Oct 31, 2010

90 days after

Watan cards will certainly help the flood affectees, if they succeed in getting the facility

By Irfan Mufti

As I write these lines, ninety days have passed after floods in Pakistan hit villages in upper Kohistan and Gilgit Baltistan but the basic task of rehabilitating flood victims is still unaddressed. Early assessments confirm that 7 million affected people still need relief, health assistance, temporary shelter and early recovery support. The other 15 million, who have gone back to their villages, are waiting for the promised aid. Among many other needs for this population three are most important: shelter, livelihood recovery, and basic healthcare.

Government schemes have helped revive the situation and disseminate seeds of recovery to the affected. Transfer of cash to these poor flood victims through Watan cards will certainly help poor to recover from their immediate economic hardships. However, the mismanagement in the system of cash distribution and card allocation may kill the purpose.

Transfer of cash to the poor is a good strategy to trickle down economic gains to those that are otherwise excluded and invisible from planning and policies. Cash transfer will also boost the local economy and employment options for the poor. The well-intended objectives can be defeated if the distribution system is not made effective, fool proof and pro-poor.

Reports of violence in several parts of the country during distribution of the cards and obtaining cash from ATM machines must be checked and addressed without delay. All these incidents could have been avoided if the local political leadership was available. Local government would have provided a good leadership in these troubled times and reaching out to the needy and deserving.

Government has so far failed to provide the needed help and leadership. In several parts of Southern Sindh villages are still inundated while major reconstruction proceeds upstream in areas, including Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Gilgit-Baltistan. Ironically, a fraction of government estimated $5billion for rehabilitation and reconstruction plans have been collected or committed.

The support thus far has come from the civil society, governmental institutions, and international community. Support from local NGOs, philanthropists, citizens groups, humanitarian groups and individuals was crucial, timely and useful. It will be difficult to quantify such help but the level of satisfaction shown by the affectees is a testimony to the effectiveness of these responses.

The assistance will decrease in coming weeks as the rehabilitation actions will take over immediate relief and recovery help. Rehabilitation and reconstruction work demand systemic planning, resource allocation, project financing and monitoring and only specialised institutions can perform such functions. Government has so far failed to set-up or strengthen institutional framework to manage rehabilitation and resettlement activities.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and its provincial and district arms have not been given any clear role and mandate, thus they haven’t evolved as viable institution to deal with complex nature of rehabilitation and recovery.

The international response was slow but substantive. UN agencies, (including UNICEF, UNFPA, UNHCR, World Food Programme, World Health Organization, etc.) have been actively from the very beginning of the crisis and meaningfully contributed in emergency, relief and early recovery phases.

Out of the major contributors of financing for recovery and rehabilitation United Nations tops the list. The United Nations approved $1.88 rehabilitation plan for flood-devastated areas and will finance 417 of the 471 projects submitted by the government in the field of agriculture, community restoration, education, health and shelter. The UN sent out three appeals to its 192 member states for 1.6 billion dollars, the largest financial appeal in the UN history and has garnered 668 million dollars, just over 64 percent.

The World Bank, instead of providing additional financing, has allowed the government to divert one billion dollar from its on-going projects for rehabilitation and recovery work in flood-hit areas. Out of this one billion dollar $700 million would be available for early recovery and reconstruction projects and $300 million for financing flood-related imports. The government has announced to use most of the financing facility for importing oil to meet higher furnace oil requirements in the power sector and additional petroleum products to offset supply gaps arising out of closure of the country’s largest oil refinery as a result of flooding.

USAID has provided $50 million under the 2009 Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act to support early flood recovery programs such as rehabilitation of community infrastructure and livelihood recovery activities. This funding will bring the total amount of US immediate humanitarian assistance in response to the flooding to more than $200 million.

The UK government has committed £64 million (more than 8.5 billion PKR) to help affected population. In addition, a £10million (approx 1.3 billion PKR) bridge project has been brought forward. Other international bilateral and multilateral donors have also promised assistance and the total of all such assistance will not go beyond 100 million dollars. With these figures confirmed the government is still faced with a challenge of raising more than $2.5 billion.

There are only two other options left for the government to consider filling this funding gap. Divert major part of public sector development programme funds to rehabilitation purposes or raise more revenue from the public. Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments have already indicated that their Public Sector Development Programmes (PSDP) for the current year had become irrelevant after the devastation caused by the floods and that they would have to divert most of uplift funds towards relief and reconstruction work.

Sindh and Balochistan governments are also planning to divert their funds for rehabilitation. Federal government rightly says that after new national finance commission formula most of the development funds are already transferred to provinces and now provinces have to decide about these funds. Federal grants can be utilised for rebuilding major infrastructure damages. The total allocation of PSDP for 2010-11 is Rs663 billion, while for other development expenditure an amount of Rs124 billion was being allocated. The provinces have been allocated an amount of Rs373 billion for budget estimates 2010-11 in their PSDP as against Rs300 billion in 2009-10. This means if provincial governments allocate 50 percent of allocated PSDP it can fill the financial gap for rehabilitation.

At this critical juncture government has to consider two important and interlinked choices: explore other options to generate resources to finance rehabilitation and reconstruction tasks and, secondly, to set up sustainable foundations to prevent and manage such disasters in future.

For revenue generation the government is walking on a tight rope. The idea of taxing the rich hasn’t kicked off well as provinces have not shown interest in this option. It is, however, important that the government should show its resolve to put this responsibility to those that enjoy perks and benefits but contribute very little in collective societal well-being.

Setting sustainable grounds for rehabilitation and resettlement should be part of government priority. Had there been effective land reforms, reliable irrigation and river management systems, efficient flood warning systems the effects of these floods would have been much less.

The recent natural disasters and subsequent humanitarian crises should provide enough cause of alarm for policy makers to attend to these long-term needs. Government must put such structures in place and provide sustainable policy and fiscal solutions. These include land reforms for poor and landless peasantry as ownership of land and control over natural resources will increase their abilities to cope with such disasters.

The power of ideas

It is vital to learn what makes an idea work and thrive in the development sector

By Dr Noman Ahmed

An event was jointly organised on 25th October by Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Centre, National Rural Support Programme, International Islamic University, and the Council of Social Sciences Pakistan to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan in the realm of social development.

From the discussions, it came out very clearly that the power of ideas generated and applied by Dr. Khan was one of the key reasons that led his models to success. Whether it was the Comilla Projects in former East Pakistan or the Orangi Pilot Project, the strength of ideas was a key factor in acquiring success.

It is vital to learn what makes an idea work and thrive in the development sector. Lessons learnt from many experiences inform that knowledge and foresight are two denominating factors that play a vital role in the evolution of an effective idea. It may be noted that knowledge does not only confine to conventional assemblage of information; it has to be acquired through observation and experience.

Characteristics of communities, their compositions, interaction amongst each other, potentials, handicaps, social and cultural attitudes and the overall approach to life are few variables which have to be established in an accurate manner. And successful development practitioners always learned about such features of peoples by engaging and mingling with them. After they would win the trust of their fellow beings, various formulations of development projects would work successfully.

In addition to knowledge and observation, sincere application of work plans, maintaining absolute transparency in all transactions and communication, record keeping and accounting as well as readiness to respond to the objections by any member or group in the community have been the other desirable attributes.

Not all approaches in the country have failed. There is a rich repository of ideas that have contributed immensely to their respective contexts and sectors. The idea of incremental housing for the urban and semi-urban poor has been tried and found useful. Instant access, compatible affordability, relevance to socio-economic profile of target groups and ability to transform in different localities caused this model to generate results.

For this reason, locations in Karachi, Gharo, Gulshan-e-Shahbaz (near Hyderabad) and Kala Shah Kaku (near Lahore) have demonstrated the worthiness of this approach. This idea needs to be scaled up from its incubation to mass level application. Rural support programmes are organizations that facilitate development in almost all the areas in the country. With financial support from donor agencies and partial assistance in the form of public endowments, these organisations have been able to expand the various components of development to some of the remotest locations.

Though criticised for being aid-driven and costly institutions, they have enormous potential if allowed to self improve their working deficiencies. A healthy approach shall demand critical appraisal of the functioning of these institutions to improve them for their respective objectives and recipient communities.

Extending the benefits of capital to the poor sections of society is another idea. The wide realm of entrepreneurship of the working classes has been effectively supported by micro credit institutions. Interestingly, there is a wide range of approaches that have been applied in this domain.

Credit programmes have been devised on the basis of gender, vulnerability status, skill and product promotions and identified locations. It has been found that where technical advice and assistance is facilitated and monitoring of disbursement is done in a professional manner, results have been outstanding.

Even the difficult terrain of Gilgit-Baltistan and deserts in Tharparker has shown worthwhile consolidation of livelihoods of the people. Experts in the micro-finance sector found small scale enterprising class as bankable and enthusiastic towards the prospects of progress. Group and community credits have also helped in the development of community infrastructure for mutual benefits. Works under the auspices of Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) are cases in point.

Some pre-requisites have to be fulfilled in making development ideas nurture and flourish. An environment of hope and promise is essential. People should be made to dispel the belief that nothing positive can work in our context. This can be done by a pro-progress media campaign which can lead the ordinary people to restore their faith in themselves. It can change the mindset towards avenues of enterprise and productivity.

The next step is engaging the political decision-makers into the development debate. If correct decisions and informed responses are contributed by government functionaries, a great deal of impact can be created. A sensitised ruler can help boost a positive idea in a very short span of time. This was admitted by Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan when he praised President Ayub Khan for his support and state approval of Comilla projects in the 1960s. That strategy can surely be emulated by our present ruling classes.

