Kaleem Omar
(1937-2009)
KO in an age gone by
When I returned to The Star in 1987 after having interned there as a teenager five years earlier, there were some familiar faces, and some new ones.

comment
The question of Pakistan's provincialism
Why the division of Punjab alone should be a topic of national debate? The long due reform of Pakistan's federal politics is an urgent need and this is a time to act
By Raza Rumi
The elites drunk on the status quo have expressed two major reactions to the proposal of creating another province within the mighty Punjab. First that this is akin to opening a Pandora's box when we are at war against terrorism. Second, that this is a planted controversy whereby the ruling PPP wants to harm the house of Raiwind; or a conspiracy by those who want to destabilise Pakistan's political system.

People's politics
It is the responsibility of the political class to prove to working people that it is interested in changing this obsolete socio-political order
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
That politicians in Pakistan -- ordinary political workers less so -- are subject to such regular battering in the press, in gatherings of the chattering classes and even amongst working people is due largely to the military establishment's careful cultivation of its own image as the proverbial guardian of the nation and its attendant demeaning of politics. For the best part of 62 years, politicians have spent little meaningful time in political office. Since Zia ul Haq came to power in 1977, things have gotten much worse, and young people who have no memory of the period before Zia's martial law associate politics only with cynical self-aggrandisement.

development
Ideas for urban equalisation
Social and physical infrastructure in medium and small cities is falling apart
By Dr Noman Ahmed
As per administrative routines, various levels of local government institutions are busy announcing and approving budgets. In the usual practice, a budget document is an outcome of the aspirations of the ruling clique that intends to achieve its political objectives by directing public funds into the chosen heads of expenditure. The crude ideas are trimmed down in a clever manner by the finance wizards who exist in almost every department worth the name.

Politics of drug trade
The thriving criminal economy of Afghanistan is the main source of wealth formation, largely reaped by powerful criminal interests within the Western countries
By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr Ikramul Haq
The international drug mafia is estimated to be involved in a business whose total transactions cross $600-800 billion a year, according to Drug Report 2009, released by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime on June 24. Politics makes strange bedfellows, politics and drugs produce even stranger ones. The partnership between drug trafficking and national politics has taken a truly bizarre turn in the fight against the presumed threat to the capitalist system, roughly since World War II. The history of control of drugs is seldom taught to our people because it could unveil the forces that actually helped the pharmaceutical industry to earn huge profits and helped spawn a whole generation of pill-takers hooked on drug related habits.

issue
Water chronicles
To overcome the water scarcity, it's imperative that policy outlook on water is altered. Water needs to be considered as an economic asset and a security issue
By Sibtain Raza Khan
The ever-increasing water needs have once again brought the distribution of water among the provinces into the focus. With the growing water demand varying from personal or domestic use to irrigation or manufacturing, the differences among the provinces on water sharing have intensified. The recent proceedings of the National Assembly have been dominated by debate on the water distribution. Prime Minister Gilani assured that provinces will be provided due share and The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) has been directed to ensure distribution of water among the provinces according to the 1991 water accord. He has stressed the government would not only protect the rights of the provinces but also resolve any issue to the satisfaction of all parties.

Security of another kind
Benazir Income Support Programme has all the potential to be a viable social security programme for the poor
Dr M. Javaid Khan
Notwithstanding the "for and against" debate about the budget 2009-10, one really bold initiative is the allocation of Rs70 billion for Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). It is a good omen that at least a vision has been spelled out; how this vision is now translated in practice and the funds are turned effectively into the system is yet to be seen.

 

 


Kaleem Omar

(1937-2009)

KO in an age gone by

When I returned to The Star in 1987 after having interned there as a teenager five years earlier, there were some familiar faces, and some new ones.

The former editor G.N. Mansuri had passed away. Imran Aslam was Editor. The irreverent cartoonist Vai Ell (Yusuf Lodhi) was there. Cartoonist and illustrator Rafique Ahmed (later 'Feica') had gone. K.B. Abro had joined. Former sports reporter Zaffar Abbas had started political writing, mentored by Idris Bakhtiar. Saneeya Hussain headed 'The Star Weekend' since my first editor Zohra Yusuf, had been "kicked upstairs". Najma Babar and Najma Sadeque were around.

And there was Kaleem Omar, whose column 'Dear Beatrice' in 'The Star Weekend', started in 1983, always ended with a poem.

"He never did tell us who Beatrice was," says Zohra. He began doing the occasional write-up for the daily paper. Although never employed there he became a fixture in the office, spending "more time there than most employees," as Zohra affectionately put it.

Kaleem Omar was just 'KO' even to someone less than half his age like me. He was, as Mohsin Sayeed recently put it, "ageless". At that time, he had not only appropriated a place for himself in the Editor's office (first his close friend Mansuri sahib and then Imran Aslam) but also the editor's typewriter (all manual in those pre-electronic days). There was quite some hilarity when he was found asleep under Imran's desk one day, the typewriter cover on his head to keep out the light.

KO, with his impeccable grasp of the English language, would often be called upon to supply photo captions or short pieces as 'fillers'. A standing joke was that he carried his by-line already printed on film in his front pocket, whipping it out to paste at the last minute so save time (The newspaper was put together manually, 'pasters' gluing printed film on butter paper according to the layout sheet).

He left the Star in 1988, after he got an assignment from Dawn to cover the new Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's first parliamentary session. A year later, he joined The News where Imran Aslam had also migrated. We re-connected there in 1993 when I joined the paper too.

