analysis
Imagination and courage
The educated elite still insist that the absurdly simplistic policy formulae concocted in the 1980s are the panacea to Pakistan's ills
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
The financial scandals that have rocked the citadels of capitalism over the past two years may have severely dented public confidence in the system in Western countries, but have passed by virtually unnoticed in Third World countries like Pakistan. The spectacular implosion of some of the world's biggest financial institutions has doubtless had an effect on our economic fortunes, but the impact has been less significant than in the so-called advanced economies where speculative finance is a much bigger contributor to economic activity. Perhaps more importantly, the kind of intellectual introspection that the financial crisis has triggered in the Western world has been completely lacking in Pakistan (alongwith many other Third World countries).

Climate change
Back in bad shape
The required infrastructure should be rapidly developed to minimise impact of floods
By Shakeel Ahmed Ramey
The devastation caused by recent floods has reached alarming proportions. The scale and intensity of damage has stunned the world community and it will take time before the actual loss and sufferings of the people can be gauged.

recovery
Post-flood indicators
By Hussain H. Zaidi
In its recent assessment of Pakistan's post floods economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has stated that the impact of the calamity goes beyond humanitarian crisis to have significant implications for growth and external and fiscal accounts, leading to revision of the current financial year's budget. The IMF has announced $451 million emergency credit to ease pressures on the public exchequer and foreign exchange reserves.

Culture of a post-colonial state
Pakistan needs to address issues that cast a dark shadow over its future
By Raza Rumi
Strange things are happening. Two months after a natural disaster hit millions of people and created essential prerequisites for an economic meltdown, the focus of Pakistan's ruling elite -- elected and unelected -- remains on power politics. As if the utter lack of preparedness to cope with a disaster was not enough the response to the disaster and its monitoring by a holier than thou media is baffling. The primal cause of the post floods mismanagement, if were to believe the analysts on prime time TV and opinion piece writers from the press, is the corrupt clique headed by Mr. Zardari. Those with the most religious bent of minds have cited a divine wrath as a cause of this calamity. A few right wing newspapers have even blamed the United States and India to have caused this natural disaster to punish Pakistan for its nuclear weapons.

rebuilding
Tough task
It is time for government to introduce greener and self-reliant villages
By Irfan Mufti
Mohammad Bashir, in his 40s, along with young sons, was digging ground to make mud for repairing his shattered house. Disenchanted with government's claims of support for house repair and livelihood he and his family, children and women included, were making a desperate effort to rebuild their house.

Personal Political
Break the ice
By Beena Sarwar
'India, Pakistan can't break the ice, even in hour of tragedy' -- Reuters blog, August 22: "An Indian aid offer of $5 million, which itself came after some hesitation and is at best modest, was lying on the table for days before Pakistan accepted it." (http://bit.ly/reutersblogAug22).

Neglected, still
There have been hardly any effort to narrow down urban-rural divide in Sindh
By Mustafa Talpur
Sindh's social fabric was already under threat when unprecedented flood exposed it further. Throughout its history, this land of love, peace and mysticism witnessed rising militancy, tribal and feudal clashes and ethnic tension. The disparity among poverty-ravaged agrarian-based Sindh and urban areas was widening. Today's Sindh can better be described by social injustice emanating from disparity.

Eco-tourism: the missing link
Sustainable tourism ensures economic profitability and protection of natural and cultural resources
By Muhammad Niaz
Realising the significance and threats confronting biological entities, the General Assembly of the United Nations has declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity with an objective to ensure a significant reduction in the rate of bio-diversity loss.

development
Home is where...
The government can help create options for people to build their own houses
By Dr Noman Ahmed
According to UN calendar, the World Habitat Day is commemorated on the first Monday of every October. One of the usual objectives of this day is to review the various problems faced by the population regarding shelter and associated amenities. During and after floods, Pakistan is confronted with serious challenges related to housing in the wake of disastrous damages caused to human settlements.

Fair case
Participants at a discussion highlight the impediments in the way of free and fair elections and suggest remedies
By Sher Ali
The Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) on Tuesday September 28th organised a roundtable discussion regarding the Election Commission of Pakistan's five-year strategic plan in Lahore. The event, which included an array of civil society activists, media pundits, politicians, and academics, concluded that a fair and impartial election commission was necessary for free and fair elections.

 

 

analysis

Imagination and courage

The educated elite still insist that the absurdly simplistic policy formulae concocted in the 1980s are the panacea to Pakistan's ills

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

The financial scandals that have rocked the citadels of capitalism over the past two years may have severely dented public confidence in the system in Western countries, but have passed by virtually unnoticed in Third World countries like Pakistan. The spectacular implosion of some of the world's biggest financial institutions has doubtless had an effect on our economic fortunes, but the impact has been less significant than in the so-called advanced economies where speculative finance is a much bigger contributor to economic activity. Perhaps more importantly, the kind of intellectual introspection that the financial crisis has triggered in the Western world has been completely lacking in Pakistan (alongwith many other Third World countries).

I do not wish to overstate the soul-searching that has taken place in the heartlands of capitalism. In fact, it might be inaccurate to suggest that any serious questioning of the capitalist model has taken place at all. What has happened, however, is that existing critiques of modern capitalist society and the corporations that dominate it have started to occupy more space in the public imagination than at any other time in the recent past. Sales of Marx's works, for instance, have increased manifold since the collapse began in late 2007. Even mainstream economists have been forced to publicly accept that something is amiss, even if the typical diagnosis emphasizes symptoms rather than causes.

In Pakistan, the gospel of the free market remains virtually unchallenged. Ours is not a particularly robust intellectual culture at the best of times. Rote learning, distortions of fact in the public educational curriculum, and a penchant for shortcuts have all contributed to an environment in which intellectual dishonesty and/or sycophancy are the norm.

There is the English-educated elite which otherwise might be expected to depart from the norm. Unfortunately, just as our rich and famous let us down on other fronts, their intellectual powers also leave a lot to be desired. From virtually the outset (early 1950s), the trend amongst the highly educated was to parrot the models and practices of western capitalist countries. The most high-profile intellectuals in the fledgling state were packed off to American universities where they imbibed the modernisation orthodoxy of the times and promptly returned to Pakistan to try out their ideas on the natives. The so-called Harvard Advisory Group which formulated Pakistan's economic policies in its early years is a case-in-point.

In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, there was a slight departure from established practice, in conjunction with the radical anti-imperialist and class movements that were challenging orthodoxy around the globe. Many Pakistanis with post-graduate degrees, both educated within the country and outside of it, involved themselves closely with politics and invigorated public debate on university campuses.

