EDITORIAL: Economic reform - Monday, May 02, 2011

Source : http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\05\02\story_2-5-2011_pg3_1

In the midst of groans and cries of the public, the government has raised the prices of petroleum products yet again. The raise between Rs 1.80 and Rs 9.32 per litre in prices of various products became effective yesterday. Given our heavy dependence on imported oil in all sectors of the economy, including agricultural and industrial production, electricity generation and transport, it is inevitable that a vast majority of citizens, who do not consume oil and its products directly, will feel the ripples of this hike in the form of rise in prices of all commodities. The already two-digit inflation is likely to gallop further. The burden on the citizens has increased so much that they are having to choose between food and health and education for their children. One can imagine the impact of falling purchasing power of the people on the overall economy. The investors are pulling their chestnuts out of the fire that is fast engulfing the markets and the production side of Pakistan’s economy. Despite its sincerity, the government has remained unsuccessful in stemming this rot whose ill effects are now becoming apparent. Perhaps it was out of a sense of helplessness that the business community has taken the lead and presented a roadmap to political parties whose representatives gathered in Islamabad under the aegis of Pakistan Business Council (PBC). The purpose was to evolve a plan of economic recovery with the consensus of all the political parties so that it endures changes in government.

The council identified five key areas for the revival of the economy: energy, regional trade, macroeconomic stability, social protection and education. At the top is the energy, whose irregular supply has almost pushed the industry to the precipice. In addition to creating a new ministry and a national energy authority, the government has been urged to take various short-, medium- and long-term measures to increase the country’s power generation capacity. The second most important area identified by the business community is regional trade. Unfortunately, political dispute with India over Kashmir has cost Pakistan dearly in terms of economic benefits it could have through trade and commerce with the next-door neighbour, which also has the potential to ultimately erode the pungency of arguments over Kashmir and bring the two nations closer. However, the military establishment, dominated by hawks, has long been resisted any such suggestion. But the diminishing returns of that approach should compel the policy makers to give a serious thought to implementing the suggestion for normalising trade with India, including giving it the Most Favoured Nation status, on a war footing. The PBC also emphasised on the need to provide social protection to the poor. Another very important area of reform highlighted by the PBC was revamping of madrassa education and providing for teaching of technical skills to the students of madrassas to create a skilled workforce. Although terrorism and law and order situation did not form a separate rubric, this last suggestion encompasses one of the biggest problems Pakistan is facing today and which stands at the root of all other problems. The rise of extremism and intolerance in society is the unsavoury gift of the policy of promoting jihadis through a network of madrassas long pursued by Pakistan. What better way of neutralising this pernicious influence in society than to replace a retrogressive curriculum of religious teaching with training of technical skills? This will not only equip the students with the means to make a living for themselves but also rollback the legacy of Zia period. These are all very good suggestions. The ball is now in the court of the government, which must get down to implementing them. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Intolerance once again

In an all too familiar scene, mob vengeance turned ugly on the streets of Pakistan on Saturday when a group of angry people armed with sticks and their fiery rage marched on the streets of Gujranwala towards a church they were ready to ransack. The mob had heard that two copies of the Quran had been desecrated by Christians and were ready to wreak havoc upon the unsuspecting minority members and the church to show their displeasure. The police intervened and broke up the mob before any untoward incident could occur, but not before they confronted the raving mob with lathis (batons).

Our public’s susceptibility to anything even slightly related to the mere mention of blasphemy is fast becoming ludicrous. It is so easy to incite people to violence whether from the pulpit of the mosque or the vicious rumours aimed at targeting our minorities. Christians have long been the victims of blasphemy charges, intolerance and mob violence. After the arrest of Aasia Bibi, the subsequent ‘outrage’ at the Christian woman’s daring to ‘insult’ Islam and the shocking assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, intolerance for any issue of blasphemy — whether real or fabricated — has increased dramatically. Mobs are routinely incited by fire-breathing maulvis to target minorities, and churches are their favourite punching bags. This latest attempted attack is no different. Without any evidence of desecration and no proof of foul play, a bunch of fanatics were easily rounded up and sent on their mission of destruction.

State inaction and public silence over the assassinations of Taseer and later Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti have allowed many prejudiced people to think they can get away, literally, with murder. After Taseer’s murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, was received by lawyers in a shower of rose petals, it is not too surprising to contemplate that intolerance is actually celebrated and encouraged. This attitude must change and all such instances must be taken note of. Hate speech must be outlawed and mob congregation and violence must be punished as harshly as possible. Muslims are behind the desecration of holy symbols and places themselves when they march onto the holy sites of the members of other religions. If we feel so strongly about blasphemy, we should not be so double-faced about it when we target others and their places of worship. *

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