DAWN - Opinion; November 08, 2006

November 08, 2006


Rethinking Balochistan uplift

By Kaiser Bengali

BALOCHISTAN has been taken off the media headlines. Within the province, however, the insurgency continues to simmer. The Baloch people’s emotional link with Pakistan stands frayed and urgent measures are imperative to address the political and economic factors at the heart of the discontent. Much has been said and written about the necessary political measures.

They include, at the least, respect for the Constitution, deference for the principle of provincial autonomy, free and fair elections, enabling the elected provincial government to function without interference from the centre and from state and para-state agencies, ensuring due role of the Senate and the Council of Common Interests, and so on. Much has been said and written as well about the need to amend the Constitution to delete the Concurrent List and to extend the domain of the Senate to money bills.

Conversely, there has not been sufficient discussion on the strategy for the economic development of the province. That the province is highly under-developed is widely accepted, but is generally relegated to footnotes in national policy discussions. Admittedly, there have been attempts towards the development of the province. These have, however, comprised sporadic, disconnected and mega schemes and projects — granting of a tax holiday, extension of a canal, building small dams, setting up of industrial estates, construction of fish harbours, and now a port.

There has never been an attempt to analyse and understand the nature of the potentials and constraints of the Balochistan economy and to prepare a comprehensive strategy for overcoming its extreme human, social and economic underdevelopment and for bringing it at par with the national economy.

The non-beneficial nature of investment in the development of Balochistan is best represented by the case of Hub Chowki, located at the border of Balochistan and Sindh — a few kilometers from Karachi. Spurred by a tax holiday announced in 1978, a number of large-scale industrial units were set up in and around the Hub Chowki industrial estate. An analysis of the industrialisation process at Hub Chowki, carried out in 1980, highlighted its weak linkages with the rest of the Balochistan economy and provides a lesson in how not to attempt development in the province.

All the enterprises set up in Hub Chowki were owned by investors from Karachi and Lahore and over 90 per cent of employees and workers in these commuted from Karachi on a daily basis. The projects were about 40 per cent more capital-intensive than in the rest of the country and, for about 75 per cent of the capital invested per unit of labour was 3.5 times the then national average.

No part of the machinery installed at the site was manufactured in Balochistan or in Pakistan. Less than 10 per cent of the raw materials used in the industries were sourced from Balochistan and 80 per cent of investment did not utilise any raw material or inputs produced, manufactured or extracted from the province. About 65 per cent of the raw materials were sourced from abroad and 55 per cent of investment was entirely dependent on imported raw materials. The enterprises marketed only about three per cent of the products in Balochistan and less than one per cent was exported.

A natural corollary of the high imported capital intensity and imported raw material basis of the manufacturing process was the low intra-provincial multiplier effect. Had the industries in question been based on raw materials or minerals produced or extracted from Balochistan and been more labour-intensive and provided employment to local labour, Hub Chowki could have acted as a catalyst for the development of the rest of the province. Instead, the alien capital-intensive, import-dependent industrial structure that emerged was devoid of the necessary backward or forward linkages with the rest of the provincial or even the national economy.

So the post-tax holiday period, Hub Chowki no longer figures among the industrial centres of the country. The only beneficiaries were investors from Karachi and Lahore, who used the site to profit from the tax holiday while it lasted. The apprehensions today are that Gwadar is likely to follow the Hub Chowki path.

The one lesson that can be drawn from the failed growth strategy pursued so far is that a new development paradigm is called for. Apart from the fact that it is vastly deficient in terms of physical and institutional infrastructure and skilled labour, the Balochistan economy is different from that of the other provinces; as such, development there cannot be approached from the same perspective as in the other provinces. The fact that livestock continuous to be the largest sector in Balochistan shows that it is still a pastoral economy.

Clearly, Balochistan does not possess the necessary conditions for the establishment of a modern industrial economy — at least of the kind that the fiscal incentive package attempted to create in Hub Chowki. The intra-provincial multiplier effects of the port at Gwadar are also likely to be low for similar reasons; thereby not enabling the people of Balochistan to draw significant and meaningful advantages.