For all the wrong reasons

Karachi needs a right prescription for its ills

By Alauddin Masood

This is alarming. Some 1,233 persons have been killed in Karachi during the last 10 months. This was disclosed in a talk show by a private TV channel on October 21, 2010. To assure citizens about the government’s seriousness in putting an end to the killings, the interior minister lands in Karachi.

His statements that the writ of the state will be maintained at all cost have lost their meaning because, before his return to his seat in Islamabad, the killings overtook Karachi once again.

Till the mid-1970s, Karachi used to be a peaceful city where one came across people of different nationalities in streets, bazaars, restaurants, clubs, cinema halls, etc. Karachi University also used to have a sizeable number of foreign students and an exclusive hostel for their boarding and lodging. The peaceful environment offered an ideal opportunity for trade, commerce and gainful employment, both to citizens and foreigners.

The scribe has met scores of foreigners who were either educated in Karachi or visited it frequently for business or had lived there in connection with jobs. A couple of shops and restaurants remained open even at night to cater to the visitors. Hill Park and Clifton beach hummed with life till early morning.

Now a peaceful Karachi looks like a distant dream. Even mere mention of Karachi now instills one with fear, bringing to one’s mind target killings and shooting incidents. Now, even upcountry visitors to the metropolis restrict their movements to the places of their actual business. The situation had started deteriorating in Karachi in the 1980s. While referring to violence in the mega city in the 1980s and 1990s, at page 213 in his book, Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity, Akbar S. Ahmad writes, "Jinnah’s city has become a hell on earth." Now, things have gone from bad to worse.

But Karachi is Pakistan’s gateway. The law and order in the mega city has adversely affected foreign investments in Pakistan because foreigners view Karachi as Pakistan’s window. American, European, Japanese and South Korean investors have set up factories in a number of Afro-Asian countries to benefit from the cheap labour and proximity to the areas of demand. But, their presence in Pakistan is very thin as compared with countries where there is peace.

What to talk of foreign investments, even some of Pakistani businessmen are relocating abroad owing to poor law and order situation in Karachi. After Shanghai and Mumbai, Karachi is the third most populous city on the globe. It has all the problems which are usually associated with the big cities. Like Shanghai and Mumbai, it also has criminal gangs. But, in the case of former cities, the political leadership has the capability and capacity to check and counter the power of mafia groups.

With 12 million unlicensed weapons, globally Karachi has emerged at the top of cities with illicit weapons. If the population of Karachi is 18 million, it means, for every three residents — whether child, young or old, there are two illicit weapons. The number of licensed weapons in the city is also not very mean. It stands around 1.1 million.

What was known to citizens since decades seems to have come to Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s knowledge only recently. He said on October 21. Several extortion groups work in various areas of Karachi that have divided areas amongst themselves to extort money and that the law enforcement agencies have found lists from the arrested hands of elements involved in extortion.

When the authorities fail to provide justice, personal security and economic security to its constituents, benefitting from the law of necessity, non-state actors are bound to move in to fill the gap. But Karachi is Pakistan economic hub. The federal board of revenue collects some 53 percent of revenues from Karachi. About 30 percent of Pakistan’s manufacturing sector is located here and it generates some 20 percent of Pakistan’s GDP. This hub of commerce and industry now remains paralysed for many days every year.

Stabilising Karachi, therefore, needs to be given the foremost consideration. This would require a strong political will and determination; and granting political representation to major ethnic communities inhabiting Karachi in keeping with their demographic proportions followed by de-weaponisation and a crackdown on mafia groups, irrespective of their affiliations or patronage.

If we have a look at Karachi’s population, at 4-6 million Pashtuns constitute some 25 percent of the city’s population and around 15 percent population of the entire Sindh whereas Urdu-speaking mohajirs or MQM number around 7-9 million and thus account for some 45 percent of the residents of the metropolis and around 23 percent of the entire Sindh. Out of 168 seats in the Sindh Assembly, ANP has only 2, MQM 50, NPP 3, PML-F 8, PML-Q 11 and PPP 93.

Until political power remains out of sync with demographic realities, Karachi would continue to simmer with tensions and conflicts. To cater to demographic realities, suitable changes would have to be made in the election system to ensure election of people belonging to each major ethnic group to the provincial assembly and the local government tiers. To begin with, say 25 to 33 percent of the total number of seats could be contested on the basis of demographic patterns through the system of proportionate representation and the rest on the basis of existing first past the post system.

A bleeding Karachi continues to send wrong signals to the world, adversely impacting prospects for growth of trade and industry in Pakistan. Therefore, the government needs to move swiftly, and call a meeting of all stakeholders and assure them of a share in the political governance of the city on the basis of demographic strength. Simultaneously, the authorities need to build the capacity of law enforcements agencies and organisations to deal with mafia gangs.

Leaner and cleaner

A study advises Punjab government to cut its size and move out of businesses best suited to private sector

By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

In Pakistan, the word reform has always been a misnomer and synonymous with breaking the status quo. Any one propagating change, especially in the working of the government and its infrastructure, has faced resistance of all sorts. And those who have succeeded in breaking this status quo to some extent have seen their successive governments (obviously formed by their rival groups) undo all that they achieved, in a single go.

The Punjab government has also expressed, repeatedly, its resolve to remove inefficiency, duplication, and overlapping from its ranks, cut down its expenditures and make reforms public-centric. Though the situation on the ground does not seem rosy and the process of change is not that visible, an encouraging factor is that the government has succeeded in getting a comprehensive review of its working and infrastructure done by a set of highly qualified professionals.

Working under the umbrella of UK Department for International Development (DFID) funded Technical Assistance Management Agency (TAMA), they have pointed out the problem areas, criticised mismanagement wherever it is and also suggested solutions. The results of the project titled, High Level Government Review (HLGR) were discussed by different stakeholders who had gathered at the Center of Public Policy and Governance (CPPG), Forman Christian College (FCC) University earlier this month and participated in a policy dialogue titled, "Creating a Leaner Government."

The event, held jointly by CPPG and UK Department for International Development (DFID) funded Technical Assistance Management Agency (TAMA), gave the opportunity to speakers to highlight the need of revising the government structure and making it more efficient and responsive to the needs of service delivery of the people.

No doubt, the cash-strapped Punjab government needs immediate steps aimed at improving its efficiency and decreasing its financial dependence on the federal government.

For example, the study proposes some departments, having similar area of operation may be clubbed together for more coherent policy and planning e.g., Departments of School Education and Literacy, Department of Health and Population Welfare. "Some departments having similar functions may be merged to form new entities with some additional functions assigned to them, e.g. Departments of Social Welfare and Zakat may be merged to form Department of Social Protection with common databases to ensure delivery of targeted subsidies to the needy," it says.

The HLGR was launched in 2009 and its first task was the desk study which was intended to identify previous efforts to restructure federal and provincial governments in Pakistan. The study found that virtually all previous reform attempts have targeted the federal government. "These interventions have focused on changing the way the civil service is structured and managed, neglecting the wider service delivery and public management agenda, the study found."

The HLGR team also found that many departments were established either at the time of independence or in the two decades which followed. 1997, however, the number of new departments which have been established has escalated. One third of the departments which currently exist were created in a little over 10 years. According to the review, the provincial government is substantially larger than state governments in Malaysia, Canada and the USA. Indeed, there is no central government which has more than 38 departments.

It has been suggested that the government bring the number of departments to 21 and merge the functions of more than one department in different cases to end duplication or ambiguities. For example, farmers should be given a single government window for all farming related matters, including cropping and livestock.

Similarly, it is proposed that the functions of the Home Department should change. It must retain the responsibility for public safety and security functions, with prison and probation services being transferred to a new Justice Department. "Having a narrower mandate would enable the Home Department to focus more effectively on the urgent public safety and security needs of the province. A similar structural change was adopted in the UK immediately following the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London," the study suggests.

Besides, the government has been advised to leave certain functions to the private sector as, "Running livestock/poultry farms and tourist resorts in prime commercial locations, undertaking mining activities and developing sites and services for housing schemes, are all functions in which the private sector is already playing a vibrant role and in which the government does not have the requisite competence and motivation to manage these services and facilities efficiently and effectively."

The Punjab government has also been advised to suspend its credit subsidy scheme for small-scale industry managed by Punjab Small Industries Corporation. What normally happens is that the government ends up bearing a cost considerably higher than the interest subsidy, because of loan defaults resulting from poor borrower identification/selection procedures or from changing economic or other circumstances.

Fingers were also pointed at the functioning of the government printing press at a time when the use of information technology in government departments is increasing and e-governance is the order of the day. Hence, the need for printing and publications, and, therefore, the role of the government printing press, has become increasingly marginal in nature, especially with a private sector actively marketing and providing the associated services.

Education and social protection departments were the ones discussed the most and those where reform are needed on a priority basis. It is also proposed that Punjab Sports Board should be established as a funding entity under the Education Department. Under this option, a dedicated Sports Department is unnecessary since the policies for the major sports are established by their respective federally-constituted bodies and sports associations, whilst sports as a function has been devolved.

The above-mentioned are a very few of the suggestions out of an exhaustive list prepared under HLGR. It is hoped the government takes them seriously and has the will to implement most of them, if not all, and more importantly that the successive governments do not undo all the good done by the predecessors, as has always been the case.

Report rhetoric

By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr. Ikramul Haq

Release of annual report by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) on the state of economy has repudiated with authority the tall claims by stalwarts of the present regime that they "performed excellently" during the fiscal year 2009-10 and economic results for first nine months of the current financial year were "satisfactory".

