DAWN - Editorial; June 02, 2008

Published June 2, 2008

The Bush support

IT is a matter of opinion whether President George Bush’s reiteration of support for President Pervez Musharraf will strengthen the Pakistani leader politically or prove counterproductive. This is not the first time that the man who has a few more months to go in the White House has rung up his old friend, whose name he initially had difficulty recalling after Musharraf had staged his coup and Bush was campaigning for the presidency. 9/11 changed all that. Ever since the American president has entertained President Musharraf lavishly at the White House and Camp David, and has successfully prevailed upon Congress to buttress his regime with heavy doses of economic and military aid.

However, since March 9 last year, President Musharraf has been in trouble. Even though he succeeded in manipulating his election to the presidency, things have never been the same for him again. His only tangible achievement since that fateful date was the holding of the February election, which by any standard was more or less free and constituted a resounding victory for his political opponents ranging from the PPP moderates to those wanting his impeachment and trial for treason. That he has managed to survive and has the satisfaction of seeing someone other than a PML-N man in the Prime Minister House testifies to a commando’s survival instinct. This makes one point clear to all our politicians — the ability of a leader to stay in office or make an exit depends on his skills in navigating through Pakistani politics’ tempestuous sea. As Henry Kissinger said recently, America’s ability to manipulate Pakistan’s internal affairs is limited. In an article written for The Washington Post, the former secretary of state asked President Bush to concede that “the internal structure of Pakistan’s politics is essentially out of the control of American decision-making”.

There is no doubt that the MMA and the Taliban will cite the Bush phone call and the revelation of its contents by the White House spokesman as more proof of President Musharraf being one of the many American agents who rule the Muslim world — Hosni Mubarak, the two Abdullahs, Hamid Karzai, the Gulf sheikhs and many more. But what we should note is that the reaffirmation of the Bush support is meant less to impress the MMA and its like-minded friends and more for the benefit of those in the moribund coalition who are no less eager to curry favour with Washington. This is an old story. Governments and the opposition have never had any qualms of conscience about seeking foreign help in domestic politics. During the Bhutto days, the opposition trooped to the embassies to garner support against the PPP leaders’ excesses, while the involvement of the Hariri family and the drama surrounding the Sharifs’ exile and return are too recent to be recounted. It is a collective shame.

Enforce the ban on jirgas

BARBARITY in the name of tradition claims victims of all ages and both sexes across Pakistan. Women and young girls bear the brunt, however, of the medieval mindset that dominates many sections of our society. It is not simply a matter of cultural and intellectual stagnation, or a failure to develop a wider world view, for in many ways we are regressing. Intolerance and religious bigotry have reached unprecedented levels, so much so that homicidal maniacs are seen and respected by many as the standard-bearers of the true, righteous cause. Gender-based issues figure prominently in this madness, with schools for girls coming under bomb attacks and women NGO workers being gunned down in the tribal areas. ‘Honour’ killings also appear to be on the rise, though it could be that such crimes are now reported more often. In any case, the idea that girls and women ought to have a say in their lives is clearly unacceptable in many if not most communities.

At tribal jirgas, bartering young girls like so much livestock remains the preferred means of settling blood feuds and disputes related to honour. Another such ‘ruling’ was delivered last week in a village in the vicinity of Kashmore near the Sindh-Balochistan border. To settle a blood feud that has claimed 13 lives and which started when one tribe’s dog bit a donkey belonging to the other, it was ordered that 15 girls ranging in age from three to 10 years must be ‘married’ to rival tribesmen. The area police, denying that the incident took place in their jurisdiction, have taken no action so far against those who organised the jirga. This too is in keeping with the norm in Sindh, just like the jirgas themselves. Despite a province-wide ban imposed in April 2004 on this parallel justice system, the jirga culture is still flourishing due to government negligence and a law-enforcement apparatus that either can’t be bothered to arrest the culprits or is fearful of the influence they wield. The idea that some in the police force, steeped in tribal custom, even approve of the activity cannot be discounted either.

Claims to modernity and progressive thought are meaningless if not matched by action. For the new ‘liberal’ kingpins in Sindh and at the centre, the time has come to walk the talk. Enforce, for a start, the ban on jirgas and help eradicate these crimes against humanity.