However, the Zia interregnum put an end to this interlude (at a time when Reagan, Thatcher, Pinochet & co. were putting out radical fires in other parts of the world). It was during the 1980s that intellectual independence was criminalised in Pakistan and a culture of sycophancy and mediocrity institutionalised. Dissent against the official 'Islamised' system of education and cultural expression was stamped out and alternative visions of social change strangulated.

Zia's eleven years in power provided the educated elite a perfect opportunity to show its true colours. Just as purportedly apolitical 'technocrats' spearheaded Ayub Khan's so-called 'decade of development', under Zia too highly-educated World Bankers returned to the country to serve it. They championed the structural adjustment orthodoxy that subsequently ravaged working people and the environment (as has been the case in virtually all Third World economies that have suffered the impositions of the international financial institutions). More than two decades after Zia's demise, the educated elite still insist that the absurdly simplistic policy formulae concocted in the 1980s are the panacea to Pakistan's ills.

The list includes privatisation and 'rationalisation' of labour markets, the building of big infrastructural projects, liberalisation of trade and financial markets, and the unbridled exploitation of natural resources. In short, what noted scholar David Harvey has called 'accumulation by dispossession' -- which essentially underwrites the massive financial swoops of the big banks and insurance companies based in Western capitals -- continues to be projected as unquestioned means and end of development. Even while those who our elite ape recognise the follies of radical free market capitalism, the elite themselves see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Take, for example, the ongoing corporatisation of public education. Over the next few years, our 'experts' want -- at the gentle prodding of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank -- to 'rationalise' the fee structure in our public universities. Already, this academic year Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) has started a new Batchelor's in Business Administration (BBA) degree, the annual fees for which are an astronomical Rs150,000. BBA students are not eligible for university room and board and thus yearly costs can be expected to reach Rs200,000. Even a family earning Rs30,000 a month would have to spend more than half its household income to enroll a child in QAU's BBA programme. The government has announced that fee subsidies will be rolled back in all departments over the next few years which means to say that the BBA fee structure is basically a peak into the future.

The 'experts' will argue that per capita income in Pakistan is rising and that a significant minority of households can (or will soon be able to) afford to send children to universities that charge higher fees. But what about the majority of the country's population that simply cannot afford such fees? QAU and other public universities cater to the relatively poor who hail from rural and peri-urban backgrounds. 'Rationalising' higher education fees will deny the 0.1 percent of total Urdu-medium matriculates who currently do make it to university. The gap between rich and poor will grow while the alienation of the English-educated elite will become even more acute.

Yet the intellectual honesty to recognise these trends and to nip the problem in the bud is simply lacking in this country. In many ways, this intellectual malaise is a microcosm of the larger crises that are engulfing us. Those making the right noises are sidelined, or worse still, suppressed. The repressive environment then produces parochial reactions. It will require imagination and courage to move beyond this impasse. One can only hope that both come to the fore, sooner rather than later, in ample measure.

 

 

Climate change

Back in bad shape

The required infrastructure should be rapidly developed to minimise impact of floods

By Shakeel Ahmed Ramey

The devastation caused by recent floods has reached alarming proportions. The scale and intensity of damage has stunned the world community and it will take time before the actual loss and sufferings of the people can be gauged.

Human suffering will only be exacerbated by severe blows dealt to the agricultural sector, which will longer term impacts. Standing crops have been washed away and millions of livestock lost. Agriculture is the prime source of income in major parts of the flood-affected areas and the losses incurred have had a direct effect on the livelihoods of the farmers.

Many of the farmers have limited resources and restricted options of livelihood. The already rampant poverty in these areas will further increase as farmers scramble to reconstruct their livelihoods. The losses sustained by the agricultural sector will also worsen food insecurity situation across the country with more acute effects in those flood affected.

Much of the forest cover has also been destroyed, especially in the northern areas. In Pakistan, the forest cover was already below the international level and the floods have only aggravated the situation. Effects on the agricultural sector and forestry will continue to be felt in the coming days.

Due to severe damage incurred by transportation and communication, many areas have lost links to the main networks, making it almost impossible to conduct rescue and relief work. While national and international relief efforts are on, there is a debate raging, which is trying to decipher the dynamics that caused such a disaster. Pakistan went through a record 12 inches rain within 36 hours during this monsoon season.

The monsoon-fed Indus River, which acts as the backbone of the agricultural system, became a vessel of destruction as rain caused the river to flood the valley. Many scientists and climate change experts are of the view that global warming is the primary reason of such unprecedented floods.

While changes in global environment continue to shock and alarm populations, it has already been predicted by climate experts that abnormal rains, floods, heat waves, landslides and fires would become inevitable in the future. In fact, the Fourth Assessment report of IPCC came out with clear predication of abnormal rains, floods, and heat waves in certain areas of the world, including South Asia.

Russia went through the worst heat wave of its history, with high temperatures, lack of rain and wildfires having destroyed more than a third of cultivable area in Russia. Forests near Moscow were under heavy fire, engulfing the whole city of Moscow in smoke.

China, too, had to bear the brunt of nature as landslides, heavy rains and floods erupted in certain provinces. 1,144 people are confirmed dead in China but this masks the intensity of tragedy as there were at least 45, 000 people in Zhouqu county alone who had been evacuated. The destruction to infrastructure and livelihood sources lead to losses of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Experts have predicted that in the coming years such instances will not only become more frequent but also occur with increased intensity. This is attributed to climate change which is rapidly altering the natural environment we live in. Not only does this series of events reconfirm the validity of climate change science, dispelling any notions of the phenomenon being a mere myth but has also prompted a renewed global concern for the future of the planet.

Exposed to multiple threats, Pakistan ranks very high on the vulnerability table to climate change and is included in World Bank's list of 12 most vulnerable countries to climate change. Higher temperatures, heavy rains, sea level rise, droughts, loss of biodiversity and productivity losses in agricultural sector are anticipated in Pakistan due to climate change.

Pakistan has been bearing the impact of climate change without being aware of it; long spells of drought, floods in non-flood prone areas in 2007-08, changing rainfall patterns, etc, are trends that are visible representations of change in the climate. IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (2007) had clearly mentioned that in the coming years, rains will intensify in the northern region of the country.

The present floods in Pakistan are due to heavy and abnormal rains during the monsoon which caused the Indus River to overflow. However, it must be noted that changing rainfall patterns will not be the only source of floods in the coming years. The recent cyclone in the Arabian Sea; Cyclone Phet signaled warnings across the coastal areas of Pakistan as tens of thousand of people were evacuated from vulnerable areas along the Sindh and Balochistan coast.

The greater risk that confronts the coastal areas is that of sea level rise; a trend being observed all over the globe and fast gaining momentum. Karachi, in particular, is particularly vulnerable as it is 8 feet below the sea level placing it at a high risk of floods.

