A view from a motel
for long-term thinking
Too slow to
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
The mood was somber and the celebrations considerably muted, but 14 August was nevertheless marked by the standard invocations of patriotism. ‘Pakistan zindabad’ slogans did not ring out amongst the hapless millions whose lives have been ravaged by the devastating spell of floods, nor in the heartlands of the historically oppressed nations in this multi-national state. But there were nevertheless enough flags flying in urban centres in Punjab and Sindh to remind us all that Pakistan is still a cherished ideal for some.
By Raza Rumi
As if Pakistan’s implosion from within wasn’t enough, the gods have acted to further push hapless and crumbling polity into a major crisis. Prior to August 2010, Pakistan was fighting a battle for its survival on an existentialist and ideological plane. The central features of a nation-state had withered away, save the institution of the Pakistan army. If anything, the insurgencies in Balochistan, FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and simmering discontent in Southern Punjab and Sindh had alarmed several Pakistanis and those in the international community who wanted Pakistan to be a stable state.
The colossal humanitarian tragedy and the imminent economic meltdown, will now shape a new Pakistan or rather, exacerbate its predicament in the months and years to come. Pakistan’s economic, political instability, structural economic constraints and a warped national security policy are all going to be affected by the unfolding drama of the national disaster, perhaps the severest, in the country’s history. Whilst the challenges have snowballed within a short duration of ten days, the response of the Pakistani state and society underline extremely dangerous trends and make us wonder about future of the country, as we have known it for the last 63 years.
Pakistan had reverted to quasi-democratic rule after a decade of dictatorship in March 2008. Since the resumption of the electoral process in February 2008, the traditionally powerful unelected institutions, had acquired both legitimacy and unprecedented powers. The power troika of the 1990s had transformed into a quartet comprising the army, judiciary, the media and the civilian government which was represented by a ‘discredited’ president who has been a constant punching bag for the unelected institutions of the state.
Notwithstanding the isolation of the elected in the afore-mentioned quartet, the pending reform of governance was well-executed by the political elites by forging a consensus around the devolution of powers from the centre to the provinces via the 18th Amendment, and by establishing the rules of the game on fiscal transfers. However, these advances were overshadowed and challenged by the bane of Pakistani state: the national security policy, and its proclivity to act as a rentier entity for the Western agendas in the region.
Despite the fundamental shifts in governance, Pakistan has been in the tight grip of the civil-military-bureaucratic nexus and its newfound ally i.e. the ubiquitous electronic media. This is why the calamitous circumstances of today are turning into a major shock to the political system, which may unravel its very existence.
Three key trends can be cited here. First, the perpetual attack on the person and office of the President who symbolises the political consensus of the federation and, especially, the popular will for the smaller provinces. Second, the relentless glorification of militarism by using the pretext of emergency relief. To illustrate, while the President was demonised during his UK visit, not a whimper was sounded out on the Army Chief’s official visit to the UAE, especially by those who have been praising the ascendant role of the armed forces in ‘saving’ Pakistan. Lastly, the sheer failure of the civilian administration to install an early warning mechanism and cope with the scale and immensity of the disaster has yet again raised the questions of state failure in the civilian domain. However, this time the civilian failure is hounded by the large-scale presence of banned militant organisations and their cadres in undertaking rescue-and-relief work in Southern Punjab and parts of KP, which casts a dark shadow over the attempts of the present civilian government to fight extremism in the country. Things have come to such a pass that the Taliban are advising a sovereign state not to seek international help and gunning down Awami National Party (ANP) workers and activists even in these dire times. All in all, political instability is likely to grow and deepen in the short-term leading to a systemic collapse, which Pakistan is familiar with and which almost always results in taking recourse to an authoritarian regime.
It has already been highlighted even when the floods have not receded that we are now heading fast towards an imminent economic meltdown. Such has been the nature of devastation reeked by the calamity that our GDP growth rate estimated to be 4.5 percent in the current fiscal year, is likely be halved due to the loss of crops, livestock, infrastructure and exports. The recent figures floated while the floods had not arrived at Kotri in Sindh, was around $10 billion. Given that the flood situation is getting complex and the outbreak of disease is an inevitable eventuality, the final estimate of losses will be far greater. Rough estimates suggest that 30-40 percent of crops may have already been lost while the strains on budgetary expenditures may be beyond the capacity and resources of the federal government. In these circumstances, the economy has emerged as a major challenge and one linked to our earlier discussion on political instability, the future scenario for Pakistan looks far from promising.
In KP alone, vital infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and highways have been damaged beyond repair, not to mention, the loss of timber, cattle and housing stock. The Prime Minister and other responsible officials of the state have already stated that parts of Pakistan have lost decades of development. It would be too early to make further estimates of what may have happened given that 70 percent of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and 50 percent of Southern Punjab remains inaccessible at the time of writing these lines. Perhaps the most under-reported aspect relates to the energy crises that may erupt once again in the short-term. Qadirpur gas field has been shut down for days and thereby, depriving the country of nearly 2000 MW of electricity. Pakistan was battling with a circular debt and regular supply of furnace oil to the Independent Power Producers (IPPs), and had barely managed to devise a strategy to overcome energy deficits. It seems that all efforts made earlier would be jeopardized in the wake of the current situation.
Militancy and extremism:
As noted above, the two agents seemingly well-organised are the Pakistan Army and the militant organisations, inextricably linked through history and the national security paradigm we have followed. As independent field reports from national and international media suggest the people in southern Punjab and KP are extremely angry and frustrated at the inability of the state to act in a timely and purposeful manner. For instance, Jamat-ud-Dawa is already at the forefront of relief efforts in the Punjab, while the several offshoots of the militants’ alliances in the northwest are capitalising on the extraordinary situation that we face today. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that these two parts of Pakistan already poor, marginalised and victims of state neglect, would see a major swing towards Islamism.
This is where the real challenge to Pakistan’s policy-makers and the Western powers emerges. The earlier militaristic efforts (military strikes, drone attacks, search operations and rounding up of Taliban militants) were yet to be backed by large-scale development programmes. In fact, the need for a Marshall Plan for the conflict-affected areas has already been highlighted at the international fora by the President and the Foreign Office. But the floods and the affiliated disasters have turned the clock backwards. The challenge of reconstruction, already beyond the capacity of the Pakistani State, will now be confounded by the rejection of constitutional governance and a secular governance framework that the ANP and the PPP has been propagating since the last few years.
The Pakistan state, including its nuclear-armed military has been on the defensive and their personnel and installations have been relentlessly targeted in the last three years. Over 30,000 civilian and military casualties and 7 percent of Officers Corps have died in the war against terror. Given such a vast and effective terrorists’ network, the current crisis is likely to compound the extent of terrorist attacks and recruitment of militants from the disaster-hit areas. Many analysts had hoped that once the military operation was over, improved governance and investments would provide an alternative to lure of Islamism. But, such a plan appears to be a distant dream only.
Which way now:
It is absolutely clear that the challenges faced by the state on the eve of its 63rd birthday are gargantuan, if not insurmountable. Three realities of contemporary Pakistan make things even more difficult. First, there seems to be a lack of political consensus on how to approach the disaster as the political elites have been bickering and scoring points thus far. True to their historical understanding of politics as a divisive and competitive arena, the leaders of political parties have traded more allegations than presenting solutions for the current situation. Second, the private philanthropy, international donors and global relief networks have displayed a marked reluctance to commit resources and offer assistance to Pakistan in undertaking emergency work and long-term rehabilitation. Donor fatigue has been cited as a possible explanation: however, the issue is far deeper and pertains to the credibility-deficit of the Pakistani State. The reasons are simple: the reputation gained by the Pakistani government for its ‘double-speak’ and hydra-headed behaviour with respect to the war on terror. Further, Pakistan’s perception as a thoroughly corrupt society is also an unfortunate reality as confirmed by the recent Transparency International report.
