Nov 22, 2010

Politics of the common man

Ours is a case of lack of focus on the right issues

By Salman Abid

The poor and marginalised sections of society face discrimination in one form or the other. Understandably then, people belonging to marginalised groups are more vulnerable to disparities in the country.

According to statistics posted on the Australian government website’s Pakistan section, almost one third of Pakistan’s 170 million people live below the poverty line and more than 60 percent live on less than 2 dollars per day. National health and education systems in Pakistan are under-resourced. Public health expenditure is around 4 dollars per person per year.

Statistics on the website say, only "1.8 percent of GDP is invested in education, compared to a global weighted average of 4.9 percent. Progress towards the achievement of education and health-related Millennium Development Goals has, as a result, been slow. Social indicators are poor, even by comparison with other countries in South Asia. Women and girls are particularly disadvantaged. Infant mortality rates remain amongst the highest in the region. One in ten children dies before age five."

It is unfortunate that our concentration is on the development of main cities as compared to others districts. A majority of the common people do not have basic infrastructure, especially education, health, water, sanitation, food, security, and justice.

The state is responsible to provide basic fundamental rights and facilities but has totally failed to fulfill expectations of the poor people, especially women, children, minorities, and labourers. Actually, the role of the state has been minimized due to increasing privatisation in the country and thus fails to provide basic facilities to the common man. Due to bad governance; state and government policies, people are being compelled to become marginalized and the number is increasing.

We should admit open-heartedly that the state, government, and political intelligentsia have failed to invest in the poor people for their welfare. We are spending more money on non development expenditure as compared to development expenditure. If the state and government face any challenge or disaster then ultimately the development funds are cut down in the name of national interest. People are more frustrated when they see the ruling elite’s social life and their living standards. This is in sharp contrast to the common people.

Our political parties and their leaders are very good at claiming they cater to larger public interest issues. But results are totally different, ignoring the poor peoples’ agenda at large. Unfortunately, we did not develop issues-based politics in the country emphasizing more on non issues in agenda. Political parties’ manifestoes and their commitment towards poor people are not implemented when the parties come in powers. This is because political parties are not accountable to the masses about their own performances.

Perhaps they believe in the conspiracy theory that political power is acquired through the establishment and not from people’s vote. That is why people do not feel strongly associated with their representatives. The question is why the poor and marginalized people have failed to strengthen their own role within the available political framework in the country?

The overall development paradigm focuses on some specific groups and individuals already getting more benefits from different actions. People are still dependent on the ruling elite, and power-based groups like feudal, industrialist and a strong bureaucracy. People have more expectations from political parties and their leaders about good governance and transparent and accountable system in the country.

People also have expectations from institutions for getting some services. Our state, governments and their civil leadership lay more stress on unimportant issues than on common people’s problems. This results from an absence of prioritisation of issues by the institutions.

We have some good laws and policies for the common man but we do not implement them and people feel abandoned. This attitude of the government makes people feel further isolated from the political process. Politics in rural areas is also questionable. Most of the basic health units are not functioning and the basic support structures are not there. Poor people are more vulnerable in society due to the ruling elite’s policies.

One major reason for this political chaos is lack of accountability of government’s policies for the common people. Then there is also lack of participation by the common man in the decision-making process. If the common man is organised, he can challenge injustice. Sadly, most of the time media is also part of the power-based political dynamics and reflects their interest in the name of poor people.

The ruling elite should realise the seriousness of this issue and also avoid political slogans because at this point people need actions and not just commitments. Some of our prominent leaders have raised the issue of disparity among the common people and have publicly warned the government that if it fails to perform its duty a revolt is eminent. But, unfortunately, these leaders have major contradictions and do not come up to people’s expectations.

We should admit that non state actors — militants and extremists — have consolidated their position due to the government’s poor policies. This is perhaps the last chance for our ruling elite to mend their ways and restructure their politics in line with the people’s expectations.

Economic subjugation

The economy is fast plummeting and worse is still to come if curative measures are not taken on a war-footing

By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr. Ikramul Haq

Resistance against subjugation — in colonial and neo-colonial era — was once a most cherished value that received praise from great thinkers, many of whom kindled such movements through their writings.

Resistance literature is part of our great human heritage. It has long been a source of resilience and self-esteem for nations that defeated imperialists and neo-colonial forces to earn liberation from exploitation and alien rule.

Unfortunately, the Late Neo-colonial forces in the wake of 9/11 cleverly managed to counter genuine liberation and resistance movements against their hegemonic designs under the pretext of "war against terror". This is, no doubt, one of the most lamentable strategies of the late Neo-colonialists, in which religious fanatics are their main accomplices.

Pakistan is facing multi-faced subjugation. Our subjugation is a self-inflicted phenomenon — our leadership, both military and civilian, has surrendered before late Neo-colonial forces. Yet the people of Pakistan have not surrendered. They are showing resilience even during extreme hardship when basic necessities like sugar and wheat flour are being rendered as rare commodity for them.

Economic subjugation, dictates of the IMF and other donors, wrongdoings of the people at the helm of affairs, unprecedented luxuries enjoyed by the rulers at taxpayers’ expense — all cumulatively — have culminated into an economically unviable state.

Our political and economic subjugation is now complete, or so it seems. The issue of gold and copper reserves at Reko Dik in Balochistan clearly testifies to this. Repeated requests of civil and military leadership to the Prime Minister of Pakistan and American President to ask NATO forces not to violate territorial boundaries of Pakistan is a slap in the face of this nation.

It is not diplomacy but utter submission before those who are the main cause of the present-day crisis in our tribal areas and elsewhere. The forces of obscurantism are used by these late Neo-colonial forces to make us subservient. The need of the hour is to mobilise people against late Neo-colonialists and their cronies — the militants who are exploiting religion for self-interest.

For resisting subjugation, we need to pay immediate attention to pressing issues: foreign forces attacks in our tribal areas, rising wave of militancy, discord amongst coalition partners, horrifying debt burden, worsening balance of payments position, undesirable increase in wasteful expenditure, growing unemployment, widening trade and fiscal deficits, high cost of doing business, burden of new taxes, increases in utility bills, failure of revenue authorities to tap actual revenue potential of over Rs.3trillion and industrial meltdown — just to mention a few.

The economy is fast plummeting and worse is still to come if curative measures are not taken on a war-footing. People’s purchasing power is diminishing, banks have less liquidity, lending rates are exorbitantly high and activities at stock markets are sluggish. The investors are shy and afraid, mainly due to perpetuation of political instability and economic uncertainty. Life for the common man on the streets is becoming a misery leading to social restlessness.

Although we claim to be an agricultural economy yet a vast majority of the people do not have enough to eat. It is tragic that we even import agricultural products and have miserably failed to develop any worthwhile agro-based industry in the last six decades.

Look at the mess our successive governments, military and civilian alike; have created on the debt front. The figure of foreign debt is a monstrous US$55 billion — it is going to be US$75 billion in 2015 — and that of domestic debt is over Rs.5trillion now.

Both the external and internal debts are increasing at a frightening rate. The way we are managing our resources is criminal and is leading us to self-annihilation. Fiscal deficit of over Rs1 trillion is expected during the current fiscal year. This testifies to bankruptcy of our political leadership and IMF-imposed economic managers who keep on relying on incompetent and corrupt bureaucracy.

The policy of appeasement towards tax evaders, money launderers and plunderers of national wealth is showing its impact in all spheres: political culture of changing loyalties continues. In this bleak scenario, our political leaders have no definitive plans how to come out of crises.

The most worrisome sector of economy is agriculture. The rural population is constantly being pushed below the poverty line, making all the targets of growth unachievable. If we have to develop economically, agriculture will have to play a critical role in the fight against poverty.

Vital areas like mechanisation, irrigation, plant protection and improved seeds have not been given proper attention although on paper there are many departments (including agricultural universities) spending millions and millions on claiming to have achieved wonders. In reality, even the issue of loans to small farmers is nothing but just another scandalous affair where a few are making a lot of money in the name of poor farmers.

The industries are already over-taxed but instead of getting any relief, these are being asked to pay even more exorbitant taxes. Fiscal laws impose a number of obligations on citizens but in return they do not get guarantee of life and protection of property what to talk of basis facilities like education, health and housing.

To top it all, a draconian sword hangs on taxpayers as FBR officers issue notices for default for acts not committed willfully. There is no political will to tax the mighty sections of society and the entire tax burden is being shifted on the poor through indirect taxes either in the form of sales tax, federal excise duty or presumptive taxes in the so-called direct taxes — IMF’s insistence on VAT, now renamed as Reformed General Sales tax (RGST), will have inflationary effect and it will push more and more people below the poverty line.

When half of the population of the country is facing malnourishment, wasteful expenditure continues unabated. The grim truth of Pakistan is the habit on the part of the rulers and their lackeys to indulge in self-deception by relying on foreign masters, self-praise, and self-perpetuation at the time of crises without realising how disastrous these acts can be.

All the governments, including the present one, think that serious economic problems can easily be solved by seeking the help of IMF, World Bank, ADB and other donors. This is certainly a disastrous and suicidal path. We cannot come out of debt-enslavement, which is the main cause of our subjugation, unless we first become an economically self-reliant nation. For this, the rulers will have to take the first step by living at very modest level, start paying their taxes and then mobilising the masses for struggle to take a great economic leap forward.

