DAWN - Editorial; June 18, 2007

Published June 18, 2007

Meeting Baloch grievances

TEN months after Nawab Akbar Bugti’s death in the military operation in Bhambore hills, the militancy in Balochistan shows no signs of abating. The Governor’s warning and the round-up of suspects on Friday are just two indications of the kind of situation prevailing in Balochistan. Evidently, after a brief period of demoralisation following Mr Bugti’s death, the militants have regained confidence and are showing renewed vigour. Speaking to newsmen on Friday, Chief Minister Mir Jam Mohammad Yousuf warned of a crackdown “on elements behind Thursday’s night attack”. He was referring to the death of 10 soldiers in a deadly ambush in the Zarghoon area, for which the Balochistan Liberation Army has claimed responsibility. So far 28 persons have been detained and more are likely to be arrested as three investigation teams get to work to trace out the militants behind the deadly attack. This is part of what the chief minister called “a comprehensive plan” formulated to flush out the extremists. He also claimed that the attack was launched at the behest of those political elements “who have been hurling threats” of this nature. Unfortunately, over the last several years this kind of approach has not helped matters.

Since the full-blown insurgency began in March 2005 in the Bugti area, the government has relied mostly on force to seek a solution to what is basically a political problem stemming from Balochistan’s economic backwardness. Even though mostly a desert, the province is not without its economic assets, foremost being minerals, including gas, copper and gold. Besides, there are fisheries resources and a tourism potential that has so far remained unexploited. Agriculture remains primitive, there are hardly any industries, the rate of literacy is low and the middle class is small. Besides, no government has made any serious efforts to break the hold of sardars, who have a vested interest in the continuation of the socio-economic status quo characterised by a monopolisation of economic and political power by feudals, who keep their own people in serfdom. Mr Bhutto abolished the sardari system, but the Zia government restored it. The result is that Balochistan’s cause is championed by sardars, who often compromise with the government for personal gains or fight among themselves to settle scores. Balochistan has a string of small fishing ports — Sonmiani, Ormara, Jivani and Gwadar — but it has taken successive governments nearly 60 years to finally think of turning Gwadar into a major harbour. However, the Baloch fear that they may be denied their share of jobs in Gwadar’s development, adding to their sense of grievance at a time when the presence of hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees in their midst has created demographic pressures on Baloch society.

A relevant question here is the quantum of provincial autonomy as enshrined in the Constitution. The Baloch want a revision of the relevant clauses to give the province greater autonomy. Besides, they allege that even the existing quantum of provincial autonomy is denied to them. Some time back, two parliamentary committees met a cross-section of Baloch politicians and made some useful recommendations. However, nothing has been heard about the proposals for a long time, and progress seems to have come to a halt, confirming some Baloch leaders in their view that all political options have been denied to them and they have no choice but to take up arms.

Tourism: the right approach

WHY have serious law and order issues in countries like Sri Lanka or Indonesia not affected their tourism industries as badly as it has Pakistan’s? This is what the tourism ministry should ask itself before launching grand plans to attract foreign tourists. The latest effort, under the ambitious “Visit Pakistan 2007” programme, is to open up Bamburet valley near Chitral for the first time to tourists. The NWFP secretary for tourism said on Friday that the government had finalised ways to make the valley accessible and created good facilities for tourists. Undoubtedly, the Kalash valley is a beautiful area, but tourists — including locals who want to escape the urban heat and drabness — want more than just scenery. The spring festival in Chitral in May, for example, is more likely to attract tourists as they can partake of the festivities with the Kalash people. The same is true of the Shandur Polo Festival — scheduled for next month —as it is a sport blended with recreation. Otherwise, tourists are likely to get bored in the valleys with nothing to do but eat and sleep — and if facilities for that are poor, no one is going to come, and one cannot blame them for that.

A tourist is likely to find his or her way around the large cities in Pakistan, as there is much to see and explore, though the museums and heritage sites are in a bad state and need to be repaired and renovated. The government needs to stop spending on promoting tourism campaigns abroad and instead spend that money on repairing PTDC hotels so that they are comfortable to stay in. These aspects make a person’s visit memorable. Instead of hoping to attract tourists from countries which have issued travel advisories against Pakistan, the government should seek to attract visitors from the Middle East and Southeast Asia, as they have a lot of money to spend. Indonesia, for example, has seen a surge in visitors from the Middle East — 44,000 in 2005 and it hopes to more than double that number this year — proving that the right marketing package is the key to boosting tourism.