Third, it is unlikely that Pakistan would be out of the Afghanistan imbroglio anytime soon, thereby making it prone to decisions or policies set by Western powers. Also, the India policy pursued by the security establishment remains fossilised and hostage to history. There are no signs that this imperative is going to change in the next year or so. It would not be unwise to expect that military spending will remain as high as before, leaving little room for resource transfer to the areas ravaged by floods.
In these circumstances, what should the public policy focus on? There are no easy answers for this unfortunate structural conundrum. As a start, there are five areas, which should be explored by the federal government. First, a national consensus on post-disaster mitigation strategy would be forged through an immediate political dialogue and which should be manifested in the form of a national commission comprising of key political parties and members of the Executive (including the army). Second, resource mobilisation campaigns should be initiated, focusing on expatriate Pakistanis and those who have been transferring their capital offshore. Such campaigns must also be launched in major capitals of the West, with a clear signal that if Pakistan’s allies are not going to bail it out, then they should be ready for the dire consequences of its economic and political instability.
Third, this crisis affords an opportunity to reform the local governance systems that have worked in the past. The strengthening of district administration and setting up local governments as agents of reconstruction and rehabilitation must be undertaken as soon as the emergency relief tasks are over.
Fourth, this may be the right time to mobilise and incentivize Pakistan’s private sector to contribute to the rehabilitation of lost infrastructure by offering them tax concessions, enabling legal environment for public-private partnerships and ensuring that they are not victims to bureaucratic corruption. Finally, it is essential that a national communication plan should be developed whereby; the civilian governments across the country are able to respond to citizen requirements, check corruption and leakages in relief efforts and present a credible alternative to fascist solutions for governance and development.
Nearly 700000 hectares of standing crops are under water
or destroyed and in many cases
By Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri
It is difficult to avoid natural calamities, but one can definitely stop turning these calamities into human disasters by putting in place the right set of policies. Current floods in Pakistan proved that despite facing repeated human disasters and despite establishing institutions like disaster management agencies, and flood commission, etc., we still lack the right set of policies that may reduce the frequency of human disasters hitting the people of Pakistan.
We are facing one of the worst floods in our history. These floods are being considered as the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history by the United Nations. The magnitude of crisis is believed to be more than the Indian Ocean tsunami (2004) and the recent earthquakes in Pakistan (2005) and Haiti (2010) combined. The 1,600 death toll due to these floods is considerably low than the estimated death toll of 610,000 in the three previous events. However, according to preliminary estimates almost 2.2 million more people — 14.0 million — have suffered losses and require long or short-term help. The number would increase if the number of people who would be indirectly affected by these floods due to food price hike is taken into consideration.
It seems that the whole country is a disaster zone. All five provinces have been badly affected. The devastation left by flood waters in the north and centre of the country is worsening as water continues to head southward.
The government of Pakistan, in collaboration with Asian Development Bank and the World Bank is planning to carryout a rapid assessment of losses incurred by the floods. It is estimated that these losses are equal to 2-3 percent of GDP (Rs350 to 510 billion). Government is also planning to seek a relaxation from IMF on fiscal deficit targets owing to the losses incurred by floods. On top of it, plans are being made to levy a special tax (as the earlier taxes were not enough) for flood relief.
One aspect that seems to be ignored is how this flood has affected the food security and livelihood security situation. We are talking of flood in the context where 48.6 percent population was already not able to secure nutritious food, for all times for everyone. Sixty one percent districts of our country were already devoid of prerequisites for food security, i.e., physical availability of food, socio-economic access to food, and food absorption.
In Pakhtoonkhwa, barring Haripur and Abbotabad, the rest of 22 districts of KP were categorised as food insecure by Sustainable Development Policy Institute, World Food Programme, and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s recent report "Food Insecurity in Pakistan 2009 (FIP 2009)".
Northern districts of Pakhtoonkhwa are most affected by floods. Upper Dir, Kohistan, Lower Dir, Malakand, and Shangla were the five worst food insecure districts of KPK in 2009 home to 75.6 percent, 73.5 percent, 64.5 percent, 61 percent, and 60.9 percent food insecure population respectively. This was pre-flood situation. After the devastating floods all three components of food security have turned even worst in Pakhtoonkhwa.
The loss of livelihood opportunities directly affects the socio-economic access to food, loss to physical infrastructure, stored food commodities, and livestock affect the physical availability of food, and prevalence of diseases during floods negatively affects food absorption in human body. It should not be an exaggeration to say that after the floods more than 90 percent of population in above mentioned districts would have gone food insecure. We are talking of a region where most parts got disconnected from land routes and helicopter is the only reliable means to provide relief to them.
Even Swat, Charsada and Nowshera where 54.2, 54.7 and 47.5 percent population was food insecure in 2009 might lose their resilience turning almost three quarter of their population food insecure.
According to FIP 2009, Rajanpur, D.G. Khan, and Muzaffargarh are the worst food-insecure districts of Punjab where nearly half of the population in each district is food insecure.
Things went from bad to worse in South Punjab where so far 8 million people are affected by floods. South Punjab, despite being the wheat basket of Pakistan is food insecure as people don’t have socio-economic access to food. Neither they have access to improved drinking water nor can they absorb food properly owing to their health conditions. In The post flood scenario, loss of standing crops, loss of livestock, loss of stored grains, lack of clean drinking water, prevalence of diseases and loss to physical infrastructure would further deteriorate the situation and at least three quarter of population in Southern Punjab has become food insecure now.
Coming to Sindh, that is still facing the rage of mighty Indus, flood may wash away Rs40 billion worth of paddy (IRRI variety of rice) in Upper Sindh. Not only standing paddy crop would be affected, but also sowing of wheat in the next season as land would not be ready for sowing after the floods. Kashmore, Jaccobabad, Sukkur, Shikarpur, and in the west up to Dadu would be affected from Indus deluge depriving people from their means of livelihoods, livestock, standing crops, stored grains, and drinking water. All of this would not only increase the existing food insecure districts like Kashmore, Jacobabad, and Dadu but would also negatively affect the food secure districts like Sukkur, Shikarpur, and Kambur.
Balochistan is the second worst food-insecure province after FATA, according to FIP 2009, FATA houses 67.7 percent food insecure population whereas Balochistan houses 61.2 percent food insecure population. The Indus water is also hitting some of the IRRI growing parts of Balochistan. Naseerabad, Jaffarabad and Jhal Maghsi are already coping with flood water and it is believed that flood flow would continue at least for next 20 days.
In a nutshell, one hundred percent crop losses have been recorded in many areas and tens of thousands of animals have been killed. According to FAO, nearly 700000 hectares of standing crops are under water or destroyed and in many cases surviving animals are without feed. The upcoming fall season’s wheat crop is now at risk in a region that is the bread basket of the country.
The direct flood survivors are facing an acute food insecurity problem, while the areas that were not hit hard by floods would also have to face food shortage (due to production as well as price hike) problem next year. A vast majority of the affected population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods, they could not save their stored grains or standing crops but some of them do have their surviving livestock.
