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Farming in dry regions threatening aquifers

Pakistan has not undertaken any crop management plan. More credit supplies but little availability of canal water in dry regions, like Bahawalpur, has raised the input cost of agriculturalists as they have to sink tube wells and have increased the use of fertilizers and pesticides. The aquifers are on the course of depletion threatening cities and towns but there is no chance of getting the same refurnished as rapidly as their consumption.

Riaz Missen

British colonized Punjab with a view to make it basket of food and to recruit youth to defend their empire in India. A large swath of land was brought under cultivation by clearing forests and evicting the families living there. Pakistan did not change this policy and the lands are still being brought under cultivation. Cholistan, the tiny desert in Punjab bordering India, can be cited as an example in this regard.

Most of the agricultural lands in Pakistan are cultivated on commercial basis. Intensive cultivation and mindless use of chemicals have not only deteriorated soil fertility but also inflicted a blow to environment, including the flight of crop-friendly birds and insects and acidity in the subsoil water.

The government has not undertaken any crop management plan. More credit supplies but little availability of canal water in dry regions, like Bahawalpur, has raised the input cost of agriculturalists as they have to sink tube wells and increase the use of fertilizers and pesticides. The aquifers are on the course of depletion threatening cities and towns but there is no chance of getting the same refurnished as rapidly as their consumption.

Similarly, water management policy is nowhere in sight. In some areas, this source is available in abundance causing salinity and related problems. Others have got reduced water share due to more areas becoming under cultivation. Bahawalpur provides an interesting example in this regard. Farmers here are receiving 40 per cent per cent of the water available to them half-a-decade back.

The Indus Basin Treaty giving complete right to India over the utilization of water of its three rivers — Ravi, Beas and Sutlej — is nothing but a blunder committed by the people then at the helm of affairs. Contrary to international law, the treaty gave upper riparian the right to use the water of these rivers. No where in the world, a party can divert water in a way that could affect the flow of a river to the detriment of the lower riparian.

Bahawalpur happens to be the worst victim of the Indus Basin Treaty. The perennial rivers gone to India, major cost is being borne by the aquifers for being used extravagantly when water in seasonal rivers is short of enough supplies. The water reservoirs which were constructed to compensate the loss of Sutlej and Beas, have only ended up in increasing the share of Sindh and Central Punjab. The more lands being allotted to the settlers of Central Punjab in Cholistan, the share of the ‘sweet belt’ has significantly declined forcing the cultivators to pump out subsoil water at a time electricity and diesel are turning costly by every passing year.

A study of Water and Power Department of Punjab has found that 75 per cent of water in southern districts is not fit for crops. While the Indus Basin Treaty remains intact and raging controversy surrounds the construction of water reservoirs on the Indus River. The fate of lower regions — cotton belt — is almost doomed.

Welding livestock, fisheries and forestry with farming reflects a not-so-wise approach. As more emphasis is laid on farming, the more it proves a restraint for the livestock, fisheries and the forestry. Promotion of cultivation in semi-desert areas, like Cholistan and Balochistan, has caused a decline in livestock population due to the loss of space available to herding communities.

As for agriculture, landlords must turn to forestry and livestock. This step is necessary to regain soil fertility. Their income will witness downward slide for a few years but will pay in long-term. There is no reason to keep fisheries as an allied subject of agriculture. It should be dealt separately; credit supply to this new sector will revive hope in a large community associated with this sector.

Meanwhile, some quarters are pressurizing the government to defer water conservation plans on the plea that it was useless to invest in this fast declining sector. The move is intriguing, for having storage dams is must as the same can be used as a guarantee to ensure water supplies in dry-months. It is necessary because ours is an agriculture-based economy and that the country now has seasonal rivers for fresh water supplies.

The agricultural policy needs a revision. Pakistan must evolve a strategy to replenish soil fertility through shifting emphasize to forestry and livestock from cultivation. Meanwhile, water resources should be managed to ensure supplies during dry-months. The government should divert credit supplies from crops to forestry and livestock. Meanwhile, crop management policy should be brought forth while taking into consideration the water availability in different parts of Pakistan.

