promise in dark
Asim Ijaz Khwaja is the first Pakistani to be awarded tenure at the Harvard Kennedy School in US -- which essentially, he says, "guarantees a job for life and is the biggest hurdle an academic faces in his or her career". His areas of interest include economic development, finance, education, political economy, institutions, and contract theory/mechanism design -- and extensive research which answer questions that are motivated by and engage with policy. Khwaja was selected as a Carnegie Scholar in 2009 to pursue research on how religious institutions impact individual beliefs. Born in London, UK, he lived for eight years in Kano, Nigeria, the next eight in Lahore, Pakistan, and the last eighteen years in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Despite a very brief stint in Pakistan, which he says were the eight formative years of his life, he continues to deeply engage with Pakistan -- "at a personal and professional level, and it is at both these levels that I remain very associated with Pakistan". Excerpts from an exclusive interview with TNS via email follow:
By Alefia T. Hussain
The News on Sunday: If you were to describe yourself, you would say…
Asim Ijaz Khwaja: We often tend to focus on the personal details and uniqueness of individuals but I am more fascinated by our similarities. I prefer to see one person's achievement as an indication of another's potential. However, I have been lucky enough to have been able to pursue my passion thanks to wonderfully supportive, encouraging, and questioning parents and grandparents.
TNS: How do you feel to have been honoured by the Harvard Kennedy School?
AIK: Tenure and promotion to full professor is not as much an award as it is a recognition of your past and future research and professional impact. Tenure in the US essentially guarantees a job for life and is the biggest hurdle an academic faces in his or her career. As a result, a university goes through an elaborate process to ensure that it makes the correct decision when awarding a faculty member tenure.
Harvard's tenure process is therefore very strict. Individuals do not apply for tenure but are recommended, and then go through a series of evaluation steps. This starts with an internal evaluation of the person. If this is positive a decision is made to solicit external letters of reference. These letters are obtained from around 20 senior faculty across the world who are considered to be the best in the particular field that the person works in (development economics in my case). The letter writers are also asked to compare the person with several top faculty members who are in the same age cohort and field of the person. Once these letters are received they are used to present a tenure case to the entire tenured faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School (which includes faculty from not just economies but other fields such as political science, management, sociology, history, etc.) and the faculty then vote.
For the case to have merit and move onto to the next stage, this vote typically has to be close to unanimous. If this happens, the process reaches the final step, called the "University ad hoc stage". At this point, the Dean of the Kennedy School presents the tenure case to the President/Provost of Harvard University and a panel of several outside and internal experts. An important criteria at this stage is whether the candidate's work has had and will continue to have a broader intellectual impact. The final decision to grant tenure then rests with the President of Harvard University.
So when you ask about how I feel having successfully gone through these steps, the over-arching emotion is more of relief and a sense of gratitude that both my university and my colleagues in other universities thought highly of my scholarship and future potential.
TNS: If you had not been an academic what would you have been?
AIK: To be honest this is not something I have thought much about. As a child one goes through the usual iterations of professions and I did as well. However, regardless of what profession I would have chosen (my parents are both doctors), I believe it would have satisfied two criteria: (i) allowing me to contribute significantly beyond my own person; and (ii) driving me to ask questions while providing a systematic and defensible way of answering them.
TNS: You have spent a brief period of your life in Pakistan. How do you associate with the country?
AIK: I wouldn't call it a brief period since I lived in Pakistan for the early part of my youth during what was a very formative period in my life. Since then I have continued to deeply engage with Pakistan at a personal and professional level, and it is at both these levels that I remain very associated with Pakistan.
As a development economist I am committed to studying the problems faced by developing economies, and as a Pakistani, I feel that I have a comparative advantage and better understanding of these issues in Pakistan. I also hope in the coming years to engage with policy design and implementation in Pakistan as a means of both furthering my scholarship and contributing to the broader development process.
To strengthen this engagement, I recently helped setup a research organisation, Center for Economic Research Pakistan (www.cerp.org.pk) together with fellow economists Dr. Tahir Andrabi (Pomona), Dr. Ali Cheema (LUMS), and Dr Atif Mian (Chicago). CERP aims to encourage economic and social research on Pakistan by investigating the workings and conditions of the economy's firms, households, communities, and institutions, both empirically and theoretically. CERP's goal is to foster constructive academic cooperation and idea-generation between academics, researchers and students working on Pakistan around the world. The hope is that through vehicles like CERP, not only will scholars outside of Pakistan, like myself, be able to engage at a more systematic and sustained manner in the policy debate in Pakistan, but that this will help support local scholarship.
TNS: Your work suggests that you support involving community in development projects. How will/does it work in Pakistan?
