Feb 24, 2010

A lesson we must learn

It would be good if on this day all of Pakistan’s distinct nations could sit together and celebrate their diversity

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

Today is International Mother Tongue Day. On this day a handful of public functions are likely to be organised and some lip service paid by government high-ups to the need for linguistic diversity and preservation of the various cultures that litter the social landscape of this country. But it is highly unlikely that there will be open acknowledgment of the history behind this day and the real significance of its celebration.

On February 21, 1952, at least a dozen Bengali (East Pakistani) students and youth were shot dead by state security forces in Dhaka during a peaceful protest. Since 1948 the Bengali language movement had galvanised young people across the length and breadth of East Pakistan and the cold-blooded murders of youth on this day was the ultimate expression of the Pakistani state’s depravity and its sheer unwillingness to accept the popular will.

Ultimately, of course, Bangla was recognised as a language of the state, but the broader policy of denying Bengalis their political, economic and social rights remained intact. February 21 became a rallying point for the Bengali nationalist struggle, and even after secession, Bangladeshis recall this day as the crystallising moment in their movement for self-determination.

It was not until 1999 that the United Nations explicitly recognised the sacrifices of the 21 February martyrs. In the subsequent decade, those who celebrate International Mother Tongue Day have grown in number and it is a matter of pride that some Pakistani progressives own this day, thus acknowledging the historic crimes of the Pakistani state against the Bengali people whilst underlining the need to continue the struggle to protect the rights of all nations that constitute this state.

But, unfortunately, the power to mould ‘public opinion’ in this country continues to be wielded by those who look at attempts to assert the multi-national character of the state as sedition. While certain segments of Baloch, Sindhi, Pakhtun, Seraiki, Kashmiri, Gilgiti/Balti society are willing mouthpieces of the establishment and project the unitary national-cultural model as indisputable, ultimately the critical mass of intellectuals, artists and political players that ensures that this model remains dominant are found within the Urdu-speaking and Punjabi communities.

The Urdu-speaking elite is necessarily touchy about dismantling the unitary national-cultural paradigm. Urdu has benefited from state patronage, thereby retaining its status as the language of Muslim high culture in the subcontinent. Urdu-speaking nationalists claim a political and social status that no other Pakistani can match. Theirs is a reactionary attitude and is informed by the same insecurity that informed the Muslim League’s politics in the period leading up to partition in the United Provinces (UP) and Central Provinces (CP) where elite Muslims saw their historical privileges being eroded.

The more interesting and arguably more important case is that of the Punjabis. Since the late 19th century the Punjabi intelligentsia has adopted Urdu as its preferred language — and thereby Urdu-inspired culture — thereby relegating its own language to inferior status. While Punjabi remains widely spoken in most working-class Punjabi homes, the Punjabi middle class has historically had a very ambivalent relationship to its mother tongue. In large part, the explanation lies in the fact that Punjab’s middle class was given preferential access to the (colonial and subsequently post-colonial) state and Urdu was a necessity to take advantage of this positive discrimination. It is another matter altogether that even Punjabi artists committing to resisting the dictates of the state chose Urdu as the medium of their art, thus limiting their prospects of reaching out to the teeming Punjabi millions who would otherwise have been a captive audience. Faiz Ahmed Faiz is a primary example in this regard.

As opposed to the Sindhi, Baloch, Pakhtun, or Seraiki middle classes, all of which celebrate and project their language and culture (in large part as a means of resisting the dominant national-cultural paradigm), the Punjabi middle class even today has little attachment to its language or specific cultural history. To be fair an alternative trend has arisen in recent years and some progressives groups are attempting to reassert Punjabi culture through language. But this is the tip of the iceberg; the majority of the Punjabi middle class continues to perceive its language and culture as an anachronism, particularly now that it has been exposed to the Brave New World of multinational employment, cable TV and cheap credit.

It would be good if on this day all of Pakistan’s distinct nations could sit together, celebrate their diversity and chart a path forward. But, instead, the history and spirit of International Mother Tongue Day remains a threat to the powers-that-be. It is in this context that it is important to not just blow off all the talk of a new Seraiki province. One wonders whether the PPP will have the courage to push through such an initiative; either way it should be endorsed by all progressive forces, and particularly those in Punjab. This will be a first step towards recognising that unity is possible only through the acknowledgment of diversity.

There is no guarantee, of course, that the acknowledgment of our linguistic diversity will help in reversing the trend towards fragmentation. The recognition of Bangla as a language of the state did not, after all, lead to the reining in of the Bengali nationalist movement in East Pakistan, and instead gave it further impetus. But this fact should not be used to justify the enforcement of the unitary national-cultural model. It is perhaps the most natural instinct of all: the more one is denied something, the more one wants it. February 21 should be a lesson and a call forward to us all.

Only way forward

The thirteenth BALUSA Group meeting was held between India and Pakistan last month in Lahore

By Mahmud Ali Durrani and Bharat Bhushan

Titled "India and Pakistan, The way forward", the thirteenth BALUSA Group meeting was held between India and Pakistan in Lahore on January 25-27, 2010 with the aim to speed up efforts of bringing about peace in the region. The BALUSA, meaning ‘peace’ in an ancient Indian language, was attended by Salman Haider, Bharat Bhushan, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Manvendra Singh, Amarjeet Singh Dulat, Sushoba Barve, Suhasini Haider, Syed Babar Ali, and Mahmud Ali Durrani among others. Excerpts from the report of the meeting.

The thirteenth meeting of Balusa was hosted by Syed Babar Ali at the inspiring campus of LUMS. The last meeting of the BALUSA Group was also held at LUMS in December 2005.

The two day programme focused on a number of themes relevant to the present state of relationship between India and Pakistan. In spite of Mumbai and the current acrimony, do India and Pakistan have common long term interests in the bilateral and the regional context? The Indian speakers highlighted the following points. India and Pakistan need to come together for the short and long term interests of India and develop a warm, cordial and co-operative relationship. It is in the over-riding interest of India to engage with Pakistan for India to play its full role within and beyond the region.

The fault is with the current structuring of the dialogue. The composite dialogue needs to be replaced by a continuous and un-interruptible dialogue structure, isolated from the ups and downs of the relationship. Instead of speaking on a large number of subjects (eight), one or two subjects should be selected for discussion with a common objective. A single interlocutor would be more effective than eight interlocutors. The single interlocutor should be a political entity with a cabinet minister’s rank. Isolated from disturbances, the back channel has a useful role in the dialogue process and needs to be encouraged.

The secret peace talks at the Majestic Hotel in Paris, related to the North South Vietnam conflict and the peace talks between North and South Korea at Pan Mun Jom "peace village" were cited as useful examples of a successful dialogue structures. Highlighting secrecy with sufficient transparency. The parliamentary concept of "Zero Hour" should be used to allow either side to complain about whatever it wants to complain about. After that the two sides must get down to business. All talk of war must be banned. Triumphalism on either side will not help.

Regional harmony and engagement with Pakistan is essential for India in its strategic interest. However, there are those who feel that what India needs in its neighborhood is restraint rather than activism. However, engagement with our neighbours is important no matter how we define our interests. The back channel should be used to address the Kashmir issue. In the past, the back channel had proven useful. We need to move beyond Sir Creek, Wuller and Siachen. These are all resolvable issues but the petty attitude on both sides keeps us from reaching solutions.

The Pakistani speakers said Mumbai is a big step back for the relationship. It is an inflammatory issue (in India). The young — the third generation of Pakistan has an open mind. It wants to leave the shackles of history behind. The present youth in Pakistan is bright and wants to move forward and would like to develop a good relationship with India; they are not coloured by the baggage of Partition. They wonder why India and Pakistan cannot do what has happened in the European Union. If countries that have fought two world wars can come together, why can’t India and Pakistan?

In the overall context people of both countries want friendship and there is a lot of latent good will. This is evident whenever there is people-to-people contact, like at the cricket matches between the two countries.

Mumbai was a victory for the terrorists and hard liners. Pakistan was accused by India for 26/11. Pakistan went into denial and compounded the problem because all the things that were denied came out to be true.

Those who attacked Mumbai and Parliament may have had some links earlier with our intelligence agencies but are now acting independently. These very people are now attacking our women and children. Our army is ranged against them.

So, blaming the GOP for Bombay is not fair. We must overcome the mistrust and rancor of Mumbai and heal the wound that has resulted. We must identify the common enemy — the evil force that exists here. We must not allow terrorists to dictate the state of relationship between India and Pakistan.

Both countries should move forward in a step-by-step approach. There should be no big bang or solve Kashmir first approach. Resolve what is easily resolvable first. Allow the latent goodwill that exists to re-establish itself and then build on it. We must not allow governments and the media to take away from that goodwill.

It is unwise to allow such incidents to ruin the relationship. Every effort should be made to restart the dialogue process. Good relations between the two countries will unlock the region’s economic potential and benefit the common man.

In the discussion that followed it was agreed both by the India and Pakistan participants that India and Pakistan are bound by geography and have a number of common long term interests in both the regional and bilateral context. There were, however, some differences of opinion on how to move forward. Some felt that no mechanical process could ensure a dialogue and that there has to be political acceptability for it. It was also pointed out that back channel diplomacy necessarily has to be conducted with secrecy – because when things come out, there is an immediate reaction. Continuous and permanent machinery for India-Pakistan dialogue should not rule out back channel efforts.

The political leadership in both the countries has repeatedly spoken of a common threat of terrorism, yet the level of cooperation has been woefully inadequate. What steps need to be taken to redress this issue?

