For economic recovery

By S.M. Naseem


WITH Pakistan’s finances in serious trouble, it was easy to predict that the country’s ‘new’ economic managers would soon summon the IMF doctors to cure the ailing economy.

Pakistan’s economic problems have been exacerbated by an uneasy political transition from a military-led to a democratically-elected government, which — as street demonstrations against inflation and load-shedding testify — has yet to gain the confidence of all sections of the population, especially the poor.

The recent arrival of a high-powered IMF delegation on a two-week mission, with a ‘comprehensive package’ — apparently already assembled in Washington, with minor trappings to be added in Islamabad — for the ailing economy, however, does not bode well for the country’s long-term development.

The history of Pakistan’s relationship with the IMF has been unsavoury, often mutually so. Neither has the experience of other developing countries approaching the IMF and related organisations in times of economic distress been very wholesome, except as a temporary palliative. Indeed, the organisation has suffered such a loss of esteem in recent years that it has been having trouble finding clients. Its shrinking clientele, restricted now to ‘failing’ or ‘failed’ states, has raised concerns about the future of such institutions.

Many Pakistani economists, some after long years of service with the IMF and World Bank, have recently declared in unequivocal terms that the IMF recipe is unlikely to be of much help in overcoming the serious structural problems that the country faces. (Ijaz Nabi, a former colleague, went so far as to say: “Given our current political scenario, the standard IMF programme would be disastrous.”) It is therefore surprising that the present regime, especially after Musharraf’s forced exit from the corridors of power, has decided to adopt a course that is likely to perpetuate his policies, which brought the economy to the brink of disaster in the first place.

An argument often used by the protagonists of IMF packages is that it would help stem the capital outflows and the steady hemorrhaging of foreign exchange reserves besides resulting in the resumption of the large FDI and other capital inflows which have sustained Pakistan’s high growth in the past few years.

The argument suffers from two serious flaws. First, these flows are a function of complex domestic and global factors, which an IMF package alone could, at best, only partly help overcome. In the past, foreign investors have been encouraged by the existence of a stable military-led regime which served as a guarantee for the return on and safety of their investments. The new democratic regime, with its teething troubles of establishing its firm writ, is unlikely to inspire the same degree of confidence anytime soon.

Second, and more importantly, the IMF package is unlikely to address the basic structural problems of the economy — i.e. the low savings rate and the low tax/GDP ratio — which large external flows have helped build, rather than remedy, in the past. Despite Pakistan’s repeated recourse to IMF packages, these problems persist.

One had hoped that the new government would embark on a sustained programme of economic and social reconstruction that has been deferred for decades because of inadvertent economic and political factors. It would have been better if a large national consensus could develop such a programme which was endorsed and had the full commitment of major political parties and civil society actors. Unfortunately, this now seems to be a largely forlorn hope with the breakdown of the coalition which helped achieve the ouster of the old regime.

What is still possible, in order to make the programme politically inclusive, is to invite different political groups, inside and outside the government, to agree on a common economic agenda, which would signify a collective political will to solve the major social and economic issues facing the country. It would give Mr Zardari a broader mandate on economic and social issues than the political mandate he received in the election.

It is interesting, if a bit ironical, that on the day we heard the news of the arrival of the IMF mission headed by Mr Juan Carlos di Tata, the prime minister inaugurated a meeting of a panel of economists headed by Mr Hafiz Pasha, an academic veteran who has advised almost all regimes in the past decade and a half in a ministerial or quasi-ministerial capacity. His group has been assigned a task almost identical to that of the IMF delegation.

According to one press report quoting the NRO-rehabilitated bureaucrat-head of the Planning Commission, Mr Salman Faruqui, “A macro-economic stabilisation plan will be finalised (by the Planning Commission’s panel of economists) as an integrated package in one month’s time to cope with fiscal and monetary difficulties, setting short-, medium- and long-term goals.”

This is a rather Herculean task. Even if they are able to accomplish the task assigned to them, their work is unlikely to be of much value in solving the real challenges facing the economy. Such ‘firefighting’ efforts have been routinely undertaken by all incoming governments (including Gen Musharraf’s) without any substantive impact on government policies which were eventually designed by the IMF, World Bank, the ADB and other agencies, the fiction of a ‘homegrown’ package notwithstanding. The idea of such a distinguished panel playing second fiddle to the IMF is abominable.

It is about time that our academics and professionals, especially in the economics profession, began to assert their self-respect and refused to be used as an accessory of the establishment in producing pipe dreams for the future through fancy models and sophisticated econometric techniques, in support of unscrupulous rulers who want to fool both the people and the peddlers of foreign aid.