KO's encyclopedic knowledge (including how many column inches he had written over the years -- not for nothing was he known as 'Column Omar') led us to dub him as the "king of trivia", a crown he gleefully accepted. He was, as they say, "a character". RIP KO. We will miss you.

-- Beena Sarwar

 

Ever the dreamer

Never at a loss for words, Kaleem Omar really came to life in the mountains. When I lived in Islamabad 20 years ago, we would go off to explore the hills and the streams within an hour of the capital. Here, KO would recite poems in praise of the pure mountain air and the pristine pine forests. In fact, I was occasionally tempted to ask him to stop talking, and just soak in the surrounding beauty.

Ever the dreamer, he was a great one for counting his chickens before they were hatched. I remember walking into his house in Lahore one evening, and being asked if I knew the current exchange rate between the rupee and the Danish kroner. When I confessed my ignorance, he said he wanted to calculate his profit on some deal he was working on. Of course the deal never materialised, as they hardly ever did in his pre-journalism days. But the business world's loss was journalism's gain.

Thanksgiving parties at our house have always been followed by singsongs in which Haroon Jan would strum the guitar and KO would unleash his trusty harmonica. We would all join in with our rusty recollection of hits from the Fifties. As in everything, KO was a walking encyclopedia of old songs, and would supply the words when we forgot. He will be much missed, especially when we miss a verse from Tom Dooley.

-- Irfan Hussain

 

Elegance of language

Kaleem Omar was among the few Pakistani writers in English who had a range of interests about which he wrote with an elegance, knowledge and sophistication. And it was these attributes which he brought to modern colloquial English, keeping the reader engaged. His charm and passion, his being at ease with English language, is reflected in his poetry. He belongs to that generation of writers -- amongst whom one can count Taufiq Rafat, Khalid Hasan (as a prose write) and Alamgir Hashmi -- who brought modernity and elegance to English letters.

When he wrote about cricket, he wrote with style; he would romance the subject with is stylish, crisp, accessible prose. So that readers like me who don't know a thing about cricket loved to read what Kaleem wrote.

Language has a magic that can case its spell on people. Kaleem Omar was one of those people who knew this magic.

-- Shaista Sirajjudin

 

For the love of word

Mine is a whole lifetime of association with Kaleem Omar. My earliest memory is from Neeli Chatri, the grandfather's house in Aligarh, and Kaleem Omar jumping off the window shade and then hanging on to a tree with a string -- showing us all how to be a Tarzan -- and then falling down and breaking his arm.

The association continued, throughout. I remember Kaleem and his family visiting Murree when I was in boarding school in 1946-47. I remember wandering about in the Murree Khads (ditches) as we called them with Kaleem always leading the way.

But his central passion was always words. He was very observant, erudite, always reading his fantastic collection of books. He was a voracious reader and retained everything he read.

His encyclopaedic memory, his keen sense of observation, along with his love for the word made Kaleem Omar what he was.

He was passionate about poetry and after Taufiq Rafat was the best English poet of Pakistan.

His wide reading made for this impeccable taste, a sense of appropriateness and balance. He had a vivid, evocative sense of just the right word at the right place.

Then he had a unique sense of humour and an equally unique sense of irony. He was a great conversationalist of course.

-- Kamil Khan Mumtaz

 

The Indian Childhood

I was first introduced to Kaleem Omar in 1979 when I went to live in Karachi where one of my favourite weekend items was the eveninger Star. Kaleem was a regular feature in it and I got to know him through his brilliant, incisive, prurient, funny and thought-provoking writing.

Seven years later I made my first acquaintance with him when I began writing for the Star. Kaleem was not just a writer of natural brilliance; he was a great raconteur as well. When he began a story, everyone listened. Only the late and much lamented, sorely missed, Saneeya Hussain would roll her eyes and smile her wry, lop-sided smile: she apparently had heard them all.

When I met him Kaleem seemed to have become completely sedentary, but it was known that he had been a great traveller in his time. He held me in thrall with his yarns. My favourite was a minute-by-minute account of a train journey from Calcutta to Lahore sometime in the early 1940s. With all its minute details, the story was so frightfully long-winded that it took three or four sittings of a couple of hours each to complete. The latter sittings each began with Kaleem asking, "Ok, where were we?"

There were also tales of a journey to Amarnath cave tirath in Kashmir and to somewhere remote in Chitral. Interestingly, Kaleem could also narrate another person's escapades as if he had been right their watching everything unfold to be able to give an eyewitness account. Never once was the narrative lax or boring; always captivating. When I asked Kaleem why he wasn't writing a book to preserve all these fascinating stories, he said he was working on one titled An Indian Childhood.

Our ways parted when he moved to Islamabad, perhaps in 1987 or the year after. Not long after that I too moved back to Lahore. In 1994 I saw Kaleem for the last time. He was grossly over-weighted and abstracted. The Indian Childhood seemed to have been forgotten and I never had the heart to seek him out again. His passing away has deprived us of experiencing that childhood.

-- Salman Rashid

 

 

comment

The question of

Pakistan's provincialism

Why the division of Punjab alone should be a topic of national debate? The long due reform of Pakistan's federal politics is an urgent need and this is a time to act

By Raza Rumi

The elites drunk on the status quo have expressed two major reactions to the proposal of creating another province within the mighty Punjab. First that this is akin to opening a Pandora's box when we are at war against terrorism. Second, that this is a planted controversy whereby the ruling PPP wants to harm the house of Raiwind; or a conspiracy by those who want to destabilise Pakistan's political system.

