DAWN - Opinion; September 15, 2005

September 15, 2005

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Poor human development

By Sultan Ahmed


THE annual reminder of how backward we are in the realm of human development has come again. While we pride ourselves in our economic growth achieved in recent years and which peaked 8.4 per cent last year, the fact remains that we are far behind in human development than many slow-growing countries.

Our earlier hope that we shall soon be within the list of first 100 countries reflecting the level of human development remains unfulfilled despite official rhetoric in this vital area. Instead, our rank in the list of countries drawn up by the United Nations Development Programme to denote progress in human development is 135th among 177 countries. It is better than Bangladesh which ranks 139 but is quite below India which ranks 127 despite its several inadequacies. Our treatment of women and the poor is the main reason for our low position.

“Economic growth is not going to be sufficient to deliver human development,” says the annual report of the UNDP marked for its concern for the poor, the deprived and under-privileged. President Musharraf may ask the nations of the world not to pick on Pakistan for its treatment of women; but in the UN report facts and figures speak for themselves. The report quotes Bangladesh as a good example of a country, which though behind Pakistan in some aspects of human development, is far ahead in other areas like gender equality and reduced child mortality. In the primary schools of Pakistan only 41 per cent girls are enrolled, although two million more girls should be in the schools.

The UNDP report ranks countries by measuring life expectancy, literacy rate, school enrolment and average income.

The UN wants to end inequality by earnestly focusing on inequality between the rich and the poor, men and women, and various regions within the country. It wants more than loud rhetoric in this area and eloquent reports committing the government to end the inequality as governments come and ago paying lip service to the poor.

But how can a well entrenched tribal or feudal society which believes in upholding tradition and heritage end various kinds of inequality? And how can religious parties in office or in opposition which believe in a secondary status for women and want them to move within narrow confines, ensure equality between men and women and agree to liberate the women?

How can a government which spends so much on defence and a large bureaucracy, can spend far more on ending poverty and narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor? While one-third people of Pakistan live below the poverty level of a dollar a day, another 40 per cent live below 2 dollars a day.

For a country of 160 million people too little is spent on social sector development, on education and public health. Even when the funds needed are allocated the budgeted amount is not often fully spent though that is improving now and corruption eats away a great deal of social sector funds.

Sindh provides the best example of schools without teachers or roof, and hospitals without doctors or the posted doctors absenting themselves from duty. Sindh is known for its ghost teachers who are in thousands and ghost doctors paid regularly from the meagre official funds. This kind of system enriches the rich and impoverishes the poor and perpetuates the inequalities. Hence the report says economic development is not going to be enough to deliver human development.

Under such a system marked for its corruption, inefficiency and excess of red rape even a well meaning government cannot deliver to the people what it promises. It has to take extra special steps to fulfil its promises to the masses.

A striking example of repeated failure in this area is the inability of successive governments to provide safe drinking water to the people. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz says 60 per cent of the stomach diseases in Pakistan are caused by polluted water. So he and President Musharraf have promised safe drinking water and electricity to all by 2007. While they mean what they say, there are serious doubts about their ability to fulfil the promise. Already one newspaper report says that plans are underway to seek to supply 35 per cent of the people with clean drinking water by 2007.

The poor in such a political and social order can only hope and pray for a better life and not demand it. Even in a city like Karachi not only the poor in the kachi abadis but also the well-to-do in the housing societies are not able to get piped water. They buy water from the tankers at a high cost with no assurance of purity.

Now the city administration is reported to have allocated Rs2.4 billion for clean water to the city. The money may be spent; but the government has to ensure that the people get the promised water or the water they are billed for.

The city government has also decided to prepare a comprehensive water and sewerage master plan for the city for 2005-2020. Master plans in the past have been conspicuous for their master violations or gross neglect as the Sindh Assembly has always been too weak and excessively contentious and the KMC a very ineffective body. The National Assembly can hardly take up an issue of primary concern to people as it has too often no quorum. The members elected by the people have more lucrative businesses elsewhere and they have no fear of losing their seats as they return from feudal strongholds or tribal bastions.