AIK: Part of my earlier research -- conducted in Baltistan with the Aga Khan Rural Support Program -- focused on understanding how project design can improve the performance of community development projects. In more recent work, including examining local government reforms with colleagues at LUMS, I continue to explore this agenda of understanding how best to leverage community resources. However, like all things in life, the solutions are never as simple. One has to strike a balance between community involvement as a way of providing more effective accountability and local ownership and external support as a means of sharing technical expertise and outside knowledge and resources.
TNS: One of your studies says that Haj encourages tolerance. How?
AIK: This paper with colleagues at Harvard examines the impact of performing the Haj on Pakistani pilgrims. This is a difficult question to examine but thanks to invaluable support from both the International Islamic University Islamabad and the Ministry of Religious Affairs, we were able to survey 1600 applicants to the 2006 Haj 5-8 months after returning from the Haj.
Our study isolates the impact of performing the Haj using a method common in medicine. When doctors want to test a new medicine, they give it to a randomly selected treatment group and compare their outcomes to a statistically similar control group. While social scientists rarely have the opportunity to use this method, we are able to do so by taking advantage of a randomized lottery for allocating Haj visas in Pakistan. We compare the attitudes of 800 successful lottery applicants, the "treatment" group, to an equal number of unsuccessful ones. The results are incredibly revealing.
We find that, while performing the Haj leads to greater religious orthodoxy, it also increases pilgrims' desire for peace and tolerance towards others. And this greater tolerance is not just toward fellow Muslims; it extends to non-Muslims. Moreover, we find Hajis also report more positive views on women, including an increased support for educating girls and for women participating in the workforce.
While it is generally hard to isolate what mechanisms are behind these significant changes, our study points towards the importance of exposure to a diversity of people. The Haj is an inherently communal and international phenomenon, with over 2 million Muslim men and women from all over the world gathering for several days in intense prayer and rituals. Pilgrims interact with fellow Muslims of different races and ethnicities in a religious context. Although lacking a common language to communicate, our results suggest that the very act of mixing with others across national, sect, and gender lines can help promote tolerance -- towards fellow participants and, even more significantly, to those who are not part of the experience.
TNS: Would you please comment on the state of education in Pakistan with reference to the government and private institutions?
AIK: This is too broad a question to answer in such a short Q&A. At the primary education level, I have spent a great part of the last several years together with researchers at the World Bank and Pomona College conducting a multi-year study (the LEAPS project) that follows schools, teachers, parents, and children in over a hundred villages in Punjab to provide a better sense of the issues facing both educational providers and parents. The results of this study are forthcoming in book to be published by Oxford University Press and are detailed in great depth on the project website. I would encourage readers to visit the website at www.leapsproject.org. One main finding from this work is that, unlike what the popular media has often highlighted, the real revolution in Pakistani education is not madrassas but rather small and locally run private schools. These schools are typically run by locally educated village women and offer progressive, affordable and reasonable quality education. Currently up to a third of all enrollment is in these schools, and they are by far the fastest growing provider of education. I find this one of the most exciting changes in primary education in Pakistan since it shows that the private sector can effectively serve the poorer/rural segments of society and demonstrates that the average Pakistani parent desires high quality modern education for their child.
In terms of higher education, I have not done any systematic work on this and so am hesitant to offer substantial comments. However, based on personal experience I do feel that while we have made significant progress in both public and private universities the level of local scholarship is far below its potential. We have tremendous talent in local universities and think tanks but there is an even greater need for supporting it and giving scholars the space to develop their own research agendas. At a more fundamental level there is a tendency to not recognize and appreciate research and to relegate it as "impractical" or too "abstract". More often than not people have an incorrect image that professors mostly just teach and live in their own "ivory towers". The reality is that academics are now far more hands-on and "field-savvy" than we give them credit for. Ultimately, if we are to undertake well-informed policy making, we have to ensure that local scholarship and research are promoted and valued.
TNS: Do you consider returning to Pakistan at some stage in life?
AIK: I am not sure I ever truly left Pakistan. A significant part of my research has been on Pakistan and this has kept me both physically and mentally engaged with the challenges the country faces. While I hope to expand this work to other developing countries, the sad reality is that the challenges Pakistan faces are even greater now than they were in the past. The need to engage with and build local scholarship that helps inform policy is even greater now then ever before. I very much hope to be able to play a part in that engagement and to continue being in Pakistan.
There will be no relief from loadshedding this winter, announces Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervez Ashraf
By Shaiq Hussain
It was only last summer when power riots erupted in the country from Karachi to Peshawar with people thronging the roads and streets to prevail upon the government to stop the hours' long electricity loadshedding. These riots caused huge damage to public and private property.
