DAWN - Opinion; March 24, 2008

Published March 24, 2008

First aid for the poor

By Dr Akmal Hussain

THE first task in the economic sphere confronting the democratic government is to provide relief to the poor who are in a state of acute distress. The relief package could consist of a new poverty reduction strategy designed for three levels of impact in time: immediate first aid for the poor; targeted programmes for short-term impact; and institutional changes for medium-term impact.

This article outlines a first aid programme for the poor that can be undertaken immediately. Subsequent articles will present the elements of a poverty reduction strategy for the short and medium terms respectively.

A three-pronged first aid programme for the poor should comprise: (i) food security programmes consisting of targeted food subsidy for the poor on the one hand and urban lungars (free meals) on the other; (ii) income for work; and (iii) asset-building for the poor.

The idea is to combine immediate relief with a subsequent stream of regular income, through employment and asset-building. This programme ought to be conducted on the basis of a partnership between the government, members of parliament working actively for the poor in their constituencies, councillors in local governments, development NGOs, women’s NGOs and chambers of commerce.

Let us briefly articulate each of the three elements of the first aid programme for the poor and the institutional mechanisms for implementation and monitoring.

Food security for the poor

This would consist of a government-sponsored targeted food subsidy for the extremely poor and a private-sector-based network of lungars in the urban areas. Consider the targeted food subsidy programme. According to earlier estimates there may be at least 1.4 million households (about 10 million persons) in the category of the extremely poor, defined as those who borrow for food consumption purposes.

Subsidised flour, lentils and cooking oil could be provided to a carefully selected set of extremely poor households with the total subsidy for all three items amounting to Rs1,000 per household per month. This means an annual food subsidy expenditure of Rs16.8bn by the government for 1.4 million households.

This programme could be financed from a new fund that could be called the National Relief Fund (NRF) for the poor. It could be created through an act of parliament stipulating that ten per cent of privatisation proceeds be transferred to this fund. In the period 1999 to 2007, privatisation proceeds amounted to Rs363bn. This means that a relief fund of Rs36.3bn could be created immediately.

Implementing such a programme would require members of the national and provincial assemblies to work closely with the Baitul Maal to quickly prepare a provisional list of extremely poor households in every constituency in the country. The prime minister’s office, supported by the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF), development NGOs such as Kashf and Baanh Beli and specialised women’s NGOs such as Shirkat Gah and Aurat Foundation, could then finalise the list of extremely poor households that would be eligible for subsidised food items.

To ensure gender equality the distribution mechanism should include representatives from women’s organisations, women members of parliament and women councillors at the local government level. Moreover, wherever possible the subsidised food items should be handed over to women members of recipient households.

The purpose of private-sector lungars is to strengthen food relief in the urban areas by providing dal and roti in the evening to the extremely poor in the locality. In pursuit of this objective, chambers of commerce and traders’ associations could be encouraged to establish lungars in each locality, and also at the sites of sufi saints. A network of lungars named after national martyrs of democracy such as Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto could also be established through foundations named after them.

Lungar networks could also be established in the name of national heroes such as Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Aitzaz Ahsan, Munir Malik and Ali Ahmed Kurd. These lungars could be financed through donations from members of the country’s chambers of commerce, traders’ associations, philanthropic organisations and individual citizens. They could be administered by city-based coalitions involving chambers of commerce, NGOs, local government councillors and philanthropic organisations such as the Edhi Foundation.

To enable a scientific specification of poor households and systematic impact assessment of the food subsidy programme and the lungar networks, a time series database on the nutrition status of the extremely poor households needs to be established. These regular surveys could be conducted for the same set of households on a six-monthly basis by a reconstituted Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS) whose independence is ensured by an act of parliament. Validation of the FBS data on a sample basis could be undertaken by a committee of independent experts.

Wage employment through improved irrigation

Pakistan’s farmers are facing an acute shortage of irrigation water. This is due to the failure to build adequate storage capacity on the one hand and deteriorating irrigation efficiencies on the other. The reduced water availability is occurring at a time when deterioration of the top soil has increased the requirement of water per acre.