Both these arguments are spurious for nothing is more important for Pakistan than to make the federation work. The argument that the British drawn provincial boundaries are sacrosanct is as nonsensical as the reality of the Durand Line or for that matter the line of control itself. If anything, South Asia has experienced territorial and demographic shifts through the centuries. When resisted, the sweep of history has blown away the resistant elements and when carefully manoeuvred such shifts have resulted in commonsensical political and administrative solutions.

Before we explore this question of Pakistan's provincialism, let us understand what was happening in the neighbouring state that dealt with the thorny issues of linguistic, ethnic identities and attempted to administer a disparate country like India. Since the 1950s new states have been carved out from the older states, through a constitutional process. Hence, we see the division of Eastern Punjab into Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh. As late as 2000, Uttra Khand emerged as a new state out of the unwieldy and ungovernable Uttar Pradesh. Chhattisgarh was separated from Madhya Pradesh in 2000 and Jharkhand; the 28th state of India was created in the year 2000, when the Bihar reorganisation bill was passed. This is an ongoing dynamic process where more governable and less disharmonious units emerge and continue to emerge from the old order created by Mughal empire and the British colonial state.

On the other hand, we, the fortress of Islam, appeared on the globe as a lopsided federation in 1947 where the majority province was separated from the minority provinces by one thousand miles of "hostile territory" and where all sorts of manipulation continued to neutralise the majority province and deny it the rightful share in state services, power and resources until the situation became untenable. The first Pakistani cabinet had a single minister from the majority province and the trend continued unabated through the 1950s and the 1960s. A parity between the two sides i.e. West Pakistan and East Pakistan was engineered to ensure that the West Pakistan, otherwise a minority wing, would get a higher share in governance while the Eastern wing with the numerical majority would forego some of its rightful claims. The one unit arrangement was a legal articulation of this culture of dominance that West Pakistan wanted to maintain in the larger national interest that was based on the imperative of national security.

As if this was not enough, a West Pakistani military dictator ruled for a decade in a centralised, almost a unitary form of government whitewashing the realities of power with hollow rhetoric of federalism. What could be expected of this fractured state of the union?

It is, therefore, not surprising that Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman came up with the contentious six points in 1970 that led to his branding as a traitor and an Indian agent. The West Pakistani elites are on record to have agreed to most of these points except the one pertaining to separate currencies. But an untenable federation further ruined by a brutal crushing of a movement for regional autonomy resulted in the destruction of Jinnah's Pakistan in 1971.

The new Pakistan, which by all accounts can be termed as Bhutto's Pakistan, ironically, turned into the haunting dilemma of managing yet another lopsided federation. The three smaller units could not match the numerical strength nor the resources or access to state power that Punjab enjoyed. Even Bhutto had to crush provincial movements in Balochistan and NWFP through military means. The alienation of the smaller provinces was aggravated further under Zia ul Haq who treated Sindh like an old Raj colonist by murdering its brightest man and crushing popular movements that centred on the fables of Bhuttoism.

The 1973 Constitution was an attempted solution to create a legal framework for a workable federation. However, its key provisions relating to the management of federal relations such as the Council of Common Interests were rarely invoked let alone implemented. Punjab's due share of federal resources became a point of resentment and the use of natural resources from Balochistan, a rallying point for anti-federal politics. The overrepresentation of the Punjab in the armed forces and bureaucracy has not helped the situation either. In effect we have rather miraculously survived the time bomb of an untenable federation largely through the construction of a "national enemy" in the form of our eastern neighbour, which, sadly, played a direct role in the disintegration of Jinnah's Pakistan.

During our recent version of martial rule, under General Musharraf, the story has remained familiar. The Baloch leaders have been mercilessly killed, the Pakhtuns are aggrieved due to the imposition of a foreign war on their soil and the Sindhis continue to remain disenchanted after their second federal leader was murdered in broad daylight near a 'Punjabi' cantonment. The long due reform of Pakistan's federal politics is an urgent need. What is the harm in having a full-fledged debate in the parliament on this critically important issue. Is challenging the largest province's inherited hegemony a conspiracy, sin or yet another foreign intervention? About time we recognised the reality of our existence and shun the meta-narratives crafted by state sponsored histories and the insidious textbook one-nation theory.

Pakistan cannot become as a nation unless its ethnic, linguistic, religious and geographical groups are at peace with each other and perceive the federal system as a fair system of co-existence. How else are we going to tackle the growth to anti-federal forces such as the Balochistan Liberation Army, among others?

In fact why the division of Punjab alone should be a topic of national debate? Equally important is to look at the other three units and the way demographics have changed in the last three decades. Balochistan is not anymore the sole preserve of the Baloch people. It has a sizeable number of Pakhtuns and other groups living in it. The urban and rural Sindh divide is well-known. The Pakhtuns and Hazara communities in NWFP are distinct. All of these issues need to be taken up by a designated, special purpose parliamentary committee.

The power distance of the citizenry is now an alarming trend in Pakistan. The state and its agencies are remote, inaccessible and, often, indifferent. This has eroded public trust in state as an arbiter of public interest. Mammoth provincial bureaucracies rule far flung areas from their comfortable and highly centralised offices. This has to change if we have to survive and prosper as a viable country. Any further erosion of state writ spells doom for Pakistanis and, perhaps, the regions as well. The non-state actors have gained ground and entrenched themselves as armed mafias vying for spoils of the post-colonial state.

Is it not a matter of common sense that we redress some of these issues through a process of democratic debate, compromise and settlement than wait for another messiah to come and sketch new boundaries from a barricaded Islamabad?

