DAWN - Editorial; April 13, 2007

Published Apr 13, 2007 12:00am

Widening trade deficit

ACCORDING to trade figures for the first nine months of the current year, the trade imbalance is not only persisting but widening with the policymakers taking care of the current account deficit, so created, by import-oriented foreign investment and by creating foreign debts. With exports at $12.4 billion and imports at $22.4 billion, the trade deficit has shot up to $10 billion, up from the corresponding figure of $8.67 billion last year. Imports continue to outstrip the pace of export rise in spite of rates of growth in both areas slowing down. The yawning trade deficit will also impact on the volume of foreign capital and financial inflows in the medium-to-long-term as these are ultimately determined by the country’s own capacity of foreign exchange earnings. The export growth, slowing since January 2006, has touched a four-year low while the imports are estimated at a record high of $30 billion for this year. It is a wake-up call for both the export-oriented industry and the government.

Partially affected by the withdrawal of Generalised System of Preferences and the 5.8 per cent anti-dumping duty on bed linen, textiles that contribute around 60 per cent of the total export earnings rose by a mere 4.1 per cent in the first seven months of this year. The volume of sales of fabrics and bed wear declined because of the high price of the genetically modified American cotton — a critical input for producing quality goods. The government has so far not been able to persuade the EU to provide an even playing field to the Pakistani exporters. The export of items identified as “other manufactures”, including sports goods, leather manufactures, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and carpets, plummeted by 17.1 per cent as a result of “industry-specific issues”. They are needed to be tackled by joint efforts of the industry and the government. A common complaint is the rising cost of inputs such as a hike in fuel prices, utility charges and interest rates. A high rate of inflation is raising the cost of production and making the exchange rate uncompetitive. Foreign sales of primary commodities have also declined by 9.1 per cent because of lower harvest of rice, cotton and fruits. An impression is gaining ground that exports have reached a saturation point because there are not enough production surpluses for export and the government has not accorded the required priority over the years to the commodity producing sectors, particularly manufacturing. To quote the State Bank of Pakistan, the broad slowing down of exports is puzzling and needs to be investigated in order to evolve concrete measures for reversing the current trend.

The case for a high export-growth cannot be overstated. The government needs to develop special packages for reducing cost of business for products that are unable to stand international competition. The export strategy should also focus on product and quality improvement by upgrading management and workers' skills and opting for the latest international marketing trends, for which the primary responsibility rests with the producers. While boosting exports, an effective policy of import substitution needs to be evolved and implemented in areas of competitive advantage to reduce the trade deficit. The $30 billion imports, the bulk of which are for domestic consumption, offer opportunities for fast-track industrialisation. For example, imports of food products have touched two billion dollars per annum and are rising. They offer a good potential for import substitution.

Disaster management

MOST natural disasters cannot be predicted with any degree of precision. To this day, seismologists can estimate only the likelihood of a major earthquake occurring in a particular region over a period spanning decades, not days or years. Landslides and flash floods too can strike without warning, and by then it may be too late for action to contain the effects. Even in the case of phenomena that can be forecast fairly accurately, such as cyclones and other severe weather vagaries, the human toll can be high in the absence of an efficient disaster response mechanism. As evidenced by the trail of human misery left by Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005, coping with a major disaster can be a struggle for the most developed of countries. In New Orleans, poor planning and a mixture of incompetence and official apathy were to blame for the prolonged human suffering. In the case of Pakistan, relief efforts were slow in the immediate aftermath of the devastating October 2005 earthquake. While inhospitable terrain, blocked roads and harsh weather were definitely a factor, matters were made worse by the fact that no centralised system was in place to ensure that help reached those who needed it as quickly as possible.

The promulgation of the National Disaster Management Ordinance 2007 is a step in the right direction. A disaster management institute focusing on policy formulation, training, prevention mechanisms and mitigation measures is to be set up under the ordinance, as is a national disaster management commission whose members are to be drawn from the ranks of the government, the political opposition, civil society and the armed forces. The proposal may be sound but that is no guarantee of success. Commitment and follow-up are in notoriously short supply in Pakistan, where many a good idea dies a slow death because of apathy and neglect. Even those plans that make the leap from the drawing board to implementation can be rendered ineffective by corruption and incompetence. Maintaining a steady flow of funding will also be a challenge. There is no room for laxity and the government must not falter in this monumental task.

Suicide attacks in Algeria

ALTHOUGH the scale of Wednesday’s two suicide blasts in the Algerian capital of Algiers sent shockwaves throughout the country, the attacks were not altogether unexpected. For the past month or so, the Algerian military had been engaged in hostilities with the Al Qaeda organisation which claimed responsibility for the bomb blasts that killed at least 24 people and injured more than 220. Formerly the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, the extremist Islamic organisation has been linked to a number of similar groups responsible for the growing religious militancy across North Africa. Last month, a suicide bomber detonated explosives inside an Internet café in Casablanca in Morocco, following which officials discovered a major plot to attack tourist resorts in the country.

