Education & the budgets
THE budget — be it a household’s, a corporate entity’s or a government’s — is not just a document containing a collection of figures indicating the financial status of the one to be guided by it. It also reflects the priorities and preferences of its author. This is more so in the case of a government which has the power and resources to address a wide range of issues to do the maximum good to the maximum numbers. Hence, the budgets presented by the federal government in Islamabad and the four provincial governments speak volumes about where we are heading. The sector which is one of the most important and deserves close examination in the context of the budgets is education because of its strong impact on the potential of citizens, the productivity of the economy and its multiplier effect on every walk of life.
In order to display their commitment to education — considered to be a yardstick of a government’s concern for public welfare — our rulers have conventionally boasted of the growing education budget. A few months ago it was promised that the education budget would be raised to four per cent of the GDP in the incoming financial year. This has not happened. It would have called for a massive increase in the allocations for education to reach that goal. Spending on education continues to stagnate at the level of two per cent of the GDP. However, it also needs to be pointed out that simply a massive injection of funds in the education sector without enhancing capacity and instituting checks and balances to control corruption has proved to be a futile exercise. Take the case of development spending on education in Punjab. The budgeted allocation for development in 2006-07 (Rs9.3bn) was not utilised fully and the revised estimates for the year stand at Rs4.2bn. Similarly, Sindh showed Rs12.7bn as the revenue expenditure on education in 2006-07 but this had to be revised to Rs11.8bn. Even worse is the case of the growing embezzlement in the education sector as illustrated by numerous ghost schools, falling standards of education, schools without adequate physical facilities and the high rate of teachers’ absenteeism.
Another matter of deep concern is the government’s misguided approach to the various sub-sectors of education which betrays its utter lack of understanding of the educational needs of the country. Primary education has been wilfully neglected with the bulk of the provincial education funds going to the tertiary sector. The higher education sector continues to be the blue-eyed boy of the federal government which funds it generously. It appears that it still has not dawned on our policymakers that primary schooling determines the quality of university graduates and not the other way around. It is shocking that teachers’ training has hardly received the emphasis it deserves. Even more surprising is
the trend to spend large amounts on the infrastructure than on the improvement of education. The impression one gets is that the governments are happy with the present state of things. They want the private sector to produce a small elite of highly educated men and women whose number would suffice to run the country’s top tier. They are not convinced that good education is the birthright of every child born in Pakistan.
Tracing the ‘disappeared’
WHILE it is good to note that the current political crisis in the country has not been allowed to overshadow the case of the missing people, the government must be censured for not making greater efforts to find those who have ‘disappeared’. Hundreds are believed to be in the custody of intelligence agencies. Some organisations, like the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz, claim that the actual figure runs into the thousands. Unmoved by calls to trace the missing people, the government has been reluctant to provide relevant information to the court or to follow judicial summons to send its representatives to appear before the Supreme Court, where the case of 254 missing people is being heard. The only positive aspect is that the stage has been set for a debate on the extent of the power of the various intelligence agencies in the country and the level of compliance by the government with the orders of the court. The parameters of authority need to be clearly defined so that measures can be taken to restrict the actions of the agencies which operate beyond the orbit of the law. Although the government claims that a number of missing persons have been traced — a few have been recovered — those released from custody have had horror tales to tell of their detention. Indeed, there are cases where disappearances have been linked to the settlement of personal scores.
One hopes that the judicial proceedings will not only procure the release of those who are in custody but also fix responsibility for actions that violate the Constitution and include the arbitrary detention of people on the mere suspicion of their indulging in acts of religious or nationalist violence. The law is there to give each person a fair trial following proper prosecution. Unless the courts effectively curtail the powers of the agencies, the trend to pick up people on mere suspicion and subject them to torture, while holding them incommunicado, will continue. Civil society, too, has kept the pressure on. It must not slacken at a time when the answers to important questions regarding the power of the security agencies seem within reach.