Going up the ladder of corruption

Pakistan needs to do a lot of work to improve its image on the world map

By Dr Noman Ahmed

Release of the recent Global Perception Report caused many ugly turns in the business of governance. Sections of the press reported that the regime has begun contemplating to take action against the local office and office-bearers of Transparency International. Federal Investigation Agency is said to have moved in that direction. Some weeks ago, the Sindh Legislature unanimously rejected the TI report, which had placed Pakistan as the 34th most corrupt nation in the world.

Politicians from treasury benches cited reservations about the process of data collection, veracity of facts and credibility of sources. In yet another move, Ambassador of Germany to Pakistan visited the local TI office and displayed solidarity of his country towards the work done by the organisation. The fracas is far from over. More exchange of heated arguments and change of positions on the issue of establishing corruption remains to be witnessed by the people of this country.

TI reports have received criticism worldwide. However, most of this criticism was levied in an objective manner with an academic spirit. For instance, it has been argued that white collar corruption is an extremely difficult instance to be detected, documented and analyzed. The perpetrators of such crimes leave very few footmarks that could lead directions to their place.

It is also argued that the definitions of corruption and allied attributes are not fixed variables. They change their course with time and transformations in the context. Perhaps for these reasons, managers of this index cautiously coined the term ‘corruption perception’. It entails the probability in the existence of corruption can only be indicated. Our government cannot deny that scores of financially sick corporations and organizations have been reduced to the present near moribund status due to many actions and decisions that border on corruption. And shooting the messenger can perhaps be considered the most preposterous approach in this respect.

The ranking of Pakistan is not low in the clean transaction profile alone. There are many other yardsticks in the form of indices that inform us about the falling standards in governance, environment and ecology, quality of life of ordinary folks in the society, perception of peace and many more. For instance, Pakistan ranks 118th in the order of per capita gross domestic product calculated by the World Bank in 2009 on the basis of purchasing power parity. The IMF further downgrades us to 133rd position in the same respect. Any student of economics can interpret this variable as the fact that our natural productivity and utilisation of national, material and human resources is on the decline. Our economy and its management are not wisely done.

Human Development Index (HDI) around the same timeframe ranks Pakistan to 144th position out of 178 countries surveyed by the UNDP. This disappointing situation informs that despite tall claims, the overall status of health, education and environment in the country is dismal. The government only spent around 11 to 25 percent of committed funds in the first two quarters across the budgeted provisions.

A reflection of the poor performance of the country is in the form of epidemics, looming food shortage as a consequence of environmental disasters and poor functioning of basic education sector. The Economic Intelligence Unit places Pakistan at the 145th position in Global Peace Index. It unveils the fractured canvas of peace along the lengths and breadths of the territory. The country stands sandwiched between Israel and Sudan.

Adrian White, a British academic associated with University of Leicester, has formulated ‘satisfaction with life’ index. The yardstick has been developed after collating data and viewpoints to establish how contented common people are with their lives. Pakistan features at 166th position between Lesotho and Russia. The top slot is occupied by Denmark as number one with Burundi at the last position.

And then there is the drum beat of failed state syndrome. A globally drawn yardstick has capped Pakistan as the 10th most failed states in the company of Haiti and Guinea. The vehement denial by our government notwithstanding, the makers of this assessment have stuck to their guns. On the count of measuring hunger, the Global Hunger Index puts Pakistan at 61st place in association with Guinea and Malawi. It informs that the essential food supply and consumption by a vast population in our country is extremely vulnerable. Pakistan also does not fare well in the index for most livable places or greenest countries. Through relatively better than the earlier indicators, the country sits at 115th place with Togo and Kenya. Human development and environmental sustainability indices are used to carve out this parameter.

Now about some positive factors: Pakistan has a relatively better record in terms of per capita carbon dioxide emission from consumption and usage of fossil fuels as per 2005 estimates. It sits at 161st position towards the positive side where the first position holder is the most polluting country. Perhaps limited industrialisation is one reason behind this state of affairs. Pakistan is also reasonably placed in the World Giving Index of 2010 drawn by Charities Aid Foundation. It is at 142nd place. 20 percent of our population gave money for charity, 8 percent contributed time voluntarily and 20 percent helped a stranger. One factor comes out clearly from this review.

Where the input of private citizens and society as a whole is accounted for, the country seems to have scored a better grade. Where the actions and decisions of governments matter, the symptoms are not very promising. On the positive side, it can be concluded that the general healthy trends in society shall be able to heal the diagnosed ailments of the state. Our government must pave the way for this desired course of actions to happen in the near future.

Foreign policy options

A conference on foreign policy issues of Pakistan discards the old rules and suggests a new shift

By Raza Khan

At a time when Pakistan is facing the consequences of decades of controversial foreign policy choices it made there is a need to have an appraisal of the existing and previous foreign policy directions which the decision-makers of the country have followed. That is to ascertain to what extent policy objectives have been achieved or otherwise.

This is indeed important to have an informed debate on the extremely critical aspect of state functioning in order to point out the wrongs and avoid repetition of the same.

There is too much talk about Islamabad’s foreign relations with other countries, particularly the US, India, and China but little debate on serious issues regarding foreign policy the state has followed. Through debates on Pakistan’s foreign policy, its objectives, and the tools employed to pursue these goals, inputs from the federating units can be incorporated as policy options.

Debates involving local experts and communities could help shape direction of country’s foreign policy. This is really important for what we may call democratising foreign policy-making processes in the country, in particular against the backdrop that Pakistan’s foreign policy has never been reflective of people’s sentiments and aspirations.

This is one aspect of the process of democratization our politicians have failed to realise. However, international community, especially the Friends of Pakistan are fully cognizant of the need of having public debate in different provinces on state’s foreign policy.

German think-tank cum NGO, Hanns Seidel Foundation, recently held an international conference on Pakistan’s foreign policy in Peshawar. The two-day international conference the German Foundation organised in collaboration with Department of International Relations, University of Peshawar, was titled Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Analysis at Domestic, Regional and International Levels.

As a participant, one felt a bit nervous about the fact that foreigners are organising debates and discussions which we should have organised ourselves as part of the democratization process. Nevertheless, one still felt it was great that at least some kind of a debate was being held on one of the most important subjects that is Pakistan’s foreign policy in Peshawar.

The holding of the conference in Peshawar was appropriate because the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA are arguably the most affected due to the wrong foreign policy decisions.

Here, one should take into consideration anti-communist and USSR policy of Pakistan which brought Peshawar to a brink of virtual extinction. It was when Soviet Union’s Brezhnev had ordered to eliminate the city after the 1958 U-2 incident in which an American reconnaissance aircraft U-2, taking off from Badabher airbase in Peshawar, was shot down in Soviet Union and its American pilot arrested.

Afterwards, it was KPK and FATA which served as a frontline region of Pakistan during the capitalist world’s anti-communist Afghan resistance. Subsequently, efforts in Pakistan were made to make Afghanistan its strategic backyard. Scholars from Germany, Nepal, China, India and different Pakistani universities participated in the conference.

Presenting a paper on Pakistan-India Relations, Dr Andreas Jakob from Germany maintained that had Pakistan being a purely democratic, federal and secular country Islamabad’s foreign policy responses to India would have been quite different. He said this would have salubrious effects on Pakistani-India relations and stability of the region. He maintained that due to wrong foreign policy objectives, which Islamabad pursued, Indian influence in the region and the world has increased which would further narrow Pakistan foreign policy choices in the coming years.

President of Islamabad Policy Research Institute, Dr Maqsoodul Hassan Nuri, presented a paper on The Impact of Middle East on Pakistan’s Foreign Policy and pointed towards the fact that for right answers regarding foreign policy people must ask right questions. One was a bit surprised to hear someone from Pakistan pointing at the loopholes in Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Dr Noori said, "Pakistan committed several mistakes in formulating foreign policy, however, this was high time for a course correction." In this regard, he emphasized that Pakistan’s foreign policy in contemporary world should be formed on the principles of economic nationalism, good relations with the US and West and, above all, Islamabad’s de-ideologization of its foreign policy.

Many participants at the conference agreed with Dr Noori that the so-called ideology-laced foreign policy has been unrealistic and has added to the problems being faced by the people. Dr Noori also pointed towards the fact that the policy of pursuing nuclear technology for Pakistan was good, adding though that terrorism and poverty, main issues of Pakistan, could not be fought with nuclear arms. One could not agree more with Dr Nuri’s assertion that ‘Arabization’ of Pakistani and its Pakhtun sub-culture had had its role in the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan.

Dr Babar Shah from Area Study Centre, University of Peshawar, during his presentation on Emerging Dynamics of Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations, maintained that radical shift has taken place in Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan in the post 9/11 period. Babar said that in the pre 9/11 period Pakistan’s policy about Afghanistan rested on promoting religious rightists or clerics; countering Pakhtoon nationalism emanating from Kabul, and to make Afghanistan a ‘strategic backyard’. He made an interesting point saying that Kabul’s accusation of cross-border terrorism from Pakistan meant that Kabul had come to recognize legitimacy of the Durand Line as a permanent border between the two countries.