Critics have also raised the issue that further sub-division of existing provinces would multiply the administrative expenses and lead to the creation of more battalions of cabinets, advisors and bureaucrats. This is pure and simple hogwash for not a simple and rough calculation has ever been made. The inertia of Pakistani policy makers and their adhocism prevents them from even a basic exercise of preparing and costing such policy options. All one hears on the ubiquitous TV shows is hot air, fallacies and partisan pretensions. Even the intelligentsia has not paid much attention to details of this kind for they are as factionalised as the Pakistani federation itself.

Even if it means swallowing a bit of text book pride, we ought to learn from India where except for certain states such as Kashmir and the troubled north-east, federalism has been negotiated and rationalised by its ruling political elites. General Musharraf had promised devolution of powers from the centre to the provinces, which was never implemented. The centre remains as strong as ever but like a termite-infested structure its decay is also a reality. The provincial centres of power are well-entrenched in exercising control and doling out patronage but their ability to govern has also dwindled. It is said that al-Qaeda is safely operating in Balochistan and the insurgents are scot free in the remote areas away from the provincial capital. The mythical Punjab's southern belt is now considered as catchment area for militant Islam that supplies suicide bombers at reasonable rates. There are pockets of the Punjab province that are poorer than Sindh and Balochistan.

Let us not even talk about NWFP for its anarchy is a tragedy of our times. And, we need not recount the horrors of abject poverty and deprivation in the Tharparkar or the urban mafias who are the proxy state in the province.

This is a time to act. There is no room for further procrastination in tackling the ailments of the federal system. The media instead of playing partisan politics with reporters and self-styled commentators being agents of partisan agendas should allow the flourishing of an open debate. Even better, let us have credible opinion polls on this issue. Independent social scientists and legal experts must come forward with the range of options that are feasible for the country. Above all, the political elites mired in thana kutchehri and development schemes must recognise their historical role at a juncture when Pakistan is facing threats from within. Let us hope they can prove Mirza Ghalib wrong who had uttered years ago: "hooay tum dost jis kay, dushman us ka aasman kyon ho."

The author is a development professional and a writer based in Lahore. He blogs at www.razarumi.com and edits Pak Tea House and Lahorenama e-zines. Email: [email protected]

 

People's politics

It is the responsibility of the political class to prove to working people that it is interested in changing this obsolete socio-political order

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

That politicians in Pakistan -- ordinary political workers less so -- are subject to such regular battering in the press, in gatherings of the chattering classes and even amongst working people is due largely to the military establishment's careful cultivation of its own image as the proverbial guardian of the nation and its attendant demeaning of politics. For the best part of 62 years, politicians have spent little meaningful time in political office. Since Zia ul Haq came to power in 1977, things have gotten much worse, and young people who have no memory of the period before Zia's martial law associate politics only with cynical self-aggrandisement.

Having said this, mainstream politicians can hardly be considered blameless. The internationally renowned Pakistani academic Hamza Alavi put it thus: "movements for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan have made no effective dents in the power of the oligarchy, despite occasional ritualistic elections, for two reasons: first, because of the formalistic and narrowly legitimate constitutionalism of Pakistan's political leadership, which has failed to address itself to the question of generating effective countervailing power, especially by way of organising the working masses of the country, including the peasantry, with which to confront oligarchic domination."

Essentially mainstream politicians and political parties have acceded to the role of junior partner to the military establishment, and in the past have even spent time undermining one another so as to win the generals' favour. In recent times, the big parties have demonstrated greater maturity so as to protect the little democracy that exists, but still do not appear willing to, so to speak, put the cat amongst the pigeons and generate the popular support that could permanently alter the power equation in the country.

Defenders of our mainstream parties will argue that they contend with formidable obstacles, not least of which is the fact that the military has always been patronised by the big western powers. But notwithstanding the hostile international environment, particularly after the start of the so-called 'war on terror', as well as other admittedly serious objective constraints, the primary problem with our mainstream parties is that they simply do not represent the class interests of the majority of the Pakistani people. In short, if our mainstream parties were to, in Alavi's words, generate effective countervailing power by mobilising working people, they would do so at the risk of jeopardising the class interests of many bigwigs in their ranks.

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is the classic case. It remains the only mainstream party in the post-1971 period to have genuinely mobilised working people on a slogan of structural change. And it is the legacy of the 1970s that guarantees the PPP a significant chunk of its vote bank. But it has long ceased to be a party that is committed to class struggle and socialism, in the manner that it was in the period immediately after its creation. It may still be the most progressive mainstream party out there, but that is not saying a lot.

Is the PPP of today willing to take a stand against the neo-liberal impositions of the international financial institutions (IFIs)? Do PPP leaders of today even publicly use the term 'imperialism', as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did so regularly? Would the PPP dare revive progressive political agendas that it once championed such as land reform? It goes without saying that if the answer to these questions is 'no' for the PPP, then it is even more emphatic in the case of the PML-N and other mainstream parties.

In recent times there has been an upsurge of organising in the working class circles of industrial towns such as Faisalabad. In particular there is increasing radicalism in the textiles industry, which has been subject to numerous shocks due to the global financial meltdown and the power crisis within Pakistan. Activists have attempted to register trade unions in numerous private factories, with a reasonable degree of success. But there has also been resistance on the part of owners who are simply not willing to accept the idea of an organised workforce.

Among the more prominent examples of suppression has taken place in one leading textile mill in Faisalabad, owned by an industrial tycoon. Two dozen workers have been summarily terminated for attempting to register a trade union with the local Labour Department. Despite repeated protests and assurances on the part of the local administration as well as a stay order issued by the National Industrial Relations Commission (NIRC), the mill's management has not felt compelled to restore the workers to their jobs.