Given the prevalent physical and human endowment of Balochistan, it is necessary that the policy of ‘development packages’ doled out from Islamabad should end. Instead, a phased approach needs to be adopted; with the initial phase devoted mainly to creating the conditions for the development of a modern economy. Given the internal heterogeneity of the province, there arises the need for about half a dozen development sub-plans — sector-wise and region-wise — fused into one.

For example, fishing in the coastal belt, crop agriculture in the canal-irrigated areas, fruits and vegetables in the tube-irrigated highlands, and livestock and mining across the province. Attention needs to be focused mainly on four primary sectors, two supporting sectors and two infrastructure sectors. The primary sectors include minor crops, livestock, fishing, and mining. Currently, they constitute the four primary pillars of the provincial economy. The supporting sectors include transport and small-scale engineering industry. And the two infrastructure sectors include roads, education and skill development.

Concentration of policy and implementation effort as well as resources in the priority sectors is important, as dispersion of scarce resources over a wide range of sectors has failed to deliver effective results in any sector. In the next phase, downstream small-scale industries can be developed to process the agricultural and mineral produce to enable the province to retain the value addition thereof. In terms of priorities, the development of ‘modern’ sectors can be postponed to the third phase.

Livestock, although the largest sector of the provincial economy, possesses an informal character and under-produces in terms of value addition. Balochistan has the capacity to emerge as the ‘meat basket’ of the country. However, the sector’s contribution has been declining over the years, partly on account of the disappearance of grazing land because of inconsistent rainfall and land degradation. Efforts have been made earlier to establish large-scale corporate livestock farms in the province, but without much success. In any case, the approach was flawed and is another example of how not to pursue development.

Consideration needs to be given to establishment of service centres for livestock with provisions for supply of livestock feed, veterinary services, etc., and to small-scale livestock products processing units. Along with, these, the imperative of technical support and training in modern livestock management needs to be stressed.

Minor crops comprises of the production of a variety of fruits, potatoes, onions and other vegetables. The sector is beset with a number of problems ranging from water management to pest control to sorting and packing of the produce for marketing in the country and abroad. Technical support, in terms of modern horticultural know-how and training at each level of the production chain can help farmers obtain higher values for their produce in the domestic and export markets.

Balochistan has a nearly 1,000-kilometer coastline. Yet, the fishing sector in the province continues to have a rather informal character. The sector possesses the potential to generate considerable employment and incomes for the population in the coastal districts and foreign exchange income for the country. However, if the sector’s potential is to be realised, it is necessary to effectively treat the fishing sector as an industry.

An abortive attempt was made to this end, but it amounted to contracting out the entire coastal waters to a foreign company. Such a move may have generated foreign exchange for Islamabad, but deprived the fishing communities along the Balochistan coast of employment and incomes. The move is yet another example of how not to attempt development. A people-centred growth strategy would require provision of larger motorized boats for fishermen to enable them to engage in deep-sea fishing — along with a range of technical support and training in modern fishing methods.

The mining sector in Balochistan, mainly gas and copper, also suffers from a rather informal character. The management methods and the technology employed at the mines are medieval; resulting in damage to much of the ore at the extraction stage. It is, thus, not surprising that the mining and quarrying sector contributes less than two per cent to the provincial exchequer. Improved management practices and technological know-how are called for to enhance the value of output.

The above four ‘pillars of the economy’ would need to be supported by the transport sector and a small-scale engineering and technical services sector. The former is necessary for transporting inputs the province for and outputs of the primary sectors. The latter is essential for repair, maintenance and servicing of tubewells, tractors, sorting and packing equipment, boat engines, cold storage equipment, mining machinery and transport vehicles. Lastly, the importance of infrastructure — roads and education, in particular — cannot be underestimated.

Transport requires a network of quality roads to connect production units with marketing centres. Education and skill development is an overarching sector, without which the capacity of the local labour force to participate in the development process — and, thereby, benefit from it — will remain poor. Politically too, education, training and skill development are of paramount importance over and above all other factors, as the development process cannot continue to be out-sourced to ‘expatriate’ entrepreneurs and workers from other provinces of the country.

