Seed heritage for sale

Najma Sadeque

   November 19, 2014


The government is about to facilitate the handing over of our seed heritage to the foreign corporate world. In many agricultural countries, millions of farmers and peasants have been up in arms against their governments for allowing or considering seed-thieving by foreign investors. It was only natural to expect Pakistan to be among their ranks, but it is not.

Most of our farmers and otherwise highly educated urbanites don’t even inform themselves of what’s going on. The electronic media probably finds it too tedious for talk shows. Our planners and politicians only see natural resources including seeds, as capital for businessmen and investors, not as basic needs and livelihoods for citizens or their indispensability to the economy.

In 1976, for the first time, the Pakistan government introduced a Seed Act. The question is, why was the need felt for one? The answer lies in the history and manipulations by the western seed industry. In the early 20th century, Nikolay Vavilov, a Russian botanist who collected over 220,000 seeds samples from over 60 countries, discovered that the highest plant diversity existed in the belt around the equator, and countries of the warm South. He made the mistake of mapping out the information, thereby inadvertently guiding corporate investors where to go marauding in South and South-east Asia, and South America. They have never let up since.

The so-called Green Revolution wheat seeds that were introduced in Pakistan and India in the mid-60s were already in place in the US for the previous two decades. Persuading reluctant Pakistani big farmers and landlords into using hybrids with all the expensive accompanying inputs (chemical fertilizer, pesticides, tractors, and hybrid seed itself) became easy when huge subsidies were given. That was the only way as, previously, inputs cost them nothing.

Small farmers were not included in the scheme. So, by the mid-seventies, Pakistan’s big landowners became habituated enough to forget traditional ways. And the time became ripe to introduce a Seed Bill, hitherto quite unnecessary, that would give preferential treatment to the commercial seed industry, local or foreign, discouraging farm-saved seed, and depriving women seed-savers of their traditional work. This was the Seed Bill 1976.

The ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ for the new Bill issued by Minister for National Food Security and Research says, “It has been observed that the Seed Act 1976 does not fulfil the requirements of the modern seed industry. True, because it does not help Monsanto, Syngenta, or Du-Pont-Pioneer in its objectives to take over Pakistan’s main agriculture through GM seeds. But it also does not fulfil the requirements of our small farmers indigenous seeds geared to the domestic market. On the contrary, it actively deprives the small farmer through ordinance or legislation.

Hybrid seeds dominate all crops in Pakistan – grain, vegetable, fruit. But the main focus of the current Seed Amendment Bill is Bt (GM) cotton varieties; the rest will follow. Since most hybrids are imported, corporates already monopolize our commercial seed market so that hybrids are not worth patenting anymore. But the target has since changed. Already, by the government’s own admission, 80% of cotton fields are covered by Bt cotton, irrespective of the quality, even though they were never approved except in small trial plots.

A valuable inventory of the plants of Pakistan exists which could have helped local breeders. It was started by British and European botanists in the early 19th century who travelled all over to collect samples. The person behind the project after independence, was Mr. Stewart who worked at Gordon College. He collected as many as 50,000 specimens, and when he retired in 1960, he turned it all over to Prof. E. Nasir who collaborated with him. Later, this “Stewart Herbarium” was presented as a gift to the nation. An arrangement was made with the Karachi University but seems to have operated in fits and starts, being subject to the availability of funds. Why hasn’t this information been shared more widely, so to have brought more funding. What is the use of such a database unless it is put to use by farmers and environmentalists?

Even as the Seed Bill 1976 remains unsatisfactory, it at least laid down all the definitions of the terminology used and the concerned authorities and institutions, whether the infrastructure existed or not. That has been entirely dispensed with in the amended proposed Bill.

No agricultural university or government agricultural extension workers service ever bothered with failsafe indigenous agricultural or local needs. They are not even mentioned – it is as if they don’t exist. The disappearance of local varieties as a result of being displaced by hybrids is not even being addressed.

Indigenous farmers already knew that every single plant – grain, fruit, vegetable, non-food crops, and even those not used by humans – came in dizzying variety, in the hundreds or thousands for each kind. There was always something that was best for local conditions. These dominated most economies. They needed little or nothing that foreigners offered in trade which mostly catered to the elite, and therefore didn’t need foreign investment. So, violent conquest was the only way for the colonials.

After the hapless South countries regained their independence, former colonizers had to find another way to continue obtaining resources and goods for which they previously paid a pittance. That was arranged through the creation of World Bank/ IMF which led rulers to believe they were technologically backward and the only way to advancement was borrowing to buy the requisite knowhow, including in agriculture. The entire South got into needless debt: their leaders were either naïve and dazzled by western materialism, or were purchasable.

The Seed Amendment Bill is an arbitrary one, made without involving all stakeholders, serving only vested interests. If PTI and PAT are about ending corruption, and working for the public interest, it’s time for them to brush up on their agricultural knowledge. The safeguards claimed by the Bill don’t even exist, because the infrastructure and personnel don’t exist. It’s just a paper claim to authorize corporate control.

As studies around the world by the international non-profit GRAIN show, “As long as farmers continue to save and breed their own seeds, it is difficult for seed companies to sell their seeds. So where technological controls don’t work, laws are tool of choice for corporations to either prevent farmers from saving seeds or to force them to pay for farm-saved seeds, thereby coercing them to buy corporate seeds.”


This article was published on 19 November 2014

Posted in Agriculture, Agriculture in Pakistan, Food Security, GM Crops, GMO in Pakistan, IMF & World Bank | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Seedy business

November 06, 2014



Throughout history, superpowers that outstayed their welcome eventually turned unscrupulous trying to hang on. The most recent one in the last century directly shaped and manipulated global institutions forcing most countries into submission. The instruments used were the World Bank/IMF, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and certain divisions under the UN such as World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), that between them keep South countries entrapped economically, financially and socially.
Because our education system is so archaic, uninformed and narrow in scope, and corporate media and government being selective of information for their own reasons, people don’t even learn about the primacy of seed to survival, livelihoods, technology and economies.
We’ve had a seed bill since 1976 when no worries existed about gene-tampering. It made citizens sovereign over their seed; the public sector alone was responsible for seed development and registration. Now multinationals like Monsanto, Syngenta and Dupont Pioneer, are doggedly divesting us of our ownership and rights. And enough influence has been bought or acquired over the last decade to make that possible.
In 2003, Pakistan drafted an amendment, not in the public interest, but that of multinational seed corporations to manipulate and compromise our indigenous seeds and patent them as their own. In 2004, India acted similarly, but continues resisting. Around the same time, President Bush began pushing hard for GM seeds entry into South countries. Coincidence? Not at all. It was all according to master plan integrating USA’s hegemonic with corporate interests. It was repeatedly blocked by outraged protests worldwide of peasants, farmers associations, other stakeholders and informed civil society who were never consulted.
The issue has again re-emerged in Pakistan as the Seed Bill 2014, awaiting federal approval – despite the 18th amendment that made agriculture a provincial subject.
Whichever grain we eat is also reproducible seed in itself. It’s easy to contaminate natural seeds by donating or exporting GM seeds to a country, mingling it with local seeds before wide distribution. This makes it easier for corporations to claim payments or ‘damages compensation’ for subsequent crops and re-use” of supposedly patented seed.
The modus operandi of takeover was carefully planned to the last detail complete with dirty tricks of the trade, by professional global consultants specializing in financial, economic, and valuation services – the multi-billion dollar Arthur Andersen Consulting Group, the same that faced court when convicted for obstructing justice by shredding explosive documents concerning their notorious client, Enron Corp, in 2002.
But long before this happened, an Anderson Group representative revealed at a 1999 biotech industry conference how they made the Monsanto plan. Anderson’s asked the corporation for its objectives in the next 15-20 years. Monsanto’s dream was a world in which 100 percent of all commercial seeds were genetically modified and patented… by Monsanto! In other words, a world in which most natural seeds were extinct or out of reach of government and ordinary citizens, making the entire world dependent on Monsanto and its ilk, to be able to eat. It was no conspiracy theory as often alleged. It’s a matter of historical record, documented by many, but skimmed over by ignorant or self-serving politicians, and suppressed by the US corporate media.
Anderson provided Monsanto with a step-by-step blueprint. To gain maximum outreach and muscle, Monsanto bought up seed companies from all over North America and elsewhere, picking up almost 25% of the world’s seed companies.
But key to the master plan was the influencing of target governments — politicians, technocrats, and journalists. That was easy. All it took was lavish wining and dining, foreign junkets and other off-the-record rewards. Virtually all our agricultural scientists and institutions seem to have converted into blind followers of the genetically modified, without ever having done any worthy research, development or comparative studies with traditional indigenous agriculture.
Consequently, most agricultural scientists sound like they’ve always been in Monsanto’s service rather than government, unabashed by being displayed on Monsanto’s website. They facilitated GM (Bt) cotton, whether actively or by turning a blind eye, to miraculously dominate 80% of Pakistan’s cotton fields. Officialdom never turned a hair nor conducted an investigation.
The idea was to flood the market and farmfields with spurious, imported or unofficially or officially-released seed, so that people are overwhelmed and helpless to correct the situation, giving up instead. The coast is then clear for formal corporate takeover of a country’s seeds.
Another biotech company at the conference confidently displayed projections of the global decrease of natural seeds due to GM intervention, predicting that within 5 years, 95% of all seeds would be genetically modified (the remaining 5% natural seed would still be required from which to source fresh genes, since man cannot create new genes or life forms, only change its appearance or composition). The projections were not too far off the mark with the highest-selling commercial crops.
However, not everything went according to plan. While many governments including USA were corrupted and most of the world’s farmsoils were seriously damaged within a couple of decades — citizens did not take it lying down, and some governments (not ours) began to fight back. Today, increasingly, Americans want nothing to do with Monsanto, which is why it started seeking greener pastures abroad. Most of Europe now rejects GM. So does Africa where Monsanto in league with USAID sought to contaminate local seed, by entering in the guise of food aid. Other countries are joining the ranks.
Most of our agri-scientists have never had farmers’ hands-on experience of the natural world and traditional knowledge, let alone having comprehended their day-to-day lives in social and livelihood contexts. Corporate-conditioned views resist regulation and testing of imported seeds for risk of foreign crop pests and infestations. Corporate claims are unquestioningly accepted as final unalloyed truth. Our Department of Plant Protection and Quarantine is so dated and deficient in equipment and technical skills, anything can slip easily through our borders.
We have no Biosafety laws in Pakistan. The National Biosafety Centre (NBC) that came under the Ministry of Climate Change no longer exists. There’s no entity to deal with risk assessment and evaluation of GMOs. And yet the government feels competent to push through a seed bill that will allow public research institutes – owned by Pakistani citizens — to be handed over to multinationals complete with intellectual property rights over basic, indigenous seeds, for them to superficially tinker, patent and brand-name as their own.
If ‘Naya’ Pakistanis are serious about ending corruption and bringing justice and a better life to the masses, they’ll have to salvage agriculture and indigenous seed instead of just looking for embezzled finances. Currently, the governing sinking ship is simply trying to stay afloat long enough to sell off what’s left of Pakistan’s sovereign assets – such as OGDCL – before fleeing abroad.


This article was published in The Nation 6 November 2014

Posted in Agriculture, Agriculture in Pakistan, Food Security, GM Crops, GMO in Pakistan, IMF & World Bank, Monsanto, Monsanto in Pakistan, Pakistan's Economy, World Bank/IMF, WTO | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why the left was lost

“Shah Mehmood Qureshi epitomizes all forms of exploitation, including economic, social and spiritual ….. Qureshi may have inherited the land, but how can anyone inherit spirituality?” – Karamat Ali, PILER

“The Left cannot join hands with PTI because of the basic difference of ideology. We are socialist and they are capitalist and feudals.”   — Farooq Tariq, AWP 

October 22, 2014


Attention, Mr Imran Khan! There’s a fly in your soup. More like two. Trusting in your integrity, we took you for your word about ending corruption and bringing justice to even the poorest of the poor. But you really think that’s possible without land reforms? It now transpires those you’ve most elevated are out to ensure this never happens.

Intriguingly, just before Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jahangir Tareen joined PTI, they suddenly got involved in what is known as the Qizilbash case that goes back to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s time — almost four decades. It had to do with ancestral ‘waqf’ or the charitable trust property of many hundreds or a thousand acres.
After announcing land reforms in 1972, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto made a series of reforms in 1977, putting ceilings on how much land anyone could own. They were never effectively implemented.
After Bhutto’s death, General Zia created the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) for Islamized decisions on cases. In 1980, significantly enough, the judges did NOT find land reforms unIslamic.
The Qizilbash Waqf Trust filed an appeal and bided its time until a more conducive political atmosphere. When it came, it was heard by the FSC bench consisting of three judges and two ulema. In a 1990 final judgement, land reform was declared unIslamic, won 4-1, although the bench members differed with one another in part or in details.
There was reason for many to be unhappy with the decision. A matter of charitable trust property should have been a separate, special case for a particular kind of organization, not mixed up with the larger issue of land reforms affecting the rights of all peasant-citizens. Besides, with a return to elected parliamentary government, it was ironic that feudalism, patronage, deprivation of tillers, the gulf between the haves and have-nots, got progressively worse.
Three years ago, Abid Hassan Minto, then President of the National Workers Party, now the Awami Workers Party (AWP), representing both urban workers and peasants, filed an appeal in the Shariat Appellate Bench to overturn that judgement. Other organizations also became party to the case.
There was one preliminary hearing early last year;Justice Ifthikar Chowdhury presiding over a three-member bench, before being adjourned. The previous Chief Justice was around briefly for six months so nothing happened.
All was quiet, until just before joining the PTI, when Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jahangir Tareen filed as petitioners, supposedly on behalf of all ‘agriculturists’ – something that could in convoluted terms exclude enslaved, voiceless peasants who till the soil with their own hands, and include feudal landlords and agro-businessmen who wouldn’t dream of soiling their hands. – Certainly not those of the poor Seraiki belt or the haris of Sindh.
Qureshi and Tareen maintained that land reform was no longer necessary and the previous decision – that it was unIslamic — should stay intact. Qureshi never thought it necessary to mention his role in his grandiose, meaningless rhetoric at dharnas and rallies. With a fragmented 18th Amendment enabling each province to do their own ‘thing’ as if they were independent countries, all but Baluchistan eschewed land reform, speaking for the various PMLs and PPP.
Although it’s been over six weeks since the dharnas began, the peasantry have received negligible mention. Not once has the real issue been raised. All kinds of civil and human rights – but never the tiller’s right to land; nor about lakhs of acres unwarrantedly owned by single feudal families, land monopolies, land records kept secret, and what the peasants get – or rather, don’t get – out of it. Variously and expediently interpreted religiosity and spirituality continue to muddy the waters.
Small wonder therefore that the Awami Workers Party did not extend to PTI, a ‘thumbs up.’
Says Karamat Ali, Executive Director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Research (PILER): “Shah Mehmood Qureshi epitomizes all forms of exploitation, including economic, social and spiritual, although he has no other relevant qualification except his ‘gaddi’. Pir Bahauddin Zakaria, his ancestor, was indeed a pious man. Qureshi may have inherited the land, but how can anyone inherit spirituality?”
It was a surprise – and remains a surprise – when you first announced that anyone could join PTI. Wasn’t that stretching eligibility a bit much to include the least desirable elements with track records of unwarranted acquisitions rather than delivery of promises?
“PTI is a new right-wing party of the capitalist and feudal class of Pakistan,” categorically states Farooq Tariq, head of the Awami Workers Party. “It has used deceptive populism of the seventies to attract youth. To some extent, it has succeeded. However, the Left cannot join hands with PTI because of the basic difference of ideology. We are socialist and they are capitalist and feudals.”
had initially attracted some left-wing leaders like Meraj Mohammed Khan. “However,” adds Farooq Tariq, “Meraj, along with many others, left it as soon as they discovered the anti-working class nature of PTI. Awami Workers Party opposes the politics of PTI and has no illusions about making any sort of alliance with them.”
It’s natural for people to get mixed messages when they view the physical line-up of the top hierarchy atop the containers, TV flashing lasting images across the country. Why is a feudal Vice Chairman always hogging your side and attention to the exclusion of others? Has no one advised that it sends a clear signal – that there’s no hope for poor cultivators and workers? It didn’t help when, despite your seeing an unconscious man lying on the ground and asking for an ambulance, Qureshi inadvertently exposed his attitude towards nobodies. “Not now,” he said brusquely, gesturing to stop — caught and repeated by television.
Why hasn’t PTI tried to engage with the AWP? In case you do, don’t send Qureshi and Tareen: it’ll be a lost case at the outset.
Dazzled by the outpouring of educated youth never seen before, the media, barring some exceptions, also remained oblivious about peasants and workers as did political parties. – Simply because the peasants don’t have the kind of funds to make themselves more publicly visible.
It goes to his credit that Jahangir Tareen pays all his taxes which too many others don’t. What about Qureshi? And is Tareen going to take up the major evil of contract labour? – which allows our business and industrial economy to exacerbate inequality and exploitation, creating permanent livelihood insecurity?
Belatedly, discredited corporatism and globalization have destroyed most economies, farm soils, livelihoods and brought on climate change worldwide. Now there’s every danger that unprepared economists and planners may absorb new educated youth into another new capitalist class, contemptuous of those who work with their hands. You think we can do without peasants and workers? You can’t have an all-general army without mostly foot-soldiers. Without agriculture, most industrialists and big businessmen wouldn’t be laughing all the way to the bank.
“Shah Mehmood Qureshi has joined and left every major party after coming into politics via General Zia under non-party elections,” points out Karamat Ali, “He then joined PML-N, then PPP, and now PTI. If he leaves PTI, he’ll have only one place left to go to, and that is Jamaat-e-Islami.”
With very different goals, would the Jamaat welcome him? That still leaves Pakistani Awami Tehreek (PAT) that fully empathizes with peasants. But a clear-cut stand from Dr. Tahirul Qadri on land reforms and land rights for the landless, is still awaited.

This article was published in The Nation on 22 October 2014

Posted in Pakistan Economic Policies, Pakistan Elections, Pakistan's Economy | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Corrupting our cotton

October 10, 2014



Corruption does not merely involve kickbacks, bribes, commissions, embezzlement, unsanctioned perks and privileges, fictitious overheads and expenditures, skimming, misappropriation and outright theft. It also involves the corruption of products and production methods, falsely claimed as superior, as means and justification to hike prices and profits.
This is particularly true of certain staple crops, both food and non-food, dubbed degradingly as ‘commodities’, yet globally indispensable. The top non-food crop that continues to be corrupted is cotton. Being among the top cotton-producing countries, Pakistan has much to gain by growing it properly the way it was in the past, and everything to lose through so-called ‘modern’ methods.
Today, while innumerable farmers worldwide including in America, fight back against chemicalised, industrial farming because it not only mangles the living, biological requisites of agriculture, but also appropriates farmland into centralized, corporate hands, eliminating livelihoods by the hundreds of millions, Pakistani official agri-scientists are trying to uphold corporate control.
It was bad enough that the west replaced manure and compost with chemical fertilizer and other traditional practices to slash labour costs – leading to high loss of rural livelihoods. In Pakistan, chemicals came some 50 years ago with the mislabeled ‘green revolution’ that turned brown.
Cotton has always attracted pests that find it delicious. — Which is why traditional farmers never grew it as a monocrop. They instead intercropped cotton with certain foodcrops that pests found even more delicious – to be sufficiently distracted away from the cotton. There were also plenty of safe, natural pesticides sprays made from indigenous plants. That way, with good planning, farmers saved their cotton as well as gained foodcrops: pests could eat only so much.
In the last 70 years, cotton has become the world’s most chemically-sprayed crop. The more chemicals were sprayed on them, the more the pests built up resistance – nature is made that way. Farmers weren’t told pests would keep proliferating. As farmers kept increasing spraying volumes to combat them, it brought untold corporate profits through ignorant dependency on chemicals.
A point came when chemicals stopped working altogether. To avoid losing out, the chemical corporations turned to ‘non-chemical’ methods – tampering with the biology of the cotton plant itself through genetic modification, so that pests that ate it would be poisoned to death.
Bt cotton was thus invented by introducing the gene of a soil organism known as Bt, directly into cotton. In its natural condition, Bt appears seasonally when cotton matures, destroying pests that consume it. Monsanto took the Bt microorganism out of the soil and stuck it into the cotton plant where it didn’t belong, making it an unwanted extension of its biology. A freak monster plant, so to speak.
Since Bt made entire plants poisonous including the stalk and leaves, livestock could no longer be allowed to graze the healthy fodder of leftover plants in harvested fields. Indian farmers discovered that the hard way after an entire herd of cattle and sheep died. Henceforth farmers had to buy or grow separate feed for livestock!
After farmers belatedly discovered that Bt cotton didn’t eliminate need for chemicals as falsely claimed, Monsanto changed tactics. They now guaranteed that Bt cotton would be pest, herbicide and drought-tolerant (the last to supposedly deal with climate change). That tall claim brought in its wake proliferation of “superweeds’, and “superpests” which were previously manageable, such as bollworms.
The corporations, reluctant to release their stranglehold over the global cotton industry and unreasonable profits, remained stubborn. Finally admitting that resistance was indeed a problem, corporate scientists claimed having resolved it with a new variety of GM cotton every few years, by switching or adding a gene or two – which accounts for the constantly changing and confusing labels and number tags given. But also by giving Pakistan what’s already been banned in Europe.
Needless to say, they didn’t work. Nor did Pakistan’s own experiments – despite spending almost a billion rupees through some 18 different agricultural research institutions and agencies.
Pakistan still doesn’t have bio-safety laws let alone independent laboratories with trained staff to monitor and evaluate the impacts of GM on the soil, environment, pollination, people and livestock. The concerned scientists, led by Cotton Commissioner Khalid Abdullah, were preoccupied being courted by Monsanto, taken with journalists on all-paid-for travel junkets abroad, and photographically celebrated on websites. Since Monsanto’s arrival in Pakistan, they acted more like sales representatives rather than in the public interest.
The reality is that, if enough poison is used, it kills. If enough isn’t used, it will do damage anyway. So Pakistan had a problem. Bt cotton varieties developed here didn’t have sufficient toxins to begin with! So crops failed.
But, according to Monsanto, it was never their fault. It was always the farmer’s fault. He didn’t follow instructions correctly, and so on. In Pakistan, they said the floods were to blame. Except that this year, the floods did NOT affect most of our cotton-growing area.
The toxic buildup over years is enormous. In a few years, sensitive microorganisms in the soil die out. Every year, a million or more farmworkers worldwide are hospitalized because of pesticide poisoning. A single cotton T-shirt represents 1 kg of chemicals used. Now even non-farmers are affected. Consumer complaints of rashes and other skin problems are rising because of clothing made of GM cotton.
Cotton used to bring bonuses with it. Such as the excess cottonseed which is used as animal feed as well as cooking oil. Thanks to GM cotton, it is no longer safe for either human or animal consumption.
When Pakistan does not have independent laboratories and trained staff and no bio-safety laws whatsoever, how can it monitor and control conditions that risk our cotton crops, farmlands and human health? It can’t, especially since the Bio-safety Centre Project ended in June this year after achieving nothing. According to insiders, Mr. Raja Abbas, the former chairman of the autonomous National Biosafety Committee was transferred because he did not approve any of the dubious GM seeds. Neither did Ms Rukhsana Saleem MNA, who briefly replaced him until her retirement. But the Committee remains under strong political pressure.
99 percent of the world’s cotton farmworkers, almost all low-income, live in South (developing) countries. They produce 75% of the world’s cotton. The most important non-food crop for most of the world (whether they grow it or not) is cotton. In other words, the world needs us, but agrochemical and GM seed corporations, colonial-like, are aggressively trying to take over.
Strangely, the Pakistan’s Environmental Protection Agency as well as the Bio Safety Committee were placed under the Ministry for Climate Change — as if environmental matters concern only climate change! But then, Monsanto claims inventing climate-combating seeds as well! The Climate Change Ministry is now a Division, directly under the Prime Minister (it was Mr. Shahbaz Sharif who pushed hard for approval of GM/Bt cotton).
Our government finally acknowledges that 80 percent of the cotton-growing area is already of Bt cotton – achieved without ever being approved for use. Our indigenous cotton has been corrupted, but it couldn’t have happened if the policies, sanctions and procedures were not corrupted first. This year, output has fallen short and the cotton sowing area has declined. It’s still not too late to recover, provided GM seeds of all crops are banned altogether. But that may take more than old, discredited political will; it may need change of government.

This article was published on 10 October 2014

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Everyone’s share of the pie

October 16, 2014


A new, hopefully honest, government will find its hands full. Apart from dealing with feudalism, monopolies and cartels, unwarranted privatization, corruption, kickbacks, commissions, ‘bhatha’, they’ll also face widespread grinding poverty.

Even if solutions are found, they’ll take time to take effect, because simultaneously, a rigged and unjust system has to be corrected. It takes longer to fix a rotten system.
What can be done in the interim? One could take a cue from other countries, even if only for the short-term. Pakistan has the money for it – easy to gauge from the billions stolen on a regular basis. It would be better than the arbitrary money distribution to disaster victims, or supposed income support programmes, where no one knows who the recipients are, whether they are the right ones, and how much is skimmed enroute sans transparency and auditing.
The idea is over a century old, but revived after the 2008 economic crisis: a universal basic income.
The need for a basic income has become a necessity both in the east and west despite varying stages of development. Today, there is a rising shortage of jobs in urban areas almost everywhere. This is mainly because the elite and corporate interests control most resources that lead to job creation — mainly land, water, and utilities.
When big industries and businesses monopolize basic resources, it leaves very little for small entrepreneurs and ordinary people to set up their own or compete, especially as populations grow. Overproduction and globalization make matters worse. More of the unnecessary is produced and exported while locals are deprived of the opportunities and necessities of life.
There are rules against monopolies everywhere, but power elites have always ignored them. After 67 years, the Pakistan Muslim League conveniently fails to recall that the original party created by Jinnah had, on the eve of independence, committed in writing to restore lands to the tiller — largely handed out free to zamindars working for the colonials. The feudal hijacked the PML straightaway and never kept the promise.
Another problem is that low-income workers and the poor, seek relief more as a favour or charity than as a right. Rulers take advantage of this, even though public money is meant for all citizens.
How is basic income rationalized? Everyone is entitled to a share of the world. In the earliest days, people had different criteria of needs, not necessarily in monetary terms but based on essential resources.
Land and water are the most basic. From these they obtain other needs – food, shelter, livelihood and security. When you have enough land – a quarter acre will do — you can produce enough food for the entire family. You can build your own home on land granted by the government on usufruct basis as your share during your lifetime. Besides, agriculture historically provided 80 percent or more of all jobs.
Since crops grow mostly with little help until harvest, it leaves a lot of time for other things. This led to the development of the world’s most important artisan skills. – Weaving, pottery, carpentry, metalwork, papermaking, herbal medicines, housebuilding, boatbuilding, art and craftwork, which in turn led to specialized professions and the most important industries in the world. Even today, agriculture still provides work to 50-60 percent of people in South countries.
Whatever economic activity one is involved in, a physical base, that is land and water, remains the foundation – whether for an office, shop, farm, factory or a home-based operation. The point: land and water are the building blocks of all production.
As civilizations progressed, natural resources became increasingly concentrated in fewer hands, especially feudal dynasties and monarchies. The strong muscled in over the weak and meek. Today, a few thousand billionaires and corporations control most of the wealth of nations, ironically enough, under ‘democracy’. Democracy was so flexible in definition and practice, it’s been most successful in deceitful use. Pakistan is a worst case example.
Different ways are suggested to calculate what a basic living income should be. Almost everyone agrees it should be enough to escape hunger and cover utilities, transport and shelter, but not so high as to encourage the recipient to become a lazy parasite.
In the west, dwindling jobs have become an acute problem for another reason – overproduction through automation and computerization so that a single sophisticated piece of equipment can do the work of 10, 20 or more persons. Jobs in production are not expected to return. Scope is left only in services and creative work. Even though we’re a long way off from this situation, we can prevent it by attending to our neglected domestic economy, and avoiding western mistakes like overproduction and over-intensification of agriculture.
Another way to calculate entitlements is by giving monetary value to natural resources. – Then calculating the profits of all public corporations and services such as oil, gas, coal, steel, utilities and communications. Then dividing the total by the population number: that’s the amount the individual citizen is entitled to.
Oil-rich Alaska, one of the US’s states, does exactly this. A state corporation operates its oil production and sales. After deducting overheads and costs, all profits are shared among all Alaskans, working or not. It varies, but comes to several thousand dollars a year. The same principle can be applied everywhere in the world on state corporations that actually belong to the people. Pakistan has more than one public corporation. Most have been sold and the rest must be stopped from being dishonestly privatized or sold off.
Some European countries give unemployment allowance. But social welfarists, practical economists and planners have suggested another way called the Basic Living Income – a minimum amount for each and every adult citizen whether he is earning or not. This is the equivalent of an individual’s share of the earth in monetary terms. This way, everyone has basic needs fulfilled and is able to invest in themselves to improve their chances of getting back into the economic mainstream.
Early this year, Switzerland had a referendum on this; the majority have voted in favour. By next year they’ll decide — which would bring Swiss citizens $2,800 per month.
Most western countries give out some sort of ‘free money’ anyway, in the form of child support, food stamps, housing assistance and unemployment allowance. But it’s a time-consuming hassle to go to several different offices, fill forms and stand in line to collect money, all of which is still not enough. A lump sum would serve recipients better while saving huge costs of personnel to process and hand out cheques.
In the past year, thanks to activists and new, responsible politicians, we have discovered what a rich country Pakistan really is. We are poor and deprived not only because of rich tax-evaders, but because of corruption and stolen money sent abroad.

There’s always been enough money to pay workers a fair wage, supporting income to those who are temporarily or permanently unemployed, and to the old or disabled who cannot work.

But it needs political will and conscience which we haven’t had to date.

This article was published in The Nation on 16 October 2014

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Everyone’s share of the pie

October 16, 2014



A new, hopefully honest, government will find its hands full. Apart from dealing with feudalism, monopolies and cartels, unwarranted privatization, corruption, kickbacks, commissions, ‘bhatha’, they’ll also face widespread grinding poverty.
Even if solutions are found, they’ll take time to take effect, because simultaneously, a rigged and unjust system has to be corrected. It takes longer to fix a rotten system.
What can be done in the interim? One could take a cue from other countries, even if only for the short-term. Pakistan has the money for it – easy to gauge from the billions stolen on a regular basis. It would be better than the arbitrary money distribution to disaster victims, or supposed income support programmes, where no one knows who the recipients are, whether they are the right ones, and how much is skimmed enroute sans transparency and auditing.
The idea is over a century old, but revived after the 2008 economic crisis: a universal basic income.
The need for a basic income has become a necessity both in the east and west despite varying stages of development. Today, there is a rising shortage of jobs in urban areas almost everywhere. This is mainly because the elite and corporate interests control most resources that lead to job creation — mainly land, water, and utilities.
When big industries and businesses monopolize basic resources, it leaves very little for small entrepreneurs and ordinary people to set up their own or compete, especially as populations grow. Overproduction and globalization make matters worse. More of the unnecessary is produced and exported while locals are deprived of the opportunities and necessities of life.
There are rules against monopolies everywhere, but power elites have always ignored them. After 67 years, the Pakistan Muslim League conveniently fails to recall that the original party created by Jinnah had, on the eve of independence, committed in writing to restore lands to the tiller — largely handed out free to zamindars working for the colonials. The feudal hijacked the PML straightaway and never kept the promise.
Another problem is that low-income workers and the poor, seek relief more as a favour or charity than as a right. Rulers take advantage of this, even though public money is meant for all citizens.
How is basic income rationalized? Everyone is entitled to a share of the world. In the earliest days, people had different criteria of needs, not necessarily in monetary terms but based on essential resources.
Land and water are the most basic. From these they obtain other needs – food, shelter, livelihood and security. When you have enough land – a quarter acre will do — you can produce enough food for the entire family. You can build your own home on land granted by the government on usufruct basis as your share during your lifetime. Besides, agriculture historically provided 80 percent or more of all jobs.
Since crops grow mostly with little help until harvest, it leaves a lot of time for other things. This led to the development of the world’s most important artisan skills. – Weaving, pottery, carpentry, metalwork, papermaking, herbal medicines, housebuilding, boatbuilding, art and craftwork, which in turn led to specialized professions and the most important industries in the world. Even today, agriculture still provides work to 50-60 percent of people in South countries.
Whatever economic activity one is involved in, a physical base, that is land and water, remains the foundation – whether for an office, shop, farm, factory or a home-based operation. The point: land and water are the building blocks of all production.
As civilizations progressed, natural resources became increasingly concentrated in fewer hands, especially feudal dynasties and monarchies. The strong muscled in over the weak and meek. Today, a few thousand billionaires and corporations control most of the wealth of nations, ironically enough, under ‘democracy’. Democracy was so flexible in definition and practice, it’s been most successful in deceitful use. Pakistan is a worst case example.
Different ways are suggested to calculate what a basic living income should be. Almost everyone agrees it should be enough to escape hunger and cover utilities, transport and shelter, but not so high as to encourage the recipient to become a lazy parasite.
In the west, dwindling jobs have become an acute problem for another reason – overproduction through automation and computerization so that a single sophisticated piece of equipment can do the work of 10, 20 or more persons. Jobs in production are not expected to return. Scope is left only in services and creative work. Even though we’re a long way off from this situation, we can prevent it by attending to our neglected domestic economy, and avoiding western mistakes like overproduction and over-intensification of agriculture.
Another way to calculate entitlements is by giving monetary value to natural resources. – Then calculating the profits of all public corporations and services such as oil, gas, coal, steel, utilities and communications. Then dividing the total by the population number: that’s the amount the individual citizen is entitled to.
Oil-rich Alaska, one of the US’s states, does exactly this. A state corporation operates its oil production and sales. After deducting overheads and costs, all profits are shared among all Alaskans, working or not. It varies, but comes to several thousand dollars a year. The same principle can be applied everywhere in the world on state corporations that actually belong to the people. Pakistan has more than one public corporation. Most have been sold and the rest must be stopped from being dishonestly privatized or sold off.
Some European countries give unemployment allowance. But social welfarists, practical economists and planners have suggested another way called the Basic Living Income – a minimum amount for each and every adult citizen whether he is earning or not. This is the equivalent of an individual’s share of the earth in monetary terms. This way, everyone has basic needs fulfilled and is able to invest in themselves to improve their chances of getting back into the economic mainstream.
Early this year, Switzerland had a referendum on this; the majority have voted in favour. By next year they’ll decide — which would bring Swiss citizens $2,800 per month.
Most western countries give out some sort of ‘free money’ anyway, in the form of child support, food stamps, housing assistance and unemployment allowance. But it’s a time-consuming hassle to go to several different offices, fill forms and stand in line to collect money, all of which is still not enough. A lump sum would serve recipients better while saving huge costs of personnel to process and hand out cheques.
In the past year, thanks to activists and new, responsible politicians, we have discovered what a rich country Pakistan really is. We are poor and deprived not only because of rich tax-evaders, but because of corruption and stolen money sent abroad.