Functioning as the economic hub of the country, any calamity in Karachi will have strong repercussions for the whole economic fabric of the country. At the same time, the lives of its 20 million inhabitants will be at great risk. Floods due to sea level rise will also impact agricultural and productive land converting them to non-productive land, especially in areas such as Badin.

Pakistan cannot control or reverse climate change nor can it avoid natural calamities. However Pakistan can devise policies, implementation tools and infrastructure to minimise the impact of these natural disasters. Pakistan can take preventative measures to ensure that these disasters are not converted into a human tragedy in future.

Adaptation and pre-emptive planning are key strategic steps which can help to minimise the impact of climate change. First, Pakistan has to develop a comprehensive Adaptation Action Plan for the country; keeping in mind the vulnerabilities of the country to climate change, which poses multiple threats simultaneously. Second, Pakistan has to focus on reservoir development, in particular the construction of new reservoirs.

Big dams may have their social and environmental problems, but they can play a very crucial role in minimising the impact of floods due to rain. Besides flood control, these dams can also help generate cheap electricity and ensure timely availability of water for agriculture, drinking and industry. Politics should be kept aside and focus should be shifted on the construction of new dams which have become a dire need for the country. Third, the forest cover of the country which is already well below the international level should be increased.

Currently, an opposite trend is being observed as forest logging is emerging as a big issue forest sector in Pakistan. In 1992, after the flood in Pakistan, it was pointed out that an increased reduction of the forest cover had made the floods even more devastating. Forests cannot control or mitigate floods entirely but they can play a significant role in reducing severity of flood. At the same time, forest can also help to reduce soil erosion caused by heavy rains and floods which can diffuse the impact of intense flooding. Fourth, Pakistan must also rapidly develop infrastructure to avoid or minimize impacts of floods due to sea level rise.

Physical infrastructure will have to be constructed to secure Karachi and other low-lying coastal areas. Increasing the mangrove forest cover along the coastal line will also serve to act as a defense against floods from predicted sea level rise along the coasts of Sindh and Balochistan.

For the implementation of adaptation plan and physical interventions mentioned above, a huge amount of investment is required. Pakistan does not possess such resources and its ability to invest in the future is also compromised as it struggles to deal with consequences of the recent floods. However, Pakistan can secure funding to invest in these options from the international community through Clean Development Mechanisms's Adaptation Fund, REDD, etc, which are in place to assist developing countries cope with the impact of climate change. Although these resources will not be tailor made to the needs of country, however, they will serve to minimise burden of the country.

These funds will not be loans, thus will not entangle the country in another web of debts. It depends on government and state players to play their cards right and benefit from these resources. Efforts should be directed towards adaptive responses to climate change lest another tragedy falls upon the people of Pakistan.

The writer is head of SDPI's center for climate change study center at can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

recovery

Post-flood indicators

By Hussain H. Zaidi

In its recent assessment of Pakistan's post floods economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has stated that the impact of the calamity goes beyond humanitarian crisis to have significant implications for growth and external and fiscal accounts, leading to revision of the current financial year's budget. The IMF has announced $451 million emergency credit to ease pressures on the public exchequer and foreign exchange reserves.

The economy, according to the IMF, was picking up before the floods hit the country. The real GDP grew by 4.1 percent, the current account deficit narrowed to $3.5 billion (2 per cent of GDP) and both exports ($19.63 billion) and remittances ($8.90 billion) went up during the last financial year (FY10). However, the budget deficit surpassed the 5.1 percent revised target to reach 6.3 per cent of GDP.

The economic cost of floods is likely to be enormous in terms of loss caused to agriculture, livestock, infrastructure and potential GDP. The agricultural sector, which accounts 21 percent of GDP and 45 percent of employment, has been hit the hardest as more than 2.3 million hectares of standing crops, including 3.5 million bales of cotton, have been washed away.

Sugarcane and rice crops have also been significantly damaged. Since Pakistan is an exporter of primary products and agriculture and livestock-dependent manufactured goods (textiles, leather), the country's export performance is likely to be affected. Besides, the country will have to import essential commodities to meet the domestic shortage as well as capital goods for post-floods reconstruction and rehabilitation, which will inflate the import bill.

On the basis of data provided by the Pakistan government, the IMF has predicted that during the current fiscal year, real GDP growth will come down to 2.8 percent ($190.20 billion) from the pre-floods estimates of 4.3 percent ($190.66 billion); the current account deficit will increase to 3.1 percent ($5.86 billion), 0.6 percentage points higher than the pre floods estimates of 2.5 percent ($4.62 billion); inflation will rise to 13.5 percent from 11.7 percent estimates before the deluge; exports and imports will grew by 3 percent and 8.7 percent respectively compared with earlier estimates of 4.7 and 6.9 percent resulting into trade deficit of $13.52 billion.

External debt will surpass the post floods projections of $58.55 billion to reach $60.40 billion. Foreign direct investment is projected to be $3.08 billion down from original forecast of $3.28 billion, while foreign portfolio investment will be $278 million down from the $428 million projection.

Rehabilitation of the flood-hit people will put serious pressures on the public exchequer in a situation when revenue collection is likely to be lower due to disruption of economic activity. Accordingly, the government will have to re-prioritise budgetary allocation as well as broaden the tax base resulting into what is commonly called a mini budget.

The first will entail diversion of development expenditure to rehabilitation of floods affected people. However, the second is easier said than done and the axe is likely to fall again on the salaried class in the form of a temporary 10 percent income tax surcharge as committed by the government in a letter dated September 10, 2010 addressed to the IMF requesting for the emergency credit. The same letter also commits the government to reform the general sales tax (GST) incorporating features of a value added tax (VAT).

The major economic indicators in the post floods scenario present a mixed picture. During first two months of the current fiscal year (FY11 July August), current account deficit went up to $944 million compared with $635 million for the corresponding period of the last financial year (FY11 July August).

Imports increased to $6.25 billion compared with $5.16 billion; however, exports also rose to $3.56 billion compared with $2.90 billion. Foreign investment dropped to $267 million from $405 million; however, remittances increased to $1.72 billion from $1.52 billion. Inflation (CPI) went up to 12.79 percent from 10.93 percent during the corresponding period of last fiscal year.

The devastation wrought by the floods is so enormous that the Pakistan government cannot cope with it on its own and thus direly needs foreign assistance. According to Economic Affairs Division, as of September 24, 2010 total multilateral and bilateral pledges worth $1.46 billion have been made of which $411.28 million are in the form of grant and $709 million in kind.

However, only $53.38 million grant has been disbursed, while relief goods worth $285 million have been received. In addition, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank will provide $1 billion and $500 million respectively in credit. The IMF's $451 million loan has already been mentioned.

