Towards a more compassionate society
(State of the World Forum: 8 November 1997)
Our global society is not a very compassionate society today. We are quite fond of describing ourselves as one world, one planet, one humanity, and one global society. But the blunt reality is that we are at least two world, two planets, two humanities, and two global societies – one embarrassingly rich and the other desperately poor, and the distance between these two worlds is widening, not narrowing.
Can we really call it a compassionate society when the richest one-fifth of the world consumes 80 per cent of the natural resources of this planet and when it commands an income 78 times higher than the poorest one-fifth of the world?
Can we really call it a compassionate society when there is so much wasted food on the table of the world’s rich at a time when 800 million people go hungry every night and 160 million children are severely malnourished?
Can we really call it a compassionate society when 1.3 billion people do not have access to even a simple necessity like safe drinking water, when about 1 billion adults grope around in the darkness of illiteracy, and when 1.3 billion people survive in absolute poverty on less than $ 1 a day?
It is certainly not a compassionate society when 134 million children in South Asia alone work for over 16 hours a day in inhuman conditions for a wage of only 8 US cents a day and when they lose their very childhood to feed the greed for higher profits by their indifferent employers, several of them the most powerful multinationals of our world.
It is certainly not a compassionate society when over one half of humanity – the women of this world – are economically marginalized and politically ignored, when their $ 11 trillion contribution to household activities is simply forgotten in national income accounts and when they command 50 per cent of the vote but they are less than 10 per cent of the parliaments of the world.
What kind of a compassionate society it is where modern jet fighters are parked on the runways while homeless people are parked on city pavements, where many desperately poor nations spend more on arms than on the education and health of their people; where the five permanent members of the Untied Nations Security Council sell 86 per cent of the total arms to poor nations, often giving handsome subsidies to their own arms exporters?
What kind of a compassionate society it is where millions of land mines are strewn all over the world, waiting for their unsuspecting victims; where it takes only $ 3 to plant a mine but over $ 1000 to remove it, and where the international treaty to ban land mines is ready but the US refuses to sign it?
What kind of a compassionate society it is where we all recognize that nuclear weapons should never be used but where world leaders are reluctant to abolish them since they are fond of playing global power games?
What kind of a compassionate society it is where a few powerful nations decide the fate of the entire world and where the supreme irony is that powerful democratic nations themselves rule out democratic governance in global institutions – such as the World Bank, the IMF, and the Untied Nations?
The truth is that we are still far from the ideal of a compassionate society. But let us be realistic. It is true that we may never be able to create a perfect society. It is true that we may never be able to eliminate all social and economic injustices or to provide equality of opportunity to all the people. But we certainly can take a few practical steps to make our global society a little more compassionate, a little more humane. Let me identify at least six of these steps which can become a reality only if all of us start a global civil society movement for their achievement.
First, in a compassionate society, no new born child should be doomed to a short life or to a miserable one merely because that child happens to be born in the “wrong country”, or in the “wrong class”, or to be of the “wrong sex” Universalization of life claims is the corner stone of a compassionate society Equality of opportunity is its real foundation – not only for the present generation but for future generations as well.
In order to equate the chances of every newborn child; let us take a simple step. Let us treat child immunization and primary education as a birth right of that child – a right to survive and a right to be educated. Let us persuade national governments and the international community to issue birth right vouchers to every new born child that guarantee at least these two investments in their future. The total cost will be modest – hardly three billion dollars a year – but it will provide a new social contract for our future generations, and it will certainly create a compassionate society.
Second, a global compact was reached in March 1995 in the World Social Summit in Copenhagen that the developing nations will devote 20 per cent of their existing national budgets and the donors will earmark 20 per cent of their existing aid budgets to five human priority concerns: namely, universal basic education, primary health care for all, safe drinking water for all, adequate nutrition for severely malnourished children, and family planning services for all willing couples. This was the famous 20:20 compact. It required no new resources, only shifting of priorities in existing budgets. And such a compact will remove the worst human deprivation within a decade.
Here is a global compact already made. Let us ensure that it is fully implemented. Let us get organized. Let us monitor the progress of each nation and each donor towards these goals every year and let us publicize it through NGO efforts and through all civil society initiatives so that the world does not forget the commitments it made only recently and which, if implemented, can provide a social safety net to the poorest and the most vulnerable groups is society.
Third, a practical way to empower people is to provide them with micro-credit so that they can find self-employment and self-respect – and it really empowers them and unleashes their creative energies. Access to credit should be treated as a fundamental human right, as Prof. Yunus has so brilliantly and convincingly emphasized. The experience of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh has already demonstrated that the poor are good savers and investors and they are eminently creditworthy, so that the banking system should take a chance on the future potential of the people, not on their past wealth. Let us set up such micro-credit institutions in each and every country, and in each and every community.
Fourth, it is time to establish a new code of conduct for arms sales to poor nations. There are many punishments today for dug trafficking and for laundering of drug money but not for arms sales. And yet arms kill no less uncertainly than do drugs. Why are generous subsidies given for such arms sales in several industrial countries today? Oscar Arias, a co-chair of the State of the World Forum and former President of Costa Rica and a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, has developed a sensible code of conduct for arms sales, proposing a ban on such sales to authoritarian regions, to potential trouble spots and to the poorest nations. This code of conduct has the support of many Nobel Peace Prizewinners. Any yet Oscar Arias has not found a single UN member who is willing to sponsor such a responsible code of conduct for arms sales. Let us generate enough public pressure in our societies for sponsorship of this code. Let us go even further. Let us persuade the rich nations to discontinue their export subsidies for arms sales. This is publictax money. Why should it be spent to subsidize sale of death and destructionto poor nations? Let us at the same time persuade the poor nations to start cutting their existing military expenditure of $ 170 billion a year by at least 5 per cent each year which can yield enough of a peace dividend to finance their entire social agendas for their poor.
Fifth, let us pledge that global poverty will be abolished in the 21st century, much as slavery was abolished a few centuries ago. Poverty is not inevitable. As Prof. Yunus has so eloquently reminded us, poverty degrades human dignity, it does not belong in a civilized society; it belongs to a museum of history. But let us also recognize that poverty is not a mere flue, it is a body cancer, it will take determined policy actions to banish poverty – including redistribution of assets and credits, provision of adequate social services and generation of pro-poor growth. It will also require a new model of development which enlarges human lives, not just GNP, and whose central purpose is development of the people for the people by the people. Let us also remind all nations of this world that abolishing poverty in the 21st century must become a collective international responsibility since human life is not safe in the rich nations if human despair travels in the poor nations. Let us recognize that consequences of global poverty travel across national frontiers without a passport in the form of drugs, AIDS, pollution and terrorism.
