Miracle of the wind

 

Whitelee Windfarm. Photo by Mahdi Hasan
Whitelee Windfarm. Photo by Mahdi Hasan

By Zubeida Mustafa

KARACHI has been abundantly endowed with one of nature’s riches — wind. Located on the Arabian Sea coast, the city cannot complain of being stifled by desultory stillness. Before the city’s horizon changed drastically with the emergence of high-rise buildings, Karachiites had always enjoyed the luxury of cool breezes during summer evenings. The breeze is still there, but has been trapped by concrete and steel structures. Now the breeze has been left only in poetic idiom to give us solace. Faiz Ahmed Faiz captured its beauty in this line, “Jaise seheraon mein haule se chale baad-i-naseem…” (Like the morning breeze in the desert) Continue reading “Miracle of the wind”

Measuring peace

By Zubeida Mustafa

WE seem to be living in an age when countries are constantly being measured, classified and ranked. The trend was set by the United Nations Development Programme 25 years ago when the Human Development Index was introduced. Many others followed suit as new technologies were developed for gathering and collating data from diverse sources that made the compilation of such indices feasible.

Today, virtually no area of national life has been left without being probed. We have international rankings on education, disease, poverty, corruption, press freedom, gender empowerment, religious freedom, and even happiness. Only recently, the Global Peace Index 2016 (GPI) — a relatively new area to be measured — was released which warns us how wars are taking us down the path of self-destruction.

The GPI, a product of the IEP (Institute of Economics and Peace, London) will not come as a revelation to those who aren’t too focused on statistics. We all know that violence has escalated worldwide. Terrorism is at historical levels; in 2014 alone, it took a toll of 30,000 lives. Battle deaths are at a 25-year high, resulting in the displacement of some 60 million people. This bodes ill for the future of humankind. What is, however, significant is that all countries ranked low by this index are invariably at the bottom of all lists.

How does Pakistan fare? Trailing at 153 out of the 163 states ranked, it has all the negative traits the report warns us against. This is not surprising for we figure equally poorly in all other indices.


The emphasis of ‘positive peace’ is on ensuring society’s security.


The fact is that human life cannot be sliced into segments with one part doing very well and the other being in an appalling state. The abundance of analysis of data we are exposed to proves beyond doubt that one sector of life interacts with another, creating a holistic impact on the entire nation.

Hence policymakers should take the information and its analysis seriously when planning their strategies. Take the GPI for instance. It says that for peace to become a permanent feature in the life of a state there are certain qualities that must be promoted on an ongoing basis. This is termed as ‘positive peace’ which is defined as the “attitudes, institutions and structures” that sustain peaceful societies. These focus on achieving “acceptance of the rights of others”, “low levels of corruption”, “free flow of information” and a “well-functioning government”.

If these features are present the other goals stressed by the GPI — meeting citizens’ needs and resolving their grievances without the use of violence — will be addressed in the normal course of things.

Societies that observe positive peace principles are more “peaceable” and cohesive. We tend to neglect the basic fact that it is the instability and uncertainty in their lives that drives people to violence. Lack of control over one’s life deprives a person of equanimity of mind. Hence the emphasis of ‘positive peace’ is on ensuring safety and security in society. This is possible only if citizens are provided social justice that guarantees their basic rights to health, education, shelter and employment. Inequality is another factor that robs large sections of underprivileged humanity of their self-esteem leaving them angry and humiliated and prone to acting violently. We see this happening in Pakistan all the time.

The state itself is often responsible for denying its people the safety and security that they are entitled to. That is not all. We are also seen as promoting violence by allowing weaponisation in society to go unchecked and not lessening tensions with neighbours. Since its birth the country has never been conflict-free for a long stretch of time. It has seen wars and been in the grip of domestic con­flict basically because of political instability and the failure of our leadership — both civilian and military. Our foreign policy has often been criticised. This, together with the feeble efforts put in for achieving political, economic and social strength, has paved the way for the security establishment to take charge.

A study of the GPI establishes that these factors have been present in abundance in all the countries that are at the tail end of the index. Thus along with Pakistan, four other countries — Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Nigeria — have contributed to 78 per cent of deaths resulting from global terrorism.

There are two other factors that characterise the 11 least peaceful countries in the list. First, all of them have suffered some form of military and political meddling in their affairs by the US that has set the tone of war and peace in the region.

Second, with the exception of three in these 11 countries, all of them have a Muslim majority. It would be instructive for researchers to study the impact of the United States’ presence on peace in distant regions and the link between religion and war.

Source: Dawn

Continue reading “Measuring peace”

Going solar

Sharing the cool
Sharing the cool

By Zubeida Mustafa

ONE of the promises which every government that comes into office in Pakistan holds out to the people is that it will end load-shedding. Deadlines are announced but not met. Waiting for uninterrupted power supply from the grid is like waiting for Godot.

