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Global Go To Think Tank Index (GGTTI) 2020 launched                    111,75 Think Tanks across the world ranked in different categories.                SDPI is ranked 90th among “Top Think Tanks Worldwide (non-US)”.           SDPI stands 11th among Top Think Tanks in South & South East Asia & the Pacific (excluding India).            SDPI notches 33rd position in “Best New Idea or Paradigm Developed by A Think Tank” category.                SDPI remains 42nd in “Best Quality Assurance and Integrity Policies and Procedure” category.              SDPI stands 49th in “Think Tank to Watch in 2020”.            SDPI gets 52nd position among “Best Independent Think Tanks”.                           SDPI becomes 63rd in “Best Advocacy Campaign” category.                   SDPI secures 60th position in “Best Institutional Collaboration Involving Two or More Think Tanks” category.                       SDPI obtains 64th position in “Best Use of Media (Print & Electronic)” category.               SDPI gains 66th position in “Top Environment Policy Tink Tanks” category.                SDPI achieves 76th position in “Think Tanks With Best External Relations/Public Engagement Program” category.                    SDPI notches 99th position in “Top Social Policy Think Tanks”.            SDPI wins 140th position among “Top Domestic Economic Policy Think Tanks”.               SDPI is placed among special non-ranked category of Think Tanks – “Best Policy and Institutional Response to COVID-19”.                                            Owing to COVID-19 outbreak, SDPI staff is working from home from 9am to 5pm five days a week. All our staff members are available on phone, email and/or any other digital/electronic modes of communication during our usual official hours. You can also find all our work related to COVID-19 in orange entries in our publications section below.    The Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) is pleased to announce its Twenty-third Sustainable Development Conference (SDC) from 14 – 17 December 2020 in Islamabad, Pakistan. The overarching theme of this year’s Conference is Sustainable Development in the Times of COVID-19. Read more…       FOOD SECIRITY DASHBOARD: On 4th Nov, SDPI has shared the first prototype of Food Security Dashboard with Dr Moeed Yousaf, the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on  National Security and Economic Outreach in the presence of stakeholders, including Ministry of National Food Security and Research. Provincial and district authorities attended the event in person or through zoom. The dashboard will help the government monitor and regulate the supply chain of essential food commodities.


Could the impact of Covid-19 lead to a technology transformation in Pakistan?

Alongside the huge socio-economic repercussions, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about technological transformations in every walk of life. Technology has never been used at such a massive scale before to keep people engaged and updated regarding the existential threats and counter measures being taken to eradicate the harmful effects of this virus. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have positively impacted healthcare, education, commerce, and governance systems. If ever there were any doubts about the criticality of ICTs, the horrific pandemic has laid such doubts to rest.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) estimates that over 1.5 billion students across the world have been impacted by Covid-19. Distant learning has enabled a significant number of students to benefit from online learning though it has no match with face-to-face learning. Various studies indicate that the online learning will continue to pick up momentum, and by 2025, it will have a market value of $325 billion. The healthcare system is another area where ICTs are being widely used. Telemedicine is of great help to provide medical services on telephones and through audio-visual aids. Virtual and SMART clinics are now extending online services and handling patients’ queries round-the-clock. There has been a large surge in online video conferences. The evolving technologies are also prominently being applied in other sectors. 5G wireless technology has made the Internet dependable, effective and the high speed means of communication can carry and instantly transfer a large amount of data. A Global Market Insight report (2019) estimated that online learning businesses will have a market share of $ 300 billion by 2025.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that there may not be a post-Covid-19 environment, because the pandemic may become a part of our future life. We have to think about how the world would be then. Governments, particularly of developing countries, will continue to grapple with the two major challenges: saving human lives and dealing with sinking economies. The role of ICTs would become even more crucial for dealing with these challenges.

In hindsight, it is now easy to recapitulate that without moving with the evolution of ICTs, what would have been our fate during the prevailing Covid-19. Although, Pakistan’s ICT infrastructure and Internet penetration is not at the stage where it should have been, the current level has served us fairly well.

In these difficult times, ICTs have played a key role in keeping the people informed about the dangers and to adopt measures to fight the virus. ICTs have proved their importance as how to face the current and future challenges and enhance resilience against future pandemics. In facilitating the essential services, learning and development and healthcare, ICTs have been of utmost importance. The evolving technologies have provided accurate and up to date information to the people. National portals and mobile apps have played a crucial part in keeping the wheels of economy, education, health, and food deliveries moving. Artificial intelligence has been an important resource making healthcare services available through virtual doctors. One shudders to think, if Pakistan had been at the same level of tele-density (3%) as it was in the 1990s, what would have been our fate during the present catastrophe?

However, we need to enhance our readiness to face future challenges. In addition to problems of connectivity, there are significant challenges to achieve readiness to completely switch to online learning, telemedicine, and e-commerce. State-of-the-art e-learning platforms, training of faculty members, course designs, safe and secure online payment systems for e-commerce, and motivation of stakeholders are some of the problems that will need solutions on priority basis. Students in the underserved and un-served areas face serious electricity and internet problems, so they could not benefit from online learning. Essential, equitable and universal access to the Internet remains a distant dream.

Traditionally, information technology and telecom is considered a service that minimises its importance. However, Covid-19 has amply highlighted its importance in every sector, may it be education, health, service deliveries or governance. Although, Pakistan has been trying to keep pace with the evolution which has enabled it to face the challenges of coronavirus, the required efforts have not gone into building its internet infrastructure. Unfortunately, Pakistan ranks below all its neighbours except Afghanistan in almost every International ICT Index. Internet penetration in Pakistan is only about 40% and that is also of not the required quality. For 4G, it’s only 25%. Under such circumstances, how can we expect to provide e-learning and e-health facilities in underserved and un-served areas of the country?

Since ICTs will remain critically important in the present and future era, what should be done to face future exigencies and eventualities? First and foremost, a broadband ICT infrastructure based on fiber optic cables must be built to serve the 220 million people of Pakistan. Universal access to technology should be ensured through a national digital transformational plan to bridge the digital divide in the country. We need well-trained IT professionals, therefore, an advanced training and development programme should be developed for the IT professional who should be selected on merit basis.To stop the brain drain, incentivisation should be a part of the plan.

