Deepening of democracy
The decision to remove the ban on student and trade unions is nothing short of historic
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
As one might expect, the new government has attempted to establish its populist credentials immediately upon assuming power. There has been a spate of commitments regarding the most pressing problems facing the general public, including the alarming rise in prices of basic commodities. In addition, more substantive policy statements have also been outlined vis-a-vis highly controversial pieces of legislation, like the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR).
The problem with populist government of course is that it is by definition more bark and less bite. One does not want to second guess the coalition's intentions, but it would be foolish to ignore that many of the problems currently facing the country, particularly in the realm of economy, are structural and cannot be resolved simply by undertaking token relief measures.
Nevertheless, if the announcements made by the prime minister are to be taken as an indicator of the new regime's will, there does appear to be a commitment to deepening the democratic process. In particular, the decision to remove the ban on student and trade unions is nothing short of historic insofar as, in the past, students and industrial workers constituted the backbone of popular democracy; and the increasingly dire state of politics in the country can be traced back to the Zia regime's banning of student and trade unions.
It is important to congratulate the government for recognising that political parties need to be backed up by social forces in the wider society, for the democratic process to take root. However, lifting the ban on unions does not guarantee the establishment of a vibrant and constructive politics among students and industrial workers. There are many possible fallouts and constraints that the new regime must consider.
For example, on most public sector college and university campuses, student organisations have continued to exist throughout the course of the past two decades and it is these organisations that are best placed to benefit from the government's decision. These organisations are almost all offshoots of parent political parties. In many cases, individuals who have long ceased to be students comprise the majority of their leaderships. These organisations also have a history of perpetrating organised violence.
The case of the Islami Jamiat-e-Tulba (IJT) on the campus of University of the Punjab stands out in this regard. Given free reign to organise during the Zia regime when all other student organisations were brutally suppressed, the IJT created a virtual fiefdom, acquiring the power to hire and fire faculty, regulate public morality and administer exemplary punishments to its opponents or those who dissented from the proclaimed moral code.
The majority of students in public colleges and universities have been turned off from politics, because they associate the idea with the quasi-gang war that they have been witness to over the past two decades. The government needs to openly acknowledge the status quo on college and university campuses, and then ensure that a code of conduct is enforced to prevent the further degeneration of student politics. Perhaps most crucially those in power need to demonstrate impartiality and prevent the People's Student Federation (PSF) and the Muslim Students Federation (MSF) from taking advantage of the fact that their parent parties are in government.
In the case of trade unions, many public sector enterprises workers have been organised in some shape or form over the past two decades. Only in a handful of admittedly conspicuous cases have unions been explicitly banned, such as in the case of the Pakistan Railways. In many ways, the actual repression facing workers has been as much a function of the state's commitment to neo-liberal rollback as it has of the explicit ban on trade union activity. Thus if a government is committed to privatisation and the retrenchment of workers, it matters little that it pays lip service to the rights of workers to organise because it plans to sack them anyway! In most public-sector enterprises, most new workers being hired have no job security; the majority of them hired on an ad hoc basis and prevented from actually organising for their rights.
Cooption is also a huge problem in trade unions. The term 'pocket unions' has been coined to refer to those agglomerations of labour leaders that are actually in the adminstration's (or government's) pocket, because there is an unsaid agreement that unions will not seriously challenge the powers-that-be. Again the onus is on those in power to ensure that they do not patronise only those unions that are run by members of their parties, thereby eliminating other potentially more radical representatives of workers and blunting the possibilities of autonomous agitation.
Presumably the new regime will take up the cases of departments, such as the Pakistan Railways which is subject to the dictates of the Ministry of Defence and where draconian legislation such as the Service Removal Ordinance (SRO) allows the administration to undertake blatantly repressive measures. It was of course under the Musharraf regime that railway workers had to face unprecedented levels of repression, in large part due to the fact that the ex-DG ISI, General Javed Ashraf Qazi, was made the Federal Minister for Railways. The new government will have to prove that it is willing to allow railway workers -- always at the vanguard of the labour movement -- to organise independently for their rights.
In the private sector, so much fragmentation has taken place that it is difficult to conceive of trade unionism before other more structural initiatives are taken. In many parts of interior Sindh and Punjab, factories have stopped production. In industries such as textiles there has been a separation of value-added processes, such as spinning and looming, which has meant that handfuls of workers now work in small workshops without legal protection and with almost no chance of organising themselves. This 'flexibilisation' of labour has taken place all over the Third World (and in some cases, even in the First World) and is set to intensify as capital continually seeks out cheaper labour choices.
Beyond the more daunting structural problems, the government's apparent commitment to deepening the democratic process is welcome. But populist slogans must not remain just slogans. Real political will must be demonstrated by allowing student and trade unions the autonomy that made them such influential entities in the past. As the PPP and the PML-N have acknowledged in the Charter of Democracy, political parties must be autonomous of the state apparatus so as to meaningfully represent the public interest as distinct from the state's interest. In much the same way, student and trade unions need to be autonomous of the parties in power; otherwise, existing problems will simply be reproduced and the democratic process weakened rather than strengthened.
The world according to Dubya
By Kaleem Omar
One finds it hard to believe that in another few months the United States of America will have a president whose nickname isn't Dubya. God knows who gave George W Bush that nickname, but it certainly fits his statements as president down to a T. Only somebody named Dubya could say (as he did on one memorable occasion): "I stand by all my misstatements."
He thinks Africa is a country. "Countries like Africa have a lot of diseases," he once said. If George Bush Senior had a problem with 'the vision thing', his son, George W Bush, has a problem with pretty nearly everything -- the past, the present, the future, history, geography, you name it.
In particular, he has a problem with the English language. He's okay when he's memorised a speech written for him by others, or when he's reading a speech from cue cards or a teleprompter. The trouble arises when he is trapped into making off-the-cuff remarks.
Speaking at a rally in Washington on September 19, 2002, Bush Junior said: "People say, how can I help on this war against terror? How can I fight evil? You can do so by mentoring a child; by going into a shut-in's house and say I love you."
