Youth Awareness











{October 16, 2012}   Is Malala a conspiracy ?

Madeeha Ishtiaque

With the recent buzz made by certain newspapers and social media platforms, the questions that has popped up with a bang is, what is the story behind Gul Makai’s Swat Diary on BBC blogs?

The reason behind this recent development may be Abdul Hai Kakar’s, (the BBC reporter who worked with Malala) recent accounts of how the whole idea came about. Post this, rumors and conspiracy theories questioning the credibility of the 11 years girl’s account are resonating in the surrounds.

Essentially, in order to bring about a ‘humanitarian angle’ to the situation in Swat and in Northern areas, as Kakar mentions in his online interview to a newspaper, how he came up and structured the idea of Swat Diary to be written by a young girl to ‘creatively and objectively portray the situation on ground in Swat’. The concept was to choose a local girl to ‘express her emotions’ and so to represent the silenced majority of Swati girls who were denied their right to education were given a face – Malala’s. He further elaborated that with her father’s unresistant willingness to choose Malala for the job, he would phone her up every day so she could narrate the happenings of her area and her reflections on the same.

Now, whether it was Malala’s own narrative or the reporter trying to elicit a formatted response and later manicuring it to pass for a child’s narrative, are questions that seem to disturb a large audience. An audience who had happily credited an 11-year old Swati girl for her surprising maturity and sheer bravery in breaking ideological and physical shackles to raise her voice against injustice. However, my question is, should this be the pivot of importance or the fact that a father was willing to risk his child’s safety and a young girl who feared the least voicing the truth out loud, only to protect her fellows from the austerity Taliban had in ample stocks. Shouldn’t this effort be appreciated instead of being questioned?

Recently, there seems to be a concentrated effort on face book, twitter and other social media forums to justify attack against Malala, calling her a US agent and the whole issue a foreign conspiracy.

‘ Why Malala alone? Why not a dozen of Pakistani women who die of drones everyday or those who become a sacrifice in terrorist activities? Why Obama has his helicopter on hold for only her? Why prayers are being said for Malala and not for several other daughters attacked and bruised in various terror strikes?’

As a monosyllabic response: True. If you ask for more, what’s the surprise here? This is only our national tragedy to idolize those who manage to blaze the news. The rest deserve a discriminatory attitude and to learn a lesson that to earn one’s basic right and people’s support, you’ve got to make it to the headlines, else you’re eclipsed.

Hence, as we put the conspiracy theories to rest, for there are better matters clamoring for attention, including getting rid of the terrorist elements hostaging our children and lands to meet their own ends and our own disposition of noticing things only when they get a hype.



{January 11, 2011}   When politics trumps the economy

Dr Maleeha Lodhi
The writer is a former envoy to the US and UK, and a former editor of The News.

 

 

 

 

 

By winning back the MQM’s support in parliament, the PPP-led coalition has managed to avert a potential collapse and ease a political crisis. But this has been secured at a heavy price – the abandonment of urgent reforms that have put the economy in serious jeopardy and will place the government in a bigger bind later.

When the MQM walked out of the ruling coalition the PPP saw itself confronted with a choice between saving the government and saving the economy. To no one’s surprise it opted for the first. Political expediency trumped the urgency to fix the economy.

The PPP government first announced the decision to reverse the fuel price increase that was to take effect from the start of the new year. This was followed by the deferment of legislation in parliament to enforce a reformed general sales tax – demanded by much of the opposition and the MQM.

These decisions won the government a political reprieve that may yet turn out to be temporary. But they entail serious repercussions for an economy in disarray especially if compensating actions are not taken to offset the impact on an unsustainable fiscal situation. And these will also not be politically easy to take.

The rollback of the petroleum price decision will involve an additional subsidy of at least Rs5 billion or $53.8 million a month. As an IMF spokesperson put it, the bulk of this subsidy’s benefit will go to higher income individuals and large companies. Most deleteriously it will add to a spiralling budget deficit, which will likely be financed by printing more currency notes. The inflationary impact of this will soon offset the ostensible ‘benefit of rolling back the fuel price’.

The government’s economic team hopes to limit the damage by persuading its political principles to remove the fuel subsidy after one month – when the political crisis begins to recede. But it is not clear how such a weak government will make another policy U turn especially when the political environment remains charged and its position so fragile.

If the government fails to reduce the burden of the subsidy, mobilize additional revenue and cut inessential expenditure, the fiscal deficit will soar to a record level – around eight per cent of GDP. Financing such a large deficit mainly by borrowing from the State Bank will accelerate inflation, begin to deplete foreign exchange reserves and put pressure on the exchange rate.