The SBP has concluded that all the fiscal targets were missed, governance in all spheres was poor, structural flaws continued and overall economy was in thick soup. The findings of SBP have been endorsed by Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) in a report made public on October 26, 2010 stating that "there is a serious threat that Pakistan economy could get entrenched into a prolonged and deep stagflation unless decisive and concerted action is taken by policy makers".

Both the SBP and PIDE reports predict that at least in the foreseeable future the economy will witness low economic growth and high double-digit inflation — the classical characteristics of an economy in stagflation. The real challenge, therefore, is to devise a coordinate strategic response to break out of stagflation by rekindling growth and checking inflation.

The SBP report noted with concern "persistent disagreements led to the deferment of a proposed expansion of the tax net through the introduction of a broad-based GST". It says the "proposed restructuring of public sector enterprises, to improve efficiency and lower the fiscal burden, did not take place," and that "there was little or no progress in either resolving the energy sector debt chain or substantially improving electricity supply".

The most worrisome area, according to SBP, is the government’s expenditure — the "principal structural problem". It pointed out that "the fiscal deficit bounced back to 6.3 per cent of GDP in fiscal year 2009-10 having climbed 110 basis points within 12 months. Echoing the complaint of various private sector enterprises, SBP said that increasing expenditure of the government "crowded out and otherwise undermined private sector activities".

The SBP in categorical terms opined that fiscal expansion is responsible for persistent double-digit inflation as well as substantial increases in total public debt and liabilities which jumped from 68.7 percent of GDP in fiscal year 2008-09 to 69.5 percent in fiscal year 2009-10. For the first time using strong words, the annual report said "slippage on the expenditure side was more disappointing". The SBP, while acknowledging that the government has limited options to cut down spending on "debt servicing, defence, the government salary bill, etc.", noted that "there appears little evidence of efforts to contain the growth in even the discretionary components".

SBP has aptly mentioned that subsidies and losses of public sector enterprises increased by 10 percent compared to the previous fiscal year and "to put this in perspective, in Fiscal year 2009-10 these expenditures, as a percentage of GDP, were almost equal to the combined total budget for health and education". According to SBP, this was by no means "an acceptable situation".

The SBP highlighted improvement in real GDP growth which, "rose to 4.1 per cent compared with an anaemic 1.2 per cent in FY09". The current account deficit, it noted, also narrowed to "only 2 per cent of GDP in FY10 from 5.7 per cent in the previous year". The country’s trade deficit also continued to narrow for the second consecutive year and exports grew by a remarkable 9.4 percent over the previous fiscal year, SBP noted. However, it pronounced conclusively that, "investments fell for the second consecutive year", and, "all fiscal targets of the government were missed during the year".

According to SBP, inflation is expected to continue in the range of 13.5 and 14.5 per cent for the current fiscal year — this is higher than SBP’s own forecast of 11 to 12 percent issued earlier. SBP has expressed the fear that persistent double-digit growth in inflation may be fuelled further by "any weakness in the exchange rate". It also added that recent 50 per cent hike in government sector salaries, anticipated rise in energy tariffs and removal of GST exemptions to broaden the tax base are also likely to exacerbate the already sky-rocketing prices. The SBP asserted that losses to agriculture, livestock and other sectors have limited prospects of GDP growth for FY11 to the range of "2 to 3 percent".

According to SBP report, in the wake of devastating floods nearly 20 million people were displaced and forced to live without shelter, food, clean drinking water and basic health facilities". It is predicted by SBP that despite international assistance and public support, "the resources available are likely to be quite inadequate against anticipated needs". It has thus warned that immediate attention is needed to improve economic governance and to build social safety nets given the increasing incidence of poverty in the country.

The SBP’s report testifies that euphoria of rapid growth — much talked about by Musharraf regime — was nothing but a ‘great delusion’. The present government suffers from the same malady as its predecessors — self-praise typical of Musharraf-Shaukat duo creating hyperbola of "economy’s performance" without any long-term sustainability. In the light of latest SBP’s findings and conclusions, the government should be worried about burgeoning fiscal deficit — the mother of all ills.

On the revenue front, failure of FBR in tapping actual potential of Rs4 trillion, inability to curb wasteful expenditure of over Rs8500 billion by central and provincial governments, which include heavy cost of perks and perquisites of rulers, and unabated corruption, are real issues that require tackling on a war-footing.

The government should seriously consider concerns relating to ever-rising inflation and employment, widening trade, fiscal and current account deficits, rising cost of doing business, burden of new taxes, price-hikes of petroleum products, increases in utility bills, economic stagnation and industrial slow down. People’s purchasing power is diminishing, banks have less liquidity, lending rates are getting high and activities at stock markets are sluggish. Investors are shy and afraid, mainly due to perpetuation of political instability and economic uncertainty.

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 63 years.

The policy of appeasement towards tax evaders, money launderers and plunderers of national wealth is showing its impact in all spheres.

Undoubtedly, governance problems have precipitated a vicious circle in Pakistan. Historically, fiscal policies were formulated that de-emphasized social spending; implemented with excessive leakage and insufficient attention to efficiency and equity; that eventually led to serious fiscal and social gaps. A different strategy, focused on governance reforms, could have created a virtuous circle, in which growth accelerated and resources freed for spending, helping to effectively close both the social and fiscal gaps. It was due to sheer failure in good governance and better fiscal management that Pakistan is still faced with acute economic problems.

If the $98 billion in development assistance provided to Pakistan from 1960 to 2009 had been invested during this time to yield a moderate real return of 8 percent, it would have grown into assets equal to $619 billion in 2008, many times Pakistan’s current external debt. Instead, this debt now stands at over 70 percent of GDP, and is in and of itself a constraint on growth.

The most troublesome sector of economy is agriculture. The rural population is constantly being pushed below the poverty line making all the targets of growth unachievable. Keeping in view the fact that nearly one-fourth of the total GDP and 44 percent of total employment is generated in the agricultural sector, the country can never progress unless the rural population (constituting 65 percent of the total population of 180.4 billion according to SBP report) is taken care of. If we have to develop economically, agriculture will have to play a critical role in the fight against poverty.

The dismal performance in agriculture during the last 30 years has affected the entire economy of Pakistan. 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 huge money in the name of poor farmers. The planners have never bothered to look forward and provide for an efficient irrigation system. The result is acute water shortage.

Experts sitting in the ministry of finance talk about more revenues without determining the incidence of taxation and transparent spending of taxpayers’ money on public welfare. Industries are already over-taxed but instead of getting any relief, these are being asked to pay exorbitant taxes. There is no political will to tax the mighty sections of the society, especially absentee landlords, and the entire tax burden is being shifted on the poor.

This does not end the list of problems: avoidable imports continue, trade deficit remains worryingly large, inflation persists as a major headache, no acceleration in exports, and domestic industry remains both high cost and uncompetitive, while growing steadily obsolete. Overall growth strategy is lop-sided as it does not take into account the role of rural population in the economy. The single-most factor that 65 percent of the country’s population living in the rural areas are directly or indirectly linked with agriculture for their livelihood, has been totally ignored by the planners and economic managers.

All the governments pretend that serious economic problems can easily be disguised by statistical sleight of hand — this has now been exposed by the excellently-prepared report by SBP.

It’s in the details

The real cause of concern is that structural constraints remain unaddressed

By Hussain H. Zaidi

The major thrust of the State Bank’s review of the economy during the financial year 2009-2010 (FY10) is that even when the economy performed well, the fundamental structural weaknesses remained unaddressed. In the presence of these weaknesses — large fiscal deficit, monetization of the debt, a narrow tax base, inefficient public sector enterprises, circular debt, energy shortage, a narrow export product range and low level of savings and investment — the economic recovery will remain fragile.

The economy made a moderate recovery during FY10. The real GDP grew by 4.1 percent compared with the target of 3.3 percent and revised growth figure of 1.2 percent for the preceding fiscal year (FY09). The manufacturing sector registered healthy growth of 5.2 percent surpassing the 1.8 percent target and negative growth of 3.7 percent during FY09. Large scale manufacturing (LSM), which accounts for more than 70 percent of industrial output, grew by 4.4 percent compared with negative growth of 8.2 percent during the preceding year. However, the LSM growth was not symmetrical as some of the sub sectors—electronics, rubber, engineering, automobiles and leather—registered strong growth while sub sectors like textiles, food and beverages, petroleum, metal, and wood products contracted.

The services sector expanded by 4.6 percent exceeding the 3.9 percent target and 1.6 percent actual growth in FY09. The growth of services was well supported by manufacturing growth. However, the agricultural sector grew only by 2 percent missing the 3.8 percent target and well below the 4 percent growth registered in FY09.

The current account deficit came down to 2 per cent of GDP ($3.49 billion) against the target of 5.3 percent and actual figure of 5.7 percent ($9.21 billion) during FY09. Trade deficit fell to $11.42 billion from $12.62 billion, while remittances increased to $8.90 billion from $7.81 billion during FY09. The fall in trade deficit was not merely due to decrease in imports ($31.05 billion from $31.74 billion) but also due to increase in exports ($19.63 billion from $19.12 billion). Exports grew by 2.7 percent compared with 6.4 percent contraction during the preceding year. However, foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows came down to $2.20 billion from $3.72 billion.

Fiscal deficit surpassed the 4.9 percent target to reach 6.3 percent of GDP despite drastic cuts in development spending as the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) was slashed from Rs646 billion budgetary allocation to Rs490 billion. Current expenditure surpassed the Rs2.26 trillion revised target to reach Rs2.40 trillion. Revenue receipts increased from Rs1.67 trillion to Rs2.05 trillion. However, as a percentage of GDP revenue fell to 14.2 percent from 14.5 percent a year earlier. Tax-GDP ratio also fell to 10 percent from 10.3 percent.

