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DAWN - Editorial; December 21, 2006

December 21, 2006


Prospects for tourism

THE “Visit Pakistan Year” has been renamed “Destination Pakistan 2007”, but it is obvious that a mere nomenclature change will not help attract more tourists. Few countries can be called “where the mountains meet”, a reference to the fact that three of the world’s mightiest mountain ranges meet in Pakistan’s northern areas. The country’s topographical diversity is fascinating, and it has sub-tropical, temperate and alpine climates in a landmass stretching from sunny beaches in the south to the perpetual snowline in Central Asia. The country also has such exotic places as Hunza — synonymous with longevity — and the engineering wonder that is the Karakoram highway, the serpentine, all-weather road along the Indus that passes through some of the world’s most spectacular scenic spots. On the plains, Lahore with its Mughal monuments has a charm of its own, and so has Khyber Pass, through which conquerors and civilisations have marched into the subcontinent. Elsewhere there are archaeological remains of Moenjodaro, Harappa and Taxila. There are also shrines which inspire lovers of Sufism, while Sindh and Balochistan have golden beaches which are tourist-friendly throughout the year because of a mild climate. Yet much of this remains unknown to the world. In fact, as a foreign journalist once remarked, Pakistan is the world’s best-kept tourism secret.

Many factors have combined to militate against the growth of tourism in Pakistan. Until the revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, western tourists used to come to Pakistan by car. Getting across the Bosporus, they would drive into Iran and Afghanistan and later negotiate the Khyber Pass to enter Pakistan, drive on to Lahore and then cross over into India. For the last 25 years, this source of tourism has almost dried up, and most tourists come to Pakistan by air, and that has curtailed the number of tourists. However, the greatest factor inhibiting tourism growth is the law and order situation. The northern areas used to attract tourists and mountain climbers, but now they are discouraged because of the activities of some extremist elements and groups. The murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl sent the wrong signal to the western world and did enormous harm to Pakistan’s image and to the tourist industry. Many other Muslim countries — Malaysia, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco, for instance — earn billions of dollars because foreign tourists do not feel threatened. Here, however, acts of terrorism, especially those directed against western targets, plus the impression that Pakistan is a haven for terrorists have discouraged tourists from coming here. The tragedy is that while the government takes steps to encourage tourism, foreign governments from time to time issue advisories, warning their nationals against visiting Pakistan.

Many measures need to be taken to boost tourism. These include the need for improving infrastructure and giving the foreign tourist comfortable and affordable means of transport and accommodation. In the northern areas at least, none of this exists. Either there are shanty lodgings or five-star hotels; the average, middle-class tourist prefers neither. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was right when he told foreign tour operators that Pakistan was “an excellent destination for tourism,” but an improvement in infrastructure will have only a marginal impact on tourism, unless the law and order situation significantly improves.

Pakistan-Iran trade ties

AS the visiting Iranian deputy commerce minister on Tuesday offered Pakistan land transit facilities for trade with Central Asia and Russia, Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri dashed to Tehran to sort out the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline problems. The moves come after President Musharraf called his Iranian counterpart earlier, stressing the need to expand bilateral relations. Iran is equally keen on availing itself of transit facilities through Pakistan for increasing its trade with China. Tehran also wants to raise the existing bilateral trade stuck at just over $600 million a year to a billion-dollar mark for a start. Increase in rice imports from Pakistan tops its agenda, but this cannot materialise until Iran cuts the heavy tariffs on direct import of Pakistani rice and even oranges. The absence in Pakistan of a ‘big’ exporter to Iran is cited as hampering advance in bilateral trade. Meanwhile, Islamabad has granted permission for Iranian banks to open their branches in Pakistan to further the prospects of bilateral trade.

Indeed, immense potential exists for trade in various commodities between Pakistan and Iran because of the two countries’ geographical contiguity and hence lower transportation costs. However, this has remained unrealised since the Regional Cooperation for Development days of the 1960s; the Pakistan-Iran-Turkey council was finally buried after the 1979 Iranian revolution. Political differences with Tehran, mainly over Afghanistan, in the following years have constrained Pakistan and Iran from moving to a higher level of cooperation in various fields. However, the saving grace all along has been that despite their differences, neither Pakistan nor Iran has pointed accusatory fingers at each other. The opening up now seen on the part of the two neighbours in the trade and energy sectors can make a good new beginning for expansion in bilateral ties. Here is an opportunity to grab, with China, Central Asian republics and Russia becoming stakeholders in Pakistan-Iran trade relations; a stable Afghanistan can later join the trading block as a natural partner. The opportunity should be seized immediately, without waiting for a tripartite gas pipeline deal — equally important in Pakistan’s energy needs context — to materialise between Iran, Pakistan and India.

