Monday, February 4, 2008

Devolution gives too much power to local govts: Arif Hasan

By Qasim A. Moini
(Courtesy DAWN)

KARACHI, Feb 3: Discussing the major changes that have shaped Pakistan since independence, renowned architect and urban planner Arif Hasan criticised President Musharraf's devolution of power plan, initiated in 2001, saying that it had largely failed and had handed power back to the old elites.
He was speaking at a lecture titled 'Urbanisation, politics, public and national interests,' held at the office of an NGO here on Sunday.
"Civil society organisations – in their romanticism – had opted for this," he said, referring to the devolution plan in his highly informative speech, which was punctuated with statistics and interesting personal anecdotes. "But I had my reservations." He claimed the devolution of power initiative had given too much money and power to the district governments, with no proper checks in place from the central bureaucracy. "The result is the citizen has to go grovelling to the nazim to get his job done."
Mr Hasan said one of the few good things witnessed during the Ziaul Haq era was the entry of traders and entrepreneurs at the level of local politics, whereas today power was back in the hands of the feudals and other traditional wielders of authority.
Along with devolution, the six other major factors that he reckoned had shaped the country since partition were the constitution of pre-partition society, the migration from India, Ayub Khan's 'Green Revolution,' urbanization, the Zia era and globalization.
Mr Hasan intricately wove all the factors together and ably described their inter-connectedness, which was responsible for the present chaos. He said at the time of partition, the major identifier in society was caste affiliation, while society was managed by panchayats, though this system was not uniform,
Describing the massive migration from India at partition, he quoted a study which says that in the early 1950s, 48 per cent of the urban population in Pakistan said that they had come from India. "This caused huge urbanization, whereby the population in some cities increased by 100 per cent. The Hindu traders left while poor, rural Muslims came in. However in the NWFP and Balochistan, de-urbanization was witnessed as there was no one to replace the Hindu middle class," said Arif Hasan.
"The old relationship between the caste and the mohalla disappeared and the old values were replaced by a fiercely upwardly mobile culture. We moved from being a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual society into a uni-religious one trying to become uni-lingual," he said.
The Green Revolution, which was initiated in the late '50s but it took off and experienced incredible growth in the '60s, changed rural society, he said. "Before this, the feudal order financed agriculture and also worked with the establishment. With the Green Revolution, new people came into the scenario, such as salesmen, mechanics, etc. Small farms were bought up by larger farmers. This changed the position of the feudals, as the banks and informal sector became the financiers. Cash changed everything. However, the feudals continued to control the politics of the country," observed Mr Hasan.
He said the old system functioned on the basis of clan and tribal affiliations; but the introduction of cash weakened this system. The panchayat and jirga were challenged for the first time.
"Industrialisation in the Ayub era also increased urbanization. Subsistence fishing was replaced by commercial fishing; traditional fishermen had to take loans to keep up. The same happened in the carpet industry. We moved towards a capitalist system without the proper infrastructure," he added.
He said that though there was currently a major construction boom in the country, there was not enough qualified manpower, such as surveyors or equipment operators, to fill these jobs.
"The institutes to train these people do not exist. They have nearly all learnt through the shagirdi system; the polytechnics have no money and have obsolete equipment. We have abandoned middle level education, such as technical colleges. Thus, our universities are castles built on sand," he said.
Changing values
Arif Hasan said that the increase in the number of working women was fuelling immense social change, altering the attitudes of how the relationship between men and women was viewed. He cited a recent survey, which studied the way young couples use public spaces as rendezvous, and said that out of 100 couples surveyed, only 28 were married. "There is a need for new societal values; most people are quite modern but fear tradition," he said.
Coming to the policies of the Zia era and their repercussions today, he said these policies consolidated the religious establishment. Apart from the growing presence of religion in the public sphere, he said Gen Zia's policies "stifled the universities and killed off the youths as extra-curricula activities were banned. The custodians of the religious establishment became the guardians of morality."
This was also the time, he said, when the westernised elite stepped out of public life and built their own world, which resulted in ghettoisation. "People turned to ethnic and clan organisations" due to the political vacuum, he added. "The Zia era coincided with the period of urban consolidation in Pakistan."
As for globalization, he said we had failed to capitalize on the phenomenon and resultantly, Pakistan had turned into an under-developed country from once being a mid-level developing country.
The lecture was organised by the People's Resistance and the Green Economics and Globalisation Initiative in the Shirkat Gah's office.

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