Dwindling seafood exports

THE government has only itself to blame for the projected loss of millions of dollars in seafood exports. Setting itself an export target of $210 million for the current financial year, by the end of April it had managed to earn only $157 million. This is not surprising considering that the European Union, a major buyer, suspended Pakistani seafood exports to its member countries in mid-April. This is not the first time that such a ban has been imposed and it may not be the last unless action is taken by the harbour authorities and processing units to comply with the EU’s strict requirements on the hygienic packing of seafood. Although there is hope that the ban may be lifted soon, the EU’s concerns about the quality of Pakistani seafood are justified. To retain its freshness, fish must be handled with extreme care and stored under the right temperature and in clean surroundings. Unfortunately, EU teams have found several deficiencies in the handling of seafood, and although there have been regular attempts to upgrade facilities, these have fallen short of the objective of catching, storing and processing fish under unpolluted, hygienic conditions.

Considering that Pakistan, despite possessing large stocks of a variety of seafood, is not a fish-eating country, it would be a shame if its marine resources were not exploited in a manner that would boost the seafood industry and enhance its export earnings. The industry is also the means of livelihood for thousands of fishermen and can be expanded further to provide more employment opportunities. There is recognition of this — indeed, the government itself previously banned exports because of poor harbour conditions — but action has been slow and not sustained so far. Hopefully, the government realises this and will show a stronger commitment to following EU regulations on the handling of seafood exports.

Public welfare and democracy

By Javid Husain

IT IS a tragedy of monumental proportions that the governmental machinery in Pakistan, which was supposed to be a welfare state working for the well-being of the common man based on Islamic egalitarian principles, was hijacked soon after independence by the ruling classes belonging to feudalists, senior bureaucrats, unprincipled politicians and ambitious military generals who transformed it into an elitist system.

The scarlet thread that runs through the political upheavals in the country during the past six decades is the continuation of this elitism which has made our government a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.

This coalition of feudalists, senior bureaucrats, generals and unprincipled politicians has so far defeated each and every attempt to give the country’s governmental system a people-friendly orientation and to make the country a welfare state. Every government which came to power has blamed its predecessor for having neglected the well-being of the common man. But when one examines the record closely, one finds that behind the façade of slogans and concern about the common man, the real determining factor for the government’s economic and social policies has been the interest of the elitist classes. Unfortunately, the present political dispensation in the country is no exception to this rule.

The top priority in a welfare state is improvement of the living standards of the people through the availability of basic necessities of life to the common man at affordable prices, provision of education, health facilities and shelter for all, and equality of opportunities to enable every member of society to develop and realise fully his or her inherent potential. This in turn requires a focus on economic development so that the benefits of high growth rates may be passed on to the common man.

A sustainable high rate of economic growth is predicated on high national saving and investment rates, a higher priority to allocation of resources for economic development than for military purposes, and improvement of the quality of manpower through education and healthcare. It is unrealistic to expect in this modern knowledge-driven world economy that a country, which neglects the education of its younger generation on whom its future depends, will achieve high growth rates on a sustainable basis, compete successfully at the international level in this age of globalization or improve significantly the lot of the common people.

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s record shows that it has over the past six decades failed almost each and every test of a welfare state. Its obsession with short-term aspects of national security has resulted in skewed priorities which, by allocating a disproportionately high level of resources to defence, have stunted the country’s economic growth rates, consigned the common man to a life of misery and deprivation, destabilised the country politically and in the process have even endangered the long-term national security.

From the very beginning, the mindset and behaviour pattern of the unelected leaders belonging to the military and the civilian bureaucracy have reflected the policies of the erstwhile colonial power in whose service they had spent most of their lives. In line with the thinking of the colonial power of the pre-independence days, they entertained a rather low opinion about the ability of the people to govern themselves through their elected representatives giving rise to the notion of guided democracy. In the process, they turned into “brown sahibs” conveniently ignoring the fact that Pakistan was created through the votes of the people under the leadership of the Quaid-i-Azam and through the tireless efforts of his team of dedicated politicians.

