up the pieces
is hard work
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Today is International Mother Tongue Day. On this day a handful of public functions are likely to be organised and some lip service paid by government high-ups to the need for linguistic diversity and preservation of the various cultures that litter the social landscape of this country. But it is highly unlikely that there will be open acknowledgment of the history behind this day and the real significance of its celebration.
Two years and counting
The obvious fallout of the media-government war has been a virtual blackout of what the civilian governments have achieved
By Raza Rumi
Given the average shelf life of any civilian government, it is almost miraculous that the incumbent government has survived and there are signs that its removal is not immediate. The longevity of civilian order has less to do with the inherent strengths of its style of governance or delivery of public goods that it had promised in its manifesto. The survival of this government is an outcome of the lack of options for the establishment as well as its international allies, notably the Western powers. Leaving the conspiracy theories and the excessive over-reliance of the analysts on the American factor, we can safely argue that the military establishment of Pakistan and its intelligence agencies has found themselves in a unique situation since the assumption of the presidency by Asif Ali Zardari.
The truth is that Pakistan People’s Party, an anathema to the civil-military bureaucracy, has assumed the most important and powerful offices that a civilian government can aspire. Two years ago, when the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani was elected as the Prime Minister it was unimaginable that the PPP would assume the highest office of the state. However, through deft, and according to some wily moves of Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP has attained political power in a manner that smacks of the traditional power-play staged and enacted by the military establishment. This power play is essentially devoid of the trappings of high-sounding morality, is opportunistic and works on the principle of maximisation of political gains regardless of their consequences for the Federation. Interestingly, Zardari’s amoral political cards have also been successful due to the fact that the political elites of smaller provinces have forged strong alliances with his political objectives. This is why the Pakistani establishment has been in a dilemma since the fateful day when he was given the oath of office by none other than Justice Dogar. While an independent and belligerent Supreme Court ousted the oath-giver, the top beneficiary remains ensconced on the Islamabad hill.
The approach of Pakistan’s new power-centre, i.e., the electronic media towards President Zardari and the PPP government underwent three distinct phases during the last few years. In the first instance, the media was sympathetic to Zardari and the PPP in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto’s tragic murder, not too far away from the GHQ. Yousaf Raza Gillani’s consensual election was hailed by the media as a victory of post-military order and the exit of the former military dictator was only a matter of time in early 2008.
The second phase related to the breakdown of the PML(N)-PPP accord over the restoration of the judges when sections of the Pakistani media strongly criticised the PPP for its betrayal of the national cause. More importantly, this betrayal was viewed as a blow to constitutionalism. In reality, however, rule of law is nothing more than the survival of bourgeois dominance, which is guaranteed by independent judiciary that ensures the sustenance of corporate interests, private property rights, and the livelihoods of the corporate lawyers. Not surprisingly, the leaders of the lawyers’ movement were also the top corporate lawyers. It is a separate matter that in the last two years, many of these legal eagles have shifted their political position and realised that the primacy of the democratic process is central to the emergence and safeguarding of constitutionalism in Pakistan.
The third phase of the media offensive against the elected government commenced with the disclosure of the Kerry-Lugar Bill in 2009, when almost all the variants of media opinion took a hardline jingoistic, inward-looking and conventional line on Pakistan’s national security apparatus. The bill was seen as a blow to the military establishment whereby an unscrupulous government headed by a "corrupt" individual had sold national interest in lieu of a few million dollars. The reality is that not only was the Kerry-Lugar Bill passed by the US legislature, but it is operational now and it can be rightfully seen as a small beginning of a new partnership between the US and civilian government. This shift in Pak-US strategic relationships has been by and large ignored by the mainstream commentary on Pakistani politics.
Three decades of military rule under Ayub, Zia and Musharraf respectively indicated that US aid was tied to strategic objectives in the South Asian region, where a rentier state worked almost in isolation from its citizenry to advance the imperial interests. However, this time, a new relationship has been forged where the people of Pakistan, through their legitimately elected national and provincial governments, have been recognised as vital to the operation and modification of US foreign policy in this troubled region of the globe. It would be premature to say how this partnership will play out in the short to medium-term, but it is absolutely clear that the incumbent federal and provincial governments, especially the NWFP civilian government, have shifted the way the Pakistani state engages with the sole superpower.
The current, i.e., third phase of the media-government relations is continuing in its confrontational form, where deadlines are issued like decrees by media gurus that relate to not just the fall of the government but also to individuals at the helm of power for their sins of omission and commission. There is obviously a problem with the PPP’s media management that suffers from the larger incompetence, which the post-Bhutto PPP governments are known for. In part, long spells of military rule have not enabled the political parties to flourish as policy think-tanks and strategic entities. Instead, most political parties in Pakistan react to the whims and moods of the military establishment, adjust their positions accordingly in pursuit of power and find ways of accommodation with the all-powerful intelligence agencies.
The obvious fallout of the media-government war has been a virtual blackout of what the civilian governments have achieved despite their obvious lack of capacity, the legacy of a long military rule and the unfavorable global economic conditions. First and foremost, the PPP and its coalition partners have displayed an unwavering and unflinching position towards the menace of sectarian extremism, which incidentally is a creation of the powerful and unelected institutions of the state. In fact, there is no other political party in Pakistan that can be dubbed as truly anti-extremism as the current ruling gang. This unequivocal position has also led to successful deployment of the Pakistani military in the troubled regions of north-western Pakistan, the continued elimination of high-value terrorists and restoration of civilian writ in the NWFP province. In 2008, there were at least six districts of the NWFP where the provincial government did not have administrative control. In 2010, the situation has radically altered despite the huge challenges of poverty, injustice, and resentment against the US drone attacks. Perhaps this policy has also been one of the key factors in undermining the image and credibility of the civilian government for there are multiple centres of power and influence that are pitted against this ideological worldview. Such dissenting voices range from the extreme left to the extreme right and most importantly, the Urdu press and its counterpart voices in the mainstream national electronic media. However, the commitment of the government thus far remains unwavering.
Secondly, when the new government took office in February 2008, Pakistan’s economic situation was extremely precarious. Its foreign reserves were at an all-time low, stagflation had set in and due to the fluctuation in oil prices, an uncertain, almost near-crash situation confronted the new policy-makers. It is evident that through creative and not-so-creative engineering aimed towards macro-economic stabilisation, the federal government pulled the country out of this particular economic abyss. This scribe argued against the IMF package in 2008: however, subsequent events have proved that the economic managers perhaps had no choice at that particular juncture.