One very much doubts, however, that people in America are actually going around asking: "How can I fight evil?" It sounds like something out of the world of comic books. But then, that may be well be the world that Bush inhabits, judging from some of his more bizarre utterances. Maybe, after he ceases to be President of the United States, he can apply for the job of president of Marvel Comic Books, Inc. And what's a 'shut-in's house' for Pete's sake?
Speaking at a Republican rally in Davenport, Iowa, a few years ago, Bush said: "I'm plowed (sic) of the leadership of Chuck Grassley and Greg Ganske and Jim Leach." Messrs Grassley, Ganske and Leach would probably say that they're 'plowed' of Bush's leadership too.
Bush being 'plowed' of their leadership opens up a whole new line of thought. For what we may now see is a whole bunch of familiar quotes having to be modified -- as in, for instance, "Plide goeth before the fall" and "Death be not plowed." Could Bush be Chinese, by any chance? Is that why he has trouble pronouncing the letter 'r'?
Be that as it may, Dubya really hit his stride during a speech in Nashville, Tennessee, when he said: "There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again. Oh, yeah!"
He gave the game away, though, when he said at a rally in South Bend, Indiana: "There's no doubt in my mind that we should allow the world's worst leaders to hold America hostage, to threaten our peace, to threaten our friends and allies with the world's worst weapons."
Not "shouldn't allow", mind you, but "should allow". And then people wonder why Bush's case for a war against Iraq didn't make much headway at the United Nations Security Council back in March 2003.
In a speech to students in Little Rock, Arkansas, Bush said: "If you don't have any ambitions, the minimum-wage job isn't going to get you to where you want to get, for example. In other words, what is your ambitions? (sic) And oh, by the way, if that is your ambition, here's what it's going to take to achieve it." If you can make any sense of this, you're a better man than I am. Bush, however, would probably say it's all as clear as mud.
Over, now, to Oklahoma City -- the site of the worst terrorist attack in the United States before the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Speaking at a rally, Bush said: "See, we love -- we love freedom. That's what they didn't understand. They hate things; we love things. They act out of hatred; we don't seek revenge, we seek justice out of love."
Are we to take it from this that the United States has been bombing Afghanistan for the past six-and-a-half years out of 'love' for the Afghani people? And has it been bombing Iraq for five years out of 'love' for the Iraqi people?
Bush spends more time at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, than he does at the White House. When he's at his ranch, he keeps himself busy chopping wood, clearing brush, jogging several miles a day in the afternoon sun, riding his mountain bike (or should one say, falling off his mountain bike?) and doing other tough-guy things -- as befits the leader of the world's only superpower.
And this is what he told reporters in Crawford on August 21, 2002, with a grinning then-US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld at his side: "Nothing Saddam has done has convinced me -- I'm confident the Secretary of Defence -- that he is the kind of fellow that is willing to forgo weapons of mass destruction, is willing to be a peaceful neighbour, that is -- will honour the people -- the Iraqi people of all stripes, will -- values human life."
The question is: was Rumsfeld grinning at Bush's unique brand of gobbledygook, or was he grinning at the thought that US forces would soon be bombing Iraq and killing tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians in the process? But what was the Bush administration doing before the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon?
Here's what Dubya had to say on the subject on August 21, 2001: "One of the interesting initiatives we've taken in Washington, DC, is we've got these vampire-busting devices. A vampire is a -- a cell deal you can plug in the wall to charge your cell phone."
Bush was governor of Texas before he became president of the United States. Here are a couple of classic quotes from his gubernatorial days: "One word sums up probably the responsibility of any Governor, and that one word is 'to be prepared'." (I make that three words, but who's counting?) "I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future." Right!
Against terror and tragedy
Indo-Pak relations have to be improved for a better future
By Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri
and Pradeep S Mehta
"Pakistan's economic growth has been impressive mainly as a result of its relatively open trade and investment regimes, sound macroeconomic policies and structural reforms that have also contributed to lower unemployment and reduced poverty," the World Trade Organisation (WTO) concluded after a recent trade policy review of the country (January 16-18, 2008).
In contradiction to the WTO's perception, macroeconomic policies did not deliver as macroeconomic stability could not be sustained. The moment newly elected government took charge of affairs; one started learning about stories of deficit economy. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), too, in its second quarterly report for financial year 2007-2008 (released on March 31), warns the government about the fragile state of economy. "Growing macroeconomic imbalances, particularly widening fiscal and current account deficits, continued to create complications and added to inflationary pressure," the SBP report says.
It must be kept in mind that the voters gave a heavy mandate to the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), in the hope that this alliance will put an end to the constitutional as well as the economic crisis facing them nation. This mandate comes with a huge responsibility, especially in the presence of an independent media and a vibrant civil society. While restoring supremacy of the constitution would be a gradual and an ongoing process, the people want an immediate relief to their economic miseries. This, in turn, requires fiscal space, which according to the SBP's report is an extremely difficult task. Given this context, we will either have to increase our revenues or cut down our expenses.
Though Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani did mention some positive measures to reduce state expenses while announcing his 'First 100 Days Vision', he did not say anything about the defence expenditure. The fiscal space to provide relief to the masses can easily be created by reducing the defence expenditure (one quarter of Pakistan's expenditure currently is defence-related, according to official figures) and by promoting intra-regional trade to reduce the trade deficit.
The political leadership across the border seems to be ready to avail the opportunity provided through a democratic change in Pakistan. India has already expressed the hope that economic relations between the two countries will improve after the formation of a democratically-elected government in Pakistan. In a similar vein, during his recent interview with Karan Thapar on NDTV, PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari said: "India and Pakistan could set aside the Kashmir issue to be addressed by a future generation, while they focus on trade and economic ties to improve bilateral relations."
"The people-to-people contacts should be improved, to be followed by inter-dependence of trade. If Indian industry depends on Pakistani energy and I depend on the Indian market for my product to be sold, we are both inter-dependent, financially integrated industry-wise," Zardari added. If the new government acts on this premise and decides to accord the much-awaited most-favoured nation (MFN) status to India, and India reduces the much criticised non-tariff trade barriers (NTBs) against Pakistan, the way for more trade and cooperation between the two most dominant countries in South Asia could be paved. These gestures would also give fillip to the so far dormant South Asia Free Trade Area (Safta).
