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DAWN - Editorial; November 17, 2008

November 17, 2008


Poverty of action

IF the nicely-written poverty reduction strategy papers and well-organised seminars could eradicate poverty, Pakistan might have been a country of rich people by now, not a land of the hungry, ill and illiterate. The gap between words and implementation needs to be quickly bridged if our government is serious about reducing poverty. Is it? As Pakistan faces a serious balance-of-payments crisis and is knocking on the doors of its so-called friends and international lenders for money to avoid default on its foreign currency debts, the task of reducing poverty appears even more daunting. A panel of economists who have helped the government draw up its economic stabilisation programme for seeking assistance from the IMF to overcome cash-flow problems anticipates that the implementation of the macroeconomic stabilisation policies (over the next two years) could push another eight to 10 million households below the poverty line and throw another million people into joblessness this fiscal year. But the government claims in the draft poverty reduction strategy paper-II — released at a workshop in Islamabad the other day — that it would alleviate poverty over a three-year period beginning in 2009 by regaining macroeconomic stability and pushing annual growth to seven to eight per cent through economic liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation. This year the growth is projected to fall well below the target of 5.5 per cent. Now who has got it wrong — the government or the panel of economists?

A more or less similar strategy or PRSP-I was formulated by the previous government. Like the new document, the previous one too promised to seek sustainable growth in the productive and labour-intensive sectors to create new jobs and ensure income distribution among a wider segment of population for reducing the incidence of poverty. It failed. We saw millions pushed back into abject poverty without adequate nutrition, clean water, clothing, shelter and healthcare once the external shocks of spiking global oil and food prices shook the very foundation of the economy in the last couple of years after five years of average GDP growth of seven per cent.

We need more than just growth to pull people out of poverty — strong political commitment, and not just economic growth or deregulation and liberalisation. The government’s commitment to poverty alleviation will shortly be tested when it makes cuts in its expenditure as part of its pledge to the IMF. If it fails to prioritise its expenditure on the social sector — education, healthcare, clean water, etc — to foster inclusive growth on its unproductive spending on defence and luxury cars and so on, its commitment to mitigate poverty will stand exposed. The difficult part will start once we have the aid in hand.

Polls in Kashmir

A NUMBER of political organisations in Indian-controlled Kashmir have expressed reservations about the seven-phase state assembly polls that will start today and end in December. Some including the pro-freedom All Parties Hurriyat Conference and the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front have called for a boycott of the polls. Others like the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party — even though they are participating — have raised doubts over the timing of the elections giving reasons such as inclement weather that has hindered campaigning and a political atmosphere which is not conducive to holding elections. It is surprising then that despite the apprehensions and suspicions of major political groups India’s Election Commission has opted to go ahead with the polls. In fact, the statement of the chief of the electoral body that the issue was not about the poll turnout but ensuring that the vote was free and fair is open to question, especially where the Valley and the Muslim-majority areas in Jammu are concerned. For how can any poll be free and fair, in fact acceptable to the people, when a politically vitiated atmosphere prevails, when the presence of heavy and hostile security intimidates the intended electorate, and when popular leaders are detained under draconian laws to prevent disturbances? In the run-up to the polls, the Valley remained under virtual curfew with people not allowed to leave their homes for fear that they were preparing to attend pro-independence rallies.

All this and more has been happening in Kashmir where frustration and anger at New Delhi have sowed the seeds of a new uprising, this time unrelated to any outside elements. Fuelled by the Amarnath temple controversy that erupted last June, huge protests in Jammu and the Valley have taken place. They have been overshadowed by the threat of outbreak of communalism, which had hitherto hardly been a characteristic of Kashmiri politics. Trouble, especially in the Valley, was heavily put down by the law enforcers leading to fatalities and countless injuries. India may see elections as a panacea to Kashmir’s ills — although previous polls did not accomplish much — but it is wrong if it thinks that this is the ultimate solution to a problem that has festered for decades. Hatred and suspicion of the Indian government are deep-rooted and defy simplistic solutions. The problem of Kashmir has to be tackled in its entirety — and with the participation of the Kashmiris that has so far been missing. Anything short of this will only exacerbate current animosities.

Zoos and conservation

MORTALITY rates in zoos are not easily comparable because each zoo has a different collection of species that have different life spans. Nevertheless, the recent revelation in parliament that 66 animals had died at the Islamabad Zoo over the last five years — a number which apparently does not include some 20 birds that died from bird flu — calls for a closer look at the flaws in care, management and facilities which may be threatening the well-being of not only the 350 animals in the capital zoo but also of those in nine other government-run zoos in various cities of Pakistan. Inadequate preventive care, lack of adequate nutrition and old age are the usual causes of zoo deaths, in addition to fighting among animals and irresponsible public behaviour. Captivity lifestyle in zoos has also shown to contribute to a higher infant mortality rate in roaming animals like lions and polar bears, prompting many zoos elsewhere to improve their confinement conditions by building larger, more complex exhibits for roving animals. This is something which should not be a problem for Islamabad Zoo since it has the advantage of being located amidst natural surroundings at the foot of the wildlife-rich Margalla Hills.

