Structural Reform and Social Values

The creation of a more tolerant society in Pakistan (and which does not necessarily mean liberal) is simply not possible without removing the causes of the country’s under-development, increasing poverty and a growing sense of alienation for the vast majority of its citizens.

An increase in the number of PhDs, private universities, O and A level schools, flyovers, expressways, cars, mobile phones, TVs and malls, alone, do not create development or end deprivation. For those who thought otherwise, the 2005 earthquake (which showed how terribly under-developed we are) and the repercussions of the recent floods (which flooded our towns and highways with a terrible poverty and deprivation), should be an eye opener.

Our increasing reliance on NGOs to bring about social and economic change in society is also misplaced. Most NGO work consists in applying balm to the wounds inflicted by poverty and deprivation, rather than challenging their causes. And, if they did challenge the causes, it is more than possible that they and their consultants would have no funding from their foreign, and in many cases, local donors, including the corporate sector. In addition, except for a few cases, NGO programmes are a drop in the turbulent sea of social change, conflict and near famine conditions that prevail in the country.

Pakistan desperately needs major structural reforms if the emerging alienation related crisis is to be averted. The initiation of these reforms can create the conditions for the slow evolution of a more rational and humane society. However, it has to be understood that there are no quick fixes for this issue.

The Pakistan state is obsessed with taxation related reforms whereas reforms are needed in all development related sectors. The most important of these are related to land tenure and ownership of property. The current counter-productive political discourse would change completely if the government could announce the following: One, muzaras on all state and military farms are to be given ownership rights. Two, all remaining state land on lease and/or wasteland in the rural areas, is to be divided among landless cultivators. Three, all state land, illegally occupied by powerful vested interests (some estimate this at over 2 million acres), in both the rural and urban areas will not be given property rights. Instead it will be recovered by the state. In the rural areas, it will be distributed among the landless cultivators, and in the urban areas it will be used for housing the homeless poor through a loan programme. In addition, the katchi abadi regularisation cut-off date will be revised in favour of the katchi abadi dwellers. And four, provincial commissions, consisting of respected and knowledgeable citizens, supported by bureaucrats will be formed to initiate a just and equitable land and property settlement process in both rural and urban areas.

It is difficult for the state as it is constituted today, to implement such a programme. However, such an announcement alone would mobilise people and reduce the sense of alienation. Even if the state does not make such an announcement, civil society activists should come together with relevant interest groups, to press for such an agenda.

If supported by independent and relevant research, which is almost non-existent in this country, they will succeed in making this an issue. This is because the situation in Pakistan today is very different from what it was when the Ayub and Bhutto land reforms were announced or when the katchi abadi regularisation plan was launched in 1973. Today, the traditional clan based governance systems then in force, are being challenged along with their value systems. This challenge, apart from the geo-politically generated conflicts we live with, is the main cause for the huge increase in clan and family feuds and honour killings but also for the increasing number of court marriages and an increasing number of educated and working women in society. Also, the state institutions are weaker today than ever before; thanks to deregulation and neo-liberal restructuring. Then, the haves, have more today than ever before; but in spite of this, they are insecure in their ghettos, surrounded by armed guards and security systems. Meanwhile, the have nots have more awareness today than ever before, and have shown in numerous cases that they can now organise to negotiate with knowledge and understanding, and if required, fight for their rights. And finally, educated angry young men and women have returned from colleges and universities to their small towns and villages, with difficult to meet middle class aspirations. The above situation is explosive and demands reform. Apart from governance issues, quality education, a road to each village, electricity in every home can transform Pakistan completely. This is doable and the rest will follow as a natural consequence.

The education sector has been studied to death and its reform parameters are staring us in our face. The question is can we make difficult choices for the well-being of our people at a small expense of our elite? Also, contrary to popular belief, there is no shortage of funds for physical infrastructure. Every year Annual Development Plan funds lapse or one spent hurriedly in an ad-hoc manner in the last few weeks of the financial year on roads and other infrastructure projects. In addition, infrastructure costs undertaken by the state contractors’ cost more than five to six times the cost of labour and materials involved, and in some cases, where IFI funds are available, many times more. And finally, the NGO Thardeep has proved that solar energy can be used to electrify villages at an affordable cost.

The big question is can civil society link up with the people of Pakistan to promote a reform agenda whose natural consequence could be, if properly researched and organised, a happier country with more humane societal values?

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