Sixth, let us return the United Nations to the people of the world in whose name it was first created. The preamble of the UN, adopted in this very city, in the penthouse of this very hotel, started with the historic words: “We, the People.” And yet the UN was hijacked by the governments and it has become entirely an intergovernmental body where the voice of the people is seldom heard. Even in international conferences and summits, many dark curtains separate NGO representatives from real decision making forums. The time has come, I believe, to raise our voices in favour of a two-chamber General Assembly in the UN, one chamber nominated by the government as at present, and the other chamber elected directly by the people and by institutions of civil society. This will ensure that the voice of the people is heard all the time on all critical issues that affect their future.
There are many more steps one can map out to make our global society more compassionate. I have mentioned only six simple steps which I believe are doable.
But let me state quite clearly: building a compassionate society is not a technocratic exercise. It requires solid ethical and moral foundations. It requires entirely a new way of thinking of ourselves as a human family, not just a collection of nation states. It requires a new concept of human security which is founded on human dignity, not on weapons of war.
In the last analysis, human security means a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, an ethnic tension that did not explode, a dissident who was not silenced, a human spirit that was not crushed.
And the imperatives of this human security have become universal, indivisible, and truly global today. The choice before us is simple, though stark. We can either learn to live together, or we can all die together.
Robert Frost summed up the challenge before us when he said: “Two roads diverged in the wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by And that has made all the difference”.
I hope that we show the courage, and the wisdom, to take the road”less traveled by” as we build up a more compassionate society in the next century.
The inevitable land reforms
Comprehensive land reforms are indispensable for any basic changein Pakistan’s political and economic system. Without such reforms,the nation may remain locked in a virtual political and economic paralysis.Periodic elections will bring little change, as many of the same peoplewill be recycled through the legislatures, whatever their party labelsor affiliations. Major economic reforms will keep waiting, as thefeudal system generally believes in economic patronage rather thanin good governance. Any enlightened social changes will be held hostageto the inherent conservatism of a feudal society.
This does not mean that no change is possible without land reforms.Historic evolutions do not wait for particular events. But there isno question that land reforms can greatly advance the prospects fora constructive change in society – and at a much faster pace.
The recent experience of many other countries is fairly illuminating.Let’s just focus on Asia. South Korea’s spectacular economicadvance in the last three decades was based on land reforms and masseducation. Indian Punjab has beaten Pakistan’s Punjab by a widemargin in raising agricultural yields in the last five decades, principallybecause of meaningful land reforms, widespread education and agriculturalresearch at Ludhiana University. China dismantled its agriculturalcommune system in 1979 – even though the communes did not exploitthe cultivators the way our landlord system does – and the emergenceof owner cultivation and private incentives has increased economicgrowth in China in the last 16 years at a pace which is the envy ofthe world. In most other countries as well, land reforms have beenvital for economic and political change. In Pakistan, land reformsare needed not only to increase incentives for higher production byowner cultivators but also to change the political system.
Pakistan has already made two failed attempts at land reforms. In1959, President Ayub fixed a land ownership ceiling of 500 acres ofirrigated land and 1000 acres of unirrigated land. But a large numberof exemptions were provided for orchards as well as for transfer ofland to heirs. In actual practice, less than 2.5 million acres wereacquired for distribution which benefited roughly 8% of subsistencefarmers. These land reforms failed to loosen the stranglehold of thelandlords on the political and economic system of Pakistan.
Another attempt was made by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1972, when theland ownership ceiling was reduced to 150 acres irrigated and 300acres unirrigated. There were few exemptions allowed and the reformslooked very strong on paper. But their impact was totally dilutedin actual implementation. Much of their land was retained by the landlordsin the name of many family members and sometimes in fictious names.Less than 0.9 million acres of land was acquired for distribution– about one-third of the land acquired in the Ayub reforms.Despite high expectations, the actual results were meager.
What went wrong in each case was not the original intention but thesubsequent implementation. The fatal flaw in both cases was the same:the ruling class that was supposed to implement land reforms was alsothe class that was going to be adversely affected by them. It wastriumph of optimism over experience to think that the ruling landlordclass will commit a collective suicide. This dilemma still hauntsus. It is easier to articulate what needs to be done. It is almostimpossible to identify a realistic way of doing it.
It is necessary today to prepare yet another blue print for comprehensiveland reforms in Pakistan, learning from the experience of other countries.The heart of any such reforms must be the principle that the tillerof the soil must become the real owner of the soil. And the tillermust be supported by a liberal supply of agricultural credit, suitablefertilizer and seeds, correct price incentives, appropriate technologyand adequate marketing facilities so that he can raise his agriculturalyields to international levels.
If all cultivators are to acquire some land, the ceiling for ownershipmust be kept fairly low, considering the existing pressure of populationon land. An upper ceiling of around 12.5 acres for irrigated landwill be quite appropriate in this context. In fact, much lower ceilingshave been adopted in several countries. For rain-fed areas, the ceilingmay have to be 25 acres. These ceilings should apply to family ownershipto prevent holding of large amounts of land in the name of familymembers. It is wrong to believe that commercial farming requires largefarms. In fact, experience shows that small farms have been extremelyproductive in many countries because the tiller can take timely decisions,contrary to an absentee landlord, and the benefits of higher yieldsaccrue directly to him.
At present, over 60% of the agricultural area in Pakistan is in holdingsabove the ceiling of 12.5 acres. Of the 47 million acres of cultivatedland, 32 million acres are in holdings of over 12.5 acres. If landreforms are strictly implemented, millions of haris and mazarehs canbenefit from the distribution of land. What is more, such sweepingland reforms will greatly erode the present overwhelming economicand political power of the rural elite and finally empower the poorpeasantry in the countryside.
Of course, redistribution of land is only the beginning, not the end,of land reforms. Small landowners must be fully supported by government,particularly through liberal credits and technology. They must alsobe given the incentive of international prices, since it makes nosense to offer much higher prices to agricultural producers in foreignlands than to our own producers. No wonder we are becoming dependenton rising agricultural imports.
But a neat plan for land reforms does not guarantee its implementation.How can we persuade legislatures to enact such comprehensive landreforms if the majority of their members come from the rural elite?
There are some indicators of change. To begin with, rural-urban populationbalance is changing fast and there are likely to be more people inthe urban areas in the next few decades that in the rural areas. Theincreasingly impatient urban middle class is going to demand bothland reforms and agricultural taxation, to curb the disproportionatepower of rural aristocracy in political and economic decision making.
To this demographic transition will be added many other forces ofchange: rapid industrialization, economic globalization, border-lessinformation flows, stronger democratic institutions including a freepress and a more vigorous civil society. Such changes take time butthey are often inevitable and irreversible. It is also quite possiblethat new political parties may emerge in Pakistan to demand basicchanges in the present system.
But can we rely on such historic forces? Do we have the time to waitso long in a fast changing world? There are no convincing answersto such troublesome questions. But one thing is certain. Such issuesmust be discussed increasingly by our media and our civil society.Ultimately, it is people, not governments, who are engineering changesall over the world.