Professor Zhao Rong from China, while making a presentation on Chinese Perspective on Pakistan’s Foreign Policy said that the world and regional powers must know that the security and stability of South Asian region depended on a strong Pakistan. To give an example of Pakistan’s diplomatic importance, the Chinese scholar called upon US and his own country (China) that both should not forget the historic role which Pakistan had played in bringing them together in the 1970s.

Professor Dr Savita Pande of Jawahar Lal Nehru University, India made a presentation on Indian Perspective on Pakistan’s Foreign Policy through video conferencing. He maintained that Pakistan never had a coherent foreign policy; rather it only had foreign relations with different states. She said due to this anomaly Pakistan’s policy has been a failure. The participation of an Indian scholar in a conference in Pakistan and that too on such a sensitive topic was indeed a welcome development. This should give Indians an idea that Pakistan is an open society.

The richness of the debate in the conference could be gauged from the fact that a large number of other national and international scholars not only presented papers but gave a lot of food for thought. Dr Janardan Raj Sharma from Nepal made a presentation on Pakistan’s regional role. Professor Rasul Bakhsh Rais from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) read a paper titled, Exploring Alternative Foreign Policy Paths for Pakistan from Nonsensical to Sensible; Mr Imdad Chandio from Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur, read a paper on Domestic Leftist Perspective on Pakistan Foreign Policy, and Ms Salma Malik, from Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, spoke about radicalization and its impact on Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Students of the University of Peshawar also fully participated in the debate on Pakistan’s foreign policy and asked some very critical and pertinent questions from experts. After hearing questions, observations and comments of students, who represent the new generation of educated Pakistani youth, it was clear that they were largely dissatisfied with the formulation, conduct, and objectives of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

It goes without saying that there is a need to hold more such debates and discussions on Pakistan’s foreign policy in different parts of the country. Collective wisdom of the people must give our rulers a policy direction. One expects that such conferences are also held in Balochistan.

The missing ingredient

Substandard agricultural inputs, or sheer absence of standard ones, have greatly damaged productivity

By Tahir Ali

Costliness and non-availability of farm-inputs are two main reasons for low agricultural productivity and farmers’ poverty in Pakistan. With wheat-sowing season underway, it is high time the government introduces a sound mechanism for easy, timely and cheaper provision of agriculture inputs to farmers, if it wants to ensure food security and develop agriculture in the country.

Establishment of village-based agriculture inputs/services centres (AICs) could help ensure vertical and horizontal increase in agricultural output and prosperity of farmers, farmers’ leaders say.

The president of the Kissan Board Pakistan, Murad Ali Khan, says agricultural inputs were the main headache of farmers throughout the year. "In times of need, they either disappear from the market or are too costly and unaffordable for the poor farmers. A robust system of availability and distribution for these is, therefore, the call of the hour. With the wheat sowing season underway, there could not be better time for advocating the set-up," he says.

"If implemented fully and efficiently, the revolutionary idea could solve all the agriculture related problems. It may provide cheap agriculture inputs and services. It may offer farmers guidance and marketing services for their outputs which in-turn would increase their incomes. What else farmers need," he asks.

Niamat Shah, the General Secretary of the Anjuman-e-Kashtkaran Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says farmers’ income could be substantially increased if quality seeds, fertilisers, machinery, pesticides and other services are given to farmers in time and on cheaper rates.

He says the AICs would be like agriculture utility stores which also would serve as store houses/marketing centres. "All agricultural inputs would be made available to the member farmers. The bodies will provide inputs, soft loans, guidance and training and other services to farmers on comparatively cheaper rates and in time. These are vital for capacity-building of farmers and are supposed to create linkages between farmers and public/private line departments and associations. The centres will also develop and fund some demonstration farms. The high yield of these farms will serve as incentives to other farmers," Shah claims.

AICs can be established on the basis of union councils or villages and will comprise all stakeholders in agriculture, i.e. farmers, livestock owners, agriculture department field assistant, patwaris, veterinary doctors, seeds/fertilizer industry and bank representatives.

To minimise the chances of corruption and wastage of resources, there should be oversight bodies over the local village-based chapters at the district and provincial level with membership in the same pattern.

"It will surely be a long and arduous process and as a first step towards the goal, the government should open a centre at each of the 986 union councils in the province. Then the bodies should be organised on Patwar halqa and ultimately on village basis to cover most of the farmers of the province. These centres must function under the supervision of the provincial agriculture department," he advocates.

Every AIC should have certified seed, fertiliser, pesticides and farm machinery, repair workshop, veterinary hospital, the latest information about various aspects of farming, branch of Zarai Traqiati Bank to disburse interest-free loans, a multimedia workshop, storage facility and a branch of insurance company for crop insurance.

Finances for the centres are likely to be the most pressing of problems. But the issue could be talked by taking some steps. Farmers should contribute a membership fee of at least Rs200 and another Rs800 as share money in the revolving funds of the bodies. This should be augmented by a matching grant by the government. This revolving fund will increase with the passage of time as the bodies will invest in agriculture inputs and services and earn money.

Farmers would also be provided training, guidance, credit facility to start businesses locally to earn more money for their families. Revenue collected from agriculture can/should also be spent on its development. Cooperative bank, that has been revived fortunately, should also fund the entities once these are established. Banks could also be asked to be a share-holder in the business.

The seeds research farms have developed high yielding wheat, maize and fruit and vegetable seeds but their timely and easy availability has always been a problem.

When quality seeds, fertilisers and pesticides are not available to farmers, they have to use substandard, often dangerous, inputs and are thus looted by the profit-hungry agriculture inputs mafia. This explains the low per acre yield in the province.

"How can farmers be blamed when they go for these non-quality seed which is available to them when they need it, while standard seeds are not available in the market or are costlier. The government has failed to streamline seeds distribution. It has not been able to check and crackdown on substandard seeds in the market," Shah says.

In villages, the government need not build huge buildings for the purpose. Houses available in plenty therein can be utilised for the purpose. "The AIPCs will surely help develop agriculture in the province. This will solve the farmers’ problem of easy and timely availability of agriculture inputs and services on the one hand. On the other, it will also change their farming from subsistence and outdated farming to commercial and modernised one when expert advices, machinery, and marketing support is provided by the bodies," says Sajjad Haider Khan, a farmer from Mardan.

The government and farming community seems oblivious of the expected potential shortage of seeds and fertilisers in coming months. As thousands of tonnes of wheat seeds and other inputs have been washed away by recent floods, there is an urgent need to procure and store substantial amount of the commodities in advance. The government should be able to provide these two basic inputs free of cost as farmers are in no position to pay.

It is a tragedy that there is no official mechanism to check the standard and rates of important agricultural inputs like fertilisers, seeds and pesticides. Thousands of employees of the agriculture department should be authorised to check the rates, quality, quantity and weight of different types of inputs.

Indo-US relations, a perspective

What the act of coming closer of the two countries has in store for Pakistan?

By Hussain H. Zaidi

It has become customary for the West to woo India for reasons chiefly economic and partly political. First, it was the British Prime Minister David Cameron, who during his visit to India in August this year declared that he wanted to make his country the "partner of choice" for New Delhi. And now Barack Obama, the President of the globe’s sole superpower, not only termed India-US relationship one of this century’s ‘defining partnerships’ but also declared his country’s support to India for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Given the familiar Pakistan-India antagonism, it is difficult to avoid flattering New Delhi without at the same time castigating Islamabad. Though Obama was more discreet than Mr Cameron in reproaching Pakistan, he did express his dissatisfaction with the pace of Islamabad’s fight against terrorism. More importantly, he did not criticize New Delhi for the human right situation in Kashmir and reiterated Washington’s position that Pakistan and India needed to sort out their problems bilaterally and that his country would mediate only if both parties consented to that. This is another way of ruling out any American mediation, because India does not want it.

Indo-US relations have come a long way from the suspicion of the Cold War days to the present strategic partnership. This is evident from the fact that out of five presidential visits from the US to India since 1947, when the latter got independence, three have been made during last one decade. In fact, all the three last American presidents, including the incumbent made it a point to visit India — a tribute to New Delhi’s growing international stature and its increasing importance for Washington.

It was President Bush who accepted India as a nuclear power when he sealed a nuclear cooperation deal with that country in 2008. And now Mr Obama wants to build on that relationship. No wonder, his three-day India trip was his longest visit to any country since taking over as American president.

The visit took place at a time when the world’s largest economy is struggling to come out of economic slump and is facing double-digit unemployment. In 2009, the US economy contracted by 2.6 percent and is projected to register a modest growth of 2.6 percent this year and 2.3 per cent next year (IMF’s World Economic Outlook October 2010).

By contrast, India is booming: the economy grew by 5.7 percent in 2009 and is projected to expand by 9.7 percent and 8.4 percent this year and next year respectively. Like a full purse, a rapidly growing economy is never short of friends, who want to cash on its trade and investment potential.

Hence, not surprisingly, the avowed purpose of Mr Obama’s visit to India, like that of Mr Cameron a few months back, was to seek opportunities for his country’s businesses and create jobs to help revive the economy. During the visit the two sides struck trade deals worth $10 billion that are likely to create 50,000 jobs.