Traffic drive put on hold

IT appears that yet another drive by traffic police in Karachi to apprehend violators of road rules has been nipped in the bud. According to a report in this paper, a long-planned campaign against vehicles with tinted glass, fancy number plates, sirens and revolving lights has once again been put on hold because of “political considerations”. Whatever these might be can be gauged from a similar, initially successful, drive earlier this year that was abruptly called off following an incident in which the police apprehended a minister’s car that had tinted glass. It has been said that such campaigns often flounder on account of interference in police work by certain influentials. This pressure comes not only from those with political clout but also from lobbies such as powerful transport associations resisting action against smoke-emitting vehicles. This is very demoralising for the police force whose members, instead of being rewarded for their diligence, are often rebuked for attempting to take action against high-ups or those with influence in places that matter.

For any kind of accountability across the board, it is not only politicians who should desist from breaking the rules or becoming aggressive on being accosted by a police officer. High-ranking police officials, too, should ensure that they stay above any kind of pressure. It is up to them to back their junior officers if they are carrying out their duties in an honest, efficient and impartial manner. Unfortunately, in an atmosphere where many legislators act against the rules and where law-enforcers feel that they have no option but to condone offences for fear of their own jobs, no traffic campaign can be successful in the long run. It is only by shedding discriminatory attitudes and ensuring that no one is above the law that a depoliticised culture can evolve.

Shrinking jobs for Muslims

By M.J. Akbar

HOAX is one of the more cruel four-letter words in the English language. What happens when you double it? You get government — and parliament — policy towards Indian Muslims.

The Lok Sabha recently approved a bill providing a 27 per cent reservation for “Other Backward Classes” in central educational institutions by a voice vote, which means that there was such unanimity that there was no need for a vote. These benefits have no economic conditionality: the rich among these castes will be the ones who will of course benefit far more than the poor.

The government, and parliament, did not need a special commission, and a report with 404 pages of statistics, charts and comments, to tell them to do this. They just went ahead and did it. Other Indian communities get jobs on command. Indian Muslims get commissions. The Rajinder Sachar Committee, appointed soon after Dr Manmohan Singh became prime minister, is the latest one.

The communities who benefit from job and educational reservations are better off than Muslims, financially, socially and psychologically. There are no riots against Other Backward Classes, for instance, that are aimed at terrorising the community and destroying entrepreneurs who may have set up a means of survival.

The Sachar committee has done a good job of exposing implicit and explicit discrimination. But this has been said by other commissions before. My question is to others: does the political class really need another commission to tell them the facts? Don’t ministers and MPs see the truth on a million faces when they go to beg and plead for Muslim votes?

Muslims have a special claim on the government led by Dr Manmohan Singh. Whatever the statistics might say, and I don’t think they will say anything particularly different, Muslims believe that it was their focused energy, and their anger against the Gujarat riots that helped create a decisive swing of 30 to 40 seats and brought the present dispensation into power.

Their expectations from Dr Manmohan Singh are therefore higher. So far all they have got from this government is the usual dollop of rhetoric, and there isn’t much time left. There is a suspicion that after the Uttar Pradesh elections, even this rhetoric might die its usual death. The tensions within the Congress when Dr Singh suggested that Muslims needed the first right on resources were visible to everyone. The prime minister was forced into a fudge, tempting one wag to suggest that he lost the Hindu vote on the first day and the Muslim vote on the second.

The prime minister has a problem with the history of paper-secularism in his own party: the Congress takes Muslims for granted. Since Muslims will vote against the principal anti-Congress party, the BJP, in any case, what option do they have at the ballot box? So all you need is to sprinkle some sincere-sounding phrases in their way, and string together pious intentions in a garland of 15 points. There will always be a convenient excuse to postpone anything specific and substantive.

A fiction that Muslims are also beneficiaries of the reservations regime is the veil that protects the face of paper-secularism. Articles 340, 341 and 342 of the constitution deal with “backward classes”, scheduled castes and tribes. According to the constitutional (scheduled caste) order of 1950, a convert to Islam or Christianity from the scheduled castes, the poorest of the poor, cannot claim any of the privileges of reservation. In 1956, this was amended to include scheduled caste converts to Sikhism within reservation quotas, and in 1990 this facility was extended to Buddhists. No one has explained why Muslims and Christians are still excluded, and of course no one talks about it either. Silence is so helpful when there is a conspiracy of injustice.