The government as well as UN humanitarian agencies should ensure that while human lives are being saved, efforts should also be made to save the livestock from dying due to hunger and diseases. Urgent supply of feed and essential veterinary supplies should be provided as part of international humanitarian relief activities. Livestock’s importance in the local economy is huge not only because of their role as a source of food and draught power, but also because they often represent a family’s entire savings. Socio-economic access of flood survivors would be badly affected without their livestock.
Humanitarian agencies like World Food Programme, local NGOs, and International NGOs have already started their relief operations. However, it is a daunting task to cater for the needs of 14 million people out of which at least six million would require sustained food supply for weeks and months to come. Life would move on, but one wonders how many more human disasters our policy makers require to learn disaster preparedness.
Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri is a policy analyst. He heads Sustainable Development Policy Institute and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
A view from a motel
To privatise or not to privatise the PTDC motels is the question
Alefia T. Hussain
A big deal is in the offing. PTDC motels are under threat. So is the tourism industry. The Privatisation Commission of Pakistan is trying to privatise 26 out of the 38 corporation-run motels located across the country. It must be stopped before it is too late.
Privatisation of Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) motels has its advocates, who say the selected ones have failed to sustain themselves financially — hence are a burden on the national exchequer — and when privatised will promote tourism, improve the quality of services and foster competition. They argue government has no business running the motel business. It happens nowhere in the world.
Meanwhile their opponents ask: so why did the government get into the business running motels in the first place toward the end of 1970s and gradually expanded to the far-flung areas where the private hoteliers did not dare to venture?
"These motels were not set up for revenue generation purposes back then. The idea was to open up the remote areas to travellers — and to promote tourism in general," says Iftikhar Hussain Satti, General Manager Hotels and Motels, PTDC.
Admittedly, the PTDC accommodations are rather spartan but clean and comfortable with restaurants offering a small selection of dishes, usually chicken karahi and chicken roast. Also, the reputed tourist guide Lonely Planet does not give them raving reviews. But the beauty of these places is their often idyllic setting.
Intrepid traveller Salman Rashid has stayed at PTDC motels in Khaplu, Gilgit, Sost, Chitral, Ketas and Ayubia. He says, "Except for Chitral, which is right in the bazaar, next to a motor mechanic’s workshop; the others are all quite nice. Khaplu is simply magical. It is shaded by tall walnut and chinar trees and is a great place. The service is good in all the places I have tried."
Having returned from Gilgit recently he says, "A month ago, I could not find a room in Gilgit. Ten days before that too it was rather crowded."
Claiming to be no business person, he says, "Surely PTDC can smarten its act. Surely, there are ways of saving money without dropping the standard."
Nilofar Bakhtiar, Chairperson Senate Standing Committee on Tourism and Culture, suggests the way out of this quagmire is to invest in this sector through public-private partnership. "If the government wants to take tourism seriously it has to sit with hospitality industry gurus and learn from them. It has to partner with them on attractive and profitable terms."
PC claims to be aligned with the concept of public-private partnership: "The government will retain 26 percent shares and the rest will go to the partner," says Tahir Parwaz, Director Media Privatisation Commission. "The entire focus is to restructure in a way that value is added to the current setup and in the process tourism is promoted."
PC appears to be keen to retain the character of these sites and not to lose them to the greed of real estate developers. While inviting expressions of interest (EOIs) on April 23, 2007, PC urges the successful bidder to provide a warranty to continue to operate the privatised assets only as motels or restaurants. Also, agreement will bind the investor to not "dispose of, alienate, transfer any or all land without the prior consent of PC and the cost of the Golden Hand Shake Scheme (GHS) for permanent workers and Voluntary Separation Scheme (VSS) for the permanent executives will be shared equally between the purchaser."
But as things work in the country, such decisions are easier proposed than implemented. Take the case of PTDC’s prime properties of Cecil’s Hotel in Murree, Deans Hotel in Peshawar, and Faletti’s Hotel in Lahore. Today, monstrous structures have replaced them — pigeonhole apartments in place of Cecil’s Hotel, a commercial plaza where Dean’s Hotel once stood, and a camp office for bidders has replaced Faletti’s Hotel. "Neither PTDC nor the tourism industry benefited from these property sales. The money went to the ministry of finance. We were not even compensated for the fixed assets," says Satti, adding: "In fact, the government has been deprived of the crores these properties generated in terms of taxes."
Nilofar Bakhtiar corroborates: "Our past experience has shown that the Privatisation Commission took away the money and to date there is no trace of it."
Has PC got plans to redress the PTDC grievance? None it seems. "90 percent of the proceeds acquired from the sales will be utilised to settle national debts and the rest of the 10 percent for poverty alleviation," says Tahir Parwaz.
Bakhtiar strongly feels the government has a big role in the promotion of tourism business. "We have the example of several developing countries where state sponsored-tourism has done wonders for the country’s economy and for those affiliated with the tourism sector. In a country like Pakistan, which has inadequate infrastructure for tourism and is challenged by terrorism, government patronage for tourism can be the only way for confidence-building. Besides, which private party will come forward in the present circumstances and take the risk of blowing their investment in areas like Sust and Parachinar?"
As things stand
The shortlisted motels include: Astak (Skardu), Ayubia (Abbottabad), Baffar (Swat), Bamburet (Chitral), Barseen (Kohistan), Besham (Changla Par), Birmoglasht (Chitral), Bunni (Chitral), Chakdara (Malakand), Chattar Plain (Batagram), Chitral, Gupis (Ghizar), Gilgit, Hawks Bay (Karachi), Hunza (Gilgit), Ketas (Chakwal), Khaplu (Ghanche), Khuzdar (Gilgit), Mastuj (Chitral), Panakot (Dir), Phander (Ghizar), Rama Lake (Chilas), Saidu Sharif (Swat), Satpara (Skardu), Sust (Gilgit) and Taftan (Dalbaddin).
These have been categorized into 12 groups and have already received expressions of interest (EOIs) from 36 parties, including giant hoteliers such as the Hashoo Group and Sarena Hotels. It must be pointed out that the Privatisation Commission has been working on the project since 2007, if not earlier.
Up for grabs? PTDC motel Ayubia.
The agenda for reform and change must begin from improving the political culture
By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr. Ikramul Haq
The devastation caused by floods - irreparable loss of many precious human lives and collossal economic damage - has exposed poor management and lack of long-term planning in Pakistan. Such natural calamities are unavoidable but losses can be minimized through advance planning and by providing necessary relief measures. Unfortunately, our successive governments - civil and military alike - never bothered to prepare and implement any long-term policies for meeting challenges during emergencies. Funds of billions of rupees earmarked for projects are wasted and squandered by inefficient and corrupt government departments - there is no system of their accountability.
The Planning Commission of Pakistan, under the leadership of Dr. Nadeem Ul Haque, has now taken an initiative to start nationwide public debate on preparing policies for long-term economic development. We have wasted 63 years despite having great potential in terms of natural and human resources. We have many brilliant economists but see the economic mess in the country. Some of them were in the driving seat, yet failed to bring any structural changes and long-term reforms.
We have outstanding tax experts, but their services have never been solicited by the government. No wonder our tax system is one of the most corrupt and inefficient in the world - tax-to-GDP ratio has decreased from 13.5pc in 1992-93 to 8.9 percent in 2009-10. What a tragedy that we need so-called foreign experts who could not even drive back home on our roads - to reform our systems.