Already, India-US economic and commercial relations are growing. Merchandise trade between the two countries has approached $46 billion, including $24.48 billion exports from the USA and $21.40 billion exports from India. In addition, the two countries have $22 billion trade in services. For India, the USA is a major trading partner accounting for 12 percent of the country’s global exports and 8 percent of its global imports.

Though US exports to India have nearly doubled during the last five years, India’s share in America’s global exports is only 1.8 percent, while America’s share in India’s global imports is about 7.5 percent. Given India’s strong economic growth, its status as the world’s second largest market, and liberalization of the economy, the US would like to push up its exports to India and take a larger pie of the Indian market.

Hence, before his visit to India, Obama had underlined the need for greater access to Indian market to boost America’s global exports as a means to create jobs and contain its huge current account deficit. In the USA, the economy plays a greater role than any other factor in shaping politics and Obama, who just before embarking on the Indian trip had suffered substantial losses in mid-term elections, knows that his re-election heavily depends on the economic performance of his administration.

The growing Indo-US ties reflect the present era of economic diplomacy in which a country’s position in the comity of nations is primarily determined by its economic and commercial strength and by and large economics takes precedence over politics in shaping inter-state relations. Hence, developing and sustaining a sound economy and securing and protecting economic interests abroad are the priority of governments’ internal and external policies respectively.

This explains why there is so much emphasis on forming blocs and concluding agreements for economic integration and promoting trade and investment.

Indo-US relations have a political dimension as well. The US wants to preserve the existing uni-polar global order based on the philosophy of liberalism, whose political expression is democracy and economic manifestation is free market economy.

The US realises that although it is the lone superpower, it cannot control world affairs independently. It needs regional partners or allies, particularly those believing in economic and political liberalism to control the world.

India is well-suited to play that role as acknowledged by Mr Obama himself in his address to Indian parliament when he said, "As the world’s two largest democracies, as large and growing free market economies, as diverse multi-ethnic societies with strong traditions of pluralism and tolerance, we have not only an opportunity, but also a responsibility to lead."

The US also claims Pakistan to be its strategic partner. However, the dynamics of Pak-America relations are fundamentally different from Indo-America’s. While the US interest in Islamabad consists mainly in the war on terror and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, New Delhi has a much larger role to play in Washington’s scheme of things as borne out by Obama’s quoted words.

That Pakistan cannot receive the same treatment from America as India does is hardly surprising as the two countries are on different scales economically and politically.

For the people…We have made historical changes in our country

By Zaman Khan

Subodh Raj Pyakurel carries with him a vast experience of working with development and human rights organisations in Nepal. He is Chairperson of Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) and Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA). Besides being Executive Member of South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR), Mr. Pyakurel is also Chairperson of Human Rights Home (HRH), and Convener of NEMA (National Election Monitoring Alliance) and NCICC (National Coalition for ICC), Nepal.

Mr. Pyakurel has also served as member of the National Monitoring Committee on Code of Conduct for Ceasefire (NMCC) formed by an agreement between the Nepal government and CPN (Maoist) to monitor human rights situation during the ceasefire by State and the CPN (Maoist) in 2006. He was appointed member of high level committee to monitor composite peace agreement and other political agreements. One of the Steering Committee Members of the National Human Rights Action Plan and Spokesperson of Bhutan Refugee Support Group (BRSG), Pyakurel was at the forefront to observe and monitor the Jana Andolan (People’s Movement)-II that overthrew the autocratic rule of the king in Nepal in April 2006. His role in motivating people and media from around the country to oppose King’s unconstitutional takeover in the year 2005 has been widely recognised and acclaimed.

Pyakurel has the experience of leading human rights movements in Nepal. He was elected as the National Council Member of the first national assembly of Forum for Protection of Human Rights (FOPHUR) in 1984 and Central Committee Member of Forum for Democratic and National Unity (FODENU) in 1985. Pyakurel holds a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA) from Tribhuvan University, Nepal and has acquired a Graduate Training Course on Financial Programme Management from Programme Planning Centre, Bradford University, United Kingdom. Pyakurel was recently in Lahore where The News on Sunday interviewed him. Excerpts follow:

The News on Sunday (TNS): What brings you to Pakistan?

Subodh Raj Pyakurel (SRP): I am here on behalf of Forum Asia to study and get acquainted with the matters related to minorities in Pakistan and to have discussions with local human rights defenders, engaged in ensuring justice to minorities in Pakistan.

TNS: What are your observations?

SRP: In Pakistan, misuse of blasphemy laws, especially the Ahmadis issue is really shocking. And, personally, I feel very sorry about the situation of women in Pakistan, though we have seen that Pakistan has an established judiciary. Criminalisation of politics has been a major challenge for human rights defenders in some situations. We have seen disappointment and frustration among human rights defenders.

TNS: State and non-state actors, in many parts of the world, are violating human rights. And they are doing that with impunity.

SRP: If you see the statistics most human rights abuses are committed by non-state rather than state actors and a new kind of ‘criminalisation’ has emerged. That emerged in desperation. The reason is that politics is not clear. Politicians don’t seem to believe in educating people.

TNS: In Nepal, you have had different experiences, from monarchy to democracy. Why is there an impasse?

SRP: People give mandate to a political party in such a manner that until and unless more than two parties come together it is not possible to promulgate the new constitution or write a new constitution. Now the political parties do not realise and understand the basic essence of a fractured mandate. One party most responsible among others is the Communist Party of Nepal Unified Maoist. Maoists do have 30 percent seats in the Constituent Assembly. So, they were allowed to lead the government. But at that time they could not run the government. Now they are demanding that they be again given a chance to lead the government.

TNS: Why did they (Maoist) resign in the first place? Do you think it was reasonable?

SRP: It was a very amateurish decision. As per our interim constitution, there is a provision relating to the army chief. The provision says that the cabinet decides firing or hiring army chief. It makes the decision and the decision is forwarded to the president. The president issues the letter. But the Maoists fired the army chief and sent a copy to the president and asked him to endorse it. So, the president wrote back a letter to the prime minister asking him to follow the constitutional process. On that account, they felt very much insulted and resigned.

TNS: Have they not realised the gravity of the situation?

SRP: Till now, we have not seen that they have realised or they have any intention to realize that. This is the 21st century. This is not the age of capturing state power by force as was done by Chinese or Russians or Koreans or Vietnamese. Because in those times there was a feeling that there shall be a class struggle; state will be captured and the party and the state will be amalgamated into each other. That does not apply in the present world. During the 19th century, they captured the state and the whole state was for the party but, in Nepal, the Maoist party is reviving the same pattern of party operation. All the members, right from the secretariat officials down to the bottom are monthly-paid cadres. From where does the party get money? The present state does not allow money from its coffers. This is the reason the Maoist party cadre is seen heavily engaged in extortion, in capturing tender notices, making unholy alliances with contractors, builders and suppliers and even stopping development projects where contractors have not paid them the money.

TNS: Can anti-democratic forces or monarchy stage a comeback?

SRP: I don’t think monarchy can come back again. Anti-democratic forces under the guise of utilising people’s sentiments can play foul in Nepal that is true. Nepal is sandwiched between two giant countries, China and India. Both would not like to see a destabilised Nepal.

TNS: Some people say India is the biggest hurdle for the Maoist government?

SRP: You see the question is that if we the people of our own country are united, can any neighbour intervene unnecessarily? That is not possible.

TNS: Are you an optimist as a human rights activist?

SRP: I am an optimistic because it is hardly four years since we ousted monarchy and were declared a republic. We have made historical changes in our country. This is the real transitional period. It takes some time for people to understand facts, to analyse the wisdom of the leaders. We do also belong to the 21st century and, most importantly, the Nepali civil society is very vibrant. They cannot be ignored. In the next six months, we must have a new constitution. If that is not promulgated, all parties shall be defamed and will fail. At the end, to save their own existence, they will certainly come together.

TNS: Don’t you think human rights activists have been neglecting economic rights?

SRP: Political parties do have an agenda based on caste discrimination or religious minorities but their actual agenda is to capture votes by appealing to the sentiments, and not to wisdom. I see human rights defenders quite engaged in raising awareness of the people. A person who is aware shall certainly assert for economic, cultural, and social rights.

TNS: Would you like to throw some light on the Accountability Watch Committee (AWC)?

SRP: AWC was established by some of us because in our country a culture of impunity has been the biggest hurdle. During the movement, all the political parties have a commitment that they will address the past crimes but after acquiring power they forget everything and past criminals usually become their partners. So, that is the biggest challenge.

TNS: Don’t you think all countries of South Asia need such kind of organisations?

SRP: This is true everywhere, not only in South Asia but for the entire world.

Fundamental shift

An indicator of successful implementation of human security paradigm would be a visible reduction in the gap between the haves and have-nots

Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri

It seems anything that can go wrong is going wrong for people of Pakistan. Security situation is getting worse; natural and man-made disasters are hitting it hard; inflation is at its peak; food and fuel price hike seems unmanageable; governance issues and stories of corruption are not only tarnishing the image of government but also weakening the writ of the state.

