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DAWN - Opinion; December 08, 2008

December 08, 2008

No power without knowledge

By Dr Pervez Tahir

THERE has been a quiet change of guards at the Planning Commission. In his very first meeting with the occupants of the Secretariat Block P in Islamabad, reported partially in the press, Sardar Asif Ahmad Ali, the newly appointed deputy chairman, hit the nail on the head when he said that the Planning Commission had become a PC-I-approving machine.

The implication is that that the Commission is not the think machine or knowledge producer that it should be.

I have not had much personal interaction with Sardar sahib except for a brief encounter in the lounge of the airport at Bogotá, the Colombian capital, while waiting for an internal flight to the resort where the summit of the Non Aligned Movement was being held in 1995, with Benazir Bhutto leading the Pakistan delegation. He seemed more a thinker than a doer. This is exactly what the Planning Commission needs to get out of its preoccupation with the Public Sector Development Programme and completely unnecessary turf wars.

Economic governance involves policies, programmes and projects. More important, all this has to happen in the framework of a medium-term plan. The former constitute the territory of line ministries while the latter is in the domain of the Planning Commission. That is why an important question in the PC-I pro forma pertains to the contribution that the expenditure of development money will make towards the achievement of the plan objectives.

The question has been getting all sorts of funny answers these past years because most projects and programmes are the work of adhocracy. What to speak of a plan, the projects and programmes sometimes contradict the announced policy of the sponsoring ministry itself. Ensuring consistency of economic play is a long-forgotten function of the Planning Commission.

What is wrong? Although it is an attempt to guard his own territory, the adviser on finance is right in his refrain that the Planning Commission has to be a knowledge commission. The Commission lacks internal professional strength. It is all very well to set up task forces to engage with outside experts but these efforts will go nowhere if the professional weaknesses within cause the loss of intellectual momentum once the task forces report and disperse. There were times when the chiefs of sections in the Planning Commission would provide consultative groups like task forces a well-researched working paper as a starting point. Now you may be lucky if they can take accurate minutes.

Above the chiefs are members. These are highly paid positions to attract the best and the brightest. However, most of these positions have become retirement homes for those remotely connected with the theory and practice of the area of their supposed concern. For instance, if Sardar sahib were to ask the member concerned with infrastructure to give him an idea of the next five years traffic projections and whether he had worked out the economics of traffic management versus the widening of roads, the quick answer would be that a new PC-I was required for this one. A presentation would be made on the ongoing projects, with a focus on financial utilisation while blaming slow progress on the inadequate release of resources by the Ministry of Finance.

The Commission has been without a regular chief economist since mid-2006. While the members are confined to their sectors, it is the chief economist who coordinates between them on cross-cutting issues, inter-sectoral consistency and the economic appraisal of projects. More important, the chief economist places development in the context of macroeconomic policies. The weakening of the office of the chief economist and the failure to train and attract a select group of PhDs at mid-level has left the Planning Commission severely incapacitated in terms of analytical work for macroeconomic policy formulation. This is an important reason for the relocation of the country’s macroeconomic framework to the Ministry of Finance, with the Planning Commission reduced to a body concerned only with the PSDP.

It is erroneous to suggest that the Planning Commission has lost power. It never enjoyed much formal authority. Instead its power lay in its knowledge. If the Planning Commission produces work based on high quality knowledge, it commands authority and respect. The economy has been in a crisis since November 2007. One knows of no work done by the Planning Commission that has even given early warnings of this, much less a home-grown stabilisation plan provided well before the economy drifted towards the IMF. It simply did not have the capacity. The attempt to quickly assemble an outside task force was too late. In the absence of any well-worked-out plan commanding respect, the Ministry of Finance could not but have gone ahead with its Plan C and the nine-point agenda.

So, if there is a place where the adage knowledge is power is most applicable, it is the Planning Commission. If it has a credible plan, it cannot be ignored. The impression that the country lacks economic direction is an indirect indictment of the Planning Commission.

The writer teaches at GC University, Lahore.

The terrorist trap

By Ahmad Faruqui

THE ten attackers went about their business methodically, knowing that their exploits would fill TV screens the world over for days to come. Armed simply with assault rifles and grenades, the young men unleashed a bigger punch than a lone attacker with a large bomb could have pulled off.

There was something unusually primeval in being hunted down and shot to death by unknown assailants, some of whom sported smiles and wore Versace T-shirts and blue jeans. The slow-motion killing spree in the midst of opulence and luxury stripped hundreds of affluent hotel guests of their exclusive sense of security. As the hours rolled on, the killers outdid the carnage one finds in a Bond film.