While this ominous trend is unsettling for all countries in the Maghreb, the Algerians have reason to be particularly alarmed. Tens of thousands of their compatriots were massacred by Islamists in the civil conflict of the mid-1990s sparked off by the annulling of the 1992 elections that deprived the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) of a sure victory. Matters improved following the election in 1999 of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika whose steps to restore peace were widely hailed. His reelection in 2004 was followed by a referendum on reconciliation in which people voted for giving amnesty to the militants. In 2006, his efforts were further strengthened by the FIS’s call to the remaining rebels to disarm. However, as Al Qaeda’s influence strengthens in the region, it is clear that this call is not being heeded by the militants, and memories of the bloodbath of the 1990s are being resurrected. Algeria will not be able to tackle the problem on its own. With neighbouring countries equally threatened by what is apparently a loose coalition of like-minded extremist organisations, it makes sense to fight the threat together.

Moderation in use of natural resources

By Mohammad Niaz


FRIDAY FEATURE

RELIGIOUS principles and guidelines in terms of conservation of natural resources / natural world play a pivotal role for one and all. Islam perceives the natural world as creation of Allah that reveals His glory and the entire individual entities and creatures are the reflections and manifestation of supreme divine work.

As a matter of fact teachings of Islam are focused and based on moderate concept. This means maintaining a balance in the use of resources and not rendering their over-exploitation, but protecting and preserving for times and people to come, over which every one has equal right. There are natural assets, which are the right of mankind as a whole. All biotic and abiotic components in the surroundings make up environment which include soil, water, air, forests, animals, birds, rivers, streams, insects, and other physical components.

None of things is useless but are bonded with human needs in the diversified system of the universe. Allah has created human beings and other biotic and abiotic entities that are inter-dependent and inter-related. Islam emphasises sharing the good that not only benefit individual but the whole system.

As part of a balanced ecological system and the natural world, there are several references in the Quran and Hadith providing guidelines and knowledge about use of the natural resources rationally and sustainably.

Numerous verses dealing with the matter of earth and its inmate are found in the Holy Quran, explaining vitality of each subject like earth, water, seas, birds, animals, atmosphere and insects that reflect the entire spectrum of life on the earth called biological diversity. These verses provide insight into beneficence of Allah towards His creatures. In sura 13, verse 3, importance of earth, mountains, rivers and fruits as signs for those who reflect have been mentioned.

In sura 15, verse 19 to 21, it is mentioned: “The earth, We spread it out and set there on mountains standing firm. We caused all kind of things to grow therein in due balance. Therein we have provided you and those you do not supply with means of subsistence and there is not a thing but its stores are with Us. We do not send it down save in appointed measures”. This clearly reflects importance of physical components of the world which are totally measures of welfare of mankind. Similarly, the earth has been blessed as productive and fertile entity.

The Holy Quran is replete with references and emphasis laid upon importance of water which is an essential element of life on earth, without which survival of living beings is never possible. In sura 50, verse 9 to 11, water as celestial bliss is mentioned benefiting gardens, grains, tall palm trees, and reviving the land when it is dead, which requires just use of this resource and not to desecrate it with overuse and purposelessly which will defy Allah’s revelations. Could the water be salty, must the man drink it? Why one should not be thankful to Allah for this matchless blessing down on earth. Water brings cleanliness to human beings.

There are also several passages dealing with the phenomenon that occur in the atmosphere. The Quran maintains in sura 30, verse 41, that “corruption doth appear on land and sea because of (this evil) which man’s hands have done”. This clearly stands out that human beings while purusing their needs and wishes have tilted the balance. Deforestation factor has largely influenced the quality of atmosphere. It is a threat which is gaining momentum. Resultantly, clean air which is the right of all living beings has become contaminated and polluted, due to decrease in the area of trees or forests which are lungs of nature. This has increased prospects of global warming phenomenon, climate change and ozone depletion. The use of chemicals and pesticides, industrialisation and urbanisation has increased the scale of nature’s deterioration. That’s why the Quran says in sura 55, verse 9 that “you exceed not the measure”. This is very much true that disturbance upsets a balanced system, which will ultimately for sure result in destruction and total collapse.