The sacked workers have taken their protests to the federal capital, and have been sitting outside the National Press Club for over two weeks. Yet no one seems to take notice. The print and electronic media seem unwilling to cover the protest, ostensibly because the mill owner (who owns numerous other big businesses) has considerable advertising power. PML-N leaders such as Ahsan Iqbal and Javed Hashmi have been asked to visit the protest camp to express solidarity with the workers; it is a known fact that the Sharifs are close associates of the group. The PML-N leaders have not taken up the issue notwithstanding the Sharifs' claim that theirs has become a popular party.

The provincial labour minister, Ashraf Sona of the PPP, has engaged consistently with the mill's management and other mill workers who have been agitating for their rights. Amazingly he has repeatedly expressed his regret at not being able to do very much in their favour. His honesty is laudable but the lack of political will that his party is expressing reflects just how far the PPP has fallen from the pedestal of champion of working class rights. Meanwhile the religious parties have not expressed any concern over the victimisation of workers, a posture consistent with their complete lack of concern with class power, notwithstanding their consistent rhetoric to the contrary.

This is just a microcosm of the larger picture. All over the country mainstream parties are called upon to defend working people from the rich and powerful as well as the oppressive state bureaucracy. But more often than not mainstream parties side with the forces of status quo. It should not be expected that the military establishment will willingly relinquish its position of pre-eminence, and accordingly the vilification of politics and politicians will continue into the foreseeable future. It is the responsibility of all popular forces to protect political forces from the conspiracies of the military establishment. But it is also the responsibility of the political class to prove to working people that it is interested in changing this obsolete socio-political order. Sooner or later the latent anger and frustration will spill over and if those who claim to represent the people do not stand with them, then they too will be swept away by the forces of change. History bears witness.


development

Ideas for urban equalisation

Social and physical infrastructure in medium and small cities is falling apart

By Dr Noman Ahmed

As per administrative routines, various levels of local government institutions are busy announcing and approving budgets. In the usual practice, a budget document is an outcome of the aspirations of the ruling clique that intends to achieve its political objectives by directing public funds into the chosen heads of expenditure. The crude ideas are trimmed down in a clever manner by the finance wizards who exist in almost every department worth the name.

Between the utmost conservative approaches of babus to the unbridled pragmatism of daring leaders, the completion of the budget document is finalised as an embodiment of compromise. The craftily balanced statistics and figures normally leave little room for criticism, at least from the standpoint of mathematical rationality.

But it is often the case that the nascent aspirations of ordinary people have very limited existence in the financial decisions that are manifested in local financial resolutions. This aspect becomes starkly apparent at the level of district, town, tehsil or taluka level announcements which have the most dominant bearing on the lives of ordinary people.

For commonly prevailing woes in the society, solutions have to be worked out by the respective level of administrative cadres. The chosen option can only become effective if it receives diversion of appropriate funds from the concerned local government tier. It is disappointing to note that common problems of ordinary people do not find a befitting response in this vital stage of financial policy making. For example, countless studies done in the domain of urban locations in Pakistan show that housing for low income groups is a chronic issue. With the rise in land prices, construction materials, technical inputs and other allied ingredients, the poor find it next to impossible to develop housing compatible to the family needs.

The government has withdrawn direct subsidies on housing since a very long time. But in a civilised society that follows market economy doctrines, the state encourages benevolent entrepreneurs that venture to create affordable housing for less privileged citizens. This task is performed by an array of carefully worked out target subsidies and incentives. Institutions that extend credit support to lower income people are consolidated. In certain cases, the fiscal relief is provided to ensure the extension of social abetment to the down trodden masses. One finds that housing remains a totally neglected domain in our financial policy priorities, even at the local level. With the exception of few rudimentary inputs of providing tertiary infrastructure, the local governments do not seem to be interested to facilitate housing to the needy groups.

Municipalities in the developing world have usually come up with worthwhile housing provision choices in many contexts. Social housing programmes are one category. By responding to the housing needs of lower grade formal sector employees, a sizable number of the poor can be addressed. Protection of land reserves, facilitation of formal developers to package housing for a range of income groups, extensions of housing loan options and formulation of effective cooperative institutions are time tested options to redress the pressing need of urban and semi -urban poor.

Our system of commuting is divided on the basis of social classes, both at the inter- and intra city level. The informal private sector has been the key service provider in most of the cities. Several government managed transport corporations and companies have gone bankrupt and hence disbanded. At the intra city level, poor and lower middle income groups have to brave out the worn out and wobbly mini buses, wagons or buses. Since the financial incentives do not exist and operational risks are very high, common private entrepreneurs do not enter into this domain of enterprise. Middle and upper classes prefer motor cycles and cars. With the wide spread car loan options, the trend of private cards has spread enormously.

As the policy makers are unable to gauge the plight of ordinary commuter, the trauma is lingering on. It is ironic to note that in large cities such as Karachi, vital transport schemes like Karachi Circular Railways have been facing inordinate delays in execution. In the bevy of projects announced for the forthcoming year, no time tag is given to steer this most crucial project to completion. Karachi and Lahore shall be importing thousands of CNG buses. While any number of buses is a welcome addition, the initiative smacks of a lost opportunity. Our automobile industry has not been able to scale up its output to the numbers and requirements for what could be termed as local captive market. The boon of employment to our labour force is thus lost to outside entrepreneurs.

