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DAWN - Editorial; March, 21 2005

March 21, 2005

A major obstacle

According to a report carried by this newspaper, the ministry of textiles is in a state of limbo with no secretary or additional secretary to conduct its affairs. Set up in August last, it was to be fully functional after the relevant departments run by the ministries of industry and commerce were transferred to it. The process has not been fully completed. Its teething troubles can be attributed to bureaucratic red tape, including resistance by those losing their domain. It is an unfortunate state of affairs that needs to be addressed promptly. All existing departments essential for managing the textile and allied industries, wherever they are located at present, must be transferred to the ministry of textiles. Utmost priority must be accorded to building the ministry’s capacity so that it can provide guidance and supporting facilities to the development of a modern textile industry capable of successfully competing in the world market. A textile ministry should have been in place much before the WTO quota-free trade in textiles and clothing came into effect in January this year — to prepare for the new trade regime. The time lost has to be made up as cheaper and better quality goods from India and China pose a serious threat to our textile exports.

The authorities have been too slow to respond to the WTO challenges as is indicated by the slowing down of our overall export growth in the past few months. Not only should the textile ministry be fully equipped but also fully empowered to perform its multi-dimensional tasks efficiently. Both the capacity of the ministry and of the Pakistan WTO mission in Geneva needs to be enhanced to tackle intricate problems arising from WTO rules. Our failure so far to secure from Europe special duty-free trade preference (GSP Plus) shows that better skills are required to persuade European trading partners. To cope with such issues, the appointment of a permanent professional trade negotiator may also be considered. No inefficiency or bureaucratic hassle should be allowed to come in the way of the growth of the textile industry which contributes more than two-thirds of the exports and is the leading employer in the manufacturing sector. India had set up a textile ministry a long time ago.

Aware of the challenges, the textile industry is set on a course of rapid modernization of machinery and plants. But there is a strong feeling that the industry’s management needs to be upgraded to give it a much stronger professional orientation. The skill gap needs to be filled fast. For this the existing institutes for training in professional skills have to be upgraded. Market research needs to be constantly updated. The cost of doing business has to be reduced. Production efficiency has to be raised. For all this and many more things like setting up of textile and garment centres, the industry needs a powerful ministry of textiles to deliver. The national policy of developing an export-oriented industry or turning Pakistan into a regional hub of manufacturing cannot be realized if policy decisions get bogged down at the implementation stage. Over the years, helped by quotas, textile exports have continued to grow and earnings are now close to $8.5 billion per annum. For sustainable growth, the country needs a textile vision under the changed circumstances, which can only be provided by a full-fledged ministry of textiles in close consultation with the industry.

America’s bad choices

Nominations to two important posts by the US government, one for its ambassador to the United Nations, and the other for president of the World Bank, have provoked widespread concern, not least because both the candidates are known hawks in President George W. Bush’s administration. John Bolton’s nomination as US envoy to the UN and that of Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank have rung quite a few alarm bells all over the world. The Voice of America reported last week that Mr Bolton, currently undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, had said in 1994 that if the UN secretariat building lost 10 stories it “wouldn’t make a bit of a difference”. As for Mr Wolfowitz, his record, especially on how America deals with the rest of the world in the post-9/11 period, is anything but encouraging.

Right after the tragic events of September 11, he was one of the first senior officials who advocated that the US attack Iraq. The arguments used were Saddam Hussein’s alleged links to Al Qaeda — an allegation which the US government later admitted it was unable to prove, and the existence of so-called weapons of mass destruction in Mr Hussein’s arsenal — another claim that has since fallen by the wayside. In fact, he told the American magazine Vanity Fair in an interview that “for bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on”. When America eventually did invade Iraq, Mr Wolfowitz’s advocacy for it was among the most ardent. Asked to explain before Congress the still missing WMDs, Mr Wolfowitz said that intelligence “is an art not a science” and insisted that he had “not misled anybody”. His style of working as the US defence department’s No 2 man has been indicative of the arrogance and hubris that seem to be the hallmark of the Bush administration. To nominate such a person to head the foremost multilateral lending institution in the world, whose actions, policies and initiatives have a profound impact on the developing world, is an ill-advised move on the part of the US government.

Khokhrapar-Munabao rail link

The federal government has done well to give Pakistan Railways Rs. 3.1 billion for the rehabilitation and upgradation of the Mirpurkhas-Khokhrapar rail link in Sindh. The aim is to extend the line for another 10 kilometres up to Munabao in Rajasthan, so that a second India-Pakistan train service can be launched. Covering a distance of 125 km, the Mirpurkhas-Khokhrapar sector has an outdated meter-gauge line, and the travelling time between the two points is nearly seven hours, with trains able to run at a speed of no more than 20 km an hour. Under the circumstances, the railway’s contention that the narrow-gauge line in its present condition cannot be used for running an efficient train service between India and Pakistan makes sense. But now that the PR has been provided with the necessary funds for it, there should be no reason for delaying the opening of the rail link beyond a reasonable time required for laying broad-gauge tracks. The PR should be told to expedite the work so that the link which was cut off following the 1965 war can be re-established soon.

A majority of Pakistanis travelling to India reside in the southern parts of the country, mostly in Karachi and in the interior of Sindh. Because of the absence of an Indian deputy high commission in Karachi, intending visitors have first to travel to Islamabad to acquire Indian visas and then to Lahore to take a bus or a train to India from there. The reopening of the Khokhrapar-Munabao border crossing must therefore be accompanied by the reopening of Indian deputy high commission or a visa office in Karachi to facilitate intending travellers. As new tracks are laid, the Sindh government and the PR also need to ensure the provision of proper boarding and lodging facilities and other essential services along the Karachi-Khokhrapar route.