Investment-GDP ratio fell to 15.2 percent from 17.4 percent and against the 20 percent target. National savings-GDP ratio however increased to 13.8 percent from 13.2 percent but still missed the 14.7 percent target. CPI inflation dropped to 11.7 percent from 20.8 percent but still missed the 9 percent target.

Thus, the economic recovery in FY10 was not based on strong fundamentals. Sustained growth needs to have strong foundations, such as high level of savings and investment, moderate rate of inflation and fiscal consolidation, otherwise it will create domestic and external imbalances just as the growth towards the close of the General Musharraf period did.

The engine of GDP growth is investment or capital formation. The major cause of less than desirable level of investment is low savings-GDP ratio. As the SBP notes, Pakistan’s saving rate is the lowest in emerging Asia. Major reasons for this include a consumption-oriented society, losses by public sector enterprises, low and highly skewed per capita income, and lack of appropriate saving instruments. To fill the gap between the actual level of savings and the desired level of investment, foreign investment, particularly, foreign direct investment (FDI) is needed. However, mainly due to political uncertainty and bad law and order situation, the FDI is on the decrease despite the fact that Pakistan has a very liberal FDI regime.

Pakistan has one of the lowest tax-GDP ratios in the world. Two options are available to the government to increase tax revenue: one, to broaden the tax net, for instance, by taxing agriculture income; two, to increase the existing taxes. For reasons political, the first option has not been exercised, with the result that those who already pay tax — the salaried class — are burdened with more taxes. The government can substantially raise tax-GDP ratio by levying tax on agriculture income. Successive governments including the present have toyed with the idea of levying agriculture tax. But the enormous political influence of the landed gentry has prevented materialization of such an idea. Hence, it is the salaried class which bears the brunt of government efforts to shore up revenue either through direct or indirect taxes, such as the general sales tax (GST).

The SBP review also contains projections for the current fiscal year (FY11). The major budgetary targets for the current fiscal year (FY11) included (a) economic growth of 4.5 percent, (b) average inflation of 9.5 percent, (c) fiscal deficit of 4 percent of GDP, (d) development expenditure (of both federal and provincial governments) of Rs766.5 billion, and (e) projected tax revenue of Rs1. 66 trillion including direct taxes of Rs657.7 billion and indirect taxes of Rs1.12 trillion — 9.8 percent of GDP.

The havoc wrought by the floods has however necessitated revision of these targets. The central bank has projected the GDP to expand between 2 and 3 percent, inflation in the range of 13.5-14.5 percent, imports of around $35 billion (up from $31.7 billion original projection), fiscal deficit of about 6 percent and current account deficit of 4 percent (up from the 3.4 percent target). Exports and remittances are, however, projected to surpass the targets to reach $21 billion and $10.5 billion respectively.

Rehabilitation of the flood-hit people will put serious pressures on the public exchequer in a situation when revenue collection is likely to be lower due to disruption of economic activity. It is here that the SBP sees an opportunity to take some tough decisions. These include widening of the tax base, the tax system reforms and adoption of austerity measures. However, if the past is any guide, the efforts to re-prioritize budgetary allocation will end up in diverting development expenditure to rehabilitation of floods affected people. As for broadening the tax base, it is easier said than done and the only measure will be a reformed general sales tax (GST) incorporating features of a value added tax (VAT) — a sovereign commitment to the IMF — which will add to inflationary pressures.

The major economic indicators in the post floods scenario present a mixed picture. During the first quarter of the current fiscal year (FY11 July September), current account deficit (without official transfers) went up to $741 million compared with $570 million for the corresponding period of the last financial year (FY10 July September). Imports increased to $8.2 billion compared with $7.4 billion; however, exports also rose to $5.2 billion compared with $4.6 billion. FDI dropped to $381 million from $477 million; however, remittances increased to $2.6 billion from $2.3 billion. Inflation (CPI) went up to 13.8 percent from 10.7 percent. The real cause for concern, however, is that the structural constraints remain unaddressed.

Numbers game

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

"Mainstream economics is the most peculiar of all theoretical failures. Unlike astrology or phrenology, economics becomes more discursively powerful the greater its incapacity to inform us on really existing capitalism." — Yanis Varoufakis, Professor of Economics, University of Athens.

Reading the annual report of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is a particularly painful exercise. I would recommend it only to those who want to understand the extent to which our intellects have been made captive to an historically contingent discourse that poses as reason itself.

To be fair, the SBP is not the only institution in this country that incessantly spews out reports to placate our technocratic overlords in Washington, Manila and Brussels. Just about every Pakistani ministry has learned the language of ‘good governance’ and ‘structural reform’. And in the 2-3 decades that this new policy-speak has been imbibed by all and sundry, the structures of economic and political power that keep the majority of this country’s – and for that matter, world’s — people enslaved have become virtually liberated from the intellectual and political scrutiny that was prevalent until the 1980s.

The SBP report is relatively critical of the government’s policies even while acknowledging that serious shocks have made objective challenges much more daunting. Yet the criticism remains rooted within a familiar paradigm in which the ultimate end of economic and social policy is ‘efficiency’, the ‘unimpeded operation of markets’, ‘rationalisation of prices’ and the proverbial reduction of the fiscal deficit.

A great deal of emphasis is placed on the huge burden that is the energy sector, as it should. Pakistan’s oil import bill is already in the tens of billions and is increasing at a completely unsustainable level. And while the SBP is right in asserting the need for a serious overhaul of the energy sector its major gripe with the government has to do with the manner in which subsidies to consumers of electricity have been withdrawn.

One of the planks of neo-liberal policies has been cutting public subsidies across the length and breadth of the economy, both to producers and consumers. While there is no disagreement that direct or indirect subsidies from government accruing to the rich and powerful represent a major social injustice, the facts bear witness that it has been the poor and defenseless who have primarily been at the receiving end of the anti-subsidy crusade. If there is any doubt about this we need only to cast our thoughts to our electricity bills which have doubled in recent months. And if the readers of newspapers such as this one are feeling the pinch, then one can imagine how a family of six earning Rs10,000 a month is coping with an electricity bill of Rs2000 (and often more).

The SBP insists that the government should have phased out the electricity tariff subsidy more gradually. In other words, there is no questioning of the policy itself, just a recommendation relating to how the policy should be implemented. Similar assertions are made vis a vis what the authors clearly consider to be other self-evident policy staples throughout the report. Within neo-liberal discourse there is no questioning of the infinite wisdom of the market, the inevitability of privatisation of state enterprises, the liberalisation of trade and finance, and the imposition of regressive taxes. If the objective of social and economic policy is to improve the lives of working people then why is it that the very policies that have intensified dispossession and exclusion are exempt from ruthless and honest appraisal?

Of course, a genuine programme of structural reform is exactly what is missing in most of these reports. The SBP report repeatedly notes the importance of broadening the tax net, but continues to eulogise the general services tax (GST) as the panacea to our problems. There is no mention of reviving the wealth tax, for example, which was of course abolished under the Shaukat Aziz regime even while liquid earnings of the rich and powerful were increasing exponentially. There is no mention of properly accounting for and then taxing the earnings of military-run enterprises (whether mills, colleges, real estate, etc. etc.). These are the big fish that need to be giving up a significant chunk of their incomes, while GST is simply pushed onto the consumer in the form of higher prices.

And then, as always, there is the token mention in the SBP report about the white elephants that continue to paralyse our economy along with the standard caveat about how there is little that can be done: "Admittedly, there are significant rigidities in government spending, including debt servicing, defense, the government salary bill, etc." These three heads comfortably account for 75-80 percent of total public spending. But the SBP proceeds to note: "However, there appears little evidence of efforts to contain the growth in even the discretionary components". In other words, the government can only exercise discretion on matters other than defence and debt servicing. If this is true then the very exercise of being in government is a contradiction in terms!

The absurdity of the discipline of economics, at least as it has evolved in the past 25-30 years is indeed that its theoretical and policy exertions are in total dissonance with the actual lived reality of actually existing capitalism. The global financial crisis exposed this fact to an unprecedented extent yet mainstream intellectual and political circles are pretending as if the economic policy paradigm that precipitated the crisis somehow had little to do with it. The acknowledgment that there is something fundamentally wrong with the assumptions we make about human life, and in particular about the rationality that inheres in (individual) human behaviour is conveniently glossed over by blaming everything on the rapaciousness of a few greedy CEOs.

The problem is arguably much more serious in countries such as ours. Centuries of subjugation to Western imperialism has stunted our capacity to think independently and to defy our overlords, in spite of the evidence that such defiance is the only way forward. Among other things, the kind of economy mapped in the SBP report is a far cry from the actually existing Pakistani economy (and here I mean the real markets and real pricing mechanisms and real rationality that together constitute the so-called informal economy). It has been said before but needs to be said again: intellectual honesty is a pre-requisite to the kind of social change that we need in this country. The plethora of reports that are produced in this country prove just how much we lack exactly what we desperately need.

