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Daily Times Editorials – 3rd May 2016

Pakistan and F-16 jets

Recently, the United States Foreign Relations Committee blocked funding for the procurement of new generation F-16 jets to Pakistan. The decision came weeks after the committee, under its chairman Senator Bob Corker, was concerned that these jets could be allegedly used against India rather than fighting terrorists. In addition, the committee was also concerned that Pakistan’s resolve for the peace process in Afghanistan is half-hearted. On the contrary, President Barack Obama and the US State Department are still willing to sell the jets to Pakistan. Furthermore, the State Department has publicly stated that these jets shall help Pakistan achieve the desired goals to root out the menace of terrorism and it also stated that Pakistan’s efforts to curb terrorism has borne fruitful results.

However, the Republican controlled Congress has slightly dented US-Pakistan relations by forcing Pakistan to pay the entire amount of fee for procuring one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world. This is unfortunate since the bilateral relations had somewhat improved over the years, and Pakistan was also given a central role in the Afghan peace process. Withholding the funds for the F-16s is eerily reminiscent of the Pressler Amendment that was proposed by Senator Larry Pressler in the early 1990s.

The adoption of this amendment by the US Congress stopped all military and financial aid to Pakistan over its role in developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, the amendment also affected the procurement of F-16 jets during the era as Pakistan was already cash-strapped to possess them on its own. Nevertheless, the mistrust still remains owing to shaky historical ties that go back to the days of the Cold War. Financial and military aid was blocked a number of times in the past due to which Pakistan had to rely on countries such as China.

The role of the Indian lobby is also a contributing factor in trying to isolate Pakistan within Washington’s power corridors. Senator Bob Corker is known to be close to India and his anti-Pakistan stance is directly influenced from Indian lobbyists. These lobbyists, in the form of diplomats, congressional committee members and think tanks, also played a pivotal role in acquiring the civil nuclear deal for India back in 2006. The incumbent Foreign Secretary of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is considered to be the key architect for strengthening the lobbyists that were, supposedly, further influenced by Indian diplomats such as Nirupama Rao, who also served as Indian ambassador to the United States.

Containing India’s influence in Washington shall be a hectic task for Pakistan given its global importance. However, should the F-16 deal get jeopardized then Pakistan should seek Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets that are far more advanced than the F-16s. The Russian-made jets can be a great asset for Pakistan Air Force, and it already has newer generations of JF-17 jets, which are being considered for induction. Pakistan, being an exporter of military hardware, should make the right choice for the future of its security needs.

Increase in minimum wage

Government, with its announcement that the minimum wage will increase by Rs 1,000 per month from July 1, has made a step to decrease the suffering of workers facing tough living conditions to keep their body and soul together. They have no rights and are treated like an inferior creature at workplaces. Many labourers work in the open under the scorching heat where they are not even allowed to take a brief respite from their hard work. Another terrible phenomenon is that these labourers are engaged at construction sites by employers without providing them any safety gear that causes accidents. Workers must be provided with proper safety gear and shaded areas to take rest during intervals. In case of harsh weather conditions and in the month of Ramzan, they must be given breaks from hard labour.

By increasing the minimum wage, government has made an effort to enable workers to cope with the increasing inflation. Over the years, the rate of inflations is surging steadily despite a sharp decrease in oil prices at the national and international level. Labourers make a substantial contribution to the national economy, but little attention is paid to address their genuine concerns. Government has to take practical steps for the implementation of its latest decision about minimum wage, particularly in the private sector, where employers remain reluctant about paying higher wages to labourers. The writ of the government and all labour laws including elimination of bonded labour and child labour must be strictly enforced.

