INDEPENDENCE DAY

Peace and prosperity still a dream

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Aug 19 - 25, 2002

On August 14, 2002, Pakistan has come to the age of 55 years carrying both positives as well negatives in the balance sheet. The hope for a better future is however keeping high the spirit of the simple and innocent people who are the real asset of this country.
Despite going through the hardships of the political, social and economic sufferings they take pride that they are the citizens of an independent country because personal liberty is the paramount essential to human dignity and human happiness.

After a break of 3 years, the nation is preparing to go to the polls on October 10 this year to elect their representatives for the suspended national as well as the provincial assemblies. God may give them wisdom and courage to cast their vote for the right people in the larger interest of the people and the country. Hopefully, they would be cautious of the so-called political leaders who waylaid the people for their personal gains in the past and plundered the country instead of working for the prosperity of the nation.

The 10th of October, certainly the most outstanding event of the year which will provide an opportunity to the people to get rid of the corrupt and professional leaders whose priorities are the personal gains and the party interest, the interest of the common man and the motherland never find a place in their nefarious designs and motives.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has given a firm assurance to the nation that the October elections would be free, fair and transparent.

Speaking on the occasion of 55th Independence Day, the President said: "on this solemn occasion, let me give the whole nation a personal guarantee. "I will take all possible measures to ensure a free, fair and a transparent election" with a view to restoring democracy.

"The government has taken a number of steps to encourage a change and bring in new leadership" he said and added that the voter's age had been reduced to 18 years and minimum qualification of graduation had been introduced for the candidates. The step, he believed, would stop looters, criminals, defaulters and tax-evaders from entering the assemblies.

The President urged people to understand the value of their vote and told them to vote for those who could serve the nation with honesty, sincerity and dedication.

About terrorism, the President said the country was committed to root out "this scourge" so that the world become a safer place to live in.

"We all have to put in joint efforts to root out those who are maligning our religion and tarnishing the image of Pakistan".

There were no quick-fix solutions to sectarianism and extremism. The government was following a methodical approach to deal with these problems and added that results were encouraging.

President Musharraf emphasized that resolution of the Kashmir dispute was imperative for a durable peace in South Asia and added that struggle for self-determination of Kashmiris was a sacred trust which, could never be compromised.

Reiterating Pakistan's strong desire for a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir and all other outstanding issues, Gen. Musharraf made it clear that Pakistan would never be subdued by coercion. He, however, said that Pakistan believed in peace. He also warned that no one should dare think of any adventure across "our borders". He assured the nation that its armed forces were standing guard on the country's borders". The armed forces would not only defend every inch of the motherland but also carry the fight across the border.

Pakistan's position on the issue was based on the Security Council Resolution that elections could not be a substitute for the free and impartial plebiscite to be held under the auspices of the United Nations.

Referring to the government's achievements during the last three years, he said "we have demonstrated to the world that good governance, economic progress and elimination of corruption is possible in Pakistan. The world accepted this now". It was not a small achievement when compared with the despair and despondency prevailing in 1999. At that time the target was revival of fledgling economy, strengthening of the federation, improving law and order, de-politicizing state institutions, introduction of a system of accountability, and rebuilding of national confidence. He observed that substantial progress had been made on this agenda during the short period of less than three years.

President said the government had decided to rebuild the state institutions and undertake fundamental and far-reaching reforms to ensure sustainability and long-lasting growth. He said his government's strategy was to get out of debt trap and reschedule debt to get fiscal space. The resources thus spared were being used on development projects.

ECONOMIC SITUATION

It is generally and widely accepted that unlike the previous experiences of the corrupt and characterless governments, the present team at the helm of affairs led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf is working with clean hands and good intentions. So far no finger has been raised from any quarters about misappropriation or financial bungling. The outstanding results achieved in economic and financial management are reflected in the unprecedented strength of country's reserves, which according to finance minister Shaukat Aziz, will touch the mark of $8 billion at the end of the current financial year. This financial stability has certainly elevated Pakistan's position in the world market. It is the leadership, which successfully tackled the most crucial moment in the backdrop of Sept.11 events. Consequently, the developed world which was no so friendly with Pakistan altogether changed its repulsive attitude which culminated in successful rescheduling of the alarming size of foreign debt, increased market accessibility into the European Union and the United States resulting in enhanced export volume from Pakistan. It is however unfortunate that on one hand the government is getting strong financially, the people of Pakistan getting weaker and weaker economy. The purchasing power is declining fast due to price inflation mainly because of high rate of taxation of utilities, fuel, edible oil and vegetable ghee and other essential items. The financial managers of this country should keep in mind the per capita income of the people while focusing to increase revenue targets. Why WAPDA and KESC facing almost 40-45 percent of power theft? Only because they are unable to pay the exorbitant power rates in Pakistan. If the government is really interested to resolve the issue of huge power theft, the utility companies will have to bring down the tariffs at an affordable level. The administrative measures will not deliver the goods otherwise. The results so far achieved in the wake of induction of army officials in these utility companies are self-explanatory.