The wastewater must be given biological treatment to meet the watering needs of the wheat crop, particularly in the southern districts of Punjab. This measure will not save the aquifers but also save cities from the deadly water born diseases like Hepatitis. Fisheries and forests will get boost with wetlands becoming pollution free.

Weekly Pulse


Decentralisation must for sustainable growth

The political forces have done a commendable job by decentralizing administrative and fiscal resources on to the provinces but the benefits have ultimately to be passed on to the regions lying far off the provincial capitals — Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi. It is vital to invest powers in the hands of the people so that they can decide about the issues related with the socio-economic development of their specific regions.

By Riaz Missen

Political parties of Pakistan, after doing wonders like NFC Award, provincial autonomy and the restoration of Parliamentary supremacy through 18th amendment in the Constitution, seem to be in hurry to undertake another uphill task: redrawing boundaries of the four provinces, established through a decree of General Yahya Khan in 1969, with the effect that some new federal units are created. While this step is vital for the proper management of the state vis-à-vis law and order and sustainable economic development, the only issue to be settled is the criteria to form a province.

Since March 13 when Premier Gilani, in Jalalpur Pirwala, announced support of his party for Saraiki province, no solid opposition to the idea of  creating more provinces has come to the forth but public opinion stands sharply divided as to whether the new provinces should be carved out on linguistic / ethnic basis or not.

The PML-N has raised the question as to why only Punjab should be divided, that too on ethnic grounds. While its leadership says Punjab should be divided into five provinces, the other provinces should also undergo this change for the sake of good governance. Within the Saraiki belt, the leadership of Bahawalpur has unanimously drawn lines and has vowed to resist any move other than reviving the region’s provincial status. 

Pakistan has been embroiled too much in the international politics since its inception and has been serving the role of frontline state for the liberal world led by America. The complexity of relations between two of Pakistan’s giant neighbors, India and China, and the US interest in the region kept Pakistan’s decision-makers too much obsessed with international politics. While the country was made to serve the interest of everybody around, its own people kept on suffering from poverty, disease and injustice.

When the situation has eased on international front and Pakistan finds a space to maneuver, its economy is simply in tatters. Except few – telecommunication, banking, oil and gas — all sectors of economy are in dire straits. The worst damage has been done to the economy and environment as population has increased six fold and blind exploitation of natural resources has disturbed the desired balance in the nature. The mismanagement of natural resources turned streams, lakes and rivers polluted; the forest cover has become too thin to sustain a fast growing population.

The hydrological facts are changing fast making the country swing between floods and droughts. The worrisome monsoon trend, whereby it has started earlier than the time and hit new regions and abandoned the others, has grave vis-à-vis human settlements, health and food. The climate change can put humans and wildlife on flight either due to droughts or floods.

When agriculture, the main source of country’s livelihood, seems to be unsustainable, one can’t aspire for the growth of industry and, consequently, jobs. No government, no matter who is in charge, can guarantee peace and security, whether internal or external, when economy keeps on sinking down. The crime rate — name it militancy, robbery, black-marketing or whatever one may like —is bound to rise in this situation. Investors will be shy of developing stakes in the country and foreign direct investment is simply unimaginable.

The mismanagement of natural resources and their irrational use has dangerous implication for the integrity of the state. It is certainly a time to rethink security when the country, due to heavy spending on defense, can only manage to spare 3% of GDP for the provision of basic amenities of life.

The political forces have done a commendable job by decentralizing administrative and fiscal resources on to the provinces but the benefits have ultimately to be passed on to the regions lying far off the provincial capitals — Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi. It is vital to invest powers in the hands of the people so that they can decide about the issues related with the socio-economic development of their specific regions.

