DAWN - Opinion; December 12, 2003

December 12, 2003


Seeking a change

By Haider Zaman

DIRECT admonitions and injunctions is one way through which the Quran guides us with respect to various aspects of life. The other way, no less efficacious, could be the principles and lessons enunciated and conveyed by the Quran in regard to various matters having close bearing on one or the other aspect of life.

History bears out that the fortunes of a nation never remain static but keep on changing, some times for the better and some times for the worse. In this connection, the Quran enunciates an excellent principle, relevant for all times, when it says: “Lo! Allah changeth not the condition of a people until they change (first) that which is in their soul” (13:11).

This verse tells us about two things. One is that there is a definite co-relationship between the changes occurring in the inner and outer conditions of the people. The change in the outer condition depends on the change in the inner condition. The other is that it is the people who bring about a change in their inner condition. The word “soul” in the context of this verse implies inner condition of the people.

The above verse refers to the outer condition of the people collectively and not as individuals, which could obviously be their socio-economic conditions. The word “change” occurring in the beginning of the verse implies change, both favourable as well as unfavourable. Such change can, according to the verse, occur only when there is an appropriate change in their inner condition. Change in the inner condition in this context would mean change in the vision, outlook, imagination, perceptions and attitudes of the people.

Thus, in order to bring about a favourable change in the socio-economic conditions of the people there has to be a change in their attitudes which means that there has to be a realization for its necessity, followed by its acceptance, preparedness and commitment to achieve it. And it depends on the degree of acquisition of knowledge that they have attained for it is central to the process of facilitating that change.

Likewise, the process of decay or unfavourable change in the socio-economic conditions of a people is always preceded by a negative change in their inner condition which means degeneration in their ways of thinking and retrogression and negativeness in their attitudes, outlooks and approaches that invariably happens when the urge for the acquisition of knowledge gets slackened.

Thus what follows from the above principle is that favourable and unfavourable changes in the socio-economic conditions of the people depend on appropriate changes in their inner condition and it is the people who bring about a change in their inner condition. History tells us that it was mainly the acquisition of diverse knowledge and learning that enabled the Muslims to lead the world in the socio-economic field in the Medieval Ages. According to Will Durant “from 700 to 1200 A.D. Islam led the world, in power, order and extent of Government, in refinement of manners, in standards of living, in human legislation and religious tolerance, scholarship, science, medicine and philosophy” (Civilization Vol. II).

According to Jurji Zaidan, “the history of Islam marks the end of ancient civilization and the beginning of the modern”. The downfall started when there was slackness in the urge for the acquisition of knowledge. That’s why while commenting on the remarks of Dr. Mahathir Muhammad about the Jews who, he said, were ruling the world by proxy, getting others to fight and die for them, Chris Strakosch observes “a few million Jews have made enormous contribution to modern society, while 1.3 billion Muslims, who were the glory of the world one thousand years ago, have done almost nothing”.

People often get discouraged when they face some difficult problem in the way of achieving their objectives and give up all efforts towards that end when they do not see some palpable solution to the problem. Likewise, they get so demoralized when they are afflicted by some calamity that they give up all hopes as if the malady caused will never end. In this connection, the Quran besides admonishing us to remain steadfast also says “with every difficulty there is relief (solution)” (94:6).

It means that every problem has a solution and with every calamity there is relief. The principle thus enunciated by the Quran could be a message of great reassurance to those who are, or who may be, entangled in problems or difficulties or may be consistently facing failures, hardships or hurdles in carrying out their missions, tasks or assignments or in achieving their objectives.

There is a popular saying that a person himself falls in the pit which he digs for others to fall in. It is not uncommon that any one who contrives an evil plot to harm others, himself becomes the victim of that plot one day. The Quran enunciates an excellent principle in this connection when it says “the plotting of evil recoils on the plotters” (35:43). And the story of Hazrat Yusuf as narrated in the Quran could be the most appropriate example. The stepbrothers contrived an evil plot to eliminate Hazrat Yusuf and took practical steps in that direction. But contrary to what the stepbrothers expected, Hazrat Yusuf ascended to one of the highest offices of the state in consequence of that very plot and what fell to the lot of the stepbrothers was nothing but humiliation and regret. That’s why the Quran terms this story as an example for the entire humanity (12:104).