There’s always been enough money to pay workers a fair wage, supporting income to those who are temporarily or permanently unemployed, and to the old or disabled who cannot work.
But it needs political will and conscience which we haven’t had to date.

This article was published in The Nation on 16 October 2014


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PAT, PTI and the peasant

October 01, 2014



Now that PTI and PAT have harnessed the imagination of the urban majority, hopefully they’ll start thinking of the largest and most difficult to access segment of the population — the peasantry.
But liberating the peasant is more easily said than done, no matter how good the intentions are. The world has raced on by more foul means than fair, at the cost of the small cultivator of South countries. Within seven decades, the World Bank, IMF, and WTO were quickly created by the west to take up where the former colonizers left off. Within seven decades industrial chemical agriculture based on false science got backed by them.
The United Nations which was supposed to be the great equalizer and bastion of democracy, disappointed the South by the actions of one of its most important branches, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). For the past half-century, the FAO has been the unofficial supporter of large-scale industrial and corporate agriculture, paying scant attention to the global mass of small fry.
A few days before the UN Climate Summit where the PM made a poor and lacklustre show of himself, an ‘International Syposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutritional Security’ was held for the very first time at the FAO headquarters in Rome. They even invited delegates from Via Campesina, the global movement of peasants and smallholder family farmers, including from India, Brazil and Cuba. Pakistan didn’t figure because our peasants are yet to be mobilized into a movement of their own, while rulers tow the corporate agriculture line.
At the conclusion of the symposium, Jose Graziano da Silva, Director General of the FAO, admitted, inadvertently or not, “Today a window was opened in what for 50 years has been the Cathedral of the Green Revolution.” But his remark made many wonder: why so belatedly, and at this point in time? Was it because Mr. da Silva thinks very differently from his predecessors who always disregarded traditional agriculture by the world’s small cultivators, who feed domestic populations ignored by landlords and agro-businesses that only serve industry and export?
Or was it because the so-called ‘green revolution’ (now usually referred to as ‘brown’) and genetically-modified (GM) agriculture dependant on fuels and chemicals have produced excess emissions aggravating climate change and have also badly poisoned the world’s farm soils? – so much so, some have been rendered dead and unproductive, while others’ performance keep dwindling, leaving no choice but to revert to traditional methods to bring them back to life?
Via Campesina has a history of reasons to be suspicious of the FAO initiative. The UN has never spoken up for peasant and small family farmers who are the foundation of South agriculture, except by one spokesman recently. Many chemical and hybrid/GM seed corporations have long been secretly buying up organic farms and natural seed farms, not to convert them, but to adopt “large-scale organic farming” to offset the growing consumer rejection of industrial agriculture, especially of food.
But so-called ‘large-scale’ organic negates the principles of natural farming, or what is now known as agroecology. Large-scale agriculture means monoculture – single-crop farming. Yet, there’s no such thing as monoculture in organic or natural or traditional farming, or whatever one chooses to call it. It is based on mixed farming of many crops, the more the better. The pre-colonial peasant would cultivate at least two dozen different crops on a couple of acres to keep biodiversity alive and reproduction healthy.
Furthermore, the global corporate giants of hybrid/ GM seeds and agro-chemicals are tightening their stronghold on South agriculture to compensate for losses arising from rising rejection in Europe and America.
Comparative on-field demonstrations and research for decades the world over, have illustrated that climate change affected by excessive, unfiltered toxic emissions, mainly from western industry, transport and chemical agriculture, can be reversed by organic farming. Instead of accepting that reality, corporates continue to desperately look for strategies to stay in business. One of them is to co-opt partial organic methods to slow soil deterioration, and peddle them as industrial.
This makes Via Campesina wary. Eco-farming is an alternative that always existed, not something to pick and choose bits from to troubleshoot when industrial crops fail, or to suit corporate marketing.
It took the first thousand or so of 10,000 to 15,000 years to observe the workings of nature and develop settled agriculture adapted to local geographical and climatic conditions. The remaining time went on perfecting it and compiling the encyclopaedic localized knowledge of specialized peasant farmers. It maintained a rich and ever-productive green world and a fulfilling way of life to match.
It took only 500 years of colonialism to appropriate the naturally bountiful farmlands of the South countries and impose monoculture – the cultivation of selected, single crops that the colonizers sought to the exclusion of most others needed for food and other domestic needs. Monoculture catalyzed the destruction of plant and wildlife diversity.
But most appallingly, it took a mere 70 years for profiteers to invent a false agriculture based on incorrect conclusions to experiments, so as to market leftover, unsold chemicals of warfare as artificial ‘fertilizers’. Industrial chemical monoculture was thereby invented – large-scale farming using poisonous chemicals (instead of manure and plant compost) that killed off essential soil microorganisms, insect and bird pollinators and much else. It also drastically reduced the nutritive content of foodcrops which led to mass malnutrition and poverty, and accelerated the process of 75% loss of the world’s biodiversity.
So-called ‘scientific’ agriculture turned out to be the misuse of science, disregarding all the norms of nature to practice parasitism. It was based on monopolizing land, water and other inputs by dispossessing small producers, increasing quantity (yield) at the cost of quality, so as to corner the market and dictate the highest price that could be exacted from captive consumers.
Before the formerly colonized countries could recover their own culture and values to rebuild their economies to empower and employ their own citizens, governance was hijacked by local elites conditioned to believe that the South had no science and technology of its own despite it being liberally stolen from and dishonestly patented by the west, and that the South could never progress without western science and systems. Consequently, with a few exceptions, the former colonial countries find themselves balancing dual worlds within their own borders as the deprived majority fight for democratic rights, and most crucial of all, the rights of the tiller who constitutes the foundation of all agricultural economies.
Pakistan is among the worst cases of this dual world – a sophisticated, hi-tech, consumerist urban world living off the backs of dirt-poor, unlettered, oppressed peasants enslaved by poverty in mediaeval conditions.
The floods may have taken a terrible toll on lives, livelihoods, families. But it happened because our feudal and corporate-minded governments throughout denied shelter, the use of community lands, and social and economic rights to the rural poor who were pushed onto the floodplains. The calamity wasn’t just a man-made one, it was a government-made one.
The floods, as they always do, left behind a layer of silt – rich, natural fertilizer, meant to start off the peasant on his next planting without buying unnecessary artificial fertilizer. Governments have hardly mentioned the fact that the UN declared 2014 as the “Year for Family Farming.”
But families must first be rehabilitated. There are solutions, yes, including democratic land reform, but they won’t be carried out by crooks or feudals.

This article was published in the The Nation on 1 October, 2014


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Policing the people

Could parties in power have survived without police power?

September 18, 2014


The police system set up in 1861 for colonial India was “designed to be a public-frightening organization, not a public-friendly agency… for keeping the natives on a tight leash,” wrote Dr. Shoaib Suddle, “Service to the people was not an objective.”
It’s remained unchanged for over 150 years, now keeping citizens of a supposedly free country on an even tighter leash.
Dr. Shoaib Suddle, amongst his other appointments a decorated former Inspector of Police in Balochistan and Sindh, is a criminologist with a Ph.D. in white-collar crime, who has always sought police reform. He advises and interacts with concerned agencies and institutions around the world including the UN, but has had the least luck with the deeply-entrenched power structure in his own country.
There are many excellent reports on the state of the police system in Pakistan with specific recommendations for reform, equally ignored. But it’s worth starting with Dr. Suddle’s overview that traces its origins and track record, and why politicians cling fiercely to it.
It makes one consider. Would the same two parties which have to date formed governments in turn — as if by prior agreement – have been able to survive without police power? May be the first time round; subsequently unlikely. The stark blow-by-blow lessons in vivid colour across TV screens continues.
Imagine the PAT and PTI marches and sit-ins; what if everything had proceeded without the police ever making an entry? The crowds could have mushroomed and either progressed to their logical conclusion — or fizzled out without anyone getting killed or brutalized.
People know that the police can’t be our friends, and exist only to serve the government of the day, to be feared, never trusted, and largely to be steered clear of.

This completely negates the purpose of a modern police force in a democracy. Yet most citizens apathetically – and mistakenly — accept the police system as an unchangeable given, with few activist efforts for police reform. Most haven’t made the ugly links between an anachronistic police system and democracy.
In pre-British and ancient Indian times, the judiciary and executive were separate; the British consciously unraveled it. The same authority became judge and executioner. As civil unrest grew and the colonials conceded that some police reform was necessary, an 1856 directive sought to deal with the worst of the system’s ills.
It was decided that, “the management of the police of each district be taken out of the hands of the Magistrate.” But British supremacy had to remain uppermost, and it was “committed to European officers.”
The following year, though, the Mutiny of 1857 took place, and the furious British withdrew their decision to separate the police from the executive.
Increasingly, judicial and police powers became concentrated in the same hands through the District Officer – also known as Collector, District Officer, Deputy Commissioner or District Magistrate – who tried most criminal cases. While admitting that the police system left much to be desired, Sir James Stephan (Governor General’s Council, 1870-71,) nevertheless justified the status quo: diminishing the District Officers’ authority over the Natives would compromise British control. The Police Act of 1861 therefore brought no relief to people.
Within six months of independence, the Sindh Assembly passed a Bill for establishing a modern police force for Karachi. But Jinnah passed away soon after, and nothing came of it. Subsequent initiatives were spurned first by the bureaucratic elite, and then by politicians. Dynastic parties and business barons stepped comfortably into ex- colonial shoes.
Mr Vincent Del Buono, UN’s Interregional Advisor for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, led a UN Mission to Pakistan in early 1995 and made recommendations. “The present crisis comes as no surprise,” said the Mission. “Since 1960, there have been eleven separate committees or commissions established by governments in Pakistan and four international missions requested by the Government of Pakistan which have recommended major reforms of policing in Pakistan.”
In 1996, the Pakistan Government invited Japan’s Director General of the National Police Agency, Mr. Sekine, to visit. The team observed that it was crucial that police reforms focus on building a relationship of trust between the people and the police which should adopt a public service concept. Tall order. First on the list of recommendations to establish mutual trust, was the “creation of institutional structures that ensure political neutrality and democratic control of the police.” Instead, public relationing sans internal change failed.
A researcher noted that rapid and remarkable transformation occurred in police behaviour in Japan after World War II, associated with democratisation.
In 1999, a Think Tank on Police Reforms was created by the National Reconstruction Bureau, including Dr. Suddle. It concurred with past findings, that: “Increasingly the police was rendered to act as agents of the political executive rather than as instruments of a democratic state. The selective application of law against opponents, whether due to political interference or at the behest of persons of influence, became the norm rather than an exception. Political and personal vendettas were waged and won through manipulation of the instruments of state. Whatever safeguards existed against the floodgates of pressure, inducement or threat from criminals or ethnic, sectarian or other powerful elements virtually became dead. The net result of this was that people perceived the police as agents of the powerful, not as members of an organization publicly maintained to enforce rule of law.”
In 2001, for the very first time, an independent Police Complaints Authority was created and the office of District Magistrate abolished – ironically enough, under a military president.
But did it make any difference? Not in the long run, certainly not under elected governments. The draft Police Ordinance 2002 which aims at completely depoliticizing the police, making it a professional body built on merit, more accountable to citizens, more, hopefully, like Scotland Yard, still lies dormant. Mainstream politicians prefer it dead.
Suddenly, intriguingly, a few days ago, an experiment with community policing was floated in Karachi, to ‘build the confidence of residents in the police.’ People are doubtful. It was tried before and failed. Police stations generally avoid bothering vicinity residents anyway. It’s like applying band-aid on what needs major surgery, avoiding addressing defective foundations. Any step can still be overridden by the ultimate authorities – the CM or equivalent of Chaudhury Nisar or Rahman Malik on behalf of PM or President.
The police could still buy plum ‘police stations’; collaborate with ‘bhatta’ takers and other racketeers; get paid off by culprits; extort bribes; intimidate, rape and humiliate; harass travelers on roads; break into homes without a warrant; teargas and shoot non-violent, unarmed people; make unlawful, arbitrary arrests and jail them without production in court; and mete out inhuman treatment causing grievous injuries.
After openly attacking political opponents of rulers, police take the flak. The public condemns the police. So do the politicians who gave the orders to begin with. Scapegoat cops are transferred in token ‘punishment’, and business continues as usual.
Now that ideas are taking root, the next government will have to make police reform first priority. The opposition remains silent on the matter. Presumably, they don’t want change either.

This article was printed in the The Nation – 18 Sept, 2014

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Saving their ‘democracy’

September 10, 2014



Since the late 80s, successive governments have been consistently violating citizens’ human and constitutional rights under the cover of the World Bank and IMF. In 1987, the IMF slapped us on the wrists with a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) put into effect in1990. It was approved neither by an elected government nor a military dictatorship but by an interim government that had no authority to take such a step, yet no subsequent government ever questioned or tried to undo its illegitimacy.
Democracy in Pakistan was stunted because of feudalism and bureaucratic elitism, whether upfront or through pulling the puppet strings of the agricultural economy. Then, despite a reasonable Constitution and elections, any improvement in democratic effort was effectively paralyzed.
Unless the steps and impacts of structural adjustment are examined under democratic criteria, the public won’t understand how democratic norms that encompass human, social and economic rights, were first violated by the World Bank and IMF.
The UN and democratic countries of Europe remained silent. Every good that UN branches like UNICEF, FAO, UNCTAD, WHO, UNHCR, UNESCO, etc. tried to do was undermined by powerful unilaterally-acting colleagues as well as US military-backed might breathing down every government’s neck. The UN itself needs more democratization so that it is less vulnerable to infiltration and American pressure.
Our own governments violated our rights by accepting SAP’s crippling conditions imposed by global loan-sharks themselves borrowing money to lend out to countries. Posing as development banks, they use the same dubious money-making methods that other global commercial and investment banks use. Yet governments continue irresponsible borrowing for the unnecessary.
SAPs completely slashed tax-funded allocations on health, education, physical infrastructure and much else, diverting money to debt-repayment. In turn it became a reason for more borrowing to pay for what was once entirely tax-funded. A long time ago, essential food rationing enabled the urban poor to get by. The SAP forced a withdrawal of subsidies, credit and other support to small farmers and peasants producing for domestic consumption. Instead the SAP supported a minority of landowners and industrialists producing for export and industries. How is this democratic?

The masses only vaguely understand World Bank/IMF causing usury-based debt but aren’t explained the ulterior motives. SAPs were designed to make our economy conducive to foreign investment and the export of commodities the industrialized west wants, diverting more farmland to cash crops instead of people’s food needs, opening us to imports and foreign investment, needed or not. Some call it re-colonization.
Later, having paved the way for WTO, tax-funded public services, formerly forbidden for sale, were put on the auction block. Underpriced sale prices don’t reflect true and recurring value. Instead privatized state enterprises serve only those who can afford hiked prices, thereby immediately dismissing 80 percent of the population. Countries lose their recurring income source to foreign control and sovereignty. Foreign investors repatriate all profits abroad, rather than reinvesting into widened services as needed.
An entire new generation has passed and made way for another while entrenched political dynasties made a virtue of repression in the name of ‘representative’ government. The ‘democratic process’ in the National Assembly turned out to be quite a spectacle. It was also highly illuminating — an education in how the process is used and abused that no amount of books and lectures could teach. Since the reputations of most politicians have long preceded them, viewers were not newly disillusioned. It was just a shock to discover things were worse than they thought.
Since the 80s, dictatorships dominating the ‘Third World’ began to topple. People believed democracy would bring them their rights and fulfill their needs. It didn’t happen. Instead structural adjustment caused unprecedented hunger and deprivation. In Pakistan, autocrats and industrial barons collaborated with feudalism doubly strengthened by the takeover of some political parties, justifying themselves with democratic lingo.
Nawaz Sharif feels that election to power gives his party the right to centralized and unilateral decision-making, brooking no consensus let alone dissent. Voters are then expected to withdraw from any involvement whatsoever. Completely sweeping aside one of the key factors of democracy – ongoing active citizen participation.
Citizens can’t afford to take any declared democracy for granted but keep a constant eye on how developments affect them locally, spotlighting anything undemocratic. This is possible only when citizens are adequately informed about democratic processes and the justice system protects their self-expression against intimidation. But it’s impossible for the masses kept ignorant by design.
The marginalized can however be empowered by oral and visual education designed for them. Strength also comes from informed numbers banding together. This is exactly where media, essentially television, failed, as it didn’t bring advertising revenue. They do little or nothing for the public interest although they are part of society and profit from it. Only in one recent instances before the sit-ins began, one channel telecast a series of simple lectures for laypersons and uninformed citizens by Dr. Qadri on specific Articles of the Constitution listing the requisites for citizens and democracy.
In a participatory democracy citizens need to be informed about public issues and debate them on an ongoing basis. As taxpayer-funded institutions, the government media – PTV and Radio Pakistan – should especially be doing this.
Instead, NGOs undertook this task because no one else would. But NGO outreach is limited, and unable to link theory with practice without getting involved in local politics that is bound to raise the ire of local dominant politicians and parties. So it leaves the effort half-done.
A lot of unparliamentary language was used by some politicians. The spat between Aitzaz Ahsan and Chaudhry Nisar and the not-so-veiled threats was highly entertaining. Most parliamentarians seized the opportunity of being on national television to talk about their illustrious pedigrees and claimed track records while exposing the limits of their knowledge and expertise. The Speaker blocked all except those permitted by the PM. Women said nothing. Hardly democratic. The former PM stepped-down gentleman-like, without making an ego-issue of resigning. But then, the law in Pakistan is largely a matter of interpretation. It’s easy to understand why the opposition backs the PM irrespective, but not why Aitzaz chose the PM and a defective process over the people.
The ‘jirga’s’ credibility was instantly killed by the much-discredited Rehman Malik, otherwise known as ‘His Master’s Voice’ and ‘Front Man’, whose chief contribution appears to be pushing Zardari’s idea of endless ‘dialogue’ as a stalling technique, preventing any resolution whatsoever.
Democracy was certainly the best revenge of feudals and the business barons.

This article was published in The Nation on 10th September 2014

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Non-violence vs. the system

September 03, 2014



How does one tame a wild horse? Some animals by nature are easily subordinated, and some just cannot be. Somewhere in the world, there is a breed of horse that roams wild. It is such a free spirit to its core, that it refuses to eat in captivity, starving itself to death unless released. So man has left them alone to roam free.
Early domestication had a harsher treatment for stronger, wild adult dogs. The captured animal was first kept hungry for a prolonged period. After finally feeding it well, it was submitted to training, and punished if it didn’t comply. It was not only starved, but severely beaten until rendered inert by pain and helplessness. Then it was fed and nursed back to health with much attention and care.
By the time training was renewed, the dog usually got the message. Otherwise another cruel round or two did the trick. Once it realized that obeying orders brought good food, shelter and care in return, it became a loyal servant for life. A horrible extreme were those well-treated slaves in Roman times forced to fight to the death as a spectator sport. A modern approach is selectively attempted on humans, even in corporations, bureaucracies and police machinery.
The sharing egalitarian society was the original democracy. Feudalism, tyrannical monarchies and colonial legacies changed all that. Today, the police not only maintain law and order, but might be used for active repression. The poor and marginalized don’t need to be beaten into submission. But when oppression becomes intolerable, both weak and strong do react.
Like the untamable wild horse, some are free spirits. They are less interested in consumerism than in prioritizing survival needs, independent decision-making, pursuing their preferred way of life, and rejecting a power structure disrespectful of others’ autonomy.
To settle disputes, parties follow universally accepted rules. So the current standoff arises from opposed perceptions of democracy. Some take human rights very seriously, not just on paper. For others it’s a convenient label slapped onto an established feudal and patronage system. What some see as elitist entitlement, others see as corruption and nepotism. Entire economies can be dynastic fiefdoms or special-interest cabals; police and bureaucracy are merely tools of enforcement. Democracy is perfectly adhered to in appearance and form. — Except that the media exposes its ugly, hidden side.
Some sections of relatively comfortable civil society insist that the ‘democratic process’ should not be ‘derailed’ under any circumstances; but that’s exactly what protestors don’t want either; that they be activated instead.
There is deafening silence on the part of some ‘democratic process.’ Even a section of civil society working for social and human rights don’t see the dead-end reality of double standards; of laws selectively applied to the weak but not the strong. The Model Town case is no big deal; nor the other underhand police actions that followed!
Diversionary tactics swept primary issues – basic needs and curtailing corruption – under the carpet. Not once did the government offer to correct these with clear-cut plans. Yet revolutionaries — out to undo the status quo – are expected to follow ‘rules’ that government itself refuses to. After two generations, and millions having passed away without ever knowing a decent life, many are unwilling to wait for the turtle-slow ‘process’ to bring results.
After 17 days of peaceful, determined non-violence, viewers watched in horror and incredulity the unexpected all-night assault that unfolded on television screens, with militarized riot police using methods usually reserved for enemy combatants on battlefields.
Comparisons flashed through countless minds. How is this qualitatively different from the way the Israelis enclose and oppress the hapless, unarmed Palestinians in Gaza? Or was it more like Iraq, where phosphorous and other chemical weapons were used, passed off here as ordinary tear gas? Or did it resemble the infamous 1919 Jallianwala Bagh (Amritsar) massacre when Colonel Dyer and his men mercilessly gunned down a crowd trapped in a walled-off area?
A non-violent movement gives despotic governments a bad image. Once the idea is understood, non-violence makes it easier for the poor and weak to join up and swell the ranks. So it becomes necessary to nip it in the bud – to drive people to a breaking point that can spark violence in the most non-violent of persons, when opportunistic mobs can no longer be differentiated from real political workers.
When the call was made to move to the lawns of the Prime Minister’s house, it was touching to watch the women carrying their babies, their rolled-up mats, their water-cans and bundles of clothes, to trustingly walk forward. That day the crowd had swelled to a peak: an unexpected side-effect of the ‘dharna’ was that it served as ‘langar’ (free food kitchen) for the curious or unemployed looking for a free meal.
Several times during the 17 days when police contingents would suddenly appear and surround the protestors, there would be a palpable “silence of the lambs” – before police relaxed or melted away. Protestors were lulled into confidence by government statements that they’d never be fired upon. Unfortunately, their non-violence made them sitting targets.
It takes a particular kind of person to be violent on order without any compunction whatsoever. If lucky, soldiers trained for war may never see battle, while others return as psychological wrecks because they belatedly discover they can’t stomach killing and atrocities. After all, people are not born violent, cruel and sadistic. The potential may be dormant, but degree and willingness vary. Some cops are able to impersonalize the violence they inflict on others. Some come into it for livelihood because of a lack of choice; some to acquire power which they don’t otherwise have, so that others can’t push them around. Few choose it so they can be Robin Hoods.
What kind were those involved in the Model Town and PM House operations? It’s a frightening thought, especially when it’s been going on and growing for almost seven decades. With fellow-citizens like these, who needs enemies? With ‘democracy’ like this, who needs martial law? Some emperors become so devoid of guilt and shame, they no longer care about being seen without any clothes on. An old adage from Bengal baldly summed up the attitude of ancient kings: “It’s because I am shameless, the kingdom is entirely mine.”
One question remains unanswered. When unarmed protestors, including women and children were shot from the back and shelled all night, why didn’t the army step in — not to declare martial law, but to stop the Punjab Police assault? Can’t citizens expect that much without compromising the army when their own government attacks them?
Hopefully PTI and PAT have learnt many lessons: don’t trust party-hoppers; playing cards aren’t shown off once dealt; all boats shouldn’t be burnt; and chickens shouldn’t be publicly counted before they’re hatched. They inadvertently armed the sharp-speaking lawyer, PPP’s Aitzaz Ahsan, who set the tone for other speakers to safely follow, to take pot-shots at the PM to grab away some bargaining chips while leaving the dynastic parties of the three provinces intact (in the same breath undermining PAT and PTI – albeit to an already captive National Assembly).
Over a century and a half ago, Claude Frédéric Bastiat, a political economist, a liberal theorist, and member of the French Assembly warned: “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

This article was published in the The Nation on 3 September 2014



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The police state

By Najma Sadeque

It seemed so appropriate, so symbolically powerful, that the forgotten, unserved – but not unwashed — masses of a ‘democracy’ should place themselves at the doorstep of the Supreme Court, the highest authority, to appeal for justice that’s never been their lot. For once, one really expected hearts and consciences to be touched. Turns out such things only happen in fairy tales and movies.

The laundry on public bushes and walls (tax-enabled), were too unsightly for some sensibilities. ‘Elected representatives’ found their beauty sleep disturbed by the thousands of protestors (they are supposed to represent) who can’t sleep when the sun and rain beat down on them. So much so, that, the JI chief surprisingly found it necessary to make a statement on behalf of the elite’s frazzled nerves!

For over a decade, reportage has been rising about the increasing use of the police, globally, to contain and intimidate civilians. Especially since George Bush introduced his ‘Patriot’ and ‘Home Security’ measures to justify reducing civil liberties, right to information and freedom of expression. A few months ago, a book self-explanatorily titled “A Government of Wolves: the Emerging American Police State”,was launched in the US, by John Whitehead, an attorney, and President of the Rutherford Institute, a non-profit civil liberties organisation. What does this have to do with the rest of the world? Plenty, in a globalized one.

Police states were once mostly associated with Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union of old, Chile, and South Africa of apartheid days. Colonial governments were in effect police states. While the degree of repression varies, today’s non-western police state is associated with multinational corporations and banks. Police look less and less like the formerly unarmed neighbourhood cop and more and more like aggressive, trigger-happy soldiers seeking blood.

John Whitehead points out some $34 billion has been spent on militarizing the US police – with lethal, high-powered machine guns, silencers, night-vision equipment, helmets, armored cars, even surveillance aircraft – to deal with their own resisting population. Over $60 billion was poured into the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and its 240,000 full-time personnel – enough for entire economic budgets of some countries. There is very little to distinguish them from military soldiers except the department that employs them. Allies ape them when they can afford similar equipment – they make popular import products; or their sponsor country generously gifts or subsidizes them.

These have grim implications for countries still trapped by unnecessary ‘development’ loans and unrepayable debts, and export-orientation that benefit only a tiny elite while further impoverishing the masses, especially the peasantry that produces export commodities.

It’s been happening since World Bank and IMF became the government-behind-the-scenes in countries that gained ‘independence’ around the same time. It worsened when they ensured permanent poverty through “structural adjustment” for over three decades.

It was finally made disastrous when gullible or greedy governments conceded to multinational-globalist plans under the WTO — to treat the entire world as a single economic unit for sourcing natural resources and agricultural commodities, irrespective of national and local politics and preferences. The offending term of colonization or neo-colonialism was merely replaced with the more palatable terms of foreign investment and ‘free trade’.

For citizens who didn’t like the idea of ‘elected’ political representatives signing away their rights, livelihoods and public goods, police statism became necessary to enforce international agreements signed against public will. It provided convenient ‘legal’ cover to business and political self-interests that enjoy benefits or a cut.

The inhuman contract system, for example, that hits most workers, never allowing permanent jobs, incremental raises, healthcare or pensions, has as much to do with globalization as with feudalism; with preserving both the national and global-political-economic status quo through maintaining ‘law and order’.

Development and democracy became associated with ‘efficiency’ – squeezing the highest output and profits from the least input — irrespective of human and environmental costs. Government increasingly represented global corporate interests, not national. Sovereignty became archaic.

It was once believed that if people were paid deservedly and well, especially at the highest level making critical decisions affecting citizens, they are unlikely to descend to bribery and corruption. This work wells for the average Joe who wants to retain his job, doesn’t have lofty ambitions and is content with basics fulfilled and the things in life that are ‘free’ — such as the joys of family and community life. But it seldom applies on politicians, and now, seemingly, no longer on other decision-makers either. The system again got scuttled by lack of transparency and timely accountability.

Perhaps different criteria and conditions need to be applied? – elected representatives, who mostly have other sources of income, paid minimum wages officially considered adequate for a minimum level of survival – to make them think when comparing with their personal costs of living? Making representation proportionate to social categories, such as labour, small farmers, women, not just based on size of administrative unit? A separate ‘social’ police system to protect citizens? When have feudal and industrialists members and ministers ever been representative of ordinary people? It may even attract genuine good Samaritans and social welfarists into politics.

Offices and factories deduct wages when workers are absent; does the PM (and other reps) get paid anyway even when they play hooky? Aren’t taxpayer citizens entitled to know?

Generalized views of the PAT and PTI ideals may not appeal to rigidly secular minds, but a progressive Imran Khan and the scholarly Dr. Qadri should hardly be clubbed falsely with the fanatics in and around the country. Such assumptions brush aside real issues of pervasive corruption and rights and needs. Besides, citizens can always support specific causes without joining a party.

Whether the protestors realize it or not, or others refuse to acknowledge, there have already been victories for the revolution-in-progress which will determine the course of future politics. – Even if total victory isn’t in sight. The first victory the police inadvertently handed to them for the first time in Pakistan, thanks to fast-responding TV channels that captured the most damning evidence. Henceforth the police, not just in Islamabad – will think twice — knowing ultimate authorities are too cowardly to admit responsibility or take the flak.

The other victory is the emergence of the new activist generation – which most weren’t even aware was quietly growing — including educated middle-class, youth, the sea of women side by side, all more aware than the previous generation, plus elders clinging with renewed hope despite the world having passed them by.

For senior citizens who had long given up hope of ever seeing the poor receiving all basic needs even if not a wholly egalitarian society, the turnout for PAT and PTI sparked an unexpected glimmer of hope.

No one expected the sit-in to go beyond a few days, especially after torrential rains. They displayed what we’ve never seen before – dedication and staying power – asking not for the moon, but merely the end of protected institutionalized corruption, and for justice.

People are actually asking for very, very little. If a government can’t even ensure this little, for what purpose is government?

This article was published in the The Nation on 27 August, 2014

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Container democracy

August 20, 2014

Some believe revolution fails when there’s no immediate change of government. But revolution can be a process, progressing in stages, the pressure taking months or years. In developed America, the system became seriously corrupted, increasingly ‘corporatized’ and militarized, especially after Reagan’s time. Only big money buys Presidents and power and the courts. Princeton University has just released an in-depth study to illustrate why the US is no longer a functioning democracy. The little guys don’t stand a chance.

Consequently, the attempted revolution there – the Occupy Movement (and the older Green Party) focusing on economic democracy and ordinary people — is harder, and takes longer. It has been three years already, but it keeps moving, spreading to over 900 towns and cities. The withdrawal from the Vietnam War was a people’s revolution, albeit narrower. Oligarchies have a grip both here and there. But circumstances are so dire here, we can’t afford leisurely change.

Why should other parties object to justice for the poor? They don’t. They object to the undoing of a crooked system that facilitates undue power and profits. The deprivation of the masses is an unintended consequence. It’s supposedly the administration’s fault. Those opposed to the revolution are fighting to preserve the status quo; nothing personal!

Lacking other justification, a desperate government has awarded religious-like sanctity to the Red Zone which the revolutionists originally had not even considered – and which the present power itself violated when previously in opposition (even carrying placards against looting of the poor, high prices, and selling of public enterprises).

But has the revolution painted itself into a corner with premature deadlines? Wouldn’t it have been better to accelerate nuisance value, spurring widened activism with a continued diet of damaging exposes? It unexpectedly happened when Dr. Qadri announced bringing the revolution virtually to everyone’s doorstep. Those unable to go to Islamabad no longer lose out on being part of the revolution. No leaving home for weeks, living under the open sky, continuous discomfort, lack of sleep. Much more difficult for officialdom to crush. If they beat down on one, it can move elsewhere. No need to crash ‘Red Zones’. Brilliant actually. How long can the cops cope, especially when current pre-emptive arrests leave no more room in jails?

It’ll be an ongoing process, learning the use of the tools of participatory democracy that Dr. Qadri calls for. ‘Representative democracy’, to date, has been in appearance only — sans people’s voice or consent after casting of votes. Throughout, the powers-that-be interpreted ‘mandate’ to mean absolute power without room for dissent or debate. Constituencies rendered voiceless and unserved for five year stretches.

No taxation without representation. – That’s another message. Claimed representation didn’t exist in practice. Too many including the elected, don’t pay taxes. More black money siphoned abroad than all taxes put together. Delayed income tax payments won’t create too many problems. But non-payment of utilities? What when they’re disconnected? How will people cook? How will businesses and home-based women workers earn? – Unless friendly persuasion wins over gas and electricity functionaries to the cause?

Palpable change on a country-wide scale seldom comes overnight, especially where development has been poor or non-existent. The principle and plans have to be differentiated from the implementation. Enough competent personnel are needed. How does one replace or reform functionaries, bureaucrats and police – not just colluding politicians and ministers — accustomed to earning more from bribes than salaries, or doing nothing?

Yet, the first step has been a successful one. — The first step being the planting of the idea amongst a vast number, that a revolution is necessary and possible. Few believed it could be when first spelt out in unambiguous terms. Earlier, a proliferation of armchair anchors and critics, barring some exceptions, had a field-day; months of undermining such hopes along with the personalities behind them.

In time, other parties will have to shape up or ship out. Programmes of reform and plans in terms that ordinary people can understand and personally identify with, will have to be matched by other parties if they are to remain relevant.

Some parties considered their options. Should they jump on the bandwagon? Some backed off. Some simultaneously made overtures while performing a balancing act ….. in case the revolution didn’t pan out immediately.

Rival parties have reason to worry. Most, like Zardari, depend on the status quo and a manipulative system to survive. Ultimately, they’ll have to put their money where their mouths are instead of in Swiss and other offshore banks, to prevent followers from jumping ship away from the feudal hold, ‘biradiri’, and empty promises.

Disturbingly, vast numbers don’t even know they have rights. So the revolutionary process involves comprehensive education and awareness. Unknown or unnoticed earlier, a headstart already existed. It started a generation ago, not as a political revolution but a purely social movement. It focused strongly on education, health and other basics of life. It first displayed its outlook, numbers, and outstanding organization and steadfastness at the Awami Tehreek’s first Islamabad sit-in.

Although Dr. Tahirul Qadri’s focus on revolution may have came late in life in response to a fast-deteriorating socio-economic condition, it turned out to be the perfect foundation for political change. Followers come from largely modest backgrounds, but are educated or skilled. They are already aware of basic rights, and brought up on principles of justice, equity, give-and-take. They made smooth transitions into the political mode without feeling the difference. In the ultimate, it’s the personal that’s political.

There’s no doubting the integrity of either leader. They come unaccompanied by the baggage of corruption that clings to most politicians. Given KPK’s culture as a tough, martial race, one can only marvel they tolerated appalling neglect for so long.

Unlike what most people are led to believe, there isn’t just one kind of democracy, either in definition or practice. Being man-made, it is as innovative and variable as the purpose behind it. It is mechanism or goal, depending on the motives of those who design it. Some – whether investors, bureaucrats or cynics — see democracy as a necessary management and administrative tool to handle vast numbers of people constituting an economy, in an orderly fashion. But they too realize that, for people to voluntarily go along with a system imposed on them, it has to make some sense to them.

The idea of democracy is an obvious one, even if the mechanism for achievement is not. People nevertheless need some kind of a roadmap to view themselves in the wider context. A professed democracy, working or not, is one such blueprint. In reform, it involves revamping entire country-wide systems, putting high emphasis and funds into essential public services and public institutions. It has to choose between public duty and playing second fiddle to foreign lending institutions and crippling globalization.

