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Old Tuesday, October 28, 2008
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Drones and disasters


Hours after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani addressed a broad-ranging press conference in Islamabad, commenting on the entire spectrum of national issues including his visit to Beijing, a US drone is reported to have fired missiles within a tribal area on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, killing ten people. In his talk the prime minister had lashed out against the drone attacks, terming them a disaster as far as the counter-militancy offensive goes. The incident exposes the inability of Pakistan to do very much about the attacks. But at the same time the prime minister has shown his commitment to the unanimous resolution by parliament on combating terror. That resolution had sought an 'independent' foreign policy and during the debate that led up to its passage, opposition parties had repeatedly demanded action to stop US aerial attacks. To its credit, the government has made what effort it can to do so. In his latest talk, Mr Gilani has been unequivocal in expressing anger over them. Beyond this, it is only a consistent demonstration of Pakistan's willingness to take on terrorists with full force that may eventually persuade Washington to alter its present policies. The prime minister stated Pakistan had raised this matter at the Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing, calling for international support to help Pakistan preserve its sovereignty.

The prime minister has also made it clear the government remains determined to pursue this war to its end. He spoke about successes in Bajaur, emphasizing that the military will pull out as soon as FATA was calm. This again falls in line with parliamentary wishes. Prime Minister Gilani also spoke about Pakistan's economic situation, his visit to Beijing and an upcoming visit planned by President Zardari to Saudi Arabia. He was optimistic that the financial help Pakistan needed would be offered by international allies and IFIs. The prime minister insisted that his government worked in full coordination with the presidency, and there was no element of matters being controlled by the president's office.

The PM's detailed briefing provided a picture of the government's take on key issues. The re-emphasis of its opposition to drone attacks was significant at a time of growing demands that concrete steps be taken to tackle them. But it must be noted that while the elected government has been making a valiant effort to tackle issues, setting up committees to review key areas where required and painstakingly pushing through the joint resolution on terror, we still lack an overall policy picture of quite what the aims and intentions are. Such an assessment will draw together the strands of national crisis – with our financial woes linked, for instance, to trends that support the growth of militancy. The energy crisis, which has already led to mass redundancies, will only add to the despair and the rootlessness that drives young men into the hands of militants. These issues need to be brought together and taken up as a whole. So far, as the PM's press talk emphasized, an attempt to deal with each of these on a piecemeal basis is on. What we now need is the vision and the laying out of a plan that can take on the crisis more holistically.

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Fight for Bajaur

The public has been provided its first look at the situation in militant-infested Bajaur, where the military has been battling terrorists for almost two months now. The IG Frontier Corps, for the first time since the operation began, took journalists on a guided tour of the area of combat. The visit in itself indicates growing military confidence, with the media personnel briefed about the long, hard fight waged to regain control over key territories. After battles in which 1,500 militants and 73 soldiers were stated to have been killed, state forces had regained control of key areas, including the Lowi Sam region. This is an important strategic gain as roads into Swat and Mohmand Agency lead through this area. Its return to government hands will impede militant movement across the terrain it commands, and as such have a potential impact on the fierce fighting still taking in Swat.

During the briefing, the FC official also spoke of the capture of 300 foreigners and of the demolition of houses that had been converted into bunkers. All this goes to show the extent to which Bajaur had been allowed to become a stronghold for the Taliban and a safe haven for its Al Qaeda allies. It is thought that key Al Qaeda figures may still be hiding here. What we need is some kind of explanation as to why Bajaur was ignored for so many years after 2001. Earlier action could have made it possible to flush out militants before they strengthened their position to such an extent and the number of deaths as well as the suffering of civilians in an agency from where tens of thousand of the population of a million people have been displaced could have been limited. We do not know how many civilians have been killed or injured. The situation in Bajaur, where intense fighting has continued for weeks and it seems it will go on for many more days yet, is a frightening reminder of how great the militant menace has become. The success of the military troops combating it is however encouraging – even though in the longer run this action must be combined with measures to improve the situation of Bajaur's people, so that the grip of terrorists is eradicated from minds as well as from strips of land.

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Politicians & brokers

The dramatic developments seen at the KSE since August have continued, with a decision announced on Sunday not to remove the 'floor' placed under the KSE-100 index to prevent it falling below the 9,144 point level. The prospect of the floor removal had thrown brokers into panic, despite the announcement of a Rs20 billion market stabilization fund and additional incentives to foreign investors who have lost heavily due to the slide in the value of the rupee. Brokers felt that the removal of the 'floor' should go ahead only when funds to Pakistan come in from either the IMF or international allies. They had anticipated a further fall if the step was taken before this. It seems that the government's decision to abide by their wishes came only after the MQM came in to bat on the side of the brokers, with its top guns speaking to government leaders at the highest level, warning of the consequences of the bourse going under.

Quite obviously, this had an impact in influencing quarters where decisions are made. Previously the adviser on finance had urged the 'floor' to be removed as scheduled on October 27. In addition to this, a former director of the bourse has suggested that the KSE should be handed to an outsider because that is the only way to break the influence of the big brokers over the market which often results in fatal blows to small-scale investors. It is also argued that this will bring in much-needed discipline to capital markets in the country and may perhaps be the only way out of the current quagmire. Besides, it has to be noted that the negotiations have failed precisely because of competing and vested interests for control over what was once considered to be the proverbial goose that laid the golden eggs. There have been accusations against the big few who allegedly manipulated the stock exchanges in 2000 and 2005 but no one was held accountable. If there are big fish involved then they should be exposed and prosecuted. Either way measures to stabilize the situation need to be taken before the slide becomes irreversible.
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Old Wednesday, October 29, 2008
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Balochistan in the federation


While the follies and flaws of every government inevitably, and with ample justification, are dissected and discussed at many forums, steps that lead forwards are often wholly ignored. This is all the more true as these steps most often do not lead towards immediate resolutions of issues. The PPP government, since it assumed office in March, has been making efforts to win over the disgruntled province of Balochistan. Hundreds of political detainees, including the BNP's Akhtar Mengal have been freed. Efforts have also been on to open up dialogue with all political groups in the province, including the nationalists described previously as 'miscreants'. As a result of these efforts, backed by the Balochistan chief minister who openly advocates more autonomy for his province, important gains have been made. The insurgency in Kohlu and Dera Bugti has slowed, military actions have ceased and rebel leaders invited to the conference table.