At the inter city level, the fleet of private buses are all imported in nature. The railway service has faced virulent criticism by all and sundry. It used to be the poor man's safe and cheap mode of transport which has faltered on both the counts. The government denounces suggestions regarding privatisation but does not come up with a planning and financing mechanism to bring the system on tracks.

Social and physical infrastructure in medium and small cities is falling apart. It may be mentioned that the number of such urban locations is over 500 in Pakistan. In the usual outlay of budgets, more than 70 percent of allocation is barely enough to meet the establishment cost. Smaller municipalities are left with no funds to look after and maintain the crippling infrastructure. They are left with no choice except to keep applying to federal and provincial governments. In rare cases, MNA, MPA or Senator's funds come to the rescue but in an irregular manner. The operational situation of social facilities is adversely affected due to poor governance and acute shortage of human and monetary resources. Sights of abandoned public buildings, ghost schools and deserted clinics/hospitals are common place. The scenario merits some innovative financial and governance initiatives to address the grave issues.

The federal government can consider the creation of a federal fund for urban development and renewal of cities with less than one million population. It can begin its activities by examining the available list of projects and programmes outlined in Annual Development Programmes (ADPs) of respective districts. As the capacity of planning and development in these locations is virtually non-existent, the fund can become the support institution also. It can extend technical advice on urban and regional planning, project preparation, formulation of tender documents, bid evaluation and other normal tasks.

It may be pointed out that a similar venture has been introduced in neighbouring India with the nomenclature of Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission. Useful lessons can be drawn from similar attempts. At the level of medium and large cities, urban equalisation funds may be developed. The concept behind these funds is to pool a portion of local tax and other revenue from affluent neighbourhoods for spending onto deprived and under developed locations. In some instances, the federal government contributes a matching grant to equalisation funds on the basis of total accumulated sum of local units.

Unless smart organisations are enacted to deal with the burgeoning issues, very little value for money shall be accrued to the bulky finances announced for different tiers of government.

 

Politics of drug trade

The thriving criminal economy of Afghanistan is the main source of wealth formation, largely reaped by powerful criminal interests within the Western countries

By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr Ikramul Haq

The international drug mafia is estimated to be involved in a business whose total transactions cross $600-800 billion a year, according to Drug Report 2009, released by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime on June 24. Politics makes strange bedfellows, politics and drugs produce even stranger ones. The partnership between drug trafficking and national politics has taken a truly bizarre turn in the fight against the presumed threat to the capitalist system, roughly since World War II. The history of control of drugs is seldom taught to our people because it could unveil the forces that actually helped the pharmaceutical industry to earn huge profits and helped spawn a whole generation of pill-takers hooked on drug related habits.

Great Britain waged two wars in the mid-nineteenth century to force the entry of opium into China which had banned it. It may seem strange and shameful that a mighty nation should have picked on a weak one and sided with the smugglers of a forbidden drug, but that is what the politics of drug trade is all about. A larger issue was, of course, the opening up of China for commercial purposes, but the immediate cause of war was opium.

It was not out of character for a colonial power of those days to rely on drugs-related economy as a major source of revenue for its treasury, as the British colonial government did in India. Practically all colonial governments in the East did it, and the practice continued until the dissolution of the colonies in the mid-twentieth century. The effect of such fiscal policies on the production and consumption of the drug concerned should be fairly obvious.

The United States early in this century took the lead in the attempt to stop the international traffic in opium, partly as a gesture to win over opium-plagued China for economic purposes. When heroin, an opium derivative made several times more potent by technology, was declared illegal in the US in 1914, it went underground and attained apotheosis as the most forbidden fruit. This opened the doors for elements of organised crime to get involved and start feeding the growing habit in the US and Europe.

Then, after World War II the US found itself having to defend an empire against rising challenges to its politico-economic system on the periphery. In turning back these challenges, the US more than once turned for help towards organised criminals and unpopular dictators who enriched themselves through illicit means, including drug trafficking. Pakistan is one such example.

The US government spends millions of dollars annually to halt the flow across the border, of illicit marijuana, heroin, cocaine etc. and even to shut them off at the source in well-publicised campaigns. These operations involve seizures worth billions of dollars, arrests of traffickers, deaths of drug smugglers and law-enforcement officials and forceful crop eradication of the poor peasants in far away countries. Simultaneously, various agencies are in political partnerships for the spread of the same drugs. Either the right hand does not know what the left is doing, or it does not care.

Since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the Golden Crescent opium trade has soared. In the words of the US State Department's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2009: "Afghanistan cultivated 93 percent of the world's opium poppy in 2008. Afghanistan is involved in the full narcotics production cycle, from cultivation to finished heroin, with drug traffickers trading in all forms of opiates, including unrefined opium, semi-refined morphine base, and refined heroin. Growing insecurity in Afghanistan's south, where most poppy was grown, impeded the extension of governance and law enforcement. Narcotics traffickers also exploited government weakness and corruption. Narcotics-related corruption is particularly pervasive at the provincial and district levels of government. Corrupt practices range from facilitating drug activities to benefiting from revenue streams that the drug trade produces. During 2008, several mid-level Afghan government officials were convicted of narcotics-related charges and narcotics-related corruption charges. For example, nine public officials, including several Kabul police commanders were convicted in the Central Narcotics Tribunal on charges relating to heroin trafficking."

