Perspectives on Development Issues in Pakistan
Honourable Minister for the Environment, Dr. Anjum Arshad, Country Director of the Asian Development Bank Mr. Peter Fedon, Chairperson Planning And Development Board, Government of Punjab, Mr. Suleman Ghani, Respected Guests:
Allow me to take this opportunity to thank the organizers for granting me the opportunity to share a slightly different perspective on development. Much as I do not want to act as the Devil’s Advocate, and much as I do not want to point out the irony manifest in the fact that the Punjab Development Forum is being held in the hallowed halls of what used to be the Free Mason’s Lodge in Colonial Times, I feel I am compelled to do both, for that is the role of a member of civil society, a citizen of this beloved country who refuses to be cowed down by allegations made earlier against organizations such as the Lahore Bachao Tehreek for being invested with vested interests. Allow me this opportunity to place on record that the Lahore Bachao Tehreek is a civil society movement of ordinary citizens as well as highly respected professionals, renowned in their own fields of law, architecture, urban planning, traffic management, the management of the environment, political economy, and sociology. I myself am proud to be amongst the first professionals in this country working towards a PhD in Conservation Management, and I refuse to swallow the intimidation which comes our way each time we have tried to confront the powers that be, powers such as the land and development mafia, powers which lurk behind the powerful, nurturing vested interests behind closed doors.
Ladies and Gentlemen: in the earlier session a remark was made by Mr. Shahid Javed Burki about transforming the Punjab from a granary to an orchard. While I have great regard for Mr. Burki’s achievements, I was dismayed to think that the spirit of Marie Antoinette still lives amongst the best of us – it was she who, during the great French Revolution, ordered to feed the peasants “Cake if they have no Bread”. In a similar manner, I presume Mr. Burki is suggesting that we plant fruit as a cash crop instead of nurturing our staple food crops, thereby ensuring a vibrant fruit market for the wealthy but perhaps jeopardizing the already precarious food security of our people. How ironic that the people of the Punjab, the Breadbasket of the Subcontinent, cannot produce their own food, and that they should be asked to grow bananas instead. I now understand why another term for the rapid veering towards neo-liberal economic growth models is known as the Banana Republicization of sovereign states.
Ladies and Gentlemen: what seems to be missing in this entire discourse is the paramount importance of human life, of human potential and achievement, of human happiness. We need to recontextualize this debate within the larger framework of human rights and development. There can be no development without addressing the issues of rights, needs, and priorities. The question to be asked today is: Development of what and for whom?
We need to listen to the voices of the marginalized, we need to understand the priorities of the people: the Pakistan Participatory Poverty Assessment, a research project funded by DFID for the Planning Commission, Government of Pakistan, yielded the following results: (I know these by heart since I was a part of that 2.5 year effort taking place in 54 of the poorest districts of the country, using participatory research and analysis methodology): That the poor need access to land and natural resources such as water and air, that they need access to basic services such as health care and education and sanitation, that they need meaningful employment, they need access to the political process, to credit, to gender equity, and lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the people demand access to Justice.
Honorable Chair, this morning I spoke to the World Health Organization and was not surprised to learn that our country shall not meet the Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015 – we shall not be able to reduce hunger by half or to save infants and mothers from dieing in the birth process. However, listening to the presentations today at the Punjab Development Forum, I can honestly say that even without achieving a single one of the MDG’s, we shall still have the finest IT Park in South Asia, and we shall have ever-widening roads on which to run our ever-expanding retinue of luxury cars. Ladies and Gentlemen: I served for five years as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund and can say with certainty that more mothers and children die in this country than anywhere else in South Asia. As a political economist I can say with certainty that 40% of our people live below the poverty line. And as an eager listener to the speeches of General Pervez Musharraf, I say with absolutely no certainty that Pakistan is well on its way to a high growth path, a statement predicated on the high incidence of cell phone and split-unit usage. What I do know is that unemployment has risen at almost the same rate as inflation, both of which are greater than the economic growth rate. What I do know is that rapid urbanization takes place because of deterioration land to people ratios in the rural areas. And what I can say with absolute assurance is that the trickle-down theory bandied about by the lofty minds of this government have been debunked and thrown out of the window by eminent economists all around the world. The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, that no trickle-down effect takes place without extremely high economic growth rates such as those achieved by China in the last decade. Growth rates of 13-14% are extremely hard if not impossible to sustain, and the impact such growth leaves on the environment is devastating, I repeat: devastating, permanent, and irreversible. Today, in Pakistan, the degradation of the environment is costing us 6% of the GDP – this is totally unacceptable, and practices which degrade our environment as well as jeopardize the future of our children must stop.
We must stop and take a long, hard look at out reality. We must remove the blind spots which hamper our vision and our collective ability to hammer out a strategic vision for all, and for all times. We must consider the most fundamental problems of poverty and burgeoning populations, and we must focus on the role of women in alleviating poverty and reducing population growth rates, if only we could empower women, not merely enthrone them. We must consider seriously the fact that in Pakistan the universal biological norm of the ratio between sexes has been reversed: where all over the world there are 106 women for every 100 men, in Pakistan there are 93 women to every 100 men. This was not always the case, and this shameful reversal is a direct result of the positioning of women under patriarchy and the willful neglect of almost half of the population by the state which professes to be gender-sensitive. By merely appointing women in positions of political power we are not empowering the women who form the backbone of our economy, be they the cotton-pickers of Multan or the construction workers of Muzzafargarh. We need to remove the blinders which obscure our vision, replacing a vision of social justice and equitable distribution with notions of the free-market economy marked by decentralized, automobile-driven, single use models of urban sprawl development.
What should our vision be: Simply this: We wish to see a country where all children are ensured adequate health care, and equal chance of life regardless of their sex, adequate and meaningful education, and a clean and secure environment in which to reach their fullest human potential. We wish to see all citizens have equal access to land, to natural resources, to basic services, jobs, the political process, and to justice. We wish to see the meaningful involvement of citizens who have the right to participate in partnerships with government in all aspects of the lives of the individual and the community. We wish to see citizens given their due share in decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement, and evaluation. Communities must be enabled and administratively assisted to participate fully in decisions effecting all aspects of their lives. Citizens must be encouraged to develop environmental stewardship; we must be allowed to live our lives with some sense of justice, in particular,environmental justice.
We wish to see a vision inspired by the Mayor of Bogota, Enrique Penalosa who presided over the transition of a city that the world had given up on. Bogota had lost itself in slums, chaos, violence, and traffic. During his three-year term, Penalosa brought initiatives that would seem impossible in most cities. He built 100 nurseries, 50 new public schools, increasing enrollment by 34%. He built a network of libraries. He created a highly-efficient “bus-highway” transit system. He built or reconstructed hundreds of kilometers of sidewalks, more than 300 km of bicycle paths, pedestrian streets, and more than 1,200 parks.
Ladies and Gentlemen: it is time we considered seriously the work of people like Enrique Penalosa, it is time we learnt to listen seriously to the words of our own people. In conclusion, I offer such words to you, gleaned from my research into poverty in our country. In a village in Sindh, I had come to know that natural gas was to be provided after a wait of many years. I asked the women who had gathered to meet me whether this would ease the burden of their chores. There was total silence until one woman spoke, and I have been haunted by these words and do not tire of repeating them at the public fora where I speak. She said to me that indeed, the burden of their chores would be lightened, but the burden of their hearts would be heavier, for it is in the smoke of wood fire that they can weep their tears, and this new fire, fueled by natural gas, has no smoke.