Frontier violence

IT’S been a bloody Eid weekend in the Frontier province, where more than 60 lives were lost to terrorism and on-going sectarian clashes in separate incidents. In the Sherpao village of Charsadda district, the Eid congregation was attacked, reportedly by a suicide bomber who was out to get the former interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao. This was the second attempt on his life in the last eight months. While dozens died in the assault, Mr Sherpao’s son was also among those who sustained injuries. In Swat, Mullah Fazlullah’s gang kept up its acts of terror, blowing up a bridge at Kanju near Mingora on Saturday morning, belying government claims that the valley has been cleansed of militants. In Kurram Agency bordering Afghanistan sectarian goons attacked the main bazaar, blowing up houses and setting shops on fire. The army and the local militia were reportedly helpless as the mayhem continued throughout the day on Saturday. The bloody clashes have claimed more than 150 lives since they first erupted last

month. A subsequent ceasefire arranged by the authorities between rival sects lay all but in tatters. These are sad and dangerous tidings coming as they do with just 15 days before the election.

So what’s going on in this apparently restive part of the country, where the US, too, has high stakes when it comes to its objectives in the global war against terrorism? Whether it’s Bajaur, North Waziristan or Parachinar, there exists little semblance of law and order. The caretaker provincial administration does not seem to have much control over the situation; nor do the army and local levies and militias. There seems to be little difference between the Frontier’s tribal and settled districts as far as lawlessness goes. Even in and around the cities and cantonments such as Peshawar, Charsadda, Nowshera, Kohat and Tank, it seems it’s free for all. When terrorists are not targeting certain individuals or gatherings, bands of armed youngsters go around enforcing a code of conduct on barbers, girls’ schools and colleges, or simply ransacking music and video shops. Was the Frontier ever so ungovernable?

With the Jamaat-i-Islami boycotting the next election, it is for all other major parties, such as the JUI, the PPP (Benazir and Sherpao), the ANP, the PML (Q) and (N), which have a vote bank in the province and are fielding candidates, to take stock of the situation. None of these parties has come up with a clear policy on how to address the growing problem of religious fanaticism and terrorism. True to form, the JUI will keep its stance on the issue ambivalent. It is not the government alone backed by state power that can enforce the rule of law, as amply proved by recent events. The political will on the part of all those claiming a stake in the province’s governance has to be seen and felt by voters to ensure a respectable turnout on the election day. Unless that happens, public security will remain a major concern before and on Jan 8 across the troubled Frontier.

Greening Islamabad

LIKE many other cities and towns in Pakistan, the rapidly growing capital city is a threat to the natural environment as a result of consumption, pollution and other factors. Unregulated emissions from industries, brick kilns, motor vehicles and the construction industry pollute the air of Islamabad. At the same time, the improper disposal of waste and rubbish has practically turned the city’s fresh stream network into choked, dumping canals. Meanwhile, development — along with increased consumption — has led to certain areas experiencing rising shortages in the supply of water, electricity and gas. In this respect, the recently announced plan to turn Islamabad into a green city based on set international guidelines and criteria is a laudable and welcome one. The project, the details of which are reportedly being hammered out through consultation with a variety of public and private stakeholders, is supposed to be jointly executed by the major administrative and environmental agencies in Islamabad.

If there is any scepticism about the eventual outcome of the capital greening project, this is only natural given the fact that past efforts to improve the environment of the city, such as attempts to check brick kiln and smoke-emitting factories, have not produced the necessary impact. To formulate, integrate and implement a sound green policy, Islamabad needs first of all an environmental or green charter articulating a vision and setting the agenda, and then an action plan to translate the charter into explicit policy goals concerning when, how and by whom these actions will be taken and monitored. Moreover, greening a city does not only mean addressing hazardous emission and waste disposal problems or developing more green belts and planting more trees. A green city is also one which implements a policy to discourage the increase in the use of private vehicles while encouraging the use of public transport, cycling and walking. It is also one which adopts policies to conserve energy and increase the use of renewable energy. To ensure that Green City Islamabad is not just mere political sloganeering, it is necessary to ensure that the root causes of environmental problems are addressed rather than simply treating the symptoms. There is also the need to stress the concept of joint and shared responsibility for the environment.

