DAWN - Editorial; January 21, 2009

Published January 21, 2009

Attacks on Swat schools

IT is education that is under attack in Swat and not just schools for girls. To prove this point, militants — intriguingly, they act in the secrecy of night and under the cover of curfew — blew up five schools on Monday in the valley. This was, so to say, in response to the federal information minister’s stern warning in the National Assembly that attacks on girls’ schools will not be “tolerated”. The attacks can also be interpreted as confirming that Maulvi Fazlullah meant business when his deputy announced last month that female education would be banned in Swat from Jan 15. This is a pity. It has grave implications both for the government’s writ in areas under attack from the militants and for the future of education in Pakistan which is already bleak. If the government with the help of a massive army presence has failed to provide protection to the people of Swat from anti-state elements, it is something to worry about. It certainly does not help infuse public confidence in the state machinery. Moreover, the government’s failure to counter specifically the Taliban’s proclaimed policy of targeting girls’ schools points to the apathy of our rulers towards the education sector and their indifference towards the need for the empowerment of women in our society.

This approach should cause serious concern in all circles that are committed to the development of an enlightened Pakistan. One cannot be certain how much importance the administration attaches to education. Some statistics are revealing. If the militants have torched or blown up 180 or so schools while occupying another five of them, the security forces have set up their bases in 18 schools displacing over 7,000 male and female students. It seems that education is the first casualty when two sides are locked in a tussle. Taking a leaf from the book of our governments since 1947, the militants have adopted a policy of destroying education to ensure that people cease to think and thus help anti-people regimes perpetuate themselves in office. Moreover, it is not just girls’ schools that have been targeted in Swat. Over 42 per cent of the institutions destroyed had boys on their rolls. Learning from the famous dictum ‘When you educate a man you educate an individual, when you educate a woman you educate a family’ the militants have shrewdly sought a more effective way of annihilating the education base in Swat.

Another message to clearly emanate from the destruction of schools is in respect of the status of women. Nearly 80,000, by one count, girls have been deprived of education while 8,000 women teachers are without a job. With decrees banning women from leaving their homes, can one expect any improvement in the status of women?

Investigating Mumbai

THE Mumbai attacks have thrown up in their wake predictable, though thoroughly lamentable, hysteria, warmongering and ill will on both sides of the Pak-India border. Sometimes overshadowed has been a crucial aspect of bringing closure to the Mumbai attacks: bringing to justice those who planned, sponsored and executed the killings. India has provided Pakistan with what it claims is a dossier of evidence and demanded that Pakistan take action on the basis of the dossier. Additionally, although its flip-flopping on the issue makes it hard to determine what India’s current position is, it has demanded that those allegedly involved in the Mumbai attacks and identified by India be handed over for prosecution in Indian courts. On its part, Pakistan has set up a three-member FIA team to investigate the claims made in the Indian dossier. Interior Adviser Rehman Malik has given the team 10 days to complete its investigations; however, other government officials have suggested that it may take longer. Meanwhile, Pakistan has categorically rejected the extradition of any suspects to India. Now to making sense of it all. First, the Indian dossier. Independent legal experts have suggested that at best it adds up to circumstantial evidence. But that does not mean it should be dismissed; there is enough contained in it to act as a solid base for further investigations. Second, the extradition demand. It is both unreasonable and unfeasible, and has been acknowledged as such by the international community. For Pakistan to hand over terrorism suspects to India would mean a humiliating admission that our law enforcement and judiciary processes are inadequate compared to our neighbour, something that would be akin to political suicide for any government. Moreover, putting alleged Pakistani terrorists in the custody of the Indian state would run the risk of the latter drawing political mileage from the suspects by attributing confessions and statements to them that may open an entirely different Pandora’s Box. Third, the FIA investigation. It must be thorough, it must be transparent and it must be credible. The state is no longer hiding behind the fig leaf that there is no terrorism problem in Pakistan — after all, the armed forces are engaged in fierce fighting in Fata and northwest Pakistan and the civilian government has identified terrorism as Public Enemy No 1. Now is the time to demonstrate to the world, and indeed the Pakistani public, that the state will fearlessly follow the evidence — wherever it leads and whomever it unearths.

More than just cricket

REGARDLESS of what happens on the field of play, the very fact that our national cricketers have finally got something reasonable to keep themselves busy with must have come as a relief to the players and the Pakistan Cricket Board alike. For the followers of the game, the touring Sri Lankans deserve applause for their willingness to fill in for the missing Indians. Anyone who knows how international cricket is conducted these days would realise how difficult, sometimes impossible, it is to factor in last-minute changes in even a scheduled tour. It takes more than mere cricketing reasons to agree to undertake an unscheduled assignment. The tour surely is a gesture of good-neighbourliness, regional fraternity and empathy with what Pakistan is going through in its time of crisis that has left, among other things, its cricket in tatters. It’s a pity that everything that we can, and do, associate with the Lankan gesture happens to be just what we have found totally missing in our neighbour — India — which has for long nurtured hopes of being the regional big brother without showing the necessary temperament that goes with the profile. And, in the cricketing context, a big brother with a short fuse, a serious lack of understanding and a tendency to blow hot and cold is rendered a bully.