Much more important is the task of establishing functioning, truly autonomous academic and research institutions capable of producing timely, relevant and independent research for inclusive and equitable development. Towards that end, the reorganisation of the Planning Commission under technically qualified leadership and the creation of an autonomous statistical agency, with the capability of organising periodic field surveys on various issues, would be essential steps.

Instead of giving a ‘command performance’ at the request of the government, the research community needs to take its own initiatives through reviving professional associations, such as the long-languishing Pakistan Economic Association, or creating other independent ones, selecting its own agenda and presenting its own solutions as an alternative to those of the government.

syed.naseem@aya.yale.edu

Cultural and body politics

By Nazish Brohi & Afiya Shehrbano


THE past few weeks have seen an outpouring of ‘moral outrage’ against the alleged burying alive of two women in Nasirabad, Balochistan, in what is considered another case of ‘honour killing’.

We examine here the sub-text of such crimes which challenges the false premises on which most of the outrage is based.

The main reaction has been less about understanding the structural and material motivation behind such systemic acts, and more about the nature and location of the crime. In other words, despite the routine honour crimes committed in Pakistan, the Nasirabad killings in particular drew an outraged response because of the apparently torturous method used to murder the women. The reaction, as expressed in newspaper articles and by protesters, presumes these crimes take place in an apolitical vacuum or are the work of ‘lunatics’ or tribals and feudals.

From the first day, our concern was over how soon the public outrage would have died down if it wasn’t a case that involved being buried alive. Would there have been as much rage? Sadly not, as seen in the lack of rage over other honour killing cases. Of course, the positive side of such a strong protest in the wake of quick media reporting is that there is pressure to investigate and bring such cases to justice.

The questionable involvement of politicians and tribal leaders in such cases always raises the probability of cover-ups and protection of the perpetrators. However, in particularly graphic cases, the focus on the nature of the crime allows the accused to say, as is now being reported, that the women were not buried alive but were shot first and then buried. The rationale is that as long as the mode of killing is not too barbaric, it is accepted as normative by those who benefit from this system and those who identify it as a given evil in the tribal/feudal tradition of misogyny.

Where should concern be located instead? Women activists have researched and raised awareness on how a woman’s body is used as a tool of governance in all forms of male mediation and negotiations. In Pakistan, this holds true across classes and societies.

In conflict/competing situations, this form of body politics can be used to escalate the level of conflict and as a tool of vengeance, often in the form of rape — as in the case of Mukhtaran Mai. Public stripping and making women parade naked in public are also demonstrations of how women’s bodies are used as ‘community signposts’ beyond which collective community punishments can be meted out. But the root of such actions has less to do with ‘mindsets’ that can be transformed simply through ‘education’. It is much more to do with systems of governance that define social relationships.

Marriage is very much a tool of governance. Through it, groups are brought together, competing interests aligned or sidelined. It is used to ensure the welfare of family members; through dowry, bride price and exchange marriages. This understanding is not restricted to simply rural or tribal communities but is very much part of urban Pakistani marital arrangements too.

So if women’s bodies are a governance tool, then women eloping, marrying of their own choice or entering into sexual relations sans marriage is not simply one that provokes male egos. It is more about women claiming political space. By claiming authority over their own bodies, women often challenge a wider spectrum of collective male decision-making. This, essentially, is the male prerogative and ‘honour’ that is violated. The killings prompted by ‘loss of honour’ are not only about the loss of women’s chastity per se, but also the loss of control and authority, far wider than control over a female body.

The second wave of outrage was in response to the defensive reaction of Baloch political leaders and Senator Zehri, who suggested that the crime was part of a traditional system of maintaining social order. His was merely a crude version of the same basic principle that many of our urban elite men endorse — the need to regulate a woman’s sexuality in all its manifestations. The indignation distracts us from the broader issue of how this expression of violence against women is linked to patriarchy, property and the state. It is also a mistake to read it as a culture-specific crime against women — as if only the Taliban and the Baloch are guilty of perpetuating such control over women.

The Pakistani state, through the Zina Ordinance which made adultery a crime against the state; the Qisas and Diyat laws which allow male survivors to pardon murders of women by other male relatives; the requirement of a wali for marriage and consent for marriage and so on, has institutionalised the idea of a male mediator and recognised his authority to regulate a women’s physical and sexual agency. This is morally legitimised by invoking religion as the source. Why then is there not as much outrage directed against the state as against jirgas? These too are merely collective or hierarchical decision-making bodies and they invoke custom or tradition when passing discriminatory and misogynistic judgments.

