Sunday, February 28, 2016

An elegy for Lahore

O the Ashraaf Rulers! Develop new cities and have your dreams fulfilled; have Metro Buses and Metro Trains there and whatever you want! Why do you raze and destroy our cities, our Lahore! Let we have our own dreams live in the cities where our souls live!

لاہور کی میت ہے ذرا دھوم سے نکلے

[نئے شہر بساؤ اوراپنے شوق پورے کرو؛ ہمارے شہر کیوں ملیامیٹ کر رہے ہو!]

روتی ہوئی حسرت دلِ مغموم سے نکلے
واویلا کرو، بین کرو، اشک بہاؤ
لاہور کی میت ہے ذرا دھوم سے نکلے

اشراف کے خوابوں تلے کچلا گیا یہ شہر
صیاد کے ہتھکنڈوں سے مسلا گیا یہ شہر
آواز کہیں تو کسی حلقوم سے نکلے
لاہور کی میت ہے ذرا دھوم سے نکلے

جو روح تھی مر بھی چکی، اربابِ سیاست!
لاشہ بہا لے جائے گا سیلابِ سیاست
اس شہر کا قصہ دلِ مغموم سے نکلے
لاہور کی میت ہے ذراد ھوم سے نکلے

کتنی ہی عمارات جو پہچان تھیں اس کی
کوچے و گزرگاہیں جو کہ جان تھیں اس کی
نوحہ تو کسی کا لبِ مظلوم سے نکلے
لاہور کی میت ہے ذرا دھوم سے نکلے

وہ پیڑ، وہ برگد، وہ گھنے سیر کے رستے
منزل سے کہیں بڑھ کے جو تھے خیر کے رستے
اب قافلہ ان کا رہِ مسموم سے نکلے
لاہور کی میت ہے ذرا دھوم سے نکلے

اس شہرِنگاراں کو ہوس نے یوں اُدھیڑا
جیسے کسی نادار کو رہزن نے کھُدیڑا
کیا کیا نہ ستم خنجرِ مزعوم سے نکلے
لاہور کی میت ہے ذرا دھوم سے نکلے

اے ساکنو! کیوں چپ ہو، پنپنے کا نہیں پھر
اس بار جو اجڑے گا تو بسنے کا نہیں پھر
کیوں شہرمٹے، ہستیِ مرقوم سے نکلے
لاہور کی میت ہے ذرا دھوم سے نکلے

کاری ہے بہت ظلم کا یہ وار سنبھالو
مشکل نہیں کچھ کام یہ، لاہور بچا لو
لاہور کی جاں، پنجۂ مذموم سے نکلے
لاہور کی میت ہے ذرا دھوم سے نکلے

روتی ہوئی حسرت دلِ مغموم سے نکلے
واویلا کرو، بین کرو، اشک بہاؤ
لاہور کی میت ہے ذرا دھوم سے نکلے

[15 فروری، 2016]

Monday, February 22, 2016

Cynicism and the political evolution of Pakistan

[Here is the part 3 of the article: "Cynicism and Pakistan."]

The discussion of the political cynicism here focuses only on the sections of society which exercise influence on the formation of public opinion. These sections may be considered as the mainstay of political cynicism in Pakistan. As far as the general citizenry is concerned, the myth of its political apathy evaporates with every general election held in the country. One may object: the turnout in the elections is too small to break this myth. However, the statistics belie it: the turnout in 2008 stood at 44 % and in 2013, 55 %. In the world’s largest democracy, India, it was 64 %.

The mainstay of political cynicism in Pakistan comprises academics, intelligentsia, journalists, TV channels talk show hosts (as well as announcers!), Urdu/English newspaper columnists and op-ed contributors, and authors of books on various subjects but with a political tilt, which include history, Muslims history, memoirs, novels, etc.

