asleep shall inherit the Earth
The communist and the terrorist
In the jargon of imperial politicians and movie-makers alike, the international terrorist has replaced the international communist as the bane of the free world
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
When young people around the world today are taught about the recent history of the world, they are told that for much of the 20th century, the world was bipolar, split between opposing communist and capitalist camps. This story is mostly accurate, although it must be qualified.
The world was bipolar in that one's values and actions were dramatically shaped by which side of the cold war one was on. If on the 'capitalist' (read: American) side, the communists were evil incarnate, the most reprehensible kind of human being that one could ever expect to come across. Similarly, if on the 'communist' (read: Soviet) side, it was the capitalists that represented the eternal source of oppression and tyranny, and it was the duty of every consummate communist to fight them.
In retrospect, the mutual suspicion and malice that characterised almost half a century of the cold war seem almost unbelievable. Most amazingly, large numbers of people were wholly affected by propaganda which in many cases -- although not all -- was largely fabricated, in that it postulated that there was some inherent trait in people on either side that deemed them inhuman. However, it is crucial to bear in mind that capitalism remained in the ascendancy throughout the cold war, and has been the only truly global system of social organisation -- that has been established either by design or imposition -- in human history. This fact remained understated in mainstream bodies of knowledge as much then as it is now.
The generation of radical dissidents that challenged the status quo in so many countries around the world in the late 1960s did try and draw attention to the warped dichotomies of the cold war, and that there was much more to that particular story than is otherwise suggested. In particular they insisted that capitalism, and capitalist values, are predominant, and that to a large extent, the problems of 'actually existing socialism' were inherently tied to the inability of the socialist states to transcend capitalism in more substantive ways than techno-military confrontation.
In any case, as the ideologues of neo-liberal reaction are so intent on asserting, capitalism won the cold war, and so emerged the multitude of myths that have characterised the post-cold war period, starting most famously with the 'end of history'. Of course, even the creator of that particular myth has subsequently admitted his error in championing such a grand narrative. Nonetheless, other grand narratives continue to be developed to take the tradition forward.
Perhaps the most compelling myth of today's world is that of the international terrorist. In the jargon of imperial politicians and movie-makers alike, the international terrorist has replaced the international communist as the bane of the free world. The terrorist is without doubt the symbol of fear that the communist once was. In the first world countries, anyone who has been even casually exposed to the pronouncements of the global media is petrified when they encounter anyone possessing the appropriate physical features of the prototype 'Terrorist'.
There are, of course, substantive differences between the communist and the terrorist. The former was the product of a tangible and clearly identifiable state and society that owned its prototype. The communism we are taught about today was not a renegade ideology propagated by a Robin Hood or two. It was in fact very much a part of the 'high' politics of international summits, replete with all the formality and dignity that is accorded to such politics. Undoubtedly, its subversive element was emphasised ad nauseam in the propaganda wars, and it definitely did engage the capitalist world in major combat, but even so, it was far more 'civilised' than the new foe that confronts the free world.
Among other things, the terrorist is special because s/he can be defined in just about any way one likes. As the saying goes, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. And of course the terrorist has no party or state or even clearly identified counterpart to the Communist Manifesto to guide his/her manic reprisals against the ways of life of which s/he is so jealous. This of course does not mean that imperialism has not tried its best to make the case that some states, parties and ideologies are complicit with terrorists, but only that such arguments are much more tenuous than they were in the days when one learned about the socialist bloc in geography class. The accusations that Messrs. Bush & Blair have faced regarding fabricated intelligence to justify the Iraq War are testament to this difficulty.
Nonetheless, the response of the freedom-loving rulers of capitalist societies to the communist and the terrorist are remarkably similar. On the one hand there is the demonisation of the terrorist (or rather anyone that one wants to label terrorist) at home, as the communists were targeted in the McCarthy outrages of the 1950s and 60s. Just as laws were passed enshrining anti-communism in the juridical structures of the state then, so the same is being done now (one can imagine just little things have changed when detaining 'terrorists' for only 28 days without due process is considered a victory for more progressive elements in the British parliament).
Then there is the censuring of public institutions where objectionable ideas are propagated. In the past, such institutions included universities and even workplaces, while today it so happens that the institutions in question are mosques and other Muslim community bodies.
So between snuffing out the problem at its origin (necessarily in some far away, sinister place) and hunting down the deviants at home, the terrorist threat can be countered, as was its communist predecessor. It is perhaps no surprise that the heroic recollections of the victory of freedom (read: capitalism) over communism are instrumental in asserting why a similar victory of freedom over terrorism is inevitable now.
But then, by virtue of the amorphous nature of the enemy, the powers that be have encountered innumerable problems. In the first instance, the anti-terrorist crusade has spiralled rather rapidly into an anti-Muslim, and more generally, a racist one. Alienating millions of Muslims (and those who can be passed off as Muslims) resident in the capitalist societies can have a tumultuous effect, as the home-grown attacks in London in July 2005 showed.
Then there is the fact that the world is no longer 'bipolar', which has ensured that the opposition to the flagbearers of freedom has grown into a quite formidable one, at home as well as in virtually every other part of the world. And the opposition is growing all the time, even as renewed efforts are made to construct an 'other' similar to that of the socialist bloc of the past (Axis of Evil, rogue states, etc. etc).
