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Oppressive laws of another kind
Instead of guaranteeing rights, established labour laws actually squeeze more out of workers in the name of austerity
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
My primary gripe with the present political dispensation is the lack of courage that has been demonstrated by the elected government in terms of challenging entrenched state policies. Most important in this regard is the military establishment’s monopoly over foreign, economic and educational policy. Where some individuals have taken on the establishment they have been isolated by their own parties. Only when there is a critical mass of political forces willing to challenge the dictates of the men in khaki will Pakistani democracy establish meaningful roots.
Having said this it would be unfair to completely disregard what parliament has managed. Lots of things were not put into the 18th amendment (and have not been put into the 19th amendment either), but the fact that such an amendment was formulated and then passed by both houses of parliament was in itself a significant development. However, as a number of commentators have noted in the months since the passing of the 18th amendment, there are some serious fallouts that need to be addressed if the prospective decentralization of powers envisaged by the authors of the amendment is not to be thwarted by petty politics and legal/technical cul-de-sacs.
Among the many subjects that were previously under the purview of the centre (and therefore legislation by the federal government) but are now very much provincial matters is the legal status and rights of the working class. In recent weeks, the Punjab Industrial Relations Ordinance 2010 (IRO-2010) has been formulated and passed, thereby filling a vacuum that has existed since April 30, 2010 when the Industrial Relations Act – 2008 (IRA-2008) expired.
That approximately eight months passed before the relevant authorities got their act together speaks volumes about the priorities of our elected representatives (although the problem goes deeper than a simple disdain for worker’s rights). In the event, the Punjab IRO-2010 is a piece of legislation that does anything but grant relief to this country’s beleaguered working people. It is effectively modeled on the IRA-2008, which in turn was scarcely different from the IRO-2002 promulgated by General Pervez Musharraf.
In short, labour laws that have been passed in the last decade or so are part of the general -- and global -- trend towards erosion of worker’s rights. The IRO-2002 precipitated a fairly uniform response on the part of established trade union federations in Pakistan on account of the fact that the basic worker’s rights of organisation, assembly and strike were substantially curtailed. The general premise of labour law was of course maintained, namely that workers, owners and government should together deliberate and develop consensus on all matters relating to relations at the workplace. But IRO-2002 reflected just how much the balance of power had shifted away from workers and towards owners and government.
Indeed, much has changed since the original IRO was promulgated in 1969 under the Yahya Khan regime. Formulated on the back of arguably Pakistan’s most militant and widespread social movement in which industrial workers played a defining role, IRO-1969 reflected the power of the working class vis-a-vis owners and government. Many trade unionists and political workers lament that IRO-1969 actually marked the beginning of the end for the labour movement insofar as the autonomy of worker’s organisations was eroded and a labour aristocracy was created in the form of collective bargaining agent (CBA). There is an element of truth to this claim, but elected representation and formal bargaining under a stipulated legal code is the very basis of formal trade unionism, and in this respect IRO-1969 provided workers with formal recourse where previously there was none.
Subsequent legislation reaffirmed the basic political entitlements of industrial workers while gradually creating auxiliary categories of workers. So, for example, many state employees do not enjoy the status of industrial workers per se and can organise themselves only in the form of (elected) associations with considerably fewer political rights than CBAs.
When fiscal disciplining emerged as a major policy instrument of the international financial institutions (IFIs) in the 1980s, there was a parallel reassertion by government and owners of state and class power respectively. This was eventually reflected in labour laws such as IRO-2002 and its subsequent offshoots.
Alongside the latest draconian piece of legislation that is the Punjab IRO-2010, recent Supreme Court (SC) verdicts in cases pitting Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited (PTCL) workers against their Arab management evince a startlingly paternalistic attitude that flies in the face of the SC’s carefully crafted populist image. Specifically, the SC has suggested that the management-worker relationship is akin to a master-servant tie in which the servant necessarily has limited rights and is reliant on the largesse of the master to secure a living wage and decent working conditions.
In short, workers are slowly but surely having rights secured over a long period of time taken from them through the law. To be sure, this is a period of retreat for working class politics around the world. There have been objective changes in capitalist production that have been coeval with this working class retreat, namely the shift from the concentrated factory unit to contract-based labour operating in fragmented workshops or even in the home. The ability of capital to traverse space and time and the attendant limits placed on labour mobility have increased the power of owners (and governments) while underlining the weaknesses of the working class.
Nevertheless, working class resistance continues in some shape or form. In many cases, workers are struggling simply to be recognised, be given some kind of legal cover, and lay claim to governmental benefits as well as adequate remuneration from owners. Instead of guaranteeing these rights, established labour laws -- including those that are being drawn up by the provinces in the wake of the 18th amendment -- actually squeeze more and more out of workers in the name of austerity, efficiency and security.
Workers, peasants, students and all others who struggle for their rights -- and have historically been at the forefront of all progressive political movements throughout this country’s existence -- are, in fact, being harassed in the name of security. Anti-terrorist legislation is now quite regularly invoked against working people, even while the individuals and entities propagating hate and bigotry continue to be given free reign by the state. It is a sordid story, but one that must be told again and again so that an unapologetic and militant labour movement can once again be built in this country that can reclaim the working-class rights that could be taken for granted until a decade and a half ago, and also contribute to the transformation of state and society that we so desperately need.