Thirdly, the political reform aimed towards the inclusion of marginalised areas of Pakistan has also been a major step forward. In particular, the Gilgit-Baltistan reform package and the induction of a provincial government there have gone largely unnoticed. Similarly, the Balochistan package has been a critical demonstration of the government’s strategy to end political conflict and assuage separatist tendencies that have now become a reality among the beleaguered Baloch communities and its leadership. It has been argued that the package is not enough or that its implementation is slow, but there are few people in Pakistan who would deny that this was a much-needed step towards the federal-integrationist agenda of the civilian government.
Fourth, the concerted effort towards providing a viable, reliable, and transparent social safety-net mechanism has also been a major development in the last twenty months. The Benazir Income Support Programme through its peculiar design and speedy implementation has targeted the poor, especially the women. Independent evaluations have suggested that at least 60 percent of the assistance is reaching the intended beneficiaries. There are leakages, wastage and politicisation but the numbers are not unimpressive at all.
The less savoury aspects of the civilian government relate to the manner in which it has dealt with the issue of the judiciary, especially when it was forced to restore the judges after a street agitation became a distinct possibility. Furthermore, its handling of the Punjab and the imposition of governor’s rule was uncalled for and led to systemic instability, legacy of which is still haunting us. More seriously, the government has not been able to muster a competent and clean team around the office of the President and this is one of the key reasons that the President’s moral legitimacy has remained under attack and now it is subject to judicial review.
The allegations of corruption in the past and present have prejudiced the public perception. Furthermore, the energy crisis and inflation have also eroded the popular support to the government as reflected by the limited opinion polls that have been conducted largely by external agencies. It is also not clear what the development strategy of the current government is, given the huge challenges of stagflation. The economic management of civilian governments is always a tricky affair, as they need to balance their populist agenda with the grim realities of budget rationalisation. This is why the cuts on development expenditure announced will not go down well and the results from development investments in any case take four to five years to germinate. The appointment of a banker as the lead economic advisor has also been a major stumbling-block to advancing the economic interests of the poor, which happen to be the popular base of democratic dispensations. Such betrayal of people’s aspirations rarely goes down well in the public arena and electoral contests. Therefore, it is quite certain that the PPP government will not be able to retain its strength in the next elections, unless of course, we witness miraculous economic recovery and expansion of employment opportunities in the country. However, the biggest threat to economic recovery and developmental outcomes is the continued political instability that has gripped popular imagination thanks to the media industry.
It is, therefore, essential that three key elements of governance are improved: firstly, the political compromise between competing elites out to undo each other; second, the resolution of the thorny federal-provincial relations where the Punjab province once again appears to be pitted against the smaller units of the federation; and thirdly, that the political forces of Pakistan must save the constitutional order despite all its pitfalls, gaps and contradictions. This is a key lesson that they have to learn from their hated neighbour. Political stability and certainty of the democratic process is a non-negotiable requirement for Pakistan’s progress.
All in all, the national policy frameworks have witnessed shifts that require the continuation of civilian order. It is not necessary that the ruling party should continue in office to carry forward these policy shifts after the completion of its tenure in 2013. Any legitimate and accountable democratic government would need to deepen, modify, and improve these policies and further the agenda of responsible governance and social justice.
The writer is a policy adviser and a writer based in Lahore. He blogs at www.razarumi.com and edits Pak Tea House and Lahore Nama e-zines. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Find the fault
A well-functioning local government system in urban and rural domains has to be implemented after removing various problems
By Dr Noman Ahmed
During the past few weeks, the governments of Sindh and Punjab have been grappling with the issues facing the local governments. Each of the provincial administration has taken steps that suited their narrowly carved approach to survival and extension of political power. The distribution of authority, jurisdiction, and allocation of resources has made an extremely contentious agenda which even coalition parties have been unwilling to openly deliberate upon. There appears to be a discord on the core matters that concern local government system.
Large political parties intend to keep the role of local bodies under strict control of provincial administration. In contrast, parties which have a strong following in districts and cities want to acquire maximum autonomy for local institutions. According to the present malaise of our political structure, the establishment also considers local governments as an anomaly that deserves to be swept under the carpet. In this undesirable tug-of-war, the real merits of a local government system are overshadowed to a disappointing extent.
It is correct that the local government system has been enacted and reinforced by dictators for their own vested interests but this fact does not undermine the merits and opportunities inbuilt in it. Foremost in this respect is the creation of a legitimate avenue for leadership development. In an arena where dynastic and aristocratic claims to leadership overstake merit at every end, the only option which can enable future political leadership to emerge is local government. There are hundreds of case studies pertinent to ordinary councilors, women/labour councilors, union council nazims, town/tehsil/taluka level leaders and district level representatives who were able to win their offices purely on merit and later proved their popularity through re-election.
In the most dangerous locations of NWFP and Balochistan, these dedicated public representatives made tireless efforts to address pressing problems related to education, health, social welfare, and area management. Some of them were even devoid of political affiliation and had to face the wrath of both the right and left wing parties. Episodes of local elections during Musharraf era proved that enthusiasm was more than visible amongst ordinary folks despite many incidences of violence. Real political culture cannot be nurtured without frequent practice of voting process along the party cadres, local, provincial and national assemblies.
It is disappointing to note that some parties that apparently promote democracy have been once closest to dictatorship. No internal elections are held in these parties. Party heads nominate committees of handpicked faithful who are termed as working or executives committees. Thus, the common people have little or no capacity to make inroads into this well guarded enterprise.
Poor governance and breakdown in the service delivery system is not desirable in any system. People need an efficient service delivery mechanism and some forum to get their complaints redressed.
Local institutions and their elected members are normally forthcoming in such tasks. Small scale development schemes, maintenance and repair projects are also important works that require immediate attention. If the decision-making apparatus and concurrent actions are centralised in the provincial headquarters and in the person of the chief minister, very little progress can be expected. Similarly, the expectation from bureaucrats to be sympathetic to the issues faced by the people is distant from reality. A well-functioning local government system in urban and rural domains has to be strengthened after removing various handicaps that it has faced.
Continuing problems identified during the past eight years include poor quality of human resource, paucity of operational budgets, weak mechanism of monitoring, absence of effective audit and accounts procedures, financial dependence on the provincial / federal government, lack of control over police force, tutelage exercised by federal / provincial institutions and inability to generate development finance for local scale works. One finds more developed cities like Karachi struggling with shortage of funds to strengthen vital services such as fire fighting. Many other contexts are even worse in service delivery outreaches. At many instances, local political interests also out-weigh decision making and implementation mechanisms.
Our country has been experiencing a painful transition from a tribal society to civil society with democratic values. Whereas the former promotes centrality of power and decision making prerogatives, the later cannot be developed without the subscription and practice of democratic values in the true sense of the term. It may be beneficial for the political masters of the country to try local government tier as a tool for emboldening democracy.