As for the academics, both public and private, they may be termed as unique creatures. Except some of them who have somehow found a place mostly in print media and so they need to take a position, the large majority of them thinks it’s not for them to think and write about the government and the state, i.e. politics, and they are there to teach and earn their living. Their only mantra is: “Politics is not our cup of tea; and thinking and writing about the government and the state touches the boundaries of the political.” One more thing: a sizeable section of them is now busy in doing research which pays. That’s how they judge the quality of their research.

In case, the freelance thinkers and writers, who are not attached with entities which somehow interfere with their thinking and writing, are included in the larger group of intelligentsia in addition to journalists, TV channels talk show hosts, Urdu/English newspaper columnists and op-ed contributors, that will allow for another group of thinkers and writers to exist within this fold as intellectuals who whether they think or not but do write for their political masters or parties. This later group consists of writers who have open political affiliations; their writings paraphrase the policy of their parties and leaders. Since political parties are very much directed in their aims and politics and in no way can be diagnosed with any type of cynicism, the views of these writers do not form part of the context which the present analysis is set in. A bigger chunk of the Pakistani intelligentsia thinks and writes in religious terms and since most of them think and write out of sheer sanctity of their belief, this analysis which aims at listing independent opinions does exclude them.

After identifying the sources from where the views and arguments based on political cynicism generate, it’s time to examine them. For want of space, only two will be discussed here. First, most of the thinkers and writers hold that for Pakistan there is no way out of its crisis, and it’s because of the defects which it is afflicted from its very birth. A child with birth defects! That amounts to saying that Pakistan is inherently un-viable. The arguments put forward by them are quite convincing. They say: Because it is inherently un-viable, it is unstable from the day one. The history of 67 years attests to that. It’s no place to go into the details of the defects which make Pakistan un-viable. Nor is it of any use to sort out those who cherish such views and why. What is of value and needs to be refuted is their argument!

What is a viable country, they must be puzzled with this question. Whether USA was viable; whether Rwanda, North and South Sudan are viable! Actually this tribe of political cynics is involved in endless debates on what is it that makes a nation, and what role religion and language play in making a people a nation, and how to distinguish nation from nationality. To them, people, nations, countries are like academic entities or intellectual categories the criteria of the definition of which they must fulfill. However, in contrast, it may be asserted that communities, people, nations, countries, whichever form they get together and appear in, are entities of living individuals. Likewise, for any good or bad reason, or in this or that type of circumstances, they may come to bond themselves in the form of a new people, nation, or country.

So even after 67 years, columns, articles and books questioning the rationale of Pakistan’s coming into being still find place on the paper, air and websites. It is this cynicism which is intellectually holding Pakistan back from moving ahead and evolving politically. The fact is that countries may break and give birth to new countries, as Pakistan gave birth to a Bangladesh and a Pakistan.

The second tribe of political cynics has a good philosophical argument on their table to offer. It is the Theory of Lesser Evil. Like the perfect cynics, they believe that nothing exists but the evil. In clear terms, that means every political party or whatever takes place in the political realm of Pakistan is evil. The most popular form this Theory acquires is during the elections days, when this view is widespread:  Out of all the evil parties, let’s choose the lesser evil! That’s so much characteristic of the political cynics that one may use it as a yardstick for their who’s who. Also that view gives rise to all the revolutionaries who aim at building the Pakistani society from scratch.

Not only theoretically, but practically also, it’s not possible that in a situation all the things are evil. Imagine a situation where nothing prevails except evil, even there something evil may cause something good to happen. For this focus needs to be shifted on smaller and effective things. Revolutionary total view may not work in this context. In every situation such good things exist to be realized by those who may have a vision to grasp them. But the Pakistani intelligentsia does not want to wake up from its cynical slumber and remains broiled in its futile debates. That has retarded the intellectual evolution as well as political evolution of Pakistan.

Link to the 1st part of this article: Cynicism in Pakistan

Link to the 2nd part of this article: Cynicism and the politics in Pakistan

Note: This article was completed on August 9, 2014.  