Continued increase in power tariff, proposed increase in gas tariff, introduction of new taxes, and hoarding of essential food items have turned the life of common persons miserable. What to talk of balanced and nutritious diet, vegetables and pulses — low budget diet — has also gone beyond the access of common Pakistani.

What would happen next? Every other person asks this question, while his/her respondent shrugs the shoulder and leaves everything to God. Frankly speaking, things were never shining in Pakistan. People have been facing crisis after crisis since inception of this country. However, the major difference is that distribution of the effect of these crises has turned much skewed now.

Few among 180 million Pakistanis find the system bowing to their feet. Their wishes and desires become the order of the day and that too at the cost of sufferings of the vast majority. Flood changes its course to save their properties and lands; merits get tailored to adjust their candidature; prices of essential commodities are allowed to soar till their stocks get sold; they always escape from taxation and effect of inflation.

Irrespective of the fact whether they are in power or in the opposition, whether in service or retired, these few can really testify that Pakistan is a gift for them. That is why they always get invited to certain places and that too on special flights at state expenses while many million Pakistani Muslims can never see their wish to perform Hajj coming true in their life time. Hajj is a big thing, ordinary Pakistani Muslims had nothing to offer as sacrifice at the event of Eid-ul-Azha this year.

Deprivation, poverty, social exclusion, food insecurity and helplessness when gets an identity — whether creed, ethnic, provincial, national, or gender — immediately leads to class conflict. I am referring to clash between haves and have not. The clash between those privileged few and majority of non-privileged who are forced by the system to serve the formers. This clash turns the system to work on auto-destruction mode.

One keeps on criticising the role of external actors and factors in creating the messy situation that Pakistan is facing today. The war on terror, heavy influence of American interests on our national agenda, ineffective foreign policy, uncomfortable relations with neighbours, role of the IMF and other multilateral financial institutions on shaping Pakistan’s economic agenda, etc., all are realities that have been affecting the country (negatively) since long. However, one cannot simply shift the blame on externalities.

One’s own house has to be in order to reduce the effect and influence of external factors. Functional democracy and good governance is a prerequisite to bring the house in order. The only difference that I see between the four army dictators and all democratically elected governments is that army dictators tried to pretend democrats after taking over power, while democratically elected rulers turn dictators after reaching power corridors. None of them ever believed in collective wisdom. None of them can bear a difference of opinion and all of them shun independent voices of sanity. Thus, the gulf between the ruling class (read haves) and commoners (read have nots) gets widened and deeper with every passing day.

Policy-reality disconnect has gone to an extent where agriculture minister denies existence of any food insecurity problem in Pakistan and information minister preaches the people to stop consuming sugar to bring its price down. However, all the ministers are not living in Utopia; at least some ministers are more courageous than agriculture and information ministers and admit the existence of problems. Unfortunately, they are always quick in promising that everything would be perfect overnight. Interior Minister keeps on claiming that target killing would come to an end and law and order situation would be perfect within a fortnight while power minister keeps on giving good news to overcome the power deficit problems very soon. So much so, the opposition too keeps on giving last chance to the government to mend its affairs. Alas, amidst these missed deadlines there is no let-up in common person’s miseries.

What can be done differently? There is a lot that needs to be done to save the system in Pakistan from self-destruction. However, one of the most important things is to enhance resilience and coping capacities among masses against internal and external uncertainties. The priority should be to enable the people to meet minimum basic requirements of life.

In order to do so, we would have to think of a new development paradigm, a paradigm that should revolve around human development and individual security. An indicator of successful implementation of human security paradigm would be a visible reduction in the gap between haves and have not which in turn keeps the societal fabric intact and hold us as a nation together. Failure in bringing this paradigm shift can lead to a situation where no one would be able to save the "haves" from the wrath of "have-nots".

The PDF premise

By Dr Sania Nishtar
Pakistan Development Forum (PDF) 2010 was convened at a time of unparallelled challenges – with several macroeconomic issues, a grinding fiscal crunch, competing priorities for resource allocations, an energy crisis, ongoing war, relentless insurgency, and an unprecedented need for resources in the aftermath of the worst disaster on this planet in recent history, characterising the country’s needs. Within this context, pronouncements at the forum highlighted some windows of opportunity on the margins of these significant challenges. This comment alludes to six in particular, emphasising that stronger stewardship is needed to reap the potential within these opportunities.
The first is about development assistance itself, given that the PDF is the key forum, which determines priorities for allocating development assistance in Pakistan. In this regard, commitment of the international community to express their solidarity with Pakistan is appreciable, specially since many donors are recovering themselves from the ravages of a recession and have many competing priorities at home for which they are answerable to their taxpayers. Commitments have been made despite donor fatigue and we hope pledges will be realised.
Let us not forget though that both donors as well as Pakistan’s economic managers need to learn lessons from past mistakes in relation to the use of development assistance. During the past three decade-long surges in aid (1960s, 1980s, and 2001 onwards), use of aid as a foreign policy tool by donors and the lack of attention on part of successive governments to use aid strategically for productive assets that could generate resources necessary to pay back loans and the use of resources in ways that contributed to dependency were major mistakes. In this regard, there are many immediate questions in view of the commitments being made to provide assistance “on budget”. Aid is flowing into Pakistan under various policy and contractual norms and instruments under the rubric of grants, humanitarian, military and development assistance and debt-swaps; it is imperative that these are strategically harnessed.
Secondly, on a positive note, there appears to be an emphasis on systemic reform and on the need to tackle corruption alongside discussions on aid and revenue mobilisation. However, the importance of transparency-promoting reform in terms of structuring a set of institutional parameters needs to be clearly spelt out. Tackling corruption should not be about a set of coercive politically motivated and individually targeted measures, as has generally been the case in Pakistan under various administrations. It should be about institutionalising systems and structures, which eliminate opportunities in the first place. Work on such structures was initiated in the past on several occasions but could not be sustained and therefore, wasn’t fully institutionalised. The lack of commitment within the system to sustain reform is an important constraint in this regard. Incoming governments in Pakistan have the tendency to undo programmes initiated by past governments in the interest of political expediency without regard for the value lost in the process. This trend has been detrimental for some of the projects which could have helped strengthen processes and systems of the executive with reference to building anticorruption safeguards. There is an opportunity to accord higher priority to this now in view of increasing demand and the consequent support that this is likely to get from various constituencies. The recent advent of judicial activism around anticorruption, an open media which is playing a pivotal role in highlighting institutional fault-lines and unearthing scams, the potential that exists to partner with civil society in the calls for greater transparency, and donors for whom transparency has become a sine qua non, particularly with reference to the use of Kerry-Lugar resources, are notable in this regard.
Thirdly, it is a sign of responsibility that Pakistan is taking proactive steps to mobilise indigenous resources through the reformed GST, finally announced at the PDF. Although the government’s economic managers have capacity to technically plan this reform and there is acceptance of the approach by technocrats in opposition factions, the street and political sentiment will not be supportive, businesses that come within its net will fight it tooth and nail and the reform may become a subject of political point-scoring. Opposing political factions are already pointing in particular to the lack of attention to widening the tax net and taxing the exempt sectors and the rationale behind committing to the IMF without parliament’s approval, which reinforces the impression that the parliament is, in effect, a rubber stamp. It is important that the government takes the public into confidence about the imperatives for this levy, the circumstances under which it was negotiated, the constraints, which led the economic team to commit without parliament’s approval and measures which are being taken to ensure that the common man and the poor are outside of the remit of this levy.
In the fourth place, it is encouraging that expenditure management and fiscal discipline were recognised as mainstream concerns at the PDF. Establishment of the committee on budgetary oversight, stipulations governing supplementary grants, and an amended State Bank Act which places limits on government borrowing, are positive steps indeed. However, ensuring compliance with such stipulations in an environment where circumventing procedures has become a norm will be a challenge. It is also a welcome trend that economic managers themselves are talking about the massive Rs 623 billion loss from public sector enterprises, and are tabling plans to cut back expenses in that arena through various policy choices. These reforms will be painful indeed as massive layoffs may be necessitated and it remains to be determined how that can come about in a context where the government is resorting to massive job reinstatements in these very organisations through legislative enactments in the name of upholding employees’ rights citing past layoffs as victimisation.
Point five relates to the importance of mainstreaming the role of provinces in the process of development and getting them to own their development agenda, which is just the right step after devolving responsibilities in the provincial domain under the 18th constitutional amendment and the new federal fiscal formula. But expectations have to be tempered by the realities of provincial stewardship capacities and fiscal discipline and knowledge of the fact that provincial competence in the area of agenda-setting, determining priorities and visionary planning are weak. These critical gaps in capacity will have to be bridged as a priority.
Lastly, one understands policymakers’ preoccupation with big ticket issues in grappling with the macro-economy and getting it back on track. Those of us with interest in social outcomes do understand that the benefits of broad based growth in accruing social benefits far outweigh the advantages of isolated social sector piecemeal interventions and are, therefore, supportive of attention to these areas. Nevertheless, the lack of attention to the social sector, per se, from a programmatic standpoint in this year’s PDF has been glaring. It is hoped that due attention would been accorded to areas that need reshaping in view of the recently reorganised landscape of social sector-related responsibilities in Pakistan’s federating system and that some long overdue critical policy decision would soon be made in this space.
The author is the founding president of the NGO thinktank, Heartfile.