In the context of South Asia, much debate has taken place whether people-to-people contacts lead to more trade or-vice versa. However, it is very obvious that none of the two may work in a security situation dominated by an invisible fear of terrorism. The terror attack on Delhi-Lahore train in 2007 reiterated the fact that, despite resumption of rail-road links, the journey between the two neighbours is critically dependent upon security and safety of the travellers. The governments of the two countries must address the challenges of security to sustain the renewed interest of the people to visit each other more frequently.
There are enough examples showing how treaties of sharing river waters, cross-border infrastructure projects and nuclear rapprochement have partially bridged divides between hitherto not-so-friendly or even belligerent nations. The Indus Water treaty of 1960 has ironically survived more than 47 years of conflict over Kashmir. The war between Cambodia and Vietnam has not prevented them from reaping the fruits of a 1500-kilometre long cross-border highway project. Similarly, the Middle East Regional Cooperation projects have encouraged trade and cooperation, and thereby peace and prosperity, in the region.
India and Pakistan are regional nuclear powers and have recently exchanged lists of their nuclear installations. However, mere exchange of lists is not sufficient cover for an unwarranted action by either party. The Argentina-Brazilian nuclear rapprochement is an example worth emulating. They initiated bilateral efforts towards nuclear rapprochement in early the 1980s. During 1985-88, they pursued the issue bilaterally and signed an agreement that was made legally binding in 1989. Subsequently, they became members of the regional and global non-proliferation regimes by taking the issue to the international fora.
This agreement encouraged the two countries to seek cooperation in the economic sphere as well. Having realised that closer and deeper economic relations facilitated by free trade would further strengthen understanding and mutual cooperation, the two countries successfully persuaded Paraguay and Uruguay to form the South American Common Market (Mercosur) in 1991. Later, they were joined by Chile in1996 and Bolivia in 1997. The common market was formed with an objective to enhance trade and investment among these countries. In a similar vein, Safta offers an opportunity to promote peace and prosperity in the region.
Such vehicles of peace have become very important, given the growing incidence of terrorism in the subcontinent. Both India and Pakistan have experienced the bitter taste of terrorism. This has demonstrated that terror has no religion and knows no national boundaries. Terrorism has, thus, become a common problem for the two countries. Close cooperation between Pakistan and India on this issue will go a long way in building trust and confidence as well as mitigating myths and distrust between the two countries.
Historically Pakistan has been a close ally of the United States, which has been helping it not only economically but also in many other ways. The US finds Pakistan a great ally in combatting international terrorism. Of late, India has also inked a civilian nuclear supply agreement with the US to meet its rising energy needs. Many political observers comment that in doing so, India has compromised its long-standing stance of non-alignment. Keeping such rhetoric aside, it may be beneficial to look for opportunities where the US (and the European Union's) foreign policies can support bilateral initiatives.
River diplomacy in Argentina, for example, accelerated bilateral cooperation in the nuclear arena. The initiative to expand Indo-Pak 'bus diplomacy' can flower with the support of the EU and the US. To create peace through economic (trade) cooperation in the Middle East, the US has offered a qualifying industrial zones (QIZ) scheme under its Generalised System of Preferences. Under this scheme, exports from Jordan and Egypt containing inputs from Israel enter the US market duty free. A similar scheme, if offered by the US to India and Pakistan, would go a long way in building trust and mutual cooperation between the two countries and peace in the region.
Some experts observe that there is little scope of trade expansion between India and Pakistan, as the two countries are competitors in the world economy. A booming illegal / informal border trade, however, indicates the opposite. Though official bilateral trade figures currently stand at slightly less than $ 1 billion, illegal trade is estimated to be $1.5-2 billion. Informal trade through a third country (like the purchase of foundry equipment) costs an extra $1 billion. Though informal and illegal trade estimates are mere guesstimates, they do indicate a huge potential for trade.
It is a pity that the potential for trade between India and Pakistan is not being tapped fully, despite the fact that entrepreneurship has flourished on both sides of the border. Unfortunately, the two governments are not doing enough to pave way for more trade and to restore amicable relations. In the era of globalisation, trade negotiators of the two countries should use the skills of commercial diplomacy as a complement, rather than a replacement for, to neighbourhood diplomacy and vice-versa. There are several examples of such diplomatic endeavours. For instance, China imposed a ban on the import of Japanese rice in 2003 due to the risk of insect infection. But later an agreement ('rice diplomacy') signed between Japan, the world's most expensive rice producer, and China, the world's largest rice consumer, restoring rice imports by China salvaged the relationship between the two neighbours.
It is important to point out that the two countries have come to each other's aid in times of crises. Pakistan approached India in 1990 to help it tide over a potato and onion crisis, and imported Indian sugar during a sugar shortage in 1997. Similarly, India imported food grains from Pakistan in 2003 due to an emergency. Who else could have helped on an emergency basis in the case of essential commodities, but for a neighbour? But to help each other, the two countries require internal stability that may be achieved through bilateral trade. Pakistani voters have rejected both the military and the mullaism. An econo-politically stable Pakistan is as important for India and the US as it is for people of Pakistan. Now it is the collective responsibility of the forces who want to see peace in the South Asian region to combat terrorism and tragedies through trade.
(Dr Suleri is executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad, and Mehta is secretary general of CUTS, India.
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Reluctant to leave
Afghans tell their own stories of why they are staying in Pakistan
By Syed Inayat Ali Shah
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and its aftermath triggered extraordinary trials and tribulations for the Afghan nation. Many of the war-stricken people in the 1980s and onwards crossed over to Pakistan and settled here in different areas, especially in Peshawar and Quetta. A good number of Afghan migrants were accommodated in the refugee camps across the two provinces, while many of them preferred to live on their own in clusters in various parts of the NWFP and Balochistan. Currently, there are 84 camps for the Afghan refugees in Pakistan -- 71 in the NWFP, 12 in Balochistan and one in Punjab.
During the Soviet invasion, the Afghans have had the choice of either migrating to Iran or Pakistan to save their lives. Pakistan was their preferred choice, as the two countries share about 1,610-mile border called Durand Line. Pakistan not only welcomed these destitute refugees, but also assimilated them in its society. However, this huge influx created many problems for the host country too. Of these displaced families, many have spent more than three decades of their lives here, particularly in Peshawar. Even an occasional visitor to the city can testify to this.
