is the cabinet being expanded?
Still in misery...
Three years down the road from the devastating earthquake that hit Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), thousands who were rendered homeless still seek help from the government, donor agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to be able to rebuild better. It is a healthy sign that government agencies, as well as humanitarian and development agencies, working in the affected areas have pledged to honour their commitments of rebuilding the affected areas, though they have not increased them.
According to the latest statistics, $1.1656 billion have so far been made available for relief and rehabilitation efforts, while $1.0380 billion of ‘uncommitted pledges’ from donor agencies is still awaited. Besides rehabilitation of other intermediate social service sectors in the affected areas, such as health, education and infrastructure, the housing sector remains a vital concern. Housing demonstrates, and is reflective of, the people’s resolve and drive to rebuild better. However, the housing sector has also proved to be the most problematic, ridden with confusions and contradictions.
The Post Earthquake Housing programme was launched in April 2006 by the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) under its ‘Build Back Better’ strategy, instituting what had to be an owner-driven approach in constructing of earthquake-resistant houses. It took eight months to complete surveys and evaluations for setting up a full-fledged reconstruction programme. With the information at hand, all the primary stakeholders (surprisingly, excluding beneficiaries) deliberated on grant for and designs of earthquake-resistant houses. It was decided that a grant of Rs175,000 will be given in installments for the construction of prescribed housing designs. "After deliberations with various stakeholders, and careful assessment of the context and local needs, the government approved a housing grant of Rs175,000 for each beneficiary," according to ERRA documents.
The housing designs were elaborated by the leading engineering firm, National Engineering Services of Pakistan (NESPAK), based on its contract with ERRA. The grants were given in installments corresponding to the progress made on the construction of houses. The housing design initially emphasised brick, stone and block masonry, followed by a timber design option and reinforced cement concrete or confined masonry design option. The addition of bhattar in 2007, a commonly prevalent structure in the NWFP, comprises timber-reinforced masonry using dry stone and no mortar. Recently another indigenous design from the Lipa valley (called ‘Lipa Valley Design’ and comprising timber structure) has also been validated as earthquake-resistant and, thus, approved by ERRA and its partners.
Interestingly, the amount of Rs175,000 was considered enough for building an earthquake-resistant structure, "since it encouraged the use of local materials." Also knowing that most of the collapsed material would be used for reconstruction, the amount was considered enough, Ateeq Abbasi tells The News on Sunday. However, he admits that "in midst of post-disaster economy this money is not enough and meets only 30-40 percent cost of reconstructing an earthquake-resistant house." Asim Khiligi, senior technical expert at United Nations-Habitat, Muzzaffarabad, agrees: "The latest price hike has burdened the poor and it has become impossible for them to construct houses conforming to the standards. We have examples from the field that people tried to avoid strict scrutiny and inspection."
Two years after the housing programme was launched, many survivors in AJK are still awaiting the grant promised by the State Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (SERRA). According to the latest SERRA statistics (as of August 12), in the Muzzaffarabad district, 124,637 beneficiaries have been paid the second installment of Rs75,000 (for fully damaged houses). The total amount paid to the beneficiaries in the district comes to Rs9.348 billion. This does not, however, include the payment of Rs864 million for the construction of urban housing units.
Conforming to earthquake-resistant guidelines in the affected areas implies a number of contradictions. Firstly, the compensation process for the construction of houses based on prescribed earthquake-resistant designs is replete with many flaws. The beneficiaries want compensation to be adjusted against inflation, to serve carriage costs and to provide for trained labour / mason. In the absence of these, it is impossible for any one to meet the official earthquake-resistance criteria, they claim. In view of negative reports, it has been ensured that "people observe a minimum set of standards; for instance, the size of pre-earthquake blocks was 12 inches, but now it has been reduced to 8 inches," Khilgi says. SERRA, the apex policymaking body in the earthquake-affected areas, presents conformity to minimum standards as its major success, citing the compliance rates.
The second contradiction inherent in conforming to earthquake-resistant guidelines in the affected areas is the ‘one family, one compensation’ policy. Sadiq Abbasi, who hails from the Dhani Mai Sahiba village in the Muzzaffarabad district, expresses the frustration that is being felt at the local level toward ERRA’s compensation structure and criteria: "The nuclear family concept is rubbish. Inculcating this equation for getting compensation money has increased our maintenance costs in the long-run." He elucidates that "to get compensation money, the people used their depleted land for the construction of houses and this has resulted in increased maintenance costs."
Arif Hassan, an architect, says: "Remittance economy had already started, before the earthquake, to replace the subsistence agriculture as the basis of the local economy. With the prominence of nuclear-type family in the wake of earthquake reconstruction, the people have now rebuilt their houses on farmland." Thus, the prescribed earthquake-resistant designs are also in conflict with the socioeconomic needs of the affected people. If these houses are to be considered as permanent structures, then ERRA should have linked its designs with livelihood generation for the affected population.
The livelihood component is not fully incorporated into the prescribed housing designs. For instance, the two-room house (the standard model offered by ERRA) neither has any allocated space for livestock nor any provision from temporary shed. "It is impossible to reconstruct a house with this money, grant or compensation, whatever you call it. This ‘assistance’ by donors or the government is not at all reflective of the people’s needs," says Naseema Bibi, also of the Dhani Mai Sahiba village.
Thirdly and most importantly, the quality of material being used in the construction of houses is substandard. This has emerged as a major problem, especially in some areas of the Muzzaffarabad district. For instance, the quality of crush and sand from the areas on the Neela Dandee ridge along the Neelum river and towards Pateeka is unsuitable for earthquake-resistant construction. Khilgi confirms that the quality of local construction materials is substandard: "A recent presentation by the Geological Department of University of AJK showed that materials from some areas the Muzzaffarabad district contained a chemical agent called ‘dolomide’, which reacts with water and reduces the efficacy of manufactured concrete blocks." The poor quality of construction materials does not complement ERRA’s objective of building earthquake-resistant houses.
Yasmeen Lari, an architect and director of the Heritage Foundation, commenting on the designs advocated by ERRA, summarises the situation: "Firstly, it is impossible for the people living in remote areas to construct houses from this meagre grant. Secondly, the mechanism for disbursing installments is problematic. Thirdly, the local people have no expertise in concrete construction, thus one can see that most new houses are not up to the mark."
The housing sector in the earthquake-affected areas has emerged as the most problematic one, mainly because of non-compliance with the prescribed designs; contradictory assertions by various authorities regarding used of local construction materials; and the people’s preference for their ingenious designs. One wonders how, then, the rehabilitation process would proceed in the earthquake-affected areas when the starting ground remains plagued with numerous problems.