To accelerate ICTs promotion in Pakistan, indigenous manufacturing of mobile devices and other equipment must be expedited. This is closely linked with declaring telecommunication as an industry. Why it has not been done so far is beyond comprehension. Again, the telecom market in Pakistan is heavily taxed which is a major disincentive for the potential investors. This requires an urgent attention of the government to create conditions conducive to ICTs promotion.

Online learning will now be the ‘new-normal’. It should be homogeneous and well-developed. To teach online, Pakistan requires: an enhancement of teachers’ skills, and a presentation of course contents which may synchronise with the online methods. All universities must have state-of-the-art learning management systems. The students should be made aware of the course contents, delivery, and assessment criteria well before the start of the course.

China debt relief diplomacy and shared prosperity

To understand the term “debt relief diplomacy” we first need to understand the ontology of Chinese international relation and its comparison with Western ontology. Zhao Tingyang, 2006 defined the major difference as Chinese ontology is “ontology of relation” while the Western is “ontology of things”. According to him Chinese model strive for transformation of relation, enemy to friend or friendship to brotherhood. The notion of relation suggest that relationship is determined by shared interests and benefit instead of self-interest. Thus, China’s international relation policy is guided by the principles of “order, harmony, respect, ethics and fraternity”, as, defined by Confucius.
Whereas, Western philosophy of international relation revolves around the concept of “self-interest”. It gave birth to famous quote in international relation, “there is no permanent friends or enemies, only interests are permanent” John Henry Temple. It negates the concept of relation, as strategic focus is self-interest. West applied this concept to develop bilateral relation and erect the multilateral institutes. The decisive victory in World War-II provided the ample space and time to practice this philosophy. They created a good number of financial and political institutions including Bretton wood institutes e.g. IMF, World Bank etc. and United Nations.
The international organizations were erected at the name of humanity, but the decision-making process and mechanisms were drawn in a such way that all ways were leading to serve the interest of powerful, which was West. The interest of Western countries was to achieve two specific goals, 1) promote liberal democracy and 2) promote capitalism as ultimate solution to world economy. The capitalism was promoted as West had no competition. All institutions actively persuaded the agenda and used all means of influence (military, economy, loans etc.) according to the needs of the circumstances. Financial institutions lend money with the tag of development and countries were encouraged to use the facilities. First, right after the World War-II infrastructure was focus. Least developed and developing countries were encouraged to invest in infrastructure and engage the Western companies to lead the infrastructure development. The principle of productive infrastructure was not followed in true spirit, which resulted in debt crises in many countries, which led to second phase.
As, the guiding principle of all investments is that it must be “productive investments” and non-productive investments or loans must be avoided
The second phase started with a shift of focus and mantra of reforms took the driving seat. Countries were persuaded to implement the Washington Consensus and structural adjustment programs. It led to a web of reforms and adjustments, which required more loans. It culminated into debt trap or policy trap for many countries, as reform-based loans were non-productive in nature.
Simultaneously, West started to weaponize the economy by tagging it to power determinant in international relation. The development or prosperity of people was taken out or became second priority and economy as firearm of power took the driving seat. It brought a gigantic shift in global development and power agenda. The diplomacy was tasked to re-adjust focus and play leading role to secure the economic interest, which resulted in the introduction the modern concept of economic diplomacy. The economic instruments were weaponized, and debt was identified as major tool to trap the countries. The global institutions, which are controlled by West are leading the implementation.
In these circumstances, China presented an alternative to world, the win-win cooperation. China launched comprehensive investment policies and programs to help the countries to come out of debt trap, which can be called debt relief diplomacy. The roots of debt relief diplomacy can be traced from the launch of Go Global policy. Since, the adaptation of Go Global policy China started to play a formidable role for people-oriented diplomacy with the objective of shared prosperity. It follows the vision of Chairman Mao of Three World, where he urged China to protect the third world from the exploitation of first world. President Hu Jintao accelerated the efforts and stressed the need of a harmonious world based on the principle of equality and fair play.
President Xi Jinping gave a new impetus to China’s efforts. President Xi introduced the concept of community with shared future and prosperity for everyone without any discrimination. He did not wait for the world and made it responsibility of China to play its role. He launched Belt and Road Initiative to share the Chinese prosperity with world. BRI has its root in the teachings of wise elders of China Confucius, Tao and Sun Zu, practitioners like Yellow Emperor, Chairman Mao, and lessons from the evolution of Chinese Civilization. BRI has been designed by applying principles of win-win cooperation and community with shared future. As, the guiding principle of all investments is that it must be “productive investments” and non-productive investments or loans must be avoided. Thus, the loans and investments under BRI will help to break the web of debt trap by generating revenues, and lead to prosperity at larger scale.
World Bank studies in 2019 validated this notion by analyzing the potential benefits of BRI, which would be enormous and multidimensional. The studies highlighted that the benefits will be for everyone, either they are member of BRI or not. The studies summaries the benefits as ; 1) travel time will be reduced by 12% in BRI and 3 % in Non-BRI countries, 2) trade will increase by 2.7-9.7%, in BRI and 1.7-6.2%, non-BRI countries, 3) real income will be enhanced by 1.2-3.4% and 0.7-2.9%, in BRI and Non-BRI economies, respectively. It has also been calculated that one percent increase in global GDP due to BRI will add US$ 930 billion in the prices of base year of 2014.
BRI will also help to bringdown poverty. It is estimated that 7.6 million extreme poor (US$1.90 per day) and 32 million moderately poor (US$3.20 per day) will break the poverty trap. It is pertinent to mention here that these projections were made on the infrastructure investments during the first five years. If we include the all the future investments, especially in the fields of industry and agriculture, the impact would be huge. It will definitely help world, especially the least developed countries to pursue the dream of development.
Hence, we can deduce that these all investments are enhancing the production capacity and economic size of participating countries. So, China is providing them debt to break the shackles of debt trap, which has been imposed on them by global financial institutes. In this way we infer that China is implementing “debt relief diplomacy” to create a community of shared future and prosperity.
In conclusion, there must be no confusion that China is doing it as charity, no not at all. China is also striving hard to secure its interest but on the basis of win-win cooperation, which is guided by the concept of relationship.
Nonetheless, the question would be, how long China will follow this policy? Will China continue to follow it after 2035? or will China commit the Western mistakes? and start to follow the self-interest-based policy.
However, there is hope that China will not commit the mistake of West, as President Xi is putting all efforts to infuse the same spirit in young generations. He has launched a comprehensive campaign to encourage youth to understand Chinese Civilization and ideology of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The objective is to create a generation which can carry the flag of China by adhering to the values and standards of Chinese Civilization.