Menace of black dust

WITH coal dust hovering in the skies, life for those living near the coastline in Karachi is a constant punishment. Worse still, it happens to be a punishment meted out not by nature but by the management of the Karachi Port Trust. In the absence of any effort worth its name to eliminate or even reduce the spread of this harmful dust, air pollution is posing a danger to public health. Coal dust does not enhance the aesthetic outlook of the localities in the vicinity of KPT. It covers both the exterior and interior of buildings, giving everything a shabby and highly irritating black sheen. All the talk of having special silos at the port for coal storage has remained just that, talk. In its present mode of operation, the coal is unloaded on dumpers that take it to the groyne yard within the port. At their own convenience, consignees carry away the load on their own trucks. Since there is no real effort to cover the coal, each stage of the process spreads black dust in the air, which is then blown far and wide by the wind.

As a testimony to its baffling sense of priority, KPT spent a whopping Rs225m in 2004 on erecting a fountain jet that was supposed to shoot seawater to a height of 600 metres. That was KPT’s idea of beautifying the city and making it a great destination for foreign travellers. Intriguingly, for the sponsors of the project the ugly mounds of coal lying in the open just a few hundred metres away did not detract from the beautification of the city. Considering the lavishly funded projects undertaken, lack of money can hardly be cited as an excuse now for delaying the urgently needed silos. In the interim, however, the KPT can at least force consignees to take direct delivery of their cargo from the berth, bypassing the storage at the groyne yard. This would expedite the handling of the consignment, thus reducing pollution to a great extent. Lest it be mistaken, any interim arrangement cannot be an alternative to the need for silos which remain the only permanent and effective answer to the problem.

OTHER VOICES - North American Press

Good homes come in all colours

The Boston Globe

A NEW report on transracial adoptions is hitting a nerve. The report argues that it is in the best interests of children in foster care for social workers to consider race when placing African-American children with adoptive families. And it wants federal law to reflect that value. But there are ways to help children and adoptive families without gutting the existing law.Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which issued the report, says social workers’ hands are unnecessarily tied. When placing a child, federal law allows them to consider race only in limited circumstances and forbids it as a routine practice. Pertman notes that, in America, race still matters. He says social workers should be able to take that into account more broadly.

Elizabeth Bartholet, director of Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Programme, disagrees, arguing that greater consideration of race opens the door to ‘race matching’, a bias for placing black children with black families — a bias that can mean that black children go unplaced for some time.

Both sides agree children are better off in permanent homes than in foster care. That’s enough common ground for a compromise.

As the Donaldson report points out, “Transracial adoption in itself does not produce psychological or social maladjustment problems in children.” But adoptive parents do need to help children find their cultural identities and deal with challenges such as discrimination. White parents can do this; many already do with biological biracial children. States can help not by hindering transracial adoptions, as some once did, but by seeking out more black adoptive parents and by making sure adoptive parents of all races can get support that runs through children’s adolescence.

As for federal law, it can be tweaked. Why not make it clear that the law doesn’t preclude common-sense steps such as counselling for parents making transracial adoptions? But the principle behind the current law — that such adoptions must not be discouraged — remains compelling.

The common goal is clear: when it isn’t safe for African-American children to return to their own homes, they should be placed as quickly as possible with parents of any race who are willing and able to help these children with their emotional, physical and cultural growth. And these parents should get the services they need to ensure that these children thrive. Obstacles shouldn’t be placed in the way of loving families. Too many children need homes. — (May 31)

Financing education and beyond

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui

THERE are a number of studies that support the linkage between education and development. Education per se is not development but can prepare individuals to enhance their chances of exploring ways and means for development.

The relationship between education and development is a two-way process, that is, quality education leads to development and development can pave the way for quality education.

In recent times, the term ‘knowledge economy’ has become a currency concept. In most developing countries, the state of education in quantitative and qualitative terms is questionable. Recognising the significant role education can play, rulers in developing countries should invest more in education as this investment may ensure a bright future for them.

In 1997, Mongolia allocated 8.5 per cent of its GDP to education. Pakistan was at the lowest rung of the ladder as its allocation for education was only 2.2 per cent of GDP. This amount was less than the amount allocated by the Maldives (8.1), Iran (5.4), Malaysia (5.1), South Korea (4.2), Thailand (4.0), India (3.7), Sri Lanka (3.1), Nepal (2.9), Afghanistan (2.3) and Bangladesh (2.3). These figures suggest the lack of priority given to education by Pakistan’s decision-makers. Is it because we do not have enough financial resources that we cannot allocate more funds for education?

Before we hasten to answer this question let us see what the military expenditure was as a percentage of GDP in 2006. Here Pakistan is on the top rung with 3.2 per cent followed by Sri Lanka (2.6), India (2.5), Nepal (1.6), Bangladesh (1.5) and Bhutan (one per cent). This suggests that it is more an issue of priority than that of financial resources.