The euphoria following the announcement of the rehabilitation programme, with its compensation measures and safety features, was followed by general discontent and degeneration of essentially sound construction practices. At this stage of the rehabilitation phase, the policymakers want to gain back the lost time. Therefore, they have reintroduced the traditional designs, along with encouraging people to incorporate as many earthquake-resistance elements as possible. Though this is both too little and too late, at least the affected people’s confidence will be restored in their traditional housing designs.
(The writer works with Rural Development Policy Institute, Islamabad.
Why is the cabinet being expanded?
By Kaleem Omar
The United States, the world’s only superpower, has a presidential cabinet consisting of 17 members. It used to have 16 members until 2001 when the events of 9/11 led to the creation of a new cabinet-level agency: the Department of Homeland Security. Governments in Pakistan, on the other hand, seem to think that they cannot function without a cabinet that consists of anything up to 50 or 60 ministers, ministers of state and cabinet-rank advisers.
The Shaukat Aziz government was the champion in this regard. It had a cabinet that eventually grew to something like 75 members. In fact, the Aziz government’s cabinet was so big that if it had got any bigger, cabinet meetings might have had to be held in the Islamabad stadium.
What this battalion of ministers, ministers of state and cabinet-rank advisers did is anybody’s guess. My own theory is that they spent a lot of their time trying to avoid tripping over one another. It used to be said that the rumbling sound heard in the afternoon in Islamabad in those days was not thunder over the Margalla Hills, but the sound of hordes of cabinet members heading home.
Many of those cabinet members were political lotas who had switched sides and joined the ruling party, or had allied themselves with the ruling party and had to be given cabinet-level jobs to ensure that they didn’t switch sides again. Had that happened, the PML(Q)-led ruling alliance might have suddenly found itself losing its majority in the National Assembly and been unable to secure a vote of confidence, which, in turn, would have led to their government falling and being replaced by a coalition of opposition parties — aided and abetted, of course, by the usual lotas, who would have lost no time in switching sides yet again.
When the PPP-led coalition government took over after the February 18, 2008, elections, it began its term in office with a relatively small cabinet — small, that is, by Pakistani standards. But even this small cabinet shrank in size when differences emerged between the PPP and its main coalition partner, the PML(N), over the judges’ issue and other matters, and the PML(N)’s leadership pulled its 11 ministers out of the cabinet, though it claimed it was still part of the ruling alliance and would continue to support it in the National Assembly.
The resignation of the 11 PML(N) ministers, including Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Petroleum Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, meant that the remaining members of the cabinet were given charge of the ministries that had been headed by the former PML(N) ministers, and ended up holding two or three other portfolios in addition to the portfolios they already held. Perhaps the most prominent example of the new arrangement is Sherry Rehman, who was given charge of the Ministry of Health in addition to her Information Ministry portfolio.
I am not aware of just how much Ms Rehman knows about health matters. But she is reputed to be a quick study and may, for all one knows, be an expert on health by now. Be that as it may, she is likely to lose her Health Ministry portfolio after the forthcoming expansion of the cabinet, which, according to reports in Wednesday’s papers, is due to take place in a few days.
According to these reports, 20 more ministers are likely to be added to the cabinet. What is still not clear, however, is how many of the new ministers are likely to be from the PPP and how many from the ranks of its coalition partners. Press reports said that the coalition partners had expressed certain reservations about the formula to be adopted for the expansion of the cabinet.
The reports said that these reservations had delayed the swearing-in of the new ministers by a few days, and that they were now likely to take oath of office after the joint session of Parliament (due to continue till Thursday) for an in-camera briefing by the newly appointed ISI director general, Lt-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, on the security situation and the ongoing military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Swat.
To revert to the cabinet expansion plan, however, are we now likely to once again see the splitting up of various ministries into two or three ministries each in order to accommodate all the new ministers that are expected to take office?
Take the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Youth Affairs, for example. There have been occasions during the tenure of previous governments when this ministry was split up into three ministries, each headed by a minister or minister of state. So where there was one ministry, there were now three: the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Youth Affairs.
The question is: what has the Ministry of Culture ever done for culture in this country? By the same token, what has the Ministry of Tourism ever done for tourism in this country and what has the Ministry of Youth Affairs ever done for the youth of this country? Do we really need ministries of this sort at all? Wouldn’t it be better to abolish them and save the public exchequer a lot of money?
Of course, these ministries are not the only ones that need to be abolished. So, too, does the Ministry of the Environment. What this ministry has done to protect the environment could be written on the head of a pin with room to spare. Pollution and environmental degradation have been rampant in this country for years.
Our forest cover is now down to less than five per cent of Pakistan’s total land mass, whereas it should be 20 per cent or more. Muree, once known as the ‘Queen of Hill Stations’, is now a grim picture of urban blight. The once pristine Nathia Galli is headed the same way. Even Thandhiani, the highest habitat in the Galliat, is under threat from rapacious real estate developers.
More than 40 per cent of Karachi’s inhabitants now live in slums — euphemistically known as katchi abaadis. Over 200 million gallons a day of untreated sewage now flows into Karachi Harbour. And the Lyari River now enjoys the dubious distinction of being the most polluted river in the world. Sack the whole Ministry of Environment, is what I say. And while we’re about it, let’s sack its provincial equivalents too.
The Trade Promotion and Development Authority (formerly the Export Promotion Bureau) should also be abolished. What has it ever done to boost this country’s exports? Zilch, that’s what. Ask any exporter and he will tell you.
The eternal dream
By Alauddin Masood
Individuals, entities and states all cherish peace, because it embodies opportunities enabling one to grow and prosper. It is peace that makes inter-state trade possible, yielding profits to businesspeople and revenues to states in taxes / duties on goods exported / imported through their borders. Peace also affords opportunities to the common people to get goods of their choice conveniently, comfortably and at reasonable rates.
All states strive to achieve peace by securing natural borders (such as rivers, mountain chains, etc) and keeping distances (oceans, deserts, buffer zones, etc) between themselves and their potential enemies. However, it is another thing that natural borders and distances become ludicrous in the age of rockets and missiles. Similarly, nationalist prejudices tend to breakdown in the age of extended interaction and the balance of power may change in the age of multidimensional weapon systems.
