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DAWN - Opinion; March 12, 2008

March 12, 2008

Education for the poor

By Mahmood Hasan Khan

ONE can safely offer three propositions about education. First, education is among the most important sources of progress, no matter how it is defined. Second, good education can be a big leveller (equaliser) in a society.

Third, in Pakistan, access to basic education is woefully deficient, particularly for children from poor households. It is well reflected in the low levels of enrolment and high dropout rates.

In this respect, differences between boys and girls should not be underrated, nor should the differences between the urban and rural areas. The issue then is: how does one enhance opportunities for and access to decent basic education for children from poor households?

It is well known that even when schooling is available it may be too costly for the poor. Therefore, on the demand side, the need is to create incentives for poor parents to enrol their children in schools because the direct and indirect costs of education are quite high. At the same time, on the supply side, there is need to improve the quality of education by investing in infrastructure and supplies, making the school curriculum relevant, and hiring and retaining good (well-trained and motivated) teachers.

Let us focus here on the demand side. In the present system the cost of education must be borne by parents from their current income and meagre assets. In addition, for these parents to put children in school means foregoing the use of their time for labour to augment the household’s low income and consumption.

In this context, the experience of some Latin American countries, particularly Brazil, may have both relevance and merit for Pakistan to consider. In these countries, governments have done two things. First, they give cash to low-income (poor) parents in return for enrolment of their children; it is called ‘conditional cash transfer’ (CCT). Second, each enrolled child from these households receives free nutrition and health care, including periodic check-ups, vaccinations, etc. The results show that the programme increases school enrolment, reduces the drop-out rate, and improves health of children.

Why can’t policymakers in Pakistan try this approach in some form? Let me attempt a very tentative outline of the programme comprising four components.

First, the programme package should include (i) a conditional cash transfer to the family and (ii) some nutrition and basic health care for children. The amount of cash transfer to the family for each child enrolled in school should be large enough to change behaviour. The nutrition component may include a healthy early breakfast at school and basic health care to include regular check-ups, vaccinations, etc.

Targeting of households and children is the second component. All households below the poverty level of income or consumption — however that is determined or estimated — should be eligible for a monthly cash transfer in return for each child enrolled in school. Parents will not receive cash if the child drops out of school. The children to be covered for school enrolment and cash transfer should be between the ages of five and 15 years. However, all children below the age of five from targeted households should be eligible for free health care as available to the enrolled children.

The third component of the programme is its decentralised implementation. The elected officials at the local level and representatives of parents at the neighbourhood level, assisted by public officials, should be engaged to implement the programme. Their responsibilities should include: identifying target households and children for enrolment; transferring cash on a regular basis for the enrolled children; managing schools; and giving health care through the school system.

An effective administrative and financial monitoring system is the fourth component. To assure accountability, the programme should be monitored (including audits) on a regular basis, without compromise, by a third party in collaboration with those involved in the transfer of cash and management of schools, nutrition and health care.

This demand-driven programme can work well — it will have anticipated outcomes and impact — only if the issues on the supply side are addressed adequately at the same time. You need to provide decent school structures, with appropriate infrastructure and supplies, good (motivated) teachers (well trained and well paid), a performance-based reward structure for managers, teachers and pupils, and an effective monitoring system for both inputs and outcomes. You can’t expect children and their parents to benefit from a school system that doesn’t have these essential ingredients.

The federal and provincial governments will have to give adequate resources and technical and administrative support to make education a satisfying experience for children and its outcome valuable for the poor households. They will have to mobilise financial resources for the proposed programme by switching expenditure, reducing waste and leakages, and perhaps changing the tax structure.

The resource requirements can be estimated once basic information has been collected at the local level and agreement is reached on the basic parameters of the programme: families and children to be targeted; basic amount of conditional cash transfer for each child enrolled in school; school structures, infrastructure, supplies, and teachers; form of nutrition (say breakfast at school) and its amount; health-care supplies and staff; school management and monitoring. Of course, the designed programme must be affordable and doable to achieve its objectives in a cost-effective way.

If all of this makes sense, then the first step would be to review and study carefully the experience — look at the information, evidence and data — in a country like Brazil where the CCT programme for basic education and health care of children from poor households seems to have worked quite well since the mid-1990s.

Is it a currency war?