Beyond entertainment purposes, zoos can also play an important role in the conservation of the world’s endangered species of which at least 20 are found in Pakistan. Islamabad Zoo had the chance to become a renowned captive-breeding facility for the endangered snow leopard when the cub Leo was discovered in the Northern Areas in 2005. After the death of its aged lion, Jungle King, in 2006 the cub would have filled the acute need of such a prized attraction. But the lack of scientific expertise, facilities and resources at the zoo as well as an appropriate rehabilitation facility in the snow leopard’s habitat in the Northern Areas, necessitated Leo’s transfer to a state-of-the-art snow leopard facility at Bronx Zoo in New York. Improving conditions at Islamabad Zoo so that animals can live longer, be happier and breed more frequently will help to attract more animals — which a number of foreign governments are willing to donate — and enable the zoo to participate in conservation programmes for endangered species.

OTHER VOICES - North American Press

Saving Detroit from itself

The New York Times

WE have seen a lot of posturing, but we haven’t heard a lot of sense in the debate over whether the government should spend even more to bail out Detroit’s foundering automakers.

Sen Richard Shelby, a Republican of Alabama, is wrong when he says that the troubles of the Big Three are “not a national problem.” The Detroit companies support nearly 250,000 workers and more than a million retirees and dependents, as well as millions of workers at part makers and dealerships. A messy bankruptcy filing by any of the big car companies, in the midst of this recession, would likely cost the government and the economy more than trying to keep them afloat.

At the same time, Congressional Democrats and president-elect Barack Obama, who are pushing for many billions worth of emergency aid for the nation’s least-competent carmakers, must ensure that tough conditions are attached to any rescue package. If not, the money will surely be wasted.

This goes beyond firing top management, forbidding the payment of dividends to stockholders and putting limits on executive pay — all necessary steps. The government should insist on a complete restructuring of any company it pours billions of public funds into.

All three car companies have been hamstrung by the legacy costs of providing pensions and healthcare to hundreds of thousands of retirees. But Detroit’s problems are mostly of its own making.

The automakers hitched their fate to gas-guzzling trucks, and they obstinately refused to acknowledge that oil is a finite resource and that burning it limitlessly is harming the planet. They lobbied strenuously against tighter fuel-efficiency standards. That wrong-headedness did them in as gas prices spiked and consumers flocked to energy-efficient cars made by Toyota and Honda.It makes no sense at all to give these companies billions just so they can struggle on for a few more months down this disastrous path.

Before it approves any bailout package, Congress must insist that any company receiving government money must commit to a specific plan to improve energy efficiency. The average fuel efficiency of the American auto fleet peaked at 25.9 miles per gallon in 1987.

The companies also are struggling under a mountain of debt. And any restructuring would mean that creditors would have to swallow a loss or accept equity — as under a regular bankruptcy filing.

Rescued car companies would almost certainly have to reopen labour agreements on pay and benefits. These steps would be painful for many workers. But they also are necessary.

Even then, there is no guarantee that these companies will survive after years of failed management. We are sure they won’t if they don’t make sweeping changes in the way they do business…. — (Nov 15)

Time to change our strategic posture

By Jehanzeb Raja

IN the wake of the changing post-9/11 world, a rapidly changing international environment has been witnessed which is having an adverse impact on our military, political and social ethos.

Traditional conclusions drawn from outdated power progression scenarios in the India-Afghanistan-China matrix are also distorting our short-term and long-term strategic goals in the global and regional context.

Pakistan has traditionally followed an offensive-defensive doctrine vis-a-vis India while adhering to a defensive doctrine on the western front with Afghanistan in its land doctrine. The implications of such a policy dictate placing of defensive forces within striking distance of the borders while keeping large uncommitted reserves at strategic locations for counter strikes into enemy territory.

This not only ties down a majority of our forces on the Indian fronts which are inactive or are unlikely to change in the short term, but restricts movement of vitally needed forces elsewhere. The escalation of threats from both external and internal forces on the western front is increasingly restricting our military options and creating grounds for anarchy and social unrest. Should not therefore a review be carried out of our strategic posture?

The dynamics of the western front have changed dramatically. Nato and US forces are aggressively pursuing the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements within Pakistan’s borders, striking both from land and by air. The internecine warfare within Fata is being supported by both state actors and non-state surrogates with the intention of creating anarchy and despair.

While the army and paramilitary forces are increasingly being drawn into a long-term insurgency mode, the people are confused between tribal and national unity. Should they support the government now and be punished by the tribe later or support the tribe in the short term with long-term repercussions? They are lost between the devil and the deep blue sea.

The situation in Balochistan is no different, with the writ of the government being challenged at will by insurgents who choose the time and place of attack, resulting in the collapse of the social order.