Over the top

Masood Hasan
So Sherry Rehman is the PPP's bad girl. Not surprising at all. There are at least four things wrong with her. One, she reads. Two, she writes. Both habits can land you in a great deal of trouble in Pakistan, where no one reads, and certainly no one writes. Three, she calls a spade a spade, which in the land of the impure run by the very impure, may lead you to use one and dig a hole for yourself. And, four, she smokes. Not good at all. Such bad habits are not encouraged in the party of the toiling masses: that, in case you did not know, means the party where the masses toil and the rest have a party.
Now, some of the PPP's heavyweight intellectuals – and I use the term loosely – like Jehangir Badar, studiously avoid books, the same way they would avoid drones. It's a great quality. Look where it has taken general secretary Mr Badar? In any event, reading books and smoking at the same time is not good for your health. Sherry does both. When the PPP's inner core appears on TV talk shows – though Sherry is now outer core – it causes grievous pain to the party faithful who these days are not on speaking terms with some bad channels. Talking to enemy channels is a serious violation of all democratic rules and forms the bedrock on which the party rests – we have the bed but the rock's missing.
It is another matter that the party has never had an election, the mantle of leadership passing from hand to hand and, in some cases, from hand to foot. Whoever said that what's good for the goose is good for the gander must have his head examined. There is no such thing. Pakistan's leading political party that believes in the power of the people has ensured that real power stays with a few at all times. Sherry is not among those. Neither is that quiet man Safdar Abbasi, who many believe knows a thing or two about what happened on Dec 27, 2007, but, then, he and his wife are sidelined so far that it is not possible to spot them without the Hubble telescope.
If you have an opinion which, heaven forbid, is not at a given time in utter sync with the party diktat, you could be in serious trouble. It is, of course, another matter that half-a-dozen other PPP stalwarts who also appeared on various TV channels – you have to pass the time in sleepy Islamabad – have had no trouble at all and are singing ditties even as we try to make sense of the Rehman-Abbasi sacking. Among these luminaries are such searchlights as Raja Riaz, Ayatullah Khan, Azeem Daultana (take away the "daulat" and you are left with an "anna"), Abdul Qadir Patail, Aitzaz Ahsan, my favourite Chaudhry from the Q-Chaudhrys hideout, Sen Enver Beg, and undoubtedly others. Perhaps they all don't read books, ask questions and smoke at the same time.
I always thought that one day Sherry would run into trouble with a name like hers. All it would require is for one fanatic to rise and, in a thunderous roar, ask how could we allow a woman named after a drink to be among us? It didn't happen. Perhaps I overestimated the PPP's barroom skills, although they should know that statecraft and snake juice are interlinked. What else can explain the astronomical rise in consumption when Assembly and Senate sessions are underway in the citadel of Islam? The faithful buy up all the booze so that the nation is not misled with this devious drink. And, to ensure that their subjects are not exposed to its deadly after-effects, drink it all up and, with this supreme sacrifice, make sure that generations to follow are safe from the Devil's latest cunning plan.
Sherry made bad mistakes. She tried to work, which is not in the national interest, and she spoke candidly, which is worse. It was only a matter of time. When she was insulted openly, she did the honourable thing and quit. But, then, how can you condone that? So she was put under a large question mark. Having aired her opinion – apparently you can't have one without an insurance policy – on an enemy channel she was then faced with the charge of the lightweight brigade. Led by party stalwarts and other law-abiding party faithful, a mob descended on her home in Karachi, violently demonstrated, burnt her effigy, called her polite names and let their intentions be known. The police, God bless their black hearts, always ready to carry out action against their own people, stood by as the crowds got more and more violent. Officials, as is the hallowed tradition, professed ignorance and looked as innocent as a one-year-old babe.
The real question is: who passes such loony orders? Obviously it comes from the top, but does anyone stop and think for a second what the fallout can be, or what message this will send out? One understands that the operative word here is "think," a product in short supply here, but surely there are enough people in the PPP to say, "Hey, guys hold it. This is not going to fly." Apparently, all the dissidents have migrated to Canada. Ok, it will frighten Sherry and her family for her crime of speaking out, but will no one notice this and will no one recall that not too long ago the party was singing her praises? Or is it that once the emperor says "Can no one rid me of this meddlesome woman?" a thousand loyalists are ready to lay down their lives?
And, pray, what message do such goon-squad actions send out to the rest of the country (not all are members of the party) and, worse, to the world outside? Haven't we enough boot polish on our mugs that we want to plaster some more? Is this the kind of action that will have the international media eating out of your hand? Obviously, official thinking in Islamabad supports this. This is bad thinking, and instead of training its guns on Sherry, the PPP would do well to execute those who suggested that a bit of muscle-flexing will fix things. But, then, this is all cuckoo thinking. Islamabad does not run like this. For one voice of sanity there are a million deranged loonies hanging from the trees. Reality is not the suite that Islamabad likes to play.
The prime minister has astounded the world, saying in answer to the well-placed charge that corruption in the last year has broken new records, that he sees no sign of any corruption at all. This is brilliant, and, again, those who advise him to utter such nonsense should be hauled up by the scruffs of their shameless necks and flung across the wall like a dead cat. However, these are just futile thoughts. We all know perfectly well that this latest bombshell by the PM will further many careers. Flattery pays, and it pays very well. Remember that and you have a great future in front of you, rather unlike the heavyweight actress from the Paki cinema about whom it was said that she has a great future behind her!

A woman of substance

Ghazi Salahuddin
When advocates of the Supreme Court cast their votes on Wednesday to elect the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and other office-bearers, almost all the concerned citizens of this country held their breath – and waited in suspense for the final count. There was this frenzied, live coverage by the news channels and as initial results started to trickle out, 'breaking news' flashes popped up like fireworks on the screen.
But this excitement in the mass media, for once, was fairly justified, considering the issues and the personalities that were involved. It had a bearing on the juridical as well as political evolution of our polity in the wake of the lawyers' and the civil society's long and bitter struggle for an independent judiciary and justice.
Now, it is crucial, though not easy, to understand why Asma Jahangir's victory is a vindication of that long campaign. Irrespective of how lines were drawn in this keenly contested election and who was supporting which candidate, the most important point is that the winner, as president of the SCBA, is a person of proven integrity and a distinguished campaigner for human rights and democratic values in the country.
Another important factor here is that Asma's triumph certifies the emergence of an emphatically liberal voice in our national affairs at a time when so many of us feel dispirited by the apparently dominant forces of orthodoxy and bigotry. This should in itself be cause for some celebration. Let this message go forth from Pakistan to the world at large that in its existential struggle for survival, this country is not bereft of a firm potential for enlightenment and forward-thinking.
Now, before I proceed any further, I should clearly state that I have had a long association with Asma, with reference to the activities of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Hence, I am writing this piece about a close and valued friend. It would be correct to say that I am partial to her. My journalistic ethics demand this admission. At the same time, I can say that I have had the benefit of knowing her well and of bearing witness to the positions she had taken during so many critical moments that we have lived through in our recent past.
What impresses me most is that she has the courage of her convictions and adheres steadfastly to certain principles and values. Incidentally, this should also be a valid reason for some people to stand in her way and contest her views, though the smear campaign against her was a mark of utter disgrace on the part of her detractors.
Having said this, let me revert to the theme that I wish to underline in this column. Surrounded by all shades of chicanery and expediency in our public life, we seem to be in desperate need for individuals in leadership positions who have personal integrity, moral courage and intellectual vigour. If such individuals are unable to come to the fore, our strivings as a nation may not come to fruition.
Consider, for instance, the focus this week on the Corruption Perceptions Index, released by Transparency International. On that index, Pakistan figures as the 34th most corrupt country out of 178 countries that were evaluated. The news, actually, is that we have slipped eight places from last year's rank. While it is largely a matter of perception and we can quarrel about the measures adopted by Transparency International, the conclusion that our government, in its financial dealings, is becoming more corrupt is widely accepted. It has at least not devoted any concerted attention to checking corrupt and unlawful practices at different levels of governance.
Without mentioning the many stories of corruption in Pakistan's state machinery, as evidenced by a number of investigative reports in the media, we can say that our present rulers are not anxious to improve their performance in accordance with accepted institutional and moral precepts. Just imagine the difference it would make if these leaders were more sincere and morally upright in their official conduct. Even the size of the federal cabinet has not been touched by the devastating floods that struck us three long months ago.
In passing, just look at Bangladesh. It was perceived as the most corrupt country by Transparency International in 2001 and 2002 and, also, in 2003. This year, it is ranked at 43, nine places above Pakistan. India? If our rank is 34 from the bottom, India is placed at 91, though it was four places above last year.
In addition to some other attributes, leadership certainly plays a central role in all strategies for social change. We must recognise the importance of leadership and a distinct sense of direction to keep pace with the rest of the world in an age that primarily stands for democratic and liberal values, emancipation of women and social justice. Can Pakistan move in that direction, with the baggage that it carries? Asma's success gives us hope that it might.
As for the issues that were invested in the SCBA election campaign, the general mood was remarkably at variance with the tempo and tenor of the historic lawyers' movement for the restoration of the Supreme Court judges. But the overall situation has changed. This is not the time when a line can be drawn to neatly separate rival factions. The politics of the lawyers as well as the perception of the role that an independent judiciary and judicial activism can play has changed.
Perhaps there is some misconception about what the lawyers or their elected office-bearers can or should do in the context of the tensions that have arisen or are perceived between national institutions. However, the bottom line is the dispensation of justice for the common citizens of this country and an improvement in the working of the justice system itself.
To that extent, Asma and other leaders of lawyers will have to be judged on how they discharge their responsibilities. She has vowed to "serve the cause of justice with integrity and to the best of my ability". Still, the judges and the lawyers and their leaders must function within their prescribed domains and not remain in the headlines all the time. The media will also have to be more careful in picking its themes and adopting a rational approach in their discussion.
Come to think of it, we are all on trial and the chief prosecutor is always our conscience. As Tom Paine said, "these are times that try men's souls". And he had added: "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country but he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman".

