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Life for all: nourished now & forever? July 5, 2014

Posted by ruthgamble in : Guest authors, Pakistan , Comment

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, 2014

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

Sandy Gordon

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.

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Reign of radicalism in Pakistan April 30, 2014

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

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.

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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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India’s challenges in Afghanistan post-2014 August 9, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Afghanistan, Guest authors, India , Comment

Rupakjyoti Borah

With the United States set to begin direct talks with the Taliban, India’s strategic position in the region has been upended. The talks are the result of a stalemate: the United States knows it cannot defeat the Taliban militarily and the Taliban knows that as long as Western forces are in Afghanistan they can only have partial control of the country. But while Pakistan will gain from a face-saving US exit, since it will allow Pakistan to increase its so-called ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, India faces difficult policy choices in Afghanistan after Western forces pull out in 2014.

So why is Afghanistan important for India?

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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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