Suicide & mental health

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Pakistan Association for Mental Health will be looking into various aspects of the problem of suicide when it observes mental health day belatedly on Sunday. PAMH has been working for decades to create awareness about mental health and has managed to educate the public somewhat about the common disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and personality problems.

But suicide per se has not received the attention it should have, given its growing prevalence. Informed public awareness of this issue is negligible.

It is strange that the dramatic increase in the incidence of suicides in Pakistan has not alerted policymakers to address this problem concertedly. The Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid, an NGO working in this field that has set up a helpline, has reported that suicide led to 3,123 deaths in Pakistan in 2003. Experts estimate that for every suicide there are another 20 or so cases of attempted suicides that fail. This is a worldwide trend and WHO reported that one million people killed themselves in the year 2000, which is more than those who lost their lives on account of war or homicide. Worse still, this trend is on the rise. Take the case of Sindh. In 1985, 105 suicide cases were recorded here. In 2003, this figure had shot up to 1,588.

The lack of understanding of this phenomenon is quite shocking. Conventional wisdom in our society holds that the appalling conditions prevailing in the country resulting in joblessness, lack of security, poverty, economic inequities and discordant interpersonal relations lead to despair and a sense of hopelessness that cause people to take their life. But this is true to an extent only. Science has now proved conclusively that suicidal tendencies in an individual are a direct result of the chemical make-up of his brain and his inability to cope with the tension — real or imagined — he is faced with.

Psychiatrists attribute suicide to mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and postpartum depression. Since these are all treatable/manageable, it is a pity that they should lead to suicide. But as Prof Haroon Ahmed, president of the PAMH, points out a difficult social, family and economic micro-environment can act as a trigger for a person who is vulnerable. But simply providing a severely suicidal person employment may not really be enough to preempt his suicide, just as every person who loses his job does not go and kill himself. True, it is not coincidental that the suicide rate has increased as the conditions in the country have deteriorated. This trend indicates the rise in trigger factors. Ideally, transforming Pakistan into a Utopia should decrease the stress the citizens face in their daily living. But that would be like waiting for Godot. Moreover, even in perfect conditions the clinically ill who are predisposed towards suicide would still take their own life. Hence the more pragmatic approach is to identify the people at risk and reinforce their coping mechanism.

It is this basic fact that needs to be understood by people so that they learn to recognise suicidal tendencies and are not afraid to seek medical help. While creating this awareness it is also important that a concerted effort is made to reduce the stigma that is attached to mental illness. The first step would be to change social attitudes because mental health professionals operate in a socio-cultural milieu and need the community’s cooperation and understanding to provide the mentally ill the socio-medical support they need.

Suicide, however, poses more complex problems than other disorders. For instance, the stigma is not just social. It is also religious. This complicates matters for para suicide cases where the patient survives and needs additional support and treatment. Condemning him as a sinner will detract from the support that is essential in testing times — suicide is a desperate cry for help. More problematic is the legal aspect. Under the Lunacy Act of 1912 suicide/attempted suicide was treated as a crime. Mercifully, the Mental Health Ordinance, 2001, (MHO) did away with this ridiculous approach to suicide. But with the MHO still awaiting implementation it is not at all clear what the legal position on suicide is at present in Pakistan.

With society’s perception of suicide as a mental health problem still so ambiguous, we are now faced with the new phenomenon of suicide bombers. Given the fact that suicide has never been glorified in our part of the world, as it was for example in Japan where it was considered honourable to kill oneself to atone for one’s shame, suicide bombing has not been upheld as an act of heroism. It falls in a different category altogether. The act of the suicide bomber is not directed against himself alone. He destroys himself with the aim of inflicting maximum damage on others he perceives as his enemies.

A glance at the history of suicide bombings makes it clear that this was first used as a strategic weapon to attack the enemy in times of war. Starting with the Knights Templars in the Crusades of the 12th century, more recently Japanese Kamikaze pilots attacked American naval ships in the Second World War. Even closer in time have been the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and the Palestinians attacking Israelis in desperation. The suicidal attacks launched by Al Qaeda are the latest in the series.

