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DAWN - Opinion; April 10, 2007

April 10, 2007

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This business of water

By Shahid Javed Burki


THERE are moments in a nation’s history when those who occupy policymaking positions must have the courage to take difficult decisions. They are difficult since their benefits are not immediately apparent but the cost of postponing them can be very great.

My reference here is to the question of water and how best Pakistan can marshal this resource, conserve it for use over a period of time, make an efficient use of what is currently available and distribute it in a way that no segment of society is deprived of this essential need.

Since the subject of water and its appropriate use is a very complex one and since it is of critical importance for the economic, social and political future of the country, I will write a series of articles to provide an analysis of the approaches taken in the past and to suggest that the policymakers must adopt a somewhat different stance to tackle the problem the country confronts.

In the article today, I will argue that policymakers in Pakistan have traditionally used the technological approach to deal with the business of water. This approach served to solve whatever problem was faced by policy makers over the short term. However, over the long term the approach always left the country with serious long-term consequences.

Let me set the stage for discussing Pakistan’s water problem by what we know about the situation in the world, particularly in the developing countries. Water remains a plentiful resource; it runs through the many rivers that flow all over the world, connecting mountains with oceans, or taking water from lakes into the seas. Water falls as rain; and is available in large underground reservoirs. Vast quantities of it are available in the seas.

The use of sea water for human consumption is expensive since it involves desalination and that, in spite of some major developments in technology in recent years, remains a costly business. It is only done on an extensive scale in the oil rich countries of the Middle East that have a great deal of surplus energy to use for this purpose.

The Aral Sea in Central Asia is the most vivid example of the misuse of an important water resource. It has shrunk by as much as two-thirds of its original size as water was drawn during the Soviet era from the rivers that feed it. The tapped water was used for growing cotton in the area. Since cotton needs a lot of fertiliser, insecticides and pesticides, the chemicals used on the land ran into the rivers that flowed into the Aral Sea. Consequently the water that is left in the sea is over-salinated and polluted.

While the assault on the Aral Sea is the most egregious example of water’s misuse, the wasteful use of this precious resource happens all the time. The amount of water used in agriculture; as an industrial input; for everyday activities such as cooking, bathing, and maintaining lawns would be considerably less if it was properly priced. I will take up the subject of appropriate pricing of water in a later article.

There are many examples of misuse of water in Pakistan as well. The consequence of this is that Pakistan today is considered as one of the “water stressed” countries in the world where the per capita availability of water will outstrip its demand. The situation is likely to worsen quickly as global warming begins to take its toll and as the climate begins to change.

The most serious result of this will be that the amount of snows that fall on the Himalayas and other mountain ranges that feed the country’s many rivers will significantly decline. This will diminish by significant amounts the availability of water in the country’s rivers. Since the supply of water is inelastic — it cannot be increased beyond what nature is prepared to provide – public policy will have to step in with policies to conserve whatever is available.

The use of technology for solving a problem is usually an easier option compared to adopting policies that change the way people look at a particular resource. The most recent example of this is global warming where the American government in particular is very reluctant to use pricing as a way of curtailing the demand for energy. It is relying on the use of technologies. The current favourite is the production of bio-fuels.

However, the most effective way of dealing with this subject is through the pricing mechanism and the use of fiscal policies. This needs political will which Washington at this time does not seem able to muster.

Much of what has happened to Pakistan’s abundant water resource can be traced to the use of technology without reflecting on the secondary effect of this approach. The use of technology to exploit the abundant water resources of what is Pakistan today began during the British rule of India. Britain, having been alarmed by the large toll on human and animal life during recurrent famines in the densely populated provinces in the northeast, decided to bring water from the Indus River system to the uncultivated but potentially rich lands of the Punjab and Sindh.

The idea was to increase the domestic output of food grains to feed the people who faced famines almost every decade. A complicated system of canals was constructed that took stored water from the Indus and its many tributaries to the parched but fertile lands in India’s northwest.

However, land logging and salinity came with irrigation. These developments could have been avoided had the government taught the new farmers the correct use of water for irrigation. This was not done. The British — like all colonial masters — had a short time horizon. They were not concerned with the long-term development of their domain.

