Given the widespread violence in Pakistan, which has caused at least 40,000 violent deaths in the past few years alone, many wonder about its root causes. People ask how Pakistanis could commit such barbaric acts. The scapegoating kicks right in. Most readily blame India for hatching violent conspiracies against Pakistan. Polls after polls show that Pakistanis believe India poses the greatest threat to their security. Others blame the great Satan, the United States, for masterminding terror in Pakistan’s streets and squares. And then there are others who blame Saudi Arabia and Iran for the same. Almost no one finds fault with Pakistanis.
But Pakistan does have a J for Jihad problem that begins with what is taught to children even when they are in the cradle. Even from a young age, Pakistanis are bombarded with tales of warriors, of whom not a single one being indigenous, who arrived from foreign lands to protect Muslims or to spread Islam. These holy warriors seldom built schools or hospitals in the invaded lands, but their conquests are celebrated nevertheless. And when Pakistanis could not find any contemporary warriors to sing praise for, they turned to militarising even the alphabet. Toddlers are being taught J for Jihad in Pakistan!
J is for Jobs
I wonder whose job it is in Pakistan to create jobs. The socio-political discourse in Pakistan is devoid of any meaningful discussion of growing the employment base. Even those who are supposed to be the economic gurus talk only of GDP growth and inflation rates, but are mum about growing the employment base. Ask any expert about how many workers are gainfully employed in Pakistan and they may not have an answer.
Lack of sustenance providing jobs and the increase in violence are intrinsically coupled. A quick glance of the age pyramid in Pakistan would reveal that the largest cohorts in Pakistan comprise the youth and young adults in their prime working age. While the economy fails to create jobs in urban centres that are required to absorb the growing tide of the young and restless cohorts, the militants and other outlawed outfits handsomely reward those who are willing to join their ranks and pick up arms against the civilian and military elite that hoard resources from the rest. If the economic engine spits out enough jobs in Pakistan’s urban centres and small towns, the youth may decide not to join the dark side. Don’t take my word for it. David Foot, Canada’s renowned demographer and a former professor at the University of Toronto, has been arguing the same in the Middle Eastern context. If the Palestinian kids had jobs, they wouldn’t be throwing stones, argued David Foot.
Earlier when I worked as a junior analyst on the fixed income derivatives desk on Canada’s largest trading floor, I learnt that the most important day of the month was the first Friday of every month when the US government releases the non-farm payroll statistics. The number of jobs created would determine the expected change in interest rates, yields and several other major aspects of finance. The same payroll statistics fuelled recent controversy when Jack Welch, GE’s former CEO, suggested that there was something funny about the latest release of non-farm employment numbers. Despite the recent controversy, economists and traders around the globe point their antennas towards the US every first Friday of the month to review the payroll numbers released by the US government.
When was the last time the government of Pakistan released employment figures for public consumption?
The reality is that the government of Pakistan (the political apparatus and the civilian bureaucracy) is least prepared to create the environment necessary for growing an employment base in Pakistan. Many experts argue that the government is in fact more of a drag than a facilitator for job creation. The government in fact cannot even collect owed taxes, let alone help create jobs. Why else would the recently released report on doing business reveal that Pakistan ranked 162 out of 185 countries in ease for paying taxes?
The public sector discourse on economy is too abstract, and at times meaningless, when it comes to job creation. Consider Pakistan government’s primary text on the state of economy, The Economic Survey of Pakistan, which struggles to say a word or two about employment statistics. And even those numbers are highly suspect. The government claims that in a country where a large number of children are so malnourished that they are categorised as wasting or having stunted growth, the unemployment rate in 2010-11 was only 6 per cent. What does this number imply? Does it mean that only 6 per cent of the labour force is unemployed, while the rest are gainfully employed?
The government further claims that 53.84 million of the 57.24 million comprising the labour force in 2010-11 were employed. In fact, the government believes that the unemployment rate in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa (KPK) decreased during the same time period. This may suggest to some that Pakistan has resolved its economic woes, which is hardly the case. Let’s first look at the situation in KPK. With devastating floods that displaced millions from the province and the armed insurgency that further forced millions to leave the province, it should come as no surprise that, even if the numbers are suspect, unemployment may have declined because those without jobs and sustenance have most likely migrated to Punjab and Sindh.
But what does the government mean when it counts someone as employed. Does the government truly believe that the 53.8 million were gainfully employed in Pakistan? The government has set the minimum wage, which it cannot enforce even in the capital Islamabad, to 8,000 rupees. I think that the government counts any one earning the minimum wage as employed, regardless of the fact if 8,000 rupees were insufficient to support an average sized household that often struggles to feed six to seven individuals. Obviously those earning minimum wage cannot sustain a household, suggesting that a large number of Pakistanis are underemployed, thus earning less than sustenance wages, thus resulting in massive food insecurity.
One wonders if the government has a plan to boost employment? Yes it does. However, the plan does not work for workers in Pakistan. In the government’s own words: “The Government of Pakistan is making sincere efforts to boost overseas employment.” The government of Pakistan sounded extremely pleased in reporting that the number of expatriate workers had increased to 0.45 million in 2011. The government even offers a breakdown of expatriate workers by skill level, which it fails to do for workers employed within Pakistan.
J is for Jamat-i-Islami
The political and religious parties in Pakistan are also without a plan. Jamat-i-Islami (JI) is a classic spoiler when it comes to the party’s economic policy. Knowing that JI will never be in power, the party makes the most ridiculous claims about raising the minimum wage to levels that neither the economy can sustain, nor the government could enforce. But that hardly concerns JI because they know whoever makes the government will have to answer the electorate for the minimum wage promises made by the likes of JI.
Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is no different. It also lacks a real economic tsunami. PTI’s PowerPointed, typos ridden economic policy is hardly a policy document. Similar to JI it makes tall claims but fails to offer even short details about how those plans will be implemented. PTI claims to grow the economy at 6 per cent annually and promises to bring the inflation down to 7 per cent. First, without logistical details, no self-respecting economist will buy these numbers, which are almost impossible to achieve under the current global economic situation. Secondly, with the inflation rate leading the GDP growth rate, as claimed by PTI, the workers will continue to chase goods and services in vain.
Nation building demands that Pakistanis should revisit how the key messaging glorifies violence even for toddlers. The folklores have to abandon the unnecessary and irrelevant praise for warriors and mercenaries. Instead, parents have to develop a new narrative that praises living legends of the likes of Eidhi and Hussain Dawood.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.