DAWN - Opinion; May 03, 2008

Published May 3, 2008

Threats to human security

By Dr Sadia M. Malik

IN the aftermath of 9/11, terrorism and religious extremism came to be recognised as the key threats facing the US and other countries, particularly those in the West.

To counter this threat, the key global players, led by the US, declared what is widely known as the war on terror. Pakistan is a key ally of the US in this global war that aims to curb terrorism.

How do we fight this war effectively? Has anyone chalked out a comprehensive, well-thought-out and well-researched plan that addresses this problem in all its dimensions? We have tried the use of force. It has been a couple of years since Pakistan’s military started targeting the so-called terrorists’ ‘hideouts’ and ‘havens’.

The question that we need to examine is whether this strategy has been effective in meeting the objective of the state to curb terrorism and ensure the people’s security. The answer can hardly be in the affirmative. In fact, many believe that the military-led operations in the tribal regions and the north have led to retaliation, exacerbating insecurity among people not only in the tribal regions but also in other parts of the country.

The use of military force might be justified but shouldn’t this have been the last resort after all other ways to curb terrorism had failed? It is high time that we start addressing this critical problem in a much more creative manner. Policy in this direction as in any other field must be guided by sound research. It might be worthwhile for the US as well as the Pakistani government to devote a few dollars to financing policy-oriented studies that objectively examine the root causes of this menace. The resources devoted to such efforts would be peanuts compared to those expended on the military-led war on terror and might pay off in terms of a strategy that hits the nail on the head being devised.

Terrorism and religious extremism are complex phenomena. The root causes are varied and that is why professional research in this area can be useful. The causes may differ from region to region and so would solutions. A uniform policy to hit terrorism across all regions in the world may make matters worse. All policies, whether economic, social or political, must be devised and implemented in a local context.

It is not hard to see even in the absence of professional research that one of the root causes of terrorism and religious extremism is the sense of despair among the youth, arising from rampant poverty and the lack of opportunities. If madressah education is considered as one of the breeding grounds of religious extremism, do we know why the majority of students opt for madressahs?

Clearly, the majority if not all of the students who opt for madressahs are the ones who are too poor to afford basic food, shelter and clothing, let alone education. Madressahs provide them with free food, shelter and clothing apart from giving them religious education. Obviously, it is the gap in the public provision of quality education and other safety nets that these madressahs have filled.

Recently, a survey was conducted in Fata (the only survey that I came across on this issue) by the Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme in collaboration with the British High Commission. The results of the survey indicate that the people in Fata believed that amongst the major causes of religious extremism in Pakistan, illiteracy was the foremost, followed by the Afghan conflict, poverty, bad governance and unemployment.

The hopelessness, desperation and resignation arising from poverty and deprivation no doubt make the youth more prone to becoming victims of a kind of brainwashing that promises them hope in the hereafter if not in this world. The sense of hopelessness that a woman named Bushra experienced and that led her to kill her two children and commit suicide because of poverty is unimaginable. Yet, it is a reality. This incident and the majority of other such incidents that go unreported should be an eye-opener for policymakers.

In fact, it is time that we start looking at a much wider concept of security: security from hunger, security from deprivation, security from illiteracy and security from disease. About 20 years ago, Mahbub ul Haq, a renowned development economist, offered such a concept to the entire world.

While delivering a speech at the United Nations NGO/DPI Annual Conference, New York, on Sept 8, 1993, he said: “Human security is a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, an ethnic tension that did not explode in violence, a woman who was not raped, a poor person who did not starve, a dissident who was not silenced, a human spirit that was not crushed. Human security is not a concern with weapons. It is a concern with human dignity.”

Haq’s concept of human security as security of income, employment, food, health, education as well as security from conflicts and natural disasters is much broader and much more comprehensive than the traditional concept of security. While the traditional concept of security is mostly concerned with territorial security and focuses on protecting people from external aggression only, the concept of human security emphasises the protection of people from social, political and economic injustices.

In 1997, Mahbub ul Haq called South Asia “the most endangered region”. The reasons behind this were not rhetorical but based on a sober analysis of the socio-economic and political situation in the region. The threats posed by poverty and human deprivation that continue to prevail in countries of this region, despite impressive economic growth, justify Mahbub ul Haq’s remarks more so today than when he uttered those words.

At present, the types of insecurities that threaten the common man in Pakistan include economic insecurity, food insecurity, health insecurity as well as insecurity arising out of lack of education and empowerment. It is time that the policymakers, including foreign donors, realise that without addressing the basic needs of the people in terms of food, health, education and employment opportunities in an equitable manner, neither terrorism nor extremism can be curbed effectively at least in this part of the world. n

The writer is director of the Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre in Islamabad.