The writer is Director, Asia Study Center SDPI

Inadequate conservation

Conservation strategies in Pakistan have remained problematic both for the government and for communities living in the protected areas.

State conservation policies do not support the inclusion of local communities in the process of decision-making, and national parks are created without consulting them and taking their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), regarding boundaries, regulations and management which create social tension in the region.

Instead of acknowledging the social ties of the indigenous communities with nature, many conservation institutions assume that the practices of indigenous communities pose a threat to nature. If these policies remain the same, it would deprive communities of their livelihood and this social tension would then become a security threat for the nation.

Gilgit-Baltistan covers an area of 72498 sq km, out of which 94 percent consists of mountains, four percent is forest and only one percent of the total area is cultivable. The livelihood of the locals is dependent on these natural resources but unfortunately, during each intervention for protected areas in Gilgit-Baltistan the government has ignored the rights, values and ownership of the indigenous communities. Today 33999 sq km (47 percent) of the total land of GB (72496 sq km) is converted into national parks which were once managed through customary laws.

Prime Minister Imran Khan during his recent visit to GB inaugurated the Himalaya and Nanga Parbat National Parks, covering another five percent of Gilgit-Baltistan’s land to promote tourism and protect endangered wild species. Many communities across GB condemned the proposed national park program because their cultivable lands are included in the park without their consent. It is a matter of concern that half of the total land of GB is converted into national parks and these national parks don’t have any visible positive impact on the lives of the people.

Mountainous communities are the most vulnerable communities to climate change in the world. It is the responsibility of the federal government to accept the right of the indigenous people over their natural resources of their customary-owned areas and support them to build resilience against climate change and other environmental crises.

There are vital gaps in the conservation and mining policies of Pakistan which completely exclude local communities during decision-making for the utilization of their natural resources. The failure to involve local people and others interested or affected parties in conservation planning or management creates social tension in various regions, especially those in Gilgit-Baltistan.

In this scenario, the government should welcome the concept of ‘co-management’ to create a peaceful and prosperous environment in the country. The free, prior informed consent (FPIC) of the communities should be taken before making any decision about their natural resources keeping in view the environmental sensitivity of the areas, customary laws and international regulations regarding the rights of indigenous communities.

Pakistan’s conservation policy should be research-based and participatory. It is the duty of the federal government to safeguard the rights of indigenous people over the natural resources of their areas and help them in every walk of life to build resilience.

Pakistan was the first country to adopt the SDGs 2030 agenda but it would not be possible for the government to achieve these goals until they frame a comprehensive, public friendly long-term strategy for inclusive growth and sustainable development.

On July 8, 2019, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also urged the government of Pakistan to ensure that the indigenous and local communities of Gilgit-Baltistan are consulted for their informed consent prior to use of their land or natural resources for any kind of activity.

It is therefore suggested that the relevant national policies be revised to safeguard the interests and livelihoods of indigenous communities as they are dependent on the land and livelihood of pastoral communities.

Food Defense

Nature has awakened to the years long mistreatment of man. The Covid-19 pandemic is one of those blows back of the nature which has threatened the whole humanity. The pandemic threw man into a vicious cycle of multiple challenges like, health crisis, economic recession, and social disruption. However, above all this, the simmering issue of ensuring an uninterrupted supply of food, is the most unattended one. At the outbreak of the pandemic, it was observed that after health, ensuring a steady supply of eatables and averting any food shortage crisis was the most imminent challenge for all the governments. This clearly hinted at the importance of food defense and food fortification especially in these times where normal life had paralyzed. Luckily, Pakistan is not among the countries which have hit hard by the pandemic; however, working on the food defense and controlling the spiraling prices of the daily commodities have rung alarm bells for the government of Imran Khan.

It is fortunate that since March 2020, when the covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, Pakistan has been doing well in all the sectors like, averting any health crisis, economic recession, and disruption in food supply. However, the recent food shortage in Pakistan was not triggered by the Pandemic, but it was exacerbated by it. The shortage in food security was mainly due to the use of primitive methods in dealings with agricultural yields, their transportation and storage, the guesstimates-based data regarding supply and demand, added by the administrative and monitoring failures which resulted in hoarding. In addition to this, the change in climate which has been affecting our crops and their yields, served as like adding fuel to the fire. It is welcoming to note that the government has responded to this need and established a food security dashboard at the PM office, which will ensure data and statistics-based predictions regarding trends in supply, demands and calculation for procurements. Realizing this need the Chinese govt has also appointed an agricultural commissioner at their embassy in Pakistan, which will collaborate with Pakistan in agriculture advancement and ensuring food security under the banner of the second phase of the CPEC.

It has been observed that our farmers are getting old, and the new generation does not take interest in farming. In response to this problem, there is a dire need to make agriculture a lucrative sector income and employment for the youth. In this regarding incentivizing the agro-economy is the need of hour. In relation to this, we should also work on updating our labs and skills to cope up with the emerging challenges of unusual rains, droughts, and the locust attack. The food safety authorities in the provinces, should also include regulations and provision regarding food security to control the wastage of large sum of food due to our wrong dietary practices. Moreover, along with food safety and security, we also need to work on the nutritional value of the foods. The growing trend of adulteration and unhygienic food in the country is one of the major reasons of the stunted growth of our infants. As it is a broader theme, that is why a multi-institutional and multi-sectoral approach both in terms of policy making and implementation is needed to counter these multi-faceted issues. Furthermore, in this age of 5th generation warfare where human security is directly linked with food security, the inclusion of food defense as a sub-section of the national defense and security, has become inevitable.