The three-pronged roadmap for Balochistan, put before the public by Senator Babar Awan, is obviously intended to take this effort forward. Sticking to the alliteration that the major parties widely used in their election manifestos, the plan is built around three 'R's, reconciliation, rebuilding of national institutions and reallocation of resources. Mr Awan has also clearly stated that the government does not see insurgents in Balochistan as terrorists, but as persons committed to the welfare of their home province. This in itself is a fairly radical change in tone. The government, through the reconciliation committee on Balochistan, now plans to take the process forward by inviting diverse political forces from Balochistan, as well as Baloch scholars, writers and intellectuals to a 'jirga' in Islamabad to discuss the issues of the province. This process will then be extended to include other political groups, so that a consensus can be built on Balochistan.

Inevitably, during the discussion, the issue of autonomy and of the resources that Balochistan says it has been robbed of will come up. Answers will need to be found. Autonomy has always been a touchy issue in Pakistan. Traditionalists insist a stronger whole can be built only by melding provinces to a strong centre, and creating a uniform sense of nationality. Perhaps it is time to question this approach. We must recognize that Pakistan consists of regions with diverse languages, cultures and political thoughts. We need to embrace these differences, to celebrate them and to build a nation that acknowledges others too who live within it need room in which to exist, to think, to speak. The strains the federation faces today, and the fact that it has lost control of vast tracts of its territory, is proof of the fact that the 'establishment' view of statehood, rooted in hazy notions of ideology, has brought us nowhere at all. To move forward, the provincial demand for autonomy and for more control on resources must be recognized. As President Zardari has suggested, the 1973 Constitution offers a model for this. As a starting point, its character and spirit need to be adhered to. The possibility of moving beyond it must be left open for the future, perhaps when greater stability, harmony and coherence has returned to a country currently torn apart by conflict and the sense of chaos this creates.

While addressing the issue of Balochistan, it is also important to place that massive terrain, stretched across our south-west, in the context of Pakistan as a whole. As all students of political history know, issues of nationalism are almost always rooted in both internal and external factors. The deep sense of grievance in Balochistan emerges from a feeling amongst its people that the province has been hard done by in terms of development and a share in decision-making. But its sense of exclusion from the federation, of being pushed to its very fringes, arises also from the hostility directed at Balochistan's way by other provinces – notably the powerful Punjab. Beliefs that the Baloch fighters are 'traitors' or that the province's beleaguered people are 'unpatriotic' are deeply engrained. These flawed notions and attitudes – the result of years of narrow policies and a failure to draw smaller provinces into the national whole – need to be challenged. Only then will it be possible to 'reconcile' Balochistan with the rest of Pakistan, and build a stronger state where no province is more equal than the others.

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Out of the mist


The terrible story of Taslim Solangi, the 17-year-old from Khairpur in Sindh, who was killed allegedly by her father-in-law some six months ago, has begun to emerge from the mists of time. A story in this newspaper reveals the full horror of what happened: how the young girl, through no fault of her own, became a pawn in a tribal battle, how she was apparently married off twice and how, eventually, she fell into the hands of her father-in-law. Eight months pregnant at the time, the victim's unborn baby, who her father-in-law declared illegitimate, was forcibly delivered and thrown into a drain before the girl herself was killed. The perpetrator of these multiple atrocities, Zamir Solangi, remains free. His son, apparently coerced into declaring his wife 'kari' is in jail. Police describe the incident as an 'honour' killing. Crucially, the assistant commissioner who backed Solangi has not been touched in any way. The mother of the victim, now in Karachi, reportedly faces a risk to her life – presumably for speaking out about how her daughter died.

Now that the president has taken note of the episode and asked MNA Nafisa Shah to investigate it, there is some hope justice may be done. Fortunately the MNA in whose constituency the case occurred has a sound record as a defender of human rights and a politician committed to change. But there is more to be done. It is only chance that brings the stories of women such as Taslim out into the public eye. The same chance highlighted the case of the burial alive of three women in Balochistan earlier this year. Countless others who have died as unknown victims of 'honour' and tradition are never heard of; the tragic tales of their life, and death, hidden forever in the shrouds of a society where time seems not to have moved on. It is this medievalism, this lack of accountability, which must be tackled. Now that the name of Taslim has been heard in Islamabad's highest corridors of power, mechanisms to enforce the law, punish violators and, most crucially, to bring to book government officials or other influential people who abet such crimes, must be put in place. Otherwise, days from now, we will be reading of other crimes that are just as shocking and of victims who, like those before them, fell prey to unjust systems where the strong are free to trample on the rights of the vulnerable.
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Old Thursday, October 30, 2008
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Shoulder to shoulder


By announcing the halting of construction of the lavish new GHQ, a Rs60 billion project to be built on 99 acres of prime land in Islamabad, the COAS has indicated that the Pakistan army is ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with people. The ISPR has stated that the decision to halt work on the project, inaugurated in 2004 by former president Pervez Musharraf, was being stopped in view of the economic crunch being faced by the country. The major political parties, including the PPP and the PML-N had already spoken out against the construction of the new military headquarters which was to form part of a sprawling new Defence Complex located on hundreds of acres of land. Work had begun in 2007 and about ten per cent of it had been completed.

The announcement by the army chief appears to signal the changed order in relations between the military and the country's civilian setup. Certainly, in the recent past, General Kayani has gone out of his way to state the army was ready to follow government orders, whether on the war on terror or on other issues. This certainly marks a divergence from the past, where the army has dictated terms to governments and moved to oust them as and when it chose. For the people of Pakistan, an end to this unfortunate tradition would be the best news they have heard in decades. The cancellation of the GHQ building seems to mark a desire by the military to be seen as being a part of a national whole rather than an institution lording over downtrodden people. In this context, the symbolism is also important. The GHQ site represented to many the position of the military as an institution that holds it own interests dearer to those of citizens it is intended to serve. We must now hope that this past order will change and the efforts of General Kayani will bring people closer to an institution from which they have over the decades felt increasingly distant.