Shanti, Nirmala Didi!

By Beena Sarwar

DURING the World Social Forum in Mumbai, or Bombay as some of the lefties still prefer to call it, Jan 17-21, 2004, a loudspeaker announcement in Hindi was often heard over the din of the crowd, the beating of drums and other assorted noises that formed the backdrop of the event: “Will any Pakistanis at this forum kindly come to such-and-such corner, Nirmala Didi wants to meet them.”

Those who paid heed to this announcement and made their way through the international throngs to the grassy tree-lined nook around the corner from a line of stalls along the dusty path (including Kishwar Naheed’s Hawwa Associates with its embroidered kurtas) found Dr Nirmala Deshpande seated there, her diminutive, smiling, bespectacled sari-clad figure crowned by her short-cropped hair hennaed a cheerful orange. Didi, as she was widely known, wanted to personally welcome the Pakistani delegates, many of whom were visiting India for the first time.

Her warmth and down-to-earth manner belied her position as one of India’s senior-most politicians and a twice-nominated member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament). Among the numerous voluntary offices she held was that of chairperson of the India-Pakistan Forum of Parliamentarians.

A record number of Pakistanis, some 600, had been granted visas for the WSF. Although a fraction of the 5,000 originally envisaged they still formed probably the largest ever Pakistani delegation to India. As a bonus, they had ‘non-police reporting’ visas, allowing them to skip the normal procedure that requires Indians and Pakistanis visiting each other’s countries to report to the police within 24 hours of arrival and departure. Since the closure of its consulate in Karachi, the Indian Embassy in Islamabad has been the sole visa-granting authority here, just as the Pakistan Embassy in New Delhi is the only visa-granting authority in India since the closure of the Bombay consulate.

Nirmala Didi had long fought against such restrictions. Her very personal welcome to the Pakistani delegates at the WSF in 2004 was just one of the many ways she struggled for peace between India and Pakistan. She was involved in the largest people-to-people peace initiative between the two countries, the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy launched in February 1995, besides being a founding trustee of Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA) and active with South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR).

Many remembered her from her leading role in initiating the historic Women’s Peace Bus to Lahore from Delhi in March 2000, cutting through the tension that marked the post-Kargil months since that misadventure of 1999. The peace bus involved several women’s groups under the umbrella of the newly formed WIPSA. The women “proved more eager for peace, less worried about government positions and policies”, as Didi’s friend and colleague in the peace movement, Asma Jahangir, commented at the time, having been on the phone with her several times during the planning stages.

Tensions between India and Pakistan ran so high at the time that the Pakistani side initially planned to quietly ferry the Indians from the Wagah border to the historic Falettis Hotel where they would be staying. The decision later to make a public event out of the arrival in order to make a statement about the people’s demands for peace was a courageous one in that tense atmosphere.

Asma Jahangir led the welcome delegation that greeted the Indian women on their arrival at Falettis with flower garlands and music. They also exchanged bangles, traditionally seen as symbols of weakness, subverting the negative connotations to positive by using them as symbols of peace. The colourful reception got a fair amount of media attention. Given how high the nationalistic fervour ran in those days, not all of it was positive (some reporters called it ‘un-Islamic’ and ‘anti-Pakistan’).

Always a visionary, in April 2008, Nirmala Deshpande had called for setting up a South Asian Union on the lines of the European Union, which she believed would lead to more peace in the region. “If the countries in Europe which were fighting with one another on various issues can come together to form a European Union with a common currency, why can’t we have a South Asian Union with a common currency?” she asked.

As a long-time champion of workers’ rights, Didi may have appreciated the symbolism of passing away on Labour Day, May 1. She had not been keeping well for the past few days and died in her sleep, aged 79, depriving the peace lobby of one of its most vocal and influential spokespersons. It says much for the wide acceptance she inspired that she was also the recipient of some of India’s highest awards, and a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and opposition leader L.K. Advani were present at the mourning ceremony where they laid wreaths and paid homage to this eminent Gandhian who had in her youth taken a vow to remain single in order to devote her life to social work.

Nirmala Deshpande headed the Indo-Pak Soldiers’ Initiative for Peace (IPSI), an organisation she had helped form, leading a delegation to Pakistan in 2001. The joint convention of IPSI’s India and Pakistan chapters will be held on May 10-12 in Mumbai this year as scheduled “as Didi would have liked it that way,” wrote IPSI general secretary Virendra Sahai Verma in an email informing friends of her passing away. She will also be sorely missed at the upcoming PIPFPD convention scheduled later this month in Peshawar.

The writer is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker currently based in Karachi.


