The News – Reforms and the poverty trap

Kamila Hyat

Op/Ed, 13 June 2019. Pakistan struggles with many problems. The new budget may result in more as inflation hits households. In our media-generated frenzy over current events, we sometimes forget how the lives people live are central to their individual struggles.

Poverty is the biggest struggle for many. It holds back access to quality education, to housing, to healthcare, to opportunity and to so much else.

The essential structures that can best enable people to escape poverty, by equalising the field and providing them an environment in which the rule of law prevails, where access to justice is even and education alongside a social welfare net is available to all simply does not exist.

Whereas Pakistanis are, according to international monitoring groups, one of the highest givers of charity among all nations, with Rs 240 billion given out in 2018 and a larger sum expected this year, the reality is that these donations by those who possess good will and generosity really achieve very little.

They may for a very short period benefit an individual family, but this does not last long.

These dynamics of charity are all the more true given that we have been unable to regularise it and ensure donations to organisations, which can in at least some cases make a real long term difference in lives. We believe in charity, both because of tradition and religious convictions.

Perhaps because of our rooting in this, we fail to look at figures which show that charity, whether in the form of donations from within the country or external aid poured into a nation from outside in the end makes very little difference.

Today, one in every four Pakistanis lives in poverty, surviving on less than $1.90 per day. There are others who hover only marginally above this line.

The Economic Survey 2018 shows some improvement over the decades, but it is not enough. Forty-four percent of children in the country are stunted and levels of wasting with an impact on mental development are almost as extreme. We do not need figures to understand poverty and suffering.

Reports in the media say that people this year, confronted with rising food price inflation which currently at 8.51 percent, one of the highest in years, were forced to break their fasts in Ramazan with nothing more than roti and water. Others live in circumstances of constant malnutrition month after month and year after year. Women and children suffer most.

As a nation, we have not been able to provide our people enough food, leave alone other needs. Safe water is even more difficult for them to obtain. The improvements noted by the Economic Survey have come essentially as a result of frequently discredited poverty alleviation programmes, notably the Benazir Income Support Programme.

This is a suggestion that state assistance can play an essential role in enabling people to escape poverty, even though the BISP scheme is far from ideal and has many flaws.

As the government launches a new scheme under its Ehsaas Programme to offer people food rations and aid in other forms, it is important to understand how poverty can best be tackled. In the first place, reports by prestigious international organisations that World Bank and IMF programmes, which are presently dictating policies in Pakistan, often hurt the interests of the poor rather than protecting them.

The requirements laid down frequently by the IMF which harm the interests of working people and undermine labour rights and labour power effectively have a negative impact on the most deprived sections of society. Corporate interests instead advance further.

Such policies, in place in African countries since the 1970s, have according to findings by economists hurt each of the countries they work in by further eroding the living conditions of people. None of these countries has improved in terms of their ability to lift people out of their poverty.

Pakistan presents a similar case study, with IMF loans first accepted by it in the 1960s. Almost five decades later, we continue to require loans in even bigger amounts in order to run government. This cannot be a good outcome and raises questions about any benefits the IMF and World Bank claim accrue from their programmes.

Bangladesh has benefitted from World Bank supported programmes, reducing poverty from over 44 percent in 1991 to 13.8 percent in 2016-17. This achievement has however been backed by government policies which have supported investment in human development and indigenous poverty alleviation programmes designed to meet the specific needs of that country.

Bangladesh’s commitment and its ability to maintain stable economic growth is something we need to study.

Given that Pakistan already ranks as a developing economy according to the UN and is placed above Bangladesh in terms of economic attainment, it should be even better placed to offer its people much more. That this has not happened is saddening, with Pakistan’s development statistics for population control, health, maternal mortality and education all below those of Bangladesh.

We can move into more stormy terrain. While there is widespread global promotion of the idea that socialism as an economic system results in chaos, there are notable examples of countries which have benefited enormously and quickly from adopting socialist models.

In 2006, a militant socialist government took over in Bolivia. It has remained in power through a process of regular election since then. In these years under President Evo Morales, the country experienced spectacular economic growth and poverty reduction, with no hint of chaos.