Pakistan is a diverse region in terms of landscape and crop patterns. The hilly regions’ economy heavily depends on forests, deserts’ on livestock and flood planes’ on agriculture. Culture is simply about co-existence with climate and geographical realities.

Contrary to the past, when the politicians could play on ethnicity, the question right now is how to repair the ecosystem that has been destroyed due to the unsustainable growth strategies.  The dominance of agriculturalists in decision-making process has set the agenda of country’s politics so far. The inequalities have been sustained through unrestrained use of violence against the aggrieved groups.  Centralization has been used as tool to suppress the dissenting voices.

Last but not the least, dividing province from the viewpoint of good governance and economic development, not ethnicity, will result into the boosting of nationalism which has been missing till now but is prerequisite to rational decision-making vis-à-vis socio-economic development of the country.

Sutlej flows down to Bahawalpur but with poisonous waters

Water passes down the Empress Bridge near Bahawalpur

By Riaz Missen

Sutlej River is flowing down the Empress Bridge, near Bahawalpur, due to heavy rains in northern India — thanks to the early arrival of the monsoon. More water is expected this year. Reports suggest that it was in high flood last week inHimachal Pradeshand the waters had reached Ferozepur district of Indian Punjab on July 9.

The people in Bahawalpur districtare pleasantly surprised to see waters in the Sutlej River, for it has become almost a dead stream due to Pakistan accepting India’s exclusive rights over it through the Indus Basin Treaty of 1960. The water table on its banks has sunk down to 120 ft which was available at 20 ft at times it used to carry floods.

The waters of Sutlej River are harnessed through a number of dams and canal headworks by India.Bhakra Dam is the major reservoir wherefrom canals carry its waters to Punjab and Haryana. Indira Gandhi canal carries the waters of Sutlej as far as Rajasthan. If something is left, it is diverted by Pakistan at headworks of Islam and Sulemanki constructed under Sutlej Valley scheme in 1927. It is only rarely that waters are released to reach Head Panjnad.

The waters of Ravi and Beas have also been added to Sutlej in India through link canals and are being used for the agricultural purpose. Intensive cultivation and the mushrooming of industry utilizing the agricultural produce in its catchment areahave made the Sutlej the most polluted river of South Asia. The unrestrained use of pesticides in agriculture and industrial waste being diverted to the river makes its water ‘E’ class in Doaba region.

The people in Farid Kot, who are using the waters of Sutlej to quench their thirst and to cater to the needs of agriculture, are developing deformities. A report of Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) prepared after various tests on the river’s waters, at various points in the 2010, rated Sutlej waters as ‘A’ class (pure) at Nangalheadworks, which become ‘E’ class and ‘D’ class (highly unfit for drinking) respectively at the confluence of BudhaNullah in Ludhiana and East Bein or Chitti Bein in the Doaba region.

Accumulation of chromium, nickel, zinc, and pesticides is high in the sediment of Chitti Bein. Traces of metals like chromium, nickel and zinc were detected in soil samples of the fields irrigated by the waters of the Bein. There is high level of inorganic and organic pollution in both the east Bein and the Kala Sanghia drain.

In Doaba region, Sanghia Drain is pouring polluted water intothe Chitti Bein because of untreated industrial and sewer waste from Jalandhar and Phagwara. The Beas also gets C class classification at Goindwal Sahib and Mukerian, where industrial waste is discharge into it. When Sutlej River enters Pakistan, Qasur’s tannery industry further pollutes it.

Sutlej waters are used by people both for quenching their thirst as well as of their livestock particularly in Rajasthan and Cholistan. The Vehari district also uses the waters of Sutlej River and here many cases of children developing deformities have been reported. Not only the fresh water is polluted but impurities have seeped down on the banks of the river and underground water is also affected.

 There is no solution to the problem which Sutlej River and the people using its waters are confronting but that the environmental regulations are strictly implemented. Punjab Environmental Board, on Indian side, is reported to impose heavy fines on industrial units releasing effluents into the river and its tributaries but no steps have been taken up by Pakistan to keep its tannery industry under check.