“Wrong not others and you will not be wronged” (2:279) and “whatever misfortunes strike you it is what your right hands have earned” (42:30) says the Quran. There is a lesson of fundamental importance in these verses, often expressed in the proverb “as you sow, so shall you reap”.

Frustration was the lot of every obstinate powerful transgressor (14:15) says the Quran. This verse in terms refers to some people of the past. But in essence it spells out a universal principle, relevant for all times, namely, that frustration could be the end of every obstinate powerful transgressor. As it is said “for every Pharaoh there is Moses”.

We are often bewildered when the question arises as to what should be the appropriate reward for something done by a person. The Quran says “is there any reward for good other than good?” (55:60). The verse in fact enunciates a principle which in the broader sense implies that a person shall be rewarded according to what he has achieved, produced or contributed, as the case may be.

In this way the Quran enunciates important principles and lessons for our guidance with respect to various aspects of life.

Some obstacles in normalization

By M. H. Askari

WITH the Indian prime minister affirming his plan to attend the forthcoming Saarc summit in Islamabad and Pakistan Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali assuring him a warm welcome, one can say that the next summit meeting of the South Asian organization will proceed without any hitch.

The outgoing Saarc secretary-general who was on a visit to Islamabad recently has also expressed his confidence that the summit should lead to a positive outcome.

Even otherwise there are indications that the strains in the relations between India and Pakistan are being gradually removed. Travel links which were abruptly suspended last year are likely to be restored shortly and there are already talks of new crossing points between the two countries being opened. The visa regime is also expected to become less cumbersome. The visits of groups of Pakistani and Indian doctors, lawyers, legislators, and writers to each other’s country seems to be a frequent feature. A peace convention with about 250 delegates from India participating in it should be under way by the time these lines appear in print.

However, the obstacles which will need to be overcome in the process of normalization of relations between the estranged neighbours should not be underestimated. If the initial experience of breaking the ice has been formidable, even more formidable barriers will have to be crossed before a smooth, tension-free environment can be established for peaceful co-existence.

For one thing, disputes such as Kashmir will need to be addressed even after the travel links have been restored and the issue of visas to the common people of India and Pakistan made hassle-free. President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s statement the other day that there was “a visible movement” towards the resolution of the Kashmir issue is hopeful and so is the ceasefire on the LoC which is holding.

That the LoC is beginning to become calm as a result of the ceasefire was evident from the first flag meeting of the commanders of the Indian and Pakistani army units on the Sialkot working boundary the other day. According to reports, Col. Rajesh Gupta of the Indian Army and Col Nadeem of the Pakistan Rangers expressed their satisfaction at the state of the ceasefire and felt confident that the improvement in the climate on the LoC should continue. All this is very encouraging as far as it goes. However, even when India and Pakistan have worked out the modalities of peaceful coexistence and established the basis for living as good neighbours, there will be other barriers to cross. These will perhaps be less tangible but no less relevant to the demands of normal relations between the two countries. One may call them psychological and cultural but that does not make them less important.

Long years of extremely limited exchanges of visitors from one country to the other, of being shut out from a first-hand impression of whatever developments are taking place on the other side of the border, and, above all long years of misinformation and distortion of history have on both sides bred misperceptions which will not be easy to dispel. The enormity of this barrier between the people of the two countries becomes apparent when one realizes that at least three generations have grown up on both sides of the divide cut off from normal contact with one another and being constantly bombarded with deliberately misleading information and blatant lies in order to create a certain mindset.

Much of the misconceptions about Pakistan have arisen out of the various theories about the country’s antecedents. What some Pakistani ideologues have to say in this respect is misleading not only for the people across the border but even for some sections of people within Pakistan.

There is a tendency to trace the origin of Pakistan to the days of Moenjodaro while there is also a widely held belief that Pakistan came into being because the Muslims of the subcontinent wanted to revive the glory of the pristine form of Islam. Some historians on the Indian side have particularly distorted this to suggest that the Muslims of the subcontinent wished to experience hijrat.