Food defense is important because on one hand, there are issues in economic access to the food which results in mal-nutrition and stunted growth; while on the other hand, owing to dietary disinformation, nutritional imbalances and unequal distribution of food availability, there is obesity problems in our children. Another related problem in Pakistan is that almost 70% health facilities are private which are unregulated. This needs a comprehensive plan not only to regulate them but also to align them with the public sector health infrastructure. Among all this the mother-child facilities are of utmost importance, which need to be dealt on priority. So, we need not only innovation in agriculture, improvement in health facilities infrastructure but also to adopt a healthy lifestyle with a major behavioral change.

It is very unfortunate that almost all nutrition indicators are very poor in children and women in Pakistan; however, still we are spending the lowest per capita of our GDP on health in the region. There is no panacea to this but abide the government to take the expenditure on health up to 5% of the GDP and expand the universal health protection by Public-Private partnership, which will increase its outreach. There is also a need to align the health, food, and nutrition systems for a better and compressive approach. Moreover, creating small medical centers, and community-based health and nutrition centers especially in the rural areas and inculcating a healthy lifestyle and balanced dietary practices through public campaigning can make us to realize this dream. In a nutshell, food defense and food fortification can rightly be improved with community engagement and improving our dietary and hygienic behavior.

CPEC, debt trap or debt relief

Before, delving into, either CPEC is a debt trap or not, let’s try to understand the debt trap concept and how it works. In lay man language or simplest way to explain is, a debt which borrower cannot pay without taking new loans. It initiates a vicious cycle of borrowing, which goes on. Subsequently, the nation become hostage to lender which leads to desired goal of policy trap by lender. It is common practices of many financial institutions. The argument can be proven by analyzing the data of global debt, which has gone beyond the paying capacity. Institute of International Finance revealed that world debt in 2018 was US$ 234 trillion, which is 317 percent of global GDP. It is expected that the situation must have bene deteriorated due to COVID-19. However, the important thing to note here that the majority of loans are from IMF, World Bank, ADB, commercial banks of West and many other Western institutions. It is impacting the countries across the world and we can find examples from everywhere including developed (Greece), developing (Argentina) and least developed (African countries) countries.

The deep dive and analysis of historical data also reveals that debt trap mostly originates from the non-productive or consumptive loans. A debt, which does not enhance the production capacity or increase the size of economy, directly, is considered a non-productive debt.

Unfortunately, Pakistan falls in this category of countries which borrowed heavily for non-productive or consumptive use. Pakistan tries to control the fiscal deficit by borrowing. It also subsidize non-performing sectors of economy or subsidize services which do not add to economy directly etc. by borrowing. In addition to that Pakistan also falls in categories of countries which relies on consumption led growth, without having good base of production. By artificially maintaining currency exchange rate by Pakistan, the imports were subsidized, and trade gap was filled with borrowing.

The cumulative impact was that Pakistan became home to multifaceted problems on economic front in addition to debt repayment crisis. The investor lost the confidence and FDI went down sharply. Although, Pakistan needed the investment in infrastructure, energy and industry but Pakistan was unable to convince the investors. It resulted in energy crisis (loss to economy, US$ 4-5 billion dollars, annually), poverty (MPI, 40 percent, 2014), food insecurity (58.8 percent) and many others. Pakistan was unable to create employment opportunities for youth bulge. Pakistan had to launch Benazir Income Support Program to combat the disparate situation. Pakistan was looking for investment and no one was ready to help Pakistan. In this dire situation our time-tested friend came forward and launched CPEC.

It is all about the industrial development, modernization of agriculture and scientific and technological cooperation to facilitate Pakistan to enter in Fourth Industrial Revolution

Regrettably, CPEC became victim of propaganda at different names but the most consistent element of propaganda is to portray CPEC as debt trap. The campaign of debt trap against CPEC is part of global campaign against the rise of China, which has been launched by Wester countries and assisted by developing countries like India. They are trying to make Chinese investment synonymous with the debt trap. An Indian also coined the terminology of debt diplomacy to undermine Chinese investment and relation with world. The interesting fact to note here that the opponents are opposing Chinese investment but themselves are launching different investment programs like BUILD by USA, AAGC, by Japan and India and AIFFP by Australia etc.

First, the campaign was launched in Africa. China was criticized for its investment and opponents of China tried their best to prove Chinese investment as a debt trap. The campaign was run without considering the needs of African countries. African countries were in need of huge investment in infrastructure, to build industrial base and modernize agriculture etc. China tried to fill this gap. The next target was investment in Sri Lanka. A wide-ranging campaign was run to malign Chinese investment and damage the image of China. The port of Hambantota became poster boy for running the propaganda drive.

In reality, the debt crisis of Sri Lanka was due to two prominent reasons, 1) borrowing from western institution, especially from private institutes and 2) sudden change in the interest rate of USA due to easing program, created problems for Sri Lanka and cost of borrowing increased. Sri Lanka was in dire need of financial resources. In these circumstances, Sri Lanka had to convince the Chinese firm to accept the lease of Hambantota against the amount of US$ 1.1 billion. Sri Lanka used this money to repay the other loans. The most important thing to note here that, it was not debt to assets swap, rather it was done to manage the urgent needs of Sri Lanka on the request of Sri Lanka.

Now CPEC is hot target and we can find everyday a new story or allegation by Western outlets. The campaign is being run at multiple fronts and different countries are being engaged in this. In reality, CPEC program defy the theory of debt trap. All investment programs and loans under the CPEC are productive in nature. They are enhancing the production capacity or facilitating connectivity for domestic and international trade. For example, energy sector investment is helping Pakistan to revive the economy by providing electricity to industry. Gwadar port will turn Pakistan into transit trade hub, and it has started to generate economic activities and Afghanistan is already using it. Road infrastructure has improved connectivity, which is generating economic activities through domestic and international trade.

