the shadow of militancy
The trade union movement grew slowly but steadily in the financial hub of Pakistan. Unlike Lahore, where it was led by committed Marxist leader Mirza Mohammad Ibrahim, who held sway at the Pakistan Railways, it was a weak show in Karachi.
growth, and governance
By Zaman Khan
The International Conference on the 'Conduct of Responsible Science, Safety, Security and Ethics was held on June 9-10, 2010 in Islamabad. There are some important issues discussed in the conference that we need to reflect on.
Science has definitely added pleasure to the lives of human beings but it has also created serious problems and has made possible total annihilation of life on the planet.
Saving the Capital
The recent decision of the Supreme Court to order closure of a multinational food chain restaurant in Islamabad is path-breaking
By Raza Rumi
It has become a cliché to praise the Supreme Court of Pakistan these days. Clichéd, because many partisan agendas find resonance within the all-embracing spectrum of judicial activism. Those who have been critical of judges turning into activists must rethink their misgivings. While the dangers of such blanket approval of the workings of a state institution are apparent, it is still a welcome change in a country known for its culture of impunity. This is why the recent decision of the mighty Supreme Court to have ordered the closure of a multinational food chain restaurant in Islamabad's ill-designed public park is path-breaking.
First of all, the fact that a municipal matter reached an overburdened superior court speaks much about the dysfunctional executive that manages our lives. That the court had the wisdom to uphold the rights of ordinary Islamabadites marks a new beginning which, if taken to its logical end, would mean that all public spaces in Pakistan should come under intense judicial scrutiny. Lastly, the court's effort to enforce accountability could very well turn out to be a new beginning in our murky public affairs.
Effective municipal management requires that we revisit the urban governance frameworks that are now outdated to handle the population growth, changed needs of the population and dwindling state capacity to enforce regulations. Notwithstanding that Islamabad is fifteen kilometres away from the real Pakistan, the management practices are no different from the rest of the country. Essentially, the Islamabad saga reveals a case of serious governance failure.
That the policy-makers and urban managers had the audacity to colonise public spaces for the nefarious alliance of a multinational corporation and the national elites is disturbing, to say the least. The sham 'citizens' club which has consumed billions from public money boasted a cigar room. One wonders how many ordinary citizens of Pakistan would have access to an imported cigarette, let alone an expensive imported cigar. However, the most worrying revelation pertained to the flouting of environmental, urban, and municipal rights through executive vandalism in the heart of Pakistan's posh capital. This is why we ought to be thanking our stars. The judgment makes a categorical reference to how the laws were twisted:
"It was submitted that the complex in question which involved construction of a huge building with an initial estimated cost of Rs1500 million; which involved use of roads in a residential locality by a large number of additional persons and vehicles visiting the said plaza and which also involved a change of land use, fell within the purview of a `Project' as defined by section 2(xxxv) of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act No.XXXIV of 1997 and in view of the provisions of section 12 of the said Act of 1997, the very commencement of its construction without filing an initial environmental examination with the Federal Agency and without its approval regarding the environmental impact assessment, was grossly illegal and was even a culpable offence under the said Act. This-issue also requires examination."
Those who are complaining about the disincentive for foreign investors through this development are providing lame justifications for ignoring the welfare of Pakistanis to serve the needs of a few. Not only was this restaurant given preferential treatment, but the Capital Development Authority destroyed a green belt to ensure easy access to a consumerist outlet known for its pernicious food and unethical practices worldwide. For instance, in the West, the Mecca of the Pakistani elites and wannabes, the restaurant has come under severe attack for flouting food regulations, animal rights, and contributing to obesity. Is this the mode of development that we wish to ape in Pakistan? Talk of misplaced priorities. The verdict of the Supreme Court in para 36 aptly states:
"… The building in question which was intended to be a huge complex was being constructed at the site without the sanctioning of its plans by the competent authority. The plea of the respondents was that construction of government buildings did not require sanctioning of their building plans. The question is whether there was any law exempting government building from the operation of the said legal requirement and question would also be whether a building constructed by the said company which was an independent legal entity having been incorporated as such under the Companies Ordinance of 1984, could be said to be a Government building?"
Suffice it to say, that this is a landmark decision. Karachi is an urban mess where all public spaces -- especially parks -- have been gobbled up by greedy builders and developers often with the collusion of local authorities. Lahore has been saved mercifully for its major parks have survived but most new settlements interpret a public space as a community centre or a wedding hall. Greening of the cities is a lost agenda in the land of the pure. The Supreme Court's settling of principles and issues should serve as a touchstone for the provincial High Courts. It is also hoped that the civic groups now take proactive stance vis-à-vis public interest litigation. At the same time, burdening the already over-stretched courts may not be all that sensible. The executive authorities need to act and enhance their capabilities.
This brings us to the urgent imperative of reviving a robust local government system that has become dormant during the last few years. Musharraf's devolution should not be unravelled just because a man hated by the politicos created it. There were some sound principles established and the shortcomings, which are plenty, can be rectified through improved policy and legislative frameworks. The critical issue is to make both the elected and the executive officials accountable and answerable for their decisions. Also, centralised provincial agencies cannot manage the daunting task of municipal management. Local authorities have to be assigned these functions. This is what the best practices from all over the world, including Asian experience, tell us.
Coming back to the Supreme Court judgment, with utmost respect to the honourable Court, the responsibility for this ungainly act does not lie with "individuals". There is much more rot in the state of Denmark than a couple of bureaucrats who are rough and ready scapegoats for systemic failures. Let's face it: the executive arm of the state is dysfunctional and collapsing. CDA is not an autonomous entity as its workings are micro-managed by presidents, prime ministers and the maverick interior ministers. Where were hundreds of "legislators", ministers, advisors and generals, when F-9 park was being disfigured? Taking action against one or two officials would be akin to administering aspirin to a cancer patient.
What is required is the inclusion of the citizenry in Islamabad's public decisions, updating a decades' old regulatory framework designed when the capital was a tiny, sleepy haven for myriad babus. Finally, by introducing transparency in public procurement systems and making all awards open through the internet and other means, half the problem could be solved.