Poverty is cancer not flu
(Introductory remarks at the Special Event on Poverty Eradicationarranged by UNDP, 20 May 1997)
Let me welcome you most warmly to a discussion of the second themethis morning. The earlier session has already analyzed the nature,the character and the root causes of persistent poverty. Now we shallbe discovering the mysteries of what policies and programmes reallywork or do not work in reducing poverty and what is the actual experienceof countries which have succeeded in their anti-poverty plans. Let me use the privilege of the Chair to make just a few preliminaryobservations to give some perspective to our subsequent discussion.
First, what is critical for our analysis is poverty of opportunity,not poverty of income. Poverty of income is often the result, povertyof opportunity is often the cause. Poverty of opportunity is a multi-dimensionalconcept, embracing lack of education and health, lack of economicassets, social exclusion and political marginalization. It is onlythrough a full understanding of the poverty of opportunity that wecan begin to sense why people remain poor. In fact, I firmly believethat World Bank’s measure of $1 a day for absolute poverty hasseriously misled policy makers. It has focussed our attention on thesymptoms, not the causes. To ignore the poor upstream and to countthem endlessly downstream is merely an intellectual luxury. Our concepts,our measures, our analyses must deal with poverty of opportunity,not just with poverty of income. That is why I am delighted that the1997 Human Development Report – with which I was associatedas an advisor – makes a major breakthrough in defining and measuringthe multidimensional nature of poverty. It is time to say a finalfarewell to single-dimensional measures of poverty and to adopt amore multi-dimensional view, however inadequate the measurement maybe in the initial stages.
Second, poverty cannot be treated as a mere flu, it is more like bodycancer. We cannot leave intact the model of development that producespersistent poverty and wistfully hope that we can take care of povertydownstream through limited income transfers or discrete poverty reductionprogrammes. If the poor lack critical assets (particularly land),if they lack credit since the formal credit institutions do not bankon them, if they are socially excluded and politically marginalized,then a few technocratic programmes downstream are not the answer.The answer lies in a fundamental change in the very model of developmentso that human capabilities are built up and human opportunities areenlarged. In other words, the real answer lies in a major transitionfrom traditional economic growth models of human development wherepeople become the real agents and beneficiaries of economic growth,and no longer remain an abstract residual of inhuman develop0mentprocesses.
Third, we can all learn a great deal from various successful countryexperiences for poverty reduction. Several countries have reducedthe proportion of their people living in poverty quite dramaticallyin the last two decades – including Malaysia, China, South Koreaand Colombia.
There are many explanations for their successful experiencesbut, for busy policy makers, fervently searching for a few core strategies,it appears that six elements stand out:
Liberal investment in basic education;
Availability of credit to the poor;
A high rate of economic growth, evenly distributed;
People-centered development models, with at least the essential ingredients of women’s empowerment and significant decentralization of decision making powers; and
Good governance, more good governance, and still more good governance.
Take these six core elements, shake them up vigorously, put them ina policy crucible, and it is likely – in fact, it is more thanlikely – that pro-poor growth will come out at the other end.We shall soon discover from our distinguished panel what combinationof various policies and programmes have made the critical differencein their countries.
My fourth and last observation is about the constant debate betweenthose who believe that free markets and good for every one, includingthe poor, and those who advocate judicious state intervention to protectthe poor. I believe that it is time to bury this counterproductivecontroversy. There is no country in the world without some mix ofmarket competition and state intervention. The real challenge is todiscover that happy blend which delivers pro-poor growth. Let us facepolitical realities. Markets are not elected by poor people, governmentsare. Markets can be brutal or indifferent to the needs of the poor,governments cannot be. Markets are there to promote efficiency, asthey should. Equity is none of their concern. But governments cannotignore equity since increasing inequalities can disrupt the politicaland social fabric of a society. So the real answer lies in findinga judicious blend between market competition and state interventionif are to ensure that, while GNP increases, human lives do not shrivel.And in the process, let us also not forget that what finally makesa difference in the lives of the poor are many civil society initiatives– neither governments nor markets.
With these few preliminary observations, let me turn to our distinguishedpanel who are going to present to you some practical experiences inreducing poverty.
What is real VIP culture
The easiest steps have already been taken to abolish the VIP culture:VIP rooms closed, elaborate motorcades abolished, no stoppage of trafficfor important officials, travel in economy class. These are commendablegestures. But the more difficult steps remain.
The real essence of the VIP culture is to take from the poor and giveto the rich, to exploit the many for the benefit of the few. Its reversalcan be easily stated: take from the rich and give to the poor. Thisprinciple is already established in all civilized societies. The daysof exacting a ransom from the poor are over. But Pakistan’sVIP culture continues to take from the poor for the benefit of therich. Its abolition will take more than simple gestures. It callsfor fundamental reforms.
Take, for instance, the present taxation system. The poor pay mostof the indirect taxes. The rich landlords pay no income tax and thepowerful urbanites evade most of their tax liability. Abolition ofVIP culture means putting a hefty tax (at least Rs.25 billion a year)on the landlords and collecting at least twice as much as currentlypaid by the affluent urban class. These additional tax revenues canthen be used to lighten the burden of indirect taxes (particularly,reduction in the presently high rate of sales tax), to provide moresocial services (especially education, health, safe drinking water),to make available subsidised foodgrains to the poor, and to reducegovernment borrowings and inflationary pressures which are crushingthe fixed income groups.
Take the credit system. The banks (particularly, the nationalizedbanks) take their chance only on the rich and the powerful. They hardlyever lend to the poor. There are Rs.130 billion of stuck-up loansin the nationalized banks and the DFIs. The rich have exploited thesystem for their own benefit. There is no Grameen Bank, as in Bangladesh,which would lend small amounts to the poor for income earning activities,without giving any subsidy, and showing a recovery rate of 98 percent. The popular myth is that the rich are creditworthy, the poorare not. But the reality is that the rich have stolen most of themoney from the government-owned banks and we have never banked onthe poor. The abolition of VIP culture means recovering all the stuck-uploans from the rich and the politically powerful and to start a Grameen-typeBank for the poor.
Take the allotment of urban plots. It has been the tradition of everygovernment to allot expensive urban plots to the influential classesat far below market rates, thereby transferring substantial windfallgains to a few. Such largesse must run into billions of rupees duringthe last decade alone. (Some enterprising researcher should make arough estimate). On the other hand, successive governments have donelittle to give urban plots to the poor, to build low-cost housingfor low-income groups, to upgrade Katchi Abadies and urban slums.The abolition of VIP culture means cancelling the past allotmentsof urban plots to a small urban elite, to collect from them the prevailingmarket price of those plots (otherwise the plots should be confiscatedand auctioned), and to use the billions of rupees thus collected toprovide low-cost housing and subsidized plots to the poor urban dwellers.
