Pakistanis Differ Over Nawaz Sharif's First Year in Office
Upon completion of its first year in office on Feb. 6, 1998, Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League government claimed: "We stopped institutionalized corruption, massive political victimization and VIP culture" and "completed a year of economic consolidation, including gaining the confidence of international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank." The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of his predecessor, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, retorted: The year was marked by "downsizing, devaluation, drift, demoralization, descent into anarchy and destruction." In fact the truth lies somewhere between the two statements. Pakistan is not in a state of anarchy and destruction as the PPP charges, nor is it by any means out of the woods in terms of economic recovery and restoration of law and order, as claimed by the Muslim League.
Closer to the truth was a strongly worded letter to Finance Minister Sartaj Aziz from a senior vice president of the World Bank who complained: "Economic growth remains sluggish...Reportedly there is a significant shortfall in tax revenues...Serious deterioration in the Water and Power Development Authority's (WAPDA) financial situation threatens the fiscal situation at a time when Pakistan's economy is highly vulnerable to balance of payments deterioration."
Among the ills that beset the economy are a high degree of tax evasion causing poor revenue yields, financial crisis in the public corporations, no growth in the industrial sector and the near absence of an investment market. The government has conceded that there has been a revenue shortfall of Rs. 11 billion ($234,042,553), but objective estimates place it at Rs. 30 billion ($638,297,872).
The IMF has pointed out that the "informal" or underground economy constitutes 22 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Since this stays outside of the revenue collection system, it deprives the government of a huge chunk of taxes.
The two factors that receive the most public attention at times of fiscal stress are the percentage of the national budget that goes into defense expenditures and the portion of the budget consumed by debt-servicing costs. In Pakistan these two items consume 80 percent of the total national budget. Defense expenditures have always been treated as a sacred cow that cannot be touched, while there is no way to reduce the debt servicing costs without first reducing the national debt itself.
To top it all, Prime Minister Sharif is determined to carry out his two favorite heavy expenditure projects -- an inter-state motorway and the rebuilding of the Islamabad and Lahore airports. What is being questioned about these projects is the flirting and their cost, especially when the country is faced With a dire economic emergency. Sharif, however, is unyielding.
In-country planners and foreign aid-giving agencies have always had serious difficulties in making good estimates because of the absence of reliable raw data in most developing countries. Often the lack is attributed to the archaic methods of data collection and lack of properly trained staff. Unfortunately, politics also plays its part in concealing truth to serve vested interests.
For two decades, no national census was conducted in Pakistan for all of the above reasons. Each successive regime promised the count, but postponed it to suit its political ends. State interests, regional considerations and even local exigencies have prevailed over sober counsel. But, finally, the census is underway in Pakistan.
Already, however, doubts have been cast on the sincerity of the effort, thereby bringing the outcome into question in advance. The army has been invited to assist in carrying out a door-to-door head count. Several groups have protested against military involvement in such a purely civil operation. Others have demanded verification of national and even state identities of residents.
Beside political sensitivities, there are built-in cultural taboos and religious inhibitions that will stand in the way of obtaining accurate information of a personal nature. For example, many women, particularly in rural areas, will not allow themselves to be interviewed and many husbands will not volunteer demographic details or even a full family count. Households are often beyond the normal reach of legitimate researchers. General suspicion, ill- placed modesty, a traditional insistance on privacy and lack of confidence in the bureaucracy all obstruct normal census counting. Of course, a lack of education is the root cause of all such resistance.
Even if all of these hurdles are overcome, there is absolutely no guarantee that the final results will be made public. There are instances in the developing world when census reports have been sealed or the data has been distorted or destroyed for obvious political reasons.
NORTH WEST FRONTIER PROVINCE
Most British place names have been changed in the subcontinent since its independence in 1947. However, the North West Frontier Province, popularly known as NWFP, retained its nomenclature. This geographical area lies south of the Khyber Pass bordering Afghanistan, forming the northern edge of Pakistan. It is inhabited by the sturdy Pathans, so lovingly remembered by Rudyard Kipling and Sir Olaf Caroe in their books. This was one of two areas (the other being a part of Assam now in Bangladesh) which were bitterly contested between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League in 1947 when the subcontinent was being partitioned. Referenda had to be conducted before they could become a part of either Pakistan or India, and in both cases India lost.
Up to now, among Pakistan's four provinces (states) the Punjabis have Punjab, Sindhis have Sindh, Baluchis have Baluchistan, but Pathans have had NWFP!
It was inevitable that the Pathans, or Pushtoons, would seek a change. On Nov. 14, 1997, the NWFP provincial legislature passed a resolution changing the name NWFP to "Pukhtoonkhwa" meaning "support Pukhtoon." If the question were just one of changing the name, the matter would be of little political consequence.
However, at present, when Afghanistan is in turmoil, neighboring Central Asian republics are in a new formative phase and the internal politics of Pakistan need to be handled with great care, the evolution of NWFP into Pukhtoonkhwa has several complications. Most Pathans living in Pakistan speak the Pushtoon language, which is also the mother tongue of Afghans living south of Kabul and on to the borders of Pakistan. There are other Pathans living in parts of Punjab in divisions like Hazara, Dera Ismail Khan, Kohat and Bannu and in areas of Baluchistan and in sections of Peshawar, capital of NWFP, who speak Hindko, a dialect different from Pushtoon. They do not support Pukhtoonkhwa.
The Awami National Party (ANP) which has made this demand is an organization that in many ways is a successor to the group that once sided with India and opposed Pakistan. Their credentials, however, are not in question, since the earlier dispute is history.
There are other groups within Pakistan who also have been asking for places to be named after the language they speak. On the face of it, there is no problem. With the experience of East Pakistan that later became Bangladesh, however, Nawaz Sharif is hard put to endorse Pukhtoonkhwa.
In 1956, it was Nehru who divided the political map of India on linguistic bases. Pakistan today does not have an equivalent of a Nehru and the environment is also very different. Sooner or later, the matter will have to be resolved at the national level and in a manner that the entire nation can support.
Had Mian Nawaz Sharif ignored family advice to the contrary and nominated someone from Sindh, Baluchistan or NWFP as the president of Pakistan, instead of selecting a fellow Punjabi as he did, he would have a useful balancing voice today to reinforce his opposition to the Pukhtoonkhawa issue.
Just as a reminder of how volatile ethnic or tribal politics remain, in March a Pathan girl eloped with and married an Urdu- speaking young man in Karachi. The result was turmoil that engulfed the giant metropolis. The young man was even shot at when the police brought him to court, despite the girl's protestations and affirmations that she wished to remain his bride. The situation in Pakistan illustrates that while many countries talk about the demands of the coming millennium, many of their people still have some serious catching up to do.
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