It is ironic that the former chairman of CDA happens to be a dynamic civil servant of our times. He has a reputation to deliver against incredible targets. It is, therefore, sad to see how our system rewards the bureaucrats who are keen to maintain a state of inaction. Maybe "getting things done" in Pakistan requires bypassing layers of officialdom that are created to feed into the royal state of the status quo. It would, therefore, be sad if the bureaucrat in question is punished and his technocratic and military lords and masters are allowed to sip their Brazilian coffees and puff their Havana cigars offshore. Let there be accountability across the board. Bureaucrats are implementers and not, to use a Bushism, the 'deciders' these days. What else can one submit to those who decide for us?
The writer is an editor and policy analyst based in Lahore. He blogs at www.razarumi.com
Those who most need access to land just to survive are increasingly vulnerable to a mix of market fundamentalism and retrogressive norms
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Land has been the primary source of power, prestige, and wealth in the Subcontinent for centuries. Conflicts over land have persisted throughout our modern history. Today, land remains a treasured resource, although its significance is now considerably different than in the past. Yet, at the same time, the perception that landed individuals and families are of high social status remains intact. Understanding the historic evolution of land as a political, economic, and even cultural resource is essential to making sense of our society and the conflicts that define it.
Amongst the major problems that the British had upon coming to India was making sense of how local people -- both dominant and subordinate classes -- conceived of land. For the British land was the primary source of wealth in Indian society. It was by working the land intensively with the aid of the newest (irrigation and other) technologies that the British planned to raise revenues as well as the exportable cash crops that would help them become the world's preeminent economic power.
Curiously, Indians did not appear to be quite so concerned with the explicitly economic value of land. Historically, dominant groups treated land as a political resource through which they could maintain their power and prestige. In part this was because there was always the danger of a labour shortage so it was impossible for landlords to maintain purely impersonal transactional relationships with their landless dependents. A shrewd historian pointed out the difference between Indians who used 'land-to-rule' and the new colonial overlords who wanted 'land-to-own'.
While the introduction of private property rights transformed Indian society, it did not necessarily lead to a displacement of the age-old conception of land as a political and cultural resource. He who controlled (or after the coming of the British, owned) land would be mortified at the notion that land could be sold if it fetched a good price on the market. A 'good' family possessed land and would never willingly disenfranchise itself of this label.
Of course, new ideas were to take root in Indian society. Urbanites were not nearly as concerned with old notions of status as they were with access to the resources of the colonial state. Nevertheless, the British themselves were wary of offending the landed gentry that was the major bulwark in their project of social and political control. When financially unscrupulous landowners started to lose their lands to moneylenders vis a vis the courts, the British themselves arrested this process by decreeing that only some Indians (agricultural castes) could be owners of land.
Such British policies permitted landed families to retain political prominence long after they might otherwise have become remnants of history. Successive martial law regimes throughout Pakistan's 63 years have propped up landed families as a means of exerting control over society in lieu of a genuinely popular mandate. Nevertheless, things have changed considerably, not least of all in terms of how land's political importance has become subservient to its economic value.
This shift is in large part explained by urbanisation and the deepening of capital within society more generally. Many relatively obscure regions hardly integrated into the market economy have become goldmines in relatively short periods of time. For example, it has been 50 years since metropolitan Rawalpindi's rural hinterland started to be developed under the guise of a new federal capital. Over time, and particularly during speculative booms such as that which took place in General Musharraf's early years, land prices in Islamabad have shot up spectacularly (at one point some years ago real estate prices in Islamabad were the third highest in Asia, after Tokyo and Hong Kong). Old-timers who would once not even contemplate parting with their land have become wheeling-dealing real estate agents earning billions of rupees through strategic buying and selling of their own, and others', land.
As recorded meticulously over the past couple of decades by Arif Hasan, Karachi too has become a den of land mafias who align themselves with various political constituencies as a means of providing cover to their illicit land deals. The capital that is exchanged in land scams is mind-boggling which is why harassment, violence, and even target killings come with the territory.
Things have changed in rural areas as well. Most obviously, there has been almost a complete shift away from tenant sharecropping to cash-rent arrangements. Aside from the fact that absentee landowners can earn large amounts of money by renting out their land, the changed tenure arrangements reflect the fact that land is no longer viewed as a political resource which guarantees a large client base (typically drawn upon during election campaigns). Landowners remain big political players but they have had to change the way they dole out patronage to their potential voters and/or they rely heavily on manipulating the coercive arms of the state (thana/katcheri).
This is not to suggest that the aura of being an owner of land has disappeared. It has not, which is why the first thing that an historically poor and vulnerable family will do upon gathering enough money is to buy land and thereby be pushed up in the social ranks. At the same time, however, it is clear that the ethics of the market are penetrating deeper and deeper into society at a particularly rapid rate. Cash is what matters, and everyone appears to know it.
The dynamic morality of the market will always seek out an equilibrium with the political and cultural logics of society, as it has been doing since before the British set foot in the Subcontinent. In the current conjuncture, this gives rise to incredibly ruthless competition and violence, even while ostensibly 'traditional' notions of honour and social standing remain intact. Whichever way one chooses to understand the political economy of land, it is clear that change is a constant and that those social and political agents that rely on land must exhibit dynamism and innovativeness if they want to thrive. Unfortunately, those who most need regular access to land just to survive -- including those who sell their labour power in rural areas and those who live in katchi abadis in urban centres -- are increasingly vulnerable to a mix of market fundamentalism and retrogressive norms. As in the past, the key to a better collective future lies with these toiling millions.
Woman behind the movement
Nighat Said Khan is a feminist, social activist and academic. Besides being founder of Women's Action Forum, she is Dean of the Institute of Women's Studies and Director of Applied Socio-Economic Research (ASR) Resource Center for Women. Khan has worked for social transformation and the empowerment of women through art, writing, and media productions. She is also actively involved in South Asian peace initiatives as a member of the Pakistan-India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy. Throughout her career, she has been involved with women's movement, people's rights, and the peasantry, judiciously combining her academic background with her activism. Khan spoke passionately about women's issues and brushed aside criticism that women's movement had not achieved much. The News on Sunday had a discussion with her in her tastefully done Gulberg residence in Lahore recently. Excerpts of the interview follow:
By Ammar Ali Jan
The News on Sunday: What do you feel are the reasons that women studies could not grow as an academic discipline in Pakistan?