Take even the matter of government expenditure on Haj and Umaras fortop officials and influential people. It runs into vast sums everyyear compared to a paltry Rs.20 million given each year from the budget(author5ized since 1985) to finance Haj for low-income governmentservants through balloting. The abolition of VIP culture means abolishingall Haj and Umaras for the affluent class at government expense andto use the savings to finance more of such facilities for all lower-incomegroups.
These examples can be multiplied in every walk of life. Our VIP culturehas created an affluent rentier class which pre-empts most of thepatronage of the state. If we are really serious about abolishingthe VIP culture, the patronage of the state should go to the poor,not the rich and government allocations should be guided by competitionand merit, not by influence and contacts.
The VIP culture concerns not only allocations of government’spatronage, it is also about arrogance of feudal power, about disregardof the laws of the land, about totally arbitrary decisions by thosein power. Each time the corrupt escape accountability, each time somehonest officials are transferred or punished without even a formalcharge sheet, each time the government adopts different rules forthose in power from those out of power, each time that citizens aredenied equal justice, it is a blatant abuse of power. The VIP cultureis not a VIP room: it is feudal mentality, it is exercise of arbitrarypower; it is a deeply-ingrained attitude.
The illustrations given above still do not touch more fundamentalreforms. For example, over two-thirds of the land ownership is concentratedin the hands of a few feudal families. A non-VIP culture can be createdonly through sweeping land reforms which return the ownership of landto the actual cultivator. There is an embarrassing divide today betweenthe haves and the have-nots, and the social lava may be about to burst.The VIP culture can be abolished only by improving the present distributionof income and sharing of the benefits of growth Pakistan’s politicsin dominated today by the culture of money. Abolition of VIP culturerequires abolition of money politics so that a new b reed of honestand committed people can emerge on the political scene.
It is the feudal power structure which is at the heart of the currentVIP culture in Pakistan. It does not get reformed or abolished byabolishing VIP rooms. If the aim is to abolish the real VIP culture,we have hardly begun.
The nuclear race in South Asia
(This was the last public address of Dr. Haq at the North SouthRoundtable Conference in Maryland, June 27 1998)
It will come to you as no surprise that I fully endorse the thesisthat there should be a genuine commitment by the existing nuclearpowers to a concrete timetable for nuclear disarmament. The recentand unfortunate nuclear tests by India and Pakistan should be seenas part of this problem, not isolated from this international commitmentto nuclear disarmament.
Having stated my agreement with these central propositions, what elseI have to say to you in the contest of the India-Pakistan nucleararms race may come to you as somewhat of a shock. I would like totake you into confidence about this issue, since I have been closelyassociated with it, and suggest a concrete strategy as to how we getout of this present mess.
Let me first state my credentials on this issue. I have passionatelyand firmly opposed nuclear tests by both India and Pakistan duringthe past two months and have written extensively on this subject.I have argued that India’s nuclear test was a blunder, not somuch a threat to its neighbor’s security but to the human securityof its own people. I have argued that it should be a matter of nopride for the two countries that powerful nuclear weapons are parkedin their bunkers while hungry, powerless people are parked on theircity pavements. I have argued that nuclear explosions are not goingto save these nations, but that social and economic explosions maydestroy them. I have argued that defense expenditures are alreadylarge and heavy (12 billion dollars a year, twice that of Saudi Arabia’sarm procurement and with six times as many soldiers) and can get outof hand. Even a freeze of the arms race can finance a major part ofthe social agendas of both India and Pakistan. I have also argued,for good recourse, that we have seen this senseless blend before of”vast human deprivation combined with a vast nuclear arsenal”in the Soviet Union, with not very reassuring results.
I have written that no desperately poor nation has ever become a greatsuperpower merely by exploding a nuclear bomb; the route to economicand political greatness is a difficult one. I do not defend the irrationalityexpressed on this issue; I greatly condemn it.
However, what concerns me even more today is the hysterical and hypocriticalWestern response to these nuclear explosions. I find this currentstrategy, if there is one, is totally confused, largely immoral, highlycounterproductive and plainly stupid. So let me take you behind thescenes, share some candid thoughts with you and suggest a possibleconstructive strategy.
First, let me tell you why Pakistan reacted with nuclear test explosions,for it is an indictment of the lack of a Western strategy, not anindictment of Pakistan’s irresponsibility. After India’snuclear tests in early May, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistanarmy debated whether or not to conduct their own nuclear tests andI am convinced they were resolved not to test as long as they couldbe provided with the right security assurances. I argued at the timethat Pakistan had a golden opportunity to benefit from India’smistake by holding back from nuclear tests, but insisting on concretesecurity guarantees from the United States, and end to the discriminatorysanctions by which Pakistan was denied advanced US military technologysince 1990, and assurances that the Kashmir dispute could be resolvedby international mediation. In fact, the Pakistan government beganto explore three packages in which, if it abstained from nuclear tests,it could be provided with US security guarantees to protect it fromany threat of attack by a nuclear-capable India. However, after severalweeks of negotiations, no viable package was ever offered by PresidentBill Clinton’s administration, and the best option Pakistanwas presented with was merely a promise to review the Pressler amendmentwhich had served as the basis of the US sanctions. The result waspredictable: On May 28, and again on May 30, Pakistan exercised itsoption to test unclear arms. But for those tests, I believe, the Westdeserves sanctions, not Pakistan.
Second, what amazes and greatly enrages me is the hypocrisy of existingnuclear powers on this issue. The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty(NPT) involved a two-part commitment: one by non-nuclear states torefrain from acquiring nuclear weapons, and another by the existingfive nuclear powers – the US, Russia, China, France and Britain– to eliminate gradually their own nuclear arsenals. The lattercommitment, naturally, never was honored. The nuclear powers, in short,have violated their own commitments for 30 years, but they sit inindignant moral judgment on countries that have violated the sameagreements for fewer than three months.
I am simply amazed by the hypocrisy of those who still control 30,000nuclear bombs to condemn the existence of a few in the hands of Indiaand Pakistan. I am simply outraged by the arrogance of those who believethat there is a God-given right for nuclear apartheid and that GodHimself drew a line in the sand in 1967 that those who had explodedbombs before that date were the good guys and that those who wereto do so later were nuclear tyrants and pariah nations destined toburn in Hell forever.
I am puzzled by the attitude of much of the international community,such as France and China, against India and Pakistan. India and Pakistanmay in fact have done the international community a favour by raisingthe stakes in not undertaking nuclear disarmament, reminding the worldthat commitment remains unfulfilled, and serving a warning that morenations may take this route unless the fundamental issue of nucleardisarmament is tackled first.
Third, the current predicament illustrates the bankruptcy of the existingWestern disarmament strategy of economic sanctions against nuclearviolators. Why destroy a region where you must have greater stabilityby imposing sanctions? Why, in doing so, lose your leverage to encouragethose countries now to adopt more responsible nuclear policies? Engagementwith India and Pakistan need not mean endorsement of their nucleartests. In fact, engagement in this case could help prevent these desperatelypoor nations from considering the sale of their nuclear technology,and would help to prevent any debt defaults arising from sanctionswhich could push them to carry out such sales. Also, as it is, sanctionsdo not bite. In Pakistan’s experience, sanctions – inthe form of the Pressler amendment – could even be considereda gift, since the lack of US-supplied military technology encouragedPakistan to develop its own facilities.