The Pakistani speakers said there is a need for cooperation in the field of intelligence to defeat terrorism.

How effective is the current Joint Anti-terror mechanism? The distrust between India and Pakistan is so high that sensitive intelligence perhaps cannot be shared. Intelligence agencies normally don’t even share information with their sister organizations. So we will have to identify areas where this can be done.

The Joint anti-terror mechanism should be headed by senior intelligence officials and not left to proxies like additional secretaries from the Ministries of Foreign and External Affairs. An occurrence like the Bombay carnage should be investigated by a joint investigating team, working at the scene of the crime.

What advice can we offer to the media on both sides so that they are able to contribute significantly to the peace process? The Indian speakers said media is a powerful tool and helps form opinion; however it does not seem to know whether it should sell peace or war. The state of mind of a TV channel in reflected by the selection of the people they want to bring on TV, the usual choice is hawks. Market demand takes over reasonableness. The TV coverage of an event also affects the print media, which in turn affects the politicians who eventually mould public opinion. In India, in times of crisis, the media goes jingoistic and supports the government.

Aman ki Asha seems to be a branding exercise. It might peter out after some time. However, Aman ki Asha can be a good initiative to help stabilise the relationship and silences the negatives.

We have Pakistanis writing for Indian newspapers and appearing on Indian TV channels, likewise Indians should write for Pakistani newspapers and appear on Pakistan TV channels. Media networks of the two countries should exchange reporters to write on domestic issues.

The Balusa Group concluded its meeting and resolved to continue to contribute towards peace between India and Pakistan for the betterment of the common man. It was agreed that rather than address a large number of issues, an effort will be made to focus on two or three issues in the next meeting. It was also agreed that efforts will be made to prepare and present joint papers by selected Balusa members on specific issues. It was agreed that the next Balusa meeting will be held in India, hopefully within six to nine months.

Another perspective

The need of the hour: India-Pakistan détente, an atmosphere

conducive for progress on major contentious issues

By Alauddin Masood

Individuals and states want peace because it embodies opportunities enabling one to grow and prosper. It is the realisation of peace that provides an atmosphere conducive to inter-state trade, yielding considerable profits to businessmen and revenues to states in taxes/duties on goods. Peace also provides opportunities to citizens to get goods of their choice conveniently, comfortably and at reasonable rates.

South Asian countries, especially India and Pakistan, which have remained mired in disputes and rivalries, have a negligible inter-regional trade and failed in attracting foreign investments. This is despite the fact that they cater to the needs of almost one-fourth of the mankind. Consequently, the South Asia region remains under-developed, unable to provide even the basic necessities of life, like good education, health and civic facilities to most of its citizens.

Investors prefer to set up factories in countries where the law and order situation is under control. They flee from regions hit by violence and militancy. The entrepreneurs are like touch-me-not flowers, which wither away even with a single touch. In the same manner, investors promptly pack up from war-prone or conflict zones. As lack of investment hinders creation of additional job opportunities, this results in perpetuating misery and poverty in the violence-ridden regions.

In view of peace dividends, all states strive to achieve peace by securing their natural borders (like rivers and mountains) and keeping great distances through buffer zones, deserts, oceans, etc. between oneself and the potential enemies, or fostering social distance by prejudice and discrimination. However, it is another thing that national borders and distances become ludicrous in the age of rockets and missiles; while nationalist prejudices tend to break down in the age of extended interaction.

At macro level, the advantages of peace can be explained by making a comparative study of foreign investment in the Far East Asia and the South Asia and Afghanistan. Since the Far Eastern countries are, by and large, free from inter-state feuds, they have substantial regional trade and have also attracted sufficient foreign investments and, in the process, made considerable progress, earning the title of ‘Tiger Economies’.

Since the Soviet-inspired Saur Revolution (April 28, 1978), some parts of Afghanistan have remained engulfed in violence, militancy, death and destruction. The situation adversely impacted on the country’s economy. While it has weakened the formal sector, the informal sector (parallel or black economy) has become robust and a challenge for the land-locked state. Meanwhile, the condition of Afghan citizens has gone from bad to worse. Look what has happened to oil-rich Nigeria? Violence and turmoil has reduced it to a God-forsaken place on earth.

Cognizant of the importance of peace in the life of nations, one would commend the initiative taken by the South Asia subcontinent’s two media giants — Jang group in Pakistan and The Times of India across Pakistan’s eastern borders, aimed at establishing enduring peace in the region. Styled as ‘Aman ki Asha’, the quest of both media groups to bring peace enjoys popular support of the civil society in both the countries, where an overwhelming majority of people desire to see the growth of peaceful, friendly relations between their two nations.

According to a survey, some 72 of Pakistanis and 66 percent of Indians favour genuine and lasting peace between the two countries. No doubt, on both sides of the border, there exists some extremist elements that are very vocal and continue to churn out venomous propaganda but the peace process must not become hostage to their hawkish agenda. If before the arrival of the British, the Muslims and Hindus have lived together for centuries without any major conflict on the basis of religion, why can’t they live peacefully now?

At present, due to six decades of conflict and rivalry, South Asia is one of the poorest regions of the world. Some 20 percent of the global population lives here, but it produces only five percent of the global gross domestic product. It is time that the South Asian countries embark on the road to progress and prosperity by shunning war and concentrating on the socio-economic development of their people.

If the pursuit of peace gets primacy in both Pakistan and India, becoming the demand of an overwhelming majority of their citizens, this would automatically repel the hawks/extremists and compel the leaders and the establishment in both the countries to adopt an agenda that is in conformity with the popular aspirations of their people. Instead of competing to acquire latest weaponry, the leaders would then feel the need to foster and promote cooperation through a meaningful composite dialogue rather than observing the ritual of useless talks, aimed at gaining time while, in reality, refusing to accept the ground realities.

This brings to the fore the need for a strong political will for fostering an atmosphere conducive for the growth of peace. If the political will is there and the leaders lay down the objectives and the road-miles for their accomplishment, the minions of State can proceed towards achieving those objectives, making a beginning by identifying the root causes of bitterness, removing the road-blocks or irritants, making serious and earnest efforts to bridge the trust gap and, finally, embarking upon a programme of peaceful cooperation.

A beginning in that direction can be made by taking some more Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), like increasing the volume of bilateral trade and travel, relaxation in the visa regime, promoting people-to-people contacts (in particular exchange visits by traders, scholars, writers, journalists, artists, university students), resolving disputes like Siachen, Sir Creek, use of river water, starting work on Iranian gas pipeline, etc. Progress on these issues can set in motion a process of genuine India-Pakistan détente and promote an atmosphere conducive for progress on major contentious issues, like Kashmir.

The increase in interaction between various tiers of society would create a great constituency comprising of pro-peace elements while it would also give a great boost to the economic activities and bilateral trade, thus contributing to increasing prosperity and income levels of the people.

Picking up the pieces

The textile industry faces a serious crisis that should be addressed on a priority basis

By Ahmed Ali Khan and Shehryar Butt

The textile industry is the backbone of our manufacturing sector, bringing in the much-needed foreign exchange in the form of export revenues to the tune of $17.8 billion. This industry employs hundreds of thousands of people. For years, this industry has progressed, developing itself into Pakistan’s industrial lifeline — second only to agriculture for the economy. The role of the previous governments (with a few exceptions) has been positive in transforming the textile industry into what it was uptil a few years ago — a competitive global player.

However, the industry is in deep crises today. With constant power outages, sometimes as frequently as every alternate hour and tariffs increasing every few months, most factories switched to diesel or gas generators in the hope of obtaining uninterrupted power supply. But, again, fate dealt them another blow as diesel prices skyrocketed, making independent power production unfeasible.

On the other hand, loadshedding was introduced to the industrial consumers of gas. Now most factories were forced to adjust their production hours with that of the loadshedding. This left them in a position where it was impossible to complete their orders on time. Numerous orders were cancelled as a result and exporters were forced to foot bills they could not afford.

Simultaneously, the condition of cotton crop has deteriorated during the last several years, from an exporter of the highest quality cotton we have become an importer. This can be attributed basically to a complete lack in development and improvement of cotton seed. The artificial selection and genetic improvement procedures seem to have been abandoned thirty years ago, leaving the crop susceptible to virus and lower yields caused by generations of inbreeding. Neither the government nor Aptma has established any form of research centre to get rid of this problem.

As if this blow was not hard enough, inflation left the State Bank with no choice but to increase interest rates to the point where loans, the main source of working capital, became almost suicidal, severely impinging cash flow and blowing away any plans of expansion.

The government at the same time introduced a minimum wage of Rs6,000. This led to an increase in the wage bill and thus an overall increase in the cost of production. The unstable exchange rates added to the problems of the crisis-hit industry.

This vital industry, which is responsible for 60 percent of our exports, was faced with heavy competition from emerging markets, such as Vietnam, while already competing with established world players like China and India. Bangladesh, on the other hand, without growing a single cotton bale, was giving us a tough time.

Being given preferential treatment under the auspices of the WTO, the country was given an edge over us. Pakistani exporters suffered further at the hands of anti-dumping laws in Europe and North America. No effort was made by the government to stop this discrimination or even register a case with the countries concerned.

One of the reasons why our textile industry has failed to establish itself as a high-end exporter of textile products is lack of investment in modernising the industry due to producers who were unwilling to improve. Low-end products do not give nearly as much return and face far more competition from new producers, reducing profit margins and revenue.