The three main shopping areas in the city -- Saddar, Khyber Bazaar and Karkhano -- are crowded with Afghan refugees doing all sorts of businesses. They make their presence felt, especially as waiters in hotels and restaurants, shopkeepers, carpet traders, vendors, and labourers. Many of them are involved in various transactions across the Pak-Afghan border through Torkham, located barely at a two-hour drive from Peshawar. Some Afghan families manage makeshift kinds of trade, as they spend summer in Afghanistan and return to Pakistan in winter to avoid the chilly cold of their native areas. Movement across the Pakistan-Afghan border through Torkham is not a matter of concern for these people, as no passport or visa is required for this purpose.
The most striking aspect of the Afghan refugees living in Pakistan is their choice to live in Pakistan and not to return to their homeland. Talking to these people, one easily can notice the life they have adopted here after leaving Afghanistan many years ago. Young Afghan refugees, born and brought up in Pakistan, particularly in Peshawar, call it their homeland and even force their parents to stay here, rather than in Afghanistan. Interestingly, the parents of these young Afghans also like to stay in Pakistan, which not only fulfils the educational needs of their children but also offers more economic opportunities as compared with their own country.
Unlike Iran, where the refugees were restricted to the refugee camps, Pakistan never limited their freedom of movement; this is why Afghans live with freedom in almost every major city and town of the country. After the fall of the Taliban regime in December 2001, the United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) undertook the repatriation programme of the Afghan refugees to their own homeland. Owing to a tripartite agreement between the government of Pakistan, the government of Afghanistan and the UNHCR, a voluntary repatriation programme was launched in March 2002.
The UNHCR estimates suggest more than three million Afghans returned to Afghanistan, while two million registered Afghans are still living in Pakistan, of whom about one million are staying in different refugee camps. The refugees residing in camps are allowed to stay in Pakistan until the end of 2009. However, many Afghan refugees are averse to the repatriation process and are not interested in returning to their native country.
"Three decades ago, I migrated to Pakistan from Mazar-i-Sharif during the war between the Russians and the mujahideen, and reached Peshawar after an ordeal of 25 days. I settled in Peshawar and my business flourished here. My children are receiving quality education and we all are satisfied here. Why should I return? Though there is complete peace in, Northern Afghanistan, my native area, I cannot live there as whenever I take my children there, on the very first day they insist on returning to Pakistan," Saleh Muhammad, a carpet trader in Khyber Bazaar, tells The News on Sunday.
Similarly, another carpet dealer, Shah Wali, says while justifying his stay in Pakistan: "I have spent 30 years in Pakistan and my family lives here happily. I cannot think of returning to Afghanistan, as Pakistan is my country now. When my father passed away, we buried him here. All our social connections are with the local people. They share our sorrows and happinesses, and vice-versa. Now we pray more for Pakistan than we do for Afghanistan."
Justifying the stay of Afghans in Pakistan, Shah Wali says majority of carpets were weaved in Afghanistan, but "we export them from Pakistan and are earning foreign exchange for this country, and not for Afghanistan. Moreover, there are thousands of Afghans in Europe and Gulf countries, while their families reside here. Those people also send a huge amount of remittances for their families in Pakistan, which also contributes to the country's economy."
Hayat Muhammad, a vendor, while explaining the reason behind his stay in Pakistan, says: "By earning three or four hundred rupees here, I can easily look after my family; but in Kabul, it will not be possible to sustain my family with this much of money." Living in Kabul is more expensive than in Peshawar and it is better to live in a place where one can easily earn his livelihood, he tells TNS.
The presence of Afghan refugees is a constant source of burden on the nascent economy of Pakistan and their dignified return is in the best interest of the country. However, the Afghans, being human beings, also need shelter, clean drinking water, health facilities, education for their children and, of course security, of life amid the tall claims of support by the international community. The international donor organisations so far have only paid lip-service to the welfare of Afghans and, therefore, need to devise concrete programmes for improving their living standards.
Beyond the World Health Day
Climate change is fast affecting Pakistan. Do we know?
By Dr Zaeemul Haq
How many of us know that the fuel burnt in our cars causes an episode of diarrhea in a child or an adult? How many of us know that our daily commute to the office and back home adds to the number of malnourished children or malaria cases? It may be surprising for many of us, but this is actually the case. Human-made factors are causing a steady rise in environmental temperature and a gradual depletion of the natural vegetation, contributing to poor health and increase in diseases. In order to highlight this issue, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has chosen Protecting Health from Climate Change as this year's theme for the World Health Day, being celebrated each year on April 7. The menace of global warming is gradually, but steadily, entrapping the world.
Simply put, the human activity of burning fuel releases gases that ascend from the earth and envelope it. This envelope currently absorbs almost two-thirds of the sun's heat and is becoming warmer with every passing day. A part of the heat absorbed by it is also emitted again. Thus this envelope is progressively warming the earth's environment, as it lies quite low as compared with the sun. Added to the heat emission from fuel are factors like increasing urbanisation with poor housing facilities, water scarcity and use of plastics -- all contributing to the rising temperature that is causing the climate change and becoming an emerging threat to the global public health.
Geographically speaking, Pakistan is not among the countries where public health will be hugely affected as a result of the climate change, because it is neither a small island nor a densely populated coastal area. Still, it remains under threat as the other risk factors like high levels of air pollution, high density of population and poor sanitation are widely present here. Also, climate-sensitive diseases like diarrhea, malnourishment and malaria -- described as the largest global killers amid rapidly changing climate -- are already rampant in country. There is a dire need for understanding the dynamics of the burden of these diseases, take policy measures to avert the possible damage that would occur because of these and educate the masses so that they can adopt preventive measures.
In Pakistan, diarrhea is one of the three most common diseases among children aged less than five. The data pertaining to adult age group also reflects high incidence of infective diarrhea and dysentery, likely to increase further as a result of the climate change. Growing temperatures of prolonged summers will compromise the supply of fresh waters. Water stagnation coupled with warmer temperatures will facilitate growth of microscopic organisms, while the rapid but unplanned urbanisation with poor systems of sanitation and disposal of waste will be another contributing factor. Combined together, all these will facilitate further increase in the incidence of water- and food-borne diseases.