The West’s strategy is also bankrupt in its failure to recognizenew countries joining the nuclear club as nuclear powers. No gate-crashingis allowed, they have made clear. But that policy has made the Westernpowers slow in understanding reality, as they were when CommunistChina first acquired unclear arms in the 1960s. They try to avoiddialogue with nuclear-capable states, but dialogue is exactly whatis needed.
What could be sensible nuclear strategy for these powers? I contendthat they should admit India and Pakistan as members of the nuclearclub, and then compel them to comply as nuclear states with the termsof the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.The nuclear states could then begin to draw up the first timetablefor nuclear disarmament. The existing five nuclear powers could alsowarn India and Pakistan about the risks of nuclear confrontation,and invest real political capital into trying to resolve their outstandingdisputes so as to avoid that confrontation. After all, the crisisin South Asia is as grave as any in the Middle East, Northern Irelandor Bosnia-Herzegovina, just as with those crises, the United Statesshould respond by high-level mediation and visits by the US president.What the Western powers need to do, in short, is to help South Asiamove from a nuclear arms race to a human development race, involvingregional bodies like SAARC.
Finally, we need to go far beyond calls for nuclear disarmament andhave more practical package for global negotiations. We need a newNon-Proliferation Treaty; a new code of conduct for arms transfers;a new commitment to discourage arms spending, including less officialdevelopmental assistance and fewer export subsidies going to nationswhich concentrate their scarce resources on military spending.
We need more transparency including better compliance with the UNArms Registry; more open procurement practices; monitoring of corruptionin arms sales, perhaps by groups like Transparency International;and IMF and World Bank involvement in ensuring that military debtsand expenditures are accurately reflected and analyzed.
Finally, we need a civil society movement for decreased arms spendingin less developed economies, particularly on conventional arms, andthe diversion of those funds to development purposes. Perhaps withsuch a strategy in place, we can stop not just the nuclear madnessbut the insanity of arms races in poor countries in general, and finallyconcentrate on the urgent task of improving peoples’ lives.
System is to blame for the 22 wealthy families
(Article published in ‘The London Times’, March 22, 1973)
Five years ago I made a speech alleging that 22 industrial familygroups had come to dominate the economic and financial life of Pakistanand that they controlled about two-thirds of industrial assets, 80per cent of banking and 79 percent insurance.
At that time, Pakistan was still living through a period of greateuphoria. President Ayub was completing his tenth term in office andthe country was cheerfully celebrating his first decade of development.Pakistan had undoubtedly done extremely well economically under PresidentAyub’s pragmatic leadership and almost all key economic indicatorspointed to a fast rate of expansion. The growth rate in the grossnational product had been nearly 6 per cent a year for a decade anda healthy export performance of 8 per cent a year had defied manypredictions.
However, some of us who were living closely with the economic managementof the country had already begun to develop our doubts about the long-termviability of such a pattern of growth. While the world was still applaudingPakistan as a model of development – since outside donors alwaysneed some success stories for their own comfort – we were gettingquite concerned that all was not well with the distribution of benefitsof growth.
Some of the indices were fairly disturbing. The real disparity inthe per capita incomes of East and West Pakistan had more than doubledduring this decade even though we were reluctant to admit it publicly.The real wages of the industrial workers, concentrated in a few keyurban areas had been reduced by about a third by a combination ofinflation and weak bargaining power of the unions. Personal incomeinequalities had increased substantially.
It was evident that most people had remained unaffected by the forcesof economic change since the development had fast become warped infavour of a privileged minority.
One can best illustrate this imbalance by looking at the distributionof certain public and private services. From 1958 to1968 Pakistanimported or domestically assembled private cars worth $300 millionwhile spending only $20 million on buses. During the same period,about 80 per cent to 90 per cent of private construction can onlybe described as luxury housing.
It was in these circumstances that I tried to focus national attentionon justice in the distribution of wealth in the midst of celebrationover a rapid rate of growth. I say this with no desire for self-vindicationbecause I recall how painful a decision it was. I was chief economistof the National Planning Commission and much of what I had to saywas an indictment of the economic policies of the Government duringa period in which I was intimately associated with planned development.
It was little surprise to me that the mention of 22 families in thatatmosphere was treated as a bombshell, both by a stunned Governmentand by the private sector in Pakistan. It is most annoying to questionsuccess right in the midst of it. What surprises me, however, is thatin the past five years there has been so little analysis of the basicissues inherent in Pakistan’s industrial and economic situationand so little action despite all the hysteria about the 22 families.This has been disappointing because references to 22 families shouldonly be treated as symbolic of the basic problems of income distributionand social justice in Pakistan.
A myth has spread by now that the 22 families own all the wealth inPakistan. This is simply not true. The problem must be viewed in itsproper perspective. The modern industrial sector was, at most, 10per cent of the national product of Pakistan in 1968 (including EastPakistan) and now is about 15 per cent of the national product ofWest Pakistan. Even if the 22 families control two-thirds of the industrialassets in the modern sector – and the word is control, not own– it still represents a rather limited control over total wealthin Pakistan.
The distinction, unfortunately, was lost in the heated discussionsof the past five years. What is more, it was not so much the concentrationof income and wealth in the hands of a few industrial family groupswhich raised fundamental questions of policy. Such a concentrationwas probably inevitable in the initial stages of development and togive them their due, the early entrepreneurs did an excellent jobof rapid industrialization. What gave us real cause for anxiety wasthe growing collusion between industrial and financial interests sothat a few family groups had come to acquire control over basic economicdecision making.
For all practical purposes, the 22 families had become by 1968 boththe planning commission and the ministry of finance for the privatesector. They preempted most investment permits, import licenses, foreigncredits and government patronage because they controlled or influencedmost of the decision-making forums handing out such permissions. Theyhad virtually established a stranglehold on the system and were ina position to keep out any new entrepreneurs.
The 22 families were a by-product of government policies and a primitivecapitalistic system. The Government did not have the courage to changethe company law of 1913 under which the industrial sector of Pakistanwas still being governed in 1968. This antiquated framework of capitalismpermitted the industrial sector to have managing agencies, cartels,trusts and all other anti-social practices aimed at cheating boththe consumer and the Government, The latter became both a consciousand unconscious ally of the private industrialists by giving themgenerous protection, excessive tax concessions, explicit and hiddensubsidies, and representation on many decision making forums.
If we are to evaluate properly the role of the 22 families in Pakistan,we must see it in the perspective of the capitalist system that thecountry has evolved over time. In blunt terms, Pakistan’s capitalistsystem is still one of the most primitive in the world. Under it economicfeudalism prevails. A handful of people, whether landlords or industrialistsor bureaucrats, make all the basic decisions and the system oftenworks simply because there is an alliance between various vested interests.