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Poor show

The credit for any reduction in poverty in the country goes to privatisation, de-regulation and liberalisation, not to the so called pro-poor expenditures.

Over a period of five years between 1999-2004, the government of Pakistan spent Rs.1 trillion on poverty reduction. According to the Finance Ministry, Poverty Reduction Special Programme included budgetary and non-budgetary expenditures both by the federal and provincial governments.

Now, the 'Labour Force Survey 2005' (first two quarters) reports that over the last five years, the government has spent a hefty amount of Rs.1332 billion on poverty-related and social sector programmes to help the poor and vulnerable sections of the society. The PRSP expenditures -- budgetary and non-budgetary -- during 2001-05 stood at Rs.1124 billion; the budgetary expenditures averaged 4.1 per cent of the GDP for the period. Of this, the government spent Rs.316.2 billion on pro-poor sectors exceeding the targeted Rs.278 billion by Rs.38 billion. And, by the end of the third quarter of 2005-06, Rs.250 billion had been spent on pro-poor sectors.

Both reports count and boast of gains. For example, the writers of the first report claim that increased pro-poor expenditures appear to have contributed in employment generation. As a result, the unemployment rate that was 8.3 per cent in 2001-02 declined to 7.7 per cent in 2003-2004 and to 6.5 per cent during July- December 2005.

The report claims that since 2003-2004 and till the first half of 2005-2006, 5.82 million jobs were created while the average job creation stood at 1.0-1.2 million per annum. This is quite unfounded and doubtful. One must contend whether it is pro-poor expenditures that helped reduce the unemployment rate or something else: such as de-regulation and liberalisation of the economy. In the same breath, the writers of the report say that the IT sector alone generated 114,737 jobs in 2005-2006. Obviously, the amount spent on deregulation and liberalisation does not come under pro-poor expenditures.

Further evidence strengthens the doubts about the efficacy of pro-poor expenditures in reducing poverty. The report says two sectors, education and health, absorbed half of the pro-poor budgetary expenditures. Sure, how they could generate jobs and reduce unemployment rate to the tune of 1.8 per cent. The gains, according to the report, in education sector are improvement in literacy and enrolment rates; and in that of the health sector is immunisation.

The report also tells about other programmes such as Khushal Pakistan Programme-2 (KPP-2) and Khushal Pakistan Fund (KPF) started during 2005 for poverty alleviation. The KPP-2 is a special programme that aims at initiating small development schemes with an amount of Rs.20 billion to be spent during the current fiscal year under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP).

Another boast of the report needs to be checked. The report claims that the percentage of population living below the poverty line, which stood at 34.46 per cent in 2000-2001, declined to 23.9 per cent in 2004-2005. In rural areas it fell to 28.10 per cent from 39.26 per cent while in urban areas from 22.69 per cent to 14.9 per cent. At the same time, it is argued that 'strong economic growth' created employment opportunities. In other words, this implies that high economic growth is a result of pro-poor expenditures.

All this is surrounded by two controversies: i) whether high economic growth trickled down or not; and, ii) whether the number of people living below the poverty line declined or not. Under the circumstances, it may safely be assumed that the relation between poverty reduction expenditures and poverty alleviation gains is not a causal one. With careful research some other factors will be found responsible both for economic growth and poverty reduction. And, surely these factors are de-nationalisation, privatisation, de-regulation and liberalisation of the economy.

Let's look for some other evidence: a report that bases itself on third-party international sources such as IMF, World Bank, world Economic Forum, Global Competitiveness Report, International Country Risk Guide, in its latest edition (Economic Freedom of the World 2006 Annual Report that is actually based on the data for 2004), awards Pakistan the following scores (out of 10; the higher the score the higher the rank and the freer the country economically):

In the area of the size of government (that includes government consumption, transfer and subsidies, government enterprises and investment, and top marginal tax rate), Pakistan's score is both improving and fluctuating: in 2000 it was 6.6; in 2001, 7.3; in 2002, 7.7; in 2003, 7.3; and in 2004, 7.2.