To overcome this water deficit it is proposed that a national campaign be launched for building dams, desilting and lining of canals wherever possible and building new lined watercourses. This construction activity would not only bring more water to farms but would also be a major mechanism for generating employment and sustainable incomes for the poorest sections of rural society.

Asset-building and income streams for the poor

To enable the rural poor to quickly build an asset base and generate increased incomes for themselves, a national credit programme is proposed whereby poor tenant farmers and agricultural worker households could be provided with loans for one additional milch animal per household. This programme of asset-building for the rural poor would combine loans with establishing a marketing infrastructure for milk collection and cash payment at the doorstep. This would give an almost immediate asset and associated steady income stream to the poor peasants.

Those who get employment in the irrigation infrastructure programme or successfully use their loans for milch animals would become eligible for an additional loan equal to their annual income from employment or milk sales. This additional loan would range from Rs40,000 to Rs70,000 per household. The loan recipient would be provided with training and support for identifying micro-enterprise projects which she/he could undertake at the household level to enhance and diversify the income base. Training and support for micro-enterprise development could be provided by organisations such as the PPAF.

The programme for first aid to the poor proposed in this article is designed to provide immediate economic relief to the poorest while at the same time enabling them to start building their assets, increasing incomes and thereby laying the foundations of economic democracy.

The writer is distinguished professor, Beaconhouse National University, and senior fellow, PIDE.

Jinnah’s republic

By Ahmad Faruqui

THE heavily trafficked M.A. Jinnah Road runs past the Quaid’s mausoleum in Karachi but there are no signs that it lies in Jinnah’s republic. Like Plato’s republic, this elegant construct tantalises the mind.

The Quaid was destined to live for just one year after the nation’s founding and much of that time was consumed by the war in Kashmir. His successors failed to deliver the republic he had envisaged, even though he had left behind a clear blueprint.

Jinnah articulated his vision on Aug 11, 1947 when he delivered the presidential address to the Constituent Assembly. Calling the partition of India “a titanic event”, he congratulated everyone who had been involved in Pakistan’s creation. He reminded the sovereign body that its task, first and foremost, was to frame a constitution.

He declared that the government was duty-bound to maintain law and order, and in order to do that it would have to rid the nation of “bribery and corruption”, “black-marketing” and “nepotism and jobbery”.

And then he turned to the main theme of his speech, calling upon the people to bury the hatchet that had divided them in the freedom struggle.

Jinnah said every Pakistani was “First, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and obligations.” He reminded them that even among Muslims there were “Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on”, and among the Hindus there were “Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris … and so on”. These distinctions had to vanish in the political sphere if progress was going to be achieved.

Then came the famous lines that resonate through history: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” A clearer statement that he intended Pakistan to be a secular state could not have been made.

In a passage that is often overlooked, Jinnah recalled a time when England was riven with differences between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, differences much worse than those that prevailed in India at the time of Partition. He exclaimed, “Thank God, we are not starting [our journey toward nationhood] in those days.” In today’s England, he said, one could say that “Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation.”

He closed by saying that if Pakistanis made such a non-discriminatory state their ideal, they would find that “In course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

Some four months later on Dec 28, 1947 Jinnah exhorted the new nation to live by three watchwords: “unity, faith and discipline”. He said, “You must make up your mind now. We must sink individualism and petty jealousies and make up our minds to serve the people with honesty and faithfulness.”

Framing the constitution became a Herculean, nine-year endeavour for the Constituent Assembly. Tragically, two years later, the supreme law was dissolved at the stroke of a pen by the army’s first Pakistani chief. The “man on horseback” who seized the reins of power in October 1958 charged the elected government with “bribery and corruption, black marketing, and nepotism.”

With his Sandhurst accent and clipped moustache, General Ayub used Jinnah’s words to undo his legacy. Perhaps the irony was lost on him. Ayub would subsequently elevate himself to the rank of a field marshal, rule for a decade, and set an unfortunate example that would be emulated by three other army chiefs. Even the astute Jinnah had failed to anticipate that just a decade after his demise, a Khaki Curtain would descend upon the republic.

