Hungering Pakistan


Courtesy: Rizwan Dar Source:

Every few months, the narrow corridors of land on the edges of the Karachi Cantonment railway tracks are inhabited by gypsies. In the shade of thorny shrubs and at the foot of garbage heaps, they set up tents made of sticks and brightly-coloured, floral-printed cloth. When the train passes, it blows and blows its horn in anticipation of the people that scatter off the tracks to avoid being hit by it. The apartment dwellers on either (both right and wrong) side of the tracks hate the invasion because the gypsy women wake up with the sun, and begin their shrieking. They shout at their bare-foot, bare-bottomed, big-bellied children, warning them of approaching trains. They squabble with each other, and yell at their junkie husbands. At times, the women come to blows, scratching at one another’s eyes and pulling each other’s hair.

Mostly, the gypsy women sit around wood fires, some with tiny gas cylinders, cooking onions in water to eat with roti, and picking lice off their bare-footed, bare-bottomed children’s heads. The hair is orange from the sun and fluffed around their heads like gurya kay baal, doll’s hair, the sticky-sweet, neon-pink candy that comes in stapled, crinkly-clear plastic envelopes at Playland.

A couple of months of this, then someone complains, or the cops think of checking, after which the uniformed men arrive with their big sticks and beat them off.

A Gallup Pakistan poll released on May 3, 2010 shows that

sadly a significant 31% of the population have complained that there have been days in the past one year when they could not afford to buy food needed to feed their family or themselves. The recent Gilani poll was conducted in Pakistan by Gallup Pakistan, affiliated with Gallup International Association, among a sample of 2723 men and women from rural and urban areas of all four provinces of the country, during April 2010.”

Today’s Daily Times reports a 25 to 30% surge in fruit and vegetable prices. According to the news article, the President of the Wholesale Vegetable Welfare Association, Sabzi Mandi Karachi, Haji Shahjahan predicts that the increased prices would stick because of ‘the upward revision of prices of petroleum products.’

Onions were on the list of affected items. It made me wonder what the gypsy women would put in the round protruding bellies of their children.

11 Responses to “Hungering Pakistan”

  1. 1 Aqeel ahmad

    very fantastic and to the point, I REALLY APPRECIATE UR EFFORT.AQEEL

  2. A country which does not have a clear vision for economic development can rob its own people by giving them currency which does not buy anything. Having increased interest rate, the growth is already on the downward trend while the previous growth was due to increase in factor intensity rather than productivity. In other words, the capabilities of people were not enhanced in a way that they become more employable and productive. For inclusive growth, an economy has to generate jobs. How a security-state can create an economy of people, by the people and for the people is still a moot point. This world is good at ‘hunger amongst plenty’; Bengal could export rice when people were dying of hunger and related diseases.

  3. 3 shafiqa

    salam 2all

    very nice n true, most of poor ppl eat only onetime a day even sometime they dont eat in whole day, who is responsible for that??? who will heal poor ppl??? roti kapra or makan, where r these???? n pakistan as agriculture country cant fillful need or its own ppl, how it can be??

  4. 4 Rashid Masood Alam

    A very sad narration of sorry state of affairs, BUT the fact is fact. For last two years, surging inflation specially food inflations has become a real threat to social fabric of society not only in Pakistan but also in countries like Saudi Arabia and India as well. India has witnessed political demonstration during last month on account of peaking commodity price. While visibly perturbed Arabian Peninsula has been wrestling this menace with the help of Petro Dollars. Pakistan’s problems are many fold namely a few;

    1. One of the lowest literacy rates. (definition of literacy is a tricky issue in Pakistan)
    2. Law & order problems on our western and eastern borders
    3. 1.9% per annum (official) rate of increase in population, which outweighs
    2.2 % expected GDP growth.
    4. Lower tax to GDP ratio (around 9.5%)
    5. A virtually non existing Safety net for “poor of poors”
    6. Government efforts to tax everybody on board instead of taxing people based on their wealth i.e. ability to pay

    In last fiscal 2008-09, only the agriculture sector showed a positive growth and helped maintain a dismal yet positive growth rate. Being an agro- based economy; Pakistan should invest more on Agri-infrastructure i.e. easy farm credit to small farmers, loan for construction of Warehouses near farms side so produce can easily be preserved, Building roads from farm to market and Farm to warehouses. Bringing Agri income into taxation net would be a very gigantic task but same should be started by taxing large land holders after studying the tax-collection methodology of some neighboring and developed countries. Stick and Carrot rule should be applied. One very interesting phenomena which has been infused by some lobbyist very recently is benchmarking the food-item prices with “International Price of food commodity”. I can’t stop laughing whenever I hear it, just imagine farmers/land lord using Pakistani soil for cultivation, using electricity for tube-well (subsidized by our money), using fertilizers as a produce booster (subsidized using our own money) and even these produces are the results of subsidized seeds (again seeds subsidized using our own money) YET demand for international price is beyond my comprehension.

