The status of Women

By Zubeida Mustafa

65-05-06-1992The women’s movement in Pakistan (I use the term for want of a more appropriate one) has lost its earlier vitality. The various organisations which came together under the umbrella of the Women’s Action Forum to take up cudgels against an Establishment determined to supress the female identity, have gone their separate ways.

This is distressing because a lot of work still remains to be done to raise the status of women. Admittedly, enormous progress has been made by a small minority of the female population in the country. In the last decade and a half since the international women’s year in 1975, women have achieved what was unheard of before. The number of girls enrolled in primary schools and in the universities has doubled and the female literacy rate has gone up by five percentage points in the last decade from 16 to 21 per cent. Even the labour force participation ratio of women has risen from three per cent to twelve per cent in 1981-1991. Health-wise women’s status has improved even though marginally, and the sex ratio has risen from 90 (for 100 men) to 92. Continue reading The status of Women

Guess who came for breakfast?

By Zubeida Mustafa

64-26-05-1992  A few weeks ago we had some jninvited guests for breakfast. They were masked and armed and the breakfast they took was most unhealthy — gulab jamuns and Coca Cola. They also took away whatever cash they could lay their hands on and some valuables — to use the crime reporter’s terminology. But the most precious thing they stole was my peace of mind.

If there is one word to describe my experience of this armed robbery, it is “bizarre”. Of course I also felt terrified, but that came much later.

It all happened early in the morning, which is the worst time for such unwholesome intrusions — not that other times are better. In the morning your senses are not fully awake — apart from the fact that one is not even properly dressed to receive visitors, including the unwanted ones. Continue reading Guess who came for breakfast?

Privatisation of higher education

By Zubeida Mustafa

The Pakistan government is considering the privatisation of the universities. The new education policy, which has been on the anvil for an inexplicably long time, is expected to lay down the guidelines for the establishment of private universities and colleges.

This step is being taken at the prodding of the World Bank which perceives privatisation as the magic cure for all economic ills. Being totally dependent on the loans it receives from the aid-giving agencies, the Pakistan government feels it has no other option but to obey the Bank’s edict. But will this solve the problems the country faces in the higher education sector? Continue reading Privatisation of higher education

What ails educational publishing in Pakistan?

By Zubeida Mustafa

62-25-02-1992Many of the imported globes and atlases being sold in Pakistan have the words “Disputed Territory” or simply “DT” overstamped on the spot showing Kashmir. What is strange is that the authorities’ sensitivity to cartographical precision does not extend to the text6ooks being published by their own Textbook Boards.

Just pick up any Social Studies or Pakistan Studies book being taught in the schools in Sindh and you can consider your child to be fortunate if the maps are correctly drawn. More often than not our cartographers are fond of showing a common border between Pakistan and what was the USSR until December!

That is not all. The profusion of errors and distortions in the books is appalling. The absence of an imaginative approach makes the text not only dull but also in many cases conceptually beyond the child’s comprehension. The poor quality of the printing and paper of the Board’s publications is sure to kill whatever interest a student might have in his studies. Continue reading What ails educational publishing in Pakistan?

Population welfare: the plan that failed

By Zubeida Mustafa

Recently, the Washington-based Population Crisis Committee released its 1992 edition of World Access to Birth Control. It is not too flattering to Pakistan which is ranked a lowly 55th among 95 developing countries in terms of availability of modern birth control information and services. What is more shocking than the low score (37/100) is the fact that Pakistan lags .behind countries considered more backward.

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In South Asia, Pakistan ranks the lowest compared to Sri Lanka (80), Bangladesh (77), India (73) and Nepal (50) in providing contraceptive options, competent services and outreach of the population programme. Continue reading Population welfare: the plan that failed

The private sector in higher education

By Zubeida Mustafa

61-14-01-1992aTen years ago there was not a single private university in Pakistan. Today there are three. The policy of inducting the private sector in education in a big way has begun to produce a visible impact.

The Aga Khan University in Karachi which was chartered in 1983 and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (founded two years later) today enjoy a prestige in the field of higher education in Pakistan that no other institution in the country has ever known.

