To go nuclear or not is the question

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE suspension of American aid to Pakistan has produced one positive result. It has for the first time brought into the open the nuclear debate in this country.

Given the categorical linkage Washington instituted between the flow of economic assistance to Pakistan and nuclear non-prolif eration, Islamabad never encouraged a public discussion on the atom bomb.

To use Stephen Cohen’s term, a policy of ‘designed ambiguity’ was adopted. In other words, the capacity and the will of the government to go nuclear are deliberately kept ambivalent. Continue reading “To go nuclear or not is the question”

From Urdu Bazar to 5-star hotels

By Zubeida Mustafa

Christina Lamb’s Waiting for Allah is been pirated vithin days of its arrival in Pakistan. The special low-cost Indian edition produced by the publishgers for the South Asian market is selling for Rs 290.

But the pirates, six of whom are in the field, have managed to beat the price down to Rs 175. What is more, piracy in Pakistan has moved out of the dusty lanes of Urdu Bazar to the prestigious bookstalls of the five-star hotels. They are unabashedly selling the counterfeited edition of the Lamb book. Continue reading “From Urdu Bazar to 5-star hotels”

Foreign policy

By Zubeida Mustafa

August has been an eventful month for the Soviet Union — perhaps no less eventful than October 1917 which brought the Bolsheviks to power. The coup that toppled Mr Mikhail Gorbachev — though temporarily — his return to power, the rise of his arch-rival, Mr Boris Yeltsin, as the champion of the anti-coup forces and the danger of the unravelling of the Soviet federation have come at a breathtaking pace.

Most importantly, the coup and its aftermath have transformed the situation in the USSR.

Seemingly the three eventful days in August were like an interlude when the Soviet Union’s fledgling democracy was put on hold. However, what emerged later was not the status quo ante but a new power structure in the Kremlin which will change the course of international relations in the months to come.

At the time of writing, three contradictions have come to the fore which have profound implications for the USSR’s standing in global politics.

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For one thing, it has become clear that the long-held apprehension of a conservative Communist backlash can actually materialise with all its dire consequences for the West. In the present geopolitical context, when one superpower is virtually falling apart, there is no possibility of a return to the posture of military confrontation that was a constant threat of the cold war years. But the prospect of destabilisation and a reversal of the policy of detente is a potential factor in Soviet foreign policy today, which no world statesman worth his salt would disregard.

For another, the victory of the pro-democracy forces which led to the collapse of the coup has strengthened perestroika and glasnost giving an impetus to the pro- Western liberal thrust in the Soviet Union’s external relations. Continue reading “Foreign policy”

Privatisation of social sector: what it means in Third World context

By Zubeida Mustafa

Is the State responsible for educating its citizens and providing them health care? According to Adam Smith, who believed in the supremacy of the marketplace, education should be “self-sustaining and supported by those who use it”. Karl Marx displayed greater humanitarian concerns though today he stands discredited owing to the happenings in Eastern Europe. He advocated “free education for all children in public schools”.

Which of these principles should apply in Pakistan, a Third World country where 35 per cent of the people live below the poverty line (UNDP’s estimate)? The dictates of social justice should not permit a State to leave the responsibility of providing education and health care entirely to the vicissitudes of the marketplace.

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And yet a glance at the federal and provincial budgets for the incoming year shows that the present government is applying to the social sectors the Smithsonian principle under pressure from the Western-dominated financial institutions. As such very little money has been set aside in the public sector for the human resources development of the people of Pakistan.

 

After the nation’s experiment with the nationalisation of education in the seventies, the pendulum has now swung to the other end. The government wants the private sector to shoulder the responsibility of meeting the people’s health and education needs. Hence the relentless drive to get the private sector to open schools, colleges, clinics and even universities. Continue reading “Privatisation of social sector: what it means in Third World context”

Catching it early

By Zubeida Mustafa

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‘A’ has breast cancer. A few years ago this diagnosis would have amounted to sounding the death knell for her. Not so today. Doctors give ‘A’ an excellent prognosis, the very high rate of mortality from this disease notwithstanding.

‘A’ stands a good chance of survival because her cancer was discovered at a very early stage. In fact, when surgery was performed on her, the tumour in her breast was not even palpable — that is it could not be felt.

Now ‘A”s surgeon, Dr Shaista Khan of the Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi, is optimistic that the disease has been checked since it was confined to the breast cells and had not spread.

