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Express Tribune Editorials – 17th March 2016

A cruel share-out

There can be no clearer example of the way in which the PML-N government discriminates in favour of the province of Punjab in the distribution of the annual development budget that is used at the discretion of parliamentarians. Punjab is allocated a vastly disproportionate share compared to all other provinces. The amount allocated to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan is less than that allocated to Islamabad, a city with a population of less than two million. More than half of the total Rs19 billion has gone to Punjab. Balochistan, by far the most under-developed of the provinces, got 2.3 per cent or Rs445 million — little more than chicken-feed in the overall picture of development funding. To the surprise of some observers, K-P fared little better getting Rs480 million or 2.5 per cent. Sindh got 4.2 per cent of the funding.

That there is something fundamentally wrong with the proportions of allocation would be obvious to a primary school student — even a primary school student in a government school. If this was a government truly committed to the development of the entire nation, then the proportions would have been a more equitable reflection of true development needs rather than the political ambitions of the PML-N, which is cementing its vote bank for the next election. The allocation speaks of wildly discriminatory behaviour, both for and against, and feeds directly into the inter-provincial rivalries that so bedevil the task of nation-building.

If anything, the allocations to Punjab should have been halved for several years in order to allow other provinces a reasonable chance of ‘catching up’ — but that would have been a step in the direction of true equity that the PML-N was never likely to make. There are any number of arguments presented as to why Punjab should get the lion’s share of any money on the table; but unless the sitting government is willing to use positive discrimination in the formula for funding allocation, then other provinces are always going to be the losers. They will never develop the capacity to effectively spend development funds and will forever be beggars. Shameful — but we expected neither less nor different.

Peshawar bombed again

The reconnaissance and intelligence gathering was spot on. The target suitably soft and defenceless. The device placement was precise. Detonation, in all probability via a remote trigger or an on-board timing device, went precisely as planned. At least 15 died on their way to work on the morning of March 16 and another 30 were injured, several of them in critical condition. As far as is known, no terrorist was hurt in the incident and no arrests have been made at the time of writing. All of the dead and injured were employees at the Civil Secretariat, Peshawar or the Air Force, clerks and peons and orderlies who avail themselves of the pick-and-drop service, most of them junior or lowly paid. The perfect hit. Those who conducted it will have congratulated one another on yet another job well done.

The dead mostly came from Malakand division and the bus they went to work on was parked at a petrol station overnight, the perfect opportunity to plant a device. The provincial government was quick to put distance between itself and any responsibility saying that security of private vehicles was the responsibility of the contractor, not the government.

Since the beginning of the year, there has been a string of multi-casualty attacks involving education institutions, security convoys, check posts and a number of other targets — and all in spite of the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP). It is crystal clear that there are teams of highly competent terrorists living and working inside the communities they attack with seeming ease. They are well-resourced, resourceful and mobile. They evade detection — and yes, we are aware that there are intelligence successes as well as failures such as this — and go on to bomb another day. Whilst it is undeniable that overall there has been a national drop in the number of terrorist incidents since Operation Zarb-e-Azb commenced, terrorist groups are adept at reforming and regenerating. No matter the security successes.

Gender balance in the workplace

Even in these modern times when technological advancements have created a world that was difficult to imagine even a few years ago, the world at large is still struggling to achieve something as simple as gender balance at the workplace. If we are to believe the World Economic Forum’s 2015 estimate, the gender gap will not close entirely until 2133. In this regard, it is pertinent to point towards a recent IMF Working Paper, which has refreshingly concluded that there is a positive correlation between participation of women in the corporate world and increased revenue generation. Companies around the world, and especially in Europe, have started to realise that more female participation not only adds creative diversity to their teams, it also boosts the companies’ profits as women bring “a different experience” when appointed to decision-making roles.

There has been a huge change for the better when it comes to women’s participation in the labour force, but the road ahead is still a potholed one. In Pakistan, the struggle to reach some sort of gender parity at the workplace is far from over, with only three per cent of women in managerial positions according to the 2015 ILO global report. It is high time that there was a realisation that for an economically stable and strong Pakistan, we need more women in the workforce. Expecting a sudden transformation in favour of women’s participation in the labour force is perhaps naive, but there are signs that there are changes afoot that will help realise this goal. Though sluggishly, Pakistanis are realising the importance of female education and presence at the workplace. The country’s universities are producing more female graduates than ever before, including in the fields of pure sciences and technology. However, this healthy intake of women at universities is still to translate into a gender balance at the workplace. Perhaps, Pakistani companies need to take a cue from the findings of the IMF Working Paper and realise that encouraging more women to enter the field will be in the interests of both profitability and for unlocking the economic growth potential of the country.

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