To maximise their profits, investors try to boost the sale of their goods by remaining competitive through elimination of wastage and ensuring availability of various inputs for production at reasonable rates. Since labour is one of the most important factors in production, entrepreneurs are seen engaged in efforts to procure efficient and hard working labour at reasonable rates. This explains why the developed countries allow immigration of educated and skilled workers from the Third World countries or why multinational companies prefer to set up factories in countries where there is a demand for their merchandise and the labour is also available at cheap rates.
Cognizant of the fact that most multinational companies, in particular those owned by Japanese and South Korean investors, have made considerable investments in the Far East, the Pakistani government is also trying to persuade them to invest here and benefit from the country’s liberal investment policy. But businessmen flee from a country where there is disruption of peace or a likelihood of that happening.
In the early 1990s, the visiting investors would cite the poor law and order situation in Karachi for not investing in Pakistan. When local authorities would argue that Pakistan is a big country and for investment they can select a region where there is peace, the foreign investors would always say to them Karachi is Pakistan’s window. But, unfortunately, now the spectre of violence haunts many other places in the country too. The situation warrants serious thinking, because it is resulting in unnecessary death and destruction coupled with the flight of capital.
In fact, absence of peace is an anathema to the growth of business. At the macro level, this can be explained by making a comparative study of foreign investment in South East Asia and South Asia. Because South East Asian countries are, by and large, free from inter-state feuds, they have substantial inter-regional trade. They have also attracted sufficient foreign investments and, in the process, made considerable progress, earning the title of ‘tiger economies’. On the other hand, South Asian countries are involved in disputes and they have almost negligible inter-regional trade. Therefore, they have also failed to attract foreign investment commensurate with the huge size of their markets, catering to the needs of almost one fourth of the humankind. Consequently, South Asia remains underdeveloped, unable to provide even the basic necessities of life to its citizens.
Since the Soviet-inspired Saur Revolution (April 28, 1978), some parts of Afghanistan have remained engulfed in militancy, and the antecedent death and destruction. The situation has adversely impacted the country’s economy. While it has weakened the formal sector, the informal sector has become robust and a challenge for the state. Meanwhile, the condition of Afghans has gone from bad to worse. Almost the same has happened to oil-rich Nigeria; violence and turmoil have reduced it to a God forsaken place on earth.
At the micro level, the impact of violence on a business venture, its workers and the region of its location can be explained through the case of Chamalang coal mine in Loralai, Balochistan. Chamalang lies about 45 kilometres north-east of Kohlu, an equal distance northward of Barkhan and 90 kilometres east of the Duki town at a height of 1,000 metres above the sea level. With no tree cover, it is a harsh region of blistering summers and freezing winters, ethnically divided between Pukhtoons and Marri Balochs. Both groups laid claims on the hill or on its portions after it was discovered in 1973 that Chamalang holds a big coal deposit of good quality.
Unfortunately, shortly after the discovery, unrest gripped Balochistan and the deposits of ‘black gold’ could not be tapped until 1980. Traditionally, Loralai’s Luni Pukhtoons have been in possession of this region. The Luni chief obtained a license and started mining, offering a royalty of Rs150 per tonne to owners who agreed to lease their properties on the coal-rich hill. When the coal mining started, demands for an increase in the royalty led to serious conflicts, halting the mining activity in 1983.
Meanwhile, the Bijarani sub-tribe of Marris also claimed rights over Chamalang, maintaining that for hundreds of years their tribe had used the region as a grazing ground for its cattle. In 1994, the provincial government of Balochistan organised a Jirga of Luni and Bijarani elders in Quetta. In order to resolve the conflict and as a gesture of goodwill, the Luni chief, Tahir Khan, gifted a portion of the coal-rich hill to the Bijaranis. Once again, work started with the Baloch and the Pukhtoons mining in their respective areas. However, within a few years, the two groups clashed when, dissatisfied with the gift, the Bijaranis began to encroach Luni mining areas.
Small arms fire began to be exchanged regularly between the two groups, who also occasionally used rocket launchers. By 1998, Chamalang was in serious trouble with a coal lorry being blown up by a landmine every third day, resulting in many deaths. In June 2001, the matter was resolved through arbitration, but only 20 days later, the conflict broke out once again, resulting in 52 deaths and serious injuries to twice as many. Consequently, the authorities banned mining in Chamalang in July 2002. After failure of many arbitrations / agreements, finally the Pakistan Army helped in brokering a comprehensive agreement, in December 2006, to the satisfaction of various stakeholders.
Mining activities took off, in March 2007, in an environment of peace, providing employment to 50,000 men in various fields and professions, including mining, trucking, business / trade, welding and other technical jobs, such as that of turners, mechanics, electricians, etc. Amongst the directly employed staff, each of the 600 miners gets a monthly salary of Rs30,000, while each of their 15 supervisors are paid a monthly salary of Rs45,000-50,000.
Currently, the selling price of coal is around Rs6,000 per tonne and the daily output at this mine is 6,000 tonnes, but it can be raised substantially. Of the income, the contractors pay Rs165 per tonne as royalty to the provincial government and Rs430 per tonne for social sector development, including a hospital and hostel for the miners as well as other allied facilities, such as shopping centres and stipends for the students from the district. The result is that the area is getting transformed from an underdeveloped hinterland into a prosperous area pulsating with economic activities and modern amenities of life.
On the other hand, take the case of the Gomal Zam dam. The work on the Rs12.829 billion dam was almost complete when the Chinese contractors abandoned the project following abduction and killing of a few of their fellow engineers. On completion in June 2006, the multi-purpose dam would have provided 17.4 megawatts of electricity and irrigation water to 163,086 acres of land in Tank and Kulachi tehsils of Dera Ismail Khan, NWFP. But, its non-completion has deprived the people, in particular the farmers, of the bonanza that would have ushered in that arid region following availability of electricity and irrigation water. At the national level, the dam’s completion would have eased the situation arising out of energy and food shortages, and also contributed to the prosperity of the people and the country. So far, Chinese contractors seem unwilling to resume work on the project.
One fails to understand what sort of message do the militants, if they are Pakistanis of sound mind, wish to give to the outside world through their actions? Of course, nobody condones raids by Allied troops on civilians, but the reaction of the militants is also not appropriate, because it is causing death and destruction and sending wrong signals to the outside world about the country and its people. The raids by the Allied troops and the suicide attacks by the militants have scared away the investors from both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and considerably slowed down the economic activities in the two countries.
(The writer, a former civil servant, is a freelance columnist.
