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Pakistan's Plea for Trade, Not Aid, Hangs on Its Ability to Curb Violence

The murders of Americans, along with cases of business extortion, raise questions in the minds of potential international investors

THE cry for law and order in Pakistan wraps a chilly embrace around the recent deaths of two Americans and the idealism of a local textile manufacturer.

The violence that targeted the Americans on March 8, and the disclosure of extortion that textile manufacturer Farooq Sumar says emanates from government-sponsored goons, are both symptoms of a tyranny that reigns in the absence of civil order.

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In the last 12 months, over 1,000 people have been murdered in Karachi, a southern port of 12 million people, and countless others have been kidnapped or robbed.

Failure to treat these symptoms in Karachi puts at risk the national goal Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto so astutely and painstakingly outlined during her visit to the United States last month. Whether speaking to President Clinton, Congress, or the media, Mrs. Bhutto repeatedly emphasized Pakistan's interest in trade and foreign investment, not aid.

A White House-sponsored waiver to the 1990 Pressler Amendment -- which froze aid to Pakistan because of suspicions that it has the ability to make nuclear weapons -- can change little when it comes to Western businesses deciding whether to invest in Pakistan.

Without the assurance of law and order, US businesses will be reluctant to choose Pakistan. Billions of dollars in ''memorandums of understanding,'' signed following US Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary's visit to Pakistan last fall, will be worth little more than the paper they are written on if there is fear for the welfare of US employees, not to mention the security of investments.

Without a government that projects stability, assures individual security, promotes literacy, and fights bureaucracy's stranglehold, Pakistan risks falling further behind in the global race for foreign investment.

'Living in a vortex'

Who killed the two Americans last March as their van carried them to work at the US consulate in Karachi -- and why -- remains a mystery. Frustrated speculation focuses on extremist, anti-American terrorists with international ties, but also on terrorists who have backing from government interests intent on destabilizing political opposition in Pakistan's largest city.

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The impact of the murders has been enormous. Because of security concerns, the US consulate has stopped issuing nonimmigrant visas from Karachi. Consulate employees are accompanied by armed escorts. They ride in bulletproof vehicles.

US law enforcement officials, although now fewer than the 50 who were dispatched here after the March 8 killings, continue to wait on the interminably slow-to-act Pakistani police bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, everyone in Karachi who is able is armed. ''It is like living in a vortex, and we are spiraling downward, with little hope of stopping it,'' says a longtime resident.

Corruption's Byzantine configurations have forced the wily Mr. Sumar, owner of Farooq Mills in the industrial Landhi-Korangi area of Karachi, to flee the country, along with his wife. His case started eight months ago when he began refusing extortionists' demands, first for money, and later for 1,000 meters of cloth.

The practice of extortion is widespread, he says, and many of his friends have advised him to pay up and shut up.

Sumar disagrees. After a brief hiatus that followed his complaints to the government in Islamabad, Sumar was threatened a second time. This time he went public, identifying Afaq Ahmad, the leader of the Haqiqi faction of the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM), as his ''tormentor.''

Sumar is considered to be the first to blow the whistle on routine corruption in his industry. He also is the first to take on a Karachi political heavyweight. Some call him brave. Others say he is foolish. Many are placing bets on whether he lives out the year.

MQM, a political party deemed a thorn in the side of Bhutto's People's Party of Pakistan, has broken into two groups. One faction, that of Haqiqi, is widely believed to be the recipient of government support, provided for the purpose of frustrating and undercutting MQM's clout.

The Friday Times, an independent weekly in Karachi, editorialized on May 18 that the Sumar case exposes a ''deeply immoral'' state of affairs: state-sponsored terrorism used to combat MQM terrorism. The editorial noted that the Bhutto government got tough with Haqiqi after ''Haqiqi mercenaries were found to be involved in the murder of two American officials.''

''What else am I to do?'' asked Sumar, who says he supports the Bhutto government. His textile inventory has been looted. His buildings have been burned and $1 million intended for salaries has been taken at gunpoint.

Violence undercuts trade

Sumar's case ''highlights the contemporary crisis of state and society in Pakistan. ''Our peril lies in ignoring it,'' editorialized Eqbal Ahmad in the national newspaper, Dawn.

Mr. Ahmad, an educator, identifies himself as a decade-long friend of Sumar, admiring him for his work as founder of the Textile University of Pakistan, chairman of the National Textile Foundation, and sponsor of the Indue Valley School of Art & Architecture.

''No one other than the country's chief executive and leader of the party in power can break this chain of complicity with crime,'' Ahmad said in a direct appeal to the Bhutto government.

The answer, it would seem, lies with Pakistan's chief executive. Bhutto needs economic and political stability to attract the foreign investment that she wants to raise per capita incomes above the current $420 per year.

But the cry that spirals up from Karachi threatens to undercut her new-found international paradigm of trade, not aid.

One US businessman put it succinctly. He told Bhutto during her meeting with California computer industry executives last month in Los Angeles that rising violence is a major impediment for Western investors interested in Pakistan.

That was his concern, he said, despite the attractive package designed to lure software manufacturers to Pakistan's three major cities -- including Karachi.

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