A difficult period
THE Foreign Office broke no new ground when it said on Friday that Pakistan’s relations with the United States were passing through “a difficult period”. The FO’s recognition of the strained relationship between the two came the day America launched two more attacks in Waziristan, killing at least 21 people, including an Al Qaeda operative. The raids will continue — let us accept it. The outgoing American president signed a secret order in July authorising attacks in Fata. Until there is a change of policy, Pakistan should be prepared for this frequency and scope of American attacks. On Thursday, the American Homeland Security chief said that a country should have the right to attack another if it harboured potential terrorists. He thus reaffirmed what President George Bush and other Republican administration officials have said several times in the wake of 9/11, namely the US had the right to make ‘pre-emptive’ strikes in such cases. The most ‘original’ piece of foreign policy declaration came from Paul Wolfowitz, a former deputy defence secretary, when he talked of ‘ending states’ to ensure America’s security.
While the drone attacks and the often negative statements coming from America constitute a serious commentary on our diplomatic endeavours — for we have failed to convey our viewpoint adequately to the US and the world — they also betray a lack of America’s trust in Pakistan. Although the war on terror is supposed to be a joint US-Pakistan endeavour — both regard the terrorists to be their enemy — the two sides have failed to coordinate their strategy. Pakistan has mobilised over 100,000 soldiers and suffered countless casualties but the coalition forces across the border are not certain if their war aims are being achieved. They suspect the ISI of continuing to follow a “strategy of double-think”, so to say, that is fight the militants at home and use them abroad. This lack of confidence between the two sides has created bad blood between them.
Friday’s attacks come at a time when peace moves are afoot, and American officials too have been speaking of negotiating with the Taliban if they distance themselves from Al Qaeda. The foreign office statement reiterated what the prime minister had declared some time back — that Pakistan would tackle America’s violations of its sovereignty by diplomatic means. There is no other choice. With our growing dependence on American military power and the government’s desire to seek economic support from the IMF that looks for the proverbial nod from Washington to release funds to Islamabad, it would be counter-productive to overreact and succumb to pro-Taliban lobbies to challenge the US. In the long run, however, Pakis-tan must reduce its dependence on America and learn to stand on its own feet economically if it wants to conduct an independent foreign policy.
PIA in the red, again
THE balance sheets issued by Pakistan International Airlines from time to time are getting increasingly irritating for taxpayers whose money continues to vanish into thin air. For the last several years, the airline has been reporting nosediving profits and soaring losses. By the latest account, it has lost Rs38.4bn in the first nine months of the year. The figure is almost 400 per cent of the corresponding loss for the previous year which was Rs10bn. The two reasons cited at the recent meeting of the airline’s board of directors — the oil shock and the depreciation of the rupee — do explain the loss but only to an extent. The effort to portray them as the only factors in the equation is a bit unfounded when seen in the overall context of the data released by PIA itself. Despite the two constraints, the airline still reported 16 per cent growth in overall net revenue, a 17 per cent hike in passenger revenue and a 10 per cent increase in cargo revenue. Besides, its subsidiary PIA Investments also reported a post-tax profit for the period. With revenues going up under all possible heads and the organisation still reporting losses, and huge ones at that, one does need to rationalise the two diametrically opposite currents. Basic corporate sense would suggest it has something to do with management and marketing: revenue is not coming in at the pace at which it should, and the revenue that is coming in is not being properly managed.
With a much-improved cabin service and a decent fleet at its disposal, one hoped that the airline would turn itself around like several others that have done in modern aviation history. But PIA seems to be struggling on the image front, being unable to tap into the large Pakistani diaspora that is spread across North America, Europe and the entire Gulf region. One way of overcoming the barrier may be to offer tariff incentives on strategic routes in the short run to lure potential passengers who may experience the positive change for themselves and spread the word around. On the management side, it is no secret that like every other public-sector entity PIA happens to be top-heavy. Add to it the numerous contractual hirings and re-hirings done since the February elections, and one can work out the financial burden that is apparently pulling the airline down. The ‘strategic plan’ that is being worked out for government approval needs to look into all such areas in realistically corporate, and not politically expedient, terms.