This can only be achieved after removing the anomalies and handicaps that exist in the system. Capacity building in the local service delivery; notification and formation of bodies such as public safety commissions, citizen community boards or finance commissions; development of municipal services as specialized cadres; launch of appropriate taxes to generate local revenue and the acceleration of mass contact to stretch the outreach of this tier are some basic steps. Recently, a major political party demanded to hold local elections on party basis.
The argument is quite logical as non party based elections have been held in theory only. Party affiliations and support become too conspicuous to be ignored. The elections to the local bodies must be held on party basis subject to a strict code of conduct. The past precedence has clearly shown that party affiliation and support automatically comes into play. Violence and muscle tactics must be controlled by administrative means during the conduct of electoral process. It claimed many lives during the past instance. The matter must be taken upfront as a core policy issue.
To generate a debate, it may not be out of context to suggest a multi-stakeholder conference to deliberate the matter in an open ended manner. The experience sharing and option forming approach may be applied. Besides, too much experimentation is also a counterproductive exercise. The futile debate of resurrecting local bodies to the status of Local Government Ordinances of 1979 may be dealt with caution.
Times and contexts have advanced to fresh challenges where gradual enrichment of the present system can prove useful. This requires frank dialogue with all concerned parties. It must be remembered that a democratic government will do the greatest injustice to itself it if does not engage with its constituencies on a continuous basis. And local governments obviously make an effective platform to nurture democracy on a continuing basis.
Is Pakistan ready for negotiations?
Since climate change and population growth will exacerbate
sanitation and water crises, support must be provided to communities
By Irfan Mufti
The first Annual High Level Meeting (HLM) on sanitation and water will be hosted by Unicef in Washington on April 23, 2010, bringing ministers together from North and South to take concerted action to tackle the global sanitation and water crisis. The meeting will be an opportunity to reverse the political and financial neglect of a crisis that is undermining all progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It will provide a forum for mutual accountability, for reaching consensus on the key challenges blocking progress, and for agreeing and reviewing key policy or financing actions.
The meeting will be attended by finance ministers and ministers responsible for water and sanitation from developing countries, as well as finance ministers from donor countries. It is expected that ministers will deliver strong political statements, but more importantly will need to deliver tangible actions that deliver real progress towards achieving sanitation and water for all.
As the platform will provide an opportunity for representatives of southern countries to raise their voice on issues of water and sanitation facing these countries, thus a proper preparation is needed. These ministers should, if possible jointly, make sure that the meeting should reach a concrete action plan. They must ensure that ‘no credible national plan will fail through a lack of finance’, beginning with extra support to develop and implement national plans in at least 15 pilot developing countries.
There must be a political statement, signed by all attendees, recognising that progress in tackling the sanitation and water crisis would also drive progress, improving child survival, increasing girls’ education, strengthening economic growth and reducing poverty. The forum should also recognise that access to sanitation and water is a fundamental human right. The countries and donor must also accept that progress has been critically slowed by a lack of political priority given to the sector, weaknesses in national capacities, insufficient and poorly targeted finance, and the absence of a global platform where issues in the sector can be addressed.
Despite challenges of resource and unavailability of external technical assistance, some countries have made genuine progress and developing countries like Pakistan need to learn from and build on their experiences. Case studies of those countries will be presented in the meeting, thus opening space for debate and learning on those successful models. There is a realisation that climate change and population growth will exacerbate the sanitation and water crises, and that financial and technical adaptation support must be provided to governments and communities in areas of increased water stress. Developing countries can present strong case for such adaptation support from developed countries to achieve better results for future plans.
At this point, it is very important that developed countries and donors must also make clear and time-bound commitments to act to fulfill existing agreements, including the eThekwini Declaration, the African Union’s Sharm el-Sheikh Agreement, SACOSAN’s Delhi Declaration, the European Union’s Agenda for Action on the MDGs and various G8 commitments. They must also show clear actions to implement the aid effectiveness principles enshrined in the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action.
The meeting will also be a platform to make donors realise that most of the problems third world is facing is due to their lack of action and must provide a political commitment, and additional resources, to ensure that ‘no credible national sanitation and water plan will fail through a lack of finance’. As a first step, donors and national governments should form agreements in 7-10 pilot countries to develop credible national plans.
Countries like Pakistan can also present clear action proposals that donors and national governments must form agreements in 10-15 pilot countries to implement existing national plans. Such focus can help develop good replicable models of water preservations. Pakistan with serious conditions of drought and water scarcity can present itself in the pilot country list.
In the process of negotiations and binding agreements within developed countries, donors and some of the hard-hit southern countries civil society organisations can be fully and meaningfully involved in the development, implementation and monitoring of national plans. Unfortunately, neither government nor civil society groups in Pakistan are fully prepared to act meaningfully and negotiate on these terms. A better prepared and fully informed representation from countries like Pakistan is very essential to obtain desired results.
In the last few decades donors have supported water management and preservation projects in Pakistan. However, there has been a decreasing trend of such support coming from outside. Most of these water related projects in Pakistan were either stopped half way or not fully launched owing to lack of financial support.
There is a realisation at global level that civil society groups and media can also support government efforts to develop commonly agreed frameworks, at the national level, for monitoring sector performance, evaluating interventions and holding government and service providers accountable.
The conference will also refocus investment towards low-income countries and marginalised groups. It is, however, important that governments of developing countries should commit to significantly increasing the level of public expenditure dedicated to the sector, with at least half going to sanitation and hygiene. For African and Asian countries, this will include meeting the commitments made in the eThekwini Declaration to invest at least 0.5 percent of GDP in sanitation and hygiene education.
Governments from developing countries also need to ensure particular attention will be given to targeting services towards marginalised groups, and those in vulnerable situations, including women, children, older people, people living with HIV and AIDS, people with disabilities, people living in informal urban settlements, and other socially excluded groups.
It will be important that commitments made at the High-Level Meeting must be subject to a monitoring process, with civil society participation, and parties must be held accountable. Several developing countries and leading global networks and organisations working on water and sanitation will form lobby groups to negotiate and influence the process and agreements of Washington meeting.
The textile industry faces a serious crisis that should be addressed on a priority basis
By Ahmed Ali Khan and Shehryar Butt
The textile industry is the backbone of our manufacturing sector, bringing in the much-needed foreign exchange in the form of export revenues to the tune of $17.8 billion. This industry employs hundreds of thousands of people. For years, this industry has progressed, developing itself into Pakistan’s industrial lifeline — second only to agriculture for the economy. The role of the previous governments (with a few exceptions) has been positive in transforming the textile industry into what it was uptil a few years ago — a competitive global player.