It involves prioritizing policies that upends previous ones. It’s risky business, because corrupt governments and parties have everything to fear from transparency. The greater the inequality gap, the more drastic the steps. But much can be learned from the inspiring Cuban success against global odds and blockades. Unfortunately, revolution often takes an unavoidable toll on victims.

Who could have imagined that containers would be making reluctant history! There’s much to merit containers – they can provide safety, shelter from rain and sun, relative privacy and quiet that everyone needs a degree of, helping marches going longer. Minimal relief helps to counter killjoys, onscreen and off. But containers are a bad idea for containing democracy.

This article was published in The Nation on 20 August, 2014

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For Gaza’s gas fields

The real reason for the unholy haste in razing Gaza that Israel had long rendered unviable 

August 06, 2014


It wasn’t always about gas. Besides, the manufactured ideology justifying an Israeli homeland by displacing the original inhabitants of thousands of years, remains. It just gets increasingly strident, maniacal and intolerant of debate and dissent.

The gas issue started in 1999, when the Palestine National Authority granted British Gas (BG) and the Lebanese-owned Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC) offshore oil and gas exploration rights for 25 years. The wells drilled promised well over a trillion cubic feet of gas, estimated to be worth $6.5 billion today. But the agreement itself was a shockingly unfair one, amounting to cheating the Palestinians of their fair share. 60% went to BG, 30% to CCC, leaving the Palestinians with a mere 10% — inexplicably committed for Israel’s use on their terms, which suggests the Palestinians were ignorantly advised or deliberately misled.
Even so, it filled the Palestinians with hope, and President Yasser Arafat held a special ceremony to that dream. They would finally be able to get back on their feet and more. Analysts predicted it could be the next Gulf or Saudi Arabia. The Israelis had their share of offshore gas facilities too, but 60% of the gas reserves fell to the Palestinians.
As far as territory was concerned, the thousands of statements and documents, mostly open and echoed by historians and journalists, made it abundantly clear that the Israelis had long planned the takeover of all Palestine. — Especially since 1948 when the UN determined Israelis had the right to carve out their state from someone else’s homeland (never mind what the Palestinians thought). Straightaway then, David Ben-Gurion said, “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” That sentiment has been echoed by every Israeli leader, politician and influential personality as they ate away at Palestinian territory and dignity.
Arafat had laid down a condition. Gas from the sea would first be transported to Gaza and then pumped through underground pipes to Israel. That way, Gaza’s ownership over their own resources would be ensured. Seemingly, Arafat had to go, and in 2004, he suddenly took ill and died. Although French medical experts claimed death from natural causes, Swiss experts disputed it. After exhuming his body in 2012, they confirmed he’d been poisoned. It couldn’t be proved by who.
It became easy to thwart the Palestinians after Hamas was elected to power. Both Israel and the US declared Hamas a terrorist organization and refused to negotiate with it — in effect, refusing recognition to an elected government. This turned into an ongoing stand-off that kept Palestinians in limbo. No progress could be made with Gaza’s gas fields.
As with most other countries, Gaza’s jurisdiction extended 20 nautical miles from the coast, but Israel kept muscling in, attacking and driving Gaza’s fishermen from their rich fishing waters, causing severe loss of Gaza’s main protein source, and reducing effective Palestinian control to only 3 nautical miles.
On the 4th of June this year, Palestine was finally recognized by the UN as a sovereign state — what little land they’ve been left with; a long, narrow strip barely 140 square miles (about one-ninth the area of Karachi) and a population density four times that of Bangladesh. But it meant international recognition, including of its offshore rights.
Since the gas discovery, Israel has been constantly throwing a spanner in the works, so that gas extraction never got off the ground. It would pretend to push forward negotiations while simultaneously scuttling the same deals. The Palestinians were subjected to a continuous state of intimidation, deprivation and conflict. They hardly wanted a fight, so the Israelis merely provoked them. In 2001, when PM Ariel Sharon was elected, Palestine’s sovereignty over its gas fields was challenged in the Israeli Supreme Court. Sharon bluntly stated that Israel would never buy gas from Palestine, meaning he considered it Israel’s property.
BG went behind the Palestinians’ back to collude with Israel to exclude Hamas from negotiations. For example, in mid-2007, the Jerusalem Post reported that BG and Israel had planned to transfer gas money accruing to the Palestine Authority into an international bank account until Hamas was out of power, because neither party wanted funds to go into the hands of terrorists! And any payment would be in goods and services, not currency. They were trying to nullify the 1999 contract between BG and Arafat.
In 2008, Israel struck Gaza with ‘Operation Cast Lead’. It killed almost 1400 Palestinians (and 9 Israelis), destroyed over 4000 homes and displaced 50,000 Gazans. It has been surpassed only by the current onslaught.
Routinely harassed and deprived of basics, for no reason except that they are unwanted, 80% of Gazans live below the poverty line, 40% unemployed, and 60% food dependant on UNRWA. Said Teddy Kollek, a former mayor, “We said things without meaning them, and didn’t carry them out … Never have we given them a feeling of being equal before the law. As mayor, I did something for Jewish Jerusalem in the past 25 years. For Arab East Jerusalem? Nothing! Yes, we installed a sewage system for them and improved water supply. You know why? You think it was for their good, for their welfare? Forget it! There were cases of cholera there, and the Jews were afraid that they would catch it, so we installed a sewage and water system against cholera.”
Things suddenly went wrong. After Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was relieved of power in 2011, Islamist groups forced the government to cancel the 20 year contract and cut off gas supplies to Israel, despite the crippling loss of foreign exchange. Then they got further sobering news about their own energy situation.
Israeli chief scientists asked to draft a gas policy, discovered inflated reserve figures, underestimation of future demand, and overestimation of production potential. Besides, all the gas was not necessarily commercially recoverable. The government was advised to drastically reduce gas exports as reserves would be depleted in less than 4 decades, forcing return to horrendously expensive oil. Israel will face severe gas shortage from 2015 – next year.
The report was suppressed until the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz obtained a leaked copy. The Israelis now wanted Gaza’s gas fields immediately to offset short supply – but without paying for it. For them, that meant getting rid of Hamas. Only a harsh military operation could possibly uproot them.
An excuse was needed to start a war. There wasn’t any, so they simply provoked. Kidnappings and killings, even of their own kind, are old ‘false flags’ they could blame Hamas or anyone else for.
Emboldened and able to blackmail even their sponsor, the US, which gives more military aid to Israel than all other countries combined, Israel went for the kill without so much as a by-your-leave. After all, the US routinely vetoes any UN resolution critical of Israel – 43 times so far, more than all other countries combined on other issues. And the rest of the west has still not been able to shake off the psychological grip the US has on them.

This article was published in The Nation on 6 August, 2014

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The revolution: if it comes

August 01, 2014


The last time there was a revolution here, it was a misnomer. It was not even indigenous. It was an American transplant called ‘green’ because it concerned agriculture — even though it replaced healthy manure with chemical fertilizer that once constituted arsenals for mass killing during the world wars and thereafter. It had far reaching negative consequences in South Asia, including Pakistan.
Although few realized it, and most still don’t acknowledge or understand it, thus began the takeover of agriculture, the mainstay of most economies including the USA’s, eroding our attempts at democracy and badly needing countering by another kind of revolution. Since then, Pakistan has been easy economic prey for strategies formulated outside including grooming our own kind as experts, decision-makers, movers and shakers in the globalised mould far removed from local culture and needs.
If rights are for all people irrespective of gender, is revolution even possible when there are elements that insist on women remaining subservient on claimed but unconvincing religious grounds that violate fundamental human rights? From that point of view, has any previous government really been democratic in practice at the grassroots level? Women, after all, make up half of any population.
Having mostly powerless women in parliament has made little difference to the masses, whatever the lip-service. Denial persists about what would happen to the economy if the horrendously exploited unpaid and underpaid women were taken out of agriculture as well as contractual services, both home-based and factory-based.
It was under very different circumstances, but since oppression and tyranny are similar everywhere, women could take inspiration from the Russian Revolution almost a century ago. Most historians routinely ignore women except as an aside. But an summary provides a little-quoted but illuminating part of women’s history.
“On Thursday, February 23, 1917, women workers in Petrograd left their factories and entered the streets to protest. It was International Women’s Day and the women of Russia were ready to be heard. An estimated 90,000 women marched through the streets, shouting “Bread” and “Down With the Autocracy!” and “Stop the War!” These women were tired, hungry, and angry. They worked long hours in miserable conditions in order to feed their families because their husbands and fathers were at the front, fighting in World War I. They wanted change. They weren’t the only ones. The following day, more than 150,000 men and women took to the streets to protest. Soon more people joined them and by Saturday, February 25, the city of Petrograd was basically shut down.”
Czar Nicolas was forced to abdicate a few days later, and he and his family came to a horrible end thereafter. It starkly illustrated that it doesn’t pay to ignore basic rights and needs. The instinct for survival, the unbearable sorrow over the helplessness to care for loved ones, the burning desire for revenge, people – or those among them left with enough strength and fighting spirit — will eventually revolt.
As Chris Blattman, an American commentator, put it plainly and simply: “You want to know why revolutions happen? Because little by little by little, things get worse and worse.”
Nothing really happens overnight. People are driven to a merciless extreme for inexplicably long periods, before they curl up and die … or react.
Not that all revolutions are or have to be violent. The most impressive political movement in recent history took place in the Philippines in 1986, from which the term “people power” came widely into use. The country had suffered not one but three colonizations, and their last so-called saviours bled the resource-rich country white as its leadership colluded with American takeover and control of the country’s assets.
Few know that for almost two decades, the Philippines crushed domestic economy was held up by an endless stream of tens and thousands of women workers, who migrated to work in the Arab oil-rich and other countries to earn foreign exchange while their husbands stayed behind to mind the children. — So much so that the government set up a department to facilitate their travel. They made popular employees because they were all educated and spoke English. They were not just domestic workers; they were nannies-cum-teachers too.
But the revolution didn’t work out in the long run, because in spite of the dictator Marcos having to flee, the same old political and corporate elements took over again later. The men at home didn’t organize or plan enough. — So much for women’s sacrifices.
Many opine a revolution’s been long overdue, first in 1971 when the country broke in two, to ensure that the conditions that led to it wouldn’t recur. That didn’t happen. Not even with the passing of General Ziaul Haq, or with the imposition of crippling structural adjustment policies by the World Bank/IMF — a devious way of legitimizing violation of rights and mass deprivation. Instead cosmetic democracies took over, but even those didn’t address the public interest or public participation or land reform, even though each had opportunity twice over. We’ve had both party and non-party elections without democracy.
Corruption seeped into each and every level of official and daily life, so that there’s no escape from paying ‘bhatta’ — to be allowed to work or do business or just to exist. Even the roadside vendor or daily-wage labourer isn’t exempt. As Ramadan wound up, despite Rangers operations, ‘bhatta’ collectors of various political colours turned up at people’s doorsteps to collect the 100-rupee ‘fitra’ per person.
Jobs in the public sector have been on sale or for allocation to favourites for decades now. It made life, including investing in local small enterprise, increasingly unaffordable, and with the mishandling of energy issues, impossible. The only recourse left is finding jobs abroad or joining up with organized crime: these somehow merge with local politics so that corruption is further entrenched. The police are corrupted beyond redemption and can only be undone by a parallel independent police and legal system exclusively for citizens, not the same law-and-order police muscle catering to ruling groups.
While state resources and assets meant to provide public services are undemocratically privatized and sold off, when unprecedented hunger and unemployment are not considered concerns, when vast tracts of public property needed for productive purposes are sold off to foreign investors and domestic fronts, what territory or sovereignty is there left for a state military to defend? — Or to earn and pay our bills with? Isn’t the unnecessary borrowing within less than a year the equivalent of what was borrowed in almost three decades, not something to worry about? What choices are left when even officialdom defies High Court and Supreme Court rulings?
In Pakistan, the process of movements unraveling, whether genuine or pretended, has been a familiar one. Dr Mark Almond, Professor in International Relations, explains it thus:
“Graceful exits are rare in revolutions, but the offer of secure retirement can speed up and smooth the change. But if insiders and the men with guns begin to question the wisdom of backing a regime – or can be bought off – then it implodes quickly. …..What collapses a regime is when insiders turn against it. So long as police, army and senior officials think they have more to lose by revolution than by defending a regime, then even mass protests can be defied and crushed. Remember Tiananmen Square.”

This article was published in The Nation on 1 August, 2014

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BY: NAJMA SADEQUE | July 23, 2014

 Can Pakistan squirm out of World Bank/IMF’s grip?

Last week, after 70 years of financial subterfuge and economic exploitation which the South finally realized wasn’t going to change, a treaty was signed to create an alternative to the World Bank and IMF— the BRICS development bank, the acronym taken from the five countries that came together to form it – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Other South countries are expected to join eventually.
Terms for lending to other South nations, especially poor countries, are expected to be humane and manageable. The greatest thing to cheer will be the absence of ‘structural adjustment conditionalities’ – IMF’s fancy term for forcing governments to slash funds for basic social services – healthcare, education, water, sanitation and much else – so that money ‘saved’ from these allocations maximizes repayment installments or compound interest payments. Bleeding countries white has been the mainstay of being the highest-paid bankers in the world. Yet, structural adjustment has never been applied to a western country.
Culturally, ideologically and in other ways, the BRICS countries are poles apart, making them an unlikely grouping. The Asians are wary of one another. Yet BRICS was a necessity. It may rescue corporate-besieged Africa. Nor can it be easily trifled with.

These five alone represent 3 billion people – 40% of the world population. Three are nuclear powers. By next year, BRIC countries will have done $500 billion worth of trade amongst themselves, mostly in their own currencies. The dollar is done for.
BRICS will start off with 50 billion dollars, and another 100 billion in contingency funds for emergencies such as sudden flight of foreign capital. But leaders who think they only need to switch from one money-lender to another to resolve social and economic disasters of their own making, need not celebrate. An invitation does not seem immediately forthcoming, given their reputation for borrowing with little intention or ability to repay. They’ve dug us neck-deep into what looks alarmingly like a grave.
Besides, Shylock will not let go without first reclaiming his pound of flesh. And there’s no one to bail us out except by continuing to serve the same master. — Unlikely that the World Bank/IMF will lend to join a rival bank! Furthermore, the treaty still needs ratification by the parliaments of all five countries, and a couple of years more to work out finer details and mechanics.
Former colonial South countries were constantly told that the World Bank/IMF were made for them – to pull them out of poverty and enable them to reach the same economic footing as industrialized countries. That was pure bluff. As historian Eric Toussaint, President of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM) points out, the US and UK pushed the WORLD Bank/IMF’s creation for their own benefit – to cover for them when an economic recession set in, because of capitalism gone amok or shabby treatment of other countries.
As Toussaint elaborates, the west was still haunted by the 1920s and 1930s — beyond the awareness of colonized people preoccupied with troubles of their own. The economic depression in the US affected the rest of the world. Consequently, in 1931, Germany, forced to pay war debts to France, Belgium, Italy and Great Britain, stopped paying because it simply couldn’t. These creditor countries were in turn unable to pay their debts to the US. It was a financial domino effect. Coming up short, the US was forced to cut down on both exports and imports. The financial system built around capitalism ground to a halt.
Devaluing their own currencies to make exports more attractive didn’t help either. It never is, if regular customers suddenly go broke and no one – certainly not the private banks – extends credit. President Roosevelt realized money had to be lent to debtor countries so they could put it to work and then repay debts; without credit they couldn’t make money.
Sometimes outright grants were better than loans, to give them a kickstart back to productivity. That was the idea behind the Marshall Plan going to the rescue of war-devastated Europe. It worked magnificently, except that the US gave so much in grants to Europe, they no longer needed World Bank/IMF loans.
Yet too much charity without pay back can have negative psychological consequences. To this day, Europe has co-opted NATO in unprovoked war-mongering at America’s behest, even when the Europeans are not particularly keen.
The other realization about a bank for nations was that borrowing countries also need to have a say, a sense of belonging, instead of being treated like desperate prey. Strong-arm tactics, as those applied to Germany until it resisted, and the American penchant for bombing countries into submission, or threatening to, did not necessarily bring debt repayment.
Experts advised that private international investments needed to be policed to ensure they were fair and square, and prevent any likelihood of lenders making illegitimate demands of their governments to intervene politically or militarily or economically. While Roosevelt was agreeable, America’s private bankers and capitalists were not. The idea of multilateral banks moving into their unregulated territory and profits, did not go down well. There was tremendous pressure from the Republican Party, and the best features were removed or toned down.
Consequently, the World Bank/ IMF remained American-dictated banks throughout. Initially, the World Bank was supposed to lend from its own capital. Instead, it borrowed lending money from the private sector! What could have made the latter happier? – It would add to, not subtract from their business. Not for nothing did the USSR denounce them as “branches of Wall Street.”
That was not all. It wasn’t one vote for each country, but distributed according to financial contribution, although most South countries were already rendered financially dirt poor. The US bagged over a third of the total votes. The US and UK together accounted for almost 50%. The 11 most industrialized countries held over 70%. All the African countries together had less than 2.5%. It was merely formalization of an elaborate charade for continued colonization by manipulative financial means. All they had to do was to keep the South exporting commodities, their currencies undervalued, apply compound interest, and compel loans to be spent on the west’s products and services. It was a formula designed for perpetual poverty.
Why then did the South countries agree? They didn’t really. Most were still colonized when the Banks were formed and their masters decided for them. It was part of the reason South countries were never properly informed; although they have only themselves to blame for not educating themselves for decades on end.
BRICS have a lot of rough spots yet to smoothen out. There is terrible inequality in all of them. The gulf between the haves and have-nots is painful and embarrassing. Some have their own ‘one-percenters’. For its population of 146 million, Russia has 110 billionaires, the world’s highest ratio. The Financial Times claims China’s wealthiest 1% controls 60% of household wealth, although China’s own survey says it is 10 percent – in a country of 1.3 billion. South Africa’s natural wealth is still controlled by the whites, and India has habits similar to Pakistan.
Only Brazil scores high on the social index. In 7 years it has actually added 40 million to its middle-class and extends family allowances to 11 million households (at least 60 million people) – this is no small feat.
BRICS will be mainly lending for major infrastructure projects without the World Bank/IMF’s crippling terms. But only when the BRICS countries focus on restoring land to the tiller, livelihoods, health, education, and social services, enabling everyone to become part of the mainstream, will priorities be right, and true, visible change will have come about.

This article appeared in The Nation on 23rd July, 2014

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Commercializing Ramadan

July 16, 2014



Just several decades ago, restaurants, hotels and roadside eateries were banned from selling food during Ramadan until Iftar time. Prior to that, for decades, upper-crust hotels and restaurants were allowed to serve meals discreetly, and there were no elaborate spreads in deference to the month. So were the modest semi-open-air places for ordinary folk; they had the courtesy — without having to be told — to cover their frontage with a sheet or shamiana so nobody could be seen eating. After all everybody doesn’t — can’t possibly — fast every day – children, the very elderly, the ill, the weak, expectant mothers, labourers far from home, doing strenuous work, dependant on roadside eateries but without access to a place serving sehri.
Officialdom used to think of things like these once upon a time. Not any more. Even if they do, they’re too terrified or just not authorized to do anything about it. So people who can’t fast for health or other reasons have to re-organize their lives as best as they can. Many can’t though. The city has ballooned to 22 million, and the traffic jams have become longer – as much as two hours long. Many reach home late for iftar; many have to choose between losing their ride and getting a bite on the road.
Religious charities are generous; they fling packets of iftari complete with dates and a fast-breaking juice into moving rickshaws and other vehicles without asking whether the passengers are entitled or not. In many areas, business communities spread out an elaborate iftar-dinner street-side for their workers who cannot get home, or have no local home to go to. The ‘langars’ continue to faithfully cater to the jobless or penniless. That’s the upside.
And then there’s the downside. Some of the most offensive series of advertisements on 20 foot billboards have been increasingly dotting main roads in cities over the years. Junk food and drinks which doctors don’t recommend, especially after fasting, are psychologically elevated to top billing by the media. In a country where half the population doesn’t get enough to eat, how is a hungry person who consumes barely enough to keep hunger pangs at bay until the next meal, expected to feel about the mouth-watering food adorning the hoardings in full, vivid colour?
Most of these people are not able to read the ‘deals’ on offer- what do they know that the cost of a single kebab in a bun surrounded by chips and soda costs more than they make in daily wages – on days they do get work and wage. Is the yawning gulf between our haves and have-nots something to plaster across giant posters? — That too in Ramadan?
Billboards appear in public spaces. Public spaces belong to and are viewed by rich and poor alike, although the better-off (and the government and politicians) act as if everything is meant for them alone. The same junk food messages are indeed meant only for those who can pay. But those who aren’t, can’t avoid seeing them, or escape being acutely conscious of their deprivation. Is that decent or is that thoughtless imposition?
The enthusiasm of advertisements and television sponsors, to commercialize food and festivity in this month, suggests that they are convinced (rightly so), that perceived piety is a highly saleable commodity. They are less introspective about intent or belief. Holiness too, is a business, and there is no respite for television viewers any more. Every second equates thousands of rupees. Previously, the azaan was presented on the television, usually over a still photograph of a holy place. Now, it is squeezed in between colourful commercials of families feasting on laden tables, gulping down food and drink as fast as possible. What do these images do for the spirit of Ramadan, especially when attempting to inculcate it within children?
The idea seems to have come from channels marketing modern religions in America which have made good use of the medium for at least half a century. Anything can be molded into infotainment. Television doesn’t need a fixed venue for its audience. It has far greater outreach. An actor with the gift of the gab, provided a script, will deliver whatever performance is required – whether a play or a sermon. Acts of charity and philanthropy too are put on open display. A generous donation (probably from the advertising budget) from a big company enables a new life or helps a family or a community, complete with introspective background music, some applause, some self-approval. Weren’t we taught that deeds of charity and goodness are not to be flaunted but carried out in private?
There may be nothing wrong with the fake, but good Samaritanism, but the mixed messages sent out can be confusing.
Is this all just a natural part of globalization? Is the assimilation of pop culture and commercialism and business interests with religion, just the next step of the process? Even so, it seems unpalatable. It seems like an indignity to faith; surely belief should be isolated from capitalism. Surely, it shouldn’t be allowed to feel like the creeping corporatization that has already taken over too many aspects of our lives, and reduced the value of the individual in its blatant attempts to mix religion with show business.

This article was published in the Nation on 16 July, 2014

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Countries as real-estate deals

July 09, 2014, The NATION


Some years ago, someone enjoying the status of holy cow, had a vision, which can be anything one wants to make of it. In ancient times, only prophets and seers had visions towards guiding people onto the right path. Later, visions came to schizophrenics, autocrats and corporations. The recent ‘visionary’ wanted to turn Karachi into a ‘world-class city’.

Now what is a ‘world-class city’? Different people view ‘world-class’ differently. To some it means aesthetic qualities and uniqueness, that can’t be duplicated elsewhere – places like Prague, Venice, Barcelona, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Istanbul and others that don’t ruin things by stretching beyond their infrastructural capacity. They blossomed from the cultural input of many generations.

But that’s not the vision of the profit-oriented; their idea is unabashed, in-your-face ostentation – places like glittering, tourist-attracting Bangkok, and the playground of our politicians, Dubai. Invisibility reigns over the grinding poverty of millions toiling for the upkeep of the rich, complete with inhuman living conditions and the trafficking of flesh, and the relentless inflow of rural migrants in desperate search of jobs, shelter and survival.
The new lopsided mantra became: if there’s no space to grow horizontally, there’s plenty to grow vertically, 30, 40, 50 stories or more. In 2008, it was formalized into the fashionably-termed “high-density development” of Karachi, without so much as a by-your-leave of the city’s multimillion residents. The political decision-makers even ignored officialdom’s own professionals about the impossible — unless a heavy price was undemocratically paid by an unserved majority.
The object of maximizing residential and office space is not achieved just by accommodating them far above the ground. The corresponding infrastructure and services required – water, electricity, gas, sewerage, transport, roads, parking (forget the parks) — remain or start at ground or underground level. For additional huge numbers of population, the capacity was limited or already used up. The only way for the privileged living or working in the sky was by further depriving others. It was simply not humanly or environmentally possible to serve all.
Whose so-called ‘vision’ was this high-density scheme? The architects were too polite to mention it, but past press cuttings revealed that a high-powered meeting was attended by, among others, Governor Ishrat-ul-Abad, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, Secretary General to President Salman Faruqi, Finance Minister Murad Ali Shah, Minister for Local Government Agha Siraj Durrani, none of them city-planning professionals. It was chaired by Zardari, whose erratic brainwave it was – having as much interest in real estate as Malik Riaz does, if in different ways.
SHEHRI, the NGO focusing on housing, city planning and development, our architectural heritage, civic matters related to urbanites’ lives irrespective of socio-economic status, has constantly been raising its voice about irresponsible and uncontrolled development. It invariably displaces the poor, unwarranted privileges being awarded to a minority, leaving have-nots degenerating to a dog-eat-dog lifestyle.
Elected governments began to increasingly emphasize privatization. First, it was the privatization of state-enterprises including profitable ones for which there was no justification to flog. Then it was for anything and everything, not just urban.

The unspoken impetus came in 1995 when the secret private World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement was signed by most governments of the world, most of which, including the elected representatives of the US and Pakistan, did not read or know what they had signed. Even the international media did not learn of its contents until too late.
The WTO was not just about so-called ‘free’ trade which industrialized countries already dominated. It was about total globalization, deemed by the American corporates who created it, as the ultimate virtue — the freedom for outsiders to invest in just anything anywhere in the world including agriculture. With Pakistan’s invitation to foreign investors into corporate agriculture instead of land reform and redistribution to peasants, large-scale land-grabbing deals were struck in Baluchistan and Punjab. The only reason they’ve failed to reach fruition yet is because of widespread violence and conflict. But the risk remains.
Attention turned to urban investment in essential public services such as utilities, communications, water, municipal services, roads and urban development, hitherto the sole democratic duty and responsibility of government. The central principle of the WTO is that global commercial interests should supersede all other interests including fundamental human and environmental rights. Having local ‘fronts’ acting on their behalf became easier. To this end, all “impediments to free trade” had to be removed – such as labour rights, environmental protection, consumer rights, local culture, social justice, removal of domestic regulatory mechanisms, and if need be, changes in country constitutions to suit WTO.
While SHEHRI’s civil society membership is well-armed with architects, engineers and planners, the government simply shrugs them off. Its recent call was akin to desperation before complete takeover of governance by private interests. Lately, higher-rises have been cropping up in Karachi in places where services are already stretched. But the buzzword of privatization takes precedence, as illustrated by Architects Roland D’Souza and Arif Belgaumi, revealing the inner workings of Karachi’s murky real estate activities. The same trends occur in Lahore, Islamabad and elsewhere.
1997 welcomed an Environmental Protection Act (EPA). What most people don’t know, says D’Souza, is that it also protects the built environment. An Environmental Impact Assessment is in fact critical for increased densification, high rises, change of land-use projects, as are public hearings and setting up of expert committees. Just adding more buildings and floors for homes and offices don’t resolve accommodation needs. They have to be accompanied by the entire package of supporting infrastructure and services. Along came the Karachi Building and Town Planning Regulations 2002, but by then, opined D’Souza, planning and control had come to an end; there was no concern whatsoever about infrastructure.
The High Density Development Board 2010, warns D’Souza, is unmindful of ground realities, ignoring lack of utilities and services, mass transport and unmanageable traffic congestion, and most damningly of all, planning for the 5% upper income at the expense of the 95% low income. To safeguard everyone’s interest, MQM and PPP appointees were made co-chairmen. The Rules and Procedures 2011 that followed violated all urban planning principles – unlimited size plot amalgamation was allowed, height-related setbacks were removed and plot-ratios increased. Residential plots could be commercialized without public objections procedure. Since 2010, amenity (park) lands have been grabbed, and protected heritage structures ranging from 900 to 2,500 years old, including the beautiful Jehangir Kothari Promenade, carefully preserved for so long, have been encroached upon and partly damaged.
When, in the larger public interest, the architects presented themselves uninvited, the government not only “welcomed” them, they were clever and got both free advice and an illusion of receiving their approval. Consequently, architect Belgaumi harbours no misunderstandings about government behaving responsibly voluntarily. “The Architects Committee only provides unwarranted legitimacy to the actions of the Board,” he states, “The Sindh High Density Development Board is not in the best interests of Karachi and other cities of Sindh. It serves no purpose but to facilitate and further the real estate interests of select parties. It concentrates too much discretionary power without oversight in the hands of a few selected individuals. …. It largely excludes the planning and architectural communities. It does not address the needs of the majority of Karachiites. It will create huge infrastructure and environmental problems for all urban areas. It provides little or no recourse for the public. …. the vested intent of the legislation must be recognised.”
Besides, he affirms, “all this will never yield a ‘world class’ city.”
This article was published on 9th July, 2014

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Why the killing won’t stop

 June 04, 2014

Najma Sadeque

As long as killers know they can get away with murder, they will commit it. That’s stating the obvious, but the obvious is often disregarded by officialdom.
Reportage in the international media suggests that honour killing and blood-money payoffs are Muslim practices, but if it’s any consolation, early history shows otherwise. Men have always battled over women, honourably or not, to assuage their egos or to assert their dominance over opponents. The fact remains that blood money pre-dates Islam to ancient times.
Revenge for murder often extended to slaughtering the killer’s entire clan, and blood-money was later devised as a way to protect innocent family members — sometimes the killer too, if the killing was unintentional.
The increasing abuse of blood money deals was not lost on societies, and distinction was finally made between pre-meditated murder and accidental killing. The difference today is that the West has abandoned blood-money practices. But everybody hasn’t. Regressive elements have found political opportunity to uphold them.
Today, in most countries, deliberate killing is no longer allowed to be settled by families involved but is subject to the laws of the land including capital punishment or life imprisonment for the offender.
What we have today in Pakistan is abuse of the law that was meant to find a way to protect and compensate the innocent. How else could an entire gang have the confidence to commit murder in public, with dozens of onlookers?
The status of women in a country reflects the dominant male mentality in social and economic life. It is similarly reflected in the police.
As long as the police system is not independent and not sufficiently subject to an independent judiciary rather than a politicized executive, existing mainly to assert the authority of those in power, undesirable customs will continue to be passed off as part of governance.
As long as the police are merely used to enforce law and order selectively without extending equal protection to the public at large, the country will remain a hunting ground conducive for crime to thrive and grow in.
As long as police are ‘purchasable’ and given a long rope to compensate for their low pay in other ways, they will remain a parallel or supporting party to crime.
A decade or two ago the government attempted police reform, and a fortune was spent on calling in Scotland Yard to overhaul and update the police system. Had there been implementation to the letter, it would have meant a power shift of sorts, some balancing, and the public more empowered. But relinquishing even an iota was too much for the powers-that-be to stomach.
And as long as there is an extreme class system, as evinced by feudalism, whereby the money and power of the wealthiest determines most decision-making and maintains the culture of women’s subjugation, while claiming hereditary spiritual leadership to dictate politics, it is no different from a caste system that has institutionalized the oppression of those at the lowest socio-economic levels by those at the highest who set ugly examples.
It is well known that slavery — dubbed ‘bonded labour’ — exists, and rape of women and young girls among them by their owners and overseers is routine, as is indiscriminate killing. But no one can prove it as no one dares to bear witness. So there’s no furor or action to eliminate the evil – although it could be wiped out more easily than terrorists in Karachi. Out of sight is out of mind.
As long as the state condones killing on payment of blood money, pre-meditated murder will remain an incentive for the more powerful to settle scores, exact revenge, and compel voiceless subordinates to kill on their behalf.

The laws providing this escape route were a unilateral imposition and not a democratic decision. Yet parliament isn’t pushed. Getting self-congratulatory bills passed on paper sans implementation isn’t enough.
As long as women can be killed at will, no questions asked – whether in an attempt to replace her, to grab her inheritance or personal wealth, or out of sheer animosity – any murder can be conveniently passed off as a kinsmen-approved honour killing.
Already, the blood-chilling gang murder of a woman in broad daylight is fading from political and official minds as the media moves on to other horror stories of which there’s no dearth.
Whether or not the police were present when Farzana was attacked, the fact remains that police have often been silent witnesses to murder, unmoved into action. Remember the two minority teenage boys who were brutalized and beaten to death while police watched the spectacle from the front row? Were those cops ever penalized, dismissed from service as unfit to fight crime or protect the innocent? Or did they undergo the routine ‘transfer’ and kept out of sight until the incident was forgotten?
Whatever else the Farzana case may have been, it had nothing to do with perceived ‘honour’. Each of the men involved – the supposedly ‘aggrieved’ fiancé, the father, and the man she married – had a dishonourable role, varying only in degree. As the inside story unfolded in segments, each more bizarre than the last, it’s uncertain if it’s complete, or how much is real and how much spur-of-the-moment fabrications.
The various male personae all seem to be birds of a feather. First the father surrenders himself to the police without trying to run away. Do men who kill as a matter of ‘honour’ generally give themselves up to the police? Seems unlikely for a man selling his own daughter, but perhaps he thought he could get off with blood money.
Next the man that Farzana married, a father of five, reveals himself as having murdered his first wife, but got off by paying blood money after spending a few years in jail. How lightly the court took this murder, speaks volumes.
The latest bombshell, according to Farzana’s sister, is that their father himself had earlier murdered another sister of theirs. Killing seems to run in the family, but various claims conflict with one another. It was enough to confound the activists.
One can only speculate about the state of Farzana’s mind. Her choices were very limited. — It was either one violent man or another. Her sister further states that it was Farzana’s husband who forced her to marry him against her will instead of the man she was engaged to. If her fiancé couldn’t have her, the family decided, neither could the husband.
Irrespective of who she married eventually, she would have probably come to the same end through revengeful murder by either side. Whichever man’s supposed ‘rights’ prevailed over the other’s, she would pay the price.
Many are certain that the previous Chief Justice would have taken immediate notice and action. But the rudest shock was the lack of response from the Prime Minister – until belatedly, asking for the usual report within a week. Not even from the President, although he has all the time in the world.
Facing too many battles on too many fronts — some of their own making and others aggravated by an inept government — the issue of violence against women is relegated to the bottom of the priority list. Under the current government at least, the status quo of gender inequality and injustice is maintained.

This article appeared in The Nation on 4th June, 2014 in The Nation

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Agriculture, sans conscience

July 02, 2014


While politicians are at loggerheads to retain power, foreign opportunists happily mop up our resources depriving millions of their livelihoods. When the winners emerge – whichever political party or coalition it may be – one can only hope they will have acquired the sensitivities, and indeed the patriotism, for overcoming these almost insurmountable new problems they have mired us in.