Because of all the troubles that have afflicted Pakistan ever since, Jinnah’s critics have argued that his vision was Utopian. To buttress their case, they argue that Partition unleashed bloodshed on an unprecedented scale. It was not the peaceful conclusion of a long protracted court case but a titanic tragedy. More bloodshed would follow in the decades to come from the conflict over Kashmir and even more when a civil war would grip East Pakistan, leading to the country’s dismemberment less than a quarter-century after its creation.

Jinnah’s supporters argue that the problem was not in his vision but in how it was implemented. Failure on a scale so grand that it befitted a Shakespeare stage was not predestined. Sincere and competent leaders could have averted the blunders in political integration and developed a sense of national identity that did not derive from a fear of being pulled back into the womb.

They could have pursued Jinnah’s constitutional platform as far as it could be taken, not necessarily all the way to the heights it had attained in the West but at least as far as it was taken by the sibling next door. There was a time when India’s fault lines darkened its political horizons even more sharply than they did so in Pakistan.

There was no ‘law of necessity’ that said that civil society in Pakistan would morph into a miasma of internecine warfare between rival religious sects, ethnic groups, provinces, drug lords, common criminals, rich and poor, and ultimately between the military and the civilians.

Nowhere did Jinnah say that the military would need to run the state. He did not think that his fellow citizens were an ill-disciplined, tribal and feuding lot who could only be governed by feudal lords. He did not argue that the politicians were corrupt and that the judges of the Supreme Court were politicised, inept, corrupt and nepotistic. Nor did he assert that the media wanted to undermine Pakistan and that the clerics were fanning the extremists. While Pervez Musharraf made all these claims when he last travelled through Europe, it is unlikely that Jinnah would have pushed forward with the creation of Pakistan had he concurred with any of them.

The irony is that all Pakistani rulers, whether in or out of uniform, have stood under Jinnah’s portrait and evoked his name to legitimise their position. If they had been sincere, they would have worked hard on creating the republic that he had envisioned, one that he had hoped would be “one of the greatest nations of the world”.

But in the country there is now a fresh ray of hope that Jinnah’s vision will not just be a long-forgotten dream, an idea entombed with him in that most graceful of mausoleums. The new parliament has a rare opportunity to rebuild Jinnah’s republic. They should waste no time in putting the nation back on the road of secular democracy from which, in due course of time, will flow progress, peace and harmony. A time will come when M. A. Jinnah Road will run through the heart of Jinnah’s republic.

The writer has co-edited Pakistan: Unresolved Issues of State and Society, which has just been published by Vanguard Books.


Is a rollback possible?

By Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

ALL apologies whether personal, political or national have to be followed up and backed by concrete and substantial steps to end or ease the grievances, violations and confrontations which were the reason for apology in the first place.

If these measures do not materialise quickly enough then the apology is not worth the paper it is written on and moreover it is counterproductive. In short, to back up the apology there has to be a rollback of the policies that have angered individuals, communities or nations.

Apologies are not a trivial or frivolous matter and need to be tendered in a considered, formal and decorous manner to carry weight and be acceptable to those addressed. If the intent is to hoodwink and gain support and sympathy on a sensitive issue, such apologies do more harm than good because they ultimately increase disenchantment and disillusionment.The PPP, leader of the coalition that will shortly take up the reins of governance, offered an apology last month to the people of Balochistan for “the atrocities and injustices committed” in the province in the past. It also called for an immediate halt to the ongoing military operation there and release of all political prisoners, including former chief minister Akhtar Mengal.

This apology has been taken with a pinch of salt by nationalist leaders including Sardar Ataullah Mengal. He termed the apology a positive but insufficient step, and doubted that the PPP would be able to solve the problems facing Balochistan. He said “the civil-military bureaucracy has always called the shots here” and added that the situation in the troubled province would remain the same until the “colonial perception of the rulers” changed and basic issues such as provincial autonomy were addressed.

