In the interest of economy

THE State Bank’s decision to hike its key policy rate by one per cent to 13 per cent — the highest since July 2001 — was expected. It is in line with the global trend to fight off the adverse impact of elevated prices of oil, metal and food commodities through tight monetary policy. The bank has been tightening monetary policy over the last one year to mitigate the risk to the economy from rising inflationary pressures. Worsening macroeconomic imbalances during the last fiscal year’s second quarter increased risks to the economy. The bank raised the discount rate by 3.5 per cent in four consecutive hikes — including 1.5 per cent in May — in less than 11 months since July 2007. The business sector argues that the interest rate hike would make credit costlier. But it should understand that the impact of higher credit price on businesses would be minimal in comparison to extremely adverse effects of price instability and ballooning external current account and fiscal deficits. The headline inflation went up to 12 per cent and inflation in food prices doubled to 13 per cent last financial year. The external current account deficit has grown to 8.4 per cent of the GDP and the bank estimates fiscal deficit to be around 8.3 per cent rather than seven per cent as stated by the government.

Businessmen have a point when they say that tight monetary policy is slowing down investment and growth. But this is not to be attributed to the bank’s approach. It is a result of global price uncertainties and the failure of the previous government to pass on the increase in global oil and food prices to domestic consumers. Also the previous as well as incumbent governments relied heavily on central bank borrowings to cover fiscal deficit and, thus, diluted the bank’s tight monetary stance and contributed significantly to inflationary pressures in the economy. Government borrowings topped Rs689bn or 80 per cent of fiscal deficit last year. Political uncertainty, the growing oil and food import bill and crunch in the global financial markets have significantly reduced foreign inflows, resulting in a rapid depletion of the foreign exchange stock and devaluation of the rupee. The fiscal deficit target of 4.7 per cent for the current year is also under stress as government borrowings have risen to above Rs32bn in the first month of the current fiscal. Political pressures deter the government from withdrawing subsidies. The bank has asked the government to stick to its pledge to net zero borrowings from it and look for other funding resources as well as to retire Rs84bn from its debt during the current year.

That is where the catch lies. On the one hand the government needs to turn the sliding economy around, spurring growth and investment and containing inflation, and on the other it must provide relief to people. Long-term economic stability demands tough decisions.

Child victimization

IF a government is judged by its commitment to caring for society’s most vulnerable segments, then Pakistan has failed miserably when it comes to protecting its children from abuse and poverty. The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child has just released its annual report for 2007 that highlights an increase of almost 20 per cent in cases of child victimisation from the previous year. In fact, considering that many cases go unreported, it would be safe to say that the figure of 5,200 victimised children in 2007 is on the low side. There are thousands of children whose sordid tales of neglect and abuse go untold because of fear and repression, or simply because there appears to be no one to turn to for help. Physical and emotional abuse within the home and at school and work are common to the extent that most of us have come to accept such victimisation as a fact of life. Intervention is uncommon and, for the sake of reputation, families prefer to keep quiet rather than report cases of sexual abuse while poverty and the lack of clout prevents them from confronting the abusive employers and teachers of their children. This then becomes a vicious cycle with children entering adulthood as repressed, violent individuals, often taking out years of pent-up emotions on those younger and more helpless than themselves.

Unfortunately, the government’s indifferent attitude to child neglect has resulted in a situation where, let alone international commitments, the few laws we have for protecting children are not being implemented. Thus labour laws are violated with impunity. Not only do children find themselves giving up what should be the best years of their lives to low-paid drudgery, they are often employed in high-risk occupations such as coal-mining and brick-making. Similarly, there is little enforcement of juvenile justice laws for child offenders. The latter often find themselves in fetters and are routinely abused by police. With such a lackadaisical attitude towards the implementation of legislation, it is no wonder that the government is least concerned about the delay in enacting a comprehensive child protection bill that is intended to address the issue of exploitation and abuse of children. For any improvement in the situation of children, the government has to take the lead.

Raining misery

YEAR after year, hope triumphs over experience in the lead up to the monsoons. Regrettably, this year too the metropolis of Karachi was paralysed by the first downpour of the season. The scenario was one of a battle zone — traffic gridlocks on bustling arteries such as M.A.Jinnah Road, Sharea Faisal, I.I.Chundrigar and many others kept commuters stranded for hours on end; flooding on Aiwan-i-Saddar Road, Ziauddin Ahmed Road and parts of Saddar saw vehicles break down and left many pedestrians and passengers injured. To make matters worse, KESC officials ran for cover as our dismal electricity infrastructure caved in and the city plunged into darkness. So far, two people have been reported dead and over two dozen were injured. Undeniably, the city’s night-long misery could have been far harsher had its several drainage development projects not managed to alleviate much of the rain mayhem. Fewer areas were waterlogged, including plush localities such as Defence and Clifton; parts of which have tackled routine submersion with each cloudburst. But it was not a safe passage all the way either — the construction work of numerous storm water drains in these neighbourhoods began late and countless residents and commuters were left to battle overflowing ditches with rainwater inundating many homes.

