analysis
Putting things in context
The current situation is Swat is more an outcome of oppressive state machinery's handling of affairs that it is of the desire for the imposition of Sharia
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
There has been an eruption of comment – mostly critical – in the wake of the deal between Sufi Mohammad of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) and the provincial government of the Awami National Party (ANP). Crucially however, popular opinion within Swat appears to be that the agreement is a good thing so long as a sustainable peace is restored. The criticism has been concentrated among the intelligentsia and 'civil society', and, predictably, the western world.

Newswatch
How low have the mighty fallen?
By Kaleem Omar
An old adage has it that everything gets its comeuppance in the end. The events of the last few months have shown that this applies even to corporate giants like General Motors (GM), which, until recently, was the biggest carmaker in the world, a company that once upon a time lay at the very heart of American capitalism.

firstperson
A woman in men's world
The labour laws are grossly violated, because the lawmakers are themselves the lawbreakers
By Sheher Bano
Kaneez Fatima is president of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF) and Labour Confederation of Pakistan, as well as the co-chairperson of the Employees and Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan. She has been working for the rights of workers since 1963, when union activity was considered an exclusively male domain in Pakistan.

Experimentation at its best
The latest peace deal between the TSNM and government has dealt a severe blow to the secular and liberal credentials of the ANP and PPP
By Aimal Khan
After signing a peace deal with the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), headed by Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the NWFP government is all set to announce a new Sharia package for Malakand and Kohistan. The TNSM was banned in 2002 under the Anti-Terrorism Act. After inking an agreement with the TNSM in April, the government released Sufi Mohammad and also agreed to enforce Sharia in Malakand after accommodating the movement's viewpoint.

violence
Our Sisyphean world
Are we, the human beings, ordained to suffer?
By Khayyam Mushir
Sisyphus was condemned by the Gods for all eternity to push a rock to the top of a mountain only to have it slip past his feet and roll back to the bottom again. This was, in the Gods opinion, a fitting punishment for a deceitful mortal who was in the habit of murdering his guests, waylaying innocent travellers, betraying the secrets of the Gods and regarding them with a characteristic flippancy. The adjective 'Sisyphean', therefore, denotes the repetitive performance of an altogether pointless activity.

Thinking big
Successive governments in Pakistan have been obsessed with mega development projects despite their potential to create controversies
By Dr Noman Ahmed
During a briefing to the federal secretary for Housing in the first week of February on development projects in Rawalpindi, it was decided that Sheikh Rashid Expressway (now re-named as Leh Expressway) will be built. It was also agreed that the idea of an elevated expressway in Rawalpindi will be revisited due to various reasons, including its exorbitant estimated cost of Rs28 billion. It appears that despite having an elected government at the helm of affairs, not much has changed in terms of the approach to development. The preference assigned to mega development projects has neither diminished nor examined on any scale of distributive justice, benefit to masses and scientific rationale.

economy
Stability or growth?
Likely effects of the current monetary policy may not be positive, especially for the poor
By Hussain H Zaidi
The decision of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to retain the 15 percent policy discount rate (interest rate) has generated intense debate. One on one hand, it has been described as the right response to the continuing inflationary pressures in the economy; while, on the other, it has been termed an unwise decision that would further slowdown the economy's growth.

Victim of neglect
Addressing environmental issues should be a major concern of both the government and NGOs
By Sibtain Raza Khan
The ever-increasing environmental challenges, resulting from accelerated economic activity and demographic changes, are posing a serious threat to the sustainable human development in Pakistan. These human-made environmental problems – such as like global climate change, soil salinity, erosion, desertification, ozone layer depletion, resource degradation, deforestation, hazardous waste, overpopulation, vanishing biodiversity, air and water pollution – require earnest and sincere efforts if a balanced ecological solution is to be found.

Need of the hour
There has never been a greater need for the nurturing of institutions in Pakistan
Dr Arif Azad
Pick up any daily newspaper and you are most likely to find news items bemoaning the state of institutional decay in Pakistan. In the articles and over airwaves, politicians and opinion-makers cry themselves hoarse over how institutions have been systematically destroyed. Implicit in this fervent assertion is the notion of the need for strengthening institutions if Pakistan has to survive as a progressive and viable economic entity. The subject of institution building is as crucial to public policy as it to the survival of Pakistan. In public policy discourse, governmental institutions play a coherering role in shaping up public policy outcomes.

 

 


analysis

Putting things in context

The current situation is Swat is more an outcome of oppressive state machinery's handling of affairs that it is of the desire for the imposition of Sharia

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

There has been an eruption of comment – mostly critical – in the wake of the deal between Sufi Mohammad of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) and the provincial government of the Awami National Party (ANP). Crucially however, popular opinion within Swat appears to be that the agreement is a good thing so long as a sustainable peace is restored. The criticism has been concentrated among the intelligentsia and 'civil society', and, predictably, the western world.

The argument of the intelligentsia and 'civil society' is that a deal of this nature represents abject surrender to the 'terrorists' that have been challenging the writ of the state. Many people who share this thinking believe that there should be no question of negotiating with the 'Taliban' in the first place, given that the latter have perfected an almost inhuman kind of brutality. Interestingly, the Americans and other western governments have not necessarily suggested that deals cannot be done with the 'Taliban', but have only pointed to the fact that numerous such deals have proven to be a failure in the recent past.

In thinking about what has happened in Swat, it is essential to consider the historical context. The current manifestation of political Islam in the form of the TNSM (which emerged in the early 1990s after the original Afghan war ended) and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is not a complete aberration in the sense that the idiom of Islam has been central to the political and cultural discourse of Swat society. Throughout Muslim, Sikh and British rule in Pakhtun areas, charismatic figures who were widely believed to be divinely inspired regularly invoked 'jihad' if and when Swat was threatened by external forces.

Obviously, the TNSM and TTP do mark a break in the sense that they wish to Islamise Swat in a way that no other religious leader in the past sought to do. This is precisely why these organisations ultimately still rely on external patronage to survive. Nonetheless, it would be naοve to suggest that the TNSM and TTP have not cultivated support within Swat (and the wider Malakand region) at all.

When one reads between the lines of the TNSM's initial calls for the imposition of Sharia in the early 1990s, what emerges is a narrative of disaffection among many common people in Dir that had little to do with how Islamic the state was; it had much more to do with the oppressive state machinery's handling of common property resources, in particular forest resources.

As many commentators have noted in recent times, Dir, Swat and Chitral were only incorporated into the district administrative structure of the Pakistani state in 1969. Previously, Dir and Swat were autonomous states – in Swat's case, the state was ruled by the Wali – and even though the social order was non-egalitarian, conflict resolution and arbitration over resources was considerably less cumbersome than after the Pakistani state acquired control of the territories.

Agitation by local communities over what was perceived to be unjust handling of common property resources by the administrative apparatus started as early as the mid-1970s. At around the same time, the entire Malakand division was also wracked by a widespread peasant revolt in which smallholders and the landless occupied the lands of khans and thereby disrupted an age-old patronage-based system. It is important to note that the emergence of the TNSM – and later the TTP – must be understood in this context.