The projects of CPEC have also created 83000 jobs for Pakistanis. It means 83000 families have benefited from the projects. Most of the employed people were in dire need of jobs to support their families to secure food security and fight poverty. Besides, many countries are also looking to join the CPEC and benefit from it. Second phase of CPEC will enhance production capacity and economic size of Pakistan. As, it is all about the industrial development, modernization of agriculture and scientific and technological cooperation to facilitate Pakistan to enter in Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The other element which negate the notion of debt trap is that the CPEC related investments constitute only 5.6 percent of Pakistan’s total debt. The majority of the debt is from Paris Club (US$ 10.924 billion), IMF (US$ 7.68), bilateral donors (US$ 24.352 billion), Multilateral donors (US$ 39.392 billion), International Bonds (US$ 5.3 billion) etc.

Hence, we can deduce two important results by analyzing the facts provided above. First, CPEC investment is helping Pakistan to revive economy, build production capacity and generate resources. The resources can be used to repay the debt from other sources. In this context, CPEC is a relief not debt trap. Second, the campaign has no rational or fact, it is only built on the self-assumed perceptions with the goal to sabotage the CPEC and Pakistan-China relationship. The hard data does not support the debt trap assumption. Thus, the people of Pakistan should not give any heed to the campaign and concentrate on successful implementation of CPEC.

The writer is Director, Asia Study Center SDPI


American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky questioned, “What world will come out of Covid-19 and what is the world we hope to want to live in?” Indeed, a very pertinent question for the contemporary times ridden with uncertainty, fear and devastation. It has been predicted that this dark phase we have entered may take 20-30 years before we see any real progress.

It is indeed a watershed event in this globalised and interconnected world where the spread of the pandemic has been as fast as people, goods and ideas moving across borders. Despite emerging as a health crisis, it in no time became a human, economic and social crisis attacking societies to their very core. It has presented an enormous challenge to public health, food systems, working patterns, trade restrictions, border closures and mass confinement. Some have termed this time as ‘covidisation’, which has completely changed our lifestyles and pushed generations into the new normal.

We have all been either directly or indirectly impacted by the physical, mental, financial and social implications of the pandemic. By and large, what has been noted is that it has had a greater impact on the vulnerable sections of population who are already dealing with existing humanitarian emergencies. These include the poor, those working in the informal sector, older and disabled populations, youth and indigenous people. The homeless are unable to safely shelter themselves and are highly exposed to the virus. Those without access to clean running water or sanitation and refugees or displaced persons suffer disproportionately from the pandemic and its aftermath.

If economies do not start to recover, permanent scars such as malnutrition, susceptibility to disease, and missed schooling could set back development for several years. The challenges thus for those with pre-existing inequalities have exacerbated with no social protection and lack of data on their suffering.

However, crises often create opportunities and we really need to think of ways to start anew to address the injustices of our societal systems and restructure it in ways where adversities can be averted in the future. The battle against the pandemic must be fought at various levels. Having said that, the current crisis has the potential to become a turning point in modern human history. This means that from now onwards, the post-pandemic world will be new and different with altered patterns of globalisation.

Amid the immense misery, the pandemic needs to be seen in a distinct light and one should not perceive that all is doom and gloom. The unfortunate reality is that despite the vaccine now being available, the disease is here to stay. So, one should responsibly consider how to now exist and sustain successfully in this altered world. And the responsibility to combat Covid-19 should not just be on the government alone but should be across all sectors such as the civil society, media and other private and public institutions that should all work together to lessen the suffering and anguish of the people around the globe. The pandemic demands serious attention to be extended by the policymakers to designing holistic policy framework and guidelines to combat the new social realities — some of which may be short-term.

Covid-19 has really provided us an opportunity to come together and display human solidarity like never before to prevent the potential loss of the developments already gained. We need to rethink and look at the concept of development within the framework of a neo-covidised dimension to gauge how future strategies should be devised to promote sustainable living and livelihoods.

Development of Gilgit-Baltistan, the way forward

Gilgit Baltistan which was formerly known as the Federally Administered Northern Areas or FANA is the northmost political entity of Pakistan. As per the constitution of Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan is a self-governing region and it is a home to some of the world’s highest mountains, including five of those mountains ranging over eight-thousand heights and number of mountains ranging about 7000 meters. With over 10 districts and average population of about 34 lacs, there are 7 major local languages beside Urdu and English.

For this purpose, government of Pakistan to improve the overall status gave this region a status of province with overall own legislation and is being governed by Federal government of Pakistan. The overall economic system of GB region depends on dry fruits, tourism, fishing and seasonal festivals. The overall revenue in the system comes through these factors.

Beside these factors, prime importance of GB is because of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as area has by road connectivity to China and goods can be transported in a specific season. Economic activities primarily do take place between March and September as in other periods climate induced migration significantly take place and survival in the harsh weather conditions without energy (gas, light and other heating system) becomes difficult. With changes in the regulations and constitution, Government of Pakistan in 2009, gave it a status of partial province status thus paving the way for development agenda. Post-2009 decision, there had been change in the overall framework and each government did played role in development of the area and tried to improve the overall service delivery structure. Though there had been improvements over the time but significant challenges were there to improve ranging from climate, social. political and economy.

Alternate energy system along with restructuring of the overall infrastructure framework is the key so that access to basic needs becomes easy task across all seasons

First and foremost, challenge which government in Gilgit-Baltistan is facing is the climate. During the winter season which actually starts from October, people start migrating towards downtown areas such as Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and other major cities of Punjab and Sindh for living and doing economic activities. Thus, bringing in the challenges of displacement due to food insufficiency, infrastructure (electricity, gas and water) shortage and bringing in economic activities.

Second, challenge which in general is being faced by government of Gilgit-Baltistan and people is to continue the economic activities. The economic activities which are being carried out are difficult to continue in the winter season thus bringing in the shortfall in the revenue collection and shortening the business opportunities. This also therefore brings in more unemployment and less business and development opportunities.