The main cause of the prevailing socio-politico-economic situation is existence of inefficient, corrupt, repressive, insensitive and outrageous governmental departments and corporations. Time and again we have argued for their right-sizing, monetising all perks and benefits and providing a fool-proof system of their accountability. But the vested interests in the establishment - civil-military complex - and parliament are not ready to implement these proposals. It will certainly disinvest them of powers through which they exploit and control the masses. Unless powers are handed over to elected local bodies Pakistan will never prosper.
The long-term planning that we need will remain an unrealized dream until we reform our political system (economic development is not possible without a dependable political and justice system). We must re-enact Local Government Acts empowering local authorities to perform functions such as educational, healthcare and social welfare services. They should also be responsible for matters relating to residents' free-time, recreation, housing, and the management and maintenance of their living environment (i.e. roads, streets, water supply and sewerage), as well as land-use planning and functional municipal structures. The power to levy and collect taxes to perform these functions will be the cornerstones of municipal self-governance - it alone can ensure executing of the duties assigned by the law.
If we want to make Pakistan an egalitarian society, we need to concentrate on empowering the masses. This requires handing over power to levy and collect taxes for essential services at the local level. Decisions would then be taken by the residents - through elected council members - and not bureaucrats sitting in Islamabad or provincial capitals in palatial offices oblivious of the ground realities and most of the time working for self-aggrandizement.
The elected members would be directly answerable to the residents. Local courts should be setup where justice is provided on the doorsteps rather than requiring people to go through expensive and long-drawn litigations under the conventional system. We need to move quickly and decisively - go for massive reforms in all spheres. The following 20-point agenda can help make Pakistan a place worth living in today's world:
1. State before seeking loyalty from citizens as their basic duty [Article 4 of Constitution] must fulfill its responsibility of "elimination of all forms of exploitation" and the gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle, "from each according to his ability to each according to his work" [Article 3].
2. Ensuring good governance and corrupt free government structures through establishment and functioning of democratic institutions both in form and substance, supremacy of parliament coupled with an independent judiciary.
3. Empowerment of people through elected councils where a strong system of check and balance is available and funds collected locally are spent for the essential needs of residents.
4. Making the country a self-reliant economy, stop wasteful, unproductive expenses, cut the size of cabinet and government machinery, make government-owned corporations profitable, accelerate industrialisation and increase productivity, improve agriculture sector, bring inflation to single digit, reduce inequalities through a policy of redistribution of income and wealth.
5. Revamping the entire education system by introducing revolutionary measures to take society out of ignorance. Our problem is not only illiteracy but also ignorance. Even the so-called literates are ignorant of the worst order, as they do not demonstrate by their actions any norms of a civilised society. The foremost stress should be on building a knowledge-based society.
6. Elimination of bigotry, religious intolerance, and violence by taking concrete measures to ensure social development of society based on higher values of life and humanity. Reformation of madrassa system should be the top priority - these should be part of mainstream educational framework and not isolated institutions.
7. Devising long-term and short-term strategies to break the shackles of debt-trap.
8. Preparation of long-term policies of growth and productivity, ensuring employment for all.
9. Demonstration of political will along with legal framework to control wasteful, non-developmental and defence expenditure.
10. Strict laws and their effective implementation to curb money laundering, plundering of national wealth, political write off of bank loans and leakages in revenue collections.
11. Reform of technical, institutional and organizational dimensions of public finance.
12. Improvements in public sector effectiveness. Reform and strengthening of management of public finances. Transparent public sector spending. Efficient public sector performance.
13. Revitalisation of tax machinery, simplification of tax laws and procedures, reduction in excessive marginal tax rates making them compatible with other tax jurisdictions of the world, especially Asia, elimination of GST/VAT on production, machinery and equipment and substantial reduction in corporate tax rates.
14. Long-term policies removing stumbling blocks for new local and foreign investments.
15. Creating sufficient openness and accountability in the government to enable citizens to understand and participate fully in the process of national integration.
16. Introducing complete transparency in government and private financial transactions.
17. Juxtaposing economic policymaking and political reform [democratization] of society.
18. Agenda for reform should entail a comprehensive, well-integrated and unified plan that alone can assure its success. Reform in one sector ignoring the ills in the other, resorting to improving something at the cost of leaving aside the one interlinked, can never yield desired results.
19. Eliminating fiscal deficit.
20. Revamping of incompetence, inefficient and corrupt tax machinery. Improving GDP-tax ratio to respectable level.
The agenda for reform and change must begin from improving the political culture - parties should immediately be purged of corrupt and fake-degree holders. We need elected persons who demonstrate by their actions respect for rule of law and democratic behaviour in practice. It is a prerequisite for the process of reforms and change.
The writers, tax lawyers and authors of many books, are members of visiting faculty of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)
Money does the work.
By Ather Naqvi
Shaping a Nation
The number of books on the subject of education in Pakistan may not be very low, but the ones which offer an in-depth analysis of what ails the education sector in Pakistan in a socio-political and historical context must be very few. One such book is Shaping a Nation, an Examination of Education in Pakistan.
The book sees the issue in its entirety and adopts an eclectic approach in identifying areas that have impacted formulation of education policy or the absence of one. The book forms an essential part of Oxford in Pakistan Readings in Sociology and Social Anthropology series. It offers a valuable reference work on the subject for students, policy-makers and researchers.
What adds to the value of the book is the fact that its contributors are all accomplished academics who have undertaken deep research on societies and the impact of education on them or vice versa. That is why, when they look at education in Pakistan, or any other society for that matter, they don’t just take into account policy-making but what has actually led to that policy framework. Names like Barbara Metcalf, Professor at the University of Michigan, Stephen Lyon, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Durham, England, and Rubina Saigol who holds a PhD in Educational Sociology from the University of Rochester, among others make the book worth reading.
The chapters connect the dots to draw a picture that shows a link between demography, local economy, history and politics of a certain area that combine to shape contours of education policy on the national level. The chapters trace the history of education in the subcontinent, especially Pakistan, from the nineteenth century upto modern times. A couple of chapters on madrasa education, which also focus on Deoband Madrasas, attempt to dissect the role madrasas played in educating people of the subcontinent, for example if there is a clear link between madrasa education and violence, etc.
The behind-the-obvious research of the book is the underlying theme that points to a complete negation of the importance of education as a harbinger of change in a society, especially our society.
Two very obvious influences on education in Pakistan have been identified as the Islamisation of education by General Zia-ul Haq during much of the 1980s and the later emergence of the private sector in the backdrop of a crumbling public sector in education. The book also covers the role of private public partnership in the rural areas, among other seemingly complex but very significant aspects of education.
The underlying message of the book not just reiterates the fact that education has been very low on the priority list of the government, if at all, but pinpoints factors that have deformed the very idea of constituting a modern approach to dealing with illiteracy.
The book is divided into 12 chapters, each dealing with one particular aspect of education policy in Pakistan. The book very rightly points to the fact that the provision of education to a number of people is not the only, or perhaps the right, criteria to judge the quality of education but what is actually being taught to children, i.e, syllabus. It is quite alarming to note that, as the book states, a certain type of education has given way to social fragmentation and dissatisfaction among the society.
The state of education and the factors that caused the level of education to remain low has been amply reflected in each of the articles as they dig deep into an aspect of education. The link between the martial law years, the call to Afghan jihad, and the cropping up of madrasas in areas close to Pak-Afghan border and later in other parts of the country, set the stage for barren years in the education sector. Bad governance, absence of funds, and the subsequent lack of political eventually led us to the present situation where getting quality education is asking for the moon.