By Zeenia Satti

THE UN Security Council’s March 3 sanctions against Iran not only present a diplomatic victory for President Bush but also a major success for Washington in the first phase of its currency war with Tehran. The war began with the commencement of Iran’s oil bourse in mid-February.

Widely known as the Kish bourse, it is intended to bypass London’s IPE and New York’s Nymex, both of which are effectively controlled by Washington.

The Kish bourse is intended to eventually sell crude oil to the international market in euros. By opening its own oil bourse, Iran became the first Opec insider to attempt the further weakening of an already ailing greenback. If joined by other Opec and Caspian producers, it could serve a death blow to the American economy.

The dollar’s predominance as the world’s hegemonic currency has its genesis in the 1972/73 US-Saudi agreement to price oil exclusively in dollars in return for US protection to the House of Saud against external aggression or domestic overthrow. This arrangement led to Opec transacting oil exclusively in dollars ever since.

The ever-increasing use of oil in the world at a rising price led to an ever-rising demand for the dollar as the world’s reserved currency, enabling America to export a cheaply produced good with handsome dividends. Given the relative decline of American industrial output over time, the dollar’s hegemony has become vital for its economy.Once it was established, the Opec kingdoms never challenged the dollar’s hegemony. They put a high value on US protection which guarantees their political survival and their territorial integrity. The kingdoms’ borders are arbitrarily drawn to meet twentieth-century politico-economic needs rather than delineate ethnic patterns. The parameters of Washington’s protection include maintaining the regional status quo plus monitoring the kingdoms’ domestic fronts for rebellion. Because this deal ensures mutual survival, its tenacity remained impervious to secondary political causes.

Paradoxically, the maintenance of the status quo has been disrupted by the US itself. In 2000, Saddam Hussein demanded that Iraqi oil sale in the UN-administered Oil For Food programme be transacted in euros. The UN conceded and Saddam further declared his intention to open Iraq’s own oil bourse. Washington saw this development as dangerous and sacked Saddam by invading Iraq in 2003.Thereafter, Iraq’s oil sales reverted to the dollar. However, ‘peak oil’ concerns led to Washington’s occupation of Iraq. With continued occupation, the show of armed commitment to the greenback became counterproductive and led to the beginning of the petering out of the kingdoms’ commitment to the dollar. Instead of guarantor, Washington now appears as a threat to the status quo. Anti-US sentiment in Arab societies frightens the monarchs into believing that if Washington invades more Middle Eastern countries, this sentiment would deepen and eventually target their households.

Hence a rising notion within the royal families that if stripped of its dollar hegemony, the US could be deprived of unlimited credit for waging further wars in the Middle East. In the third Opec summit meeting in Riyadh in November 2007, the issue of the dollar’s depreciation, though not incorporated in the final declaration, was assigned to the kingdoms’ respective finance ministers to study.

Given the de facto taboo on this subject, this is a significant development that may have prompted Bush to make a journey to the Saudi kingdom later in January 2008.

Though Iraq, Iran and Petrocaribe’s (Venezuela’s) switch from the dollar is due to political vengeance, it makes economic sense. If a bourse trades oil in euros, other countries can build up their reserves of an ascendant euro instead of having to replenish the rapidly depreciating dollar. However, two interrelated developments threaten Iran’s oil bourse. One is Ahmadinejad’s rise to power and his belligerence towards Israel, a UN member state; the other is Washington’s corresponding success in building up an international consensus against Iran.

The industrial group reorganised the sanctions regime in 1996 at the behest of the US under the Wassenaar Arrangement. Functioning parallel to other treaties monitoring proliferation, Wassenaar shifted the target of technology-transfer curbs from Communism to individual states who “exhibit dangerous behaviour”. At the time of signing, Washington tried to designate the Middle East as a “destabilising region”. Other members refused as they did not want regional bias inducted into the Wassenaar regime. Their concession confines to granting Washington endorsement for its designation of Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea as “rogue states”.

Given the shift in the sanctions target, Iran under Khatami realised that the most serious danger it faced was American ability to deny it access to arms, technology and the hard currency necessary to procure technology. Consequently, Khatami launched a conciliatory policy from 1997-2005 called the “Dialogue of Civilisations”, the success of which greatly complicated Washington’s manoeuvres against Iran.