Research and development, which plays a pivotal role in the success of any industry, was never seriously paid attention to with producers happy to make a quick buck rather than view the larger picture. This lack of foresight has led to the loss of major markets with huge potential returns, which could have easily been acquired.

The textile industry in Pakistan is far from being an infant industry. It is now at a stage where it should be dynamic and competitive, producing high-quality products where it can outperform new competitors rather than stay at the low-end battling constantly in price wars with emerging producers. Unfortunately, however, it is stuck where it was more than a decade ago, refusing to improve or better itself, choosing instead to blame the government and other conditions for all its problems, a condition that afflicts much of our nation and is probably the largest impediment to progress.

It would be wrong, however, not to mention the success of the denim sector. It is the only sector in the textile industry that continues to improve itself and is, therefore, in a position to compete with any country, producing top quality goods at competitive prices. It is a clear example of what the textile industry, as a whole, could and should have been today. And it still can.

Therefore, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Exchange rate depreciation has made Pakistani products far more price-competitive, a major factor during any downturn, let alone a recession of this magnitude. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, after several textile units unable to cope with the current crisis have shut down, both temporary and permanent.

The government has at last realised that something must be done. For the first time in our history a comprehensive textile policy was released for 2009-14, promising low interest loans, a cut in taxation, and most importantly, no power outages. Yet to be fully implemented, this policy provides a glimmer of hope for the revival of textile industry in Pakistan.

Water summit

Is Pakistan ready for negotiations?

Since climate change and population growth will exacerbate

sanitation and water crises, support must be provided to communities

By Irfan Mufti

The first Annual High Level Meeting (HLM) on sanitation and water will be hosted by Unicef in Washington on April 23, 2010, bringing ministers together from North and South to take concerted action to tackle the global sanitation and water crisis. The meeting will be an opportunity to reverse the political and financial neglect of a crisis that is undermining all progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It will provide a forum for mutual accountability, for reaching consensus on the key challenges blocking progress, and for agreeing and reviewing key policy or financing actions.

The meeting will be attended by finance ministers and ministers responsible for water and sanitation from developing countries, as well as finance ministers from donor countries. It is expected that ministers will deliver strong political statements, but more importantly will need to deliver tangible actions that deliver real progress towards achieving sanitation and water for all.

As the platform will provide an opportunity for representatives of southern countries to raise their voice on issues of water and sanitation facing these countries, thus a proper preparation is needed. These ministers should, if possible jointly, make sure that the meeting should reach a concrete action plan. They must ensure that ‘no credible national plan will fail through a lack of finance’, beginning with extra support to develop and implement national plans in at least 15 pilot developing countries.

There must be a political statement, signed by all attendees, recognising that progress in tackling the sanitation and water crisis would also drive progress, improving child survival, increasing girls’ education, strengthening economic growth and reducing poverty. The forum should also recognise that access to sanitation and water is a fundamental human right. The countries and donor must also accept that progress has been critically slowed by a lack of political priority given to the sector, weaknesses in national capacities, insufficient and poorly targeted finance, and the absence of a global platform where issues in the sector can be addressed.

Despite challenges of resource and unavailability of external technical assistance, some countries have made genuine progress and developing countries like Pakistan need to learn from and build on their experiences. Case studies of those countries will be presented in the meeting, thus opening space for debate and learning on those successful models. There is a realisation that climate change and population growth will exacerbate the sanitation and water crises, and that financial and technical adaptation support must be provided to governments and communities in areas of increased water stress. Developing countries can present strong case for such adaptation support from developed countries to achieve better results for future plans.

At this point, it is very important that developed countries and donors must also make clear and time-bound commitments to act to fulfill existing agreements, including the eThekwini Declaration, the African Union’s Sharm el-Sheikh Agreement, SACOSAN’s Delhi Declaration, the European Union’s Agenda for Action on the MDGs and various G8 commitments. They must also show clear actions to implement the aid effectiveness principles enshrined in the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action.

The meeting will also be a platform to make donors realise that most of the problems third world is facing is due to their lack of action and must provide a political commitment, and additional resources, to ensure that ‘no credible national sanitation and water plan will fail through a lack of finance’. As a first step, donors and national governments should form agreements in 7-10 pilot countries to develop credible national plans.

Countries like Pakistan can also present clear action proposals that donors and national governments must form agreements in 10-15 pilot countries to implement existing national plans. Such focus can help develop good replicable models of water preservations. Pakistan with serious conditions of drought and water scarcity can present itself in the pilot country list.

In the process of negotiations and binding agreements within developed countries, donors and some of the hard-hit southern countries civil society organisations can be fully and meaningfully involved in the development, implementation and monitoring of national plans. Unfortunately, neither government nor civil society groups in Pakistan are fully prepared to act meaningfully and negotiate on these terms. A better prepared and fully informed representation from countries like Pakistan is very essential to obtain desired results.

In the last few decades donors have supported water management and preservation projects in Pakistan. However, there has been a decreasing trend of such support coming from outside. Most of these water related projects in Pakistan were either stopped half way or not fully launched owing to lack of financial support.

There is a realisation at global level that civil society groups and media can also support government efforts to develop commonly agreed frameworks, at the national level, for monitoring sector performance, evaluating interventions and holding government and service providers accountable.

The conference will also refocus investment towards low-income countries and marginalised groups. It is, however, important that governments of developing countries should commit to significantly increasing the level of public expenditure dedicated to the sector, with at least half going to sanitation and hygiene. For African and Asian countries, this will include meeting the commitments made in the eThekwini Declaration to invest at least 0.5 percent of GDP in sanitation and hygiene education.

Governments from developing countries also need to ensure particular attention will be given to targeting services towards marginalised groups, and those in vulnerable situations, including women, children, older people, people living with HIV and AIDS, people with disabilities, people living in informal urban settlements, and other socially excluded groups.

It will be important that commitments made at the High-Level Meeting must be subject to a monitoring process, with civil society participation, and parties must be held accountable. Several developing countries and leading global networks and organisations working on water and sanitation will form lobby groups to negotiate and influence the process and agreements of Washington meeting.

Find the fault

A well-functioning local government system in urban and rural domains has to be implemented after removing various problems

By Dr Noman Ahmed

During the past few weeks, the governments of Sindh and Punjab have been grappling with the issues facing the local governments. Each of the provincial administration has taken steps that suited their narrowly carved approach to survival and extension of political power. The distribution of authority, jurisdiction, and allocation of resources has made an extremely contentious agenda which even coalition parties have been unwilling to openly deliberate upon. There appears to be a discord on the core matters that concern local government system.

Large political parties intend to keep the role of local bodies under strict control of provincial administration. In contrast, parties which have a strong following in districts and cities want to acquire maximum autonomy for local institutions. According to the present malaise of our political structure, the establishment also considers local governments as an anomaly that deserves to be swept under the carpet. In this undesirable tug-of-war, the real merits of a local government system are overshadowed to a disappointing extent.

It is correct that the local government system has been enacted and reinforced by dictators for their own vested interests but this fact does not undermine the merits and opportunities inbuilt in it. Foremost in this respect is the creation of a legitimate avenue for leadership development. In an arena where dynastic and aristocratic claims to leadership overstake merit at every end, the only option which can enable future political leadership to emerge is local government. There are hundreds of case studies pertinent to ordinary councilors, women/labour councilors, union council nazims, town/tehsil/taluka level leaders and district level representatives who were able to win their offices purely on merit and later proved their popularity through re-election.

In the most dangerous locations of NWFP and Balochistan, these dedicated public representatives made tireless efforts to address pressing problems related to education, health, social welfare, and area management. Some of them were even devoid of political affiliation and had to face the wrath of both the right and left wing parties. Episodes of local elections during Musharraf era proved that enthusiasm was more than visible amongst ordinary folks despite many incidences of violence. Real political culture cannot be nurtured without frequent practice of voting process along the party cadres, local, provincial and national assemblies.

It is disappointing to note that some parties that apparently promote democracy have been once closest to dictatorship. No internal elections are held in these parties. Party heads nominate committees of handpicked faithful who are termed as working or executives committees. Thus, the common people have little or no capacity to make inroads into this well guarded enterprise.

Poor governance and breakdown in the service delivery system is not desirable in any system. People need an efficient service delivery mechanism and some forum to get their complaints redressed.

Local institutions and their elected members are normally forthcoming in such tasks. Small scale development schemes, maintenance and repair projects are also important works that require immediate attention. If the decision-making apparatus and concurrent actions are centralised in the provincial headquarters and in the person of the chief minister, very little progress can be expected. Similarly, the expectation from bureaucrats to be sympathetic to the issues faced by the people is distant from reality. A well-functioning local government system in urban and rural domains has to be strengthened after removing various handicaps that it has faced.

Continuing problems identified during the past eight years include poor quality of human resource, paucity of operational budgets, weak mechanism of monitoring, absence of effective audit and accounts procedures, financial dependence on the provincial / federal government, lack of control over police force, tutelage exercised by federal / provincial institutions and inability to generate development finance for local scale works. One finds more developed cities like Karachi struggling with shortage of funds to strengthen vital services such as fire fighting. Many other contexts are even worse in service delivery outreaches. At many instances, local political interests also out-weigh decision making and implementation mechanisms.

Our country has been experiencing a painful transition from a tribal society to civil society with democratic values. Whereas the former promotes centrality of power and decision making prerogatives, the later cannot be developed without the subscription and practice of democratic values in the true sense of the term. It may be beneficial for the political masters of the country to try local government tier as a tool for emboldening democracy.