Unfortunately, most of the criticism of the 22 families in the pastfive years has been directed to individual family groups rather thanto the reform of the basic framework of capitalism. The present Governmenthas introduced some limited reforms by abolishing the managing agencysystem and introducing a more progressive labour policy as well asby taking away management though not ownership, of certain key industries.However, these are rather small patches on a thoroughly rotten fabricof a primitive and feudal economic system. What is required is a fairlydrastic surgery if a move towards a more enlightened and sociallyresponsible capitalism is to be made.
Pakistan badly needs to broaden the base of its economic and politicalpower to evolve a development strategy that reaches out to the bulkof the population; and to innovate a new lifestyle which is more consistentwith its own poverty and its stage of development. This is not goingto be easy because in the past, modernization was foisted on a basicallyfeudal structure in which political participation was often denied,growth of responsible institutions stifled and free speech curbed,and where all economic and political power gravitated towards a smallminority.
There is not much that can be done to save development from beingwarped in favour of a few in a system like this unless the basic premisesof the system are changes. The new constituency of peasants, labourand students that President Bhutto hopes to fashion has still nottaken shape. Unless there is such a new constituency, unless the existingpower structure is drastically shaken, there is not much of a mandateor instrument available for radical change.
The slogan of 22 families, therefore, has been rather overdone inPakistan and taken too literally, At times, it has become a convenientcamouflage for action against a few individual industrialists ratherthan reforming the economic, as well as social and political institutions.This is sad because the 22 families are a symptom, not a cause. Thebasic problem is not the 22 families, individually or collectively,but the system that created them, And it is time that Pakistan lookedto the basic causes of its problems and not merely to the symptoms.
HDC Report Launches
Human Development in South Asia (1997 Report)
(Introductory speech at the launch of HDSA ’97 in Islamabad, 9 April 1997)
We are presenting to you today the first Report on Human Developmentin South Asia 1997. This Report has been prepared by the Human DevelopmentCentre over the course of the last one year. The Report was preparedin close collaboration with UNDP and I do wish to express my sincerethanks to Nay Htun for his consistent support and encouragement, toRobert England for his help at every step, and to UNDP Resident Representativesin SAARC nations for their substantive support with background materialsand data for this Report. I am grateful to my good friend Nay Htunfor the statement he has just delivered on behalf of UNDP. And I sincerelythank Mr. Wasim Sajjad for agreeing to be our Chief Guest for thislaunching ceremony. Mr. Wasim Sajjad is not only a leading thinkerand outstanding intellectual in our country, we are extremely proudand honored that he is a distinguished member of the National AdvisoryBoard of the Human Development Centre.
The basic message of our Report is a profoundly disturbing one. SouthAsia has emerged by now as the poorest, the most illiterate, the mostmalnourished and the least gender-sensitive region in the world. Thegovernments of South Asia have made very little investment in providingthe basic social services of education and health to their 1.2 billionpeople. The region is ill prepared to enter the global competitionof the 21st century. This is the blunt truth which is not yet beingfaced by the policy makers of the South Asia region, nor adequatelyrecognized by members of the international community.
But the basic objective of our report is not to shock, but to persuadepolicy makers to take urgent steps to correct the present situation.The South Asia region has enormous development potential. If sufficientinvestment is made in human development, if the overall policy frameworkis liberalized and rationalized, if some fundamental institutionalreforms are carried out, South Asia can become the East Asia of the21st century. This will require a very solid, patient effort, spreadover a long period of time. Today, the South Asia region has to facethe challenge of completely restructuring its development priorities.
Let me first start with a brief outline of the scale of human deprivationin South Asia. Nearly one-half of the world’s illiterates and40 percent of the world’s poor live in South Asia. Out of atotal population of 1.2 billion, around 500 million people are inthe category of absolute poor, surviving on less than one dollar aday. More than one-half of the adults are illiterate, and over one-fourthof the total population does not have access to even a simple dailynecessity like clean drinking water.
The burden of this human deprivation falls heavily on children andwomen. About 85 million children in South Asia have never seen theinside of a school. An estimated 134 million children lose their verychildhood, working long hours in inhuman conditions, many workingfor an average wage of only 8 U.S. cents a day. Half of the world’smalnourished children live in South Asia.
The situation of women is even more shocking. It is summed up in adisturbing comparison in the Report. South Asia is the only regionwhere men outnumber women. While there are 106 women to 100 men inthe rest of the world, since biologically women outlive men, in SouthAsia the ratio is exactly the reverse: only 94 women to 100 men. About74 million women are simply ‘missing’ in South Asia –the unfortunate victims of social and economic neglect from cradleto grave. Adult female literacy is only one half of male literacy.Female literacy rate is only 36 percent in South Asia compared toan average of 55 percent in the developing world. South Asia has thelowest ratio of female administrators and managers – only 3percent compared to 20 percent in Latin America. And such indicesof gender disparity persist in a region where four out of seven countries(namely, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) can boast of afemale head of government at present or in the recent past.
The many shocking statistics and disturbing graphs given in the Reportare sufficient to shatter the complacency of policy makers in SouthAsia and the relatively detached attitude of the international community.If South Asia slowly disintegrates, it will not only be a catastrophefor its teeming millions, it will be a global tragedy as well. Thescale of this human tragedy will be far more extensive than anythingwitnessed in Somalia, Rwanda or Burundi in recent years.
However, the Report is not pessimistic about the future of South Asia.In fact, it offers a new vision of hope. The real wealth of this regionare its people. If sufficient investment is made in these people,they can radically change the development prospects of South Asiain the 21st century.
The Report presents a blueprint for such an investment plan for basicsocial services over the next 15 years. If such a plan is implementedby all SAARC nations, then they will be able to provide universalprimary education, basic health care for all, safe drinking waterfor the entire population, adequate nutrition for malnourished children,family planning services for at least 80 per cent of married couples,and new credit institutions for the poor to create self-employmentopportunities.
Such a package of measures is expected to cost an average of $ 8.6billion a year during the next 15 years, or an additional 1.6 percent combined GNP of South Asia, assuming that GNP grows by a percent a year. While this is a significant cost, it is certainly notunrealistic. The Report points out several ways that such a packageof basic social services can be financed.
First, the SAARC leaders can agree on a compact to reduce their defencespending in line with the rest of the world and earmark the resourcesthus released for urgent social priority needs. If military spendingis cut, for instance, by 5 per cent a year in real terms, it can generatea peace dividend of around $ 8 billion a year and can finance mostof the basic social services packages. Thus, if the South Asian countriesdisplay the required statesmanship and vision, and if they find apeaceful solution to their outstanding disputes, they can radicallytransform the development prospects of the region.