It may be right to criticise the PPP-led government, but one fails to understand why the PML-N is being showered with praises
By Dr Khalil Ahmad
It is said that every government is a perfect target for criticism. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led government in the Centre is no exception. Interestingly, however, this time around in Pakistan, the real target for criticism should be the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). As for the PPP’s politics both before and after the February 18 general elections, it has been established beyond doubt that it is only continuing with the policies of General (r) Pervez Musharraf and the security establishment of Pakistan. Take any issue and you will see that it is acting and behaving more and more like the Musharraf regime. In fact, it is set to achieve what Musharraf so desperately wanted to achieve, but could not.
The major ‘achievements’ of the PPP-led government in the Centre are its persistent denial of the lawyers’ movement; its refusal to restore the pre-November 3 judiciary, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry; and the notorious re-appointment of a number of ‘deposed’ judges. And all that without any immediate backlash in sight! Another major ‘achievement’ of the PPP-led government is its willingness to help the United States in the so-called ‘war on terror’.
Farcically, President Asif Ali Zardari, who also happens to be co-chairperson of the PPP, while on his maiden visit to the US, crossed all limits in wooing the American administration. Musharraf liked to play the victim, while the PPP leadership is playing the dog that walks ahead of its master. As regards the mechanics of domestic terror warfare, the PPP is only making a mess through its policy of action and inaction and a combination of both. Similarly, on the economic front, nothing has come to the fore that could be termed even remotely positive. In short, the PPP government is presenting itself as a proxy government of Musharraf. And, sure, for all its deeds and misdeeds, it is rightly facing unprecedented criticism.
Still, it is incomprehensible why the PML-N is being showered with praises, such as: it is doing principled politics; it is consistent in its politics; it sacrificed federal ministries for the sake of fulfilling its electoral promise of restoring the ‘deposed’ judiciary; it went to the last extent in partnering with the PPP to attain this objective; it is not pursuing the retaliatory politics of the late 1980s and the 1990s; it will never be part of anything that destabilises the PPP government; it is not set to do anything that may amount to toppling the PPP government; it is giving the PPP government due space to act as it likes; it respects the PPP’s mandate and would like to see it sail through its five-year term; it will support the PPP where it will deem it fit to do so; it supported the PPP in ousting Musharraf; it will never do anything that may result in overthrowing of another civilian government; it is sticking to the Charter of Democracy; etc.
All this sounds a bit unrealistic in the context of Pakistan’s political dynamics, but is it really so? It may not be, because there is another brush that paints a completely different picture, one which sees through the present politics of the PML-N. Though we do not know the secrets behind the PML-N’s politics, we can at least analyse the way events unfolded to find the thread that goes through them. For instance, why did the PML-N nominate Justice (r) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui as its candidate in the recent presidential elections despite knowing that Zardari had a clear edge? This reminds one of the manner in which PPP helped Musharraf ‘secure’ his second term as president in November 2007.
As concerns the restoration of the ‘deposed’ judiciary, the PML-N’s stance and its efforts are, of course, laudable. But is it all that it could do or it should have been doing? Surely, it was a strategic victory to bring the PPP on the table, and have it sign the agreements to restore the ‘deposed’ judges and annul the 17th amendment. But was it sufficient to rely on the written word? The PML-N may be excused for the Murree Declaration, but it cannot be spared for signing another agreement with the PPP after being ‘betrayed’ once.
One may object that it is easier saying this now than doing it then. But the point of argument is different: was it sufficient to sign agreements and wait for their implementation? Why did the PML-N leadership stand on such a weak rock? Why could not they understand the game of give and take? Actually, they committed blunders of great magnitude when they bartered agreements for supporting the PPP in forming government in the Centre and for giving vote of confidence to its nominee for the slot of prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani. It may be or may not be that they had been a victim of temptation of federal ministries, but all this took place exactly in the manner it should not have been.
Moreover, for a political party like the PML-N, it was just preposterous to take the signed agreements as serious documents that will make a difference and bring about the desired change. Men like Raja Zafarul Haq, Javed Hashmi and Khawaja Asif should have been aware of the treacherous nature of Pakistani politics. In short, they made a big mistake. They also did not do their homework to build pressure on the PPP through street agitation and other means for getting these agreements implemented. One is at a loss to understand why the PML-N reposed its trust in these agreements so naively.
Going further, take the example of the Long March. How the PML-N kept itself aloof from it is not a matter of debate. The party could have made it a bigger show and sent a clear message to the PPP government that it could go to any extent for the restoration of the ‘deposed’ judiciary. Moreover, throughout the period after the last agreement with the PPP had expired, the PML-N shied away from the lawyers’ movement. It did not strengthen it the way it should have. Why? What were the constraints? Any guesses!
What I want to argue is the single point on which the PML-N’s election campaign was based: it will restore the ‘deposed’ judges. One wants to know how sincerely it acted to achieve this objective. It needs to be pointed out here that it is not just a promise; it is the only road to go back to constitutional rule in Pakistan. That is the importance of this promise. If the PML-N does not opt for doing what it can to get the ‘deposed’ judges restored and the 17th amendment annulled, it will amount to death by slow poisoning in comparison with the PPP that has gone for a cold-blooded murder.
Therefore, we can ask again, was it sufficient for the PML-N to quit the Cabinet? Was it sufficient to leave the coalition government? Was it sufficient to sit on the opposition benches in the National Assembly? Was there nothing else that the PML-N could do to meet its election promise? Or was it just scoring numbers in the eyes of the people? A cursory look at the events of the last few months enables us to see how the PML-N has been acting as a sleeping partner of the PPP government. All its acts, be it quitting the Cabinet or the coalition government, are of passive nature.
By playing a silent partner to the PPP government, the PML-N is making itself liable to be accused of the same ‘crimes’ that the PPP is committing. By allowing the PPP to do whatever it likes, it is actually endorsing whatever the ruling government is doing. By strengthening the PPP government, it is also giving credence to the unconstitutional acts of Musharraf. Also, it is tantamount to endorsing the PPP government’s policy of following the US line in the so-called ‘war on terror’, which is in stark contrast to the PML-N’s policy. In the economic realm too, it is just stamping what the PPP’s economic managers are doing or undoing.
In conclusion, the PML-N’s policy of appeasement towards the PPP government, pre-meditated or adopted under the circumstances, is casting serious doubts on its claim of principled politics. It is baffling which principles the PML-N regards as supreme and worth following, if they are not based on and derived from the Constitution of Pakistan. It is just enigmatic how its politics can be termed principled if it is but extending support to all the acts of the PPP government. It is naive to believe that the present PML-N is a different political party and that it is not seeking power through any means. In fact, it is just waiting for its term to grab power.