Capital suggestion

Dr Farrukh Saleem
On the face of it, Ambassador Cameron Phelps Munter has landed on unfamiliar territory and unchartered waters. Imagine: Ambassador Munter is a former Director for Central, Eastern and Northern Europe, a former Director of the Northern European Initiative, Staff Assistant in the Bureau of European Affairs, a doctoral degree holder in modern European history and a former professor of European history at UCLA.
Would an expert on European history be able to digest chaat, pakora and chana masala? Faces could be deceiving; Ambassador Munter relates very well to wars, hostilities, conflicts and revolutions. After all, he was the US Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia after protecting America's interests in the Czech Republic. Remember, the Bosnian War, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and the Velvet Revolution?
Would the ambassador be required to punch above his weight in Islamabad? Well, he is the one who led the first Provisional Reconstruction Team in Mosul. And that's the city where Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed by the Americans. Remember, the Battle of Mosul? Plus, Mosul was HQ for the 101st Airborne Division, 172nd Stryker Brigade, 25th Infantry Division and the 812th Military Policy Company. In effect, the ambassador has been as close to the real thing – wars, revolutions, murders, dissolutions and reconstructions – as one can get.
Would the ambassador be repeating history in Islamabad? One cannot say for sure but every time history repeats itself the price goes up. The contract price of the new US Embassy in Islamabad, for instance, stands at a colossal $699 million in overt funds plus undisclosed millions in covert funding. Ambassador Munter will be on top of erecting the largest diplomatic fortress – a mini-pentagon of sorts – on the face of the planet.
America's foreign policy in Pakistan is now becoming a multi-headed monster. And, there are wars within-within the Department of State, between State and the Department of Defense (DoD) and DoD versus the intelligence apparatus. The principal executioners of Uncle Sam's policy in this country are Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, Ambassador Holbrooke, Ambassador Munter, Ambassador Raphel and USAID Director Andy Sisson.
Holbrooke, the 'Balkans Bulldozer', along with the tough-talking Munter as his hangman, are bent upon bulldozing America's policy over Pakistan. Raphel is known as Clinton's 'eyes and ears' in Islamabad and Sisson, the new addition, was once associated with the National War College. There once was this 'Hillary effect on ambassadorial nominations'. No more. Ambassador Munter's nomination indicates that Holbrooke & Co is winning and Clinton is losing colour (Munter is Holbrooke's protégé having served him in Europe when Holbrooke headed the Europe desk).
To be certain, America is re-evaluating its post-flood Af-Pak policy. Holbrooke-Munter & Co does not necessarily want to redefine America's policy in this country but have always been more prone to rely on the military half of the government rather than the civilian half.
Obama has handed over Af-Pak – or is it Pak-Af now – to Bulldozer and his Hangman. Washingtonians say, "If you have a bulldozer, you don't need a snow shovel." And they know that a "hangman is a good trade, he doth his work by daylight."

The irony of drones

Michael Schwalbe
In modern wars, civilian populations are bombed, targeted for genocide and terrorism, and made to suffer by wrecked infrastructure. New remote combat technologies – drones and robots controlled by operators far from any delimited battlefield – will bring violence home in ways that will destroy the feelings of safety and security Americans once took for granted.
Militarists who tout these technologies claim that they will mean fewer dead soldiers. This is likely to be true, at least for the side that holds a technological edge. Militarists see other advantages to remote combat: less popular opposition to war if there are fewer body bags coming home, an easier job of teaching recruits to kill if "combat" is as familiar and bloodless as a video game, and more discord among the ranks of enemy leaders because drone strikes often rely on tips from insiders who are trying to eliminate rivals.
The forces driving the development and use of remote combat technologies are partly military and mainly economic. These are enormously profitable technologies for which there will be unlimited demand as nations strive to keep up with each other in a new high-tech arms race. This will be an arms-maker's fantasy come true. As always, ordinary citizens will pay the bill, and not only with tax dollars. We will pay with more fear, fatalism and isolation. The feel of daily life will change.
The eventual equalisation of technological capability will mean the use of drones and robots to strike at targets in the United States. There will be no need to hijack planes or plant car bombs. Drones, some as small as a suitcase, will be launchable from offshore or just outside US borders. These killing machines will be nearly impossible to stop, as is the case with the drones the US now uses in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But the problem is not just technological equalisation and blowback. The problem is that remote combat technologies have changed the rules of engagement. Stealth assassination anywhere at any time, collateral deaths, and explicit targeting of militarily-employed civilians are the new norms. When US military and political leaders tell us that a Taliban or Al Qaeda leader has been taken out by a drone attack, they would have us believe this will seriously weaken the opposing force – so much so that the deaths of nearby friends and family members are an acceptable, if officially regrettable, cost.
Whether this kind of remote killing truly weakens an opposing force is a matter of dispute. What seems clear, however, is that such attacks strengthen the resolve to pay us back in kind. It's not hard to understand why.
Drone attacks often strike people in their homes, away from active battle zones. Which is why these attacks have killed thousands of innocent bystanders, mainly women and children. What better fuel for revenge? As others have noted, for every alleged Taliban or Al-Qaeda leader killed by a drone attack, ten recruits are created. Americans, too, we can imagine survivors thinking, must learn what it feels like to see their loved ones killed by assassination machines. They must experience this in times and places where they thought they were safe.
This retaliation, when it comes, will be justified as necessary, given that Americans have chosen to wage war with killing machines operated from their homeland. The person who flies a drone from a base in the US will be seen as a combatant, hence a legitimate target – and not only while at work but at any time, preferably when most vulnerable. Perhaps while standing next to you at your daughter's soccer game.
University-based researchers who devote their talents to inventing new remote combat technologies – like the shape-shifting ChemBot developed at the University of Chicago – will also become targets. Technicians in a laboratory, students in a classroom, and anyone else nearby will become collateral damage. War will come to campus in a way it never has.
"Ironic" is too weak a word to describe the situation towards which the inventors and deployers of remote combat technologies are taking us. We will be told that we must use sophisticated machines to kill at a distance to keep violence at bay, even as the inevitable diffusion of this technology brings violence closer to home. We will be told that we are fighting to preserve the rule of law against the forces of lawless terrorism, even as presidents and their minions assume the prerogative to carry out remote assassinations as they deem fit, with no judicial oversight or public accountability.
We will be told to be grateful that remote combat technologies make it possible to limit war, even as we exhaust our treasury to pay for it, even as our society becomes more militarised, and even as we experience more fear of dying in conflicts that seem to have no end.
Most Americans have not yet learned a lesson well known to partisans of anti-imperialist struggles: from the standpoint of political and economic elites striving for global dominance, no one who might someday oppose them is innocent, and the deaths of the innocent are not important, except when such deaths become ideological liabilities.
When violence arrives at our door, we should ask: Who invited it? The answer is not simplemindedly "us." The answer is: Those who are purported to lead and protect us, while profiting from the invention and use of ever more powerful killing technologies. When that day of awakening comes, Americans might begin to see that what we needed was not just a new set of leaders but a new society, a society that was radically democratic and in which human monsters could not create mechanical ones to keep the rest of us under control.

Pakistani student wins accolade in US

Ishrat Hyatt
When young Pakistanis excel at home and abroad it makes Pakistan proud as well as negates the impression that we are a land of terrorists and losers. Sadia Irfan is a brilliant Class 10 student of SLS Montessori and School and she has done her country; her school and her parents proud by being a very successful ‘cultural and goodwill ambassador’ to the United States.
SLS Montessori and School is a member of the International Education and Resource Network — Pakistan (iEARN) and for nine consecutive years the school has been providing opportunities to its 9th and 10th class students to study in the US on full scholarship through iEARN’s Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Programme. In 2009 after an initial evaluation, Sadia was short listed for the Secondary Level English Proficiency (SLEP) test held in Karachi, which she cleared — and the subsequent interview — with flying colours and was among the top scorers. She says getting selected for the YES scholarship —- a one-year programme to live and study in the US for free — was a dream come true. “It was a privilege,” she said, “to be part of a prestigious programme where the level of competition was so high that only a few students from all over Pakistan got the opportunity to get selected.”
Talking about her experience Sadia said her journey from Pakistan to the Untied States was as thrilling as a roller coaster ride with some ups and a few downs, but generally very exhilarating. The warm welcome and kind attitude of everyone in the US made her adjustment phase very easy. Prior to her departure she had prepared herself to be the “cultural ambassador” of Pakistan, a position, which she considered exciting. However, thousands of miles away from her home she realised that this was no small responsibility, yet she was not intimidated and got involved in various co-curricular activities such as playing soccer, Nordic skiing, tennis, cheerleading and acting, along with being an active member of several clubs. She maintained her good grades and was privileged to be in the “A Honours Role”. She was awarded several awards and certificates while getting recognised by Villa Rica High School (VRHS) Georgia for being “the student of the year,” as she maintained her G.P.A of 3.8 throughout. She was also given the opportunity to participate in the convocation where she received her degree. Sadia was awarded a shield for being on the school tennis team and playing at University level. Upon completion of this successful year she was given a certificate by the US Department of State for being an exchange student.
After her return, Sadia is working as SLS Representative for Youth Affairs and is energetically involved in different programmes to share her experiences of iEARN. Her recent achievement includes being selected to represent iEARN-YES Alumni Pakistan at the International Youth Conference and Festival from December 6-9, in Islamabad, which is being organised by the Ministry of Youth Affairs in collaboration with Miradore Productions and Young International Club. About three hundred participants will gather from more than twenty countries and attend sessions and activities designed for capacity building regarding the following four themes: Role of Youth In Peace Building; Disaster Management; the role of Sports and Culture in Bridging Gaps and Drugs and General Health Issues Among the Youth. “I am thankful to my parents, my school, iEARN Pakistan and all those who believed that I was capable enough to be a part of the responsibility of being an “ambassador” of my country and getting the opportunity to spend a year in US,” she says with a smile.