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Quetta quake

At least 150, and possibly many more, are feared dead in the quake that shook Ziarat and other towns in Balochistan at dawn on Wednesday. Villages around Ziarat, lying close to the epicentre of the quake that measured 6.5 on the Richter scale, are said to have been flattened. 500 houses are believed to have been destroyed. Officials say the actual figure may be considerably higher. It is not known how many are injured, but hospitals in Ziarat were overwhelmed by victims within an hour of the quake. Encouragingly, official response seems to have been quick, with troops deployed swiftly to help in rescue efforts and remove piles of rubble from streets. The media too has moved in quickly to areas that have been badly hit. An emergency was declared immediately in the province and hospital staff summoned to duty by the provincial administration. Perhaps some lessons then have been learnt from the disastrous quake of October 2005 that killed 74,000 in northern areas and Azad Kashmir. The ferocity of earthquakes can be terrible, their arrival hard to predict – but well-coordinated efforts can help limit human suffering. In this respect, the actions of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), set up after October 2005, may tell us a great deal about how much we have learnt. Initial confusion and chaos was a key feature of rescue efforts after the 2005 quake. Mercifully, the scale of this tremor seems much more limited, but some of the same factors apply as far as the task of coordinating relief is concerned.

It would of course be unwise to say too much till more details of the disaster emerge. But authorities need to remember that in a province where unrest has simmered for decades and has intensified in the recent past, all actions taken now will be closely watched. Bitterness in Balochistan over perceived failure to offer the province adequate aid after floods triggered by a cyclone in 2007 runs deep. People have complained of official indifference and military high-handedness. Baloch activists alleged international agencies were not permitted to offer help and expertise with the army taking charge of rescue work. Whether or not these accusations are entirely accurate, the sentiments that exist add to the undercurrent of distrust already present across the province. It must not now be allowed to grow. Already, the difficulties caused by lack of development in a province where communication networks are limited and hospital facilities inadequate have been exposed. Families from remote villages have had to bring relatives injured in the quake long distances in search of aid. Some are believed still to be trapped in hamlets where there are no doctors and no clinics. The full extent of damage in rural areas is indeed unknown. As we saw in 2005, poor infrastructure and under-development exacerbates suffering inflicted by calamity. Poor housing adds to death tolls. The quake in Balochistan must also be used as an opportunity to assure the people of the province that the rest of the nation stands by them. Such opportunities have been missed in the past. The same mistakes must not be made again. In this the federal government needs to take a lead and prove to the people of Balochistan its commitment to them.

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SCBA polls

The election, by a landslide, of Ali Ahmed Kurd to the prestigious post of SCBA president, means the long battle staged by lawyers for judicial independence will continue. This victory was marked by the celebration held by lawyers supporting Kurd immediately after the result was announced outside the residence of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhmmad Chaudhry. The resounding victory of Kurd, who in Lahore secured 540 of the city's 852 votes, may indeed rejuvenate the campaign that appeared to be running out of steam in its final days under the stewardship of outgoing SCBA chief Aitzaz Ahsan, as controversies erupted over strategy and motives. The government has been accused of attempting to create a split in the lawyers' movement, and allegations had come of attempts to rig the SCBA poll in favour of the government-backed candidate, Mohammad Zafar. These efforts, if they were indeed made, have obviously proved to be remarkably unsuccessful. The message from the polls is loud and clear: the lawyers still stand united a year and a half after their campaign began. It is not easy to consign them to the sidelines.

Under the firebrand Mr Kurd, a man not known to mince words, efforts to restore Justice Chaudhry may indeed be stepped up. The remarks of the president of Pakistan about the deposed chief justice, calling upon him to join politics – though possibly intended light-heartedly -- have not gone down well in many quarters. In the days ahead, the government's bid to settle the issue of the judges who refused to take oath under the November 3 PCO by inviting them to take a fresh oath of office may yet prove to be a move not quite as clever as the president's advisers imagine. It is possible, indeed likely, that we have not seen the end of the lawyers' campaign for judicial independence. The strategy adopted by the new SCBA leadership in this regard will certainly be worth watching.
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Old Friday, October 31, 2008
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Friday, October 31, 2008

Beyond the debris


The death toll from Wednesday's quake that hit north-west Balochistan, particularly the Ziarat and Pishin districts, has risen to 236. Many believe it may rise further, as bodies are dug out from under the rubble of villages annihilated by the disaster. Forty-four aftershocks have already been felt. They add to the misery of thousands of people who have spent the night beneath open skies and are likely to do so again. While an estimated 15,000 have been rendered homeless and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) says 2,000 houses have been destroyed, many other survivors in Ziarat and areas around it have been too terrified to move back into homes, fearing a new quake. Many had no tents or blankets to protect them from temperatures that dropped several degrees below freezing point in affected areas.

A large-scale relief effort, by the government, the military, specialized organizations such as the NDMA, international organizations and local NGOs – assisted by hundreds of volunteers – is underway. As we have seen before, people have been ready to do all they can to help. Villagers rushed to stricken areas to help dig out bodies, students from Quetta and other towns in Balochistan headed to hospitals and quake-hit areas to offer what help they could. Many with medical expertise offered their services. There essential goodness of ordinary people was revealed once again.

But the quake has also exposed other facets that require more consideration. Responding with the same arrogance that was shown after the floods of 2007 in Balochistan, the chairman of the NDMA insisted this was a 'localized' disaster that Pakistan could deal with on its own. He said there would be no appeal for international help. Mercifully, countries including the US, Canada and Kuwait and organizations such as the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross have volunteered money and assistance. The danger is that had they not done so, affected people would have been denied the expertise and coordinated relief that such groups can bring. Their efforts have been crucial in the aftermath of many global disasters. For reasons that are both humanitarian and political, Pakistan's authorities must do all they possibly can to ensure quake victims from the country's least developed province receive maximum help. If they fail, the costs will be high both in terms of suffering and the longer-term bitterness that people who feel neglected are certain to experience, adding another stream to the angry currents of discontent that race through Balochistan today.

The other matter that has received much media attention is the fact that little had been done to protect Quetta and surrounding areas, despite the fact that they are known to lie on an active seismic zone. Some reports even say the Met office had warned the government of the need to take precautionary measures, after new findings following the 2005 quake disaster in the northern areas. This advice of course was not acted on. Safer housing, built along models used in quake-prone zones in Japan or California, could have saved lives. Even awareness about what to do in case of a quake could contribute to reducing deaths and injuries. Such negligence is inexcusable. Measures must be taken now to make quake-prone areas across the country safer for their inhabitants and by doing so demonstrating a genuine commitment to the welfare of people who survive in primitive mud dwellings, deprived of health care and the modern amenities of life that mark human progress.

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Coming clean

Abraaj Capital, the Middle East-based company which took over operative control of the KESC a short while ago, has, according to a report in this paper, honestly answered questions about its management setup and has admitted it owns no shares in KESC. The question of why the company took over control of the power supply corporation had remained a mystery. In response to questions put to it, Abraaj has admitted several top posts within its Pakistan setup have gone to persons related to top political figures in Pakistan. The company, which emphasizes its track record of accountability and transparency, has stressed that these persons were appointed on the grounds of merit alone and on the basis of their desire to serve people.