An important development is the indication given by the European Union (EU), which is Pakistan's single largest trading partner, to reduce tariffs on certain number of products of Pakistan's export interest to help the country grapple with the devastation caused by the floods. However, since the proposed tariff concessions will be Pakistan-specific, the EU will be required to obtain a waiver from the WTO in order to make them compatible with the international trade regime.

Granted that such a waiver is obtained, which itself is a difficult task, the actual impact on Pakistan's exports will be contingent upon several factors, including the products on which tariff concessions will be granted, the margin of preference, the period during which tariffs will be lowered, and the domestic supply side situation.

Floods have undone the economic recovery -- fragile though it was -- that began in the last financial year. The economic slowdown will result in loss of jobs and incomes as well as revenue. The level of domestic savings (10.1 per cent of GDP) and investment (16.6 per cent), which is already quite low, will further come down and reduce future growth prospects.

Balance of payment problems will increase partly due to projected hike in the current account deficit and partly due to projected fall in foreign investment, which will make the country more dependent on foreign credit thus adding to total foreign debt as well as debt servicing. The increase in inflation, particularly of food items, will hit hard the salaried class, which will be required to pay more in the form of flood surcharge as well as a 'reformed' GST.

[email protected]

 

 

Culture of a post-colonial state

Pakistan needs to address issues that cast a dark shadow over its future

By Raza Rumi

Strange things are happening. Two months after a natural disaster hit millions of people and created essential prerequisites for an economic meltdown, the focus of Pakistan's ruling elite -- elected and unelected -- remains on power politics. As if the utter lack of preparedness to cope with a disaster was not enough the response to the disaster and its monitoring by a holier than thou media is baffling. The primal cause of the post floods mismanagement, if were to believe the analysts on prime time TV and opinion piece writers from the press, is the corrupt clique headed by Mr. Zardari. Those with the most religious bent of minds have cited a divine wrath as a cause of this calamity. A few right wing newspapers have even blamed the United States and India to have caused this natural disaster to punish Pakistan for its nuclear weapons.

The genesis of such intellectual confusion and distortion of public debate lies in the way the Pakistani mind has evolved into a hydra-headed, paranoid and militarised being. This has been the greatest contribution of the Pakistani state to shape and craft a society that places a premium on nuclear weapons over citizen welfare and which demonises the political process and celebrates religious militancy as a just cause.

This is why militarism of a softer variety is back in full force. Undoubtedly, Pakistan army has done a tremendous job in rescuing people and ensuring that relief efforts are well-executed. However, this is neither unusual nor a matter of surprise as it happens to be an organised institution. But to apply this success in an emergency situation by a force trained to deal with urgent situations onto the domain of national governance brings back the central issue of Pakistan's statehood: the unresolved and now perhaps a permanent civil-military imbalance. It started with the TV channels eulogising army efforts and creating a binary between the army and the civvies -- a half truth and a rhetorical polemic with little substance. This was followed by calls for army intervention by the MQM and its nemesis, Mr Imran Khan. Luckily, for Pakistan the Generals appear to be in no mood to intervene and rock the applecart. Well, at least for now.

Once the threat of prospect of direct military rule was not given due attention, disguised formulae of indirect military rule have been propagated by the disgruntled among the political class and TV anchors. Debates have been held on Gen Kakar formula, the Bangladesh model of technocratic supremacy or a national government comprising the clean politicians. Sadly, judicial activism, howsoever earnest it might be, has not helped either. The reopening of NRO implementation debate, preceded by the interim orders on the 18th Amendment case, has created a situation of uncertainty and a near-collision between the executive and the judiciary. Mercifully, a showdown has been avoided in the short term.

Even prior to the floods the basic issues of economic management, political governance and terrorism had haunted the body-politic and continue to do so. However, the remarkable apathy that has been displayed by those who matter to 'real' issues once again shows the inherent culture of a post-colonial state which abandoned the reform agenda in the 1970s and since then has been eaten away from within and by geopolitical imperatives to literally prove Jinnah's anguish on having created a 'truncated' and 'moth-eaten' Pakistan.

In these circumstances, reform and social change are often confused with change of faces and which group of rent-seeking and patronage-doling elites should share power with the permanent establishment i.e., the military-bureaucratic complex, the big business and 'foreign' interests in Pakistan.

It is, therefore, critical to speak of a reform agenda for Pakistan and argue that the long-neglected agenda of state-building should now dominate public discourse. Let us recount the key five issues that require the attention of Pakistanis, their rulers and international partners.

Political stability: The search for stability is now a cliché and almost an unachievable goal in Pakistan. Having said that, it remains a paramount objective. The fragile democratic government has to be allowed to complete its tenure. It may reshuffle the cabinet, change the Prime Minister or even elect another set of coalition parties to govern but there is little use in repeating past mistakes through unrepresentative experiments in governance. They have never delivered in a factionalised, diverse and tense federation. Pakistan's key institutions -- the army, judiciary and the parliament -- stand to gain if they resolve to keep the system intact.

Economic recovery: Nothing is more important to revitalise the economy at this juncture. A low economic growth rate (0-1 percent) and high inflation (25 percent if efforts are not made to improve the situation) are a disaster formula given our needs and population explosion. The illogic of raising taxes and improving collection makes little sense as tax-collections cannot rise in times of recession. More importantly, the incentives for domestic investment need to be restored as we are now chronically suffering from a low savings (18 percent) and investment rate compared to so many other economies. Aid may be necessary in the short term but focus needs to shift on trade and the national security state will have to change its course and look eastwards and trade with India for immediate boost to small-scale manufacturing, agro-based industries.

Energy rents: Pakistan has been mired by its national security paradigm when it comes to forging regional alliances for energy trade. A decade has been lost quarrelling over minor details and putting bilateral issues with India before everything else. It is essential that the energy-deficient India is now used as a huge opportunity by the Pakistani state to achieve major growth gains and employment in the immediate term. The various pipelines and energy corridors earlier planned now need to be put into place. Yes, Balochistan is a problem but what stops the federal authorities to engage with the separatist leaders and allay their concerns and fears.

Full implementation of 18th Amendment: Related to the above, the political class has made a historical beginning by correcting the earlier wrongs through devising a new framework for federal governance. It should be a priority but a government on a life-boat can hardly achieve that if the opposition does not work with it. The provinces have to fast-track their capacities and institutional reform to take additional responsibilities. In fact, post-flood reconstruction provides a unique opportunity for the provinces to put their institutions in order, devolve more power to the local level and create lean and efficient provincial governments that can deliver and not just collect and pocket rents. The redundant provincial departments need to be abolished and capacities should flow to the local level.

Anti-terrorism efforts: It would be a non-starter if the PPP-ANP combine continues to be at the forefront of countering militancy. The government will not succeed if PML-N and other political forces do not join hands to fight the biggest menace of our times.