Blair’s sister-in-law embraces Islam

“It was a Tuesday evening and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy,” Broadcaster and journalist Lauren Booth told The Mail.
The 43-year-old half-sister of Cherie Blair now wears Hijab whenever she leaves her home, prays five times a day and visits her local mosque.
“Now I don’t eat pork and I read the Holy Qur’an every day. I’m on page 60. I also haven’t had a drink in 45 days, the longest period in 25 years,” she added.
“The strange thing is that since I decided to convert I haven’t wanted to touch alcohol, and I was someone who craved a glass of wine or two at the end of a day.”
Booth, who works for Iran’s English-language Press TV news network, decided to embrace Islam six weeks ago and converted immediately after she returned to Britain.
Booth did not refuse the possibility of wearing a Burqa and said, ‘Who knows where my spiritual journey will take me?’
Before her holy experience in Iran, Booth had spent considerable time working in Palestine and was “always impressed with the strength and comfort it (Islam) gave.”
She travelled to Gaza in August 2008 along with 46 other activists to highlight Israel’s blockade of the territory and was subsequently refused entry into both Israel and Egypt.
In a public letter she wrote to Tony Blair during her visit to Iran last month, Booth expressed hope that the former Labor Party politician would change his presumptions about Islam.
“Your world view is that Muslims are mad, bad, dangerous to know,” she wrote in her letter, asking Blair to acknowledge the International Quds Day, an annual event on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramazan when Muslims express solidarity with the Palestinian people and protest Israel’s occupation of Al-Quds (Jerusalem).
“Here in Iran they feel proud to suffer in order to express solidarity with the people of Palestine,” she said. “It’s kind of like the way you express solidarity with America only without illegal chemical weapons and a million civilian deaths.”
Booth, who had moved to France with her husband and two daughters in 2004, returned to Britain after her husband suffered a sever brain injury following a motorcycle accident in April 2009.

Oct 24, 2010

Feudalism is dead, long live the feudal lord

Does the feudal class retain its economic and political clout?

By Farah Zia

About two months back, The New York Times carried an interesting piece on Jamshed Dasti that turned out to be more of an analysis of how feudal power is waning in a fast urbanising Pakistan. Dasti, a "mongerel" and a "scrappy son of an amateur wrestler", managed to defeat the wealthy feudal classes to win the parliamentary seat on the strength of his personal clout, not once but many times over. Local residents, writes NYT, like to call him "Rescue One-Five, a reference to an emergency hot line number and his feverish work habits."

The strength of his performance in the constituency was such that a virulent media campaign against him for carrying a fake degree could not discourage his voters and Dasti won the byelection once again.

But, are feudals indeed a dying breed?

It appears there is no middle ground as an answer. Those who think feudals have lost their political and economic clout are convinced this has been achieved conclusively and we are currently living in an industrial age that mixes perfectly with capitalism. Or that capitalism dominates agriculture, too. Others differ radically. Feudal class still dominates, they think.

There are, of course, conflicting developments that mar each of these analyses to suggest that the truth may lie somewhere in between. One, feudals do not alone carry the mantle of wealth and influence because mercantile, business, industrialist and trader classes have come to share it with them. Two, we are seeing neo-feudals in industrialists who are buying agricultural land to achieve some kind of 'social power' which is impossible to enjoy in urban centres. And finally many of the landowners of yore now have industries alongside.

Political analyst and academic Rasul Baksh Rais thinks the economic clout of the feudal class did get fragmented because of the inheritance law but the social powers of the family did not. "The dominance of the feudal class sustains because of various reasons. The British gave land to people who were caste or tribal leaders. Earlier, the Mughals gave them land because they wanted to subcontract authority to influentials."

According to Rais, their social base already existed because of their capacity to extract revenue, control population etc. "The land settlement in the late 19th century under the British rule changed the land tenure system of the Mughals. The Mughals did not distribute land on hereditary grounds. They gave land according to the social capacity and role of individuals in the Mughal Empire. The British, on the other hand, gave permanent settlements."

Feudalism has not sustained because of their wealth or land or even their social base, says Rais. "It has sustained because of the landowners' control over district administration, transfers, appointments and development funds. It has sustained because of state patronage. The industrialist sits in the urban areas and gets his work done by paying money. The feudal, on the other hand, keeps the state subordinate."

For journalist Suhail Warraich, feudalism is a thing of the past. "Feudalism was the name of a social structure when feudals could influence the police and the jirga etc. There was no bureaucracy or judiciary. But today we have these institutions and people have become more rebellious."

Warraich holds that no one wants to retain feudalism. "It was a system of the past and it had to end. As the lands continued to be divided, the stature and power of the feudals also dwindled."

Rais, on the contrary, thinks the feudal class still dominates "because now even the mid-level landowner in Punjab and Sindh is quite powerful, not because of the quantity of acreage but because of the increase in the price of agricultural commodities." Their wealth has increased manifold because of their orchards and cash crops, he thinks.

An interesting juxtaposition of this view may be made with the landowners' claim how they have been impoverished over the years. The entire country blames them for not paying the agriculture tax but they say that the markets forces and the middlemen take all the money.

While the veracity of this claim may be difficult to ascertain, Rais is adamant that feudalism thrives because of the way our parliamentary system is structured. It depends on legislatures and the legislature influences the executive. "This is the reason why feudals are still effective and as a consequence the bureaucracy has been weakened."

But is parliament indeed the decision-making body, considering the powers enjoyed by some other pillars peculiar to our state? Rais thinks indeed it is, though the problem is that "party bosses take decisions instead of legislators."

In Suhail Warraich's view "it is important to understand who is doing the decision-making in Pakistan. There is no feudal in the military or judiciary or bureaucracy."

The truth, says Warraich, is that the only meaningful land reforms in this country were effected by "a feudal Zulfikar Ali Bhutto himself and not the military or an industrialist".

If we have already seen the end of feudalism, who are these neo-feudals in the garb of industrialists and why is it important for servicemen to get agricultural land at the end of their careers? "You see, agriculture involves an element of pleasure. Industrialists want to have agricultural land and horses and cows and there's nothing wrong with it and this is happening elsewhere in the world. Whoever has money wants to relax," says Warraich.

"Pakistan needs economic democracy to sustain political democracy"

-- Dr Akmal Hussain, economist and social activist who has

advocated land reforms for many years and conducted extensive research on the impact of agriculture growth on changes in Pakistan's agrarian structure

The News on Sunday: Do you think this is an appropriate time to plan land reforms? Not in terms of revision of land holdings but also in terms of social justice to the landless farmers?

Dr Akmal Hussain: The greatest potential for increasing yield per acre lies in the small farm sector because today this sector (farms below 25 acres) constitutes about 60 percent of the total farm area and 94 per cent of the total number of farms, which makes it a substantive part of the agrarian economy. The majority of farms in this sector are operated by poor tenants that neither have the ability nor the incentive to invest in increasing the yield per acre, because they know that half of their profit will go to the landlord. Its yield potential is largely underutilised. Now, if we could enable this small farm sector to actualise its potential it could become the cutting-edge of a new growth process with higher and more equitable agriculture growth.

Land reform attempts in the past such as in 1958, 1973 and 1977 which specified land ownership in terms of individual rather than family holdings failed to substantially change the land ownership distribution. So that agriculture land ownership continues to remain highly skewed. The greatest potential for increasing yield per acre and value-added agriculture lies in the small farm sector. Therefore, on grounds of both growth and equity, it's all the more important to shift from the elite farmer strategy that we've had since the days of Green Revolution, about four decades ago, to new strategy of growth led by small farmers.

TNS: What should be the first step towards land reforms?

AH: I am an advocate of agrarian reforms in the current situation. Today, land reforms conceived in terms of the more radical meaning -- that is, forcibly taking land away from big landlords and giving it to landless tenants -- are not politically advisable. This will create a high degree of social conflict and violence in the rural sector. Nowhere in the world a forcible transition has been peaceful; not even China and Russia. I don't advocate that kind of forcible transfer of land because Pakistan is already confronting the gravest and multi-faceted crisis of state, society and economy. So for the sake of the country and its people you do not want another dimension of violence and stress on state and society.

TNS: So, how can we transfer land to the tiller through a peaceful process, an effective small farmer strategy?

AH: That's a challenge. I suggest the 2.6 million acres of cultivatable agriculture land owned by the state be divided into five-acre packages and distributed among the tenants operating on less than 25 acres of land, free of charge. By doing so, 58 per cent of the tenant farmers who are currently landless will become land owners.

To enable the rest of the 42 percent of the tenant farmers to buy land, a credit fund worth $4.5billion be created through a consortium of government, donors and commercial banks. State land can be sold to the interested farmers at current cultivable land prices. Land becomes collateral that the farmer returns as loan to the lender. This way the tenancy problem would be solved, and the objective of land to the tiller achieved peacefully rather than through violence.

TNS: How will this ensure agriculture growth?

AH: In order to ensure productivity, increase the acquisition of land ownership by tenants. I suggest initiating a public-private partnership in the shape of the Small Farmers Development Corporation (SFDC) with small farmers being the equity holders while this public limited company would be managed by professionals. Again, loans could be provided to small farmers for purchasing the equity and repayment could be made on the basis of the dividends earned from the equity. The Corporation will help them develop land, provide high quality seeds, fertilisers and pesticides etc; provide farmers with modern technology to increase the yields and to shift to higher value products; and help them to market the produce within the country and, if possible, also internationally.