Nighat Said Khan: We cannot single out women studies as a discipline that was not able to develop inside Pakistan. This holds true for almost all areas in social sciences as the Pakistani state was always apprehensive of any serious scholarly attempts to study and analyse Pakistani society. Natural sciences were able to flourish because they did not pose a direct threat to the status quo while social science had the potential of formulating a critique of the existing state of affairs. Therefore, the government not only refused to fund any serious research by eminent scholars, but often suppressed those thinkers who dared to express dissenting points of view. So I think our state is essentially against critical thinking as that could help expose its own failure in crafting a viable project for its citizens.
Women studies are even more controversial for the state as a radical feminist approach is critical of certain basic notions held by our state and society. Most states are obsessed with moulding a woman's body according to its own conceptions of morality and ethics. Since the 1980s, the Pakistani state has attempted to curb the freedom of women and has increasingly invoked religious rhetoric to justify its ideological position. Women studies can provide a radical critique of conservative institutions such as the family, the judiciary and the state as sites of oppression for women. This in turns threatens the whole of foundation of our state and society which is why this academic discipline was neither promoted nor tolerated by any government.
TNS: Do you think it is difficult to apply Western feminist theory in a conservative culture such as ours?
NSK: I think this dichotomy of "Western" and "Eastern" feminism is a false one to begin with. Feminism is a critique of the structures of patriarchy that exist in any society and it aims at removing such structures that suppress women. Hence there is no Eastern or Western feminism, nor did the conception of women rights originate in any particular geographical location. Our region has witnessed a long list of women who challenged this unjust order. In fact, you should bear in mind that the 1956 Constitution of Pakistan was the first constitution in the world that provided women with an affirmative action. Women were given special women seats throughout the country and a woman could vote twice: one for the reserved seats and one for the general seat. The American constitution does not even mention women. So this demonstrates that the concept of women liberation is not being borrowed from any part of the world, but it rises as a response to this patriarchal order.
The only things that change with each geographical location are the particular characteristics of this oppression. So for example, for us, it will no longer be an issue to have a female head of state while this remains part of the agenda for feminists in the US. We oppose the restrictions imposed on the female body while Western feminists critique the exploitation of a woman's body as a sexual object. So while the nature of this exploitation is different, the basic premise remains the same i.e. a patriarchal order that marginalises women.
We should also remember that liberation struggles, such as those in Vietnam and Nicaragua, were able to incorporate the issue of women rights as part of the larger agenda of national liberation against imperialism. Indian feminists have also been successful in articulating a feminist critique of their own society. Hence, I feel feminist theory is not a Western monopoly and there is no reason why we must fail to develop such an analytical approach towards the problems we face in Pakistan.
TNS: How would you analyse the achievements and failures of the women rights movement in Pakistan, especially the role of the Women Action Forum?
NSK: We can divide the women rights movement in Pakistan in three broad phases. The first started with the creation of Pakistan as prominent women during the Pakistan movement worked with the Pakistani state to improve the status of women. The belief here was that it was possible to work within the contours of a mainstream framework and place pressure on the Pakistani government to grant more rights to women. This changed radically with the advent of General Zia's draconian regime and the push for Islamisation that followed. That period witnessed the emergence of WAF which held the position that it was no longer possible to talk to this state and that this entire structure needs to change. WAF was able to emerge as one of the most vocal critics of the Zia regime and consistently opposed his government's policies.
With Zia's death and the advent of Benazir Bhutto's government, a third phase started for the movement. Radical politics had received a setback all over the world and this was an era of accommodation and compromise for radical movements around the world. The women's movement in Pakistan could not keep itself immune from this global trend and adopted the same tactics to further its cause.
TNS: Critics believe that a major reason for the failure of the women's rights movement in Pakistan was that it failed to mobilise ordinary women. In other words, the movement was led by the elite who were alien to the local cultural and political dynamics.
NSK: I don't take this criticism seriously as I feel it is unnecessarily harsh towards our movement. The truth of the matter is that most movements, political parties, NGOs and media groups are led by the elite in this country. Why do we have to single out the women's rights movement? I think it is an old tactic used by the religious right to distract others from the content of the movement and the demands we have raised while living in an extremely patriarchal society. We should focus on the positions taken by organisations such as WAF, rather than placing needless focus on their leadership.
TNS: So why do you think that the movement failed to achieve anything substantial?
NSK: Again, I think it's pretty harsh to suggest that we were unable to achieve anything substantial. The late 1960s witnessed the political awakening of the masses in Pakistan and women were not far behind men in this regard. During Bhutto's rise to power, the issue of female emancipation was often articulated within the PPP, especially by Nusrat Bhutto. Since the 1980s, we have tried to direct this energy in such a way that women become conscious of their oppression not only as members of the working class or of a political party, but also as women. Such a radical discourse has certainly affected the internal structure of political parties that are at least forced to pay lip service for advancing women rights. The constitution guarantees them affirmative action and many women are now holding important positions in the country. Perhaps one of the greatest victories for us was when the Pakistani public overwhelmingly voted for a female as the Prime minister. After 11 years of indoctrination and absurd laws against women, this was a slap for those who thought they confine women to their homes.
It's true that we have been unable to construct an ideal society, but that's true for almost all societies in the world. Besides, the women's movement is not the only movement that has so far been unable to achieve its radical agenda. The labour movements, the peasant movement, the student movement and other struggles have also so far failed to achieve their aim of radically transforming our society.
TNS: Since the war on terror began, the issue of female emancipation has again become a contested territory. Do you feel feminists like yourself can benefit from the US presence in the region for furthering the cause of women rights?
NSK: I don't think we should fool ourselves into believing that the US is here to advance the rights of women, or to strengthen democracy in the region. This is an extremely important geo-strategic location, and different powers are trying to position themselves for a hegemonic role in this part of the world. I recently met a senior official of the State Department in Washington and I categorically told him that I will completely believe your rhetoric of liberty and freedom if you today impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Of course, they will not do it because the Saudi regime, despite the terrible treatment meted out to women, is a trusted ally of the US in the Middle East. So instead of attempting to dislodge the monstrous regime in Riyadh, thousands of American soldiers have been placed inside the country to protect the decadent Royal family. We also remember that when we were protesting the policies of the Zia regime, it was the US that was pumping in billions of dollars to keep that government afloat. So all talk of achieving female emancipation with the aid of the Empire, which has almost always intervened in the Third World to advance its own goals at the expense of the indigenous population, is a futile exercise.