Muslim converts from the better-off “OBCs” are, in principle, entitled to reservation benefits. But no one ever mentions how many Muslims have actually got jobs against these reservations, because facts will reveal another hoax. The answer is: minimal. Take state government jobs. The facts are shocking. West Bengal, by any measure a state with a progressive government, has a Muslim population of 25.2 per cent, next only to Assam, with 30.9 per cent.

But only 2.1 per cent of state government employees are Muslims. Delhi, which has secular governments on both tiers, regional and national, has 3.2 per cent Muslims in government jobs despite an 11.7 per cent Muslim population. Kerala has the best numbers: 10.4 per cent jobs for 24.7 per cent of the population, but only because the provincial Muslim League has made effective use of its partnership in power.

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have 18.5 per cent and 16.5 per cent Muslims, but only 5.1 per cent and 7.6 per cent Muslims in state jobs.

There is as much economic inequality among Muslims as in any other Indian community, but Islam has no place for caste. There is no one who is backward or forward in a mosque; everyone is equal. Past caste distinctions therefore have got blurred. Moreover, many of the traditional crafts that defined the “backward” status, as for instance the jobs of weavers or “julahas”, have been made obsolete by the progress of modern technology. These people have moved to urban areas and are labourers in a non-traditional environment.

Third, Muslims do not retain caste appellations like “Yadav”, which they may have had before conversion, and so proof of their “caste status” is difficult if not impossible to find. Only Kerala has done something to ameliorate the problem by setting aside a guaranteed 10 per cent to 12 per cent quota for Muslims within the OBC category. The other states make no such provision.

Hence, as the Sachar Committee reports, “Muslim OBCs are significantly poorer than Hindu OBCs” and “land holdings of Muslim OBCs is almost one-third of that of Hindu OBCs”.

The most revealing statistics are written on the faces of impoverished Muslims eking out a marginal existence in the bylanes of Kolkata, the slums of Mumbai, the illegal sprawls of Delhi and thousands of villages of Bengal, Bihar, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.

Will reserving seats for Muslims as a category help? The instant answer is yes: if this is the way the political game is being played, then why should Muslims and Christians be excluded from the game? Almost everyone else has been allotted a piece of the cake, so why not them? Are they paying the price for being “foreign faiths”, that is, religions that originated outside the Indian subcontinent? If that is the truth, then the establishment should change the truth before the people change the establishment. If that is not the truth, then someone should let us know what the truth is.

The reality is that there isn’t much of a cake left. The major growth of jobs is now in the private sector, not the public sector, which is excellent news for the country. To seek reservations in the private sector, as some backward militants insist on doing, would become a negative burden on growth. In a democracy, economics must occasionally pay a price to politics, but that would be a price too high. There have to be other means through which we can straighten the imbalance of decades.

Economic empowerment through credit to entrepreneurs is definitely more effective than a squabble over clerical jobs. Urban Indian Muslims have organised their economy into small businesses; this is one of the fortunate unintended byproducts of job discrimination. But the key to the future lies in education, and, more specifically, English education. Urdu is a beautiful language, but it is not a language in which jobs can be found anymore. Instead of creating Urdu universities from the budget allotted to Muslims, we need institutions that can make the young professionals in contemporary sciences like management, IT and media.

Where four-letter words are concerned, “jobs” is such an improvement on hoax.

The writer is editor-in-chief of
The Asian Age, New Delhi

Free spirits

WINSTON CHURCHILL did not normally take time out from running the war to visit prisoners, but Helen Duncan was an exceptional convict, the last to be prosecuted under the 1735 Witchcraft Act.

It is almost impossible to imagine the British state in the middle of the 20th century taking a charge of witchcraft seriously, but it did, in 1944 when Ms Duncan was brought to court after using her celebrity as a mystic to claim she could see the spirit of a man drowned on a ship whose sinking was secret.

Last week, 50 years after her death, her family are asking the home secretary, John Reid, to reconsider the case. Behind the wartime prosecution lay fears that Mrs Duncan might discern and reveal plans for the D-Day landings and the result was that she was sentenced at the Old Bailey to nine months in Holloway. The prime minister, who faced more pressing issues, was rightly indignant, instructing his home secretary to look into the “tomfoolery” and, in 1951, he repealed the anachronistic law (the only piece of legislation from the Attlee government to complete its passage under the Tories). But the conviction still stands.

Campaigners for a pardon may well be accused of eccentricity.

—The Guardian, London