According to estimates 32 MAF wastewater, from urban areas and industries, joins streams, canals and rivers of Pakistan every year and destroys fisheries besides causing dangerous diseases like Hepatitis C. Luckily, environmental technologies (using bioremediation techniques), are available that can not only put an end to pollution of the wetlands but also make available enough water (treated) to cater to the entire needs of the wheat crop of Pakistan.

Weekly Pulse July 15, 2011

Political party launched for restoration of Bahawalpur province

Nawab Salahuddin Abbasi announcing launching of BNAP on April 14 at Sadiq Garh Palace, Ahmad Pur East

By Riaz Missen

Not many weeks have passed after Mr. Yusuf Raza Gilani announded to Jabalpur Pirwala on March 13, on the right bank of the Sutlej River, where he told a gathering that his party had made the mind about dividing Punjab and creating a new province comprising Seraiki regions, the regional forces have come together and formed Bahawalpur National Awami Party (BNAP) to remind him that the route to this end only passes through the restoration of the Bahawalpur province, which General Yahya Khan merged into Punjab when he announced the demise of One Unit in 1969. While the regionalists of the South Punjab think the formation of the BAP is the culmination point of their struggle against Takht-e-Lahore, the Seraiki nationalists have yet to know what boundaries the PPP has in mind for their proposed province.

The pro-province forces had become active right after the 2008 elections and the formation of coalition government in the Centre. The regional leadership reminded the PPP many times that its historic victory in Bahawalpur division was due to an understanding reached between the Nawab of Bahawalpur and Benazir Bhutto in London and not due to any change of hearts, but no clear assurance was made by the PPP leadership. The 18th amendment hurt the Bahawalpur leadership the most as Punjab, like many other provinces, got more resources and power without any assurance that the benefits would also reach to Bahawalpur as well.

Muhammad Ali Durani, who happens to be the only Senator from Bahawalpur, owes a lot credit to revive the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province. Though his activism brought him envy and contempt by the old lot who questioned his credentials and past conduct, but he remained determined and resolved in his mission. His ties with media, which he cultivated as information minister during Musharraf era, helped him to bring forth vital statistics regarding the plundering of the Bahawalpur resources as well as its marginalization in terms of funds. His arguments and presentations made the political temperature rise as the provinces moved for autonomy through NFC Award and 18th amendment. PML-F also threw its weight on the side of the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province.

Nawab of Bahawalpur, Salahuddin Abbasi, initially stuck to his family tradition and was not carried away by the passionate appeals of Durrani to lead the movement for long. He only issued cautiously drafted statements and a promise to come forward if 100,000 youth get registered with the movement. Meanwhile Muhammad Ali Durani brought ahead selling of some land and the railway track at throwaway prices. The statements of some PPP ministers for the creation of Seraiki province and their criticism vis-à-vis the Bahawalpur movement also pushed the Nawab to come into the public.

PPP not only failed on the promise of supporting the restoration of Bahawalpur but also it could not implement some projects which the PPP’s ex-chairperson had promised at the time he launched election campaign into Punjab. While addressing a public gathering at Rahimyarkhan, a few days after she had ended her self-imposed exile and landed in Karachi, she promised slashing interest on agricultural loans, construction of Nishtar Ghat bridge over Indus and provision of canal water at tail end.

The last visit of the Prime Minister in Bahawalpur and announcement for the Seraiki province added fuel to the fire. Muhammad Ali Durrani issued deadline and asked the premier to tell about the boundaries of the proposed province. Finding no response he broke the news that Nawab would announce ‘Bahawalpur Declaration’ on April 14. When the moment came and the people reached at Sadiq Garh Palace at Ahmadpur East in thousands, the Nawab in the presence of the regional leadership, belonging to all shades and colors, said the only way to bring the movement forward was the formation of a party.