Based on this self-serving assumption about the low abilities of the people of Pakistan, these unscrupulous elements, both on the civilian and military sides, found it perfectly logical to distort the democratic processes and undermine elected governments on one pretext or another. It was also unrealistic to expect that the welfare of the people at large would be the focus of their governmental activities. The present political dispensation in the country is another specimen of this retrogressive and undemocratic thinking. The whole approach behind the present political dispensation in the country reflects the diarchic system of the British days when the deliberations and the activities of the representatives of the people were supervised at the central and provincial levels by the Viceroy and the governors respectively representing the colonial power. In the present political set-up in the country, an institution of the state has arrogated to itself that supervisory role.

Besides being saddled for more than five decades with a class of rulers for whom the welfare of the people is a matter of secondary importance, Pakistan from its very inception was faced by the Kashmir issue and India’s strong animosity and hegemonic designs which forced it to divert more resources for the military than what its fragile economy could afford. The net result has been that during most of Pakistan’s economic history, the net revenue receipts of the federal government has fallen short of its current expenditure as is the case in the federal budget for 2007-08 (net revenue receipts of Rs902 billion against the current expenditure of Rs1056 billion), forcing it to rely on loans and borrowings to meet its current expenditure.

The situation was aggravated by our historically low levels of national saving and investment rates which in recent years have hovered around 18 per cent and 20 per cent of GDP respectively. By way of comparison, the fast growing economies of India, China and other East Asian countries save and invest between 30 to 50 per cent of their GDP annually. The comparatively low level of allocation of resources for economic development has, historically speaking, stunted Pakistan’s growth and kept the level of unemployment high.

For example, the per capita incomes of Pakistan and South Korea were almost the same in early 1960s. According to the Economist, London, South Korea’s GDP per head currently is $20,240 as against only $925 for Pakistan for the fiscal year 2006-07 according to our government claims. The same factor is mainly responsible for our lower GDP growth rate of 7.0 per cent during 2006-07 as against the GDP growth rates of 11.1 per cent and 9.1 per cent respectively for China and India.

The lethal combination of the low level of GDP per head, relatively low economic growth rates, the heavy burden of the military and other non-productive expenditure, large inequalities of income and wealth (according to the Pakistan Economic Survey for 2006-07, the share of consumption of the richest 20 per cent is almost five times that of the bottom 20 per cent population of the country), and a ruling class which has been insensitive to the plight of the people has resulted in the neglect of the welfare of the people by successive governments, including the present one. The net result is that Pakistan lags far behind other countries when judged on the basis of various human development and welfare criteria.

According to the UN Human Development Report for 2006, Pakistan was ranks 134th out of 177 countries on the scale of human development index. Our national expenditure on education remains around two per cent of GNP against the international target of four per cent. Our literacy percentage is woefully low even compared with some of the South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and India. Our expenditure on health is as low as about 0.5 per cent of GNP. There is an acute shortage of housing in the country. A large percentage of the country’s population is groaning under extreme poverty compounded by the high rate of inflation, especially affecting the necessities of life. The current level of unemployment is higher than what it was in 1999.

The country needs to take a number of tough decisions if it wants to set the economy on the high growth rate trajectory and improve the living standards of the people. It must raise the national saving and investment rates substantially by avoiding conspicuous consumption (the country’s leaders must set an example in this regard), offering attractive incentives and return on savings, and facilitating investment by both local and foreign investors. This wouldn’t be possible unless, the military expenditure is strictly controlled and subjected to parliamentary scrutiny.

The budget for 2007-08 has allocated Rs275 billion for defence but in actual fact it is likely to be close to Rs80 billion if one adds military pensions and the amount of Rs60 billion received annually from the US for support to anti-terrorist activities by the armed forces. The control on defence expenditure would require that like China we should pursue a low-risk foreign policy and avoid Kargil-type adventures.

The expenditure on education, which is prerequisite for economic and human development, should be increased to reach international targets in the shortest possible time. All possible measures must be adopted to improve health and low-cost housing facilities for the people at large. The people must have easy access to necessities of life at affordable prices. Unfortunately, the budget for 2007-08 once again reflects the low priority that the present government attaches to these issues.

None of this, however, would be possible if the country remains tied to a ruling class which is mainly interested in promoting its vested interests rather than the well-being of the people. There is a greater risk of this happening under a military-led regime which. There is a dire need, therefore, for the return of the armed forces to barracks to focus on their professional duties and leaving the running of the government to the representatives of the people elected through fair and free elections. Only elected governments, which have to seek the mandate of the people periodically, can be expected to remain sensitive to the people’s concerns and the requirements of their welfare.

The writer is a former ambassador.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007



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