Social protection and youth: Given the alarming rates of poverty and a youth population, it is essential that the state must arrest an impending social holocaust and focus on these vital areas and undertake programmes which cater to the young, poor and the marginalised sections of Pakistan. This is linked to economic growth as well as realignment of national priorities and considering the dangers that afflict Pakistani society.

In conclusion, the Pakistani state needs to address issues that cast a dark shadow over its future. The media and the chatterati need to take stock of the actual crises rather than do palace intrigues and power-politics.

 

 

rebuilding

Tough task

It is time for government to introduce greener and self-reliant villages

By Irfan Mufti

Mohammad Bashir, in his 40s, along with young sons, was digging ground to make mud for repairing his shattered house. Disenchanted with government's claims of support for house repair and livelihood he and his family, children and women included, were making a desperate effort to rebuild their house.

Living in a small village outside Kot Addu union council, he is hopeful that he can build shelter for his family before the next spell of monsoon starts. This is the story of thousands of families returning to their settlements after more than a month in shanty camps. Government promises of grants and support still hung in thin air as these families have started making efforts to recover their lives and homes.

The government grants of Rs20,000 have not yet started reaching out to these desperate families that lost all their belongings and assets. Most of these people are also weary of these promises and do not have strength and courage to stand in more queues to collect the promised money. "I do not have the strength and safarish to go from one post to the other to get this grant," says Bashir.

A group of old men gathered around us in a village and their tales were not different from what most of other victims had already narrated. "We were better off and had saved some money for our future and now it's all gone. Who can replace what we have lost? We are back to zero and lost everything that we had to feed our families". The stories of good old days and nightmarish experience in relief camps and roadside settlements are enough to bring tears in their eyes. Bashir and his young sons are determined to rebuild their lives yet again and so as many others.

Women and children in make-shift camps are facing the same ordeal. "We wait for next meal while we get food that is barely sufficient for the family," says Raheeman living in a small tent with more than eight children and her extended family. "We left everything behind as barely got 2 hours to leave the village before water swept everything in our home and village," Raheeman's elder sister narrates the story of the night they left everything behind even their hopes for life.

Now the government is giving us only Rs20,000 that will not even be enough for us to take the family and our leftover belongings back to the village". Bakir Shah in his early 70s says that forty members of his extended family are living in three small tents they got from government relief camp. "These politicians come with cameras and in big vehicles but nothing changes for us. We do not need charity but genuine support to return to our homes and recover," says Barkat and several others sitting near the rubble of their destroyed houses.

The present disaster has taken away all their life's earning and family thus increasing the risks of vulnerability and extreme poverty.

The state and social structures have failed to provide any respite to fight against hardships and after this loss their ability to cope with poverty and disasters has reduced to almost nil. Most of the population hit by the flood is already poor and landless peasants or rural workers.

This population lives in bondage and under heavy debt from government, local money lenders, pesticide dealers, seed sellers or commission agents. Most of them have yet to pay pending debts, mortgages and loads of government taxes. Ironically, they lost the last saved grains and will not be able to sow the next wheat crop or feed their families.

This will increase poverty trap and possible hunger for them. Government needs to give them incentives, subsidies on agriculture inputs and announced and ensure tax amnesty for poor and landless peasants. Free seeds and fertilisers, insurance of their next crops can help reduce their vulnerability. Free gain scheme should be announced for those lost their standing crops.

Government announcement of Rs20000 grant has not received well by victim families. Most of them rejected this amount as they think it is insufficient to recover for their basic damages. Possibilities of this grant going to wrong pockets or given in political bribes cannot be overruled. News of doling this money to areas not affected by flood has already been reported. Denying these poor victims basic support they expect will increase their miseries and probable political backlash for the government.

Before these people are forgotten by policy-makers and those in positions of authority there need to set-up clear plan of action to rehabilitate and rebuild these communities. They are the citizens of this country and contribute significantly in the country's economy. They rightly expect that the society and state they serve will not leave them in lurch in this troubled time.

It is also time for government to introduce the concepts of greener and self-reliant villages. By introducing new village plans, provision of proper sanitation, hygiene, street pavements, social interaction spaces the productivity of these villages can be increased manifolds. This population has the wisdom and ability to build environmentally friendly houses and do not need much in this efforts.

Better construction material and design can help in their self-initiatives. Local energy and power generation systems, including bio-gas, solar, wind and water turbines, can be some solutions to address local energy needs. Government can invest in these community needs. "Green" construction that is culturally and climate appropriate, and which protects the environment, reduces homeownership costs, and produces healthy indoor environments is essential. We need to take benefit from countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia among several others that have built disaster resistance village structures. These are low-cost and easily managed cyclone and flood resistance structure.

Fostering economic and environmental sustainability and self-sufficiency by (1) optimising use of indigenous building techniques and materials, (2) employing local expertise and labor in cash-for-work programs, and (3) sharing construction knowledge, skills and technology can help these people.

What is needed is a partnership between communities, social groups, government and philanthropists to jointly build sustainable communities. Tragedy presents opportunities for compassionate action and collaboration that build communities.

There is a need to adopt a pioneering redevelopment programmes that should improve conventional disaster aid by incorporating key principles of sustainable disaster management, including collaboration (with both humanitarian partners and survivors) to ensure efficient, appropriate, multidisciplinary solutions.

Conventional disaster aid seeks to return vulnerable communities to normalcy. It does not consider linkages between environment, poverty and vulnerability. Nor does it focus on risk reduction. As a result, conventional disaster aid perpetuates the cycle of disaster-rebuilding-dependency that stifles economic and social development and traps vulnerable communities in a downward spiral.

Every person deserves dignified housing, every community deserves the essential structures required to meet its members' food, health, educational, communication, and economic needs, and that these are essential requirements for a just society. Bashir, Raheeman, Barkat and millions of other poor in this country deserve better attention from their elected government to hold their hands in this critical time and build a genuine partnership.

The writer is Deputy Chief of South Asia Partnership Pakistan and Global Campaigner

[email protected]

 

 

Personal Political

Break the ice

By Beena Sarwar

'India, Pakistan can't break the ice, even in hour of tragedy' -- Reuters blog, August 22: "An Indian aid offer of $5 million, which itself came after some hesitation and is at best modest, was lying on the table for days before Pakistan accepted it." (http://bit.ly/reutersblogAug22).

Given their historically tense relationship, a more mature response from India and Pakistan would have been surprising.

I was on chat soon afterwards with Aniruddha Shankar, an Indian journalist, who felt that India offered the aid at least partially "because it was embarrassing not to".