It was a mammogramme (an Xray of the breast) taken during a routine examination that showed up the malignant lesion, making diagnosis possible.

What was extraordinary about ‘A’s’ case was the overly cooperative and understanding approach of her husband, who virtually pushed her into being screened for breast cancer. “Normally not all husbands have that attitude,” says Dr Shaista Khan. Continue reading “Catching it early”

Development of human resources an elusive dream

By Zubeida Mustafa

Exactly a week before the Federal Finance Minister presented the budget before the National Assembly, the UNDP released its Human Development Report 1991 which contains extensive data on 160 countries.

Using the key indicators of life expectancy, education levels and basic purchasing power as the criteria, the agency has devised the Human Development Index. Pakistan ranked a shocking 120th on this scale. In fact Islamabad, along with some others, was strongly castigated for its gross neglect of the social sector.

What the UNDP had pointed out a week earlier was vindicated on Thursday by the federal budget. Long on rhetorics and promises of providing food, shelter, education and health care to the people, the Finance Minister’s speech was palpably short on political commitment.

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This was further confirmed by the budget document itself. Small wonder then that in his speech Mr Sartaj Aziz deemed it wiser not to go into financial details of spendings in the health and education sectors.

In the first place, the approach adopted by the government towards the social sector is full of contradictions. By extending the strategy of privatisation and deregulation to the education and health sectors as well, the planners hope to accelerate the tempo of development. Continue reading “Development of human resources an elusive dream”

Cities: Life in the world’s 100 largest metropolitan areas

By Zubeida Mustafa

The most significant modern day demographic phenomenon is the growing level of urbanisation in this century. In the year 1901 only one in ten of the global population lived in cities. By 2000, nearly half of the world’s people will.

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What is more important than the level of urbanisation is its rapid pace. Take the case of Pakistan. In 44 years the urban population has grown from 15 per cent to 28 per cent of the total.

This change in demographic composition has had a profound impact on society, the national economy and the political culture of the country. It has also affected the quality of life in the cities in a big way because the municipal authorities have failed to keep pace with the growing population in providing the most basic civic amenities to the city-dwellers.

The economy has also not grown rapidly enough to provide jobs to the ever-widening stream of entrants to the urban labour market.

As a result, our cities have emerged as an explosive mass of humanity seething with discontent.

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The Washington-based Population Crisis Committee recently studied the world’s hundred largest cities, ranging from Tokyo (population 28.7 million in 1989) to Pune, India (population 2.3 million).

The Committee looked into the key indicators which determine the quality of life in a city, namely, public safety, food costs, living space, housing standards, communications, education, public health, noise level, traffic and clean air. Cultural activities, employment and nutritional status were omitted because the data were either inconsistent or carried aclass or regional bias.

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Pakistani cities cut a rather sorry figure in this survey. Karachi and Lahore which rank 22nd and 48th population-wise in the world are among the last fourteen in terms of urban living standards. Karachi is 87th and Lahore comes further down at 91st.

Karachi fares most poorly, according to the PCC report, on three counts: living space, communication and health. It could not have scored any less. Lahore’s score is equally bad in respect of the first two. Healthcare-wise it is better off but in terms of education it is worse.

The next two banes of Karachi life are noise pollution and traffic. Surprisingly, air pollution (on the basis of measurement of ozone concentration) is not considered to be too bad which makes one doubt the accuracy of UNEP’s standards that form the basis of the PCC’s assessment.

Another area which makes one sceptical about surveys that depend exclusively on government sources for their data is that of crime. Karachi emerges as a relatively safe place to live in, with only 5.7 murders per 100,000 people a year. Lahore is safer still.

Compared with Cape Town (64 per 100,000), Cairo (56) and Alexandria (49) which have the highest homicide rates, Pakistani cities might be rated as havens of security.

But those who live in perpetual fear in Karachi, know that the police are not always overly cooperative in recording FIRs for murder. Moreover there are crimes other than murder which also make life insecure.

What is certain is that the situation in our cities is definitely not better than what the PCC report calculates it to be. What is to be expected next? With an annual growth rate of seven per cent, Karachi’s problems will only multiply.

The city owes its expansion more to migration than natural increase. The people who are now moving over to the urban areas are being forced out of their homes by the growing impoverishment of the countryside.