On the other hand, I am alarmed by the fact that progressive elements in the country have been unable to formulate a response that is different from the discourse of the religious right. The inability to do so has led to some bizarre alliances between the two. It is important that we critique the US for its imperialist character, i.e. the inherent tendency to exploit the resources and labour of weaker nations as part of its own capitalist development and we should articulate our response based on that premise. On the other hand, the religious right has a reactionary cultural critique of the US with emphasis on the liberal, modern ethos of the West. The right is incapable of presenting an emancipatory alternative, which is why it is imperative for the left to clarify the difference between the two positions.
TNS: How do you view the performance of the current government in addressing the concerns of women?
NSK: The current coalition, with the exception of the JUI, has an essential openness towards women. I would especially like to mention the positive impact of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). The government's decision to give the money to women will have the result of empowering these women within their households. Also, this has already prompted many households to obtain Identity Cards for women so that they are eligible for the BISP. This automatically provides citizenship rights to these women who had thus far been denied even this basic right. So, in the ideological sphere, this has the potential of opening up new avenues for marginalized women.
We must acknowledge, however, that the current bourgeois-feudal set-up has certain limitations and we should not expect a radical transformation of society from them. It is also essential to realise that there exists no substitute for popular movements, which require patient and focused work, if we are to ever achieve the goal of equality for women.
Special therapy sessions in schools should be conducted to prevent children from mental stress caused by terrorism
By Khurram Shahzad
A recent report on the state of children in Pakistan reveals that most of the Pakistani children have been victims of violence either due to militancy or other reasons throughout the year 2009.
The annual report prepared by Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) says more than 80 suicide attacks in the country during the previous year were either carried out by children or hit the children as victims.
Referring to the identification of some 1200 children in the training camps of Taliban in Swat, the report estimates that the number of children being used by terrorists may be in thousands as terrorist groups buy them from poor families. "There have also been reports that militant commanders paid large amounts of money to buy suicide bombers, $7,000 to $14,000 for each recruit, depending on how quickly a bomber was needed and how close the child is expected to get to the target," the report says.
Quoting a Taliban commander from a documentary, the report informs that even children of five years of age were recruited by militant groups. "A notorious Taliban commander in charge of training suicide bombers, boasted that he recruits and trains children as young as five years old," it says.
Besides being direct victims of suicide bombing (bombers and targets), children of Swat had to bear a lot due to a war between the forces and Taliban during year 2009. The military operation in Swat Valley by security forces to eliminate Taliban from the scenic district affected at least 6,00,000 IDP children who were deprived of education opportunities and peaceful living conditions. Moreover, some 427 education institutions were destroyed only in Swat, Malakand and adjacent areas due to militants' activities.
Statistics show that 1357 children were in jails during the year 2009 with 1225 passing through trials and 132 having convicted. Punjab had the highest number of children in jails totaling 820 as 740 were waiting for their fate and 80 were in prisons after the conviction.
Similarly, Sindh had detained 292 children and convicted 17 while putting 275 on trial. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa put 191 children behind the bars with 20 serving punishment after conviction and 171 under trial. Balochistan kept 54 children in jails out of which 15 were convicted and 39 faced trials.
Sahil, an NGO working on the issue of child sexual abuse and exploitation, states that 2,012 cases of children's sexual abuses were reported during the previous calendar year. The report said that 5.5 percent of the total victims were under the age of five years while 68 percent were girls and 32 percent boys. These figures show an increase of 9.4 percent in the cases of children's sexual abuse than the last year.
But this is what was reported. There are many other cases which have not been reported and no institution has had access to them.
A big number of children have been directly or indirectly affected by violence and militancy. With TV channels showing images of bomb blasts and live firing and newspapers publishing pictures of the severely injured, schools and hospitals take extra security measures by installing scanners and deputing armed guards at the gates, today's children are terrorized.
Words like blasts, firing, attack, operation, and suicide have been added to children's vocabulary. A child as little as four years old can understand the word 'dhamaka'.
Today, no parent can afford allowing their children to play in the street or play ground as incidents of kidnappings have increased. The government has done little to save children from the grave effects of terrorism.
Psychiatrists have declared the situation alarming for children. "This has increased aggression in children, today's kids are going away from constructive activities; instead they act like terrorists and attackers in their games. They are adopting what they see," says Humera Waseem, a Psychiatrist at Federal Government Services Hospital. She says children who were directly targeted in terrorist incidents suffer from serious traumas, "They have become patients of fear and stress disorder. They may not show the symptoms of fear quickly after the incident but they can be hit by post traumatic stress disorder," she says.
Humera suggests the government should start special therapy sessions in schools to save children from mental stress, "Today's children need mental therapies in schools. There should be weekly classes to protect children from becoming a trauma victim, she adds. The previous year and the first half of 2010 passed in the process of revision of five bills presented in the National Assembly for the welfare of children but none of them was approved.
The bills pending with the National Assembly for approval to bring an improvement in the state of children include: The protection of Children Bill 2009, The National Commission on the Rights of Children Bill 2009, The Child Marriages Restraint Bill 2009, The Charter of Child Rights Bill 2009, and The Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill 2010.
Experts say the government also failed to implement United Nations charter to protect children. "The government failed to satisfy the United Nations on its steps to implement the United Nations Children Convention singed some 20 years ago. During the presentation in the United Nations' special session, the concerned UN official expressed surprise that the government promised to take steps for the improvement of state of children in future and could not apprise about even a single step taken for the betterment of children," says Zarina Jillani, Manager Research Center Spark and editor of the Annual Report on Children. She says this is the time to take positive initiatives for the improvement in children's state.
Aside from NGOs and UN's observation, this is a fact that Pakistani children have to survive under the worst conditions. Practical steps need to be done to give good future to our children.