As the immediate problem was resolved by bringing virgin land available in Punjab and Sindh under the production of food grains, the British administration was not much concerned with the long term consequences of the investments they had made in developing irrigation.

Developing and applying the science of irrigation would have taken expenditure of resources and expense of time; the British were not prepared to spend either. Pakistan was left with the problem once the British departed.

That the problem had become acute was something Pakistani governments and scientists began to recognise in the 1950s. But the country was too preoccupied with politics to turn its attention to these kinds of issues.

The twin problems of water logging and salinity received government attention only after President Ayub Khan put a development minded administration in office. Deeply concerned about what was happening to the soil cover in many parts of the country, he appealed to the United States for help. During a meeting with President John Kennedy in Washington in 1961, he explained the problem to the American president who offered to help.

The American help came in the form of advice by Roger Ravelle, a Harvard University scientist with considerable repute and a vast amount of experience in the area. Ravelle assembled a team of experts in soil management and irrigation systems to develop a programme for Pakistan.

I will return to this technological solution to a problem created by the misuse of irrigation water a little later. Before returning to it, I will refer to another water problem and another technical solution for resolving it that left a deep mark on the country. This was the problem created by the messy division of Punjab that left the province’s large and integrated irrigation system divided in two parts. India laid claim to some of the waters of the Indus River system, particularly the water that flowed into the irrigation system from the head works that were now on the Indian side of the border. Diversion of this water would have created havoc on the Pakistani side.

There is growing evidence that the British administration headed in New Delhi by Lord Louis Mountbatten went out of its way to draw the Punjab border in favour of India, particularly to make it easier for it to access water from the irrigation works that were in place.

This is one of the themes in Stanley Wolpert’s latest book on the Indian partition. He uses government papers from that period to show how Mountbatten agreed to make last minute changes in the Punjab boundary line proposed by Sir Cyril Radcliffe to accommodate India.

At one point, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, fully aware that games were being played by the administration of Jawaharlal Nehru to cripple Pakistan economically, threatened to go to war if India tinkered with the irrigation system.

A technical solution was found to the problem during the tenure of President Ayub Khan when the two countries signed the Indus Water Treaty which apportioned three rivers of the system (the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab) to Pakistan and the remaining three (the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej) to India. In addition a multi-billion dollar scheme for building replacement works in Pakistan was agreed to by the two sides. To be implemented under the supervision of the World Bank, the vast programme envisaged the construction of link canals to transport water from the western to the eastern rivers. This meant cutting across the natural flow of water and contributed to the aggravation of the water-logging problem that was by then already very severe.

Tubewell technology arrived in the country in the early sixties in part to deal with the salinity and water logging problems. In the middle of that decade, Pakistan inaugurated the Salinity Control and Reclamation Project developed by Roger Revelle.The concept behind the project was a simple one. Large-bore tubewells were sunk in the saline areas and water brought out by them was thrown into the canals thus diluting its salinity. This helped to lower the water table and reduced soil-salinity. The farming community eagerly adopted this technology for their own use, augmenting with subsoil water the water that was available through the extensive system of canals. This eased the water constraint in many areas and also helped to place a check on the spread of salinity.

However, before the project could be declared a success, its ill effects began to be noted. Among them was the depletion of the aquifers formed over millions of years. Some of the water is “fossil water” that has accumulated underground for thousands of years, sometimes over half a million years, well before the end of the last ice age. Extracting this water at a rate which is greater than its natural replenishment eventually destroys the aquifers, with unimaginable consequences.

The excessive pumping of water by the use of technology not only did harm in Pakistan’s countryside, it also had negative consequences in the urban areas. By adopting what is essentially an ad hoc approach to meeting the rapidly increasing need for water by the people living in the large cities, governments in various parts of the country may have addressed the immediate problem but they also brought long-term headaches.

The situation in Lahore illustrates this well. Large tubewells were sunk by the authorities in the city to meet the demand for water. These wells lowered the water table to the extent that there is some danger that large sink holes may appear in the city if ameliorative action is not taken.

