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DAWN - Opinion; January 4, 2006

January 04, 2006

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Redefining NAM’s role

By Shamshad Ahmad Khan


THE numerical strength of both G-77 and NAM (non-aligned movement) has been a major factor in decision-making at the UN and in all conferences held under the auspices of the UN system. For many years, the Third World states have had the voting strength to constitute two-thirds majority on any issue of importance to them. Their voting pre-eminence, however, remained inconsequential because of the widening gap between the “power to decide” and the “power to implement” decisions.

This grim reality is evident from the fate of the outcomes of a series of UN’s major conferences and summits held since 1990s on different aspects of a development agenda. In particular, the decisions and commitments made at the last three global conferences, namely the Millennium Summit (New York, 2000), the International Conference on Financing for Development (Monterrey-Mexico, 2002) and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002) remain unimplemented.

During the chilling Cold War era, East and West represented the bipolarity of the world. The Cold War has ended. East-West rivalry is no longer dividing the world. In fact, there is now a visible strategic convergence between the two with Nato admitting as its members some of the former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe, and with Russia becoming a member of the US-sponsored Partnership for Peace, G-8 and Contact Group.

Today’s world is now divided between the “West and the Rest” and as before, between two unequal halves, one embarrassingly rich and the other desperately poor. The income gap between the rich and the poor has never been so wider in human history. While the West is endowed with abundance of wealth and affluence, the “Rest” which includes developing countries of all sorts and regions representing the overwhelming part of humanity languishes in poverty and backwardness.

The top 20 per cent of the world’s people, living in the richest countries, account for 86 per cent of the world’s GDP, 82 per cent of its export market, and 68 per cent of all foreign direct investments (FDIs). While the per capita income of 80 developing countries had fallen significantly during the last decade, the net worth of the world’s 200 richest people more than doubled from $400 billion in 1994 to over $1,000 billion in 1998.

No wonder, the number of LDCs (least developed countries so categorized on the basis of their low GDP, human resources and economic diversification indices) has more than doubled from 24 in 1971 to 50 today. The “grotesque inequalities” in the world are regularly highlighted in annual human development reports. According to the last report, the wealth of the three richest persons of the world is greater than the combined GNP of the 50 least developed countries (LDCs) with 600 million people. More than a billion people, one in every six human beings, live on less than a dollar a day.

These are no doubt, staggering figures. The Third World has had no belle ipoque to signify its better times, if any. It has experienced no industrial revolution, no economic miracle, no educational upsurge, no social renaissance, no political emancipation, and no worker’s movement. Today, with few exceptions, poor countries are poorer and rich richer.

The poor and dispossessed nations, emerging from centuries of exploitation of their lands by the colonial powers find themselves totally marginalized in the global economy. With economic disparities increasing, the overwhelming majority of developing countries remains deprived of the benefits of economic growth and continues to suffer abject poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy and larger socio-economic asymmetry.

Globalization has not helped the situation; it has actually aggravated global economic disparities, worsening conditions for the poor. The fact of the matter is that the market-driven process of globalization, integrating national economies into the world economy, is an asymmetric one, with some winners but many losers. Growth and development have not and cannot automatically bring about reduction in inequality. The growing size of the pie does not ensure that everyone will get his or her piece of the pie.

One may ask why there are so many poor people in the world at a time of such abundance of wealth. Absence of level-playing field is one of the major reasons, and level playing is not possible between strong and weak economies unless international regulatory measures are in place to control the predatory policies of the more powerful players. The signs of a resurgence of the 19th century economic adventurism through military force are no less alarming for the developing world.

While the developing world is treated with sermons about the advantages of deregulation and liberalization, the developed countries hardly apply these principles to their own markets which in most cases are almost like closed fortresses. Major areas of export interest to developing countries are either closed or protected through subsidies and other means. WTO has yet to establish what the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development (2002) envisaged as “a universal, rule-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system”.