    “Education” should get a top most priority on Government’s agenda. Teachers should be trained to impart technical and vocational training as well. More schools should be opened and children especially from rural areas should be enticed by additional meals or some nominal cash grant to attend schools thus in a medium term they can be a part of “productive labor force” of the country. Pakistan has a very favorable demographic mix and its 60% to 70% of population comprises of age between 25 to 30 years while Russia, Japan, US, Germany and other developed countries have more aging population in their demographic composition. World’s factory (China) and other countries would look for trained HUMAN RESPOURCES and Pakistan should be able to provide them space and/ or productive labor work force. This would help Pakistan to deploy a large number of youth who would have otherwise got themselves busy in activities which would create unrest in society.

    Providing help to poors through Income support funds and other means don’t seem to have a far-reaching impact on their condition. Every week a new wave of inflation and inability of society to embrace those in productive work force shatter their dream to lead a decent life. Overall living standards of poor and middle class get directly affected by the one of the most repressive and draconian tools of Government i.e. “Indirect taxes” (these taxes are levied by increasing power tariff, Gas tariff and Petroleum prices etc). NO government in the world burdens its own people in the manner in which Government of Pakistan does. Black marketers, hoarders, profiteers all go scot-free as far as their responsibility of paying tax is concerned. Government has been miserably failed on this front. Unless tax base is broaden to include the non tax payers such as eateries, shops, medical stores, whole sale market of Cloth Market, Jodia Bazaar, Electronics market (Karachi), Liberty market, Neela Guband etc Lahore and sootar mandi Fasilaabad, builders, middleman (Arhat), commission agents, PAKISTAN WOULD NEVER EVER BE ABLE TO WITNESS A SUSTAINABLE GROWTH. It’s an irony that out of 2.2 Million tax payers; more than 50% are individual tax payers. A mid size shop or restaurant which earns a net income of Rs 70, 000 to Rs. 100,000 does not pay a tax but a blue collared salaried employee who earns Rs. 18, 000 a month has to pay tax.

    Last but not the least WE and the GOVERNMENT have to decide whether Pakistan was created as a welfare state or its founding fathers were of the view to create a security-state? Non productive expenditures of Armed forces’ Generals, Admirals and AVMs should be brought to a reasonable level. Allocation of public money on non-development projects like DHA Real Estate societies, Askaris, leasing companies, cattle farms, Hotels, Banks and God Knows what and what not should be stopped forthwith. We are creating a class by depriving a common man from his two meals and providing “Pure Milk” to Colonel and generals’ family on “poor of the poors” expenditures. Previously there used to be “haves and haves not” class and now we have “Forces class and civilian class”. Divide is evenly dangerous for our country.

    A political WILL is required to break the “axis of evil” formed by the vested interest group without which provision of health facility, availability of clean water, maintanance of law & order, proper meal for poors and equitable distribution of resources among commoners of my beloved country would not be possible.

  5. For those of you who asked for a solution, Economist Rashid Masood Alam has been kind enough to offer his analysis on my request. Thank you, Rashid. I hope this answers some questions.

  6. 6 farooqsoomro

    All of us need to be ACTIVE citizens, remmember JFK. “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Lets fund at least one gypsy child!!

  7. Rashid Sahib has written an excellent piece and covers a wide range of issue from growth to distribution in the national and international context. I wanted to draw insights from the human development and capability approach (as articulated by Sen and Nussbaum). Using this framework, one can argue that it is not only the ‘human capital’ (as Gary Becker articulated – technical knowledge etc.) dimension of human beings important for sustainable human development but the ‘content of education’ matters much more. Ability to generate ‘reflective reasoning’ by various social actors has multidimensional increasing returns in a society which impacts economic growth as well as functioning of social organization such as democracy. Active citizenry as mentioned by Farooq (see comments on this blog) requires a fair degree of enlightened understanding of issues so that ‘participation’ becomes a meaningful change of engagement which affects the distribution side of welfare gains of an economy. It takes me to argue that poverty is multidimensional and income is only one part of it and so to ‘attack poverty’ there is a need of social, cultural, economic, and political change – such changes have a significant correlation with education – i.e., which builds capacity of critical thinking.

  8. Thought Provoking…

  9. To the point and thanks for the analysis for solutions.

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