The problem of water scarcity, therefore, needs to be dealt with comprehensively, not just by the use of technology. What are the various instruments of public policy available to address the issue in a way that in solving one problem new ones don’t get created? I will take up this question in the next article on water in this space.

Understanding the jihadi mindset

By Dr Tariq Rahman


RECENTLY two incidents have sent shockwaves among ordinary Pakistanis as well as western observers. In the first one, militants, using the name of Islam, burst into a school in Tank and tried to persuade students to go with them for jihad. The principal of the school resisted only to be abducted from his house and released, after being traumatised in the process, two days later.

In the second, women students of the Jamia Hafsa, a madressah in Islamabad, tried to close down video and audio shops and then, in a mood of defiant vigilante militancy, kidnapped three women on charges of running a brothel. Now, they have set up a court to legitimise vigilante action.

We keep hearing, with deepening dismay, of bombings, suicide bombings and fighting in the name of Islam by militants who are called by various names including ‘jihadis’. But what is a jihadi? How does he (or she) think? What circumstances or ideas create the jihadi mindset? These are questions which bother most of us.

Psychologist Sohail Abbas has provided answers to them in a book entitled ‘Probing the Jihadi Mindset’ (2007). The book has been published by the National Book Foundation and is easy to read. Although it is a survey, the answers are accessible to the ordinary reader with no specialised training. The survey is based on 517 jihadis divided into the Peshawar group (198 people) and the Haripur group (319 people). Both groups comprise men ranging between the ages of 17 and 72 years. These men went to Afghanistan to fight against the Americans after 9/11.

In the Peshawar sample, however, some were already present in Afghanistan. The defining feature common to both groups is that they believed and participated, or wanted to contribute to, in what they believed was a jihad against foreign, non-Muslim, aggressors.

Most jihadis (74.1 per cent) were below 30 years of age and many were from Punjab. The majority came from Pashto-speaking backgrounds (48 per cent) while the percentage of Pashto-speakers in the population of Pakistan is only 15.4. This implies that the Pashtuns have been affected most by religious fervour.

However, in this case they may have joined the war because the Taliban, who are Pashtuns, were under attack. Urdu-speaking Mohajirs, whose share in the population is only 7.6 per cent, contributed 10.6 per cent of jihadis. This means that, despite the ethnic appeal of the MQM, the urban areas of Sindh are still prone to potential religious violence.

The jihadis were not completely uneducated. Whereas the illiterate population of Pakistan is 45.19 per cent, among the jihadis 44.3 per cent were illiterate. In the Haripur sample, however, only 23.2 per cent were illiterate.

Even more interesting is the fact that, contrary to common perception, most jihadis had not been educated in madressahs. While 35.5 per cent did attend madressahs they stayed there mostly less than six months (indeed merely 14 per cent stayed beyond that period). In the Haripur sample, 54.5 per cent had received no religious education while 45.5 per cent had — but again, even those who did receive religious education received very little of it. In short, as Dr Sohail Abbas concludes: ‘They were recruited largely from the mainstream of the Pakistan population. Their literacy level is above the average of the general population’.

This, indeed, is what reports on 9/11 tell us. Those who join radical Islamic groups are predominantly educated in technology and science. They do not necessarily belong to madressahs though, considering that the proportion of these religious seminaries to state educational institutions is so small, there is a proportionately large number of madressah students in radical Islamic circles in Pakistan.

According to the survey, 48.5 per cent of jihadis said that their families were more religious than those around them. However, they were not motivated for jihad by the family. In most cases (59.6 per cent in Haripur and 39.7 in Peshawar), they were motivated by religious leaders.

The peer group also had a strong influence and, of course, there was self-motivation. Indeed, not surprisingly, the jihadis saw themselves as the most religious member of the family. Some tried to change the family’s religious orientation stopping others from going to the tombs of saints because they believed it was forbidden.

Another interesting aspect of the jihadis’ attitude towards their families is that they did not bother about hurting or worrying their families. Nor, in the case of married men, did they think as to who would look after them. In short, ideology was so strong in their minds so as to break family bonds which are otherwise powerful in Pakistan.