Inflation stands at below four percent a year, less than 20 percent of people experience poverty, down from 38 percent before the socialists took over, and inequality has shrunk dramatically.

Bolivia hopes to attain what Cuba had already achieved less than a decade after its 1959 revolution: the highest literacy rates in the world at 99.75 percent. Women are even more literate than men. People in that country live longer than those in the US because of the universal healthcare available to every Cuban and education for every child is free.

There is also a system in place to provide social safety.

While there are still desperately poor people in the country, the achievements of the Cuban state have come despite crippling US sanctions and survived the collapse of the USSR, Cuba’s main ally, in 1991. There has of course been a price paid by people, with repression of some rights a part of Cuba’s history.

There are obvious lessons. The quickest way to rescue people from poverty is through state-ordained reforms designed to benefit a majority of people. When this is not possible, commitment and well-designed programmes can work at least partially.

Pakistan has struggled consistently with its efforts to rescue people from poverty. Charity, whether doled out internally or obtained from external sources, cannot play a long-term role in altering the structures which keep poverty intact.

Yes, it can make each of us feel good. Yes, it can demonstrate the generosity of a country, but in the final analysis more thought at the government level is required to make any significant difference and to pull away the shroud of poverty which traps millions of people and prevents them from reaching their potential or helping their country attain what it is capable of.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. – Shillong’s Punjabi Lane Area dispute: Meghalaya’s Chief Secretary summoned by Indian Home Ministry

Sikh24 Editors

New Dehi – India, 13 June 2019. Acting on the complaint lodged by DSGMC president Manjinder Singh Sirsa, the Union Home Ministry of India has summoned Meghalaya’s Chief Secretary PS Thangkhiew. Notably, Sirsa had sought Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s intervention following a threat to the Shillong resident Sikhs by a banned militant organization, Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC).

Confirming the development, the Deputy Chief Minister of Meghalaya Mr Prestone Tynsong has said that the state chief secretary PS Thangkhiew will present all details of the issue to the Home Ministry officials today. He added that the Principal Secretary (Urban Affairs) would also accompany the Chief Secretary.

It is pertinent to note here that the Shillong Municipal Board has recently served notice to the residents of the Punjabi lane area asking them to produce documents proving their legal right over the respective properties, they own in concerned area.

Beside it, the banned militant organization of Meghalaya named Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (abbreviated HNLC) has also threatened the Sikhs living in the Punjabi lane area of Shillong.

Shillong’s Punjabi Lane Area Dispute: Meghalaya’s Chief Secretary Summoned by Indian Home Ministry

Gentbrugge Stelplaats – Heusden De Schelde – Evi Van Hamme – Gravensteen

Gentbrugge Stelplaats
23 May 2019

New tracks at Gentbrugge stelplaats

Heusden – De Schelde

I was in Heusden when I took the pictures
Whether the other side of the river is Heusden or Gentbrugge I don’t know

Evi Van Hamme
26 May 2019

EVH = Evi Van Hamme

Trying to join the group in the statue ?

Gravensteen – Stop of Tram 1

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue – Akshay Kumar played him in the movie ‘Kesari’, but who really was Havildar Ishar Singh?

Edited excerpts from a new book on the Battle of Saragarhi in 1897, in which 21 Sikh soldiers bravely faced thousands of Afghani tribesmen.

Thursday, 13 June 2019. In all of recorded history, one of the most consistent traits passed on from one generation to another is that we as humans have always needed a ‘leader’ to guide us as, inevitably, most of us are ‘followers’ by nature. Both are equally important but seldom interchangeable.

In case of the military, a few characteristic qualities are necessary to make a good leader, namely courage, cooperation, stamina, determination, self-confidence, liveliness, effective intelligence, initiative, quick decision making ability, social adaptability, the power of expression, the ability to inspire, reason and organize, as well as a strong sense of responsibility.

The soldiers at Saragarhi on 12 September 1897 were not short of a leader; rather, their leader was someone who was a fine example of a military man, with balanced qualities that had been forged in the heat of battle for most of his service. The 20 young men were led by non-commissioned officer Havildar Ishar Singh.