State of storm-water drains
OWNING up to mistakes is seen as a sign of weakness in Pakistan. Little wonder then that no lessons are learnt from past folly and the same blunders are repeated year after year. Perhaps this has something to do with a macho mentality, or maybe the poor work ethic and ad hocism that are the hallmarks of government organisations. In any case, the end result is the same: complete lack of planning and a civic infrastructure that is falling apart. Take the case of Karachi’s storm-water drains and their perfunctory cleaning prior to the onset of the monsoon. What should be a year-round exercise is ignored until the last minute, by which time it may be too late to prevent the city
from inundation when the monsoon comes. Karachi’s 232-kilometre waste-water drainage network comprises 64 major storm-water drains and 430 link channels. Of the seven nullahs that are of critical importance, only one has so far been cleaned and desilted. But this is hardly surprising given that the cleaning exercise — a massive undertaking given the size of the network — was initiated by the city district government just a fortnight before the expected start of the monsoon.
On August 11, 2006, the city nazim had ordered that the cleaning of storm-water drains must continue throughout the year and should not be treated as an emergency procedure. That directive to the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board either fell on deaf ears or was mere talk meant only for public consumption. Predictably, the first downpour of the monsoon inundated several city roads, and the fear now is that further heavy rains could lead to a complete civic breakdown. The city is poised for a repeat of what happened not only last year but in every single monsoon to date.
New thinking on Kashmir
FOR the greater part of its history, Kashmir has maintained an independent existence. Its individuality has been shaped by its distinctive natural setting, the diligence and craftsmanship of its people, its long experience of phases of growth and decline and its sustained traditions of amity and tolerance between the different religious or cultural communities.
The conflict over the disputed territory of Kashmir is soluble only if a pragmatic strategy is established to set the stage for a just and durable settlement. Since we are concerned at this time with setting the stage for settlement, it is both untimely and harmful to encourage controversies about the most desirable solution.
We deprecate the raising of quasior pseudoquestions during the preparatory phase about the final settlement. It only serves to befog the issue and to convey the wrong impression that the dispute is too complex to be resolved and that India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir hold equally inflexible positions. Such an impression does great injury to the cause.
Peace and justice in Kashmir are achievable if all parties to the dispute make some sacrifices. Each party to the dispute will have to modify its position so that common ground can be found. Therefore, the plan should be such which neither promotes nor rules out any conceivable settlement of the dispute — accession in whole or in part to India or Pakistan, the eventual joining or separation of any two regions, independence or quasietc.
The whole idea behind it is not to impose or recommend any particular solution but to get the representatives of the different regions of Kashmir themselves to decide a settlement without pressure either from India or Pakistan.
Hurriyat has repeatedly acknowledged and advocated the representation of diversities within the state and has mooted a “United States of Kashmir”. This may or may not be acceptable to the state’s diverse population. But to verify that, we need an atmosphere in which the diverse people of the state can meet freely, talk amongst themselves and determine what is practicable. Clearly, the governments of India and Pakistan need to be generous to allow this internal dialogue amongst ourselves.
The Hurriyat favours a mechanism often described as “triangular dialogue” according to which the leadership from across the ceasefire line of the state should be allowed to talk to the Indian and Pakistani leadership separately and alternatively and to return to its populaces with its views. This will take time and effort. But both will be needed in generous amounts if we are to embark on the road to the resolution of the Kashmir problem.
We have welcomed talks between the governments of India and Pakistan. We owe it to the interests of peace to enter two caveats along with this welcome. The first is that as the dispute involves three parties — India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir — any attempt to strike a deal between the two without the association of the third, will fail to yield a credible settlement.
This has been made clear by the flimsy agreements of the past. The agreement between Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1952; and the pact between Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Mrs Indira Gandhi in 1975; and an agreement between Mr Farooq Abdullah and Mr Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s sought to bypass Pakistan, leaving the basic issue of Kashmir unsettled.
Likewise, the Tashkent Agreement of 1966 between India and Pakistan; the Shimla Agreement of 1972; and the Lahore Declaration of 1998 sought to bypass the people of Kashmir and it resulted in a failure. So talks need to be tripartite.
No formula that fails to command the consent of the Kashmiri people will be worth the paper on which it is written. The idea is neither novel nor grasping. Sinn Fein was a negotiating partner in Northern Ireland, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in the Middle East, East Timorese leaders in East Timor, and the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) in Kosovo. A policy that aims at merely defusing the situation, and buying time whatever that may mean and not encouraging a credible settlement has not paid off in the past and is less likely to do now.
The best remedy for any tragedy is the coming together of people from all walks of life. Nothing has dramatised the cruelty of the artificial lines that separate and divide us in Kashmir than the earthquake that devastated Muzaffarabad and laid much of the state on either side of ceasefire line to waste. The moderation in Delhi and Islamabad in allowing people from the two sides to share our grief and help each other is to be appreciated.