Another acute problem is that of balancing support for rulers of client states such as Pakistan and Egypt with the fact that the overwhelming majority of people in those societies are deeply indignant of imperialist aggression. Again this is a break from the past, at least to a certain extent, because during the cold war client states of imperialism had forged a consensus with society at large against the communist threat. For example, in many Muslim societies, it was almost axiomatic that communists were kafirs (non-believers). Supporting the American proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s was consequently a relatively straightforward endeavour for General Zia ul Haq. The same cannot be said for the current head of the junta, General Pervez Musharraf, who faces massive opposition for his support of the 'war on terror'.
Even so, in many ways, the communist and the terrorist occupy a similar place in the popular consciousness. But because of the greater complication in pursuing an overtly expansionist policy in the post-cold war environment, imperialism has encountered numerous problems, which do not appear to be going away. Most important is the fact that a large number of ordinary people in the world who during the cold war would have been convinced of the communist threat are today being clumped into the terrorist category, and suffering for it.
It remains to be seen whether the lessons of today will alert them of the need to move beyond the rhetoric of the past. Because until and unless there is a unified and coherent progressive challenge to capitalism and all of its fabrications, the majority of us who desire meaningful change in today's world will be victimised at some point or the other for being a communist, terrorist, or whatever they come up with next.
Guantanamo Bay detainees and the US Supreme Court
By Kaleem Omar
The US Supreme Court on tuesday refused to prevent the US military from transferring Guantanamo Bay detainee Abu Abdul Rauf Zalita to his home country of Libya, rejecting Zalita's arguments that he faced a 'grave risk of arbitrary detention, torture, persecution and extrajudicial assassination' after being returned to Libya. In a one-sentence order the Court rejected Zalita's application for an injunction, which -- true to form -- was opposed by the Bush administration.
US Solicitor General Paul Clement argued on behalf of the Bush administration that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 bars US courts from considering Zalita's claims. In opposing Zalita's request, Clement said that the 2006 Act ends federal court jurisdiction over legal challenges by 'enemy combatants.'
What this means, in effect, is that the approximately 400 remaining detainees in the infamous Guantanamo Bay facility originally named 'Camp X-Ray' in January 2002 and re-named 'Camp Delta' in 2003, can rot there forever without recourse to courts and without even being charged with any crime.
The Military Commissions Act of 2006 was passed by the US Congress last year after the US Supreme Court on June 29, 2006 struck down the military commissions President Bush established to try suspected members of al-Qaeda, emphatically rejecting a signature Bush anti-terrorism measure and the broad assertion of executive power upon which the president had based it.
Brushing aside administration pleas not to second-guess the US commander-in-chief (i.e., the president) during wartime, a five-justice majority of the 9-member Supreme Court ruled that the commissions, which were outlined by Bush in a military order on November 13, 2001 (two months after the 9/11 attacks) were neither authorised by federal law nor required by military necessity, and ran afoul of the Geneva convention.
The Bush administration got around the Supreme Court's ruling by bulldozing the Military Commissions Act of 2006 through Congress in October 2006 when the Senate and the House of Representatives were controlled by Bush's Republican Party (the Republicans lost control of both the Senate and the House to the Democratic Party in the mid-term congressional elections of November 2006).
In his application to the US Supreme Court to block his transfer to Libya, Zalita invoked the international convention against torture, but US Solicitor General Clement argued that his request 'ignored Congresses explicit mandate' that US courts not consider challenges like his.
Zalita says he married an Afghan citizen and that after the US invasion of Afghanistan, he and his pregnant wife fled to Pakistan where he was handed over to the US authorities 'for a bounty.'
The Libyan detainee's attempt to block his transfer came as 75 lawyers for nearly 400 detainees held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, urged Congress on Tuesday to give the prisoners access to US courts.
Fanning out across Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. for private meetings with senators and House members, the attorneys are seeking legislation to overturn a section of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that stripped the detainees of court access.
Congress has supported "executive branch extremism" by enacting legislation that overrides Supreme Court rulings, retired federal appeals court judge John J. Gibbons said at a news conference with some of the lawyers in Washington.
"We're not talking about a get-out-of-jail-free card; we're simply talking about having a right to be heard in court," said Vincent Warren, executive director of the Washington-based Centre for Constitutional Rights.
The centre, acting largely on its own, filed the first lawsuits on the detainees' behalf in February 2002, a month after the Bush administration brought the first prisoners to Guantanamo Bay.
Five years later, about 400 of the 700 detainees are still in prison. Their indefinite detention has outraged civil liberties groups and the families of the men -- mostly Muslim -- who are being held virtually incommunicado in wire cages, despite the fact that they have not been charged with any crime.
In court briefings, the US Solicitor General, representing the executive branch (the Bush administration), argued that the Supreme Court did not even have jurisdiction to hear the case, because the detainees are foreign nationals, whom the government calls 'enemy combatants,' in military custody outside the nation's borders. But critics say this argument is a legal smoke screen designed to allow the government to hold the detainees indefinitely without putting them on trial.
Legal analysts say the Supreme Court may yet chose to flex the judicial branch's muscle by striking down the Military Commissions Act as unconstitutional, and rule that it certainly does have authority over the case.
That remains to be seen. Meanwhile, it might be instructive to briefly consider some aspects of the way in which the US Supreme Court works. Many of its judgments have had wide ramifications and have sometimes ended up making history, as, for instance, in the 1954 ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education outlawing segregation in US public schools.
As Larry Berman and Bruce Allen Murphy note in their 1996 study 'Institutions of American Democracy,' judges throughout the entire US legal system often decide cases on the basis of the doctrine of 'stare decisis,' which means 'to let the decision stand' or to adhere if at all possible to previously decided cases, or precedents, on the same issue. American federal and state courts, for example, are supposed to follow US Supreme Court precedents in making their own decisions.