A major reason for denying people what they have been promised by successive governments is that the ministers and senior officials are able to get the essential services for themselves free and in plenty. They are provided all the water they need for their large homes, powerful generators to provide them with power in case of the frequent failure of power supply, free domestic servants and plenty of cars for them and their family members. Their children get admission to best schools. All these facilities are provided at the expense of the poor public who are deprived of them frequently. Hence they don’t experience the hardships that people undergo and are unfamiliar with life without such essential services.

If such privileges are stopped and they are paid instead reasonable amounts in cash in lieu of that, they will come to grips with reality. If the US government can do that I see no reason why we can’t do that. If we do that we will have all the power and water we need, and far better transport services and a less expensive and less wasteful government.

Members of the assemblies, too, get free or at concessional rates what they need although they do not perform their basic duty of attending the assembly sessions or committee meetings. They are all the time clamouring for more salaries and perquisites. They think more of the standard of life of their rich families which they want to keep up at all costs rather than meeting the needs of the public whom they represent and on whose behalf they speak on TV channels.

If far more is to be spent on social sector or human development, the number of persons employed by the state should be below four million in the central and provincial governments and the local bodies. Not only their salaries have to be raised from time to time in additional to normal increments but also far more have to be provided for as pensions. The military pension is no longer a part of the overall military expenditure but has been made a part of the normal pension bill.

Last week the Sindh Treasury Department found it too difficult to cope with the long queues of pensioners who were furious after a long wait. We may see more of that in future as the longevity of life in Pakistan increases. As the pensioners live longer the pension bill, too, will get heavier.

There is a great deal of talk about E-government and E-banking and paperless office and one computer doing many persons work. Should not that all be reflected in a small government? Instead, if we have less number of peons we have far more guards and even policemen need guards in large numbers. privatization too should reduce the number of persons employed by the state.

More persons in office mean more red tape and more committees and greater delay in decision-making. All that breeds corruption. If we are today ranking very low in the world in human development, we were number 3 to five earlier in another global listing. And that was in Transparency International’s global corruption list.

Today we have been crowded out of that odious honour by some corrupt governments of Africa. It is not enough, if it is argued as done for sometime now, that there is no corruption at the top. The people deal with lower officials like the cops and Patwaris. So the corruption has to be uprooted at the grass roots level.

The prime minister wants empowerment of the people at the grass roots level. We are now to have a social audit of governance and delivery of public service 2004-05 with Canadian assistance. Let us see what that audit shows. Immediately we are less concerned with empowerment of the people and more with meeting their basic needs.

Closing of the American mind

By A.B. Shahid


IN 1987, Allan Bloom authored a book with the same title pointing to the intellectual deficit in US educational system which was imparting knowledge based on superficial coverage of disciplines.

It amounted to institutionalizing closed-ness in the guise of openness and wondered “when there are no shared goals or vision of public good, is the social contract any longer possible? How does one question this openness, which is based on a philosophical premise that is recursive, which develops its own proof out of itself?”

What Bloom lamented was embedding of future generations’ mindset in the premise that the American way of perceiving and resolving problems was ideal. He believed in Plato’s saying that “men cannot remain content with what is given them [only] by their culture if they are to be fully human”. Such a culture is a closed cave. Plato’s image of the cave in the Republic represents this cave as a prison sealed by a blinkered self-righteous attitude.

While declaring the superiority of their values, Americans don’t realize that these values have turned the US into a society where competing even in business implies decimating the adversary, which confirms Bloom’s worst fears. Beginning with Nixon down to George Bush presidents knowingly misinformed the US public on crucial issues. This makes one wonder about what is taught at the US universities.