In response to the public outrage, the government came up with a pledge to end the prolonged power blackouts by December 2009. But to the utter disappointment of the masses, the same Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervez Ashraf, who proudly made that announcement, came up with a shocking statement a few days ago that even in the current season of winter, the citizens of the 'land of pure' would have to bear the brunt of electricity loadshedding.
Talking to the TNS, the minister said loadshedding was unavoidable because of reduction in the discharge of water from dams for the annual closure of canals for maintenance from the last week of December until January.
However, the loadshedding announcement came at a time when another crisis in the form of shortage of gas supply and closure of CNG stations across the country left the people wondering whether they would have to spend their whole life facing such crises.
If one asks the common Pakistani men and women about the future of the country, they see it very bleak and have little or no hope that their tomorrow and the days after tomorrow would be any different from today or yesterday. Men and women on street complained they have lost faith in their rulers who seem to be in a state of antipathy towards people's plight.
Rashid Habib, a schoolteacher in Islamabad, reacting to the government's announcement about loadshedding in winter, said, "What else can we expect from these people (rulers). We voted for them, empowered them through ballot to rule this country with high hopes that they would bring a change in the life of common people after years of military dictatorship. But now people think former president Pervez Musharraf was better then these so-called champions of democracy, what a pity."
He warned that the nation, which is already facing gas shortage after unprecedented sugar crisis, could once again take to the streets and resort to bloody violence.
Adil Saeed, a government employee, lamented that it was surprising that the government had announced loadshedding in peak months of winter when consumption of electricity is low. "If they can't provide us with the power in winter then one should be prepared for another horrible summer next year," he warned.
Raja Pervez Ashraf, however, dispelled the impression the government was apathetic towards the problem. He said the reason for temporary power loadshedding in winter was valid because water discharge from dams is reduced for cleaning canals. He said loadshedding was unavoidable as the country would face a shortfall of 1000 MW to 1200 MW, but every possible effort would be made to keep the power cut-offs as minimum as possible. He said Independent Power Producers (IPPs) had also been asked to generate maximum power during the period to help cut power blackouts in the coming days.
One remedy the government opted for to overcome the severe problem of loadshedding was rental power plants. Though the project was initiated with great enthusiasm, it evoked widespread criticism by the opposition parties and media over the reported misappropriation.
The minister also blamed media and civil society for unleashing anti-rental power propaganda and scaring the investors away. He said terrorism also played a major role in this regard and most of the projects got delayed. He said the government had referred the entire process of rental power plants to Asian Development Bank for validation and its report was awaited. He also talked about a need for improvement in anti-theft drive and said the government was considering doing its best to do away with this problem.
The irrigation water situation in southern Punjab is one of concern -- farmers are complaining of unavailability of water while Irsa is saying Punjab has exhausted its water share from the Indus zone for the current season
"For the last one month, there is no water in the water channels in our area to irrigate the Rabbi crop," says Zameer Kahlon, a 40-year-old farmer of Chak 269/7R in Bahawalnagar district, adding: "We depend on canal water for irrigation purposes as underground water in our area is not good for crops."
Many farmers in Kahlon's area are waiting for canal water to sow wheat crop while many others have cultivated the crop using unfit underground water -- "which will not only affect the yield but also result in increasing the input cost of the crop," he says.
TNS talked to many farmers from different districts of south Punjab and they all have different complaints regarding the availability of canal water for Rabbi crops. The situation is even worse in Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur districts where people in many areas use canal water for domestic use too because the underground water in these districts is salty and unusable.
The irrigation water situation, at least in Punjab, is one of concern. On one hand farmers have been complaining of unavailability of water while on the other Indus River System Authority (Irsa) has been saying it on record that Punjab has exhausted its water share from the Indus zone for the current season. On December 10, Irsa decided through a 4-1 vote (it has total five members) that Punjab has consumed its share from the Indus zone and it should start releasing water from Mangla Dam to meet its irrigation needs during the remaining period of the Rabbi season that will end in April 2010. According to official estimations of Irsa, Punjab's total share for this Rabbi season is 13.83 million acre feet (MAF) while its share from the Indus zone was estimated at 5.587 MAF.
Water and agriculture experts in Punjab seem perturbed over Irsa's decision, alleging the authority has been favouring the Sindh province. According to them, average annual water inflow in rivers Indus and Kabul is around 86 MAF whereas the joint inflow in rivers Chenab and Jhelum is around 26 MAF. "Rivers Jhelum and Chenab can only supply water to the central parts of Punjab whereas water share from the Indus zone is utilised in southern Punjab for irrigation and drinking purposes. Mangla and Tarbela water reservoirs were built for the replacement needs of Punjab under the 1960 Treaty after giving away River Sutlej to India that traditionally used to fulfill the water needs of southern parts of Punjab.
