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DAWN - Editorial; June 16, 2008

June 16, 2008


Offering a joint probe

ISLAMABAD’s justified anger at the death of Pakistani soldiers in the US air strike in Fata early last week should not inhibit its response to America’s offer of a joint probe into the incident. According to US Undersecretary Richard Boucher the two sides have agreed to conduct a joint investigation into the deadly friendly fire, but as late as Friday the Pakistan army spokesman was saying the offer was still under consideration. Given the seriousness of the incident and the wave of anger that swept Pakistan, common sense suggests the two sides do all they can to avoid a repetition of the kind of tragedy that occurred in the Mohmand area on the night between Tuesday and Wednesday. The incident has the potential to add to misunderstandings between the two sides.

Fortunately, there is realisation now that the incident should not be allowed to affect Pakistan-US relations. After meeting Condoleezza Rice on the sidelines of the Afghan donors’ conference at Paris, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi called for greater American cooperation with the Pakistan military. He observed that incidents as the one at Mohmand not only helped the extremists, they also undermined his government’s efforts to enlist the cooperation of the local population in the fight against terrorism. While the two foreign ministers agreed on the need for seeking the tribesmen’s cooperation for Fata’s security and economic development, Mr Boucher said the American side had ‘misgivings’ about Islamabad’s talks with the militants though Mr Qureshi has assured his American counterpart that Pakistan had not given up the military option to ensure peace in Fata.

It is significant that the US has expressed ‘regrets’ over the incident but has not apologised to Islamabad. In fact, as revealed by Mr Boucher, American officials dispute the Pakistani version of the incident. This is not going to help matters. Fata cannot be pacified and terrorism crushed if the two major allies fail to develop a political understanding on their war aims and see eye to eye on the strategy to be adopted. The basis of the misunderstanding is the belief in some American quarters that Pakistan does not regard the war on terror its own war. This is absurd. Apart from the over 1,000 military casualties, thousands of Pakistani civilians have been killed and injured at the hands of the militants. As for Nato-led security forces, they have avoided ground fighting and pin the blame on Pakistan for their own weaknesses. Let the two sides conduct a joint probe into the incident, identify the errors in their strategy and develop methods to avoid similar tragedies in the future.

Fisherfolk’s woes

GOVERNMENTS come and go, promising much but delivering nothing to the impoverished fisherfolk community eking out a living on the margins of society. A dire situation is now assuming catastrophic proportions with livelihoods being lost at a rapid pace and an entire way of life at serious risk. On Friday, the Sindh fisheries minister assured the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum that its concerns would be discussed with the federal government so that equitable solutions can be found. It is hoped that this is more than just a routine statement, for the problems faced by fisherfolk are mounting by the day. Foremost among them are the contract system currently in effect at inland fisheries as well as deep-sea trawling that is depleting marine resources and leaving less catch for local fishermen. Foreign trawlers are not so much fishing in our waters but pillaging them. Their owners have no interest in maintaining the base level of stock required for the natural regeneration of fisheries. When the fish are gone, they will simply move to another part of the world. The locals obviously have no such options.

Research conducted globally has shown that wild fisheries will be completely wiped out by 2048 if there is no let up in overfishing and marine pollution. In our case the end may be even nearer. Allowing deep-sea trawling by foreign operators does not make short-term business sense either. What the government makes in licence fees is a pittance compared to the earnings that can be generated if local fishermen are assisted in acquiring better vessels and equipment and if storage facilities are upgraded. More processing facilities of international standard can meanwhile boost seafood exports. All this can be done, to the immense benefit of not only the fisherfolk community and local businesses but also the exchequer.

Other areas that need urgent attention are riverine and marine pollution as well as the growing threat to mangrove forests. When over 90 per cent of Karachi’s sewage is dumped into the sea untreated, is it any wonder that marine life is dying? With the mangroves being decimated, how can the natural hatcheries be expected to survive? On a policy level, a serious rethink is in order. The ‘development’ agenda of the previous regime was in many cases anti-people, environmentally unfriendly and pandered only to the wealthy. The property and livelihood rights of the original inhabitants of coastal communities must be respected and the need to preserve biodiversity recognised. Schemes such the waterfront project planned between Manora and Kanupp and the development of Bundal and Buddo islands must be scrapped forthwith.