SOME believe it’s all in the stars. Many may differ but few can deny that, be it fate or fascination, the twinklers hold the power to enthral in a myriad ways. The recent event, Planet Watch, held at the Karachi University’s observatory, proved that star-gazing will always have an allure all its own. The evening was organised by the Institute of Space and Planetary Astrophysics (ISPA) as part of KU’s Space Week revelry. The aim was to gaze at the moon and behold the planets — Jupiter and Venus — through the institute’s antique, four-decade-old telescope. However, despite the allure of the many vicissitudes and variations of the cosmos, coupled with the age-old, absorbing knowledge of astronomy, sadly there were not many takers at the sky show. Where such efforts to promote these sciences must be applauded, it is also of primary importance to see them as a source of much-needed entertainment for a frustrated and overburdened society that can use these opportunities as a means of escape from the harsh realities of daily life. Such events would not only provide avenues for leisure and recreation to Karachi’s citizens. They may also promote a culture of science among the people, prompting them to think rationally.
It is mandatory that bodies such as ISPA ensure that evenings under the moon and the stars become a part of city life, rather than making sporadic appearances. Perhaps it would be a good idea to look towards the more developed parts of the globe where interests such as astronomy are encouraged and institutionalised in a variety of ways; one being involving young students to look at the worlds beyond. A much-needed overhaul of the Karachi Planetarium is a definite step towards this end, which will include installing state-of-the-art equipment that can peer through the haze of pollution. Similarly, field trips to places with clear, unpolluted skies can help widen the horizons of those with an interest in the stars. After all, the sky is hardly the limit in an ever expanding universe that abounds with unexplored realms and phenomena that can ignite the imagination — always a wholesome pursuit for a beleaguered, ennui-ridden city.
OTHER VOICES - Indian Press
Blasts in Assam
The Asian Age
THURSDAY’S serial blasts at a number of places across Assam ... point to a criminal conspiracy by terrorists who have done a good deal of political homework.... Bombs exploded in crowded markets in Guwahati, the state capital, at Bongaigaon, where an important oil refinery is located, at Barpeta, an area where there is a concentration of the Muslim minority, and at Kokrajhar, home to the Bengali population and the tribal people.
This apparently careful choice of the centre of politics and administration in the state, a key infrastructure centre and places of minority interest of various types, indicates an attempt to create utter confusion not only at the state level but also to befuddle the centre....
Barely a fortnight ago Assam had seen serious violence involving descendants of Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, local Assamese Muslims, and sections of the plain tribes.... It is therefore surprising that the state government was taken completely unawares.... With only a few months to go for the Lok Sabha elections, greater responsibility devolved on the state to be alert.... The United Liberation Front of Asom is a home-grown extremist outfit that has purveyed deadly terror numerous times in the past. Its trans-border operations are only too well known....
In Guwahati, after the blasts in busy markets, people appeared to go on the rampage, attacking police vehicles, fire engines, ambulances, and the media. This extreme frustration is not a good augury and can only embolden troublemakers and demoralise the apparatus of administration.... — (Oct 31)
Relevance of Veda
Star of Mysore
SCHOLARS have revelled in explaining the message conveyed in the Veda.... Ironically, scholars without exception ... desire to be recognised and honoured while the creators of the compendium of knowledge have remained anonymous.... western authors ... have joined the bandwagon of commentators. Frits Stall is the latest among them with ... Discovering the Vedas.
He has chosen to make statements that may not gel with the scholars of our land. While our scholars as well as the devout among the Hindus would like to venerate the Vedas with utmost sanctity, Staal has categorically said that they [were] not revealed by a divine force.... His views are sure to trigger much debate....