Second, the Report recommends that South Asian countries should retiretheir expensive domestic debts by privatizing their public assetsthrough international markets. The servicing of these domestic debtsis now taking away 5 to 6 per cent of GNP. If this debt servicingis considerably reduced, or wiped off altogether, the current budgetsfor education and health can be more than doubled.
Third, tremendous dynamism and creative energy is building up by nowin non-government organizations and at the grassroots level. The Reportcites many examples of successful civil society initiatives in variousSAARC nations. If their governments lends a supporting hand, theseNGOs and private initiatives can provide social services at the grassroots level in a very cost-effective manner.
The Report recommends that the forthcoming SAARC Summit in the Maldivesin early May 1997 should direct their governments to prepare a concreteplan of action for priority human investments over the next 15 years,along with a realistic financing strategy. The Report also suggeststhat the SAARC Summit should invite the most prominent thinkers ofthe region to form an unofficial commission to produce a report ona new vision for South Asia in the 21st century.
Let me conclude by saying that this is just the first report on HumanDevelopment in South Asia prepared by our Centre in a series thatwill be continued every year. If this Report succeeds in stimulatinga major debate on human development issues in the South Asia region,it would have served its purpose.
Let us face it. We in this region are not the hapless victims of fate.We can shape our own destiny. After all, human destiny is a matterof choice, not chance. Our report outlines the choices that we allcan make – and we all must make. On those choices will dependthe future of South Asia.
The Education Challenge in South Asia (1998 Report)
(Introductory speech at the launch of HDSA ’98 in New Delhi, 4April 1998)
It is a great privilege for me to launch the 1998 Report on “HumanDevelopment in South Asia” in India this morning. We are veryfortunate in having Honorable I.K. Gujral as our Chief Guest. Mr.Gujral is one of those rare individuals who are even more valuableoutside government than inside. His clear vision, outstanding intellectualleadership, and deep commitment to human development issues make hima great asset for the entire international community.
Let me also thank Dr. Brenda McSweeny for her great help and supportin our intellectual enterprise. We all get inspired by Brenda’sunabashed enthusiasm and intellectual courage. We have prepared ourReport in close collaboration with UNDP, though I would like to makeit clear that UNDP bears no responsibility for the views expressedin our Report. The Report is a totally independent exercise of theHuman Development Centre, a regional policy think-tank based in Islamabad.
Our first Report on Human Development in South Asia 1997 was releasedalmost a year ago here in New Delhi. The central message of our 1997Report was simple but powerful. The key challenge for South Asia wasto travel the vast distance between its performance and its promise.On the one hand, South Asia had emerged as the poorest region in theworld. One the other, it had all the potential to become the mostdynamic region in the twenty-first century, if there was massive investmentin human development. We therefore, proposed a set of policy strategiesfor the countries in the region to implement a human development agenda– a concrete plan of action that would allow the region to reachits true development potential by earmarking another 1.6 per centof its combined income to this priority task.
The response to our 1997 Repot, both in India as well as in the restof South Asia and internationally, far exceeded our expectations.It came as a rude shock to the South Asia policy-makers and to theglobal community that the South Asian region had slipped behind allother regions of the world, including Sub-Saharan Africa, in its humandevelopment levels. Even more encouraging for us was the responseof the civil society in South Asia, particularly the extensive coveragein the local media, which did not allow policy-makers to forget theurgent message of human development.
The 1997 Report made it clear to the world that the real challengeof human development lay in this, the most populous, region of theworld. And to meet this development challenge, the Report stressedthat the two most critical components would be first, basic educationfor all; and second, relevant technical skills. It is these themeswhich are now the focus of our 1998 Report. We ask, and then try toanswer, how South Asia can emerge as a dynamic, egalitarian, and prosperoussociety in the twenty-first century, and how basic education for alland relevant technical skills can be at the forefront of such a developmentrevolution.
Our exploration of South Asia’s bleak educational wastelandin this year’s Report turns up some extremely disturbing facts.One in two adults is illiterate. One in three primary-school age childrenis not attending school. Two in five children drop out of primaryschool before completing their studies. Only one in fifty secondary-schoolage children enrolls in technical or vocational programmes.
But the basic objective of our report is not merely to rattle theskeletons in South Asia’s educational closet. Our purpose isto convince people that universal primary education for all in thenext five years is an achievable reality, not a utopian vision. Andto ensure that politicians and policy makers realize that they notonly can, but they must act immediately to end the region’sshameful neglect of basic education.
Let me start with a brief outline of the bleak education scenarioin much of South Asia, except in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. SouthAsia has now emerged as the most illiterate region in the world, withabout 400 million illiterate adults, nearly one-half of the worldtotal. Over three out of every five illiterate adults have a woman’sface. And, despite some progress made over the last few decades, thecurrent generation of students does not have a bright future either.There are 50 million children not attending primary school, over two-fifthsof the world total. Another 60 million children drop out of primaryschool each year. If all children have to be placed in primary schoolsin the next five years, it involves an additional number exceedingthe total population of the United Kingdom today.
There is yet another cause for alarm. The schools in South Asia havefailed to teach the basic skills needed for a productive and usefullife to even those children who do enroll. The evidence assembledin the Report indicates that many of South Asia’s multi-lingual,multi-age, multi-grade classrooms are nothing short of a multipledisaster zone. A survey in Pakistan found that over 80 per cent ofprimary school completers could not write a simple letter. Nine outof ten girls taking the School Leaving Certificate examination inNepal failed the test. In fact, the time available for learning inSouth Asia is sometimes a quarter of the level in the educationalhigh-achievers of East Asia: a recent UNICEF study in Dhaka revealedthat the annual classroom contact time in Bangladesh in grade onewas only 384 hours compared to about three times that much in Chinaand Indonesia.
The Report clearly shows that the burden of educational deprivationfalls most heavily on girls and women. With an adult female literacyrate of only 36 per cent, the lowest in the world, South Asia is enteringthe 21st century with 243 million illiterate women, who representtwo-third of its total adult female population. The gender gap inprimary enrolment is 19 percentage points in South Asia compared toonly 5 percentage points in developing countries. Girls spend, onaverage, only one-third as much time in school as boys. Less thanone-third of the teachers at primary level are females in South Asiacompared to an average of one-half in the developing world.
The findings in the Report also suggest the need for drastic reformin South Asia’s technical and vocational education policies.Present vocational and technical education programmes in South Asiaare often inadequate, irrelevant, and qualitatively poor. Less than5 per cent of the total educational budgets in South Asia are devotedto technical education. Consequently, only 1.6 per cent of childrenat the secondary level are enrolling for technical education, comparedto over six times that percentage in East Asia and fifteen times inLatin America. Not only is enrolment low, but about half of the studentsdrop out before completing their studies. Even the fortunate few whocomplete their education are often not rewarded when they enter thelabour market: over half fail to get a job at the end of their training.As a result, South Asia is a technical wasteland, often stuck withtechnologies of the past, instead of focusing on new technologiesof computer software, electronics, and informatics, for which thereis an expanding global demand.
