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Why are children dying of hunger in Sindh, Pakistan? April 1, 2014

Posted by ruthgamble in : Guest authors, Pakistan , Comment

Mustafa Talpur

Watching helplessly as children die from starvation in their mother’s embrace is truly horrible.  When I began to see this happen recently, I repeatedly assumed that the children were sleeping peacefully in their mother’s arms. But when I looked closer, I realised they were never going to wake up; I realised that they were dead. The individual scenes themselves were shocking, but most shocking of all was the number of times the scene has been repeated in Tharparkar, Sindh Province Pakistan. According to media reports, more than two hundred children have died through causes linked to malnutrition in recent months. And perhaps most shocking of all was the fact that responsibility for this devastating repetition lay with the democratically elected government of Sindh, who could have prevented these deaths if it had fulfilled its obligations.

The hunger that leads to starvation is an acute form of poverty, and a denial of a fundamental human right. Making sure that children have enough to eat should be a basic function of government. Yet my experiences, and the experiences of other development workers in the region, suggest that this function is not being fulfilled by the government of Pakistan generally, and the Sindh provincial government in particular. (more…)

Hard times force Pakistan to privatise March 27, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , 1 comment so far

Sajjad Ashraf

On returning to power after 14 years in 2013 the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government led by Nawaz Sharif faced a bankrupt economy. While mostly caused by an abysmally low tax-to-GDP ratio, the public sector enterprises (PSEs) had also haemorrhaged US$25 billion over the previous five years. Sharif remains desperate for immediate IMF support to keep Pakistan afloat. A condition of the IMF’s US$6.7 billion bailout package is the privatisation of at least 65 PSEs in two tranches within two years. During Sharif’s two previous terms the government privatised 76 companies. He seems eager to begin the privatisation process from where he left off in 1999. But the task is enormous and full of challenges.

The majority of these PSEs are overstaffed and under heavy debt; they were created to accommodate retiring favourites and party loyalists. Only subsidies that drain national resources keep them afloat. Since any layoff is a politically charged subject it is not easy to restructure the PSEs before sale. Yet few investors will venture into buying moribund companies with conditions on staff retention.

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Freedom from hunger: privilege granted or acknowledged right? January 29, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan, South Asia - General , Comment

Aly Ercelan and Muhammad Ali Shah

“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.”

A recent publication of Rome-based UN agencies (FAO along with IFAD and WFP of the UN) aiming at global food security is worth a serious commentary for several reasons. One is the odious South Asian situation, which includes Pakistan, of socially imposed mass hunger and malnutrition, which affectsnot just women and men but also children. If there is a single issue that defines development, then it is the situation of children today and tomorrow (as UNICEF rightly underscores). Their under- and mal-nourishment leads to untimely death of hundreds of thousands before the age of five. Survivors face a cruel future in which both body and brain remain wasted and stunted. What then is the point of investing social resources in universal schooling? Avoiding hunger often leads to employment of children in distressingly hazardous conditions and at ruthlessly exploitative wages. Government commits funds for abolition of “worst forms of child labour” but what benefit can they have when their disbursement excludes full and productive employment of their parents?

A second reason is that the FAO retains an overwhelming influence upon sub-continental professional advisors as bureaucrats and consultants, even among those who are not obviously beholden to Washington. Thirdly, food security should be included in the post-2015 agenda for universal accountability of states and the international community to citizens. In fact, food security targets may well encompass necessary commitments in education and health.

This review summarises the FAO report – The State of Food Insecurity in the World  with an emphasis upon South Asian conditions. Its policy guidelines are to be examined critically in a follow up article, through a lens provided by another recent study – Alternatives & Resistance to Policies that Generate Hunger (by the Right to Food & Nutrition Watch.

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Defence Minister Johnston and Australia’s role in Pakistan September 27, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Afghanistan, Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , 1 comment so far

Sandy Gordon

As we wind down in Afghanistan after a twelve-year war, new Defence Minister David Johnston reportedly says we need to keep our counter-insurgency skills honed, including for possible use in Pakistan (SMH, 21 September 2013).

Mr Johnston and his advisers need to think such statements through. Does he mean a limited role in advising Pakistan on counter-insurgency or does he envision a more robust involvement in maintaining stability? Either way, there is no useful role for Australia, either singly or in concert with its friends and allies.

Pakistan is both a supporter of the insurgency in Afghanistan and involved in counter-insurgency against groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) within Pakistan.

In the former role, the Pakistani military and its intelligence service, the ISI, support Afghan anti-government groups like the Haqqani network and harbour the Taliban leadership in Quetta. US intelligence believes the Haqqani network, with support from the ISI, was involved in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008, in which 58 died. The network also allegedly killed the Karzai government’s chief peace envoy, Burhanuddin Rabbani.

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Pakistan’s hopes rest with third-chance prime minister July 12, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Mollaun, Alicia, Pakistan , 1 comment so far

Alicia Mollaun

On 11 May, Pakistan achieved a historic milestone: for the first time, a democratically elected government was replaced by another democratically elected government. In a country ruled for over half of its existence by the military, this was a notable outcome.