"But once the offer was made, it hung fire for days and days," he added. "Then people began to remember how in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, some Indian aid rotted in Wagah, and also that aid marked 'A gift from the people of India' and stamped with the Indian flag was refused -- but there's little hesitation in accepting food aid in bags stamped with the US flag."

It wasn't always like this for what he termed a "subcontinental tragedy": "I remember Pakistan air force C130 airplanes landing in Bhuj with bags of supplies after the earthquake in Jan 2001. Then it was not made into politics. It was just aid. Generously given and gratefully accepted. I remember the pictures vividly."

Nine months later, the world changed. The 'war on terror' altered security paradigms. Knee-jerk responses to 'terror attacks' played into the hands of those who do not want India and Pakistan to cooperate against them. The new security paradigms don't even spare children.

A 14-year old straying across the border can be subjected to "sustained interrogation" making him "confess" to being a "terrorist" (like Nauman Arshad, released recently after months in an Indian prison, thanks to the efforts of Indian and Pakistani lawyers and activists).

Hopes that the Foreign Ministers' meeting of July 15 in Islamabad would address such issues were dashed. An unnecessary press conference soured the atmosphere, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi made uncalled for remarks about Indian External Affairs Minister Krishna being on the phone to Delhi during their meeting.

Krishna responded like the senior statesman he is. Qureshi is learning. Four days later, he sent a condolence message to Krishna after the train accident in West Bengal. New Delhi reciprocated after the plane crash near Islamabad and later the floods.

"A condolence letter?" asked the host on BBC's World Today, Aug 8. "Was that an adequate response to a disaster of this magnitude?"

"It's better than nothing, given their relationship," I responded.

Perhaps someone in New Delhi heard us. Or as Aniruddha suggested, felt obliged to respond following the UN appeal of August 11 for $460 million emergency aid for Pakistan.

On August 13, Krishna conveyed India's offer of $5 million aid to Qureshi in a telephone call -- their first direct contact since the Islamabad meeting. Then came Pakistan's dithering. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh telephoned Yusuf Raza Gilani on August 19 and reminded him of the offer; the day Washington also (coincidentally?) urged Pakistan to accept Indian aid. Pakistan agreed, but asked that the aid be routed through the UN.

Indian hardliners urged New Delhi to withdraw the offer. Their Pakistani counterparts slammed Islamabad for accepting Indian money. Fortunately, good sense prevailed.

On September 21, New Delhi generously increased the aid, pledging a total of $25 million. Perhaps New Delhi was prodded by Kerala's offer of September 13, announcing that it was donating a million dollars to Pakistan from its own meagre budget.

Many Indians want to help but the security agencies in Pakistan make this difficult. Islamabad grants visas for relief workers from other countries, but not Israel and India. "What if an Indian doctor is attacked, or a patient dies?" asked an official when questioned about this policy.

It's difficult, but not impossible, to get the requisite No Objection Certificate from the National Disaster Management Agency (www.ndma.gov.pk) to bring in relief goods from India. The dedicated doctors of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplant (www.siut.org) managed it, and on September 25, unloaded the first part of a 25-ton consignment of relief goods arriving from Mumbai.

May this be the first of many such consignments! Politics must not be allowed to come in the way of humanitarian aid.

 

Neglected, still

There have been hardly any effort to narrow down urban-rural divide in Sindh

By Mustafa Talpur

Sindh's social fabric was already under threat when unprecedented flood exposed it further. Throughout its history, this land of love, peace and mysticism witnessed rising militancy, tribal and feudal clashes and ethnic tension. The disparity among poverty-ravaged agrarian-based Sindh and urban areas was widening. Today's Sindh can better be described by social injustice emanating from disparity.

Will the immediate and long-term implications of flood exacerbate existing injustices, widening urban-rural divide, and differences between haves and have nots? Does months-long mass migration in rural Sindh be enough to trigger force to stop, smoothen and turn the tide towards a more just society? The answer of these questions lie in many factors but this article will discuss the opportunities to narrow down urban-rural divide and immediate steps to realise social justice.

The cursory look at the affected people indicates their socio-economic characteristics, a manifestation of their miseries. A majority is landless, living in highly-exploitative, imbalanced power structures under client-patron relationship predominated by patriarchy. Generations have spent lives fighting at multiple fronts of development problems of food insecurity, malnourishment, vulnerability to diseases and disasters as well as subtle and deep-rooted structural causes.

The major difference between 2005 earthquake victims and the recent flood affected people is their socio-economic and geographical characteristics. The earthquake-affected population was living in an economically active zone with respect to remittances flow, one of the high literate areas in Pakistan, and more or less equality among people without large landholding and patron-client relationship.

Rural Sindh and southern Punjab have different social structures characterised by lower level of human development, intensive engagement with agriculture, minimal off-farm income sources and remittances, living under clutches of highly exploitative social, economic and bureaucratic systems.

In Sindh, these visible problems of under-development are a manifestation of broader structural impediments of a system that has perpetuated injustice through unfair and parasitic role of the ruling elite. Majority of the population is compelled to compromise on political freedom and denied access to productive natural resources such as land, water, forest and fish. More importantly, degeneration of public institutions at multiple levels has diminished the potential of future development for these communities.

The immediate human consequences of this political order are food insecurity and malnourishment leading to low-level of cognizance power and capabilities to maintain healthy lives. According to recent collaborative study by World Food Programme & SDPI, before the flood, 32-49 percent of the population of six worst hit districts in Sindh faced food insecurity. This has been exacerbated and may lead to widespread unrest as floods have destroyed standing rice crop and farmers will not be able to cultivate Rabi crop. The fear of hunger and famine cannot be ruled out, as it is hard to identify symptom of famine immediately.

Human Capital Development, the level of education and health status is another important indicator. The six worst affected districts have low literacy and, especially female literacy, which is even less than 20pc. Drinking water and sanitation services, especially for women, are also very poor in these districts. In districts of upper Sindh, increased tribal clashes is the nexus between food insecurity, and low-level of human development.

This can be the first area for government to convert the crisis into an opportunity. No doubt, immediate steps could be to provide relief in the form of food, medicine, shelter, water and sanitation. But medium and long-term relief and rehabilitation should address some of the important social justice issues.

Government can reduce inequity and poverty of the poor by taking timely and positive measures for land re-distribution, increase access of poor to other productive resources, and invest in human capital development schemes. That should be to realise social justice by increasing accountability of public institutions. Temporary employment generation in re-building revival of delta could be feasible. Serious thought for a paradigm shift in water resources management is necessary.

Secondly, efforts should be made to narrowing down urban-rural divide in Sindh. Urban areas of Sindh are well-developed and serve as a hub of Pakistan's economic activity. There is a visible gap in urban and rural Sindh as entire urban development has been less supportive to people in rural Sindh. This is time for urban population of Karachi and Hyderabad to work out a solution to reduce disparity and envision a future for Sindh based on justice and equality.