According to estimates, every Pakistani child aged less than four suffers from three episodes of diarrhea every year. Though most of these children do not suffer from severe dehydration (lack of body water) and thus are not admitted to a hospital, it is estimated that 25 per cent of the patients admitted to children wards land there because of diarrhea. Currently, the treatment of diarrhea and other problems of stomach and intestinal tract is considered as the largest out-of-pocket health expenditure of the people in Pakistan. It takes from 1,000 to 10,000 rupees for the treatment of a patient suffering from diarrhea with severe dehydration. The amount increases manifold if the disease gets prolonged and the child has to be admitted to a hospital. Despite the incurring of huge costs on its treatment, diarrhea is still believed to be responsible for at least one-third of deaths among the Pakistani children.
It is worthwhile to note that this disease, the huge costs incurred on its treatment and the attributed mortalities can be prevented in most of the cases. Simple health education on hygiene and sanitation, and ensuring that people improve their practices in line with this education, can bring about the desired result. The public health education on diarrhea in our country is limited to messages on making and administering ORS in the media. This campaign comes into effect once the diarrhea has set in. Hardly ever we see a message on washing hands, covering food and protecting it from flies, and drinking safe water in the media in March and April; the months that mark the advent of the diarrhea season. Prevention strategies to counter the likely increase in the incidence of diarrhea will be crucial in the context of global warming.
Malnutrition (under nutrition) is another disease listed high among the global killers of human kind. According to the WHO, being underweight is the top-most risk factor leading to disease, disability or death. The ongoing climate change can cause a massive increase in the prevalence of this risk factor. This will happen because the rising temperature and variable precipitation are likely to cause a decrease in production of staple foods, especially in the poor countries. Given the inequitable distribution of resources, a small decrease in production of food is liable to affect a disproportionately large number of the poor. Our nutritional indicators that will be affected further by the climate change are already a cause for concern.
According to the latest National Nutrition Survey, 38 per cent of Pakistani children aged under five have less than normal weight. This suggests that appropriate amount and type of food was not available to these children. This survey also shows that almost 37 per cent of the children belonging to this age group were stunted (short in height). The stunting of growth results when food scarcity affects the child for a long period of time. A halt in growth during childhood can have negative implications on the adult part of life. It is no wonder then that 37 per cent of pregnant Pakistani women are found to be weak and suffering from anaemia (lack of blood) and 33 per cent give birth to babies with less than normal weight.
High malnutrition rates represent a major obstacle in the country's development. Malnutrition is said to be directly or indirectly responsible for nearly half the deaths of children aged under five in Pakistan. Those who survive go on to become physically weak and prone-to-disease adults, who cannot perform up to their full potential. Thus they remain poor, which increases the chances of malnutrition in their next generation and the cycle goes on. In a country with fertile agricultural lands, diversity of crops and abundance of other nutritional resources, such an abysmal nutritional situation is beyond imagination. We must realise that the climate change is going to further compound this problem.
While agricultural, industrial and health experts should sit together to chalk out mega plans and supervise / monitor their implementation, one small step of promoting exclusive breast-feeding can go a long way. Exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of life should be ensured for all the Pakistani children. Breast-feeding, if done exclusively, guarantees a solid nutritional basis, ascertaining a healthy body and an intelligent mind. Promotion of exclusive breast-feeding is one strategy that would ensure a healthy generation without having to involve too many ministries or other stakeholders. This promotion is part of health education of many projects and programmes, but the fact that only 50 per cent of our mothers exclusively breast-feed their children shows that today's health education and breast milk promotion strategies are weak and should be improved upon.
Malaria is third among the climate-sensitive diseases present at a large scale in Pakistan. It is feared that the changes in climate will prolong the transmission seasons of malaria and similar diseases, which are spread by vectors like mosquitoes. The changes are also believed to alter the geographic range of these diseases, increasing the chances of their spread to regions where the population has no or little body resistance or where a strong public health infrastructure is not present. Dengue fever, which is caused by a specific mosquito, is a good example of the case in point. Its transmission increased dramatically in tropical developing countries due to rapid and unplanned urbanisation producing breeding sites for the mosquito, and high human population densities supplying a huge pool of susceptible individuals topped up by weak controlling systems.
Malaria, along with other infectious and parasitic diseases, occupies the top position among the causes of sickness in Pakistan. According to research reports, 1.5 per cent of deaths occurring in 2003 in Pakistan were because of malaria. It should be noted that detection of malaria at the primary care level is difficult, and actual cases of the disease and resultant deaths would be higher than what the data tells. The number of these malaria cases is likely to increase with the climate change bringing unprecedented risks for human health. In addition to quickly occurring deaths in cases of fatal malaria, its complications include chronic deficiency of blood and difficult to treat infections. Experts have recommended that improving housing and appropriate control interventions can help to counter the effects of malaria, but a quick action is required. Now is the time that the challenge of climate change can be converted into an opportunity of developing and implementing an effective malaria-control programme.
Whether it is diarrhea, malnutrition or malaria, a striking point is that these implications of climate change are highly inequitable -- the greatest risks are to the poorest people, who have contributed least to the temperature-raising emissions. Populations of poor or middle-income countries share very little to the global warming. Per capita emission of gases in the United States is seven times higher than in China and 19 times higher than in the whole of Africa. Most importantly, the largest health risks are to the children belonging to the poorest communities, who contribute least to this global warming. These poor and marginalised segments of society need change in policies at large and in consumption behaviours at an individual level.
(The writer works with Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs.
Still a dream
The condition of health care facilities in both public and private hospitals is poor to say the least
By Sibtain Raza Khan
With Pakistan's increasing population, the country's health care system has not been able to cope with the growing needs, not only in terms of medical aid but also in provision of general services. The health care system in Pakistan is faced with numerous problems, such as resource scarcity, structural weaknesses, lack of accountability, corruption and poor ethical values. These problems are prevalent in both the public sector and the private sector. However, since a vast majority of our population uses public facilities, more people are affected by the malpractices at the government health care centres.