Failure on the fiscal front
Slow economic growth coupled with lavish government spending is pushing Pakistan deeper into the debt trap
By Huzaima Bukhari and
Dr. Ikramul Haq
Our failure in fiscal consolidation is due to maladministration and corruption in Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and not because of any deficiency in tax laws. There is a misconception in the minds of the policy makers that tax codes and tax administration are segregated and independent. In today's world, good tax administration is considered as dependable tax policy for better mobilisation of additional resources.
In Pakistan, we are laying stress on changing the laws alone and giving no serious thought to reform the existing tax machinery that is both inefficient and corrupt. We want to call GST as VAT -- whereas in reality we already have value added tax with lot of distortions. And it is not implemented due to inefficiency and corruption of the FBR. Instead of reforming FBR, we want to change the nomenclature of tax.
This year too the FBR will not be able to meet downwardly-revised target of Rs1380 billion. It will end up collecting around Rs1.35 trillion. Last year, it reached the figure of Rs1.09 trillion. The increase of Rs245 billion in real term reflects a negative growth. The actual tax potential of Pakistan is not less than Rs4 trillion as we have shown in many articles published in these columns from time to time.
It is an established fact that despite resorting to all kinds of high-handedness, illogical policies and unjust withholding taxes, the FBR has failed to improve the tax-GDP ratio. It remains around 10 of the GDP for the last ten years. On the other hand, the burden of ever-increasing indirect taxes is pushing more and more people below the poverty line and on the other the rich are becoming richer.
The oppressive taxes have distorted the whole social system as well as destroyed the economic growth. Moreover, these despotic, short-term, myopic and figure-oriented tax measures have even failed to bridge the fiscal deficit -- increasing every year with horrifying rapidity.
The successive governments have been announcing unprecedented concessions for the corrupt in the form of tax amnesty and money-whitening schemes and that too in the name of "protection of economic reforms". In fact, these were meant to protect the corrupt and the plunderers of the national wealth.
All the governments have shown keenness to borrow more money to meet the day-to-day current expenditure largely meant for foreign tours of our politicians and high-grade officials. A big chunk of the borrowed money is spent for generals' comfort, and parties at the President, Prime Minister, and Governors' Houses.
The rich and mighty who do not pay taxes are the real culprits. The exemptions and concessions given to them should be done away with. Progressive taxes like wealth tax, inheritance tax and gift taxes should be received. There should be a level playground for everybody.
Pakistan is quite capable of substantially reducing or even eliminating its fiscal deficit within two to three year's time provided a comprehensive programme, well-designed work plan, scientific approach, and multidimensional strategy is adopted for tax reforms and resource mobilisation.
Slow economic growth coupled with lavish government spending is pushing Pakistan deeper and deeper into the debt trap. Domestic debt is now over Rs5 trillion and external debt has reached over $50 billion. If the FBR cannot manage to achieve the target of Rs1380 billion, why are we asking the World Bank to give us money to reform it?
The internal and external debt will keep on rising unless we go for all-out reforms, blue-prints of which were elaborated by Nadeem Ul Haque, presently Deputy Chairman Planning Commission and former Vice-Chancellor of PIDE, in his article "Reform or face fundamental ascendancy". Nadeem Ul Haque aptly emphasised that "the state must first provide the social contract, i.e. good law and order and security of life. It must dismantle the rent-seeking that protects the rich….. Rent-seeking relies on three main components: state subsidies, licensing and regulation; special perks and privileges for ministers and army and civil service employees and land distribution system that allows the poor man's land to be acquired for the elite, especially the army and civil service".
The professional duo of Dr. Hafiz Shaikh and Dr. Nadeem Ul Haque sincerely want "reforms" of the system, while the corrupt sections sitting in the parliaments and FBR are united to ensure perpetuation of the status quo. The tax bureaucracy has made an alliance with the corrupt segments of politicians and businessmen to ensure the failure of policies designed by the technocrats sent to Pakistan by foreign donors.
The policy of appeasement and encouragement towards the rich and corrupt will have to be stopped now if we want to survive as a nation. We need a fair and equitable tax system and corruption-free government structures that alone can avert any further fiscal debacle.
The writers, tax lawyers, teach at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)
At the grassroots
Industrial workers are fighting the battle of survival due to rampant inflation and unemployment
By Shahid Husain
Despite being a port city of immense strategic value, Karachi could boast of few industrial units at the time of the creation of Pakistan. Most of the left-wing leadership in Pakistan, comprising of Hindus and Sikhs, migrated to India after communal riots erupted during the partition. However, Sobho Gianchandani was an exception.
The trade union movement grew slowly but steadily in the financial hub of Pakistan. Unlike Lahore, where it was led by committed Marxist leader Mirza Mohammad Ibrahim, who held sway at the Pakistan Railways, it was a weak show in Karachi.
The major chunk of trade unions in Karachi was in the hands of M.A. Khateeb, a liberal but an undisputed leader of Karachi Port Trust (KPT) union for almost 20 years. Communists did play a role in organising trade unions in Karachi but they were weak right from the beginning.
The influx of Urdu-speaking migrants from different parts of India to Karachi too had an impact on the trade union movement and changed the complexion of the city. Though a substantial number of these migrants hailed from industrial centers of India and were skilled workers, traditionally Muslims had been averse to education as well as trade union activity.
Secondly, eminent intellectual and doyen of Progressive Writers' Movement (PWA) Syed Sajjad Zaheer was sent to Pakistan after the 1948 Congress of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and was given the task of organising the independent Communist Party of Pakistan as well as the trade union movement but he had no roots in Pakistan. On the top of that, indigenous communist leadership in Pakistan resented him right from the beginning.
Right from the beginning, the fragile communist movement and its politics, trade union, students, peasant and peace fronts were seen with suspicion by the ruling elite. "In 1963, industrial workers were crushed in Karachi by the administration. It was a continuation of the policy adopted by Pakistan in 1951. Prior to 1951, the Communist Party of Pakistan had unions in Dalmia Cement Factory besides a tramway union," says a veteran trade union leader Usman Baloch.