The pattern of agrarian holding with its bias towards large landlords has left over four million rural households (nearly 24 million people) living below the poverty line because they are landless, are tenants on very small farms or their land has been fragmented because of the inheritance factor.

In the absence of land reforms, this pattern is unlikely to be broken. With no alternative source of employment generation in the rural areas, the exodus to the cities is there to stay.

Additionally the growing insecurity in the interior of Sindh born of rampant crime and lawlessness is uprooting people from the countryside.

What will be the future of this metropolis? If present trends are an indicator, Karachi will be a split city. On the one side will be the millions mired in grinding poverty. Three million of them live in kachchi abadis in conditions of crowding and insanitation. Their number will grow and by the turn of the century half of Karachi’s population will be living in illegal squatter settlements.

At the other end of the scale are the affluent classes. For them life in Karachi has its paradoxes. But their wealth enables them to buy all those facilities the civic authorities fail to provide — water (through bowsers), electricity (through generators), healthcare and education (through private hospitals, schools and universities) and transport (through their own fleet of cars). \

But their insensitivity to poverty notwithstanding, the rich cannot escape the reality of the misery of the have-not. Apart from the ugly sights of kachchi abadis creeping up to the walls of the mansions of the rich there is also the congestion on the roads which reduces the flow of traffic to a crawling 17 miles per hour in rush hours (according to the PCC report) and makes the rich rub shoulders with the poor, albeit in different modes of transport.

Most significant is the growing crime rate which should come as a stark reminder of the insidious erosion of urban life. In spite of the protection they seek to buy through private agencies and guards, the fact is that the affluent are more vulnerable to crime because of their wealth. This vulnerability is the price they have to pay for the comforts they can afford.

This class disparity, which is growing and will increase further with the government’s privatisation programme, has emerged as the hallmark of Karachi’s population.

The civic bodies’ failure to provide the basic amenities of life is giving rise to violent discontent. Water riots have become a normal feature of Karachi life in summer and the KESC staff has had to suffer physical attacks from a public suffering from the discomfort of prolonged power breakdowns.

Add to these the problems generated by unemployment and rising cost of food (even daal and roti, the poor man’s standard ware is exorbitantly priced) and you have an explosive mixture.

The ostentation of the rich only helps to fuel the seething dissatisfaction of the poor. The vulgar display of wealth by a few is bound to compound the unrest among the many, especially when they find themselves being progressively denied even those basic needs that they could take for granted as their right at one time.

Marx might be dead in Eastern Europe and dying in Soviet Russia. But the class conflict he wrote about continues to live and flourish in Third World cities bursting at the seams..

Source: Dawn 03-05-1991

 

 

They went unwept, unsung

By Zubeida Mustafa

When a bookshop goes out of business and winds up, does one write an obituary? Not in our society. In the last few months three bookstalls of long standing have been closed down in Karachi. They went unwept and unsung. The last to fold up was Happy Bookstall on Inverarity Road (opposite Zainab Market) which had been catering to the needs of discerning readers for over 35 years.

London Book Company, which suffered its first blow two years ago when it closed its Tariq Road branch, is another casualty. In Ramazan, its branch in the neighbourhood of Uzma Arcade in Clifton also departed from the scene. Continue reading “They went unwept, unsung”

School education: Addressing the human dimension

By Zubeida Mustafa

Education has traditionally been a low priority sector in Pakistan. This is best illustrated by an incident, seemingly trivial but profoundly meaningful, that took place a long time ago.

After Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad had sworn in Mohamed Ali Bogra’s cabinet, he realised that no minister for education had taken the oath of office Hurriedly, one of the departing politicians was. recalled and the education portfolio was unceremoniously thrust upon him.

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Things might be slightly better today. Heads, of governments remember the education portfolio when forming their cabinets — but more because they do not want to let one opportunity for patronage go by default. Continue reading “School education: Addressing the human dimension”

Make women’s work visible!

By Zubeida Mustafa

Women have traditionally been the invisible factor in national development in Pakistan as in other Third World countries. That is because the contribution they make to the economy has predominantly, been in the form of unpaid labour that has never been counted.

It is time the women’s role in development was quantified. What better time there is for it than now. The census can easily be used to probe into the gender issue.

India is doing it with the help of UNIFEM. We can emulate them. The idea should be to draw information on the unpaid work done by women in farms and family enterprises. Continue reading “Make women’s work visible!”