Polio needs attention

TWO fresh cases of polio virus detected this month — one in Kohat and the other in Karachi — have once again highlighted the two main reasons why the country continues to miss out on attaining the elusive polio-free status. The victims have no history of routine immunisation and even the case detected in Karachi belongs to a migrant family having come south from Waziristan. A lackadaisical approach by the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) and the failure of the authorities to break the chain of transmission, which starts in areas bordering Afghanistan but runs across Pakistan, have together foiled all attempts in this regard. The former reflects problems at the execution level, while the latter is indicative of issues at the policy level. It is quite apparent that the polio drops being dispensed at entry points into Pakistan by the World Health Organisation are never going to be enough. It is only in recent months that those concerned have acknowledged this simple fact. Keeping track of both Afghan and internal migrants all along their route to major cities is, indeed, a gargantuan task. But it has to be done.

As it stands today, the EPI network is more of an entity accountable to no one. Vaccinators are hired by district governments; provincial EPI is mainly responsible for the supply of vaccine; WHO looks after technical and surveillance sides; and, the National EPI simply oversees the programme. There is no central body to hold these organisations accountable for their performance. None of the agencies involved wants to give anything in black and white about the performance of the others. There is no way of knowing if the target population has been fully covered and if the vaccine has been stored in the right conditions. The system is clearly not working as it should and the detection of 11 cases in the first five months of the year is ample proof. With 15 years already spent chasing the dream, the fatigue factor might come into play sooner rather than later. Before that happens, the government needs to give it one final decisive push. And for that to happen, there has to be an effective central command system in place.

Revamping: setting priorities right

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui

THERE is no harm in admitting that education has never been our national priority. This can be blamed on the fact that Pakistan has experienced long periods of military rule. If we look at our budgetary allocation, defence was usually given the lion’s share.

According to the CIA’s fact book, from 1958 to 1973, the defence budget accounted for nearly 60 per cent of the total government expenditure.

This is indicative of the trend and tone set by our military rulers. This approach impacted on the subsequent budgets as well. On the other hand, for a long period education was allotted less than two per cent of the GDP. This extreme disparity suggests the harsh treatment education has been receiving in Pakistan. If we compare these figures with those of other countries, we realise that the minimum possible allocation is being allocated to education. On the other hand, relatively huge sums are set aside for military expenditures.

The most intriguing fact about the defence budget in Pakistan is that no break down was mentioned and only a certain figure was quoted in a single line. In the 2008 budget it is promised that from this year onwards the defence budget would be discussed in the parliament and a proper break down would be given of different categories of expenditure. Education, on the other hand, would get relatively smaller chunks of funds. In the 2008 budget, Rs24.6bn has been allocated for education (at the federal level). The exact percentage of GDP will be available later when provincial budgets are announced.

The former prime minister, Mr Shaukat Aziz promised that allocation for education would be ensured as four per cent of the GDP. This promise was never realised as last year it was only 2.1 per cent of the GDP despite the fact that we got huge foreign funding for education sector reforms. Low allocation is just one aspect of the problem. The real issue is that in education we have been making cosmetic changes and quick fixes. The result is that no meaningful, sustainable change could take place. Let us look at some of these strategies to inflate the figure of literacy and at the internationally accepted definition of literacy — ‘reading with understanding’.

A list of definitions of literacy adopted in different years is as follows.

1951: One who can read a clear print in any language.

1961: One who is able to read with understanding a simple letter in any language.

1972: One who is able to read and write in some language with understanding.

1981: One who can read the newspaper and write a simple letter.

1998: One who can read the newspaper and write a simple letter, in any language.

In 1951 we followed a literacy definition that did not include the condition of ‘understanding’. The result was 17.9 per cent literacy. But in 1961 the condition of ‘understanding’ was added to the definition. This would mean that people who could read the alphabets (the reading of Quran in some cases) without understanding could not be included in the list of literates. From 1981 onwards, the condition of ‘understanding’ was once again taken out which naturally inflated literacy numbers. This leaves a question mark about the validity of figures of literacy in Pakistan.

Another aspect of measuring literacy is that internationally, it is measured at the level of age 15 and above. Quite interestingly in Pakistan, the literacy figures, quoted in the Economic Survey of Pakistan, are at the level of age 10 and above. What is the difference in measuring literacy at two levels? If we measure literacy at the level of age 10 and above, the figure comes down to 55 per cent but if it is measured at age 15 and above (as is the international norm) it comes down to 52 per cent. If we want to make these statistics more reliable, we should be reporting figures at age 15 and above as is the practice in other countries.