These people also appeared to be less sociable than other Pakistanis. About 49 per cent reported limited social contacts. Maybe, in the absence of places for socialisation, the mosque filled in that gap in their lives. In any case, according to the survey, they were more emotionally unstable (29 per cent) than ordinary men (only nine per cent). Villagers, it appears, are more stable than the inhabitants of urban slums possibly because the villages are still rooted in a strong kinship network and tradition. In the city one is living in a void and feels rootless.

Most jihadis (65.5 per cent) were not sure that Osama bin Laden was involved in 9/11 but were sure that the Americans attacked Afghanistan because they wanted to destroy Islam (79.3 per cent) and that Islam was in danger (69 per cent). They wanted the glory of Islam from jihad (73.7 per cent) and many (39.4 per cent) also wanted to harm the Americans in the process. They had strong views and, in most cases, these remained unchanged although they were jailed in the end.

The book contains eight stories based on the lives of jihadis whose names have been changed to hide their real identities. These make for touching as well as harrowing reading. Basically, these are confused men without much knowledge of international or national events. They live lives of appalling misery and deprivation. Religion and, or the opinion of significant others, give value and meaning to their lives.

Jihadis lack entertainment and are fed by prejudices by their school textbooks, TV, radio and friends. Then, at some stage in life, they are persuaded to join the jihad by a religious figure, friend or relative. This gives them fresh enthusiasm and a new meaning in life. Instead of being treated like the scum of the earth the way poor people are treated in Pakistan, they are treated like heroes — even if it is temporarily.

Moreover, they are convinced that, whether they live or die, lose or win, they will have an exalted other-worldly reward as well as high reputation in their reference group in this world. Thus they risk everything to join jihadi movements. The survey contains much more which is of interest to those who want to understand Islamic extremism and militancy in Pakistan.

Perhaps the risk-taking attitude of the Jamia Hafsa students as well as the militant aggression of the Pakistani Taliban will become clear if we use these insights to study them. This survey needs wider dissemination and serious study by all concerned citizens who value tolerance, peace and democracy in Pakistan.

But what are we to do now that vigilante groups have started operating in the name of Islamisation even in Islamabad? In my opinion, the press and civil society must protest in clear terms that nobody can take the law into their own hands. The government, which cracks down on protests of other kinds, must impose the law on these vigilante groups too.

However, for doing so the government must have the moral legitimacy which comes out of fairness and strict adherence to the law itself. It is obvious to citizens that the law is bent and the judiciary insulted whenever it suits the rulers. For a long time the officials of the state — military, intelligence agencies, police and civilian bureaucracy — have been thrashing up ordinary citizens whenever they have annoyed them. Is this the way for creating respect for the law?

If evenly and fairly applied, the law is there to protect everybody including madressah students. For it is among them that people are picked up and sent to unknown and illegal prisons; it is for people of their kind that the Guatanamo Bay kind of horror holes are made.

The humanitarians of the world have a big struggle ahead of them — the struggle to re-establish the rule of law, habeas corpus, civilised values of tolerance and peace and democratic freedom with full freedom to minorities and dissidents for all. In this struggle, besides a strong and fair government, only a good educational system teaching humanitarian values can help.

Women in politics

By Madeleine Bunting


HERE’S a dream. It's the 2009 G7 summit and the photo call of the seven world leaders. All eyes are trained on the trio of women at the centre of the group: the US president, the French president and the German chancellor.

To mark this moment of female achievement, these three world leaders have invited the Chilean and Liberian presidents to the summit as observers. The five women released a joint statement on a huge fund for women's health and education after a private meeting.

Reality erupts rudely into this daydream when one imagines the headlines and stories which might accompany such a picture: would President Ségolène Royal have got beyond being routinely referred to as a "glamorous mother of four"? Would President Hillary Clinton still be described as cold and calculating? Would Chancellor Merkel's leadership style still be characterised as one of "female modesty"? And would reporters be able to resist frequent comment on the clothing and hairstyles of these political leaders? Depressingly, the conventions that dominate political reporting seem to cling even more stubbornly to gender stereotypes than the political institutions themselves.