In an interview with CNN in January 1998, Khatami apologised to the Americans for the hurt caused by the siege of their embassy during the 1979 revolution. This softened public opinion about Iran and led to a series of athletic exchanges between Iran and the US. Khatami’s gains in the Middle East multiplied with Tehran’s hosting of the 1997 OIC summit, increased ministerial exchanges in the Gulf, and a handshake with the Israeli prime minister at the Pope’s funeral in 2005. The US was forced by its European allies to repeal the imposition of secondary sanctions over European investment in Iran’s energy sector.

Moscow abandoned the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement between Russia and the US that limits the sale of Russian conventional arms to Iran. In 2004, Iran reached an agreement with Britain, France and Germany on nuclear cooperation for peaceful purposes. Khatami’s principles remained firm. Alongside appeasement, Khatami test-fired Tehran’s first indigenous missile that reaches Tel Aviv, inaugurated Iran’s own indigenous arsenal and announced the plan to open Iran’s oil bourse. Bereft of its anti-Iran clout, Washington remained largely ineffective in opposing these developments.

Ahmadinejad’s “dangerous behaviour” nullified Khatami’s gains. Since Dec 23, 2006, Ahmadinejad has failed to comply with successive UNSC resolutions against Iran. Correspondingly, Washington has succeeded in gaining multilateral cooperation in successively tougher sanctions against Iran that are “targeted financial measures” aimed at incapacitating key sectors of Iran’s economy. These include the amputation of Iran from the global and the Gulf’s financial infrastructure and enforcing the withdrawal of foreign investment in the development of Iran’s oil and gas sector.

UNSCR 1803 of March 3 will severely hamper the functioning of the Kish bourse. However, should the bourse malfunction, it will be deemed to have been due to sanctions instead of market forces. This means the Kish bourse’s malfunction will not deter plausible moves in this direction by other oil producers.

The writer is an energy consultant and analyst of energy geopolitics based in Washington, DC.

Meeting the big boss

By Hafizur Rahman

EVERYONE wants to be seen with top leaders of the government of the day –– president and prime minister. Moreover, they want to be photographed with them, or with one of them. I remember a prominent journalist of old days whose drawing room mantel-piece was crowded with such photographs.

I wish I too could call on our president, although much of his proud shine has worn off by the results of the recent general election. I am an old-fashioned man and, to tell you the truth, I didn’t like him asking the people blatantly to vote for “my supporters.”

Anyway, I don’t want to become serious on a rather puerile issue. So, in newspaper language, “I would stay with the President for the (statutory) some time” and discuss “matters of mutual interest,” although, at the moment I don’t know what the president and I may have by way of mutuality of interest.

But this is what most of the president’s visitors do –– visitors like senators, MNAs, MPAs, public figures, voteless politicians, and officeholders of nonpolitical parties. To make conversation, they all discuss the current national situation with him, which I could also do. And this is what makes me envious and hanker for a similar meeting so that I can give him my views about the current situation. As for the president’s own views about it, I already know them by heart.

In Punjabi we say, “Khoti thanion ho aie aye.” This can be translated of course, but its flavour is so distinctively enjoyable in Punjabi that it is difficult to convey it in English. We can say that the sheass, once she has been to the police station, thinks no end of herself, and probably considers it beneath her dignity now even to bray along with her sister and brother asses who have never had that honour.

Our erstwhile British rulers made the police station in the subcontinent the biggest visible repository of power and authority, unlike Britain where it is more like a combination of the Red Cross, the SPCA and a public utility service. To have been to a police station in India and Pakistan and to have come back with both your skin and selfintact is the highest glory for the common man.

A self-sought visit to the president carries the same connotation. And if, by the blessing of Fate, it is the president who has called you to “discuss the current political situation,” you might as well die after that. You can’t go any higher in self

Doesn’t the president get tired of discussing the country’s state of affairs with so many people every day? After all, the current political situation is almost a static phenomenon, at least for a week or ten days. Talking about it with fifty people during that period is not going to make any difference to it. Even if it does change, what is the point in discussing it with a fresh batch?

Commonsense dictates that the earlier batch should be sent for again. The president could say to them, “You said last week that the situation is thisToday, I find it is thatthis. What do you say now?”