Meaningful trade liberalization through removal of trade barriers as well as trade-distorting subsidies, particularly in sectors of special export interest to developing countries, including agriculture, also remains as elusive as ever. Since the world’s poor people, those living below the international poverty line of two dollars per day, work mostly in agriculture and labour-intensive manufactures, these sectors present the greatest trade barriers, putting the world’s poor at a particular disadvantage.

All this notwithstanding, there is no denying the fact that the basic ownership of development rests with each developing country. Instead of remaining dependent on the “largesse” of industrialized nations, the developing countries need to forge closer trade links and genuine cooperation among themselves to build their mutual capacity for sustainable development and sustained economic growth. They are rich in terms of resources, talent, skills and manpower and have the necessary technological base as well as an unparalleled market of their own. What they need is enough space to harness their own resources and to capitalize on their overall potential.

Unfortunately, all is not well with the Third World. Most developing countries suffer serious governance and rule of law problems rooted in their authoritarian and non-representative political culture. Democracy is distorted and misused. Corruption is a way of life in most Third World countries. Some of them are mired in perpetual intra-state or inter-state conflicts. There is something fundamentally wrong with the Third World’s approach in striking a balance between its problems, its remedial needs and its impulse for change.

What is even more disturbing is that the world’s two largest regions, Africa and South Asia, both rich in natural and human resources, are the biggest victims of poverty and violence. Both continue to be the scene of endemic instability as a result of conflicts and hostilities, unresolved disputes, unaddressed historical grievances, and deep-rooted communal and religious estrangement.

In order to put their house in order, the developing countries, be they in Africa, Asia or Latin America or in the equally backward Muslim world, must own and fulfil their responsibility to improve their system of governance and rule of law and to re-order their national priorities. They must create a domestic socio-political environment that helps, not impedes, a healthy transformation of their societies.

Despite all the contributions that G-77 and NAM have made through their negotiating skills on the economic and political causes of the developing world in global forums and within the UN system, there is very little to credit them with any substantive or perceptible socio-economic change on the global horizon. The debate and acrimony in multilateral forums on behalf of the developing countries, nothing has come out of the UN’s development agenda that could build a genuine partnership for universalizing affluence and elimination of poverty, hunger and disease.

Both G-77 and NAM have limited operational capacity in the absence of any organizational structure or a permanent secretariat. They had neither the means to change the political and economic systems of developing countries, nor could they redress the global economic inequalities by enabling the resource-rich countries among them to capitalize on their natural wealth.

At best, they have maintained group discipline in formulating common positions on major global issues. On the other hand, the traditional triad of affluence and power comprising the European states, the US and Japan has been building upon its economic as well as technological gains and monopoly, despite all that talk about fairness and equity, remain the sole determinant in global trade and finance.

With the East and West no longer being strategic rivals, the notion of non-alignment has become more or less anachronistic. The relevance of non-alignment and the Non-Aligned Movement is being questioned both within and outside its membership. Today’s unipolarity has given rise to new strategic alliances with some of the stalwarts and founding fathers of the non-aligned movement becoming aligned with the unrivalled “pole of power.” While on global economic issues, G-77 retains its relevance, NAM needs to redefine its role in the post-Cold War world.

The Cold War has ended but most of its legacies are still there which notably include “foreign occupation, foreign military bases, the use or threat or use of force, pressure, interference in internal affairs and coercive sanctions.” Global peace and stability are facing new threats. Developing countries remain under pressures to conform to an agenda “which is being defined and driven by others.”

The role of NAM as a movement and as an organization, therefore, acquires even greater importance. It can serve as a balancing factor in the unipolar world and help promote a new system of international relations based on peace, justice, equality, democracy and development. Perhaps the only change that it needs is in its name. Understandably, and for historical reasons, its acronym, NAM is irreplaceable but it should now stand for “New Age Movement” rather than timeworn and rusty “Non-Aligned Movement.” This would neither alter the historical outlook and rationale of the organization nor dilute its importance or relevance as a movement and as a process.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Everything on the house

PUBLIC accounts committees of the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies do good work by keeping an eye on government expenditure. But the trouble is that when they sit down for the purpose, the cases that come up to them are nearly five years old, or even more.