Consumers versus workers
Should the government allow import of five-year-old used cars or ensure work security of the local skilled labour?
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
In an unexpected move, the government of Pakistan enhanced the limit for import of used cars from three to five years early last month. The step was reportedly taken in a bid to break the monopoly of local car manufacturers. The general public, mainly the potential buyers of cars, were pleased by the decision as they expected an immediate fall in the prices of cars assembled locally. However, this feeling remained short-lived as the government reversed the decision the same month, leaving an impression that there was something questionable in the whole affair.
The perception that local assemblers were making undue profits has also been backed by a study conducted by the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) on the country’s automobile sector. The study highlighted the anti-consumer practices of the car manufacturing industry, where local assemblers have constantly been increasing prices over the years. For example, during the period starting from January 2008 and ending in March 2010, local car manufacturing companies raised the prices of their products almost 10-15 times up to 68 percent.
Critics claim the ban on import of re-used vehicles has given a free hand to the local assemblers to charge as much as they can from customers. On the other hand, those associated with the local auto assembling and vending industry say such measures would harm the local industry and render hundreds of thousands of people jobless. They also allege the importers mostly misuse such relaxations in connivance with customs officials, etc.
The import of reused cars is allowed under schemes like transfer of residence and gift schemes in case of Pakistani expatriates who want to import vehicles for their own use or their families. Similarly, under the special regime, taxes are levied on the basis of engine capacity and irrespective of the value of the vehicle, brand and additional accessories fitted in it.
It was on the proposal of the All Pakistan Motor Dealers Association (APDMA) that the federal ministry of commerce had allowed import of cars as old as five years and less under personal baggage, gift and transfer schemes.
It was expected that maximum imports could be seen in low-end car segment, meaning those vehicles having engine capacity in the range of 1000cc to 1300cc. The decision was also being seen as a strong message of displeasure to domestic car assemblers for their constant ignorance to the government’s demand to lessen car prices.
"Despite increase in prices, the quality of material used in locally assembled car is of bad quality", says Nadeem Khan, a car dealer based in Karachi. He tells TNS that all over the world production of Suzuki Alto and 1300cc Toyota has been stopped but in Pakistan these models are being assembled endlessly. He says it has become a practice all over the world to place safety bags in new cars but in Pakistan there is no such concept. "Unfortunately, the interest of consumers comes in the end and the protection to the so-called local industry comes first", he adds.
Nadeem says, "Rumours are abound that whenever such a decision is taken, the diplomatic circles of countries like Japan and China come into action. These countries give huge development assistance to the country and are always in a position to influence the government in protecting their investments in the country," he adds. For example, he says it has been quoted widely that Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) gives $900 million in grants to the country. "How much we depend on China in almost every field of life is no secret at all," he adds.
However, the auto industry stakeholders have their own story to tell. They say they appealed the government to ensure fair use of car and auto-parts imports so that the local industry is not destroyed altogether.
Pakistan Association of Auto-Parts and Accessories Manufacturers (PAAPAM) Vice Chairman, Nabeel Hashmi, tells TNS that "the misuse of this provision can be judged from the fact that less than 3,900 used cars were imported in Pakistan during the last fiscal. These included commercial vehicles besides passenger cars," he says adding that 6000 used cars were booked within only two weeks of the passage of this order. He says it shows the importers knew that an SRO would be issued in this regard and that’s why they had done their homework.
PAAPAM’s point of view is that there is no need to take decisions like allowing import of five-year-old cars to bring the prices of locally produced cars down. The problem it says can be resolved by adhering to the Auto Industry Development Programme (AIDP).
The association has hailed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for rescinding the decision, and saving the vendor industry and its 200,000 skilled workers from imminent disaster and massive closures. The statement said that in the year 2005, the government had succumbed to the pressure of cars import lobby resulting in import of more than 120,000 used cars over a period of three years.
PAAPAM leaders say the country’s auto industry constitutes more than 1,600 vending units specialising in various technologies, including sheet metal, plastics, rubbers, castings, electrical, etc employing latest technical know-how and producing parts, as per global quality standards. All of these will suffer badly in case the government allows used cars to arrive in the country.
PAAPAM Vice Chairman Nabeel Hashmi tells TNS that they are asking the government to impose high tariffs on high-tech auto parts and give the local vendors the task to supply them. He says there’s a need to rationalise the prices of locally assembled cars and the government must adopt AIDP in true spirit. So far, the components related to the assemblers have been implemented but those related to the development and capacity-building of auto vending industry have not been executed properly.
Nabeel says the devaluation of Pakistani currency vis-a-vis US dollar and Japanese yen is also a major cause behind rise in car prices. "This is a blessing in disguise for the local vendors as dependence on local products increases whenever a need arises to save foreign exchange," he adds.
Cries of the flood-hit IDPs do not seem to have reached anyone in power and authority
By Irfan Mufti
The worst fears have come true. Flood victims, mostly facing hardships in temporary shelters or relief camps or makeshift arrangements, are left alone to face the burden of harsh realities. Food supplies have reduced, the number of visits of political figures and philanthropists has come down and Watan Cards have become useless without the promised money.