It is too early to say who carried out the slaughter of innocents in Mumbai in those harrowing 60 hours in late November. Finger-pointing will simply whip up slogan-chanting mobs into a frenzy.

But it is not too early to surmise why the terrorists went about their savage business with ruthless determination and why they chose to carry out their mission within a few weeks of the American presidential election. Four explanations suggest themselves.

First, the attackers wanted to derail the new-found peace process between India and Pakistan. After many false starts during the Musharraf interregnum, it seemed to have gotten a full head of steam in 2008.

Second, they wanted to undercut the credibility of the newly elected democratic government in Islamabad. It had made far too many friendly overtures to India. President Zardari’s offer to make South Asia a nuclear-free zone and to extend a no-first-strike policy to India seems to have upset them to no end.

Third, they wanted to hurt the chances of the dovish and secular Congress Party in next year’s elections in India. While it is difficult to see how the BJP and its fundamentalist Hindu allies would benefit the Muslims of India, it is easy to see that the terrorists thrive on confrontation between the two countries.

And fourth, they wanted to send a clear and strong signal to the incoming Obama administration in Washington that Kashmir was a live issue that needed to be put on the front burner, ahead of Afghanistan and ahead of Iraq.

Perhaps all four theories are valid. They are certainly not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they may well be the four pieces of a political jigsaw puzzle.

In all probability, the terror-mongers dispatched the terrorists so as to lure India and Pakistan into a trap. They have succeeded in part. The blame game that has already begun between the official and unofficial elites of the two countries is just as alarming as it is childish.It must be stopped before it escalates into a much more dangerous game involving the movement of large-scale infantry and armoured formations towards the border and eventually the arming of ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.

Both countries need to learn from the mistakes of 2002, which involved the infamous deployment of a million troops along the border, not provide an encore performance. The situation has heated up to the point that outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cancelled several other activities and flew to cool the nationalistic fires that were beginning to rage in the hallways of New Delhi and Islamabad.

To defuse the situation, action by governmental and non-governmental organisations is called for at three levels. First and foremost, a collaborative effort must be undertaken by the governments of both countries to find the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks and to bring him (and his collaborators) to justice.

This will take months of patient detective work. The temptation to carry out surgical strikes must be resisted at all cost. Military ‘shock and awe’ will achieve nothing productive and indeed risks germinating more terrorists.

Second — and this will sound so implausible that some will reject it out of hand — the intelligence agencies of both countries should pool their resources and databases about terrorist groups. By now it is clear as daylight that the state of Pakistan has nothing to gain by carrying out a proxy war in Kashmir (or anywhere else).

The president and prime minister have both publicly denounced terrorism and the president still bears the personal scars of the attack that killed his wife. Yes, cooperation between the ISI and the RAW is a radical suggestion. But the quagmire into which Pakistan has fallen is so deep that nothing short of radical change will pull the country out of it.

Third, to take away all legitimacy from terror, much of which is being waged in the name of Islam, the religious leaders of the Muslim communities in Pakistan (and throughout the world) should condemn terrorism in all its manifestations in no uncertain terms.

If those who desert Islam can be branded as apostates by the ulema, then the terrorists who so brazenly act against Islamic principles by taking the lives of innocents should be declared apostates and given capital punishment. It is now clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that their violent and senseless actions only succeed in inviting even more violent and senseless retaliation against other Muslims.

When it comes to re-indoctrinating the jihadis, Pakistan, with close cultural, political and religious ties to the Saudis, may wish to take a leaf out of Riyadh’s book. The Saudis have set up schools to retrain the large numbers of jihadis who have been netted during various anti-terrorism raids. These schools are intended to bring these misguided people most of whom are in their twenties back into the fold of civil society.

The Saudis have found that the jihadis are often lacking in basic religious knowledge, are social dropouts and have fallen prey to selfish demagogues. Once the jihadis are given sound religious training, provided financial means for re-entering civil society and provided avenues for getting married, most of them forsake terrorist behaviour.

Pakistan’s religious establishment should explore this option seriously. It may be the only way of putting the scourge of terrorism to bed.

The terrorists win if India and Pakistan go to war in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. They lose if the two countries join hands. The march of folly has gone on much too long. It must end now.

India’s tragedy

By Q. Isa Daudpota

I FAIL to be impressed by India’s ‘progress’ though by most counts it has done better than the country I live in. It only goes to show how poorly Pakistan has fared.