Heating hazards

THAT people should have safe living places can only come after the need for all to have living places in the first instance. But providing a home to all those who don’t have one may take years if not decades. Should their safety from natural and man-made hazards be put off till then? A sensible answer would be no. Unfortunately, however, people remain exposed to all types of dangers and disasters. Two tragic incidents that took place the same day last week in Punjab came as a grim reminder that the safety of the citizens — especially those with little means — is extremely low on the official priority list. In Lahore’s Shahdara area a child was burnt alive when the adobe house he was living with his family in a slum caught fire. In Lala Musa town, some 150 kilometres north of Lahore, three young labourers died by suffocation in a small room they had rented. In both the cases the victims were trying to ward off the extreme cold that is gripping the central Punjab these days. But the means they were using for the purpose were extremely hazardous — a bonfire in the first incident and an earthen pot full of burning coal placed in an unventilated room in the second.

These are not one-off incidents though. Every winter people lose their lives in similarly tragic circumstances. Yet, we see no official campaign to raise awareness about the dangers that unsafe means of heating can cause. Also, there are no official arrangements available to check if residential buildings have proper provisions for safety including emergency exists, smoke and fire alarms and ventilation. For those who died in Lahore and Lala Musa, such safety measures might be luxuries that only few can afford but even where they can be had they are non-existent. Of course, the government alone cannot be blamed for this lack of safety but still public safety is one of the most fundamental official responsibilities. Only by moving to ensure that people are safe wherever they live can the government hope to convince the citizens that this responsibility is being well taken care of.

Does emigration reduce poverty?

By A. Ercelan


AT a time when political chatter and action are dominated by calls for rule of law, restoration of the judiciary and constitutional government, this article attempts to raise broader issues of economic justice. It focuses only on emigration in search of decent work. Are we missing the forest for the trees?

There are major exclusions in rights — such as the ban on female emigration, denial of collective bargaining, restrictions on family visas — that have not been taken up here.

The remarkable upsurge in foreign workers’ remittances over the last few years may raise receipts this year to over $5bn through formal channels. Macro impacts are therefore substantial — remittances exceed non-military receipts from donors, and are much larger than foreign direct investment.

Since Pakistan has recurrent trade deficits, remittances may be said to finance external debt servicing, reduce the need for external debt and, through larger foreign reserves, also lower the cost of external commercial debt as well as support the dollarised sectors through a stable exchange rate.

Even if currency were not printed to encash remittances, a stable exchange rate picks the pockets of poor emigrants, because country inflation requires progressively larger remittances to maintain a standard of consumption for the family back home. Few of them may be fortunate to share the benefits of external and domestic public debt and spending. Meanwhile, olives, dark chocolate and coffee beans become cheaper than in Italy.

How extensive and intensive is the contribution of foreign remittances to poverty reduction — alleviation if not eradication — through direct recipients as well as beneficiaries of remittance spending? Poverty is taken here to be officially defined as absolute income poverty, since relative poverty can be as meaningless as a reference to everyone else with income smaller than our various wealthy presidents and prime ministers. In the absence of recent focused surveys, some estimates can be conjectured.

Optimistically, one could assume that all remittances of say $5bn went to otherwise poor 25 million citizens, and all remittance spending went entirely as income to the remaining 25 million citizens in the bottom third of the population. In the absence of inequality, each person in this group could then receive $200 per year, providing an escape from destitution. If additional sources of income were to provide half as much, such households would cease to be poor.

One consequence of a militarised state is mass poverty, currently the affliction of more than 40 million people. Who then are these men, women and children? Several observations (as constructed facts) negate the basic premise that remittances went largely to the poorest, directly or indirectly.

For one, a major but not overwhelming share of emigrants goes to the semi-skilled and skilled, who are unlikely to belong to the poorest households. Furthermore, Middle East remittances have a declining share in favour of western countries, notably the US which hosts privileged emigrants. Then there is the fact of much inequality in the distribution of national income — so remittance spending is unlikely to be concentrated amongst the poorest. Yet another fact to note is that the poorest areas of Pakistan have a share in emigrants often much smaller than their share in population.

A modest-impact scenario may be suggested as a plausible alternative.