The government has not been wholly successful in fulfilling its basic promises and addressing the situation in a more comprehensive manner. Effects of floods have now started to appear in the country’s economy and its politics. Most of these effects were predicted earlier but not heard at the policy level.
Cries of the IDPs seem to have not reached to anyone in power and authority. This neglect will harm lives and livelihood of millions of families but will also irk country’s economy and politics for several years.
Early signs of downfall in agriculture production are already appearing. The biggest effect so far has been seen in agriculture and its sub-sectors. Food production has suffered biggest shortfall during the last 10 years. Agricultural crops such as cotton, rice, and sugarcane and to some extent mangoes, are badly affected in Punjab.
World Food Program (WFP) has recently announced that about 70 percent of Pakistan’s population does not have adequate access to proper nutrition. Most of this population with less than adequate nutrition lives in rural areas of the country.
Already resurgent in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, agricultural devastation brought on by the floods leaves much of the province susceptible to serious shortfall in fruit production, wheat and sugarcane and increase in poppy cultivation.
The government stated that $15 billion were wiped out of the economy -- that’s about 15 percent of the GDP. This indicates serious crisis emerging in the coming months if agriculture and industrial sectors do not perform well and affects of flood on agriculture are not defeated soon.
The areas that are agriculture powerhouses of Pakistan -- where the bulk of agriculture and food production takes place -- have been mostly devastated. Areas that produce cash crops for export and agro-industries in southern Punjab, KPK and Sindh were largely damaged, so the government’s assessments are clearly realistic. Rural agriculture and the rural economy have been hit the hardest. The agrarian sector that provides significant proportion to our economy (approximately 23 percent of GDP) has faced serious setback.
Though the immediate effects of flood were highly localised in areas where flooding was at its worst, however, the recent wave hit agriculture production and consumption all over the country. Supplies of fruits, vegetables, and grains (rice, malt, etc.) have already 21 percent lower than last years’ figures. Similar shortfall in cash crops, including cotton and tobacco was also recorded. Prices of food (onions, tomatoes, etc.) and grains have increased and consumers are facing the brunt.
The loss of over 10 million livestock along with the loss of other crops has brought down the total agricultural production by more than 15 percent. Manufacturing sector has also reported that floods have sapped growth as people are still struggling to cope with the destruction.
Milk supplies have also fallen by 15 percent, which has increased the retail price of milk by 15-20 percent per liter in cities. Some investors have started to buy the devalued stock in the hope that they will rise again. The recent sharp rise in rice and wheat prices can be attributed to last year’s crop losses owing to floods. Though some local dealers claimed the new crop was comparatively better and prices may come down but the Kharif crop will take another 2-3 months to reach to the market.
On the other side, International Labour Organisation has reported that more than 5.3 million jobs have been lost due to floods, forcing productive labour into poverty and further marginalisation. The GDP growth rate of 4 percent prior to the floods has turned negative with the estimates ranging from -2pc to -5pc of GDP. Though with current trade and industrial growth and focused government actions the GDP growth may improve in 2011 and beyond, it will be several years before it can return to the 4pc level of 2009.
As a result, Pakistan is unlikely to meet the IMF’s target budget deficit cap of 5.1pc of GDP, and the existing $55 billion of external debt is growing without any immediate possibility of recovery. The loss of crops has hit the textile manufacturing, the largest export sector of Pakistan.
It is important to note that despite militancy, terrorism, war, high inflation, and a global meltdown, the economy has still managed to grow in the past. It grew by 4 percent last year and it was predicted to be 4.5 percent this year before the floods. In post-flood situation, economic growth will undoubtedly slow, but it is predicted that growth will be at least 2 percent this year compared to 1.2 percent growth during the first year of People’s Party government.
Post-floods situation is also causing political consequences mostly due to public perception of governance inefficacies and it has been said that if the situation is not adequately addressed, especially in fight against terrorism, it might lead to future political unrest. The government must also simultaneously take into account two ongoing insurgencies in Balochistan and Waziristan, and the growing urban sectarian discord.
There is a growing concern that militant groups will now gain a new foothold after providing relief to local populations. The recent military operations against Taliban have helped push militants out of certain areas, including Swat, Malakand and South Waziristan. Charity and social welfare organisations are providing support on the ground and will gain local support, but this may translate into new backing for their militant wings. Extremist organisations that are mobilising humanitarian operations are getting support from the masses, especially in flood-hit areas. This must be checked and addressed through bigger role and focused inputs from government and civil society.
While this has been an opportunity for the government and opposition groups to come together and devise long-term solutions for economic and political revival and Pakistan’s protracted problems, it has already been wasted in other petty battles. Pakistani elite has so far failed to look beyond immediate concerns and look for ways to limit corruption, improve accountability and transparency, and increase the government’s financial resources by raising taxes and cutting exemptions.
In early signs of slower economic growth, the government is not taking internal reforms and medium-term economic and political reform agenda seriously. There is more reliance on foreign aid. Instead of relying on foreign aid to bail the country out, this is a real chance to expand the country’s own resource base. And foreign governments should put pressure on Islamabad to put its own house in order before they ask for more aid.
