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Facilitate Health Workers Instead Of Increasing Armed Forces’ Resources

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In the face of growing threat of Novel COVID-19 virus spreading in our society, advocating more resources for the armed forces, while our health sector lies in tatters, does not make sense, writes Umer Farooq.

Dr Muhammad Waseem is a foremost political historian of Pakistan’s political history. His book Politics and the State in Pakistan didn’t attract the fame it deserved. The analysis of Pakistan’s political developments one finds in it is comprehensive, in-depth and incisive.

In the first three chapters, he explains the political structures and socio-economic conditions Pakistani state and society inherited from the British colonial masters. One very apt comment he makes about Pakistani state relates to transfer of power from British colonial state to Pakistan post-colonial state, “In the common parlance, the transfer of power had taken place between the two governments, the outgoing British government and the incoming Muslim League government. However a closer look at the whole episode reveals that the actual transition took place between British bureaucracy and emergent Pakistani bureaucracy”.

This “emergent Pakistani bureaucracy, which comprised mostly of migrants from Muslim Minority provinces of British India co-opted the Muslim political elite from minority provinces, which was leading Muslim League and thus leading Pakistan Movement—and has no constituency of its own in the lands that formed Pakistan, to get themselves elected to the constituent assembly—in excluding provincial political elite of Pakistan’s culturally and economically distinct federating units.

Pakistan went into war with India over disputed territory of Kashmir immediately after independence. The new state of Pakistan had an army, which was ill-equipped—as military stores of British army were located in India and thus Pakistan’s share was not transferred to it—and was facing much larger and much more well equipped Indian Army in the East and irredentists claims of Afghanistan on its western border. In this situation Cold War related security policy of United States provided Pakistan’s bureaucratic and military elite with an opportunity to raise a defense force that was beyond its financial capacity to keep and maintain.

Pakistan didn’t inherit the central state machinery from the British colonial masters as the central structures of colonial administration went to Indian state. Pakistani bureaucracy had to build the central administrative structure from scratches.

Three central features of Pakistani state became visible right from the very state on account of above-mentioned factors—Ascendant and dominant civil and military bureaucracy built a very strong central government to the detriment provincial political elite, which had a natural constituency in the federating units, Pakistani bureaucracy developed the proclivities to dismantle all the structures, which could accord financial and administrative autonomy to the provinces and a very intrusive and strong security state was put in place to curb all political activity in the federating units as well as in the center.

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This civil bureaucracy and later military establishment made many attempts later on to turn Pakistani into a unitary form of government, and thus exerted pressure to exclude the political and administrative structures altogether that could accord some legitimacy to the provincial autonomy. For instance, under the 1962 constitution the post of elected and representative provincial chief ministers were abolished altogether and governors. In later Martial laws of Zia and Musharraf the same technique was applied and provincial political and administrative structures that could have given these federating units a semblance of autonomy were altogether dropped from government machinery.

Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto was the first political ruler who in fact established Pakistan as a federation at the legal and constitutional level and thus paid heed to the distinct cultural identity and separate economic and political interests of federating units into the constitution of Pakistan. The successive military governments of Zia and Musharraf again ruined the gains for provincial autonomy, made during democratic period.

The restoration of provincial financial and administrative autonomy during the fourth PPP government in 2008, in the shape of 18th amendment will be remembered by Pakistan’s political historians with golden words. Provincial political elite started to divert resources towards education and health, great needs of our society.

The 18th Amendment and the financial restructuring associated with it can potentially resolve the longstanding debate related to bread versus bullet within the context of Pakistani political system. Some of the economic experts say that in the post-Eighteenth Amendment period, after the functions of education and health ministries were transferred to the provinces, all four provinces have increased budgetary allocations for the two subjects. “The education and health allocations have increased in all four provinces because now the provinces have more money,” Qaiser Bengali, a foremost economic expert said.

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Now a debate has once again started, which advocates that the 18th amendment has led to the shrinking of federal government’s capacity to finance financial needs of the security forces. Some of the enthusiasts have been advocating that the 18th amendment and associated financial restructuring should be abolished to enhance the financial capacity of federal government so that it could finance the needs of armed forces.

In the face of growing threat of Novel COVID-19 virus spreading in our society, advocating more resources for the armed forces, while our health sector lies in tatters, does not make sense. The dimensions of COVID-19 threat should have made us realize that we need to introduce drastic cuts into our financial allocations to big white elephants and pump in more funds into our health sector. COVID-19 is a clear and present danger and threat. Feeding and maintaining an overweight military machine could not be prioritized over the life of millions of Pakistan who are feared likely to be effected by COVID-19 virus.

Our health sector is in tatters and simple motivational songs for our health practitioners would not be enough to motivate them for the uphill task of treating multitudes COVID 19 patients. Poor working conditions, low salaries and low social status for health practitioners are some of the visible manifestations of low level of budget allocations that health sector has been receiving over the years. This doesn’t mean that anybody should be jealous of high social status that the military personnel enjoy in our society. By all means the people who sacrifice their lives for the protection of our society and people deserve high social status.

What I am trying to say is that with their low salaries and low social status we should not expect health practitioners to be our warriors in the war against COVID-19. The institutional imbalance in our political system is at the center of our political problems. Similarly imbalance in the social status of different segments of our society will ruin our capacity to meet new challenges.

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