The US Supreme Court often rules based on its own precedents. By following the rulings of their predecessors, all US courts, including the Supreme Court, seem to be nonpolitical, impartial arbiters, making incremental changes based on past decisions.
But following precedent is not as restrictive as it sounds. Since in practice, precedents need reinterpretation, judges can argue about the meaning of an earlier case, or whether the facts of the current case differ substantially from those of past cases, thus requiring a different ruling. On some occasions, US justices will give the appearance of upholding precedent when in fact they are consciously reinterpreting it to reach a different result.
As Berman and Murphy note, only in the most extreme cases is the US Supreme Court willing to overturn an earlier decision, thus declaring it invalid. Precedents are usually overturned if they prove to be unworkable from a public-policy standpoint, or outmoded. Sometimes, though, the Court will overturn a precedent simply because of a change in personnel, thus changing the Court's direction, or because of a change in public opinion.
In actuality, however, the Court rarely overrules its own precedents. Of the tens of thousands of decisions issued by the Court over the last two centuries, it has overruled its own precedents in less than 300 cases.
A comprehensive study by two political scientists -- Jeffrey Segal and Albert Cover's 'Ideological Values and the Votes of the US Supreme Court Justices' (American Political Science Review, Volume 83, June 2, 1989) -- found a strong correlation between justices' votes on the Court and their ideological views as expressed in newspaper articles written during the appointment process.
Like members of political parties, American justices tend to be grouped ideologically as conservative, liberal, or moderate. As Berman and Murphy note, conservatives tend to support the government's position instead of the individual's, while liberals tend to defend and even expand the rights of the individual instead of the government. Moderates often flip back and forth between these two positions, depending on the issues.
American justices have a certain jurisprudential posture, meaning how willing they are to use their power on the Court. Some practice self-restraint, others are activists.
"If the legislature wants to go to hell, I'm here to tell them they can do it," remarked the famous American justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Corruption makes stakeholders lose trust in the governance structure or resort to blatant anarchy. Both extremes are undesirable
By Dr Noman Ahmed
A news report has nearly confirmed the existence of a brothel which was invaded by Madrasa Hafsa ladies a few weeks ago. That the area police was behind this clandestine business has not come as a surprise! A few days ago, a mini bus driver in Karachi was allegedly beaten to death by policemen on a petty issue of parking. Amongst other aspects, these gory incidents refer to the break down of governance structure of various tiers and departments of administration.
In other words, the corruption has penetrated so deep into the echelons of the government that common people have simply lost faith in the credibility, capacity and neutrality of the government machinery. Many undesirable social responses have evolved in the recent past due to the perception of an impotent and corrupt administrative structure.
An Astronomical rise in the scale and type of anarchy; consideration of corruption as an incurable disease; generation of self styled interpretations of procedures, codes and laws as well as an ugly social divide between the perpetrators and victims of corruption are few of the outcomes that are visible to all and sundry. Unless a conscious effort is undertaken to root out corruption from governance, the entire edifice of the society shall fall apart in the near future.
The core issue of corruption in governance is the violation of all codes, rules, regulations and procedures. There are spread out evidences that by-passing rules and regulations has become a common norm, especially amongst the public institutions. For instance, the ex-IG Police of Sindh elucidated a disappointing tale of interference by the advisor to chief minister in his routine work. This instance eventually led to the dilution of authority that a police chief is normally supposed to enjoy.
Similarly the local affairs such as the finalisation of development projects in cities are decided by the federal and provincial governments. Though the Local Government Ordinances promulgated for all the provinces are aimed at empowering the district governments to deal with these matters, the practice is entirely contrary to the principle of de-centralisation, as enshrined in the law.
One also finds the appointments of heads of organisation done in a whimsical manner. When merit is set-aside and cronies are pleased with assorted offers of lucrative posts, the internal governance is bound to erode. The failure and destruction of several public institutions has resulted due to this undesirable approach. Our national airline is a case in point. Those who gave the prime of their lives and the best of professional inputs are agonised to observe the planned destruction of this vital organisation at the hands of planted favourites with no experience and foresight of dealing with airline affairs.
A few years ago, a retired brigadier was appointed as the chief of building control authority in Karachi. The scale of corruption and mal practice rose to such a level that a massive operation was conducted by the Anti Corruption Establishment to help stem the rot in that public service body. However, sizable damage had already been done.
The law had provisioned the creation of an Oversee Committee comprising independent professionals, citizens and members of the legal fraternity to monitor the performance of this building control body. The corrupt administration under its ambitious chief rendered the body entirely ineffective to avoid any kind of obstruction in their dubious operations. Countless similar examples can be cited where the flouting of standing statutes and practices gave rise to exponential rise in corruption.
Financial mismanagement is considered as the most obvious form of corruption in governance. This statement is valid to a great extent. There are many aspects related to it. Financial corruption and its hybrid forms evolve from non-transparent decisions making. Those at the helm of affairs take such decisions that are not only self benefiting but also please those who are partners in crime. It may also be remembered that financial corruption is most difficult to be traced down. The perpetrators leave no clues when they relinquish that position. Indirect evidences, however, lead to some clues. For example, in each year's national or provincial budgets, a sizable allocation is made for establishment cost to facilitate the normal working of bureaucracy. One finds that it is expanding in scale and status.