Government is still hesitant to undertake the far-reaching, unpopular, but critical measures that the country needs. Yet another opportunity will surely be missed.
Foreign assistance and aid will be only a small piece of the solution in the long term. What’s most needed are policy reforms so the government can collect more in tax revenue, strengthen the education and health systems, ensure land rights to tillers and put the energy sector on a sustainable financial footing.
Unless the government brings in economic reforms, there’s really no chance that foreign aid can transform the country. Wise and proper use of aid money can make a real difference in how quickly Pakistan is able to recover from the floods. Redirecting unspent aid money towards flood reconstruction can bolster Pakistan’s economy at a critical moment and lay the foundation for growth.
The writer is Deputy Chief of South Asia Partnership Pakistan and Global Campaigner
Fear at home
Despite assurances by security agencies, South Waziristan IDPs are reluctant to go back to their homes, fearing militants will strike back
By Zia Ur Rehman
Although the government claims military offensive against Taliban in South Waziristan has succeeded in securing the area, the displaced people are reluctant to go back to their homes, saying militants had only dispersed, not wiped out, during the operation.
South Waziristan, the restive tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, is considered traditional stronghold of militants not only belonging to defunct Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) but also to Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda. Foreign affiliates such as groups of Uzbeks, Chechens and Tajiks are also there.
Four major military operations have been carried out in South Waziristan to clear the area from the Taliban militants since 2004. The most recent offensive -- Operation Rah-e-Nijat (Path to Salvation) -- was started in October last year, and is still going on. Around 400,000 local residents, largely belonging to Mehsud tribe, were displaced from the area due to this operation.
Government officials claim that the area is now completely cleared from militants and now they are sending displaced people back to their homes. But the locals are unwilling to return to their villages as they fear the militants are either hiding in mountains of the area or have escaped to adjacent tribal areas.
Most of the displaced Mehsuds, whom TNS spoke to, were not yet ready to return due to fear of security situation, damage to their houses, lack of livelihood opportunities, electricity, food and other facilities.
"It is very dangerous. If we go back to our homes, militants will be there because they are still alive and have just moved to neighbouring tribal areas," says Munsif Mehsud, one of the displaced people who declined to go back. He had brought his extended family of 18 to Karachi and lives in a rented house in a slum near Super Highway. The displaced families said it was the fourth time they had been displaced from their homes due to operation against the militants.
"The government wants us to be taken back to our homes in military conveys. This will create security problems for us as the militants will link us with the government," says Zafar Mehsud, another displaced person who lives in district Tank.
Three weeks ago, TTP’s militants kidnapped 23 tribesmen, who were members of a committee of displaced persons, for attending a function arranged on the occasion of December 7 visit of chief of army staff to Makeen and Ladha areas of South Waziristan.
"This is a warning to the tribal people not come to the area because we are still present in South Waziristan," Azam Tariq, spokesperson for TTP, told the media recently, claiming that militants had seven Taliban courts functioning in the area, as well as 22 offices. Later, the militants freed the kidnapped tribesmen.
This kidnapping further threaten the government’s shaky attempts to persuade Mehsud tribesmen that the militants are defeated and that it is safe to go back to their homes in South Waziristan.
Maulana Saleh Shah, a senator from South Waziristan, when contacted by TNS, also admitted that the government had just cleared very few areas of South Waziristan which are near to FR Jandola. "Most of the area is still not declared clear from the militants by the security forces," Shah says, adding that only the people hailing from some villages, including Chagmali and Kotkai, were returning.
According to Duniya Aslam Khan, a Public Information Assistant at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the government has declared 13 villages to be safe to return which are located in the lower parts of South Waziristan where weather is fairly mild in the winter. "Returning to their homes is a voluntary process and we can’t say how many people will return," Khan says.
A local elder says that displaced Mehsuds will be watching the process of repatriation very carefully. "How the military handles and guard the first returnees will likely decide whether other people choose to go back to their homes."
The military had declared victory over militants in South Waziristan in February last year but is since struggling to convince the refugees to go back to their homes. Experts opine that the unwillingness of displaced families to go back also highlights the difficulties the security forces face in maintaining security in the region months after they have declared victory.
A local Mehsud journalist, requesting anonymity, says the government was trying to form Mehsud lashkars (militias) or peace committee, like already formed in Bajaur and other tribal areas with support of the government. But elders of Dray Mehsud (three clans of Mehsud) were clearly refusing it from the beginning.
A few days ago, TTP spokesperson Tariq, while talking to the Associated Press, warned that his group will take severe actions against those who form such lashkars or peace committees to take on the militants.
The government has promised to give returnees a cash stipend, living essentials and assistance for rebuilding homes damaged or destroyed in the fighting, but the slow pace of compensation and reconstruction in Swat will not give Mehsud tribesmen much confidence on those claims.
"UNHCR is assisting with logistical arrangements (having set up transit centres, registration desks, hot meals, etc) and shelter support for those choosing to return as well providing transports to the returning families from Dera Ismail Khan and Tank districts to their villages in South Waziristan," Khan says, adding that Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) is giving Rs25,000 to each family.
Senator Shah also complained that the government had also not fulfilled the promises of giving compensation to those going back because all the houses and businesses were totally destroyed in the area.