In the area of legal Structure and security of property rights (that includes judicial independence, impartial courts, protection of intellectual property, military interference, and integrity of legal system), Pakistan's overall score is declining: in 2000 it was 4.6; in 2001, 3.4; in 2002, 2.7; in 2003, 2.3; and in 2004, 2.5.

In the area of access to sound money (that includes growth of money supply, inflation variability, recent annual inflation, and freedom to own foreign currency), Pakistan's score is generally on the rise: in 2000 it was 6.5; in 2001, 2002, 2003, 6.8; and in 2004 6.4.

In the area of freedom to exchange with foreigners (that includes taxes on international trade, regulatory trade barriers, size of trade sector, official versus black market exchange rates, and restrictions on capital markets), Pakistan's score is steadily improving: in 2000 it was 4.2; in 2001, 4.7; in 2002 5.9; and in 2003 and 2004, 5.8.

In the area of regulation of credit, labour and business (that includes regulation of credit and labour markets, and regulation of business), Pakistan's score on the whole is improving: in 2000 it was 5.2; in 2001, 5.6; in 2002, 6.0; in 2003, 5.8; and in 2004, 6.5.

This explains the whole economic picture of Pakistan. Every Pakistani with a little economic thinking knows for sure that since the regime of General Ziaul Haq, the government in Pakistan has been on the way to denationalising the nationalised entities, privatise the state enterprise, de-regulate the state monopolisations and liberalise the economic and business activities, though with a heavy heart. Indeed, it is this process that is responsible for the reduction in poverty, not the pro-poor expenditures whether budgetary or non-budgetary. The above scores testify to this opening of Pakistani economy.

A recent research by Goldwater Institute, USA, confirms that states with low-tax and low-spending (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas) enjoyed sizable decreases in poverty rates during the 1990s, while states with high-tax and high-spending (Alaska, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wyoming) actually suffered an increase in their levels of poverty. It concludes that decline in poverty in the 'small government' states strongly confirms the hypothesis that reduced taxes and state spending encourage the emigration of people and businesses to areas where private-sector job growth is able to flourish and become a powerful and effective anti-poverty programme. However, while taxes and business climate alone are not the only factors in reducing poverty rates, they certainly help most in the war on poverty.

A few weeks back, President General Pervez Musharraf said that he had a deep desire to help the poor people of Pakistan. He should realise that it is not a Herculean task. What you need to do, first and foremost, is to improve the functioning of the legal structure and security of the property rights; reduce the size of the government; ensure the accessibility of sound money; assure the citizens of Pakistan freedom to exchange with foreigners; and impose minimum of regulations on markets of credit and labour, and business activity.

This will restore to the people of Pakistan that confidence without which they would never be able to pursue their economic ends on their own. In simple words, people need an environment in which they are free to start a business venture, in which their earnings are safe, their property secure, their freedoms taken care of and their choice is not limited. This will bring real prosperity to them which will last for generations.

Note: This article was completed in December 2006.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Cynicism and the politics in Pakistan

Here is the 1st part of this article: Cynicism in Pakistan

Cynicism and the politics in Pakistan

Among other things, political cynicism destroys whatever little chance may exist for dialogue in a deteriorating situation. This I learned from our own company of friends. Frankly, that learning came at the cost of that company’s dissolution.

Actually we were three to five friends who used to gather in a restaurant for chatting after a week or so, regularly. One friend was too adamant to sustain a dialogue. It was really next to impossible to converse with him. You say one thing and he will trash it without any consideration. No doubt, he was fond of conspiracy theories, and thus for him it was so easier to reject our views without having any recourse to reason. His manner of rejecting our views was so scornful that one could only bear it by blowing it in a laugh.