It must be noted that ... the Vedas were passed on from one generation to the next by oral tradition. In that long process, the verses got strongly linked to ... religion and subsequently caste. That made the valuable source of knowledge on nature, life, universe and even sex get alienated from [the] common people who should have been the real beneficiaries of that knowledge. Sadly ... successive generations ... turn[ed] ... hostile to the Vedas….
[H]istorians and archaeologists ... can crack ... two ... questions: why and how [did] the Vedas acquire the unwarranted tint of religion and caste? When and under [what] circumstances did reciting the verses degenerate into a ritual ... ? Their answers may ... restore the Vedas to their original status as a source of knowledge for all people irrespective of their class or creed. — (Oct 30)
Balochistan: myth of development
DURING the nine years of the Musharraf regime Balochistan witnessed a remarkable decline in social and development indicators.
The resource-rich province is today marked by a high rate of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and infant and maternal mortality. In addition the years of military operations, ill-conceived and discriminatory policies and poor governance has resulted in extreme underdevelopment of the region.
All the glitzy mega-projects launched by the central government in Balochistan, including the Gwadar port, Mirani dam, coastal highway, cantonments and the extraction of copper and gold deposits, do not envisage any local participation and trickle-down effect to the people.
Millions have been spent on a media campaign to prove that the central government is spending billions to develop Balochistan, but years of defective policies has further deteriorated the life of the helpless masses. Meaningful development can only occur if there is political empowerment, local participation, improved healthcare, better educational and employment opportunities, reasonable income levels, and peace in the region.
However, the elite in Islamabad believe in a controlled model of development which is in conflict with the globally accepted idea of participatory development. The establishment’s version of development with regard to Balochistan emphasises troop deployments, military and paramilitary cantonments, checkposts and policing to suppress the politically sensitive Baloch people.
The fallout from Islamabad’s version of development is obvious. The Human Development Index (HDI) is the best-known measure of development and has three basic dimensions: (i) a long healthy life, as measured by life expectancy at birth; (ii) knowledge, as measured by the adult literacy rate; and (iii) a decent standard of living, as measured by GDP per capita.
According to the Pakistan National Human Development Report 2003, conducted for the first time by the UN development agency, wide variations in HDI measures exist across the provinces and districts. According to the report “there is considerable variation across provinces with respect to literacy rates which vary from 51 per cent in Sindh to 36 per cent in Balochistan. Among the districts, Jhelum has the highest HDI rank at 0.703 and Dera Bugti the lowest at 0.285. Data indicates the large disparities in terms of human development between the districts of Pakistan”.
Unsurprisingly Balochistan and its districts were assessed to be the worst off in Pakistan. Amongst the top 31 districts with the highest HDI, Punjab had by far the largest share at 59 per cent, while Balochistan lagged far behind at nine per cent. For comparison, Sindh had a 13 per cent share and NWFP 19 per cent.
According to the Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC) “[a]n overview of the development scene in Balochistan is appalling and the extent of relative deprivation in the province is unspeakable”. 92 per cent of Balochistan’s districts are classified as ‘high deprivation’ compared to 50 per cent in Sindh and 29 per cent in Punjab.
The story at the population level is equally grim. The Pakistan Integrated Household Survey 2001-02 revealed that Balochistan had the most poor (48 per cent of the province’s population) and the worst level of rural poverty (51 per cent). According to a study conducted by Dr Talat Anwar, a senior development expert, rural poverty in Balochistan increased 15 per cent between 1999 and 2005. Contrast this with the experience of urban Punjab which saw a nearly four per cent drop in poverty between 1999 and 2005 to stand at 20.6 per cent. Sindh and NWFP also experienced growing poverty over the same period.