Karen Hughes, image promoter-turned-under secretary of state for diplomacy has plans to launch a hi-tech campaign ‘powered by ideological commandos’. She says her mission is to organize a long-term strategy to ensure that ‘our ideas’ prevail. Commenting on the ‘mess’ in Iraq during an interview to ABC News, retired Gen Collin Powell said what the US didn’t do in the aftermath of the war was to ‘impose our will’ on Iraq, with enough US troops.

Winning the Second World War with minuscule losses compared to those suffered by other combatant countries intoxicated the US into believing that it knew the right way of doing things. This mindset formed the core of American intellect and the convoluted ideas that stemmed therefrom. The victory was played up as the sign of supremacy elevating Americans to the exalted status of the ‘chosen people’ born to rule the world. Using commandos even in diplomacy is just one reflection thereof.

The desire to re-shape the world according to American ideas and industrial demands sapped the power the US had accumulated, courtesy the Second World War. But the defeats it suffered later on didn’t bring about a realization that there are no ‘chosen people’. US democracy is now seen as severely flawed because it empowers individuals that lack both vision and integrity, which they demonstrate through deceit, corruption and mismanagement of the state. Yet, the US insists on telling every government how to go about managing its affairs.

Its impending defeat in Iraq will marginalize the US to the rank of a regional power, which would be tragic because the American nation had the potential for doing much more if only they were led by people who cared less about being a military power. But much before that, the devastating after effects of hurricane Katrina will destabilize the US political system. After the Vietnam defeat, this would be the second time that Americans will have an opportunity to realize how flawed the priorities and administrative capabilities of their governments can be.

The possibility of a storm (harsher than Katrina) hitting the US southern gulf was forcefully expressed by weather experts as early as 2001. Given the fact that US eastern coast (Florida in particular) is ravaged every year by storms, the possibility should have been taken seriously and more funds and ingenuity put into developing storm shelters, rescue equipment and strategies. The White House did just the opposite; beginning 2001, funding for New Orleans’s levees was steadily cut to half of its 2001 level.

Ironically, the Department of Homeland Security (a post-9/11 invention) was assigned the responsibility of directing natural disaster rescue by Federal Emergency Management Agency. Given the administration’s obsession with terrorist witch-hunt, the department showed scant regard for this vitally important function. Proof thereof is the fact that it took five days for rescue operations to commence — far longer than the lag in initiating rescue operations after the Asian Tsunami.

There has been a variety of reactions to this unforgivable failure, some going as far as accusing Washington of inaction on account of racial bias because states hit by the disaster had a black majority. But the most deplorable aspect of this debate has been the accusation by Republicans that Democrats’ demand for an inquest into the delay and mismanagement of the rescue operation amounts to politicizing the issue. This profile of facing up to failures reflects disastrous levels of confidence and self- righteousness.

Single-minded US focus on propping up its dwindling invincibility encouraged the American mind to waste its energies on destructive rather than constructive inventions, especially in developing alternate sources of energy, and denying its responsibilities to the rest of the world. Its refusal to abide by treaties on controlling arms traffic, environmental pollution, elimination of toxic weapons and land mines and International Court of Justice manifest the closing of the American mind to everything that concerns the rest of the world.

US must accept the loss of its invincibility which, in any case, was not worth the damage it caused by widening the North- South gulf. Europe and Japan made the right choice; they aspired to become economic powers and genuinely befriended other nations. They invented technologies that can help sustain a higher level of human existence. It is time the US accepted the changed ground realities, not the time for recruiting ideological commandos or imposing its will on other nations; neither will pull the US out of the pit.

State of relations with Kabul

By Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty


WITH the global focus still on terrorism, the US is obviously banking on a successful completion of elections in Afghanistan scheduled for September 18. The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, visited Kabul on August 28-29, the first such visit to Afghanistan in 30 years.