This can only be achieved after removing the anomalies and handicaps that exist in the system. Capacity building in the local service delivery; notification and formation of bodies such as public safety commissions, citizen community boards or finance commissions; development of municipal services as specialized cadres; launch of appropriate taxes to generate local revenue and the acceleration of mass contact to stretch the outreach of this tier are some basic steps. Recently, a major political party demanded to hold local elections on party basis.

The argument is quite logical as non party based elections have been held in theory only. Party affiliations and support become too conspicuous to be ignored. The elections to the local bodies must be held on party basis subject to a strict code of conduct. The past precedence has clearly shown that party affiliation and support automatically comes into play. Violence and muscle tactics must be controlled by administrative means during the conduct of electoral process. It claimed many lives during the past instance. The matter must be taken upfront as a core policy issue.

To generate a debate, it may not be out of context to suggest a multi-stakeholder conference to deliberate the matter in an open ended manner. The experience sharing and option forming approach may be applied. Besides, too much experimentation is also a counterproductive exercise. The futile debate of resurrecting local bodies to the status of Local Government Ordinances of 1979 may be dealt with caution.

Times and contexts have advanced to fresh challenges where gradual enrichment of the present system can prove useful. This requires frank dialogue with all concerned parties. It must be remembered that a democratic government will do the greatest injustice to itself it if does not engage with its constituencies on a continuous basis. And local governments obviously make an effective platform to nurture democracy on a continuing basis.

Two years and counting

The obvious fallout of the media-government war has been a virtual blackout of what the civilian governments have achieved

By Raza Rumi

Given the average shelf life of any civilian government, it is almost miraculous that the incumbent government has survived and there are signs that its removal is not immediate. The longevity of civilian order has less to do with the inherent strengths of its style of governance or delivery of public goods that it had promised in its manifesto. The survival of this government is an outcome of the lack of options for the establishment as well as its international allies, notably the Western powers. Leaving the conspiracy theories and the excessive over-reliance of the analysts on the American factor, we can safely argue that the military establishment of Pakistan and its intelligence agencies has found themselves in a unique situation since the assumption of the presidency by Asif Ali Zardari.

The truth is that Pakistan People’s Party, an anathema to the civil-military bureaucracy, has assumed the most important and powerful offices that a civilian government can aspire. Two years ago, when the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani was elected as the Prime Minister it was unimaginable that the PPP would assume the highest office of the state. However, through deft, and according to some wily moves of Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP has attained political power in a manner that smacks of the traditional power-play staged and enacted by the military establishment. This power play is essentially devoid of the trappings of high-sounding morality, is opportunistic and works on the principle of maximisation of political gains regardless of their consequences for the Federation. Interestingly, Zardari’s amoral political cards have also been successful due to the fact that the political elites of smaller provinces have forged strong alliances with his political objectives. This is why the Pakistani establishment has been in a dilemma since the fateful day when he was given the oath of office by none other than Justice Dogar. While an independent and belligerent Supreme Court ousted the oath-giver, the top beneficiary remains ensconced on the Islamabad hill.

The approach of Pakistan’s new power-centre, i.e., the electronic media towards President Zardari and the PPP government underwent three distinct phases during the last few years. In the first instance, the media was sympathetic to Zardari and the PPP in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto’s tragic murder, not too far away from the GHQ. Yousaf Raza Gillani’s consensual election was hailed by the media as a victory of post-military order and the exit of the former military dictator was only a matter of time in early 2008.

The second phase related to the breakdown of the PML(N)-PPP accord over the restoration of the judges when sections of the Pakistani media strongly criticised the PPP for its betrayal of the national cause. More importantly, this betrayal was viewed as a blow to constitutionalism. In reality, however, rule of law is nothing more than the survival of bourgeois dominance, which is guaranteed by independent judiciary that ensures the sustenance of corporate interests, private property rights, and the livelihoods of the corporate lawyers. Not surprisingly, the leaders of the lawyers’ movement were also the top corporate lawyers. It is a separate matter that in the last two years, many of these legal eagles have shifted their political position and realised that the primacy of the democratic process is central to the emergence and safeguarding of constitutionalism in Pakistan.

The third phase of the media offensive against the elected government commenced with the disclosure of the Kerry-Lugar Bill in 2009, when almost all the variants of media opinion took a hardline jingoistic, inward-looking and conventional line on Pakistan’s national security apparatus. The bill was seen as a blow to the military establishment whereby an unscrupulous government headed by a "corrupt" individual had sold national interest in lieu of a few million dollars. The reality is that not only was the Kerry-Lugar Bill passed by the US legislature, but it is operational now and it can be rightfully seen as a small beginning of a new partnership between the US and civilian government. This shift in Pak-US strategic relationships has been by and large ignored by the mainstream commentary on Pakistani politics.

Three decades of military rule under Ayub, Zia and Musharraf respectively indicated that US aid was tied to strategic objectives in the South Asian region, where a rentier state worked almost in isolation from its citizenry to advance the imperial interests. However, this time, a new relationship has been forged where the people of Pakistan, through their legitimately elected national and provincial governments, have been recognised as vital to the operation and modification of US foreign policy in this troubled region of the globe. It would be premature to say how this partnership will play out in the short to medium-term, but it is absolutely clear that the incumbent federal and provincial governments, especially the NWFP civilian government, have shifted the way the Pakistani state engages with the sole superpower.

The current, i.e., third phase of the media-government relations is continuing in its confrontational form, where deadlines are issued like decrees by media gurus that relate to not just the fall of the government but also to individuals at the helm of power for their sins of omission and commission. There is obviously a problem with the PPP’s media management that suffers from the larger incompetence, which the post-Bhutto PPP governments are known for. In part, long spells of military rule have not enabled the political parties to flourish as policy think-tanks and strategic entities. Instead, most political parties in Pakistan react to the whims and moods of the military establishment, adjust their positions accordingly in pursuit of power and find ways of accommodation with the all-powerful intelligence agencies.

The obvious fallout of the media-government war has been a virtual blackout of what the civilian governments have achieved despite their obvious lack of capacity, the legacy of a long military rule and the unfavorable global economic conditions. First and foremost, the PPP and its coalition partners have displayed an unwavering and unflinching position towards the menace of sectarian extremism, which incidentally is a creation of the powerful and unelected institutions of the state. In fact, there is no other political party in Pakistan that can be dubbed as truly anti-extremism as the current ruling gang. This unequivocal position has also led to successful deployment of the Pakistani military in the troubled regions of north-western Pakistan, the continued elimination of high-value terrorists and restoration of civilian writ in the NWFP province. In 2008, there were at least six districts of the NWFP where the provincial government did not have administrative control. In 2010, the situation has radically altered despite the huge challenges of poverty, injustice, and resentment against the US drone attacks. Perhaps this policy has also been one of the key factors in undermining the image and credibility of the civilian government for there are multiple centres of power and influence that are pitted against this ideological worldview. Such dissenting voices range from the extreme left to the extreme right and most importantly, the Urdu press and its counterpart voices in the mainstream national electronic media. However, the commitment of the government thus far remains unwavering.

Secondly, when the new government took office in February 2008, Pakistan’s economic situation was extremely precarious. Its foreign reserves were at an all-time low, stagflation had set in and due to the fluctuation in oil prices, an uncertain, almost near-crash situation confronted the new policy-makers. It is evident that through creative and not-so-creative engineering aimed towards macro-economic stabilisation, the federal government pulled the country out of this particular economic abyss. This scribe argued against the IMF package in 2008: however, subsequent events have proved that the economic managers perhaps had no choice at that particular juncture.

Thirdly, the political reform aimed towards the inclusion of marginalised areas of Pakistan has also been a major step forward. In particular, the Gilgit-Baltistan reform package and the induction of a provincial government there have gone largely unnoticed. Similarly, the Balochistan package has been a critical demonstration of the government’s strategy to end political conflict and assuage separatist tendencies that have now become a reality among the beleaguered Baloch communities and its leadership. It has been argued that the package is not enough or that its implementation is slow, but there are few people in Pakistan who would deny that this was a much-needed step towards the federal-integrationist agenda of the civilian government.

Fourth, the concerted effort towards providing a viable, reliable, and transparent social safety-net mechanism has also been a major development in the last twenty months. The Benazir Income Support Programme through its peculiar design and speedy implementation has targeted the poor, especially the women. Independent evaluations have suggested that at least 60 percent of the assistance is reaching the intended beneficiaries. There are leakages, wastage and politicisation but the numbers are not unimpressive at all.

The less savoury aspects of the civilian government relate to the manner in which it has dealt with the issue of the judiciary, especially when it was forced to restore the judges after a street agitation became a distinct possibility. Furthermore, its handling of the Punjab and the imposition of governor’s rule was uncalled for and led to systemic instability, legacy of which is still haunting us. More seriously, the government has not been able to muster a competent and clean team around the office of the President and this is one of the key reasons that the President’s moral legitimacy has remained under attack and now it is subject to judicial review.

The allegations of corruption in the past and present have prejudiced the public perception. Furthermore, the energy crisis and inflation have also eroded the popular support to the government as reflected by the limited opinion polls that have been conducted largely by external agencies. It is also not clear what the development strategy of the current government is, given the huge challenges of stagflation. The economic management of civilian governments is always a tricky affair, as they need to balance their populist agenda with the grim realities of budget rationalisation. This is why the cuts on development expenditure announced will not go down well and the results from development investments in any case take four to five years to germinate. The appointment of a banker as the lead economic advisor has also been a major stumbling-block to advancing the economic interests of the poor, which happen to be the popular base of democratic dispensations. Such betrayal of people’s aspirations rarely goes down well in the public arena and electoral contests. Therefore, it is quite certain that the PPP government will not be able to retain its strength in the next elections, unless of course, we witness miraculous economic recovery and expansion of employment opportunities in the country. However, the biggest threat to economic recovery and developmental outcomes is the continued political instability that has gripped popular imagination thanks to the media industry.