EDUCATION

Education, which is of paramount essential for human resource development, is the most neglected area in Pakistan. Under the slogan of privatization, the education sector has been allowed to operate in a free for all fashion. With a few exceptions, the public sector educational organizations including even at university level have come to a total mess. Teachers come to their respective organizations just to get their salary cheque. The students have to attend the coaching centers to get through the exams. Boards of Education again a total mess, a crop of corrupt officials have no interest in making the future of the young except to extort money from the students and the parents by creating different obstacles in exam papers, marks and results. On the other hand the educational institutions in the private sector have been given a free hand. There is no limit of fees charged by them. The amount they are charging for a semester is so high that only those who have the drug money, gun running money or opportunity to bribe people can afford to send their children to these organizations. It is the responsibility of the government or their universities giving affiliation to these private sector organizations to put a certain limit on fees charged by these organizations. As a result of this hopeless state of affairs in the education sector, the education status in Pakistan has come to the lowest level in the region. This is an alarming situation which, calls for immediate remedial measures.

In an overview of the political and socio-economic situation in Pakistan, the Asian Development Bank in its recent report on Pakistan says: "about 47 million people are living below poverty line in Pakistan. Between 1993 and 1999 more than 12 million were added to the rank of the poor.

The report titled with "Poverty in Pakistan: looks into issues, causes and Institutional Responses" has indicated that during the period from 1993 the level of poverty worsened from 26 per cent of the population falling below the poverty line to 32 per cent in 1999. The number of people falling below poverty line was expected to have further increased after 1999 as growth has slowed, development funding has declined and country has experienced a severe drought. "Thus it would not be an exaggeration to say that more than a third of the country's population is currently living in poverty.

"What little growth occurred during the 90s did contribute to employment and income generation among the poor". After 1997, poverty has been on the rise, the report said.

ADB's country director Mashuk Ali Shah while releasing the report announced that ADB would offer $2.5 billion to Pakistan during 2004-2006 to support various development initiatives including measures to alleviate poverty.

ADB is extending $1.1 billion in 2002 and $2.5 billion will be offered during 2004-06.

The country director has however warned the government to effectively carry out the reform agenda, failing which the ADB would be forced to withdraw its financial support to Pakistan. The annual financial support of about $820 million to $830 million will be stopped if Pakistan could not intrinsically carry out its reform agenda, the country director observed.

Despite substantial local and foreign funds were being spent to address the very serious issue of poverty, the poverty in Pakistan was rising.

The bank would focus on operational strategy for alleviating poverty in Pakistan.

According to Country Director, the report on poverty in Pakistan has been finalized by meeting all the stakeholders including government officials, private sector experts, political parties, NGOs and other civil society representatives.

He stressed the need for improving growth rate and increasing public spending for alleviating poverty. The growth in the past was not pro-poor and did not contribute to employment generation. The Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) and Karachi Electricity Supply Corporation (KESC) were responsible for major hemorrhaging of national resources. The ADB official was of the view that without carrying out effective reforms, the performance of WAPDA and KESC and the Central Board of Revenue (CBR) could not be improved. All the countries of the world were relying on the generation of their own resources and Pakistan would have to do the same by ensuring improvement in the CBR.

The economic fundamentals of the present government were there but political instability, law and order and the situation on borders could continue to cause problems to address the issue of poverty in Pakistan.

The present government is however moving in the right direction and that is why the donor agencies are taking a risk to offer financial assistance to Pakistan. The ADB chief of Pakistan operations expressed the hope that the future government would not undo the reform process started by the Musharraf administration. Political certainty will be the key factor to ensure turnaround in the economy specially the poverty alleviation.

The report regretted that while poverty had intensified in the last decade, the low level of social sector investment was also compromising the country's long-term prospects for achievement of high growth.

Pakistan's education indicators are the worst in South Asia, the report said adding that Pakistan's public sector spendings on education and health at barely 2.1 per cent of the GDP, is significantly lower than that of other countries in the region.

The effects of the poor governance had compounded the economic causes of rising poverty such as decline in GDP growth rate, increasing indebtedness, inflation, falling of physical infrastructure. At the same time social factors such as the highly unequal distribution of land, low level of human development and persistent ethnic and sectarian conflict are also obstacles to the achievement of long-term sustained development.