Many questions have propped up vis-à-vis the launching of the Bahawalpur Awami Party. There is no question of its success in the upcoming elections both for the reason that the political leadership of the region is united and also that a strong sense of deprivation prevails among the people and they believe that the restoration of the provincial status is the only way out to get rid of extreme poverty and underdevelopment.

It is worth mentioning that there is clear understanding among the political leadership that the movement for the creation of Seraiki province is a ploy of the Peoples Party and that the issue has been just raised to make the Bahawalpur’s cause unachievable. The PML-N too can’t maintain its influence in Bahawalpur further as Nawab has said it very clearly that he would ensure that those who do politics for the cause other than the restoration of province got the political life ended.

The name of the political party suggests that Nawab has no political ambitions beyond Bahawalpur division. But the party influence may reach across three rivers (Sutlej, Panjnad and Sindh) which touch the Bahawalpur division. The districts like Mailsi, Lodhran and Rajanpur are closer to Bahawalpur rather than to Multan. There is history of these regions being attached to the ex-princely state before the occupation of Multan by Sikhs and later by the British.

Last but not the least: Nawab will have to look for political allies at national level. The Bahawalpur Awami Party will part of the Third Force that will simply uphold regional agendas and try their best to get politics take a consensual course. The Bahawalpur Awami Party can assume centre stage in the dialogue for raising alliance of regional parties.

Beware of dictators!

Bahawalpur has known disliking for dictators: Ayub Khan had sold its lifeline, Sutlej River to India, through Indus Basin Treaty of 1960; General Yahya Khan did not mention Bahawalpur province when he restored the federal units that had been clubbed into One Unit in 1955; Zia had allotted vast tracts in Cholistan to his favorites. Bahawalpur has attached high hopes with democracy: it should not only get firm roots but also be able to undo the doings of the dictators.

By Riaz Missen

Ayub Khan visited Bahawalpur on his election campaign. When he reached Chowk Fawara to make an address, city plunged into darkness. What he said was this: “Brothers and sisters, I have come to power through the stick I am holding in my hand not through ballot box. I have visited your city to tell you that it does not matter whether you cast your vote for me or my opponent (Fatima Jinnah)”.

Field Marshall Ayub Khan did win elections and became president of Pakistan. The landed aristocracy supported him. He allotted lands to members of Pukhtoon and Tareen tribe in Punjab and Sindh in an effort to promote national solidarity. He was the most powerful president of the country and, by this account, the most corrupt ruler Pakistan have had so far. Zia-ul-Haq went a step ahead — he hanged the first elected prime minister and never bothered to hold elections. Both are now the story of the past but the legacy they have left behind is still intact.

Anti-democracy forces have prevailed on Pakistan for most part of its history. Two decades passed without holding parliamentary elections. The civil-military bureaucracy developed a system that made the commoners to pay but receive nothing in return. “Why to count those who survive on the lowest ladder of social life?” the intelligentsia from the other side of the divide, often raises the question.  In a country where feudal, spiritual and tribal leaders rule the roost, democracy only helps them to assert their privileged position in the society. Each and every election has brought these souls to the legislative assemblies. While they have the power to decide, the only thing they do is to reserve every luxury for themselves and their clans.

The fact of the matter is that the division between dictatorial and democratic forces has been clear and visible since the times of country’s birth. The situation would have been different if anti-democratic forces would not have been supported from without. Had Ayub Khan not imposed martial law, the NAP would have swept elections. Had democracy stayed, it is problematic whether Pakistan would have joined the Western Bloc. Had Zia-ul-Haq not intervened in politics, the country would not have been used as a base camp to launch jihad into Afghanistan. Actually, Pakistan would not have been in a precarious situation as it is today, had military stayed away from politics.

It is actually welcoming that Hillary Clinton, during her much celebrated visit to Pakistan recently, given a pledge that the US would never support dictators and would rather, help the civilian regime to do away threats to democracy. Additionally, the political parties have made it clear that they would never be part of any exercise to derail the political system in vogue. Civil society, too, is not fragile today as it once used to be. Media is free and independent and is religiously guarding its freedom. The Left, which had gone to hibernation since Zia period, is coming to life again.