However, the industry is in deep crises today. With constant power outages, sometimes as frequently as every alternate hour and tariffs increasing every few months, most factories switched to diesel or gas generators in the hope of obtaining uninterrupted power supply. But, again, fate dealt them another blow as diesel prices skyrocketed, making independent power production unfeasible.
On the other hand, loadshedding was introduced to the industrial consumers of gas. Now most factories were forced to adjust their production hours with that of the loadshedding. This left them in a position where it was impossible to complete their orders on time. Numerous orders were cancelled as a result and exporters were forced to foot bills they could not afford.
Simultaneously, the condition of cotton crop has deteriorated during the last several years, from an exporter of the highest quality cotton we have become an importer. This can be attributed basically to a complete lack in development and improvement of cotton seed. The artificial selection and genetic improvement procedures seem to have been abandoned thirty years ago, leaving the crop susceptible to virus and lower yields caused by generations of inbreeding. Neither the government nor Aptma has established any form of research centre to get rid of this problem.
As if this blow was not hard enough, inflation left the State Bank with no choice but to increase interest rates to the point where loans, the main source of working capital, became almost suicidal, severely impinging cash flow and blowing away any plans of expansion.
The government at the same time introduced a minimum wage of Rs6,000. This led to an increase in the wage bill and thus an overall increase in the cost of production. The unstable exchange rates added to the problems of the crisis-hit industry.
This vital industry, which is responsible for 60 percent of our exports, was faced with heavy competition from emerging markets, such as Vietnam, while already competing with established world players like China and India. Bangladesh, on the other hand, without growing a single cotton bale, was giving us a tough time.
Being given preferential treatment under the auspices of the WTO, the country was given an edge over us. Pakistani exporters suffered further at the hands of anti-dumping laws in Europe and North America. No effort was made by the government to stop this discrimination or even register a case with the countries concerned.
One of the reasons why our textile industry has failed to establish itself as a high-end exporter of textile products is lack of investment in modernising the industry due to producers who were unwilling to improve. Low-end products do not give nearly as much return and face far more competition from new producers, reducing profit margins and revenue.
Research and development, which plays a pivotal role in the success of any industry, was never seriously paid attention to with producers happy to make a quick buck rather than view the larger picture. This lack of foresight has led to the loss of major markets with huge potential returns, which could have easily been acquired.
The textile industry in Pakistan is far from being an infant industry. It is now at a stage where it should be dynamic and competitive, producing high-quality products where it can outperform new competitors rather than stay at the low-end battling constantly in price wars with emerging producers. Unfortunately, however, it is stuck where it was more than a decade ago, refusing to improve or better itself, choosing instead to blame the government and other conditions for all its problems, a condition that afflicts much of our nation and is probably the largest impediment to progress.
It would be wrong, however, not to mention the success of the denim sector. It is the only sector in the textile industry that continues to improve itself and is, therefore, in a position to compete with any country, producing top quality goods at competitive prices. It is a clear example of what the textile industry, as a whole, could and should have been today. And it still can.
Therefore, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Exchange rate depreciation has made Pakistani products far more price-competitive, a major factor during any downturn, let alone a recession of this magnitude. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, after several textile units unable to cope with the current crisis have shut down, both temporary and permanent.
The government has at last realised that something must be done. For the first time in our history a comprehensive textile policy was released for 2009-14, promising low interest loans, a cut in taxation, and most importantly, no power outages. Yet to be fully implemented, this policy provides a glimmer of hope for the revival of textile industry in Pakistan.
A Pakistani and an Indian begin an email exchange, attempting to share their thoughts honestly, without fear and hostility, exploring what divides our countries, and seeking ways to bridge the divide
By Dilip D’Souza and Beena Sarwar
February 16 2010
I started writing this before Pune. When I heard about those 11 more senseless deaths, I decided to rewrite it. I want to start by saying how difficult horrors like this make it to remain committed to the idea of peace, of speaking the language of reason. Here’s the bottom line: most Indians believe that this latest attack, like previous attacks, was conceived in Pakistan.
Now I’m one of those who believe India has simply winked at a lot of its own home-grown violence: Delhi in 1984, Gujarat in 2002, Mumbai in 1992-93, these weeks of carnage and others left thousands of Indians slaughtered in the most ghastly ways imaginable. In no way are they less horrible than the blasts in Pune, or the massacre in Mumbai in November 2008.
Yet we have never found the will to bring justice to bear on all that Indian-conceived and Indian-executed barbarity. Far from it, we even elect to rule over us some of the apologists and cheerleaders of the barbarity. I cannot help wondering, why doesn’t this leave us Indians as angry as 26/11 did, or Pune does?
Yet that question, while necessary, carries an air of futility, especially at such times. The reality is that there is that anger towards Pakistan which clouds every other attempt at reason and perspective. I wonder where the climate for peace is at times like these. Where’s the constituency for those who say, "This is the time, above all, to keep talking"? Or "Anger and hatred is exactly the measure of the terrorists’ success"? Or "Hatred is easy, but peace is hard work"?
In other words, what I’m asking is this. Indeed this is the time to try to understand each other, rather than succumb to easy stereotypes. In the light of 26/11 and Pune, what can you tell us that will help ordinary Indians understand an ordinary Pakistani’s perspective on the violence that threatens to consume us all? How can we together build that constituency I mentioned a few lines ago?
Do write back, and let’s keep this going. I have to see hope in dialogue, or I’ll lose my hope in humanity itself.
Feb 18, 2010
Thanks for your characteristic honesty and introspection. It helped me realise how difficult indeed the situation is for you and for other Indians who are committed to peace.
You ask me to help Indians understand a Pakistani’s perspective on "the violence that threatens to consume us all". Your phrase partly contains the answer: the violence does threaten "to consume us all" — which is why it is crucial to unite in combating it.
Secondly, consider how Pakistan itself has been caught up in a cycle of violence. With around 8000 civilians and 3000 security forces personnel killed in ‘terror’ attacks across the country since 2003, people here are stung by Indian accusations of Pakistan’s involvement in cross-border strife. Pakistan has been unable to protect its own territory from fanatical militants, how can it control what such militants do across the border?
Remember where this violence comes from — it is at least partly, if not largely, due to the short-sighted policies of successive Pakistani governments, especially the Zia regime, and their pro-jehadi, anti-India stance. This home-grown violence now threatens to consume us.