Regardless of ongoing work on new drainage systems, a terrifying past did return to haunt this hapless city. The question is; why is an entire year not enough for services such as KESC and CDGK to achieve significant maintenance? The former cites perennial shortfall as the prime reason but the despicable state of electric cables, poles, transformers and grid stations cannot be condoned. And for the most part, there is negligible accountability within the departments. Also, perhaps road rage and havoc may be curtailed with timely warnings from the city government and the met office that guide people about routes, behaviour and driving techniques to avoid impediments such as stranded vehicles. It is important to ensure that the traffic police take charge instead of shelter. To begin with, this will keep people on the right side of the road as well as manage jams caused by power outages. It is early in the monsoon yet and clearly, much more has to be done. The city cannot be left to its own devices to become hostage to nature again.

OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press

Cyprus peace talks

The Turkish Daily News

LEADERS of the two peoples of the … island of Cyprus came together — for a second time this month and for the fourth time since March when they agreed to resume the Cyprus peace process — to review progress achieved in the 13 working groups and technical committees that were established after the first March meeting with the aim of laying the groundwork for comprehensive talks….

Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat hopes that the Cyprus peace plane, which will take off Sept 3, will reach its destination of peace by the end of the year — though he says he would be happy with a “reasonable delay.” Will he and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Demetris Christofias manage to land the Cyprus peace plane?

… Talat and Christofias are two socialist comrades who have a reputation of being ‘pro-settlement’. As both leaders have so far strongly committed themselves to resolving the intractable Cyprus problem … it is obvious that failure of the two leaders’ bid to bring about a bilaterally negotiated settlement would deal a serious blow to hopes for the creation of a federal or confederal unified Cyprus and … make … partition permanent…. — (July 26)

International justice

The Jordan Times

THE arrest on Monday of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic in Belgrade is a milestone in the administration of international justice.

Karadzic was indicted by the UN war crimes court in The Hague for his role in the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims and Croats between 1992 and 1996, specifically the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 and the killing of no less than 10,000 Muslims in Sarajevo.

It is estimated that no less than 300,000 Muslims and Croats were killed by the Bosnian Serbs under the leadership of Karadzic during the armed conflict in Bosnia.

Now, at last, the authorities in the new and democratic Serbia have succeeded in locating the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs and had him arrested.

The Karadzic arrest also signals to the world that no matter how long a fugitive remains on the run, he or she will be apprehended sooner or later and brought to justice.

The Bosnian Muslims will now feel that the international community has not forgotten or abandoned them.

Their justice is the justice of the entire international community. — (July 25)

Fata’s growing disconnect

By Afrasiab Khattak


IT is hardly an exaggeration that the security of Pakistan, Afghanistan, the entire region and indeed that of the whole world will be defined by developments in Fata over the next few months. Different scenarios are being painted by military strategists and political experts.

Al Qaeda, after regrouping in the militant sanctuaries of the area, is acquiring the capacity to repeat attacks in North America or Europe similar to those carried out in 2001 in the US.

If reports about the exchanges between Pakistan and the US at the highest level are anything to go by it is pretty clear that the US will retaliate against Pakistan, probably even more severely than it did against the Taliban-dominated Afghanistan. Similarly the use of these militant sanctuaries for cross-border fighting is so large in scale (in fact all the six political agencies bordering Afghanistan are being used) that denial in this regard is no longer plausible.

The federal government has to either admit defeat or muster the political will to resolve the problem, or else justify the existence of militant sanctuaries by explaining their usefulness to the national interest. We have run out of time and this decision cannot be delayed any more as there are no takers of the denial line.

As if this were not enough, armed lashkars (armies) from militant sanctuaries in Fata are poised to penetrate/invade the contiguous settled districts. The events in Hangu some three weeks back are a case in point. The Hangu police arrested four Taliban commanders from a car that also contained weapons, explosive material and manuals for making bombs in a place called Doaba not far away from the Orakzai Agency border.

Hundreds of Taliban surrounded the Doaba police station and demanded the commanders’ release. They also blocked the Hangu-Kurram highway. During this confrontation the Frontier Constabulary was ambushed near Zargari village and 16 security personnel were killed. Subsequently the army was called in to launch a military operation in Hangu. This action was not just in retaliation for the murder of 16 FC men but also came in view of the threat of attack by four to five thousand Taliban from Orakzai and Kurram agencies.

By now the said military operation has been completed and the targets achieved to the extent that the Taliban have been chased out of Hangu. Nevertheless, they have fled to Orakzai Agency where they are regrouping and preparing for future attacks.

