Mar 28, 2017 Dr. Niaz Murtaza Comments Off on Our biggest threat, Dawn, 28/3/2017
One often sees articles lamenting the neglect of what each writer thinks is our biggest threat. The agitated but usually non-specialist writers often hype their pet issue’s impact to be convincing. They end with a dire but unproven warning of imminent national collapse if the threat remains ignored. No comparison with other threats is given to justify the top rank. The fear seems to be that unless the threat is dramatized as the biggest, it will not get attention.
In this tussle for the top spot, some threats crowned recently include population, feudalism, terrorism and corruption. So what is our biggest threat? Can complex threats even be ranked? Threats include proximate and deeper ones. In ranking proximate ones, one must look at the numbers they harm and its level, but also their intractability and ability to spread rapidly if ignored.
Terrorism receives some focus now since it has killed 2,000-3,000 persons annually recently. But poverty kills many more, via illiteracy, disease etc., as do women’s abuse, smoking and traffic accidents annually without getting any stern-sounding operations. This is partly because poverty only kills the weak but terrorism kills elites too. Poverty kills silently and individually in remote places. Terrorism kills groups loudly in busy places too from where TV instantly transmits gory clips, creating huge fear.
Finally, poverty is decreasing despite state neglect but ignoring terrorism can magnify it to sow chaos. But climate change can sow future chaos too. It is also more intractable since its main roots lie beyond our borders. We can only mitigate its impact. So, terrorism, climate change, women’s abuse, poverty and disasters are all key proximate threats that must receive far more focus. But I can’t crown any one as the biggest.
As a thoughtful nation, we should focus more on deeper causes. Their rank depends on the number of major proximate and other deeper causes a deeper threat affects, the biggest or the mother cause being the one with most strong causal links with other threats. Among them, “overpopulation” doom prognosis is a favorite for the top slot among many. Large families badly harm mother-child health and so I strongly support population work. But I oppose hyped-up doom prognosis.
An 18th century scholar, Malthus, first said that population increase will cause shortages and doom. Science has so far proved him wrong continuously by increasing supply much faster than population has demand. But science is unable to tackle opulent consumption demand now. The much critiqued “population explosion” the poor cause will not produce doom but climate change due to the little critiqued consumption explosion caused by the rich might. A small rich family consumes much more than a big poor one. Our number has tripled but absolute poverty has fallen to one-third since 1970 despite state neglect of poverty and average GDP growth. Sound policy can meet the threat of population doubling by 2050 with improved technology. It can transform the weight of large numbers into the asset of a large market of literate, healthy, responsible workers and consumers. So population work is critical but not our biggest threat.
Corruption infuriates pious analysts. There are two views on it. The populist one thunders that nations cannot progress at all before ending graft (reality: China is) and we can end it quickly via unelected rule (reality: China isn’t). The evidential view I support says graft slows progress but doesn’t choke it, there are no short-cut remedies and we must tackle it democratically. So graft too is a major but not the main threat.
Clerics say it is non-Islamization. But the recent Punjab hijab event shows there is no appetite for their retrograde brand of faith. The majority prefers largely secular modern laws for itself but tamps its guilt by having a few retrograde laws which conveniently do more harm to not it but the weak (poor women or minorities).
“Feudalism” stirs strong passions too. Rural elites hogged state power before but not now. Much state power resides with the largely urban army and bureaucracy. Only one (PPP) of the 5 main parties in NA today is landlord-led. So, urban elites dominate power now. But rural people still suffer rural elites’ abuse. Ending it is critical but not the main threat.
None of these threats have the numerous strong links with others to be the mother cause. But discussing “feudalism” brings me close to it: elite politics. Power may pass from rural to urban elites and between civilians and army but the state remains under elites pursuing individual or institutional aims, not the welfare of masses. Almost all proximate and other deeper causes stem from elite politics which only stregthened democracy can overcome.
Finally, despite all its problems, Pakistan is not collapsing. Things will keep improving if democracy survives but only slowly despite current talk about imminent take-off. So, our future likely contains neither boom nor doom but gradual bloom.
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