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Agitation, exploitation & external threats

Pakistanis have witnessed a horrible fortnight. First to disturb peace was the insane controversy from Denmark. Then we had Mr. Karzai from Afghanistan, who gave his not too friendly interview the other day, in which he warned us to stop interfering in his country. To substantiate his complaint, he gave Pakistan a list of 17 taliban living here (under official patronage?), whom he wanted arrested and extradited. I believe there is a similar list given by India lying unattended. Will these lists be a charge against Pakistan under changed circumstances in the future? Mr. Karzai said that if Afghanistan was ever de-stabilized again by his neighbours (an obvious reference to us & Iran), he would make sure that we would be de-stabilized too. Now that is threatening.

  But first let us look internally. Our holy Prophet (PBUH), who became the object of ridicule by the Danish cartoons and the subsequent agitation that was unleashed, has now become a drive for removal of the government (predicted in the previous news letter). The controversy has entered Pakistani electoral politics; the opposition parties have found an excellent opportunity not only to eviscerate the government but to mobilize opinion for the next elections. The shape of the present agitation has indicated many things. What is looming above everything else is the evident marginalization of the present government.

There are many reasons for this in addition to the cartoons. Our sociological and political experience indicates and history proves, that in the South Asian milieu a government continues to receive allegiance of its people as long as it is effective and also provides personal security, distributive justice, economic well being and court room justice. It is a sine qua non of political success. If these political goods are absent or scarce, then the ruler loses the general will to rule because in the people’s eye the government has failed.

Democracy, does not figure in the priorities of an average Pakistani. Why is that? Because he is not empowered. Democracy by and large remains a sham by which the rich legitimize their right to hold the poor in thralldom.  When we talk of democracy in the background of poverty, deprivation and abject social services for the poor, we speak of democracy with a special definition. In this context democracy is the route of the newly rich and the rising middle classes for more say in the running of the state and their inclusion amongst the ranks of the elite. Marx had pointed this out as the classic demand of the new bourgeoisie.

Pakistan is a poor country, whose poverty indices have gotten worse over the last decade. In NWFP, the figures show that 44% of its inhabitants live below the poverty line. Our economic policies have enriched a few at the expense of the many. The state, under questionable policy prescriptions has reduced agricultural subsidies and social security spending in health, education and public welfare area. Social sector spending are at best rhetorical. On the grounds of macro-economic management, we have bought discontent and future insecurity. It is a nightmarish situation. The recent unrest over the cartoons epitomizes what the future holds for us.

Yet at the same time the rich controvert the state for their individual ends. For example, the decision though not yet implemented, but the federal cabinet has in principle decided to impose a 15% duty on the export of gur, (dry concentrated sugar cane, used as sweetener in rural areas in place of sugar and mostly produced in NWFP) to Afghanistan. The price of gur in the market is about four time the price offered by the sugar mills to the farmer. The measure if implemented will reduce NWFP farmer’s well being to enrich the sugar industrialists, many of whom are members of the federal cabinet. The sugar magnates force feed their mills with subsidized cane to the detriment of the farmer; at the same time huge profits are made by them by hoarding sugar and raising its price. They cleverly profit twice  both at the input and the out put stage. 

More than 200 wheat husking mills in the NWFP have been shut because of the decision to end the supply of subsidized wheat to them. This has had a negative effect on employment and well being in the province. The net saving to the province has been 0.5% of the provincial GNP. I would like to ask whether any one has calculated, whether this saving is greater than the loss to the livelihoods and the generation of economic activity in the province. I think not. This has led to the shifting of this economic activity to Punjab. I am informed on good authority, that many new wheat mills have now come up on the Punjab side of the Punjab-NWFP boundary. Are we not impoverishing one province’s people on questionable efficiency grounds, when others are treated on different yardstick, as in the case of the sugar industry?

  Now consider the case of hydel energy produced within the NWFP, which is priced lower, to off set the cost of the more expensive thermal power; thus benefiting the down country users of electricity. On pure economic criteria, the price of electricity should vary from area to area. It will be cheaper in NWFP, because of its location near to the site of production, than in Lahore or Karachi. However, because of cross-subsidization of thermal power, the price of electricity is made uniform throughout Pakistan. Why doesn’t the World Bank and others involved in macro economic re-structuring, recommend the removal of this hidden subsidy on efficiency criteria?

In this way NWFP suffers twice; in areas where it can benefit, as in the case of wheat milling, subsidies are stopped and on the other hand its larger comparative advantage from hydel generation is destroyed by a pricing mechanism. The industrialists of Lahore and Karachi benefit at the expense of NWFP.  Like wise the constitutional transfer of net profits to NWFP are also considerably lessened because of lowered prices of hydel energy.

Thus, what does democracy mean in this context? I think nothing more than legitimizing the pauperization of the low income groups and poor provinces. It has remained so in history and continues today. The claim to a larger share of resources for E. Pakistan was neutralized by the ploy of parity (One Unit), and the emergence of two provinces East and West Pakistan. We did not then speak of distribution of resources on the basis of population that we do now and which is the principle of resource distribution between the Pakistani provinces under the National Finance Commission.

Lack of equity finally led to the crippling of the state with the separation of E. Pakistan and its emergence as Bangla Desh. We have learnt nothing from history and continue to follow the same policies in relation to the smaller provinces. That’s why NWFP’s social indicators are the worst. In the present climate they will remain the same and not improve.

