Tag Archives: defence budget
An absorbing piece splashed across the front page of this week’s Epoch Times (2nd-8th March 2011, UK edition) depicts another country in the Greater Middle East on the verge of mass revolt: Pakistan. As in many other developing nations, the price of basic items is stretching the patience of the general population, but Pakistan faces a particularly acute energy supply problem. Despite having the sixth largest coal reserves in the world and more sunshine – and therefore solar power potential – than anyone sane can really stand, the Pakistani government is engaging in what is euphemistically termed ‘load shedding’: planned (and increasingly, unplanned) electricity cuts and gas rationing designed to ameliorate the country’s chronic energy shortages.
The result of this policy has been nothing less than a tearing of the fabric of everyday existence: small businesses are suffering chronic financial losses, with many companies resorting to mass layoffs or wage reductions; manufacturing industries are seeing a 30-40% rise in production costs; and householders cannot even cook meals for large portions of the day as the provision of liquefied petroleum gas (‘LPG’) is often highly irregular.
As the Epoch Times reports, Mahfooz Elahi, the President of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce, has pointed to the possibility of North Africa-style uprising in Pakistan, with energy shortages as a key catalyst. But is this really likely? There appear to be at least five factors which would obviate any chances of Pakistan turning into the next Egypt:
1. Education. While literacy rates have officially been rising in Pakistan in recent years, with the 2008‐9 Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement (‘PSLM’) Survey giving an overall literacy rate of 57% for those aged 10 and above, the country lacks a body of educated middle-class citizens who are connected to the global flow of knowledge and ideas;
2. Exploitation. The fact that Pakistan is an essentially feudal society where over 60% of the population lives on under US$2 per diem does not begin to capture the ruthless exploitation which is endemic in the country. As illustrated in Uwe Buse’s Balls and Chains feature for Der Spiegel on football production in Sialkot – in 2006, the city was responsible for 60% of the global output of the beautiful game’s central element – the economic abuse of men, women and children is an entrenched part of Pakistani society rather than something to rebel against;
3. Military dominance. In the 1980s, the quip amongst international observers was that the country was defined by the ‘three As’: America, Allah and the Army. This is still essentially true, with the Pakistani defence budget of around US$5bn for 2010-11 representing a 16.5% increase on the 2009-10 total, an startling allocation of resources given the country’s dire situation according to virtually every economic, political and social indicator. However, it is also reflective of the military’s revered position within Pakistani society as a perceived agent of stability, a perception which does not bode well for a transition to a more democratic system;
4. The Chinese factor. Pakistan has traditionally been an ally of China, India’s main regional rival, and in recent years China has invested massively in Pakistani infrastructure: the development of the warm water, deep sea port at Gwardar on the Arabian Sea – constructed with ample Chinese technical and financial assistance – is arguably a prototypical strategic endowment. China is unlikely to look favourably on any systemic instability in a country which is a key part of its future energy strategy, though it is difficult to speculate exactly what action it would take in the event of any mass uprising in Pakistan;
5. The ideology of conspiracy. This is such a key element of the national culture of Pakistan that it is reminiscent of the diaries of Stepan Podlubny. The son of a Ukrainian Peasant, Podlubny’s chronicle of life in the 1930s Soviet Union depicted a world permeated by the idea that the failures of Stalinist society were not the result of repressive autocracy or economic planning gone mad, but instead a vague and omnipresent notion that a great conspiracy was to blame. Analogously, in large sections of Pakistani society, the concept that Pakistanis themselves might have something to do with the parlous state of their nation is met with carefree denial: the United States and India (probably acting in combination), the West, being in the wrong geographical location and almost anything else that comes to hand are instead at fault for Pakistan’s legendary graft, insecurity, inequality and injustice. A country in which self-examination is notable only by its absence is not fertile ground for meaningful reform.