(The writer is associated with Alternate Solutions Institute.
ByAasim Sajjad Akhtar
In these deeply troubled times, it is admittedly difficult to seriously ponder anything other than the so-called ‘war on terror’ and its fallouts. However, if for no other reason than to defy the dictates of those who perpetrate terror — the United States of America and its ‘extremist enemies’ — it is necessary to cast attention to other matters, and particularly those which at one time garnered just as much media coverage as the ‘war on terror’ does now, but have since been relegated to once-in-a-while news items. On the third anniversary of the 2005 earthquake, it is necessary to recall that the earthquake was not so long ago the centre of everyone’s attention.
On October 8, predictable questions were asked about the state, donors, and the more privileged members of the ravaged societies of AJK and the NWFP. Just as predictable is the fact that the majority of these questions remain unanswered. So, for example, did the Government of Pakistan, let alone the intended beneficiaries, ever receive the multi-billion dollar aid packages that were promised by the international donor community? How much of what was actually received was properly accounted for? Did the famed Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) ever complete a comprehensive survey of the affected areas and subsequently put into place a feasible plan to rebuild homes and society more generally?
Have all those who fled the devastation returned? What kind of demographic and economic changes have been brought about by the earthquake and the ‘relief’ operation that followed it? These questions form only the tip of the iceberg, but one is not very hopeful that even these will ever be fully answered. Indeed it was only the sheer magnitude of the earthquake that has guaranteed it (ever shrinking) space within the public sphere in the three years that have followed it. Other ‘disasters’, such as the floods in Balochistan last year or even more recently in Rajanpur and other adjacent districts, no longer even occupy a place in the collective conscious, if they ever did.
As a general rule, ‘disasters’ of these kinds are not that rare in the post-colonial world. They are the symptoms of a steady process of commodification of the natural world and human society that was initiated under colonial rule and that has proceeded largely uninterrupted ever since. All too often, ‘disasters’ are seen as chance events rather than necessary fallouts of a development paradigm that is completely unsustainable. Of course, earthquakes are less a function of human short-sightedness, but the most common ‘disasters’ in Pakistan are generally produced by manipulation of historical water courses, primarily by the state, in conjunction with international financial institutions (IFIs).
Be that as it may, the formal responses to ‘disasters’, whatever their causes, tend to reinforce political and economic structures rather than provide new social spaces to those most affected. Previously the notion of ‘reconstruction’ may have been thought of as much more neutral than is the case in the aftermath of ‘reconstruction’ in post-Saddam Iraq, which has been nothing less than the total capture of Iraqi resources and markets by America’s big business companies. In short, it is blatant imperialism. Post-disaster ‘reconstruction’ is decidedly less blatant but still privileges the interests of those who bring in capital under the guise of ‘donor assistance’. In building infrastructure or providing ‘technical expertise’, donors play a larger than life role in moulding the ‘post-disaster’ society. Local bureaucracies always manage to retain their power and privilege in this revised dispensation.
This is not to suggest the impossibility of rehabilitation efforts that are genuinely pro-people; such outcomes nevertheless rely on the mobilisation of people themselves so that the role of the state and donors can be subject to their control. Unfortunately, more often than not, people become passive subjects and the imperative of commodification holds forth.
As with many matters of public interest in this day and age, the role of the corporate media in reinforcing the hegemony of capital is decisive. It is not unreasonable to ask why in the three years since the 2005 earthquake there has been almost no meaningful investigative journalism along the lines of the questions posed at the beginning of this essay. Earthquakes, droughts and floods do garner media coverage, but reporting is typically sensationalist, and problematisation of ‘relief and rehabilitation’ efforts is virtually unheard of. Much has been made of the media’s role in hastening the end of military rule, but much more critical debate needs to take place about the media’s ever increasing role in formulating public opinion, particularly insofar as it has the power to make ‘disasters’ into forgotten stories.
The final point to note with regard to disasters is the complete absence of preventive strategies; given the regularity of calamities of the kind briefly touched upon here (in the case of earthquakes it has been definitively established that our region is prone to major seismic shifts), it is astounding that neither the state nor the donor community have dedicated time and effort to preventing disasters. Clearly preventive measures are not yet part of the dominant calculus, but in all likelihood will become so when they can be made to fit within the framework of commodification.
All told there is a distinct lack of rigour in our study of ‘disasters’, let alone policies designed to deal with them. This lack reflects a patent absence of political will on the part of the state as well as the multi-billion dollar relief ‘industry’ that is supposed to demonstrate exactly this kind of political will. Coming back full circle, it would not be irrelevant to mention in conclusion that the United States of America, with the enormous resources at its disposal in the region on account of its ‘war on terror’, offered a pittance of this help to support the relief and rehabilitation exercise in Pakistan in the aftermath of the earthquake. Whatever help was offered in the form of helicopters and the like was considered a diversion from the more important task of subjugating the Afghan society to the will of the United States. The tragedy is that eventually Afghanistan will again become a forgotten story, a man-made disaster to parallel anything that has come before it in modern history.
The increasing emphasis on energy crops to meet the world’s fuel requirements is replete with problems of its own
By Asma Rashid
The world is at a crossroads: food or fuel? The choice is made even more difficult by the fact that many economic, environmental, political and territorial issues crisscross to complicate the situation. Rising crude oil prices — for various reasons, such as uncertain political conditions in the Middle East, depletion of oil sources, and increasing demand for energy in countries like China and India — are giving way to the search for alternate sources of energy.
Biofuels are one of the most discussed options for substituting fossil fuels to meet the world’s energy requirements. The argument mostly given in their favour is that they are more environment-friendly; with decreased carbon dioxide emissions, the risk of global warming will be reduced. But, at the same time, the increased emphasis on energy crops, rather than food crops, is raising food security concerns.
The nexus between food security, climate change and biofuels is the emerging challenge for the world. The gap between demand and supply of food is widening with each passing day. This can be attributed to many factors. The world is witnessing a drop in farm yield brought about by global warming and climate change, accompanied by a sharp rise in the demand for food due to rapid economic growth in many developing countries. The monetary benefits associated with energy crops have changed farming patterns in many countries, thus creating strife between food and fuel.
The growth in the production of biofuels, decreased farm output and increasing food demand have widened the gap between supply and demand of food, thus pushing the price of some crops to record high levels in recent years. A recent statement by a United Nations expert condemns the growing use of crops to produce biofuels, as a replacement for petrol, and calls it a "crime against humanity". There have also been calls by respected think tanks, such as the International Food Policy Research Institute, recommending a moratorium on biofuel production to ease the ongoing food crisis.