The number of high price government vehicles that are now found on the roads is a reference. Ordinary government officers now travel in vehicles worth more than five to six million rupees. The number of government vehicles has also increased in general. This matter is linked to the car policy prepared by different departments. It appears that such policies are made only to be flouted! No wonder that the efforts to bring governmental spending under control have never generated any results in the recent past. The clandestine deals, kick backs, commissions and favours are all too difficult to be tracked down. Similarly living beyond means by serving staff officers is quite obvious. Since the rot begins at the top, the lesser lot is all too happy to follow suit!
Corruption is a crime. No crime can ever be checked if it remains unpunished. The major players in this generous and ascending enterprise have remained untouched, even during the changing of regimes. Charges of corruption are only used as a tool for political black mailing. When the regime deems it fit, it activates and pushes for such charges. In situations where 'partnerships' have to be made, the charges are frozen.
A former prime minister was charged for coercing the nationalised commercial banks to launch a public transport scheme under unnecessary relaxed rules. As a result, many banks faced a huge set back in terms of defaults. Similarly a housing scheme was launched on state lands where even the rudimentary paper work was not completed. When the regime changed, the investment of many common people and bills of contractors were blocked. In a similar situation, a credible development finance institution came crashing down due to an exaggerated lending portfolio under political influence. The matter was quietly swept under the carpet as the alleged perpetrator is the most influential politician of the present regime. Needless to say that when potential criminals observe the free for all situation, their courage to indulge into new scales of corruption multiplies manifolds!
Corruption in governance has attained such proportions that international financial institutions (IFIs) have assigned it top priority in their action agenda. Research of various types is extensively undertaken to establish the status of corruption in various countries (including Pakistan), its reasons, actors and linkages as well as its quantifiable parameters. Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is one vital yardstick that is applied to gauge the status of corruption in various countries.
Unfortunately Pakistan remains in the company of those nations which are rated as most corrupt in relative perspective. It refers to the fact that it is the vital responsibility of the regime to improve upon this count without delay.
Corruption has a high cost factor. That is to say the cost of essential public goods such as maintenance of law and order, access to justice, acquisition of essential services as well as the cost of setting and running enterprises escalates several folds. The stakeholders lose trust in the governance structure and either shut their enterprises or resort to blatant anarchy. Both the extremes are undesirable and potentially dangerous.
Although the task of stemming corruption in public affairs is entirely uphill and convoluted, a modest beginning can be made. Many civil minded individuals and groups have tried their utmost in this respect. The first step could be to raise the civil society pressure for enforcing the provisions of existing set of statutes. It is rightly assumed that if existing laws are applied in a well meaning manner, a great deal of change can be achieved. One must also identify the islands of promise in the sea of turmoil for making a head start. A search for honest and upright officers/technocrats in the ranks can be useful for the civil society groups to expand their scope of work. Such folks need to be supported and strengthened in their resolve. It must be remembered that every large scale assignment is begun with a first step!
The asleep shall inherit the Earth
We may perceive that most intellectual exercise is done consciously. However, research has revealed that brain is more active during the sleep state
By Aziz Omar
Oh that magical refuge of sleep. It can be our best friend in times of emotional distress and worldly escape. But then again, everybody has had to battle energy sucking yawns with cup after cup of coffee, when pulling one of those dreaded all-nighters. We generally associates sleep with tired, aching muscles as a result of physical work and a drained brain due to mental activity throughout an average day. For a person involved in physical labour such as a construction worker or an athlete, sleep would definitely seem to be the ultimate life renewing drug.
Yet, according to recent findings, the body's various parts apart from the brain are not even aware that their human host is napping. Of course, if our vital organs ever considered dozing off, it would truly be the worst of all nightmares. Our heart and breathing rates naturally slow down in case if inactivity. Our muscles just need stages of relaxation to repair them and neutralise the lactic acid build-up. We feel that when we have performed a mental feat such as attempting a maths exam, writing a research paper or even coming up with excuses for not having to do any work. Hence, we want to sleep so that we don't have to think anymore. In fact, it is during our time of catching a few Zs that our brains are doing the most amount of thought crunching.
We humans have developed a sense of existence based on our experiences while we are in a conscious state. Some people have the gift (or in many cases the curse) of gab and so try to cram in as much gossip as possible while on the phone or during social GTs. Academic nerds obsessed with grades are hell-bent upon stuffing their overworked brains with course material all through their waking hours. Scientists and inventors such as Thomas Edison even considered sleep as their worst enemy whereby viewing it as an absolute waste of time and a weakness. However, ongoing research into the inner workings of the brain based on modern Electroencephalography (EEEGs) has revealed that the brain is more active during the sleep state. This is especially true for the rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep cycle that lasts for around 20-30 minutes. As the REM stage is itself part of a 90-110 minutes overall sleeping pattern, an average person has around four to five REM episodes in an eight-hour sleep.
So, what is so unique about sleep and its associated REM cycle that enables our brain to kick into in to turbo boost? The secrets quite probably lie in the way that the electrical activity inside our brain takes place. The billions of neurons that fire every now and then churn out electromagnetic waves called characterised as delta. They are large but relatively much weaker than your common radio waves, having less than two cycles every second; your favorite FM radio station is transmitted via waves having millions of cycles. Delta waves start getting produced in a stage of deep sleep occurring after about 30 minutes in each sleep cycle an are accompanied by the lowest heart and breathing rate levels. Yet quite dramatically, when REM stage takes over, breathing and blood pressure increase significantly to nearly as much as when we are awake, though our body is in a near paralysis state.