The TNSM's agitation in 1994 and then again in 1999 resulted in the governments of the day acceding to the demand for the imposition of a reformed judicial system that addressed the long-standing grievances of the common people. For all of the rhetoric about Sharia, in effect the earlier ordinances – and time will tell whether the present one marks a significant departures from the past – did not effect, or even attempt to effect, a radical transformation of state structures.

This is not to downplay the important demonstrative effect of an organisation, such as the TNSM, forcing an elected government – both then and now – to agree to its demands, however limited they may be. After all, Zia-ul-Haq's Islamisation did not seek to overturn social and political structures but had wide-ranging impacts on society all the same. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the TNSM's demands in the 1990s were a reflection of the common people's grievances vis-a-vis the established order.

In the case of the TTP too, it would appear that historical grievances against dominant classes and the state apparatus explain its rise to an extent. Obviously, the TNSM and TTP walk a very fine line in the sense that they are claiming to be part of a lineage of religious leaderships that protected the Pakhtun society. The TTP, in particular, has clearly made clear that it wants to impose a radical version of Islam and, in doing so, do away with established customs and culture. This is why there is reason to believe that these organisations do ultimately suffer from a crisis of legitimacy when they encroach upon the jealously-guarded traditions of society.

However, in the here and now, the TTP has established itself as the de facto ruler of Swat, having used unprecedented levels of coercion to silence anyone and everyone (one suspects that many people who were initially supportive of the TTP are now simply too scared to speak out against it). Here one must acknowledge the other dimension of the situation, which is the fact that the ANP came into power promising to restore peace to the region; instead, the conflict has intensified dramatically over the last few months.

It is now widely agreed in Swat and other war-ravaged parts of the NWFP and FATA that the so-called 'military operations', which are planned and executed almost exclusively by the military, have in fact strengthened the insurgents while wreaking havoc among the civilian population. This, of course, brings into light the recurring theme of the dubious relationship between the military and the 'Taliban', but ultimately the elected government faces the public's growing anger. Prior to the agreement this week, protests against the 'military operations' and the suffocating curfews that accompany them were becoming ever more frequent and the number of protestors was growing.

The ANP has also lost a number of its legislators in this brutal war. In this context, it is hardly surprising that the elected government, which, after all, has to respond to popular sentiment, would initiate some kind of peace talks. Whether one likes it or not, a peace agreement is signed by the parties to the conflict. I believe that the ANP should have distanced itself from the so-called 'war on terror' from the very outset. The party should not have agreed to support the 'military operations'; instead, it should have attempted to isolate the TTP by announcing wide-ranging reforms. But it did not do this, and now it has been left with little choice but to make the deal in this way.

There can be no way of supporting the TTP or TNSM per se, but this does not mean that we should assume that the situation in Swat can be understood in very simple terms. For the time being it cannot be denied that people want peace, and while the current deal is hardly a guarantee of a permanent peace (if any peace is established at all), there can be no question that the status quo was simply making the situation worse. As I mentioned last week, our whole state system and the popular media have created an environment in which organisations, such as the TNSM and TTP, establish wide-ranging influence. Starting with the Objectives Resolution and through the 1973 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, we have much to reconsider if we want to reverse the radicalisation of society that began with the coming into power of Zia-ul-Haq.

Newswatch

How low have the mighty fallen?

 

By Kaleem Omar

An old adage has it that everything gets its comeuppance in the end. The events of the last few months have shown that this applies even to corporate giants like General Motors (GM), which, until recently, was the biggest carmaker in the world, a company that once upon a time lay at the very heart of American capitalism.

Today, however, for the first time since the Great Depression of the 1930s, GM can no longer call itself the world's largest carmaker. Its sales fell behind Japan's Toyota in 2008, a year when GM celebrated its 100th anniversary and narrowly avoided a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. It's now going around hat in hand imploring the US government to keep it from going under.

GM sold 8.35 million vehicles worldwide in 2008, about 620,000 less than Toyota's 8.97 million. GM sales were down 11 percent from 2007, while Toyota's sales declined 4 percent. GM had been the largest carmaker since 1931, two years before Toyota began making cars in Japan.

Toyota, which invented the revolutionary concept of 'zero component inventory' at its factories in Japan (a concept initially regarded as unworkable by manufacturers in the West, but later adopted by companies throughout the industrialised world), had been closing in on GM for years. Toyota's sales surged around the world, while GM's global expansion plans were hit by falling market share in the United States.

Global sales for the automobile industry fell by 3.5 million vehicles in 2008, but demand dropped the most in North America and Europe, regions where GM is a larger player. As a result, GM, which has lost money every year since 2004, warned that it could run out of cash by December 2008 without billions of dollars in loans from the US government.

GM's global sales fell 26 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the company received a $4 billion loan in December under the US government's bailout package for the American automobile industry. In the third week of January, the company said it was expecting another $5.4 billion loan installment any day.

On Feb 17, GM told the US government that it might need an additional $16 billion loan to stay afloat, bringing its total federal loans to $30 billion. Even then, however, it will have to cut 47,000 more jobs and close five plants.

The same day, Chrysler (the third largest of the US Big Three carmakers, after GM and the Ford Motor Company) said it needed an additional loan of $5 billion, bringing its total bailout to $9 billion. Chrysler also announced that it lost $8 billion last year. In January, the US government loaned another $5 billion to Chrysler Financial, ostensibly to spur new car loans, bringing the total government aid to Chrysler and GM financing units to $24.9 million.

Worldwide sales of both GM and Toyota dropped in 2008, with the Toyota group's sales falling 10.8 percent. Within the larger Toyota group, Toyota sales dropped five percent to 7.996 million units in 2008, Daihatsu (Toyota's mini-car specialist) sales rose four percent to 0.886 million units and Hino (the group's truck maker) sales rose three percent to 0.310 million units.

GM saw its 2008 sales increase in the Asia-Pacific region (up 2.7 percent to 1.475 million units) and in America, Africa and the Middle East (up 3.2 percent to 1.276 million units), but the 6.5 percent drop in its Europe sales (to 2.040 million units) offset this increase. Ironically, however, its sales in North America (its home continent) collapsed in 2008, falling 21.1 percent to 3.563 million units. On the other hand, Toyota's 2008 US sales dropped 15.7 percent to 2.216 million units.

For decades, General Motors wasn't just the world's largest carmaker; it was also the world's largest industrial corporation. Back in the 1940s and early 1950s, an American engineer named Charles Erwin Wilson, who later came to be known as 'Engine Charlie', was president of GM.

Born in Minerva, Ohio, on July 18, 1890 (he died on Sep 26, 1961), Wilson earned a degree in electrical engineering from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1909 and then joined the Westinghouse Electric Company in Pittsburg, Ohio, where eventually he supervised the engineering of automobile electrical equipment and, during World War I, the development of dynamotors and radio generators for the US army and navy.

In 1919, Wilson moved to Remy Electric, a GM subsidiary, as chief engineer and sales manager. GM had been formed in 1908 by Alfred P Sloan, an American banker who had organised the takeover of several small American carmakers, including Chevrolet, Pontiac and Buick, and had merged them into a single corporate entity called General Motors. Sloan's idea was to create a corporation big enough to compete with the Ford Motor Company, which dominated the US car market in those days with its T-Model Ford, a low-priced car that was selling in millions.