Relations with our erstwhile foe, India on the eastern border, continue to improve both on the Line of Control in Kashmir and Siachen, where a ceasefire continues to hold since 2004, with no significant threat.

The present insurgency in Kashmir only hints at its past glory, where the Indian forces were actively engaged on numerous fronts with cross-border aspersions being cast on Pakistani infiltrators. This calls for a radical shift in orientation of not only our ground forces, but their relocation to new cantonments further west into Balochistan and NWFP where the threat is the greatest.

This will have the effect of not only projecting a military presence in the area but also demonstrate the logistic stamina to undertake long-term military operations when needed.

The presence of military forces in previously inaccessible areas of Fata and Balochistan will not only give active support to tribes loyal to the government, but provide the much needed security to foreign and local firms active in exploitation of minerals and oil. It will also free the paramilitary forces from protection duties along the numerous lines of communications where they are being frittered away. The presence of US troops and bases in Balochistan is the cause of the anger of local tribes and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan against the government and the army. There needs to be a reappraisal of the deployment of these troops in these areas where they are purportedly supporting the radical elements in the insurgency.

The Pakistan Army needs to take over these bases and garrison them for purposes of internal stability so that outside interference is minimised. If we accept the fact that state actors are actively supporting the insurgency and yet allow the presence of foreign forces inside our territory who then are we fooling? Only ourselves I am afraid. Lastly, the China question. We have repeatedly parroted the very close ties with China and the active strategic support we are getting from them without giving major concessions in return. China is constructing strategic dams, ports and power plants in the country with construction periods ranging from eight to 10 years. In the long term, the Chinese presence needs to be bolstered by giving them their own security arrangements in the form of troops and even bases at strategic locations, especially when a concerted campaign to eliminate Chinese workers is unfolding.Pakistan’s vision of being the gateway for energy and trade corridors from China and Central Asia can never materialise until we can provide the much-needed investment climate and security to foreign investors. Billions of rupees have gone into preparing the infrastructure for these very corridors, but their utilisation can never be economically maximised unless peace prevails in our region. If we can have US troops on our soil then why not Chinese troops? This paradigm shift in policy has to be taken if we realise that the allies across the Durand Line are not sincere towards the cause of Pakistan and are actively supporting insurgents to destabilise the region.

This will no doubt have a profound effect upon future US-Pakistan relations but will also test our allies’ true intentions in the region. If they are sincere towards our security and development goals then dramatic changes will take place at the government level both in Afghanistan and in India. The presence of Chinese troops will not only dissipate tribal anger but will have trans-border implications across the region.

The US is posturing to place India as a major regional power both against Pakistan, China and Iran. It will have to rethink its regional game plan. The threat to Iran from potential US-Israeli strikes is likely to recede dramatically bringing about a rapprochement between the two estranged friends, whose relations are badly eroded due to the power play in Afghanistan engineered by the US-led Karzai regime.

Afghanistan will have to very seriously rethink its foreign interests in Pakistan and the attendant cost with the presence of a major power next door. The Indian presence in Afghanistan is likely to reduce, especially with the likely withdrawal of allied troops in the not too distant future. With the change of leadership in Afghanistan the upside obviously would be elimination of support to the insurgents who will not survive indefinitely.

The opportunity is there for our policymakers, provided we have the will and courage to bring about the change in our strategic posture.

The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army

Night of long daggers

By Angelique Chrisafis

IT is an improbable saga featuring a celebrity break-up, back-stabbing, a Joan of Arc figure and a dangerously popular postman. Members of the bitterly divided French Socialist party gathered Friday night in the champagne capital of Reims to find a new leader to reverse their misfortunes and provide an opposition to President Nicolas Sarkozy.

As delegates browsed souvenir shops offering Francois Mitterrand and Che Guevara bookmarks, and neon jackets that boasted: “I drive on the right by obligation, but vote left by conviction,” a mood of frustration hung over the party.

Segolene Royal, the outsider who styled herself as a modern Joan of Arc during her failed presidential campaign against Sarkozy, has surprised critics in the party by emerging as frontrunner in the leadership vote next Thursday. But Royal does not have the backing of a clear majority — the woman who once declared “You should love each other!” to a party rally is now at the mercy of party hatreds and intrigue.

According to complicated party rules, leading Socialists spend a night — dubbed “the night of the long daggers” — in negotiations on whether to back Royal or form alliances to stop her. Royal, 55, has vowed to modernise the party and promote the next generation. She said: “I am not a woman of the political machine. I prefer contact with the people.”

She has veered left during the global financial crisis, suggesting heads of failed banks should be barred from working in finance and big oil companies should have their profits taxed in order to save struggling businesses. But she supports leaving a door open to alliances with French centrists, and critics accuse her of blowing left and right with the weather.

Royal’s public split with her long-term partner Francois Hollande, the outgoing party leader, is a spectre hanging over the battle.

— The Guardian, London