Militancy in the region has varying colours and textures. Whether it is ethnic or religious-based, we see it in a number of countries including India where there are pockets of instability and unrest. We see it in Pakistan and Sri Lanka and, breaking away from cricket-playing countries, in Nepal. It would not have been a misplaced hope that the region would look inwards to draw strength through empathy considering the long list of shared woes on the militancy front. But that has not been the case. It is in this context that one must acknowledge that the Sri Lankan team’s presence in the country has been reassuring. It is largely because of them that international cricket has returned to Pakistan and, for once, there is reason to celebrate.

OTHER VOICES - European Press

Brown’s rescue package

The Telegraph

SINCE the run on Northern Rock began in September 2007, we have become punch drunk as calamity followed upon calamity while the credit crunch unfolded. Yet even by the standards of these remarkable and perilous times, yesterday stands out as a landmark.

It was the day it became clear that the government that helped land us in the banking crisis is struggling to find a way out of it. Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are grabbing every lever within reach in the hope that it will pull us out of the nosedive, now that it is evident that October’s £37bn bail-out has not worked. Will yesterday’s prove more successful? Don’t bank on it.Elements of the latest package are helpful, notably the Bank of England asset purchase scheme. And the prime minister argues that the nature of the crisis requires an evolving series of measures as new problems appear. Downing Street also expects other countries, including the US, to adopt similar policies. But throughout this crisis the government’s response has not been smart enough, fast enough or big enough....

Its handling of RBS has been an object lesson in making a bad business worse. It bought 58 per cent of the bank for £15bn last November without glancing under the bonnet and now finds that it is burdened with toxic overseas liabilities and heading for a £28bn loss, the biggest in corporate history. RBS shares were worth 53p when the government bought them; yesterday they fell to 13p (two years ago they traded for £20.80). As night follows day, yesterday’s raising of the government’s stake from 58 per cent to 70 per cent will not be enough and further interventions will be required....

Yet the government appears to be in denial. The collapse of the country’s most important industry has not taken place in some hermetically sealed vacuum. The bubble of toxic loans and excess credit was inflated on Mr Brown’s watch as chancellor; the regulatory regime that allowed it to happen was designed and constructed by him. He was not only at the scene of the crime — he was complicit in it. It makes his anger at the greed and recklessness of the banks ... ring hollow. It is not, however, in Mr Brown’s make-up to acknowledge his part ... let alone to apologise. Yet the penny has dropped with the voters, as the disappearance of the Brown bounce in the opinion polls testifies. Voters should have the opportunity to give vent to their anger at the ballot box. Governments have fallen for far less than this. It is time Mr Brown was held to account.... — (Jan 20)

Lawlessness and demography

By Dr Akhtar Hasan Khan

‘DEMOGRAPHY is destiny’. This aphorism of population experts has much significance. Economists predict future well-being in terms of savings, investments, exports, price stability and other factors.

Yet their predictions vary greatly, often stemming from unpredictable events in the short and long run. For example, no leading economist predicted the severity of the present global financial meltdown and recession.

Yet demographic characteristics change slowly and their trend values can be gauged with much greater precision. The growth of population and the workforce, age structure, literacy etc can be quite reliably traced into the future. These demographic features play an important part in determining the destiny of a nation.

Pakistan has a very high rate of population growth. Although it has declined from three per cent at the time of the census in 1981 to the present 1.9 per cent it is still the highest among populous countries of more than 50 million, except Nigeria. The annual population growth of US is 0.9, Japan 0.5, Russia 0.2, Turkey 1.2, Iran 1.3, India 1.4, Bangladesh 1.6 and Nigeria 2.2. The population growth rate is the difference between the crude birth rate and the crude death rate. The rates are termed as crude because refined birth and death rates are difficult to measure.

The more reliable indicator of population growth is the total fertility rate (TFR) — the number of children ever born to a woman in her reproductive span, normally 15 to 45 years. Pakistan’s TFR is four compared to 2.1 in Iran, 3.1 in India, 3.2 in Bangladesh and 2.2 in Turkey. A TFR of 2.1 is considered replacement level which leads to a stable population. Iran, despite its religious leadership, has achieved the fastest demographic transition in the world by reducing its TFR from 6.6 in 1980-85 to 2.1 in 2000-05 — whereas, in Pakistan during the same period, it fell from six to four.

Another measure of population increase is the Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) or the percentage of couples who use contraceptives. It is 74 in Iran, 71 in Turkey, 47 in India, 58 in Bangladesh and only 30 in Pakistan. Our low CPR is not only due to the unwillingness of couples to adopt family planning practices but more than one-third of those who want to use precautions are deprived of the requisite services; what demographers call ‘unmet need’ and such a vast ‘unmet need’ shows the poor efficacy of our population ministry and its field staff.