"In those days, the law permitted that five people could serve a notice to the management after forming a union. The Trade Union Act of 1926 said explicitly that police would not be used against workers. The colonial masters had devised flexible laws keeping in view the Great October Socialist Revolution that was influencing the entire third world," says Baloch. "There were the Workman Compensation Act, Factory Act, and Shops and Establishment Act. The workers enjoyed a dignified position due to these acts," he adds.
He makes it clear that these laws were tolerated only till 1951, "The ruling elite looked with contempt towards workers and peasants and considered them 'kammi' (inferior). Communist leaders such as Sobho Gianchandani were cornered and trade union leaders such as Malik and Khateeb were patronised by the government to confront communist trade union leaders like Mirza Mohammad Ibrahim," he says.
"Narian Das Bechar and Abdullah Baloch who lived in Mauripur dominated progressive trade unions till 1957," says Baloch adding, "after the imposition of Martial Law in 1958, new labour laws were promulgated in 1959 and industrial dispute ordinance was enacted. People such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Narain Das Bechar, and Abdullah Baloch who didn't work in factories were trade union leaders in those days. A condition was imposed by the government that trade union leadership must comprise of workers who were on the payroll of a factory and thus left-wing trade union leadership was isolated."
"Workers were barred from going on a strike until and unless they served notice. In case negotiations were going on with the labour department, they were not allowed to go on a strike. If a worker was involved in trade union activity he was usually transferred to the night shift and was often arrested by police on fake charges of vandalism. Thereafter, he would be sacked from his job," recounts Baloch.
Urdu-speaking workers were usually skilled since originally many of them hailed from Bombay (now Mumbai), Meerut, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad Deccan and other industrial centers. "They were enlightened and had close connections with the progressive movement. These people resisted elements that were after evacuee property," Baloch says, adding, "In 1963 a large number of Pushtoons were shifted to Karachi, but the movement at that time was devoid of ethnicity."
The membership of the Communist Party of Pakistan in its formative years was merely 600 but it had a firm hold on trade unions, peasants and students' front, according to eminent lawyer and political leader Abid Hasan Manto.
The year 1963 was a landmark in the trade union movement in Karachi when tobacco workers, under the leadership of Nayyab Naqvi, won a battle against the British management of the tobacco industry and local administration despite odds.
Another landmark was the 1968-69 democratic upsurge against military dictator Gen. The so called "Pakistan ideology" coined by the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami in 1970 elections was nullified. Why military operation was launched against Bengali Muslims that emerged victorious in 1970 elections held under adult franchise? ZA Bhutto was so anxious to reach the corridors of power that he hailed the military operation in East Pakistan.
A demoralised army, after a humiliating defeat, handed him power but hardly had Bhutto assumed power when industrial workers were fired upon in Karachi's Landhi industrial area. The rest is history since ZAB ruled Pakistan during 1972-77 and had the gall to say that he had done more to contain the onslaught of communism in Pakistan than the Americans.
The Zia era (1977-88) was the worst period in the history of Pakistan. All rights were put in abeyance and ethnicity was promoted to weaken the PPP in Sindh. With the advent of the Afghan War, the society was brutalised with the easy availability of Kalashnikov and drugs. Working class areas in Karachi, such as Lyari, were transformed into ghettoes where gangsters ruled the roost.
Today, as we witness the war on terror and the subservient ruling elite, Pakistan seems to be headed towards a journey to the unknown while industrial workers are fighting the battle of survival due to rampant inflation and unemployment. The trade union movement is in a state of disarray.
The situation could have been prevented from getting even worse if appropriate measures had been taken
By Bilal Naqeeb
During my visit to Hyderabad in early June, I got the chance to listen to Dr. Shah Muhammad Marri, a Balochi leader speaking to the civil society and media of Sindh. The main focus of his speech was to seek support from Sindh in favour of Balochistan's separatist movement. Being an effective messenger and a representative from Balochistan, he claimed Sindhis and Balochis to be one nation and that sooner or later Sindh would have to be the part of Balochistan's movement. While expressing prospects of the movement, Marri clearly determined that Baloch nation is presently scattered in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, which will have to be united to form Balochistan's independent state.
In response of a question about the availability of support to the movement from India, Marri minced no words in saying that anyone supporting to the cause would be welcomed. He also said that Baloch are not bound to follow Punjab's unfriendly attitude towards India, which is rooted in the riots and killings at the time of partition.
All this came from Dr. Marri who is known as a moderate among the Baloch leadership. The way he presented the case of Balochistan indicated that the movement has a consensus among different segments of the Baloch society. There is a need to clearly understand the situation to be able to see it in its right context. The movement has two layers; the first is rooted in communities, which is the reflection and reaction of the deprived and oppressed communities. The situation could have been prevented from getting even worse if appropriate measures had been taken in time.
The second layer is regional and has gained currency during last five years. It may have multi-dimensional effects on social, political, and economic condition of South Asia. The claim of an independent state, consisting of a piece of land which is divided in three countries weakens the impression that the demand of separation is a result of injustice committed by the Centre towards Balochistan.
Despite efforts of the federal government to give some provincial autonomy through the 18th Amendment as well as some other positive steps, leadership of the separatists' movement remained inflexible with their stance. Another grey area is indicated in the map of Balochistan posted on BLA's website (which is currently banned by ISPs) which shows some parts of Sindh and Punjab in independent Balochistan.
The sense of deprivation among Iranian Baloch is different and seen as an issue of sectarian conflict. Iran, being a Shia state, has been held responsible for revoking basic human rights of Sunni Baloch. There are a number of insurgencies reported in Iran in that specific geographical area. In comparison with Pakistan, Iran is not only affecting livelihoods and social development of Baloch but also squeezing the freedom of practising their faith.
The US has expressed serious concerns over the presence of Taliban's senior leadership in Quetta. If that is true, Pakistan will be demanded to extend its military operation in this area after completing the job in the tribal areas. And if that happens it would be a most difficult task due to the strong resistance and mistrust of Baloch people against the Pakistan army.
Pakistan has proven oil reserves of 300 million barrels, most of which are located in Balochistan. In addition to it, mega projects, including Gwadar Port and the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, will have a significant impact on the economic development of the region. At the moment, one can observe extreme poverty in the backdrop of mega projects. To some, the situation justifies the reaction of indigenous people who have been forced to live in poverty regardless of the fact that they belong to a land that is rich in resources. Unfortunately, the federation did not realise the true situation in the province.
