By Dr Ghayur Ayub
Many perceive Pakistan as a poor country. Others do not see it that way. They rate it an ‘underdeveloped’ or a Third World country, but not a poor country. According to them a poor country is a ‘least developed’ country and Pakistan is not bracketed in those countries. According to some studies 40% of Pakistanis live below poverty line. The figure is quoted at 60% by others. If we compare a country with a family of 10 and find that 4 to 6 of the members live in poverty as defined by international standards, then the family is considered as poor especially if it lives within the eastern cultural criterion. In Pakistan it is not difficult to assess if an individual comes from a poor family or not. Keeping that view in mind can we call Pakistan poor? I’ll come to that later, but first, let me talk about poverty in general.
Poverty has four aspects. It may be calorie based, income based, need based and right based. According to the World Heath Organisation (WHO), a person who cannot afford a diet of up to 2000 calorie a day is poor. The World Bank, on the other hand, considers a person poor who cannot earn up to 2 US dollars per day. Both these scales affect the physical well-being of individuals. The most vulnerable in this type of poverty are children. According to a report; 6 million children under five die every year as a result of hunger 134 million children between the ages of 7 to 18 have never been to school because of poverty.
More than one billion children suffer from lack of proper nutrition, safe drinking water, decent sanitation facilities, health-care services, shelter, and education.
This is one face of poverty related to the first two facets. What about the other two aspects? For example, ‘need’ is a relative term. One person’s needs can be different from the needs of the other. To make it more comprehensive the WHO had linked it with the term ‘basic’ and came up a poverty alleviation programme in 1990s. They named it the ‘Basic Minimum Needs’ (BMN) Programme, which was renamed the ‘Basic Development Needs’ (BDN) Programme a few years later. It was a bottom up programme, involving the community to participate in it at the grass-root levels on a Public Private Participation strategy. After implementing it in four provinces as a model project with participation of the WHO and getting positive results, the government of Pakistan under prime minister Nawaz Sharif owned the programme and made it as part of its 9th Five Years Plan in 1999. The then health ministry planned a ten-year programme to implement it all over Pakistan, with the goal to alleviate poverty amongst 60% of the population by the year 2010. Unfortunately, this programme was put on the back burner after the military takeover of Gen Pervez Musharaf.
‘Right based’ poverty is also a relative term which has little to do with physical needs of individuals. A typical example is China. The country’s economy is considered the fastest growing in the world, but yet it is taken as poor when it comes to basic human right issues. Western intellectuals and human rights lobbyists rank China as ‘poor’ according to their cerebral calibration. This type of poverty finds its place in the minds of individuals eroding their thought progress. Maybe such mental entrapment was perceived by Byron Katie when she said, “Thinking I should be something else means I’m not good enough now. This is poverty thinking and a guaranteed way to be miserable.” Then, at another place she said, “Would you rather be right or free?” That is why for some of the activists this issue is as important and as painful as physical hunger.
The causes of the four aspects of poverty are hidden in economic, cultural, social, and political disparity. Failing to understand the extent of individual facets makes the solutions difficult to achieve. As a consequence, the proposed short or medium-term measures employed to counter the impact of poverty on individuals are hampered by blocking channels such as charitable donations for basic needs provision. To make the situation worse, the power holders mismanage political lobbying and campaigning necessary for individual projects such as the creation of permanent social welfare systems thus creating recurrent turbulences in the flow towards societal prosperity.
This brings me back to the original question; is Pakistan poor? Everybody knows that poverty has hit Pakistan, targeting its society in more than one way. A few days ago I received an interesting information on this very subject. It was supplied by a director of a Swiss bank and forwarded by the respectable Arbab Hidayatullah who received it from Asad Jehangir, a retired IG Police.
The information not only provides an answer to the aforementioned question, but suggests in-depth solutions too. It states, “Pakistanis are poor but Pakistan is not a poor country. This is from one of the Swiss bank directors. He says that “28 trillion (28,000,000,000,000) Pak rupees are deposited in Swiss banks. The amount is such that if it were in Pakistan, it could be used for:
Tax free budget for 30 years.
Giving 60 million jobs to all Pakistan.
Constructing 4-lane roads from any village to Islamabad.
Ensuring a forever free supply to more than 500 social projects.
Financial Assistance of Rs 20,000 per month to every citizen for 60 years.
Disbanding the need of World Bank and IMF loans.
With this information in mind, I would like to leave it to the intelligence of the reader to decide on whether Pakistan really is poor. And if it is, whether rich Pakistanis can turn it into an affluent and prosperous country by bringing their wealth back to their motherland which is limping on the crutches of the World Bank, IMF and other lending or donor agencies? Will they take the first step by investing in Pakistan what they have in Swiss banks and change the fate of their motherland? If not, will it be asking too much of the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan to take a suo motu action, directing Pakistanis with Swiss bank accounts to make their deposits known? In this way, at least, the public would know how many Pakistanis hold how much in those banks. If there is no law which gives power to the Chief Justice to take action in cases like this, would the civil society come into action and pressurise the parliamentarians to make such law?