By January 1941, Wilson had acquired the nickname 'Engine Charlie' and he was the president of GM. During World War II, he directed GM's huge defense production effort, which earned him a US Medal of Merit in 1946. In 1944, as the director of the US War Production Board, he told the US Army Ordnance Board that in order to prevent a return to the Great Depression of the 1930s, the US needed "a permanent war economy".

This permanent war economy eventually would evolve into the modern US 'military-industrial complex' – whose growing influence in Washington President Dwight D Eisenhower had warned against in a speech in 1960. Wilson was still head of GM when President Eisenhower selected him as US Secretary of Defense in 1953.

Wilson's nomination sparked a major controversy during his confirmation hearings before the US Senate Armed Services Committee, specifically over his large stockholding in GM. Initially reluctant to sell the stock, valued at more than $ 2.5 million (over $109 million in today's money), Wilson finally agreed to do so under the committee's pressure.

During the confirmation hearings, when asked if as secretary of defense he could make a decision adverse to the interests of GM, Wilson answered affirmatively but added that he could not conceive of such a situation "because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice-versa."

Later this statement was often garbled when quoted, suggesting that Wilson had said simply, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." Though finally approved as secretary of defense by a Senate vote of 77 to six, Wilson began his duties at the Pentagon with his standing considerably diminished by the confirmation debate.

The garbled version of what Wilson said at his confirmation hearings continued to haunt him for the rest of his life. It is a misquotation that has kept on going to this day: "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." Wilson never said that, just as the 18th century French Empress Marie Antoinette never said: "If the people don't have bread, why don't they eat cake?"

 

firstperson

A woman in men's world

The labour laws are grossly violated, because the lawmakers are themselves the lawbreakers

 

By Sheher Bano

Kaneez Fatima is president of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF) and Labour Confederation of Pakistan, as well as the co-chairperson of the Employees and Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan. She has been working for the rights of workers since 1963, when union activity was considered an exclusively male domain in Pakistan.

Born in 1938 and brought up in a politically charged environment due to her family's affiliation with the National Awami Party (NAP), Kaneez Fatima received her early education in Gujranwala. Later, she also studied in Lahore and Karachi. She took inspiration from her father, Comrade Meraj Din Butt, a dynamic worker who refused to secure any post in the party but spent his entire life struggling for the rights of workers.

During her struggle spanning over 45 years, Kaneez Fatima has suffered a lot. Many false criminal cases, including those of murder and dacoity, were registered against her, but were later withdrawn after her innocence was proved. She has also written a book titled Aurat ka Siyasi aur Samaji Kirdar (The Political and Social Role of a Woman). The News on Sunday interviewed Kaneez Fatima recently. Excerpts follow:

 

The News on Sunday: How was the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF) formed? Would you like to tell us about your struggle for the rights of workers?

Kaneez Fatima: The PTUF is a private body having about 350 members across the country. Before the creation of Pakistan, it used to be the All India Trade Union Congress. V V Giri, who later also served as the president of India, was its head at that time. After the partition, its name was changed in 1948 to Pakistan Trade Union Federation. People like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Dr Malik, Mirza Ibrahim and C R Aslam served as presidents of the PTUF. In 1954, the Communist Party was banned and so was our federation. All leaders were also put behind the bars. Therefore, we started working under the banner of Muttahida Action Committee and made trade unions in different organisations. However, there was a need for a federation that necessitated the formation of Muttahida Mazdoor Federation. Our main demands from the government were that it should enact such labour laws for the workers that ensure facilities like social security, free education and health, etc. Moreover, there should be a labour welfare board to support workers in the hour of need. In 1969, Air Marshal (r) Noor Khan framed the first Labour Policy and the Industrial Relation Ordinance (IRO), 1969, was promulgated. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto revived the Labour Policy in 1972 and raised the slogan of Islamic socialism, besides nationalising various public institutions. However, this nationalisation only helped bureaucrats, who were given possession of factories and mills, and the situation worsened for the workers. Had he done the nationalisation of land first, by granting 'land to tiller' rights to the farmers, this would have been a great relief to the workers.

TNS: How did you embark upon this tedious journey?

KF: I used to visit different factories and mills to observe the working conditions of labourers. Many workers also asked me to raise voice for their rights. In 1963, Security Printing Press labourers held a hunger strike against their management. However, they failed to get their demand met despite continued struggle. Thereafter, I convinced them to let their women to join in. At that time, it was considered a sin for women to indulge in such activities. I held a successful demonstration of women and children, and collected donations from the people to buy food for the families of the affected workers. This forced the owners, who earlier thought that they would starve the workers' families to tame them, to come on the table for negotiations. I made my first public address in 1967 to the women labourers of Rasheed Textile Mill, for which I was booked and later expelled from the city. At that time, my daughter was very young and the bureaucracy threatened to imprison me, but I refused to bow down. Similarly, in the late 1960s, the government uprooted the hut dwellers near the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam, and gave them compensatory land in Landhi and Kornagi. Soon, the government tried to take back this land too by declaring these inmates as encroachers. The affected women called me for help. When I refused, they contacted our leader Maulana Bhashani, who convinced me to help them as our party's motto was to work for the oppressed classes. It was Ayub's regime and hunger strike was a criminal offence under the martial law. So, all the women decided to fast in protest. On the fifth day of our fasting, the administration contacted me and gave allotment orders of the houses to the women. In the meantime, I had also applied for the registration of a school. The administration linked my registration case with that of women's possession orders. Therefore, I had to surrender my school's registration to help out these women.

TNS: What were the objectives behind forming the PTUF and how has this platform helped the labourers in raising their voice?

KF: The basic objective of the PTUF was to help establish such a society where the workers, especially women, have the right to work in a safe, just and congenial environment. Besides, women should be employed according to their population ratio. We also demanded that in those areas where feudal lords are sleeping partners, 25 acres of barani and 12.5 acres of canal irrigated land should be given to the women who are actually working there and hardly get 25 percent share in the crop. Similarly, according to the ILO Convention, to which Pakistan is a signatory, the women working in the fisheries sector should be provided with safety gadgets, such as gloves, gum boots, masks, etc. However, such rules and laws are rarely followed in Pakistan. Moreover, long brooms should be provided to the women sanitary workers who sweep on the roads and streets, because remaining in bowing posture for long could hurt their backbones. Similarly, male sanitary workers are not provided with oxygen masks and long boots, despite the fact that all of them are government employees. The labour laws are grossly violated, because the lawmakers are themselves the lawbreakers. The PTUF has also held protests on many national and international issues, including the Vietnam War, Israeli aggression against innocent Palestinians, American policies, price-hike, discriminatory laws, etc. Women bring both professional and personal issues to the federation. Most of the cases are of sexual harassment against people in power. Poverty and unemployment among male workers force women to work on low wages and in unfriendly conditions. It's a two-edge sword for them, where they suffer both at the workplace and at home. As co-chairperson of the Employees and Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan, I have tried to bring both employers and employees on one platform for solving the workers' problems.

TNS: Why is the gulf between employees and employers widening?