It is, therefore, essential that three key elements of governance are improved: firstly, the political compromise between competing elites out to undo each other; second, the resolution of the thorny federal-provincial relations where the Punjab province once again appears to be pitted against the smaller units of the federation; and thirdly, that the political forces of Pakistan must save the constitutional order despite all its pitfalls, gaps and contradictions. This is a key lesson that they have to learn from their hated neighbour. Political stability and certainty of the democratic process is a non-negotiable requirement for Pakistan’s progress.

All in all, the national policy frameworks have witnessed shifts that require the continuation of civilian order. It is not necessary that the ruling party should continue in office to carry forward these policy shifts after the completion of its tenure in 2013. Any legitimate and accountable democratic government would need to deepen, modify, and improve these policies and further the agenda of responsible governance and social justice.

Feb 15, 2010

"We need economic peace to defend ourselves"

You have to put in place a framework in which you agree on some broad principles

Ronojoy Sen: What are the links between al-Qaeda and terrorist outfits in India?

Steve Coll: The American intelligence community believes that the core al-Qaeda organisation operating through their own channels and through like-minded Pakistani groups has had independent contact with cells in India. Would this lead to more Mumbais being generated from inside India? Since Mumbai, you haven’t really seen a metastasising of that pattern. I think al-Qaeda is increasingly under pressure. They are having trouble maintaining their own local operations. Their own focus at the moment has been operations in Afghanistan against American troops and aiding the Pakistani Taliban in their efforts to put the Pakistani state off balance.

RS: Do you agree with the belief that Indian Muslims are not radicalised at all?

SC: This idea is similar to the idea that America’s Muslim population is content, it is integrated, it is not going to get radicalised. There is a little bit of complacency in these assessments. It is not that somehow large sections of these populations are going to become radicalised and participate in revolutionary movements, but it does not take much to create violence — just a handful of groups and individuals. Every Muslim in the world is part of a common discourse about grievance, about violence. And to think that no participant in that discourse in India or the US will ever take it upon themselves to act is naive.

RS: Why do you think there have been no attacks in India since 26/11?

SC: In the US after 9/11, we had the same question: Why are we terror-free? First, there are always multiple explanations. Second, there is a kind of cyclical pattern. These groups do not have the capacity outside of Pakistan and Afghanistan to carry off a succession of sophisticated attacks.

In the case of India I would assume that at least two factors are at play. One, the Indian security services and the government have clearly taken the imperative of domestic surveillance and counter-terrorism more seriously after Mumbai than ever before. And maybe for the first time it is become a political issue. There have been lapses in the past and the politicians did not pay a price. This time it was obvious (laughs) that you would pay a price. That gets people motivated. The system has responded to that.

I also think that it is probable that the Pakistani security services concluded, however reluctantly, that they did not want to permit follow-on attacks of that sophistication and scale. I do not believe they have given up on their idea of jehadi violence in India but in their very complicated calculation of costs and benefits in their relationship with the US and the toys they are trying to pull down out of that, to be caught either facilitating or being negligent about another Mumbai cell coming up in their territory, they would have to pay such a high price that it may have caused them to tell their people to chill for a while. It is a guess but it is hard to explain this pattern of quiet without reference to the Pakistani security services. Obviously infiltration in Kashmir is continuing, and so the Pakistani state may have said to their clients, "Let’s go back to fighting on the ground."

RS: We just had an incident in Srinagar...

SC: Yes. One thing that was obvious about the attacks on the homeland in India is that you can attack all you want in Kashmir and the international community will not react (laughs). That conflict is its own story. But once you come down out of Kashmir into the Indian cities the whole world starts paying attention. The costs go up and the impact goes up too. That might have cautioned them at least temporarily.

RS: There are many, particularly in Pakistan, who believe that if you resolve Kashmir you take out the real cause of terrorism in South Asia. Do you agree?

SC: I don’t believe that at all. But Kashmir is an impediment to broader changes between India and Pakistan that are necessary to gradually eliminate the structural causes of persistent terrorism in India and Afghanistan. That is to say, change the practices of the Pakistani security services. In the medium run, how do you break the cycle of clandestine war between India and Pakistan, the use of jehadi groups? The only way you break that pattern is the same way similar conflicts have ended in other parts of the world — in the Balkans, in Southeast Asia — where economic integration and shared prosperity changes the incentive structure for the Pakistani army where they see that their own interests are better served by open, managed borders. Everybody in Pakistan knows that India’s prosperity is the big story of the region in the next 20-30 years. Pakistan can either be an impediment to that or be a part of it.

RS: And that probably reflects sentiments in Kashmir too where there is growing ambivalence about Pakistan...

SC: Absolutely. In fact, your newspaper (The Times of India) has quoted Manmohan Singh as saying that India was "very close to a non-territorial settlement" in 2007. I love that language. Because that is the right way to think about this. What you’re trying to do in Kashmir is to buy time for these other effects to take hold, and for both countries to share a period of war-free economic growth, middle class formation and cultural accommodation. It does not have to be peace, love and harmony. It just needs to be normalisation — the sort that you see between Serbia and Croatia.

In order to buy that 20 years, you don’t have to settle every line on the map. You have to put in place a framework in which you agree on some broad principles and agree to no longer pursue those goals through violence. It is just creating a framework where the broader process of peaceful economic and cultural integration can occur. That is the only way forward. You have to be realistic though. When you announce peace, those who have an interest in the violence will react; they will try to blow it up. The question is how much capacity the Pakistani state has to do its bit. The problem is that India understandably does not believe that Pakistan has the will. If India thought Pakistan had the will, it would have a realistic approach to its capacity problems. But you cannot accept the capacity excuse when you don’t think the other side is serious.

RS: Won’t the Pakistani military establishment keep Kashmir alive?

SC: Musharraf brought around the (Pakistani) corps command to this deal in 2007. It was interesting when I was reporting on this in Pakistan and you asked the question: What was the winning argument in the corps command meetings? First of all, Musharraf was at the peak of his authority, but there were three winning arguments. One was that if we want to modernise an army and defend Pakistan’s territorial integrity while India modernises its army, we need more money than our current growth rates can support. We already take a huge share of Pakistan’s GDP. We need the whole pie to grow. We need economic peace just to defend ourselves. The second argument was that we can achieve acceptable goals in Kashmir by political means that we cannot by guerilla violence. Let’s accept it, our strategy is not working. The Indians have defeated the insurgency; they have been able to create enough political normalcy in their part of Kashmir. We can keep throwing rocks, but why not create an outcome that history will recognise as just through political negotiations. The final argument was international legitimacy. The Pakistani army for all of its crazy self-defeating policies also craves recognition as a legitimate army, an unusually good fighting force. Musharraf personally wanted to go to Oslo and be awarded the peace prize with Manmohan Singh (laughs). These factors are still there in the psyche, but the problem is that the Pakistani government is in no position to come back to that.

RS: How do you see the future of US policy in the Af-Pak region?

SC: Despite the signaling that Obama did to American audiences about 2011, actually American policy is constructed for the long run in Afghanistan and Pakistan alike. The model that the American establishment has in mind is Egypt or Colombia or Philippines or other areas where long-standing alliances had to endure hostile public opinion and bad governance in the host country. The model is one where you just endure and you keep working on it. It does not mean that you give money unquestioningly. In Afghanistan, all that it means is preventing revolution and civil war. And in Pakistan it means help creating conditions in which Pakistan can succeed alongside India.

RS: Having attended a few hearings in Capitol Hill, I get the sense that the US Congress is getting fed up with giving aid to Pakistan.

SC: That is an important anxiety. I think it is constructive because it is a legitimate set of questions to ask and it also puts some leverage on the Pakistanis. The Pakistani government has to take account of these concerns. These are American Congressmen who question whether the Pakistani government is sincere about this partnership. There is a lot of manufactured outrage in the US-Pak relationship that is a negotiating tactic. Pakistanis manufactured a lot of outrage about the conditionalities (in the Kerry-Lugar Bill). It was not even conditionalities. So why do they manufacture the outrage? So that the Americans will feel guilty and send them more helicopters! Do you think members of the Congress might be aware that their complaints are a sort of counter-force against this Pakistani outrage? I think they are. Both sides have legitimate grievances. Neither side wants to blow up the relationship. The problem is more energy is wasted in manufacturing these grievances for negotiating than is actually directed towards fixing the problems.

The full version of this interview

AMAN KI ASHA--People to people to people

One gets an entirely different perspective on relations between India and Pakistan when one talks to one’s friends in India. In sharp contrast to the war-mongering, hate-spitting image of an Indian that we grew up with — thanks to our state-sponsored media and highly distorted education syllabus — my Indian friends are just as human and peace-loving as it can get.

Understandably, in the current scenario, the upcoming talks between foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan in New Delhi have once again raised dying hopes of these war-hating people of the two countries. Most Pakistanis and Indians see no reason why the two countries cannot leave their bitter past behind and live in a conflict-free region where economic prosperity is a priority.