Environmental degradation is also inter-linked with increasing poverty and has impacts on the health of poor as on the unsustainability of their livelihoods.

The ADB was assisting the government in implementation of various poverty alleviation initiatives specially by offering $300 million devolution support program for 2002. Also, a loan of $350 million was being processed as part of the Access to Justice program and $150 million for police reform plan.

ADB would support higher growth and great stability of income and employment in rural areas focusing on getting the policy and institutional framework right: Increasing agriculture productivity and diversification by moving to market based agricultural prices, strengthening research and extension services, and expanding the role of private sector in storage and agriculture support services, increasing non-farm employment opportunities by developing agribusiness for exports and rural small and medium enterprises, promoting rural-urban linkages by improving communications, particularly rural roads, expanding rural economic infrastructure, especially for irrigation, drainage and water resources and enhancing access to credit in rural areas, investing in infrastructure in areas where incidence of poverty is high and where the lack of infrastructure is a critical barrier to development.

KASHMIR

It is however amazing that the international organizations, institutions and donor agencies while reviewing the prevailing economic and social sector conditions in India and Pakistan generally forget to strike at Kashmir issue that is the root cause of all economic and social ills. Due to persistent border tension between India and Pakistan a major chunk of resources goes to defence expenditures. On the other hand the mounting political tension between the two countries also keep the investors away of the region. Time has come that the world forces should come forward seriously to resolve this issue in accordance to the UN resolution so that the people in this part of the world could march towards peace and prosperity. It is encouraging that the people who matter in India have started realizing the gravity of the situation on account of Kashmir dispute.

Arundhati Roy, writer of international repute and winner of Booker Prize, and two other eminent journalists from India, currently visiting Pakistan have called for initiation of dialogue with Pakistan for the resolution of all out standing issues including Kashmir.

In this talk of war and pointing of nukes, what are we being distracted from? Said Roy, who does not believe in the concept of nation-state and feels happy on being introduced as "a citizen of the globe"

For the governments of India and Pakistan, Kashmir is not a problem, it's their perennial and spectacularly successful solution" she said and added that every time the two governments needed to divert attention of the masses from the domestic problems, they pulled the rabbit out of their hats.

Roy said she had no position on Kashmir and called for blowing holes in the dams that separated the two neighbours. With each battle cry against Pakistan, we inflict a wound on ourselves, on our way of life, on our spectacularly diverse and ancient civilization, on everything that makes India different from Pakistan.

Ms. Roy while reading excerpts from her essay "End of the threats of nuclear war exchanges between India and Pakistan said: "People do not say they hate each other's rather these are the two governments, which spread all these notions of hatred and war.

She was of the opinion that "the politicians are not genetically corrupt people. It is the power that corrupts the politicians". She termed the mutual hatred between India and Pakistan, a manufactured hatred by the elite. "It is a kind of myth they want us to believe. War between India and Pakistan is like a war between poorest communities while the Zamindars remain busy in laying their pipelines and pointing out that please don't go to India and Pakistan. We are like idiots going to each others' throats and not realizing that a completely different agenda goes on there", she said

Shaker Gupta, Editor of Indian Express, accompanied by Ms. Roy observed that the recent travel advice issued by the United States and EU countries had jolted India, creating for the first time a realization that vast India existed beyond Kashmir.

Another lesson that India had learnt was that war could be no bilateral matter between the two countries, he added. Commenting on the recent escalation of tension for which he blamed India, he said, "We began to look like stupid in the world" Everybody in the world was trying to teach and lecture Indians and Pakistan as what could be the consequences of a nuclear exchange.

Gupta made an interesting suggestion that the old set of retired generals and young people should replace foreign secretaries involved for the last one decade in track-two diplomacy. There is a need of paradigm shift where people at various levels start talking to each other. There are micro-conceptions about each other, which can only be eroded by increased contacts, he said.

OBSTACLES

In a free country there is much clamor, with little sufferings. In a despotic state there is little complaint, with much grievance. People should be encouraged to register their grievance without fear so that the black sheep hidden in the ranks and file of the society could be exposed. These black sheep are responsible for hampering growth of the nation. People at the helm of affairs have to look seriously into reasons why 90 per cent of the crimes go unreported. Why people are hesitant to register their complaints probably they are not sure to get justice hence they feel insecure. The Asian Development Bank has provided a fund of $350 million for the judiciary. It is the justice, which play the pivotal role in keeping all spheres of life on an even keel.

Though the present government has made substantial achievements in different directions, yet human sufferings call for more and prompt actions to weed out the corrupts hampering the way to peace and prosperity in Pakistan.