There is less than two weeks to go until the first round of voting in the French presidential elections. Every way the UK looks - across the Channel, across the Atlantic, across the North Sea – a woman is at the centre of politics, and their gender is at the centre of political debate. Gender is no longer an issue of competence. The crude question of "can a woman hold top political office?" has transmuted into exacting assessments of the candidates' personal attributes according to sexist stereotypes.

But what makes the campaigns of both Royal, the socialist presidential candidate in France, and Clinton, bidding for the Democratic nomination in the US, so novel is how both these daughters of the feminist movement are deliberately using these stereotypes, pioneering a new way of women doing politics. Breaking away from a Thatcher model (adopted by Angela Merkel) of never explicitly drawing attention to the fact of one's sex, Royal and Clinton have put the fact that they are women and mothers at the centre of their campaigns. It is a fascinating experiment.

"Because I am a woman, things will be different," declared Royal. "The fact that I'm a woman and a mom is part of what I am," announced Clinton. At her recent rallies, Royal has had the Marseillaise played and the French tricolour flag flying as she launches herself as a modern day Marianne - the famed symbol of the French revolution - storming the barricades of an old, staid, male political world. Her use of a very feminine wardrobe of pretty skirts and pale (often white) jackets is a contrast to the usual female political wardrobe of sober trouser suits and pillar-box bright colours. She makes no apologies for her femininity; "Mother Nation", the admiring newspaper Libération has christened her.

Clinton's style may be different, but she also emphasises her femininity as a sharp break with the prevailing political culture. Rejecting the Texan cowboy image of the current US incumbents, she made the first public appearance of her presidential bid at a children's healthcare centre, holding hands with a child. Motherhood is now offered by both candidates as a political asset - a form of authority and leadership.

In a politics driven by personality, motherhood offers some shortcuts. It helps humanise the politician, it can be used to project an emotional warmth and empathy in an age when the primary requirement of a political leader is that they "understand" the voter. Voters show in polling that they think motherhood makes women less driven by self-interest and more by the welfare of others. At a time when politicians are held in such low regard and there is pervasive political cynicism, the "mother nation" figure has some real emotional resonance in both electorates.

But motherhood is a double-edged political instrument. Motherhood and ambition are still an awkward combination on both sides of the Atlantic, as is clearly evident in the reception of both Clinton and Royal in recent months. Accusations of being "calculating", "ambitious", "cold" have dogged them from the start of their campaigns. Such terms when applied to a male candidate would hardly be seen as a drawback - what president hasn't been ambitious? - but it makes these mother politicians appear less motherly. That then raises questions about their sincerity and/or their opportunism, the one issue on which voters are unforgiving.

The difficult task Clinton and Royal have to pull off is to meet two sets of conflicting and shifting expectations as both good mothers and good politicians. In her recent book, Royal attempted to counter critics of her mothering by declaring that she thinks of her children (the oldest is 22, the youngest 14) all the time and that she would give up politics "without even a thought" if one of her children were sick. It is an odd way of laying out your political stall.

Being the first women to run for president offers a dramatic opportunity for a country to make a fresh start, a sharp break with the past. That is what thrust Michelle Bachelet into power as Chilean president a year ago. She was an icon of a new future for Chile, reconciled after its violent past and emerging from its entrenched social conservatism. Mary Robinson played something of a similar role when she became president of Ireland. Their elections transformed the image of their countries overnight. This is the big pitch of both Clinton and Royal, but there has to be a real hunger for that change - and in neither the US or France is that self-evident.

For all Clinton and Royal's boldness in using their sex, they are both well aware that it is the issue which could just as easily break their political careers as make them. Polling for the Clinton camp indicates that at least a third of the US electorate do not believe the US is ready for a woman president - regardless of her attributes. Meanwhile Royal has been dogged by persistent sexism. "Who will look after the kids?" was one comment from a party comrade on hearing of her presidential bid. Also, their husbands could prove a real liability. It's far from clear whether either Royal or Clinton's partners can be as supportive as a wife is routinely expected to be. Royal's partner makes no bones about his own thwarted political ambitions. It's an issue that fascinates France because it reflects the competitive tensions of so many dual-career couples. —Dawn/ Guardian Service



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007