We should also see the degree of interests and influences of regional and international stakeholders that might try to use the separatist movement for their own interests. Pakistan and its neighbouring countries must avoid political instability and unrest. The efforts made by present government and its allies to address the genuine grievances of the Baloch people should be acknowledged.
The political leadership has shown maturity in the shape of the National Finance Commission Award. Similarly, increased allocation of funds to the province in the budget 2010-2011 is encouraging. Still, the share of federal government needs to be further brought down from 41 percent to 25 percent.
Political maturity is also reflected in the amendment which aims to strengthening the role of the Council of Common Interests (CCI). It will meet at least once in 90 days with the Prime Minister as its chairman. The CCI can play an important role in building confidence among provinces and the federal government.
The writer is a development practitioner, working in the areas of social sector programme planning and management. He can be reached at [email protected]
Higher education and provinces
There exists enough room for the provincial commissions to contribute to higher education
By Dr Noman Ahmed
The sub-sectors of higher education shall be directly affected with the legal changes instituted under the framework of the 18th Constitutional Amendment Bill. Greater responsibility is expected to be shouldered by provincial governments in the times to come. Financial grants to universities and degree-awarding institutions, administrative monitoring, maintenance of academic standards, and other routine functions are likely to eventually pass over to the provincial governments.
This aspect formulates a crucial debating agenda that should lead towards appropriate policy-making and consequent implementation. Transition of several administrative responsibilities from the present HEC to potential new institutional set-ups, synchronisation with other tiers of education and distribution of financial grants constitute some parts of this potential tasks list.
It also raises the question whether the federal government will retain present Higher Education Commission in its pristine form as subscribed in the HEC Ordinance 2002 or resort to its phased devolution. It is also feared that a policy and implementation blunder in the present scenario can lead to disastrous consequences for the entire sub-sector of higher education. An objective assessment of the current situation reveals several facts which need to be considered.
That HEC has proved itself as a far potent institution than the erstwhile University Grants Commission (UGC) is an undisputed fact. In terms of development grants to the universities, opening of new campuses in the public sector, assistance to private sector institutions, research and travel grants to faculty members, scholarships for doctoral studies, etc., are some feats that have earned laurels locally as well as abroad.
The creation of programmes and procedures with open access and competition for resources are also worthwhile achievements of HEC. Significant credit in this respect must be given to the past and present leadership of the commission. The HEC has also been instrumental in expanding higher education opportunities in less developed provinces such as Balochistan. Most of these initiatives need to be expanded, not discontinued. It will be most unfortunate for the country if this framework is abruptly disbanded, transformed or reduced in its scale of operation.
There exists enough room for the provincial commissions -- if this institutional nomenclature is agreed upon -- to contribute to higher education. The legal and administrative framework of universities is already under control of provincial legislatures and governors/governments.
The provincial bodies can devise a formula of extending financial support to universities after examining the release from the federal government/HEC, self generation of the universities and budgetary requirements stipulated in annual demands of the higher education institutions. Alternate sources of finances also need to be explored through innovative means.
Many philanthropic organisations are willing to fund education if credible utilisation framework, transparency, and prudent financial management are guaranteed. The provincial bodies can incorporate an efficient management structure to fulfill the requirements demanded by modern philanthropists. Choice of human resource for leading and running such bodies is a prime matter which alone can make worthwhile difference.
A well-known foundation has recently donated about a billion rupees to the Institute of Business Administration after satisfying itself that the money is in safe hands. Provincial commissions can also explore possibilities of joint ventures and collaborative efforts with global corporate, international financial agencies (through appropriate funding windows) and bilateral institutions.
Assistance to such universities which are in need of management and administrative assistance is another task where provincial commissions can have a greater role. Being closer to the context, the provincial commissions may be entrusted the tasks of scaling up the basic administrative and academic structures of newly founded universities on firm foundations.
Additionally, they may be endowed with resources to deal with such crisis management where new universities may experience difficulties. Sharing of information, experiences and infrastructure are some of the core areas where such input could prove most significant.
In recruiting academics and officers for provincial bodies, highest merit and competence must be made the binding criteria. They should not become the dumping ground of mediocre bureaucrats, retired armed forces personnel or political cronies.
Pakistan as a democratic federation must think how people react if they are not being treated equally by the state
By Zubair Faisal Abbasi
Populist rhetoric of politicians aside, one often hears a question whether democracy can be expected to generate equitable economic growth and impartial governance. The answers range from democracy being singled out as an external idea, and the state and society unprepared to practice a democratic polity. The current phase of economic crisis and stories of friction between the executive and the judiciary has brought this question on our national political scene once again.
Some argue that self-interest seeking politicians do not make a strong case for democratic governance in Pakistan. Therefore, in order to qualify for a democratic polity, a society needs to fulfil some prerequisites first. In our part of the world, a patronising support from the non-elected institutional arrangements is provided to shake off the non-qualification trap. It ventures to develop 'basic democracy' during the 1960s, fiddle with 'Islamic democracy' during the 1980s, and find pathways for 'sustainable democracy' in 2000s.
Though adjectives before the word democracy are changed in every decade, the debate somehow neglects the central question: what democracy itself envisions for the well-being of society? No doubt, the sphere of democracy encompasses much more than free and fair elections and equality in voting rights. According to Amartya Sen, establishing 'freedoms' which increase both human and systemic capabilities to function is central to the idea of democracy. It is about enabling people, without any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, religion, gender, and colour to enjoy a full life in the legal, social, economic, and political dimensions.
We need to have a critical look at what democracy can actually help a society to achieve. Despite democracy being a system of immense social value, many researches do not support the argument that democracy necessarily leads to robust economic growth. Empirical evidence, on the contrary, shows that equitable economic growth leads to improvement in the provision of goods and services which create a public demand for improvement in the quality of government and hence an inclusionary democracy. Inequity in distribution despite growth, however, can create a low-trust society drowning in social conflicts. Pakistan has had enough cleavages in the past and still carries wounds from the past.