Sadly, this is not a version of events most people in the country will be willing to believe. Even though it has been in office for barely eight months, accounts of corruption, nepotism and blatant abuse of power involving members of the new government and other who hold high office, can be heard everywhere. The past reputation of prominent figures only spurs this on. So too do the admissions made by Abraaj. In the Pakistani context, it seems obvious how certain people got key posts. They are also reported to be drawing extravagant salaries. These latest revelations will only add to the distrust for politicians that is deeply rooted in our society, with persons elected by people then using their power to rob the country they claim to serve. These people need to come forward and explain what has been happening at the KESC and why the controversial appointments were made.

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Believe it or not!

The bizarre goings on that surface every now and then in our country sometimes seem to have popped straight out from 'Ripley's Believe it or Not' television show, or other accounts of the weird – and not so wonderful. We now learn that the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) fountain, worth Rs320 million of tax-payers money, and installed at Oyster Rocks of the Clifton coast amid much fanfare in 2006, has now been 'stolen'. It has failed to begin functioning this year on the set date of September 15, at the end of the monsoon season. The fountain, a project close to the heart of former president Musharraf, was intended to throw out a jet of water over 500-feet high, making it the tallest fountain in Asia. There are many doubts as to whether this height was ever achieved, and even if it was, no explanation has been given as to why it was thought prudent to install a water jet that cost the obscene sum of Rs130,000 to run each day, in Karachi – a city whose people crave adequate piped water supplies, power, proper roads and other services. Many among them crave nothing more than food. Surely these needs are a bigger priority than the troublesome fountain that often malfunctioned, spluttering out only a meagre stream of murky water, even before it disappeared.

The theft quite obviously involves insiders. High security and navy patrols made it difficult to approach the fountain, leave alone dismantle its parts and remove them. These parts included engines, water jets, generators and more. It has been suggested the new KPT management has no wish to run the expensive fountain and has connived in the 'theft'. If this is indeed the case, the 'crime' must be applauded as one that removes from Karachi a grotesque symbol of waste by leaders who care so much for grandiose projects that reach out into the skies, but little for the downtrodden people who grovel beneath them, seeking only the right to lead lives as dignified beings rather than creatures engaged constantly in a desperate struggle for survival.
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Saturday, November 01, 2008

The IMF quandary


Even as talks with the IMF in Dubai conclude and Pakistan prepares to send in a formal request for a loan, President Zardari has said Pakistan cannot 'afford' the tough terms the institution has set while the Senate has warned against an IMF loan. The problem is that neither the President nor the senators, however good their intentions may be, seem able to offer much of an alternative. There is little time now for the extensive parliamentary debate on an IMF loan that the Senate has advocated. The fact is that Pakistan needs a cash hand-out within days if it is to stay afloat. As the adviser on finance has found over the last month, no one is ready to bail Pakistan out. The IMF and the WB too have delivered severe dressing downs to our financial managers for bungling the economy to so great an extent. But now that this has happened, a bankrupt Pakistan has no options. The IMF too has no alternative but to rescue the country. It has, however, set its conditions for this, demanding a defence squeeze among other points.

What Pakistan needs to do is to make the best of a truly bad situation. The finance adviser has been saying the IMF programme will be on Pakistan's terms. He must do more to convince people of this and explain how the expected burdens placed by the programme are to be minimized and what plan the country has tabled before the IMF. The National Assembly's Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue has meanwhile demanded that the country's former economic managers, including ex-prime minister Shaukat Aziz, appear before the committee to explain mismanagement. These persons are unlikely to do so. Even if they should turn up, our focus given the scale of the current crisis must be on planning for the future rather than looking back. This having been said, accountability is of course always desirable and it would be fascinating to hear answers from our past team of 'whiz kids' on what went wrong.

One of the gravest issues we face at present is declining confidence in Pakistan as a state. This has been a key factor in the economic turmoil. A flight of capital, as people remove their money to safer shores, has contributed to the severe shortage of foreign exchange reserves being faced at the present. As some senators have suggested, our politicians can play a part in restoring this confidence. As a symbolic gesture of faith in Pakistan, they can move assets based overseas back into the country. Opposition politicians have also suggested this be done. Others too, in business, in industry, in agriculture should be encouraged to do the same – if only as a token of loyalty to a sinking country. Realistically speaking of course, we cannot expect a mass return of funds. Unity too needs to be demonstrated in other spheres. There is a need for austerity at many levels, from the social to the political. Leaders must also to speak about economic policy and the IMF loan with one voice. Divergent opinions and criticism only add to doubts and as such act to spur on the crisis. Certainly, at present, few seem convinced the government has matters under control. Our leaders need to demonstrate we, as a nation, are able to stand together and do what we can to help ourselves. Only then can other nations be expected to come to our aid.

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Lost in time

The extraordinary case of Dr Sayyid Mohammd Khaleel Chishty, who since 1992 has been trapped in India, has now been highlighted through this paper. Dr Chisty, once a well-known professor of virology in Karachi, is believed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) which has been pursuing his cases for some years, to have become the victim of professional jealousies and of government indifference. A degree of mystery indeed still surrounds the case. But what is beyond doubt is that Dr Chishty, who has lost 17 years of professional and personal life, is the victim of terrible injustice.

According to the known details of the case, the scientist had travelled to Ajmer in 1992 to tend to his ailing mother. While he was there, he was, according to his family, maliciously implicated in a criminal case. Extraordinarily, that case is still pending before an Ajmer court. Dr Chishty's passport has been impounded and his freedom to move outside his family farms restricted. The Pakistan High Commission states it has been denied consular access to him. The matter deserves attention at the highest levels in the Pakistan Foreign Office. It seems incredible such events can take place in this day and age, and that a man can vanish for so long, caught up in bureaucratic systems and possibly the victim of conspiracy. The truth behind the matter and the possible involvement of people influential enough to impede the working of Indian courts and justice system must be explored. Pakistani officials must take up the matter forcefully with New Delhi. Dr Chishty cannot be given back the time he has lost, but even now it is not too late to acquire a better understanding of what went wrong so that such miscarriages of justice are not repeated in the future.