Most of the Mehsud families said that with their home destroyed, they were ready to live in tents because of cold weather. It is pertinent to mention that unlike refugees hailing from other tribal areas who lived in tents in the camps, most members of the Mehsud tribe are staying with relatives or in rented houses in Dera Ismail Khan, Tank and Karachi.
"The government has offered compensation of just Rs25,000 per family for damage to their houses and other losses which is not sufficient," says Sher Alam, a refugee living in Peshawar. Senator Shah says he has demanded the federal government to increase the relief amount to Rs100,000.
The writer is a researcher and works on militancy, development and human rights
We need to resist economic exploitation which is possible only by sharing wealth with the poor
By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr. Ikramul Haq
At the heart of perpetual economic exploitation is the use of interest-based instruments by banks to make the powerful wealthier and force the weak to become permanent inmates of the ‘debt prison’.
Globally, the perception is that this role is played by the World Bank and the IMF to enslave other nations. Corrupt and inept rulers loot and plunder public wealth and fulfill the agenda of their foreign masters. Resultantly, the poor people fall a victim to debt enslavement.
Debt weapon is the modern form of slavery at collective and individual levels that needs to be studied in perspective. Unless we understand this new phenomenon in human history it is not possible to break free from the shackles of this ‘debt prison’.
Dr. Arshad Zaman and Dr. Asad Zaman, noted economists, in their paper titled, "Interest and the Modern Economy" (Islamic Economic Studies, Volume 8, Number 2, April 2001) concluded that prohibition of interest is economically viable and will prove beneficial for human society. Responding to concerns of skeptics in this regard, they commented that "As far as the private sector is concerned, in the US and Japan, it seems likely that businesses would finance close to 100pc of their needs by equity-based methods if it were not for the tax advantage of interest-based loans. Thus, a law favouring interest-based financing is responsible for the persistence of interest. In the public sector, we have listed many reasons why irresponsible governments and corrupt politicians would favour the use of interest-based loans over alternative viable instruments.
The fact that debt allows manipulation of the other party creates an incentive for the powerful to use interest-based debt as a tool. When the powerful of the world have reasons to prefer interest-based loans, we need look no further for a reason for its prevalence".
Debt enslavement is the direct result of interest-based financing -- it can be replaced with equity-based methods as elaborated in detail in "Interest and the Modern Economy". The tall claims about the blessings of capitalist economy -- free market mechanism, deregulations and privatizations -- have been proving false time and again during the last four decades in the form of 1973 financial crisis, debt crisis of 1980s and latest banking crash of September 2008.
Behind these fiascos -- or engineered crises -- have always been certain forces waging wars against humanity using ‘interest-based-debts’ for forging modern day slavery. With the advent of every new economic crisis, the effects of an unjust economic order become more and more devastating by massively increasing hunger, epidemics, social chaos and regional wars throughout the world.
While the existence of mankind is threatened by military adventures of hawkish imperialist states, "spiritual death" of a greater and greater population, particularly of the youth, is also becoming imminent through drug addiction, despair and disillusions.
In this backdrop, the conclusion by Karl Marx that "under capitalism, everything is a contradiction" has assumed new relevance. One view is that capitalism, with banking at its heart, has delivered nothing positive. On the contrary, the human society under its influence is being threatened to the extent of annihilation. Islamic banking is another jugglery of words. In substance, it is as exploitative -- in some cases even more -- as conventional banking.
Debt enslavement, war hysteria, and denial of civil liberties in the name of ‘war on terror’ are horrifying realities of the present day world. It is great tragedy that money paid by citizens as taxes in the capitalist world was handed over to banks as "bailouts", adding insult to injury.
The admirers and protectors of capitalism are making their own people slaves of an exploitative system. At the international level, the proponents of globalisation -- modern tool of capitalism to exploit the labour of the poor -- by engineering fictitious financial and liquidity crunches are re-devising their strategy to control world economy.
Many Muslim oil-producing countries, possessing collossal foreign currency reserves, have pooled money for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to "help halt economic collapse". The rulers of these countries are playing in the hands of those who control substantial world resources and the banking system.
The capitalists, in post-colonial era cleverly camouflaged its ugly face with the help of intelligentsia working in universities. They created a deadly web of international network of foundations, institutes, research centres, publications, writers and public relation hawks to package and sell ideology of free market economy and interest-based finance as the main pillars of the capitalist economic globalisation.
Accumulation of wealth and its never ending greed, interest-based banking and exploitation of labour of poor nations have created a chaotic world. All forms of creating wealth sans labour are deplorable. Persons earning wealth exploit others’ labour for increasing their assets and this leads to drastic reduction in public wealth, making the oppressed become poorer and poorer. This not only reduces national wealth but also ignites the fire of hatred (class struggle in Marx’s terminology) in society.
Interest is not only what is taken from a needy person over and above the money given as loan, but includes all transactions where money gets multiplied without employing any efforts. In the present day terminology, it is named as "commercial interest" and "profit sharing".
On October 24, 2008, Joseph Stiglitz and Myron Scholes, two leading economists having conflicting views, in an open forum arranged by the defenders of capitalism, discussed the future of global financial system. These economic gurus and many others, including 2008 Nobel Prize winner in economics, Paul Krugman, could not think beyond the existing model. They had nothing to offer as an alternative model.