Still, democracy is not on the sound footings. Addressing the recently held meeting of party’s Central Executive Committee, Asif Ali Zardari, the co-chairman, said the PPP had always faced crisis whenever it was voted to power. He said the establishment’s hidden hands had become active again due to which rumors and propaganda regarding differences within various constitutional and state components were being deliberately spread under a well-organized plan.

Needless to say, political parties still have to organize themselves on the grassroots level and hold free and fair elections to elect their leadership; power has to be devolved not only to the provinces but also to the divisions and districts; and, above all, the revenue and justice systems have to be made transparent and fair to wear a pro-people look.

Though there seems no urge, from any mainstream political party, to revive land reforms scheme, the peasantry’s problem has to be resolved — its size has increased but not its possessions. The new lands have only been allotted to the retired civil-military bureaucrats. Unjust distribution of canal water and increase in the price of input has made them mortgage their lands with the ZTBL — there lands should not be auctioned, any more.

The most dangerous fall out of the consistent martial laws in Pakistan has been the absence of any policy for sustainable economic growth. Livestock and fisheries have been paid least attention so far. Deforestation has assumed alarming trend, which needs not only to be stopped but also reversed. Desertification of deserts like Cholistan is also a problem that needs to be tackled effectively by stopping further encroachments on them by farming communities.

Needless to say, many doings of the dictators need to be undone, once for all. The constitutional reforms should provide enough proof of that. The identity of the state needs to be adjusted with the requirements of the global age. When democracy has returned the ‘ideological burdens’ should be laid off. While doing so, the democratic forces should have clear understanding that if they want to keep military in barracks, the mullas also need to be confined to their traditional tasks.

According to Dr. Rasul Bakhsh Rais, the eminent political scientist, “Until the quality of democratic governance improves, the political and social conditions of the feudal age would continue to determine class and caste relations in our society. But once democracy and rule of law become consistent functional political patterns, a new political culture of equal rights would emerge that would provide for political space and institutional remedies to lower caste groups against discrimination and exploitation.”


Bahawalpur has known disliking for dictators: Ayub Khan had sold its lifeline, Sutlej River, through Indus Basin Treaty  of 1960 to India; General Yahya Khan did not mention Bahawalpur province when he restored the federal units that had been clubbed into One Unit in 1955; Zia had allotted vast tracts in Cholistan to his favorites. Bahawalpur has attached high hopes with democracy: it should not only get firm roots but also be able to undo the doings of the dictators.

-Weekly Pulse

Cash-starving Pakistan may bank on IMF

There are talks about the cutting the size of the army which numbers more than half-million. This measure can help direct lot of funds to the social sector development. But before doing this, there is need of rethinking the security policy of the country. And it will not be possible without taking away from the state the responsibility to defend the ‘ideological’ frontiers — it is really a costly job!

By Riaz Missen

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has shown eagerness to save Pakistan from economic collapse at the time its friends and allies refused to lend a helping hand. Even China, which President Zardari toured with lot of fanfare, did not respond as quickly as the guest was expecting.

 IMF was the lost priority of the PM’s advisor on finance and the de facto finance minister, Mr Shaukat Tareen, as he was sure that Pakistan’s role in war on terror and its democratic credentials would urge the world to save Pakistan from a looming default.

IMF is not going to help Pakistan for the first time. It has done so on several occasions in the past as well. But this international financial institution (IFI) has always been loathed. IMF has never been the first choice of civilian regimes.

It is not what the IMF charges on its loans the regimes of the countries like Pakistan dread but these are the conditions which it insists should be fulfilled like curtailing public expenditure, withdrawing subsidies, expanding the tax base and adopting austerity measures.

IMF started lending its helping hand to the economically depressed countries in the 1970s when many found it impossible to pay their foreign debts due to global economic slowdown caused by the oil crisis. The IMF lent credit to the countries on the verge of default to stabilize their economies as well as enable them to pay off their foreign loans.