Within the existing business and economic system, women also hold key to economic activities. There are markets specified in main Gilgit region where economic activities are being carried out by women. Stalls are being owned by women and most of the businesses are not registered but markets are owned privately by different people. Markets though have businesses by women but as far as infrastructure is concerned within the markets there are challenges such as shortage of energy and infrastructure related to market; access to finance; and access to raw material. The access to raw material has made business in Gilgit more inclined towards domestic market and thus making activities outside (including cross the border and international) difficult. Beside these challenges other challenge holding key in Gilgit region is the society which is more conservative in comparison to that of Hunza where social contraction is not significant thus opportunities for economic activities are more in that region in comparison to that of Gilgit.

Contrary to this business at Hunza are being carried out internationally. Key economic and business activities include sectors such as handicraft. Within handicraft sector there are 700 females making handicraft clothes at home with many having challenges such as disability. Due to the existing scenario of Covid-19 access to markets and access to community thus is the major challenge and this has resulted in stoppage of work. Though businesses in Hunza are much stable in comparison to those of Gilgit but access to finance remains a challenge because of winter season where earnings drastically decline. Within this access to finance challenge getting loans from the bank is one of the biggest challenges because of compliance involved.

Similarly, there are areas in the region where there is no equal distribution of Cash through the conditional cash transfer programs thus creating income disparity. This unequal distribution of cash through programs also brings in income disparity bringing in challenges for the community at lower level.

The above-mentioned challenges are across the gender but intensity matters as males of the society can get engaged in other activities thus playing the role in overall development.

To bring in development to the Gilgit-Baltistan system and sustaining it for the long run first and foremost thing which federal government need to address is the governance structure. For this purpose, government implementation needs restructuring and plans need to be revisit so as to make things workable. Further there is need to strengthen the overall framework and business model across the board and this regard different capacity building programs with the involvement of private investment needs a start and push. Private investment can also strengthen the businesses and make market more innovative and technology driven. This will help in attracting customers at sub-national, national and international level.

Also, there is need to control the climate related migration for this purpose infrastructure should be a key priority this infrastructure should be in the form of provision of energy and water. For this purpose, alternate energy system along with restructuring of the overall infrastructure framework is the key so that access to basic needs becomes easy task across all seasons. This will also help in improving the business model thus helping in reduction of unemployment and creating more business opportunities.

Alongside, infrastructure there is also need for cash transfer programs to increase its spread and need for revision of distribution criteria so that there remains an equal distribution across the region irrespective of the gender.

Thus, in short for development of Gilgit-Baltistan region, there is need to provide infrastructure to cater the demand in all seasons, finance and improved service delivery. This will enable overall system to develop significantly and improve overall living standards.

The idea of spatially hybrid urbanization

Cities have been assigned the tag of engine of growth, due to their multifaceted role in industrialization and expansion of business. The historical data, trend and empirical analysis also point to the same conclusion. World Bank in 2020, highlighted that 80 percent of world GDP is being generated from cities. The UN-Habitat described that the leading factors of the believe in theory of cities as engine of growth are; 1) productivity and efficiency in production and services, 2) competitiveness enhancement through enhanced efficiency, 3) centers of knowledge and innovation owning to diversity and concentration, and 4) business opportunities through concentration and quality of life.

The believe in the theory and historical evidences compelled world to adopt the strategy of urbanization and creation of cities. The rationale behind the creation of cities was to tap the benefits of urbanization and cities. It triggered a race to urbanization. Countries adopted policies and tools to lead the race and trend. Developed world was way ahead than developing world due to their economic status technological development and financial resources. It led to a mass migration from rural areas to urban centers or conversion of towns into cities. The end of World War-II accelerated the process, as the economic growth took a new turn due to rapid industrialization. Now the cities host more than 4.2 billion people, which were only 750 million in 1950. The trend is still going on and it is expected that the contribution of cities to GDP will be enhanced in coming years and many cities will become trillion-dollar economy.

Howbeit, cities also brought multiple challenges and problems for humanity. On challenges side, it is becoming extremely difficult to fulfil the food and energy demand of cities. According to statistics cities account for 78 percent of world energy consumption and 80 precent of world food consumption. It is huge, especially in the context of land mass of cities which is around 2 percent only. On problem side, cities are responsible for 70 percent of GHG emissions. It is biggest factor of climate change, which is existential threat to world. Cities are also major contributor to deterioration of environmental indicators at large. The cities have become center of concentration of public service like education, health, transport and others. It led to grave divide of urban and rural areas.

E-commerce has emerged as an alternative to concentration of population in physical space. The enhanced connectivity through information technology can also be turned into platform of diversity, which can lead the innovation

Hence, there is need to look for new or alternative way of urbanization without comprising on the contribution to growth. The alternative model should be designed in such a way that it contributes to lower the GHG emissions, preservation of environmental indicators, human welfare, planet welfare and bridge the rural urban divide. Spatially hybrid urbanization has been emerged as one of such alternative.

The idea of spatially hybrid urbanization (SHU) has been derived by keeping in mind above discussed objectives. Though, the core objective of the SHU idea is “to work with existing non-urban settlements and convert them into urban centers by maintaining the non-urban characteristics without impacting the surroundings”. The deep dive into the idea highlighted that non-urban centers can be converted into urban centers by providing the services and livelihood opportunities at non-urban centers. The argument is also being substantiated by analyzing the historical trend of migration and reasons of migration. However, for successful conversion of non-urban centers we need to design the distribution of the services and livelihood opportunities in such a way it ensures the equity if not equality among the local settlements. Moreover, the accessibility of services and livelihoods should also be ensured.

Thus, the idea of SHU for conversion of non-urban centers into urban centers has been designed in a systematic way. The process of conversion will be completed in a phase wise manner (four phases). First phase should be dedicated to the profiling of area, mapping of livelihood opportunities, climatic condition and population density. The second phase will focus on mapping the availability and need of services like water, education, health, electricity, internet etc. Third phase should go for deep dive into livelihood opportunities like state of business, industry, resources, skills, future needs etc. Fourth and last phase should be to critically analyze the existing facilities of connectivity like internet, roads, transport etc. These all phases will help to identify the potential of settlements and map the requirements to convert the non-urban center into urban center.