According to the CIA Fact Book, “Pakistan’s proposed defence budget for financial year 2006-07 accounts for about one-fifth of the total budget and is 20 times more than what the country plans to spend on education and health. The country’s percentage rise in the defence budget was more than 15 per cent in 2005-06. Pakistan’s defence budget as a percentage of GDP is 4.5 per cent (2006) and Rs4.26bn in total (ranked 39th).”

The size of the defence budget is normally not fully visible. Some interesting strategies have been evolved to downplay the impact. For instance, in 2001 the amount spent on the pensions of armed personnel was not shown as a part of the defence budget; it was mentioned under civil expenditure. Similarly, according to the CIA Fact Book, a large sum to buy F-16s multi-role fighter jets from the United States and the JF-17 Thunder fighters from China was kept separately.If we want to understand the real nature of the problem, we have to look at its four dimensions. Only then can we appreciate the gravity of the issue of financing education. The first dimension is that Pakistan is allocating a very small percentage of its GDP for education whereas relatively a larger chunk goes towards military expenditure.

The second dimension is quite disturbing. This is the actual expenditure. In defence, more money is spent than the estimated amount. But in education, a large amount of money remains unspent because of various reasons. Either the promised money is not released on time, or money is re-appropriated, or the process of the release of money is so complex that the heads of educational institutions give up.

There could be any reason but the fact is that in almost all plans a large amount remains unspent. A couple of examples should suffice to give an idea of the problem. For instance, in the Second Five-Year Plan (1960-65) Rs78m was allocated for primary education whereas only Rs18m was actually spent. Similarly, in the Seventh Five-Year Plan (1988-93) Rs10128m was allocated for primary education whereas only Rs6399.17m was actually spent. These are just two examples which show the overall trend in spending on education. Contrary to this, spending on defence is more than the estimated figures given in the budget.

The third dimension which is equally important is the appropriateness of the spent money. The post-9/11 scenario saw the inflow of massive foreign aid for ‘better education’ in Pakistan. This was a great opportunity to utilise financial resources in an appropriate manner. For instance, in the Parha Likha Punjab (literate Punjab) programme for which a large sum of money was available, nothing concrete could be achieved because much was spent on political appointments and image-building advertisements in the print and electronic media. Crash teacher education courses were organised without any meaningful change in the education system.

The perennial problem in the domain of education in Pakistan is that each government comes up with attractive slogans without the required political will. The result is that we are still grappling with the issues of quality at a very basic level.

The fourth dimension in financing education is lack of monitoring and accountability that has encouraged people to experiment, mess up and get away with their errors. What happened to some good educational initiatives, for instance, the Nai Roshni schools? Where did the funds collected in the name of Iqra go? Why did projects with huge foreign funds fail? We may never know the answers to these questions as there is no strong tradition of accountability in Pakistan.

Thus low allocation, under-spending, inappropriate spending and lack of accountability have done untold damage to the education sector in the country. What is happening is linked to socio-political practices in the wider sphere of society. For instance, for a long period of Pakistan’s history the army has overtly and covertly dominated politics. That is why the tendency has been to spend more on defence. Educational initiatives were not given due importance.

We see glaring inconsistencies in the policies of different governments resulting in half-baked ideas and practices. What is required is a new perspective. By understanding the significance of education, allocating more funding for it and spending the money in a more appropriate manner, we can hope to bring about a positive change.

Change in the educational sphere is linked to the bigger societal sphere whose socio-political practices impact on education. Does that mean that we must wait until societal practices change and then start working for improvement in education? An alternative route is to improve our education in terms of its quality for societal development — a concept of development which is not confined to economic well-being alone but that ensures emancipation and individual freedom as well.

The writer is director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences, Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.


Respecting Sindh

By Bina Shah

RECENTLY I watched a fantastic documentary on Dawn News called ‘When Brummies Met Sindhis’. It followed five schoolteachers from Birmingham as they journeyed to the district of Matiari in Sindh under the aegis of the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms project. The project connects schools from UK to the select schools across Pakistan and in Sindh in Bhit Shah, Hala and Tando Allah Yar, with a focus to develop children, young people and adults in the UK and around the world with the skills and understanding to contribute positively to the global society in which they live.

Because my family is from Matiari, I recognised many of the shrines, artisans’ workshops, ajrak and pottery factories that the teachers visited, as well as the schools and institutes: the district education office, government schools, a private school with computers, and even a special school for disabled children.

