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ANALYSIS: The economy and militancy


Apr 24, 2007
ANALYSIS: The economy and militancy —Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

The inability of the Pakistani state to assume the key role in helping the poor cope with socio-economic pressures weakens their trust in the state and partly explains the growing tendency towards religious extremism and militancy

The federal budget, announced on June 5, 2010, did not surprise anyone. No one expected that it would provide any significant economic relief to ordinary people, although official circles maintain that it is the best possible budget under the current difficult economic situation.

The budget is no longer a guarantee of the economy moving along the proposed lines for one year because the government seems to have lost control of the prices of food items and other goods of daily use for the common people. The big economic mafias can easily manipulate the prices of items of daily use. The overactive Supreme Court had fixed the price of sugar at Rs 40 per kilogramme in 2009. Suddenly sugar disappeared from the market and when it reappeared its price ranged between Rs 60 and 70. Within one year, sugar prices surged by over 100 percent. The government could not touch the sugar mill owners and the major sugar traders who manipulated the price. During the last two years, we have witnessed the manipulation of market supply and prices of wheat flour and cooking oil.

Not to speak of the big economic mafias, middle level traders and the business elite who have not stayed behind in raising the prices of food items and goods of daily household use. The price hike does not directly hit the power elite and parliamentarians, most of who do not bother to check the market for prices and availability of goods. If one goes to the receptions and dinners of these big shots, every type of food is available in unlimited quantity and one does not feel that there are periodic shortages and price hikes.

There is another factor that reduces the relevance of the budget for ordinary people. Oil prices are revised every month. As most revisions are upward, the prices of goods, services and transport go up. When oil price is brought down, the prices of goods and transport are not reduced.

Several categories of people have benefitted from this unfair economy. Young people with the requisite academic background have been absorbed in banking, information technology (IT), telecommunication, some commercial sectors and the construction business. Private sector education is another area where investors make money by setting up schools and colleges.

State universities have been allowed to run two or three shifts for the same or similar courses, enabling professors to double their income. There is no guarantee of the quality of these new programmes. Further, this has reduced state universities to the level of colleges where the emphasis is on teaching classes (and making money) and the main function of the university — creation of new knowledge — gets little attention. Nobody is willing to pay any attention to the social consequences of producing half-baked university degree holders in a society where people below the age of 30 constitute a majority.

The economy is not in a position to accommodate semi-literate and illiterate people who are several times more than those absorbed in the economy over the last four-five years. It is they who are seriously hit by the downturn of the economy, especially by the paucity of investment in industry and related sectors that can create jobs for this stratum of the Pakistani population.

Skewed economic growth has increased disparities and inequities in Pakistan because a mass of humanity continues to suffer from deprivation. The government has made some efforts like the Benazir Income Support Programme, to help such families. Such programmes need to be expanded and made more effective.

Two other sources help the poor. First, private charity plays an important role in helping the poor. In addition to the organisations committed to charitable work, many families and individuals quietly provide financial assistance or donate food items to the poor. Second, some families can deflect economic pressures from the funds received by them from their members working abroad, mainly in the Gulf region, the US and the UK. Foreign remittances are an economic safety valve for a large number of Pakistanis and provide foreign exchange to the Pakistani sate.

The socio-economic landscape of the ordinary Pakistani is also characterised by extreme deficiencies in healthcare, education and clean drinking water. Healthcare facilities are either non-existent in far and remote areas and villages or are available in the cities to only those who can afford them. Similarly, there is an urgent need to upgrade primary and high school education facilities in most rural and some urban areas. Official data shows a lack of basic facilities for school education. Another aspect of education pertains to the contents of education that need to be focused on the notion of the nation state, citizenship and ethics. The problem of clean water has become acute in many urban and rural areas where the people cannot afford to buy bottled water. In some towns, the local government has set up filtered water centres where the people can get clean and safe water free of cost. Such programmes have to be expanded.

The inability of the Pakistani state to assume the key role in helping the poor cope with socio-economic pressures weakens their trust in the state and partly explains the growing tendency towards religious extremism and militancy.

The Pakistani state and its foreign allies need to be seen by the ordinary people as their well-wishers. They should work towards giving the poor and weaker sections of society hope for a better future mediated through the institutions and processes of the Pakistani state.

The current disappointment and alienation of ordinary people make them vulnerable to extremist religious appeals that tend to offer the dream of an ideal Islamic society free from exploitation and injustice. Some of them get so ideologically mobilised that they use violence to target their perceived adversaries and overwhelm the state system that is viewed as un-Islamic and unjust. These mobilised people hardly realise that their sufferings are being exploited by extremist groups to advance their narrow politico-religious agendas.

These alienated and misguided people can be returned to society as normal citizens and new recruitment to militancy can be discouraged provided there is an earnest effort to reorient the Pakistani state and society. This is going to be a slow and long-term process.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst


Sep 27, 2007
It is actually quite simple -we even have a direct example in history - The british take over of egypt began under the excuse of "safeguarding" their "investments" in egypt -these in turn were hte result of excessive borrowing by th egyptian rulers.

Incidentally, one of the first things they did was to destroy any native educational system and install their own "modern" (read imperial european) system which was specifically limited to the "native elites". these "native elites" were nothing but the collaborators who did the empire's bidding in return for the right to ravage and plunder their own people - no different than today. We should think about 1857 and all the "native elite" established and nourished by the colonial empire - they have not lost their lust for plunder and rapine and also retain their servile submission to the their "former" (in reality still) masters.

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