The fact is that the demand for Pakistan was raised by the Muslim League after it failed to get the necessary guarantee of safeguards of the Muslims’ rights in an independent India either from the British or from the non-Muslim leadership. Even the great Indian scholar, B.R. Ambedkar, who was to be the father of the Indian Constitution after partition, in his book Pakistan or the Partition of India (published in 1940) said that the Muslim leadership desired a separate, geo-political existence because of “social stagnation, communal aggression and ethno-religious frustration” of the Muslim masses.

Indian intellectuals sometimes suggest that Jinnah demanded Pakistan out of sheer vanity because of his “personal ambition for national leadership... thwarted by the advent of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in the beginning of the 1920s.” The fact is that until 1946 Jinnah was prepared to share the glamour of national leadership with Gandhi and Nehru; he accepted the Cabinet Mission plan. With several generations of post-partition Indians brainwashed with the wrong and baseless information about Jinnah, it is not surprising that they should have misleading conceptions also about the origin of Pakistan. There is clear historical evidence to establish that Jinnah did not at all visualize that Pakistan would for ever live in a state of perpetual hostility with India. In fact as late as November 1946 Jinnah went on record to say as Prof S.M. Burke has recalled in his Pakistan’s Foreign Policy that ‘India and Pakistan will proclaim a Monroe Doctrine of their own for the defence of the subcontinent against all outsiders.’

On our side of the divide, large sections of the Pakistanis believe that India has not quite accepted the existence of Pakistan. They ignore declarations by responsible Indian leaders to the contrary. Prime Minister Vajpayee who came to Pakistan at the inauguration of the India-Pakistan bus service made it a point to visit the Minar-i-Pakistan as a symbolic gesture of giving due recognition to Pakistan.

It is also regrettable that in the recent years some Indian film producers have decided to make films which openly label Pakistan as an enemy and glorify India’s war exploits. Until recently, writers, producers and actors on both sides scrupulously avoided saying anything of the sort.

A film Kargil produced by a Bombay film company on a budget estimated at over Rs 35 crore is the current rage in India. It is easy to see that it will only poison the minds of Indian audiences, specially of the younger people. What is even more alarming, about half a dozen more war films, worth over Rs. 200 crore, will be released in India during the next six months. It would not be surprising if somebody in Pakistan would sooner or later be inspired to make a film from the Pakistani point of view condemning India. This trend must be brought to an end before it gets out of hand and does serious damage to any prospects of peace between India and Pakistan.

Post-script: The former Indian foreign secretary, J.N. Dixit, recalling his days as ambassador in Islamabad says that once when he called on a Pakistani friend, the latter’s six-year old daughter on discovering that Dixit was a Hindu skipped around the table chanting ‘Hindu Kutta’, ‘Hindu Kutta.’ That some Indian child would be chanting something similar about some Pakistani on the other side of the border is very likely. However, such incidents only underscore the depth of ignorance and depravity which result from children being brought up in a perpetual environment of ignorance, hostility and hate. Unfortunately, such an environment has prevailed for decades on both sides of the border.

American policy on Russia

THE Bush administration has taken a significant step toward adjusting its policy to fit the reality of Russia’s recent anti-democratic and imperialistic behaviour.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, addressing a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, chastised President Vladimir Putin’s government for failing to meet its commitment to withdraw troops by the end of this year from two neighbours, Georgia and Moldova.

Mr Powell also endorsed strategies for those two countries in opposition to Russia’s recent attempt to meddle in their internal politics. Mr Putin and his KGB henchmen are said to be furious; Russia blocked the adoption of an OSCE statement backing Mr Powell’s comments. But Moscow was isolated: European governments, like the United States, may finally be catching on to Mr Putin’s game.

What the Russian president has been doing, while most world leaders have been focused elsewhere, is trying to impose dominion over several former republics of the Soviet Union whose independence the Kremlin has never fully accepted. Like his campaign against oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, this bullying policy flows from the coterie of secret police operatives Mr Putin has installed around him.