However, the situation in Afghanistan has not stabilized, and the number of US casualties has mounted steeply since the beginning of 2005, with the Al Qaeda leadership still hiding in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Despite the deployment of over 70,000 troops in the tribal area, Pakistan still faces occasional accusations of “not doing enough” against the Taliban.

In the chequered history of Pak-Afghan relations, the post 9/11 phase is complicated by a new version of the Great Game, that engaged major powers in the 19th and 20th centuries for the control of the heartland of Asia. The US was believed to have decided to move against the Taliban regime anyway, in the autumn of 2001, but the terrorist attack on the US provided ample justification, and Pakistan found itself obliged to join the global war against terror.

By abandoning the Taliban, it lost support among the Pakhtoons, while it had already alienated the Tajiks, the Uzbeks and Hazaras, grouped in the Northern Alliance, who now became the allies of the US. In the immediate aftermath of the counter-terrorist operations, Pakistanis were not popular in Kabul, notably in the new bureaucracy that was largely drawn from the Northern Alliance.

The dictates of geography and history cannot be denied long, and the indispensable role of Pakistan as the transit route for landlocked Afghanistan, and as the base for early international operations produced a rapprochement. This was facilitated by Pakistan’s support for the Bonn process, including offer of substantial financial assistance for the task of reconstruction.

President Karzai gave priority to improving ties with the government of President Musharraf, whose support became crucial for mopping up the remnants of Al Qaeda, some of whom sought shelter in Pakistan’s tribal belt. As a result, Pakistan had to deploy a large force on its western border despite the concentration of Indian troops on its eastern border.

Since the installation of a UN backed government in Kabul, Pakistan has not only extended diplomatic recognition, but also cooperated fully with its objectives and plans as envisaged in the Bonn Agreement. Pakistan has been backing all the measures taken by the Karzai government, including anti-terrorist operations, and steps for establishing law and order, as well as to repair and improve the infrastructure.

Of course, the US remains engaged in all these measures, as the Bush administration wants to make Afghanistan a showpiece of progress, and democratization to divert attention from the setbacks it has been facing in Iran.

Having relied mainly on the Northern Alliance, and having sought to eliminate the Taliban who have close ethnic ties with tribes on the Pakistan side of the border, the US has demanded firm and resolute action from the government of Pervez Musharraf in the counter-terrorist operations. Indeed, the support and cooperation of Pakistan is critical to the war against terror in Afghanistan that spills over into Pakistan itself.

This role involves having to move against elements in the tribal area that have ties with the Pakhtoon population of East and South Afghanistan, from which the Taliban had derived their support. It is also the largely Pakhtoon militias of the Taliban who suffered the heaviest casualties during the US led attacks on Afghanistan. As such, the resistance of the Taliban has a major component of the Pakhtoon tradition of revenge against those who shed their blood.

In launching their operations in the tribal belt, the Pakistan army has sustained sizable casualties in killing or capturing Al Qaeda militants, who have been given sanctuary by the local tribes, whose traditional code requires that they must defend those under their protection. As wanted persons keep trickling in from Afghanistan across a porous border, the Pakistan armed forces have to remain engaged in a region that was not even open to them under the traditional agreements with the tribal leaders going back to British times.

The problem is complicated by the fact that most of the terrorists are not only well armed, but also take advantage of the mountainous terrain, rendering the task of apprehending them extremely difficult and dangerous. As some of them keep returning into Afghanistan, there have been allegations by Afghan government leaders, and even some American personalities (like the former Ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, an American of Afghan descent) that Pakistan has been less than diligent in dealing effectively with Afghan militants seeking shelter on its territory.

With the elections to the Afghan parliament due on September 18, Pakistan has found it necessary to increase its forces along the border with Afghanistan substantially, adding 5,000 troops on the frontier of the NWFP, and 4,500 along the border of Balochistan. This has raised the total number to 80,000 which is far higher than the combined forces of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), now drawn mainly from Nato and the US, and the Afghan security forces. These forces have been deployed to prevent Pakhtoon dissidents and Al Qaeda remnants from interfering with the Afghan elections on September 18.