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The Jhang model

The extraordinary feats achieved by a mid-level government official, who served for some years as the DCO Jhang, have not received sufficient notice. The innovative bureaucrat, who has now rather tragically quit government service for personal reasons, had devised a system using which he was, to a very great extent, able to eliminate corruption in his district. Through a painstaking system of record keeping and the daily submission of details regarding property sales or purchase, he had been able to cut corruption in the Revenue Department, a virtual hot-bed of vice. The same initiatives had been extended to hospitals and other spheres. Citizens in one of the most backward districts of Punjab are vocal in the praise of the positive impact made by these measures.

Some DCOs are believed to have attempted similar exercises in their own areas, with varying degree of success. But the Jhang model has not been enforced on a larger scale. Following a report in this publication, the Punjab chief minister had ordered the former DCO's methods to be adopted throughout the province, but this has not happened. We must hope the CM will look into the reasons for this failing. The fact that so much was achieved to tackle malpractice by one man working alone proves to all of us that it is indeed possible to tackle corruption. What is needed is dedication and honest resolve. Sadly, this is too often lacking in our system of governance. Somehow or the other, more effort needs to be made to build a similar spirit so that more districts can walk down the path chalked out so meticulously in Jhang.
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Sunday, November 02, 2008

The right to raid?


At least 21 people have been killed in two separate US drone attacks in North and South Waziristan. Some reports put the toll at 32. Among the dead is Abu Akash, an Iraqi national associated with Al Qaeda and, according to some accounts, their chief of financial affairs. Other reports maintain he had indeed parted ways with Al Qaeda and formed his own splinter group. The truths behind the shadowy happenings in our tribal areas, where bands of militants seem to have based themselves, are virtually impossible to determine.

But these ugly realities cannot justify the US incursions into our territory. Rather disturbingly, a statement in London from the US homeland security chief attempts to stretch the existing definition of the right of a country to self-defence to include ‘pre-emptive’ action into ‘ungovernable’ areas from where a threat was posed. He also suggests the responsibilities of sovereignty under international law should include countries ensuring their territory cannot be used to attack others. The comments from the US official come amidst growing international criticism of US missions into Pakistan. The UK has been among those who have recently spoken out against these actions. But it seems obvious the US remains committed to them and believes the bombing missions are essential to take out terrorist targets. The bombing of a house in North Waziristan where the Al Qaeda leader was present, was quite obviously based on intelligence information about his expected presence. Little is known about the identities of the other persons killed in North and South Waziristan. It is possible some may have had militant affiliations.

The question is whether actions such as the latest US raid, even if some militants were killed by the bombs and missiles dropped over villages, help vanquish terrorist outfits or lead to the creation of greater anger and hatred, fuelling the sentiments that drive militancy on. This is a matter that needs earnest consideration. The US raids certainly add greatly to Pakistan’s difficulties as far as the ‘war on terror’ goes, contributing immensely to the perception that the battle is a US-led one. It also makes our leadership seem completely impotent. Prime Minister Gilani has once more slammed drone attacks, this time from Istanbul. Pakistan’s military chief has already spoken out against incursions over the border. It is quite obvious, even though the ground attacks that drew most fury have not been repeated, that Washington does not care a hoot about the sentiments of its ally. What it must consider is whether undermining the authority of the government and the military command in Pakistan will eventually work in favour of the terrorists, enabling them to more forcefully depict the war as one fought against the US and capitalizing from the weakness of a set-up that is quite obviously unable to do anything at all to prevent the cross-border assaults.

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Homeless and hungry

The first assessments by international agencies, working with the Pakistan government, as to the situation of survivors of the Ziarat earthquake are not encouraging. 70,000 people, including 30,000 children, have been rendered homeless. Many have spent the three nights since the quake outdoors, in freezing conditions. UNICEF has warned of the dangers of disease, particularly given the scarcity of safe drinking water. Many of the water sources that were used before the quake have been damaged. Arrangements for alternative supplies are inadequate. Poor shelter, miserable living conditions, a lack of medical assistance, poor sanitation and a shortage of warm clothing add to the sea of misery. It is quite evident that the enthusiastic insistence from the chairman of the NDMA immediately after the quake, that matters were in control and that relief had reached most survivors, was entirely untrue and based largely on some kind of fantasy. In many villages survivors complain they have still received no help at all. What we need is more action, an appeal to the international community and indeed to people in the country to offer what assistance they can.

This is necessary for reasons that go beyond the need to rescue people from a situation in which children fall sick because parents cannot protect them from cold or women suffer acute pain because no female doctors are present to tend to those who have been injured in the quake. The fact that women in a deeply conservative area would be unwilling to allow male doctors to treat them should not have come as a surprise to official organizations engaged in rescue work. But the people of Balochistan need also to be convinced that citizens from other provinces stand besides them. While charitable and religious organizations have moved in, the sense of national involvement that we saw after the October 2005 quake in NWFP and Azad Kashmir is not there. It is true this disaster, mercifully, has not resulted in a loss of life on the same devastating scale. But the fact also is that the survivors, terrorized by the aftershocks that are continuing, desperately need help and support. The federal government must prove it is earnest in its promise to bring about reconciliation in Balochistan by moving swiftly to aid its people and encouraging others to do the same. After all, the issue is not one of merely providing tents or food for a few days. The hundreds of houses that have been destroyed will need to be re-built, schools that have been damaged repaired and families who have lost wage-earners assisted. This calls for longer-term commitment and a properly laid out plan that can enable survivors over the months ahead to resume disrupted lives.

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In reverse

Clocks moved back an hour at midnight, on Oct 31, after being advanced an hour on June 1 under the new daylight saving scheme. There is some doubt as to quite what, beyond mass confusion, has been achieved by the whole effort. In part this confusion was created by a lack of awareness, with some simply refusing to bring forward the hands on their watches, as they insisted that this would disrupt prayer times or other activities. The real issue though is whether the measure helped save power – the main rationale behind the move. At the time the daylight saving scheme was announced, the federal minister for water and power had been optimistic it would help in the task of bringing down the hours of loadshedding by reducing the use of power. There is no evidence that this happened.

