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DAWN - Opinion; July 09, 2008

July 09, 2008

Economic, political betrayal?

By Saba Gul Khattak

THERE is a fundamental disconnect between the wishes of the voters and policies that their elected representatives have ushered in post-February 2008.

The elections constituted an anti-Musharraf vote and a vote for peace. The clear message was that people were tired of the policies of the military regime in civilian garb. For many people, the issue of the rule of law was critical hence they voted for the restoration of the judiciary.

For a majority of Pakistanis, the frequency of suicide bombings and intensity of direct violence was terrifying. Over 70 such bombings happened over the course of nine to ten months between July 2007 and March 2008. This combined with other forms of violence — military operations in Balochistan and Fata, police brutality, targeted killings, kidnappings and disappearances — made people vote for peace. The election results were seen to be mass rejection of militancy and radicalisation. It was a vote against the status quo.

Yet, four months down the line, the status quo continues. The secular political parties that espoused democratic values have made dubious deals that betray their election promises, their ideals and are sorely discouraging for their party workers. Thus, many assert that the present PPP is not the PPP of the Bhuttos and that the present ANP is not the ANP of Bacha Khan. The PPP workers are disappointed that Gen Musharraf continues in power and the PPP continues to work with the same economic team that is responsible for the mess that the country is presently in. The PPP leadership has even appointed Hina Rabbani Khar to her old position to signal continuity of economic policies.

Prime Minister Gilani has also reassured foreign lenders that the policy of privatisation and liberalisation will persist. This implies that the poor will suffer more. Sadly the PPP draws its electoral strength from some of the poorest districts of Pakistan. The urgency to implement social protection lies in the four to five suicides daily due to rising prices. This urgency is lost on the economic team as the newly proposed safety nets for the poor are far from being implemented.

For example, the Benazir Card, announced amidst fanfare and made part of the budget, is yet to be institutionalised through Nadra and even when it is, it will cover only seven million of the 40 million people living below the poverty line. We know that the poorest and most vulnerable do not have computerised NICs — thus the manner in which the poor are to be targeted is fundamentally flawed. The same apathy is repeated with minimum wage for labour announced two months ago. No concrete steps are in sight for implementation.

On the political front, the election results gave mixed signals. The implications of different political parties doing well in particular provinces caused concern. Yet the formation of a coalition government at the centre indicated that a strong federation where the federating units could work harmoniously, upholding provincial autonomy, was a new reality.

The subsequent cracks between the PPP and PML-N pertaining to the restoration of the judiciary have been disappointing. Even more disappointing for many PPP and ANP party workers in Sindh, especially in Karachi, is the deal with the MQM, which enjoys the support of the president. In May 2007, the MQM resorted to violence and killings in Karachi at the behest of the establishment. How could the PPP and ANP forget those whose lives were sacrificed while defending principles and justice in the face of armed intimidation?

But, the great betrayal is the manner in which the ANP has signed peace deals with militants in Swat. This has repercussions for the entire country as the same style can be repeated elsewhere. The provincial coalition government has released the militants without confiscating their arms. Thus, the militants are back in Swat, terrorising the local population. The ANP supporters in Swat, many of whom have lost near and dear ones in the recent confrontations and suicide bombings feel alienated. They question the right of the provincial government to grant amnesty to murderers on their behalf.

Forgiving crimes against citizens implies a breakdown of the social contract and constitutional rights. The duty of the state is to provide justice, not let criminals loose on the very people whose fundamental right to life and livelihood the criminals have violated.

What can be the possible reason for the lag between the ANP and PPP election promises, vision and subsequent actions? Both were firmly against military dictators but are happy to work with one whom they call a ‘relic of the past.’ The ANP got a vote to end militancy in the province, not to let militants terrorise those who bravely refused to allow them to operate in places like Kalam. With popular support behind them in Swat, why has the ANP bargained from a position of weakness rather than strength?