The point here is not to suggest that since democracy has not been a means of robust economic growth so Pakistan should seek an authoritarian and militarised version of government. Military dictatorships in Pakistan have been highly partisan, failing to establish autonomy of the state structures.
Instead, there is a need to rationalise expectations from democracy and focus more on how to improve prospects of economic development and the quality of government. Such a focus will make democracy and political participation more meaningful for the people of Pakistan.
In reality, democracy has to travel in two divergent directions. In the first phase, it has to tread upon the path of 'partisanship' to ensure that the aspirants who are chosen by the majority of voters hold public offices. In this process, the political contests create divisive camps. The second phase demands 'impartiality' in the process of implementing rules and regulations by the office holders. Institutional arrangements of the state need to learn how to seamlessly make a transition from 'partisanship' to 'impartiality'. Democracy to be successful as a statecraft, which aims at securing people's trust and respect, must build state institutions as autonomous structures but socially and politically embedded in society.
The embedded autonomy, as Peter Evans calls it, has been a critical component in robust economic growth, especially in East Asian miracle economies. For Pakistan, the point is that despite having democracy, there is no guarantee that an equitable economic development will take root. For a successful turnaround in the financial conditions of state-owned enterprises like the Steel Mills and Railways, such a vision of the state is absolutely necessary. Researches also show that 'big governments' are not necessarily 'bad governments'. The only important point is that whether a government is effective or hostage to special interests.
Forms of institutions matter in democratic polity. However, what matters most is the functionality of institutional arrangements. It is possible to create a replica of the executive (and armed forces), the judiciary, the legislature which are present in the developed world, but becoming a state strong enough to regulate their functioning requires more 'credible commitments'. Such commitments are manifested in low incidence of corruption, the rule of law, accountability, and bureaucratic efficiency along with the ability to guard property and human rights for all citizens without discrimination.
Last but not least, Pakistan as a democratic federation must think how people feel and possibly react if they are not being treated equally and fairly by the state -- neither in economic development nor in systems of governance.
The writer is Executive Director of Institute for Development Initiatives, Islamabad and can be reached at www.idi.org.pk
The issue of responsible science cannot be kept exclusively to the scientists
By Zaman Khan
The International Conference on the 'Conduct of Responsible Science, Safety, Security and Ethics was held on June 9-10, 2010 in Islamabad. There are some important issues discussed in the conference that we need to reflect on.
Science has definitely added pleasure to the lives of human beings but it has also created serious problems and has made possible total annihilation of life on the planet.
For instance, there is a campaign against proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world but in Pakistan, due to its own security issues, the public opinion was tailored to support a nuclear Pakistan and the anti-nuclear voices were muffled. A majority of people in Pakistan are not aware that nuclear waste has been dumped in South Punjab and of the after-effects on the people of Chaghi after the nuclear test. Biological weapons of mass destruction have not attracted the attention of a majority of Pakistanis. People still consider polio drops un-Islamic.
In the same way, everybody knows the name of Dr. A. Q Khan but nobody knows that Dr. Sadiq Ali of Agriculture College, Lyallpur developed Kino or for that matter, PAEC also runs cancer hospitals. So, in this context, arranging an International conference was a welcome surprise for all.
Dr. Anwar Nasim, co-host of the conference, and advisor science COMSTECH, in his opening remarks, said that it was a difficult task to bring together fifty plus top scientists from all over Pakistan, which included eight Vice Chancellors. He said the organisers realised that the issue of responsible science could not be kept exclusively to the scientists, it needed the support of civil society, intellectuals, and writers. So, it was decided to invite people from the social sciences and literary world.
Head of Pakistan Study Centre, Karachi University, Dr. Syed Jafar Ahmed threw light on the relation of pure sciences with social science. Dr. Anwar Nasim, while presenting the objectives of the conference, said the conference laid stress on the notion that science should not be misused to harm humanity. He talked of enhancing contribution of science to the Pakistani community and building a sustainable network that meets and publishes regularly on key issues related to the conduct of safe, secure and ethical conduct of science. Dr. Khalid Mahmood, Vice Chancellor and Vice President of Pakistan Academy of Sciences was another speaker at the opening session.
Mr. Terence Taylor, President, International Council for the Life Sciences, and former UN Inspector of Weapons in Iraq, specially flew from the US to attend this conference. He said scientists must take responsibility to inform the public as well as the media that while there might be risks in advancement of life sciences, but there would also be enormous benefits. He said support of the public was vital to help policy makers understand and regulate various projects, without which it would be a heavy task for them to take the decisions. He said forty million people die of infectious diseases. But he warned technology could also harm man and environment.
The conference was addressed, among others, by National Professor Dr. Kausar Abdullah Malik, former member PAEC and Planning Commission of Pakistan, Dr. Zahoor, former Vice Chancellor LUMS, Khalid Temsamani, President Moroccan Bio-safety Association, Ms. Nasreen D. Al-Hmoud, Jordan, and Emeritus Professor Dr. Waheed Akhtar, Head Institute of Biological Sciences, Punjab University.
The two day conference was very productive and thought provoking. Jordanian, representative, Ms. Nasreen D. Al-Hmoud, was disappointed with the nominal number of female scientists at the conference. In the two-day conference issues were discussed from different angles. One point of view was that science was neutral. Somebody quoted Hoffmann, "There are no bad molecules, only evil humans being". Those who employ fruits of science in malevolent manner are guilty. Well-intentioned scientists are innocents.
One question was what sort of scientific research should be conducted in our universities? It came to the conclusion that there should be a code of conduct and scientists must establish ethical norms to govern their own conduct, while fulfilling obligations of accountability to society.
One must say that it is a good beginning and the first step in the right direction, but a very difficult task is ahead of the organizers because the traditional and security-oriented thinking of the decision-makers would not easily allow mass awareness against the weapons of mass destruction.
It was decided to establish a network and chapters in all provinces. The task to establish the Lahore Chapter was entrusted to Dr. Kausar Abdullah, National Professor of FCC, Emeritus Professor Dr. Waheed Akhtar, Head Institution of Biological Sciences, University of Punjab and Dr. Tariq from LUMS.
The conference was a joint venture of COMSTECH, ICLS, and PAS.