KF: We are actually reaping the fruits of our successive governments' past mistakes. For example, jumping in the Afghan war was a big mistake. It simply disturbed the balance of power in the world, and the United States emerged as the sole superpower of the world. At that time, I had warned the government that soon the religious elements would divert the course of Afghan war towards Pakistan, but nobody paid heed. This is what we are observing today. Similarly, politicians in Pakistan took loans from the IMF and World Bank to fill their own pockets, while the poor never benefited from them. Under IMF conditionalities, we have sold off the rights of our employees. Now downsizing is done in the name of rightsizing. Through privatisation, which is actually engineered by the vested interests, they have sold out our all the profit-making national assets. As a result, the people are now facing the worst forms of unemployment and poverty.

TNS: Will the IRO 2008 help change this situation?

KF: The IRO 1969 failed due to non-implementation, so what can we expect from IRO 2008 until strict implementation is not ensured. We are living in a feudal society and are ruled by a feudal democracy. The government should bring the employees and the employers on the table for talks to ensure that the former are given their due rights. President Asif Ali Zardari should ensure power supply to the industry and those who are stealing the power should be dealt with strictly.

TNS: How can the problems of home-based workers be solved?

KF: We cannot work for the home-based workers on our own until they form a platform to raise their voice. There is a need for major land reforms in the country to free these women from the subjugation of feudal lords. Besides, they should be given land titles.

TNS: Do we need new laws for women?

KF: All are equal before the law and there are many provisions for the women in the exiting labour laws too. Provided these are implemented fully, there will be a lot of relief for the women. However, special laws for women are always welcome.

TNS: How do you see the media's role in this regard?

KF: The media, especially the electronic media, is not playing its due role of unveiling the truth. The channels are biased in their approach and the actual news has lost its worth in the mad race of 'breaking news'. Instead, the electronic media should educate and inform the masses about different issues.

 

  Experimentation at its best

The latest peace deal between the TSNM and government has dealt a severe blow to the secular and liberal credentials of the ANP and PPP

 

By Aimal Khan

After signing a peace deal with the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), headed by Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the NWFP government is all set to announce a new Sharia package for Malakand and Kohistan. The TNSM was banned in 2002 under the Anti-Terrorism Act. After inking an agreement with the TNSM in April, the government released Sufi Mohammad and also agreed to enforce Sharia in Malakand after accommodating the movement's viewpoint.

Sufi Mohammad reached Swat on Tuesday and is reportedly busy in talks with the militants, trying to convince them to lay down arms. After staging a peace camp in Swat, Sufi Mohammad expressed his determination to stay there until the restoration of peace. He also vowed to visit the tribal areas after peace in Swat. Earlier, announcing a 10-day ceasefire, spokesman for militants, Muslim Khan, expressed his satisfaction over the peace deal and said that now it was the government's responsibility to implement it in letter and spirit.

The proposed Nizam-i-Adl (Sharia) Regulation, 2009, will be third package of its kind since the emergence of the TNSM in 1994. Therefore, it is not the first time that the NWFP government has inked a peace agreement with the TNSM and promised the enforcement of Sharia in Malakand. What prompted the provincial government to re-enter into an agreement with the TNSM after even less than year? What new they have to offer to the people of Swat in the latest agreement? Why did the April 2008 deal fail? How the new deal will be implemented? These are some the important questions that need to be answered.

"The regulations will be implemented in Malakand following the return of peace and restoration of writ of the government," NWFP Chief Minister Amir Haider Hoti told a press conference in Peshawar. He said President Asif Ali Zardari had approved the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation after consultations with TNSM representatives. Hoti further said troops would remain in reactive mode, instead of proactive mode, and would not target anyone unless threatened. He also ensured that the army would be sent back after the restoration of peace in the region.

The NWFP chief minister said the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation was in line with the Constitution of Pakistan, because it was only an amended form of the regulations proposed for Malakand in 1994 and 1999. "The new system had been devised to provide easy and speedy justice to the people." Hoti announced that all civil cases would be decided within six months and all criminal cases would be decided within four months. Unlike the previous agreement, this time the provincial government has taken other political parties on board and most of them have extended full support to the peace initiative. However, the Jamaat-e-Islami has expressed serious concerns about it.

If translated into action, Sufi Mohammad's willingness to play his role in brining peace to the violence-hit Swat valley and tribal areas will be a big achievement. At least, the government has made some breakthrough by winning over Sufi Mohammad, though it is yet to be seen how successfully it uses him for the restoration of peace in the region. The people's joy in Swat is understandable; they are fed up with the situation and want peace. They were happy with the previous peace deal also, but their hopes died soon after it failed to materialise.

The common people, who have been exposed to the worst kind of terrorism and destruction in the recent past, have attached high hopes with the peace deal, because they want a change for the better. However, on the other hand, it is important to remember that the latest peace deal between the TSNM and government has dealt a severe blow to the secular and liberal credentials of the Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

The government has not yet made public the proposed Sharia package. However, according to sources, some of the universally accepted legal norms and procedures are being currently incorporated into it. As per details, instead of Supreme Court and High Court, the appellant powers will rest with a locally constituted Shari Appellant Court, whose decision will be final with no further recourse to the law.

Although human rights activists are terming the proposed package illegal and unconstitutional, the ANP rejects such charges. Talking to the media, Afrasiab Khattak, provincial president of the party, said there would be hardly any impact of the proposed package on the existing laws and regulations. He maintained that the people of Swat had accepted the deal. "The demand for speedy justice might be the reason for conflict in Swat at some stage, but now the dynamics of and motives behind militancy have changed. New actors are firing the shots, not the TNSM."

As in the past, once again the extremist elements will be encouraged to implement their brand of religion in utter disregard of the fundamental human rights of the people of Malakand. Unfortunately, after every such deal, the extremists gain in strength, while the government ends up on the losing side, because it is forced to give more and more concessions to the former. Moreover, such attempts in the past have only resulted in extremism, sectarianism and disunity, rather than religious cohesion and harmony. As usual, the militants will be granted amnesty and properly compensated, but what about the cases of voiceless common people? Will their material losses be compensated? Is there any compensation package in the offing for them also? According to initial estimates, the move would cost the government hundreds of millions rupees annually.

One of the main flaws in the peace deal is that the situation of Swat has been seen in isolation from that of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and some other parts of the NWFP. It remains to be seen whether the new peace deal brings peace, and allows the common people to enjoy their social, cultural and political rights. The guns might fall silent, but will the militants stop imposing their rigid and extremist agenda on the common people in the region?

The government has chosen a wrong prescription to cure a social ill. The Sharia card by the government has failed and proved counterproductive in the past. The people of Swat want concrete actions regarding their right to life, food, education, health and employment, as well as uninterrupted supply of basic utilities and services, such as electricity, gas and water. They also want an end to the 'military operations', improvement in law and order situation, extension of the government writ, and protection to the life and property of the common people.

The government, instead of ensuring good governance, guaranteeing livelihoods, and improving the judicial and police systems, has opted for the shortcut of appeasing the militants. Without putting in place other ingredients of an Islamic state, mere Islamisation of the courts would not work; rather, it will further add to the disappointment and frustration of the affected people. The people of Malakand are already paying a heavy cost for supporting the TNSM. Therefore, if the government cannot bring order and normalcy, it should at least avoid making people's life more difficult and miserable by indulging in this sort of religious experimentation.

(The writer is an Islamabad-based political analyst.)

 

Our Sisyphean world

Are we, the human beings, ordained to suffer?