Too many politicians and planners are ignorant of, or indifferent towards the environment. Many still believe environmental care is a mere ideal, such as a pretty landscape, not a harsh economic reality when misused. They have yet to learn that our country’s resources, upon which the economy is dependent, are finite. They understand even less about the double-edged sword that is modern technology, destroying millions while making fortunes for a few.
The standard modus operandi to governance is claiming a ‘mandate’ for selling off public resources to private investors, making a tidy sum for themselves in the bargain. They’re not worried about our future because they won’t be hanging around to witness the devastation: they and their progeny will be long gone to foreign shores where they’ll have shipped ill-begotten wealth. So we have to do the worrying for ourselves.
Human survival and economic activities are entirely dependent on the earth’s biological resources. The plundering of the naturally-rich South countries during 500 years of colonization brought the realization that the scale of exploitation was simply not sustainable without decimating human and other life forms. Consequently, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) took an initiative in 1988 which culminated in 1992 with what is known as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). By mid-1993, it was signed by 168 countries and came into force at the year’s end. In the meantime, the assault on nature – both on species and eco-systems — continued unabated, mainly by corporations.
With three-fourths of species having gone extinct worldwide, an unprecedented new threat came up, so that an additional agreement had to be created. The new threat was LMOs, or ‘living modified organisms’ — the term used by the Cartagena Protocol which means the same as ‘genetically modified organisms’.
The need for the Protocol as a vital subsidiary to the CBD in 2000, arose with the emergence of genetic engineering and its results – genetically-modified organisms GMOs. It was also signed by 168 governments, coming into force in 1993.
Mobilised by the international community including Greenpeace, it was the first international agreement designed to regulate movements of GMOs, by placing precaution at the core of all decision-making. In other words, countries have the right to ban or restrict the import or use of GMOs when there is a lack of scientific knowledge or consensus regarding their safety. This holds true in Pakistan.

 Argentina, Canada, and the US, together produce some 90 percent of GM crops in the world — and therefore have not ratified the Protocol. The US, the birthplace of GMOs and the global GMO centre, is especially going whole hog, no holds barred, to undermine the Protocol.
Which begs the question: if by our government’s own admission, 85 percent of Pakistan’s cotton fields are already covered with Bt cotton without being officially imported, with whose leave did they do it? And why has Monsanto been sitting in Pakistan for 13 years showing no agricultural ‘activities’ to justify their presence?
They can, of course, afford to blow money. After all, it’s one of a handful of agrochemical and GM seed corporations that dominate around 80 percent of the global market simply collecting on recurring poisons and toxic seeds. But there still has to be more reason for showing such extraordinary patience.
Speculations abound. The most common, previously heard in India also, is to wait around until a sizeable area gets ‘somehow’ contaminated with GM. About 20 percent of captured acreage is deemed sufficient to eventually contaminate the rest at which point it may be impossible to regulate, with the damage having gone too far. At this point, multinationals with their huge advertising and marketing and ‘persuasion’ money, move in for the kill that eliminates all non-GM competition, enabling a complete takeover of a country’s agriculture. In Pakistan, it seems further qualified by years of charades of crop trials and monitoring and evaluation by non-existent technical personnel, involving a whole range of ‘local’ Bt varieties.
      Whether Bt cottonseeds are smuggled from abroad – very easily through our porous borders on all sides – or other rumoured means, the fact remains that Pakistan’s own government’s agricultural agencies are directly responsible for the contamination. Although there was no Biosafety Law in existence whatsoever in 2010, the National Institute for Biotechnology (NIBGE) and Genetic Engineering (PAEC) sold 40,000 kg of basic Bt cotton from PAEC-related facilities to 10 private companies for sale and multiplication.
      Despite the fact that the National Biosafety Committee and Punjab Seed Council repeatedly downgraded the trial Bt crops for low toxin, poor quality and other factors, their approval was still bulldozed through! As many as 72 Bt cotton varieties were reported by the media to have proliferated in the Punjab and Sindh. But NBC never even created the capacity to check. There was never an enquiry, and no heads ever rolled. Were things going according to somebody else’s plans?
      The Cartagena Biosafety Protocol clearly spells out that products from new technologies have to be based on the precautionary principle — that if any action or policy may hold the risk of causing harm to the environment or to the public, one should lean on the side of caution and desist. But here, people in high places seldom obey orders.
Nevertheless, the Protocol automatically applies at the domestic level as well. Yet, two decades after having signed the protocol, Pakistan has not bothered to frame it for either the federal or provincial level.
This does explain the total lack of concern of agricultural officialdom towards GM cotton contamination in Pakistan and equal lack of enthusiasm for proven traditional – otherwise termed ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ – farming methods for reviving chemical and monoculture-damaged soils and mitigating the vagaries of ‘climate change.’ The focus of all agricultural institutions in Pakistan, or at least of the head honchos of most of the 60 such, seem to have zeroed onto a solitary goal – GMOs, by hook or by crook. (Probably the latter.)
It would be safe for their future to remember that the Cartagena Protocol recognises the sovereign rights of states over their biological resources and knowledge systems. The protocol also requires signatory governments to protect and promote the rights of communities, farmers and indigenous peoples with respect to their biological resources and knowledge systems. We have never been so lucky. Successive governments have consistently deprived us. They believe foreign investors can run our agriculture, our economy, and our lives, better than we can.
Maybe our luck will turn this time because environmental threats are now upon us economically and socially. That makes it a political issue that warring parties might just be forced to take up.
This article was printed in the Nation on 2 July, 2014

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Getting GMOs out of the country

June 11, 2014 – THE NATION

Once upon a time, until about a century ago in the west, and about 50 years ago in Pakistan, there was only one kind of farming. There was no traditional farming or modern farming, no monoculture or polyculture, no chemical agriculture or organic agriculture, no natural agriculture or ‘sustainable’ agriculture.

There was just one kind of farming, whether small-scale or large. It existed for 10-15,000 years ever since settled agriculture came into being. It enriched the British, European and American colonizers for hundreds of years, and rebuilt the economies of countries that regained independence. So why did GM seeds come on the scene? Were they even necessary?
Once corporations had succeeded in discouraging farmers from saving their own seed – killing the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of women seed-savers the world over — and settle for commercially-produced poorly-reproducing hybrids, thereby creating a vast new source of making huge money, they then sought to mop up the entire global market. Highly-paid agricultural scientists, full of themselves, were conditioned in the belief they could not only improve on nature but life itself by manipulating genes. They started with crops.
Notwithstanding the high-sounding corporate claims of wanting to feed the world, the objective was not a magnanimous one. They had succeeded in cornering the world market of large-scale agro-businesses that were owned not by farmers who tilled with their own hands, but by investors. Now they wanted that the world’s remaining farmlands, medium, small and tiny, to use only multinational seeds and chemicals. What could be a bigger market than all growers of the world, including captive peasants?
Genetic engineering (GE) or genetic modification (GM) is the artificial introduction of a gene of one species into another totally unrelated species. This is impossible in Nature and is therefore considered unnatural. Nature was designed such that unrelated species cannot propagate. That’s how each species remains unique – humans, different kinds of birds, animals, insects, flowers, fish, trees and so on, and makes the world so diverse and captivating. When nature has been around for billions of years, evolving varieties within the same species by the hundreds or thousands (30,000 varieties of rice in South Asia alone!), if there were any possibility of more variety, Nature would have already developed it, or already in the process.
Genetic engineers knew this so they thought of another way to be unique.— Sticking an alien gene or two into a species where they didn’t belong. The liberties they have taken without anyone’s permission has been an assault on the integrity of all life forms. These are then patented for their exclusive profits. — By creating unnecessary and high-priced dependency on corporate seeds and chemicals.
But fish, insect or animal or human genes in crops? Would one knowingly eat the outcome? And genes interchanged between humans and animals? What about the ethical and religious aspects? The experiments have been going on for a long time, and the consequences of many are hard to stomach.
As Dr. Mae-Won Ho, senior scientist and Director of the Institute of Science in Society, UK and Editor of Science in Society, chillingly makes clear: “GM breaks all the rules of evolution, it short circuits evolution altogether. It bypasses reproduction, creates new genes and gene combinations that have never existed, and is not restricted by the usual barriers between species. Evolution happened over billions of years, each species has its own space and time on the evolutionary stage, they didn’t all evolve at once, so gene exchange between different species were restricted by space and time as well as by biological barriers.”
Taking on the government at any level is no easy task in most countries, least of all in Pakistan. Already, GM cotton was being illegally grown here, but non-farming society was largely unaware. Then suddenly, earlier this year, the authority responsible for regulating GMOs in Pakistan was about to deliberate the approval of some GM crops, specifically Bt cotton.
Mr. Rafay Alam, environmental lawyer, filed a public interest case in the Lahore High Court on behalf of two women’s NGOs — Shirkat Gah, working in women’s development, and PAVHNA, working in women’s health services.
The process by which GMOs were to be assessed for risk before being released into the environment had been flawed, with many of the applications not meeting the criteria for testing and screening. On the contrary, standards had been lowered!
The two women’s NGOs called for the stoppage of GM crops, specifically Bt cotton, which today, by the government’s own admission, covers 85 percent of Pakistan’s cotton acreages. Bt cotton was approved for the first and only time in Pakistan in 2010. However, it is well known that Bt seeds were smuggled in or brought in by private parties as early as 2005. Then why didn’t concerned authorities destroy any of the unapproved crops or penalize those responsible? Obviously because they were much too privileged or had powerful protection.
The petition was filed before the Lahore High Court on 12 March 2014, the date the GMO licences were to be deliberated. Contrary to expectations, the Court disposed of the matter at first hearing, directing that a copy of the petition be forwarded to relevant officials in the Federal Government.
The NGOs then went into appeal before a two-member Bench of the High Court. Unfortunately, the appellate Bench was unable to take the matter up on merits due to the manner in which the case had been disposed of by the single judge of the High Court.
The GMO approving authority met on 12 March 2014 and apparently passed some orders, unilaterally, granting licenses to Bt cotton and GM corn varieties.
Since the case had changed from stopping a meeting to now challenging the decisions of the meeting, the Kisan Board, a farmer’s organization, kept the issue alive by filing a new public interest case in the same Lahore High Court through Mr. Rafay Alam. This time, however, counsel for the petitioner specifically requested the matter be heard by a ‘green bench’ of the High Court which had been created a couple of years earlier to hear cases related to environmental issues.
The petition came up the second time before Mr. Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, the Honourable “green bench” of the Lahore High Court. On 12 May 2014, Mr. Justice Shah ordered the federal government – specifically the National Bio-Safety Committee (NBC) — to desist from issuing licenses for GM crops until a proper legal framework was
set in place that could reliably assess GMOs which are a new entry into Pakistan agriculture.
One can only wonder how the involved parties – at least a dozen governmental institutions and departments and all the GM-growing farmers involved – got away with so much for so long, given that the regulatory institutions that should have been set up in the first place do not even exist — no strong and independent regulatory system, no trained technical staff, and no fully-equipped up-to-date laboratories to analyze GMOs. Why is government on the side of GMOs and GM corporations anyway when they clearly go against food security, biodiversity, livelihoods, and the public interest?
The LHC decision was a victory, but it’s too early to celebrate. Stakeholders have obtained some breathing space to prepare for the next stage of confrontations. —Because, there’s another loophole that the GM seed companies are certain to exploit. The struggle for reclaiming our indigenous agricultural resources for our own people has only just begun.

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Loans alone won’t do it

By Najma Sadeque Published: June 12, 2014

The Youth Loan Scheme — like previous hare-brained taxi and laptop ones — suggests that it’s geared only to urban and (somewhat) educated classes. But what about those whose parents couldn’t afford to educate them? What about rural youth forced to attend substandard schools?

It appears that this simplistic scheme wasn’t designed by those aware of ordinary people’s realities — let alone in the context of the current economic situation that’s got everything stacked against the youth of limited means. There’s no dealing with the causes for jobs shrinkage in the scheme: how will stumbling blocks and hurdles be contained if they aren’t first identified? Nor is there any pinpointing of areas of higher priority and potential.

All urban occupations involve utilities and transport, the costs of which have ballooned. Under the circumstances, is it possible to set up small enterprises to produce something once made in profusion? From footwear and furniture to a vast array of plastic items to electrical goods and much more — later undercut and driven out of the market by cheap Chinese consumer imports, that too long before energy shortages hit us? If instead, the youth goes into retailing or services, what would they sell? More Chinese goods with European brand names?

Government after government has avoided the consequences of unnecessary imports in the name of globalisation, displacing daily use items already being produced and serving the local market. This enriched no one except the elite or the already established. Ironically, doing small business in Pakistan has, for long, cost more since they never received the preferential treatment that big businesses and industries routinely do. That was where loans were really needed to help them grow. Instead, foreign competition was aided to kill off local enterprise.

Being business-friendly and offering loans (that, too, which have strings attached to them) cannot alone create jobs en masse.

With most enterprises, the skills or knowledge of the required skills is necessary. That requires a higher-end loan for which it is hard to find a guarantor unless one is already privileged. When openings for honest jobs are lacking, many feel pressured to turn to crime. Once established and entrenched, various mafias become part of the job market and a norm.

Crime and extortion is lucrative for such youth. It allows flexible hours, sleeping late and rising late, the only exertion being roaming the streets watching assigned streets, houses and commercial establishments that are their prey. How can a one-off loan of Rs50,000, that also has to be returned even if interest-free, compete with that kind of luxury?

Moreover, taking a loan may exact a social price too. As with insurance or compensation when someone gets killed, everyone gets to know when someone’s receiving something sizeable. It ultimately reaches the ears of the neighbourhood gangsters, just as they get to know when pensions and home remittances arrive and will graciously accept a little cut every month for leaving you and your family alone. If every trucker, roadside barber, fruit and vegetable ‘thela’, and professional beggar with a fixed plum spot can pay up, so can those who receive loans!

Despite ready-made business plans from SMEDA, overnight businessmen or entrepreneurs won’t necessarily emerge from inexperienced, untrained loan receivers. What is most needed is on-the-job experience, whether in a machine-tool shop or retail store, or tailoring shop or furniture-maker, IT or appliances services, or eatery, etc. Many could do with another hand to make a significant difference but can’t afford paying the salary in hard times. Maybe the time-tested apprentice system can help better? The government may control the wage or a stipend for a year or two depending on nature of work and at the end of this period, a satisfied employer may even keep the now-skilled worker for higher pay.

The Youth Loan Scheme doesn’t guarantee a future, as one still has to go through balloting to get the loan. Most won’t. It needs some serious re-think.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2014.

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Labour: asking for too little

The Nation – May 07, 2014



Biology has so much to do with work and social life. Previously, when most of the world was a farm, days were spread out longer. People worked at an acceptable pace taking breaks whenever needed – after all, no amount of additional work makes crops grow faster.

In the newly industrialized West, 10-16 hour days suddenly became the norm. Today some western industries make workers wear adult diapers to minimize bathroom breaks. Rurals and urbanites alike follow what scientists today call ‘circadian rhythms’. Despite the discoveries of fire and electricity, basic biological rhythms remain the same within 24-hour periods.

So, exactly a hundred years ago, when Robert Owen, a labour activist, started campaigning for an 8-hour workday, someone paid heed: Henry Ford, the exemplary human being who pioneered the motor car. It was him who introduced the 8 hour workday. He went further, paying employees well enough to buy their own vehicle in a few years if they chose. He kept bringing down the price of his products unlike today’s corporations that keep them soaring while lowering quality.

That was not all. Ford doubled his workers’ pay. The startling outcome was that they showed increased productivity in fewer hours. It was good for Ford too, because his profit margins doubled within two years. The lesson was not lost on other industries ; a healthy, well-rested and decently paid workforce was profitable for both employer and employee. Many followed suit.

Unfortunately, all did not. Work hours began to serve technology, not humans. If the maximum efficiency from a machine came from operating it for longer hours, so be it. Technology was not readjusted. The worker had to work that much longer. So, there are 12-hour-plus workdays in some sectors. When greater output and economy came from machines working around the clock, the continuous shift – two or three every 24 hours — came into force. It profoundly affected the health and psychology of night workers who suffered isolation, losing social contact with family, friends and normal daytime life.

As capitalism advanced, it left human rights and the quality of life far behind. Dhaka’s Rana Complex and Karachi’s Baldia industrial debacles are merely two terrible examples in a long and ugly history.

The government’s approach is self-servingly based on consistent heavy borrowing and foreign investment as sole solutions to economic problems, which only betray their massive ignorance about how finance actually works, or how it can work better. The shocking part is that violations of human rights involved or the irreversible loss and damage to natural resources and the environment are not acceptable reasons for terminating deals under the terms of the WTO and other exploitative bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.

At one extreme, chronically indebted and exhausted brick-kiln workers are paid by family output, not individual wages. Recently, they considered it a victory when kiln owners finally agreed to Rs. 750 for every 1000 finished bricks. Yet, a month’s family toil that includes children’s, barely brings a single minimum wage.

Researchers have calculated that currently, the minimum required for a small urban family to survive is Rs 15,000/- a month, although the desperate not even receiving minimum wages would gratefully settle for 10,000/-. Whatever minimum wage government agrees to on paper, non-implementation can’t be fought because the justice system simply doesn’t work. In fact, it costs. By the time labour wins, inflation cancels out benefits.

The problem is not that labour asks for too much, but that they ask for too little. Many think fair wages will solve all problems; it never will because of dubious financial, legal and trade practices that have been universally ‘legalized’. Also because technology focuses on labour-displacement.

Factory labour may not be trapped by “inherited” debt as peasants and brick-kiln workers are, but they still don’t get their labour’s worth. Most are contract workers, dismissed after 11 months to avoid being made permanent, and re-employed as fresh labour, so much so that millions have spent entire working lives as contract workers.

Our experts would have us believe that only capitalism works. True, only up to a point, but they generalize without qualifying. Artisans and farmers have always been private entrepreneurs; they not only produce, they also sell. While gearing to the market, they avoid damaging environmental practices and recognize others’ rights. Big capital externalizes the costs of the toxic effects of industrialization instead of continuously cleaning up as a duty and price for using natural resources that are untaxed common property. That bill is passed on to taxpayers — possible only with government collusion or permission.

The difference between then and now is in scale and concentration of wealth between big capitalists and ‘little’ capitalists, including artisans and farmers. Today, less than 200 interlocking multinational corporations control most of the world’s resources and production including agriculture – instead of hundreds of millions of small and medium private and family enterprises and manufactories sharing. Previously they always co-existed, the big ones within limits. Monopolies, let alone cartels, were never allowed, because production depended on land, water, and other finite resources, as that would not leave enough for everyone.

Things have changed in the last half-century, and most governments of former colonies including ours, dazzled by technology and consumerism, actually signed away economic and social sovereignty, first under World Bank (which is to be thanked for the contract labour system), and then under WTO. They unilaterally handed to foreign corporations the ‘right’ to exploit our resources and labour, on their terms. With what conscience did our governments sign such agreements?

With no balancing support from government, industrialization killed off the autonomous artisan and small enterprises that also employed people, albeit on a smaller-scale, but made entire products from start to finish. Unequal competition made life harder or impossible for small manufacturers. It forced labour, even if educated, to focus on a single stage of production, never the whole process, so that they never learnt to independently specialize. They face unemployment when technologies become redundant and are changed, and rendered unskilled for new. Countries merely became administrative units or oligarchies for the convenience of global corporations and hegemonic powers.

Government ignores all this May Day after May Day. Labour not only needs to rethink their own economic or social worth, but about where jobs for all can come from. Neither big business and industry nor government can create full-employment. Least of all, foreign takeover of essential public goods, especially those that had captive or guaranteed markets anyway, such as electricity and communications. These were violations not just of worker rights, but human and citizen rights. Many modern technologies and investment capital don’t bring benefits for the majority.

Without caps to the wealth and size of production units, there can never be fuller employment. After a point, most manufacturers face diseconomies of scale anyway, but avoid losing to competition by being monopolies or cartel members. Staples such as food and cotton have to be decommodified; the constitution and laws updated and made specific. The world’s 85 richest individuals, with government acquiescence, monopolize more wealth than the poorer half of the world’s population – 3.5 billion. This is the starkest explanation of poverty. Jobs only come when there’s access to necessary resources locally.

Most likely, only labour, the worst affected, has the gumption to do it. It’s not just a battle for fair wages; it’s also a battle for the democracy we never had.


This article was published in The Nation on 7 May 2014

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Toxic warfare on the farm

April 30, 2014


When you smell the insecticide in the air, it is already getting into your lungs. When you eat the foods that has the insecticides on it, it is getting into your stomach and destroying your cells. The same goes for food plants that absorb the insecticides through their root system.” — Just one pained response of an affected rural in America where every third citizen is a cancer candidate — to reportage of what agro-chemicals were doing to farmers, their families and communities everywhere.

When in 2010, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif rejected Monsanto’s proposal for Pakistan, one credited him with singular environmental wisdom. It transpired later he turned them down because Monsanto demanded a royalty fee for every acre that Bt seed was sown on – akin to sub-letting someone else’s land ! — Also for the right to prosecute farmers who planted copied seeds or saved seeds; and because Bt cottonseed had no solution for the Cotton Leaf Curl Virus, the main pest destroying 2-3 million bales every season.

On Monsanto’s part it was all take and no give, and Sharif would have none of it. Unfortunately, he’s had a change of heart since.

Agricultural shenanigans not being Mr. Shahbaz Sharif’s forte, he needs to be informed by neutral sources, not government and other GM supporters parroting the same sales pitch. Obviously no one told him that Bt cotton produces up to 4,000 times more toxic Bt than soil microorganisms, rendering the entire plant poisonous and all-round hazardous.

In early 2011, Dr. Don Huber, professor emeritus at PurdueUniversity and internationally-recognized plant pathologist, wrote frantically to US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, to warn him of a new mystery AIDS-like disease. His team discovered a common but infectious microscopic pathogen that was specifically prevalent in GM crops.

Glyphosate, the primary chemical in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, weakens the plant’s immunity, making it susceptible to the pathogen. This blocks the plant’s ability to absorb certain vitamins and minerals, and finally kills it. Nor is the damage limited to plants but also affect humans and animals that eat the chemically-grown foods. Vast areas of GM farmland have already died, and many animals consuming GM feed became infertile or suffered abortions.

Mr. Shahbaz must consider that Bt and the chemicals it partners with, cause infertility in both men and women. Over 50 pesticides are classified as hormone disruptors. There are increased miscarriage and infertility rates and drastic fall in male testosterone levels. Women becoming pregnant during peak pesticide-use season, face highest risk of birth defects in newborns — Spina bifida, cleft lip, clubfoot, and Down syndrome. Over 260 studies link pesticides to various cancers, including leukemia and brain, breast, prostate, bone, lung, liver, bladder, thyroid, and colon cancers.

Today, women have even more to worry about. In late 2012, Canadian scientists conducted a study on women for five basic toxins in the environment and food system. They found one or more toxins in each and every woman tested. Pregnant women were passing it on to their children. Symptoms include cramping, burning, nausea, shock, vomiting, and sore throat. Among the toxins were Glyphostate and Cry1Ab, the Bt toxin, both Monsanto hallmarks.

Greenpeace states Cry1Ab could further compound existing problems of antibiotic resistant infections. Yet these chemicals are classified in USA as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). Governance doesn’t work there either; political and financial persuasions do.

In 2012 too, the ‘Institute of Science in Society’ reported that glyphosate in Monsanto’s Roundup was causing both DNA and cellular damage to mouth and throat cells. Alarmingly, it took only a tiny amount of Roundup — 200 times below the routine farm-spray strength to do the damage. As crops and workers get drenched, chromosomal abnormalities develop and ultimately kill cells.

Earlier this year, the ‘International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health’ reiterated these facts, linking Monsanto’s Roundup to a fatal chronic kidney disease striking down poor farmers everywhere. It develops mutated insects and kills human kidney cells, even in low doses. Worryingly, chemically-driven Bt crops currently cover about 40% of globally cultivated GMO crops.

Just this month we finally discover why even scientists get fooled. It has to do with how regulatory agencies test agro-chemicals. How do they evaluate? Turns out no chemical compound is ever checked in its entirety, as actually sold to and used by farmworkers. Instead, tests are carried out on a single chemical ‘active’ ingredient, assumed to have pest or weed-killing action. Manufacturers conveniently exclude mentioning the additives – known as adjuvants – that boost pest- or weed killing abilities.

Any biologist or chemist knows that various substances in combination work very differently from the individual components, each on its own. In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So the Biomedical Research International (BRI) decided to look at the chemicals not tested – the supposedly ‘inert’ adjuvants, usually suppressed as confidential by manufacturers.

The findings of the BRI research were horrific. BRI tested the toxicity of 9 major agro-chemical formulations used globally on lab rats but on three human cell lines. In 8 of the 9 formulations, the combined effects of interactions between multiple chemicals were hundreds or thousands of times more toxic than the single chemical declared safe by regulators! It exposed a serious defect in the ‘single-chemical’ testing process.

It means both regulators and corporations are giving a very inaccurate and misleading picture to farmers and consumers. Products used not only on farms but on lawns and home-gardens as well are falsely advertised as safe. A single chemical may not do much harm, but in combination with others becomes up to 10,000 times more toxic.

In 2010, Bt Cotton seeds by local seed companies and government institutions were approved, despite unsatisfactorily low toxin and poor quality. This year more low-quality varieties were introduced. Three consecutive seasons of failures did nothing to discourage the inexplicable determination to bulldoze in Bt crops.

The reason why became clear when some scientists and bureaucrats suddenly took the plea that in view of consistent failures, there was no choice but to return to Monsanto for all Bt cottonseeds.

Both sides knew the government institutions and local companies lacked the requisite technical know-how and capacity to produce and test trial runs. Failure was a foregone conclusion, but well worth the wasted time for Monsanto if it brought the government running back to them, translating into a near monopoly of Pakistan’s cotton economy.

Last week, Governor Punjab Chaudry M Sarwar publicly declared that Bt Cotton would double our cotton production from 13 to 26 million bales! Would Monsanto give a written guarantee to that effect? No, because they need their usual escape route of blaming farmers for wrong practices when things fail.

Decision-makers need to be careful about information fed to them — local seed companies and Pakistani scientists have already displayed a conflict of interest by submitting biosafety data copied from Monsanto. And Bt cotton trials that never had oversight or testing and unsurprisingly failed, are now advertised for sale anyway.

Whether they admit it or not, the government is not merely toying with agriculture and the economy, but with our very lives.

This article was published in The Nation on 30 April 2014

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Patents to kill competition

April 23, 2014


The Nation, 23rd April, 2014


In 1971, Mohan Chakravarty, an Indian-American, and his employer, General Electric, applied for the patenting of a genetically-engineered “oil-eating” bacterium. He took genes from three kinds of bacteria and transplanted them into a fourth to do whatever he wanted it to do.
The Patent Office rejected their application because it was understood that living organisms could not be patented, although the UK where they’d also applied, granted it. They went to court and the US Court of Customs and Patent Appeals overturned the Patent Office’s decision in Chakrabarty’s favour, stating, incredibly, “the fact that micro-organisms are alive is without legal significance for the purposes of patent law.” It was amazing that respect for the miracle of life had already starting ebbing — at least in some judicial minds, they no longer held ‘legal significance’.
The Patents Office wasn’t happy and appealed to the Supreme Court. It didn’t help either. The Supreme Court, in wisdom seemingly alienated from nature, granted Chakraborty the patent on the questionable grounds that: “A live, human-made micro-organism is patentable subject matter,” simply because he “produced a new bacterium with markedly different characteristics than any found in nature.”
However, it was not a new, unique creation: it had merely been recombined from parts of existing living material that was common heritage.
The fact that the patent barely scraped through with a 5-4 decision, never catalyzed the question that the modified micro-organism was not human-made, only human modified. As Chakraborty’s himself said, “I simply shuffled genes, changing bacteria that already existed.” He never claimed he created a new form of life.
The ongoing controversy over Bt cotton in Pakistan, a variety into which a soil bacterium has been incorporated to render the entire plant poisonous to pests (while inadvertently poisoning soil and people too), has lost sight of the woods because of the trees. The broader context covers all seeds and crops, GM or not.
It is one thing to grant patents for unique works of the mind and heart such as a novel or in-depth research, a painting or score of music, a useful machine or manufacturing process, so that creators can rightfully enjoy for their lifetime the material benefits that accrue. It’s quite another to patent any part of living nature which no human has created from scratch, that occurred long before humans appeared on earth, and that all humanity depends on for survival itself and therefore has natural rights to.
Not that concerned urbanites including scientists and judges weren’t aware, given that everything they ate, wore and used, came from nature and agriculture. For thousands of years, peasants have modified plants through crossbreeding, constantly developing new varieties incorporating desirable traits from near and distant relatives of the same species – which, by the way, could have evolved on their own anyway over hundreds of years if they weren’t manually speeded up in a few by humans.
Peasants have always freely exchanged seeds because they learned long ago — even without understanding why – that biodiversity was key to continuity and plant health. In fact, monopolizing a new strain developed for exclusive use is self-defeating. Consequent inbreeding rapidly weakens it and brings about its own demise. – As is happening with GM crops today.
Paradoxically, corporations dependent on fresh genes from the wild to create new varieties – since GM strains don’t last beyond a few years — are themselves killing off the necessary biodiversity through their contaminating and chemically-dependant varieties.
For the past 15 years, GM crops with their unwanted gene-jumping trait, have caused so much havoc, carrying contamination globally through trade, causing organic exports to be rejected, even the US Department of Agriculture was finally forced to admit that environmental and health risks are huge.
So how come self-anointed plant experts in lab coats, never working in real-life farms but greenhouses or sterile labs, assume they’ve created superior plants through ‘superior’ seeds? Just because a few misguided or biologically and ecologically uninformed legal minds said so?
Some governments, including ours, have still not absorbed the reality of how hybrid and GM monoculture have mutilated and compromised nature itself. Modern agriculture, far from feeding the world, has simply become a tool for investors and speculators, leading to land acquisition and concentration through mass displacement of farmers, depriving a couple of billion people of food safe havens and livelihoods. Because, after a few years of hyper-production, the defective GM system finally collapses like a drug addict whose opiates no longer work; the toxic chemical inputs leaving behind dead soils where nothing grows any longer.
As farmers’ traditional saved seeds began to be appropriated for corporate commercialism without so much as a by-your-leave that amounted to theft, farmers needed government to protect their threatened seed sovereignty. Instead, multinational chemical-seed corporations sought to push through Plant Breeders Rights so as to patent indigenous seeds after cosmetic modification.
The focus now is instead on legal and public approval of unproven Bt cotton varieties already allowed to spread legally and illegally. Who will get rights to produce and market Bt seeds? Multinationals ‘in partnership’ with local private enterprises (like Mahyco in India), or government institutions as public-interest eyewash? Monsanto, of course, for starters. They’ve not been hanging around in Pakistan for over a decade on extended vacation. But whether it’s through patent or monopoly or cartel, it’ll come to the same thing. How 80 percent of all cotton acreage became GM/Bt in a few years is anyone’s guess.
There are other motives for Monsanto’s stubborn presence in less developed countries. They and their kind are no longer welcome in Europe, Russia, China, or India – alone accounting for half the world’s population and markets, plus others and for good reason. Not only because they are patented and prohibitively priced, but because they are patented poisons. They ultimately kill, not regenerate, nature. How many know that human-engineered Bt cotton produces several thousand times more persistent toxin than the short-life Bt toxin occurring naturally in the soil? Small wonder it’s lethal.
Should products and processes that are inherently death-dealing, even be allowed patenting to hold entire agriculture sectors captive? Patents leave no choice when the competition is bought up or muscled out. Natural seeds users are being driven to extinction.
Key Dismukes of the Committee on Vision of the National Academy of Sciences in USA, had said bluntly : “Anand Chakravarty did not create a new form of life; he merely intervened in the normal processes by which strains of bacteria exchange genetic information, to produce a new strain… ‘His’ bacterium lives and reproduces itself under the forces that guide all cellular life…The argument that the bacterium is Chakravorty’s handiwork wildly exaggerates human power and displays the same ignorance of biology that have had such a devastating impact on the ecology of our planet.”
The patenting of seeds, genes, and related processes, is therefore not merely a commercial matter. It is a serious social, cultural and human rights issue because patents interfere with and are destructive of beneficial social norms (such as sharing, the seed as future food security, the right to food, livelihoods and life itself), and the spiritual or democratic beliefs that have been built on them.
When patents have already demonstrated the destruction of livelihoods and thereby entire economies and societies, denied people the right of choice, the right to reject, in preference to one’s own proven traditional knowledge, whose side are our lawmakers going to take?



This article was published in The Nation on 23 April 2014

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Land for people, or corporations?

–       The Nation – Najma Sadeque


Earlier this month, a People’s Tribunal on Land Rights was held in Hyderabad, presided over by Justice (Retd.) Wajiuddin Ahmed, and heavily attended by peasants and activists. Continued failure of governments’ to restore land to the landless, and trickery in token farmland distribution, was exposed and decried.

All citizens may have realized by now there’s one thing neither the present government nor the PPP have any intention of carrying out — meaningful land reform. Both parties seemingly have an unwritten understanding for taking turns in power, no matter what bad-mouthing they indulge in for public consumption. It’s much like the Democrats and Republicans in America without upsetting the status quo (feudal here, corporate there).

Military landlordship won’t carry out land reforms either – it’s not their job even if Ayub Khan tried – although they should have long relinquished excess land to the state after independence.

It’s almost as if the lust for land is something genetic, coursing through the veins. For peasants, it’s a lifeline, survival itself. But for those who don’t touch the soil, it is the power of real estate. Whether agriculture, industry, commercial establishments or housing, everything needs land as a base to operate from. It is also political territory; the ultimate rein and bargaining chip.

Things are in bad shape. While our self-congratulatory government may gloat over a temporarily stronger rupee and equally transitory rise in forex reserves some of which lacks satisfactory explanation, employment, prices and quality of life are getting worse, not better.

Any government could have resolved the hunger and unemployment problem decades ago within a few harvests, and spurred the domestic economy to boot. But they won’t. — Because the solution involves land redistribution. If, for example, a mere million acres of feudal land went to half a million families with accessible water, a couple of acres each, it would mean the unearned and excess billions from those acres would no longer accrue to the exploiting few in power.

Furthermore, today’s feudals are also businessmen, just as many of today’s businessmen have adopted the feudal stepping stone to corporatism. They won’t mind parting with land they originally never paid for — if the price is right. — Especially if it’s in foreign exchange that can be stashed abroad. The intent is to lease to or partner with foreign investors, be they governments or private corporations. Not to employ and feed our people, but theirs. Or there are unofficial gains to be made from hocking state land.

But while landlord-politicians and landlord-governments happily keep building their acquisitions the old-fashioned way, greed has blinkered noticing the threats to easy money, thanks to the break-neck developments in technologies they worship.

It isn’t just in industrial machinery. It has become more lethal in agriculture. – With computerized farming equipment for different tasks that displace farm workers en masse; with genetically-modified seeds designed to withstand huge amounts of toxic pesticides, but which nature and other creatures cannot withstand indefinitely; with chemical fertilizers that kill of all microbial soil life indispensable for churning organic matter into nutrition for green growth. All working together, accelerating the process of dying — of all biodiversity, land, and humans.

Yet amazingly, governments ignore the fact that would-be investors have already decimated their own lands, or their technology no longer works, or is banned in their countries of origin. They now have nowhere else to invest in except weak countries with gullible or corruptible governments, to unsustainably mine our lands to the hilt, abandoning it when it is rendered completely dead.

Just as governments and planners have throughout misled people about foreign investment bringing in new employment, the same deceptive claims are now applied to agriculture. In its infancy, while manufacture has vast room for expansion, there is indeed job growth. But when there’s no longer a parallel artisan economy enabled to cope if not compete, with equal access to credit and other requisites, employment begins to dwindle as technology advances.