According to the Ministry of Health, there are 13,937 health facilities in Pakistan, out of which 965 are hospitals, 4,916 are dispensaries, 4,872 are basic health units and 595 are rural health centres. The number of health facilities, however, is not the main issue; rather; it is the quality of service provided at these health centres. The treatment of patients, not only in terms of medical care but also the behaviour of medical staff, has become a major problem in itself.
Factors like workload, financial issues and lack of accountability have led to an increasingly inhuman treatment by medical staff, including doctors and nurses. Also, most patients consulting public facilities are from the lower-income group, having no influence or power to challenge the behaviour of medical staff. This adds to the lack of concern for patients by medical staff. Even the hospital administration is not friendly towards the patients, as no guidance is available for them or their attendants concerning the medical aid or related procedures.
The lack of accountability has not only resulted in ill-treatment of the patients and their attendants, but has also led to staff absenteeism and dual job-holding, which often leads to unavailability of doctors and other staff at public hospitals even for emergency cases. There is also demand of informal payments by medical staff for an early appointment or timely medical care of the patient. According to a study, an informal payment to public health care providers among the users of the service was as high as 96 per cent in Pakistan.
Cases of medical negligence and dishonesty have increased markedly over a period of time, creating greater misery for the people using medical facilities. Theft of newborn babies as well as of body organs, most commonly kidneys, of the patients under treatment has increased in both public and private hospitals. Despite having laws against such medical thefts and practices, no positive impact has been witnessed and no substantial steps have been taken to control this growing menace. Hospital administrations have neither been keen to counter such illegal practices nor do they have required administrative and management skills to counter such activities.
Carelessness among the doctors while treating their patients has also become very common. A woman, who had given birth to a child through a caesarian, was again operated upon after three weeks of childbirth, as she had developed an infection in her abdomen after the childbirth because the doctor had forgot her scissors inside her abdomen. There have also been instances of wrong diagnosis by the doctors, resulting in worsening condition of the patient. In another case, a pneumonia patient was treated for typhoid for more than a week at a public hospital, leading to critical condition of the patient. Incidents of this nature are becoming more common, as one doctor is responsible for too many patients, thus reducing his or her concentration.
Manhandling and misbehaviour by medical staff has become another problem. Several eyewitnesses and victims have complained about such malpractices to hospital managements and even to the media. One of the eyewitness to such an incident reported that a highly critical dengue fever patient had to wait for five hours to be taken to ICU, while he required immediate medical care.
According to another eyewitness account, an old woman patient slipped and fell on the ground through the hands of a physiotherapist, fracturing her arm. This situation is not specific to public hospitals and even the private ones are equally guilty of it. A cardiac patient notes that, while under treatment at a reputed private hospital, he witnessed such incidents and conditions that he was forced to think that if such is the situation of the 'best' private hospital, then how bad would be the public ones.
The problems in the health care sector are because of lack of a clear vision among the policy-makers, resulting in poor planning and coordination by various government agencies. There are gaps in the implementation process too, further damaging the already fragile health care system. There is also the issue of inadequate capacity of paramedics and medical staff responsible to deal with a huge population. The current doctor-patient ratio in Pakistan is 1:1400, which obviously is too low. The government is partially right in its claim that it has limited resources to cater to numerous problems; however, proper planning and implementation can help in better using the available resources, which are often either misused or wasted.
The health sector has also remained a low priority in budget allocations too. The health sector has been allocated Rs 5.240 billion for financial year 2007-08, which is 10.8 per cent more than the last financial year, but this constitutes only 0.6 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). Along with the need for greater monetary allocation for the sector, one aspect that needs to be taken care of is the poor service provision to the general public, particularly in the government hospitals, since majority of population rely on government hospitals for health facility.
There is a demand by public hospitals for increase in their budget to meet the growing problems and increasing number of patients. For instance, the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) has recently demanded of the Ministry of Health a substantial increase in its budget for the purchase of medicines and other hospital materials. Along with increase in budgetary allocations to hospitals, there should be focus on the specialised training of doctors, as well as other paramedical staff, in public dealing and patient counselling.
There is indeed a need for increase in budget for the health sector; however, there is a greater need for proper management of the available resources. Cases of manhandling, medical carelessness, corruption and misbehaviour should be taken seriously and strict actions must be taken to control such practices. Also, there should be a proper mechanism to cater to the complains of patients, in both public and private hospitals; and medical staff along with hospital administration should be held responsible and be punished if found guilty of unethical practices or uncooperative behaviour with the patients.
Need of the hour
Some suggestions for resource generation
By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr Ikramul Haq
Senator Ishaq Dar has taken the Finance Ministry's charge at a time when the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is facing the tough challenge of meeting the revenue target of Rs 1.025 trillion for fiscal year 2007-08, which is partly due to deteriorating economic conditions and partly due to inefficiency of the tax machinery. While long-term policy measures for devising a rational and growth-oriented National Tax Policy can be suggested in the days to come, some urgent measures are needed for the current year to generate extra revenue.
The government must offer a one-time de-log litigation scheme to taxpayers -- they can pay a certain percentage of tax arrears up to June 30, 2008, and their cases pending before appellate authorities and courts will deemed to have been settled. In 1998, India generated an additional revenue of Rs 900 billion through a similar scheme ('Kar Vivad Samadhan') and managed to clean huge backlog of tax cases in the country. Through such a scheme, the new government will not only generate immense revenue but workload of pending cases in tribunals, high courts and the Supreme Court will be drastically reduced.
Section 11(4) of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001, protects tax-evaders and criminals to whiten their ill-gotten money. This provision has destroyed the entire social fabric of the society. On remittances exceeding Rs 0.5 million (workers working abroad send meagre amounts), adjustable tax deduction of five per cent should be imposed. This will generate huge revenue besides helping in the documentation of the economy. Abusive transfer-pricing transactions in many sectors ñ pharmaceutical, telecommunication, beverage, oil and gas to name just a few ñ is causing national tax loss of billion of rupees. In the remaining three months of the current financial year, the FBR can generate an additional Rs 50 billion on this count alone, through exchange of information under various tax treaties.