Afrasiab Khattak was opposed to policies that he said were crafted by the ISI and the military in Islamabad. He was a staunch supporter of decision-making through parliament. Yet, the terms of the peace deals were neither debated in the provincial assembly nor within the ANP itself.

How is such a disconnect possible? The answer lies in Pakistan’s complex political realities and flawed democracy. The involvement of intelligence agencies and international powers in the political twists and turns of Pakistani politics is all too well-known. What has become more obvious with time is the extent to which the people of Pakistan continue to be betrayed both economically and politically by those they repose their trust in. If the ANP and PPP were more accountable to the people of Pakistan than their foreign and domestic masters, they would enjoy increased popularity and it would be difficult to destabilise them.

They must realise that their strength lies in the poor people of this country who long for peace and prosperity. If they play the dangerous proxy games of other actors and feel ‘powerful’ by brokering dubious deals, they will continue to suffer paralysis from the lack of vision and direction that they are presently exhibiting.

The writer is a researcher in political science.

Wanted: men not boys

By Cyril Almeida

BOYS will be boys, but grown men need to stop acting like brats. Nawaz Sharif and Dr A.Q. Khan can’t believe they aren’t getting their way, so they are chucking all their toys out of their prams.

The trouble for the rest of us is that they have grown-up toys such as governments and nuclear secrets.

Take a peek inside Nawaz’s pram. His idea of supporting the coalition from the outside is to disown everything the government does. The N-League has become the political wife from hell, nagging the government on every issue it can think of, micro and macro.

Militancy, rather than doing something to stop the militants, is the League’s biggest peeve. Nawaz and company tell us that the militants should be engaged in dialogue. Yes, if dialogue was the name of a new weapon. It’s absurd. There exists in this country of ours a Tehrik Taliban-i-Pakistan, Swat chapter. As if it’s an international philanthropic organisation or a sports club. But the N-League wants us to hug and kiss the militants. And talk politely. The tough talk is reserved for its coalition partner, the PPP.

On a late night political talk show, I tired of the PML-N’s dissembling and vague talk of dialogue. Siddiqul Farooq, mouthpiece of the League, was a phone-in guest and was spouting his party’s usual line of wanting peace and lambasting the government for not consulting his party on the Khyber operation. When Farooq repeated ad nauseum that dialogue was the way ahead, I asked him an elementary question: what do Mangal Bagh, Ansarul Islam and Haji Naamdaar want? Surely if the N-League knows how to deal with this issue, they must know something about these men. The Leaguers wouldn’t suggest a solution without knowing the problem, would they?

They would. Or at least that’s what they are saying publicly. Farooq couldn’t tell me what Khyber’s bad boys wanted because, well, the record hadn’t been placed before parliament. Here’s an idea for the N-League: read a newspaper. Or pick up a phone and dial Bara. What they will find is that the government is trying to pass the appearance of doing something against militancy for actually doing something against militancy.

The Khyber war that the paramilitary forces have gone in to stamp out is a festering Deobandi-Barelvi dispute. In the black corner are the Deobandi, Mufti Munir Shakir, and his Lashkar-i-Islam. In the green corner stand Barelvi, Pir Saifur Rehman, and his Ansarul Islam. The two are amongst the original crop of Mullah FMs who used their illegal radio broadcasts to spew venom against each other.

Predictably, violence erupted in Khyber. Equally predictably, the state was tardy in asserting its authority. The duelling preachers were finally forced out of Khyber in 2006, but not before passing on the torch of bigotry and intolerance to their followers. Enter Mangal Bagh, a little man with big aspirations, who donned Mufti Shakir’s mantle of the self-proclaimed defender of the local Deobandi population against foreign, mystical Barelvi preachers. To anyone familiar with Mr Bagh, the man is a thug. But since he has wrapped himself up in the cloak of Islam, the N-League thinks we must hold his hand and listen to him.