Remember also that ordinary Pakistanis were not responsible for these policies — we didn’t elect those who formulated them, and we paid the price for opposing them. Indian voters elected the government whose nuclear tests of 1998 pushed the region into a new and dangerous age (Pakistan’s elected government tested in retaliation — a move that I and many others opposed, as you know). But Indians can vote out a government whose policies they don’t like. Pakistanis have never had that luxury.
Consider India’s home-grown violence — you’ve flagged some of the landmarks (Delhi 1984, Mumbai 1992-93, Gujarat 2002).
I believe "our" extremists and "your" extremists are two sides of the same coin. They feed off each other. They share worldviews about ‘nationalism’, women, religious minorities and the superiority of "their" own religious beliefs, and aspire to establish control over the "other" (in their rants, just substitute ‘Pakistan’ for ‘India’ and ‘Hindu’ for ‘Muslim’ — no difference).
Just as many Indians believe that Pakistan is behind violence in India, many Pakistanis believe that Indians are instigating violence in Pakistan. Why can’t we recognise that ‘taali donon hath se bajti hai’ (it takes two hands to clap). Our countries leave no opportunity pass to hurt each other. In the process, they hurt millions of innocents.
It’s time to move beyond the blame game and exert pressure on our governments and our establishments to show maturity.
All the best
‘Conversations’, conceived by Dilip D’Souza, is based on the premise that, despite setbacks, it is critical to stay on the road to peace. This road, the process and the hard work of peace — rather than easy hatred and vilification — are part of this crucial journey.
The need of the hour: India-Pakistan détente, an atmosphere
conducive for progress on major contentious issues
By Alauddin Masood
Individuals and states want peace because it embodies opportunities enabling one to grow and prosper. It is the realisation of peace that provides an atmosphere conducive to inter-state trade, yielding considerable profits to businessmen and revenues to states in taxes/duties on goods. Peace also provides opportunities to citizens to get goods of their choice conveniently, comfortably and at reasonable rates.
South Asian countries, especially India and Pakistan, which have remained mired in disputes and rivalries, have a negligible inter-regional trade and failed in attracting foreign investments. This is despite the fact that they cater to the needs of almost one-fourth of the mankind. Consequently, the South Asia region remains under-developed, unable to provide even the basic necessities of life, like good education, health and civic facilities to most of its citizens.
Investors prefer to set up factories in countries where the law and order situation is under control. They flee from regions hit by violence and militancy. The entrepreneurs are like touch-me-not flowers, which wither away even with a single touch. In the same manner, investors promptly pack up from war-prone or conflict zones. As lack of investment hinders creation of additional job opportunities, this results in perpetuating misery and poverty in the violence-ridden regions.
In view of peace dividends, all states strive to achieve peace by securing their natural borders (like rivers and mountains) and keeping great distances through buffer zones, deserts, oceans, etc. between oneself and the potential enemies, or fostering social distance by prejudice and discrimination. However, it is another thing that national borders and distances become ludicrous in the age of rockets and missiles; while nationalist prejudices tend to break down in the age of extended interaction.
At macro level, the advantages of peace can be explained by making a comparative study of foreign investment in the Far East Asia and the South Asia and Afghanistan. Since the Far Eastern countries are, by and large, free from inter-state feuds, they have substantial regional trade and have also attracted sufficient foreign investments and, in the process, made considerable progress, earning the title of ‘Tiger Economies’.
Since the Soviet-inspired Saur Revolution (April 28, 1978), some parts of Afghanistan have remained engulfed in violence, militancy, death and destruction. The situation adversely impacted on the country’s economy. While it has weakened the formal sector, the informal sector (parallel or black economy) has become robust and a challenge for the land-locked state. Meanwhile, the condition of Afghan citizens has gone from bad to worse. Look what has happened to oil-rich Nigeria? Violence and turmoil has reduced it to a God-forsaken place on earth.
Cognizant of the importance of peace in the life of nations, one would commend the initiative taken by the South Asia subcontinent’s two media giants — Jang group in Pakistan and The Times of India across Pakistan’s eastern borders, aimed at establishing enduring peace in the region. Styled as ‘Aman ki Asha’, the quest of both media groups to bring peace enjoys popular support of the civil society in both the countries, where an overwhelming majority of people desire to see the growth of peaceful, friendly relations between their two nations.
According to a survey, some 72 of Pakistanis and 66 percent of Indians favour genuine and lasting peace between the two countries. No doubt, on both sides of the border, there exists some extremist elements that are very vocal and continue to churn out venomous propaganda but the peace process must not become hostage to their hawkish agenda. If before the arrival of the British, the Muslims and Hindus have lived together for centuries without any major conflict on the basis of religion, why can’t they live peacefully now?
At present, due to six decades of conflict and rivalry, South Asia is one of the poorest regions of the world. Some 20 percent of the global population lives here, but it produces only five percent of the global gross domestic product. It is time that the South Asian countries embark on the road to progress and prosperity by shunning war and concentrating on the socio-economic development of their people.
If the pursuit of peace gets primacy in both Pakistan and India, becoming the demand of an overwhelming majority of their citizens, this would automatically repel the hawks/extremists and compel the leaders and the establishment in both the countries to adopt an agenda that is in conformity with the popular aspirations of their people. Instead of competing to acquire latest weaponry, the leaders would then feel the need to foster and promote cooperation through a meaningful composite dialogue rather than observing the ritual of useless talks, aimed at gaining time while, in reality, refusing to accept the ground realities.
This brings to the fore the need for a strong political will for fostering an atmosphere conducive for the growth of peace. If the political will is there and the leaders lay down the objectives and the road-miles for their accomplishment, the minions of State can proceed towards achieving those objectives, making a beginning by identifying the root causes of bitterness, removing the road-blocks or irritants, making serious and earnest efforts to bridge the trust gap and, finally, embarking upon a programme of peaceful cooperation.
A beginning in that direction can be made by taking some more Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), like increasing the volume of bilateral trade and travel, relaxation in the visa regime, promoting people-to-people contacts (in particular exchange visits by traders, scholars, writers, journalists, artists, university students), resolving disputes like Siachen, Sir Creek, use of river water, starting work on Iranian gas pipeline, etc. Progress on these issues can set in motion a process of genuine India-Pakistan détente and promote an atmosphere conducive for progress on major contentious issues, like Kashmir.
The increase in interaction between various tiers of society would create a great constituency comprising of pro-peace elements while it would also give a great boost to the economic activities and bilateral trade, thus contributing to increasing prosperity and income levels of the people.