The banks should be offered to get the issue of bad debts addressed till June 30, 2008, on the basis of principles laid down in the Seventh Schedule to the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001. Since most of the banks have already won the cases and taken refunds, the FBR can collect revenue of at least Rs 100 billion during the current financial year by offering this settlement to them. The FBR also needs to introduce a tax intelligent system (TIS) to support new audit initiatives. Unreported income represents the largest component of the tax gap, so much so that non-tackling of this issue has made Pakistan one of the lowest tax-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio countries in the world.
The FBR must also develop a new tool -- the Unreported Income Discriminant Index Formula (UIDIF) -- for identifying returns with a high probability of unreported income. The UIDIF will give the FBR the ability to identify returns at high risk for unreported income. For improving the examination selection process, a national research programme (NRP) is the need of the hour. The FBR has never conducted research on the distribution of errors on returns. Without the information that needs to be gathered through the NRP, the FBR will never be able to develop capacity to direct examinations and other compliance activities with accuracy and precision.
On the other hand, taxpayers must also be given adequate rights before the state justifies strict actions for enforcing tax obligations. For restoring confidence of taxpayers, the government should immediately table the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights in Parliament that safeguards and strengthens the rights of taxpayers; ensures equality of treatment; guarantees privacy and confidentiality of their declaration; provides right to assistance by the state in tax matters; guarantees unfettered right of appeal through an independent tax appellate system; and provides facilities for independent review of disputes with tax authorities.
The number of individuals paying electricity bills exceeding Rs 100,000 per annum is more than two million. Post-paid mobile non-corporate users paying annual bills of more than Rs 100,000 number around three million. The broadening of tax base must start by bringing all these people on the tax roll, as they must have income much more than taxable limit ñ their expense on a single utility exceeds the minimum non-taxable threshold. Their computerised national identity cards (CNICs) are available with utility providers, so those who are non-filers amongst them can easily be identified. By coaxing them on the national tax roll, the total number of taxpayers will jump to at least three million. In fact, their non-reporting of taxable income and non-issuance of notices to them prove the failure of the so-called, foreign-funded five-year tax reform programme to end in 2009.
It is an undeniable fact that there prevails massive sales tax evasion, coupled with non-reporting of colossal taxable income in Pakistan. The new government must enhance sales tax collection by giving the people tax incentives, which will help in expanding tax base, improve documentation and ensure better collection of taxes, without any clamour from any segment of the society. A well-planned scheme can check the ongoing leakages in sales tax collection done in the connivance with official staff. This scheme can simultaneously achieve the twin goals of expanding tax base and combatting tax evasion. It is common practice that due to corruption / mismanagement in sales tax administration and unwillingness on the part of people to get sales tax invoices, registered companies are not depositing full amount of sales tax recovered from the end users. By not depositing sales tax collected from the people, these companies criminally deprive the government of the money that the end users have paid. At the same time, they manage to avoid income tax on these unreported transactions.
The following scheme can remedy this situation: The registered companies that pay sales tax should be entitled to claim refund of 20 per cent of the amount paid. The procedure for claiming refund should be simple: they should send invoices to the Sales Tax Department, which will authorise refund from a nearest branch of the National Bank of Pakistan, after verification of the genuineness of the invoice (by checking their registration number). In this way, the FBR can develop a database about sales of all registered companies and then cross-verify the same with the particulars declared by them in their sales / income tax returns; or people who pays sales tax can claim credit of part of sales tax paid, say two per cent against their income tax liability by producing all sales tax invoices obtained by them throughout the year.
In this scheme, the people may be afraid of claiming full credit of sales tax paid, as many would not be able to justify sources of their expenses. To overcome this difficulty, the government can announce immunity for three years from scrutiny of their expenses declared through sales tax invoices. This scheme will encourage people to obtain sales tax invoices for all transactions, which is currently not insisted upon as evasion of sales tax is mutually beneficial. If above incentive is extended to the people, they will insist for sales tax invoices and the government without expending any money or making extra efforts will be able to expand the tax net. It is also imperative that the new government -- before considering, finalising and implementing any proposal or plan -- first abolishes decades-old practice of appointing yes men on key posts at the FBR.
(The writers are tax advisers and also teach at LUMS.
Averting the crisis
Many choices are available to us, provided we are genuinely interested in addressing the issue of energy
By Muhammad Faisal Ashraf
The decline of slavery with the end of the Roman conquests produced one of the first recorded energy crises in the world's history. It was resolved by technological developments and inorganic power sources, such as water wheel and windmill, were developed. Then wood became the major fuel and its deficiency led to a new energy crisis, which was resolved by coal. The steam engine gave birth to the new science of thermodynamics. Then internal combustion engines that used a wholly new fuel, petroleum, were invented. After this, came the era of electricity.
The new sources of power were cheap and reliable, and they made possible a vast outpouring of goods, which is turn changed the world from an economy of scarcity to an economy of plentiful consumption. Thousands of factories were established, employing a large number of workers. In the 1950s, nuclear technology gave rise to the hope that energy crises would be resolved once forever. The proponents of nuclear energy claimed that it represented humankind's best hope for creating the kind of industrial abundance that would allow the poor countries to attain a decent standard of living and the industrial countries to sustain their economic growth.
On the other hand, the opponents of nuclear energy said that no amount of prosperity was worth the risk posed to the people. Therefore, high hopes pinned on the use of nuclear energy have not yet been fully realised. Some people believe that breeder reactors are the only way to meet out future energy needs, as they produce more nuclear fuel than they consume -- thus they solve the problem of finite sources of uranium, which is the primary fuel for nuclear plants. Other people, however, oppose their use for producing energy and regard them as a morally indefensible and technically objectionable.
There are two distinct schools of thought as regards energy -- one advocates the use of soft technologies, while the other advocates the use of hard technologies. Soft technologies include solar heating, windmills and biomass conversion; while hard technologies include nuclear power, coal and gas. The distinction between the two is more than technological; it is economic, political, social and, above all, value-laden. The proponents of hard technologies believe that we must expand our energy production because demand for energy will continue to rise; while those of soft technologies stress conservation.
Coming to solar energy, it has many different types and not all of them rely on direct energy from the sun -- biomass conversion, burning of wood and other materials, geothermal energy, and wind power are all alternatively derived from solar energy. The increasing use of solar energy will not reduce production or comfort beyond an acceptable level. The development of solar energy, therefore, should be encouraged. Usually, solar energy is produced on a small scale. However, it can be produced on a large scale -- a satellite can collect solar energy in the space and transmit it to the earth station, though this will be very expensive.