Consequently, the supercharged brain is assumed to be extremely busy at a subconscious level. Our so-called mind is based on the functioning of a vast network of neural pathways that light up like say Las Vegas does in the night. It sorts out all the massive amounts of sensory information that it has received while the person is awake as well as creating new paradigms of thought and personality traits. Although our brain makes millions of new neural connections every second, the total number of brain cells is always on the decline. The birth of new brain cells is highly contested and so it is crucial that one tries to slow down the rate of their destructions. Lack of required sleep has been linked to our miniscule bonded workers having a low life expectancy.
We may perceive that we are consciously doing the most amount of intellectual exercise and learning. Nonetheless, our psyche is a more direct result of our inner demons hammering away and fashioning our cognitive processes. The mental phenomena characterised as dreams are quite probably the mere reflection of the cacophony of synapses (neuron-to-neuron links) in the inner recesses of our brain.
Therefore, it is no surprise that infants besides snoozing a lot, have a REM cycle comprising of up to 80 per cent of their sleep. It is in the first couple of years in a person's life that he or she is soaking up the most amount of information and making the required mental connections. So parents, if your one or two-year olds are not sleeping up to a total of 13-16 hours a day, you better start getting that college and tuitions' fund ready as they might not be getting any merit scholarships.
The saga of ball stitchers
Thousands of workers have been laid off after a multinational company (MNC) cancelled its business deal with a local producer of soccer balls in Sialkot
By Zulfiqar Shah
For the citizens of Sialkot, it was time to celebrate last week as Shoaib Malik, the son of Sialkot, was elevated as captain of Pakistan cricket team. There was jubilation in the city streets, decorated with banners to greet the player.
But this jubilation hardly touched a large number of workers in the city and surrounding villages who have recently been laid off by a local sport goods manufacturer. Grim signs of worry were obvious on the faces of these poor stitchers who say life had never been easy for them but this sudden unemployment has fallen upon them like hell.
These workers have been laid off after a multinational company (MNC) cancelled its business deal with a local producer of soccer balls. The decision was taken on grounds of violation of social compliance.
"I was earning a reasonable amount to feed my family but now, suddenly, there is no work and no money," says Sadiq, who until recently worked as stitcher with Saga Sports, a local manufacture of soccer balls. "This sudden change has disturbed my life, I need a job immediately."
Saga's foreign buyer Nike Inc. has recently cancelled the contract of soccer ball manufacturing followed by accusations of violation of labour laws and company code.
According to local sources Saga had 7,000 workers both working at its main factory and also at stitching centres spread over Sialkot district. Followed by cancellation of the contract, thousands of workers have been laid off. The first to go were workers like Sadiq who had an informal arrangements working from centres and homes. Latest reports suggest only 1500 workers are retained by Saga and the rest have been laid off.
With around 4000 workers at the main factory and 3000 at stitching centres, Saga has provided jobs to thousands of people in an area where a large population depends on jobs in industrial units.
Nike business with Saga was important as the former had an international supply chain and it might not have been easy decision to cancel contract at a crucial time when the MNC was in need of a huge supply of soccer balls.
Nike says it took the extreme decision followed by a six-month long investigation, which proved that Saga was outsourcing many of the balls to casual workers who sew them together in their homes around the city of Sialkot. "The factory has persistently broken its commitments and breached its trust with Nike," said Nike's chief executive, Mark Parker.
"If you have production in homes, it's very difficult to monitor safe labour conditions. There's also the potential for underage labour, which we do not condone," explained Nike's press release.
Nike decision has pleased many rights-based organisations. They believe that this shall lead to a better labour compliance, as businessmen will learn a few lessons. But the decision has also annoyed local labour leaders and common people who think that the decision of Nike has resulted in unemployment of labour.
Obviously, such matters are always controversial but one thing is clear that that gone are the days when industrialists used to apply their own rules and regulations and were not willing to listen to anyone from inside or outside their business ventures. Positive side of globalisation has brought many organisations and individuals together around the world with a strong lobby advocating fair trade practices, which includes better wages and end to exploitative labour conditions.
There is growing consumer awareness particularly in Europe where citizen's advocacy outfits are convincing buyers to ask about labour conditions in the factories where the goods they buy are prepared.
This new buzzword of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Codes of Conduct has put more pressure on business ventures to improve labour and environmental conditions in and around their factories.
Pakistani businesses and government, which are habitual violators, remained ignorant of the seriousness of the issue and went their own way resulting in businesses losses. It's not the first time that a Pakistani company has lost a business contract; there are many examples in recent past when Pakistani carpet export was banned followed by accusations of use of child labour; fish export to EU is currently under threat and now this extreme example of Nike pulling out from Sialkot.
Ironically, Pakistan government's actions in recent years have been contradictory to international labour rights and norms of labour standards mandatory for doing businesses. A case in point is Punjab government's industrial policy under which labour inspections have been banned.
Inspections, despite their faulty mechanism, were the only way to check labour violations followed by action but since the policy has been changed labour officials say they are helpless.
Similarly, government has also withdrawn many labour rights through Industrial Labour Ordinance (IRO 2002) and amendments in basic labour laws through Finance Bill 2006. Many of these legislations and policy changes have been made on the pretext of attracting foreign investments.
Labour rights activist challenge this approach. "I think compliance of labour standards is the key to attract business, not withdrawal of standards," says Karamat Ali, Executive Director Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER). "It's unfortunate that our government and business community is not learning any lessons. I think happy workers would be more productive than unhappy and exploited labour."
In the view of Karamat implementation on Core Labour Rights (CLR) introduced by International Labour Organization (ILO) is standard for labour compliance. "These are basic and minimum standards not maximum. So implementation is a must."
A cursory look at Codes of Conduct of MNCs such as Levis and Nike reveal that these codes also revolve around eight CLRs starting with freedom of association and right to collective bargaining.
