THE people of Pakistan might not fail to escape grievous harm as a result of the various crises that the privileged actors are howling about, except for the Balochistan conundrum.
What they may not be able to overcome is the setback likely to be caused by the growing neglect of human development needs. For a majority of the Pakistanis this is the biggest crisis.
The colossal loss Pakistan will suffer due to its failure to progressively increase its human capital is easy to imagine. A high percentage of the people will be condemned to all the indescribable consequences of poverty.
Inadequate levels of education, in terms of both quantity and quality, will mean that a vast number of people will never be able to realise their intellectual potential. The nation’s collective mind will not be able to break through the cobwebs of a decadent tradition, a moribund culture and a distorted view of the universe and humankind and will thus remain mired in bigotry, prejudice and cant. And poor health standards will mean not only a high rate of deaths in early life but also a below par labour output and a permanent drag on the people’s creative and inventive faculties.
In short, to be content with a low human development index will amount to renunciation of most of the values, entitlements and accomplishments that make life productive, enjoyable and meaningful.
The dreams of a welfare state (of any denomination) will never be realised. And all those who do incalculable damage to the state and society both by demanding shelving of human development plans for the sake of a chimerical security will realise, possibly always a bit too late, that an ill-fed, mentally under-developed, and socially and economically fragmented horde cannot make for a strong national security state either, if our people have been ordained to deserve nothing better.
One should be grateful to the UNDP that its representatives from the New York and Islamabad offices engaged selected groups of academics, civil servants and NGOs in discussions at universities, such as LUMS in Lahore and NUST in Islamabad in an effort to bring human development issues in focus.
One part of their presentation addressed Pakistan’s performance in realising the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs.) and the findings are truly disturbing.
Pakistan is ahead of other countries in respect of six indicators — proportion of seats held by women in parliament; proportion of children suffering from diarrhea who received ORT; percentage of pregnant young women suffering from HIV; prevalence of HIV among sexual workers; proportion of TB cases detected and cured under DOTS; and the number of vehicles using CNG. It is on track in the case of another two indicators (lady health visitors’ coverage of the target population and land area protected for wildlife). In all the 27 other indicators Pakistan is lagging behind.
Pakistan’s poor MDG status is also explained in terms of variations in the rate of progress by the provinces, district-wise inequalities (for example in progress on reducing poverty), inequalities in education (60 per cent of the seven million children out of school are girls), effects of economic crises on poverty reduction, impact of high food prices on poor people’s purchasing power and the impact of floods.
A most telling example of Pakistan’s failure to achieve the MDGs is the rise in the index for the under-nourished population from 25 in 1991 to 28 in 2009 (after declining to 18 by 1997) as against the target of 15 by 2010 and 13 by 2015.
The second presentation analysed Pakistan’s unsatisfactory performance in terms of human progress. Pakistan’s 2011 Human Development Index of 0.504 is below the South Asia average of 0.548. In 1980 Pakistan was ahead of India and Bangladesh. It started trailing behind India by 1990 and was left considerably behind the bigger neighbour by 2010, when Bangladesh caught up with it. Further, Pakistan loses 31.4 per cent of resources as compared to the South Asian average of 28.4 per cent due to inequalities (in life expectancy, education and income).
Quite a few in the audiences were appalled at being told what they should have known for quite some time. They were not slow in demonstrating that they had the relevant answers.
For instance, at the Islamabad (NUST) roundtable, a federal secretary is reported to have criticised the massive defence expenditure and for having said that Pakistan “has been turned into a security state and we are wrongly aligning our priorities”. He is also reported to have stressed the need for changes in mindsets and cultural practices and the unnecessary intrusion of religion in state (affairs).
At the Lahore (LUMS) roundtable, the Mahbubul Haq Development Centre presented a working paper that considerably enriched the debate on challenges and policy options in relation to human development.
It regretted that “the reforms which are absolutely necessary are the ones the ruling groups have resisted for the last 52 years, for example land reforms, meaningful agricultural income-tax, an honest tax collection system, credit to the poor and devolution of power and decision-making to the lower tiers of the people’s representatives”.
Finally it devoted a whole paragraph to the need for peace in the region, increased trade and economic cooperation with neighbours, and enhanced cooperation among civil society organisations of South Asian countries.
The factors contributing to the neglect of human development are known. As study after study has shown, state allocations for education and health have been declining over the years and even the resources allocated to these heads are not fully utilised.
A great deal of evidence is available to show that the benefits of subsidies are being appropriated by the richer sections and the poor cannot even get the basic wage. And once again we are told that many welfare projects are being axed in favour of non-productive expenditure.
Surprisingly, reform prescriptions do not refer directly to corruption which is the only evil that vigilante brigades of various colours wish the people to concentrate upon.
No sane person can disagree with the emphasis being put on human development requisites or proposals for land reforms, reduction in military expenditure and peace/trade with India. Pakistan’s supreme tragedy is that these matters have been squeezed out of the national debate by pseudo-puritans’ campaign to demonise parliament, politicians and politics itself. Not unexpectedly, this has emboldened religious extremists of questionable credentials to pull Pakistan in the opposite direction.
If they had their way there would be no democracy, no parliament, no modern tax system, no land reform and certainly no early normalisation with India. There may be no human development except for the area of the ‘martial arts’, such as suicide bombing.
Nobody can raise his finger at the latest incarnations of intolerance so long as they can swear in the name of belief and national defence. When national security is installed as the only deity in the national pantheon there can be no space for debate on human security, human rights and human development.
Is it possible to warn all those who are promoting the new wave of madness directly or by considering it less dangerous than the dirty politicians that the way to hell is being paved with sanctimonious slogans?