Howbeit, the key question would be how the idea of SHU will contribute to achieve the four indicators highlighted by UN-Habitat as key factors, which turned the cities into engine of growth. The simple answer is the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its tools like information technology etc. We have already witnessed the glimpse of role of technology in distant business and connectivity. E-commerce has already changed the ways of doing business and Amazon and Alibaba emerged as new giants in business. E-commerce has emerged as an alternative to concentration of population in physical space. The enhanced connectivity through information technology can also be turned into platform of diversity, which can lead the innovation.

The use of technology during the COVID-19 helped to greater extent to lessen the impact on mobility and functioning of supply chains and production facilities. The provision of services also witnessed a new trend. Bedsides, the ways of meetings, conferences and daily interaction among the management, production facilities and employees also observed a gigantic shift. The virtual meetings and conferences are becoming norm. This gives us hope that SHU can be achieved if we applied the right set policy and implementation tools.

Lastly, it is well accepted that with every technology breakthrough the landscape of job markets and doing business changed. The provision and accessibility of services also followed the trend. There is also consensus among experts that every breakthrough also give impetus to urbanization and concentration of opportunities, services and people in cities. However, the present time technological breakthroughs can be used to reverse the process and create a new way of urbanization. We can use information technology to change the landscape of service like education, health etc. We can also venture to new ways of production and manage the supply chain.

Thus, it can be inferred that this is time to reconceptualize the urban centers and cities according to the changing circumstances. It is also required to tackle challenges and problems posed by present cities. Opportunity is here, now it depends on us, either we stick to old norms or venture in new ways of creation of urban centers. It is envisioned that SHU will help to tackle challenges and problems at certain level. It is expected that minimization of rural-urban divide will be first and immediate benefit. Spatially distribution of production facilities and services will also help to reduce the environmental problems. In nutshell, it will be a win-win proposition.

The writer is Director, Asia Study Center SDPI

Farmers’ protests in India

By supporting the Indian farmers, celebrities such as Rihanna and Greta Thunberg have given a new stir to their protests. Their criticism of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government also marks a low point in India’s global standing.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could have rectified this but it chose not to. This opportunity came its way in the form of the union (central) budget 2021 that it presented on February 1, 2021 and which singularly failed to address the concerns of the protesting farmers. Rather than amending or rescinding the controversial farm laws that have brought farmers from the northern Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to the streets of Delhi, the government introduced nine new measures to support agriculture in the central budget. The farmers, as well as the opposition parties, instantly rejected these measures as ‘pro-corporations’.

Almost all the opposition parties, including the Indian National Congress, and the Aam Aadmi Party which rules Delhi, are supporting the farmers. They walked out of parliament during the budget session after being denied the permission to discuss the farmers’ agitation.

The government, on the other hand, has further toughened its stance. After the Republic Day ( January 26) debacle – when protesters on tractors broke through security cordons and managed to reach the Red Fort – Delhi has been turned into a fortress with multi-layered barricades marking its entry points. The protesters have been boxed in at Delhi’s border with Uttar Pradesh. These measures, however, did not stop them from giving the call for a strike on February 6.

So why is the BJP government treating Indian farmers like traitors? And what has made north Indian farmers protest amid Covid-19 and during the biting cold of winter?

To find the answers to these questions, we have to go back to the 2019 election when Narendra Modi promised to double the farmers’ income by 2022. The BJP government that came to power after that election believed that the root cause of rural poverty and ‘farm inefficiency’ in India was a slew of policies implemented in the 1950s and the 1960s which, among other things, set minimum price for a host of crops and obliged farmers to sell their harvest only at designated wholesale markets. These policies also had the effect of barring private companies from entering into long-term contracts with farmers for the supply of agricultural produce.

In an attempt to reform the agricultural sector, the Indian government promulgated three ordinances in June 2020. The ordinances ostensibly freed the farmers from selling their crops to government-licensed traders at the government-announced prices. Now they could sell their produce to anyone at any price and had the liberty to sign long-term supply contracts with restaurants, super markets and the producers of packaged foods. The ordinances also provided a legal framework for electronic trading of agriculture commodities and allowed traders and industrialists to stockpile food.

In September 2020, the ordinances were presented in the Indian parliament where, amid loud calls by the opposition to debate them thoroughly, the ruling party hastened to pass them as laws.

Prime Minister Modi claims these laws will free the farmers from the clutches of bullying middlemen. The farmers believe otherwise. They fear that big agricultural corporations like Reliance will grab their lands and deprive them of their livelihood.

How real are their fears?

More than 86 percent of India’s cultivated land is owned by small farmers who, on average, have two hectares (five acres) of land. A middleman (aarrthi), no matter how exploitative, is their friend in need since he lends them money without any collateral for all their financial needs. He, admittedly, charges exorbitant rates of interest on the credit he extends and uses very harsh methods to get his money back but he gives farm inputs to farmers on credit, purchases their produce on a pre-set price and does grading, labelling and marketing for them. Sometimes, he also buys their standing crops, essentially providing insurance to them against all kinds of risks – including bad weather and pest attacks.

The farmers are apprehensive that the government’s farm laws will turn the existing system of agricultural markets non-functional and leave small land owners at the mercy of corporate giants with whom they will never be able to bargain or negotiate on an equal footing. Their fear is also rooted in the fact that the new farm laws do not guarantee a minimum support price which will leave them vulnerable to the vagaries of the market and price manipulation by bulk buyers.

The farmers, therefore, would rather have the devil they know – that is, the middleman – than the devil they do not know and cannot even meet in person – that is, the corporations.

The farmers also have strong worries about the way contracts with corporations will work under the new laws. These contracts do not need to be in writing and disputes arising out of them will not be resolved by courts but through district administrations. Small farmers, mindful of the little influence they can have on district administrations, fear that they will always be on the losing side given the financial heft and the political clout that corporate giants enjoy.