There is a third character up in Khyber. Sitting pretty is one Haji Naamdaar. He is one of the promotion-of-virtue-and-prevention-of-vice groups. Of the three groups, the only one which is genuinely believed to have connections with the Taliban is Mr Naamdaar’s. But Naamdaar has made himself useful by lately turning on the Taliban and Baitullah Mehsud, making him a state favourite for now.

So, yes, the farcical operation in Bara should be criticised. The N-League though has grabbed the hind legs of reason. While it’s well and good to put down thugs and stamp out religious wars, it’s dangerously disingenuous to foist it off as a battle against the Taliban. However, Nawaz has cynically calculated that he needs to distance himself from everything unpopular the government does, so that he isn’t tarred with the same brush in case things go wrong. Tough times call for statesmen, but Pakistan is blessed with snivellers.

Over in the other pram, Dr Khan is choking on his spittle. When the ersatz scientist confessed to crimes high and low, he thought he would be let off for taking a hit for the team. But Musharraf threw Khan under the bus, locking him up and hoping the world would forget about him. Khan has been stewing in his home ever since, fantasising about taking revenge against the generals who have wronged him.

There is no real reason to doubt the bit about the generals knowing of and facilitating Khan’s nuclear shenanigans. From the cunning Beg to the urbane Karamat to the duplicitous Musharraf, fingers have been pointed at army chiefs for a while now. It probably isn’t much of a comfort to the generals, but it’s a good thing that no one believes their denials. For if the generals were believed on this count it would mean that everyone thinks that the army is so incompetent, so easily duped, so staggeringly clueless that its most prized assets — nuclear paraphernalia — could be merrily shipped around the world without its knowledge. You can’t exactly shove a P-1 centrifuge down your trousers and saunter out of Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) whistling a Bollywood ditty. So the grim faces in GHQ, Strategic Planning Division and KRL should soften a little — at least the people don’t think they are stupid.

But Khan ought to know better than to prattle to the media on proliferation. He has been known to drop bombshells ever since hubris got the better of him when he talked to eminent journalist Kuldip Nayar two decades ago. This time though it isn’t about sending any signals to India or the US; it’s just a caged, old man lashing out recklessly against his tormentor. Such are our heroes today. A young foreign minister once swore that Pakistan would eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, to get the bomb. Khan can’t even swallow his pride for the bomb.

And what has our political godfather been up to as Pakistan goes to hell? Well, Asif racked up frequent flier miles on a trip to sunny Athens for the International Socialist Conference. Because, you know, Mr Ten Per Cent is a socialist. The socialists must be in dire trouble: inviting Zardari to address a gathering of socialists is bit like asking Madonna to perform at a nun’s retreat.

A thought exercise for the week: if an alien landed in Pakistan from the skies above today, what would he think? Good night and good luck.

Engineering a new export strategy

By Michael Kugelman & Robert M. Hathaway

PAKISTAN’S trade deficit has never been larger. Over the first ten months of fiscal 2007-08, the country imported a record $16.8bn more than it exported.

Given domestic factors — growing energy needs coupled with crippling energy shortages — and external realities — surging global oil and food prices — Pakistan’s import bill will undoubtedly climb even higher. Some economists believe Pakistan’s trade deficit could soon swell to more than $20bn.

Trade — and trade deficits — matter. As Islamabad’s recently passed 2008-09 budget makes clear, the deficit will mean added hardships for ordinary Pakistanis, and especially for those who subsist below the poverty line. In order to address the country’s financial imbalances, the government will be cutting food, fuel, and power subsidies by 25 per cent. These cuts come just weeks after additional increases in Pakistani wheat flour and sugar prices, and just days after a World Bank report predicts rising world food prices could prevent nearly half of Pakistan from buying food.