Most of the times, he would put himself in a high position and judge upon us. He would ascribe all the negativity and all the faults happening anywhere in the world to us. Surprisingly, he had lost all the sense of humor also. When someone related a joke, instead of enjoying it he would retort with a negative opinion of any of the issues that the joke made fun of. He would make us express our opinions about the matters which did not interest us, and in case we declined, he would censure us for not being consistent.

At times, he would try to test our knowledge. In case, we admit our deficiency, he would denounce us for not being knowledgeable. If we tried to avoid his question, he would dub us as illiterates. Sometimes he would put a question to us, if we treated it lightly, he would frown at us; and after a lot of teasing, tell the answer but to belittle us.

Despite such troubles, our gatherings continued. We tried to settle ourselves with this type of mannerism of his. Now and then, a serious quarrel would break out, and it would appear the things were moving to their logical end. I remember that last meeting of ours. We were discussing that ultimately it is rule of law which may help resolve many of the issues Pakistanis are facing. He argued like this: a law is enacted by the vote of majority, and not by all of the representatives’ nod; hence, it must not be called law, because there are certain representatives who did not vote for it, and certain people also who do not accept it; and that strips rule of law of the meaning and significance we attach to it. We tried to explain that the objection is valid and that the representatives and people who do not accept such a law, they are free to lobby and campaign against it, and that by gaining majority, they may repeal that law and propose another of their choice and a better one.

His adamancy was so hardened that he snubbed us and told us not to talk of rule of law anymore. I tried to explain to him it is this talk for which we gather here; despite our differences we should be open to dialogue; but to no avail. He judged upon us like a tyrant. We made a decision to the effect that it’s useless to gather here if we are not open to talk out our differences. After that whenever we were together, it was minus him.

Now when I think of him, he appears to me like a mirror in which cynic images of Imran Khan (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf), and Najam Sethi, Ayaz Amir, Ayesha Siddiqa reflect with varying degrees of clarity. He had contained in him most of the traits Pakistani political cynics most of the times exhibit.

For an exposition of Pakistani cynicism, see my article: Cynicism in Pakistan, where I tried to show that cynics generally exhibit two characteristics: first, they are negative; and second, they are faultfinding. In addition, some of the specific traits of Pakistani cynics were also identified. First, Pakistani cynics believe they are not negative and not faulty all the times. In contrast to that, every thing is negative and faulty all the times. Second, Pakistani cynics believe that whatever negativity and whatever faultyness exist responsibility for that rests with all the other Pakistanis, and they themselves are never ever to be blamed a bit for that. Third, Pakistani cynics believe only they have an exclusive claim to the possession of the truth. Also, it’s quite possible that a cynic may be a perfect arrogant; however, it may not be identified as another attribute characterizing Pakistani cynicism. Actually, cynics are inherently arrogant.

Let it be clarified here that be it Imran Khan, or Najam Sethi, or Ayaz Amir, or Ayesha Siddiqa, in their political opinion, they are cynic, i.e. negative and faultfinding. Likewise, they appear to believe that they are not negative and faultfinding, whereas all or most of the things are negative and faulty. To them, in fact, it is others who are negative and faultfinding. Also, all the times or most of the times, they believe that only they possess the truth exclusively. That makes them inherently arrogant, whether they show it or not.

Naturally no one of the above personalities is a perfect cynic. They only exhibit this or that trait and that too in varying degrees. For instance, Najam Sethi’s analysis presents a post-mortem like demonstration of the issue under consideration, however, in spite of listing an array of opinions, he commits to none as if he is beyond all that and sitting very high in a judging position. As for Ayesha Siddiqa, she appears to be solely obsessed with the so-called all-powerful institution of the Pakistan Army. For her, nothing exists beyond that, which may allow something to happen in Pakistan without the involvement of Pak Army; hence her negativity. So far as Ayaz Amir’s cynicism is concerned, he would find fault with everything, you just name it. You ask him for something which is faultless, and he would find fault with you. (How the political cynicism has distorted the political evolution of Pakistan would be the topic of another piece!)

Note: This article was completed on July 31st, 2014.