"People from these areas have a right over water from Indus, and no law or authority can refuse it," Hamid Malhi, Chairperson Punjab Water Council tells TNS. According to him channelling water from Mangla to the canals of south Punjab is a tough task and can result in 50-60 percent wastage of water.
"There is no physical infrastructure in place to channel Mangla water to south Punjab," he says. "If we start consuming Mangla water in December, there will be no water available at the crucial stage of maturity of crop in Punjab. Punjab Irrigation Department has failed to build a case for its due share," he thinks.
Malik Muhammad Ramzan Rohari, general secretary of Pakistan Kissan Board, who also hails from south Punjab, says canals in his areas have been closed by provincial Irrigation Department in the name of annual closure on December 10. "Traditionally, the annual closure starts in the last week of December for one month. I don't know why the government wants to deprive farmers of south Punjab of irrigation water at the crucial wheat sowing stage. The farmers in this part of Pakistan have already suffered huge financial losses due to low prices of paddy, damage to cotton crop and late crushing of sugarcane. The closure of canals is a crushing blow to the agriculture sector in our area," he laments.
In Punjab, the area under wheat cultivation is over 15 million acre while in Sindh it is hardly 2.5 million acre. "The area under wheat cultivation in six districts of south Punjab DG Khan, Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar,
Muzaffargarh, Rahimyar Khan and Rajanpur is more than 4 million acres. Sowing of wheat crop in Sindh starts by end of October and is complete by early December, while in South Punjab it ends by early January. "There are still over one million acre to be cultivated and unavailability of water will not only reduce the area under wheat cultivation but will also badly affect the already sown crop," Rohari says, adding Sindh gets 4 acre feet canal water per acre while Punjab gets only 1.5 acre feet canal water per acre.
Punjab Irrigation Department officials are aware of the situation. "We know that situation in south Punjab is not good and that is why we have been asking Irsa to release water from the Indus zone because we cannot channel water from Mangla. We have finalised the irrigation plan with the help of Agriculture Department and will try to give water to different areas according to their needs for sowing of wheat. We still need 2.68 MAF water from the Indus zone for Rabbi season," HM Siddique, consultant to Punjab Irrigation Ministry tells TNS. According to him, Irsa is supposed to be a technical platform and there should be no biases on the basis of non-technical issues. "Some forces in Irsa want to give water to Punjab only from Mangla and not from Tarbela which is ridiculous. New dams, including the Kalabagh dam, should be built on Indus because at present Punjab has been facing huge losses due to unavailability of water. We have been getting three times less water per acre than that of Sindh," he says.
However, Irsa officials do not agree with the Punjab's point of view, and they insist Punjab has consumed its share from the Indus zone. "If Punjab has done some mismanagement, it should bear the cost and not the other provinces," says an Irsa official on the condition of anonymity.
According to Irsa spokesperson Muhammad Khalid Idrees Rana, the plan for water sharing among the provinces for this Rabbi season was finalised on October 5 during a meeting of advisory committee in which all the representatives from Punjab were present. "It was decided that Punjab will get 5.587 MAF water from the Indus zone and would fulfill remaining needs from Mangla. Though it is hard to channel water to some areas of south Punjab from Mangla, Punjab will have to come up with a good plan. We have not been saying that Punjab has consumed its whole share for Rabbi season, rather we are only saying that it has utilised its share for Rabbi season from the Indus zone and will not get extra water. If Punjab and Sindh come up with some kind of arrangement on the issue, we will welcome it but Punjab will have to manage water and will have to switch over to Mangla water," he says.
The success of the so-called seventh NFC Award is partly dependent on how the parties now sort out thorny issues expected to crop up during the implementation process
By Adnan Adil
It is an achievement of elected government that Islamabad and the provinces have finally managed to iron out their differences and agreed on a consensus formula for the distribution of financial resources among themselves. However, the success of the so-called seventh National Finance Commission Award is partly dependent on how the parties now sort out thorny issues expected to crop up during the implementation process.
The distribution of national pie has always been a problematic issue. One major reason is that repeated military takeovers interrupted democratic process and thus harmed the possibility of consensus building on inter-provincial issues through dialogue and accommodation. Under the long spells of Punjabi-dominated military regimes, the smaller federating units, especially Sindh and Balochistan, developed a severe sense of deprivation as they believe the Punjabi establishment controls their resources and policymaking.