India’s endemic problem to create a truly pluralistic society and shed itself of its caste system has now been overtaken by the tragic events in Mumbai. The illusion of prosperity that has come to the middle class and the upper ranks of the privileged few masks serious problems of poverty and malnutrition that infests India. Its ruling class relies on wealth to trickle down to its teeming masses, many of whom are even more miserable than their poor cousins in Pakistan.

The non-stop media commentary on the unfolding events in India’s commercial capital have pulled to the surface latent rage, deep prejudices and highlighted the incompetence of the system. Not too long ago, the bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad made apparent almost identical sentiments and flaws in Pakistan’s systems. In our failures, it is sadly reassuring that we are the same people.

That 10 demonic men, allegedly trained in the badlands of Pakistan could so easily arrive by sea at the Gateway of India, bypassing the well-endowed navy and extensive intelligence and police apparatus, which had been warned of an impending attack, demonstrates this incompetence. Further, shrill voices have demanded that India attack its neighbour’s territory to destroy the training camps for jihadis.

But public memories are short-lived, with new dastardly events piling up to mute the sounds of previous tragedies. The media’s amnesia, like an aggrieved person’s, is a way of coping with agony and loss. In 1992-93 almost 1,000 people died in riots in Mumbai and 200,000 Muslims fled the city in its aftermath. How many people remember this? In 1993 bombs exploded in hotels and the stock market killing over 250 people. The culprits were linked to Dawood Ibrahim, who it is believed lives in Dubai and Karachi, and is wanted for the present crime. One hundred people were convicted and several were given the death penalty. But this has not stopped the massacre as bombs followed in 2002, 2003, 2006 and now this.

It is important that India, with the full cooperation of Pakistan, unearth the masterminds of this latest attack and bring them to justice. The demand for extradition of some well-known leaders of terrorist groups currently said to be Pakistan is justified. Lack of an extradition treaty should not become the reason for blocking this demand. Drafting of such a treaty should begin while international agencies such as Interpol and the UN investigators can visit Pakistan to interrogate the alleged gang-leaders.

Overlooked by the dramatic events of the recent past is the far more damaging confrontation of the Pakistan and Indian armies in Siachen, the highest battleground in the world. This ridiculous confrontation costs both countries nearly Rs20bn per year (this just for maintenance — based on a 2004 joint report by Pakistani and Indian experts), with India bearing four times the cost of its rival due to its higher deployment of troops. Exact figures for total costs remain unknown.

Meanwhile the glacier, which is critical for supplying water to the Indus, is reducing in length by over 100 metres each year, a phenomenally high rate. This not only has serious implications for the future water supply in the Indus, such man-made melting will worsen the sea-rise problem due to global warming.

An international peace park at Siachen as proposed some time ago with a guaranteed water supply for Pakistan should be all that is needed for the two armies to vacate this area. One hopes that there will be sufficient international pressure in the New Year for the countries to disentangle. Thereafter, the money which went into maintaining the troops should be used for improving the life of the people of Kashmir.

Finally, let’s come to the mother of all problems in South Asia: the Kashmir issue. Neither side is wishing to admit that at its core it is an issue about what would make the people of that region contented and in control of their destiny. This control is denied to them by the two rival countries. Military expenditure incurred by both has only increased the misery of the people. An international commission needs to assess the cost of what Pakistan spends on its army, which is largely justified by the Kashmir conflict, and the sums wasted by India in quelling the insurgency, whether indigenous or instigated.

The two countries should instead use this money to improve the life of the people of this region. With the water from the rivers assured for Pakistan, it should not demand anything more than the welfare of the Kashmiris. Soft borders allowing ease of travel and trade should be the only step necessary at the moment. In the decades to come, the empowered people of Kashmir can decide if they wish to continue as suggested, be independent or become part of a confederation of South Asian countries.

It may seem strange to talk about these larger issues when people are still hurting from the current tragedy. Pakistan too has barely recovered from the Marriott bombing. But it is precisely when a family is hurt due to a death within that warring factions often come together and adopt a reconciliatory approach. With so much lost by both sides and the prospect of terrorism wreaking further damage, it is essential that saner elements on both sides of the border come up with a peace plan that solves the core problem. The funds saved and the human resources released from the war effort can be channelled to enhance the potential of our peoples. In Zardari, a man who lost his wife to violence, India may find a willing partner wishing to work for peace. Can these tragedies bind us in our sorrow and lead to a peaceful future?

The author is a physicist and environmentalist in Islamabad.