Nov 18, 2010

No room for terrorism in Islam: G Mufti

Grand Mufti of Saudi Arab Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh said Islam is based on justice and equity, which admits of no terrorism, extremis and injustice, Geo News reported Monday.

Delivering Hajj sermon at Nmira Mosque at Mount Arafat, he said Allah Almighty endowed us with hosts of blessings and boons; guidance of Islam is one of them, adding Islam is not a theoretical religion; instead, it is a practicable deen (code of conduct).

He said Islam impresses upon its followers to take better care of their families and societies. Islam has discrete ways of worshipping Allah and among them are, five-time prayers, fasting, zakat, charities and calling on people to do good and avoid bad.

Islam forbids markup altogether and prohibits extravagance, as it is a deen of moderation, he said. Grand Mufti of Saudi Arab stressed Islam intensely condemns terrorism and extremism, and that it warns strict punishment for those who unjustifiably spill blood and spread mischief on earth.

Sending divine revelations and raising the Prophets was meant for spending the message of Allah’s oneness; and this succession of guidance for human being is in progress, he said.

The Grand Mufti said Allah sent the Last and Final Prophet (peace be upon him) with complete code of conduct and this (shariah) is in harmony with human nature, as it caters to all man’s natural and material needs. Human inner being (nafs) excites him to do evil.

The Grand Mufti said the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) presented a comprehensive concept of ibadat.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh said Allah Almighty conferred men with reason and consciousness so that he can differentiate between good and bad. We should respect each other.

After the midterms

Dr Maleeha Lodhi
The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.
When the economy is in trouble, voters exact their revenge on those in power. This is what happened in America's midterm Congressional elections in which the Republican Party seized control of the House of Representatives and reduced the Democrats' majority in the Senate to a sliver.
A humbled President Barack Obama acknowledged that public frustration with the slow pace of recovery produced the drubbing at the polls. With one in ten people out of a job, the electoral outcome was inevitably determined by the anaemic state of the economy.
The Republicans saw their tidal victory as empowering them to roll back Obama's policies – especially on healthcare – while the president cast the vote as disillusionment with the pace, and not the substance, of his agenda. This clashing interpretation of the mandate presaged a bitter confrontation ahead between the Republicans and the White House.
It would be a mistake to read the setback for President Obama as an irreversible weakening of his position that dooms his chances for re-election in 2012. President Bill Clinton faced a similar challenge at the mid-point of his first term when the Republican electoral onslaught in 1994 handed the party control of both chambers of Congress. But he used the gridlock caused by the opposition to win voters to his side and make a comeback that secured him another term.
Of course, a significant difference between then and now is that Clinton's resurrection came on the back of a thriving economy, while Obama has much to do before a febrile economy turns around.
Nevertheless, he has an opportunity to reset his presidency and fashion a mid-course correction that includes explaining his policies better and reconnect with the American people who, polls suggest, find his leadership aloof and detached. That he got little credit for preventing a deeper recession has much to do with his administration's inability to effectively project its measures.
His political fortunes will also depend on how the Republicans wield their newly won Congressional authority. If they engage in obstructive and hyper-partisan politics, as former House speaker Newt Gingrich did in the Clinton years, rather than cooperate in governing, this could help Obama plot a comeback.
President Obama isn't the only one under pressure. The Republican leadership has to respond to pressure from the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement. A challenge that will preoccupy the Republican establishment is managing this populist movement that reflects voter anger but has no positive agenda other than an anti-taxation and anti-government spending platform.
What about the impact of the Congressional elections on the conduct of US foreign policy? Will the transformed political landscape constrain Obama's freedom to manoeuvre? Can divided government in Washington make foreign policy less predictable?
The election was entirely about domestic issues. The outcome therefore has a much greater bearing on domestic public policy than on foreign affairs.
Moreover, foreign policy is primarily an executive prerogative. Congress has a voice when its implementation relates, say, to war spending, foreign aid or treaty ratification. It can also call hearings and generate pressure by shifting emphasis and setting different priorities. The opposition can ensure tougher Congressional oversight of spending overseas, including on war. But the president formulates foreign policy.
There is bipartisan consensus on major foreign policy issues which limits the impact that electoral and political shifts have on America's foreign relations.
This does not mean that election outcomes have no implications for foreign policy. These can be indirect and fuel uncertainty about its conduct.
One consequence could be less focus on foreign relations as President Obama concentrates on the pressing task of improving both the economy and his chances to win another term. But usually when presidents find themselves blocked at home, they look to the world stage to play global statesman.
President Obama could well pay more attention to foreign relations if he saw this as a promising avenue to show leadership and make a difference. President Clinton, for example, turned to Middle East diplomacy when he found himself stymied at home.
A degree of uncertainty has already been engendered about certain areas of US foreign policy, including, importantly, Afghanistan. This comes at a pivotal moment for the fate of America's Afghan mission with two key timelines looming: the December review of strategy and the July 2011 deadline for American troops to start pulling out from Afghanistan.
Preparations for the review are already underway in the US administration, as are consultations with key allies. The question is whether new complications have been injected into this process by the Republican surge. Given the in-house divisions over policy – laid bare in Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars – will the shift in the balance of power in Washington affect the course and conclusion of this review?
It is much too early to say. But among the imponderables that will now be in play is a House Republican majority whose members have been critical in the past of the July 2011 timetable. They can be expected to support the stance of the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen David Petraeus, who apparently wants more time for the military surge to work. He has recently been offering rather upbeat assessments of the war to position himself for the review.
Sen John McCain recently warned Obama against a hasty exit. A Republican Congressman tipped to be the new chairman of the Armed Services Committee sharply criticised the July 2011 deadline, even as another top member indicated that his party will not try to amend that date.
On the other hand, as many moderate Democrats lost the election, President Obama will have to contend with the more liberal party members who want a quicker drawdown and a speedier end to a war that is increasingly unpopular with the public.
President Obama will have to respond to these conflicting pressures as he also struggles to reconcile the polarised positions of his civilian national security team that evidently wants to start transitioning to a political strategy, and the military which wants time to step up operations to improve its bargaining position for eventual talks with the insurgents.
Just when a shift was beginning in the administration's attitude towards considering negotiations to find a political end to the war, hawkish Republicans can put the president on the defensive and be a brake on efforts in this direction.
It will need a more resolute and determined president than Obama has been to stand his ground in the face of potentially hard-line views from hawks in the opposition. It is to be seen whether the midterm outcome makes him more cautious in determining the Afghan endgame, or more decisive. His heart does not seem to be in the war. But can he demonstrate the political courage to switch course at a time when the Republicans will be looking for every opportunity to assail him?
If in Washington's changed political terrain the review yields a compromise that delays shifting the focus from military escalation to a strategy of political accommodation, this would set back prospects for a negotiated and an early end to the war – to the discomfort of many of America's allies. Any prolonged pursuit of the Petraeus-directed military surge would jeopardise, if not compromise, the chances of a political solution that Washington acknowledges will be needed to bring the Afghan conflict to a close.
The Obama administration knows that continuing an unwinnable war that costs America $100 billion a year is unsustainable, especially in such dire economic times. It must also know that there are inevitable tradeoffs between fixing the economy and waging wars that have already cost America over a trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Before he embarked on his Asian tour, President Obama wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in which he linked his foreign policy to his country's economic recovery. Rebuilding the economy, he said, meant finding markets and exporting more. Ending wars that have contributed to his country's huge deficit must surely be a priority in this effort.