By Khayyam Mushir

Sisyphus was condemned by the Gods for all eternity to push a rock to the top of a mountain only to have it slip past his feet and roll back to the bottom again. This was, in the Gods opinion, a fitting punishment for a deceitful mortal who was in the habit of murdering his guests, waylaying innocent travellers, betraying the secrets of the Gods and regarding them with a characteristic flippancy. The adjective 'Sisyphean', therefore, denotes the repetitive performance of an altogether pointless activity.

Looking at the world today, particularly at the recent history of its suffering, struggling masses, one finds in their condition striking similarities with the fate that befell Sisyphus. Consider the following examples:

In Palestine, one of the bloodiest and oldest conflicts of the world continues to be waged. Men, women and children, entire families and generations, have been murdered and maimed or left psychologically scarred for life by the Israeli military. Fighting only for a piece of land and the right to call it home, from the massacre of Sabra-Shatilla to the recent carnage in Gaza, their aggressors are unrelenting in meting out the worst destruction imaginable. In the 22-day Gazan war, 1,300 Palestinians were reportedly killed and another 3,000 wounded; the brutality of this operation invoked harsh criticism even from eminent figures in the West, who have drawn parallels between the Israeli military's tactics and those of the Nazis.

For the people of Iraq, the fight for a peaceful existence continues. Delivered from the iron-fist of a dictator and his reign of terror, they have had to endure the worst baptisms of fire in the last five years at the hands of their liberators, only to have fascism replaced with sectarian strife, a crippled economy, a puppet regime and rubble for what they once knew to be their country, the seat of the oldest civilisations of the world.

A few thousand miles away, the people of Zimbabwe have also experienced similar devastation. Held hostage by Mugabe and his Zanu PF party for more than two decades now, they have suffered unspeakable atrocities at the hands of this dictator. For example, the land redistribution programme, launched in 2000, is a guise for displacing and murdering large sections of the innocent urban poor. Currency shortages, hyperinflation and droughts have crippled the economy, and led to the collapse of the public health system. Thus, Zimbabwe continues to experience the worst HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, because of which 1.8 million people are said to be currently infected. This has reduced the life expectancy of males to 37 years and of females to 34 years, and raised infant mortality to 81 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Another tragic example is that of Sudan. Its second civil war lasted from 1983 to 2005. Just when a beacon of hope was seen in the peace agreement signed by both north and south Sudan in 2005, clashes occurred in its Western regions between Janjawid rebels and the government. These rebels of the Al-Saddiq-Al Mahdi administration have since then committed all sorts of atrocities, from killing non-Muslims to bombing villages and raping women, stealing land and goods and committing mass genocide. In the last four years, an estimated 2.5 million civilians have been displaced with the death toll reported at 400,000.

The displaced have sought refuge in the neighbouring country of Chad, which also accused the Sudanese government of plotting to destabilise it and declared war on Sudan in 2005. Throughout this period, the health situation in the country has deteriorated to appalling levels – in 2004, there were only three surgeons serving all of southern Sudan with only three functioning hospitals. It is reported that currently the daily infant mortality rate stands at 80, mainly owing to malnutrition. The country is also experiencing a devastating cholera epidemic with 11,000 known cases until the end of last year.

Such is the Sisyphean nature of the world and millions of its inhabitants. Struggle as they might, it appears it is to no avail. The unifying characteristic in this suffering is the widening gulf between the rich and the poor. In the Third World, its manifestation is most grotesque, but it is no less concrete a reality in the rich countries of the West either. Beginning with its domination of the world in the early nineteenth century, the West was consequently been able to craft an industrialised society that, through its capitalist neo-liberal model, focussed on mass production, profit maximisation, consumption, free trade and private enterprise.

The West achieved success through its conquest and exploitation of nations less developed than it. While its contribution to improving the lot of humans is monumental in many respects, the by-products of its approach are class divisions, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, a belief that all humans are not created equal, and a view that global poverty and suffering are unavoidable. Moreover, the worldview and policies of the West are designed to cater to its post-World War II paranoia, which makes the protection of its interests paramount to everything else and by whatever means necessary. It is no coincidence, therefore, that most of its former colonies, despite getting independence and with the passage of all this time, have not been able to catch up with it.

There are more examples like the ones mentioned above and they span the globe today. In the context of Sisyphus and his eternal condemnation, there appears little hope for the world except in perhaps the off chance that some divine intervention may after all take place as promised by our holy men. But for the downtrodden people of the world, hope is too precious a commodity to part with. For the people of the world, then, we must view Sisyphus in the light of Albert Camus' interpretation. Camus, in his essay titled The Myth of Sisyphus, observes Sisyphus as he pauses at the summit of the mountain realising the rock has rolled past his feet and turns to make his way down the mountain again.

For Camus, this is the defining moment in the tale and the only tragic one, because it is only then that Sisyphus becomes conscious of the futility of his existence. This realisation could lead him to surrender, to refuse further part in this charade and let the God's do what they will with him. But dignity does not permit him to kneel, to admit to the wretchedness of his condition and we see him wiping his brow, face set in grim resolve as he trudges down the mountain of his despair. In each of those moments, Sisyphus has conquered his fate – "There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn," declares Camus.

With this understanding at the foot of the mountain, Sisyphus turns, braces himself against the stone, the clarity of his purpose permitting him a fleeting smile, and begins to push. Sisyphus' purpose is to defy the odds at all costs, to keep pushing his stone up the mountain until even the Gods are humbled before him. There is grandeur in Sisyphus' existence and majesty in the tenacity of his purpose. In that moment, we may imagine Sisyphus to be happy.

This grandeur is visible too in the suffering, struggling masses of the world. It is witnessed in the accounts of the Gazan fathers who distract their children with games every time Gaza is bombed; resolve of Gazan 'smugglers' who are back to repairing the underground tunnels that serve as a lifeline for the Gazans, permitting food and supplies to be brought in from Egypt much to Israel's frustration; efforts of human rights workers struggling in all corners of the globe; and courage of Morgan Tsivangarai, who refuses to give up his fight for justice despite being beaten by Mugabe's goons. These and countless other struggles, like Sisyphus' labours, make "of fate a human matter which must be settled among men".

 

 

Thinking big

Successive governments in Pakistan have been obsessed with mega development projects despite their potential to create controversies

By Dr Noman Ahmed

During a briefing to the federal secretary for Housing in the first week of February on development projects in Rawalpindi, it was decided that Sheikh Rashid Expressway (now re-named as Leh Expressway) will be built. It was also agreed that the idea of an elevated expressway in Rawalpindi will be revisited due to various reasons, including its exorbitant estimated cost of Rs28 billion. It appears that despite having an elected government at the helm of affairs, not much has changed in terms of the approach to development. The preference assigned to mega development projects has neither diminished nor examined on any scale of distributive justice, benefit to masses and scientific rationale.

The powerful lobbies of rent seekers succeed in siphoning scarce budgets to mono functional development schemes that cause limited good to a select few! Advisors to the government cobble together strange arguments to justify mega projects. Irrespective of its relevance to the prevailing sectoral and contextual conditions, the announcement of a mega project is usually assumed as a government's timely action aimed at bringing about drastic improvement in the existing situation., while absence of mega projects is flagged as a sign of neglect from the government.