Avenues of prosperous transformation
By Arshed H. Bhatti
This essay offers some food for thought on the occasion of Pakistan’s Independence Day, primarily to the political leadership and the media. The government functionaries responsible for informing and implementing public policy could also benefit from it only if they are taking a break from their routine I-know-all approach.
The core function of a democratic government is to come up with imaginative solutions to complex problems that afflict vulnerable individuals and weaker groups in a country. Various solutions doing the rounds fail on two grounds: they don’t incorporate the wisdom and learning of the sufferer of a problem; and, they do not relate to the socially-shared memory and the cultural metaphor of the people, and failing to seep in peoples’ minds, succumb to the so called ‘lack of ownership’.
The proposed measures spring from locally familiar metaphors and could attain quick currency like Z. A. Bhutto’s roti, kapda aur makan. They are: har shajar ba samar (every tree bears fruit); harkat mein barkat (moving about is auspicious) & safar vaseela e zafar (mobility empowers); Ilm-o-hunar den kasab (knowledge & skills ensure gainful work); khel or mael-jol se sehat or ulfat (sports & interaction add to health & healthy bonding); and, apna ghar to kya fikr (shelter keeps away stress)!
The potential popularity notwithstanding, these steps articulate new promise by the State to its people and have multiple, crosscutting benefits to individuals, economy, society, culture and ecology. There is apparent, and by design bias for the disadvantaged women and young of Pakistan, who have dreams and potential but not avenues and opportunities.
These steps are not likely to be easy bite for the dominant interests who have ruled the roost without accountability. But the government can reinvent its image by taking them up to prove it is genuinely peoples’ government with foresight, passion for progress, commitment to the prosperity and well-being of people. Their implementation is possible with available resources and ‘new allocations’ are not required as private sector would be delighted to invest in these transformative opportunities.
The idea is to use trees to alleviate poverty, change the economic dynamics and take the green cover to 30 percent in a decade. A set of dozen trees, allotted to women and men below the poverty line, who using them as ‘trade-able entitlements’ could access micro-credit at favourable terms and enter in a well-designed loop of medium enterprises based on newly acquired skills. It will also be tangible instrument of social security and bankable collateral for the poorest of Pakistan.
The set of trees will have a prudent mix of fruit, timber, medicinal and ornamental trees. Planted in conducive commons, these will be managed like collectives by skilled gardeners, trained from the hitherto excluded labour force. The banking institutions, on the pattern of future buying, can offer credits in lieu of the anticipated future yield to the virtual owners. One has worked out the details according to which in 10 to 15 years, we shall have bagh bahar Pakistan with positive implications for energy, environment, climate change, livelihoods, reduced import of green products (vegetable oil, tea, coffee etc), and beauty of the urban and rural landscapes of poor-less Pakistan.
Women in particular and poor in general fail to fulfill aspirations and realize potential to contribute to national produce because of no, low, limited, restricted or denied mobility, both in soft and hard terms. Soft hurdles in mobility comprise social & cultural barriers present in the name of custom, tradition or honour; whereas the hard hurdles to mobility imply absence or lack of physical facilities that enable movement, travel and transportation of people and goods from home to work and market place.
National Mobility Plan, with unfaltering resolve to ease and increase mobility in all aspects for youth, women, and physically challenged is the answer. Late Z A Bhutto introduced nominal rent from students, starting with a token 10 paisas for travel within 20 km, which enabled many to seek education (one is beneficiary of that initiative). The NMP entails integrated sub-initiatives that encourage families to allow mobility to those who have traditionally been denied in culturally sensitive and socially supportive manner.
This can start with small steps like the provision of bicycles and motorcycles to women and footpaths that encourage people to walk by choice and with comfort. In mega steps, like mass transit in big cities, private investments can be mobilised in due course. Such infrastructure will increase economic activity, trading and invite foreign investments.
It will increase peoples` chances and choices to participate in societal and economic spheres more meaningfully, and will positively influence country’s oil import bill, traffic congestions, accidents, pollution, labour participation, social mobility, urban migration, and many more.
Meet the youth
Public policy tends to view youth as problem that needs to be fixed; not as promise that needs to be fulfilled. Plenty of raw energies of youth do not find productive, playful and positive outlets. Investments enabling creative and productive channelising of their energies are the answer and will have far reaching social and economic benefits.
Well thought out, adequately regulated and duly facilitated participation in local, cultural, and socially celebrated adventures and sports will dissuade the young from street crimes and militancy. Similarly, this will allow young women to put their energies and lives to more fulfilling use.
The in-country tourism through adventure, sports & holidays will contribute to improved understanding of ‘the other’ compatriots and lead to increased national harmony.
Every town in Pakistan can be encouraged to build Adventure-Sports-Tourism (AST) plans and corporate entities with business roots and interests in respective localities can be encouraged to support and sponsors such plans. In the long term, the adventure and sports strands will contribute to Pakistan`s emerging as leader on the Olympic results’ table. The increased tourism would wash away threats of terrorism and generate economic activities for young who otherwise may drift to dangerous elements and paths.
Offering opportunities to young persons without providing them requisite skills and abilities is like offering the hungry persons half-baked, half burnt breads: they have it, but can`t eat it! That is how many official projects end up like.
This initiative entails that ability to take part in economic activity is provided to every deserving citizen through national movement for Skilled Pakistan, whereby all the youth (15-29) in Pakistan must be imparted with essential literacy, and locally tradable skills. The results will turn the colossal challenge of unemployment on its head.
Areas of skill provision can be in i) creative industries (film, music, theatre: production, management, marketing); ii) agribusiness (value addition in cultivation, processing, and trading of exportable commodities); iii) productive use of information/ web based technologies; iv) urban affairs (construction, maintenance; caretaking); v) volunteerism; vi) community rooted policing and dispute resolution.
Private enterprise can be encouraged to invest in lieu of tax incentives. There have been isolated efforts and remarkable failures; the new initiative must learn from those.
Housing for all
This is the most revolutionary step, will require firm political resolve as this will ruffle established, institutional, dominant and hitherto unchallenged interests (read Army -:); but it could single handedly help realize makan part of PPP’s original slogan while generating needed resources also.
The initiative will provide dignified & affordable housing to all families through integrated strategies that will require a) redesigning & realigning of construction & living patterns; b) public interest, efficient use of public lands in urban & rural areas; and, c) terminating the award of public lands as part of perks & privileges to retiring civil & military officials (i.e., no more DHAs). These steps will jointly yield physical space and financial resources to do it well.
As first step, a popular campaign is needed to encourage shared & efficient use of space, energy friendly, light on earth, community housing; as well as persuading people to break away from conspicuous consumption for prudent dwelling. The second step, Reclaiming of Public Lands Act by the Parliament, will put Cantonments under civilian control and allow buying back of the agriculture lands allotted as parting gifts. The third step will encourage public-private partnership with specific standards to ensure the benefits reach across classes and government provides housing to all equitably, without spending single rupee from the exchequer. This step will help break the builders’ cartels and introduce new players and innovative construction technologies.
Taking cities to suburbs
The rural-urban migration and urban slums result from absence of city like facilities in the urban fringes and rural areas, such as cafés, public parks, community centres, libraries, cinemas, shopping malls, health clubs: and that is the solution. This, in combination with increased mobility will help spread the populations away from cities.