The capitalists waged a war against Iraq under the pretext of presence of weapons of mass destruction, but the real motive was to exploit oil reserves for personal gains. The 3-trillion-dollar Iraq war made owners of war industry richer but devastated the US economy. Personal greed hijacks the system that Adam Smith warned would not work if devoid of ethical consideration -- The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Nobody reads and quotes from this book of Adam Smith that was written in 1759 and which laid the ethical, philosophical, psychological and methodological underpinnings to his later works, including, The Wealth of Nations (1776).
It is no secret that even financial crisis of 1973 and debt crisis of 1980s were triggered and manipulated by the proponents of capitalism to control global economy through Structural Adjustment Programmes of IMF. In the 1990s, these programmes came back for many nations, including Pakistan. The capitalists want to keep us dependent, knowing fully well that self-reliance would break the "debt prison".
In the name of helping the "states in trouble", they, through IMF programmes, force developing countries to devalue their currencies, open their economies for exploitation by the rich, privatise public assets, dismiss workers in the name of downsising schemes, cut development expenditure and withdraw subsidies on food items and essential utilities like water, gas and electricity.
Capitalism, as suggested by Karl Marx, would always be at war with the oppressed. We need to resist economic exploitation , which is possible only by fighting interest-based finance and sharing wealth with the poor, destitute and have-nots. The need of the hour is introduction of a just and equitable economic system.
The writers, tax advisers and Adjunct Professors at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), have presented detailed discourse on ‘debt enslavement’ in their book, Pakistan: Drug-trap to Debt-trap.
Just how some recent events of our surface politics offer an interesting study of the deep politics
By Dr Ahsan Wagha
It started with the worst ideological polarisation promoted by the military generals in the 1970s when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was forced to invite Saudi ambassador Riaz Al-Khatib to mediate between him and the opposition, a practice that was reverberated during the Musharraf-Nawaz conflict and has almost culminated into becoming one of the basic features of our foreign policy.
The phenomenon can be investigated in the background of the history of Arab colonisation of this region.
The urban mercantile classes of this region have always looked up to foreign intervention to avail the endless trade liberalisation. A quote from a brilliant work on the Arab rule of Sindh will suffice as to how the urban traders of the 8thcentury Sindh, pitched against the country-based agrarian ruling class of Brahmins, emerged as a section of society willing to welcome the Arab takeover:
"After the Arab conquest, the major merchants of Sind belonged as well to the larger cosmopolitan Muslim bourgeoisie. While ordinary Muslims in Sind dressed like their compatriot non-Muslims, the merchants followed the fashion of Iraq and Fars (Istakhri..). This suggests that they were either drawn from these regions or, as is more likely, accepted the cultural dictates of the larger pan-Islamic mercantile community as their exemplar. They were in Sind but not really part of it. To participate in the new inter-regional trade, was in many ways to become Arab, and if Arab then necessarily Muslim."
The Arabs were least interested in the conversion of people to Islam and more in the safe collection of revenues. The trading class of Buddhists were allowed to convert in pursuit of market interests and the Hindus were permitted to continue with their way of life.
We upload from history only that what soothes our egotism and suits our established biases. About Mohammad bin Qasim, we are taught as to how this young general of Al-Walid -- on the call of a few Muslim women reported as forcibly held by the officials of Raja Dahar -- had led a great army to Sind to deliver justice. In the same episode, the Hindus take comfort in memory and praise of the mythical characters of Pramil Devi and Suriya Devi (recorded by Farishta, a historian, as Sarla Devi), the two daughters of the Raja Dahar who were sent by bin Qasim as booty gift to the Caliph in Damascus. The girls but managed to avenge defeat and murder of their father by seeding jealousy in the mind of the Caliph against bin Qasim which resulted in the eventual murder of the latter, as per the story.
What followed was a satellite Arab rule over a major portion of present day Pakistan with the struggles between the competing factions of the Abbasids and Umayyads, coded in the religious divide of the Sunnite and the Shiite. The Islamised but still alive diehard nationalism of the defeated Persia kept cementing the weaker internal opposition of the Arab rule gathered around the great legacy of Hazrat Imam Husain and the Ahl-e-Bait which touched its height by establishing a Fatimid Caliphate of its own in Egypt and replacing the pro Baghdad governorship of Multan and Sindh with a relatively localised rule of the Ismaili Da`is, a new state which lasted from 965 to 1010 leaving far reaching impact on evolution of the local Muslim aristocracy.
Where people of this region had little concerns with the Arab world in terms of production, economics, or in real socio cultural domains, the alien Arab rulers and the power elite that succeeded them looked most of the time for interventions and approvals to the power centres of Egypt and Basra, or Baghdad, Damascus and Makka Sharif alternately.
What is to be scrutinised are the traces of the colonial aspirations of the Arabs and the Iranians in their competition in strengthening their respective allies in Pakistan recognised by them on the basis of the Sunnite and the ‘non-Sunnite’ divide.