Of course, new jobs may be created to master new skills required for new technologies. But they will be comparatively few – because automated equipment is not merely designed to be faster, produce more and efficiently for less, but also to dispense with labour. That is the difference between mass-producing capital machinery and even the most refined of power-operated tools for the artisan. The latter works to the dictates of the artisan’s creativity; it cannot automatically mass-produce pre-determined items at the touch of a button.

Sometimes in history, advanced technology of the time has been rejected so as not to take away jobs and bread from the mouths of people. The over-riding priority was all human life, not a few. Today’s governments, including our own, are far more amoral. Conscience, people’s rights, hunger and similar problems bounce off like water off a duck’s back.

Large-scale production is not going to exponentially create more jobs. They will only deliver more output, executed by fewer. But it will be much worse in foreign-invested corporate agriculture. Except for a small number of labour, all work will be done by giant, computerized equipment, ploughing, applying chemical fertilizer, seeding, spraying pesticides, and finally harvesting, except for fruits or vegetables or other cash crop for which a machine hasn’t been refined yet – although research and development continues.

It is an unsettling aberration among ultra-rich corporates that they’d rather pay a fortune for gaspingly expensive equipment when they have money to blow, rather than choose the cheaper alternative of employing people at decent wages, which would earn country goodwill as well. But investors’ attitudes are impatient and ‘sophisticatedly’ bottom-line cold; profits make no room for empathy. They prefer machines that don’t fall ill from overwork or malnutrition, that won’t go on strike for higher wages, won’t sue when poisoned by chemicals, or earn the ire of activists who want them thrown out of the country for violation of human rights. Machines may fall apart, but there won’t ever be a squeak of complaint.

Have our parliamentarians and planners considered how people will react when the phenomena of a single machine dispensing with 50 or more workers, multiplies itself? When a few thousand agri-machine operators displace tens or hundreds of thousands of workers? How does that help people or country? — Technology and corporations are not citizens. Nor are governments elected to be real-estate agent to foreign governments and investors!

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing – what decision-makers are ignorant of, is what will destroy. Currently, high-level, highly-politicized, opportunistic officialdom, is fighting tooth and nail to eliminate tried and tested agriculture of thousands of years, that even paid for colonialism’s launch into the industrialized era, to replace it with one that’s been around less than a century, but has already devastated western farmlands, causing widespread poisoning of the environment and human health.

If their technology is so great, why aren’t they cleaning up their own countries instead of coming to the South? – Because they don’t know how, and there is no other solution ! – except by letting people returning to age-old, small-scale ecological farming as saner elements in the UN and other international organizations are urging for, sans chemicals, sans monoculture, sans genetic modification, without diverting or guzzling scarce freshwater. To remember nature is a living, interdependent complex, unlike factories made of lifeless, interchangeable components. Meaning no more large-scale agriculture without a human face; instead, millions of self-reliant families healing our poisoned environment in the process of producing for themselves.

If enough jobs are not created, how will there be a domestic market and economy, especially if almost everything is destined for export? What would government do if rural protestors cheated of their rights and livelihoods for 66 years, with nothing left to lose, converged in Islamabad? Call in the Rangers?


This article was published in The Nation 16 April, 2014

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Profits to every citizen

April 09, 2014



There’s a certain state in an otherwise corporate-controlled industrialized country, where a public corporation especially designed to distribute profits to all its citizens annually, does just that. That too without managers lining their own pockets and running it into the red, as commonly happens here.
In 1959, Alaska discovered its largest oil reserve. The great wealth from it was initially spent on developing the state’s infrastructure and services.
In the 1970s while the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was under construction, the treasury was flooded with money from exploration leases and drilling rights awarded to oil companies. Once the pipeline was complete, profits boomed. Those in charge began to think about how all Alaskans could continue to benefit, even after the oil ran out, which it would eventually. Something no one in Pakistan considered when gas was discovered, and gold and other mineral deposits were confirmed.
For a start Alaska set up a mechanism that would ensure all citizens and future generations would continue to receive direct benefits. – By placing 25% of sovereign funds representing public wealth, in a Permanent Fund. But the state constitution didn’t have that written in; after all, they hadn’t anticipated so much oil wealth when it was originally made. So the matter was put to vote in 1976 to amend the constitution to that effect. Two-thirds of the voters voted in favour, and it went through.
Future politicians wouldn’t be able to undo it – without being instantly caught for cheating citizens of their share. The constitution now spelt out in black and white why the Fund was created and what the citizens were to expect regularly, namely:
“to provide a means of conserving a portion of the state’s revenue from mineral resources to benefit all generations of Alaskans; to maintain safety of principal while maximizing total return; and to be a savings device managed to allow maximum use of disposable income for purposes designated by law.”
After four years of public debate over whether the Permanent Fund should be managed as an investment fund or an economic development bank, the former was decided on. In 1980, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation was created by the state legislature.
The Fund’s task was to manage investment of its revenues and to create the first Permanent Fund Dividend programme. In 1982, the Fund distributed its first dividend check of $1,000 to each and every Alaskan, adult and child alike. Then, not enough time had passed to accumulate profits substantially, so dividends were paid from surplus oil revenues, not return on investments. Within a few years however, the Fund was ranked in the top 9% of all public funds in the US.
In 1990 the Fund started investing abroad. By 1993 it was worth $15 billion. In 1998, its earnings exceeded state oil revenues for the first time, reaching $25 billion. Most importantly, the Alaska Constitution disallows the Fund from spending its principal amount, and dividends may be paid only from Fund earnings.
It begs the question: how far does Pakistan’s constitution protect citizens from arbitrary handling of public assets and ensuring public benefit? Not enough apparently, given that plum assets have already been sold out so they no longer earn for the state, let alone the people.
In Alaska, if earnings reserve were to be zero or negative on June 30, no money could be paid out, although that never happened. A constitutional amendment was made in 2001 to remove the distinction between principal and earnings, and people would receive annual payouts at a fixed 5% percent of the Fund’s total value, irrespective.
Realizing that greedy politicians and private interests would try to hijack the institution for exclusive benefit, the Legislature changed the state law in 2004 to help insulate Board members from political pressure. Henceforth, it required cause to be shown why any of the public members of the Board of Trustees should be removed.
Thereafter, the Legislature laid down clear guidelines under which decisions could be made only under strict ‘prudent investor’ rules. Because it was founded on solid assets, the Alaska Fund withstood the stock crash of 2008. But it moved to take pre-emptive measures to remove any risks in the future, by grouping investments according to market conditions of assets.
Today the Fund boasts its value at 50 billion dollars. Its success is due to several factors, including legislative oversight and constantly being in the public eye. People would notice immediately if they didn’t get their share of money automatically.

The concept of the Commons has existed for thousands of years everywhere. The obvious was recognized – that natural resources were not created by man, and were fundamental to survival. That some factors only worked in tandem with one another – such as pastures, forests, water-bodies – and were never allowed to be private property, but commonly owned and used by locals of each area and community.
In Pakistan it took only a century of colonization to wipe out most vestiges of what was once self-evident truth. The new leaders should have revived what were basically human rights principles and practices, but they didn’t. In its place came colonial-style constitutions and democracies that could be bent by convenient interpretation to suit vested interests and those at the helm. Feudalism and patronage remained in force and infiltrated government and parliament.
Today, democracy is deemed old hat by businessmen-politicians posing as sophisticated globalists. It’s been displaced by corporatism, unrestrained by political borders on grounds of greater efficiency, productivity and profits, albeit for the few. That it deprives the masses of their rights despite colossal waste and permanent environmental damage, isn’t seen as unconstitutional or as a violation of human rights.
Much of the credit for creating and championing the Alaskan Fund goes to former Republican Governor Wally Hickel who tried to spread the idea to other countries. Not surprisingly, the corporate-molded or lazy media seldom reported it, so that it remains largely unknown. Hickel sadly died in 2010. But not before leaving a video-conferenced message to the world.

The 90-year-old Hickel said:

“In Alaska, we live on the commons. We benefit from the commons. We care for the commons. From common ownership of our land and our resources, has emerged a new model for modern society. We call ourselves the OwnerState. And what we own is the commons. We believe our model surpasses both capitalism and socialism. When this approach is understood, worldwide, there will be no legitimate reason for poverty.”
The Alaska Fund model would have to be adjusted country to country to suit national conditions, but it amply demonstrates how people can ensure getting their fair share from natural resources that by right belong to everyone, including from corporate entities that exploit resources.
There can only be one reason why our leaders and planners wouldn’t want to. And every reason why the rural-urban labour-majority have to get into the act.


This article was published in The Nation on 9 April, 2014

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Neither green, nor a revolution

The Nation – April 02, 2014


Pity countries can’t choose their neighbours. Most prefer those they have something in common with to get along. But all are stuck with geography. One such unlucky nation was Mexico. First it had a major chunk of its lands stolen by the US (one-third of present US territory was annexed from Mexico). Then the Americans came and helped themselves to Mexico’s biodiversity – part of the naturally endowed, incredibly nature-rich, hot-wet lands around the planet’s waist.

The American mindset at this point was to keep Communism at bay by gaining control over an area far bigger than the former British Empire. Conscious of growing disgruntled populations that could revolt, agriculture was considered a solution.
The Rockefellers conveniently passed off rural Mexico as backward like any colonized country. (They didn’t think in terms of who was responsible, such as the colonizers). — Except that, at the time Mexico was self-sufficient and actually exported food to the US! Today it’s been reduced to 1.5 million of its rural poor working as migrant farm-labour in the US.
Nevertheless, Mexico as a living laboratory to develop high-yield crops, became the US’s first stop before South and Central Asia. Strange, because the US had already made a mess of its own agriculture. Farmers overproduced so that prices dropped rock-bottom which ruined them, while jobless consumers had no money to buy food with. Later, the US government resorted to dumping subsidized surplus on other countries, undercutting and ruining their farmers instead.
America’s real reasons lay elsewhere. For at least a century, it surreptitiously spirited away seeds from all over the world through its diplomats, navy and traders. Now they sought to develop a ‘one-type-fits-all’ agricultural procedure in Mexico – according to historian Nick Cullather who quotes Dr. Norman Borlaug on this. That would eventually con people into give up their indigenous seeds and buying only corporate seeds and chemicals.
In some ways, Mexico is much like Pakistan; sleepy-hot climate; tortillas like chapattis; and big landlords like our feudals who monopolize the best land growing export cash crops, leaving peasants to feed the local economy. It gave the Americans the opportunity to invent the same sales pitch to peddle their not-so-Green-Revolution wherever they went, including India and Pakistan – declaring that our farming methods were too outdated to feed booming populations.
The Rockefeller Foundation, always around for funding long-term investments such as food and agriculture which the US government views as a key instrument of global control, helped set up the Mexico Agricultural Programme in 1941, and Dr. Norman Borlaug with it. He was an agronomist who knew a lot of biology, but he overlooked the ecological part. He knew that every seed evolved to fit the local soil, climate, temperature, rainfall, wildlife and other environmental factors. This accounted for hundreds or thousands of varieties of the same grain, fruit or vegetable scattered all over the world. It didn’t make sense developing a few more superfluous varieties when everything possible had already evolved. So why did he do it?
Some wheat varieties fell over in the wind so that grain would be lost. So Borlaug took a variety with the most heads of grain and crossed it with a dwarf wheat with a strong, squat stalk to take the weight of larger grains. He merely sourced the best characteristics to manually cross-breed them into one super-wheatplant that would produce bigger and more.
Any farmer could have done that. It was common sense. The reason why peasants drew the line was because most foreign species, even if related, were not suitable for local conditions. Borlaug had a ‘solution’ for that too – he altered the conditions! Soil was taken out of the equation; he gave any soil all needed nutrients (or so he thought) in the form of chemical fertilizers, so that soil was nothing more than a medium to hold up the plant.
Since the hybrid needed far more water, Borlaug added more irrigation; and mechanization since it was designed for large-scale farming. That the toxic chemicals would poison all the soil microorganisms to death did not bother or stop him. He was making soil life redundant just as he tried to make natural seeds redundant – by giving nature a makeover.
The problem with hybrids however is, they don’t breed ‘true’ to be like the parent seed after the first generation. They revert to being like only one or the other of their original parent lines; not both, and definitely not super.
All the chemical fertilizers and other inputs made hybrid farming prohibitively expensive for peasants who couldn’t compete, and lost their lands to debt when they tried. But then, they weren’t the intended beneficiaries. Instead, lands they lost would augment big holdings.
The idea was to make the landlord addicted to double, treble, quadruple the yield before the hybrid fizzled out. It produced bumper crops for the first few years. By then, more and more chemicals were needed to produce the same or less, and natural seeds largely disappeared, so that farmers would be forced to return to purchase company-produced seeds.
The scheme was well-tested before they arrived in India and Pakistan at a propitiously-picked moment when rains and harvests were down. Agriculturally-clueless leaders panicked when warned about mushrooming populations and famines. A crucial fact kept suppressed was that the weather followed a pattern of periodic drought or semi-drought every 11 to 13 years, for which preparedness and grain stocks always tided people over. The myth that Borlaug’s so-called green revolution saved a billion from hunger was fabricated, constantly slipped into Hollywood movies and documentaries.
So Borlaug, the Rockefellers and the US government, succeeded in a monstrous way with the HYV or high-yield variety seed (later renamed High-Response Variety, since it depended on huge volumes of inputs). HYV monoculture was directly responsible for rapid loss of three-fourths of global biodiversity through mass poisoning of the environment, along with mass loss of rural livelihoods the world over. That was Borlaug’s legacy – a road to hell paved with good, but highly faulty intentions — which the agro-chemical multinationals pursued with other motives.
Public relations and propaganda through advertising-dependant media was always a vital part of Monsanto’s arsenal. His chemical-dependant agriculture was good reason for Monsanto to sponsor the so-called “Borlaugh Summit on Wheat for Food Security” held in Mexico last week. The delegation invited from Pakistan was led by Dr. Ifthikar Ahmad, currently Chairman, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) — the same who was forced to resign as Director General of the National Agricultural Research Council (NARC) in 2011 when he was found trying to get genetically-modified seeds approved sans field trials, based on documents prepared by Monsanto itself.
Delegates included Dr. Imtiaz Hussain (PARC); Dr. Attiq-ur-Rehman Rattu (NARC-PARC) and Dr. Makhdoom Hussain, Ayub Agricultural Institute Faisalabad — since the Borlaug Summit focus was on wheat; and surprisingly, the DGs of Agriculture Research from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Sindh.
Dr. Ifthikar was probably unaware that the Borlaug events were being live-streamed and minuted, because he stated that 90 percent of Pakistan’s cotton acreages were of Bt cotton — without revealing that most of it was not approved and spread illegally. He claimed GM corn approval was forthcoming, although trials – or debates – haven’t even begun; and invited foreign investment in Pakistan’s agriculture – without even a by-your-leave.
He then invited everyone to Pakistan late April to attend Borlaug’s 100th birthday and commemoration of “50 Years of US-Pakistan Cooperation in Agriculture” — although it’s been a very unhappy and disastrous experience for peasants and small farmers. Our agriculture is at the tipping point of takeover, this time by manufactured dependency, with our own ‘keepers’ giving it away.

This article was published in The Nation on 2 April, 2014

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Self-poisoning by license

The NATION – March 19, 2014


Alarming news has just arrived from Canada. The latest research reveals that Bt toxins are turning up in pregnant women and killing human embryo cells and unborn babies. Where did these toxins come from? The only possible explanation is that they came from man-manipulated genetically-modified Bt crops. Nothing else in the world can spread them to humans.
Although GM crops have been around a mere 17 years, they’ve created more havoc in a much shorter time than even destructive monoculture and agro-chemicals could in a century since their introduction. Understanding and action have been slow, partly because it was seen as primarily a farmers’ issue. No more, as mushrooming numbers of protests and legal actions around the world confirm. When people eat the produce of GM seeds, they spread toxins and alien DNA into our bodies and that of our offspring in horrifying ways only now being discovered.
“It’s called reproductive toxicology,” writes Natural Society, “and just like their suicide seeds, these Bt toxins are starting to kill our own unborn children. Bt toxins are prominent in genetically altered crops such as corn, soy, wheat, and others, called Cry1Ab – and they can be lethal. Not only do these cry-toxins target the kidney cells of developing human fetuses, but when Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac are combined with RoundUp, they can delay apoptosis (genetically-programmed cell death) of human cancer cells. What’s worse, glyphosate, the main ingredient in RoundUp, also causes necrosis, i.e. the death of human tissue, and this happens even when the substance is found in much smaller amounts than what is currently being used in our agricultural crops.”
A couple of years ago, an Argentinian mother lost her 3-day old daughter to kidney failure, resulting from chemicals that saturated fields, farmers and the environment in an ongoing process of comprehensive poisoning. The bereaved Sofia Gatica with 16 other mothers of sickened children, then launched an international anti-Monsanto movement. Countless others joined up. Men too, are parents; as such they were also concerned for themselves, because infertility was rising.
Sofia’s organization arranged the first scientific study of the area and researchers found several agro-chemicals in women’s blood (including endosulfan which is banned in 80 countries). A third of all residents were struck with cancer, over 40 times the national average; plus birth defects, infant mortality, and high rates of neurological and respiratory diseases.
Previous German research showed Monsanto’s Roundup in all urine samples tested, at 5 to 20 times the prescribed limit for drinking water. It wasn’t the first time that direct toxicity to human cells was demonstrated, killing even at low doses. The most detrimental impacts were on infants and unborn babies.
Activists, accompanied by afflicted victims, protested at the Ministries of Agriculture and Health. Thanks to the movement, Argentina’s Supreme Court decided that agrochemicals could not be sprayed near inhabited areas; buffer zones between aerial spraying and inhabited areas became mandatory. Hopefully one day our Supreme Court will do the same.
And then the threats began. An armed intruder broke into Sofia’s house, warning against her activities. Only one party could possibly object. She went to the police, but they wouldn’t share their ‘secret’ findings with her. Still, her years of tireless activism won her the Goldman environmental Award. Large groups of farmers sued Monsanto for causing ‘devastating birth defects.’
Previously scientists believed that Bt only attacked insects. They were wrong. They now concede that concentrated in the plant itself, it affects mammals too. Monsanto’s Bt crops were found to damage red blood cells responsible for delivering oxygen to the body.
Last year, Dr. Mezzomo and a team of scientists at the Department of Genetics and Morphology, and the Institute of Biological Sciences at the University of Brasilia, published their research. They found that ‘Cry’ toxins (whereby multiple genes from different genes are assembled into one), were disruptive even at the lowest administered doses. They poisoned the blood, interrupted blood clotting, lowered the levels of hemoglobin, and caused organ degeneration and tissue damage. Other scientists backed these findings with their own.
Another new study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that Monsanto’s “Roundup” glyphosate weedicide was responsible for rising chronic kidney disease among rice farmers in Sri Lanka and several other countries. Just days ago, Sri Lanka became the first nation to ban its import and sale.
These are serious issues that have never been given any thought here because our Health Ministry was never involved in the Bt crops issue. Now health and lives are at stake with the USA trying to remain entrenched as the world’s agricultural dictator, using sham regulatory bodies riddled with conflicts of interest.
‘Biotech Ambassadors’, a new report by Food & Water Watch, accuses the US State Department (USDA) of aggressively pushing GMO crops through their embassies to persuade governments to warm to giant agro-chemical firms like Monsanto. 926 State Department cables written between 2005-2009, released by Wikileaks, were analysed. It transpired that US embassies arranged forums, conferences, speeches, policy meetings, and junkets for officials, lobbying to sell water- and chemical-guzzling biotech and GMOs despite rising global water and land shortages. In fact, the State Department offered special funding to embassies to do so.
A State Department spokesperson responded that ‘global diplomacy required that US embassies work to improve access to the latest science as well as all types of foods.’ But the Biotech Ambassadors report calls for an end to these programs, “because genetically produced crops are being imposed on countries that do not want them, on behalf of seed companies that do not need US taxpayer support.”
This bears non-government, independent experts taking a much closer look at the institutions and regulatory processes set up for GM/Bt and agro-chemicals in Pakistan, and for comprehensively informing the public. Because, the promise of reduced chemicals, drought and insect resistance, and higher yields, have yet to be borne out either here or elsewhere in the world. Although all field trials in Pakistan were acknowledged unsatisfactory, all Bt cotton varieties applied for were recently approved nonetheless under pressure, to be unleashed for mass commercialization. In further unseemly haste, discussions were begun immediately on introducing GM maize.
It is no longer enough to let the various Ministries of Agriculture, Textiles and Climate Change alone decide on thrusting Bt and other GM crops on us, whether citizens are consulted and agreed or not, just because the Americans — no longer able to strong-arm most other western countries rejecting GM — have resorted to imposing it on countries they can bully.
Or will we have to wait for those who were hell-bent on approving Bt crops, good or bad, to be shaken into noticing when widespread poisoning and deaths can no longer stay invisible? Decision-makers like Mr. Seerat Asghar Jaura, Federal Secretary National Food Security & Research (NFS&R); Dr. Iftikhar Ahmad Chairman PARC; Dr. Khalid Abdullah Malik, Cotton Commissioner; Dr. Shahid Masood, PARC; Dr. Muhammad Aslam Gill, Food Security Commissioner, (NFS&R), and Syed Muhammad Nasir Ali Director General, Federal Seed Certification & Registration Department. And Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif who personally wrote to the Federal Minister for Climate Change for the issuance of commercial licenses ‘at the earliest.’

This article was published in The Nation on 19 March, 2014

Posted in GM Crops, GMO in Pakistan, Monsanto, Monsanto in Pakistan, Neo-colonialism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Death by GM contamination

March 11, 2014


How did all this happen? Easily. By steady, unrelenting persuasion by a chemical-cum-GM seed multinational sitting around in Pakistan the past 15 years, seemingly twiddling its thumbs.

Starting in America, nothing happened by accident but by a well thought-out master plan; a mix of debased and oversimplified science, wartime chemical poisons, appropriation of public research and development facilities, the patenting of life-forms previously forbidden, corruption or silencing of academia, even the judiciary, and the use of mass media to create acceptance of GM products and suppress opposition. There, highly-paid professional lobbying is legal (as is corporate contributions to presidential and congressional candidates).

In Indonesia, Monsanto was caught red-handed for massive bribery and thrown out; even fined by the US government. The resistance, legal actions and crop disasters around the world would fill an encyclopedia. Several countries have imposed moratoriums.

In India, small farmers were deceived and devastated – because Bt farming is not only prohibitively expensive, but also death-dealing, luring farmers into dependency and debt by false advertising and promises.

Monsanto learned a lesson. So, in Pakistan, there was no advertising, no inviting unwanted attention to themselves. Besides, a 2008 letter from the Monsanto Country Head, Mr. Aamir Mahmood Mirza, to the government, admitted they had no patents in Pakistan on what they were offering, which they referred to as “insect-resistant technologies.”

Powerful landlords, both inside and outside government, were provided or encouraged to obtain Bt seeds from USA, China, India, and Australia. Native farmers copycatted them. No one objected; no one stopped them.

Since negative consequences wouldn’t be apparent for some years, it was easy to persuade scientists to insert alien genes into local seeds. That way GM performance would be proved in ‘local varieties’. But in case anything went wrong, our farmers or authorities could be blamed. By then, corporations will replace failed seeds with a new Bt variety after switching a gene or two. With indigenous diversity wiped out by contamination, multinationals could take over easily.

In 2005, Pakistan approved only Biosafety Guidelines. There was still no Biosafety Law in 2010 when trials of 8 Bt cotton seed varieties and a Bt Hybrid cotton began. Yet National Institute for Biotechnology (NIBGE) and Genetic Engineering (PAEC) sold 40,000 kg of basic Bt cotton from PAEC-related facilities to 10 companies for sale and multiplication. But no one dared challenge Dr. Kausar Abdullah Malik of PAEC, when he announced a so-called “Voluntary Code of Conduct” for purchasing companies of GM seeds. No one knows who authorized him.

Field trials were designed and approved by scientists and regulators. The minutes of both National Biosafety Committee and Punjab Seed Council repeatedly downgraded Bt crops for low toxin, poor quality, etc. Yet they were approved !  Later the media reported the proliferation of 72 Bt cotton varieties in Punjab and Sindh. But NBC had no capacity to check. The Economy Survey of Pakistan 2009-10 found Bt overwhelming most areas.

More ‘new’ Bt cotton varieties are about to be given blanket permission for commercialization all over Pakistan. Such official approval from government research and regulatory bodies is granted only after long-term field trials, tested at every step, including impact on environment, wildlife and human health, the outcome shared with the unsuspecting public that pays for it. No one asked citizens whether they want genetic modification in their lives.

It wasn’t possible. Because there’s no lab and no trained staff at the NBC, just three or four administrative personnel holed up in two small rooms. All staff is hired on 6-month contract basis.
They receive a laughable Rs.1600 as daily allowance (it was Rs.600 earlier) to monitor and evaluate the progress of Bt crops under the Biosafety Guidelines at trial locations over the entire country. They however cannot make more than two visits in one season (during sowing and harvesting), although there’s a need for at least 4. In fact, there hasn’t been a single visit since 2010! They cannot verify the biosafety or other data foisted on them. They simply relay all recorded data of the multinational seed-chemical corporation’s own hired staff at trial locations. There is constant pressure on powerless staff to do the bidding of government research institutes or multinationals or some ministry to go beyond the law to facilitate them.

The project ‘National Biosafety Centre’ was established in 2006 as a project for regulation of GMOs in the country. It ends in a few months, June 2014. If the approval of cases is to be ongoing, who will see to this? Some more meaningless rubber stamps? The minutes of the last 18 meetings of the Technical Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Climate Change speak for themselves.

If GM crops did not affect other natural crops, co-existence would have been possible. Unfortunately, GM crops, by inherent nature, are like contagious diseases without a cure. They contaminate; their modified genes spread to other crops of their kind affecting their genetic makeup. They lose their uniqueness as a species and die out. As monoculture spreads contamination like wildfire, mile after mile, season after season, indigenous varieties go extinct. The entire plant saturated by toxic Bt and pesticides, is rendered poisonous. Cottonseed oil is no longer safe for consumption. In India, over 1800 sheep died after grazing on crop-waste, the practice of which had to be stopped. The chemical poisoning of women cotton-pickers leading to incurable diseases continues to soar.

A Faisalabad Agricultural University report circulated by Dr. Khalid Abdullah, Cotton Commissioner, Ministry of Textiles, states that the Bt acreage was 78% in 2008-9. It must be at least 80% today.

A repeat of India’s horrible experience now threatens us. By illegitimately patenting an existing plant which Monsanto could never invent or create from scratch, it has taken monopolistic control over seeds, to collect rent and royalties indefinitely. In 1988 the World Bank bullied India into deregulating its seed sector and eliminating government-backed subsidies and loans to farmers. To eerily quote eminent scientist-activist Dr. Vandana Shiva:

“Five things changed with Monsanto’s entry: First, Indian companies were locked into joint-ventures and licensing arrangements, and concentration over the seed sector increased. Second, seed which had been the farmers’ common resource became the “intellectual property” of Monsanto, for which it started collecting royalties, thus raising the costs of seed. Third, open pollinated cotton seeds were displaced by hybrids, including GMO hybrids. A renewable resource became a non-renewable, patented commodity. Fourth, cotton which had earlier been grown as a mixture with food crops now had to be grown as a monoculture, with higher vulnerability to pests, disease, drought and crop failure. Fifth, Monsanto started to subvert India’s regulatory processes and, in fact, started to use public resources to push its non-renewable hybrids and GMOs through so-called public-private partnerships (PPP).”

GM seeds cost ten times what traditional seeds do. In India, with $15, you can choose between 100 grams of GM cost or 1000 grams of natural seeds. Since then there have been over 200,000 farmer suicides. After the damning 2012 report of India’s parliamentary technical committee on Bt crops appointed by the Supreme Court, a 10-year moratorium was imposed on all GMOs and all trials terminated.

But the damage was already done. No one knows if and when there’ll be recovery. 95 per cent of India’s cotton seed is now controlled by Monsanto. Uncontrollable superpests and superweeds choke farmfields.

Unless the shrinking numbers of farmers growing indigenous cotton are able to hold out – of which chances look dim – Pakistan’s famed white gold will become a memory, swelling the ranks of lost livelihoods in millions and global biodiversity loss which is already crossing 75 percent.

This article was published in The Nation on 11 March, 2014

Posted in Agriculture, Agriculture in Pakistan, B.T. Cotton, GM Crops, GMO in Pakistan, Monsanto, Monsanto in Pakistan, Pakistan's Economy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Other womens priorities: other women’s rights

 4th March, 2014

Successive governments have perfected a ploy with which to address any issue they have no intention of resolving. They set up a committee or department to look into the matter. It drags on for years or decades until it is forgotten or dissolved. It’s the same for women’s rights and issues… 

– Najma Sadeque

What’s there to celebrate on March 8th? The road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s easier to be wiser in hindsight. That goes for political strategies too. Bhutto had some good intentions for women. When some people who had his ear heard about a group of women (which later evolved into Shirkat Gah, and which much later launched WAF) who were drafting recommended changes in all the laws pertaining to women, they asked us to send over a copy because he would certainly support it. I don’t doubt he would have, but he didn’t last long thereafter.

There were no photocopiers in those days, only carbon copies. There were only two copies. We sent them one, the original I think. Don’t know where the other disappeared to. The concerned people didn’t even have the courtesy to return what they could no longer use. One was later told that once governments take something, solicited or otherwise, they never give anything back.

Gen Zia got urban, educated women activists all worked up and angry. Would there have been a women’s movement had there been no Zia, who hit on the idea of Islamizing people who were already Muslims? It was said he legitimized keeping women underfoot to prevent Benazir’s return; that it was at his bidding there were efforts to make woman leadership unIslamic. Who knows? The movement may have been delayed, but it would have still been necessary to deal with the existing sorry social attitudes towards women, male chauvinism, and violence against women — which were not covered in the statute books.

But Zia did become a thorn, and it was necessary to take a stand against him. It also gave opportunists and extremists to firm up their positions. Hand-picked religious scholars were officially given a say, but did not cover the entire spectrum of thought; let alone women’s thoughts. The constitution was sufficiently warped, making it a nightmare for all. By the time Benazir Bhutto became prime minister a lot of damage had been done. But she was confident. Over confident, some of us thought. We were reminded her key party people were mostly feudal, that her father was one too, even if not a practicing one, and he had yielded to extremist pressure and gave them tremendous muscle by declaring a sect non-Muslim.

It became apparent she was naïve too. Shortly before coming into office, she invited two small groups of journalists, one of men, the other of women, four each, to meet with her privately. What was she going to do for women, was an obvious question, we put? Everything that should be, she promised. But that was not the immediate priority; right now, it is important that we, I, get into power. After that, the rest will be easy.

As it turned out, it wasn’t easy, especially once Zardari came into the picture. He wasn’t working against women, but he was only working for himself, and that became a serious problem. It was worse, the second time round, after he became president.

Just before that General Musharraf overstayed his welcome like military leaders are wont to do. He wasn’t against women; in fact, like General Ayub Khan who enabled better Family Laws, he was very liberal. But he was clueless about most economic matters and much else.

Nawaz Sharif wasn’t against women either. — But not to the extent of rocking the boat or women getting an equal or upper hand. He is narrowly pro-big business, industry and trade, not for people at large.

The activists began to see everything from the legal point of view. If it was in the constitution, and changes for the better could get into the law books, that would make everything work. Or so we thought. Because that was the basis on which all countries operate and acquire legitimacy in the eyes of other countries. But it didn’t work — except at the international level. Certainly not at the domestic, the internal level. – The laws were not even comprehensively representative of the people.

Founded on the legacy of British colonialism, it needed drastic updating. Some of it was good, but it wasn’t enough. It did not take into account the domination of feudals and others, visible and invisible, who were above the law. Law and order is imposed by implicit force. When that force is entrusted into hands of men who do not believe in nor want women’s equality, women cannot have expectations.

Consecutive governments have perfected a ploy with which to address any issue they have no intention of resolving. They set up a committee or department to look into the matter. It shouldn’t take more than weeks or months, but drags on for years or decades until it is forgotten or dissolved. It’s the same for women’s rights and issues.

Activists absorbed into the NGO sector do a lot of work with women. Those in healthcare delivery – most and desperately needed – do best, followed by education and other social services. Some legal services, for the few who could be accessed. Land, labour and farming rights are left untouched. Advocacy touches mainly the urban educated, even if carried to the countryside, but excludes the largest sector of all — rural women workers and factory and contract (home-based piece work) labour. There are scattered groups but not a unified women’s front. It is difficult because of entrenched male attitudes among political leaders, feudals and even labour, as some scholars point out.

You can’t change male attitudes by law or ordinance. In fact, some women workers groups are dominated by male leadership where women don’t have a  say!

Not that marginalized women don’t want windows to the world. But they also want to be given tools, such as better marketable skills, with which they can improve their own condition. A woman with earnings in her hand can cope better in difficult circumstances. All too frequently, when men are unemployed, or won’t work because they are addicts or drunks, women and girls are the only breadwinners. She acquires more respect in the eyes of others, including the men. With economic strength, she can assert herself – and her rights — somewhat more. Most political and social rights can’t be won without economic rights. If women at the lowest rung are to be helped, there needs to be, for example, focus on contract-labour rights (which would help men too). Because, women factory workers and home-based piece-wage workers, like women peasants, are among the most exploited of all, on whose sweat tens of thousands of small industries boom.

Knowing the family laws seldom help in tightly-knit communities. A woman may win her case in court, but where does she go if ostracized? The state provides no shelter, no financial support, no rehabilitation; and she cannot relocate as a single woman, especially with young dependants, in a hostile society. She has to stay put. A token shelter or two won’t do.

Many women would prefer it, if for example, activists worked on the men and the government towards making violence against women punishable in smaller, quick- justice courts, and make sufficient examples of them to become a deterrent for all.

Instead, the status quo coddles extremists and feudals in upholding ‘the right to beat women’ and have control over every aspect of their lives. Government and politicians are silently complicit in this.

Not all women want to leave home, children and community when otherwise

responsible men turn violent when in a foul mood for totally disconnected reasons. They instead want their husbands to know it is wrong, and to stop. If men remarry or abandon their previous family, there is no protection for the latter who may fall victim to traffickers. If awareness is to be spread, it needs to be most spread among men. Women already know they’re getting a raw deal. But if economically empowered, they may be able to actively join the struggle for their rights.

This article was published in The News International, YOU Magazine, 4th March, 2014

Posted in WAF, Women in Pakistan, Women's Issues | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Terminating the peasants

February 26, 2014


Imagine maize, or corn, having cellular structures resembling those of humans, making them easier for scientists to manipulate.
Much more disconcerting to discover however, was why scientists were tinkering with maize. Non-reproducing seeds apart, they were developing ‘contraceptive corn.’ It was easier to nip births in the bud through food rather than pills. And only enough had to be eaten to cause irreversible infertility in both men and women. The problems of overpopulation would be solved.