Born in the year 1858 in a village called Jhorarh near Jagraon, Punjab, Ishar Singh enrolled for service in the Punjab Frontier Force in 1876, and was later transferred to the 36th Sikhs in 1887. In the year 1893, he married Jiwani Kaur, little knowing that he would never see his wife again, since he left home a year after their marriage when his regiment moved to the North West Frontier to defend the border against Afghans.

While Ishar Singh’s soldierly conduct and his decisions on the battlefield were sound, and the orders passed on to him via heliograph by his senior officers, who were witnessing the battle of Saragarhi from the other two forts in close proximity, were faithfully executed, he was hardly one to blindly follow his superiors.

In the words of the British military historian Major General James Lunt, ‘Ishar Singh was a somewhat turbulent character whose independent nature had brought him more than once into conflict with his military superiors. Thus, Ishar Singh, in camp, a nuisance, in the field, magnificent.’

Ishar Singh, as we now know him, was a feisty and experienced soldier who sometimes preferred to march at the drum of his own beat, but was an exemplary soldier and inspiring leader. Such men, who cannot be fully tamed yet act within the restraints of righteousness, often change the course of history, immortalising themselves and their deeds forever.

The post of Saragarhi was besieged by Afghan tribesmen on the morning of 12 September 1897, hence cutting off all communication between Fort Lockhart and Fort Cavagnari, and neither Lieutenant Colonel Haughton nor Major De Voeux were able to move out in the open to reinforce the 21 men at Saragarhi as thousands of tribesmen had positioned themselves between Saragarhi and the forts on its either side. The post was now on its own.

How Ishar Singh motivated his men

With numerical superiority on their side, the Pathans attempted to rush the post in the beginning of the attack, with scores of standards flying, ready to raze everything in their path in the inferno of their discontentment. By then, the soldiers inside the post had already been warned and stood prepared to face this onslaught of more than 10,000 Pathans.

Havildar Ishar Singh judged the gravity of the situation at hand and took command without delay. A seasoned soldier, he knew how to encourage the 20 men relying on him for leadership. He is said to have quoted Guru Gobind Singh’s verses about how each of them was equivalent to 125,000 foes, and the Pathans they had to fight were not even a fraction of it.

He reminded them about the greatness of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the fact that it was his legacy they needed to honour that day. He cited the tale of the brave Hari Singh Nalwa, who had fought the Afghans in these very hills not long ago. His words were enough to ignite a fire inside the 20 young Sikh soldiers to give the impending fight their all, thereby creating military history.

Before an all-out attack, the Pathans offered the Sikh soldiers an opportunity to surrender in return for safe passage. However, no offer could lure Havildar Ishar Singh or any of his men. Singh knew that he had to hold the enemy for a few hours until Lieutenant Colonel Haughton could receive reinforcements and they were therefore ready to defend their posts until their deaths.

Unsuccessful in their efforts, the aggravated tribesmen now told the soldiers that they would not survive even for a few minutes if the Pathans charged at them. This, too, did not budge the determined soldiers of Saragarhi. The tribesmen then began to charge at the fort in order to conquer the fort before reinforcements could arrive.

Soon, the valley began to echo with the deafening blasts of thousands of Jezails and Henry-Martinis. The Sikhs aimed their rifles at the incoming horde and when the enemy was within effective range of their weapons, they opened fire on Havildar Ishar Singh’s order, shouting their war cry of ‘Bole so nihaal…sat sri akaal!’.

Wave after wave of Pathans on the frontlines fell and the ones behind them scrambled to find cover. The battle had begun.

The Pathans, who had seemed in a hurry to take down the post just a little while ago, now took cover behind rocks and in defiles where the bullets could not reach them. Using ground cover, the tribesmen began to fire incessantly at the fort even as the battlefield in front of them was sprinkled with dead bodies from the first attack.

A firefight ensued, but the Sikhs had to be very careful while using their ammunition as every soldier had only 400 rounds to sustain him in this bloody battle.

