As we walk from the cul-de-sac clogged by Land Cruisers, Mercedes and BMWs towards a residence in one the city’s most exclusive suburbs, trickles of laughter and music drift down to greet us. Drivers emerge to open back doors, while the shalwar kameez clad workers of the construction site opposite survey the procession of suits and gowns from where they rest on tomorrow’s stacked bricks. A white-suited staff member leads us through the fairy-lit and manicured gardens, and a waiter descends with a tray of glasses of red and white wine, immediately offering to make my companion something stronger. Across the lawn, men in black suits stand about smoking, drinking whiskey and water, talking politics and business, while brightly decorated, bejeweled and kohl-lined women gather uneasily on couches, eyeing one another critically whilst loudly proclaiming how pleased they are to see each other.
This is Islamabad, and being invited to this party means you’ve made it: to a club where the grass is green, the liquor imported, and the wealth is unimaginable.
At parties like this one the lines between social and business networks blur, as one mingles with the highest tier of Pakistan’s commercial and political elite. Favor-giving and exclusive social networking are critical features of how big business gets done at the uppermost tier in Pakistan – or anywhere, really. But while these are universal characteristics of elite-level business, in the context of Pakistan’s weak regulatory structure the exclusionary element of this world is both compounded and solidified – serious profit-making depends on access to decision-makers and the influential people around them, and it is an access that is extremely difficult to obtain. As a result, at its uppermost levels, the country’s economic system is closed, and the elite, not legal statutes, create, control, and guard their domain, serving as gatekeepers to those outsiders who might seek to gain entry.
India-Pakistan relations: quo vadis? December 23, 2014Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India, Pakistan , comments closed
Maqsudul Hasan Nuri
It is ironical that while India and Pakistan are jointly honoured with Nobel Peace Prizes they should be lately engaged in cross-border skirmishes along their borders.
The Indian view is that Pakistan first provoked the border tension by sending cross-border militants. Also, many Indians took umbrage over Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech in September 2014 UN General Assembly session in which he raised the Kashmir issue. Another contributory factor could have been the exceptionally warm reception by US during the UN session. The US “pivot Asia” policy has also encouraged India as a partner against China in East Asia. The Indian stance, moreover, maintains that the perpetrators of 2001 Mumbai attack have still not been punished by Pakistan.
Justifying cancellation of Indo-Pakistan secretary-level talks, it seems the Indian forays were meant to divert the focus of the Pakistan military from fighting in FATA. In the wake of the US military exit post-2014, so the argument goes, India would not let its bargaining position weaken vis-a-vis Pakistan.
Malala and Salam: crusaders for education November 20, 2014Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed
Maqsudul Hasan Nuri
Pakistan has had the distinction of winning two Nobel Prizes in its nearly seven decades of existence: Professor Abdus Salam in science and recently Ms Malala Yusufzai for girl education. Salam had shared his prize with two others while Malala is co-winner with Kailash Satyarathi – a committed Indian social activist for children education and rights.
Interestingly, both Nobel Laureates hail from humble backgrounds and belong to the lesser developed and remote regions of Pakistan: Swat in KPK and Jhang in Southern Punjab. The parents of both were school teachers but suffused with a passion for giving education to their wards; both prize-winners faced cynical reviews by many of their countrymen when they won the coveted Nobel Prize: Salam, for belonging to the Ahmadiyya community, while Malala for being a tribal, teenage girl – too young with insinuations of being exploited by Western motives. The cynicism has turned morbid that she or her family had allowed her to be deliberately shot at for attracting public attention and sympathy.
Seeking accountability and failing to find it September 25, 2014Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed
It started off fun. The Azadi (freedom) March led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman and former cricketer Imran Khan, and the Inquilab March (Revolution March) led by Tahir Ul Qadri of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party have created a festival atmosphere in the nation’s capital of Islamabad. Both Khan and Qadri are demanding that elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif resign and have stated that they and their supporters will not leave the protest site until he does. Protest is an important part of democracy. But demanding the resignation of an elected leader, rather than a return to the ballot or a recount of the votes, is not democratic.