Unfortunately, indicators show very poor implementation on CLR in Pakistan. Strict government policies and unfriendly attitude of employers have left a very large portion of Pakistani workers un-organised.
Statistics show that a big majority of workers in Pakistan are denied the very basic right of association & collective bargaining. According to official statistics only 3-4 per cent of 75 million workers in formal sector are unionised. Similarly the number of those workers registered with social security institutions and Employment Old Age Benefit Institution (EOBI) is also very small.
Cases of bonded labour are rampant, child labour is very common and equal remuneration for equal work is still a dream in Pakistan, and there are other examples of violation of CLR.
All these indicators show significant violation of CLR affecting live of millions of workers who are already marginalised in Pakistan where all regimes have been dominated by feudal and military.
In such a scenario pressure from outside for better labour rights is sign of hope. Though overall record of so-called MNCs is not appreciable and many think that issues of codes and CSR are a face-saving exercise. But even if this exercise aimed at facesaving is resulting in a situation where local bidders are committing to give rights to labour is good.
A recent visit to Sialkot reveals that Nike decision has awakened many other local producers for foreign buyers and they are trying to improve labour and working standards. "One of the industrialists has asked me to help in formation of union," tells a local labour leader who wanted not to mention his and factory owner name. "This man was always against unions but this decision has forced him to talk to us."
He says other industrialists have also started improving conditions at work, thinking that such extreme decisions can affect them as well.
Many foreign buyers are making it clear to their local buyers that they want strict social compliance particularly company code as its getting difficult for them to sell goods made at sweet shops in Asia and Africa.
The credit goes to civil society organisations in Europe and America who are a strong lobby against un-fair labour practices and have established strong watchdogs.
In the case of Saga, loss has been done and workers need immediate help from many stakeholders including government, which must ensure that they receive their legal entitlements.
More important is steps and measures to avoid such problem in the future. It's the duty of government to ensure decent work by implementing and reforming labour laws. Pakistani businessmen also need to learn to live in a changing world where labour rights are also key to doing business not only capital.
(The writer works with PILER)
Scheme of things
'Rozgar Scheme' seems another misconceived venture, considering it is being launched by just one state-owned bank that claims the scheme will benefit 5.4 million people
By Majid Sheikh
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, they say. It has taken the military junta almost six years to come up with a 'scheme' to cater to the needs of the small and micro sector -- a sector that, in reality, means almost 90 per cent of the population of Pakistan. Normally, the regimes on their last leg start thinking of the poor, or so it seems with this 'scheme'.
Like all things that flow down from the top, the very scheme is being called the 'President's Rozgar Scheme'. It is not a scheme for the president, though, but is seen as a scheme to link the name of the uniformed 'gentleman' with 'poverty alleviation'. For six years, the 'poverty alleviation' programme run by Dr Akmal Hussain, a development economist of sorts, has run its full course and claimed that it was a success. The reality, as it turned out, according to the statistics provided by a number of international financial institutions, showed that poverty had increased and the rich-poor gap had dramatically widened.
The 'Rozgar Scheme' has been launched through the National Bank of Pakistan, the last remaining nationalised bank. As such, the scheme is purely an official one thrust down the throat of reluctant bankers. The bank claims that the solution to Pakistan's major socio-economic problems primarily lies in the development and growth of small and micro businesses. It is a statement of the enormity of the challenge.
The best part is the bank claiming that the scheme will "become the catalyst for breaking the vicious circle of poverty". Gosh, these are brave words, and the NBP chief, a sophisticated gentleman named Ali Raza who thinks he finally has the 'solution'.
The NBP offers loans for (a)a franchise with Utility Stores Corporation, (b)a 'mobile store' or a loan for a 'thehla', (c)a loan for a rickshaw, (d)a PCO store, and, lastly, (e)a loan for a tele-centre. This, in all its glory, is the President's Rozgar Scheme, the mother of all schemes which "will break the back of poverty in Pakistan" (to quote from an official website). They sure have the true ring of the President's high Gujarati intellectual prowess.
Let us take a deeper look into the components of the so-called scheme. The 'Utility Store Scheme', having a USC franchise, will provide a financing facility of up to Rs.100,000/- for a maximum period of five years. Mind you, the facility will be in place after the adequate securities become effective. Besides, the interest rate component is dicey. This means that a person having a shop will put this up as collateral and get Rs 100,000/- only to buy furniture and fixtures for a USC. And, even this is after the 'lucky person' has made a hefty payment of security deposit/advance rent under franchise from the USC. However, the NBP website makes it clear that 'stocks will be purchased by the customer'.
For starters, having a USC outlet is the last thing a serious shopkeeper wants, what with government controls and constant raids over prices. The NBP scheme, by its very nature, makes sure that no genuine person can get it, or want to get it. Imagine the time spent by a shopkeeper getting one lakh rupees for furniture and fixtures. Having spent a considerable number of years in the business sector, one can assure the NBP that a person who has to get a shop, a USC licence (after bribing USC staff), and buy all his stocks does not, if he is in his right mind, want money for furniture and fixtures. If he has come so far, why bother with a USC shop. The reader can judge for himself what the real story behind this scheme is.
Then, there is the 'Mobile Utility Store' scheme where a motorcycle or rickshaw with an attached 'thehla' under franchise from the USC to carry utility goods for retail sale. Again the vehicle will be under lease and the reader can imagine the conditions attached. The same scheme is offered without the USC connection, with the option of using Rs 100,000/- also to buy stock. This Rs 100,000/- switch-off means that all this money will go to people with the 'correct' style of doing business. This scheme will also go to people wanting to run a rickshaw. Again, the Rs 100,000/- ceiling will apply.