The NWFP (Pakhtunkhwa) government is in a quandary. It has to call in the army whenever armed lashkars threaten to overrun a district as the police force simply does not have the capacity to fight an ever-expanding insurgency.

After Swat the army has also been deployed in Hangu. In view of the militant sanctuaries situated nearby, the army cannot be withdrawn in the near future. Imagine if the story is repeated in other vulnerable districts. Will the army also have to be deployed in all these other districts? Will such measures not bring the existence of the civilian provincial government into question?

Is it not amazing that in spite of such high stakes the presidency that has a monopoly over governance in Fata seems to show no anxiety over the prevailing situation? It is continuing with the policy of keeping Fata a black hole where terrorist groups from across the globe run their bases. It is still a no-go area for the media and civil society, and so far there is no corrective measure or policy change in sight. So much so that we have failed to take even the most preliminary step of extending the Political Parties Act to Fata.

It is only natural that we are perturbed when attacks are launched from across the border. But should we not be equally sensitive to the loss of our sovereignty over Fata to militant groups? Strangely enough we do not seem to be bothered about the militants’ total control of Fata. When the international media carries reports about this situation we dismiss them as ‘enemy’ propaganda against Pakistan. We have failed to grasp the fact that in the post-cold war world there is a universal consensus about two things. One, that all assault weapons that can be used for launching a war cannot be allowed to be kept in private possession. Two, that no state will allow the use of its soil by non-state players against another state. The entire world is astounded by our fixation with the cold war mode. We have developed an incredible capacity to live in unreality. This is indeed dangerous for any state system but it can be catastrophic for a state dancing in a minefield.

Where does all this leave the people of Fata? They are victims and not perpetrators as some people would like us to believe. They are in fact in triple jeopardy. Firstly they are groaning under the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901. They have no access to the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan since they are not justiciable outside of the jurisdiction of the higher judiciary.

Secondly the tribal belt has almost been occupied by foreign and local militant organisations that are better equipped, better trained and better financed than the local population. More than 160 tribal leaders have been killed by terrorists in North and South Waziristan who operate with total impunity. Today’s Fata is not dissimilar to the Taliban and Al Qaeda controlled Afghanistan before 9/11.

Thirdly, the people of Fata get caught in the crossfire between militants and security forces from both sides of the Durand Line. The so-called collateral damage has seen a cancerous growth in Fata. The people of Fata have lost the support and protection of the state. They have no access to the media, courts and hospitals or to humanitarian assistance. The only intervention by state players takes place through their armies and air forces in which people of the tribal area are mostly on the receiving end.

For any informed and sensitive Pakistani, the situation in the tribal area is the top-most priority when it comes to policy formation and implementation. We must realise that the question of dismantling militant sanctuaries in Fata and taking short-term and long-term measures to open up the area and integrate it with the rest of the country needs urgent national attention if we are to avoid the impending catastrophe.

Fast food invasion

By Peter Popham


THE Mediterranean diet’s guarantee of lightness, flavour and health has gained devotees all over the world because it is low in animal fat and high in fruit, vegetables and olive and sunflower oils. But a report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reveals that the people of Mediterranean countries increasingly spurn it.

Increased affluence and the arrival of supermarkets and fast foods in countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal have also led to a massive increase in obesity, the report finds. The most dramatic example is Greece. Today, 56 per cent of the population of the European Union are overweight, with 15 per cent obese — but the problem in Greece is far worse, where three quarters are overweight and more than 25 per cent obese — the highest proportion in the EU. And the other Mediterranean countries are not far behind.

The Med diet was originally the diet of the poor, who typically did hard physical work but did not earn enough to eat much meat. Rising affluence has changed that though, making the former working classes as sedentary as those of northern Europe by increasing discretionary income while reducing the time available for people to cook.

Supermarkets have sprung up too, offering working mothers the temptation of convenience foods high in salt, sugar and animal fat. As a result, says the author of the report, the FAO’s senior economist Josef Schmidhuber, the famed diet has “decayed into a moribund state” in its home region.

The benefits of the Med diet are well established. A study in 2005 found that a healthy man of 60 who stuck closely to the diet — a high intake of vegetables, fruits and cereals, lots of fish and not much meat or dairy — could expect to live around one year longer than a man who did not.

Other countries, including Britain, have adopted elements of the diet, such as increased consumption of olive oil and salads — although the advantages have been negated by lack of exercise.

The influence of the convenience food industry has gone around the Mediterranean basin, affecting North African countries as well as those in the EU. In recent months, Spain, backed by Italy, Greece and Morocco, has been campaigning to have the diet included in Unesco’s World Heritage list. Now the sponsors of the proposal can add “endangered” to the list of reasons why the UN should resolve to defend the diet.

— © The Independent

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