Biofuels, such as bioethanol and biodiesel, are made from agri-crops, including corn, sugarcane, soybean, wheat straw and rapeseed. They are mixed in small quantities (currently up to five percent) with petrol and diesel and used safely in vehicles these days. Biodiesel can be used alone as well. Pioneers like Henry Ford and Rudolph Diesel designed cars and engines to run on biofuels. Before World War II, the United Kingdom and Germany both sold biofuels mixed with petrol or diesel made from crude oil; the availability of cheap fossil fuels later ensured market dominance. North America, Europe and Brazil are significant producers of biofuels, and have ambitious plans and time-bound targets for increasing biofuel production and use.
Concerns about fuel security and climate change, as well as the wish to support rural economies, have led to plans for significant expansion in biofuel production across the globe. These concerns have also stimulated research and development in the area. The European Council for Automotive Research (EUCAR), the Oil Companies’ European Organisation for Environment, Health and Safety (CONCAWE) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) for the European Commission recently performed a joint evaluation of the ‘well-to-wheels’ energy use and greenhouse gas emissions for a wide range of potential future fuels and power train options. This evaluation suggests that, compared with fossil fuels, sustainable biofuels can offer significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, thus they represent an opportunity to address the issue of climate change.
In simple terms, sustainable biofuels save carbon; the carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere when they are burned is offset by the carbon dioxide that the crop has absorbed as it grows, unlike fossil fuels that release carbon which remains in the air for millions of years. Though biofuels are not as efficient as fossil fuels are, their potential benefits include the promotion of energy security and diversity of energy supply. In addition, biofuels are more environment friendly than fossil fuels. Moreover, due to recent hike in crude oil prices, the cost of biofuels has become competitive.
Finding solution to one problem and landing into another is not being prudent. We find a remedy to mitigate one impact and end up confronting a chain of other impacts. To address the impact of climate change, we are replacing fossil fuels with biofuels, but at the cost of grain production, raising concerns of food security. As a matter of fact, even if there had not been the looming threat of energy crops replacing food crops, the world would have faced food crisis due to the spiralling population.
But, of course, there often is an opportunity hidden behind a crisis. It is need of the hour to find new solutions, such as using marginal lands for plantation of crops to be used for biofuel production, instead of diverting food-producing lands to energy crops. Biofuels can also be produced from the waste byproducts of food-based agriculture, such as citrus peels or used vegetable oil. Similarly, a wide range of feed stocks can be used to manufacture an environmentally sustainable fuel supply. This will also reduce the cost of disposing of waste.
Far from creating food shortages, responsible production and distribution of biofuels represents an opportunity for sustainable economic prospects in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Farming in the developing countries is witnessing healthier profit margins and this trend needs to be expanded. Biofuels offer the prospect of real market competition and oil price moderation. According to the Wall Street Journal, crude oil would be trading 15 percent higher, and gasoline would be as much as 25 percent more expensive, if we did not have the option of biofuels. A healthy supply of alternative energy sources will help combat the gasoline price hike. But what we need is a regulatory system to monitor the supply and demand matrix of food, especially for the poor, and strike a balance between food and energy.
[The World Food Day is celebrated each year on October 16, the day the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations was founded in 1945. The theme for this year is The Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy.]
(The writer is scientific information officer at Global Change Impact Studies Centre, Islamabad.
The resurgence of polio does not bode well for our future generations
By Sibtain Raza Khan
Pakistan is among the four unfortunate countries that are still fighting against polio; the other three being Nigeria, India and Afghanistan. According to the latest statistics (as of end September 2008), the number of polio cases in the four countries is: Nigeria (692), India (449), Pakistan (69) and Afghanistan (20). Though the number of polio cases in Nigeria and India is higher than in Pakistan, only cases of Type 1 polio, which is considered to be the most dangerous, have been detected in Pakistan.
This is despite the fact that the Government of Pakistan has lunched an anti-polio drive with the help of international donors and it claims to have achieved encouraging results. Going back into history, the number of polio cases in Pakistan started declining after 2001. In 2000, 199 polio cases were reported; while in 2004 and 2005, the number dropped to 53 and 28, respectively. However, since 2006 there has been a sharp increase in the number of polio cases despite the regular anti-polio campaigns in the country. This upsurge can be attributed to a number of factors.
According to experts, the increase in the number of polio cases is mainly due to half-hearted anti-polio drives and lack of routine immunisation during the last two years. Though routine immunisation is the backbone of the country’s polio eradication programme, an independent survey reveals that many children under the age of five remained unvaccinated during the last two years.
Commenting on the rise of polio cases in the country, an official of the Pakistan Polio Programme says besides other factors, outbreak of diarrhoea during polio campaigns also played its role; administrated polio drops failed to enhance desired immunity levels of the child who had diarrhoea, because the adsorptive capacity for all substances in the gastro intestine tract is reduced during diarrhoea.
On the other hand, the common people have a different view on the resurgence of polio cases in Pakistan. "Polio is spreading again in the country, because some paediatricians advise the parents not to give extra doses of polio vaccine to their children," says Rizwana, a housewife. Karim, a school teacher, questions the effectiveness of the vaccine that is administered to children during polio immunisation campaigns. "Polio is reappearing because of insufficient coverage, lack of sincerity, poor administration and loose control over field staff," says Dr Amber Zia. "Lack of community participation, poor planning and coordination, and inadequate capacity of government agencies are the main reasons for the rise in the number of polio cases in Pakistan," says Atif, a development worker.
Besides this, some religious ‘scholars’ are opposed to the immunisation campaign because of their vested interests. They are of the view that the purpose of polio campaigns is to make Pakistani children impotent, and it is a conspiracy of the West against Muslims. Some of them have gone to the extent of claiming that polio drops are made from pig fat, which is haram (forbidden) for Muslims. Though Pakistan Polio Programme officials have obtained fatwas (religious decrees) from renowned Islamic scholars in favour of polio vaccination, the government is facing tough resistance in its anti-polio drive in the tribal belt and other lesser developed areas of the country.
The goal of a polio-free Pakistan can only be achieved if the government successfully takes on board all stakeholders and devises an effective strategy in consultation with them. Moreover, government agencies should not kick off any campaign without proper homework. Before initiating any campaign, there should be brainstorming and all related aspects should be discussed.
Similarly, government agencies should remove all communication barriers and share their vision with all stakeholders. The objectives of the campaign should be based on this shared vision. The set objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Besides this, there should be capacity building of all stakeholders. Moreover, there should be effective monitoring of the campaign and the practice of ghost vaccinators should be discouraged.