But suicide bombings are now moving away from an act born from despair and hopelessness as the Palestinians’ suicide attacks symbolised. The suicide bombings we witness in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan today are more in the nature of acts of vengeance and hatred than anything else. Crazed by these negative emotions, the suicide attackers are willing to go to the extent of killing themselves — along with others.

How would one describe those who turn to extreme religiosity and freely resort to violence of the most brutal kind? It is said that the suicide bombers have been heavily indoctrinated and brainwashed into believing that their act of self-destruction is a noble one that will win them martyrdom and paradise. But one cannot overlook the possibility of socially and emotionally maladjusted individuals seeking group identity in extremist organisations. Mental health professionals should study this phenomenon from a scientific point of view and also seek to identify the factors that result in extremism of a mindless kind.

Uncertain justice

NOT many people outside Iraq had ever heard of a little town called Dujail before Saddam Hussein stood trial for the crimes against humanity that were committed there when he was the unchallenged ruler of his country in 1982.

Whatever else happened on Sunday when he was sentenced to death for those crimes, he expressed not a hint of remorse for the 148 victims who were tortured and executed after a botched attempt on his life. Instead, he responded to the judge’s words by posturing in the dock, shouting “Long live the Iraqi people”, and denouncing the “invaders” and “traitors” who brought about his own demise in 2003.

Opinion polling is as hard in post-Saddam Iraq as it was when the Ba’ath party and its secret police were still in charge. But it is a fair bet that most Iraqis are satisfied that the former dictator is facing the hangman’s noose — though satisfaction, like so much else in Iraq, now runs along strictly sectarian lines. Predictably jubilant scenes in Shia and Kurdish areas were matched by equally predictable anger in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit in the Sunni heartlands and in Sunni quarters of Baghdad.

Iraq today is in a catastrophic state. Even diehard US neocon cheerleaders for the war are now deserting George Bush, agreeing that regime change has turned out to be a bad idea. Still, the Dujail trial and verdict provide timely reminders of the brutal nature of Saddam’s regime — which, it is also worth recalling, was quietly supported by the West, especially one Donald Rumsfeld, during the eight-year war against Iran. In Saddam’s separate trial for the “Anfal” campaign against the Kurds the prosecution is seeking to prove that he (and “Chemical” Ali Hassan al-Majid) committed genocide - the gravest crime on anyone’s statue book.

The Iraqi, US and British governments all ignored justified criticism of the trial. One Iraqi minister did acknowledge the shortcomings by calling it “the best possible in the circumstances”.

—The Guardian, London

What’s wrong with two Eids?

By Hafizur Rahman

AS usual, Pakistan celebrated two Eids this year on consecutive dates. But hold on, when I rang up my friend Musarrat Shah in Mardan on Eid day to wish him for their Eid held a day earlier, he said, “No, we didn’t have Eid yesterday, we had it the day before yesterday.”

Which means there is no end to the controversy about the sighting of the Shawal moon, poor helpless Ruet-i-Hilal Committees notwithstanding. This takes my mind 30 years back to the time when I was first posted in Islamabad.

We, the family and my mother, left Islamabad by car on the last day of Ramzan to spend the Eid holidays in Swat. When we halted in Nowshera for a short rest, we were delighted to find the city celebrating Eid with the usual fervour. Since none of us was fasting, we made a hearty meal of naan kababs, had our fill of green tea, and proceeded on our way, looking forward to a nice Pathan dinner in Saidu Sharif where rooms had been booked for us.

Imagine our consternation when we discovered that Swat was not following the tradition of having Eid one day before the rest of Pakistan. The disciplinary effect of the Wali’s long rule, despotic but benevolent in many ways, was that even after becoming part of the Frontier province, Swatis tended to fear and respect the authority in the matter of the sighting of the moon, and followed the government instead of the firebrand maulvis of Peshawar and Mardan. I don’t know what is the position now.

The result was that it being a day of fasting, nothing was available to eat when we got to Saidu late in the evening. All the restaurants were closed in anticipation of the Eid holidays, and since we had not thought of ordering dinner in advance we had to sleep on a meal of cucumbers, incidentally the biggest and the most succulent I have ever seen.