This is the half truth. The full truth is that thriving criminal economy is the main source of wealth formation, largely reaped by powerful business/criminal interests within the Western countries. These interests are sustained by US foreign policy. Decision-making in the US State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon is instrumental in supporting this highly profitable multi-billion dollar trade, third in commodity value after oil and the arms trade. The heroin trade was part of the war agenda. What this war has achieved is to restore a compliant narco-state, headed by a US appointed puppet. The powerful financial interests behind narcotics are supported by the militarisation of the world's major drug triangles (and trans-shipment routes), including the Golden Crescent and the Andean region of South America (under the so-called Andean Initiative).

The accumulation of vast assets by the drug barons has enabled them to continue large-scale operations even after crackdown and arrest of some of their leaders (although they have also managed to defy proper investigation and get themselves released). Over the past decade, the drug barons in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as elsewhere in the world, have established themselves as patrons of politicians and government functionaries. The drug scene at its roots is a business story. This is a story of the emergence of a "drug elite" in the world. Drug production and trafficking are big business. The product is lucrative, needs no advertisement and keeps the customers coming back for more. The individuals and cartels running this deadly trade are influential and ruthless and have managed to fight back all efforts aimed at curtailing their activities.

The history of so-called drug control is more of a cosmetic war. The politics of drug trade has made millions of people a helpless lot. This is a war against the people and humanity. Our present day civilisation faces a great threat of annihilation if the rising tide of drug culture is not stemmed. Awareness alone can bring light to overcome the darkness caused by the drug traders who are merchants of death and destruction.

(The writers, tax lawyers, specialise in narco-terrorism and global heroin economy.)

 

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Water chronicles

To overcome the water scarcity, it's imperative that policy outlook on water is altered. Water needs to be considered as an economic asset and a security issue

By Sibtain Raza Khan

The ever-increasing water needs have once again brought the distribution of water among the provinces into the focus. With the growing water demand varying from personal or domestic use to irrigation or manufacturing, the differences among the provinces on water sharing have intensified. The recent proceedings of the National Assembly have been dominated by debate on the water distribution. Prime Minister Gilani assured that provinces will be provided due share and The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) has been directed to ensure distribution of water among the provinces according to the 1991 water accord. He has stressed the government would not only protect the rights of the provinces but also resolve any issue to the satisfaction of all parties.

The difference among provinces has been a historic phenomenon, which can be traced back to pre-partition times. Water remained an issue of contention among the provinces even after the independence. The Water Allocation and Rates Committee was constituted in 1968 to review the "river barrage water allocations, reservoir release patterns, draw down levels and use of groundwater in relation to surface water deliveries." However, the report submitted by the committee was not seriously considered. Later Justice Fazl-e-Akbar Committee was constituted in 1970, however no decision was taken on the committee recommendations and water was distributed on ad hoc orders by the government of Pakistan. Finally it was the chief ministers of the provinces who after a series of meetings reached at a consensus on the distribution of water in 1991.

An inter-provincial water agreement was essential to resolve the multi-faceted water dispute including: differences over canal water uses, shares in the river supplies and surplus flows in the form of floods, etc. The formal agreement concluded among the provinces was termed 'Apportionment of Water of the Indus River System between the provinces' and had two important features, firstly, it protected the existing uses of canal water in each province and secondly, it apportioned the balance of river supplies, including flood surpluses and future storage among the provinces. The agreement envisaged freedom of provinces within their allocations to modify system-wise and period-wise uses and that the existing reservoirs would be used with priority for the irrigation uses of the provinces.

Though the water accord provided a framework for water distribution and regularised the water use among the provinces, nonetheless, in 1994 on the recommendation of a Ministerial Committee, headed by then federal minister for water and power, Malik Ghulam Mustafa Khar another water sharing formula was enforced, which has been in place until now. The demands for restoration of 1991 accord as the basis of water sharing have been raised from time to time particularly from Sindh. With the renewed commitment by the government regarding the restoration of the 1991 accord, hopes for better water sharing among provinces have once again surfaced.

The decreasing storage capacity, mismanagement and increasing demand of water has created rifts among the provinces from time to time. Lately voices have been raised particularly in Sindh regarding damage to production of cotton and paddy due to water shortage. The Sindh Abadgar Board president, Abdul Majeed Nizamani blamed Wapda and Isra authorities for failing to judge impact of such shortfall in the system. The Chairman Sindh Chamber of Agriculture, Syed Qamar-u-Zaman Shah stressed that the only compensation for water shortage was through implementation of the 1991 accord.

The agricultural sector is facing huge loses due to this ever increasing water shortage and according to Irsa technical committee, there would be five percent shortfall in supply during early Kharif season, while there would be 3 percent at the later stage in the crop season. The reduction can be a serious blow for the farmers, whose output is dependent on sufficient water availability. According to Ghulam Rabbani, a member of Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association, if the water shortfall persists for further few weeks it would be disastrous for the cash crop.

Nonetheless, the experts are of the view that not only lesser inflow in river Indus has resulted in water scarcity but mismanagement of water resources and lack of coordination among provinces on water sharing. A senior irrigation expert estimated that Sindh province is losing 60 percent of its water share through transmission of water from Guddu to downstream Kotri Barrage by mismanagement, obsolete canals, minors, watercourses and water theft. The studies have shown that the overall availability of irrigation water in Pakistan is still more than aggregate cultivated area; however, the problem lies in the inefficient use which is a result of water losses in obsolete conveyance system and poor land preparation.

Pakistan being an agricultural country is badly suffering on economic front due to water scarcity. The inadequate irrigation and water infrastructure deficit alone is estimated at US $70 billion. Pakistan needs almost US $1 billion annually to be invested in new dams and related infrastructure over the next five years. According to the World Bank data, Pakistan stores only 30 days of river water, while India stores 120 days water and a new dam can potentially add four to five percent to Pakistan's GDP. Additionally, water scarcity and poor management of water resources can also lead to loss of agricultural production and biodiversity.