Regional financial cooperation

Dr Ashfaque H Khan
In my last article (on Nov 2) I discussed the agenda of the forthcoming G20 Summit in Seoul. In this article, I will be discussing the views of the Asia-Pacific region for the Summit. The Republic of South Korea, the host country, took the initiative to invite ESCAP and other regional commissions of the United Nations to convey the perspectives of non-G20 countries on the Summit agenda.
Asia-Pacific has emerged as the growth-pole of the world economy. After growing strongly for a decade, this region was hit hard by events for which it was not responsible. Consequently, the region paid a heavy price in terms of loss of incomes and human suffering. Notwithstanding the shockwaves, the Asia-Pacific region continued to perform robustly even in the midst of crisis. Rebalancing global growth will dominate the G-20 Summit in Seoul. The region will be asked to rely heavily on domestic demand, particularly on consumption. Does this region consist of homogenous countries?
Like global imbalances, such imbalances also persist in the region, notably between the economies of the East and the South-East and those of South Asia. The region itself has large socio-economic and development gaps. Although the region has grown strongly on a sustained basis and succeeded in bringing millions of people out of poverty, it is still home to over 950 million people living below the poverty line ($1.25 per day). Development has also been uneven across sub-regions and between countries. This is also reflected in progress towards achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) where South-East Asia leads the way while South Asian economies lag behind. Similar gaps are also witnessed in infrastructure development.
Thus, this region itself needs a rebalancing of growth and the bridging of gaps in socio-economic and infrastructural development.
The current crisis has provided some food for thought and there are lessons to be learnt in order to avoid such a crisis in the future. One such lesson centres on the need for the promotion of new sources of growth that will compensate for the weak demand from the developed world. This requires a rebalancing of the region's economies in favour of domestic consumption and exploiting of the potential regional demand. With over $5 trillion of foreign exchange reserves, the region now has the ability to foster a major programme of investing in itself.
Over the past decade, many countries in the region have accumulated large foreign exchange reserves, providing some self-insurance against external shocks. The tendency to accumulate large reserves has its roots in more fundamental deficiencies of the international monetary and reserve system. The need for self-insurance can be reduced with a more effective mechanism for liquidity provisioning and reserve management at regional and international levels.
The dynamism of the Asian-Pacific economies requires that the region devise comprehensive regional financial cooperation arrangements. The recent crisis highlighted the lack of financial tools at the regional level, over and above those in the hands of national governments. While some countries have built up sufficient reserves to protect themselves, others have experienced challenges as they had no recourse to regional resources for assistance. A regional financial architecture, performing the role of lender of first recourse, is the need of the hour.
The region now has a window of opportunity to press forward with a truly effective regional financial institution to foster monetary and financial cooperation. Let this institution be known as the Asian Monetary Fund (AMF). The Asian Development Bank is working side by side with the World Bank and supplementing its effort as a development partner. The AMF can work side by side with the IMF in promoting regional and global financial stability.
Additional food for thought arises from the region's excessive dependence on the dollar as reserve currency. Many countries in the region witnessed loss in the value of the dollar because of its depreciation against the major currencies. Within the ambit of the Asian financial cooperation, a regional currency arrangement could serve as a building block for an additional global reserve currency.
Many countries around the world believe that the dollar-based monetary system is not in their interest and are calling for reform. Let the Asian Drawing Rights (ADR) or Asian Currency Unit (ACU) with major Asian currencies like Chinese Yuan, Japanese Yen and Korean Won serve as regional reserve currency along with dollar and euro.
As stated earlier, there exist large gaps in the levels of infrastructure development in the region. To bridge the gap as well as to sustain strong, balanced and 'inclusive growth', investment in infrastructure will go a long way in regional development. Given its nearly $5 trillion of reserves, the region can establish an Infrastructure Development Fund managed by a regional institution. The pooling of reserves could help the region meet its infrastructural needs.
The Asia-Pacific region is still home to close to a billion poor. Lifting them out of poverty is a collective responsibility of the richer countries of the region. With close to $5 trillion in reserves, the region can take an initiative in establishing a Microfinance Bank, through which the income of the poor could be increased. This would help the poor come out of poverty, improve their nutrition level and educate their children. Thus, a Regional Microfinance Bank is the need of the hour as the poor are excluded from the formal financial sector and from the services of commercial banks.
Enhanced regional cooperation in financial system should not be seen as demeaning the importance of existing international financial institutions. Rather it should be seen as complementing the efforts of existing international financial institutions. This would also help in coordinating policy and providing the perspective of the Asia-Pacific region on global economic issues at different forums like the G-20.

Why Obama is skipping Pakistan

Mosharraf Zaidi
Most of the Pakistani response to the visit by President Barack Obama to India seems to be of the sour-grapes variety. These sour grapes are the fruit of Pakistan's intoxication with regional parity. Pakistanis are upset, even jilted, that the recently humbled President Obama is visiting India, and not paying Pakistan a visit on the same trip. Surely, we jest.
There's something exceptionally problematic about the misplaced Pakistani pride that expects the United States to treat Pakistan in the same manner that it treats India. Pakistan is a net-consumer of American taxpayer benevolence. India is a net-contributor to the American taxpayers' bottom-line. What part of "more money" is so difficult for the Pakistani nationalist elite to understand? Perhaps some numbers will help populate the imagination.
Pakistan has the injuriously infamous Kerry Lugar Bill of course, which is a $1.5 billion gift from American taxpayers to the Pakistani elite, to help purchase the things that the Pakistani elite should be paying for-bridges, schools and other brick-and-mortar infrastructure that contractors across the country will find much harder to scam than they would like.
At the "strategic dialogue" this past month of course, Pakistan was also able to secure a promise from the ever-weakening Democratic administration, that it would seek an additional $2 billion in military funding for Pakistan, from a House of Representatives that is fresh from a set of victories for the Jamaat-e-Tea faction of the Hizb-e-Republicans.
So this friendship between America and Pakistan (regardless of what it has cost Pakistan), potentially costs the American taxpayer a cool $3.5 billion a year in cash and military hardware.
To get a look at some of the things President's Obama's entourage will be doing in India-other than horrendous (though very cute) attempts to seem like they are down with Bollywood-we turn to the excellent reporting of Paul Beckett (Wall Street Journal) and Alister Bull (Reuters). Their summaries of business deals on Obama's agenda include:
$917 million for Bucyrus International, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer, to sell mining equipment to Sasan Power in Madhya Pradesh for a 3,960 megawatt powerplant.
$2.7 billion for Boeing to supply 30 Boeing 737s to the plethora of Indian airlines that have helped transport tens of millions of creative, innovative and risk-loving Indian entrepreneurs around their country.
$4.5 billion to $5.8 billion for the purchase of 10 C-17 aircraft, as well as hundreds of engines and spare parts for the Indian military.
$50 million for Caterpillar to supply marine engines to the Indian Coast Guard.
$800 million for General Electric to supply fighter jet engines to the Indian Aeronautical Development Agency for a light combat aircraft for India.
$500 million for General Electric to supply super heavyweight gas turbine engines for Reliance Energy.
These deals alone are worth more than $10 billion in total transactions, with the cash heading from India to the shores of the recession-prone American economy that can't seem to create jobs without someone's benevolence. They do not include some of the massive deals for which dollar figures are not public, because they are deals between private sector companies in both countries.
One of the most promising potential deals is the one between the Tata Group and two firms, Eaton and Cummins. Together these companies have developed the already in-operation Hybrid Tata Starbus-which was used at the Commonwealth Games to transport players to and from venues. Potential contracts for this kind of bus will be in the thousands, with New Delhi alone looking to add 6,000 vehicles to its public sector transportation network.
Another potential deal for India's transportation sector that has yet to be finalised is the purchase of 4,000 state-of-the-art diesel engines, worth at least $4 billion by Indian Railways, from either GE or Caterpillar.
The total value of these deals is one thing. The total number of jobs these deals will produce in the United States is another. Obama Administration officials are confident that the deals will deliver at least 50,000 jobs for manufacturers in the US.
So just to recap the numbers here, Pakistan is a country that the United States is paying $3.5 billion in total, because without this money Pakistan threatens to go Talibankrupt. That $3.5 billion is going to come from the American taxpayers' paycheck. Its money they're forced to pay because of the gullibility and guilt of centrist American politicians.
In contrast, India is a country that is going to spend more than $10 billion to buy American goods and services, and in that process, will help create 50,000 jobs, and the paychecks that go with them.
Now ask yourself which country is going to get special treatment? That melody in the distance is the sound American violins playing Vande Mataram.
Of course, none of this means that the US-India romance is righteous. It is what it is. The flowery rhetoric of shared values between the US and India are cute-but America will not and cannot treat Oregon the way India has treated, is treating and will continue to treat Kashmir. The closest thing the US has to a domestic insurgency is Keith Olbermann's moral uprightness, or the Tea Party's commitment to making sure rich people don't have to pay taxes. India has a Naxalite problem that is fully and wholly existential in nature. America is a fully grown organism, as nation-states go. India is still growing into its own clothes, and into its rightful place on the world stage.
Picking at India's soft underbelly is for the bitter and the out of touch. It is hardly constructive or relevant to the Pakistani condition. The only relevant lessons from the Obama visit to India are the ones to be gleaned from the deals being made.
It is unfortunate that Pakistan's deeply polarised national discourse is so obsessed with identity. This political piñata of identity has always been exploited by both ends of the spectrum, sucking out all the air from the discourse and leaving no space for talking about the economy or jobs. Thanks to 9/11, it is now the overwhelmingly dominant lens for foreign policy (India, Afghanistan, America etc.), for social services (education curriculum, population control etc.) and even for technology (Facebook bans, "media Taliban" etc.).
All the while, there are mouths to feed, money to be earned, deals to be made. While we drown in the inanities of this country's infinite and perpetual search for identity, we are deepening our current bankruptcy, and ensuring a future of mostly begging for handouts. Obama next stops are South Korea, Indonesia and Japan. The reason he is not visiting Pakistan is obvious. Pakistan does not belong on that list of countries. And that is not India's fault.

Nov 14, 2010

In the name of democracy

Participants at a national conference raise their voice in support of the democratic process

By Waqar Gillani

Media and civil society of Pakistan once again came together to show their commitment for setting a new agenda for continuity of democratic process and bringing peace and prosperity in the country through long term people-centric policies.

Media professionals from across the country met at South Asian Free Media Association's (SAFMA's) National Conference at Islamabad last week. They resolved to safeguard the democratic and constitutional set-up, which envisages the freedom of expression and an independent judiciary.