I feel I too am entitled to a response to the apology because, like scores of others, I was on the receiving end of the massive military operations (1973-77) carried out in Balochistan after the illegal dismissal of the Mengal government during the PPP’s first tenure at the centre. It was in 1978 that I, along with many Marri families, went to Afghanistan as a refugee fleeing the repression and ravages of the state against unarmed people and stayed there for 13 long years in what was a singularly turbulent period in that country’s history. I didn’t live in luxury in Kabul but with the people in refugee camps. I am not a closet nationalist as I have frequently aired my political views in the press.The stark terror that military operations generate among the populace is beyond the comprehension of those who have not suffered it. Women and children naturally suffer the most. Fear haunts you constantly and the slightest hint of approaching danger is terrifying. Those men unlucky enough to fall into the clutches of the security forces carry scars for life — if they survive the ordeal. I know of numerous disappearances during that time of people personally known to me. Military operations against unarmed civilians are as abominable as they are inexcusable and the present operations in Balochistan should stop forthwith if a response is expected from the nationalists.

The life of refugees isn’t easy either, especially when the refugee status is not internationally recognised and the host country is itself in turmoil. Deaths due to preventable diseases and attacks by enemies of the host leave indelible scars on the psyche and are neither easily forgotten nor forgiven.

The pain and suffering I witnessed in the Marri area, and that of the Marri population that was forced to migrate to Afghanistan, was the microcosm of the torment and anguish that has been the fate of the Baloch people since Partition and which continues unabated with increasing ferocity with every new chapter of confrontation. The suffering multiplies many times over as each conflict is upgraded from the previous one.The grievous wounds inflicted over 60 years cannot be healed with an apology from a party that will head the next government. Wounds are not soothed by words alone. Mindsets and ground realities do not change with words. This apology will not change the ground reality an iota because only institutionalised change can make a difference. But that requires patience, time and effort, qualities which have always been in scarce supply in governance here.

The military operations in Balochistan will certainly not be curtailed any time soon regardless of the party that is in power because the distrust with which the establishment views the nationalists, and vice versa, is too deep-rooted to be overcome in the near future. The continued illegal incarceration of Akhtar Mengal on flimsy grounds and the disappearance of people in the province are not an aberration but the norm. They are part of a deliberate, calculated and organised policy aimed at subduing and taming all those who dare to raise their voice against the injustices that are rampant and relentless in Balochistan.

Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s release was the first test for Governor Magsi and he failed miserably. This alone proves the hollowness of the new appointment. The PPP-led government there will prove to be even more of a charade in practical terms than the wording of its apology.

The apology could well be tested shortly after the new government is formed. Will military operations in Balochistan be halted? Will the building and expansion of cantonments be stopped? Will the new government be willing and, moreover, able to remove the fears and grievances that the Baloch people have regarding Gwadar and other mega projects? Will the fear of being turned into a minority by the influx of people from other provinces be fully addressed?

Will the new airport in Gwadar be handed over to the CAA to ensure that a military base is not established there? Will Saindak’s unjust income-sharing formula be reversed to give Balochistan 48 per cent and the centre two per cent? Will they refrain from using Hingol National Park as a testing ground for the air force?

I don’t think there is the remotest possibility of any of this happening — and unless corrective measures are undertaken there will be no one among the nationalists who will come forward to talk.

Those who have been calling the shots will not accede to even the most justified of demands as their financial, commercial and imaginary strategic interests will be sorely hurt by any such rollback in Balochistan. The party that forms the government would have to take decisions which could imperil its own existence and no one goes to that extreme for the children of lesser gods.

The Balochistan policy is too entrenched and too consolidated a policy of the establishment to see change at the bidding of pliable political parties that have always been more concerned with catchy slogans and opportunism than with concrete measures. To expect the PPP and other parties to sacrifice power for principles is asking for miracles.


The roots of terrorism

By Adil Zareef

AS the incumbent government gears up to meet myriad challenges, Mangal Bagh is becoming the new recurring nightmare in the NWFP. He left a trail of bloodshed, pillage and mayhem when he attacked unarmed villagers in Sheikhan, near Peshawar, and demolished a 16th century shrine. Mangal Bagh later forced the famous Karkhano market shut for days, causing economic losses running into millions of rupees.

Recently he attacked another shrine in Khyber Agency and harassed women who traditionally pray there. Traffic in adjoining areas was brought to a halt for a few days as tribals protested against these excesses committed right under the nose of Pakistan’s mammoth security apparatus.