Human development objectives cannot be attained without active community participation. In order to engage a community effectively in a polio campaign, concerned government agencies should have the relevant information about it, as well as the know how to use local knowledge for achieving the desired results. Implementation gaps in immunisation campaigns should also be minimised by enhancing community participation in them.
The motivation level of field workers of immunisation campaigns is mostly low due to the lack of training and capacity. In some cases, they are still awaiting their salaries. It is the need of the hour that field workers are properly trained and paid well. Moreover, locals should be employed as field workers in consultation with community elders. Similarly, an awareness campaign should be lunched for the latter.
To remove misperceptions about polio vaccine among the masses, the government would also have to launch a well planned and effective media campaign. For this purpose, concerned government agencies should get feedback from all stakeholders and try to use local knowledge about health while framing any media strategy. The resurgence of polio cases in Pakistan is mainly due to gaps in planning and implementation of anti-polio campaigns. Nevertheless, through proper planning, commitment, sincerity and hard work, we can make Pakistan a polio-free country by 2012.
An untiring struggle
By Zubair Masood
The News on Sunday: Would you like to tell us something about your childhood and early influences?
Raheel Raza: I was influenced by my father who was a visionary and thought that education would make a difference in a woman’s life. He taught me to read and research at a young age. I was also moved by the poverty and class differences I saw around me. I was perturbed to see that children from well-off families went to schools, while the poor ones worked as domestic servants in rich households. I started questioning the status quo at an early age.
TNS: Would you like to say something about the importance of family life?
RR: My priorities are faith, family and friends. Family life is very important and I never adopted a career where my family would be affected. Though I travel a lot, there is always someone home. We are four generations under one roof and this is a blessing. Family life grooms us for giving, tolerance and respect for elders. Most of all, it teaches us that love and companionship are very important for human relationships.
TNS: Do you think that Muslims have to sacrifice their family values for surviving in the West?
RR: Nobody has to sacrifice family values, either in the East or in the West. In some ways, despite working full-time, we spent more quality time with our kids in Canada, as opposed to them being brought up by nannies or maids. It involves sacrifice, because you cannot juggle social life and children’s needs. However, all good deeds require sacrifice and it’s all about priorities.
TNS: What are the main activities of Forum for Learning?
RR: Forum for Learning was created as a safe space between the mosque and the mall for youth, regardless of who they were. It is a non-judgmental space where people don’t have to wear their faith on their sleeves or give credentials at the door. We provide forums for open and honest discussion, resolve controversies, and discover points of convergence. Instead of sermonising or preaching, we believe that learning is a life-long journey and, thus, try to learn from each other.
TNS: What made you take interest in people and social work?
RR: I was always fascinated by people. Perhaps it is the ‘Aquarian’ in me, because they are social animals. I can see the pain behind people’s smiles and I want to reach out to them. My social work is primarily for those on the fringe: young people who are dysfunctional and dislocated, women in need, etc. My heart reaches out to them, so I end up adopting a whole lot of people. My home and heart are always open to all.
TNS: You spent eight years of your life in Dubai. What are your impressions about life there?
RR: Let me be honest. The Dubai you see today is not even a replica of Dubai when I lived there 20 years ago. Even then, it was a place where double, even triple, standards existed: different for the goras, who were the most privileged, the locals and the South Asians. However, there was still some heritage and culture. Today Dubai is the playground of the rich and famous. It has become a concrete jungle where no one is pushed about human values. It is an artificial oasis with the jingle of tax-free petro-dollars. That is why we moved to Canada, where I have more freedom as a Muslim woman. I can write and speak freely, be critical of the mainstream, and yet be respected for who I am. Now that I know the value of freedom, I cannot even dream of living in Dubai again and be a slave to other humans.
TNS: How did you get involved with diversity and interfaith harmony?
RR: With about half of population comprising immigrants from across the world, diversity is an essential part of the Canadian mosaic. It is, by all means, a multi-cultural, multi-faith society. Wherever you go, you come across people of different nationalities and faiths. Interfaith understanding and harmony are prerequisites for smooth functioning of such multiethnic societies. Seeing that Muslim immigrants to Canada were facing difficulties in adapting to the values of their host country, I felt the need for encouraging interfaith dialogue and diversity, which involves the acceptance and respect for differences.
TNS: Do you see any truth in the allegation that the people of other religions are conspiring against Muslims?
RR: Since time immemorial, Muslims have loved conspiracy theories. For Pakistanis in particular, any mishap is a Zionist, an Indian or an American conspiracy. It is arrogant to think that the whole world is conspiring against us; it has better things to do. We need to become humble and reflect on where we are going wrong, instead of constantly blaming others for our self-created misfortunes. Muslims have all along been their own worst enemies.
TNS: Do you think that poetry has any relevance in the modern world?
RR: Poetry is my spiritual outlet. We live in a time where we have burdened our souls with materialism, consumerism and technology, but the human spirit needs nourishment. People find spirituality in different ways. I find it in poetry. Before I could write prose, I wrote poetry. Even today, when something touches me deeply, I express it in poetry.
TNS: We all whine about the status and condition of women. Don’t you feel that men in developing Muslim countries like Pakistan are just as much oppressed?
RR: I don’t think so. Pakistan is a patriarchal society where men have power due to their physical strength. Women are given a lower status due to unequal laws and the general psyche of men. Gender discrimination is a worldwide phenomenon. However, in the West, women have made some progress due to modernisation and education. But we still have a long way to go.
TNS: Don’t you agree that most women themselves militate against their empowerment, because it brings with it more responsibilities?
RR: I would not say most, but I do agree that some women are their own worst enemies; they avoid empowerment because it brings with it more responsibilities. But with rights, there have to be responsibilities. Elite women in all societies like the status quo. And why would they want change when they enjoy the best of both worlds?
TNS: How can we empower women?
RR: This depends on which women and where. In the Third World countries, women still need basic amenities, such as food, clothing and shelter. Only then we can think about educating them. Women need to think for themselves; they should not be constantly told about their rights. Education is a great liberator. With knowledge, women can make informed decisions about what they want to do with their lives.
TNS: Burqa is viewed as a symbol of oppression against women. Do you agree with this perception?
RR: It depends. In old days women wore burqas, but it was a different time and place. If they are forced to wear burqas, then it’s a problem. It is important that women know it is not an Islamic requirement, but a cultural norm. Then they can do whatever they like. It’s a free world.