India, Pakistan and the State of Jammu and Kashmir in its entirety must expand trust and apathy. It is precisely what is needed if we are to end the uncertainty that has plagued the politics of South Asia, a population of almost a billion and a half, for over half a century.
Although India and Pakistan are to be commended for allowing five points of entry along the ceasefire line to be opened, and India for its restraint in not retaliating or building up troops on the borders, until the people of Kashmir can freely travel from one side of the ceasefire line to the other, they will be faced with a feeling of seclusion and imprisonment.
One understands the concerns of India and Pakistan regarding security issues, and that by opening the crossings for aid to travel freely to both sides is an incredible concession and confidence-building measure for both sides, and they should be commended for putting people before politics. But more needs to be done.
Both Dr Manmohan Singh and General Pervez Musharraf have taken some initiatives towards a new rethinking of Kashmir, an approach that both sides have come to embrace. Additionally, both leaders have involved input from Kashmiri leadership, something that has always been a necessity to finding a solution. We only hope that this will continue, as we believe the more Kashmiri leadership is involved and received in good faith by Pakistan and India, the greater the results that will be witnessed on the ground.
In another sign of moving forward, President Musharraf said some time ago that it was time for Kashmir to be demilitarized, both Indian as well as Pakistani troops throughout the regions of Kashmir. This would pave the way for further dialogue between both sides of Kashmir to become closer to one another.
Therefore, the urgent necessities are:
a) To demilitarise the state of Jammu and Kashmir through a phased withdrawal of troops (including paramilitary forces) of both India and Pakistan from the areas under their respective control.
b) To take the sting out of the dispute by detaching moves towards demilitarisation of the state from the rights, claims or recognised positions of the three parties involved. In order to do this, it might be necessary to make demilitarisation of the state the first step towards the reduction of Indian and Pakistani forces on their borders outside of Kashmir.
c) It is after the peaceis afoot that the rights and claims of the parties can be considered in a nonatmosphere.
Militancy is not the only aspect of the Kashmir issue. It began decades ago in 1931 before the soAfghan Arabs appeared on the horizon of international terrorism and before Islamic “fundamentalism” was even minted by the western press; the resistance displays no particular affection for any country.
More so, the term fundamentalism is inapplicable to Kashmiri society. It has a long tradition of moderation and non-violence. Its culture does not generate extremism. The Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits), though a tiny minority (just less than two per cent of the total population) flourished under the Kashmiri Muslim majority. They equally believe, as do their Muslim compatriots, that the resistance in Kashmir is not communal. It cannot be communal and should not be. The compulsions of Kashmir’s history and the demands of its future forbid religious conflict or sectarian strife.
Despite some cultural divergences, Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits are tied harmoniously together by a common history, folklore, tragedies, habitat, seasons, soil, language, heritage, customs and socioeconomic interdependence. Their commonalities dwarf their differences, and explains their remarkable record of fraternity and solidarity.
The present situation inside Kashmir makes it clear that if talks between India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir are to mean anything, they must be accompanied by practical measures to restore an environment of non. Nevertheless, continued talks between India, Pakistan and Kashmiris can be useful if they reflect a sense of urgency and prepare the ground for an earnest effort to frame a stepstep plan of settlement. If a response to the gravity of the situation is intended, we firmly believe that the following measures are essential:
i. the immediate and complete cessation of military, paramilitary and militant actions.
ii. withdrawal of the military presence from towns and villages;
iii. dismantling of bunkers, watch towers and barricades;
iv. release of political prisoners;
v. human rights violations especially custodial killings continue apace and are often dismissed as one of aberrations. This cavalier attitude must cease.
vi. annulling various special repressive laws;
vii. restoring the rights of peaceful association, assembly and demonstrations;
viii. permitting travel abroad, without hindrance, for Kashmiri leadership that favours a negotiated resolution;
ix. issuing visas to the diaspora Kashmiri leadership to visit Jammu and Kashmir to help sustain the peace process;
x. creating the necessary conditions and providing facilities for an intra Kashmiri dialogue embracing both sides of the ceasefire line.
xi. allowing a transitional phase, a phase of detoxification, before its decisive elements are put into effect;
The Kashmir problem is a human tragedy. The time has come to end it and to move forward.
The writer is chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Kashmir.
|© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007|