The other plans announced at the same time, including changes in the weekly holiday schedule for markets, have floundered. The 12-hour loadshedding schedule in Punjab seen last month, triggering mass protests, suggested load had not been cut at all. Past experiments with daylight saving schemes in the country have also been short-lived, partially because, as experts argue, our geographical location means we cannot derive the benefits of the annual time switch that are seen in Europe, where summer and winter daylight hours are quite radically different. What we need to know is whether the entire exercise has brought any real gain. Certainly, if the government does plan to persist with it, it needs to do more to inform people about the advantages and convince them that a simple manipulation of clocks should not involve quite so much anxiety or so much disorder in daily lives.
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Monday, November 03, 2008

Child protection legislation


The rescue by the police of a boy aged seven and a girl aged four – real cousins – who were about to be married raises several issues; none of them new but all of them seemingly intractable. Child marriage as a means by which disputes are settled or debts paid and feuds quelled, are so common as to be almost unremarkable. They happen in both rural and urban communities, are not limited to the illiterate poor and are often the product of the deliberations of a local jirga or panchayat – and they don’t often make headlines. That this unhappy event has been highlighted by the media is probably more the result of political point-scoring than any overarching sense of social responsibility on the part of those who drew the police to the scene – despite which credit is due to the informant who rightly prevented an illegal act. For their part the media are increasingly inclined to report on the darker side of life and expose pernicious cultural practices that are in need of either revision or wholesale extermination, for which credit is also due; at which point credit runs out and we enter the debit zone.

Perhaps curiously, no FIR has been registered. This may not be the fault of the police, who claim that it was impossible to register an FIR as there is no provision in the relevant law to book those holding the ceremony. It was further claimed by the Nazimabad SHO that his men had spent the day scouring the law books in search of a section under which they might act and that having failed, they eventually resorted to writing a report for submission to the district deputy officer who will sit as a magistrate to hear the case under the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929. The fate and future of these two minors will depend on the sagacity – and common sense – of the magistrate, who we can but hope comes down on the side of the angels.

Legislation relating to the protection of children in Pakistan is in a sorry state. Such as there is often dates from the colonial period and has never been repealed or revised, and that which is of the modern era is full of loopholes and contradictions and urgently in need of an update. Enforcement of child-protection legislation is patchy at best and the general level of public awareness of legal frameworks protecting children, virtually non-existent. We would suggest that the government constitute a judicial review of all legislation relating to the care and protection of minors, with a view to creating a fresh body of consolidating law that takes cognizance of changing social structures and the basic human rights of the individual child. We would further suggest that, instead of investing in disappearing fountains, this and future governments spend their money on raising public awareness of the rights of the child.

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One year on

Time has raced. On this date of Nov 3 last year, we had heard the former president Pervez Musharraf declare a state of emergency under which he suspended the Constitution and declared a PCO. Fundamental rights, including that to speech were suspended. The chief justice of Pakistan was deposed ahead of an expected Supreme Court ruling on Musharraf’s eligibility to serve another five-year term as president while still holding the post of army chief. Thirteen of 17 Supreme Court judges, and 26 from provincial high courts declined to take oath under the PCO. A ‘pro-Musharraf’ judiciary replaced them. Several television channels flickered off air under the emergency. The transmissions of ‘Geo’ remained suspended for weeks. Over 1,500 civilians were arrested and orders given to crack down heavily on protesters. Despite this, an unexpected movement made up of lawyers, students, activists and ordinary citizens emerged to defy the emergency, which remained in place till mid-December.

Since then, much has happened. The tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the mass rioting that followed shook the nation. Elections in February signalled the beginning of the end for President Musharraf. Suicide bombings that have taken place through the past few months are a reminder of his legacy. But amidst all this turmoil, some crucial things remain unaltered. The principle of an independent judiciary, which formed the focal point of the movement launched on Nov 3, continues to be ignored. The PPP government has disappointed many initially taken in by its promises to restore judges and by the prime minister’s orders to release them from house arrest. Today, just a few months on, the president of Pakistan blithely insists that no judicial crisis exists, and that 42 of the 62 deposed judges have returned, taking a fresh oath of office. In many ways, the whole issue has been turned into one of individuals and specific personalities, such as that of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. It should of course go beyond that, to embrace bigger issues and defend the need for the judiciary to stand beyond the shadows of the executive. The effort in this respect continues, with the SCBA electing a feisty president who seems determined to carry on the fight. Only the future will tell how it is to end.

Other echoes from the events of Nov 3 too linger on. There is still no adequate law on freedom to information. The law on the electronic media allows for measures to repress freedoms and the president continues to hold powers that enable him to dissolve assemblies. The true test of democracy will lie in what, if anything at all, is done to amend these wrongs and by doing so, taking an important step towards protecting us from another Nov 3-like situation sometime in the future.

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Polio peril

With several new cases of polio emerging in the country, there is reason to believe the problem goes beyond the issue of ‘refusals’ by parents who decline to have children vaccinated or the inability of teams to reach conflict-hit areas. News reports in Punjab have spoken of substandard vaccines being used or the cold chain necessary to keep the vaccine effective being broken. This would explain why children who have received multiple doses of the vaccine have been among those stricken by the illness. Still other accounts speak of negligence and a failure to ensure all children are reached. In other words, the inability to stop polio from galloping across our country is an outcome of indifference, poor practice and possibly attempts to cut costs.

Pakistan remains one of the few countries in the world where polio is still endemic. But despite this, over the past decade, huge strides had been made in combating the disease, with vaccination schemes launched countrywide, as a result of which the disease was almost wiped out by 2007. The fact that this target now suddenly seems more elusive is disturbing. We need to know what went wrong, so that the problems can be resolved and a renewed effort made to combat a sickness that has already afflicted dozens of children in all parts of the country this year.
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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Post-poll picture


It is becoming obvious that democratic candidate Barack Obama, as the US presidential election winds up, is preparing to move into the White House. All major polls place him comfortably ahead of Republican rival John McCain in terms of the number of electoral college votes each man is likely to collect. The indirect system of presidential election has each of the 50 US states and the federal district of Washington voting for an electoral college, which, formally speaking, will cast its vote for the president on December 15. The result of course will be obvious well before this, with each elector casting all the votes allocated to his state. This means the candidate who wins the most electoral college votes will occupy the White House. Two hundred and seventy votes, one more than half the 538 members of the college, are needed to win an election.

As Obama prepares to take on the task of leading the world's most powerful nation, he has been speaking out on his plans for the future. As much as the economically troubled domestic front, the focus has been on foreign policy and the battle against terror, with Pakistan figuring prominently in this. In two interviews to major news networks, Obama has mentioned his desire to help Pakistan and India sort out the delicate issue of Kashmir, so that their ties can improve. He has held that this lessening in tensions between the two South Asian neighbours is an essential pre-requisite to a situation in which Pakistan is able to more fully turn its efforts and energies to fighting militancy, which Obama points out is today the main threat to its security.