The modernized fringes will keep potential migrants locally engaged and positively impact health, education and other social sectors. That is my vision of a benazir (unprecedented) Pakistan.
The author, a former civil servant and social development consultant, is currently making his debut feature film, ‘I’m because I’m afraid’. He runs a political café in Islamabad and can be reached at email@example.com
The authorities need to introduce low-cost
By Alauddin Masood
The recent flood is the biggest humanitarian crisis in the country’s history. The UN estimated that up to 500,000 people are homeless and 1.4 million acres of agricultural land has been destroyed in central Punjab, but added damage was worst in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
According to Federal Flood Control (FFC) data, over 289,086 houses have been destroyed or partially damaged with 3,610,735 persons affected by flash floods across the country. FFC says the floods affected 4,772 villages, including 1,472 in Punjab, 468 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 2584 in Balochistan and 193 in Gilgit-Baltistan.
According to officials, some 1,400 persons have perished in the floods, which have caused incalculable damage to agriculture and to the infrastructure, in particular the roads and bridges. There have been reports of death due to starvation and disease. The authorities will need to answer for its failure to take timely steps to tackle the floods.
The torrential rains and devastating floods have also badly affected the agriculture sector. According to some circles, the cotton crop alone is likely to suffer a loss of five billion rupees. Initially, it was estimated that due to increase in the area under cotton, Pakistan would have 14 million bales of cotton this year, but some 1.5 million bales have already been damaged by the unprecedented floods. Consequently, this has pushed up the price of cotton, with an increase of Rs800 per maund to Rs7,000 per maund in Punjab and with an increase of about Rs400 per maund to Rs6,300 per maund in Sindh. In the coming months, analysts say, the price of cotton could increase further.
Pakistan is the fourth largest producer of cotton, producing about 10 percent of its total global production. Cotton provides raw material to Pakistan’s 337 textile mills, some 1500 ginning factories and about 5000 oil mills. Cotton and its value added products contribute over 53 percent to Pakistan’s annual export income. A couple of indigenous industries, such as pharmaceutical, soap, chemical, and feed industries, rely on cotton by-products. Besides, cotton provides livelihood to 1.5 million farming families and jobs to 40 percent of labour force. In view of its contribution to the economy, cotton is often called the life-blood of Pakistan’s economy.
While an estimate of flood-related losses can be made only after the waters recede, apparently these are beyond the country’s resources. The natural calamity has tremendously added to the woes of people, who are already groaning under poverty, inflation and sky rocketing prices. Meanwhile, the number of hungry people in the country has increased to 77 million, while 36 percent of Pakistan’s population has been badly affected by poverty and millions of them do not have food security. The rising hunger could increase the incidents of violence in the country, according to Woodrow Wilson Centre of America.
The global response to recent floods has been lukewarm, while the country itself lacks resources to tackle the floods and to mitigate the sufferings of the millions of its citizens. This brings to the fore the need to launch well-concerted efforts for alleviating poverty and generating funds to meet such unforeseen calamities in future.
Confronted with natural calamities, some countries could succeed in converting crisis situations into opportunities. For example, in early twentieth century when London (UK) faced plague and a devastating fire, the city fathers grabbed the opportunity for building a modern and planned metropolis on the grounds of the old town.
Likewise, Pakistan needs to plan in a way that the people could reap the benefits of modern day living. Instead of old kucha houses they need to be facilitated to own sturdy houses built with concrete; and instead of the old decaying infrastructure they need to be provided with modern infrastructure that caters to the needs of the future as well.
For the houses, the authorities need to introduce low cost techniques of construction and also give subsidies to the flood-affected people and vulnerable segments that opt for concrete-built houses. For building infrastructure, emulating the precedent set by the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the local chamber of commerce and industry in every district should take the lead in replacing the dilapidated infrastructure with new sophisticated network.
If the Sialkot Chamber could build and operate on a self-help basis, an international airport and also contribute in upgrading their city’s road network while contributing to providing health and education facilities to the people why other chambers of commerce and industry could not do so. Apparently, some of the chambers are more affluent than their counterpart in Sialkot. At least, the chambers of commerce could take the lead in converting the indigenous raw materials into high value added products and market the same abroad..
In the economic development and prosperity of nations, "value addition" has played the role of a catalyst, laying the base for fast track development and rapid progress and prosperity by engaging the people in fruitful ventures. The nations which learnt this early, now dominate the economic horizon, irrespective of their numbers and the size of their country, as developed countries of the world.
Value addition, however, depends upon the quality of human resources of a nation. The higher the literacy and skill levels, the better would be the prospects for a nation to add value to its products/raw materials. On the other hand, the nations with low levels of literacy and skills have no option but to export their materials in raw form.
In a highly competitive world, the exports of countries in the second category naturally do not earn sufficient foreign exchange. According to economists, the countries in this category are destined to remain poor and at the bottom level on the development index of nations unless they transform themselves into robust industrial nations and increase their export earnings.
In agricultural production, Pakistan ranks amongst the top 10 countries of the world. Pakistan produces one of the best varieties of rice, which is universally acclaimed for its aroma and good taste. It is the fourth top producer of cotton and the fifth top producer in mangoes and dates, while its Kinnow is rated among the best citrus fruits in the world. Still, Pakistan’s gross domestic product and, in particular, its exports, are neither commensurate with its agricultural potential nor its size and the number of its people.
In fact, these are abysmally low as even the exports of many medium-sized multinational companies are more than that of Pakistan’s total exports. Due to low exports, every year, the country faces a huge trade deficit, which remained around 18-20 billion dollars during the last few years.
Pakistan loses about 110-120 billion rupees annually because a majority of its farmers, being illiterate, are still using primitive farming techniques and inefficient technological practices. As the country exports bulk of its produce without any substantial value addition, it is not able to earn foreign exchange commensurate with its actual agricultural potential.
Take Pakistani mangoes, these are acclaimed the world over because of good aroma, excellent taste and almost total absence of fibre content, but the country exports some 6.0 percent of its annual production while 40 percent of the mangoes never reach the market due to spoilage and poor handling. The situation is not very different when one looks at the export of dates, honey, vegetables and animal stock. Likewise, Pakistan could do much better in rice and substantially increase its export earnings if it could increase the yield, reduce the cost of production and market the crop more scientifically.
The country can easily curtail the losses, accruing from spoilage at the farms and poor handling of the produce, by adopting modern techniques of sowing, harvesting, irrigation, processing, packing and marketing, which are, presently, the main factors contributing to inflation.
We can enter into the realm of high value addition only if we have a sizeable number of businessmen who are educated and high quality professionals who are also fully aware of the advantages of recruiting educated and highly skilled work force.
Activist to the core
Noorzadeh S. Raja
and Farah Zia
Born in a progressive political family of Gwalmandi, Lahore, Mohammad Tahseen claims to be a Pakka Lahori. An outstanding civil society activist, he became acquainted with the idea of social change in his early boyhood. He joined student activism while in college and participated in student union elections in Punjab University. When General Ziaul Haq banned the political parties and imposed restrictions on political activities, Tahseen joined civil society organisations in order to oppose the dictatorial regime and promote the democratic agenda by engaging with the progressive forces through what he claimed to be "non-party political formations." This earned him the displeasure of some friends who accused him of attempting to depoliticise the society.
