Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The dominance of Punjab and, derivatively, a predominantly "Punjab Army" and its priorities, is resented. The creation of many more states to strengthen federalism and increase federal balance is under debate. Anything from reorganisation of the country from the current four to eight or even 16 states is being mooted.

Waltzing on the Edge in Pakistan

Federal relations remain under transitional stress. Reform in curricula and textbooks remain mired in ideological distortions, hate content and bigotry.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, December 2012

A recent visit to Islamabad suggests that Pakistan remains on the edge. It remains politically and socially divided on fundamental political issues and a prey to self-cultivated terror and mindless violence, with its fragile economy on drip, sustained only by rising overseas remittances.

Islamabad resumed economic assistance negotiations with the IMF last month after an 18-month break, following a breach for non-fulfillment of obligations. The talks were preceded by a stern note from the Fund demanding prior actions before any further funds were released. Pakistan had earlier followed profligate policies and reneged on fiscal discipline. It is now being asked to broaden and enhance taxes, avoid fiscal deficits, end subsidies and devalue the rupee in order to restore balance and augment critically low foreign exchange reserves.

Federal relations remain strained with a less than smooth transition in the devolution of powers and democratic participation to the provinces, and local bodies in turn, as envisaged by the 18th Constitution Amendment and the Seventh National Finance Commission. The concurrent list has been virtually abolished under the 18th Amendment and those powers along with 17 ministries, mostly in the social service sector, transferred to the provinces. Yet eight new federal ministries have been created in order to retain some links with foregone programmes and make space for accommodating coalition partners. Consequent to the 18th Amendment, almost 300 major and minor Acts need to be amended and subordinate legislation reconciled with the new order. Agricultural taxation remains inordinately low while excessive taxation on real estate is leading to the under-valuation of property.

The 2011-12 report of the Social Development and Policy Centre, Islamabad, analyses these issues and the tardy progress in secondary devolution from the Provinces to local bodies. Though there has been some enhancement in fiscal devolution, spending on the social sector, a prime aim, has been disappointing, leading to "a hiatus" in local government. In the result, Pakistan remains way behind in its commitment to meet the Millennium Development Goals for proving the poor with basic services by 2015 and is unlikely to attain that goal.

The power sector, which is now firmly with the Centre thanks to the 18th Amendment, is in dire straits with the country facing the highest levels of load-shedding in its history. Federal strains have also arisen over alleged unfair burden-sharing in this regard. System deficiencies, high transmission losses and under-billing are reported, with the gas and fertiliser sectors also under pressure.

The Federal ministries of Food and Agriculture and Livestock and Dairy Development stand abolished under the 18th Amendment. However, a Minister of National Food Security and Research has been set up in Islamabad to stabilise farm/procurement incomes and consumer prices.

Water stress is on the increase in Pakistan, aggravated by high water use inefficiency, lack of demand management and failure to develop storages. That as much as 93 per cent of Pakistan's water is used for agriculture speaks of scope for modernisation of management and maintenance, levying economic water charges, switching to more scientific cropping patterns and induction of improved on and off farm technology. The current panacea, among far too many, is to blame India for "stealing water" and turn away from Article VII of the Indus Treaty titled "Future Cooperation" that could optimise system benefits for both Pakistan and India. Dr Manmohan Singh is willing, but fuddy-duddies in Pakistan and even in India fear to tread the path of cooperation. The need is urgent. Revived interest in construction of the Kalabagh Dam has again got embroiled in acrimony, with the three other smaller provinces opposing Punjab. The 4,000 MW, 6 million acre-feet Basha-Diamer Dam is crawling. The raising of the breached Karakarom Highway to enable construction on that project is moving slowly while the cost of the dam has escalated and China appears unwilling to pick up the higher tab.

In short, federal relations remain under transitional stress. Long promised reform in curricula and textbooks remain mired in gross ideological distortions, hate content and bigotry – especially vented against "Hindu" India. This vital sector now stands devolved to the provinces. Not all scholars are of one mind about language/medium of education policy and the desirability of standardising the national curriculum as this might impinge on the rich regional identities of the provinces and regions.

The dominance of Punjab and, derivatively, a predominantly "Punjab Army" and its priorities, is resented. The creation of many more states to strengthen federalism and increase federal balance is under debate. Anything from reorganisation of the country from the current four to eight or even 16 states is being mooted.

In many ways, Pakistan is debating fundamental social issues and values of nation-building that India addressed and steadily overcame 50 years ago. It still has to determine its identity and prise itself out of the morass and, ultimately, loss of direction by defining itself as being no more than "the Other" to India.

Recognition is gradually dawning that Kashmir is not the "core issue" in Indo-Pakistan relations but a territorial fantasy to give notional substance to the Ideology of Pakistan or Nazaria-e-Pakistan. A blunt denunciation of this vicious doctrine appeared in a column in the "Daily Times" of December 3 that called it an "ill defined and illogical ideological frontier of Pakistan" which has "poisoned the country with hate and bigotry". A Social and Policy Development Institute survey of Pakistan's officially-produced schools textbooks in 2003 found "excessive emphasis on the "Ideology of Pakistan", which is a post-Independence construction ...".

A more recent study on "The Continuing Biases in Our Textbooks" by the Jinnah Institute, Islamabad, in April 2012, lamented the continuing “curriculum of hatred" that creates a mind-set of extremism and religious bigotry and inculcates "prejudice against non-Muslims who are depicted as enemies of Pakistan. This breeds jihadis. Today's extremists are yesterday's children that were raised on a diet of these textbooks". The "ubiquitous emphasis on Nazariya-i-Pakistan continues to dominate the tone and the texts and no words are minced in attributing all the ills that ever befell Pakistan to "Hindus" (and India)".

General Kayani has said that Pakistan must know that Development must go with Defence. He realises that the country's economy is gravely imperiled and that the US and China, though flirtatious for their own reasons, will not bail out Pakistan beyond all reason. A senior Pakistan diplomat told me in Islamabad that unless and until Pakistan realises that India is not a permanent enemy and decides to make up with it, the country will self-destruct.

Rehman Malik was only recently in Delhi to operationalise the visa agreement. Trade seems likely to grow. The "peace process" continues. But Pakistan cannot talk peace and at the same time wage war through terror, jihadi rhetoric and bogus issues such as a make-believe Kashmir “dispute” and myths about Indus waters. It is this basic message that India must itself understand and communicate to Pakistan and the world.

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