Srinivasan V. Ramani, Assistant Editor, Economic and Political Weekly, New Delhi, believes people-to-people contacts have paved the way for improvement in relations, "More than making their respective governments change their ‘hardened’ stance on relations, people-to-people contacts have melted the opprobrium for each other in the country, especially among the urban communities. People-to-people contacts — through sporting ties, through student passes, and civil society initiatives — have indisputably melted away the hostility for the ‘other’ among Indians and Pakistanis."

Ramani says governments have to be accountable to the people, "For the governments to change their ‘hardened’ stances, however, they have to be more accountable to the public. In my opinion, both in India and more so in Pakistan, governments are not fully accountable, nor do they impress upon foreign policy initiatives in public debates sensibly enough. Once that happens, there is good chance of the ‘hardened stances’ to melt quickly."

On why the two governments have been inconsistent on the issue of holding talks despite their stated commitment for the composite dialogue, Ramani says, "The Indian government is unable to decipher as to who is the real power authority in Pakistan to hold talks with. In my personal opinion, the Indian government should keep engaging with the Pakistani civilian government, thereby strengthening the civilian government’s writ in the ‘external affairs’ sense. There has got to be more effort from democratic sections in Pakistani society to lessen the hold of extra-democratic forces in the country. On the Indian government’s side, efforts must be made to emphasise on civilian and peoples’ ties and not on ‘realpolitik’ or oneupmanship."

Ramani sees the governments’ urge to ‘compete’ rather than cooperate as the basic problem, "There are many areas of congruence, yet governments find it compelling to ‘compete’ rather than cooperate. The Indo-Pakistan-Iran pipeline was one such golden opportunity. Or indeed, a regional caucus based progressive settlement of the mess that has been created by NATO in Afghanistan. Composite dialogue can feature all these and more while whittling away the major differences such as on Kashmir."

Husain Naqi, National Coordinator Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and a senior journalist, says people-to-people contacts can influence a government in a certain direction but not the establishment, "In Pakistan’s case it is the establishment that calls the shots on critical decision-making issues such as relations with India. People can perhaps make the government listen to their point of view and make them take actions accordingly but not the establishment." Naqi ascribes this situation to the establishment’s threat perception of India, "The establishment sees India as their enemy. But the reality is that Pakistan has been its own worst enemy, hence the fact that we lost East Pakistan due to our own wrongdoings."

Naqi laments the fact that India and Pakistan, along with other South Asian countries, have not been able to utilise the trade potentials under SAARC that could eventually form an economic bloc something like the Europeans have in the shape of the EU, "There are now more than 1,000 items that India and Pakistan can trade between each other. But this has not been possible due to the tension between the two countries."

Muthu Krishnan, a freelance journalist and a social activist based in Madurai, India, blames it equally on the two governments, "Successive governments on both sides of the border have been insensitive to the aspirations of the people. Unfortunately, it is only the defence and external affairs ministries that seem to be taking decisions. People to people contacts have not yet formed into a considerable pressure group that has some influence on the governments of India and Pakistan."

Krishnan thinks the two governments take decisions in the light of external pressure, "To me it seems that governments on both sides talk about a composite dialogue only when there is external pressure or an election is round the corner. Add to it the tension at the borders that results in the increase in defence budgets of both India and Pakistan."

Krishnan says he will visit Pakistan at the first opportunity, "In my childhood days I had Nazia Hasan as my favourite singer. From then on I always love to hear about Pakistan and have read about it. That is one reason why Pakistan features in many documentaries, including Anand Patwardhan’s ‘War and Peace’." Krishnan warns against religious extremism, "The madness of reinventing a larger India by the Hindutva hooligans or reinventing the meaning of jehad is suicidal for people of the subcontinent."

Krishnan gives his recipe for normalisation of relations, "Demilitarisation of Kashmir is a must. Both the governments should see that they have to win the hearts and minds of the people through a shift in their stand. Civil society’s participation is essential for harmony in the region."

Syeda Diep, a social activist and Chairperson Institute for Peace and Secular Studies, says the people of Pakistan and India are victims of pre-conceived notions imposed on them through hate literature and use of state media, "The ill-will between India and Pakistan at the governments’ level or between the people is due to propagated perception about India and vice versa. I can tell from my own personal experience from the students’ exchange programme. When students from our side leave for India some of them have pre-conceived notions about India, such as that it is an enemy country or that it hates Pakistanis and Muslims. Believe me, just after a few days of talking and mingling with Indian students and other people their perception about the people of India is completely transformed. They form lasting friendships and yearn for better relations between the two countries."

Diep believes we can come out of this situation by analysing issues rationally, "We talk about India blocking our share of water by building dams on the rivers in violation of international laws and the Indus Water Treaty. Instead of raising the alarm bells we should go to the UN and launch a complaint there if we have some proof. This is how it works in the rest of the world."

Ruchika Talwar, Senior Correspondent, The Indian Express, says people’s coming together has instilled "this thought in the minds of the common man living on both sides of the divide, that if Indo-Pak issues are to be resolved, they cannot be resolved without their participation, however big or small. The people of both countries had been hitherto left to the mercy of the forces that be, which had never yielded impressive results. The resounding success of the historic 2004 ‘Friendship Cricket Series’ between the perceived arch rivals is an example of how the people thawed the relations between India and Pakistan and got both the countries talking again."

Talwar ascribes the trust deficit between Pakistan and India to, "a cause and effect relationship between India’s unfulfilled demands (from Pakistan on the Mumbai terror attacks) and Pakistan’s consistent failure to address them to India’s satisfaction. Just as it is in life in general, when one partner does not listen to the other, the relationship is doomed or at least, unpleasant and non-committal," she says adding, "The permanent panacea to this disorder that India and Pakistan suffer from is economic interaction. If you and I influence each other’s income, we can never think ill of each other."

Reconstructing Swat

The revival and promotion of cultural activities will boost rebuilding

By Rafi Ullah-

Swat is once again abuzz with activity. The traditional looks of Mingawara seem to be coming back in the once restive valley. As I stepped down from the van in Mingawara I found the city open with its archetypal cheers. Of course, the recent normalcy has infused, once more, confidence and the spirit of life in the people of Swat.

The activity of life going on in Swat has many aspects and dimensions. But the reconstruction and rehabilitation work overshadows all other doings. The people are, understandably, demanding reconstruction as the valley has gone through devastation. But there is lack of a comprehensive approach to the programme. Reconstruction does not imply building physical infrastructure alone as it is generally conceived in Pakistan both by the policy-makers and the people. Due attention is not being given to the social, cultural as well as psychological aspect of rehabilitation in the area.

Swat has not just seen misfortunes in terms of destruction of buildings, roads, and bridges. It is also a human trauma because of the disruption of the social and cultural side of life in the valley. People have seen destruction of their four walls, holy places, and slaughtering of their near and dear ones.

Physical infrastructural reconstruction is, no doubt, necessary for social and economic development but ignoring the cultural, social and psychological rehabilitation will have serious effects on the overall reconstruction plan. Ignoring this dimension of rehabilitation programme will be tantamount to leaving the society vulnerable to a major future threat. That is the phase of revenge and retribution. The people would remain involved in deadly annihilation of each other, the seeds for which have been sown during the long Talibanisation process.

People have gone through psychological trauma. The violation of their social and cultural norms and values have deprived them of their fundamental human rights. A large number of innocent people have lost their lives, leaving behind families raging with emotions of revenge. Likewise, a bulk of people has seen the destruction of their properties. Kidnappings for ransom have also antagonised a large number of people. Given that all these injustices were not compensated in a proper way Swat will be, once again, overwhelmed by violence; this time it will took the form of family reprisals.

How can this imminent threat be coped with? In my opinion it can, first, be dealt with successfully by creating a social space which, in turn, could be achieved through: a) education, b) media, c) cultural activities, and d) speedy justice.

The above-mentioned four-pronged mechanism would help in creating social space in Swat. This phenomenon will do away with the future threats which, otherwise, seem hanging over the society like a sword of Damocles. It seems, in the context of the present crisis in Swat, vitally important to give education the foremost importance. It is here that a peaceful transition of the Swat society could be effected successfully. The purpose is to be served by both quantity and quality education. The school and college curricula need to be completely overhauled.

Till now, scholars and academics in Pakistan suggest changes in curricula. Accordingly, it is through an independent and scientific education system that the social, political, and economic evils can easily be wiped away from society. This is truer in case of Swat in the face of imminent future threats. In this way, a section of responsible citizenry would appear on the stage which would be careful about the socio-cultural norms and values of the valley.

To follow Steven Sigler’s definition, civil society "finds its basis and strength in primeval kinship" while civil society as voluntary and political is catered for by "formal association centred on shared interest and collaboration". The smooth and cooperative interaction between these two types of civil societies creates a social space which is but a vibrant process of continuity and change. The reconstruction and rehabilitation pursuits in regard to Swat would only be effective if such a comprehensive approach is adopted.

Traditional music concerts like mailas with the thought-provoking poetry of Rahman Baba, Abdur Rahim Roghanay and others must be held regularly. The revitalisation of the shrine culture would also serve as a path to normalcy in the area. Many outsiders unhesitatingly associate Pakhtunwali with violence and give verdicts about the incompatibility between Pakhto and Sufism. But the Pakhtun history does not support their argument. Mysticism has strong roots in Pakhtun culture as is evident from its folk tales, folk poetry and oral history. Without promoting such cultural features any attempt at realising the culture of peace in Swat would remain a dream.