There seems to be a scheme behind the Rozgar Scheme itself. Allow this scribe to suggest a scenario. In an election one needs a stationary position to operate and judge a situation. Secondly, you need mobility to rush humans from one point to another. And, lastly, you need excellent communications. The instructions come from a higher authority, but the tactics need a 'local point for dispersal', the ability to communicate and the ability to move humans quickly. This is not to suggest that the NBP is the paymaster for the President's Rozgar, but that the timing and product dispersal is such that it reeks of foul Gujarati intentions.
A word about the 'NBP Karobar PCO'. This grand product is designed to finance setting up of a PCO with a mobile/wireless telephone set with connection and credit balance. Well, the ceiling is Rs 5,000/- for a maximum period of two years. To have a PCO point, a shopkeeper certainly does not want Rs 5,000/- as a loan. The less said about this the better. An upsizing of this is the 'Tele-centre Scheme' with telephone connections, wireless telephone sets, a computer, a printer and a fax machine cum photocopier. The average amount of financing under this product will be Rs 50,000/- for a maximum period of two years.
Therefore, if we return to the elections scenario, we see money being given to USC shops to buy furniture and fixtures only (imagine!), we see motorcycles and rickshaws to rush people about, we see Rs 5,000/- being given for mobile cell phones to inform, and we see 'tele-centres' to tabulate voting, fax machines and email. But then, one might be wrong. Just the fact that this scheme has been announced in time for elections after all other 'poverty alleviation' schemes have failed gives rise to speculation.
The scheme is not for the poor, something about which there is precious little doubt. It states very clearly that it is being offered to eligible young and literate citizens of Pakistan, aged 18-40 years having a minimum qualification of Matriculation. The eligible borrowers will be required to make a down payment of 15 per cent Asset and Life & Disability insurances will be mandatory under the scheme. The 15 per cent down payment will include 1st year's asset insurance premium. However, the cost of life and disability insurance will be borne by GoP. The mark-up rate for the 1st year will be 12 per cent and for the subsequent years it will be 1 year KIBOR + 2 per cent. Fifty percent (50 per cent) of this rate will be paid by the customer i.e. 6 per cent, and the balance of 6 per cent will be borne by GoP. Additionally, first 10 per cent of the losses under the scheme will be taken-up by GoP. If you consider the above, the entire amount has been insured. So the government is going to dish out this entire amount to the sort of people who can carry out the work we are suggesting. The money has been fully insured and the financial close, in a way, already applied. The rates seem attractive and there are plenty of people who will want to pick up the money to lend services.
It is interesting how after the failure of all the 'poverty alleviation' exercises such a bizarre scheme is being launched by just one government-owned bank who claim they will benefit 5.4 million people. If this number is divided by the average family size of 9.7, we get a number coming exactly to 500,000 persons. Given the number of constituencies in Pakistan, and catering for geographical size differences, a team of 184 persons on average per constituency will benefit, or serve, the scheme, depending on which side you are on. It is also strange that the average number of polling booths will be 92, so two persons per polling booth will benefit. But then Mr Ali Reza is an honourable man and his bank has made a lot of profit, none of which goes to the depositors. It earns 56 times the amount paid to the depositor. But, who cares. Low returns on savings, high interest on borrowing and massive chunks of a Rozgar scheme. Maybe they think it is a timely investment, or maybe the scheme was forced on them. There is only one way to beat the real intent: Every Pakistani must vote for the party they really wish to.
The perpetual divide
Despite the government's tall claims, about 80 per cent of the population is still deprived of fundamental education. The various education systems don't make the situation any better
By Alauddin Masood
The statistics about education in Pakistan present a depressing picture; the official literacy rate stands at 53 per cent, with 40 per cent female and 65 per cent male. Net enrollment at the primarily level is 52 per cent, whereas the retention rate for 2004-05 was 61 per cent. Only 60 per cent primary aged children in Pakistan attend school, a much lower rate compared to the neighboring countries. The gender gap is large; there are only 56 girls to every 100 boys enrolled in primary education.
The figures for rural areas are worse. In the countryside, the overall literacy rate is 44 per cent, with a female share of 29 per cent. Furthermore, 50 per cent students fail in matriculation examination; while 87 per cent of them leave the school without completing their secondary school education. Only 0.12 million students complete their education up to MA/MSc level.
The statistics speak volumes about the far from satisfactory quality of education in the country. The state of missing facilities can be imagined from the results of a survey conducted by a research organisation 'Education Executive.' The survey data indicates that in Punjab only 0.3 million teachers are imparting education to 10.7 million children in 63,000 schools, indicating a gross shortage of teachers.
On the ground, some 30,000 posts of teachers are vacant in schools, while 15 per cent teachers are absent. The state of missing facilities in schools can be imagined from the fact that still 10,925 schools are without safe drinking water, 19,636 without lavatories, 20,018 without electricity, 6,626 without buildings and 3,517 consist of one room only. Above all, 12,315 schools have no boundary walls, 13,623 are without furniture, 2,211 without laboratory and library and 8,312 have dilapidated buildings. As a result of this situation, 10.97 million children are still without any school facility. The situation in other provinces is no better. This calls for sincere efforts to build necessary infrastructure and adoption of innovative techniques to make education interesting for the youth.