The interest rate is as minimal as 2.5% and sometimes as meager as 0.5% per annum. However, IMF asks applicants to restructure their economies to bring efficiency and let more space for the private entrepreneurs by resorting to the measures like privatization of the state-run businesses.

The previous government did accept the IMF loan and undertook some measures like downsizing, deregulation and privatization. However, these measures were carried half-the-way. The semi-democratic regime went ahead only to the benefit of the big businesses. The small investors were losers at stock exchanges, profiteers and hoarders took away essential commodities out of the reach of the commoners and state run industrial units were sold at throwaway prices.

Like the civilian governments in the past, the present one is also reluctant to accept the IMF loan facility for the obvious reasons. It can’t levy taxes on the well offs and big businesses. Though Mr. Tareen has vowed to bring agriculture, stock exchange business and real estate into tax net but he has to go extra long miles to make any difference in this regard.

When the lower and middle income groups can’t be provided relief by lessening the tax burden on them, the government simply can withdraw subsidies only on the risk of losing its face. PML-N is just waiting for the moment to exploit people’s frustration over the rising energy prices and increasing unemployment due to power shut downs.

Going by its vulnerabilities, Pakistan simply can’t escape the looming crisis without the help of the IMF which has offered its liquidity fund to keep the economy afloat. The deal with this IFI will open the door for assistance from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank as well.

The PPP-led regime missed the chance to give positive signal to the IMF as well as the countrymen on the occasion of presenting he budget for this fiscal year. It could have expanded the tax net and announced some relief for the poor and the middle income groups. Unfortunately it failed where it should have succeeded: food, edible oil, gas and petroleum products remained as highly taxed as ever.

The dilemma with the government, hence, is clear. It can’t withdraw subsidies further until and unless it brings down GST and import duty on the essentials particularly kitchen items, petrol and diesel which affects the life of the people the most.

Progressive taxation is the answer while ensuring that the burden is not shifted to the lower income groups through corruption.

The government needs to open up other avenues to end its dependency on traditional sources of revenue. It needs to seriously think of cutting down the non-development expenditure. If it has to withdraw subsidies it should seriously work on the ways to increase spending on health, education and other civic amenities. Cheap justice and rule of law can bring many dividends for both the people and economy — the both.

Foreign tours of the government dignitaries and the bureaucrats, perks and privileges of the heads of the semi-autonomous institutions and the top-down corruption of the officials ultimately burdens the weaker sections of the society.

Instead of investing further on constructing roads and highways, the government needs to improve the railway system and make it more efficient. It will promote business and help cut down the import bill on oil.

There are talks about the cutting the size of the army which numbers more than half-million. This measure can help direct lot of funds to the social sector development. But before doing this, there is need of rethinking the security policy of the country. And it will not be possible without taking away from the state the responsibility to defend the ‘ideological’ frontiers — it is really a costly job!

Necessary amendments in the constitution will certainly redefine the objectives of the state and re-imagine its role and responsibilities as a pluralist entity striving to find a due place in the comity of nations.

Getting rid of the ‘ideological’ burdens will give a strong message to the countries in the neighborhood and beyond. The public expenditure will significantly come down as many institutions will have to be closed. Pakistan will become a heaven for tourists as the country will owe its history far beyond the fall of Sindh at the hands of the Arab armies. Many spiritual sites have attraction for the Hindus and Buddhists a prosperous community of Asia.

Regional trade will not only bring down the cost of doing business, raise the purchasing power of the people and improve the standards of life but it means lot of revenues for the government as well. Further, it will invoke the interest of the neighbors in the peaceful and stable existence of the country.

Weekly Pulse

Not a zero-sum game, at all

During my recent visit to this mega-city, I collected some impressions — the first and foremost is that Lahore has expanded too much. It is such a large city that one can’t be sure where it begins and where it ends. It has so many facilities but its problems are also gigantic.