The government continues to reiterate its pledge to provide sustainable, affordable and reliable electricity to the people and hopes to add 10,400 megawatts to the national grid by 2017. Will it? The circular debt keeps mounting and the promised level playing field is nowhere in sight. Heavy load-shedding continues to be the lot of the low-income areas. Continue reading “Going solar”

Why us?

pakistan-mpi-squareBy Zubeida Mustafa

SINCE June, the Pakistan government has been patting itself on the back. Multidimensional poverty (MP) has fallen from 55pc to nearly 40pc in the country since 2004, we are being told. Of course it is admitted that there are districts where poverty is as high as over 90 per cent (Qila Abdullah in Balochistan) today. But in Punjab only 31pc are impoverished. Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi have an MPI (multidimensional poverty index) of 10pc. Continue reading “Why us?”

Vulnerable, exploited, oppressed: Pakistan’s labour force

 

NewslineBy Zubeida Mustafa

PILER is one of those rare not-for-profit organisations in this age of neoliberalism that continues to do research, collect information and create awareness on taboo labour issues. More than that, for 34 years PILER has championed the cause of the labour movement in Pakistan though the tragedy is there are few who now care about what is happening to our workers on whom depends the success of our economy and the well-being of the people.

PILER has published five reports on the ‘Status of Labour Rights in Pakistan.’ The 2015 report was released recently and would come as an eye-opener for those who read it. The earlier reports covered the years 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2014. They have all been translated into Urdu by Abdus Salam Salami, a development journalist. Continue reading “Vulnerable, exploited, oppressed: Pakistan’s labour force”

The Destruction of Nadia’s Dream: The English Language Tyrant in Pakistan’s Education System

9781783095841
By Zubeida Mustafa

Nadia (aged 14) is a typical victim of the tyranny of the English-language Hydra in Pakistan. Coming from an underprivileged socio-economic background, this girl is required to master an alien language if she wants to realise her dreams. Thanks to the easy accessibility of electronic media and a concerted movement for reform by concerned members of civil society, public interest in education has been stirred, and expectations are high. There are millions of teenagers like Nadia who want to acquire a good education to uplift their socio-economic status. But many are headed for disappointment. The facilities needed to educate such large numbers have not been created in Pakistan by the state, notwithstanding the growing demand. Worse still, the curricula and textbooks have not been designed to meet the specific needs of these children. Hence, aspirations and motivation will not prove to be enough to help Nadia and others like her to achieve upward mobility.

Although there are many hurdles in Nadia’s way, language especially English is a major one. Even though the government institutions may not be insisting on English as the language of education, their poor performance disqualifies them as trendsetters. Given the ambiguity in the official education policy, the English-language Hydra has become the driving force. This policy was announced in 2009 by the education ministry in Islamabad, as it was its prerogative to lay down the guidelines for the entire country. The policy defined in detail its vision and strategy, but it was vague about the language to be used as the medium of instruction. It was left to the provinces to decide whether they wanted to use the national or regional language in the public-sector primary schools in their jurisdiction. But it was specified that English would be used to teach science and maths in Years 4 and 5 in these institutions. Private schools were given a free rein. They generally opted for English. In 2010, constitutional amendments devolved powers to the provinces. To the detriment of all, the provincial governments chose to be equally vague and adopted an ad hoc approach to language in education. There has been no clarity in the governments’ policies ever since, on account of the policymakers’ ignorance of education and language-learning matters and their misguided belief that English promotes progress. Their failure to adopt a firm approach on the medium issue has allowed market forces, societal pressures, élite private-school owners (some with political clout) and the leverage of foreign aid givers to gain the upper hand.

Continue reading “The Destruction of Nadia’s Dream: The English Language Tyrant in Pakistan’s Education System”

Cotton crisis

By Zubeida Mustafa

PAKISTAN’S economy is in grave trouble. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2015-16, it failed to meet the growth target of 5.5pc in FY2016. GDP grew by 4.7 pc. This was mainly due to the ‘major setback’ (to use the finance minister’s words) in agriculture.

At the heart of the crisis was a massive decline of 27.8pc in cotton production. It should be remembered that cotton is the mainstay of our agriculture and textile industry. The cotton crisis has emerged as a very controversial issue. Well-informed farmers attribute this disaster to the widespread use of genetically modified seeds that were formally introduced in the country in 2010 but were being smuggled since 2005. Now BT cotton (a genetically modified variety) is grown in 88pc of the cotton-cultivated area.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been challenged all over the world as some giant seed multinationals have grown phenomenally thanks to their aggressive marketing. If unchecked, they could dominate global agriculture. GM seeds will undermine biodiversity as the manufacturers ensure their monopoly in the seed sector. Being vulnerable to pest attacks, GM crops need pesticides in large quantities that poor farmers cannot afford. It is no coincidence that the manufacturers of these seeds also produce pesticides which account for a big chunk of their revenues.