A devoted campaigner for the rights of marginalised segments of the society, he continued his work nonetheless. He collaborated with other prominent movements and organisations to achieve the ideals of social change and emancipation.
Currently, he is the Executive Director of a national organisation SAP PK which is working with grassroots organisations. Excerpts follow:
The News on Sunday: Tell us about your early life?
I was born in Gwalmandi in a street called Amir Ali Shair Road. When I grew up a little, I found out that Amir Ali Shair was a poet in Ranjeet Singh’s time and Rani Jindan, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s favourite wife fell in love with him. This gave me a sense of pride. Then in my house, my father, mother and my elder brother all exercised a great deal of influence. With them around, frankly, it was unconsciously that one became an activist. My mother was called Babaiy in the mohallah and sorted out all the neighbour’s family problems. As a child, I saw that at times the father was in jail or the military was after my brother. I saw people like Bizenjo, Wali Khan, Ghaffar Khan, Raza Kazim coming to our house. Even in my school Muslim Model High School, Azizul Haq who happened to be Dr Mahboobul Haq’s father was my headmaster. He knew my family and was an institution in himself. So, I sort of inherited activism.
Then in college, everybody knew me as Ameena’s brother, Ruknuddin’s son and Azizuddin’s brother. So, initially it was a compulsion to do student politics of the left. It was only later that I understood why I must.
TNS: From a radical activist to the executive director of an NGO. How did this change come about?
MT: My radicalism as an activist was confined to my university days, when I fought election for the union in Punjab University. That was a time of firebrand radicalism in terms of my outer expression. And that was a compulsion because there were people like Rana Qasim and Liaqat Baloch and Raja Munawwar whom you could not engage with or talk about peace in non-violent terms. While I was awaiting my MA result in 1981, 82, Al-Zulfikar happened. So they took away Azizuddin Ahmed (eldest brother) and my sister in Faisalabad. The military came and disconnected the power supply to our house. Azizuddin’s children were very young at that time (for a good nine years Aziz sahib was either in jail or in Lahore Fort or underground, the brother who was elder to me ran away from the country) and at that age I virtually became a kind of father of the family. At that time our immediate concern was to run the house, get the electricity restored and pay the children’s fees. Fortunately, even before the result, I got an offer from Overseas Pakistanis Foundation where I had done an internship. My bosses were armymen and, understandably, I had to leave the job in one and a half years.
In the year and a half or so that I spent in Islamabad, I understood a lot of things. I could not do a government or a semi-government job which I wouldn’t get anyway because the IB had a huge file on me. I wanted to play safe; act as if I did not have a party backing. The parties were underground or in jail. An atmosphere of fear and demoralisation prevailed. I didn’t know where I fitted in this scheme of things. My thesis was on research methodology and labour economics — on unemployed rural youth. I thought of giving it a shape, I was working in Chakwal. There I met Dr Attiya Inayatullah and was offered a job in Family Association of Pakistan (FPAP). As director youth project, my job was to gather the youth so I connected with all the progressive people of parties who were underground. The fear factor was minimised because of Dr Attiya Inayatullah who was considered close to the government to the extent that FPAP was thought to be a government department. I got the courage to invite people and I thought if the agencies would question anyone it will be FPAP, not us.
So, my studies were left in the middle and a new thing started which I called non-party political formation — because the party formation was not allowed and people still wanted to do something and also because there was so much polarisation in the parties. My friends whom I approached from parties within the leftist progressive tradition didn’t question me. Though some others did and two of them even wrote a letter in 1983 saying that I was trying to depoliticise. It’s another matter that both of them now do consultancies for UN or World Bank.
So I started enjoying that — that we are saying the same things and with people who want to listen, and without the bounds of being in a group. I tried to invite the people who were acceptable faces as resource persons like Omar Asghar Khan, Mehnaz Rafi and Aitzaz Ahsan. I also got a chance to engage with youth in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. I enjoyed my three and a half years stint in FPAP which I left when Dr Attiya Inayatullah joined the Junejo group.
Later, I worked for Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan for a year who was doing Aga Khan Rural Support programme in those days and its dividends were evident. Nigar Ahmed told me that CIDA is doing a South Asia Partnership here and I could consider that. A group from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka asked me to organise meetings in Lahore and Karachi because they were meeting people. I had contacts, youth groups in both the provinces so I organised these meetings in one year. Then Akhtar Hameed Khan said that there should be some work at the South Asian level. Then WAF happened and we thought that unless we have a network in South Asia, we cannot raise our voice. So this work with SAP began and it has continued to this day.
TNS: Where do you see Pakistan heading, politically, socially, economically?
MT: Economically, we have hit the rock bottom because we are hostages in the hands of IMF, World Bank, and ADB besides being a client state of the US. Obviously, you cannot expect welfare of the people to be a priority. So economically, the challenges are huge, especially when there is no stability at the level of society. Every morning it seems this is the end of the government. I am thankful that this media does not have a great impact on society; if it had, Hameed Gul and Imran Khan would have been bigger leaders than Quaid-i-Azam. We don’t have serious economic planners of our own.
As for the society, the modern democratic dispensation has always given us a good result. Even after the worst martial laws they haven’t voted for the maulvis. Our rural core and especially our women are not corrupt intellectually or otherwise. This is very fortunate. In Balochistan, whatever the militarisation or marginalisation, women still have a positive role. Then if the non-Muslim citizen is under attack, voices are raised against it even if subdued. People have started to speak up for their rights; the only problem is that they do so in their individual group but there is no joint voice.
The down side is that there is a general lack of analysis, which ought to have come from the educated middle class, which is not happening. This is unfortunate. Then there is talibanisation, suicide bombings, extremism, persecution by the state.
TNS: But the two trends that you have talked about, the awareness of political and economic rights as well as extremism, at some level co-exist in society. For instance, we saw it in Faisalabad recently where people protested for their wages and they protested in equal numbers in favour of punishing the Christians who were accused of blasphemy?
MT: It’s a very relevant and potent question. But in terms of the numerical strength of extremists, we don’t see it during the elections. I often raise this question that when we give a call for protest, fifty people turn up but when a maulvi gives a call, thousands come out. This comparison is problematic. See in the last forty years or so, the institution of maulvi has been strengthened by all your dictators as well as to some extent by the political parties. Not only has it been strengthened, generally in society they have been granted a position and prestige which they don’t deserve. Ziaul Haq destroyed this country like none other because he did not permit any other discourse except Islam. This is the discourse of the state
TNS: So by state we essentially mean military?
MT: This is the reality. The army is omnipresent in this society. They are in economy, everywhere. The syllabus is full of falsehoods to the extent that I am glad that majority of our population is illiterate. Otherwise, we would be a nation of beasts only. This is my very serious comment. Our literate population is either imitating Michael Jackson or fighting wars. The poor classes in between who do not have an opportunity of education, it’s a sort of blessing. There has been no debate in the last 40, 45 years except that Pakistan is a security state, or that Hindu is our enemy number one even if he lives here, forgetting that we have more Muslims living in India. You give a call and people will come out and lynch a blasphemy accused like anything. The political parties have been ousted for years from the scene; they’ve been Ebdo-ed and what not. They are courageous people who are still doing politics.
This is a society which has heard only one type of discourse. Then, it was not just a military and religious agenda. The feudal and tribal elements were equally to be blamed. It is our misfortune that we still consider Balochistan’s tribal leaders as progressive leaders. The masses of this country got very little space. We are the only country in South Asia where there are bad laws in our books and constitution.
