Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pukhtunkhwa Rises

ANP rejoices with restraint
By Adil Zareef, February 24, 2008

RIGHT until now the overriding three A’s for Allah, America and the Army were meant to be Pakistan’s preordained destiny. Finally, the (silent) fourth A – for ‘Awaam’ has spoken loud and clear – against the prevailing chaos and mayhem in Pakistan and Pukhtunkhwa (NWFP) in particular.

Words cannot express the current euphoric mood in the Pukhtunkhwa. The pre-election uncertainty and apathy has given way to an unrestrained jubilation – though nothing tangible has changed the wretched lives of ordinary folks – there exists a feeling of hope and yearning for tomorrow, after the nightmare of interminable bloodletting that had taken grip of the province during the MMA government.

On our way to the spacious Bacha Khan Markaz situated in the verdant suburbs of Peshawar, the ubiquitous red flags, banners, posters and slogans fluttered on a bright sunny day – PPP not lagging behind in this colourful outburst. Roadside crowds could not contain themselves offering us sweetmeats, gushing, ‘The Red tide is here!’ Was this reminiscent of the jubilant 1970s elections, after yet another protracted military regime as another dawn of democracy was on the anvil? Throughout the length and breath of Peshawar district people rejoiced, “We finally got rid of the scoundrels!” (Reference to the despised MMA government)

Asfandyar Wali Khan succinctly remarked: “The verdict of Pukhtunkhwa is that we prefer school uniforms rather than suicide jackets.” The resurgent leader, who led the energised ANP with progressive, educated, mostly middle class leadership and cadre, deserves full credit for this landslide victory after decades of hopelessness in the aftermath of the Cold War. On one side were the resurgent Islamists gloating over the victory of religion against the liberal, secular forces – on the other hand the junta consolidated its heavy hand of despotism, deftly facilitating the MMA’s victory in 2002 elections, while reinforcing terrorist elements into the tribal as well as the settled areas of the province.

Bushra Gohar, ANP’s CEC member and the firebrand NA candidate from Swabi claimed, “The peaceful elections in Swat and the overwhelming verdict against extremist forces all over – including Waziristan – sends a resounding message to all and sundry. Pashtuns are not terrorists but peace loving, progressive people and against violence. In Swabi and some districts women not only voted but celebrated with traditional music!” Now this is a real revolution in the making in the Taliban hinterlands!

Clearly ANP won despite the bombings and threats. Their election manifesto spells provincial autonomy, economic reform, renaming of the province, gender empowerment, as well as redefining the ‘war against terrorism’ as their political agenda. Afrasiab Khattak, the provincial president argued: “Terrorism in NWFP is only a manifestation of the militarised state of Pakistan. Being the main source of instability, if the anomaly is corrected at Islamabad HQ, normality will naturally return to the entire nation.”

ANP has made it abundantly clear that it will uphold their manifesto as a plank for governance. “At present the province is hobbled by a severe budget crunch as only six per cent of total expenses are covered by its resources, while the federal government pools in with occasional NFC award, the divisible pool and other sources to cover up the yearly shortfall,” says Haji Adeel, General Secretary, ANP.

How would the social sector development, ignored by successive governments, face up to the challenges of public expectations on important issues such as health, education, inflation and the prevailing poverty trap? After all it is the economy that really matters, besides, governance. According to Haji Adeel, “ANP expects that only foreign affairs, currency, defence and (partly) communications remain with the centre and the concurrent list be amended to emerging realities.

Pukhtunkhwa is a resource rich province that contributes Rs50bn in tobacco in federal tax alone. On the contrary, wheat and cotton are not taxed as they belong to the Punjab. Timber, gemstones (emeralds), minerals (uranium) high quality oil and gas are also taxed by the federal government and local exploitation of resources is not permitted. Fifty per cent of corn in Pakistan is cultivated here.”

“Despite the 1990 ANG formula and subsequent 1991 Water Apportionment Award, Punjab has illegally diverted over one MAF through various water channels out of the province for cultivation, while over three million acres in the southern parts of the province remain barren for lack of water. The hydel power net profits should yield Rs30bn yearly.

This amounts to over Rs7tn till June 30, 2007. Neither transfer of the much needed resources has occurred nor have we been permitted to develop the hydro electric potential of the province which can exceed over 45,000 MW, according to expert estimates, beyond our needs for another 20 years, besides, exporting to neighbouring countries,” complains Haji.

These rough estimates, if translated into financial accords and transactions can change the face of the impoverished, downtrodden and neglected province wreaked by the demons of hopelessness and extremism. The ‘new social contract’ between the federating units which PPP, PML-N and ANP have pledged to their electorates, needs to be drawn up in order to have any semblance of governance through public demand.

Violence is the last resort of desperation. But one can feel a tangible commitment by the ANP leadership not to let this golden opportunity slip by. Bushra Gohar says, “We cannot afford to fail again as this may be our last chance.” It is also imperative the western donors who want to fight a ‘war on terror’ on their own terms, but also impose strict WB/IMF prescriptions need to critically look at the consequences of unravelling of the Pakistani welfare state. They simply cannot have it both ways.

According to John Pilger, “The goal is what Bill Clinton called the ‘integration of countries into the global free-market community’, the terms of which, noted The New York Times, ‘require the United States to get involved in the plumbing and wiring of other nations’ internal affairs more deeply than ever before’.”

This plumbing and wiring has to stop now. Let Pakistan govern itself.

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