This is an analysis that makes good sense. There are many in Pakistan who believe that warm Indo-Pak ties are crucial to regional stability. It is also a fact that the 'hawks' entrenched in our establishment and elsewhere have backed militant efforts by 'jihadi' forces as a means to keep up the pressure on India viz-a-viz Kashmir. This support has sometimes led to confusion over the definition of militants, contributed to the ambiguity in policy towards them and served as the means to justify our huge military spending. A better relationship with India could as such help unravel this web, which prevents progress in many areas of national life. It also seems apparent a solution to Kashmir is possible only with US backing. We have in recent days heard arguments calling for a 'US-dictated' settlement with New Delhi to be opposed. But if Washington's interests in this case coincide with ours, there can surely be no harm in accepting this assistance. The problem in past decades has been the willingness of Pakistan's leaders to follow a US-dictated line even when this went against our own interests and as such damaged the country.

Obama has not repeated his threat of attacks on Pakistan. But he has spoken of targeting Osama bin Laden, and taking him 'dead or alive'. The bullish element in the Obama mix as such stays intact, but given that he has also mentioned closing down the notorious Guantanamo Bay jail, his policies may well offer more that is good than bad. The shutting down, forever, of that prison that has come to symbolize the injustice and brutality that has been so awful a feature of the 'war on terror' would mark a true break with the past. Combined with other policies, it may also help somewhat improve US standing in the eyes of the international community. This clearly is a goal Obama seems eager to work towards. Perhaps the attacks, on the basis of race and religion he has personally been subjected to throughout an abrasive election campaign, during which insinuations and accusations regarding his alleged link to Islam and to terrorists have repeatedly surfaced, will have sensitized him to the sentiments of Muslims who have frequently been made victims of similar bias.

It seems clear that Barack Obama and his aides have quite carefully thought out foreign policy issues. This is more than can be said for McCain and his side-kick, Sarah Palin, whose lack of acumen and lack of good sense has dismayed many voters. For these reasons alone, an Obama-led White House would for many be welcome news. The final verdict on this will of course be known by tomorrow, as all eyes around the globe turn to the US and its voters.

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Still fighting

The deposed chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammd Chaudhry, has addressed an enthusiastic gathering of lawyers at a packed Rawalpindi Bar. The address coincides with the first anniversary of his removal from office. In an unusual coincidence, this anniversary could well mark the revival of the lawyers' movement. The new president of the SCBA, elected just days before, has emphatically stated he intends to carry on the struggle. Justice Chaudhry too has made it clear he has no plans to give way and has continued calling for wrongs to be righted. This is the first major public appearance by the deposed chief justice in weeks, and the reception he has received must come as a blow to government hopes that the whole matter can be side-lined and that it will gradually be forgotten. The lawyers quite evidently remain as committed and as united as ever.

The strategy adopted by the presidency has not worked. The issue of judicial restoration looms as big as ever. The failure of the PPP government to resolve it during its eight months in office has already inflicted on it a great deal of damage. The image of President Zardari has suffered immensely due to his failure to keep his word on agreements made with the PML-N on the judges; the coalition established after the February election has fallen ignominiously apart. The attempt made by the law minister and others working closely with the president to devise a formula to bring back judges who took a fresh oath of office has pleased no one at all. The exercise has created a rather bitter taste in the mouth. In this situation, the government would be well-advised to sit back, take a detached view of matters and re-consider policy. The harm done by not restoring the judges must be examined against the gains that could be made from returning the deposed CJ to his post. The public delight such a move would create may in itself be worth it. This is especially true in a time when so much despondency prevails. Those in decision-making posts must realize that changing decisions can sometimes be a sign of strength rather than weakness. There is still time to right a wrong. That opportunity will not be available indefinitely.
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Sunday, November 09, 2008

A fresh breeze


Transitions are never simple, and the transition from Republican rule to that of the Democrats in the wake of the Obama victory is going to be complex and perhaps somewhat fraught; with the promises made on the campaign trail having to be re-evaluated in the light of intelligence briefings that were hitherto unavailable to the president-elect. One set of perspectives that will be newly-informed relates to foreign policy, perhaps the area where the US has suffered most in recent years in the eyes of the rest of the world. The American governmental relationship with the Muslim world under the Bush regime has been characterized more by confrontation than by conciliation. This is perhaps understandable in the context of 9/11, yet we are now seven years on from that appalling event; and America today has a stalemated war in Afghanistan, a war that should never have been in Iraq, a burgeoning confrontation with Iran and a purely-business relationship with most of the Arab states. In short, a set of relationships that is due for review - though not for any sharp about-turns.

Against this backdrop there comes a new president, a man who is already indicating that he may be doing business with the Muslim world differently to his predecessor. A letter to Mr Obama from President Ahmadinejad of Iran hoped that the new US government "can distance itself from present statesman's wrong approaches" – a clear reference to President Bush. The reply from president-elect Obama when asked about this at a news conference on Friday was that "We are reviewing the letter" – which in diplomatic terms was as much as he was ever going to be able to say. He went on to reiterate that the US had a very sensitive relationship with Iran and that he would not be responding to questions on this matter in a "knee-jerk fashion".

Nor should he be. The foreign policy of any nation is not an 'on/off' set of options, but a continuum that flows from administration to administration. The incoming Obama team will be briefing themselves on the whole spectrum of foreign policy issues, with the relationship with the Muslim world being but one item on a long agenda. The American stance vis-à-vis Pakistan is not going to be any different when Obama takes the reins, and there will be no radical departure from the current position. Yet all the indicators are that change is in the air, and the US policy towards the Muslim states is going to shift. It will be through small adjustments over a couple of years, differences of emphasis and the discreet opening of new doors, that incrementally will add up to a change of bearing. As one aid worker in Kabul is recently quoted as saying… "Obama gets it" – meaning that he understands the Muslim world in a very different way to President Bush, and moreover understands it in a way that may lead to effective conciliation rather than currently-failing confrontation. If this is indeed the case then the world is going to breathe a lot easier in years to come.

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'Q' league clings on


After facing for months a situation in which it seemed likely to split, as 'forward blocs' emerged in assemblies and news of dialogue between the leaders of these factions and the government spread, the PML-Q has been able to hold itself together. The latest threat to the party, which had held power from 2002 to 2008, came in the form of a demand from dissident members that snap polls be held in which no member of the Chaudhry family should contest. The wily veteran Shujaat Hussain, seems, after a meeting in Islamabad, to have been for the present able to wave away the threat, persuading senior party members to accept the formation of three committees to run party affairs. No schedule has been set for the polls that dissidents had initially sought, with many of the 'Q' League's heavyweights opting to remain with Shujaat when it came to the crunch. For the present at least, the more abrasive Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi seems to have been sidelined.

