Published Date: Jul 21, 2011
FOOD INSECURITY CAUSES TERRORISM, VIOLENCE
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor
While we have lived with militancy, as well as intensified violence of many other kinds, for well over a decade now, there is still a relatively poor understanding of the factors that trigger it and the issues that lead people towards violence.
Yet, gaining an insight into these factors is essential to dealing with militancy and addressing the reasons why it has taken such a firm grip in our part of the world.
A new report by the Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute links food insecurity to conflict and violence, and notes that if people remain unable to obtain sufficient food, civil strife could grow.
Specially striking about the findings from the report are the immense regional disparities between access to food and the manner in which this links up with violence.
The highest levels of food insecurity, for instance, exist in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, according to the report, where 67.7 percent of the people are insecure. The next highest level is in Balochistan, with food insecurity at 61.2 percent, and then in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 56.2 percent.
The contrast with the situation in Islamabad, the region with the lowest rate of food insecurity, at 23.6, is quite striking – though, obviously at a different level, we should be asking ourselves why anybody should go hungry at all in a country with sufficient agricultural resources.
The lack of equity in their distribution is an acute problem. We have also blinded ourselves to the fact that hunger exists amidst us and is so widespread.
The myth that “no one goes without food” in the country is one deeply embedded in minds, passed on through the generations as a kind of propaganda intended to blind people – and the leaders themselves – to reality. But it takes only a cursory look around to know hunger exists everywhere.
Even in our largest cities families say they survive on barely a meal a day. And while the Edhi Foundation pragmatically notes that instances reported from Sheikhupura, Vehari and other places of parents trying to sell their children are essentially “drama” intended to collect charity, a sense of desperation certainly lies behind the reports. Another manifestation of this are, of course, suicides.But reality needs to be tackled. This has now become a matter of survival for all of us.
The militancy that has fanned out across the north has destroyed a great deal. It remains – for all the talk about India – the biggest threat to our national security.
There is also no real evidence that we have a viable strategy of any kind to manage the problem.
Recently the subject of more being done to rehabilitate the militants and in the past Prime Minister Gilani has at least mentioned the need for creating employment in Swat.
Even recognition of problems is welcome, but of course the actual challenge is to do something about this. But the capacity and will required lie beyond the government.
The SDPI findings reveal a great deal about the frustrations and hopelessness that drive the militancy. With a large majority of people in Fata areas deprived of enough food, it is hardly surprising that they should be vulnerable to the recruitment efforts of extremist groups which use the inadequacies of government to lure them over to their own cause.
This is obviously not a difficult feat to achieve when you have so many people whose main concern is to somehow find means to feed the family.
The same situation holds true to a considerable extent for Balochistan, where a long history of nationalism and an uneasy relationship with the State of Pakistan virtually since its inception has added to the problems we see there.
The danger is that this situation could continue to worsen. Certainly, nothing is being done at the present time to address the food security issue. It needs to be pushed to the top of the list of measures that are vital to any kind of lasting harmony in the country.
Precisely what is to be done needs to be worked out by experts. In fact, even now plenty of literature exists, putting forward suggestion and concrete ideas.
We need, first of all, to divert more resources to the welfare of people. This can be done through a better taxation strategy with the wealthy actually compelled to part with their wealth, as happens in most developed states of the world.
It is an irony that in our country the salaried middle class, whose tax contributions are cut at source, often end up paying more into the exchequer than wealthy businessmen, traders or agriculturalists.
The reluctance to pay tax is evident everywhere. The returns submitted by top industrialists are often an indication of this. But we also have shopkeepers reluctant to draw up proper bills and who take other measures that can save them from being taxed. The perception that taxes are most often misused adds to the problem.
And then we have the pressing issue of land reforms and a need to work this out in terms that can have a true impact on the lives of people who own no land.
It has become quite clear that all these matters need to be thought about very earnestly. Even more than thought, we need action. We have already waited far too long to initiate this.
The result has been the chaos we see in the north, in Balochistan, in Karachi and also in other parts of the country. It could spread if the civil strife that the STPI has bleakly predicted turns into reality at some time in the future. It is perfectly possible that this could happen.
There is therefore urgent reason to take measures to prevent a further worsening of things and to recognise that militancy is not a simple problem linked only to a hatred for the US but tied in with the realities of life for people everywhere.