The reported literacy rate of 55 per cent (age 10 and above) does not reflect some areas of very low literacy as a number of high and low literacy areas are averaged to get a final figure. This does not reflect the literacy distribution in the masses. This situation can be equated with the increase in figures of per capita income reported in the 2008 Economic Survey of Pakistan where enhanced income of a few rich people helped in raising the per capita income creating a false impression of distribution of income. Instead of making cosmetic changes, the government needs to face the challenge upfront and do some serious planning for real improvement in literacy. This also means bringing about a qualitative change. Education and development has a strong correlation but education per se is not development. It is quality education, however, that equips a person to explore and enhance his/her chances of progress.

Gender disparity is another concern in the education system of Pakistan. In the Pakistan Economic Survey 2008, the male literacy rate is reported at 65 per cent whereas the female literacy rate is only 42 per cent. This shows a gap of 23 percentage points between male and female literacy in Pakistan, which is too large. A gap of more than 10 per cent is internationally considered a serious point of concern. Needless to say, some real concentrated efforts are required to reduce it.

If the new government is serious about education they should not only enhance the allocation for it but also ensure proper utilisation of funds. The past tells us that almost half of the allocated funds remain unspent for various reasons. And even the 50 per cent that were spent were not used appropriately. What is needed is an effective monitoring system and an accountability mechanism.

Education, the backbone of socio-economic development of society, needs to be dealt with more seriously and with a certain political will. Unfortunately, the ministry of education has always been viewed as less important and unqualified people have often been appointed at the helm. One such example is a retired general of the army who was asked to bring a qualitative change in the educational system of Pakistan. Currently as well the ministry is not headed by a full-time minister. It is time we realised the significant role of knowledge economy and human capital and instead of cosmetic tinkering with the educational system, we should plan meaningful and sustainable changes in the qualitative improvement of education in Pakistan.

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

Street fighting days

By Ghazala Rahman Rafiq

WHO in Pakistan believes elections mean democracy? Iraqis learned beheading Saddam heralded neither freedom nor democracy.

Even many Americans discovered they went to war ‘not in our name’ since WMD never turned up in Iraq. Worldwide it is possible to participate in seemingly free and fair elections, vote for a party and then face a government that doesn’t represent you.

However, despite its systemic historic/current flaws, Americans continue their engagement with democracy in numerous painstaking and persistent ways. One shining example is that 45 years after Dr King’s “I have a Dream” speech, America finally produced African American Barack Obama, (middle name Hussain) as their democratic nominee.

However, ‘direct democracy’ happens when citizens bypass representatives and legislatures and make policy and law decisions in person. An example is the New England Town Meeting where anyone can walk in, debate and then vote on town policy. (Imagine being able to do this in Karachi or any where else in Sindh!) But to continually fine tune local politics Americans realised that this form of direct democracy works only for some communities. Low attendance at many town meetings makes them somewhat undemocratic.

Being genetically innovative, some Americans then proposed a ‘new and improved’ (always!) way to ‘do’ direct democracy. They focused on widespread (high tech) voting schemes that captured almost continual voting by millions of citizens on whatever proposals surfaced. The method lacked organised public deliberation about issues in question. Apparently, this form of democracy led to mere gathering of opinion polls and not an exercise of citizenship. “Wise solutions to public problems won’t likely come off the top of a hundred million heads….”, is one problem associated with this type of democracy.

A third approach to direct democracy is the ‘initiative process’. It is practicable even in beleaguered Sindh as it is locale-friendly. This method allows anyone to propose a law, get it co-sponsored by fellow citizens (signing petitions) and voted upon by the entire electorate in the next election. But experience tells us that apparent empowering of grassroots is frequently a ruse. This process has often been co-opted by special interest groups; usually moneyed in the case of the US and gun-toting hoodlums in the Pakistani instance.

If all three approaches to direct democracy raise questions about how wise or democratic they are in practice then how does one satisfy democracy’s existential demand: participation by the broad citizenry or at least those affected by the decision? This may sound bizarre and naive in a Pakistani newspaper (since the lame duck president is still in his white house), but wisdom requires that now is exactly when, at this sickening, lurching juncture, Pakistanis contemplate and offer focused consideration to such issues. The consequences involved in various democratic options always require ongoing examination. Under prevailing conditions perhaps all we can manage is a virtual rehearsal for a viable democratic life. Perhaps this time around too, we (‘demo’: the ordinary people of a community or nation) can practice (‘–cracy’: rule, government, power) only in our heads; and that too late at night, or in the dream state, while holding some daytime vision of getting it right someday….