So if they order recovery of unauthorized expenditure they strike a blind alley. Bureaucrats who were allegedly responsible for misuse of money have, in the meantime, climbed to unapproachable heights, or retired, or even died. When the assemblies are defunct, as it happens during martial law, the military regime usually appoints ad hoc PACs composed of persons with unsoiled reputations, as was done by General Pervez Musharraf.

It is rare that a minister faces retribution. However, in a session of the central PAC not long ago, it was revealed that former caretaker prime minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi had deposited 20,000 pounds sterling with the government which were spent on his medical treatment abroad.

Since this comes to roughly 16 lakh rupees, one wonders what the treatment was about and what good it did to him. As PM he was entitled to free medical care, but even then he must have realized that this expenditure was not proper. This was good of him. Although the thought of propriety never entered his mind when, on his last day in office, he allotted 98 prime residential and commercial plots to friends and “chamchas.”

During the past political regimes it was a question of how far one could stretch one’s entitlement, and sometimes how mean one could become. I know a federal secretary who wouldn’t buy aspirin tablets from the bazaar and always sent for them from the Services Hospital.

This was hardly a drain on the hospital’s budget for the purpose, but there were other items that were a drain and which also affected retired officers like me. I must cite my personal case to bring home the point.

During my long service in government, except for hospitalization for surgery, I never took any free medicines for myself. Never. Nor for my wife and daughters. But when I retired and my income fell suddenly, and I also became a heart patient, I thought I must start relying on public funds. So, here, in Islamabad, I would go to the services Hospital for the medicines. Apart from the hassle and the red tape involved, I was frequently told that the budget allocation had been exhausted. Friendly doctors would tell me that 90 per cent of the allocation was “eaten up” by senior bureaucrats, ministers and legislators, many of whom were rich enough to build hospitals. You can imagine what I had to go through. Therefore, I decided to spare the government and spend out of my own meagre pension plus the income from writing for newspapers.

At that time everyone having some influence was being sent abroad for medical treatment. I don’t think anyone went to get a common cold cured, but if you talk to an insider in the ministry of health it will open your eyes. Precious foreign exchange was wasted on ailments and surgical cases that could be as well handled in a small town here as in London or Houston. Also legislators got medicines worth Rs 41 million during three years, from 1993 to 1995. Three MNAs alone were responsible for incurring three million rupees in one year. This was revealed in a meeting of the PAC.

Since monetary fraud is a national trait, and is found in abundance among ministers, legislators and bureaucrats, you will be amused to know of the depth they would go to in order to avoid spending money on luxury items without which, I suppose they couldn’t live. Chemists were persuaded to supply expensive shampoos and perfumes and hi-fi articles of feminine make-up against prescriptions of superfluous medicines. I was told that the health ministry was fully in the know about this underhand practice but couldn’t counter it. In fact it never made an effort to counter it.

One must appreciate the military government for a decision in this regard. After 12 October, 1999, no one has been allowed to go abroad for medical treatment and the pernicious practice has been completely stopped. Those VIPs who wish to avail themselves of it must wait for the 2007 elections when I suppose, it will be resumed by the new elected government “in the public interest.” Everything that representative governments do in Pakistan is always in the public interest.

Chronic maladies arise out of the concept that some people in this country are entitled to privileges. Somehow all facilities, amenities and perks tend to land in the laps of so-called VIPs who can personally afford them many times over. One misconceived notion is that if the president or the prime minister were to travel in anything but a Mercedes it would bring a bad name to Pakistan.