The matter is not as simple, it requires a coherent and systematic effort, may be some unpopular decisions, capitalising on the diversity of its people. This also requires efforts from the business community, philanthropists, and general public of urban areas to support people who have migrated to Karachi.

The migration might transform rural Sindh, breaking patron-client relationship as a majority of landless disengage from rural areas and look for work in urban centers.

The writer is Regional Advocacy and Policy Advisor, WaterAid-Asia based in Islamabad

[email protected]

 

 

Eco-tourism: the missing link

Sustainable tourism ensures economic profitability and protection of natural and cultural resources

By Muhammad Niaz

Realising the significance and threats confronting biological entities, the General Assembly of the United Nations has declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity with an objective to ensure a significant reduction in the rate of bio-diversity loss.

Every year the United Nations World Tourism Organisation celebrates the World Tourism Day (WTD) on 27th September. This year the theme is Tourism and Bio-diversity. It is an outcome of the social, economic, environmental, and cultural factors and issues contributing to the loss of bio-diversity and non-achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The thematic event underscores the importance of sustainable tourism initiatives linked directly to the conservation of bio-diversity which promote and sustain the available recreational and natural resources. It focuses on providing a unique opportunity to raise and enhance public awareness of the importance of relationship of the two domains -- biodiversity and tourism.

It serves as a platform for all stakeholders to adopt approaches that contribute to local and global responsibility of safeguarding biological entities for their continuous benefits.

Natural beauty attracts visitors to the most remote and enthralling parts of the world. However, in most cases, massive tourism causes both terrestrial and aquatic pollution, destruction of ecosystems, and degradation of local environment.

Besides, the prominent lurking threats to the ecological and natural order that require urgent solutions include: climate change, desertification, and loss of bio-diversity. Urgency has developed among environmentalists and conservationists over the globe because of ever-increasing magnitude of threats that accelerate the loss of bio-diversity.

Studies reveal that globally 22 percent of mammals, 31 percent of amphibians, 14 percent of avian, and 27 percent of reefs are threatened or face danger of extinction. Therefore, besides other driving forces, tourism is one of the potential sectors that relates to and affects biodiversity in one way or the other.

There are numerous areas of human activity that largely contribute to these changes, one of them being tourism. Tourism and bio-diversity have concomitant links with reciprocal implications. Expanded horizon and increased vistas of tourism has rendered nature-based traveling as one of the fastest-growing segments of the industry. Bio-diversity hotspots are potential areas where tourism represents both opportunities for and threats to bio-diversity conservation.

International tourist travel data represent that in 1995 there were 534 million travelers which increased to 682 million in 2000, the same is projected to cross one billion in 2010. This arithmetic increase in tourist numbers in a particular area will not only exert and register major effects on conservation and sustainable use of bio-diversity but will also bring about over-consumption of limited resources in the form of potable water and land besides generation of pollution and residues.

Tourism sector has local as well as trans-boundary significance. Given high diversified environment, tourism can cause pollution. With increase in human population, advance means of communication and transportation, and technological development, many places once considered off the biotic pressure have become tourist destinations and overpopulated with visitors, accelerating the pace of social and environmental degradation.

Another point of concern is that, since tourism is mainly concentrated in the areas rich with natural resources and landscapes and specific cultural values, therefore, local people finding high prospects of grooming business and opportunities move towards those areas.

Some areas soon experience growing biotic pressure on its meager natural resources. Most often, lack of awareness and lack of proper tourist management approaches lead to degradation of the fragile ecosystem, of which most visible activity is the pollution factor that threatens local bio-diversity in the wake of unmanaged tourism.

Bio-diversity represents faunal and floral diversity in different ecosystems associated with forests, rangelands, deserts, wetlands, coral reefs, mountains, and seas, etc, in a region. Millions of tourists avail such recreational resources each year around the world.

While sustainable tourism is an ultimate option that ensures effective management and conservation of biological natural resources, at the same time it also generates income and employment opportunities for local communities' development. Given these incentives, it often proves as driving force for communities and responsible authorities to evolve strategies for conservation of bio-diversity and tourist management so that the available resources are not impaired. This approach also helps to raise awareness regarding bio-diversity issues.

In our country, since most of the remote and far-flung areas are rich in bio-diversity having natural attractions, therefore, according to an estimate, more than half of total income earned by people from the tourism sector come from backward districts. These areas include Murree, northern areas, and Ziarat.

The strategic location has made Pakistan a gateway to Central Asian States and China by road. In its elongated span of 1500 km, our country has a diversity of landscapes ranging from sea in south to the lofty snow-covered cluster of peaks in the north. For the nature lover, it offers breathtaking beauty, for the adventurers, it offers a terrain that challenges the most, for the historian, it offers sites of excavations, museums, and artifacts, and for writers there is a rich culture and literature.

In the northern region of Pakistan stand eight of the ten highest peaks in the world. The popular silk route known as the Karakoram Highway passes through the Khunjrab Pass, the home of blue sheep and snow leopard. It is an epical modern day engineering marvel winding its way up to a height of 16,000 feet above sea level and on to the People's Republic of China.

The Indus plains support important and associated floral and faunal diversity to which livelihood of million of peopled is linked. The lofty peaks of Himalayas, Karakoram and the Hindukush and the land amid the towering and mighty mountains have serene valleys and fertile lands.

Eco-tourism is one of the main categories which tourists must adopt to minimise their impact on the local environment and biological entities. Ensuring sustainable tourism simultaneously ensures economic profitability, protection of natural and cultural resources, and poverty alleviation. The tourists and business sector of tourism need to positively contribute to the conservation of sensitive ecosystems and the environment in general that directly benefit local and indigenous communities.

There is a need to develop sustainable approach to tourism based on strategies that protect and strengthen both natural and cultural diversities. In the domain of ecotourism, a holistic approach through informal education and awareness about sustainable uses of tourists' resources should be adopted. In fact, tourism and biodiversity need to be mutually supportive without any cross-cutting detrimental effects.

The writer is Deputy Conservator, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Department

 

development

Home is where...

The government can help create options for people to build their own houses

By Dr Noman Ahmed

According to UN calendar, the World Habitat Day is commemorated on the first Monday of every October. One of the usual objectives of this day is to review the various problems faced by the population regarding shelter and associated amenities. During and after floods, Pakistan is confronted with serious challenges related to housing in the wake of disastrous damages caused to human settlements.

As waters are receding, people have begun returning to their older locations of residence in almost all the affected territories. The respective provincial governments, in association with other stakeholders, have started to formulate strategies to resettle the displaced population. It is, however, found that most of the attempts in this regard have not incorporated the lessons learned from the housing provision experiences of the past.