The situation is alarming, especially for an ideological state, where the majority community's religion lays great stress on the acquisition of knowledge. The man, according to the Holy Quran, is Allah's vice-regent on Earth, a status bestowed upon him because of knowledge that Allah had Himself imparted to man. It was because of knowledge that Allah asked the angels to prostrate before Adam, as he was more knowledgeable and knew the names of things while the angles had expressed their inability to do so.
It was due to the importance of education in the Muslim society that the early period, Muslims made many scientific discoveries and inventions, greatly impacting the civilisations of those times. Given the importance of education and knowledge in Islam, it really hurts one to find high illiteracy in some Muslim societies.
Knowledge and development
According to the American author Alvin Toffler, the present world economic order is in the form of a three-layer pyramid, with each layer representing a different wave in human history. At the pyramid's bottom are agrarian countries, still in the first wave period, which provide basic resources to the world and appear destined to remain at a non-survival level. The pyramid's second layer consists of industrial countries, which have entered the second wave or the manufacturing age; while only a few countries in the top layer have succeeded in becoming the 'knowledge economies' by entering the information age or the third wave. No wonder, USA, Japan, Germany, France, UK, South Korea, Malaysia, China and Singapore, with buoyant economies, dominate the world today. In USA, 50,000 'men of excellence' are playing leading roles in various priority sectors, enabling America to emerge as the world's sole superpower. On the other hand, states having sizeable segments of illiterate population figure low on the development index of nations. Because of education deficit, the donors maintain that some countries, including Pakistan, could not even efficiently utilise the aid commitments.
In short, education plays a crucial role in the progress, prosperity and sustained development of nations. It is because of the highest level of learning that the Jews, despite their small numerical strength, have positioned themselves as one of the most powerful and influential communities in the world. How did the Jews succeed in achieving this distinguished position? Through their quest for knowledge, of course. One would like to quote an event of 1969 when the global Jewish society collected one billion US dollars, an enormous figure in the late 1960s, to build a gigantic synagogue in Jerusalem. When the amount was handed over to the Chief Rabbi for the construction of the proposed monument, he contended that educating the Jews was more exalted a cause than building a synagogue, and with that money the Chief Rabbi instead established the world's greatest educational trust so that not a single Jew remained uneducated.
Realising the gravity of the situation, the Punjab Education Department's Directorate of Staff Development (DSD) is currently executing a five-year project, involving an outlay of Rs. 5.85 billion, on the professional development of teachers, aimed at improving the quality of teachers in the government run schools and raising their standard of education so that the parents need not send their children to private schools. The challenge, at present, according to the authorities, is not only the professional training of teachers, but also to make the education sector attractive so that highly qualified/talented people adopt it as a profession of choice.
Under this project, DSD has already trained 60,156 primary school teachers at 702 Cluster Training and Support Centres (CTSCs) in 12 districts of Punjab during Phase I. In all, DSD envisages to set up 2290 CTSCs in the entire province. For each CTSC, there are two district teacher educators and one local teacher educator. Besides, his or her's normal salary, each teaching educator gets Rs. 6,000 per month as special allowance plus transport, while district teacher educator gets Rs. 4,500 monthly by way of allowance. DSD is also providing to each Cluster Centre equipment worth Rs. 369,200 and recurring expenditure of Rs. 34,500 per month.
Besides, DSD has also got printed 144,000 copies of Basic Training Module (BTM) for teachers. Punjab DSD's initiative has won her the applause and other provinces are now studying DSD's teachers training module so as to adopt it for raising the professional competence of their teachers.
Though education is the basic right of people, despite rhetoric and tall claims over the last decades, unfortunately, no government in the country made viable education policies. The country's expenditure on education, around 2 per cent of its GDP, is the lowest even in South Asia. The minimum specified by UNESCO is 4 per cent. India has been spending over 4 per cent and is moving towards 6 per cent. Last year, top functionaries in Pakistan announced that in the next budget the allocation for education would be raised to 4 per cent of the GDP, however, the promise yet remains to be redeemed.
The result: About 80 per cent of the population is still deprived of the fundamental facility of education. Further, one finds various types of education systems operating simultaneously in the country: English-medium, Urdu/vernacular schools and Arabic-medium madrasas. Most English-medium schools are expensive and beyond the reach of all but a few, whereas the state-run Urdu/vernacular schools are subsidised and affordable for most. Madrasas are for the poorest and/or ideologically committed.
This linguistic divide -- English in private and armed forces-run schools, Urdu in government-run schools, and Arabic in madrasas -- produce three different types of literate classes, each with widely different outlook, vision and job opportunities. While elite schools have every possible facility and can match their counterparts in the West, state-run system of Urdu schools is in poor shape. These schools have poorly-trained teachers and inadequate infrastructure, some 10 per cent are even without buildings.
The education divide or, in other words, various types of education systems for different classes in the society and perpetuation of those systems over the decades, it appears, is the result of a deliberate policy to maintain class supremacy by denying the people an educational system which gives them as much control of the language and thus power as the elite. However, divergence in outlook and vision and varying prospects for jobs for the products of these different systems of education is a bane/ roadblock to the creation of a harmonious society and thus prone to creating class conflicts. The emergence of radical elements and/or Taliban in the society is a manifestation of this divide, which might become more pronounced if immediate remedial steps are not taken.
Alauddin Masood is a freelance columnist based at Islamabad.
Public Expenditure of Education as % of GDP
Year 1995-96 96-97 1997-98 98-99 1999-2000 00-01 2001-02 02-03 2003-04 04-05 2005-06
GDP % 2.0 2.62 2.34 2.40 1.7 1.6 1.9 1.7 2.1 2.2 2.1
Source: Pakistan Economic Survey