Everything wrong starts from this belief, i.e. the craze to show off at public expense, although the two worthies would still be honoured if they went about in a Suzuki FX. In fact the masses would give them more respect if they did. But no, that can’t be allowed to happen because small minds need big props to give them confidence in their official status, although that status is theirs by right.

Some years ago there was a report that Islamabad’s Capital Development Authority had issued notices to 130 legislators who owe it money as rental for the suites occupied by them in the Parliamentary Lodges. If an MNA or Senator paid his dues, he would be a rare person because the aim of the rest has always been to somehow live on the dole, as if they were the government’s sons-in-law, as we say in Punjabi. These suites match the suites in four-star hotels, but the rates are subsidized for the legislators. The total arrears come to some nine million rupees.

In this case two questions come to mind. One, the CDA did not have the guts to serve such notices before October 12, 1999. Why? Because in a political regime you can’t get any money out of MPAs, MNAs and Senators. Two, why didn’t the then prime minister, who knew of this scandalous exploitation, order that the arrears of rent should be deducted from the allowances of the defaulting members. Thus you find that some evil habits are actually encouraged by political regimes. So whose fault is it if VIPs want everything for free?

Truth about the Abbasi report

By Zubeida Mustafa


THREE months after the chairman of the Technical Committee on Water Resources (TCWR), Mr A.N.G. Abbasi, had presented his report to the president and the prime minister, the Kalabagh dam issue has burst on the scene in a big way.

The president brought this contentious issue to the forefront when he first spoke of forging a national consensus and creating ‘awareness’ on the KBD. Now he has dispensed with the need for any political understanding and has declared that the dam will be built at any cost.

The president has come under attack from the opposition which accuses him of politicizing the issue and creating a confrontation between Punjab and the smaller provinces. But the most alarming aspect of this situation is that the president is projecting himself as the saviour of Pakistan and Sindh which according to him will be “committing suicide” if the dam is not built.

This “I know best” approach can be dangerous. That is the conclusion one draws after reading the case for the KBD made out by the president in his fact-sheet released on Saturday and studying the Abbasi report which our reporter, Khaleeq Kiani, obtained for this paper (published in Dawn of December 27-30). Now that the report is public knowledge, it is time leaders and experts stopped politicizing the issue and studied this document to weigh the pros and cons of the KBD.

The report is itself an intriguing piece of work. The committee that was announced in August 2003 did not become functional until March 2004 on account of unexplained red tapism and bureaucratic delays. Comprising eight members and a chairman, this body failed to produce a consensus report. Seven members lined up behind Wapda without any independent input. One member from Sindh, Dr Iqbal Ali, who had earlier pleaded in an article in this newspaper (March 17, 2003) for alternatives to conserve the Indus water, changed his stance once he became a member of the TCWR. The other member from the province, Sardar Ahmad Mughal, was forceful in marshalling arguments against Kalabagh and was broadly supported by the chairman who has raised many pertinent questions that testify to his integrity and courage.

Strangely though, the chairman does not categorically recommend that the KBD project be abandoned. He, however, goes in a roundabout way to point out the disadvantages of KBD and the overall thrust of the report is against the dam. The most important issue to emerge from the report is that enough water is not available in the River Indus to fill a dam of KBD’s size optimally and to allow sufficient flow of water below Kotri as is needed to prevent sea water intrusion. Critical of Wapda’s failure to make water availability computations on a regular basis, the chairman points out that this has led to discrepancies in the information provided. Thus according to Wapda’s upstream approach method of calculation, the net water availability in the Indus is 6.4 million acre feet (maf). The seven members of the TCWR put it as 31.6 maf while Mr Sardar Mughal puts it as — 17.7 maf.

The report states that there is no surplus water available for storage on an annual basis, though there are flood years when the situation is not so bad. Studying the pattern of river flow in the post-Tarbela dam period, the TCWR found that on an average storable surplus water was available in only 10 out of 28 years and a dam of 6.0 maf will be able to trap only 22 per cent of the surplus flood flow. Three dams will trap 84 per cent of the flood water but each will be filled for 10, seven and three years out of 28 respectively.