The lead-up to the election, and election day itself, was marred by violence. Over 120 people were killed in the weeks before the election. On election day, more than 600 000 security personnel were deployed to protect 70 000 polling stations, half of which were considered to be in sensitive locations and vulnerable to attack.

Despite heightened security, voting was tainted by violence: at least 38 people were killed and over 130 were injured. The Election Commission of Pakistan had to defer elections for three National Assembly seats and six seats of the provincial assemblies because candidates had died – some of natural causes; others were killed. Many candidates were kidnapped, including former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani’s son, who was taken by militants while campaigning for a seat in Multan.

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Pakistan’s new government: a harbinger of hope? May 15, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, Pakistan , 2comments

Sandy Gordon

Pakistan has just experienced the first democratic change of government in its history. It did so despite a violent campaign by religious extremists to derail the election. This violence targeted secular-oriented parties such as the ousted Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). However, the victory by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Party (PML-N) is still a genuine one. The 60% voter turnout is excellent for Pakistan and indicates that Pakistanis defied the religious extremists.

Voters were clearly fed up with the PPP’s corruption and poor economic management. The country has suffered from serious electricity cuts and an anaemic economy. It is burdened by a rapid population growth rate, fuelled by poor levels of general and especially female literacy. Environmental problems in the heavily irrigation-dependent economy are growing.

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Can Imran Khan’s rise and ‘fall’ shape the nation’s destiny? May 9, 2013

Posted by aungsi in : Misra, Ashutosh, Pakistan , 2comments

Ashutosh Misra

At the time of writing this article Imran Khan’s condition was reportedly stable and improving, but not rapidly enough to enable him to cast his vote on May 11. What an irony that a leader whose political fortunes depend on every vote will not be able to cast his own. Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) party had sustained serious head and back injuries in a terrible fall from a wobbly car-lifter, supporting one personal guard too many, as it tried to hoist him atop a container-cum-stage. This accident must have instilled a frightening sense of déjà vu in the people of Pakistan who had witnessed the shocking assassination of Benazir Bhutto just before the 2008 elections, who later succumbed to the suspected gun-shot wound in the head. In the ensuing sympathy wave the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) came to power, making Asif Ali Zardari the President, in a yet another accident of history.

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India-China border tension and nuclear posturing May 9, 2013

Posted by aungsi in : Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , Comment

Sandy Gordon

The standoff between China and India in Ladakh has been resolved, at least for now. After China set up five tents for 40 personnel 19 km inside what India regards as the line of control, India set up similar tents facing them.  Both lots of tents are now to be removed, but it is still unclear whether India is to remove any of the structures at Fukche and Chumar, as demanded by the Chinese.

The Chinese withdrawal only occurred after India had hardened its position on the impending visit of Indian foreign Minister Salman Kurshid to Beijing on 9 May and the reciprocal visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to New Delhi on 20 May. The Indian government was forced to harden its position by the strong public reaction to what was perceived to be its week-kneed response to the Chinese ‘incursions’.

A disturbing feature of the incident was the way it had been politicised on both sides, thus risking the protagonists being ‘locked in’ to their respective positions.

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Decent work deficits in Pakistan May 3, 2013

Posted by nishankmotwani in : Guest authors, Pakistan, Uncategorized , Comment

Aly Ercelan

The labour movement in Southasia has often expressed its deep concerns of development priorities being abandoned. Economic growth is indeed necessary. But increasing inequality prevents rapid eradication of income poverty and vulnerability. The excluded population rises not in numbers but also as share of a (growing) population. Policy failures are visible on several counts. Most of all is a missing active social policy that would not just mitigate the adversity, but offset the profit bias inherent in neo-liberal economic policy — of promoting capital-intensive growth and cheap-labour led export expansion (which privilege foreign capital by subsiding their consumers, and probably even subsidise the arms trade). This note discusses Pakistan.

Claiming divine will or peoples sovereignty, Islamabad asserts prosperity and progress in Pakistan, ‘achieving’ large food exports including cereals from a country filled with hungry citizens. Our interest in such assertions is focused upon inequality and poverty as consequences of neoliberal policies for output and employment growth. The primary concern remains the state structures whose oppression produces and sustains mass impoverishment and exclusion. When generations already feel abused then deadly terrorism will undoubtedly remain as a curse even upon our grandchildren. (more…)

Pakistan’s transition to substantive democracy April 17, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , Comment

Rosita Armytage

When Pakistan holds elections on 11 May 2013 it will be the first time in Pakistan’s history that an elected government hands over power to another elected government.

Though this is a positive development, most Pakistani and international observers are not optimistic that the elections form part of a broader transition from procedural to substantive democracy — a system of government where civil and political liberties are protected.

There are many reasons for this lack of optimism. Ongoing attacks on the minority Shia population have significantly increased, with hundreds killed already this year. Political leaders and candidates are routinely targeted, and there have been regular attacks on development workers seen to be promoting ‘liberal values’. These political and social fault lines have been exacerbated by the worsening economic crisis. Economic growth has averaged just under 3 per cent over the last three years — a level that is insufficient to either substantially improve the population’s living standards or absorb the growing workforce. Prices are rising at around 11 per cent per year, and the price increases on fuel, together with severe electricity shortages, have prompted a growing number of mass protests across the country.

Politically, socially and economically, Pakistanis face deep insecurity.

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