When in 1999, Epicyte, a small US biotechnology firm patented and launched the “Terminator” seed (labeled rather repugnantly by the media), there was global outrage and massive protests were held by Latin American and Asian peasants demanding a ban. Epicyte was forced to bow to global pressure. Later it transpired that USDA had financed the Terminator seed’s development behind the scenes; the ‘Gene-Use Restriction Technology’ (GURT) in GM lingo.

The following year in 2000, 193 countries signed the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which recommended a de facto moratorium on the ‘Terminator.’ However, this didn’t stop Monsanto and DuPont from taking over Epicyte to commercially exploit the seed at more opportune times.

To calm misgivings, Monsanto stated on its website:
“After consulting with international experts and sharing many of the concerns of small landholder farmers, Monsanto made a commitment in 1999 not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops. We stand firmly by this commitment. We have no plans or research that would violate this commitment in any way.”

Not that anyone believed them. Egged on by Monsanto, Brazil is today threatening to break the moratorium. If that happens, the US will bully other nations to follow suit. Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, and Dow are also suspected of holding ‘Terminator’ patents.

The track record makes uncertain the suitability of maize seeds in local markets. In 2003-04, bad policies and corruption led to severe wheat shortages in Pakistan. MNCs suggested mixing ground maize seed with wheat, but that wasn’t favoured. Now, minds have changed due to the huge price difference. Wheat is Rs. 1330 for a 40 Kg sack, and maize Rs. 800-1000. It is alleged that many flour mills are mixing the two but are neither passing on the lower cost benefit to consumers, nor improving edibility.

Have your chapattis or naan from local tandoors been tasting like leather lately? That betrays a maize-wheat mixture, not pure wheat. This may be unsafe for those suffering from stomach ulcers or allergy to corn, and should be labeled accordingly to warn consumers. There’s a quick layman’s test to check it out, though. Roll some dough and let stand at room temperature; it’ll become quite hard compared to dough made from pure atta.

Provincial regulatory and food departments need to conduct regular laboratory tests, and compel DuPont, Pioneer, Syngenta, Monsanto and others to label their hybrid yellow maize seed according to whether its fit for human consumption or not. Modern milling and treatment is so advanced, even yellow corn can be bleached to look like atta. (Years ago, the US was shipping wheat designated in America as cattle-feed to Indian consumers!)

Previously, when all plants and food were naturally produced, it wasn’t necessary for consumers to understand what they ate. Today, in a world where crops, food, medicines, cosmetics, grooming products and even fabrics are produced with GM plants and saturated with chemicals, it is necessary for consumers to be informed for their own safety, (and especially now that in Khyber Pakhtunwa province, a proposed Seed Act 2014 has confused the issue by dangerously lumping all seed kinds together.)

The high-handed, covertly monopolistic bill that would destroy traditional farmers, aims to prevent them and domestic seed’s businesses from selling their surplus seed unless registered with the provincial authorities. Not only do they seem uninformed about GM hazards, a heated Twitter debate accuses Mr Jahangir Tareen, now with PTI, for his long-standing support of Monsanto and his role in this Bill that will benefit only multinationals.

But traditional seeds, hybrids and GM seeds are not the same thing. Traditional seeds are natural seeds, saved by hand. So are hybrids, except they are selectively cross-bred.

GM seeds, on the other hand, are wholly unnatural, an alien GM from an unrelated species, whether plant, animal, or microorganism, having been artificially transferred into them; something impossible in nature which created barriers to prevent exactly such a thing happening. Some feel that even hybrid and natural seed treated with insecticide or fungicide carry risks, and therefore should be considered ‘modified.’

Try obtaining traditional seeds for growing vegetables and fruit at home. Urbanites will have difficulty finding any, and settle for a seed-and-supplies store selling packaged hybrid seed. They grow fine, but the seeds they produce in turn, will not. That’s the problem with hybrids.

How are hybrids different from GMO/Bt and ‘Terminator seeds?’
On discovering every plant had hundreds or thousands of varieties, farmers began to combine desired features from different plants by cross-pollinating two dissimilar but related plants, until a new plant variety evolved that worked well in the local ecosystem. The slow, painstaking process took 6 to 10 plant generations — 3-5 years — until Darwin and Mendel found a method of producing hybrids within one generation.

This spawned the modern seed industry, promising farmers’ higher-yielding and uniform seeds. Agro-businesses were delighted. But in the South countries took away seed-saving employment from women.

There was another catch to hybrids that farmers weren’t told about. Although the first harvest was bountiful, their seeds were not. They did not necessarily inherit the strong features of the parent lines, and yield and quality would eventually fall.

Initially, farmers thought it was their own fault – perhaps not enough fertilizer or other care- returning again and again to buy hybrids. That was the whole objective of the seed industry – to create a highly profitable dependency. By the time they realized it, most farmers were ‘hooked’ and had forgotten the art of seed-saving, dealing death to biodiversity in the process.

The so-called Green Revolution seeds were hybrids. But the chemical industry and big landlords gained — not the peasants. And pests, pesticides and profits boomed because of monoculture.

A handful of multinational corporations control 75% of the global agrochemical market. Our lawmakers should realize that sterile-seed technology could eventually give them 100% control, wiping out a billion livelihoods by seed, or by terminating human life before birth.

This article was published in The Nation on 26 February, 2014

Posted in Agriculture, Agriculture in Pakistan, Food Security, GM Crops, GMO in Pakistan, Monsanto, Monsanto in Pakistan, Pakistan's Economy, Trade and Social Concerns | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mayhem by monoculture

February 19, 2014


Crop failures are an inevitable part of agricultural life. Though blame is often attributed to drought, excess rains, and other weather discrepancies, the chosen method of farming itself is never called into question. Instead, massive pest infestation is blamed, along with other plant diseases. It is prudent to ask however, why this happens at all, and the answer lies inside an unnatural state of nature: Monoculture.

Monoculture is the planting of a single crop species to the exclusion of all others in a large area, whether an acre or hundreds of thousands of acres. But monoculture is alien to nature. Some regions may have far more variety than others, but plants and wildlife are interdependent, making diversity essential to survival.

Monoculture was boosted greatly by colonization. Colonizers introduced the plantation system; vast acreage devoted to cash crops. As with other legacies colonization has left us with, the habits of big land owners remained the same well after the demise of the British Raj.
‘Modern’ farmers are wrongly taught to uproot every unwanted plant, because these are considered space-wasting weeds. As a result of this ignorant farming practice, the FAO finds that the world has lost 75% of its biodiversity already. For centuries, traditional farmers understood that there is no such things as weeds; that every plant serves its own purpose, and contributes to the farmlands’ natural state. Plants attract beneficial insects; food sources for wildlife; medicine for animals or humans. ‘Companion crops’ help maintain the balance of dozens of nutrients in the soil which plants need in varying ratios; or a brake on spread of diseases that are usually plant-specific.

The same plant can have hundreds or thousands of different varieties, each adapted to a specific geographical region, climate and other factor so people everywhere gain some advantage.

If one crop is infected or infested in a field of mixed crops, its spread is blocked by a break of unrelated crops. But in monoculture, the entire field is wiped out. This was the reason why ancient peasants across all continents grew between a dozen and several dozen different crops on the same plot. History records sudden collapses of civilization, some of them attributed primarily to monoculture. Today in the US, only three varieties are industrially farmed. In Idaho, ‘the potato state,’ one can drive past potato fields for hours of numbing monotony.

Just because some plants don’t serve a strictly human purpose doesn’t mean they are redundant. It is a western belief that nature was created to serve humans exclusively, forgetting that nature when denied the conditions for its own survival, can’t serve humans at all.

How dangerous monoculture can be is best illustrated by the example of the potato. Perhaps no other vegetable is as well travelled. It originated in the Andes running the entire 5,500 mile length of the Pacific Coast of South America. Highland temperatures fluctuate between heat and below-freezing within hours. In this harsh environment, the potato successfully combated the elements by growing safely underground – some 9,000 different varieties at different altitudes and locations!

Potatoes are more productive than grains, growing three times as much in the same area. In 2008, a Lebanese farmer dug up a 25-pound potato bigger than his head. Best of all, it can also be grown in fallow land, so it’s never idle. It’s hard to believe that the humble potato was introduced as a delicacy for European gentry, brought by Spaniards in the 1500s.

Ireland was once a British colony around the same time as the Indian subcontinent. But being on England’s doorstep, the oppression the Irish faced was crushing. Virtually growing itself, the potato took little care and throve in large quantities even in poor soil. Unsurprisingly, it became the sole food for the poorest doing long, daily hours of physical labour. One acre could support a family for a year.

Potato monoculture got a boost all over Europe and the Irish poor planted over 2 million acres though they lived exclusively on potatoes coming from a single variety.
In 1844, newspapers reported a disease destroying potato crops in eastern America for two years running. Passenger ships to Europe and Ireland probably carried the disease in their potato supplies. By 1845 it struck Belgium, Holland, parts of France and England. Ireland was the worst hit because of the extreme potato dependency of the 3 million poorest. The fungus-like infection caused rotting from the inside within days of being dug up. The wind spread the disease rapidly, racing 50-60 miles a week.

Over the next decade, a million Irish died of hunger and the rest were debilitated by malnutrition. 2 million migrated to North America. Within five years, the Irish population was reduced by a quarter. And all because of a bad potato.
Today profiteering corporations are primed to repeat history, because all GM/Bt crops are monoculture crops. They believe they can beat nature by reassembling it, by tinkering with genes and transferring chosen traits from various species where they don’t belong. They refuse to accept that living nature irrepressibly keeps evolving; pests develop increased resistance, that crops needing fewer chemicals are short-lived and end up needing more.   

Chemicals have saturated the world and spread disease. Disasters lurk silently, waiting to happen. Nature is resilient, but it can take only so much abuse. GM crops are superfluous; designed for making money, not public purpose. Ironically, for constant fresh supply of new genes, GM crops rely on biodiversity which they simultaneously kill. Corporations continue mopping up world agriculture by whittling down to a few patented varieties so that no peasant or agri-business can grow anything without paying royalties or becoming chemically dependent.

There were once 30,000 varieties of rice grown in the subcontinent. They are down to a thousand today. 95% of the world’s food comes from just 30 plants whereas earlier, people sourced 1500 plants for food.
Something has to change before nature takes matters into its own hands. The Irish didn’t have a choice. We do.

This article was published in The Nation on February 19, 2014

Posted in Agriculture, Agriculture in Pakistan, B.T. Cotton, GM Crops, GMO in Pakistan, Pakistan's Economy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

They’re selling our country

–    Najma Sadeque


In 2011, thanks to advanced computers, three systems scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology drew on an existing global marketing database of over 30 million companies and investors worldwide. The study, called ‘The Network of Global Corporate Control’, traced their inter-linkages and analyzed their outreach and impact on economies.

They singled out 43,060 entities defined as transnational corporations. Dominating them were 1,318 companies with a very important feature. Thanks to the shareholding system, these core 1,318 entities own each other; alone fetching 20% of the world’s income. That’s not all: this core also owns the remaining of the 43,060 TNCs that make another 60% of global income! In other words, the world’s biggest, richest and most influential corporations constitute a single massive cartel.

It gets worse: 80% of the total control lies in the hands of an even smaller group of 737 corporations. Of these, a mere 147 corporations with deeply interlocking stakes in one another, directly control 40% of total wealth.

What does it leave the rest of the world’s 7 billion with? – Very little. It shows shocking and unacceptable wealth concentration and monopolies which democracies supposedly disallow.

Much of these tangible assets actually belong to the South, but the monopolists control all key factors basic to economies and development — the oil, food, weapons, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, telecommunications, Internet, and much more, but don’t benefit the South much. Should one be surprised that over half the world suffers hunger, unemployment or underemployment and no future?

It also turns out that all but one of the top 50 listed are not operating companies but investment companies — a small cartel of banking and other financial institutions controlling a massive chunk of the globe’s economy from top down.

How can that happen, and what does it have to do with Pakistan? – Plenty. It is no longer necessary to physically own or operate productive industries or work to make profits. The corporate system enables buying shares that are publicly floated. Foreign investors can buy a little at a time from stock exchanges, or most in one fell swoop during planned privatization. Governments previously maintained control by retaining majority shares – 51% at the minimum. Now indifferent leaders and unelected finance ministers prefer to be fashionably globalized rather than honestly democratized, and offer 25-26% share with 100% control, because they have much to gain even though citizens don’t.

Then, bankers and investors, who invest and sell on others’ behalf, simply slice up shares from different companies, combining and selling them off in mixed ‘packages’, profiting from rising and falling prices. What this arbitrary system does to the health of productive industries and their workers, no one cares. Worst of all, once shares are scattered across borders, perfectly well-functioning and profitable industries – and hundred or thousands of jobs — can be destroyed overnight because some people made bad bets in the capricious global casino. Our companies become faceless numbers on computers, ticker tapes and flashing stock exchange boards, never to be regained. At any rate, our unknown, transient future owners abroad will leave us to our own devices.

A charade may be made of selling off to Pakistani investors, but who’s to stop them from selling them onward to foreign investors, acting as a front for them? Now the government seeks to avoid that hassle by handing all over to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the ‘private’ arm of the World Bank/ IMF that freely does direct business where the ‘aid donors’ officially cannot, thereby leaving no opportunities lost. How many of the general public knew that?

With borders no longer blocking the free flow of capital between countries, and deregulation the order of the day, predatory banks and investors spread themselves like colonizers of old – except that it’s ‘legitimate’ under WTO and multilateral agreements. Never mind that no one asked billions of citizens.

If the laws of the land don’t permit axing regulations, it’s no problem. – A military dictator or autocrat can alter the constitution. With ‘elected’ governments enjoying uninformed electorates, pre-selected, pre-primed finance ministers can bypass protesting citizens and pliable parliament through secret or ‘special’ committees behind closed doors. – Just as is happening now with Monsanto and the privatization of strategic, highly profitable state enterprises like OGDC and PPL. Most people aren’t educated or strong enough to assert democracy. 

The North has successfully imposed unequal and devious trade and financial systems on gullible or corrupt South leaderships. The west long practiced protectionism in their citizens’ interests, but once they achieved such strength that it no longer mattered, the South was not allowed the same. The west can heavily subsidize their own agriculture because they always did, thereby undercutting us in global markets; the South may not. From the beginning, the goal was to relieve South governments of regulatory powers and governance.

 Throughout, the World Bank and GATT, which later became World Trade Organization (WTO), worked in tandem, their common purpose succinctly put in the preamble: for the “substantial reduction of tariffs and other trade barriers and the elimination of preferences, on a reciprocal and mutually advantageous basis.” That would have been appropriate between equals, but the much-exploited formerly colonized and ex-colonizers remained anything but equal for decades; some never. It appeared to be a pre-emptive move so that demands wouldn’t come up for reparations for losses during colonization.

Unprepared, ill-equipped and even ignorant South leaders were deceived into following the non-existent Northern ‘export-oriented’ model for growth and development. In the euphoria of independence, it escaped most new leaders that far from being mutual ‘free’ trade, Northern trade had been founded on outright theft and genocide. Grandly offered credit and financial services for ‘trade and development’, the South forgot who was responsible for beggaring them in the first place.

Most South countries failed to differentiate between self-created domestic finance and foreign loan needs, and unnecessarily neglected provision of basic needs including healthcare, education, water and sanitation, energy, public transport and food security with their own resources and sweat without getting conned into debt. But insatiable greed and lingering ignorance, both within and abroad, intervened.

Mr. Dar doesn’t have to worry about money needed for governance and economic infrastructure after divesting the golden-egg laying geese; he’ll be long gone and won’t have to pay the price that we will. While it’s no consolation, history will remember his irresponsibility with the same ill-will that followed Mr. Naveed Qamar, Mr. Shaukat Aziz and others of their ilk.

This article was published in The Nation on February 12, 2014

Posted in Global Economy, IMF & World Bank, Monsanto, Monsanto in Pakistan, Pakistan's Economy, Trade and Social Concerns, World Bank/IMF, WTO | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bt by the backdoor

February 06, 2014


With GMOs and Monsanto, the world’s biggest purveyor of toxic, death-dealing chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and seeds with drastically-altered DNA, there’s never a dull moment. Virtually every week, even daily, they make headlines somewhere in the world, not just in agriculture but in business, health, politics, local economics and public interest issues as well.

While their greatest success has been in their home-country the US, resistance there is stiffening thanks to greater awareness. So much so, a US investment company has asked Monsanto for a report “assessing the actual and potential financial risks posed to their shareholders by GMO operations.”

The demand was made much earlier, but Monsanto, with its considerable lobbying, financial support and powerful links in government and Congress, disregarded the request with the excuse that it “would be redundant and provide no meaningful additional information to shareowners.” The investment company disagreed, noting “corporate disclosure documents do not adequately inform shareholders, stock analysts or rating agencies of the numerous risks facing the company.”

Now, Harrington Investments Inc (HII), a 30-year-old registered investment advisory firm, has re-filed the shareholder resolution, publicly calling for Monsanto “to disclose the real financial risks to shareholders and other stakeholders for producing GMOs over the past two decades.” Harrington sought full information, “from the cost of anti-GMO labeling campaigns to the devastating fallout of crop contamination hitting farmers around the world.”
“Monsanto increasingly keeps stakeholders in the dark, about the true financial risks of GMOs,” said John Harrington, the President/CEO, revealingly, “Crop contamination is wreaking havoc on people’s livelihoods, and we’ve seen reports that GMO’s are in 75% of our food supply. The corporation spends an incredible amount of shareholder money to prevent American consumers from knowing the extent to which it controls our national food supply.”

“While more than half of the U.S. states are trying to prepare labeling laws, Monsanto is spending tens of millions of dollars in anti-labeling campaign efforts ….. The annual $6 million Monsanto spends lobbying is more than any other entity in the industry. Add to that the hundreds of millions spent in legal fees chasing after small farmers whose land is unwillingly contaminated with Monsanto products, and the millions farmers are spending to protect themselves, and you have a corporate empire financially committed to denying the reality of what’s happened to our food supply.”

Harrington pointed out that GMO products were currently banned or restricted in over 60 countries. “US wheat sales to Japan and Korea were recently rejected after a rogue Monsanto GMO was found growing among non-modified export crops in the US Northwest.”

“We have farmers heading to the Supreme Court taking on Monsanto’s bullying tactics,” added Harrington, “We have farmers who don’t even plant crops for fear of contamination; and we have farmers who are afraid that in the near future we won’t even have non-GMO seeds to plant.”

Shouldn’t Pakistan be having the same worries as 60 other countries? The issue is a more far-reaching one than merely investment bottom-lines, especially in South countries hounded by unnecessary and destructive technologies focused not on public benefit but on mass labour-reduction and monopoly-creation.

The government forgets that it is not the primary job of the state to blindly adopt foreign technology just because it is a technology, on the assumption that if it is foreign, it must be superior. The recent history of technology is replete with good developments as well as disastrous ones that have harmed people and health, the environment and entire economies.

In several decades of scientific agricultural research, our various institutions have tended to focus on what benefits large-scale agro-businesses, rather than hands-on smallholders who constitute the majority and who mainly provide for the domestic economy. As citizens, they too have rights.

Unlike elsewhere, there’s not a single institution devoting its exclusive attention to smallholder and chemical/GM-free organic farming which has become an urgency to restore soils and biodiversity destroyed by chemicals and other undesirable ‘industrial’ practices, a call that FAO/UN and other international organizations keep reiterating. The only ones promoting it are NGOs but their outreach is limited.

Meanwhile, South Asian neighbours have simultaneously advanced non-chemical, non-GMO organic research and practices and produced encyclopedias of knowledge reviving better and profitable alternatives.
What is of serious concern is that the 2006 agreement that National Institute for Biotechnology & Genetic Engineering (NIBGE), Faisalabad had made, was originally with Delta Pineland Company (D&PL, USA) — the same company that tried to introduce the non-reproducing TERMINATOR seeds that led to worldwide uproar and its subsequent withdrawal.

Delta Pineland was soon after acquired by Monsanto in June 2007, something publicly known, but the NIBGE agreement process remained in the dark as the Director of NIBGE was replaced during that time. The copy of the agreement was nowhere to be found for years, and only now is available on the Internet. What is not clear is who exactly approved this agreement with Delta Pine Land and whether the implications of the new ownership were taken into account.
What however is known from documents that have emerged, is that the agreement was executed by transferring unapproved local cotton seed varieties. This showed severe disregard for regulatory requirements. Just as bad, no risk assessment or environmental impact assessment whatsoever was done by NIBGE while signing this agreement.

Now efforts are being made to get approval for more Bt cottonseed varieties at the federal level via the National Bio-safety Centre (NBC) and the Ministry of Food Security – although it has little do with food security.

Like the proverbial camel outside the tent inching inwards in cumulative steps before taking over the whole tent in a strategy that Monsanto applies the world over, the next step to be expected would be their seeking Bt Corn/maize approval by citing the Bt Cotton precedent!

Towards this end, local companies are pushing for Bt Cotton approval, while multinationals like Dupont Pioneer, Syngenta and Monsanto are building up towards Bt maize approval while sidetracking the Bt maize cross-pollination and crop contamination issues.

Although such approvals are now a provincial issue since the 18th amendment, Monsanto and their local partners are trying to bypass provincial government intervention as that would require separate approvals for each province, and Monsanto would rather avoid public debate on GM crops that would be bound to ensue. But they have shown remarkable ability in making governments pliable.


This article was published in The Nation on 6 February, 2014.

Posted in Agriculture in Pakistan, B.T. Cotton, GM Crops, GMO in Pakistan, Monsanto | Tagged | 1 Comment

How to take over your neighbours’ lands


Can anyone twist another’s arms to sell off his lands – inherited or bought, occupied or cultivated — against his will? Sounds naive. Of course you can – in Pakistan!

     Among the dozen victim parties is a retired primary schoolteacher, Mrs. Hamida Begum: all looked forward to spending the rest of their lives in Gatwala, Faisalabad. Suddenly one day they learned they would be relieved of lands they occupied for decades and had clear title to. But officialdom would not come to their aid. None highlighted their plight.

     People unfortunately go about their lives under the erroneous belief we live under the same old rules prevailing at partition. But they keep changing and being added to. Like it or not, many actions at the international level affect us on the individual level as well, because of the predatory behaviour of private multinational and national corporations. It makes it necessary to recognize the nature of corporations, because they have far more muscle than other companies and individuals.

     When private investors are unable to raise enough capital for vast ventures, the corporate system resolves this. — Huge funds are generated simply by widening the number of investors or shareholders. This doesn’t mean they are benefitting the public at large — only the profiting shareholders, most of who are ‘sleeping’ investors; perhaps also, but not necessarily, the employees to a lesser extent through a few benefits. If there are any losses, the directors are responsible only to the extent of their individual investments, no more.

     Because American corporate law has infiltrated corporate law worldwide — people the world over feel the intrusive pinch at national and local levels, as multinationals and local links begin to lean on weak governments, and impose their will to take unwarranted liberties.

     Many authoritative studies on the history and behavior of corporations, global and country-wise, exist. But Joel Bakan, author of The Corporation, on which is based the full-length documentary of the same name, states that the law is universally being “overwhelmingly influenced by vested interests and those in power, who often succeed in infiltrating the justice system with their own legal experts bent to self-serving purpose.”

     Sitara Chemical Industries, a huge diversified corporation in chemicals, yarn spinning and agricultural products, applied for a large chunk of land from the government because it “wanted to develop residential plots for its workers/employees and other amenities, i.e., playgrounds, schools and hospitals, college, health club, and community welfare centre …”

     That’s fine: anyone is free to do what they want with their own land and money. But it wasn’t state land they were seeking. It was other people’s private lands bordering theirs.

 Sitara already owns 1372 kanals or just over 170 acres for its project (A kanal is between 500 and 600 square yards or one-eighth of an acre, depending on where applied.) But they wanted 125 acres more to fulfill their dreams. The only ones who had that extra were the neighbours. — All long settled and minding their own business.

     It was obviously known the owners had no reason or intentions to sell, because Sitara went to extraordinary, unusual lengths. The CEO of Sitara, Mr Muhammad Idrees, applied to the Commissioner of the Faisalabad Division, claiming that his project was for the ‘public purpose.’ But since when is a private corporation’s providing for its private employees, makes it a public purpose? This cannot be proved by a long shot in any court of law.

     He also ‘undertook’ to compensate the owners – but only as much that the Collector decided they were worth – something done for public property only, and often arbitrarily. No intentions of paying a possibly higher market price. Insult was added to injury with forced sale combined with lower price.

     Soon after New Year’s Day, Punjab Gazette published notification that 125 acres were likely to be acquired, and if any person had any objections, they should respond within 30 days. That should have allowed time till beginning of February.

 There were plenty of objections – twelve of them. But most owners didn’t know about the subterfuge long underway. If it hadn’t been for the notification, they’d have never found out.

     Mysteriously enough, the decision did not wait for 30 days. Not even a week. According to correspondence, decisions were made on the very same day that the letter was issued calling for objections! An unprecedented record indeed for Pakistan’s land administration.

     Mr. Shafiullah, the Assistant Commissioner of Sadar, Faisalabad, unilaterally stated that objections ‘were irrelevant and baseless and without any locus standi”; that they were “simply verbal, imaginative, uncalled for and not relevant.” But what those objections were, were not spelt out; only his opinion was.

     Suddenly a dozen households were hit by the realization they were going to be thrown out of hearth and home against their will. They cannot even bid for the highest offer; they have to accept what the government decides.

     Some other startling information emerged, but belatedly. A few weeks earlier, Mr Shafiullah’ correspondence quotes rule 16 of Punjab Land Acquisition Rules 1983, that if land is not used for the purpose for which it was acquired, it would be resumed by government without compensation and a penalty imposed. What was not clear was from whom – the corporation or the small owners?

     Apparently the company has been planning a housing colony named SitaraGarden, since 2011, but later withdrew the proposal because Board of Revenue, Lahore imposed a ban on acquiring land for housing.

     Later, Sitara changed the project title and reinitiated their efforts with a ‘proper’ application. How did it suddenly become proper with mere name-change? Did Mr. Shafiullah have a change of heart? If so, why?

     Whatever, he dismissed the objection petitions out of hand as being “without any substance and without any force of law” and ordered the land price to be evaluated.

 If this case goes through, it will set a dangerous precedent. It denies citizens to keep what they own; the right not to sell if they don’t want to. The government will be legitimizing landgrabbing by coercion. Any rich and politically or administratively well-connected company can started acquiring land perforce from owners who cannot fight back, on the grounds of “public purpose.”

     It’s easy to lean on small fry lacking the stomach for long-drawn, expensive, unaffordable legal battles, especially when deep pockets, political contacts and clout can bend or creatively re-interpret the law. We see it all the time.

This article was published in The Nation on 23 January, 2014

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Wikileaks : the GM/Bt push into Pakistan

By  Najma Sadeque

Wikileaks run into so many millions that it takes months or years to ferret out specifics relevant to one’s own country or other linked-up nations.

One leak regarding corporate agricultural goings-on in Pakistan from 2008, was fished out. It refers to Monsanto’s aggressive attempts to force Bt cotton into Pakistan, now stalled because, after the 18th Amendment, it is no longer a federal decision but a provincial one. But are the provinces technically equipped to deal with it? Is it even urgent or important? Knowledgeable people don’t think so, which gives strong reason not to rush it.

This particular Wikileak provides a clear picture of the overall situation. It was sent out by Bryan Hunt, the then Principal Officer (PO), US Department of State, based at the Lahore Consulate, after a meeting between him and the Monsanto head in Pakistan. It says:-

“In an October 20 meeting with PO, Monsanto Country Manager Amir Mirza described his firm’s strategy to introduce Bt Cotton in Pakistan while protecting the seed’s intellectual property. Mirza has started separate negotiations with the Punjab province government and the federal government to determine a mechanism in which the government would pay Monsanto for the use of the technology according to the acreage planted.”

“….. he surmised that they (the government) could leverage a tax on land owners, growers or millers to pay for BT cotton.  If the government refused to cooperate, Mirza proposed that Monsanto could sell BT cotton directly to private growers, but this option raises concerns about leakage of the technology.  He also thought that a hybrid system combining government-controlled distribution with private sector pricing was possible.

“..… Mirza stressed that even if Monsanto signed an agreement today, the global shortage of seed stocks would mean that BT cotton is widely available in Pakistan in 2011 after small trials in 2009 and 2010.”

The leaked communication can be read in its entirety on the Internet.

The negative implications are enormous. Is this how foreign corporations are supposed to deal with sovereign governments? As far as is known, no government in the world has ever taxed citizens to directly pay off a multinational corporation on the latter’s self-serving terms.

Governments come into the picture with respect to laws pertaining to trade, investment, and taxation of the foreign party, not the other way round. How could Monsanto even harbour such outrageous expectations? Has officialdom shown itself to be so meek and ingratiating?

Just as agro-multinationals have been falsely blaming food shortages on the failures of traditional agriculture rather than diversion of acreages to biofuel production, lack of purchasing power, and artificial shortages by hoarding, a similar fiction is promoted about seeds. There is no shortage of seed; but making countries believe so encourages awarding seed multinationals the task of filling the gap – reaping profits while wiping out local diversity and non-dependant natural farming.

For untold thousands of years, the planet’s mind-boggling biodiversity in the millions has fed populations and civilizations. To keep it going, all farmers had to do was to save and share free seed. It never needed a ‘professional’ or ‘formal’ seed industry and helped maintain near-full employment.

What the local and national seed markets needed was procurement and administrative support to streamline and grow — never forthcoming until outsiders arrived. This devious mechanism was cooked up by a handful of biotech corporations in the last few decades to systematically undermine indigenous seed production and markets, make farmers totally dependent on purchased GM seed, thereby monopolizing the supply of seed globally. They don’t consider the one-third global share they already enjoy to be enough.

Under the so-called “Material Transfer Agreement”, Monsanto is supposed to provide designated agricultural research and development institutes with gene material so that government bodies can ‘test’ them out. The purpose this serves is unclear, because ultimately, all that the exercise boils down to is an indigenous seed unnaturally ‘modified’ with an alien gene or two, and ‘Wallah!’, it miraculously becomes a new Monsanto ‘creation’. It is then rushed for patenting as their own, to be shoved down our throats for a hefty price, whether we want it or need it or not. Nothing mentioned or paid to the public kitty for the free use of our local species plus damages — since they will ultimately end up badly contaminated in the field. Scientists and regulators will be kept busy doing whatever, and then pressurized to concede to Monsanto’s terms.

And since when is it the US embassy’s job to be directly involved with the dealings of Americans abroad? It’s always been the case, albeit unofficially, from a century or so ago when naval and other officials were charged with acquiring seeds from whichever countries the Americans charged into, for their seed banks and farm labs back home, stealing if necessary, since many countries disallowed it.

Most people have heard about Blackwater, the largest mercenary army in the world. Earlier, The Nation of New York obtained explosive documents and information that exposed its chilling face and activities. In 2010, Jeremy Scahill reported in detail about services Blackwater provides to governments and corporations in the form of terrorism, enabling their clients to deny involvement. It is also the largest private contractor of the US Department of State. It boasts two companies ‘Total Intelligence Solutions’ and the ‘Terrorism Research Center’, both owned by Erik Prince; also some 30 shell companies and subsidiaries. It was renamed ‘Xe Services’ following their large-scale massacres and brutalities in Iraq that shocked the entire world.

While Scahill’s report should be read and re-read, what has all this to do with undesirable Bt seeds that Monsanto is trying to bulldoze into Pakistan? Internal ‘Total Intelligence Solutions’ communications revealed that Monsanto, the world’s largest supplier of GM seeds, hired the company in 2008–09 after it had offered to infiltrate activist groups working anywhere against Monsanto. Blackwater’s personnel include former top CIA officials, having developed “a rapidly growing, worldwide network of folks that can do everything from surveillance to ….. disruption operations.” Are they here?

The immediate worrying news is that the government is now seeking to roll back devolution of agricultural matters to provincial governments (and therefore the decisions on Monsanto) by reviving the defunct Federal Committee on Agriculture. To date, there’s been no initiative as in India and elsewhere, to document indigenous species and traditional knowledge to prevent theft.

Like everywhere else, the struggle is between people’s agricultural sovereignty and unacceptable global corporate control, but it is being fought between proxy players that exclude the citizenry.

This article was published in The Nation on 14 January, 2014 

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Recolonisation by privatisation


January 08, 2014


“Nothing is sacred … we are packaging up our companies … the state-owned corporations have been well-run for the past few years …. And now we are offering them to investors from all over the world ….!”

Such was the arrogance (reported by
BBC) with which Shaukat Aziz treated Pakistan’s public property, to be handed out on a silver platter, as if from his personal fiefdom. But then, his sentiments did not include homeland loyalty.

For decades, the secretive and unaccountable World Bank/IMF have been doing what they do best – turning a blind eye to and accommodating greedy, corrupt, southern governments indulging in graft and patronage. A highly-respected senior civil servant publicly revealed that in the seventies, World Bank/IMF pushed Bhutto towards nationalization which the then government was neither equipped nor competent to execute. A decade later when the anticipated damage was done, IMF about-turned, demanding denationalization and privatisation ! — Apparently this was its modus operandi in many countries such as in
Africa. It also explains how efficient, profitable Pakistani units were suddenly rendered “sick” a few years after nationalization.

State institutions buckle when subjected to non-professionalism, political interference, and absence of transparency and accountability. Few bureaucrats and politicians are trained or experienced in running business. Even educated non-specialists or amateurs are not allowed to perform surgery; how can ignoramuses? Political elements, even if elected, but unavoidably biased, have to be restrained by law from running or dictating to public institutions.

Conversely, what is the excuse for selling off well-run, highly-profitable state enterprises? For the last 20 years, Pakistani citizens’ assets were sold to private parties’ without public consent. If at all, only losing enterprises may be put on the auction block. But first the cause for failure has to be addressed — by change of management.

Besides, all state enterprises do not necessarily run badly. On the contrary, some do exceedingly well. Like the two blue-chip companies, OGDCL and Pakistan Petroleum Limited. OGDCL earned Rs. 91 billion profit during 2012-13 and contributed Rs. 130 billion to the national exchequer through corporate tax, royalties, sales tax, excise duty, development surcharge and dividends.
PPL earned Rs. 42 billion during the same period and contributed Rs. 52 billion in taxes.

The doublespeak rationale for selling off highly profitable enterprises is acutely suspect, given self-serving and unproven free-market policies — which are ultimately achieved only through coercive and unequal financial and trade terms between poor and rich countries or investors, and blatant violations of basic rights. ‘Efficiency’, usually achieved with exploitation and starvation wages, only enriches shareholders, not the public.

At this point as government demonstrates unholy haste to sell off all remaining public assets, it’s pertinent to ask: why then were state corporations created at all? Following unsavoury origins in colonisation, state corporations were later adapted for public benefit or to protect essential and strategic assets such as oil and gas. Besides, the private sector simply could not serve non-profit areas where investment was not forthcoming, such as in water and sanitation, telecommunications, utilities, and so on.

Yet citizens, by natural right, simply had to be served, since the government took over natural resources and the Commons (from which people previously derived their livelihoods) on the grounds that these would be better harnessed to distribute benefits universally. It therefore made sense to create corporations to do the job, financed by public revenue. Most municipalities around the world operate this way.