Taking the Nowshera interlude into account, we thought that having two Eids was not a bad idea at all. But then every non- fasting citizen of Islamabad cannot run to Nowshera on the last day of ramzan, or even to Khairabad, a little beyond the Attock bridge, just for the fun of eating in public.

No, I am not against one Eid for the whole of Pakistan, But at the same time I do not view two, or even three Eids, as a national calamity. Eid is a festive occasion, also meant for thanksgiving, and if it can be regarded as a season (like Christmas) instead of as a day the worry about more than one Eid becomes insignificant. Though of course its sanctity comes from the congregational prayer, without which even a person like me does not consider the Eid complete.

The idea naturally is that as everywhere else Muslims all over the world should celebrate their festivals and holy occasions on the same day, because if we take the concept of the ummah into consideration Eid on a different day at a different national level anywhere is meaningless. If there is one ummah, as we keep repeating from the housetops day and night, then we should at least be of one mind on its most important religious festival.

There are two ways in which the unity of thought on this subject can be achieved. One is to discard the system of ruet-e- hilal, i.e., moon-sighting by a committee of ulema, and depend entirely for this purpose on scientific prediction. Astronomy can tell us at exactly what time of the day and for how long a new moon will be visible anywhere in the world a hundred years from today. It is so mathematically precise.

This is nothing new. The old time jantries (almanacs) compiled by Hindu experts who had also a host of Muslim pupils (many of whom are still active in Pakistan) are able to give us exact, or near exact, figures in this regard. So there is no problem in finding out when the new crescent will appear on the horizon to herald Eid-ul-Fitr or the first of any Iunar month.

The other way is for the ummah (if there is any such entity) to follow the qibla and do whatever Saudi Arabia does. The day fixed by that country for Eid or other religious occasions may be followed by the rest of the Muslim world without demur. But there is a seemingly insurmountable hurdle in the way of adopting either of these methods. And that hurdle or hitch or obstacle is that the monopoly of the ulema in this sphere will end in Pakistan.

That delectable institution, the ruet-e-hilal committee, sits on top of a high building in Karachi or Lahore or Islamabad or Peshawar, with its members’ eyes glued to binoculars and TV cameras trained on them. After the sighting or non-sighting is over, the chairman takes up half an hour on television to narrate a situation that can be described in half a minute. All this will no longer be there if some other method to decide the issue is adopted.

At one time when I was in the ministry of religious affairs, I was associated with this committee. It came as a shock to me that for the maghreb prayer after breaking the fast, there were three or four groups of maulvis, each group saying the prayer separately. They couldn’t agree to becoming an example of the unity of the ummah even for ten minutes.

The possible discontinuance of ruet-e-hilal is of course unacceptable to the religious gentry. Through it they have a stake in an important affair of the nation. The problem is that this abandonment will not be attempted by any regime holding the reins of power in Pakistan. No government in Pakistan will even have the guts and the gumption to go truly scientific or bypass the religious lobby in this regard.

There is also the third alternative and that is just to let the status quo prevail. Let us have as many Eid days as people in various parts of the country want to have. After all, before the development of communications every town and even every village had its own Eid. There was no thought of national unity on this point. No disaster has been reported because of this primitive arrangement, and we were better Muslims then and more akin to the concept of a Muslim ummah.

In this connection imagine the felicity of the man who first celebrated Eid in Bannu, then went to Peshawar to enjoy it again the next day, and finally turned up in Islamabad to partake of the official Eid on the third day. This actually happened once and may continue to happen if we go on like this. We must face the sad fact that the ruet-e-hilal committee has caused more friction among Pakistani Muslims than had the lack of oneness of ideals.

We talk incessantly of going scientific and seriously taking to technology in Pakistan at the advent of the 21st century. I honestly believe that unless we take the drastic and simple step of regulating the Eid dates in accordance with astronomy, all this confusion will continue. And if anyone thinks that ruet-e- hilal committees can solve this problem he is living in a fool’s paradise.