Solar energy can provide us with only a small portion of our total energy needs for domestic purposes. Also, the production of solar energy needs back-up systems that make it even more expensive. Similarly, on industrial scale, large capital investment is required to develop the instruments and devices for producing solar energy. In short, if we want to adopt solar energy, then we will have to adopt simpler lifestyles. Another possible 'technological fix' to meet our energy requirements involves the development of synthetic fuels, which usually involve a wide range of gas and oil products extracted from coal, shale and tar sound.
Coal can be converted into oil and gas by different processes, but this has as yet been tried only at a small scale. Technical, moral and environmental problems are also linked with various synthetic processes, such as biomass conversion or the use of grains to make alcohol, for mixing it with gasoline. Also, the conversion of grains to gasoline and of coal, shale and tar sands to oil and gas are more expensive than conversional petroleum, so synthetic fuels alone are unable to cater to our future energy needs. Conservation and improved efficiency can cut down our energy consumption and this is another way to balance our energy supply and demand.
Conservation is cheaper than production of energy and it means to further protect the environment. It involves simple curtailment of energy use. It also involves technical charges that would reduce the demand for energy or specific fuels, without a corresponding reduction in goods and services. Simple curtailment of energy means that we are basically using less fuel to do less work. It involves behavioural charges, such as driving more slowly, turning of lights, turning of heating thermostats down, etc. The youth should persuade public to alter its habits, so as to lower waste of energy, reduce our dependence on foreign imports, preserve the environment and conserve natural resources for the future.
(The writer works with the Lahore Electric Supply
The silent victims
Children -- Power, Policy and the
Discourse on Child Labour in the
Manufacturing Industry of Pakistan
Author: Ali Khan
Price: Rs 495
University Press, Karachi
By Ammar Ali Jan
Ali Khan's book under review challenges the prevalent western discourses on the issue of child labour in the football industry, as well as explains the complexities of the issue. The book provides a critique of the methodology of eradicating child labour, with the football industry as the case study, arguing it has created more problems than solutions.
Khan starts out by pointing out the gross exaggeration of the issue in the western media. He argues that the West sees the Third World and its traditions as inherently backwards and oppressive, while presenting itself as an ideal model to follow. This thesis has similarities to Edward Said's book entitled Orientalism, in which he argues that the West has always constructed the image of the East as the 'other'. The 'white man's burden' of civilising other races comes under fire in the book, as the author points out gross misrepresentations of western observers.
He also criticises the imposition of western definitions on the Pakistan society, while declaring the development policies of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as being dictatorial. He backs this assertion by giving examples of foreign donors of NGOs who demand strict implementation of western models, which rather than improving the condition further alienates the people from this model of development.
The book gives an inside into the workings of the western organisations and the local NGOs. Due to the huge amount of money involved, the author claims, many a time these NGOs fabricate figures in order to please the donor agencies, while these agencies accept (and even exaggerate) these figures to improve their credentials. However, the problem with their solution stems from a lack of understanding of the local peculiarities. For example, the issue of oppression of women is treated on par with the western concept of a free woman. Moves to impose this western order on locals are resented by many and are seen as unnecessary foreign interference in the traditional domain.
The author blames the class and national composition of those leading the 'struggle' against child labour as a major source of its failure. The western intelligentsia has often condemned local traditions without making a serious effort to understand them. Their Pakistani counterparts, the author argues, are also from 'elite' schools built during the British Raj to create a 'westernised' class among the Indians. Thus, both remain alien to the problems being faced by the masses -- before proposing solutions, they construct the problems as they see them.
Khan also cites examples of child abuse in countries, such as Japan and the United States. He, however, criticises the lack of media attention given to the problems in the West, while focussing on the problems of the East. This contributes to the prevalent discourse on the 'backwards', 'oppressive' and 'barbaric' nature of the Third World notions widely prevalent in the developed world.
The sanctions imposed by the West on the football industry did not have the desired result. According to the author, many families that were dependant upon child labour were left with no choice. This, in fact, led to the induction of children in far more dangerous professions, including sex slavery. Bill Clinton's speech on the eradication of child labour completely shifted the discourse from the dismal state of children to the bright future they have. Of course, this was hailed as another milestone in the developed world's mission in 'civilising' the East. However, the author argues that these celebrations of the triumph of western ideals had nothing to do with the ground realities, as the condition of working children has only worsened since the western interference.
The most important part of the book is an anthropological survey of the Sialkot region and its inhabitants. The author has done an excellent job of giving the 'subalterns' a chance to speak about their own plight by doing detailed interviews of the children working in the football industry.
The results of his interviews should be mind-boggling for all western human rights activists. The children did not feel as oppressed as western observers assumed, nor did the women in the locality. Many children took pride in their work and some had left school for work. The author attributes this to the low quality of education, but also to different cultural and social conditions that are legitimate in their own right, though always dismissed by the West as backwards. He acknowledges, however, that the issue of a child preferring work over education is a taboo one in the western world due to which they fail to fully comprehend it.
The strength of the book lies in its strong theoretical foundations. Mostly using post-modernist discourses, the author cites a wide range of writers and philosophers to elaborate his views. He is also able to provide a critique of the post-colonial state and he links the issue of child labour with that of the trajectory of the Pakistani state. His analysis of western discourses about the East is also masterfully applied to the case study. The author also discusses the problems with western case studies and opens up a debate on the methodology of collecting data.
The acceptance, and in some cases the celebration, of child labour by the children interviewed by the author raises some questions. Antonio Gramsci proposed the idea of 'cultural' hegemony, in which he stated that the ruling classes propagate their ideology to the subservient classes. After a time period, the subservient classes accept that ideology and try to conform to the framework set by the elite without complaining. Whether this theory can be applied to these women and children, who do not complain about their situation, is an area that can be further investigated.
Overall, the book is unique as it provides a voice to the children who are at the core of this issue. This helps in understanding the complexities of the problem without any construction by foreigners, who may not fully comprehend the situation. One might have theoretical differences with the author, but it opens up a crucial debate on the issue of child labour.