In Pakistan, the under-15 population is 37 per cent of the total population as compared to developed countries where it is only 16 per cent. Whether this youth bulge is a demographic dividend or disability was debated at a recent population conference in Lahore. The consensus was that given the poor education, health and skills of our youth, it is more of a liability. If our youth were educated, healthy and skilful then this group could be more of a bonus. It must also be realised that a poor developing country like Pakistan lacks the resources and the management to educate such a large number, provide health facilities and skill training. In order to grant better education and health facilities, the under-15 percentage has to be reduced.

Internationally renowned economist Joeffrey Sachs states “when the youth make up of more than 35 per cent of the population, which they do in many developing countries, the risk of armed conflict is 150 per cent higher than in countries with age structure similar to developed countries”. This statement has been made after studying the relationship between the age structure of the population and armed conflict in developing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Some two and a half million youth join Pakistan’s labour force every year. It is estimated that approximately a million find regular jobs and many others acquire part-time jobs or seasonal employment like harvesting etc. Several even work as unpaid family workers. All these fall in the economic category of the under-employed.

The minimum wage in Pakistan is Rs6,000 but this is confined to the organised labour market as many unemployed youth are willing to work below the minimum wage level. In 2008 there has been mass job-shedding in the industrial sector, stemming from the power crisis. This, along with high food and general inflation, recession and political uncertainty has adversely affected the job market. These under-employed, unemployed, unskilled and poverty-stricken youth are cannon fodder for jihadis and other anti-social elements. In the rural sector holdings of less than five acres are 58 per cent of the total number of farms. There is a shortage of arable land per capita which leads to vagrant rural young folks loitering around in peri-urban and urban areas hunting for jobs or victims.

Terrorist activity, even firecrackers, in a theatre in Lahore without any fatality and insignificant injuries, makes headlines on television and in print. But these incidents are less than one per cent of the total crime committed in a month or a year; and little coverage is given to this surging violence. The police and judicial inefficiency and corruption in apprehending criminals are also contributing to the spurt in criminal activity.

The main reason for lawlessness is the high TFR and the failure of the government to motivate the population to use contraceptives or provide family planning services to those who want them. In particular, authorities have failed to give education and training to the youth. After all, demography defines a country’s destiny. If China can become the most rapidly growing country in the world in the last three decades by adopting a one-child policy and Iran can reduce its TFR to replacement level, Pakistan can follow Iran if not China.

The writer is a former secretary for planning.

Narendra Modi as PM?

By Guha Thakurta

TWO of India’s wealthiest and most influential businessmen have raised a political storm by jarring public endorsements of controversial leader Narendra Modi as the world’s largest democracy’s next prime minister.

Modi, chief minister of industrialised, western Gujarat state belongs to the right-wing, Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He hit international headlines in 2002 for presiding over an anti-Muslim pogrom that left at least 1,000 people dead and 200,000 others homeless.

For his role in the Gujarat atrocities Modi has been denied entry into the United States and to the European Union. But he went on to win a third term as chief minister in December 2007, riding on the strength of the economic reforms he implemented in his state.

Modi is now being pitted by a section of the BJP as the man who can lead the party to victory against the ruling, Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in elections scheduled for April-May.

Endorsing his candidature are Anil Ambani and Sunil Bharti Mittal, heads of two of India’s largest telecommunications companies. Their statements at the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit, earlier this month, have infuriated the Congress and troubled sections of the BJP which are loyal to its tallest leader Lal Kishen Advani.

“Chief Minister Modi is known as a CEO, but he is actually not a CEO, because he is not running a company or a sector. He is running a state and can also run the nation,’’ said Mittal, chairman and managing director of the Bharti group at the conference in Ahmedabad, that was attended by businessmen and dignitaries from 40 countries who pledged investments worth $250bn in Gujarat.

Though Modi has since been hailed by a section of India’s business elite as the poster-person of an economically strong India, he is regarded by his political opponents as an authoritarian ruler, and even a ‘fascist’ who failed to contain the 2002 communal riots.

Brilliant oratory and a strong belief in Hindu nationalism have given Modi a tight grip over the administration of Gujarat, in particular its economic functions. Gujarat has had a long tradition of entrepreneurship and in recent years, has outstripped other states for growth.

The show of support for Modi by luminaries of India Inc., however, is not the first endorsement of its kind.

Ratan Tata, the head of the giant Tata group, abandoned his plans to headquarter his Nano car factory in Singur, West Bengal, choosing a location near Ahmedabad instead. Tata attributed his project’s rapid development to Modi’s drive. It took him two days to secure property and obtain other approvals, against the interminable waits that are legend in India.

Out of 226 senior Indian business executives recently polled by the newspaper Hindustan Times and the research firm, C-fore, 14 per cent viewed Modi as the best candidate for prime minister, leaving him fourth on the list. Current prime minister was ranked first with 25 per cent of the votes, followed by Advani at second position with 23 per cent votes.

— IPS News



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