The Prophet (pbuh) had also declared protected areas around Madinah for about 20km, where tree cutting and leaves plucking was prohibited. The vegetable kingdom is also referred to in the Quran as divine beneficence to make rain grow vegetable. In sura 16, verses 10 and 11 it is referred as “(Allah) is the one Who sends water down from the sky. For you this is a drink and out of it (grow) shrubs in which you let (cattle) graze freely. Therewith for you He makes sown fields, olives, palm trees, grapes and all kinds of fruit grow.” In order to maintain the balance Allah created things in pair as reflected in sura 13, verse 3 “of all fruits (Allah) placed (on the earth) two of a pair”.

Allah has extended divine beneficence to man for his living and fulfilment of needs. The text of the Quran in sura 16, verses 5 to 8, states that Allah created cattle for you for warmth, services, food and for bearing loads. It is also stated that “And He createth that which ye know not”. This reflects reality that man even today is ignorant about the worth of things and does not pay need to protect and conserve something on sustainable basis as a profit to one’s own self.

There are references to existence of animal communities. There are statements concerning ant, bees, spiders and birds in the Quran. Birds are frequently mentioned in the Quran. In sura 16, verse 79 it is mentioned “do they not look at the birds subjected in the atmosphere of the sky. None can hold them up (in His power) except Allah”. In Hadith, cruelty to animals has been discouraged. The Prophet (pbuh) advises for leaving the birds in their nests and dwelling places peacefully.

There are several kings of trees and plants mentioned in the Quran as in sura 56, verse 71-72; sura 55, verse 6; sura 34, verse 16 and others. In the Quran it is truly and clearly stated in sura 29, verse 40: “It was not for Allah to wrong them but they wronged themselves.” This clearly projects human activities and approaches that strike on nature and its elements, where man himself disturbs the Allah-gifted balanced system of nature. In several places justice and just use has been many times emphasised, which leads to sustainable approach. When the Noah deluge occurred Allah ordered Noah to keep living beings in pairs in his Ark. This clearly depicts the purpose to perpetuate biodiversity thereafter.

Conservation of natural resources, no doubt, will benefit not only in the present times but much more good and return will be shared in the future. As Islam maintains that any good action will not only benefit one in this world but also in the life after death. Planting trees, as emphasised by the Prophet (pbuh), will not only create a sense of healthy living in general masses but will later on prove to give a rich environment worth living. Similarly conserving and preserving biodiversity in the light of Islamic teachings will help to create an aware society.

Climate change censorship

By George Monbiot


THE drafting of reports by the world's pre-eminent group of climate scientists is an odd process. For months scientists contributing to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tussle over the evidence. Nothing gets published unless it achieves consensus. This means that the panel's reports are conservative -- even timid. It also means that they are as trustworthy as a scientific document can be.

Then, when all is settled among the scientists, the politicians sweep in and seek to excise from the summaries anything that threatens their interests.

The scientists fight back, but they always have to make concessions. The report released last week, for example, was shorn of the warning that "North America is expected to experience locally severe economic damage, plus substantial ecosystem, social and cultural disruption from climate change related events".

This is the opposite of the story endlessly repeated in the rightwing press: that the IPCC, in collusion with governments, is conspiring to exaggerate the science. No one explains why governments should seek to amplify their own failures. In the wacky world of the climate conspiracists no explanations are required. The world's most conservative scientific body has somehow been transformed into a conspiracy of screaming demagogues.

This is just one aspect of a story that is endlessly told the wrong way round. In the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Mail, in columns by Dominic Lawson, Tom Utley and Janet Daley, the allegation is repeated that climate scientists and environmentalists are trying to "shut down debate". Those who say that man-made global warming is not taking place, they claim, are being censored.

Something is missing from their accusations: a single valid example. The closest any of them have been able to get is two letters sent – by the Royal Society and by the US senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe – to that delicate flower ExxonMobil, asking that it cease funding lobbyists who deliberately distort climate science. These correspondents had no power to enforce their wishes. They were merely urging Exxon to change its practices. If everyone who urges is a censor, then the comment pages of the newspapers must be closed in the name of free speech.

In a recent interview, Martin Durkin, who made Channel 4's film The Great Global Warming Swindle, claimed he was subject to "invisible censorship". He seems to have forgotten that he had 90 minutes of prime-time television to expound his theory that climate change is a green conspiracy.

What did this censorship amount to? Complaints about one of his programmes had been upheld by the Independent Television Commission. It found that "the views of the four complainants, as made clear to the interviewer, had been distorted by selective editing" and that they had been "misled as to the content and purpose of the programmes when they agreed to take part". This, apparently, makes him a martyr.

If you want to know what real censorship looks like, let me show you what has been happening on the other side of the fence. Scientists whose research demonstrates that climate change is taking place have been repeatedly threatened and silenced and their findings edited or suppressed.—Dawn/Guardian Service



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007

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