The external side could then rapidly deteriorate and the present ‘record’ level of foreign exchange reserves slip quite quickly (as there is no offsetting financing and the oil import bill is rising) despite the continued robust inflow of workers’ remittances. The government will then be compelled again to seek external funding.

As the programme with the IMF is off-track loan disbursement by the Fund remains suspended. This together with the oil price decision will make it harder to receive financing from other international financial institutions – the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Instead of phasing out subsidies and address the vexed circular debt problem the latest government move compounds it. In the absence of other action on energy sector reform this will further complicate management of the country’s crippling energy crisis.

In an imploding fiscal situation created by the failure to mobilize revenue, limit expenditure and stem the losses in public sector enterprises including the energy utilities the government has been resorting to printing more currency notes as a politically convenient way to cover the widening fiscal gap. In an environment of high inflation further borrowing from the central Bank will undermine public confidence in the country’s currency, fuel greater inflationary expectations, move the economy towards dollarization, and push it a step closer to a state of hyperinflation.

Thus the celebration over the government’s rollback of the fuel price increase and RGST by most political leaders and much of the media overlooks the grave implications of these decisions in contributing to a deepening fiscal crisis and the danger this poses for the country’s stability: the prospect of runaway inflation which is the most cruel tax on the poor, erosion of everyone’s real purchasing power, retarding sluggish growth, crowding out the private sector, deepening poverty and ultimately engendering civil strife, even political instability.

It has been left to finance minister Hafiz Sheikh to warn parliamentary leaders about the gravity of this situation and the inflationary impact of continuing general subsidies particularly at a time when domestic resource mobilization measures in the form of the RGST are stalled in parliament. Many leaders seemed to understand the heightening risks but are unable to square the economic imperative with their politics.

Little understood by many who virulently oppose the RGST is the fact that this is the single most effective instrument that can generate substantial revenue. This is not to suggest that a VAT-like measure can unilaterally solve the country’s fiscal problems but its ability to enhance tax revenue by 2-3 per cent of GDP in the medium term makes it a more important option relative to others.

The unstated presumption behind the lack of official resolve on reforms and a similar attitude among opposition politicians is that the US-led international community will prevail on the IMF to resume lending and prevent an economic collapse in a strategically vital country. The stream of messages sent by Islamabad to top officials of the Obama Administration to weigh in with the Fund indicates this.

These have so far got little traction. Instead, in a public rebuke, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the reversal of the petroleum price increase and described this as a mistake. Ministers of other development partners have been more blunt in stating that their country’s taxpayers cannot be expected to help when Pakistan cannot get its own taxpayers to pay up.

Government leaders and others may therefore be miscalculating that Washington can or will ask the Fund to bail Islamabad out. At a time when the IMF is participating in programmes that entail sharp adjustments in many cash-strapped European countries is it realistic to think that it will apply different performance criteria here?

Can IMF funding be expected to resume to Pakistan without any national revenue effort or correction of fiscal policy and an automatic, flexible mechanism for administrative price adjustments that is by some measure symmetric and fair? Absent structural reforms to deal with the haemorrhage in public sector enterprises and worsening circular debt as well as significant control of expenditure, can any rescue plan even work?

Irrespective of what the IMF does, the growing economic disarray in the country should concern all leaders in and out of government. An economy with no direction and no policy reforms to halt the slide and the spectre of dangerously high inflation should engage the attention of all public representatives.

Tough economic decisions will ultimately have to be taken but the longer they are postponed the greater the adjustment that will be required. The political pain of necessary reform will have to be shared if Pakistan is to be saved from an economic breakdown.

This means forging a political consensus on a set of reform measures needed to restore financial stability. This can only be achieved by an informed debate in parliament and the media and an agreement not to politicize economic problems on whose resolution rests the very future of the country.

In today’s strained political environment evolving consensus on a minimum reform agenda may seem a vain hope but the alternative – a descent into economic chaos – should serve as a reminder of what might happen if no policy correctives are implemented. This ought to urge different stakeholders to review their stance of putting short-term expediency before the country’s economic security. After all without such stability their political gamesmanship will be in vain.




Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi

The threats to the Pakistani state include socio-cultural intolerance, religious extremism and the use of violence to pursue self-articulated narrow ideological agendas. If these negative trends are coupled with a faltering economy, there is little hope for a stable, democratic Pakistan.

ANALYSIS: New opportunity and old challenges…

Reconciliation between the PPP and the MQM is a major relief to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani who had been running around last week to muster support to save his government. The MQM has adopted a two-step strategy to join hands with the PPP. In the first stage, the MQM is returning to the official benches and will wait and see if the prime minister fulfils the commitments made to the MQM regarding its political interests in urban Sindh, especially Karachi. If the MQM is satisfied with the progress and the revived PPP-MQM relationship works smoothly, it will return to the federal cabinet in the second stage.