What can be done about Pakistan’s trade deficit? Commonly prescribed remedies (such as stricter monetary policies and exchange rate adjustments) amount to short-term fixes and are ultimately unsustainable. What is required is a full-scale shift in Pakistan’s export priorities, one that would for the first time make Pakistan’s export portfolio truly competitive in global markets. While this shift would not protect Pakistan from high world oil and food prices, it would ease Pakistan’s trade imbalance by bringing export revenues closer to parity with import costs. Stronger export performance would also breathe some much-needed life into Pakistan’s slowing economy.

A shift in export strategy will require the following elements:

(a) Product diversification. Currently, 75 per cent of Pakistan’s exports come from only four commodities—leather products, rice, sports goods, and (especially) textiles and clothing. Approximately 60 per cent of Pakistan’s exports are cotton-based, and more than 80 per cent of its manufactured exports consist of traditional, low-tech textile and clothing goods. In effect, Pakistan is mired in a virtual mono-export rut.

Today’s global consumers welcome textiles. Yet they also desire sleek, modern technology and hunger for services. Major developing countries, understanding this demand for modern products, have drastically increased their market share of these goods. By contrast, in 2005, Pakistan’s non-textile and non-clothing exports totalled just $2.3bn — a minuscule 0.03 per cent of the world total. Little surprise, then, that Pakistan’s annual export revenues have consistently fallen short of their targets.

Pakistan must look beyond textiles. Electrical consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, value-added agricultural products, and the services sector can all bring considerable profits.

(b) Destination diversification. Nearly half of Pakistan’s exports go to the United States or European Union. Pakistan should also target markets in strong or growing economies such as Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and Thailand — all nations to whom Pakistan currently sends less than one per cent of its total exports.

Additionally, Pakistan should expand trade in South Asia. Pakistan’s backyard has long been a regional trade backwater; Saarc’s total intraregional trade accounts for less than two per cent of its member countries’ GDP. Yet the potential benefits of expanding Pakistan’s trade with its neighbours are tremendous. With new and larger export markets across South Asia, Pakistan’s agricultural, banking, services, and transport sectors would be revitalised and provide value-added products now lacking.

In essence, intensifying regional trade would transform Pakistan from a nation of few and frequently uncompetitive exports and limited trade partners into one boasting a diverse and competitive export portfolio — with the world’s most populous region clamouring for its products.

(c) Skills development and education. Improving the quality, value, and competitiveness of Pakistani exports will require major investments in skills training and education. Significantly, Asia’s new economic behemoths, India and China, have equipped their large populations with the skills and schooling to produce modern, high-value-added exports. These two countries illustrate how large populations can be an asset, not a burden, so long as public policies help give people skills demanded by the global economy.

Enhancing training and education in Pakistan is the responsibility of both the government and the private sector. Government must help the country’s troubled educational system produce graduates with more marketable skills. Firms need to invest in skills development and realise that importing skilled brainpower from abroad is only a short-term measure. Pakistani authorities have taken steps toward export diversification and skills investment. Last year, Pakistan’s commerce minister spotlighted major export increases in the engineering, jewellery, and services sectors, and proposed incentives to spark growth in non-textile exports. Recent government initiatives have established an Export Skills Development Council and reinforced linkages between education, marketable skills, employment, and competitiveness.

These steps, however, are exceedingly modest, and — as the $16.8bn trade deficit demonstrates — woefully insufficient. There is much work to be done — yet this is work that Pakistanis want done. As Pakistan’s fragile governing coalition grapples with the country’s myriad challenges — particularly the slowing economy, which is affecting more and more of the population — it should take note that the electorate deems trade a priority (a 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Survey found that 82 per cent favour “growing trade ties between countries”). Islamabad has a strong mandate to craft a sustainable trade policy — one that emphasises competitive exports and therefore overall economic growth, and consequently one that helps deliver better economic security to Pakistanis at a time when GDP growth is projected to fall below six per cent for the first time in five years.