Not that state enterprises invariably work perfectly. Their success is only as good as the quality of democracy and representative intent. Where political interference and corruption intervene, losses and poor performance inevitably follow.

Essentials enjoying totally captive markets such as telecommunications and energy once provided the biggest profits with that much more to roll back. It doesn’t justify sell-off just to please loan sharks like IMF — which is all that ‘governance’ seems to boil down to today. PTCL was in fact hailed as the world’s highest telecommunications profit-maker when it was privatised.

Sui Gas, Landhi Tool Factory, Kot Addu Power Plant, the fertilizer and cement factories were all profitable, yet sold off at throwaway prices at a fraction of their market value. Someone pocketing something for the favour? — Hard to prove. Inexplicably, the state is not even retaining 51%  controlling share of these so-called private-public partnerships, but literally gifting away ready-made running enterprises built over decades with taxpayer money for as little as 25%. What should have accrued to citizens will line the pockets of a relatively small number of shareholders. It should have been stopped by the Supreme Court. Or is World Bank/IMF above our Supreme Court?

Every drive for privatisation has been cleverly preceded by a flood of pre-emptive badmouthing and propaganda, as happened when nationalized banks were privatised. True, banks faced unacceptable losses. But why did it happen? – Official blame was placed on ‘mismanagement’. Correct — because politicians, elected parliamentarians and powerful businessmen treated public banks as their personal kitty and helped themselves to vast loans not returned to this day. They overlook the reality that a degree of integrity is required for any enterprise or economy to succeed. Even crooks need honest accountants.
The last government’s five years turned out to be a mopping-up operation. The bill for blatant corruption, non-payment of bills to KESC and WAPDA by government and private influentials, was Rs.1800 billion, which does not even include losses of previous years.

The profits of state enterprises alone could have boosted development and mass job-creation but evaporated into debt repayment, and unwarranted, discretionary and unproductive government spending.

The Privatisation Commission boasts 167 transactions since 1991 for a mere 9 billion dollars. Whoever benefitted, it was not the economy or citizenry. Now Pakistan Railways, PIA, PSM,
PSO, Pakistan Post, shipping corporations, and more banks – over sixty more units — are now on the chopping block. With consistent one-way transfer of wealth, it’s not surprising that Pakistan is concurrently dirt-poor and obscenely rich.

2014 does not bode well for us. We face selling off what little is left of our sovereignty. When there’s economic and social collapse, the decision-makers and their cronies will cut and run as always, with offshore accounts to succor them. If there’s no suo moto to rectify this, Justice Ifthikar Chaudhury’s legacy will stall. Public interest litigation is still unaffordable for most.

What happens to the majority when they don’t have resources — material or financial — to rebuild livelihoods on? What will be left to be called Pakistani ?

This article was published in The Nation on 8 January, 2014

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Poor Bustard

By Najma Sadeque

The meat of the Houbara Bustard is reportedly so tough and stringy, it sticks to the teeth. So why would anyone want to eat it, when excellent meat and chicken are easily available? Well, the Arabs do because of its supposed aphrodisiac properties. Myth or not, the hunt provides more excitement than pills from pharmaceutical companies.

For the Bedouin whose unexciting diet consisted of dates, locusts and camel milk, the occasional hares, small birds and bustard provided the only solid protein. They however capture only a few at a time, not indulge in an orgy of killing, which today has endangered the species across their once vast range that swept across North Africa, the Middle East, western and Central Asia, and China. Estimated global population today is merely 110,000, most of them in Pakistan.

So hunters come here where politicians and leaders have always been generous with what doesn’t belong to them. – Although the British banned houbara hunting in South Asia early the last century and Pakistan imposed a ‘permanent’ ban in 1972. Until then Arabs hunted in Iran and Afghanistan; but the Iranis cooled towards them, and Afghanistan would be more dangerous for them than for the birds.

1470363_682180195149438_1300795974_nThe Arabs capture bustards only with falcons. That’s style for you. — A mark of manhood, elegantly displaying a falcon on one’s gloved hand, and then releasing it at a designated moment, to have it tear into a gentle, defenceless bird. It’s the sickening equivalent of the British fox-hunt, complete with ‘hunters’ decked out in scarlet jackets on horseback, bugles and a small army of bloodhounds which similarly chase and rip apart a poor, harmless, helpless hare that many kids would prefer as a pet. Admittedly, our feudal penchant for fighter cocks or dogs gouging out opponents’ eyes, is as bad.

Now the poor Bedouins barely get to eat bustards, as it would take away from the self-exalted princelings. It’s made falconry big business. Bred in captivity, they’re trained and sold for between $5,000 and $80,000. — A great help as oil sheiks often have difficulty finding ways blowing excess money.

In 1999, the first president of the UAE set up the International Fund for Houbara Conservation and banned all hunting – not out of pity for the poor bustard, but to enable their numbers to recover …. so that some day they can be hunted again!

Abu Dhabi has started a bustard breeding programme and boasts the Abu Dhabi Falconry Hospital whose state-of-the-art equipment and services humans would envy. Getting into vicious spats with other falcons, accidentally crashing into vehicles or their own reflections in mirror-faced buildings at 200 mph, would leave any falcon minus a few feathers and bones out of place. But they are as sickly as humans with similar diseases — tapeworms, parasites, E. coli, fungal infections, etc.

International bird conservation societies release a wealth of information, but who reads or cares? Officials say royal hunters make off with some 6000 birds each time — about one-fourth of the local population.

Quite a song-and-dance is involved in 10-15 day hunting trips, according to a local driver paid so highly for his exceptional driving skills in the desert that he didn’t have to work until the next season. That’s small change considering each trip costs between 10-20 million dollars. The expeditions come with a caravan of special container vehicles carrying fancy tents, carpets, special food, water and drink, and every comfort and luxury accustomed to, along with hundreds of servants to serve hand and foot, and tracking devices installed on both the specially-tooled Range Rovers as well as the bustards feet.

The Foreign Office maintains that permission (although not the people’s) was given out of goodwill, not financial benefits. And why not? Shouldn’t we get a percentage of that $20 million-per-trip considering we’re in hock with the IMF, and bleeding our people white? Or say no because it’s inhuman and undemocratic? It’s also said Arabs can’t be annoyed since they spend on ‘development’ projects. Left unsaid is that the Gulf is the playground for our elite, a secret meeting ground for politicians, and take-off pad to greener pastures abroad.

As for the provincial fuss about the Federal government issuing permits, when has any government objected to any Arab activity in the past? Over twenty years ago when a Pakistani newspaper expressed outrage, that day’s publication was banned in the Gulf. Even earlier, when women activists turned up at a Gulf consulate to protest against the inhuman use of ‘camel kids’, the consul sent for the police and had them evicted. Our laws don’t apply to Arabs … any more than highly-privileged Pakis. And now that Pakistani ‘royalty’ marries into Arab royalty, how can one say no to the Arab brethren of one’s in-laws?
This article was published in Pakistan Today on 4 January, 2014

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Winning on promising just the basics!

Isn’t a Common Man’s Party what we’ve been wanting too? Why did it happen there and not here?

Winning on promising just the basics!

The Nation – January 01, 2014


Given human nature and fallibility, few countries escape it. The degree of corruption just varies from country to country. Where the system is made as transparent and accountable as possible, problems are manageable. When it isn’t, like it’s not in South Asia, corruption in public services is horrendous enough to enrich some by impoverishing others.


    For the first time in history, the common man brought in a new government in Delhi. 45-year old Arvind Kejriwal, a former income-tax officer, leading the AAM ADMI Party (Common Man’s Party), was sworn in as chief minister. When he took his oath, he also administered one on his followers. They had to repeat after him twice — “I promise to never offer or accept a bribe.”


     Significantly, Kejriwal’s activism began in fighting corruption in the income-tax department, the electricity department and in the Public Distribution System (of basic food items) in poor localities. A broom is the party symbol – to make a clean sweep with.


     One party here also built on fighting corruption, but got waylaid. But its specifics weren’t as well spelt out as AAP’s. On close look, the solutions and goals are mostly common sense and obvious. 32-year old Atishi Marlena, daughter of Marxists, key policymaker and manifesto writer of AAP, was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, then went to a village working on alternative lifestyles including progressive education and organic agriculture. She says basics like water and electricity have never been the priority election issues, which speaks volumes about the character of parties and candidates.


     AAP created 31 policy committees comprehensively covering all social and economic sectors. It drew input, expertise and knowledge from over 150 people from highly varied backgrounds, including volunteers, think-tanks, academics and hands-on folk. Apart from the general manifesto, they prepared separate manifestoes for all 70 constituencies in Delhi.


     Lal Bahadur Shastri’s grandson left his cushy annual 10 million rupee job at Apple to join AAP. The 25-year old Campaign manager abandoned his civil services exam for AAP.


     After campaigning only a year, AAP won 28 of Delhi’s 70 local assembly seats. This, despite most of AAP’s candidates being unknown newcomers, including a rickshaw driver. Congress, which slipped to an unthinkable 8 seats, then offered its unconditional support which gave AAP more than what it needed to form a government, sidelining BJP.


     About a dozen of AAP’s goals are possible, but not the rest, as Delhi does not have complete statehood. It can’t dictate on land, police and public order. AAP doesn’t want foreign direct investment in services either, which is a central subject – they want locals to create enterprises and employment in retail. If multinationals are made unwelcome enough, it may work.


     Almost half of Delhi’s 15 million population live in slums and unplanned areas. Clearly, common people can triumph without violent agitation if well organised. Top of the list – 700 free litres of water per household daily, and halving of electricity rates. The ‘experts’ say it’s not possible. AAP differs.


     As happens here, poor people who couldn’t afford over a few lights, were being saddled with inflated electricity bills of up to 20,000. 5 million don’t get piped water; 1.5 million don’t have toilets; 4 million don’t have sewerage lines. Households using 700 litres a day or less would get water free, whether or not they live in unauthorized settlements. There would be a clamp-down on the tanker mafia.


     AAP put its foot down on privatization, an issue as much intense there as here, especially of the Delhi Water Board. AAP wants small, decentralised sewage plants managed by Mohalla bodies.


     If anti-corruption is your party pledge, you need honest and committed people on your side. Was it possible to find such candidates who had a record of social or public service, willing to spend from his own pocket for campaigning? Campaigner Yadav reasoned there should be at least 70 – in fact, more, in a city the size of Delhi.


     One candidate, Kapil Kumar Dhama gave up dreams of becoming a government engineer. Another, Tripathis, a slum-dweller, has a Masters degree. Getting the message across in the language of the people was also important. That’s where, a popular Hindi poet of modern romantic verse, came in handy.


     AAP promised to get rid of VIP culture. No flashing lights and escort cars for ministers and parliamentarians. Government cars strictly for official purposes only. Standard housing; no luxurious ones. Senior bureaucrats will be asked to follow suit. No special police security. – This may be dangerous though, since there are always some unstable crazies and violent extremists.


     No exorbitant salary packages, yet to be discussed. Can we try that in Pakistan? Local development funds won’t be at the discretion of local representatives but decided by 40 local governing units (mohalla bodies) in every constituency.


     AAP says it has collected about Rs 190 million to date from donations from people from all walks of life. The first donation was of one-rupee which was all that one poor man could afford, but most ranged between 10 and several lacs of rupees. The party has received Rs 130 million from within the country and the rest from overseas non-resident Indians. AAP posts details of its transactions and donations on its website so that anyone can check. It refuses to accept foreign funding.


     An interesting goal of AAP is the right to reject a candidate. Currently, voters the world over are restricted to those who stand for election but may not want any of them. But it makes no difference as only those votes that are cast, count. AAP wants voters to have the right to reject all candidates and call for a fresh election within a month. This is different from the “none-of-the-above” non-vote which was ultimately not allowed in Pakistan.


     AAP also seeks the “Right to Recall” – to recall the (false) promises made by politicians not delivered and to remove them on those grounds immediately after complaining to the election commission, without having to wait for a subsequent election. It aims at swift investigation and disposal of corruption cases involving government servants, ministers, members of parliament and secretaries within six months to one year.


     Suspecting some sort of nexus between the government and the big corporate houses, AAP holds tax evasions and waivers responsible for price hikes, which they contend will automatically decrease when this unfairness is dealt with.


     Of course, nothing is achieved overnight. But a start has been made, and people all over South Asia will be watching, and may be influenced.

This article was published in The Nation on 1st January 2014.

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In the name of the poor

The Nation – December 25, 2013




How were government’s various microcredit schemes — launched in 2002 — doing? They decided to check, and after 6-7 years, conducted a field study, getting information from the horse’s mouth, namely ‘beneficiaries’. The report was sent to both the World Bank and Planning Commission. What was discovered was unpalatable, so Ms. Shehnaz Wazir Ali constituted a committee to look into the matter, and the release of funds to all microcredit institutions was stopped till it took a final decision.

     But the committee, jointly headed by Mr Shaukat Hameed Khan and Dr Zafar Altaf, was abruptly dissolved by the Ministry of Finance after meeting only once. But people talk: it became clear why the report was hushed up.
All microcredit institutions including NRSP, Khushali Bank, Microcredit Bank, Kashf Foundation, etc. get their allocations from the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) which is part of the Ministry of Finance. The World Bank lends to PPAF at half percent interest, which in turn lends to microcredit institutions and banks at 15%.

     That’s bad enough. The focus is only on lending and getting the money back with interest. It’s not concerned with questioning how poverty can possibly be alleviated with usurious, ill-thought-out, unrepayable loans, inevitably inviting ruination. There is no justification for this exorbitant markup rate when the poor have no collateral.

     Genuine poor-friendly loans demonstrate this as a lame excuse. The Akhuwat Foundation, a microcredit NGO created 13 years ago, lends to the poorest without collateral, and charges no interest whatsoever, just a one-time small fee. It neither borrows from abroad nor at home, yet attracts philanthropists and donations. It combines volunteerism with employees to provide interest-free loans, uses no-frill offices including mosques and churches which otherwise lie unused inbetween prayers, extends advice, help with business plans, and personalized moral support.

     To date, AKHUWAT has lent out over six billion rupees, with recovery rates of over 99% — because borrowing was made just and manageable. The founder, Dr. Amjad Saqib, knows what he’s doing. A former civil servant who previously managed the Punjab Rural Support Programme, he was troubled by the 20% interest it imposed.

     When NRSP lends 10,000 for example, the borrower is actually left with only 7,500 after insurance, ‘savings’ and paperwork charges; yet markup is charged on the full 10,000. To meet criteria, borrowers become members of community organizations of 12 to 15 members each. In one area, about 90% of the population – some 3000 individuals, about one-fourth of them women — received loans.

     Six months later, on the dot, on repayment date, NRSP officials arrived to take back. But harvest time had not arrived! Irresponsibly, NRSP had not timely planned nor properly advised them. The farmer owed 11,500 for 10,000 borrowed at 30% interest.  They were unable to pay. NRSP then offered rescheduling of loans …. provided farmers borrowed from an NRSP-appointed ‘investor’ so that they could pay back NRSP.

     This was a new twist that smacked uncannily of IMF: borrowing more from another party at cut-throat rates to pay back previous dues. But was it even official or legal? Who knows? For 5000 for one week they had to repay 7000. For 10,000, it was 14,000. After the helpless villagers borrowed from Peter (the “NRSP investor”) to pay Paul (NRSP), it then obligingly rescheduled loans, this time for 15,000. But 14,000 out of that went back immediately to the so-called NRSP investor! That left farmers with only 1000!

     This happened a third and a fourth time when crop failure recurred, and interest payments and bank deductions rose further. By 2009 most were heavily in debt by one lac or more. They had to sell their precious livestock, trees, modest jewellery, household effects, and even the little land they had, in an endless vicious cycle. They were never rich before, they said, but they were at least self-sufficient. Now they were destitute: worse off than ever before, unable to educate their children or be properly fed. Small wonder Islam prohibits Riba.

     NRSP also made false verbal promises of bringing development – tubewells, grain godowns, turbines, metalled roads, dairy farms, shops, etc. — provided enough locals took out loans first. It never happened.

     There is greater risk and major difference with agricultural loans – and therefore consideration is necessary – compared to small entrepreneurial loans. Cultivators are dependent on weather and rains, among other factors. When a drought hits, they earn nothing that season. When it persists for several years, they can be wiped out.

     The poorest peasants don’t even know how to handle unaccustomed amounts of money. Cultivating one acre or less needs 3 to 6 thousand rupees. Instead of being given that or a bit more for essential consumption, one hapless couple was obliged to take a fixed 10,000, but wasted the rest. Matters were made worse when both husband and wife were needlessly lent 10,000 each, which scaled up unproductive spending. It led to selling standing crops cheap before ripening.

     There were complaints of manhandling, of police being called in, NRSP representatives seizing household effects until payment was made, and loan sharks pushing families to sell off their daughters into prostitution to pay off debt.

     An unending cycle of debt started. Borrowers of eight villages of UC Mehrab Goth ended up owing 30,000,000 to NSRP which turned subsistence farmers into paupers. It may have worsened rural-urban migration, crime and even suicide. The situation was as bad in Tharparkar, as reported by a leading
Karachi paper.

     It’s hard to comprehend why any government should take loans from World Bank or any other institution when money is strictly for local use involving no foreign expenses (unless the World Bank conveniently considers its very act of unnecessary lending as ‘foreign expertise’), and when the government can allocate it like it allocates fortunes in non-productive salaries and perks, or the State Bank can create the necessary money itself.

     The last thing any government should do is borrow from international loan sharks for lending to national profiteerers, in turn lending to local profiteerers in cahoots with local loan sharks. Far from being put out of business, they find their racketeering streamlined for them. It’s a chilling, terrifying experience to find those in power to be so cold, callous, inhuman.

     If anything requires suo moto notice, then such institutionalized exploitation does. Because impoverished victims have no other recourse to justice.

This article was published in The Nation on 25 December 2013

Posted in Banking, IMF & World Bank, Microcredit, Pakistan's Economy, Poverty, Women, World Bank/IMF | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fleecing the already fleeced

How to make big money from the poor

 The Nation, December 18, 2013


People have unfortunately become accustomed to kidnappings for ransom of high profile people and the very rich. Unexpected was poor families being victimized in the same way: after all, they don’t have any money to give, not even savings.

Mr. Nadeem Qureshi, president of the upcoming Mustaqbil Party, was recently approached by a poor couple for help. The husband was a sweeper, the wife toiled at her sewing machine to make ends meet. Their son had been kidnapped and the kidnappers demanded Rs 50,000 for his release. They’d never seen that much money together in their life and were already in debt. It was a foregone conclusion that the police weren’t going to be helpful to nobodies. What further outraged him was a document the couple showed revealing how the government’s so-called Urban Poverty Alleviation Programme (which is part of the National Rural Support Programme) was making money from the poorest of the poor through blatant usury. Every monthly repayment of Rs 2000 consists of Rs 1500 of principal and Rs 500 in interest!

That rang a bell. Earlier, on a visit to Bilalwala village in the Thal, a local schoolteacher first told him of NRSP loans being made to the poor at an interest rate of 31% or 32% for loans of 15,000 to 30,000/- repayable in one year.

NRSP’s procedure is to form a village committee which has to guarantee all loans. A blank check is written in favour of NRSP drawn on Habib Bank where the committee has to have an account. (It was not explained why blank.) “If there is a default NRSP can cash the check. If there is no balance the committee goes to jail,” says Mr. Qureshi, “From what I know of banking, interest rates for borrowers are determined by the risk of the credit. The higher the risk of non-payment, the higher the interest rate. What is interesting here is that the credit is structured to be almost without risk — the committee acts as guarantor.”

Clearly, the interest rate was raking in far more than just the loan amount and charges to administer the credit. He points out that by comparison, Zarai Taraqiati Bank charges farmers 14% for loans which are backed by land deeds for collateral.

“Is this the way to alleviate poverty?”, he questions, “Is this the way micro credit works: by fleecing the already fleeced? Is this what Mohammad Younus got a Nobel Prize for?”

Not quite. Dr. Yunus started the microcredit programme over three decades ago with good intentions. It was for those who couldn’t provide collateral. One the other hand loan sharks would charge 10% interest a month, that is 120% a year – which even billionaires have never paid — and people were suffering horribly. But when the dirt-poor found a recognized scheme under which they were charged only one-sixth or one-fourth of what loan sharks took, it seemed like a godsend. So microcredit took off with a bang.

Then why has microcredit failed in poverty alleviation? Because, there were fundamental oversights. As overall costs of living rose over time, borrowers were barely able to keep their heads above water. But women especially were never really able to become non-poor or make any noticeable progressive improvement in their lives to rise to the next level, unless they were already small entrepreneurs and reasonably established in the local economy. This was also because, most never received the public services that better-off citizens always took for granted, such as healthcare, water and sanitation: they had to pay for each and everything.

Finally, just as bad, was that the local or global banking industry, never one to be left out from making an easy buck, jumped into the microcredit fray — which suited World Bank and other foreign aid donors since it paid for itself while perpetuating the myth that other parties were being charitable. Given that there are some three billion desperate poor ready to make a grab at microcredit rather than loan sharks, it was deemed the lesser evil.

“Shame and shame again on those who are running this usurious exploitative scheme,” says Mr. Qureshi, “These loans need to be made interest free. Then and only then will they go anywhere toward alleviating poverty.”

Shameful it certainly is, considering how much lip-service is paid to Islamic values while ignoring its condemnation of usury. And looking up the NRSP website, one discovers its association with USAID which tends to aid the giver rather than the receiver in more ways than one.

Microcredit should be – and can easily be – interest-free. It requires no foreign loans since there’s no need for imports or foreign expertise whatsoever for domestic purposes, especially at the grassroots. And yet, amazingly, our own bankers and planners fall for the superfluous.

As long as it is allowed to be just another profit-making enterprise, making money for shareholders, microcredit will fail. It has to be delivered as an essential and indispensable public service, non-profit but paying for itself, such as health or education, or water and sanitation. If working and exchanging goods and services for income are basic to livelihood and the economy, the right to credit must also be. After all, at least four-fifth’s of the money in Pakistan (nine-tenths or more in most industrialized countries) are not based on any real wealth but printed paper and mostly electronic numbers, simply for measuring comparative values of different things to determine fair exchange.

Why should the poor be penalized with higher interest rates just for being poor, that too in exchange for a service, not tangible wealth? – instead of being given their fair share of the commons or equivalent? It’s like asserting that the system has been made only for the moneyed. A public institution should not be practicing usury, that too on the basis of non-existent money in number form.

Citizens’ shares could easily be in the form of credit if not outright payment: an entitlement to use a certain amount of money up to a certain limit as a citizen’s right. Instead, governments have also gamed the system to exploit the poorest, thereby making the bankers and the rich richer.

“It is especially outrageous that an organization whose mission is reducing poverty is charging rates that would embarrass most loan sharks,” says Mr. Qureshi. It’s a point no party or government has touched to date but will soon have to.


The article was published in The Nation on 18 December, 2013

Posted in Banking, Money Banking, Pakistan's Economy, Poverty | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A disastrous de-skilling

Killing the skills that feed the world and economies

When you kill skills, you take away livelihoods;

When you de-skill peasants, you take away survival

Think before you eat!

 December 11, 2013


Wishing to help empower women while operating their own farming enterprise, a family sought women cultivators specifically to grow vegetables and fruit trees and generally run a traditional farm. While they were able to find any number of general workers from among the rural women, they were shocked when they couldn’t find any who could produce food on their own without direction — something the family thought to be basic enough to be taken for granted.

Not that the women didn’t know how to work the land – but only under supervision by being told the exact individual task such as weeding, or harvesting a specific crop they were accustomed to. They knew little or nothing about the entire, continuous process from seed to fully-ripened plant, or when to seed which crop. They did not know how to retrieve and preserve seeds or do basic tasks such as composting, introduce earthworms, curing manure and knowing when and how much to apply. So it could not be expected they would have any idea of ‘companion crops’ – mutually beneficial crops planted side by side – or plants that were natural pest repellents which could attract pest predators. They had to be taught from scratch.

It was not that these peasant women had forgotten to grow crops like their parents and grandparents did. They’d never learnt at all! Within the space of a generation they became de-skilled through disassociation. Large-scale monoculture had taken over and mixed crops on the same farm was no longer the norm. Modern farming is a lot like the factory system. It is not for nothing it is called industrial farming. As in the manufacturing process which breaks up each step of fabrication into a separate operation – no worker gets to know the whole process. The worker is no longer an artisan who can innovate on his or her own.

This may not necessarily be the case everywhere in Pakistan, but it certainly is the trend. Also, landlords had become even less generous towards peasants, most of them are reduced to being seasonal workers. A few NGOs are re-teaching them. But just a handful.

In another earlier but typical case, an entire village of smallholders had been heavily influenced by large-scale chemical monoculture practiced by neighbouring big landlords. They switched over from traditional multicrop and manure farming, even though they received no informed instruction on chemical farming. They pooled all their land to grow a single crop – tomatoes.

A time came when the chemical fertilizers stopped working, and the crops were no longer as red or juicy, and they were advised to add manure to ‘jump-start’ the chemicals. It never struck them why then they should bother with the chemicals at all! It still didn’t particularly improve the quality of their produce. They didn’t know – and nobody told them – that the chemicals were also killing off most of the essential microorganisms in the manure too, after having killed off all those in the soil earlier.

And then, a full-scale disaster hit them during a drought year when irrigation failed. By then, the tomatoes were already much smaller, the cores white instead of red, and far from tasty. What survived of the largely lost crop was rejected by the market.

Within a few years of farm ‘modernization’, the women had also stopped maintaining their individual kitchen gardens, thinking the extra income from their farms made it unnecessary as they could afford to buy. They were completely unaware of what chemicals did to nutrition factor. When it was suggested that they revive their kitchen gardens, many had to resort to their elders for information.

The consequences of half a century of intensive chemical industrial agriculture produces enough food for 10 billion people when we have a world population of only 7 billion. To what avail? Most of the arable land has been poisoned to death or is suffering from erosion and desertification. With a billion starving people, (half are not well-fed because of joblessness), and the majority eating already-chemicalised food further processed has spread cancer and obesity (among other diseases) globally, and turned America into the cancer capital. At the same time, 40 percent of edible food, mostly imported from developing countries, is discarded or destroyed for lack of shelf-space in the west.

Yet more than enough food can be produced through natural means which would create self-employment and freedom from hunger, while regenerating the soil every season, the evidence suppressed by the corporate media.

While in Europe and America awareness is growing about the dangers of chemically processed food and widespread attempts are being made to return to organic farming (which is also suppressed in the corporate media), it’s far more difficult here, as much because of peasant landlessness as disinformation by vested interests.

Organizations like the Soil Institute in UK, the Land Institute in the US, Navdana in India, and others are trying to break through the mass mindset moulded by agri-corporations, to make people relearn basic truths and realities. That good food does not depend on growing methods alone, but mainly on the health of microbe-rich soils which alone can ensure nutritious food in natural, chemical-free conditions should be taken as gospel truth. The need for small-scale natural farming methods to regenerate dying soils is dire.

It’s something a group tried to impress on Pakistani student doctors from an elite medical school. They stressed direct and inescapable linkages between soil health and human health via food, whether plant or meat. The budding doctors were not impressed by the simple fact that there are millions of microorganisms in a handful of average-quality fertile soil, mostly invisible to the naked eye, essential for converting organic matter into forms that plants could absorb and which humans and animals could subsequently eat.

They were neither interested in the fact that organic decay and waste is just a passing stage in a continuous cycle, which is about how nutrients contribute towards fresh plant life, nor in the horrific effects of synthetic chemicals. Soil and farming was for peasants, they opined, not for medical scientists. Perhaps they looked like doctors knowing nothing better about prevention than surgery.

Maybe it wasn’t entirely the fault of the medical institution. Maybe in large part, the “hands-off” education is to blame. But the ‘know-all’ arrogance among the professionals must end.

This article was published in the The Nation in 11 December 2013

Posted in Agriculture, Agriculture in Pakistan, Chemical farming, Corporate Farming, Empowering Women in Pakistan, Envromental and Ecological, Food Security, Pakistan's Economy, Women, Women in Pakistan, Women's Health in Pakistan, Women's Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What most people get to eat

What most people get to eat : despite having a roof over their heads.

December 04, 2013



 Once upon a time in Pakistan, food was very cheap, especially the third-rate, chemically-grown, nutrient-poor wheat fed to American livestock (who don’t want to eat it either, and would prefer fresh grass), and which third-world countries were made to import and their people expected to gratefully eat. Local wholegrain flour cost more; only the better-off bought that, unless one was a smallholder or sharecropper growing one’s own wheat.

Indeed, the most important locally-grown food was so cheap, it was difficult for anyone to go hungry. Even if someone was unemployed, other family members could feed everyone without feeling the pinch. Sharing was still ingrained in our culture. Of course, there were no luxuries like eating red or white meat or fish except on special occasions – exploitation under feudalism was alive and well – but conditions made it possible to struggle through to the next level. Even better, in the rural areas there was healthy ‘desi’ ghee and gur, the likes of which are not found in urban areas. Structural adjustment, courtesy the World Bank, had not yet arrived. Then from the 80s when it did, things grew steadily bad.

A family’s kitchen waste makes a perfect barometer of their socio-economic status. The more paper, plastic and foil wrapping, disposable cartons and bottles there are, along with generous mounds of fruit and vegetable peels, bones, gristle and fat, the more overfed they are, even if a lot of the intake is of processed junk food and drink.

At the other end of the social spectrum are the poor who, to retain one of the few joys of life left — eating with family and friends — have developed remarkably tasty, even if simple, fare. These often translate into livelihoods preparing affordable street food for the ‘blue collar’ class. What happens when they can’t even manage that little?

The story of a large mixed community brings it home poignantly. Most people have heard of ‘Khuda ki Basti’, after which a famous television serial was titled — settlements of housing for the poor so that they could enjoy acceptable standards of shelter and a better quality of life, organized over the last three decades by Dr. Tasnim Siddiqui, a former civil servant, but always more of a social worker at heart.

Real estate has been a racket since the inception of
Pakistan, which made it impossible for poor people to buy even a patch to make a home on. Dr Tasnim would get the government to allot a largish piece of undeveloped land which would be divided into small plots. No municipal services were available, but poor families willing to incrementally invest in improvements over time for which technical advice and guidance were provided, were allotted a plot each. Bit by bit they would make additions and improvements – a wall for security, a tree for fruit or shade and beauty, a pit latrine, additional rooms, and so on.

The series of ‘Khuda ki bastis’ – shelter for the poor — was so successful, it won Dr. Siddiqui the prestigious Magsaysay Award. And he continued making more. Until about five years ago, land and shelter were the main hurdles to survival, not lack of food except in the worst of feudally exploited areas.

Then when the previous government had just come into power, prices of some essential foods suddenly shot up. It was an outcome of the financial crash of 2008, a part of the ripple effect arising from the global trade and speculation, including in food staples. Because of export-orientation and smuggling, food prices for locals were always higher anyway than they should have been.

Ordinary people had to do some belt-tightening and there was public unrest. Mr. Zardari, ever smug, unfazed  and reportedly ceremoniously sacrificing eight black goats a day in the presidential palace (until later when angry objections became loud and embarrassing), made a statement to calm the agitated hungry. Things will be OK by the end of the year, he said, (there were still six months to go) and prices will come down. They never did, and no one ever again believed what he said, at least on matters of food and fuel.

Dr. Siddiqui’s latest ‘Khuda-ki-basti’ set up seven years ago on an edge of
Karachi, boasted some 4000 homes. Poor but hardworking, they had come from all over the country in search of a place where they could put down roots, work honourably for their earnings, and live in peace with their neighbours. There were Sindhis, Punjabis, Baluch, Pathans, Karachiites – a truly mixed bag. NGOs turned up to offer free medical and other services and training. A variety of paid services and shops followed thereafter.

This ‘Khuda-ki-basti’ had several new, additional features. Wishing to instill practices of cleanliness and orderliness at the very outset while dealing with waste, while turning it into a self-financing commercial enterprise, Dr. Siddiqui set up a simple composting plant. Teams would collect kitchen waste placed in covered containers outside each house – which came to an awful lot from several thousand houses – and carry them to the plant. Here the waste was turned into rich fertilizer in a couple of months, bagged and sold in the market. It was also used in a large space within the settlement reserved for farming.  The community could buy their vegetables even cheaper there.

Then suddenly in 2008, the waste output began to shrink. What people ate most were lentils and flatbread which leave no waste, vegetables and seasonal fruit which leave peels and cores. Within a year it halved, and after some time nothing came except onion peels; often, not even that. The composting plant began to receive little to compost.

Things haven’t got any better since; it’s just worse. It’s reflected in the number of ‘langars’ (free food kitchens) that continue to grow; once frequented only by beggars and the unemployed, for the last five years, attendance by daily-wage workers (who don’t usually get daily work), and even drivers, peons and clerks, so as to save their meal-money to take home.

It’s not difficult to imagine how they feel watching politicians and leaders on TV shamelessly and routinely tucking in from tables groaning under the weight of the richest dishes they can only dream of. All paid for by taxpayers.

This article was published in The Nation on 4 December 2013

Posted in Agriculture, Agriculture in Pakistan, Food Security, Pakistan's Economy, Poverty, World Bank/IMF | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Without a fraction of reserve

Banks freely manufacture 90% of money. So why aren’t the majority of citizens being served?


November 27, 2013



Paper money and coins are for the general public – the ‘little’ people, who don’t earn enough to warrant bank accounts, needing mostly fives, tens, and hundreds. The broader middle class also need 500 and 1000-rupee notes. After all, billions of transactions daily buy groceries, medicines, fuel, umpteen consumer items, and pay employees and services like utility bills, skilled workers, street vendors, etc.
The State Bank may be printing paper money and minting coins, but thereafter banks create several times more money—mainly serving business and industry. How does this happen?

People believe banks lend out customers’ money for a profit which they share with them – which is only partly true. Instead, every time someone makes a deposit, a string of banks lend it out in turn as additional new money. It isn’t converted into new paper money and coins, but appears only as numbers in account books recording bank-to-bank transfers by cheque or electronic transfer. The government and State Bank have authorized them to do so. It’s all legal, but it does not necessarily make it fair.

It all began in
Europe and England when it was found that people who kept their gold in goldsmiths’ vaults for safekeeping for a fee, seldom visited to collect it. Instead they used goldsmiths’ receipts as money, and which other tradesmen trusted and accepted and used similarly. The receipt was convenient and reduced the risk of robbers.
That’s how the use of paper money began. Goldsmiths charged interest without informing the customer or sharing the profit — which was the dishonest part — making fortune after fortune.

Depositors only needed to exchange the receipt for their gold. But because this happened only at great intervals – some didn’t turn up for years – the goldsmith calculated how much gold he could safely lend out in short-term loans. He kept only a fraction of the gold in reserve in case they did. Once in a while the goldsmith would miscalculate and lend out too much or a customer returned unexpectedly early, and he would get into serious trouble. But this didn’t happen most of the time.

This was the origin of modern banking with a twist: today there’s no gold involved; the banks retain a fraction of the deposits (between 1% and 30%, depending on the country; about 5% in
Pakistan) and loan the rest as new money. When their next borrower deposits it in his bank, the same thing happens all over again. It’s known as ‘fractional reserve banking’ – multiplying purchasing power by about ten times as it moves through the lending system from bank to bank.