The purpose of creating a responsible society in Swat may also be served by both print and electronic media. Reformative dramas, films and documentaries must be encouraged, an act through which the traumatic Swatis would be successfully brought back to their normal lifestyle. Swat has a long history of journalism. Many local dailies and magazines have appeared in the valley at different times. These days newspapers such as Azadi, Chand, Shamal and Khabar Kaar are the mouthpieces of the Swati people. These dailies have been serving the cause of Swat and Swatis to a great extent. It is proposed that a Pakhto page — only for columns, essays, short stories, and purposeful poetry — may be added to these local dailies.

A majority of Swatis speak Pakhto. Second, certain debates relating to socio-economic and socio-cultural issues may be initiated on the editorial pages of these dailies. Such endeavours must be aimed at leading to satisfactory relations between the people which is the foremost concern of any programme of peace and development. Thirdly, the government must also fulfill its responsibility, in this respect, in terms of providing these dailies with financial assistance both for the purpose of their wider circulation as well as keeping them within the limits of the purchasing power of the people.

The role of judiciary is of paramount importance in the reconstruction and rehabilitation programme of Swat. The people’s grievances need to be addressed in a speedy and smooth way. As the crisis in Swat is generally believed to have been the result of ineffective judicial system in the wake of 1969, any further loopholes in this regard would be an instance of sheer non-seriousness.

The reconstruction mantra can certainly help some people improve their tarnishing image but the problems in Swat should be ideally approached as suggested above. Once social trust, which leads to satisfactory relations between the people and which in turn is a primary condition for peace and development, is reinvigorated in the people we will have our Swat back. Development, as Steven Sigler observes "… that originates from this (social) space will have feelings of obligation attached to it that are founded in something that is stronger and more powerful than those that come from the rule of law with the result of making that development inherently more sustainable than it might otherwise be."

A story of incompetence

Huzaima Bukhari and Dr. Ikramul Haq

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is in for criticism for inefficiency and indiscipline. It has failed on all fronts: collection targets, widening of tax base, countering tax evasion and avoidance, recovery of arrears, voluntary compliance, reform process and what not.

At the end of the five-year Tax Administration Reform Project (TARP), the tax-to-GDP ratio dipped to 8.2 percent from 10.6 percent. The borrowed funds of millions of dollars were ruthlessly wasted. The standing committee of parliament on finance must conduct a thorough probe in the matter and seek the assistance of tax experts to determine the amount of loss caused to national exchequer by the FBR stalwarts during the last two decades.

Despite an expensive media campaign, FBR could not make 25 million potential taxpayers to file tax declarations by the extended date — 25 January 2010. The majority of non-filers are rich and mighty bureaucrats, corrupt politicians, and unscrupulous businessmen. FBR has not only failed to tap the actual tax potential — not less than Rs4 trillion — but is also guilty of shifting tax burden from the rich to the poorer segments of society. According to FBR, on admission, 1,916,300 income tax returns and statements were received from July-January of the current fiscal year (2009-10) as compared with 1,797,000 returns and statements in the same period of last fiscal year (2008-09). Total number of income tax returns received up to 25 January 2010 is only 755,671, the rest are statements under section 115(4) — last year 642,777 returns were received — indicating an increase of 112,849 returns. According to the FBR Press release as of January 25, 2010, FBR has received 16,281 corporate sector income tax returns as against 14,903 returns in the same period of last fiscal year, projecting an increase of 1,378 returns.

Firms — registered and unregistered — filed just 41,863 returns. Salaried persons filed 114,495 returns for tax year 2009 as against 119,759 last year showing a decline of 5,264. Non-salaried individuals filed 583,032 returns compared to 481,961 filed last year. Salary certificates received are 18,828 as against 20,745 filed last year. Number of employees covered in statements under section 115(4) are 1,053,708 this year as compared with 1,055,954 last year. Number of importers who filed their statements is 12,262 whereas some 11,510 importers filed their statements last fiscal year. By January 25, 2010 some 8,473 exporters filed their statements as against 8,050 exporters in the same period of last fiscal year. Some 13,332 retailers having up to Rs5 million annual turnover filed their statements during July-January 2010 period of this fiscal year as compared with 18,272 retailers in the same period of last fiscal year. 581 retailers having over Rs5 million annual turnover filed their statements this year as against 830 such retailers in the last fiscal year. 24,378 contractors and suppliers filed statements during this year as against 24,030 during the last year.

It is admitted by FBR that even after "great efforts" less than 2 million Pakistanis have filed income tax declarations for tax year 2009. FBR has failed to implement law even in Islamabad as out of 43000 commercial and residential rental properties in Islamabad, only 7000 owners are filing returns. In Pakistan, the number of mobile users alone, who pay more than Rs100,000 as annual bill, is about 25 million. Why have they not been compelled to file returns? FBR is taking credit of extra 119,300 declarations filed this year. However, it is completely silent about its failure to expand the tax net — we have at least 25 million persons earning taxable income, but who are not filing tax declarations.

For a long time now, FBR has been apologetic (specifically before the IMF and the World Bank) that total income tax payers (referring to registered only) in Pakistan are just 2 million in a population of 170 million. This is a myth. The reality is that since July 1, 1992 all commercial electricity consumers (including about 3.2. million retail outlets in urban areas), irrespective of whether their income is chargeable to tax or not, are paying minimum income tax of Rs60 per month.

The total number of persons earning interest on bank deposits is not less than 30 million. They pay 10 percent mandatory withholding tax irrespective of their quantum of income. Total number of mobile and land-line telephone users, subjected to withholding tax, in the country, is in excess of 60 million — yet FBR claims that our tax base is narrow. The reality is that FBR is incompetent as a result of which it has failed to book/register a majority of these taxpayers. Had it been done, we could today have boasted of nearly 25 million registered taxpayers. Even a petty village shopkeeper (whose total income is much below the minimum taxable limit of Rs100,000) is paying tax as high as Rs720 per annum. On the contrary, big absentee landlords, earning millions by merely leasing out orchards/lands, are not paying even a single penny as personal income tax.

Out of total population of Pakistan, 43.1 percent are below the age of 15 years. The overwhelming majority of them will not have taxable income. Rural labour of 40 million earns meagre income. Thus, the total income tax paying population having taxable income of Rs100,001 can safely be around 25 million. The FBR is not only taxing all of them but even many of those whose incomes fall below taxable limits. The poor are paying not only indirect taxes but also income tax at source under various provisions of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 — section 148 to 156A, sections 234 to 236. Thus in reality the people — except the ruling trio — are over-taxed. In return they get nothing.

It was the duty of FBR to allot National Tax Numbers (NTNs) to all those who paid tax under sections 148,149,150,151,152,153,154,155,156, and 233, 234 and 235 of the Income Ordinance, 2001. Had the FBR just issued notices for filing of return to all commercial electricity consumers, mobile and land-line users (paying bill of Rs100,000 or more) and vehicle owners, today we would have over 25 million registered taxpayers. The FBR did not bother to prepare a database of such persons though millions of rupees were spent (rather wasted) on so-called automation.

FBR is guilty of criminal negligence in not taxing persons having taxable income, but extorting money from many who earn below taxable income. It has been misreporting the figures regarding income taxpayers in Pakistan. Its performance is abysmal in achieving a satisfactory tax-to-GDP ratio. It is just thriving on withholding taxes and voluntary payments — constituting 92 percent of total collection. The contribution of field officers [collection on demand through investigation or audit] is just 8 percent of total collection proving beyond any doubt how unproductive this organisation is.

The small business houses and salaried persons, already heavily taxed through withholding tax mechanism, are victims of highhandedness. It is high time that the FBR should put its own house in order and tax the rich and mighty tax evaders.

The writers, tax lawyers, are members of Adjunct Faculty of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

FBR version:

According to FBR, it has finally decided to bring all the persons earning taxable income in the tax net through its tax intelligence system. The Chairman of FBR referred to various proposals such as:

Tax legislation will be introduced for installation of electronic cash registers at the retail outlets. Prime Minister has agreed to provide free of cost electronic cash registers to retailers to document their sales.

Political support/will is requested for taxing black economy and brining informal sector into the tax net. Most of the housing schemes are involved in selling of files of plots. There is proposal to tax transfer of plots through sale of files that would be instrumental in generating additional revenues.

Under new Value Added Tax (VAT) regime retailers having annual turnover of Rs7.5 million would be registered—only essential food items and life saving drugs would remain exempt and 15 percent VAT would be imposed on all other goods from July 1, 2010.

The professional service providers e.g. doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects would also be brought under VAT from July 1, 2010. The implementation of the broad-based VAT would generate around Rs150-200 billion in next fiscal year. The revenue generation from VAT implementation would reach to around Rs600 billion in coming years.

The importers, wholesalers and big retailers are paying Rs125 billion, which is below the actual potential. In most of the cases they deposit withholding tax collected from the consumers and do not declare their actual income, thus presumptive tax regime will be abolished.

Clash of interests

If the government relies on bank

borrowing, restrictive monetary policy would hardly achieve its objective

By Hussain H Zaidi

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has retained the 12.5 percent policy discount rate (interest rate) in the monetary policy for February-March 2010. The rate was earlier reduced by 0.5 percentage points for the preceding two months. Is the decision to continue the rather high discount rate called for?

In a market economy like Pakistan, the three major instruments available to the central bank to manage the aggregate demand are the open market operations, the discount rate and the reserve ratio requirement (RRR). The open market operations refer to the sale or purchase of government securities. Sale of government securities reduces, whereas purchases increase, money supply in the economy. The discount rate is the interest rate at which banks borrow from the central bank. Increase in the discount rate reduces bank reserves and consequently money supply. Reserve ratio is the minimum percentage of their total reserves that the commercial banks are required to keep with the central bank. A high reserve ratio results in reduced money supply in the economy.