Politically, I am a born optimist. Though it’s a bourgeois politics house but the maturity it has shown in the eighteenth amendment, from one end to the other, agreeing on NFC award, right of provinces is amazing. This is how democracy comes. If you stop the water, it starts to stink.
TNS: After all these years, how would you assess the performance and role of NGOs, in terms of development, political awareness etc.
MT: On a one to ten scale, I would give Pakistani NGOs roughly between 5 and 6 marks. First, the NGOs who brought the rights and development agenda, 98 percent of them run on foreign money. It may have such an unpopular agenda that people were not willing to spend on it from their own pockets. That was also a limiting factor because if today, for instance, the funding stops what will they do. Then Pakistan’s NGOs or civil society, for which the bigger surge came during Ziaul Haq’s time, learnt to question the state and government institutions. This has not been achieved by any other South Asian country, maybe South Africa only. Participate in the rights agenda and intervening in the development paradigm, I think, is their positive contribution. At this time, there is no district in Pakistan, including Waziristan, where there aren’t a few people who will raise questions with reference to development, etc. Still there is a lot to be done.
TNS: What about their intervention in terms of education, service delivery, etc?
MT: The literacy rate in Pakistan, even if the government claims are to be believed, is only because of the private sector. We have not been educated because of government schools. This is all private action. As far as development action is concerned, my personal opinion is that it is not the role of NGOs. The service delivery and development is the job of the state, not the civil society. We can see the example of Bangladesh which has the world’s largest NGOs, you can see the state of development there. So, I don’t think any rural support programme in the private domain can really make a difference. Because government is a very big organisation, its resources are huge, has influence and an army of bureaucracy, we can’t compete. Secondly, I think as a political being, private action is most welcome but there is a government as a pillar of the state. You can’t say that there ought to be good governance but no good government. This is preposterous. You have to talk about good government that comes into power with the wishes and aspirations of the people.
TNS: Do you see some weaknesses in NGOs too that you would like to see corrected?
MT: Yes, many. First, the NGOs or civil society organisations have not learnt to work with each other. NGOs working on child labour work independently from those who work on trade unions. Why can’t they work together? Then there is the unfortunate tendency to interfere in the state’s agenda. For instance, devolution and women’s inclusion in local governments is good. But when they start thinking that they are the substitute of state or government institutions or political parties that is wrong.
Things will only get better if the widening gap between what Pakistan is and what we rhetorically posit it to be is bridged
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
The mood was somber and the celebrations considerably muted, but 14 August was nevertheless marked by the standard invocations of patriotism. ‘Pakistan zindabad’ slogans did not ring out amongst the hapless millions whose lives have been ravaged by the devastating spell of floods, nor in the heartlands of the historically oppressed nations in this multi-national state. But there were nevertheless enough flags flying in urban centres in Punjab and Sindh to remind us all that Pakistan is still a cherished ideal for some.
It is another matter altogether that even those who do remain at least rhetorically committed to the official nationalist project are very much part and parcel of the cynical patronage-based socio-political order that prevails in this country. Pakistanis are not unique in this regard, of course. All around the world there is a duality between the everyday state and ordinary people’s daily conduct and idealised conceptions of nationalism and what the state ought to be. In some countries — ours included — the duality is more pronounced and the structural context much more strained.
Doubtless the tensions between the imperatives of daily survival and the more abstract ideal of Pakistan in our ‘Islamic Republic’ are becoming more and more acute. In contrast to the outpouring of grief and subsequent wave of charity and volunteerism following the October 2005 earthquake, there has been markedly less collective action in the wake of the floods. In the intervening five years the scale and intensity of conflicts have expanded and even affluent citizens’ (already tenuous) perception of the state as guarantor sovereignty has floundered.
It is important to recall that religio-political organisations led the earthquake relief efforts, whereas government agencies distinguished themselves by lacking coordination and even exhibiting downright callousness. The mullahs thus consolidated social and political influence whereas the state — apparently quite willingly — ceded ground to them. It seems that yet another iteration of this process is taking place now. A state such as ours would always struggle to meet affectees’ needs given the sheer magnitude of destruction wreaked by the floods; the lack of will being demonstrated by state functionaries and the mullahs’ strategic interventions will produce a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One cannot vent anger at the dozens of religio-political organizations (and their various fronts) that are undertaking relief efforts. What strikes me as amazing, however, is the complete lack of public pressure for an official relief and rehabilitation effort that is commensurate with the scale of the disaster. It is almost as if it is taken for granted that the government’s intervention will be piece-meal and that private charity is the only ameliorative option.
This goes to the heart of the cynicism that exists in this society, and is exactly why all of commotion on and around 14 August is almost completely meaningless. Surely, now is the time for Pakistanis to be asking what the state’s accumulated stockpile of modern weapons, including atomic capability, means to those who are living under the open sky having lost their homes, livelihoods and futures. The so-called ‘war on terror’ has been a failure on so many accounts yet there are still otherwise sane people insisting that the imperatives of ‘counter-terrorism’ trump everything else. Is there noone with the courage to demand an immediate reallocation of official monies away from non-productive expenditures — defence foremost amongst them — towards relief and rehabilitation?
More generally, why do we pay taxes and maintain the government establishment that we do? Why do we fly flags and sing patriotic anthems? Do we cheer for the idea of Pakistan or for what Pakistan actually stands for? Ethnic-nationalists in Balochistan and to a lesser extent in Sindh and Pakhtunkhwa have answered these questions in unequivocal fashion; the chauvinists amongst them say that everything to do with Pakistan is oppressive and decry anyone not from their fold as the ‘other’ and a potential enemy.
What do those who still believe in Pakistan have to say in response? Are their answers any less hollow than the state functionaries who purportedly represent us? Do we have anything new to say that can convince the naysayers that we can yet salvage this almost dead-in-the-water nation-building exercise? Unfortunately, over the past few days, I have heard mostly stale rhetoric from the experts, media persons and politicians alike (the generals do not need to say anything; we already know what they think).
Among the more disturbing responses to the floods on the part of officials is the crazy claim that there would not have been as much destruction had more big dams been built (Kalabagh is a particular favourite). Even the prime minister has balked at those who have opposed dams in the past and continue to do so now.
At a time when the official nationalist project is in tatters one expects much better from elected leaders. Or perhaps not. Maybe it is a foregone conclusion that noone in the political mainstream has the guts to call a spade a spade and then try and forge a compelling alternative vision for Pakistan. For the time being there is no force outside the mainstream either that can mobilise a majority of this country’s people to undo this obsolete socio-political order.
And so we are faced with the prospect of more mediocrity, more graft, and nepotism, and yet more parochial conflict. Things are likely to get much worse before they get better. And they will only get better if the widening gap between what Pakistan is and what we rhetorically posit it to be is bridged. In fact, there is a need both for serious introspection into our accession to cynical forms of social and political exchange and the meaning of Pakistan itself. If this happens we might just begin to move beyond the perennial crisis that afflicts us.
On a side note, it is disappointing that there have been no overtures from the Indian government in this time of suffering for ordinary Pakistanis. The biggest impediment to a reconceptualisation of the idea of Pakistan remains the so-called threat of Indian hegemony. It goes without saying that our own establishment is keen to maintain this threat perception but one would think that India would be less averse to a lasting peace. That it does not speak to just how similar the Indian and Pakistani establishments are, and why only people’s power can guarantee peace and well-being for this sub-continent.
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