Some recent events of our surface politics offer an interesting study of the deep politics of the country. The action taken on the Haj scam in the Ministry of Religious Affairs resulted in sacking of two federal ministers belonging to the PPP and the JUI. The episode was explained in terms of parliamentary governance and was received accordingly. A look at the deep structure of politics, however, points to some additional factors in the domain of "may be". The management of Haj by the ministry was as corrupt as always, or less this time as per the statement of the Minister of Religious Affairs before the superior court. The investigation was triggered mainly by a letter written by a respectable Saudi prince to the Chief Justice of Pakistan probably directly. The Saudi government which has to its credit the longest record of generous and flawless hosting of the world’s largest annual pilgrimage without any discrimination on sectarian lines or any other divide could not tolerate mismanagement on the part of one participating country i.e. Pakistan.
The between the line reading of the event, however, brings a few related facts to the focus. The majority of the people of Saudi Arabia and the dynasty are followers of the Maliki creed of Islam seen in Pakistan as more close to certain schools of thought such as the Ahl-e-hadith and the Deobandi, and less to others such as the Barelvi and even far removed from others such as the Shiite school. The minister of Religious Affairs belonged to the largest but politically weak Barelvi school of thought. He was the only federal minister to have been targeted by terrorists and removed from the cabinet a year after.
It remains a statistical ambiguity how an organised and articulate religious groups with a total strength of not more than twenty percent claims to represent all the Muslims. Along with them there is the diversity of those who are able to recite bits from the holy scriptures, those casual sayers of prayers, those countless visitors of all kinds of shrines and those who fasten coloured flags on branches and build seats around trunks of every old tree, those who feed birds and insects, and care for green plants as living and feeling beings -- unknowingly observing the cultural residues of Islam, Buddhism, Jainism and other cults of the past settled deep into their souls.
The disunity stemming from social factors like ritualism, linguistic and cultural diversity and tolerance for religious multiplicity has a strong causal relation with democracy. In other words, we live in a social reality which can not be wished away, and which can not go along with any other mode of government except democracy. It is the social diversity of cast and cultures that has sustained the world’s largest democracy i.e. India.
The unique national and cultural homogeneity of Arabs, on the other hand, is counted as one of the factors behind the prolonged dynastic rules in Arab kingdoms. The other defense that some Arab dynasties seek for this continuity is the warm approval from the Muslim world. Hence it isn’t a surprise if they prop up in Pakistan those religious parties who resist the culturally adjusted form of Islam, the majority and democracy.
The fact that majority of the politically powerful Pirs (the saintly families) including the prime minister belong to the Barelvi school of thought and the parties that promote fundamentalist Islam like Jamaat-e-Islami and JUI are supported by the rich Arab friends of Pakistan offers some insight into the political problem of Pakistan.
How to develop social and political space for
By Salman Abid
The assassination of Salman Taseer raises serious questions about social and political aspects of tolerance in the country. A debate has been initiated by the civil society in the wake of the assassination about space for minorities, attitudes, and freedom of expression. Taseer’s murder should not be seen in isolation and needs to be evaluated in the context of religious extremism in the country.
There seems to be a clear divide between those who believe in dialogue and political solutions and those who believe in arms and power and try to impose their own ideologies through force.
The position the civil society takes on this issue and also that of some powerful sections is critical to re-visit the whole scenario and re-define a new space for a debate.
It is not only an issue of religious parties but also of major political parties, media representatives and other section of society. Because there seems to be a tendency to use religious issues for raising public emotions and provoke common people.
The dilemma is that some of us do not take the issue of extremism seriously and justify the extremist forces. Salman Taseer’s assassination caused many of us to wake up to the bitter reality of extremism. The state did not take actions against extremists groups over the last few decades. The extremists also used a section of media as a tool and madrassa institutions against Salman Tasser.
Salman Taseer criticised a law which is man-made; and its implementation has only raised controversies over the years. Muslims have also been victimized through this law. The question is if someone as individual or as group raises some questions about the present law during General Zia’s regime; what should be the logical way to address the issue.
No one should challenge the space of freedom of expression within the constitutional and political framework. The major problem is that some extremists do not accept the space of people’s voice and impose their own ideology in the name of Islam.
We should believe in the rule of law. No one can promote individuals to take the law in their hands. The crisis after Salman Taseer’s murder is that the society is divided in two sections; one is trying to justify acts of violence and also insisting that Salman Taseer gave a wrong statement, the other regards it as outright insanity. This is a very dangerous situation which should be dealt with caution and sobriety.
Taseer was a politician who had strong views on politics, law, and religion. Perhaps that is why the Punjab government had insisted on the PPP to replace Taseer and nominate someone else to have a good relationship with the ruling party in Punjab. But, unfortunately, Taseer’s replacement came only after he was murdered. This may be a pointer to violence in our politics against opponents.
Salman Taseer was a liberal politician and one of the outspoken voices against religious extremism and fanaticism. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had threatened Taseer many times and had warned him to stop speaking against the militant organisation. But Taseer didn’t stop and raised the issue of militancy in the country with strong voice. Our religion never allows doing any wrong without doing proper investigation and fulfilling legal requirements. But the story is different here.
We should evaluate the role of media persons, both in print and electronic, who are being seen as responsible in creating hype during the whole episode. The media should not intentionally provoke sentiments. Salman Taseer had clarified many times through interviews on different channels and emphasized that he was criticizing the legal procedures under the law that needed to be revisited. But emotions ran high.