Expanding exports, however, must be balanced against other national priorities. While an export-driven trade policy is arguably a ticket to sustained economic growth, such a strategy imposes social costs in Pakistan. Reducing or eliminating import tariffs to encourage export flows can shrink government funding for development programmes that help the poor. Manufacturing goods for export can spawn environmental blight. And capital-intensive production and high-skills export opportunities have historically benefited men more than women — who have less access to education and less mobility than men.

Therefore, as Pakistani policy-makers cultivate a more competitive export mix, they must also be mindful of measures beneficial to human development. Authorities should use non-tariff revenues to fund development programmes; deploy clean technology in export production; and incorporate a gendered approach in trade policy development. n

The writers are programme associate and programme director, respectively, for the Asia Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, DC. They are the editors of the new volume Hard Sell: Attaining Pakistani Competitiveness in Global Trade, on which this comment is based. Free copies can be obtained by writing to The book can also be downloaded free of charge from

The Young Turks

By Gwynne Dyer

THE Ottoman Empire had already been in retreat for over a century when the Young Turk revolution broke out in July, 1908. Some of the Young Turks hoped to save the whole empire; others wanted to abandon the empire and rescue an independent Turkey from the wreckage.

The latter group won the argument, in the end, and although the rest of the empire fell under European imperial rule ten years later, Turkey itself was saved. Now, exactly a hundred years after the Young Turks, the country is plunged into another constitutional crisis.

In March, the public prosecutor brought a case to Turkey’s highest judicial body, the constitutional court, demanding that the ruling AK (Justice and Development) Party, re-elected only last year with an increased majority, be shut down for trying to subvert the secular state. He also wants Prime Minister Tayyib Recep Erdogan and seventy other senior AK party members banned from politics for five years.

Last week the government struck back, arresting two retired generals and 23 other people on the charge of “provoking armed rebellion against the government.” One, General Hursit Tolon, was the former second-in-command of the army. Police allege that they were members of a state-backed gang that is suspected of a number of murders of prominent public figures with the aim of destabilising Turkish society and forcing military intervention.

But wait a minute. “State-backed?” Isn’t the government itself the embodiment of the state? In Turkey, not necessarily. The conspirators, it is claimed, belong to what Turks call the “deep state,” the alliance of senior judicial and military figures who still see themselves as the guardians of the secular Turkish republic that was ultimate result of the Young Turk revolution.

What the rebellious Young Turk officers demanded in July, 1908, was the restoration of the constitution that had been suspended thirty years before. It brought a rough kind of democracy to the multinational empire, but the various ethnic nationalisms, Bulgarian, Kurdish, Greek, Arab, Armenian — and, above all, Turkish — were already too strong for a unified state to survive.

The Ottoman empire went under at the end of the First World War, leaving a decimated Turkish population (only eight million in 1918) to fight for its independence against British, French, Italian and Greek invaders who sought to carve Turkey up between them. The man who led that independence struggle, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founded the Turkish Republic in 1923, and he made it one of the most rigorously secular states in the world.

Ninety-nine per cent of Turkey’s citizens are Muslims, but political parties are banned from appealing to religion. Initially, this militant secularism was a tactic for wrenching a largely illiterate and deeply conservative peasantry out of its medieval ways and catapulting the country into the 20th century. Turkey must never be weak again, and to be strong it must be “modern.” But as the decades passed, the reformers turned into a self-selecting “republican” elite.

A hundred years after the Young Turk revolution, the Turks are again at a crossroads. It is quite possible that the court will decide to ban the AK Party later this year, just as it rejected the new law allowing women students to wear the head-scarf at university last month. Many senior judges are part of the “deep state.” But it is not 1908: the outlook this time is a lot brighter.

It will turn out all right because the self-nominated defenders of secularism are transparently cynical in their attempts to manipulate popular opinion. If the court bans AK, they will all resign from power peacefully, in obedience to the law. Then those who are not banned from politics entirely for five years will reform the party under another name, and fight and win another election. And bit by bit, the “deep state” will wither away.

— Copyright Gwynne Dyer