According to the chairman’s conclusions: “The future storages have to be planned for storage of surplus water in occasional flood years for use in subsequent low flow years. These surplus flows are of higher magnitude but with lesser frequency of occurrence. Thus the filling of future dams will be an occasional event ... The distribution of water from future reservoirs should not be considered according to their full capacity, but keeping in view the fact that the stored water will need to be used over a number of subsequent low flow years.”

Similarly, in giving the data for the outflow of the water to the sea downstream of Kotri, the figures vary widely. The international consultants asked to study the case have suggested 2.6 maf of water every year and 25 maf every five years should be available to check sea water intrusion. This works out to less than the 10 maf per annum provided by the 1991 water apportionment accord. Yet it will have to be taken into consideration.

The moot point is: Is it wise to proceed to build such expensive dams which may remain under-utilized and may not offer the advantages they are supposed to?

Admittedly, Pakistan’s water storage capacity is very limited and its cultivated area of 36 million acres is under pressure on account of water shortage. The 117 maf provided under the 1991 accord is not always available and the availability of water will fall with the silting of the Tarbela and Mangla dams. Hence, according to the president, there will be a shortfall of 20 to 30 maf in the next two decades.

Wapda has identified storage sites — Kalabagh, Akhori, Bhasha, and Skardu. The TCWR said that the construction of dams need to be prioritized. The president has announced that the dams will be built in the order given above. What is surprising is that the government seems set to proceed with the KBD on the basis of a feasibility study carried out in 1984-88 that may be obsolete now. Mr Abbasi strongly recommends that this be updated since the cost ($6 billion) will need to be revised and the reservoir filling study will have to be re-calculated keeping in mind the 1991 water apportionment accord which has been violated in years of shortages by reverting to historic use that put Sindh at a distinct disadvantage. Since it has now been agreed that the accord is sacrosanct any new dam will first have to meet the shortfall in the water accord allocations.

The mathematical calculation used by the government is at best simplistic. The president says that 30 to 35 maf of water flows into the sea in the flood season every five to seven years. That will be stored in the four dams planned. The use of this extra water will be spread over a five year period. In other words on an average the projects will yield barely six maf of extra water. That does not take count of the 25 maf the consultants have suggested for countering sea water intrusion.

Is all the economic investment, the indebtedness and political alienation worth this meagre quantum of water Pakistan will get? True there is a water and power shortage in the country. But there are other strategies available to meet the water and power needs.

Dr Iqbal Ali spelt out comprehensive strategies to save water losses through lining the canals and preventing seepage which according to him causes a loss of 18.3 maf per annum (equal to the capacity of two KBDs). According to him the farmers over-irrigate their fields on account of wrong practices. Thus they lose 12 maf of water that can be saved by adopting the drip irrigation system.

Similarly the power generation — 2,400 MW from KBD and 4,000 MW from Bhasha — can be obtained by using coal-based plants, building small hydel projects and generating solar and wind energy.

One wonders why the government does not explore these options rather than going after KBD with such obstinate determination. The negative aspects of big dams have been pointed out by the World Commission on Dams in its 2000 report. Only the World Bank which will be financing KBD seems to be keen about pursuing this project. Why? The attraction appears to lie in the big money involved which the Pakistani taxpayer will end up parting with, while highly paid American consultants will reap the benefits.

The fact is that there is no inter-provincial politics involved in Kalabagh, as is widely believed. It is the World Bank that appears to be behind this scheme. The bank has been the greatest single source of funds for the construction of large dams — 500 in number — all over the world. It has promised Pakistan a massive loan extended through the bank’s commercial lending programme and not at concessional rates. To lure the country it has promised to increase other funding by about 10 times.