No relief for abused women

By Alefia T. Hussain

SOME progressive and forward-looking minds in the country are waiting to see the government take a giant step forward and pass the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill 2008 pending since August this year. Why the delay? Is the government afraid it will invite howls of protest from anti-women elements both in and out of parliament? Human rights activists back the legislation and maintain that it will provide relief and protection to the women and others in the household from domestic violence.

Crucially, the bill is not women-specific; it extends protection to children and other vulnerable persons against domestic violence. It falls in line with the constitutional guarantees and international commitments that Pakistan is bound by to ensure a safe domestic environment. When the bill is passed, domestic violence becomes part of Schedule I of the Family Courts Act, 1964.

The makers of the bill have broadened the definition of domestic violence: it does not only pertain to physical and emotional abuse committed by the accused but also sexual, verbal and economic abuse. Causing hurt, wrongful confinement, criminal force, assault, mischief, criminal intimidation and attempt are also considered crimes.

Under the proposed bill, harassing a member of the household with threats, unwelcome telephone calls and letters is punishable. Also, stalking and abetting are punishable crimes. Interestingly, these acts of violence can be brought to notice by the victim or any person connected to the victim. Hospitals and private clinics can also report such acts to the police. Subsequently an accused will be imprisoned or ordered to pay up to Rs10,000 in compensation for abusing the victim and Rs5,000 for harassing and stalking.

Work on the domestic violence bill was initiated in December 2006 when the National Assembly Standing Committee on Women Development constituted a subcommittee to examine the bills proposed by Mehnaz Rafi and Sherry Rehman (as private members’ bills). The Ministry of Women Development and the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights decided to club together the two bills. Though it was approved by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Women Development in April 2007, it lapsed as the assembly’s five-year term completed in December 2007.

With the swearing in of the new PPP government, civil society took the initiative to revive debate on the bill. On Aug 7, 2008 eminent legal and judicial personalities such as Justice (retd) Nasira Iqbal, Justice (retd) Majida Razvi and Justice (retd) Shaiq Usmani, and women rights organisations such as Shirkat Gah and others were brought together by Aurat Foundation to critique and review the bill. This national-level consultation was followed by four regional meetings. At the end of the series of consultations, recommendations were incorporated in the original draft and were sent to the Ministry of Women Development in August 2008. Copies were also shared with the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) and Gender Action Reform Programme (GRAP).

So what’s stopping the government from doing the needful? Till when will it keep the record on women-related brutalities complicated? When will it develop new laws to curb violence against women?

Naheed Syed of the Aurat Foundation says no matter how publicly domestic violence is committed, it is still an unreported matter in our society. Also she holds the male-dominated perspective among our parliamentarians as one of the reasons behind the non-serious attitude towards the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill 2008. Mahnaz Rafi agrees, in fact, she does not mince words in blaming the anti-women “waderas and tribal lords sitting in the assemblies” for the delay.

The appointment of two anti-women ministers — Sardar Israrullah Zehri and Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani — proves Rafi’s point. In the past few weeks the PPP government has drawn sufficient flak from civil society for such cabinet appointments. Civil society has lambasted Zehri for defending a barbaric incident where at least two women were allegedly buried alive in his province, Balochistan, saying that such killings were part of the tribal culture. It has heaped criticism on Bijarani for allegedly heading a jirga in 2006 that decided to give five minor girls in compensation to settle a feud between two rival tribes. Both were subjected to severe criticism — so much so that if Zehri and Bijarani had been the kind of people to be discouraged by this kind of verbal onslaught they would have given up right then. But they didn’t.

Attitudes towards women especially among educated urbanites have changed to some extent in the past few years. Women’s representation in the legislative assemblies has increased substantially. Yet much of the country is conservative — and hence gender-based crimes remain unaddressed. Incest, burning alive, throwing acid, trafficking, karo-kari, vani, etc. is rampant. In the midst of such serious crimes, routine acts of domestic violence go ignored. According to rough estimates 80 per cent of women in Pakistan are subjected to domestic violence.

The PPP’s election manifesto commits the party to achieving gender equality and pledges to eliminate discriminatory laws and policies. The party pledged a 20 per cent job quota for women in public services and effective legislation to enable legal ownership of assets and resources to facilitate women’s financial independence. This, coupled with the active participation of Sherry Rehman, Shazia Marri, Sassui Palejo and others, who seemed to be guided by the legacy of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto, made the party appear more women-friendly than others in the Feb 2008 contest.

Now, 10 months into the parliamentary term and the Ministry of Women Development is missing a minister. The portfolio has yet to be assigned. So much for addressing women-related issues.