Economics and extremism

Published January 5, 2010

THERE cannot be any doubt that there is a relationship between poor economic performance and the rise of extremism and resort to insurgency. That such a relationship exists and should inform counterinsurgency efforts is contested by some experts.

Scott Altran, an anthropologist, has studied the operations that led security forces in Indonesia and the southern Philippines to beat back insurgencies in those two countries. He suggests a different strategy from the one being pursued by the Americans in Afghanistan and the military in Pakistan.

He argues for a different perspective, “one that is smart about cultures, customs and connections. The present policy of focusing on troop strength and drones, and trying to win over people by improving their lives with western-style aid programmes, only continues a long history of foreign involvement and failure. Reading a thousand years Arab and Muslim history would show little in the way of patterns that would have helped to predict 9/11, but our predicament in Afghanistan rhymes with the past like a limerick.”

This line of thinking is based on the view that for some inexplicable reasons the Middle Eastern man — possibly also the man from the Pakistani hills — is different from the rational western man who, economists believe, wants to maximise his welfare.

For some reason the tribal people of Afghanistan and Pakistan are much too interested in their traditional codes of behaviour — the Pakhtunwali — to embrace economic, political and social modernity. “Afghan hill societies have withstood centuries of would-be conquests by keeping order with Pakhtunwali in the absence of central authority,” writes Altran. Such a view would keep the tribes in this part of the world locked in the past, concerned only with looking after their social values.

The areas of Pakistan in which insurgency has taken hold have seriously lagged behind those which have fared better in economic terms. Although Pakistan does not have national income accounts I have developed some rough estimates of provincial gross domestic products and income per head of the population in the various provinces. I estimate that Punjab, the country's largest province in terms of population, also has the largest economy.

While the province's share in national population is a little more than 55 per cent of the total, it accounts for 57 per cent of GDP. The province of Sindh, the second largest in terms of population, has almost 23 per cent of the population but 27.5 per cent of GDP. The NWFP has 13.7 per cent of the population but only eight per cent of GDP.

Balochistan, the largest province in terms of area and possibly also the richest once its energy and mineral resources are fully explored and begin to be exploited, is the least dense of the country's provinces. It has slightly more than five per cent of the population but at this

time only three per cent of GDP.

Although population and national income data for Fata are not very reliable my guess estimates for the share of the two are 2.4 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively. Islamabad, the last geographical entity in the country has 0.8 per cent of the population, and one per cent of GDP.

Translating these numbers into income per head of population is particularly revealing. Sindh with $1,270 per capita income is the country's most prosperous province. The poorest is the NWFP with an income per head of only $606, half that of Sindh's and not much more than half that of the Punjab average.

Fata has an income per head of $663, slightly more than that of the NWFP. The larger Fata income may be explained by the significant amount of remittances received from outside, sent by the workers from the area employed outside the region. Some of the workers are in Pakistan's large cities and some in the Middle East.

The mobility these people have shown is contrary to the impression of some anthropologists that the Pakhtuns of the hills in Afghanistan and Pakistan shun opportunities to better their economic situation. They would respond positively to attempts made at improving their lives. Not counting those who have taken up arms to pursue ideological agendas a large number of people have been recruited to the cause since they have lost faith in their future.

These income disparities don't tell the full story. There are considerable differences in the incomes of people living in different parts of the provinces. People in southern Punjab, which has become a centre of insurgency, probably have incomes less than half the provincial average; perhaps as low as one-third of those in the more prosperous districts of the province.

The same is the case in other provinces. In rural Sindh, for instance, income per capita is probably one-fifth that in Karachi. This is not surprising since Karachi is the country's centre of industry, finance and international commerce.

Political scientists have long worried about the distress produced in societies in which there are sharp income differences. Somewhat belatedly economists have come to the same conclusion. In Pakistan these economic disparities have resulted in great violence against the state and the citizens of the country. Some of the elements within society have been behind violence mostly for ideological, reasons. Insurgency in Pakistan has been caused by the merger of several different streams. If we look at the growth of extremism in the country we see that it is concentrated in the more backward parts of the country.

Any strategy aimed at improving the standard of living in the country's economically and socially backward areas should recognise the preponderance of the very young in their populations, aim to exploit the resources and skills available in these areas and bring about greater integration of the regions into the national economy. Such a strategy will lead to the pursuit of very different approaches in several troubled parts.



Security lapses
Updated 13 Apr, 2024

Security lapses

Ensuring the safety of foreign citizens is paramount, not just for diplomatic relations but for our economic future.
An eventful season
13 Apr, 2024

An eventful season

THE Senate chairman and deputy chairman were elected unopposed, and 41 new senators were sworn in on Tuesday,...
Living rough
13 Apr, 2024

Living rough

WE either don’t see them or don’t want to see them — not even when they are actively trying to get our...
Saudi investment
Updated 10 Apr, 2024

Saudi investment

The state has to address barriers that stand in the way of attracting foreign investment, and create a pro-business environment.
Charity for change
Updated 11 Apr, 2024

Charity for change

PAKISTANIS are large-hearted people who empty their pockets at the slightest hint of another’s need. The Stanford...