But despite the patch-over, it is evident there are still fissures within the PML-Q. There have been many signs of this, including the exchange of accusations and counter-accusations from members of the party's women's wing. The final fate of the PML-Q will be fascinating to watch. It is to be seen if a party set up to serve the purposes of a military dictator can survive in the more hostile waters that have come after his fall. To complicate matters, Pervez Musharraf has indicated he may try out a future in politics, presumably using the PML-Q as a platform from which to launch such a 'second' career. One of the problems is that the party, like other major political forces in the country, has become associated with one specific group and indeed one specific family. Just as it is hard to visualize a PPP without the Bhuttos or a PML-N without the Sharifs, the PML-Q seems to have become the property of the Chaudhrys. Certainly, in the past, their handling of its affairs has been extremely undemocratic, with election tickets, for instance, in some cases delivered at whim and every effort made to promote kin. The eventually unsuccessful effort to promote Moonis Elahi as a future leader of Punjab, with millions of rupees spent on his campaign, was just one aspect of this nepotism.

The situation looks rather bleak. Our political parties have been reduced to entities controlled by individuals. Many have been created by 'strongmen' rather than by people, who have no say in their affairs. The PML-N too can, after all, trace its origins back to a certain General Ziaul Haq. All this of course is deeply unfortunate. At this moment in our history, perhaps more than anything else, we need parties with strong beliefs and strong commitments. Sadly, any notion of ideology seems to have vanished completely from our politics. The issue of personality and individual dictates much of what happens within parties. This is what we are seeing at present within the PML-Q, where the battles within its ranks are based around issues of who exerts greatest power within the party rather than the far more significant issue of what that party wishes to deliver to people. This is one of the more bitter realities of our politics with the ongoing antics within the PML-Q going only to show how strongly this reality is now rooted in our times.
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Monday, November 10, 2008

Lost in Islamabad


The spectacle of the US election, and the events that have followed, have served for many as a reminder of what we lack in our own politics. While the policies of US leaders are at times controversial and the subject of justified angst in many parts of the world, there can be no doubt their system demands performance from those elected to top offices. Already, days after finishing a gruelling election trail, Barack Obama has been busy putting together his team and attempting to instil a sense of confidence in people hit hard by economic crisis. Whether or not Obama’s efforts succeed, only time will tell; but certainly, for the present there seems to be a new sense of hope and of inspiration.

This ability to inject optimism is essential to the working of any political system. But sadly, similar feelings are totally absent from our own setup. Rather than inspiring trust, our leadership frequently becomes the subject of scorn and ridicule. This is partly of course because of a prevailing culture, but it also has a great deal to do with how leaders behave. At present, in Islamabad, there is a continuing sense of chaos and of drift. People interacting with government maintain there is little evidence of planning or well-thought-out policies. Citizens too have begun to suspect the same, with more and more of them questioning policies. Suspicion of foul play lurks everywhere. It may or may not be founded in fact, but what people believe determines how they think and how they see government. The problem is that few people at present seem to believe the present setup has the ability to steer the country out of its current crisis. The expanded cabinet has done little to boost confidence; there are within it few who seem likely to act as inspirational ministers. While it is unjust to make judgments in advance, the existence of so many negative feelings is significant and cannot be ignored.

The fact is that the government needs to demonstrate much greater acumen and action if it is to overcome these perceptions. A momentum for change needs, somehow, to be built. At present it is absent and the resulting vacuum means that the weight of untreated despondency threatens to bog down the nation. The government must break free of this morass. It can do so only by putting forward a well-formulated plan for national action and proving it is willing and able to follow through with it. Otherwise the distance between it and the people will continue only to widen, developing into a chasm that may prove impossible to close.

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How many poor?


The question of just how many Pakistanis live in poverty is much vexed and has in recent years become something of a political football as the various parties and government agencies played the figures up or down to suit their own purposes. This jiggery-pokery with numbers has now come home to roost as the World Bank’s conditions for a $500 million loan are revealed, with one of them being that the numbers of poor people are going to determine the size of the loan. Currently, the Planning Commission believes that about 35 per cent of the population falls below the poverty line whilst the official survey of the Finance Ministry says that only 22.3 per cent are below the line. Unofficially, but free of political or bureaucratic bias, a recent survey by the Centre for Research and Security across a basket of methodologies for the measurement of poverty says that 70 per cent of the population is living just over, just on or just below the poverty line as defined at an income of $2 per day, and that 49 per cent of the population lives in absolute poverty. This is a figure greatly at variance with either of the two government departments which might be expected to know these things with a reasonable degree of accuracy and certainty. The CRSS figure possibly provides a clearer picture as it factors in the ‘transitory poor’ who dip in and out of poverty and an increasing number of who are spending longer in, rather than out, of poverty – but the CRSS does not report to the World Bank.

All this matters because to access the $500m credit line Pakistan has to submit a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) which defines targets to reduce the prevalence of poverty and describes how Pakistan will set up the social safety nets to alleviate it. You need to know just how many poor people you have got to do either with any degree of effectiveness. Responsibility for the writing of the PRSP lies with the Finance Ministry, but unfortunately they have no idea which figure – 35 per cent or 22.3 per cent – represents the official line. The WB has already accepted and validated the figure of 22.3 per cent in May 2008 and is not going to allow the Finance Ministry to jack up the figure to 35 per cent without there being a completely new survey in order to more clearly understand just how many poor people there are in Pakistan. And this will take a lot more time than is available to us.

The scope, nature and context of poverty in Pakistan are undergoing relatively rapid change in terms of both demographics and economics. Different methods of assessment of the numbers of poor people have each their own validity. They measure within differing parameters and for different purposes (not all of them nefarious), which makes an absolute figure difficult to arrive at. Factor in inter-ministerial juggling and political chicanery and it is easy to see why ‘the poor’ are so poorly defined and counted. Agencies, ministers and spokespeople need to get their methodologies harmonized – or at least agreed in a format acceptable to the WB – very quickly. The exchequer is fast shrinking, we need the loan, and the message to the government has to be that the days of ministers, officials and agencies making it up to suit themselves are over, and that an integrated and unified approach to the measurement of poverty has to be a priority.
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P.R.
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