The many shocking statistics and disturbing graphs in the 1998 Reportare sufficient to shatter the complacency of policy-makers in SouthAsia and the relatively detached attitude of the international community.But the report is not pessimistic about the future of South Asia.In fact, it offers a new vision of hope. The real wealth of this regionare its people. If sufficient investment is made in these people,they can radically change the development prospects of South Asiain the twenty-first century. The Report analyses the three great developmentwaves in Asia, starting from Japan in the 1940s and 1950s, spreadingto the East Asian industrializing tigers in the 1960s and 1970s, andemerging in China in the 1980s and 1990s. Each time, the developmentmodel was based on basic education for all, modern technical skills,open economies, fast growth accompanied by good distribution, andstrong, accountable institutions of good governance. South Asia canemerge as the next economic frontier but only if it builds up itshuman capital and adopts sound policies for accelerating its economicgrowth, treating globalization as an opportunity not a threat.
The Report presents a concrete five-year plan for ensuring universalprimary education in South Asia. This will require providing schoolfacilities for an additional 65 million children and training 2 millionadditional teachers over the next five years. More importantly, theReport shows that such an ambitious educational agenda can be implementedby assigning only one billion dollars each year in recurrent expenditure– less than 0.3 per cent of the region’s annual combinedGNP. Even if capital expenditure is included, the total additionalcost will be less than one per cent of GNP – a real bargainfor South Asia, considering the huge pay-off.
The Report points out several realistic financial strategies thatcan finance this education package. Almost all the required resourcescan be provided simply by restructuring existing budgetary prioritiesin South Asia. First, even a freeze on current military spending (atcurrent prices) will release more than enough resources to attainthe target of universal primary education. Current military spendinglevels are extremely high, particularly in India and Pakistan. Ifmilitary spending levels are cut by 5 per cent a year over the nextfive years, it cold release about $22 billion as peace dividend –over four times what is required for the goal of universal primaryeducation.
Second, South Asian countries can free themselves from crippling domesticdebt burdens by privatizing their public assets quickly and efficiently.These domestic debts consume 5 to 6 per cent of their GNP, which canbe spent instead on balancing budgets. The slowest, the most hesitant,the most bureaucratic privatization in the world is presently takingplace in South Asia. It is time to speed it up.
Third, there must be a major restructuring of existing allocationpriorities in the education budgets of South Asia, with the bulk ofresources devoted to providing basic education, closing gender gapsin primary education, and imparting technical training. The currentbias in favour of higher education must be reversed: private initiativesto provide high-quality university education should be encouraged,with liberal state scholarships and student loans, and fiscal incentivesto business community to create tax-free education endowments. Atleast 70 per cent of education budget allocations should be earmarkedfor primary education compared to less than 50 per cent now. SouthAsia has excelled in building inverted pyramids of education in thepast, concentrating state resources on higher education for a fewrather than basic education for all. It is time to correct the architectureof these pyramids.
Fourth, foreign donors should be requested to allocate a higher percentageof their funds to basic education and technical training: at present,only 9 per cent of external assistance to South Asia is allocatedfor human priority needs. This is less than half of what needs tobe done in the spirit of the 20:20 compact endorsed at the 1995 WorldSummit for Social Development. If South Asian governments are willingto devote more resources to the goal of basic education for all, theinternational community must also be willing to support these efforts.
Community participation is an integral part of the Report’sfive-year plan for universalizing primary education. New and innovativepartnerships between central and local government, non-governmentalorganizations, and local communities are vital. The Report stressesthat any plan to extend universal primary education by the year 2003will not succeed unless major reliance is placed on non-formal education.With flexible school hours, local teachers, and active parental involvement,non-formal schools succeed in meeting the needs of local communitiesrather than distant central planners. Non-formal education is alsoextremely cost-effective. For example, a non-formal school in Pakistancosts less than 2 per cent of the capital costs of a formal school,and can be built in less than a month compared to an average start-uptime of two years for a formal school in a new building. The unitcost per student of running a non-formal school is generally lessthan one-half that of a formal school. Non-formal education is notthe second-best option; often, it is the only realistic option available.
The Report also suggests a revolutionary new strategy for mainstreamingvocational training in the formal educational system. The key elementsin a comprehensive programme of reform are measures to ensure theequivalency of degrees from technical stream at the secondary level;comprehensive surveys to link technical training to the requirementsof the job market; the extension of technical education to neglectedgroups, particularly women and children in rural areas; special taxincentives to encourage the business community to provide technicalskills; and the creation of tripartite councils between governments,private sector firms, and labour unions to identify technical skillsand design relevant training programmes. The Report indicates thatSouth Asia faces the promising opportunity of combining its cheaplabour with modern technological skills taking over the global marketsin the export of low-and medium-tech consumer goods to the expandingmiddle class in the world.
The Report stresses that, ultimately, the key ingredient for educationalsuccess is always political commitment. When governments have shownthe political will to make an investment in basic education, the resultshave been spectacular. The experiences of Sri Lanka, the Maldives,Bangladesh in recent years, and the Indian Sate of Kerala clearlyshow how solid political resolve can lead to rapid education revolutions.The Report suggests several key steps that South Asia’s politicalleaders can take to express their commitment to the goal of basiceducation for all. These include: enacting and strictly enforcingcompulsory education legislation; decentralizing the administrativestructure for managing primary education; and making constitutionalprovision that funds for attaining the goal of universal primary educationwill be treated as the ‘first claim’ on budgetary resources.
However, the Report points out that political commitment is not merelya matter of a few concrete steps; it is a matter of deep convictions.When such convictions are missing, brilliant technocratic blueprintsmay not produce tangible results. The evidence amassed in the Reportclearly indicates that the time has come for South Asian leaders tomake a concerted effort to provide universal primary education. SouthAsia’s children cannot – and must not – be forcedto wait any longer.
I have presented here only the regional picture of South Asia in theglobal context. In a little while, Khadija Haq will briefly summarizethe conclusions of the Report about India.
Let me conclude by saying that while we intend to take the messagesin our Report to all South Asian nations and all South Asian people– to the public, to NGOs and community organizations, to internationaldonors and the national media, to teachers and students – thereal challenge outlined in this report is for the politicians andpolicy makers of South Asia. And the challenge for policy makers isthis: to devise and implement strategies that unleash the creativepotential of one-quarter of humanity. Extending basic education forall and creating relevant technical skills are the keys to meetingthis challenge. South Asia is fast approaching a historic watershed.It can realize the promise of a new dawn in the twenty-first century.Or it can disintegrate into anarchy and confusion, ‘Human history’,as H. G. Wells remarked a few decades ago, ‘becomes more and morea race between education and catastrophe’. Our hope is thatthis Report forces the policy makers of South Asia to analyze thischoice as objectively and honestly as possible.