Alauddin Masood is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
The thirteenth BALUSA Group meeting was held between India and Pakistan last month in Lahore
By Mahmud Ali Durrani and Bharat Bhushan
Titled "India and Pakistan, The way forward", the thirteenth BALUSA Group meeting was held between India and Pakistan in Lahore on January 25-27, 2010 with the aim to speed up efforts of bringing about peace in the region. The BALUSA, meaning ‘peace’ in an ancient Indian language, was attended by Salman Haider, Bharat Bhushan, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Manvendra Singh, Amarjeet Singh Dulat, Sushoba Barve, Suhasini Haider, Syed Babar Ali, and Mahmud Ali Durrani among others. Excerpts from the report of the meeting.
The thirteenth meeting of Balusa was hosted by Syed Babar Ali at the inspiring campus of LUMS. The last meeting of the BALUSA Group was also held at LUMS in December 2005.
The two day programme focused on a number of themes relevant to the present state of relationship between India and Pakistan. In spite of Mumbai and the current acrimony, do India and Pakistan have common long term interests in the bilateral and the regional context? The Indian speakers highlighted the following points. India and Pakistan need to come together for the short and long term interests of India and develop a warm, cordial and co-operative relationship. It is in the over-riding interest of India to engage with Pakistan for India to play its full role within and beyond the region.
The fault is with the current structuring of the dialogue. The composite dialogue needs to be replaced by a continuous and un-interruptible dialogue structure, isolated from the ups and downs of the relationship. Instead of speaking on a large number of subjects (eight), one or two subjects should be selected for discussion with a common objective. A single interlocutor would be more effective than eight interlocutors. The single interlocutor should be a political entity with a cabinet minister’s rank. Isolated from disturbances, the back channel has a useful role in the dialogue process and needs to be encouraged.
The secret peace talks at the Majestic Hotel in Paris, related to the North South Vietnam conflict and the peace talks between North and South Korea at Pan Mun Jom "peace village" were cited as useful examples of a successful dialogue structures. Highlighting secrecy with sufficient transparency. The parliamentary concept of "Zero Hour" should be used to allow either side to complain about whatever it wants to complain about. After that the two sides must get down to business. All talk of war must be banned. Triumphalism on either side will not help.
Regional harmony and engagement with Pakistan is essential for India in its strategic interest. However, there are those who feel that what India needs in its neighborhood is restraint rather than activism. However, engagement with our neighbours is important no matter how we define our interests. The back channel should be used to address the Kashmir issue. In the past, the back channel had proven useful. We need to move beyond Sir Creek, Wuller and Siachen. These are all resolvable issues but the petty attitude on both sides keeps us from reaching solutions.
The Pakistani speakers said Mumbai is a big step back for the relationship. It is an inflammatory issue (in India). The young — the third generation of Pakistan has an open mind. It wants to leave the shackles of history behind. The present youth in Pakistan is bright and wants to move forward and would like to develop a good relationship with India; they are not coloured by the baggage of Partition. They wonder why India and Pakistan cannot do what has happened in the European Union. If countries that have fought two world wars can come together, why can’t India and Pakistan?
In the overall context people of both countries want friendship and there is a lot of latent good will. This is evident whenever there is people-to-people contact, like at the cricket matches between the two countries.
Mumbai was a victory for the terrorists and hard liners. Pakistan was accused by India for 26/11. Pakistan went into denial and compounded the problem because all the things that were denied came out to be true.
Those who attacked Mumbai and Parliament may have had some links earlier with our intelligence agencies but are now acting independently. These very people are now attacking our women and children. Our army is ranged against them.
So, blaming the GOP for Bombay is not fair. We must overcome the mistrust and rancor of Mumbai and heal the wound that has resulted. We must identify the common enemy — the evil force that exists here. We must not allow terrorists to dictate the state of relationship between India and Pakistan.
Both countries should move forward in a step-by-step approach. There should be no big bang or solve Kashmir first approach. Resolve what is easily resolvable first. Allow the latent goodwill that exists to re-establish itself and then build on it. We must not allow governments and the media to take away from that goodwill.
It is unwise to allow such incidents to ruin the relationship. Every effort should be made to restart the dialogue process. Good relations between the two countries will unlock the region’s economic potential and benefit the common man.
In the discussion that followed it was agreed both by the India and Pakistan participants that India and Pakistan are bound by geography and have a number of common long term interests in both the regional and bilateral context. There were, however, some differences of opinion on how to move forward. Some felt that no mechanical process could ensure a dialogue and that there has to be political acceptability for it. It was also pointed out that back channel diplomacy necessarily has to be conducted with secrecy – because when things come out, there is an immediate reaction. Continuous and permanent machinery for India-Pakistan dialogue should not rule out back channel efforts.
The political leadership in both the countries has repeatedly spoken of a common threat of terrorism, yet the level of cooperation has been woefully inadequate. What steps need to be taken to redress this issue?
The Pakistani speakers said there is a need for cooperation in the field of intelligence to defeat terrorism.
How effective is the current Joint Anti-terror mechanism? The distrust between India and Pakistan is so high that sensitive intelligence perhaps cannot be shared. Intelligence agencies normally don’t even share information with their sister organizations. So we will have to identify areas where this can be done.
The Joint anti-terror mechanism should be headed by senior intelligence officials and not left to proxies like additional secretaries from the Ministries of Foreign and External Affairs. An occurrence like the Bombay carnage should be investigated by a joint investigating team, working at the scene of the crime.
What advice can we offer to the media on both sides so that they are able to contribute significantly to the peace process? The Indian speakers said media is a powerful tool and helps form opinion; however it does not seem to know whether it should sell peace or war. The state of mind of a TV channel in reflected by the selection of the people they want to bring on TV, the usual choice is hawks. Market demand takes over reasonableness. The TV coverage of an event also affects the print media, which in turn affects the politicians who eventually mould public opinion. In India, in times of crisis, the media goes jingoistic and supports the government.
Aman ki Asha seems to be a branding exercise. It might peter out after some time. However, Aman ki Asha can be a good initiative to help stabilise the relationship and silences the negatives.
We have Pakistanis writing for Indian newspapers and appearing on Indian TV channels, likewise Indians should write for Pakistani newspapers and appear on Pakistan TV channels. Media networks of the two countries should exchange reporters to write on domestic issues.
The Balusa Group concluded its meeting and resolved to continue to contribute towards peace between India and Pakistan for the betterment of the common man. It was agreed that rather than address a large number of issues, an effort will be made to focus on two or three issues in the next meeting. It was also agreed that efforts will be made to prepare and present joint papers by selected Balusa members on specific issues. It was agreed that the next Balusa meeting will be held in India, hopefully within six to nine months.