I can’t think of a better way to keep in step with a situation which is almost always in ferment. But maybe the president has his own ways of doing things. I have no idea what they are.

I should have thought that our president would be taking it easy. A constitutional head of the state has hardly any responsibility: signing a couple of ordinances and giving assent to a couple of bills, and that’s all. As president of Pakistan, you don’t exercise the Eighth Amendment and dismiss assemblies every day, although some people would love to see you do so.

Even that would give the president a clear five and a half months of rest and recreation. Why does he want to spoil his R & R by discussing the current political situation with all kinds of useless individuals whose notions of politics do not go beyond horseseeking permits, getting bank loans waived and doing an occasional intrigue?

In English they call it keeping abreast of events. As it is, anyone connected with politics in this country feels he must keep abreast of other people’s events. You never know where trouble may be brewing for you; where people may be hatching a plot; where your own minions may be trying to pull your leg, in fact both your legs so that you don’t have a leg left to stand on.

All those who are dying to call on you actually bring news sometimes good, sometimes bad. In return, they are grateful for some sorely needed favours that you can grant because the prime minister is not in a position to say no to you. Most of all these persons get the satisfaction that, apart from the PM, there is another god too, a rival god, a bigger god, who listens to prayers provided they are couched in proper servile language.

I have a theory. It is that all his life the president has been in uniform, feeling at his best only when he is talking military matters. Now, that he is in the thick of politics he has suddenly found that he is revelling in its numerous ramifications — scandals, powerpetty intrigues, backbiting, jor tor (as we say in Urdu), the feeling of absolute power (unhappily getting less and less every day), the granting of benefactions, the supremacy over men of small minds and faint hearts.

How can one really enjoy all these unless there are men around to listen and applaud? Even so, I would love to discuss the current political situation, and even the international situation, with the president. I promise not to talk about the defeat of “the king’s party” in the recent general elections. After all, there’s no point in spoiling his day.

Time for apologies

By Samia Altaf

THERE is a certain purpose and a value in an apology. Even when it is a century late and unable to redress the wrongs as in the Australian apology to its aboriginal citizens, it suggests a reflection on the past, an acceptance of responsibility, and a promise for the future.

Now that Pakistan is on the verge of a new beginning, its major players should mark it by coming forward and apologising to the citizens who have given them and the country another chance.

This will be an overdue apology and one that would be of immense value in setting the tone for the future. It would communicate to the voters a clear sense of what is unacceptable in modern politics and a measure of the standard by which political leaders and public servants agree to be judged in future.

First, it should be the chief of the army staff who should apologise for the repeated military interventions in politics that have set the country back so grievously. He should apologise for the emasculation of the Constitution, the use of military agencies to manipulate elections, the disappearance of citizens, and the destruction of civil institutions by the appointment of unqualified people to critical positions. The COAS should stand up and admit that the military is responsible for all these and more and promise to never do so again.

Second, the leaders of the two major political parties should apologise together for the similar wrongs their parties have been responsible for. They should admit that they set up accountability bureaus purely for the purpose of harassing political opponents; that they both undermined, humiliated and manipulated the judiciary for political purposes; that they misused the bureaucracy to advance personal interests; that they chose important office-bearers, out of turn, not for their competence but for their personal loyalties — a practice for which the country has paid a very high price. We well remember that Mr Ziaul Haq was a gift to the nation from Mr Bhutto and Mr Musharraf from Mr Sharif.

Third, the leaders of the two major political parties should apologise separately for the wrongs that they alone are responsible for. Mr Sharif should apologise for his attempts to become the Amirul Momineen and for the harassment of journalists. Mr Zardari should apologise for his party’s nationalisation of small industries for vindictive reasons and for the destruction of educational institutions.

This is just a suggestive list. An accurate charge sheet would take a long time to compile and perhaps a citizen’s commission should do that. It would no doubt include collective apologies to the people of Balochistan, to the people of Bangladesh, and to the unfortunate ones who are still languishing in camps there.

But beyond the apologies, the political leaders can also make constructive amends. In return for the faith that citizens have placed in them, they should agree to allow the citizens to tie their hands and constrain the arbitrary actions of future governments. They should agree to set up a citizens commission that would have oversight over all major appointments by their government and over all major procurements. Only when they agree to do that will the citizens be assured that they have truly turned over a new leaf. The country is entitled to this much.