The most devastating consequence of underdevelopment in any society is a high death rate. Balochistan has the highest infant and maternal mortality ratio in South Asia. According to a Ministry of Health policy paper, ‘Gender awareness policy appraisal 2006’, one of the major reasons for this high maternal mortality rate is hunger and malnutrition, which affects 34 per cent of pregnant women.
The infant mortality statistics are equally grim. Successive findings indicate that infant mortality in Balochistan is 130 deaths per 1,000 live births. Compare this to Democratic Republic of Congo’s average of 126 and Pakistan’s national average of 70.
No good news exists for Balochistan in any development statistic. 25 per cent of the population has access to electricity (national average, 75 per cent). The male literary rate is 18.3 per cent and the female literacy rate seven percent (Punjab, overall 63.6 per cent).
The regional gender disparity in educational institutes is stark. Punjab has 111 vocational institutes for women; Balochistan has one. Only 23 per cent of girls in rural areas are fortunate to be enrolled in primary schools in Balochistan as compared to twice that ratio in rural Punjab. This discriminatory policy is not only resulting in a slowdown of gender empowerment but is affecting the overall development of the province.
Even the educational institutions that do exist suffer from an acute lack of resources. 67 per cent of schools in the province have no proper building; while 60 per cent of primary schools have only one untrained and unqualified teacher. What has grown is the number of religious schools in the province during the tenure of the PML-Q and MMA coalition government.
Deliberately the Baloch youth have been kept deprived of all forms of contemporary education. Compared to the 340 polytechnic, computer science, women vocational institutes and commercial and law colleges in Punjab, Balochistan has only nine such centres, all poorly developed and in urban areas. Hence, rural Baloch youth are completely deprived of practical education.
The systematic denial of basic education and education-related facilities in Balochistan clearly indicates the disrespect and discriminatory policies of Islamabad. The only development Balochistan has witnessed during Musharraf regime is the 62 per cent increase of police stations in the province.
The writer is a former senator.
Saudis open science to women
THE world’s largest women-only university is being built in Saudi Arabia with a campus that will cover 8m square metres and accommodate 40,000 students.
Due to open in 2010, the Princess Noura bint Abdulrahman University, on the outskirts of Riyadh, will offer courses in subjects that Saudi women find difficult to study at universities where gender segregation is enforced.
It will have a library, conference centres, 15 academic faculties, laboratories and a 700-bed hospital. There will be facilities for research into nanotechnology, bio-sciences and information technology.
At the foundation-laying ceremony last week, which was attended by King Abdullah, the finance minister, Ibrahim Al-Assaf, told reporters the site would include housing for university staff, mosques, a school, a kindergarten and theme parks.
Assaf described the project as a “milestone” in the kingdom’s history. The higher education minister, Khaled al-Anqari, added: “The king’s presence shows his generous support for women’s empowerment and his keen desire to promote higher education.”
This year Human Rights Watch accused the Saudi government of stopping women from enjoying their basic rights because they must often obtain permission from a guardian — a father, husband or son — to work, travel, study, marry or even access healthcare. In a 50-page report “Perpetual Minors: Human Rights Abuses Stemming from Male Guardianship and Sex Segregation in Saudi Arabia,” researchers drew on more than 100 interviews with Saudi women to document the effects of discriminatory policies. The findings showed that the need fort women-only spaces was a disincentive to hiring female employees and that female students were often relegated to unequal facilities.
One researcher, Farida Deif, told the Guardian the university would provide better education and employment opportunities.
“This university could be a very good thing if it had colleges offering instruction in engineering, media or law. There are already colleges with nursing and teaching disciplines. These areas are saturated and perpetuate specific gender roles.
“In terms of female education, the Saudi government has made great progress. Every statistic we’ve seen shows more enrolment in secondary and university education.”
The country still has the lowest female employment level in the world. Unesco figures show that women make up 58 per cent of the total Saudi student population, but only 16 per cent of the workforce.
It is unclear whether the university will have halls of residence. Women do not normally leave home before marriage.
— The Guardian, London