Faced with strong inflationary pressures, the SBP has adopted a rather restrictive monetary policy for quite some time. In July 2008, the discount rate was raised by one percentage point to 13 percent. In November, the discount rate was further increased by two percentage points to 15 per cent. Overall in 2008, the discount rate was pushed up by five percentage points. The Monetary Policy Statement for January-March 2009 retained the 15 per cent discount rate. In April and August 2009 the rate was cut by one percentage point each bringing it to 13.

While evaluating the decision to maintain the high interest rate, it needs to be mentioned that monetary policy is determined by four factors. These are the balance of payment position (BoP), fiscal balance, inflation and the real sector growth. Both the present position and future forecast are taken into account. We begin with the BoP position.

During the first half of the current financial year (H1-FY10), the economy registered a BoP surplus of $1.4 billion (bn) compared with BoP deficit of $4.8 bn for the corresponding period of FY09. The BoP surplus is due to improved performance on both current and capital accounts. The current account deficit during H1-FY10 went down to $2 bn from 7.8 bn in H1-FY09. The substantial reduction of the current account deficit is due to reduced trade deficit of $5.8 bn (compared with $8.2 bn in H1-FY09) and increased remittances of $4.5 bn compared with $3.6 bn in H1-FY09). The capital account balance went up to $3.8 bn, compared with $3.1 bn in H1-FY09, mainly due to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) credit and partly due to increase in foreign portfolio investment despite $1.4 bn fall in foreign direct investment (FDI).

The reduction of trade deficit during H1-FY10, resting on 17.6 percent fall in imports, was partly on account of reduced international commodity prices and partly due to decrease in domestic demand. However, in the wake of global economic recovery international commodity prices, particularly those of petroleum products, are on the increase posting a less optimistic outlook for trade and current account deficits during the second half of the current financial year.

The fiscal deficit target for FY10 is 4.9 percent of GDP or Rs740 bn. However, as the SBP notes in the monetary policy statement, the target is difficult to meet primarily due to increase in expenditure caused by the difficult security situation. During H1-FY10 the fiscal deficit was Rs224 bn, Rs30 bn higher than the Rs194 bn target. The increase in budget deficit calls for a restrictive monetary policy as the government is likely to resort to bank borrowing for deficit financing.

Average inflation dropped to 13.6 percent at the end of December 2009 compared with 20.3 percent a year earlier. The fall in inflation has been due to price deflation caused by recession and weaker domestic demand. However, inflationary pressures are likely to be sticky in the downward direction partly due to surge in international commodity prices and partly due to increase in cost of doing business caused by power shortage, increase in utility charges and the precarious security environment. Hence, the SBP has forecast that the average inflation for full FY10 to be between 11 and 12 percent.

The real GDP growth for FY10 is targeted at 3 percent, 1 percentage point higher than that of 2 percent during FY09. Improved performance of the agricultural and large scale manufacturing (LSM) sectors and greater demand for exports in the wake of global economic recovery may help achieve the modest growth target. However, the persistent supply side constraints and the law and order situation may serve as a drag on economic growth.

As the preceding paragraphs show, though major macro-economic indicators bearing upon monetary policy have improved, the economy continues to be susceptible to shocks and uncertainties forcing the SBP to retain the rather high interest rate.

Would the monetary contraction be sufficient to contain inflation? To answer this question, one needs to look at the causes of inflation in the economy. Much of the inflation that the economy is facing is supply-side, which monetary policy can be of little use in dealing with. Take, for instance, high food particularly sugar prices. The major cause of food inflation is cartelization. The cartels create artificial shortages to increase prices. Such supply-side inflation needs strong government action to curb cartels and check smuggling and, when necessary, exports as well. Hence, monetary policy by itself will not be sufficient to significantly reduce inflationary pressures. Strong administrative measures are also needed.

Coming to the likely effects of the current monetary policy, a few observations can be made. One, the high discount rate will continue to put upward pressure on the market interest rates. Though nominal interest rates may be high, courtesy high inflation real interest rates are still low. Two, high interest rates would reduce consumption and investment demand, resulting into fall in output and employment. This is the main argument against the current restrictive monetary policy. When an economy slows down, jobs are lost and incomes fall. This is not to state that the monetary policy is the major cause of economic slump; however, it remains an important factor.

Three, high interest rates should encourage savings. However, one must be mindful of the fact that income not the interest rate is the major determinant of savings. People with high income are willing to save even at low interest rate. Fall in inflation increases the real incomes but fall in employment has the opposite effect. Finally, as interest rate increases, the money holdings will decline and funds will be shifted to higher yield assets. This may result in a fall in the real sector investment and increase in portfolio investment.

The monetary policy is a trade off between growth and stability. The decision to persist with a restrictive monetary policy means that the government prefers stability to growth. The agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also provides for tight fiscal and monetary policies. However, a tight monetary policy can bear fruit only if it has a supportive fiscal policy. If the government continues to rely on bank borrowing as the major source of financing its fiscal deficit, restrictive monetary policy would hardly achieve its objective of containing inflation.

Feb 9, 2010

Whatever happened to Swat?

It is the responsibility of all those who claim to be committed to democracy to demand a full social audit of Swat operation

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

It has now been almost a year since the signing of the infamous Nizam-e-Adl agreement between the government and Taliban militants in Swat. Welcomed and maligned at the same time, the agreement marked the beginning of the end for peace in the Valley. Only a few short weeks later the military launched a ‘scorched earth’ operation and Swat was never to be the same again.

It is testament to the power of the corporate media that so little is heard about Swat these days. Operation ‘Rah-e-Rast’ was declared complete some six months ago and soon afterwards media attention shifted to South Waziristan. But what has become of the millions who were forced from their homes in Swat, Buner, and other parts of Malakand? Have these teeming millions, and normalcy more generally, returned to the region?

The attack in Dir this past week should make clear that all is not well in Swat and its environs. The mainstream media has completely reneged on its professional responsibility to keep the public abreast of developments in Malakand since the government formally declared an end to the military operation. In fact, it would not be wrong to suggest that the media has deliberately avoided reporting on post-operation Swat because it wants to avoid a head-on collision with the powers-that-be.

Abuse of authority was commonplace during and after the operation. Even distant relatives of suspected Taliban militants were subjected to humiliation and torture; many homes were torched and hundreds if not thousands were incarcerated without charges. There is no telling when the many innocent Swatis who are being held by the military will be released or even if their whereabouts will be formally acknowledged.

Apologists will argue that these developments were to be expected because, after all, a military operation is never pretty. But let us not forget that we were fed tales about the Taliban’s brutality and the urgent need to restore civility to Swat. Things are surely different with the military now in Swat, but terror remains. Could there by a more damning indictment of the methods that have been chosen to deal with militancy?

But I want to return to the question of how the media has gone about its business in terms of reporting on Swat. Some of our bigger media outlets have no problem taking on the government on some matters, so why is there such selective reporting in this case? This is the same question that has been raised about media reporting on Balochistan over a long period of time (and most conspicuously military operations launched during the tenure of General Pervez Musharraf).

In particular, I would like to draw attention to the anti-Zardari campaigns being run by some media channels and newspapers. I do not have any particular affection for Zardari, or for any other mainstream politician. But Zardari is, nevertheless, the elected president of the country. He is not any more or less corrupt than anyone else around (in any case I consider the men in khaki to be far more responsible for the mess that exists than any politician could ever be). So is it not amazing that some media outlets are more than happy to run uninhibited anti-Zardari campaigns yet are unwilling to shed any light on what is going on in Swat (or Balochistan)?

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. Most journalists steer well clear of criticizing the establishment on sensitive matters, and in fact become ‘responsible’ and ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis when the military demands it. Zardari is a different proposition; he may do deals with the establishment but he is not the establishment himself, and more often than not the establishment uses the media to twist his arm.

And so carries on the ‘greater national interest’ brigade. The question, as ever, is how long such blatant shenanigans in the people’s name can go on. If nothing else, events of the past year in Swat have made clear to the people of the Valley that invocations of the ‘greater national interest’ are just as suspicious as the ‘paradise’ of the Taliban. This recognition hardly improves the lives of Swatis in the here and now but surely does suggest that in the future they will be much more circumspect in trusting the self-proclaimed ‘guardians of the state’.

In the meantime, it is the responsibility of all those who claim to be committed to democracy to demand a full social audit of the Swat operation (as well as basic information about the ongoing atrocities in Balochistan, Waziristan, and numerous other parts of this country). The media may not have fulfilled its basic mandate but this does not excuse the rest of us from taking to task those who act in the name of our security.

Some self-introspection is also called for, particularly amongst those who supported military operations in Swat, Waziristan, and other regions (presumably many still do). A serious rethink is required about the phenomenon that is passed off as ‘terrorism’. Even those who disagree with the basic thrust of my argument here will agree that the people of Swat now know first-hand what this ‘terrorism’ business really is. So why not spend time with those who have been forgotten by our media moguls to gain clarity about who is responsible for what?

They are spread all over the country; some still languish in refugee camps, others are living off the generosity of relatives or friends. When the military operation first began some of the high elite spent some of their precious time raising money for those displaced. Rather than viewing them only as unfortunate victims we should also learn from their experiences, so as to make sure that the events of the past year are never repeated again. One hopes that our pre-conceived notions of what is right and wrong do not prevent us from gaining a little insight into what really happened to Swat.