A development programme is normally considered incongruent if it does not contain projects of large spendings. Motorways, canals, power plants, dams, treatment plants, highways and the like, all fall in this category. Using this approach to gain popular support, the government never stops short of announcing large-scale projects, including those that cause the most severe of controversies. Mega projects are conceived as high budget affairs. For instance, the once proposed Karachi Mass Transit Programme was estimated to cost Rs66 billion. Similarly, Lyari Expressway in Karachi cost over Rs20 billion, while the Thal Canal project has been estimated to cost Rs30.4 billion. Obviously, large capital overlays enhance the financial control of the ruling cadres who also derive the flexibility of diverting this money to other avenues of expenditure.

Besides the controlling authority, the department or project management unit acquires several prerogatives. Awarding sub-contracts of enormous sums; laying down procurement lines of articles of all kinds; awarding construction contracts; employing staff, technocrats and labourers; choosing locations and sub locations to benefit (or not to benefit) any particular community or their heads are some of the direct measures of control that evolve from a mega development scheme.

In the absence of effective monitoring mechanisms, the wrongdoings of the project management unit remain unnoticed, causing harm to the affected people without any redress. A few years ago, while evictions were taking place along the corridors of Lyari Expressway, it was found that the staff of the management extorted sizable sums of money from such house owners whose property was falling on the borderline of the stipulated corridors, because helpless house owners thought it was convenient to save their abodes by paying bribe.

For both elected governments and self-imposed regimes, high-visibility mega projects are the icons of efficient performance: physical structures that can be noticed by everyone. In the urban context, high-grade motorways, transit corridors, bridges, pylons, etc, constitute images of development. In the sub-urban and rural sectors, power plants, waterways, canal ways and highways are such image-boosting entities. Usually, infrastructural components that are largely concealed in the earth surface are not considered the right choice. This also applies to projects of medium and small scale. For instance, there are many abandoned school buildings in Pakistan that were constructed as per normal prescription, but were never used due to lack of feasibility. For simple villagers they, however, serve as a bad example of development.

Donors, especially the development finance institutions, function only when they successfully lend to high-value projects. They some time lure the target countries to launch a funded project or obtain a share of it that is not even needed. Otherwise, they keep lobbying in the government circles to push for approval of such projects that would require donor assistance. It is interesting to note that they mostly succeed in their efforts.

In 1998, Asian Development Bank (ADB), in consultation with the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB), succeeded in thrusting upon an ill-founded project of sewerage treatment in Landhi / Korangi, Karachi. The project included a sewerage treatment plant worth $100 million. The sanctioned loan amounted to $70 million, while the Sindh government was to provide $26 million, with the remaining $4 million to be provided by the beneficiaries of the project. After a thorough review conducted by a group of public-spirited professionals, the project was found to be technically flawed and financially unviable. Through an organised effort, this group prepared an alternative plan for the project at one-tenth of its estimated cost. Thus, government high-ups were forced to cancel the loan agreement on technical grounds.

A major reason for overemphasis on mega projects is the bias of technocrats in their favour. In particular, consultants – such as architects, engineers, financial experts, etc – wholeheartedly support mega projects, since this serves them well. Firstly, the rate of consultancy and supervision increases sizably to the benefit of consultants. Secondly, it satisfies the professional ego of consultants to be associated with mega projects. Thirdly, it creates the viability of obtaining more projects of similar nature in the future. Fourthly, because the consultants are only concerned with the execution stage, they seldom care to look into worth and sustainability of such projects. This approach has resulted in many stand-alone projects that are not necessarily beneficial to the people.

Mega projects normally possess a very sizable overlay of operation and maintenance cost that is a recurring head of expenditure. As the number of projects increases, the operation and maintenance costs also increase proportionally. In some cases, such as that of roads, highways and bridges, repairs and alterations also add to the process. The government finds it difficult to raise adequate funds to carry out this task on its own, thus the condition of the projects starts deteriorating due to neglect and often-irreparable damages appear causing losses of precious funds and efforts.

It is not that mega projects are totally useless. Obviously, for balanced development of various sectors, projects of all the scales need to be initiated. In fact, the manner in which such projects are conceived, designed and executed needs to be improved for the real benefit of the society. Technically, mega projects should possess a corresponding link with the small- and medium-scale projects / realities within that sector. This will also create a sense of initiative among individuals and groups to address their developmental issues on their own.

If a sewerage treatment plant is to be built, it should be linked with disposal channels at tertiary, secondary and primary levels, so that the function of treatment is efficiently performed. Socially, the creation and development of such projects should evolve from the articulate understanding of the need of the target population. For instance, if in an urban centre, improved roads with an up-to-date fleet of buses can perform the task of urban transportation satisfactorily, the need for elevated mass transit does not arise.

In another situation, if a city is in need of an improved power supply distribution system and it is given a new cultural complex from the allocation, the developmental issues would remain. Financially, there is no harm in obtaining funding from any of the available sources; however, exaggerated costs and unrealistic estimates should not be made the basis of loan parleys. Besides, loans should not be negotiated around a pack of unwanted conditionalities from the lending agency. This deprives the initiators and implementers of the independence of decision-making, particularly that related to fixing priorities. Administratively, it must be ensured that the section of the society for whom the project is targeted participates at each and every stage of execution, as well as post-construction management of the project.

 

economy

Stability or growth?

Likely effects of the current monetary policy may not be positive, especially for the poor

 

By Hussain H Zaidi

The decision of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to retain the 15 percent policy discount rate (interest rate) has generated intense debate. One on one hand, it has been described as the right response to the continuing inflationary pressures in the economy; while, on the other, it has been termed an unwise decision that would further slowdown the economy's growth.

The monetary policy (like the other major instrument of aggregate demand management, the fiscal policy) is often a trade-off between growth and stability. The central bank, the SBP in Pakistan's case, manages the aggregate demand in the economy by tightening or softening the money supply and credit conditions. If inflation is on the rise, the central bank reduces the supply of money. As a result, credit conditions tighten and the market interest rate goes up. Increase in interest rate puts brakes on both consumption and investment demand. As the aggregate demand falls, prices also tend to fall. Businesses respond by reducing output, thus cutting jobs.

On the contrary, when the economy is having deficiency of the aggregate demand reflected by falling prices and slowdown in business activity, the central bank increases money supply with a view to reducing the market interest rate. Fall in interest rate stimulates consumption and investment demand, leading to increase in output and employment. This is what has been done recently by central banks in several major economies to tackle recessionary pressures.

In a market economy, the three major instruments available to the central bank are open market operations, discount rate and reserve ratio requirement. Open market operations refer to the sale or purchase of government securities. Sale of government securities reduces, whereas purchases increase, money supply in the economy. The discount rate is the interest rate at which banks borrow from the central bank. Increase in the discount rate reduces bank reserves and, consequently, money supply. Reserve ratio is the minimum percentage of their total reserves that the commercial banks are required to keep with the central bank. A high reserve ratio results in reduced money supply in the economy.