TNS: Islam and the West are said to be worlds apart. Are there any intrinsic differences between the two?
RR: The world is now a global village. Technology has connected us in ways we could not have dreamt of before. Samuel Huntington’s theory of ‘clash of civilisations’ is based on the idea that Islam and the West are two separate entities. However, when you have third generation Muslims in the West, then it is not ‘Islam and the West’; it is ‘Islam in the West’. We are here to stay. So let’s make the best of it by getting to know each other. The Holy Quran says, "We made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another"; obviously not to slaughter and revile, but to understand and respect, each other.
TNS: What is the importance of dialogue in bringing about interfaith harmony?
RR: Dialogue and discussion are the cornerstones of interfaith harmony. How will I know who my neighbour is if I don’t communicate with him or her? Communication is a two-way street. We want a dialogue, not a monologue, which many people think is the only way to lecture others about ourselves while not taking the time to listen to them. There are many paths to God and we need to respect all of them if we want respect for ourselves and our faith.
TNS: Do you see any prospects of peace in today’s highly polarised world?
RR: I am an eternal optimist. Peace is a human construct and there will be peace when we work towards it. Famous theologian Hans Kung says: "There will be no peace among nations unless there is peace between religions." I work for peace between religions as best I can. The world right now is in turmoil, but there is more and more emphasis on ‘live and let live’.
The ruling PPP government should complete the unfinished agenda of introducing constitutional reforms in the Northern Areas
By Ghulam Nabi Wani
President Asif Ali Zardari said in his address to joint session of the parliament on September 20 that "the people of the Northern Areas must also get their basic rights, representative rule and an independent judiciary." After the president’s statement, there is increasing hope that the longstanding dispute over the constitutional status of the Northern Areas will be resolved in the near future.
The people of the Northern Areas fought against the Dogra Raj of Kashmir and freed their land (Gilgit Baltistan) in 1948. They joined Pakistan the same year after signing the Karachi Pact, but the region has not yet been granted any representation in the parliament. Administratively, the Northern Areas are divided into six districts: Astore, Baltistan, Diamir, Ghanche, Ghizir and Gilgit.
Gilgit, the capital of the Northern Areas, is geographically linked to the Chinese province of Sinkiang. The total population of the region is almost 1,500,000 and its area is 72,496 square kilometres. It has about 120 high peaks with average height of 6,550 metres. K-2, the second highest peak in the world, is situated near Skardu in the Northern Areas.
The present government has started negotiations with local political and religious leaders with a view to introducing constitutional reforms, which reportedly would lead to an Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK)-like form of government in the region. According to reports, there would be a president, a prime minister (in the place of chief executive) and ministers (in the place of advisors) from the Northern Areas. However, the minister of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (KANA) will continue to act as chairperson of the region.
The people of the Northern Areas expect of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to address their issues as envisaged in its manifesto. The abovementioned constitutional reforms are expected to bring about major changes in the Northern Areas, especially in the lives of the common people, since foreign investors may be lured to tap the vast tourist and mineral potential of the region.
Going into history, introducing constitutional reforms in the Northern Areas is an unfinished agenda of both Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. The former had honoured his promise to introduce basic democracy in Gilgit Baltistan. For this purpose, he visited almost every village of the Northern Areas and local bodies’ elections were held there for the first time in the 1970s.
The Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), also known as the ‘black law’, was enforced in the region as soon as it joined Pakistan in 1948, but Zulfikar Ali Bhutto abolished it and introduced municipal laws similar to other parts of the country. He also introduced various educational and social reforms in the Northern Areas. Under these reforms, many schools were built, hospitals were upgraded, two new districts of Ghizir and Ghanche were established, local agricultural taxes were done away with, and the feudal system was abolished. Moreover, new jobs were created in the public sector, banks were opened and agricultural cooperative societies were formed. These reforms brought about major changes in the lives of the common people of the area.
In addition, the 700-kilometre Mansehra-Gilgit-Kashger Karakoram Highway was constructed with the collaboration of the Chinese government during the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government. This road opened a door for trade between the two countries. Therefore, the people of the Northern Areas remember Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s era as a golden period for the region. Since the overthrow of his government in 1977, the region has been neglected, and no positive steps have been taken for its progress and prosperity.
The Ziaul Haq regime declared the Northern Areas as the ‘Fifth Zone’. The next dictator in line, General (r) Pervez Musharraf, introduced constitutional reforms in the region during his visit to Skardu in November 2007. According to these reforms:
• The name ‘Northern Areas Council’ will be changed to ‘Northern Areas Legislative Assembly’;
• The designation ‘Deputy Chief Executive’ will be changed to ‘Chief Executive’ (it was also decided that s/he will be elected from the Northern Areas Legislative Assembly);
• The designation ‘Advisor’ will be changed to ‘Minister’ (it was also decided that they will be given the status of provincial ministers);
• Minister of KANA will be chairperson of the Northern Areas;
• Some administrative and financial powers will be granted to the chief executive of the Northern Areas, such as transfer / posting of BPS-17 and BPS-18 government officers;
• The annual budget of the Northern Areas will be increased to seven billion rupees from the existing four billion rupees;
• To reduce unemployment, 2,000 vacancies will be created in the public sector during fiscal year 2008-2009; and
• The Northern Areas Legislative Assembly Power will be granted the power to do local legislation.
These reforms were only announced by the Musharraf regime and they were not given the constitutional cover. It is widely believed that these reforms were announced to counter the allegations levelled in the Emma Nicholson report, which was presented in the European Parliament in July 2007. The report, on continuing political and humanitarian situation in Kashmir, says: "Pakistan still lacks full implementation of democracy in AJK and has yet to take steps towards democracy in Gilgit Baltistan." The European Parliament adopted a resolution based on the report, in which it said: "The region of Gilgit Baltistan enjoys no form of democratic representation whatsoever." After Emma Nicholson report was presented in the European Parliament and published in the press, the Musharraf regime suffered tremendous humiliation.
To get rid of its bad image, the previous government announced the abovementioned constitutional reforms in the Northern Areas. However, the majority of the people of the region are not satisfied with these reforms. Fortunately, President Asif Ali Zardari mentioned this issue in his address to joint session of the parliament, and showed his government’s resolve to address the constitutional issue of Northern Areas according to the will and desire of the people of the area.
In the past, the people of the Northern Areas have rejected all those reform packages that were not in their favour and suited the elite instead of the common people. Unemployment, poverty and lack of education are the main issues of the region. Therefore, along with introducing constitutional reforms, the government should also address these issues.