DAWN - Editorial; 17 July, 2004

July 17, 2004

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In the light of HDI

In its latest ranking by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pakistan has been put at 142 among 177 countries for its attainments in the human development index (HDI).

This will be interpreted by some as a move up in this universally acknowledged indicator since Pakistan stood at 144 last year. However, ratings done in previous years related to a lesser number of countries - 162 for instance, in 2000 and 175 in 2003.

Therefore, taking into account that the total number of those rated in previous years was smaller and there were other aspects of statistical variations, it does not seem that Pakistan's current position in the HDI is anything of great significance in terms of its success in human resource development.

Though heading the category of low human development countries, Pakistan stands at the bottom of the list for South Asia, with countries like Bangladesh and Nepal overtaking it in the past few years.

For all practical purposes, the HDI ranking of Pakistan continues to be poor, contradicting the claims of successive governments in this country during the last decade and the present one about their success in creating better social, economic and human conditions.

Following the fall in ranking from 138 in 2002 to 144 in 2003, the Pakistan government challenged the UNDP for downgrading it from the medium human development category to the low human development category.

Giving a number of arguments, the present finance minister and his team put forward a case that Pakistan had been unjustly downgraded. From this year's rating, it seems that the UNDP has not been impressed by Pakistan's arguments.

Despite this, however, there are clear indications that with the allocations made by the government for the social sector and for poverty alleviation in the current year's budget, Pakistan will hopefully start making improvements in the crucial areas of human development.

The HDI focuses on measurable dimensions of human development such as living a long and healthy life, being educated and having a decent standard of living. Thus, it combines measures of life expectancy, school enrolment, literacy, and income. In all these areas, Pakistan has seen an increase in allocations for the current fiscal year.

The economic growth during fiscal 2003-04 was much better than anticipated - 6.4 per cent compared to the target of 5.3 per cent and previous year's growth of 5.1 per cent.

It is the highest growth rate achieved by Pakistan in the last eight years. The per capita income has increased from 526 dollars in 1999-00 to 652 dollars in 2003-04. What remains to be seen is whether the government is able to achieve a similar turnaround in the social sector.

On the whole, the social sector has suffered from years of neglect and under-funding. Crucial funds have been diverted in the past to defence, debt servicing and non-development expenditures.

The expectation now is that with the wider fiscal breathing space created by increased inflows and reduced outflows of money on account of reduced debt servicing, the larger allocations for the social sector would be utilized in a manner that brings a marked improvement in the quality of life in Pakistan.

Should this be done, Pakistan once again would find itself in the medium human development category in the next couple of years and, with consistent allocations over the next decade or so, move on to join the ranks of high human development countries, a goal that must determine our order of priorities in the matter of resource allocations.

Fighting the menace together

Unless the Afghan government translates into action its recent pledge to sign a memorandum of understanding to curb drug trafficking in the region, Pakistan and Iran, which have already signed an MoU to this effect, will continue to pay a heavy price for being on the transit routes of smuggling from Afghanistan.

While both Pakistan and Iran have made strenuous efforts to curb the opium trade that transits through their territories from Afghanistan, the latter is responsible for three-quarters of the total global production of opium today.

The extent of the narcotics danger that Afghanistan poses to its neighbours and the rest of the world can be gauged from the fact that seven per cent of the Afghan population is said to be engaged in poppy cultivation in most of the country's 34 provinces.

With large swathes of the land under influential tribesmen who perpetuate their rule over a poverty-stricken people through narco trade and other questionable means, it is difficult to see how the government in Kabul, that has yet to demonstrate its ability to take on these warlords, will control the opium trafficking.

However, even as it seeks an internal solution aimed at discouraging farmers from cultivating poppy, the Afghan government would do well to coordinate with Pakistan and Iran in trying to curb drug trafficking.

While it is true that internal insecurity, chaos and financial constraints might make it difficult for Afghanistan to deploy a sufficient number of armed guards and establish more border posts along the country's long and rather porous frontiers with Pakistan and Iran, some mechanism must be worked out whereby this is made possible.

Similarly, a greater intelligence network incorporating anti-drug personnel of the three countries and a better information-sharing system would help in restricting traffickers.

However arduous this may prove, the message must be sent out very clearly to Afghanistan's heroin smugglers that even if opium production is on the rise within the country, its trade will not be allowed to spill over its borders.

Uncalled for rumpus

The demolition in Lahore of pedestrian bridges over the canal linking the Punjab University New Campus with students' hostels has caused quite a stir in academic circles.

The authorities, under orders from the Punjab government, pulled down eight such bridges on Wednesday night, leading to a riot-like situation the next day. Angry students blocked the road and pelted the police with stones while the latter resorted to tear gassing and arresting rioters for disturbing the peace.

The university teachers' association has condemned the move and called for a strike today. For its part, the Punjab government has said that three overhead bridges already exist linking the university buildings spread across the canal and plans are underway to construct two additional underpasses.

The pedestrian bridges at the road level had to be dismantled because pedestrian movement across the two roads on either side of the canal hindered the flow of traffic, besides endangering students' lives.

Though the argument makes good civic sense, it is regrettable that the government should have acted unilaterally in the matter and without taking the university authorities into confidence.

Thursday's unfortunate incidents have demonstrated that students and teachers have made their point and registered their protest over the government's act of omission.

The university buildings on both sides of the canal are still connected through the three overhead bridges, which give students a safe passage across the canal without hampering traffic movement.

The completion of two additional underpasses the government plans to construct will ease matters even further. The academic community should not turn the matter into one of prestige or pride.

Any further attempts at damaging public or private property or to block traffic on the main arterial roads linking the city with the motorway and the national highway will be hard to justify.