Faced with strong inflationary pressures, the SBP has adopted a rather restrictive monetary policy in the recent past. In July, the discount rate was increased by 100 basis points (one percentage point). Subsequently, in November, the discount rate was pushed up by two percentage points to 15 percent. Overall, during 2008, the discount rate was increased by five percentage points. The Monetary Policy Statement for January-March 2009 has retained the 15 percent discount rate. According to the SBP, the decision not to reduce the interest rate has been taken in an attempt to correct macroeconomic imbalances and it forms part of the overall stabilisation policy of the government.

The policy aims at reducing fiscal and current account deficits, stabilising the exchange value of the rupee, and containing inflation. During first half of the current fiscal year (July-December 2008), the current account deficit was registered at $7.3 billion, compared with $6.1 billion for the corresponding period of the preceding fiscal year. During the same period, the trade deficit increased to $7.7 billion, compared with $6.2 billion for the corresponding period of the preceding fiscal year – mainly because the country's imports increased to $17.9 billion against exports of only $10.2 billion.

Whether the growth of the trade and current account deficits will accelerate or decelerate during the second half of the current fiscal year (January-June 2009) is anybody's guess. While slump in world oil prices may check import growth and, hence, reduce trade deficit, the recession in Pakistan's major export markets, notably the European Union, the United States and China, is likely to serve as a drag on export growth and, thus, contribute to the growth of trade deficit.

Strong inflationary pressures in the economy continue to haunt the central bank. During July-December 2008, average inflation as measured by the consumer price index (CPI) was reported to be 24.4 percent, three times more than that during the first half of the previous fiscal year. For the current fiscal year, average inflation is projected to be 20.3 percent, while it was only 12 percent in the last fiscal year.

Inflation contributes to current account deficit in more than one way. In the first place, during inflation, people turn to spend more anticipating further increase in prices. The resultant increase in aggregate demand, if not satisfied by domestic supply, makes for increase in imports. In the second place, inflation drives up cost of production and, thus, makes exports less competitive. Both due to the high current account deficit and inflation, the rupee continues to be weak against the American dollar, notwithstanding injection of capital inflows from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). On Jan 30, the rupee-dollar parity was 78.98, while it worsened to 79.80 on Feb 14.

Having outlined the current state of the economy, let us briefly discuss the likely effects of the current monetary policy. Firstly, the high discount rate will continue to put upward pressure on the market interest rates. Where will the market interest rate settle depends largely on how much increase in the discount rate is passed on by the banks to their customers. However, it is pertinent to mention that though the nominal interest rate may be high, courtesy around 25 percent inflation, the real interest rate is very low and may be close to zero.

Secondly, high interest rates would reduce consumption and investment demand, resulting in a fall in output and employment. This is the main argument against the current restrictive monetary policy. Already the economy has slowed down considerably and is projected to grow by only 3.7 percent during the current fiscal year, compared with 5.8 percent during the last fiscal year. When an economy slows down, jobs are lost and incomes fall. This is not to state that the monetary policy is the major cause of economic slowdown; however, it remains one of the major factors.

Thirdly, high interest rates should encourage savings. However, one must be mindful of the fact that income, not interest rate, is the major determinant of savings. People with higher income are willing to save even at a low interest rate. Fall in inflation will increase the real incomes, but fall in employment will have the opposite effect. Finally, as interest rate increases, money holdings will decline and funds will be shifted to higher yield assets. This may result in a fall in the real sector investment and increase in the highly speculative portfolio investment.

As mentioned earlier, the monetary policy is a trade-off between growth and stability. The decision to persist with a restrictive monetary policy means that the government prizes stability above growth. The agreement with the IMF also provides for a tight monetary, as well as fiscal, policy. However, a tight monetary policy can be successful only if it has a supportive fiscal policy. Governments in Pakistan are known to resort to borrowing from the central bank as the major source of deficit financing.

This takes the form of printing money, which is inherently and highly inflationary. Though the SBP has reported a considerable decline in the government's central bank borrowing in the first half of the current fiscal year, the government may be tempted to count on this most convenient but dangerous source of deficit financing in the second half, especially after the promulgation of the presidential ordinance to reinstate some 7,700 public sector employees sacked between November 1996 and December 1998. It is estimated that the reinstatement of these employees will cost the public exchequer more than Rs7 billion over a three-year period.

(Email: [email protected])

 

Victim of neglect

Addressing environmental issues should be a major concern of both the government and NGOs

 

By Sibtain Raza Khan

The ever-increasing environmental challenges, resulting from accelerated economic activity and demographic changes, are posing a serious threat to the sustainable human development in Pakistan. These human-made environmental problems – such as like global climate change, soil salinity, erosion, desertification, ozone layer depletion, resource degradation, deforestation, hazardous waste, overpopulation, vanishing biodiversity, air and water pollution – require earnest and sincere efforts if a balanced ecological solution is to be found.

Pakistan is paying a heavy price for the high rate of population growth and the pressure that this increasing population is putting on the country's scare resources, leading to environmental degradation and poor human development. A World Bank report points out that ecological issues are eclipsing the sustainable human development prospects in Pakistan. According to the study, titled Pakistan Strategic Environmental Assessment, "the degradation of its resource base and high burden of disease is costing Pakistan at least six percent of GDP or about Rs365 billion annually."

Air and water pollution, soil salinity and erosion are the main contributors to this environmental cost, along with the negative affects of global warming, such as glacial retreat, droughts and flash floods. The quest for modernisation has resulted in unplanned industrialisation and urbanisation, which are not only intensifying the issues of water and air pollution but are also aggravating the issue of waste disposal. The vast majority of Pakistan's population lives in rural areas and depends on natural resources, which are increasingly under environmental threat. About 40 percent of irrigated land in the country's rural areas is waterlogged, while 14 percent is saline. These problems have been aggravated by the problem of deforestation.

Despite huge losses to the national exchequer because of environmental problems, successive governments in Pakistan until 1990s paid little attention to the issue. The adoption of National Conservation Strategy (NCS) in 1992 was perhaps the first step in the right direction. The National Environmental Action Plan, prepared in 2001, and the National Environmental Policy of 2005 are considered other significant steps for addressing the country's environmental issues.

The government has declared 2009 as the 'National Year of Environment'. In this regard, various activities have been designed, such as holding of conferences and seminars, launching of reports and books, trainings of activists, plantation campaigns, consultations with the stakeholders, exhibitions and workshops, etc. However, it is suggested that specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound targets should be set to obtain the desired output. There is a need for serious and sincere efforts at governmental as well as non-governmental level to achieve the goals of environmental conservation and human development.

Although there are signs of improvement in various ongoing projects aimed at environmental conservation, research reports on air and water pollution, soil degradation, mismanagement of natural resources, deforestation, desertification and vanishing biodiversity in Pakistan reveal that a lot of work still needs to be done in this regard. The real concerns are about evolving strategies that are agreed by all the stakeholders, including the government, civil society, businesses, etc.

It is shocking to note that the majority of people, including the educated ones, are insensitive towards environmental issues. Indeed, any issue can be addressed through vision, willpower, leadership, participation and commitment. Therefore, firstly there should be a clear vision of how the problem can be tackled. Then, the issue of poor planning and coordination among various sections of the Ministry of Environment needs to be addressed. Moreover, there should be appropriate and effective capacity building of the staff that is associated with environmental conservation projects.