The bottom line is that instead of treating the poor as recipients of handouts you make them subjects of the process of growth -- by giving them access to and control over productive assets. This would be growth for the people by the people. That's what I call economic democracy.

TNS: Do you agree that the solution lies in breaking the stronghold of the feudal over the voiceless haris?

AH: Pakistan's landed elite cannot be called feudal. It invests, hires labour and generates profit, uses modern technology and is, therefore, capitalistic. There is capitalism in agriculture. However, the old feudal relations have been restructured in the service of capital. The landlords often retain a part of their landholding in the form of tenant farms so that they have a tied source of cheap labour at planting and harvest time. The tenants are often tied to the landlord through debt and are in many cases obliged to work for the landlords at less than market wage rate or no wage at all. Therefore, certain feudal/social relationships prevail within the framework of capitalist agriculture.

This feudal/social culture permeates our political setup. The landlord in some cases embodies the power of the local state. He is the arbiter of right and wrong. He humiliates and punishes his 'serfs' if his authority is challenged. Often the woman's body is used as the terrain where the landlord's power is manifested and established. This is peculiar to feudal culture.

Likewise, in politics, the government-opposition relationship is an aspect of feudal culture, where the opponent must be humiliated and eliminated. Similarly, high quality education is the prerogative of the rich, so is safe drinking water, recourse to justice and healthcare. There's one Pakistan for the rich and another for the poor. The fact that we are able to banish the poor to a life of wretchedness and humility is peculiar to feudal culture.

TNS: You are suggesting the wellbeing of the poor farmer is not the focus of the feudal elite. How can a change be brought about in their thinking?

AH: In order to replace feudal traits with democratic attributes, the poor must be empowered. In my view, Pakistan needs economic democracy to sustain political democracy, because we cannot have political democracy in a situation where we have created an economic apartheid. For the last 63 years, our country's elite have combined rapacity with incompetence. They also lack an understanding of their best interest, which is to avoid a breakdown of law and order that could occur as a result of mass economic deprivation and injustice.

Presently, we are experiencing a reaction against persistent mass poverty, gross social and economic inequality and lack of access over justice. Take the Taliban movement which is in reaction to an economic apartheid state; provincial nationalism in Sindh and Balochistan; and incipient anarchism (remember the current Karachi killings, recent case of lynching in Sialkot or stoning women to death). The fact is if the state is unable to provide the minimum conditions of civilised life, it loses its legitimacy -- that is the right to rule. In Pakistan's case, this legitimacy has been weakened.

Today, if this elite is to wake up, it should know that Pakistan as a state is in a danger. This elite must also know it has no future without Pakistan. So, to have a future for themselves they have to do something for Pakistan. Hence, it is important to ensure agrarian reform. The future is now dependent on empowering small farmers.

-- Alefia T. Hussain, Aoun Sahi & Naila Inayat

Flood of opportunities

The government and various development agencies are talking about the issue of resettlement and rehabilitation of the flood affectees. Interestingly, the debate has centred on building homes for the shelterless people besides rebuilding the infrastructure -- schools, hospitals, bridges and roads -- but there is little focus on issues such as these people's entitlement to land.

A study shows that almost all the poor flood victims are landless. Even those lucky few who have their own houses do not possess entitlement of the land. They are settled either on the state or the private land; in both cases, without any documented ownership title, and are all under an ever present threat of eviction.

A sincere rehabilitation/resettlement moot shall have to accompany a piece of land for cultivation and shelter. Rural families can survive on a minimum of 5 acres of land, leave alone 12 acres or 25 acres as mentioned in the government policy books. So, if the state is willing, it must reconsider the proposal by providing each family a piece of land on ownership basis.

There are large pieces of state land lying vacant or forcibly occupied by the influential. The latter can be immediately recovered and redistributed as part of the resettlement package.

A better way would be to start with the katcha land. This year's floods have brought to light the fact that individuals have occupied as much as 5,000 acres of katcha land and they annexed the state land into their own. It is high time the government restored the state writ and recovered this land from the clutches of the big landlords and then redistribute it among the flood affectees.

Land to the tiller?

The politics of Sindh is ethnically motivated and most government initiatives become a prey to this. Therefore, it may be necessary to see the issue of land reforms in that context

By Zulfiqar Shah

Ghulam Ali Leghari, 50, is landless peasant (hari) in district Sanghar, having a large family of nine members. He himself is in a bad shape; however, he has taken upon himself the voluntary work of helping fellow peasants particularly in settling accounts with landlords who cheat them (haris) or do not pay them.

About six months ago, Ghulam Ali contacted this scribe, asking for help in the recovery of the outstanding amount for an influential landlord in Sanghar. The said landlord, son of a literary figure of Sindh, was not paying to the family of a hari Bharo Bheel. It may be mentioned here that Sanghar, located at the heart of Sindh, is under the strong control of the feudal lords and, therefore, it sees virtually no uprising by the haris.

The last time Ghulam Ali called was a few days back when he wanted to find out details about the government's scheme of land distribution among the haris. He was keen to know about the process so that he would be able to help the local haris in getting allotment of the land. "Believe me, the people are coming to me every day and I have to tell them specifically about it," he explained.

Ghulam Ali sounded quite anxious. A little inquiring helped reveal that he had misunderstood a news item carried by the local journals regarding a bill that had been submitted in the National Assembly by the mainly-urban-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), on Oct 12. The poor peasant had wrongly assumed that a law had been passed.

He also expressed his doubts about Bharo Bheel being a scheduled caste minority group, which meant that he could not benefit from the scheme.

Ghulam Ali is not the only person who was excited by the MQM's proposed 'political venture'; there are millions of landless people in the country, especially in rural Sindh, who would look at any such move as a beacon of hope.

The bill, titled "Redistributive Land Reforms Bill, 2010" proposes restricted landholdings. It also proposes that each family should be allowed to own a maximum of 30 acres of irrigated or 54 acres of arid (barani) land. Besides, it seeks the abolition of hereditary ownership of lands. For its part, the MQM considers its bill in line with the party's recent policy on feudal structure. It proposes that the land surrendered after holding the upper ceiling should be distributed among the landless.

"We want to bring an end to feudalism and the best way to do so is to redistribute the existing land," says Kanwar Khalid Younis, a central leader of MQM. "If we want to see change in the lives of the poor people then we have to make such bold decisions."

According to him, the ball is now in the court of the two major political parties in the parliament whether or not they "support" the bill, "though there is little chance that the present parliament will do so, since it consists mostly of feudals themselves."

Land is a major issue in Pakistan and many people attribute the country's lack of development to the concentration of land among the privileged few. According to the Agricultural Census 2000, nearly half of rural households did not own any land; thus, they are condemned to a life in abject poverty.

Another lot of population comprises landless peasants or haris who work as sharecroppers and are vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation. This is a largely marginalised group which is caught in the web of a feudal structure that makes them socially, politically and economically dependent.

Historically, the issue of land distribution has been up for debate since the inception of the country. First land reforms were introduced in 1959 during Ayub Khan's era, followed by another reforms in 1972 by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Though Bhutto's land reforms, an extension of Ayub's, received a popular support and took Bhutto's stocks higher among the poor masses, they did not serve to bring any remarkable change in the pattern of landholdings.

"Each time the land reforms failed because of their inherent leniencies for the landlords," says Syed Mohammad Ali, an independent expert on land rights in Pakistan.

In his view, fixing the upper level of land on an individual family member rather than on a family was the main drawback of the land reforms. "Though the upper level of land holding was brought down to 150 acres in case of irrigated land, many landlords escaped surrendering the land," he adds.

The reforms failed to reduce land concentration as only 7 to 10 percent of land was reclaimed and distributed among the haris. Later, the takeover of additional land by the state was challenged in the Federal Shariat court and, eventually, in Supreme Court. Both the courts declared such action as repugnant to Islamic principles. This was in 1989. The court verdicts virtually halted the process of land reforms in Pakistan. The submission of the draft bill in the National Assembly by the MQM has re-initiated the debate on the issue. Just how serious (read sincere) is MQM in taking this important bill forward shall be gauged in the future sessions of the Upper House as some political analysts believe it is only a gimmick to gain media attention.

"Why would MQM be interested in land reforms?" asks Shah Jehan Shah, a landlord from district Matyari, when prompted for a comment. "Why don't they talk about concentration of wealth in the cities? Why not distribute industries among the poor? Why just land?"

In contrast to the reaction of landlords, social scientists and intellectuals in Sindh have a rather more cautious stance on the proposed bill. "Genuine land reforms can only be brought if it is made a part of a strong social movement; that's missing at the moment," says Rauf Nizamani, a Sindhi intellectual, talking to TNS. "If MQM was sincere in its initiative it would have first concentrated on social mobilisation instead of going directly into the assembly."

Nizamani agrees that the feudal structure which rests on big land holdings is a major socio-economic issue for the country and that any major change in the setup could only be expected through a distribution of assets. He also says MQM's initiative is without proper homework and consultation with all stakeholders. "I doubt if MQM will get anything out of it besides using it as a bargaining chip with PPP, the ruling party which is dominated by feudals."

The viewpoints of both Shah and Nizamani are understandable, given Sindh's socio ethnic scenario. The politics of Sindh is ethnically motivated and most good government initiatives become a prey to this. Therefore, it may be necessary to see the issue of land reforms in that context.