"We have not flinched from challenges"
By Raza Khan
Khalid Aziz Mirza, Chairman Competition Commission of Pakistan, brings with him over 40 years of experience of working in various financial institutions. In the early part of his career, from 1968 to 83, Mirza gained investment banking experience both in Pakistan — while working in Investment Corporation of Pakistan, from 1968 to 1976 — and in the UK in Credit and Finance Corporation from 1976 to 83. He served in International Finance Corporation (IFC) from 1983 to 2000 and an investment officer in February 1983 in its Central Capital Markets department.
Later, in 1992, he was appointed Regional Capital Markets Manager and has served as IFC’s Chief of Mission in Turkey (1994-96) and Chief of Regional Mission in Thailand (1998-2000). As Chairman of the Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (2000-2003) he implemented a major programme of capital markets and corporate sector reform. Mirza’s stint at the World Bank included managing the bank’s programme to develop the financial and private sector in the East Asia and Pacific Region.
As Chairman Monopoly Control Authority from July 2006 to October, 2007, Mirza worked to improve the institution and advised the government on the institution’s conversion into a modern agency, the Competition Commission of Pakistan.
TNS had a chance to sit with Khalid Aziz Mirza in the office of CCP at Islamabad’s Diplomatic Enclave and talk about issues related to finance and competition, including the recent sugar crisis. Excerpts follow.
The News on Sunday: You have been promoting healthy economic competition. How do you describe healthy competition?
Khalid Aziz Mirza When businesses fall into rivalry to win customers, we call it competition. Such rivalry is expected to result in enhanced quality of products and the best price. Resultantly, the consumers enjoy both choices of quality and price. Consumers are offered choices in products or services in the same market by different suppliers who then fairly compete for new or repeat business. It can become unhealthy when there are fewer choices (or limited supply) and competition is scarce, permitting suppliers to increase prices without fear of losing market share.
TNS: Pakistan had a competition regime since the 1970s that was replaced by enforcing a new competition law. What is the difference between the two?
KAM: The Competition Ordinance 2007 is good law and is the accumulation of the best of wisdom over the ages in relation to both antitrust and competition. The first antitrust law was the Sherman Antitrust Act of the US in 1890 and our law incorporates the most accepted wisdom in this area. In the fast-changing global and national economic environment, the old Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Ordinance (MRTPO) in 1970 was inadequate to address competition issues effectively. This was because, firstly, the 1970s law was out of date for a modernising and rapidly transforming market economy. In the year 2000, the first generation reforms that liberalised the economy and unleashed the power of the private sector required a policy framework that could promote and protect competition and thereby lead to innovation.
It was the World Bank that helped the Government of Pakistan frame the present law, i.e., the Competition Ordinance. In framing this law, a fair amount of consultation was done within our business community, sector regulators, and other relevant chambers. The law seeks to promote competition in all spheres of commercial and economic activity in order to protect the consumer from anti-competitive behaviour. One negative comment which I received on this law is that our penalties are too low. I think the penalties are adequate.
TNS: How do you determine if a company has violated the competition law?
KAM: If a group of enterprises or persons enter into an agreement meant to block the entry of others that would mean that there is a cartel abusing its power. Or if there is a situation of predatory pricing, if a dominant entity starts selling a product at a much lower price than its actual cost to drive everyone out and finally then sells those same products at a much higher price than the actual cost — that would be something we would look into very seriously. Similarly, there are some other benchmarks, like limiting production or provision of services of other entities, manipulating the process of bidding. Any of these practices by an enterprise is an abuse.
TNS: Does the competition law bar companies from becoming huge in size and market share?
KAM: Our competition law, like other modern competition laws of the world, encourages companies to become big. It is different from the old monopolies law where if you had a bigger control of a market, i.e., more than 33 percent, then you were a monopolist and you had to go below 33 percent. So, 32.5 percent was okay but 33 percent was bad. Under the new law, which is essentially based on Articles 81 and 82 of the Treaty of Rome, if you are big, it is good and there is nothing wrong with you. In fact, the whole purpose of doing business and competing is to become big and to compete all the others and become a market leader. However, if you have a large chunk of the market share, you must not abuse your dominance. Once you are above the magic number, which is 40 percent in Pakistan because you are deemed to be dominant after that, then you must act responsibly. You must not bar entry of other people and you must not do any predatory pricing.
TNS: Pakistan is again facing a great deal of turmoil in the sugar industry with the ongoing sugar crisis. Some people blame sugar mills to have created a cartel in the name of Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA). Your comments.
KAM: Well, it has been noticed in many jurisdictions and we are beginning to notice this here as well that, in a number of instances, trade associations degenerate into cartels or start "smelling" like cartels. The same was being said of the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association when this sugar crisis started. Following a detailed investigation which included an inspection and search covering all three offices of the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association in which interesting material was impounded, the enquiry report submitted by the inquiry officers suggested prima facie indications of practices on the part of the association and the sugar mills that had the object or effect of preventing, restricting, or reducing competition within the sugar industry in Pakistan. Accordingly, the Commission was obliged to commence necessary proceedings.
Initially, on the first date of hearing before CCP, PSMA expressed the desire to invoke the leniency provisions of Section 39 of the Competition Ordinance but subsequently, in the next date of hearing, it submitted that it wished to reconsider its position in this respect. Later, they decided to contest the show cause notice before the Commission and argued case on legal aspects as well as on merit. However, they filed writ petition in the Sindh High Court. The SHC has granted stay to PSMA to the extent that CCP will not pass the final order. This means that CCP has been allowed to hold hearings on PSMA matter. The case is in progress and shall soon be concluded.
Prior to this, we had already issued a Policy Note to the Ministry of Industries admonishing them for encouraging collusive behavior on the part of the sugar mills and for acting against the letter and spirit of the competition law. Before that we had also questioned the Vice-Chairman of PSMA and the sugar mills regarding his reported threat that the sugar mills would stop crushing "if the government does not stop its crackdown". As it transpired, he denied this statement and backed down. Individually, all the sugar mills have also stated that they did not subscribe to the reported statement.
TNS: You were also asked by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to ascertain the cost of production of sugar.
KAM: I prepared a complete report and presented it to the SC. There are historical reasons for the government to be a little nervous whenever there is sharp rise in the prices of sugar. Governments have been known to fall whenever there is a sugar crisis. So, when the sugar prices hiked, the authorities overreacted. This whole business of raids, sealing of godowns, etc., is what appears to have caused the problem of creating a shortage of the commodity. Global and regional market forces have their impact on Pakistan. We are, after all, not isolated from the vagaries of supply and demand that affect the global economy. At the time when the authorities were taking ‘action’, the prevailing prices of sugar in the region, for instance in India, were Rs60 per kg (Pakistan equivalent). In Afghanistan the price was close to Rs70; and in the UAE too the price was at about the same level.