One target is Moldova, a desperately poor country that for more than a decade has lived with a separatist splinter, Trans-Dniester, that is controlled by an ethnic Russian criminal mafia backed by Russian troops and arms. The OSCE has been trying to broker a settlement to this problem that could accompany Russia’s promised withdrawal of its forces.

A draft agreement was under discussion last month when Mr Putin suddenly produced his own treaty, which he demanded that the Moldovan government sign. It would have made Moldova a neutral state, disbanded its armed forces and given Moscow’s clients a veto over its government — while allowing Russian forces to remain in the country. Moldova’s weak president nearly conceded, but after demonstrators took to the streets of the capital on the eve of Mr Putin’s planned arrival last week, the attempted diktat was rejected.

In Georgia, Russia and its troops have supported three separatist enclaves. After the leader of one of them produced blatantly fraudulent results in last month’s parliamentary elections, Mr Putin quietly supported his attempt to forge a corrupt coalition with President Eduard Shevardnadze.

— The Washington Post

Is export the only way to development?

By Dr Kamal A. Munir

EXPORT promotion is all the rage these days. It is peddled by the pro-free trade multilateral agencies and neo-liberal economists alike. Theories promoting a causal relationship between export performance and development abound.

The export promotion discourse has permeated the policy-making ranks of almost all developing countries, and Pakistan is no exception. The promotion of exports seems to be a cornerstone of Pakistan’s development policy.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), recently stated that poverty in the less developed African countries is rising markedly. The weak economic performance and increasing poverty in African LDCs, argues Unctad, are closely linked to their economies’ high dependence on exports of raw materials. Gradually, and under pressure from multilateral lending agencies, many of the poorest countries in the world have transformed their economies from subsistence to export.

Since most less-developed countries, many of them in Africa, depend on a small number of low value-added commodities, they become highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the international market, especially with the erosion of primary commodity prices in recent years. Between 1997 and 2001, copper prices fell by 27 per cent, cotton prices by 39 per cent and coffee prices by 66 per cent striking a hard blow at the poorly diversified economies of the less-developed African countries.

It is common to hear finance ministers from developing countries suggest that their economic performance is a result of a bad crop, or a fall in world market prices for a commodity, and that the economy would do better next year. The reality, however, is different and quite tragic. While the positive aspects of exporting low-value added goods are temporary, the negative ones are there to stay.

The over-allocation of a country’s resources to exports causes over-dependence on export revenues for survival. When faced with falling prices for the export commodities, these countries are forced to borrow more. That leads to unsustainable external debt, greater poverty and even greater reliance on aid. Consequently, the state weakens, further losing its independence to multilateral agencies and developed countries. Within the poor countries, this diminishes confidence in the economy, reducing investment in new projects, and leaving the country even more reliant on commodity exports. Moreover, excessive production for foreign markets leads to environmental damage, particularly in monoculture plantation operations, as well as to weakening commodity prices, to the disadvantage of the exporting countries.

In this manner, subsistence economies are destroyed systematically becoming peripheral production systems for the developed countries. Crops whose primary demand is in the developed nations are produced at the expense of those consumed domestically. As commodity prices plummet, and unrestricted highly subsidized imports flow in from developed countries such as the US (America’s handful of cotton farmers receive more in subsidies than the entire GDP of Burkina Faso — a country in which more than two million people depend on cotton production), more and more people become casualties of globalization.

Exports still form a relatively small part of Pakistan’s economy — around 15 per cent of the GDP. Many commodities produced in the country are still consumed domestically and substantial resources are employed in production for domestic use. Given Pakistan’s reliance on low value-added and labour intensive products (such as cotton and cotton yarn), a narrow export base, and a weak manufacturing base, Pakistan’s quest for greater revenues from exports can backfire very easily, taking the country backward rather than forward.

Exporting low-value added products and commodities, which are primarily produced for consumption in foreign markets is a strategy fraught with risks. Given the intensifying competition among less developed countries in such markets, which is leading to falling prices and putting greater pressure on already poor wages, dependence on low-value-added exports in increasingly unattractive industries is unsustainable. Sooner or later, entire sectors, whose demand primarily exists outside the country will come under extreme pressure. In the absence of a domestic market to support them, they will easily cave in, burying the country deeper into the mire of unsustainable debt.