Low wages, extended duty hours, child labour, absence of social security benefits, and unending loan repayments to owners are some of the grievances of workers and labourers that have not been addressed after so many years. Despite the enactment of Ordinance for Prohibition of Child Labour in Brick Kilns 2016 and other laws, the government functionaries have failed to ensure the provision of due rights to workers. The menace of child labour is still there while the exploitation of workers has been going on unabated. The brick kiln owners continue to exploit workers by not paying them minimum wage fixed by government. In the past, the Punjab government had determined the minimum wage for workers, but owners continue to defy these orders and pay lesser wages to workers.

It is very unfortunate that the Labour Department officials fail to implement government directives. Beside this exploitation, bonded labour of poor workers along with their wives and children is still in practice in different parts of the district. The Punjab and district governments need to ensure the implementation of government’s directive about minimum wages along with registration and issuance of Khidmat cards to the workers. There is a need for adopting a coordinated and holistic approach for addressing the issues of working class in the unorganised sector. The issuance of social security cards and CNICs must be ensured for all workers, whereas workers must be registered with government departments. Besides, increasing minimum wage, proper arrangements must be made for education, health and housing facilities for families engaged with various industries. Women workers must be provided protection against harassment and discrimination at workplaces. Government needs to appoint monitoring committees to check violations of the law and address all genuine concerns of workers on an immediate basis.

The dynamics of CPEC

Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced that China will take into consideration the long term interest of Pakistan as it works on its “one belt one road initiative.” This mega project is a modern version of the famed Silk Road, which envisions connecting Asia, Europe, and Africa through road, rail, and sea. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is, in fact, a part of this larger project, and it carries great potential for China since the Gwadar port gives it direct access to the Arabian Sea. This means that China, being a net energy importer, will enjoy presence in close proximity to the Strait of Hormuz from where a major part of the world’s oil supplies originate. Moreover, the current route for China to its ports at the South China Sea involves going through the Strait of Malacca, which has a sizeable Indian and US naval presence. This means that in the event of a blockade, these powers can choke off Chinese hydrocarbon supplies. Hence, while China is looking after its interests through CPEC, Xi’s statement should be welcomed as it conveys the message that China considers Pakistan as a partner in this endeavour. However, as is often the case with international relations, each country should look after its own interest and not merely rely on the benevolence of others. Hence, Pakistan should not get lost in the rhetoric of development that has been a part and parcel of the CPEC discourse, and it should continue to attach weight to its concerns so that this project can be mutually beneficial for all.

The current Chinese model of development is a result of the surplus wealth that it enjoys. Instead of investing this money in banks, which yields little in way of economic development, China has devised an ingenious way through which it can monopolise foreign resources, while also creating Chinese jobs and securing strategic positions. This can be evidenced by the many Chinese investments in Africa, and the CPEC also is one of its forms. As the Chinese develop the port of Gwadar, design the various power projects, and construct the three routes, it is Chinese engineers and workers who mostly work on them. And as the local work force starts to take part in these projects, it must be kept in mind that securing their rights is the responsibility of government of Pakistan. Since China does not have a clean record when it comes to securing human rights as it uses the rhetoric of economic development to cover human rights violations, government of Pakistan should ensure that in the present rhetoric of development, it does not end up undermining workers’ rights.

The CPEC is a project, which, if ends up getting implemented successfully, can be a game changer for Pakistan. For a country that faces rampant poverty and an acute shortage of foreign direct investment, the CPEC can inject a new life into its economy. However, it must also be realised that Pakistan has a troubled history of centre-province relationships and to this day, the other provinces feel wronged by a Punjabi-dominated centre. This problem is substantially more serious in Balochistan where widespread underdevelopment has acted as a catalyst in stoking separatism fires. Hence, it is imperative that all provinces must be made to benefit from the CPEC, and provincial concerns must not be sidelined over supposed notions of ‘national interest’. It is indeed in the nation’s interest to have inclusive development, and for that even if a suboptimal equilibrium has to be reached, then it must be done so. Pakistan must not shy away from making sure that the concerns of its provinces are given due regard in the development project of the CPEC, and for that it must approach China as an equal partner.

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