The December 10 NFC agreement reached in Lahore again demonstrates that whenever elected representative institutions get an opportunity, progress is made on resolving contentious issues dodging the federation. The last consensus NFC was awarded in 1990 during the much-maligned period of civilian governments. Now after 19 years, the elected governments have again done it after debating it for months and showing mutual accommodation for each other. This is in contrast to arbitrary imposition of the award during the military regimes. The last award did not materialise, as the NFC constituted by General Pervez Musharraf failed to reach an agreement like the ones during the previous military regime of Gen Ziaul Haq.
Under the new formula of the resource distribution, all parties showed flexibility on their respective positions to make it happen. First of all, the federal government accepted a reduction of at least 8 percent in its share from the divisible pool, a jargon to describe the total tax-collection by the federal government. Under the new formula, the federal government will receive only 44 percent of the pool money in place of the current share of 52.5 percent.
The main heads of the federal budget include defense, loan repayments to domestic and foreign banks, general administration and annual development expenditures. Since last summer, Pakistan army is busy conducting operations in Swat and the tribal belt which, according to official sources, put an additional burden of Rs 60 billion on the national kitty besides additional Rs 60 billion spent on increase in the salaries of military personnel.
In these circumstances, reduced funds are likely to cause hardship for the federal government and may increase its dependence on borrowing from banks. Another option is that the federal government reduces substantially its expenditures on general administration. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has recently announced some austerity measures but these are quite nominal and unlikely to make much difference. Given the track record of past governments, radical reduction in the federal government and its expenses seem wishful thinking for the time being unless something miraculous happens. Thus, another and most likely option available to the federal government is to reduce the size of the federal development budget. Obviously, the federal government will cut down its development activities carried out in the provinces. This amounts to taking with the other hand what it gives to the provinces with one hand.
On the other side, the tricky issue of the fund distribution between the provinces could be resolved because of Punjab's flexibility. Earlier, the funds used to be handed out to the provinces on the basis of their population. Since Punjab has the largest population, it used to receive the largest share from the so-called divisible pool. All other provinces have been opposed to this formula and wanted to have a multiple criteria for the distribution as is practiced in other federations such as India and Australia.
The demand from the smaller provinces was that 70 percent of the total funds for the provinces should be given on the basis of population and the rest on the basis of revenue collection, backwardness, poverty and area of each province. After resisting this suggestion for more than 30 years, this time Punjab finally agreed to the multiple factor formula. However, Punjab succeeded in keeping the population factor at 82 percent. The remaining funds will be allocated to the provinces on multiple indicators: 10.3 percent on the basis of poverty, 5 percent on revenue collection and 2.7 percent on area (inverse population density.)
Balochistan was accommodated in two ways. One, Balochistan was promised one-time Rs 83 billion dole-out to compensate its past grievances. Two, under Balochistan relief plan, the federal government raised the rate of gas royalty given to Balochistan conceding its long-standing demand. Similarly, the NWFP demand was met for additional funds required for security measures against terrorism. Sindh wanted 10 percent of the funds should be allocated on the basis of revenue collection. In fact, most taxes are collected from Karachi where the head offices of businesses are located, though they may collect revenues from Punjab and other provinces as well. This was a contentious issue, but a compromise was struck to accommodate this too by giving a weight of 5 percent to the mix of revenue collection and revenue generation in sharing the pool.
The success of the NFC Award now depends on its implementation. One controversial issue is the authenticity of statistics on poverty and backwardness on the basis of which more than 10 percent resources are to be allocated. The provinces may need to bridge their differences on these statistics and may need to develop some reliable mechanism in this regard.
Under the new award, the collection of sales tax on services has been made part of the divisible pool as it was demanded by the provinces. Now almost 95 percent of the general sales tax from telecommunication companies is collected from Islamabad. As the federal capital is considered part of Punjab for the purpose of tax collection, Punjab is going to pocket lion's share of these revenues. The smaller provinces may not be happy on this and a give-and-take formula between the provinces may be required on this issue during the implementation process.
On the larger scale, however, the issue of the resource distribution among the provinces is linked to the political question of provincial autonomy and a new social contract conceding the principle that all federating units are masters of their resources. Presently, the major distortion is that Punjab has full control of its main production resource that is agriculture. Punjab sells its wheat and cotton at will. In contrast, a province like Balochistan has no agriculture but minerals gas as the sole source of production, but under the constitution these mineral sources are owned by the federation. Thus, a constitutional amendment is required to transfer the ownership of mineral resources either to the provinces or to the local population where mineral resource such as oil and gas or some mineral is located. Only by correcting this distortion a durable solution to the resource distribution could be found.