Sadly, some of the failed approaches are being applied which are likely to miss the target groups and their requirements. It will be appropriate if the wisdom gained from the vast housing and settlement development exercises may be considered for application.

Housing is a process, not a product. It comprises tangible and intangible attributes, such as access to livelihoods, safety, and security from natural hazards, social and physical infrastructure and more. By merely constructing a few rooms here and there and doling out to a minuscule of target population does not serve the purpose.

At present, flood affected areas and population face the grave challenge of destruction of assets, damage to the sites of their habitation and cultivation, destruction of infrastructure, monetary losses and social trauma of an extraordinary nature.

According to the rapid field assessment carried out by various international agencies, the scale of damage has been very severe which has rendered majority of building stock dysfunctional. Given the resource constraints, it will not be possible for the government to rebuild such a vast number of houses which runs into hundreds of thousands.

The government and its affiliate bodies can make a difference by adopting a catalytical approach. Means of housing provision need to be resuscitated. The foremost ingredient is land. Physical damage due to inundation, high water table, impacts due to changed topography, rise in vulnerability and ownership/occupancy disputes are some of the common problems indentified in this reference.

Whether the sailaba lands of Punjab or the cliffs of Swat same menu of problems have been faced in different intensity levels. This scenario demands a policy and programme response from provincial administrations on an urgent basis. A land use policy and plan at the district level is the first pre-requisite.

This task shall be only meaningful when inputs from revenue, forest, planning and development departments are incorporated. Meteorological information and broad climatic details shall also constitute baseline for this work.

The scale and magnitude of housing requirement is another major factor. No housing census has been done since 1998 which causes a serious problem in proper planning. It is also evident that government cannot become house builder for this vast number of affected people.

In any case, housing cannot be directly subsidised due to the enormity of the cost overlay and resource intensiveness. The government can help create enabling options for people to build their own houses and other facilities through various ways. The technical upgradation of brick kilns, mud block manufacturing facilities and building materials shops is one intervention that will have far-reaching effects.

Common people have social and economic linkages with such commercial enterprises that generate their improvised mechanisms of technical advice and material credit to their clientele. The skill development upgradation of artisans such as masons, carpenters and earth workers can be facilitated by relevant government departments.

The Sindh Technical and Vocational Authority, which has spread out training centres all across the province, has already begun addressing skill development needs of displaced population. Un Habitat and other organisations are preparing to extend appropriate technical advice to governmental and non-governmental stakeholders.

University departments are extending expert assistance to come up with solutions and support in the improvisation of available options. Local and national NGOs have geared up social mobilisation, though it needs to be scaled up to make communities capable to receiving various inputs. Other bodies can also contribute after examining the niche areas and sectors.

The scenario of present disaster and its impact can turn into an opportunity if the government and other stakeholders come up with a timely response. It shall help minimise the predicament of peopled and utilize the scanty resources of the state.

 

Fair case

Participants at a discussion highlight the impediments in the way of free and fair elections and suggest remedies

By Sher Ali

The Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) on Tuesday September 28th organised a roundtable discussion regarding the Election Commission of Pakistan's five-year strategic plan in Lahore. The event, which included an array of civil society activists, media pundits, politicians, and academics, concluded that a fair and impartial election commission was necessary for free and fair elections.

Starting out, the Executive Director of Pildat, Ahmer Bilal Mehboob gave a lengthy presentation in which he specified that when the ECP had conceived the Strategic Plan in 2008, it had planned to implement 15 major goals and 129 objectives. Of these, 129 objectives, 15 objectives are due to be achieved by the end of September 2010 while another 28 of these objectives are supposed to be achieved in six months.

Further, in his analysis, Mehboob said major reforms such as the mandatory use of CNICs or the simplification of the voter registration had not been achieved in the specified time frame. Also, he emphasised that to his knowledge there was no legal restriction to publish financial statements of parliamentarians and political parties on ECP website.

The next speaker, Sheikh Jalil Ahmed, who is the Deputy Secretary of the ECP, in his opening remarks termed the Strategic Plan as a significant document in the ECP and Pakistan's history. Explaining the work being done with regard to the implementation of Strategic Plan, Ahmed said a study was carried out regarding the use of Electronic Voting Machine's (EVM) and the commission was looking to use EVM's in a few districts during the next election. He also explained that the ECP and NADRA were collaborating to make Computerized Electoral Rolls System.

Further elaborating on this alliance, Ahmed said the ECP had devised a pilot project to test but this had been delayed due to the floods and the commission had already sent a bill to the Prime Minister's secretariat to make mandatory use of the CNIC during the next elections. Despite admitting that many of the objectives required parliamentary support, Ahmed felt optimistic that the plan would be achieved and the next elections would be credible and fair.

Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, who was part of the Citizens group for electoral reforms, in a brief and objective account said, "Our biggest challenge is to make elections credible, we have to have a good implementation of the rules." Subsequently, by fixing the voter lists and updating them regularly the credibility of elections could improve. In the same tenor, retired Justice Nasira Iqbal felt that, "It's hard to talk about reform when no one obeys the existing rules that are in place." Consequently, she said a major area that the commission had neglected was the induction of women into the ECP and until women were inducted into the monitoring process it would be difficult to have an impartial vote for women.

Adding to this, Mujib ur-Rehman Shami claimed, "Tampering with elections is now considered a political trick" and until a "political will" was developed this culture of corruption during elections would continue. Former Governor of Punjab, Shahid Hamid in the concluding remarks specified that nearly 25 percent of the electoral rolls contained fake or bogus entries. This meant that until the electoral lists are updated one could not receive a true picture of how many people are voting and this meant that, indirectly, it challenged whether the government represented the will of the people.

In the crowd, a member felt that the discussion failed to address the ground realities of Pakistan, as corruption was a major issue and this issue could only be worked out through political reforms. Another member of the same party was adamant that the country should work towards emulating the Indian model to rid the system of corruption. Central information secretary of the PTI, Omar Cheema, who spoke for a few minutes on the subject, also endorsed the idea of developing a political will for free and fair elections.

Moving forward, the fruitful dialogue hosted by PILDAT failed to address administrative gaps that are plaguing the commission. The work being done as stipulated by the deputy secretary not only highlights the inefficiency of the organisation but the commission's lack of know-how to implement goals and objectives.

Until seasoned administrators with corporate understanding are brought into the fray any progress on the reform side will be impossible. For this reason, the discussion failed to break any new ground. Tangible and attainable solutions should be thought out for the upcoming elections, any major electoral overhaul without the proper administrative care would be a wasted venture.

The writer blogs at tigerali.wordpress.com

 

  Home|Daily Jang|The News|Sales & Advt|Contact Us|

BACK ISSUES