We spend more political, administrative and financial resources pandering to the vested interests of the rich than solving the problems of the poor majority. In the context of South Asia the rulers have always tried to enrich themselves and their supporters by abusing hold over state power. Our policy pronouncements invariably speak about assisting the poor but in their effect they are any thing but poor friendly. If such matters are limited to the economic field alone, maybe it was tolerable longer. But this is not the case; the malaise has become systemic and like cancer has traveled down wards, to the horror of an average Pakistani; the following two factual illustrations from this province speak for themselves.

Case study 1. This happened a few days ago in Charsadda, an agricultural town about 22 miles to the N.E of Peshawar. A landlord, who has now retired from government, had a few tenants from Bajaur looking after his lands. The tenants had an 18 year old son, who lived with his parents and worked in the nearby fish restaurants on river Surdarayab. One early morning, two persons came to the boy’s village on a bi-cycle. One of the visitors came to the tenant’s house and asked his son to meet him. The young son came and was informed that the other person accompanying him wanted to speak secretly to him. The tenant’s son went to the field where the other bike rider was waiting at a secluded spot. The tenant’s son was shot dead. After which both the killer and his accomplice quietly rode out of the village. Despite the hue and cry, no one intervened to stop the killers from going away. After failing to get any assistance from the local police, the poor father approached his landlord for help. The landlord requested the local police officer to implement the law, hoping that having remained a senior government officer he would receive assistance. This did not happen. Finally, the former officer wrote to the DIG of police of an adjoining area, who had served with him in the past. The DIG wrote to the police station in charge to assist in implementing the law. Instead the poor tenant was asked by the police to go to the killer’s house and request an end to the matter.

In the meantime the killers, who were tenants of the local Nazim, were daily in his office with placards stating that the police was discriminating them and wanted to arrest them in a false murder case. The Nazim influenced the police not to move against the killers. In frustration over the official imbecility, the land lord sent a warning to the father of the Nazim, that his son was supporting murderers. The Nazim was reprimanded for misbehaving. In the mean time, the bereaved father has given up his tenancy and returned to Bajaur, tribal area, to prepare for avenging his son’s death himself.

Case study 2. A poor gardener lived in Tarnab (a village 10 miles east of Peshawar), with his wife, a daughter aged 17 years and a son aged 18. He also had younger children. A few months ago, the daughter was raped by influentials of the village; she died after this horrible event. The police could not arrest the accused, who were identified but were protected from criminal action by the Nazim. The murderers constantly threatened the poor gardener to with draw the case; his refusal to compromise led to the brutal murder of his 18 year old son too. Still no arrests were made. Finally, the gardener’s wife was kidnapped and taken to the tribal area to pressurize him to compromise the murder cases. He finally succumbed and his wife returned. The muttering gardener roams on the roads while talking to himself. 

These narrations indicate the abject condition of the poor in rural areas in terms of personal security. Generally social cohesion and norms of fellow feeling have broken down. We see it every day in the form of road rage, violence and galloping crime. The same is reflected in other areas, which affect the life of most poor rural Pakistanis; in the matter of land record; in getting his water rights from the canal system etc. It explains the disenchantment of an average Pakistani with the government.

I feel two things are wrong here. The state has absolved itself in the economic field and has given up its responsibilities to make the lives of the poor better. Secondly, the institutional law and order arrangements are weak. An enlarging Hobbesian night mare is taking shape, where life for an increasing percentage of people is becoming brutish and short.

Can then one really condemn the frustration of the common man today, when he comes out on the streets and breaks every thing in sight? Is his anger not due to his disenchantment against a predatory state, which fails to nurture and protect and give him hope rather than the cartoons? The answer my friend, is written on the wind  make the lives of the poor better or lose the right to govern. No amount of chatter about terror or other high fluting philosophies will still this demand. The hopelessness is writ large on the face of people; it is only a matter of time before the situation is ignited into violence. 

There is a serious need to consider re-designing the state functions and providing capacity to implement the prescriptions for benefiting the poor. There should be no hidden agendas and no excuses that this or that can’t be done because of commitments to international agencies. For instance we have accepted on grounds of reforms the removal of agricultural subsidies; but both the United States and the European Union continue to provide massive agricultural subsidies, although only about 3% of their population derives incomes from agriculture. In our case 70% of the population lives on agriculture.

Mr. Karzai’s threat comes at a time, when the United States is managing Afghanistan. It does not take much imagination to understand what is happening. I think the US has transformed its discussion with Pakistan from a purely security angle to a political level. In the past also, the US sent requests for arrest of Talibans. However, this time around, the demand is based on a concealed threat. It conveys that if Pakistan fails to arrest the wanted persons, than we are hand in glove with the enemies of Afghanistan. In which case, Pakistan will be a legitimate area of counter operation and claims by Afghanistan. The past links of Karzai with US Vice President, Dick Cheney should be underlined. Before coming to rule Afghanistan, he worked for UNOCOL as a consultant and was reporting directly to Dick Cheney. Pakistan should seriously discuss all issues brought forward by Afghanistan and not ignore these warnings; we should understand that there are others, who are pulling the strings.

While we have some time before another crisis overtakes us, we must consider strengthening and securing Pakistan by becoming more pro poor in our policies. Let us create a Pakistani agenda; later we can think of implementing policies of others. Let us not rely too much on export led growth. It takes away autonomy that we could rely on in time of crisis. Even the US doesn’t apply the same principles of free market, when if it feels that its national interests are threatened. It has refused to allow the Chinese to buy UNOCOL because it would cause energy insecurity. Likewise, there is a huge criticism on the transfer of management of some US ports to a UAE company on the grounds of national security. If the principles of free-market are not practiced by the US, why should a poor country like us give up its commitment to assist the poor on grounds of macro-economic stability? Instead let us have fewer guns, fighter planes and bullet proof Mercedes and more girls schools please.

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