Life for all: nourished now & forever? July 5, 2014Posted by ruthgamble in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed
A Ercelan and Muhammad Ali Shah
In Pakistan, the right of expression is being increasingly eroded by actual assassinations and threats of assassination carried out by those who trade in religious militarism. Such acts of terrorism should not succeed in deflecting attention from increasing economic vulnerability. This is the reason for the following discussion.
This year, 2014 marks a decade for the UN Right to Food Guidelines. Their report for this year states in part that:
“[T]he right to food remains one of the most frequently violated of all human rights. As such, the 41st session [of the UN] is an opportunity to generate a renewed political commitment towards advancing the implementation of the right to adequate food, as well as towards addressing the most important challenges in that regard, including: ensuring the primacy of human rights, human rights accountability, and human rights coherence at all levels.”
Yet, South Asian children and their mothers suffer endlessly; too many have even died because of hunger and malnutrition. Pakistan’s low and sluggish labour compensation accompanied by its high and rising prices for goods and services has even forced its Supreme Court to ponder the meaning of “dignified survival”. Yet despite their acknowledgement of widespread hunger, the Supreme Court did not seriously admonish the authorities for creating the causes of this hunger nor hold them responsible for its result, the untimely annual termination of hundreds of thousands of lives. This despite the fact that in Pakistan today, hunger and malnutrition kill vastly more people than the wars of terror. (more…)
Will China ‘wedge’ India and the US? June 5, 2014Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , comments closed
Commentators have generally assumed that the Obama Administration’s wrong-footedness over Modi’s US visa, along with the latter’s pragmatic approach to Chinese investment in Gujarat, signal a new tilt by the BJP away from the United States and toward China. Neville Maxwell, writing in the Times of India, urges India to seize the opportunity offered by Modi’s election to achieve a border breakthrough with China.
Writing in the Global Times, Liu Zongyi, of the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, has hailed Modi as ‘India’s Nixon’ and characterised his pragmatic approach to the conduct of business and foreign relations as ‘very close to Chinese practices’.
India would certainly favour a thaw in relations with China so it can get on with the urgent task of infrastructure development and economic uplift of its people, including with Chinese investment in the otherwise etiolated international investment climate. If we take a long-term view, however, we can discern a number of wildcards that may complicate relations between India and China.
Reign of radicalism in Pakistan April 30, 2014Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed
Abdul Razaque Channa
In recent times, a lot has been articulated in the endeavour to understand the roots of radicalism in Pakistan. Based on the print media’s discourse, the Ziaul Haq rule remains the root of the present face of fundamentalism. A few columnists have even named two-thirds of the total population born after 1977 as ‘Zia’s children’. The question for deliberation is why they are called Zia’s children. Where are Quaid’s children? Why has there not been enough resistance if there were ever Quaid’s children? [Quaid refers to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.]
Right-wing politics and fundamentalist discourse have been engraved into the Pakistani masses and it is not a phenomenon created in 1977 or one that has arisen afterwards. In fact, its development is based in various regimes of power and its function is ubiquitous. The taxonomy of such regimes of power can be divided into four eras: pre-partition, post-partition (up to Zia), Ziaul Haq’s rule and finally post Ziaul Haq to today. During all these regimes, fundamentalist discourse based on binary opposition has succeeded significantly. By fundamentalist binary opposition I mean Muslims and non-Muslims (read, the infidel ‘kaafir’). The binary opposition has always existed in Pakistan. During pre-partition it was based on Hindus versus Muslims and after independence it was mixed up with Americans/Israelis/Indians versus Muslims.
Why are children dying of hunger in Sindh, Pakistan? April 1, 2014Posted by ruthgamble in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed
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, 2014Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed
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.
Freedom from hunger: privilege granted or acknowledged right? January 29, 2014Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan, South Asia - General , comments closed
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.