Journalists, politicians, and civil society activists resolved to respecting the will of the people and rejecting conspiracies aimed at creating political chaos and bringing undemocratic and unconstitutional changes.

The interesting part of the conference was criticism of the media by members of media. They called for a self mechanism for media accountability and demanded the owners and the state to evolve a transparent and accountable system to run the growing media industry to stop all types of exploitation.

SAFMA, along with leading journalists, intellectuals and civil society leaders, from the platform of Citizens for Democracy, called upon all the institutions and stakeholders to say no to any undemocratic and unconstitutional change while emphasizing the urgency to evolve a national agenda to tackle the crises being faced of the state.

Asma Jahangir, leading human rights activist and the newly-elected president of Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), stressed on the need for people-centric agenda and policies. She gave eight points to set the new agenda that include: a pluralistic and democratic society where civilian control should prevail; realisation that there is no prosperity without peace, and improved good governance at all levels including judiciary, government, executive, and political parties.

Khaled Ahmad, prominent journalist and analyst, demanded for removing the contradictions and double standards from within the foreign policy to make the country able to get rid of terrorism and improve its economy and image at the global level. "Currently, Pakistan seems to be isolated and without any friends on the globe because of its India and military-centric foreign policy where the civilians have no role." He condemned the attacks and torture on journalists and exploitation of media organisations when they expose double standards.

The conference showed concern about institutional, financial, and societal crises in a terrorism-ridden country reeling under the unprecedented havoc caused by floods. It showed alarm at the political uncertainty, reinforcing hopelessness and chaos, due to an ongoing power-struggle among various institutions of the state. The conference took serious exception to any moves aimed at bringing undemocratic and unconstitutional changes and overstepping institutions of the state.

The speakers expressed dismay at the deteriorating quality of governance at various institutions of the state. They highlighted the inconsistency of policies in eradicating terrorism and the insistence on keeping sanctuaries of terrorism as so-called "strategic assets".

Participants of the conference raised their voice against the alienation, deprivation and sufferings of the Baloch people. They also empathised with the common man over rising inflation and hardships being faced by them, especially those affected by floods and terrorism. The participants showed their disappointment over the absence of new media laws, including laws on information, electronic media and Press Council Law.

Media professionals taking part in the conference also condemned killings, torture and victimization of working journalists by various state and non-state actors, non-implementation of the Seventh Wage Board Award, and lack of protection and insurance coverage for journalists reporting from conflict zones. They reiterated full faith in constitutional, democratic and representative system that ensures freedom and fundamental rights, an independent judiciary, a free and responsible media and, above all, sovereignty of the people reflected through federal and provincial legislatures.

The conference also emphasised the need for evolving a broad national consensus among all stakeholders on major national issues, such as (a) terrorism, (b) economy (macro-economic policy, state corporations, taxation, non-development expenditure, energy, rehabilitation and reconstruction of flood and terrorism affected), (c) foreign policy, (d) national security and neighbours; crisis of Balochistan and (e) transparent and accountable governance and across the board accountability.

Hassan Askari Rizvi, a leading political analyst, said the new agenda argues that the Constitution of Pakistan must be implemented and followed in a letter and spirit by all players because that would improve prospects for democracy in Pakistan. "All players have to show restraint rather than each player cultivating an aura of self-righteousness and assuming a self ascribed responsibility of rectifying the ills in the rest of society," he said, adding, "Therefore, media has a role to provide information and analysis to the people for making an informed political judgment."

Rizvi was of the view that media should not appear to be propagandist, sensational and one-sided. According to Rizvi, at the moment the society, including political forces, is highly polarized on major issues and that they need to work within the framework of the constitution and resolve their political matters through the parliament rather than through non-elected institutions.

Speakers at the conference called upon all organs of the state to work within the parameters of the constitution and frustrate any effort aimed at bringing in a change through undemocratic and unconstitutional means. They urged all the institutions to respect each others' legitimate constitutional space, people's mandate, and ensure the independence of judiciary, media and transparent and accountable governance. They called upon all major political parties and stakeholders to sit together to evolve a national agenda.

They reiterated their view that the state must extend its full writ to every nook corner of its territory and stop any armed outfit from operating from its soil against its own citizens and neighbors.

The conference also expected of the government to continue respecting media freedom in response to the media observing professional ethics, objectivity and neutrality.

The Draft Information Act proposed by SAFMA in collaboration with various stakeholders should be adopted by the parliament to empower people. PEMRA Law should be replaced by the Draft PEMRA Law and Press Council should be formed as proposed by SAFMA. They also held the view that government agencies should avoid the temptation of being selective in granting advertisements to pressurize any section of the media.

The participants were unanimous in their views about the implementation of Seventh Wage Board Award and formation of 8th and 9th Wage Board Awards. They said there should be an end to illegal retrenchment of journalists. They urged on law enforcement agencies that killers of journalists and those who harass media persons must be brought to book. In the same way, they said, journalists working in conflict regions should be provided protection and insurance coverage.

SAFMA Pakistan also planned to initiate a public discourse on the abovementioned national agenda. It plans to convene a national conference to facilitate broader consensus among civil society members from the platform of Citizens for Democracy

Another approach to life

Climate change has the potential to destabilise politics, both at the domestic and international level

By Riaz Missen

A report of the World Bank in 2005 highlighted the grave consequences of building dams and reducing the bed of meandering rivers on ecology and environment of the Indus Valley. It terms Pakistan a water-stressed country. The situation has become even worse since the population has increased manifold but the volume of available water has drastically reduced. The report, while stressing that no additional water can be made available to cater to the growing needs of Pakistan, suggested rational use of this gift of nature as the only remedy.

Though meagre budgetary allocations for environment speak volumes about the neglect which this sector is subjected to, going by the level of awareness among the parliamentarians and the concerned minister, hope about change for good may survive. After all, this was the Lower House where a resolution was submitted by 43 of its members suggesting the government to propose India for the joint management of Himalayan watershed given the consequences the fast melting of glacier can bring for both of the entire South Asian region. One does not know whether the foreign ministry has even taken note of the above-mentioned resolution or not.

Climate change has the potential to destabilise politics, both at the domestic and international national level. Just think about the rising temperature that is bringing seasonal changes. Violent rains, floods and droughts are essential features of the phenomenon. Crop patterns and human settlements may also change. People may be dislocated both due to excess or scarcity of water. Monsoon rains may hit new regions and abandon the lower ones. Over all, the entire situation may come so complicated that country's integrity may be endangered by climate change.

During some upcoming years we may witness the increasing body of water rushing and gushing down Himalayas and reaching Arabian Sea with a lightening speed -- destroying crops and homes and killing people and livestock. Even the Hakra River (this year it flowed), as mighty as Indus but dead since centuries, may revive; the Sutlej River may also change route and rejoin Hakra. Future years may witness droughts, less rains, and no melting glaciers.

The government, for sure, has to take up remedial measures to cope with change in climate. Fortunately, infrastructure is there. Strict implementation of environmental laws constitutes essentials of good governance. Devolution of power is another. More than these steps is reformulation of the development policy so that it confirms to the environmental requirements. Use of poison in agriculture needs to be strictly banned and the industrial units have to be forced to abandon the law. The untreated industrial effluent not only contaminates soil and water but also inflicts huge damage to human health.

It is a myth that Pakistan can't have additional water. At least it is not true in terms of catering to the agricultural needs. Wastewater, which constitutes 32 MAF, goes waste every year. This water can be tapped and treated through the safest method known as bioremediation. The inputs (aquatic plants and microbes) are indigenously available and no equipments are needed to be imported at inflated price.

If the government becomes committed enough to make available to the country 32 MAF water, local and provincial governments may initiate and complete projects on a priority basis. The metropolitans, union councils and housing societies across the country may initiate projects to prevent the sewage water falling into canals and rivers.

Actually, a model project has been completed at Islamabad by National Institute of Bioremediation by diverting the sewage of Chak Shahzad to National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC). The project has been completed in less than one year and wastewater it has treated is being utilised for the cultivation of about 500 acres of barren land.

If the model project is implemented with sincerity in Pakistan, only Lahore produces annually the water that is enough to fill Tarbela Dam in full capacity. The additional benefit of trapping wastewater and bioremediating it will be of drastically cutting down the health budget due to reduction in waterborne diseases the wastewater causes every year. According to estimates, about 114 billion rupees are spent annually to treat patients who, one way or the other, become the victim of pollution in soil and water bodies due to non-treatment of sewage water and industrial effluent.

It is worth mentioning that the 50 percent agricultural needs are being met through pumping out ground water which is dangerous for the aquifers of the dry region, particularly those where there are less rains and water channels (Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej) have ceased to carry floods. Pumping may contaminate water which may cause a number of diseases among human beings. The major load on aquifers occurs during the season in which the wheat crop is sown. Scientists say, if proper planning is made the entire water needs of wheat crop can be met by trapping and treating wastewater.

Besides rethinking development policy, the government will have to resettle its priorities vis-à-vis education and information. The youth needs to be educated about environment and the role humans can play to keep it friendly. The curricula can be organised in an appropriate way. Water not only needs to be saved but properly utilised keeping in mind that no water is a wastewater. Not understanding nature is the worst form of ignorance.