The gruesome incident is a serious indication where the society is heading. The people of Pakistan are in a battle zone and this war is not just about weapons but also about social, cultural and religious issues. Secondly, the perception of our society in the international community is not heartening and people have serious reservations about us. But we have not in any way tried to change that perception. Understandably, we should not expect the international community to trust us and engage with us on various issues.
Now the question is how to develop the social and political space for creating an understanding in the society. Unfortunately, the level of tolerance in society seems to be coming down day by day. We need to not only challenge old notions about sensitive issues but also eradicate them once and for all. There is a need to resist and build pressure against those who dictate society in the name of Islam. They are the ones who are responsible for the wrong interpretation of religion.
There is a lack of political will, especially within the political parties as they are compromising on sensitive issues. They are not ready to raise and discuss controversial issues. This is the right time to accept and acknowledge the issue of extremism in the country and develop a strategy to deal with it. Without resolving the issue of extremism in the country the situation will remain out of control. We should understand that a tolerant society always emerges from a democratic process and values.
We should be very careful and also avoid patronizing anyone who has taken the law in his hands. At this critical juncture people should come together as a new political force and decide what society we want to be.
The writer is a political analyst and human rights campaigner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
We need to start an intellectual discourse on the fundamental issue of social ideologies
By Abid Qaiyum Suleri
Salman Taseer’s assassination proved yet again that we cannot agree to disagree in a peaceful manner. This high profile murder and alleged motive behind it created a stir not only in Pakistan but throughout the world. The response of international community was quite obvious.
Looking at the opinion pieces and blogs in the Western media it becomes evident that many analysts are using this incidence to prove their claim that Pakistan is a land of religious fanatics who would threaten global peace and security. Many others got a chance to say that their apprehensions about presence of "fundamentalists" among the law-enforcement agencies of Pakistan were not baseless. Some are saying that Time Magazines’ story "Pakistan: The most dangerous state in the world" was not an exaggeration. Few of the analysts have also highlighted the brave stance of civil society organisations that in most cases condemned this murder.
The response in Pakistan on this tragedy is quite diverse and reflects the state of confusion and self denial that we are in on fundamental issues including religion.
One section of the society condoned the murder and hailed the killer by showering flowers on him and announcing cash rewards for his ‘glorious deed’. This group not only included common people but others in society including lawyers, religious leaders, academia, and some media persons. One can still find banners hanging on roads of major cities praising Mumtaz Qadri for his act.
A notable size of society is of the opinion that Taseer’s comments of declaring blasphemy law as draconian law were irresponsible. They feel that his support of Aasia Bibi was premature and he should have adapted a legal course to get justice for Aasia, however, they also say that Mumtaz Qadri had no right to kill Taseer. A case could have been filed against Salman Taseer under the existing blasphemy law or a reference could have been moved for his disqualification as a governor if he violated any constitutional provisions.
Still, another segment of society condemned his murder, they are also against the misuse of blasphemy law and want it to be amended but choose to keep quiet due to fear of religious extremism.
Quite a few expressed their disappointment in the system and want to leave the country so that they and their children may have a chance to live in a tolerant society. How many of them would actually be able to emigrate is a big question but one can always find this note of hopelessness, disappointment, and frustration in most of the educated middle class.
Finally, there is a strong group of progressive, secular free thinkers who did not only openly condemned Taseer’s murder but also demanded that those parliamentary groups and parties that claim to be representatives of progressive voices should join hands to bring reforms in blasphemy law so that its misuse may be avoided.
Despite fatwas and life threats, this group is not only speaking and writing about it but also organised candle vigils and peaceful demonstrations (not only because all of them are in love with deceased Governor, but also due to the fact that they endorse his idea of creating conducive environment for religious harmony and tolerance. This group is being labeled as atheist and agents of infidels.
Emma Duncan in her Book, "Breaking the Curfew" describes Pakistanis as a nation which has ideas without ideologies and ideologies without ideas. I kept on recalling this phrase during the last two weeks. Do the killer of Salman Taseer and those who are condoning this act and glorifying the killer have any idea about the ideology they are trying to promote? Are they not approving that anyone can be declared as blasphemer, infidel and killed? Have the ulemas of various major sects of Islam not declared followers of other sects as non-Muslims and vice versa? According to their ideology, Muslims in Pakistan would have the right to declare those who disagree with their understanding of Islam as non-Muslims and liable to death.
People like Salman Taseer, Sherry Rehman, and many other secular voices are being declared as atheist by mainstream religious groups; a typical example of "ideas without ideology". The term secularism is historically used to present the idea of separation of church (clergy) from the state and was invented to describe the views of promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing religious belief. The term atheism, on the other hand, is the rejection of belief in the existence of God. Iqbal, for example, promoted secularism in his poetry and he is still acknowledged as "poet of Islam".
I sincerely believe that we need to start an intellectual debate on the fundamental issue of social ideologies and learn the difference between seculars, free thinkers; and atheists. Let us agree to disagree in a civilized manner.
The writer is a policy analyst and heads Sustainable Development Policy Institute