Critics have throughout objected to this ‘creation of money out of thin air’. Yet, used with discretion, ‘fractional reserve banking’ has its advantages. It saves the trouble of producing vast, unmanageable amounts of notes and coins when most large transactions can be conducted by non-cash means. It creates credit and stimulates the economy – up to a point. The central bank of every country lays down the minimum reserves a bank must retain before lending out (like the cautious goldsmith did), but American banks have ignored limits and lent up to fifty times more. Some countries place no limits.

There are other valid objections. Only the privileged class benefit when banks manufacture money. With such a powerful tool, public banks could easily serve the majority who are unable to obtain credit, lacking collateral, and who find microcredit inadequate. The question is: if banks can make massive profits for themselves with fictitious money, why should borrowers be forced to provide collateral of real substance such as their cars or houses?

The state has failed to balance this huge privilege with conditions to benefit the wider citizenry. This has a direct bearing on democracy and people’s right to money and credit. Why should one class be served, and the other not at all? With gold and other precious metals no longer backing up money, its ultimate value comes from the country’s combined assets. Economic activities require use of natural resources (known as public goods) that belong collectively to the people, such as land, water, fossil fuels and other public assets.

Unfortunately, ‘democracy’ started on an uneven keel by failing to first determine the value of each citizen’s rightful share of the commons, as public natural resources and public services are known. (Some countries are said to be doing or updating this exercise; at least one
US state – Alaska — redistributes the annual profits from its oil wealth after expenses, to each citizen of the state which come to several thousand dollars a year.) That way – total worth of public goods divided by population — each adult citizen could receive an equal share of the country’s collective wealth, if not in cash, then in the form of interest-free and tax-free credit to start off or supplement his own enterprise. As an annual entitlement, it would also take care of the retired, the elderly, and the disabled. 

Such possibilities are already being discussed by monetary reformists, catalyzed by the abuse of the ‘fractional reserve’, compound interest and the diverse, complex and risky forms of speculation (which caused the global financial crash of 2008). But taking on the global banking cartel bent on maintaining their monopoly over money-creation, is difficult, and therefore suppressed by the corporate media, academia and governments.
It was therefore an encouraging surprise when a year ago, the IMF, perhaps the world’s most predatory financial institution, came out with a working paper recommending putting an end to fractional reserve liberties. To quote: “The control of credit growth would become much more straightforward because banks would no longer be able, as they are today, to generate their own funding, deposits, in the act of lending, an extraordinary privilege that is not enjoyed by any other type of business.”

The IMF was responding to the mess and collapse that western, especially American big banks, have landed in through reckless and dubious speculation, ignoring the fact that all resources being finite, unlimited growth was simply not possible. And therefore growth of money had to have a cut-off point too when it could no longer produce more. The central banks need to determine and directly limit the money supply.

Although the IMF was not thinking of the developing countries it preys on, it realized that if profitable banking was to survive globally, it had to be prudent. And banking being intertwined worldwide, all banks would have to conform. But the IMF needs to look itself in the mirror as well.
This article was published in The Nation on 27 November, 2013.

Posted in Banking, Global Economy, IMF & World Bank, Money Banking, Pakistan's Economy, Paper Money, State Bank of Pakistan, World Bank/IMF | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The global agri-feudals

The global agri-feudals


The Nation




There’s nothing new about the US goal of maintaining control over the world’s food and agriculture, or at least that of “developing countries”. It’s been an open secret since Kissinger’s time who advised that to control a country you had to control its food supply, then had it implemented.


With sophisticated wordsmiths from scientific academia and corporate media, post-independence democracy has become more associated with corporatization and centralized global control, so that today’s appropriation of the world’s resources and agriculture look more like a 21st century feudalism that casts all previous feudals worldwide in the shade.


The 2011 WikiLeaks confirmed what many countries suspected for a long time but was vehemently denied by the usual suspects. It revealed, among other things, that American diplomats sought funding for biotech (GM) industry lobbyists to hold talks with politicians and agricultural officials in “target countries”, especially where GM crops had not taken complete hold.


The US nonprofit consumer protection group Food & Water Watch (FWW) accused them of “a concerted strategy to promote agricultural biotechnology overseas, compel countries to import biotech crops and foods that they do not want”.


FWW went through some 260,000 diplomatic cables and zeroed in on over 900. Their findings led to the most recent report this month saying: “The State Department strategy sought to foist pro-biotech policies on foreign governments”; that it used a multi-pronged approach, namely, lobbying foreign governments to weaken biotech rules and adopt pro-agricultural biotechnology policies and laws; protecting US GM crops and seed exports and pressurizing developing countries to adopt biotech crops; and promoting biotech business interests through strong public relations campaigns to improve the GM image.


    The State Department got embassies to send visitors, especially journalists to the US, and organized or sponsored 28 junkets from 17 countries between 2005 and 2009. Sound familiar? It’s happened in Pakistan too. But low-income African nations were the most bullied of all. After all, it’s a mouth-watering $15 billion global GM seed market out there led by Monsanto, with DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow in tow. They want to maintain and expand it, which is becoming increasingly difficult with more and more countries – some sixty to date — banning or putting some restrictions on GM.


The US Organic Consumers Association in a press release accompanying the report, added, “American taxpayer’s money should not be spent advancing the goals of a few giant biotech companies.” 


Some suspect that GMO seed technology, dominated by Monsanto, especially of corn and soy crops which are almost entirely from GM seeds, belong to the few areas from which the US still obtains a trade surplus. The US has a trade surplus of $30 billion in its agricultural sector, and in 2013 it is estimated to export $145 billion in agricultural products. In the process it will further destroy other countries’ agriculture and livelihoods.


Our troubles began from the time countries, one after the other, began to declare agriculture an industry – prematurely and undemocratically in South countries. Agriculture, once the world’s biggest employer of cultivators big and small, that always provided everyone, even the poorest, with sustenance and something to do, has been snatched by corporate, big business and feudal  interests, thereby throwing millions out of work.


Take for example the USA, with the biggest industrialized agriculture sector in the world. According to the US research-based Environmental Working Group report released this month, the US government paid the heaviest subsidies, from 1995 to 2012, not to medium-sized or small family farms, but fifty billionaires or businesses – all from taxpayer money! It didn’t include crop insurance subsidies for mass production of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and sorghum that many additionally received. Forbes magazine found that these subsidies-receiving billionaires had a collective net worth of $316 billion! 


In times of soaring unemployment, food stamps kept about five million people above the poverty line in America.  So it was shocking that US government lawmakers are now planning cuts of about $5 billion on the food stamps programme at the same time that it is generously coddling corporate farming. Given the attitude of the US government towards their own poor, other countries shouldn’t be expecting better for them. Agriculture has been a political and profiteering issue for a very long time, not a rights and humanitarian one.


In 2009 the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), completed a three-year project convened by the United Nations to assess what sort of agriculture would address the world’s food needs, especially during rapid climate change. The traditional methods, whether they were called organic, natural, sustainable, — but which can and have been improved and made even more productive — were the only solution. They had always existed but were deliberately undermined through disinformation and outright falsehoods.


Since then, the UN-backed views haven’t made as much news as corporate claims. IAASTD rejected deregulated biotech as a solution, so much so, that all but 3 of the 61 governments that participated at the meeting, refused to sign the IAASTD statement. The US with most to lose, was of course one of the three that didn’t sign, the other two being Canada, and Australia.


Agriculture for food and raw materials is one area that is key to human survival itself. The needs are basic and universal, and it wouldn’t matter if there were no modern industries run on machinery. There would be other kinds of progress and civilizations. In fact, the usurpation and concentration of agriculture in a few hands led by the west has brought unprecedented and widespread poverty, hunger and deprivation to the world’s most naturally bountiful countries.


Decades ago when big business failed to infiltrate US agriculture, they took another route, plying state agricultural universities with heavy grants in the name of research. In fact, some of the high-yield and genetically-modification work were rooted there, and the outcome should have become public property, not patented by the corporations. The universities were tricked, but having built on their original research and set up their own laboratories to build on it, the corporations have more or less dispensed with them.


Hopefully, our own scientists and academia who have been rooting for Bt cotton and other patented GM crops — which will give ownership of our most basic and sovereign resource to non-citizens — will look to their consciences and at our peasants faces, and have a re-think?




This article was printed in The Nation on 13 November, 2013

Posted in Agriculture, Agriculture in Pakistan, B.T. Cotton, Corporate Farming, GM Crops, Monsanto, Monsanto in Pakistan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Money problems

Other countries and communities have tackled their financial problems locally. Why can’t Pakistan?



6 November, 2013


Money problems

                     By Najma Sadeque


Imagine a village or even a small town, not necessarily physically isolated but otherwise cut off from the country’s economic mainstream because they are among the poorest of the poor. Infrastructural development runs through their area it but hasn’t benefited them. – A familiar state of affairs in much of Pakistan.


Idle lands and idle hands aren’t at work for lack of money. There are countless skilled people who can’t afford to buy the tools of their trade or set up a base. Many self-employed and small enterprises never get off the ground or are quickly thwarted because they run out of cash for routine but essential expenses. There are also not enough big enterprises to advance funding towards purchase, nor does a supportive and affordable credit system exist to help them grow.


Is lack of money an acceptable stumbling block? How did people cope through history when they’ve been short of money?


One of the hardest things to convince most people about, educated or not, is that money isn’t wealth in itself, merely a measure and store, with banks as facilitators. When you have a 10 rupee or 1000-rupee note, the government is entitling you to obtain that much worth of goods or work in exchange, or pay your bills with. But if tomorrow the government suddenly declares it’s no longer legal tender, unless allowed to exchange it for some other legal instrument of value, you could be pauperized overnight.


It was the genius of the human mind that created an easy way to exchange goods and services otherwise difficult to compare in value because they differ greatly in variety, quality and quantity.


Common-sense barter quickly evolved into objects being used to represent values of goods and services. For example, an accepted token such as a shell could equal a kilo of potatoes. Say, 20 shells for a laying hen; 50 shells for a day’s labour. Maybe 300 shells for a goat or sheep, depending on the values accorded in their time. Beads, pebbles, gems, pearls, notched woodstrips, etc. have served as money, calculating the way we still calculate today. Pooling tokens paved the way for capital formation.


The credit for this does not go to any one person or group. For untold centuries people in numerous societies the world over have arrived at similar mechanisms. All this evolved into banking, small-scale needs first developing into small-scale solutions. As Swiss economist and diplomat Francois de Siebenthal, describes Switzerland’s remarkably varied banking system that reaches out to the smallest possible customer:-

 “In past history, small local banks were established by farmers. The banker is a farmer, the bank is a farm house, the customers are farmers, and the owners of banks were and are farmers. These little banks make up the third largest Swiss bank actually in operation with the best ratio and the best management because the costs are very low. Since they are very small and you don’t need big armoured cars and security personnel, these banks are very efficient. They’ve also come up in some other countries.”


In the late 18th century, well-to-do merchants, functionaries and academics in Germany sought a way to help low-income people in entrepreneurial startups. Consequently, the first savings bank with a municipal guarantor to specifically fight poverty was founded in 1801. Since then, the number of savings banks in the public interest, (known as Sparkassen) soared. Each is independent, locally managed, focuses only on customers in its own city or administrative district. Although they provide full services like commercial banks, they are not profit-oriented, which makes all the difference. Their 15,000-plus branches today boast 50 million customers and assets of a trillion Euros! According to OECD, German public banks own 40% of total banking assets. Germany is the world’s strongest economy today.


Commercial banking is a specialized service for dealing with vast numbers of transactions over larger geographical areas that small groups cannot manage. But while it provides an indispensable service, it does not serve the needs of the majority. For one thing, it is only accessible to those who have enough money to merit a bank account.


This is outright unfair when domestic banking only involves servicing transactions mostly comprising paper and intangible numbers – in other words, tokens — fed into computers: nothing of value, let alone gold.


Why should financing be a privilege only for those who already have some, and not for all citizens? – which leads to unwarranted monopoly over the public resource base? How can even Islamic redistribution of wealth be achieved without credit and an accessible financial system for all as a right?


Even the best of private sectors in the world cannot create jobs for all. Governments are supposed to create economic environments that catalyze job-creation and self-employment. A major gap lies in localized finance. Instead, the limiting of finance has become an instrument maintaining deprivation while monopolizing common wealth. Microcredit here doesn’t reach far enough, and the non-philanthopic ones exact interest.


In hard times, communities created their own ‘tokens’ or alternative currencies when governments turned their backs on them or didn’t know what to do. They’ve been created by individuals, groups or organizations, or by national, state, or local governments. All are not alike as they are adapted to local needs. Some phase out when the community becomes economically strong to no longer need them. Parallel currencies surfaced recently in Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Brazil and elsewhere. Some 2500 alternative or complementary or community currencies exist today all over the world, including Europe and America, all originating in hard times.


Why haven’t our bankers and economists learnt yet from other countries’ experiments and successes? When domestic money creation doesn’t even need foreign loans but are backed by our own natural wealth. Is it a class issue? Have feudalistic attitudes rubbed off?


Because commercial banks do not cater to the smallest customer, it makes public banking an essential public good, a necessity and priority — like education or health, extending credit where needed to enable people to become part of the economic mainstream. But even our government banks discriminate against the poorest citizens. – Not very democratic.


With no answers except predatory ones such as sell-off of state enterprises and sovereignty, one fails to see how our government can resolve our frightening financial problems, arrest mass closure of once-productive enterprises, and recreate economic activity without initiating a relevant financial mechanism to match. The problem is now. If too late, there may be nothing left to rescue.


This article was published in The Nation on 6 November 2013


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Politics of the prize

What do cellphones, laptops, iPods and PlayStations have to do with mass violence against women?
Politics of the prize 

by Najma Sadeque

What do cellphones, laptops, digital cameras, iPods and PlayStations have to do with sexualized violence against women and even small girls? Plenty. An essential and rare mineral for these is coltan, most of the world’s supply lying in the Democratic Republic of Congo.Resource-rich South countries – whether agricultural or mineral or both, have a common problem. They attract unwanted attention. They suffered colonization. With independence, local elites, feudals or warlords with acquired western tastes, took over and became the local colonizers, allowed to line their pockets so long as smooth transfer of resources abroad continued, and concentrated in the hands of multinationals.Some colonizers were relatively less oppressive than others, considering it easier to rule when locals were allowed to fulfill their main needs, rather than through brute force alone. The track record of British exploitation of South Asia pales into insignificance compared to the Congo nightmare. Unlike its current backwardness, Congo was once a sophisticated civilization with a civil service before the Portugese fell on it 500 years ago. Slavery followed; some four million slaves were shipped to America on British ships.Congo is huge, the size of western Europe — 2.34 million square kilometers. It should have been the world’s richest country, its natural resources are estimated worth 24 trillion dollars, largely untapped, of diamonds, cobalt, petroleum, gold, silver, uranium, zinc, copper, 30% of the world’s diamond reserves and 80% of the world’s coltan. But its foreign exploiters disallowed economic and political development so as to monopolize wealth for themselves. There are hardly any worthwhile roads or railways; healthcare and education is almost non-existent.

All this brings to mind the chilling parallel of Baluchistan, rich in minerals including gold and oil, barely developed while its gas supplies enriched the rest of the country before it got some out of its own, people impoverished, and for some time, foreign interests and local disgruntled people vying for control.

When Congo finally achieved independence in 1960, it was without a functioning bureaucracy — not a single Congolese lawyer, economist, engineer or doctor among them. All but three of the pre-independence 5000 civil service posts were manned by foreigners. The industrialized nations propped up weak or corrupt leaders.

Bedeviled by armed militants battling for power over resources, it engulfed eight more African countries and 25 rebel armies, all wanting a share of the pie. Its economy has been described as based on “plunder, racketeering and criminal cartels with worldwide connections.”

Slavery, trafficking, child labour (for mining), and the phenomenon of child soldiers emerged. Over 5 million died, half a million women raped and brutalized. Congo’s is a chilling, mind-numbing horror story unparalleled elsewhere. Clearly, warring as a way of life brings out the worst in men.

The US classifies coltan as a strategic mineral, and heightened conflicts coincided when Sony Playstations hit global markets. So many intermediaries lie between suppliers and foreign purchasers, it’s almost impossible to ascertain routes and identities.

Enters Dr. Denis Mukwege: The scene:1996 Shocked by the extreme sufferings of Congolese women in childbirth, he specialized in obstetrics and gynaecology. After hospitals where he worked were twice destroyed by civil war, international aid organizations helped him found the Panzi hospital. Half of its 450 beds are reserved for women victims.

Since 1999, the UN has kept its largest peace-keeping forces – some 20,000 on the ground. But it has largely failed its task of protecting civilians or containing mass gang rapes. Since then, Mukwege was confronted with the most cruel and sadistic sexualised violence. Attacks didn’t end with rape, but continued with mutilation with knives, bullets or chemicals. The most horrible and heartbreaking experiences were of women successfully treated, but raped again, their reproductive organs rendered beyond repair. To date, he and his colleagues have treated some 50,000 worst-case women victims. The psychological and surgical challenges are overwhelming. They are rehabilitated, taught new skills, given psychological counseling.

Mugabwe describes it best himself. “These weren’t just violent acts of war, but part of a strategy. You had situations where multiple people were raped at the same time, publicly – a whole village might be raped during the night. In doing this, they hurt not just the victims but the whole community, which they forced to watch. The result of this strategy is that people are forced to flee their villages, abandon their fields, their resources, everything.”

“In reality, this conflict is not about ethnicity — it is a territorial conflict about mineral resources. Without the political will the situation will not change. These underlying problems cannot be solved through my work. …. This will be the destruction of the Congolese people. If you destroy enough wombs, there will be no children.”

Outraged, and knowing nothing would stop unless the international community took direct responsibility and action, he began to tour, addressing parliamentarians and institutions. In September last year, he spoke at the UN General Assembly, demanding prosecution of rape as a tool of war and terror pursued for the past 16 years. For his troubles, an assassination attempt was made on him and his family, and they were forced to flee to Europe.

But the women wanted him back. They protested and raised funds for his flight back to home. They promised to ensure his security: groups of 20 women volunteers would take turns to guard him in shifts around the clock. Touched, Mukwege returned in January this year to cheering crowds. He now lives and works day and night at the Panzi Hospital, still saving women’s bodies and lives. It leads in gynecology, obstetrics, internal medicine and reconstructive surgery.

Mukwege was a front-runner for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. He didn’t get it. It would have glaringly highlighted the role of certain countries which were complicit, as well as the silence of the corporate media. Instead the prize went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – which critics say was premature since its only claim to fame was persuading weaker countries to eschew chemical weapons, but dared not challenge the US, Israel and Egypt which continue to hold the largest remaining lethal stocks, and doesn’t discourage other lethal weapons. Interestingly, the prize coincided with the organisation’s mopping-up operations in Syria.

Maybe the plans for Baluchistan are not so inhuman, but other prospects still make one shudder.

This article was published in The Nation –  October 30, 2013

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Perween Rahman:Justice delayed, justice denied

Perween Rahman, the woman behind the Orangi Pilot Project, was killed by land mafia some six months ago but her killers have not yet been brought to justice. 

by Najma Sadeque

Perween Rahman Justice delayed Justice DeniedWhen Perween Rahman’s life was ended by the powerful land and water mafia, there was such an outpouring of writings both at home and abroad on her long and selfless service which directly and radically changed the lives of at least half a million people – more likely much more when she extended her work to other parts of the country, especially the flood-affected areas – there seemed to be little left to write about.

But six months have passed since she was taken from us and her killers have not yet been brought to justice. Some ask how it is any different from the thousands of other mafia killings of which the known perpetrators have been roaming free for years on end. But the case of Perween Rahman is indeed different from others, the attention to which could mean the achievement of justice for all. Working for the Orangi Pilot Project for the past two decades and as its head since 1999, it was very different from that of most other NGOs. It involved dealing with some of the most personal and private issues of people’s lives that affected their work performance and opportunities.

Perween’s ‘crime’ was that she was rendering services that were actually the government’s job but which they carried out only for the elite and upper middle-class, leaving the low-income and poor out in the cold. That created huge space and opportunity for land-grabbing and selling rackets, and it started not long after the inception of Pakistan. In the past decade or so, worsening crimes included killings because people failed to pay ‘bhatta’ (protection money) or for resisting to vacate their homes or workplaces on land which could bring huge profits to the mafia.

Initially, these were groups of small-time crooks who struck up deals with the government functionaries overseeing lands for urban housing and the police for ensuring non-interference in their criminal activities. But even the smallest but lucrative activity, if left untouched by legal action for decade after decade, will grow. Not only did it grow, it was copycatted by new groups, cutting across ethnicities, language, political links and socio-economic status. It mushroomed into large and highly-organised gangs of mafiosi to rule the roost most strongly for the last four decades, successfully enforcing their own law with arms and threats, resorting to torture and murder if anyone reported them or resisted too much.

It wasn’t a matter of a few people being affected but most of Pakistan’s biggest city of 18 million that stubbornly continued to grow after illegally swallowing up a thousand-odd little hamlets and villages in the process, without any compensation or alternatives provided when evicted.

Bare survival began to depend on whether families including the displaced migrating from the interior into the city, had the means to buy land on which to build a home. Most couldn’t, and many tried to rent on which to make temporary shelter. Control of all such spaces being effectively entrenched in mafia hands, they could even run ‘housing’ rackets for the low-income as well, who would be allowed to pay regularly what they could afford, but for the rest of their lives, and perhaps by the subsequent generation as well.

Perween knew all this including the risks, and yet she took a stand. She felt things had gone too far. She found out the mafia’s latest plans with specific details for the further ‘expansion’ of Karachi. In the hope of a just government coming to power, which Perween believed had to happen sooner or later when things got out of hand and there was no other solution to the survival of people and the economy, she began to sound warnings, and then to speak out.

She was correct in her thinking, but given that Karachi was at the height of violence, both political and criminal, and that self-serving or cowardly concerned elements in government were not listening, perhaps she should have waited a little longer to come out in the open, such as now. But it is uncertain that she still would not have met with the same fate. After all, she was determined to expose the mafia and doggedly remained on that path.

The mafia may have removed the immediate threat to their plans by removing Perween, but the danger remains of their racket continuing unhindered if the course of normal justice is not restored to Karachi and the country. For the past six months since she was killed, colleagues, friends and civil society in general have been calling for her killers to be brought to book. An FIR was made against unknown assailants and nothing has been done since.

The funeral prayer of Parveen Rehman the late director of the Orangi Pilot Project was held at her residence in Gulistan-e-JauharWhen civil society finally filed for suo moto notice in the Supreme Court for a proper investigation to be conducted, the Registrar, incredulously enough, objected to it being admitted for a hearing because he reportedly felt Perween’s murder was merely a ‘law and order matter’, and therefore should be filed in the Sindh High Court instead. The fact that she had been deliberately targetted for being a threat to the land mafia, was completely ignored. Furthermore, similar land mafia rackets have spread all over Pakistan, especially urban areas, certainly making it a matter of wider, national concern.

The refusal to catch and deal the killers will mean conscious official retention of the status quo by acts of omission. The mafia to reign supreme, and development, housing, water supply and sanitation to remain subject to their criminal and profiteering dictates, as will the oppression of millions. Only the wider pressure of civil society can change that.

Upfront and personal

Perween’s approach, as she said, necessarily had to be personal and direct. The first step to innocuous and obvious-sounding needs of housing wasn’t all that simple. It was directly linked to the immediate living conditions that families had to put up with.

“When people think of sanitation, they just think in terms of water pipelines and sewage drains which was the government’s job, not in terms of what they themselves had to do to be safe,” she explained. “When one walked through the lanes of kacchi abadis and in their house, one would have to watch out for the danger of slipping and falling into the filth, because sewage would be overflowing from shallow kaccha drains, children defecating all over the place outdoors and even at their doorsteps because there were no proper toilets.”

“I would ask them – as Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan, our founder, used to, and from whom I learned everything – how long were they willing to wait for government to come and build the necessary infrastructure. Forever? While they suffered disease and death from preventable causes that in turn stopped them from improving their lives? Besides, building toilets was not the government’s job. If they only built toilets with septic tanks, they would avoid polluting the lanes and prevent chronic communicable diseases, and immediately improve hygiene within their homes.”

“It’s not easy to explain when people have no concept of how disease is caused and spread. How can they know if they were never taught, if they don’t get enough clean water to be able to keep clean? But it is not impossible to explain and persuade either. It needs time and patience. It may need many, many visits to the same homes, talking to both the women and men of all the houses on that lane, coaxing them to invest a little of their own money in toilets – that is the hardest of all – for the good of the entire family and locality. But we would provide the expertise and supervision so that they could get quality work down at the cheapest possible cost.”

orangi-8jpg“Once we successfully helped improve one lane of houses, people from other lanes would come and inspect and be impressed enough to consider doing the same. It was a matter of going house to house, lane by lane. And then it’s the entire locality and then an entire township. Once they had spent their own money, they understood benefits remained with upkeep. And they did that. After that it is so much easier to get them into other self and community development works.” The results on the ground are there for all to see.

One could add a genuine and active concern for the underdog. Gentle persuasion came easily to the warm, soft-spoken and ever-smiling Perween – from the very beginning, she just wanted to serve. As architect-planner-activist Arif Hasan pointed out, when she died she was drawing a mere 32,000/- salary – by choice – because she felt there should be no huge income gaps between people. She left a promising career as an architect because she found it benefitted only the well-off. She preferred to put her knowledge to ordinary people’s real housing needs.

Time, patience, personal outreach, not giving up, never taking no for a final answer but returning to try and try again, getting people to discuss the details and apply the possibilities of home improvements the way they would like them to be, maintaining contacts and feedback, tangible results to last a lifetime – together they all contributed towards changing people’s lives, not by approaching any one of them in isolation or in compartmentalized ‘specializations’. Because people’s lives are not compartmentalized either. – A lesson that many NGOs may still have to learn.

This article was published in The News – You Magazine on October 15, 2013

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Nobel Prize, by lobby

One no longer has to achieve anything to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Having ‘good intentions’ is good enough!


         Najma Sadeque

Wanna bet? It’s not just international sports like cricket and football and the Olympics, or even beauty contests, you can bet on. Nothing is sacred anymore. Literature is an eminent area on which you can wager: a Japanese author for the 2013 prize was favoured at 3/1 odds; and J.K. Rowling, of ‘Harry Potter’ fame figures somewhere too.

Even if bookies don’t read much, the standing of nominated authors from all over the world can easily be checked out on the internet. They not only set up betting lines for the Nobel literature prize, but also for the most elusive area of all – peace. Some 108 candidates and 50 organizations were reportedly nominated for this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace. Since merit has become a contentious issue, bookies now look more closely at parties pushing peace candidates – such as the corporate media, foreign policy institutions and other think tanks. With the US, the CNN, the BBC, the SkyNews pushing extraordinarily hard – way ahead of the Pakistanis, and carrying far more clout than us – one bookie finds Malala favoured at 2/1 odds, and Bradley Manning at 16/1.

But the Peace Prize has also become controversial because of how little some recipients have done for peace, while others who have done so much have been bypassed. Take Mahatma Gandhi, whose peaceful approach few would dispute, and who was nominated five times between 1937 and 1948. They didn’t give it to him. In 1948, the year he died, they didn’t award it to anyone because “there was no suitable living candidate”, referring to one interpretation of Nobel’s will – that prizes be awarded only to living persons.

But the Nobel committee can be erratic too. In 1961, it posthumously awarded the well-deserved prize to the former UN Secretary General, – a man of peace for which reason some suspect he was ‘removed’. In 2006, the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee belatedly conceded that Gandhi was the greatest omission in their 106-year history. And still the committee did not give him the award posthumously!

To date, no Peace Prize was given on 19 occasions. But then, people have not been very peaceable for much of that time.

While there have been quite a few controversial recipients of the Peace Prize, the most universally odious of all was perhaps Henry Kissinger, long known as chief architect of America’s aggressive foreign policy, a megalomaniac and habitual warmonger. His open statements about killing and indifference to human suffering said it all. Yet he was awarded the Peace Prize in 1973 simply for being part of the Vietnam Peace Accords – at the very time he was supervising the secret bombing of Laos! He was awarded the prize jointly with Vietnamese revolutionary Le Duc Tho, who was so revolted that he refused to accept it. Two Norwegian Nobel Committee members also resigned in protest.

As undeserved was President Obama’s prize in 2008, shocking the world soon after he took office, and who then went on to militarily destroy several countries and make drone-bombing a habit. He even had the gall to justify dealing with ‘rogue nations’. Later in 2010 he avoided a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize winners on nuclear weapons in US-bombed Hiroshima, although he was in the country at a summit of Asian leaders.

To the question everyone asks: why Obama? One researcher pointed out that, “The Nobel Committee doesn’t necessarily award the Peace Prize for achievements – sometimes they award the prize as a motivator to continue efforts toward peace.” This makes the criteria so loose and broad, just about anyone can be nominated as a potential do-gooder. And it also makes it easy for global and vested interests to pressurize for or bankroll candidates, sweeping away the chances of true performers.

There are lists on the internet of those who should have got the Peace Prize – many impossible to dispute – but didn’t. There’s an internet campaign for Obama’s prize to be withdrawn. Unfortunately the prize cannot be revoked under the rules, no matter how controversial. He could gracefully return it, but $1.4 million is a lot to pass up.

Much appreciated was the 2006 prize for Kenyan environmentalist-activist Wangari Maathai, who is credited with planting over 50 million trees through her Green Belt movement. On the other hand, a 1970 recipient elicited by the US propaganda was Norman Borlaug who developed the so-called Green Revolution wheat seeds. Its high-yield claims in South Asia were short-lived, but ushered in a disastrous era of large-scale water-wasteful, chemical agriculture that destroyed soils, environments and rural lives worldwide.

Edhi's Services to the NationFew Pakistanis would differ over Abdus Sattar Edhi, who was nominated previously. But people seem to be under the mistaken impression that someone nominated once cannot be nominated again. That’s a huge mistake that civil society can still correct.

This article was published in Pakistan Today on October 10, 2013

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Going in for the kill

by Najma Sadeque

As long as people believe that building an economy mainly requires foreign loans and investments, or that money is intrinsically wealth in itself, we are condemned to remain dependant, manipulated and exploited indefinitely.


Most former colonies are in the same boat. The main culprits are IMF and World Bank, but the fact remains it takes two to clap hands. Someone has to agree to onerous and unacceptable conditions. And those responsible have throughout been our financial ministers and advisors, generally not knowledgeable enough, nor concerned about how the predatory global financial system works – or how the domestic system could be made to work for everyone’s benefit.


Even more suspect is that the public is not informed about basic money principles as a measure and facilitator for exchange, an understanding which could easily be introduced at the middle or high school level. Instead, a universal culture was deliberately furthered to make believe that money operations were something beyond the comprehension of ordinary people and to be left only to ‘experts’ to be trusted and followed blindly.


This has effectively assisted governments and foreign moneylenders in maintaining secrecy over financial matters, and entrenched the environment of arbitrary, irresponsible, undemocratic – and frequently dishonest – financial behavior. How else can countries so rich in natural resources and wisdom — which supported entire peoples for thousands of years, and which enriched exploiting colonizers for two to five hundred years — become so quickly impoverished after World Bank and IMF started intervening in their economies? Even western countries not using their services have been fooled by the overarching global financial cabal – which in turn controls World Bank and IMF and have their fingers in the Central Banks of almost all countries. Only recently has civil society started reacting towards change.


If the World Bank were truly a ‘development’ and not commercial bank, that goal should have been achieved within a couple of decades, and then automatically disbanded itself. IMF may have survived since its stated purpose was to oversee and facilitate balance-of-payments – juggling the many different currencies of many countries while they produced and calculated in their own, but needed to be ensured fair exchange against others when they exported and imported.


This was ‘resolved’ by the introduction of a ‘universal’ currency – not a neutral one that belonged to no one country, and overseen perhaps by the UN – but by the US-imposed dollar. Weakened by war or colonization, neither the European countries nor the former colonies had the stomach to object. That enabled the US, through the World Bank and IMF of which it is the biggest shareholder – no other country comes anywhere close – to control most of the world through the control of their money.


Since 1970 when the dollar ceased to be backed by gold, its global financial control should also have ended. Besides, bilateral and partial barter trade continues with less hassle. Yet the world continued accepting dollars worth little more than the paper they are printed on, yet able to buy high-value goods. — Simply because no one could stand up against the unspoken US military menace. 


The financial decision-makers of most indebted countries — whose minds were appropriated by World Bank’s Economic Development Institute where country finance ministers, state bank governors and other ‘experts’ were routinely brainwashed – became entrapped in psychological and technical lockup. They no longer knew how to extricate themselves, or were unwilling to lose the wealth and power that came from their overpaid ivory-tower positions if they revolted.


Today, the World Bank and IMF remain as undemocratic, unaccountable and non-transparent as the worst dictatorship. It is World Bank’s loans given mostly to non-representative or corrupt governments that lack transparency and accountability. These further ‘development’, if any, for the elite and vested interests, based on western technology – often obsolete or damaging — and values, not necessarily in keeping with local needs and capacity. Stolen billions are siphoned off to Swiss and other offshore banks. Borrowing from IMF with which to pay off compound interest installments, recurs.


Not for nothing, usury was always forbidden by all major religions, although some found a way around it while Muslim countries simply ignored the practice on the grounds that as borrowers from foreign institutions, they had no choice …. which is not true. — While corruption relies on secrecy.


What could country advisors and planners have done? it may be asked. Plenty. For over four decades, countries have export-oriented their natural resources and value-added production to earn value-less dollars. Yet countries need no foreign exchange except to purchase needed foreign equipment and expertise which they lack and simply cannot produce for themselves.


Somewhere along the line when World Bank ran out of giant projects such as dams to finance. Being limited to less than 200 countries as clients, they began to penetrate other ‘development’ sectors such as health, education, sanitation, and so on, which need no foreign exchange whatsoever. As shockingly, ignorant or crooked governments accepted, indebting us further. — Although social projects and public goods cannot bring in profits with which to repay debt. They instead needed to separate everyday domestic economic transactions with a separate, non-convertible domestic currency to do the job. It’s hardly surprising why they didn’t.


The greatest evil came with IMF and its structural adjustment policies in the 80s – forcing governments to hack social sector expenditures while piling on loans for the same, unduly raise taxes for the masses while lowering them as incentives for the rich, and ultimately forcing privatization of public enterprises. Utilities and communications which enjoy monopoly or captive markets have been the most popular pickings worldwide, sold off at a fraction of real worth with which to pay off huge debts. Where did IMF get this right to fire-sale sovereign country assets? It gave this right to itself. Privatization of public goods is simply re-colonization, but will only fuel further Talibanization whether in protest or excuse for criminal self-employment.


Now the entire focus of government is on selling off our remaining major state enterprises, rather than on domestic financial alternatives to get our strangled economy running again. It warrants suo moto notice and national resistance since it will leave little or nothing to build on.


Recently Hungary asked IMF to get out of its country – forever. The difference from Pakistan is that Hungary first paid off its odious debt. We just compound it. A moratorium couldn’t have been worse as the poor lack adequate food and money anyway. But it would have bought us necessary time to get back on our feet.

This article was published in The Nation on 9 October, 2013

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