By Riaz Missen

Frankly speaking I have not seen most of Lahore. Many historical places that I had read about in school days still remain a mystery for me. Reason is that Tahir Baig is too much busy with his ‘Red Woods’. Last summer he confined my movements to the Karim Block in Gulshan-e-Iqbal where he was painting his shop red. This time he was thinking about establishing franchises in other cities of Punjab, including Bahawalpur.

I have not visited Lahore frequently though it is the capital of the province I live in. My fifteen years in Islamabad did not make me a frequent visitor of this city, for trains and buses plying between Bahawalpur and the federal capital have found short cuts to escape it.

That the city is hundred of miles away from Bahawalpur is not an issue now when district government being are in place, Lahore has devolved some powers to Bahawalpur, but there is lot the people of this far off region have to seek in Lahore. I mean by this jobs, promotions and justice.

During my recent visit to this mega-city, I collected some impressions — the first and foremost is that Lahore has expanded too much. It is such a large city that one can’t be sure where it begins and where it ends. It has so many facilities but its problems are also gigantic.

 The suburb of Lahore is as underdeveloped as many areas of Punjab. A little ran could make life miserable. It is what I had seen when I was returning to Bahawalpur. It was daytime and I could see a glimpse of the towns of my own region in the suburb of Lahore. The industrial units were surrounded by filth. Poverty was flourishing under the shadows of skyscrapers.

To my understanding city ended where a link canal is flowing southward. I saw its waters keenly for I had once seen a report in Multan based daily that industrial waste of Lahore was being flown to the Sutlej River. I don’t know whether it is the same link canal that empties itself in the Sutlej but I am sure that its water was polluted.

 While passing through Lahore’s suburb I remembered the claims of the ex-chief minister that his government had allocated record funds for the uplift of Southern Punjab. The projected figure is Rs. 130 billion. I have not seen rest parts of the region but what I know is that my own village has got its streets brick-lined and a network of mettle roads is in place.

 Too, the Bahawalpuris have found health infrastructure operative now after a neglect of decades. The Bahawal Victoria Hospital (BVH) is serving patients free of cost (almost). I myself had the opportunity to visit a nearby Basic Health Unit and found both the staff as well as the patients satisfied with the newfound love of the government with public health system.

Education was another passion of the Punjab government for last five years. It deserves the credit of making it free up to the High School level. That it was gender sensitive adds more to its achievements. Many parents have put their girls in schools due to the reason that not only it does disturb their budgets.

 The happiest moments this time in Lahore were those in which I had opportunity to chat with Tahir’s school going daughters. They want to become teachers — nay, educationists! I don’t know what their third sister, Fatima, really thinks about her career. But I know Tahir since last ten years. He will encourage them to make their way through life on their own choice.

The next day when he was on the road to drop me on the bus terminal, he was ready to give credit to the last government for road expansions and a better-managed traffic system but still he thought it necessary that the ‘Lion’ should come out of its den. Too much ‘cycling’ has badly affected the cultural side of his city.

Lahore has developed specific civic norms, which it can’t now compromise. When Tahir said this I clearly understood that Lahore is looking not around but on itself. “Do you think the next elections will be fair?” I asked. He was quick to remind me of the statement of Ghulam Mustafa Khar: If Moonis Elhai wins his seat from Lahore the elections are rigged, for sure.

The journey to Lahore was a happy exercise. It is connected with all major cities of Punjab with motorways. The buses running at more than 100 km/ hour take now fewer hours to reach Lahore from any part of the province. From Bahawalpur the promised hours are six but it takes more than seven. The situation is far better when the figure used to be 10.

“Lahore has the potential to even grow more if it just takes care of itself.  It should not expand further and contain itself to certain limits. It should also think about getting smart and slim, if possible,” I thought loudly when the bus was crossing over the Sutlej River. By that time night had fallen. There was some water in the river but I can’t tell exactly whether it was polluted or clean.

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