In the meantime, Signalman Gurmukh Singh used their heliograph machine to send a message to Lieutenant Colonel John Haughton that they were under attack. While he was distressed to hear this, Haughton replied that it was impossible for him to send reinforcements at the time as they would not be able to break through the intervening hordes of Pathans.

Havildar Ishar Singh then had Gurmukh Singh send a single word as a reply, ‘Understood’. This reply spoke volumes about Havildar Ishar Singh’s stature and his maturity at the time.

Excerpted with permission from 21 Kesaris The Untold Story of the Battle of Saragarhi, Kiran Nirvan, Bloomsbury India.

The Hindu – Sidhu’s meet with Rahul sends ‘wrong’ signals

Audience with high command hints at Congress’s culture of keeping alive dissidence not being dead, says analyst

Vikas Vasudeva

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 12 June 2019. Navjot Singh Sidhu’s visit to New Delhi to meet Congress president Rahul Gandhi even as the former cricketer remains a minister without portfolio after having been divested of his originally assigned ministries, and given that he is yet to take charge of the newly allotted responsibility, has sparked speculation that he has sought the “high command’s” intervention in his tussle with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

As part of a post-poll cabinet reshuffle last week, Captain Amarinder had divested Mr Sidhu of the key Local Government portfolio and allocated him Power and New and Renewable Energy Sources.

Mr Sidhu, who met Mr Gandhi, general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and veteran leader Ahmed Patel on Monday, is learnt to have apprised the “high command” about being singled out “unfairly” in the cabinet rejig on the pretext of party’s “poor performance” in the urban areas of the State in the general elections.

That Mr Gandhi, who had avoided meeting most senior party leaders including Chief Ministers of Congress-ruled States since the poll debacle and the Congress Working Committee meeting last month, agreed to meet Mr Sidhu has drawn criticism from political analysts.

“Cabinet reshuffle is prerogative of the Chief Minister and after the reshuffle has been done, if now the old portfolio of Mr Sidhu is reinstated it would be a bad move for the party,” said Ashutosh Kumar, professor of Political Science at Panjab University. “Mr. Sidhu’s audience with the high command also hints that Congress’s culture of keeping alive dissidence at the State level against the State leadership is not dead,” he remarked.

“Captain Amarinder is a mass leader who has in the past threatened the high command to break the party in case he was not declared as chief ministerial candidate in 2017,” Professor Kumar observed.

“Captain Amarinder, after the Assembly polls and Lok Sabha polls, has emerged as a strong leader and on the other hand Congress’s high command looks weak after its performance in the Lok Sabha polls,” he asserted.

Any effort to push for the reinstatement of Mr Sidhu as the Local Government minister in an attempt to resolve the ongoing tussle in the State unit risked undermining the Chief Minister’s authority and further worsening the rift within the party in Punjab, Mr Kumar opined.

The party, however, downplayed the significance of Mr Sidhu’s meeting, with Asha Kumari, the AICC incharge of Punjab affairs, asserting that every Congressman was ‘entitled’ to meet the Congress president. “As far as his taking charge of the new portfolio is concerned, if Mr Sidhu does not desire it’s entirely his wish. He is a minister of Captain Amarinder’s cabinet and it’s for the Chief Minister to decide who will hold which portfolio,” Ms Kumari added.

Ronki Ram, Dean at the Department of Social Science at Panjab University, said Mr Sidhu’s meeting with the party’s central leadership appeared like an attempt at capturing a “power stronghold”. “If the Chief Minister has to take decision on the dictation of party high command, it’s not in good taste,” asserted Professor Ram. “This shows party is highly centralised,” he added.

The two Punjab leaders have been openly at loggerheads in recent months with Mr Sidhu’s wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu accusing Captain Amarinder of blocking her Lok Sabha candidacy from Chandigarh. Later, the chief minister had asserted that “Sidhu’s remarks ahead of polling” had affected the party’s performance.

He had also blamed Mr Sidhu’s poor handling of the key local bodies portfolio as another factor for the Congress’s “poor performance” in urban areas. Mr Sidhu had retorted by asserting that he was being “singled out publicly” even though urban areas had played a critical role in the party’s victory in the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress won 8 of the 13 seats it contested, improving on its 2014 tally of just 3.