The Hamdard University which received its charter in 1990 still has some time to go before it becomes functional. In characteristic Pakistani style, the university failed to respond to some basic queries to which the other private universities were prompt in providing information. Continue reading The private sector in higher education

To go nuclear or not is the question

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE suspension of American aid to Pakistan has produced one positive result. It has for the first time brought into the open the nuclear debate in this country.

Given the categorical linkage Washington instituted between the flow of economic assistance to Pakistan and nuclear non-prolif eration, Islamabad never encouraged a public discussion on the atom bomb.

To use Stephen Cohen’s term, a policy of ‘designed ambiguity’ was adopted. In other words, the capacity and the will of the government to go nuclear are deliberately kept ambivalent. Continue reading To go nuclear or not is the question

From Urdu Bazar to 5-star hotels

By Zubeida Mustafa

Christina Lamb’s Waiting for Allah is been pirated vithin days of its arrival in Pakistan. The special low-cost Indian edition produced by the publishgers for the South Asian market is selling for Rs 290.

But the pirates, six of whom are in the field, have managed to beat the price down to Rs 175. What is more, piracy in Pakistan has moved out of the dusty lanes of Urdu Bazar to the prestigious bookstalls of the five-star hotels. They are unabashedly selling the counterfeited edition of the Lamb book. Continue reading From Urdu Bazar to 5-star hotels

Foreign policy

By Zubeida Mustafa

August has been an eventful month for the Soviet Union — perhaps no less eventful than October 1917 which brought the Bolsheviks to power. The coup that toppled Mr Mikhail Gorbachev — though temporarily — his return to power, the rise of his arch-rival, Mr Boris Yeltsin, as the champion of the anti-coup forces and the danger of the unravelling of the Soviet federation have come at a breathtaking pace.

Most importantly, the coup and its aftermath have transformed the situation in the USSR.

Seemingly the three eventful days in August were like an interlude when the Soviet Union’s fledgling democracy was put on hold. However, what emerged later was not the status quo ante but a new power structure in the Kremlin which will change the course of international relations in the months to come.

At the time of writing, three contradictions have come to the fore which have profound implications for the USSR’s standing in global politics.

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For one thing, it has become clear that the long-held apprehension of a conservative Communist backlash can actually materialise with all its dire consequences for the West. In the present geopolitical context, when one superpower is virtually falling apart, there is no possibility of a return to the posture of military confrontation that was a constant threat of the cold war years. But the prospect of destabilisation and a reversal of the policy of detente is a potential factor in Soviet foreign policy today, which no world statesman worth his salt would disregard.

For another, the victory of the pro-democracy forces which led to the collapse of the coup has strengthened perestroika and glasnost giving an impetus to the pro- Western liberal thrust in the Soviet Union’s external relations. Continue reading Foreign policy

Privatisation of social sector: what it means in Third World context

By Zubeida Mustafa

Is the State responsible for educating its citizens and providing them health care? According to Adam Smith, who believed in the supremacy of the marketplace, education should be “self-sustaining and supported by those who use it”. Karl Marx displayed greater humanitarian concerns though today he stands discredited owing to the happenings in Eastern Europe. He advocated “free education for all children in public schools”.

Which of these principles should apply in Pakistan, a Third World country where 35 per cent of the people live below the poverty line (UNDP’s estimate)? The dictates of social justice should not permit a State to leave the responsibility of providing education and health care entirely to the vicissitudes of the marketplace.

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And yet a glance at the federal and provincial budgets for the incoming year shows that the present government is applying to the social sectors the Smithsonian principle under pressure from the Western-dominated financial institutions. As such very little money has been set aside in the public sector for the human resources development of the people of Pakistan.

 

After the nation’s experiment with the nationalisation of education in the seventies, the pendulum has now swung to the other end. The government wants the private sector to shoulder the responsibility of meeting the people’s health and education needs. Hence the relentless drive to get the private sector to open schools, colleges, clinics and even universities. Continue reading Privatisation of social sector: what it means in Third World context