Land reforms

By S. Akbar Zaidi

LEST it be misunderstood, at the outset I must emphasise that this article in not another contribution to that mythological entity which some columnists not trained in political economy, from where this term originates, call ‘feudalism’.

While some people still find proof of this entity when they visit their villages, Pakistan must be the only country in the world where in the 21st century op-ed pages carry articles by defence analysts and others who confuse issues of power and its abuses with those related to economic categories, relations and the modes of production.

This article is not about any particular mode of production, primarily because it assumes that the dominance of feudalism in Pakistani agriculture is a redundant concept in the 21st century. However, the article is about land, agriculture and especially about power and inequality, as well as economic growth. In order to make the points that I do, it is important to clarify that debates about land reforms or broader agrarian reforms do not necessarily presume the presence of any pre-capitalist forms of production such as ‘feudalism’.

In countries where multinational corporations own thousands of acres of land run on the most advanced forms of capitalist principles, debates about land reforms are equally relevant and important and, in fact, nationalisation and redistribution of land has taken place.

Moreover, problems related to the misuse of power and on the basis of inequality are not tied to any particular ‘ism’. They are a permanent feature of the human condition, found in all societies and in all forms of economic and social relations, including those based on private contracts, such as marriage, and in domestic arrangements as well. Even in the most advanced, so-called ‘civilised’ societies, one see degrees of the misuse of power in multiple social spheres.

One could perhaps argue, that much of this power and its manifestation, emanates from ownership and/or the appropriation of rights over some form of property and capital, whether material or social. In addition, as a result of skewed power relations, inequality continues to persist and limits human agency. These general principles can be applied as easily with regard to gender relations, marriage or agricultural growth.

The issue of land reforms in Pakistani agriculture has become less urgent for many analysts, for there is evidence that both economic and social relations of production have changed considerably over the last few decades. While land ownership continues to be highly skewed, especially in some regions, the arguments against land reforms are built on the premise that due to inheritance, urbanisation, mechanisation and so forth, agricultural production has already become modern, and hence, there is no need to intervene in the natural evolutionary processes underway.

In addition, these changes in the economic and social relations of production have given rise to modern forms of production and have resulted in the growth of the middle classes. Research in the field of political economy supports such broad generalisations.

Research shows, that in Pakistan, less than half of all rural households own any agricultural land, while the top 2.5 per cent of households account for over 40 per cent of all land owned. This data shows marked land inequality in rural Pakistan. At the cost of repetition, I must emphasise once again that ownership of land has little to do with the relations of production, i.e. whether they are ‘feudal’ or of any other dispensation. Figures on poverty in Pakistan show that most of the poor reside in areas designated as ‘rural’, and the lack of access to land is a feature which perpetuates their poverty.

Moreover, one of the more interesting findings about poverty in recent years shows that a higher incidence of poverty exists amongst non-farm rural households in much of the country. Fifty-seven per cent of the rural poor are non-farm households. The majority of Pakistan’s rural poor are neither tenant farmers nor farm owners. The distribution of rural poverty closely reflects land distribution, which is highly unequal in Pakistan, with only 37 per cent of rural households owning any land at all.

In Punjab, non-farm poverty is higher than farm poverty, although in Sindh and Balochistan, farm poverty is higher than non-farm poverty, reflecting patterns of land ownership, land tenure and access to land for cultivation.

Land reforms can take numerous forms, ranging from the redistribution of land confiscated from large land owners and distributed to the landless (as happened in 1959 and 1972 in Pakistan) to the distribution of state-owned land to those without land, something that is supposed to happen on a more regular basis. Land can also be nationalised and owned by the state, a strategy which has few supporters in the age of liberalisation. Despite the natural process of evolution in the rural and agrarian economy, there are justifications to intervene in the process to address some of the problems of inequality, poverty and economic growth.

If the landless rural poor were provided access to land, preferably as owners, along with subsidised support packages, it is possible that some of the problems related to poverty could begin to be addressed, particularly when global food prices are escalating at the pace they are today. As a result, perhaps some of Pakistan’s shortfalls in agricultural output could also be met. In addition, data shows that income inequality has increased sharply in the last few years, and unemployment has also grown. Both these issues could be redressed if the landless were given user rights and, preferably, ownership rights over cultivable land.

If given land, the landless poor are likely to benefit much sooner with regard to economic returns than they are with regard to power relations. Nevertheless, if their economic situation improves, it is likely that their relationship with the instruments and institutions of power will also begin to be renegotiated.

Whichever way one looks at it, whether with regard to growing poverty and inequality, problems of agricultural growth and output, rising food prices, or the manifestations of power relations, the debate on land and agrarian reform needs to replace the rather sterile impressionistic arguments which find feudalism everywhere in Pakistan.



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