The poorest, bottom third of the population does receive direct remittances and indirect multiplier incomes but only according to its (highly unequal) share in all income, say one-fifth at most. A country level of $5bn for remittances, with a multiplier of five would yield $25bn additional national income. Of this the 50 million poor would share an additional $5bn, or on average of $100 per capita. This is a maximum (net) impact in the sense that pre-migration income is assumed to be nil. Negligible inflation is assumed but is unlikely with such massive additional demand for domestic goods and services — even if it insulates the remittance recipients it devalues the real incomes of other poor households.

How many could then be reasonably expected to escape poverty by an addition of $100 per capita, at best?

Other sources of income would then have to contribute twice this amount for a poverty threshold of $300 per capita. When paid the minimum wage, more than one additional earner is needed to bridge the poverty gap. But how probable is this as an application to all of the bottom-third population?

Several full-time earners are doubtful. Official surveys point to the improbable achievement of the national minimum wage in not just rural but also urban Pakistan. Even Islamabad and its environs are no exception, as established by ILO surveys of debt bondage.

Several factors can create a more intensive impact on poverty reduction. An obvious one is a smaller population of direct and indirect beneficiaries for a given level of remittances and multiplier effects. Another factor favouring poorer emigrants would be substantial informal remittances in the Hundi system; so would durable consumption goods brought by emigrants. The magnitude of such adjustments is open to speculation, but wisdom suggests restraint.

To conclude, international migration certainly reduces poverty, but more so as poverty alleviation rather than eradication. Hence a rebuke to economic managers and caretakers who would have many believe that emigration is a significant substitute for decent work at home.

Is it an accident that several thousand workers, including Pakistanis, were recently deported from the UAE for demanding a monthly wage higher than $150? Even when not barricaded, the Pakistan government cannot protest because it shares with the UAE a disdain of international conventions, including the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families. The judiciary is gagged, even if it were to acknowledge obligations to the poor as its pre-eminent constitutional mandate. Upon assumption of the third pillar, the armed forces are keener to display physical violence rather than act against economic violence.

Why has promoting emigration become official growth policy over the past four decades?

Permitting escape from low wages, extensive underemployment and unemployment, emigration dilutes constitutional obligations upon the state to ensure decent work for all citizens. The higher incomes from emigration also forestall rising female labour participation, aiding the dominance of patriarchy in state and society. This is no mean feat, since underpaid and unpaid female labour, along with child labour, provides cheap and docile labour to society. To you, and me.

Prescriptions come easy, of which an adequate minimum wage — universally applied without discrimination between men, women and children — is obvious. To be meaningful, regular employment must also be assured. Hence, it is a demand for minimum decent income in country employment.

Such demands by the labour movement gain relevance only when labour again becomes integral to public action for participatory democracy. This is much beyond the entitlement to choose representative patronage from amongst contesting state elites, given the dismal social protection provided by state institutions.

The writer is accessible at

piler@cyber.net.pk.

OTHER VOICES - American Press

Malaria’s return

IN the 1950s, health workers in rubber boots tramped through swamps, river bottoms and rain pools with bug-killing spray guns. Their quest was stamping out malaria by eradicating disease-bearing mosquitoes.

The slow, steady slog eliminated the deadly illness in this country. But the anti-malaria drive turned out to be too successful…. Now the disease has surged back, more lethal than ever but just as stoppable. It claims a million victims per year, mostly children, in small villages in poor countries…. Malaria, so far, amounts to a giant medical miss, the story of a disease that was almost stamped out and allowed to return….

A wave of financial aid and research programmes are taking shape that could end malaria once and for all…. Most promising would be a vaccine, a dose of medicine that would ward off infection. Researchers, powered in part with a $1bn grant from the Gates Foundation, are getting closer than ever.

In October, an international team reported a 65 per cent rate with a candidate vaccine in Mozambique….

In the short run, one of the oldest notions — an insecticide-coated bed net — may prove the most effective. Already tens of millions are in use…. Both the White House and the multinational Global Fund have poured billions into bed nets and treatment drugs.

Unlike tuberculosis and AIDS, two other poor-country diseases, malaria may be in a different category. Health experts believe it can be contained and ultimately erased with the tools at hand.

With some 500 million infected, that outlook sounds inanely optimistic. It will take years of financial support, education and a build-up of rural health clinics — none of it guaranteed. But for now, the malaria fight is blessed with a non-political nature. No one stands opposed.

But we’ve been here before. Initial success led decision-makers to forget about malaria’s danger and global reach. That can’t be allowed to happen again. — (Dec 19)



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007

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