In addition to the construction of new water reservoirs, efforts are also needed to improve the efficiency of water use in Pakistan's agricultural sector. Instead of using flood irrigation used other options such as drip or spray irrigation may also be explored to control water use in irrigation. Also a significant portion of the water problems in Pakistan is linked with increasing population and inefficient enforcement of laws regarding water pollution, therefore these issues exacerbating the water problem should also be simultaneously addressed. Most importantly, the water sharing formula among the provinces needs to be strictly followed to attain desired output and to avoid friction between the provinces.

To overcome the water scarcity, it's imperative that policy outlook on water is altered. Water needs to be considered as an economic asset and a security issue. Long term planning is needed to address the growing water related problems and provincial apprehension required to be taken into account while planning and implementation of any water related strategy.

(Email: [email protected])

 

Security of another kind

Benazir Income Support Programme has all the potential to be a viable social security programme for the poor

Dr M. Javaid Khan

Notwithstanding the "for and against" debate about the budget 2009-10, one really bold initiative is the allocation of Rs70 billion for Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). It is a good omen that at least a vision has been spelled out; how this vision is now translated in practice and the funds are turned effectively into the system is yet to be seen.

Since health insurance is a very misunderstood concept in Pakistan, it is high time that debate and dialogue already initiated is taken to its logical end. Adding health insurance in BISP is an innovative step as direct expenditure on medical care has been proved to be one of the major causes of families falling into the poverty trap.

Illness brings poverty and poverty eradication is now the need and goal of every civilized nation. Pakistan Safety Net Survey 2005 found that among different shocks, health-related ones were the most common -- constituting 55 percent of all the shocks, and triggering very high losses and coping costs. Coping with a health shock cost families Rs13,000 on average in health care costs and lost income, while the average cost/loss resulting from economic and agricultural shocks was Rs7,700 and Rs12,300 respectively.

An important point to remember is that economic shocks are often short term, but health shocks invariably leave lasting scars. Economies may eventually recover, but there is no recovery of unnecessary deaths or life-long disabilities caused by inadequate policies for financing of healthcare.

In Pakistan, 70 percent of healthcare expenditures are out of pocket, the most inequitable of all health financing schemes, hitting the poor primarily. One of the principles of the health insurance is that the patient should not be required to pay at the point of services. The currently envisaged Health Insurance scheme in BISP, however, is based on reimbursement model i.e. patients first have to pay money from their own pocket: sometimes selling a goat or a cow, their only means of livelihood. They are reimbursed subsequently (that too after a cumbersome process) that has been shown globally to be an ineffective means of mitigating the risk associated with out of pocket payment. Many forgo this due to the burdensome and sometimes degrading procedures. The issue is that the patient should not pay at the point of service rather the providers be paid afterward through insurance mechanisms.

High hopes are attached with the BISP that it will take care of the current poverty and exclusion situation in Pakistan. It calls for a determined effort by all relevant stakeholders, to formulate and take forward a comprehensive social security scheme for implementation. The scheme be developed in a holistic and integrated pattern based on rights-based approach and meant to be provided to all those in need at all times albeit prioritising the poorest strata of the society.

The BISP has all the potential to become one such scheme. Shunning the temptation for only politically feasible temporary approaches, the government should focus on extending the security provision to the whole population of Pakistan. Short-term approach of extending targeted subsidies results in rollback of social policies from universal coverage concepts, stepping down to safety nets and even further to targeting the poor. The latter approach is usually residualist, paternalistic and conservative; and causes dependency and throws scarce resources down the drain. The cash transfer programmes therefore should be designed in such a way that these programmes do not result in preventing adults from seeking work or create a dependency culture which perpetuates intergenerational poverty.

Capitalising on the opportunity provided by BISP, the government should lay the foundation of a comprehensive, holistic, sustainable, predicable scheme. Beyond BISP, health security must be grounded on truly universal package of guaranteed benefits or entitlements, comprising set of essential services applied to all in the country. With rapids urbanisation and industrialisation, a very large segment of Pakistan's population is facing difficulty in making both ends meet. If Pakistan has to emerge as a responsible state among the comity of nations, it has to develop and implement a comprehensive, sustainable and universal social security system with health insurance as one essential component. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has set minimum standards in this regard in its Social Security Convention of 1952, identifying nine areas for social insurance -- medical care and benefits in case of sickness, unemployment, old age, work injury, family, maternity, invalidity, widowhood and death.

Universal provision of social security is the foundation of a welfare state so often articulated by Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. And if the government could implement this one initiative alone, it would be remembered for ages to come. Through the comprehensive concept of security, improved health can contribute to the stability and prosperity of nations and legitimacy for the governments, which in turn foster the global freedom from harm. The government has no task more urgent or important than to achieve health and social protection for all. Pakistan is facing a security and economic crisis, but this should not be the excuse to decline into the status quo, but to be bold and imaginative in introducing innovations for universal social protection.

Guaranteeing health security has become even more urgent in these times of crises. Social security is based on a simple fact: secure families build secure communities, and secure communities make secure societies. Greater social cohesion helps stop crime, conflict and a range of societal ills most afflicting Pakistani society today. It also helps overcome economic, social and structural barriers to growth and development.

(The writer is a Health Economist and Population, Health and Development professional working as Senior Advisor for GTZ Health Program in Pakistan.

Email: [email protected])

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