In a global context, from a position of having plenty of sugar the year before, there is now a nine million tons shortage of sugar — the shortage arising from a decline in the production of sugar as compared to the previous year. India, which is the second largest producer and had produced 28 million tons of sugar last year and exported five million tons (being the largest exporter) has produced only 15 million tons this year and is importing around five million tones, thereby becoming the largest importer of sugar. The largest producer of sugar, Brazil, was at the level of about 31 million tons and they also came down to 28 million tons. The government believes that one way of handling the situation is to allow import of that commodity but that is not the solution right now because global prices of sugar are actually higher. So, unless the government subsidises the price heavily, that is not the solution.
TNS: Where does Pakistan stand among the developing countries vis-à-vis the competition law and the regulatory environment?
KAM: We have received praise from all concerned for what we have managed to achieve in the short period of our existence — so much so that a member of the Federal Trade Commission, which is our equivalent in the US, said that we are probably the best competition agency outside the OECD. It cannot get more satisfactory than that. We have accomplished this with a shoestring budget. I am not saying that we’ve starved but we have had insufficient human resources and very little support. However, our strength is that we haven’t flinched from challenges.
TNS: As you are going to complete your first tenure in July this year, how far has CCP progressed in achieving its goals?
KAM: We have covered a lot of ground, a fact recognised internationally. The Commission has moved very decisively against cartels in various sectors, collusive tendering, unacceptable concentrations, and deceptive marketing practices. So far, the Commission has issued a total of six policy advisory notes to the government and government agencies on various aspects of public policy and regulation.
TNS: What kinds of challenges are faced by CCP in the implementation of Competition Ordinance?
KAM: I must tell you that generally the acceptability of our law is widespread as we keep receiving competition complaints mostly from the business community. Let me state that the business community in Pakistan is extremely cooperative in implementation of the Competition Ordinance. However, there are some vested interests in the business community. They are trying to have this law done away with. We have developed a degree of moral authority which appears to have been recognised.
It would be good if on this day all of Pakistan’s distinct nations could sit together and celebrate their diversity
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Today is International Mother Tongue Day. On this day a handful of public functions are likely to be organised and some lip service paid by government high-ups to the need for linguistic diversity and preservation of the various cultures that litter the social landscape of this country. But it is highly unlikely that there will be open acknowledgment of the history behind this day and the real significance of its celebration.
On February 21, 1952, at least a dozen Bengali (East Pakistani) students and youth were shot dead by state security forces in Dhaka during a peaceful protest. Since 1948 the Bengali language movement had galvanised young people across the length and breadth of East Pakistan and the cold-blooded murders of youth on this day was the ultimate expression of the Pakistani state’s depravity and its sheer unwillingness to accept the popular will.
Ultimately, of course, Bangla was recognised as a language of the state, but the broader policy of denying Bengalis their political, economic and social rights remained intact. February 21 became a rallying point for the Bengali nationalist struggle, and even after secession, Bangladeshis recall this day as the crystallising moment in their movement for self-determination.
It was not until 1999 that the United Nations explicitly recognised the sacrifices of the 21 February martyrs. In the subsequent decade, those who celebrate International Mother Tongue Day have grown in number and it is a matter of pride that some Pakistani progressives own this day, thus acknowledging the historic crimes of the Pakistani state against the Bengali people whilst underlining the need to continue the struggle to protect the rights of all nations that constitute this state.
But, unfortunately, the power to mould ‘public opinion’ in this country continues to be wielded by those who look at attempts to assert the multi-national character of the state as sedition. While certain segments of Baloch, Sindhi, Pakhtun, Seraiki, Kashmiri, Gilgiti/Balti society are willing mouthpieces of the establishment and project the unitary national-cultural model as indisputable, ultimately the critical mass of intellectuals, artists and political players that ensures that this model remains dominant are found within the Urdu-speaking and Punjabi communities.
The Urdu-speaking elite is necessarily touchy about dismantling the unitary national-cultural paradigm. Urdu has benefited from state patronage, thereby retaining its status as the language of Muslim high culture in the subcontinent. Urdu-speaking nationalists claim a political and social status that no other Pakistani can match. Theirs is a reactionary attitude and is informed by the same insecurity that informed the Muslim League’s politics in the period leading up to partition in the United Provinces (UP) and Central Provinces (CP) where elite Muslims saw their historical privileges being eroded.
The more interesting and arguably more important case is that of the Punjabis. Since the late 19th century the Punjabi intelligentsia has adopted Urdu as its preferred language — and thereby Urdu-inspired culture — thereby relegating its own language to inferior status. While Punjabi remains widely spoken in most working-class Punjabi homes, the Punjabi middle class has historically had a very ambivalent relationship to its mother tongue. In large part, the explanation lies in the fact that Punjab’s middle class was given preferential access to the (colonial and subsequently post-colonial) state and Urdu was a necessity to take advantage of this positive discrimination. It is another matter altogether that even Punjabi artists committing to resisting the dictates of the state chose Urdu as the medium of their art, thus limiting their prospects of reaching out to the teeming Punjabi millions who would otherwise have been a captive audience. Faiz Ahmed Faiz is a primary example in this regard.
As opposed to the Sindhi, Baloch, Pakhtun, or Seraiki middle classes, all of which celebrate and project their language and culture (in large part as a means of resisting the dominant national-cultural paradigm), the Punjabi middle class even today has little attachment to its language or specific cultural history. To be fair an alternative trend has arisen in recent years and some progressives groups are attempting to reassert Punjabi culture through language. But this is the tip of the iceberg; the majority of the Punjabi middle class continues to perceive its language and culture as an anachronism, particularly now that it has been exposed to the Brave New World of multinational employment, cable TV and cheap credit.
It would be good if on this day all of Pakistan’s distinct nations could sit together, celebrate their diversity and chart a path forward. But, instead, the history and spirit of International Mother Tongue Day remains a threat to the powers-that-be. It is in this context that it is important to not just blow off all the talk of a new Seraiki province. One wonders whether the PPP will have the courage to push through such an initiative; either way it should be endorsed by all progressive forces, and particularly those in Punjab. This will be a first step towards recognising that unity is possible only through the acknowledgment of diversity.
There is no guarantee, of course, that the acknowledgment of our linguistic diversity will help in reversing the trend towards fragmentation. The recognition of Bangla as a language of the state did not, after all, lead to the reining in of the Bengali nationalist movement in East Pakistan, and instead gave it further impetus. But this fact should not be used to justify the enforcement of the unitary national-cultural model. It is perhaps the most natural instinct of all: the more one is denied something, the more one wants it. February 21 should be a lesson and a call forward to us all.