In the state-to-state relations, Pakistan has extended its consistent support to the government in Kabul, both in its efforts to establish a democratic polity, as well as in its daunting task of rebuilding a country destroyed by a quarter century of warfare and anarchy. Pakistan has doubled the aid it offered in 2002, to $200 million, and has provided extensive assistance in the humanitarian sphere, by rebuilding hospitals, and donating ambulances and other equipment.

The basic determining factors in Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan are respect for its independence, and support for its nation-building goals. These include the building up of a democratic system, the rehabilitation of a shattered economy, a huge task since most of its people were displaced from their homes, and millions became refugees. On the occasion of the country’s National Day, the messages from the president and prime minister of Pakistan reiterated their support to the tasks confronting this neighbouring country.

The friendship has been sustained by regular high level visits, the latest of which was by the prime minister of Pakistan to Kabul, who accorded high priority to building economic links. Indeed, with plans to build pipelines from Central Asia through Afghanistan to Pakistan, India, and countries beyond, and the infrastructure to link the land locked countries of Central Asia to the Indian Ocean via Afghanistan and Pakistan on the anvil, the outlook for Pakistan-Afghanistan relations is bright indeed.

There are still nearly three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, who will continue to receive sustenance till they are ready to return home. Many of them have got integrated with the Pakistan economy, and are making a valuable contribution to its economy. This relationship will remain friendly, even fraternal, to their mutual advantage, and to strengthen peace and stability in the entire region.

After it has figured so prominently in what has been called the new Great Game, Afghanistan will witness a competition for influence between important neighbours, such as Iran, India, and China, as well as the great powers. Its strategic location, and proximity to the oil-rich regions of West and Central Asia will ensure that it will remain at the centre of crosscurrents and rivalries related to the control of energy resources.

Pakistan’s geography and history confer a special role on it, which has to be played with finesses, with due regard for the basic principles of inter-state relations, and the sensitivities of the Afghan people. However imperatives of peace and development demand that these relations be based on trust and a shared desire for bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

The writer is a former ambassador.

9/11 and 8/29

IF 9/11 showed how much the world had changed, then 8/29 showed how much it hadn’t. Four years ago, when terrorists crashed jets into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, history was cleaved in half — the era before 9/11 and after. Will 8/29, the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast, prove to be a similar demarcation line?

The answer is complicated by the slow realization, with each anniversary, that 9/11 did not change the world (or America) as much as we thought. The response to Katrina, from both the government and the public, is the best illustration.

Both days laid bare intractable problems, but in the case of 9/11, blame for the tragedy was clear: Terrorists had attacked America. Bound by a common enemy, Democrats and Republicans enjoyed an unusual period of civility and cooperation.

No such period exists today. In part this is because the differences 9/11 glossed over are now plain; as it turns out, liberals and conservatives disagree about a lot of things, including the best way to fight a war against terrorists.

In the aftermath of 8/29, unlike 9/11, the politics are more vicious because the enemy is less obvious.

In other ways, 8/29 showed the government (at all levels) to be just as unprepared and incompetent — although in new and distressing ways — as it was before 9/11.

One of the ideas making the rounds among commentators since 8/29 is that the hurricane may lead Americans to expect more from their government, which is really the only entity that can respond to a disaster of such magnitude. If this is true, it has profound implications not just for the war in Iraq (it’s the size of the force that matters, at least as much as speed and smarts) but for domestic policy and politics.

But it is at least possible that 8/29 could have the opposite effect, causing people to give up on their government. That’s what many along the Gulf Coast did, after all, when they realized no help was forthcoming; in one case, ham-radio operators guided helicopter pilots to hospital rooftops to rescue doctors and patients. And Americans donated record amounts to charities and relief groups that were seen as more nimble and efficient than the government.

—Los Angeles Times



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