The writer is the 2007-2008 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Centre for International Scholars in Washington, DC. She writes at

US polls: uncertainty reigns

By Dr Syed Amir

THE contrast could not have been more glaring. On March 5, Senator John McCain, the nominee of the Republican Party, visited the White House fresh from his victory over his last remaining opponent, conservative Mike Huckabee, to receive the formal endorsement of President Bush. The party all united behind him is now excitedly waiting to face the Democratic nominee in November’s presidential election.

While the Republicans exult in the orderly conclusion of their party’s nomination process, the Democrats are in a state of virtual disarray. The momentum of Barack Obama who had accumulated a string of victories in eleven states was stalled, at least temporarily, when he lost in the crucial states of Texas and Ohio to Hillary Clinton. Before that, it looked as he would knock her out of the race by decisively defeating her in one or both of the states.

Primaries are the process by which the two main parties elect their candidates for the presidential election. In order to win the Democratic party’s nomination, at least 2,025 pledged delegates are needed. These are awarded to each candidate according to a complex formula based on the number of votes received in each state. Neither candidate has reached this magic number thus far. Despite his recent losses, Obama has stayed ahead of Hillary Clinton by more than one hundred delegates. But the process may have reached a stalemate. It has been estimated that even if either candidate wins 60 per cent of the votes in the remaining states, the resulting delegate count will still not be sufficient to give either a clear victory.

With neither candidate receiving the critical number of delegates, Democratic party leaders are worried that the two rivals may damage each other in the ongoing internecine fight to such a degree that Senator McCain, a seasoned politician, may win the presidential election on Nov 4. Also, an unsettled election may be decided by ‘super delegates’, a group of Democratic party officials such as state governors, senators and congressmen and former presidents, with dubious legitimacy.

An analysis of the support which Democratic nominees are receiving from their constituencies is very interesting. Obama has been in the US Senate for one term and was virtually unknown until he joined the presidential race over a year ago. He has generated a sense of youthful excitement, an aura of innocent idealism, powerfully fuelled by a yearning for change not seen since the days when John F. Kennedy inspired America in the early sixties. He is a powerful and eloquent speaker who draws support from the young, college graduates and affluent segments of the electorate, and overwhelming loyalty from African-Americans who recognise that he embodies their best hope for electing the first black president. Besides, his early exposure to a galaxy of cultures — including the Islamic world — will, he claims, give him a unique advantage in dealing with world leaders.

Although Obama has received support from across the racial spectrum, his strengths in some cases have also become his vulnerabilities. His middle name, Hussein, has incited the derision of right-wing conservatives who accuse him of being a closet Muslim, a product of an Indonesian madressah cast in the Pakistani mould, and an Al Qaeda sympathiser who took his oath of office as a senator on a copy of the Quran in place of the Bible.

Some supporters of Israel have accused him of insufficient dedication to the security interests of that country. Senator Obama has repeatedly denied all these allegations, affirming that he is a practising Christian. The rumours, however, continue to grow on the Internet and are kept alive by conservative talk-show hosts. So far they have had no discernable impact.

Unlike Obama, Senator Hillary Clinton is an experienced, battle-hardened politician who commands support of a formidable political machine and of her husband, the former President Clinton, one of the shrewdest politicians in the country. She is supported by a large number of women, a majority of Latino voters and older, less affluent white voters. Recently, in the face of a string of defeats, she has sharpened her attacks on Obama, arguing that he is too inexperienced to take on the presidency. Her initial support for the Iraq war, a major US policy blunder, has become less of an issue since the weak state of the economy recently supplanted the war as the number one concern of the American public.

Senator Obama has held back from responding in kind to attacks from Hillary Clinton or McCain, the Republican opponent. His political advisers are unsure how to react to them. If he adopts the same strident tone as his rivals, then his reputation as someone who is a unifier, a proponent of change, who stays above the fray, will be tarnished. Doing nothing will generate a sense of weakness. Ultimately, a solution to the impasse may emerge that is already being talked about — the so-called Dream Team that would have both of them aboard, one as the potential president, the other vice-president. However, the next question would then be who of the two should head the team as the presidential nominee.

© DAWN Media Group , 2008