Farmers are prediing another year of difficulties


Some facts are indisputable. Cotton production has not increased as promised since BT cotton was introduced. The decline is not fully reflected in the data released by the government because it has changed the measure used to determine the output, which is counted in the number of bales. Previously, each cotton bale weighed 176 kilogrammes. Since 2011 it has been reduced to 150kg. Using the old measure we know that cotton production had hit a record figure of 14.6 million bales in 2004. That figure has never been reached again and last year it was less than 9m bales (by the old measure).The per hectare yield as well as the area of cotton cultivation have been erratic. In FY2012, 2.8m hectares (about seven acres) were cultivated and the yield was 815kg per hectare. In FY2016, these figures were 2.91 hectares with a yield of 587kg per hectare respectively, which means the slight increase in acreage was offset by the lower yield.

The government blames the weather (frequent and excessive rains) and pest attack, mainly bollworms, for the fall in cotton output. In a recent notification, the Punjab government advised farmers to delay planting.

The farmers have another story to tell. They say it is the poor quality of seeds that has led to pest attacks and caused the decline in production. They are predicting another year of crisis. According to one media report this year, many farmers have switched to other crops and the area of cotton cultivation is considerably lower.

In spite of poor results, the government insists on approving GM cotton seeds. Thus in a meeting in February, the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) hastily approved the applications for nearly 100 GM seeds without following prescribed procedures. That is how Monsanto and Dupont were allowed commercialisation of GM corn without large-scale testing and biosafety risk assessment in open fields in Pakistan.

This was reconfirmed by the NBC in another meeting in April on the written orders of the prime minister. This is shocking to say the least. There has been a concerted effort to increase the private sector’s role and space in the seed market. Monsanto, an American biotechnology company, has been a big beneficiary of the changes in the government’s policies. In 2015, the Seeds Act 1976 was changed to “meet the requirements of the modern seed industry”.

Not surprisingly the pressure for change came from the US which wants Pakistan to meet its ‘obligations’ under WTO regulations and create a larger market for private seed producers. Previously, seed manufacturing and its price regulation was in the public sector. Now the private sector — mainly giant biotech companies — has entered the seed market in Pakistan.

WikiLeaks which brought into the open routine exchanges between US diplomatic missions in Pakistan and the State Department in Washington apparently revealed how Monsanto was in the picture in the formulation of cotton policies in the country.

To reject new technologies in a knee-jerk reaction is unwise. But it is worse to accept them indiscriminately without testing them rigorously under local conditions.

The Kissan Board has gone to court to get justice for the farmers. It filed a petition in 2014 challenging the NBC meeting that allowed the commercialisation of BT cotton that year. Its plea was accepted but the government went into appeal and the matter was put on hold. The government has proceeded as usual. Now another case has been filed challenging the government on constitutional grounds and for violation of the Cartagena Protocol. BT’s fate now hinges on the court’s decision.

Source: Dawn

Continue reading “Cotton crisis”

Politics of numbers

populationBy Zubeida Mustafa

THE Pakistan Economic Survey 2015-16 reminds us of our ticking population bomb. We are told that today the country’s population stands at 195.4 million — 3.7m more than it was the previous year. We have regressed. The population growth rate stands at 1.89pc in 2016. It had dropped to 1.49pc in 1960-2003. Continue reading “Politics of numbers”

Enemies of the poor

By Zubeida Mustafa

EIGHT years ago, a young woman from Khairo Dero (Larkana district) was so touched by the plight of her people that she decided to work for their uplift.

She had been fortunate to receive a privileged education abroad, was doing a lucrative job and had all that one could wish for in life. Today, she has renounced these privileges to work for her people. .

Thus Naween Mangi set out on her journey of creating a model village for development in Khairo Dero. Continue reading “Enemies of the poor”

A Global Conglomerate of Oppression

Noor Zaheer

By

The pronounced lack of interest in the public health system in Pakistan is not difficult to explain. Public opinion in a country as stratified and uninformed as ours, is created and moulded by the so-called privileged classes, comprising those members of society who have the means to pay for private health care. Hence they are not affected by the abysmal state of health care in the public sector on which the poor depend.

The general attitude is: what is the role of the poor in our society? They are useful only for domestic labour in the homes of the rich or for menial work in public places and factories. And, of course, to vote at election time. A higher birth rate among the impoverished ensures there is never any shortage in the labour force. If they fall sick, they are easily replaced. With limited skills and training, none are really indispensable. Continue reading “A Global Conglomerate of Oppression”