It was heartening to see how the Sindhi students’ and teachers’ faces lit up when they realised they were being appreciated by the Brummie visitors. Any psychologist or educationist will tell you about the importance of motivation when you’re seeking to improve a student’s or an employee’s performance: to watch ‘When Brummies Met Sindhis’ was to see that motivation in action. It truly was an inspiring programme, and I say that as much as a Sindhi as a former student of both psychology and education.

Mashhood Rizvi, the former visionary director of the Sindh Education Foundation, has recently become the provincial director for Sindh and Balochistan at the British Council in Pakistan. He oversees the Connecting Classrooms project. He says, “We are so pleased to develop projects which are having an impact in the rural areas and bridging gaps by using culture as a vehicle for social change and positivism.”

Projects like these and attitudes like Mashhood’s are vital to helping Sindh out of the morass of problems it faces, but very few people understand this. Nor do they realise that the hallmark of Sindhi identity has nothing to do with shrines, feudals, karo-kari or ajraks — it’s the fact that in the Pakistan of 2008, Sindh is discounted, its people ignored, its history forgotten, and its contributions dismissed by both those who live in Sindh and those who seek to rule it.

Despite the fact that Sindh is a key part of the Pakistani federation, attitudes towards Sindhis have not changed since the British were the rulers of India. Invaders from Iran, Afghanistan and Arabia arrived in Sindh at different points in time and prospered from its rich agricultural lands and commercial activity. However, those peoples integrated with Sindhis and eventually became part of its cultural and economic landscape, contributing to the prosperity of Sindh as much as benefiting from it.

The British, on the other hand, envisioned Sindh as a land where they would gain wealth and at the same time play out the Great Game, fighting the French and the Russians from its shores; but they held no respect for its people. In order to achieve their goals, they embarked upon a road of conquest that used the tools of collusion, bribery, manipulation and brute force. Apart from disrupting Sindh’s status as a sovereign nation, one of the greatest tragedies of their rule over Sindh is the wedge they drove between the Sindhi Hindus and Sindhi Muslims in order to keep them under control. Nobody has ever been able to repair the damage to Sindh’s self-esteem or its peaceful atmosphere. The British left Pakistan 60 years ago, but today, while teachers from Birmingham show respect towards the traditions and culture of Sindh, most Pakistanis display a mind-boggling ignorance towards Sindh that almost borders on racism. Sindhis are commonly stereotyped as lazy, ignorant, good-for-nothing illiterates, ruled by bloodthirsty feudal Frankensteins with personal armies, private jails and packs of dogs that savage the helpless poor.

The shrines of Sindh — those beautiful, mysterious green structures to which thousands of Sindhis flock in pilgrimage and devotion — are seen as hotbeds of religious innovation by members of the religious orthodox who forget that the Sufis of Sindh were responsible for spreading Islam throughout the subcontinent. Islamic purists who wish to put an end to the culture of shrines discount the importance that shrines have played in Sindhi culture, not just as centres of worship but as bastions of Sindhi art and culture, economic and political activity.

Critics of Sindh’s feudal set-up conveniently overlook the history behind the piri-muridi system, where the heads of religious families throughout Sindh served as important mediators between the foreign rulers and the indigenous population. This sophisticated political system sprang up as a unique product of the religious and cultural ethos of Sindh, but the pirs of Sindh played an important role in the movement for independence, often at risk to their own political and economic well-being. Who remembers that the All-India Khilafat Movement found some of its most dedicated supporters from amongst the landed families of this province? Or that Pir Sibghatullah Shah II was hanged by the British in 1943 for his participation in anti-British activities?

Land reform enthusiasts should take a long, hard look at the food shortages we face today. Sindh’s agricultural system has been honed over the last 1,000 years. Multiply today’s food shortages 100-fold to get an idea of what you will end up with if you destroy the existing system and replace it with half-baked, ill-thought-out social reforms. Starving a nation is not the way to bring political justice to a disenfranchised population; instead, allocating more money for Sindh’s educational budget is the answer.

Sindh has a long way to go in terms of achieving education, healthcare, political equality and security for its people. Nobody knows this better than Sindhis themselves. It will take many years, perhaps even centuries, to put things right in our beloved land. But looking to Sindh’s detractors in order to find solutions is a bit like asking Martin Amis to teach you about Islam. If you truly care for the well-being of this province, recognising that a harmonious and prosperous Sindh is the key to a peaceful Pakistan, why don’t you ask the Sindhis themselves what they want?

The writer is a Pakistani novelist.

binashah@yahoo com



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