For some these incidents produce a sense of déjà vu given what has happed in Waziristan, Bajaur, Swat, Darra Adamkhel and now on the outskirts of Peshawar. The ‘star’ of the story is Mangal Bagh from Bara tehsil who heads the notorious Lashkar-i-Islam and preaches extremism on his FM radio stations. Mangal Bagh’s sudden rise, his swift success in setting up a parallel administration and the freedom with which his anti-vice squads challenge the writ of the state has convinced many of the political administration’s complicity in this new phenomenon.

The question is, what precisely is the strategy of the US and the Pakistani establishment in the tribal belt? Is the rise and rise of Mangal Bagh another ploy to destabilise the government? Or does it have more to do with securing supply lines for US forces in Afghanistan through the tribal belt courtesy a chosen proxy whose firing squads dispense ruthless ‘justice’? This is a repeat of what the Taliban did in Afghanistan in various war zones: total appeasement of the establishment, until things spun out of control and resulted in insufferable destruction. So is there more turmoil in store for the NWFP as the Lashkar flexes its muscles unchecked and gains ground in both tribal and settled areas?

The US policy for quick fixes and immediate gain results in disruption that leads to yet another cycle of destabilisation. Gen Naseerullah Babar was entrusted the US-supported Unocol oil pipeline project by the Benazir Bhutto administration that nurtured the Taliban. The US seldom learns lessons, so it repeats follies — like turning Iraq into the epicentre of Al Qaeda and jeopardising the American war effort in Afghanistan. But then empires seldom learn local wisdom and traditions. This goes to their own disadvantage, besides destroying regional stability and peace. So is the case with this clueless empire under the equally clueless leadership of George Bush.

Hardly a wonder then that whispering voices blame the US for the current turmoil in the tribal belt and on the outskirts of Peshawar where an extremist wields enormous power with a fleet of the latest SUVs (allegedly 500 in number) and sophisticated weaponry. Using a local bandit to terrorise proud, tradition-bound tribals is scarcely the best option for achieving political gains, and too of a short-term nature.

“The residents of Fata have become the objects of history instead of being the subjects of history,” observes Afrasiab Khattak, provincial president of the ANP. He believes that reform planned in 2001 and later abandoned in the wake of the so-called war on terror needs to be introduced. “The people resisting reform are not the tribals but those in the vested lobby in Peshawar and Islamabad that wants to maintain the status quo so it can squeeze the redundant system,” he adds.

The only way forward lies in the social, political and economic empowerment of people currently living in complete isolation from the ‘development agenda’ dispensed by Islamabad. “During BB’s previous government, Afzal Khan was minister for SAFRON [states and frontier regions division]. The moment he advocated political reform in Fata he was posted out within 48 hours, as minister for Kashmir affairs,” a bemused Afrasiab Khattak recalls.

There can be no socio-economic development in the tribal belt without social, political and judicial reform of the black colonial regulations that are ruthlessly exploited by the establishment to enslave the populace even in this day and age. “No economic development is possible until ‘ownership rights’ are restored,” argues Khattak. In 2001, the ‘reform agenda’ announced by the eager CEO Pervez Musharraf was meant to introduce local government and political and judicial reform while doing away with the notorious FCR that is manipulated by unaccountable political agents. There was a complete U-turn after Sept 11 and the word ‘reform’ was thrown out of the vocabulary.

“While the military has penetrated the traditional no-go areas, the political actors and systems have been dispensed with. Instead of giving breathing space to civil society, the opposite has been done, thereby creating a black hole where the gun rules. The resulting spill-over into all of Pakistan is only logical. Instead of firefighting we need long-term solutions,” asserts Khattak.

Will the new government stand up to the previous regime’s discredited policy? Going by the statements of the US administration, there is little hope for a reformist, sustainable policy that builds peace through consensus.

Adding to the existing socio-economic woes, the minister for finance has “warned of serious economic instability if the [new] government provides immediate relief to the public”. Meanwhile, the US has approved a package of F-16 fighter jets for Pakistan. Given the priorities of local and global actors and a preference for keeping the pot boiling, there is little light at the end of the tunnel for the traumatised people of the tribal areas. Indeed, all 160 million toiling Pakistanis remain at the mercy of brutal realpolitik.


© DAWN Media Group , 2008



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