The developed countries have reached enviable levels of export through an entirely different strategy: they have invariably developed their domestic markets first. In turn, their discriminating domestic consumers propelled them to improve their quality to levels where they could command a premium in the many other relatively less discerning markets. This is true for industries ranging from defence to fashion. Thus, Japan leads the world in electronics, and America in semiconductors and software. Italy is a powerhouse in fashion and Germany in pharmaceuticals. It is difficult to imagine these countries being so successful in these sectors if their domestic markets were not as sophisticated.

Thus, paradoxically, the secret to growing success in exports lies in developing the domestic market — looking inward not outward. Producing for a foreign, distant, unknown market has two critical consequences. First, it alienates the producers from the market for their products. When the goods in question are even slightly more sophisticated than pure commodities, survival of a producer depends fundamentally upon his ability to predict patterns of future demand and innovate accordingly. Thus, whether you are producing shoes, clothes or electronics, your continued existence and growth in market share and profitability depends in catering to future demand better than your competitors.

However, when the market for his products is relatively unknown to the producer, as is the case in Pakistan’s textile industry, producers will always find it difficult to move up in the value-chain. While this applies more obviously to more advanced products, such as computers or cars, where it is important to stay with the latest developments in consumer taste, it is also true for more basic goods. Thus, if Pakistan’s football producers are not keeping up with their end consumers, they will be left stranded when the world moves to a seamless, machine-made football. In such situations, whenever the world shifts to a new technology, Pakistan will have to restart from the bottom of the new value chain.

Secondly, responding to specifications emanating out of an unknown market leads to the development of fundamentally different types of capabilities as far as the producers are concerned. For instance, despite being in a particular sector for several decades, a producer following this model may not develop any capabilities in research and development. R&D is necessarily a long-term activity, and critical to dominating more profitable areas of any value-chain.

Producing for exports only means producers are unable to meet both conditions. Instead of developing broad based competence in the underlying production technology, they simply acquire it from abroad. This tendency means that they have to re-familiarize themselves with every new generation of production equipment and start from the bottom of the value chain all over again.

Again, not only is this true for industrial products but also for commodities. Time and again, farmers in the developing world have been given new tools such as GM seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce for foreign markets. The market and the tools of production are both foreign to them.

Countries like Korea, China or India have done well in the exports market because they started out producing for their domestic market. South Korea’s domestic demand is so sophisticated that it was one of the first countries in the world to introduce third generation mobile telephones to its public. Samsung did not develop its competence in electronics on the basis of exports only. Tata Consulting did not become successful by doing low-value added, menial work for foreign corporations, but by doing high-value added work for domestic consumers.

Having said this, we must remember, that while countries such as India, Thailand and Malaysia have moved up the value chain, their success is only relative to other developing countries, not to the developed ones. They have not snatched value away from the developed countries, but simply inherited some activities, such as manufacturing from them as these have become less profitable.

Indeed, despite spinning out manufacturing to countries like Taiwan, China and Malaysia, in the last twenty or so years, the developed countries’ share of world manufacturing value added actually increased rather than decreased, from roughly 63 per cent to 75 per cent. This means that developed countries moved up the value chain much faster, and that developing countries‘ exporters have continued to face problems in translating export volume growth into income growth.

The policy makers in Pakistan must realize that the world begins under their feet, not at the horizon. The only way Pakistan can break out of this vicious cycle in which many developing countries are trapped is by beginning to develop its domestic market. Pakistan’s producers can only become competitive if they produce for sophisticated demand in the domestic market. In the short-run, this means less free-trade, not more, and protecting our domestic market from global giants rather than opening it up. The true reflection of our progress is the growth in our incomes and per capita productivity in dollars, not export revenues. Pursuing an export-oriented strategy while competing on cheap labour instead of innovation will only perpetuate our predicament.

The writer is Assistant Professor of Strategy and Policy at Cambridge University, UK.