It is a love-hate relationship between the PPP and the MQM. They often dislike each other’s politics but, as the two major political forces in Sindh, they cannot afford to fight with each other all the time. They build pressure on each other to improve their bargaining power but tend to settle down after some noisy discourse and troubled interaction. The MQM has one advantage. Its political domain is limited to urban Sindh, enabling it to stay focused on limited issues and function more coherently. The PPP, on the other hand, is not merely entrenched in rural Sindh but has support in other provinces too. It has to accommodate the concerns of a wider and diversified political spectrum, making political management a cumbersome exercise.

The changed political environment is expected to enable the federal government to devote more attention to serious political and economic problems and the growing polarisation between the religious groups and others in the aftermath of the shocking assassination of Salmaan Taseer on January 4, 2011.

This assassination by a religious zealot has brought to the surface what most of us were not prepared to admit: the major threat to the Pakistani state and society comes from within. These threats include socio-cultural intolerance, religious extremism and the use of violence to pursue self-articulated narrow ideological agendas. If these negative trends are coupled with a faltering economy, especially neglect of the poorest of the poor, there is little hope for a stable, democratic Pakistan.

These problems cannot be addressed without taking tough decisions about the economy, governance and political management. No government can do this without the support of other political parties and societal groups. The opposition political parties are not willing to extend any support or offer an alternate plan of action to resolve these issues. Their partisan outlook does not enable them to look beyond their immediate political interests, i.e. the failure of the federal government.

The latest crisis developed when the JUI-F and the MQM separately decided to quit the coalition and move towards the opposition. Both had their own grievances and decided to walk away at a time when the federal government was under internal and external pressure. However, no single opposition party could move a vote of no-confidence against the federal government. Only the PML-N can initiate a vote of no-confidence but it cannot succeed without getting the support of at least three parties and independent members. It could not put together such an opposition coalition quickly enough.

Two other factors restrained the PML-N. First, Nawaz Sharif cannot become prime minister because he is not a member of the National Assembly. Therefore, the PML-N would have found it hard to create a consensus within the party on any other name and then win support from other political parties to secure the required votes for removing the present prime minister, getting a new prime minister elected and then ensuring a vote of confidence for him. Second, the PML-N knew that its coalition government would have to depend on the support of the smaller parties, including the parties that had betrayed the PPP. This would have made the PML-N hostage to the smaller parties.

The PML-N has therefore adopted the policy of waiting and watching. However, it decided to build pressure on the PPP by giving two deadlines — one of three days and the other of 45 days — for taking steps to implement the proposed PML-N agenda. The PML-N ultimatum has lost relevance due to the return of the MQM to the government’s side.

If Nawaz Sharif forces the PPP ministers to quit the Punjab cabinet on the non-fulfilment of his agenda, it will amount to shooting himself in the foot. The PPP and the PML-Q are likely to work together, which will increase pressure on the PML-N government. If the PML-Q is able to win back its forward bloc, the PML-Q-PPP coalition may opt for a vote of no-confidence against the PML-N government in the Punjab.

The stage for the return of the MQM to the government was set by the latter’s decision to withdraw the enhanced prices of petroleum products on January 6, a questionable decision on economic grounds. However, it gave political space to the prime minister to win back support and provide face-saving to the MQM to return to the PPP’s side. This decision has also won some goodwill for the PPP at the public level.

The federal government has now retrieved its majority. However, long-term survival depends on winning more support and addressing acute economic problems that seem to have compounded with the reversal of petroleum prices, low industrial productivity and little new investment.

The federal government faces the additional challenge of resurgent religious extremism and militancy that will consolidate its gains in the aftermath of the assassination. The orthodox religious groups, unable to assume a commanding role through the electoral process, view street agitation and intimidation as effective instruments for pursuing their religious agendas. They are expected to continue with street agitation, emotional religious appeals and threatening statements to force their choices on society.

Opposition parties like the PML-N, PML-Q and others are not expected to help the federal government stem the current tide of religious extremism. They are interested in their immediate agenda of getting rid of the PPP government. They are not bothered about the long-term implications of religious extremism and militancy for the state and society.

The federal government needs to pay immediate attention to sustaining a stable coalition, quickly taking steps to salvage the economy and curbing the growing polarisation between the religious and other sections in society. It is a tall order but anything short of this threatens the long-term survival of the federal government, if not the current democratic political order.

The writer is a political and defence analyst



et cetera
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