The project activities in environmental conservation projects must be clear and well defined. For instance, the issue of objective setting, risk management, resource allocation, task assigning, monitoring, evaluation and modification needs to be dealt with skilfully, in order to achieve the desired results. All the stakeholders have to play a proactive role in such projects for meeting human-made environmental challenges that are posing a threat to both economic growth and human development in the country.

Likewise, active community participation in ecological conservation projects can lead to astonishing results. For this purpose, it is necessary to first identify the stakeholders and then remove communication barriers, if any. In short, the objectives of a project can only be achieved through a shared vision. The stakeholders need to be actively engaged in solving environmental problems, such as water pollution from raw sewage, industrial waste, air pollution, soil erosion, deforestation, desertification, mismanaged urbanisation, access to potable water, limited fresh water resources, land pollution, etc.

Different segments of the society have different roles to play in this regard, but the most important contribution should come from the industrial sector, where environment-friendly policies are required. The air pollution from brick kilns and other industries should be controlled immediately, as well as the waste disposal by many industrial units in rivers, lakes and sea. Initiatives are required at the public level too. For instance, the children should be educated through different environment campaigns in schools and through the media, which should also aim at promoting plantation by children. Moreover, different community-based initiatives should be encouraged regarding proper garbage disposal and sanitation.

Besides this, governmental as well as non-governmental organisations lack public trust and support, because of communication gap and misperceptions regarding the work of organisations that undertake environmental conservation projects. Transparency and accountability of these projects can be ensured through periodic reporting to people about their performance. This will help win both trust and active support of the people.

As far as issues at the macro level are concerned, there is a need to address the gap between planning and implementation of environmental conservation projects. There should be appropriate capacity building, proper utilisation of resources, and efficient monitoring and accountability mechanisms. The government must ensure the effective functioning of regulatory framework for environmental protection. For instance, the government should effectively implement the regulatory framework regarding standards for drinking water, health-based air quality standards, use-based water quality standards, vehicle emission and fuel quality standards.

(Email: [email protected])

 

Need of the hour

There has never been a greater need for the nurturing of institutions in Pakistan

 

Dr Arif Azad

Pick up any daily newspaper and you are most likely to find news items bemoaning the state of institutional decay in Pakistan. In the articles and over airwaves, politicians and opinion-makers cry themselves hoarse over how institutions have been systematically destroyed. Implicit in this fervent assertion is the notion of the need for strengthening institutions if Pakistan has to survive as a progressive and viable economic entity. The subject of institution building is as crucial to public policy as it to the survival of Pakistan. In public policy discourse, governmental institutions play a coherering role in shaping up public policy outcomes.

Historically, political science has concerned itself with the study of governmental institutions, because political activities pivot around the work and operation of institutions like parliament, executive, judiciary, political parties, etc. It is these institutions – among a host of other institutions – that shape and enforce public policy. Indeed, a policy does not become public policy unless it is adopted and enforced by a governmental institution. For example, a bill does not become a law unless passed by parliament and enforced by judiciary.

Governmental institutions lend legitimacy and universality (non-discriminatory extension to all) as opposed to policies of charities or organanisations whose policies may be limited to serving a restricted membership. Most importantly, governmental institutions have the legal power to seek compliance to certain policies in contrast to policies of other organisations that do not have the legal power behind them.

Institutions, apart from providing a formal arena where the process of policymaking takes place, structure relationship between the citizen and the state and divide power within a state apparatus. In addition, they have the power of including or excluding certain groups or people from the policymaking process (look at the list of stakeholder dialogue and see for yourself who is up and who is down in a given policy field). This over mighty role of governmental institutions in policymaking has come be known as the concept of 'institutionalism'. Institutionalism is, thus, concerned with the primacy of institutions in public policy. In this concept, public policy is treated as a continuous output of institutions.

Institutional account of public policy process seeks to lay bare the linkages between the structure of governmental institutions and content of public policy. In the theory of institutionalism, institutional arrangements exercise a decisive bearing on policy outputs. Arendt Lijphart showed in his landmark study titled Democracies: Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government in Twenty One Countries that electoral system of proportional representation determines the content of economic policy.

Lijphart argues that the proportional representation system is associated with economic policy that tends to lower inflation and stabilise economy as a result of consensual government. The system of one human, one vote, on the other hand, is associated with a majoritarian form of government, with more policy fluctuations and economy policy tending towards inflationary trends. Likewise in Pakistan, adoption of the India Act of 1935 resulted in negative impact on the country's democratic path, as made plain by IA Rehman in his article in The News on Sunday a couple of weeks ago

The idea that we are handed down rules and traditions that inform our policymaking forms the core of institutional account of public policy. Riker puts it beautifully in his book titled Liberalism Versus Populism: "Congealed preferences run though the blood stream of institutions." These congealed preferences lock us into past choices and actions about rules and constitutions. The talk of colonial mindset still ruling over our current policy is indicative of the weight of the past hanging on us. In its most pronounced form, the idea of past tradition informing our present was put forward by Paul Peirsons who contended that most policies are path-dependent in the sense that they are channeled into policy options sourcing from past practices and traditions.

In institutional account, bureaucracy plays a filtering role in taming new radical policy options. How institutions tame radical policy options can be observed in long-running debate within Left as to whether take the parliamentary route or extra-parliamentary route to radical social transformation. This is evidenced in how the institutions of parliament and state changed the politics of European socialist parties into social democratic register after socialist parties opted to go for parliamentary route to social transformation. Donald Sassoon's magnum opus titled One Hundred Years of Socialism is a testimony to institutional arrangements taming socialist instincts into social democratic impulses in public policy.

The role of the institution of bureaucracy in refining policy through factional infighting is also called bureaucratic model of politics The classic study of bureaucratic model is Graham Allison's Essence of Decision, which details bureaucratic infighting during Cuban missile crisis. Taking this idea further, Rosati looked at how different military bureaus took different positions in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) where traditional military bureaus took a traditional line of arms limitation, while the CIA and the Arms Control Agency pushed more for verification of existing arrangements.

Institutionalism, despite its wide appeal and practice, however, suffers from a few limitations. One of the major ones is that politicians can circumvent institutions in pursuit of their ideological vision. In this regard, the example of former British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher comes readily to mind. In pursuit of her ideological vision, she moulded institutions to fit tick box of her free market right-wing political inventory. The upshot was privatisation of welfare state and other state enterprises with large-scale reforms of the British civil service. Similarly, Hitler in Germany, in pursuit of his fanatical racist politics, moulded existing political institutions according to his political vision. In Pakistan, successive military dictators have subverted other institutions in pursuit of elevating military above all institutions, thus creating institutional imbalances with associated ills of personalised and dictatorial policy preferences.

Institutionalism enjoyed its heyday in academic circles in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, however, with ideological attack on the role of state and institutions in full spate, the popularity of institutionalism as a theory declined considerably. In both the United States and United Kingdom, where Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher respectively held sway, this ideological assault led to the diminution of the role of institutions. Recently, the onset of world financial crisis has again refocussed attention on the primacy of institutions in taming the wild-eyed policies of free-market principles. In Pakistan, repeated and accountable spate of military coups has put paid to the hope of entrenching institutions that need to be nurtured on a war footing.

(The writer, a policy analyst, is a fellow of the Institute of Social Policy and a visiting faculty member of the Foreign Trade Institute of Pakistan.

Email: [email protected])

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