So where does wisdom come from? In a democracy, a vital source of collective wisdom is informed deliberation among people whose diversity approximates the diversity of their community or country. Democratic innovations that embody this understanding are uncommon in Pakistan but there was a shining moment in this country’s history. Talking about his ‘Street Fighting Days’ Tariq Ali (2008) said, that while many revolutions (e.g., Czechoslavakia) of the Sixties failed, “…There’s one country where they fought for three months, the students in Pakistan, against a military dictatorship. And the struggle began on Nov 7, 1968, went on ‘til March 10, 1969 … if you look at the chronology of that struggle … it gets bigger … white-collar workers join, lawyers … women … judges come out on the streets, prostitutes get organised … It became a massive social struggle every day, the number of people getting killed gets bigger …We still don’t have accurate figures of how many people the police and army shot dead in Pakistan…. “

“…finally, when … workers began to disrupt the railways … demand was very simple: end of dictatorship, and democratic free elections…. But … Field Marshal Ayub Khan, backed by Washington and London, was standing firm, ‘til he realised he couldn’t carry on. And in March, he was toppled.”

Can we extend the term ‘deliberation’ to de-tracking railways? But then what should an informed citizenry do under a dictatorship? Violence is never condonable but it is not so hard in the Pakistani paradigm (since alternate roads are perennially blocked) to view people’s struggle in 1968-1969 as a deliberation; a huge, unwieldy but magnificent deliberation. Such deliberation produces public judgment, a far higher form of collective intelligence than mere public opinion. It would be very nice to do things peacefully. It is still the case though that broadly recognised citizen deliberation and public judgment do bring public wisdom to public power. And this power is always bestowed by direct democracy. But this power is also always, particularly in Pakistan, crushed by autocracy, whether dressed in uniform or silk.

Still, such a combination of power and wisdom begins to approach an ideal democratic form. At a minimum, at least a semblance of a bearable public life emerges where the majority of people experience a shared timbre at the heart-mind level. This has occurred in a few, magical and unforgettable instances in Pakistani history. Sadly, the anarchy which accompanied the uprisings (that were only attempting to pry open an avenue of democracy) deteriorated into mobocracy. This then, as we witnessed, fed upon itself until it was spent or bent.

Mobocracy is the state we inherited in 1947, amidst the chaos of mass immigration that is now estimated at a million plus lives. Post dictatorships (military and civilian) and post 61 years of an impotent education system, no one expects a Gandhian political response in Pakistan. Still it matters that there are, on the planet, examples of small communities and large societies’ that practice a peacetime version of the level of advanced, though chaotic, democracy, like that winter-spring (1968-69) in Pakistan.

OTHER VOICES - North American Press

Chavez’s swerve

The Boston Globe

VENEZUELA’S President Hugo Chavez has been called a populist, a Marxist, and a Fidelista.

But at some point in his turbulent career he must have taken to heart Ralph Waldo Emerson’s dictum that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

At the least, Chavez made a sudden swerve Sunday when he confronted the leftist FARC guerrillas of Columbia, his former protégés. “Guerrilla warfare has passed from history,” Chavez said.

It remains to be seen whether the new FARC leader, Alfonso Cano, will heed Chavez’s advice to release all its hostages “in exchange for nothing”.

… If Cano were to continue on the path of his recently deceased predecessor … he could endanger Chavez by branding him as a facilitator of terrorism.

Chavez may appear inconsistent in his attitude toward the FARC, but he is neither foolish nor inconsistent in changing course to preserve his own and Venezuela’s basic interests. — (June 14)

Don’t ask, don’t tell

The Toronto Star

THERE are an estimated 80,000 illegal immigrants in Toronto, many of them parents of children who by provincial law are entitled to go to school. But too many children are still being denied access to Toronto public and Catholic schools because their parents don’t know their children are entitled to an education, concludes a report by Toronto’s Community Social Planning Council.

The study was launched after four children were apprehended in April 2006 and subsequently deported with their families.

The council found in a survey that four of 17 children were denied enrolment in public schools because of their immigration status.

Under the public board’s policy, parents are not required to prove their status. … The social planning council is urging the education ministry to take steps to ensure that all school boards in the province follow the law.

Children of illegal immigrants are among the most vulnerable in the province and ought not to shoulder the blame for their parents’ illegal status. — (June 14)