Lastly, the farmers are scared of the capacity that the corporations have to hold and stockpile. They may buy agriculture produce at cheap rates during the harvesting season but stockpile it in order to create shortages and make prices rise.

The farmers, in fact, are not the only losers from the new farm laws. The state (provincial) governments and the middlemen are the other major stakeholders which will also lose out. Under the old system, the state governments used to get 6-7 percent market fee from the trade of all the produce within their jurisdictions. For instance, the government of Indian Punjab earned $10-11 billion as market fee in 2019. Likewise, the middlemen earned 2-2.5 percent commission on the trade of agricultural products under the old system. They will be deprived of their commission as well as their socio-political influence over farmers (which in itself is not something entirely undesirable).

The BJP government not only overruled the parliamentary opposition while passing the farm laws, it also did not bother to consult the three major stakeholders: farmers, state governments and middlemen. After more than twelve rounds of negotiations between the union government and the farmers’ representatives, the impasse still persists. The farmers do not accept anything less than a scrapping of the laws. The government, on the other hand, is only willing to defer their implementation by two years.

So, what’s next?

Agriculture marketing certainly needs reforms in India – as well as in Pakistan. The systems created during the previous century’s mechanization of agriculture cannot be adequate for the 21st century’s digitized economies. These reforms, however, can never be successful if their brunt has to be borne by small farmers who form a vast majority of the farming community in both the countries.

The indecent haste with which the Indian government passed the farm laws and Narendra Modi’s stubborn stance towards the farmers’ protests exhibit the ruling party’s disdain for developing a consensus. Whether the BJP realizes it or not, its failure to address the farmers’ worries now runs the risk of derailing its entire economic agenda.

And therein lies an important lesson for decision-makers in other countries of South Asia: don’t leave out the most vulnerable sections of society while making policies that have a direct bearing on their lives.

The writer heads the Sustainable Development Policy Institute.

Twitter: @abidsuleri

Pakistan’s Layers of Persecution: Education

(International Christian Concern) – The persecution of Christians in Pakistan is severe and complex. Pakistani Christians are treated as second-class citizens simply because of their religious identity as non-Muslims. Christians face many forms of abuse, including false blasphemy accusations, physical assaults, attacks on places of worship, abductions, and forced conversions to Islam.

Due to this discrimination and abuse, Pakistan is recognized as one of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians. Open Doors USA ranked Pakistan the world’s fifth-worst persecutor of Christians in its 2021 World Watch List. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has also designated Pakistan a “Country of Particular Concern” in part due to the persecution faced by the country’s Christian community.

In a series of articles entitled “Pakistan’s Layers of Persecution,” International Christian Concern (ICC) continues to explore the many facets of Christian persecution in Pakistan. These articles look into issues like Pakistan’s discriminatory laws, hate speech against Christians, a biased constitution, and Christian untouchability.

Many human rights experts have pointed out that the country’s education system teaches the hatred and intolerance experienced by Pakistan’s Christian community. From an early age, students in Pakistan are told to be intolerant of non-Muslims, which is reinforced by behavior modeled and tolerated by Pakistan’s educators.

In 1979, Pakistan’s education policy was brought into line with Islamic teachings by the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq. The new policy used social and physical sciences to promote religious intolerance in which religious minorities, particularly Hindus, were depicted as enemies of Pakistan. During this time, Pakistani colleges and universities also adopted military Jihad as part of on-campus culture.

In 2009 a new education policy was launched as part of a social reform agenda. This policy sought to promote a tolerant and peaceful image of Islam. However, this new policy was opposed by Pakistan’s religious conservatives. Nationwide protests were launched rejecting the educational reform, deeming it a Western conspiracy.

In a 2011 report prepared for USCIRF by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, researchers found many examples of intolerance in Pakistani schools’ textbooks. According to this report, textbooks were found to have a strong Islamic orientation in which religious minorities were either referenced derogatorily or omitted altogether.

In an Islamic Studies textbook used for grade seven in Sindh, the following passage is included: “Most of the (other) religious of the world claim equality, but they never act on it.” Another Islamic Studies textbook used in grade eight in Punjab states, “Honesty for non-Muslims is merely a business strategy while for Muslims it is a matter of faith.”

A social studies textbook used for grade seven in Punjab states, “European Christian governments and especially priests had hatred against the Islamic Sultanate. They were anxious to destroy the power of Islam. The false stories of Christian pilgrims were the major causes of the crusades.”

Another Islamic Studies textbook used for grade five in Sindh states, “Christians cannot follow Jesus Christ even if they wanted to because they lack authenticity.” The same textbook goes on to say, “Other religious communities usually keep engaged in useless activities during religious events. There is no concept of worship and relationship with God in their midst.”

As the examples provided in the USCIRF report indicate, religious minorities are presented as dishonest, disloyal, and untrustworthy in Pakistan’s public school curriculum. This sentiment is also modeled within the classroom by educators and is tolerated when acted upon by classmates. In recent years, ICC has reported many incidents of outright persecution against Christian students.

In October 2018, Sharjeel Masih, a grade four student at a primary school in the Attock district, was reprimanded and humiliated by the school’s headmaster because he took a drink from a water fountain. This discriminatory action reinforced the idea that Pakistani Christians are untouchable and should not use the same facilities as Muslims.

In February 2019, Haroon Irfan, a Christian student at a primary school in Karachi, was stabbed by a Muslim classmate and had a kidney removed. According to local sources, Haroon’s Muslim classmate attacked him because he was the class’s top-ranked student. When ICC talked with the school’s headmaster, he referred to Haroon affectionately as little Einstein.

For Pakistan’s Christians, the classroom and the curriculum introduces, normalizes, and instills the religious intolerance that comes to dominate their daily lives. After decades of intolerance and discrimination being taught, it is little wonder that Pakistan ranks among the world’s worst persecutors of Christians.

However, as stated at the beginning of this article, Christian persecution in Pakistan is complex and multi-faceted. Caste history, discriminatory laws, and many other issues all play their part in why Pakistan is one of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians today.