CHAUDHRY Every event that happens in our lives has various aspects to it. One aspect of the invasion of Muhammad Bin Qasim at Deebal (near present-day Bhambore) is that Hajjaz bin Yusuf had sent an army, under Qasim’s command, to help and free Muslim pilgrims captured in territory under Raja Dahir’s control. But there is another important aspect to all of this as well. Muslims were a rising power in those days and were trying to spread their influence to Asia, Africa and even Europe. However, in this they couldn’t afford to let even a small ruler like Raja Dahir plunder Muslim ships and enslave Muslim women and children because that would put the writ of the whole Muslim state at peril.

States rarely get the chance to fight big adversaries like Alexander the Great but small rulers like Raja Dahir provide them an easy opportunity to establish their writ. With this in mind, one should look at present day Pakistan and, in particular, the unfolding sugar crisis.

Some years ago, a situation arose whereby it became known that some federal ministers, including then federal minister for industries and production, had hoarded large amounts of sugar. As a result, the price of sugar began to rise. Eventually, the Supreme Court stepped in and ordered the government to ensure the supply of sugar at Rs40 per kilo. But the crisis didn’t end.

Meanwhile, the then finance minister said something to the effect that the sugar thieves were sitting in the cabinet and had earned Rs25 billion as a result of this manipulated crisis. One may blame Shaukat Tareen for many things but his honesty and courage cannot be questioned.

The sugar mafia forms part of our parliament since most of the 82 sugar mills in the country are owned by politicians. Therefore, the government was unable to control the sugar crisis. This, in turn, encouraged small thieves, hoarders and profiteers. The result is that sugar is now being sold at Rs130 per kilo.

If the government were a little wiser, it would use the sugar crisis to increase its goodwill and establish its writ. It could initiate a crackdown against all criminals involved, publish the names of powerful sugar mills owners (and this includes several ministers and senior politicians) and arrest the hoarders. It should also have promptly arranged for the import of sugar, so that increased supply would have led to a fall in prices — but it failed to do any of this.

People are now saying that a government that cannot do small things like provide sugar to its people is unlikely to solve big problems. Our government is preparing itself to fight the Alexanders of the world but doesn’t want to fight the Raja Dahirs that make up the sugar mafia. Why?

Published in The Express Tribune, November 14th, 2010.

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