The most important point raised by the women’s movement has been the collaborative relationship between the state and its regulatory powers that are subcontracted to male figureheads. These do not simply include tribal and feudal leaders. These are also extended to the male head of urban households. It is this power nexus that needs to be challenged and the state has to both restructure its own laws and role independently and break this cycle of vesting judicial power in communities thus allowing murders to take place in the name of honour. This also highlights the importance of the need for a gender-sensitive and politically independent judiciary.

However, and be cautious about identifying the root of power inequalities. To hold a placard that reads ‘Taliban in the Senate’ makes a good photo for newspapers but reveals a dangerous misreading of national and cultural politics as well as of the systemic nature of violence against women.

Fortunately, we have a new liberal government that includes erudite members who hold doctorates on honour crimes and who have moved legislation on the issue when in opposition. This combination of theoretical and practical expertise in parliament should be powerful in reversing state sanctions and protection that is extended to community leaders and jirgas that order such criminal acts. If not, then this is where our outrage should be focussed.

Never mind Kim, where’s Ban Ki-moon?

By Palvasha von Hassell


THE disappearance of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from public view has been causing morbid interest in the western media these days. No one, however, seems at all perturbed by the silence of Ban Ki-moon, the highest official of the United Nations, a body supposed to safeguard the sovereignty of states against external aggression by other states. A statement from him condemning the attacks on Pakistan by a US-led coalition not sanctioned by the UN remains conspicuous by its absence.

Such is the world which the Bush administration has made possible: a lawless field of conquest where might is right, a bold display of 21st century imperialism mocking all norms of human rights and international law. Equally shocking, if not more so, is the acquiescence of its European allies in this rampage for resources and influence. They are now looking ridiculous riding on their high horse of human rights. Quick to declare Russia the villain in the recent standoff in Georgia, they forget that their hands are soaked in the blood of thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and, increasingly, in Pakistan, while they have been unable and unwilling to catch Osama bin Laden.

US forces are striking Pakistan every second day or so. It is quite horrifyingly possible that innocent Pakistanis are being killed or maimed by the Bush administration in an election year to show the American people that Pakistan is being punished for not having done ‘enough’ in the ‘war against terror’. At least Pakistani politicians haven’t shown bad taste and obsequiousness. They have not stated that Pakistanis were glad to lay down their lives for the war on terror, while Karzai did so in the case of the Afghans some years ago. Since then, he has had occasion to regret his words. But that’s about the only consolation.What does one do in this situation? First, it is certainly right of President Asif Zardari to seek British help, in the hope of their being able to influence the Americans who are obviously trying to find out just how much Pakistan is willing to take. Second, on no account should the army chief, Gen Kayani, tolerate any more incursions without retaliation, as has already happened. In the light of international law, he is completely within his rights to do so.

It should be remembered that the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in 2001 only sanctioned the International Security and Assistance Force (Isaf), and not the American-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) — the situation would be a laugh, if it weren’t so tragic — which is attacking Pakistan at present. Nor was there ever any mandate to carry out operations inside Pakistan. That there are limits to what Pakistan will accept has already registered to some extent with the Americans, as was evident in US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte’s recent statement that unilateral action inside Pakistan probably wasn’t the right course.

Third, Mr Zardari should bring up the matter at the UN General Assembly debate in New York next week. Perhaps Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will then realise that something is wrong.

What does the future hold? There is talk these days of the two operations OEF and Isaf being merged into one. Should this turn out to be the case, the Europeans and other allies of America should take into account that the OEF’s illegal actions are not thus provided cover by the merger. Britain will have to take the lead here. British Defence Secretary Des Browne said the other day that there was no question that British troops would follow the Americans in attacking Pakistan. Pakistan needs to coordinate its policy closely with Britain on this.

Pakistan’s renewed era of democracy needs a chance to survive. American policy should desist in its own interests from trying to destabilise it. It is to be hoped that President Zardari, who obviously has to work closely with America as it desperately tries to make a success of its floundering policies in Afghanistan, realises that his first mandate is to represent Pakistan’s interests.

It is also to be hoped that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the army chief will exercise the necessary checks and balances whenever required. No one will help Pakistan unless it helps itself. The tribals have already declared their loyalty to Pakistan. It is time to win their trust and expel the aggressor.

The writer is based in Hamburg, Germany

p_v_hassell@t-online.de

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