Development and Conflict


Zia Mian and Iftikhar Ahmad


Everything in Pakistan carries the mark of more than fifty years of development and its failures. The problems that development was supposed to solve are still there. In fact, they now larger. There are now more poor people in Pakistan than the total population at the time of independence. The poor are not only more numerous, they are also poorer; the gap between rich and poor is larger now than it ever has been. Like poverty, illiteracy has grown. The number of people who cannot read or write is now three times Pakistan's total population at independence. At the same time, the limits on development imposed by nature are becoming increasingly evident.


This essay begins with how the idea of development emerged and took hold, despite the fact it was based on an acceptance of enormous social dislocation and misery, and ignorance of how societies work. It is these fatal flaws that are now being exposed. This essay then charts the history of development, its motivations, and some of its failures in Pakistan, from the time of the British Empire through independence to the present, and into the future. It argues that development has created conflict at all levels in Pakistani society, and that the failure of development is now so complete that it has created a fundamental conflict between citizens and the state. In the absence of political intervention, this conflict is resolving itself by state and society abandoning each other.


The Idea of Development

Before looking at Pakistan's experience of development, it is important to clarify how the idea of development itself has developed. Briefly, development started out as a biological concept, referring to the process by which animals and plants grew and changed to achieve their normal, adult form. This concept was only transferred to thinking about society in the late 18th century, as Western societies started to experience the massive social and economic changes associated with the industrial revolution. As these changes started to affect more and more people, and protests became widespread, the idea of development and social change became increasingly tied up with progress and the promise of a better future. By the late 19th Century, progress meant focussing on "the life of future generations who are to enjoy conditions of happiness denied to us, but which our labours and sufferings are to help bring about."


The modern idea of development is built on this foundation. However, it took shape as one of a set of interlinked terms, the others being underdeveloped, developing, and developed, none of which were associated with the 19th Century idea of development. This new shape emerged first in the early 1940s as passing references to 'underdeveloped areas' in the international economics literature. It acquired real political force when it was used by US President Truman in his inaugural address in January 1949. He declared:


More than half of the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery. Their food is inadequate, they are victims of disease. Their economic life is primitive and stagnant. Their poverty is a handicap... For the first time in history humanity possesses the knowledge and the skill to relieve the suffering of these people... Greater production is the key to prosperity.

Unlike earlier European ideas about progress and development as something that happened as part of the inevitable course of history, and had to be endured if they could not be turned to one's benefit, this new concept was of development as a planned process of social change. This naturally implied that there was someone with a sense of what society should develop into, knew how to develop it, and had the means to do so. From Truman's speech it was clear that the US saw itself as fulfilling all these requirements.


The vision of development that was offered, and that many leaders of newly independent states shared, was of a society that was urban, industrial and based on mass consumption, in short, a replica of Western Europe and North America. It did not take long for thoughtful people to realise that this kind of development would inevitably be a traumatic and destructive process. More so even than the development of the already developed societies. History suggests that these states developed because of the unlimited supply of natural resources and markets that their conquests and empires gave them. This option was not open to the new developing states. A United Nations study in 1951 pointed out that:


Rapid economic progress is impossible without painful adjustments. Ancient philosophies have to be scrapped; old social institutions have to disintegrate, bonds of caste, creed and race have to burst; and large numbers of people who cannot keep up with progress have to have their expectations of a comfortable life frustrated. Very few communities are willing to pay the full price of economic progress.


If 'very few communities' were 'willing' to pay the price then how was development to proceed? This has been the question at the heart of development. The answer has been, by and large, that communities who refuse to 'pay the full price of economic progress' willingly have had to pay it unwillingly. The elites that controlled the new states wanted the wealth that development generated. Development became too important to allow the poor, who were supposed to benefit, to get in the way.


Once development was accepted as a goal, and the desired end result was clear, someone needed to know how to do make it happen. Development planning was the attempt to meet this challenge. It was based, fundamentally, on the idea that entire societies could be completely and systematically reconstructed in a controlled way. This presupposed that someone could know exactly how everything in a society worked, how everything in it is connected together, and how to make things change in a planned way. This kind of knowledge is impossible. The kind of things that need to be known are, as was pointed out decades ago, "among the most inaccessible social relationships, still largely unknown even in western countries, where social research flourishes." But, oblivious to their own ignorance, development planners went ahead and set about tearing apart one society after another.


The unanticipated consequences that this has unleashed around the world offer a final insight into the failure of the grand design. For decades, development planners paid no attention to the fact that if they succeeded they would have destroyed the global environment. The consequences of the last 150 years of industrial development in the West are now increasingly making themselves felt as climate change brought on by the burning of fossil fuels threatens to transform the very basis of ecology in large areas of the world. If "more than half the people of the world" who were poor, hungry and sick, were to consume as extravagantly as Americans, the amount of water, forests, fossil fuels, chemicals, and so on they would consume would render the world unfit for anyone to live in. Development, rather than offering hope for a better future for the poor, now threatens their future.


Colonial Development

In the areas that now constitute Pakistan, a kind of development started under colonial rule. Over a period of fifty years the British built roads and railways across India on an epic scale. In 1858, there were only a few hundred miles of railway track in the whole of India. Within ten years the British built more than 5,000 miles of railway line, and by 1900 this had grown to 25,000 miles. By 1914, the total length of the Indian railways was 35,000 miles. There were two purposes for creating such a rail network. The first was that it helped create the basis for more effective empire, one able to extend its power across the country and ensure that popular revolt was put down effectively. The second can be seen from the organisation of the railway lines. They were laid to connect the interior with the nearest principal ports, in effect opening all of India to British access, to take things out and bring things in. In other words, to bring India more fully into the economy of Britain as both a supplier of raw materials and a market.

The other great British development project was irrigation. The British constructed canals and barrages that brought 10 million acres of land into cultivation. This allowed an enormous increase in agricultural production, particularly the production of export crops such as wheat and cotton that require large amounts of water, and so generated wealth for the colonial state. There was no doubt about what the canals were for, even the Indian Irrigation Commission at the turn of the century described them as "more or less commercial undertakings."

The British construction of railways, roads, and canals, would now all be classed as development infrastructure projects aimed at encouraging economic growth. The impact that they had on the lives of ordinary people offered an early test for this kind of development. Studies of India's economy suggest that the rate of growth of real national income per head was very small, and may even have been negative from 1900-1940. In other words, after decades of an extraordinary development effort the people were as poor, and possibly poorer, than before. In 1939, the General Secretary of the Indian National Planning Committee, K.T. Shah, described the situation more directly:


The mass of humanity in India habitually live below the level of subsistence. In regard to the amenities of life, their position is hardly superior to that of the wild beasts of the jungle.. an ill-fed, unclad, ignorant mass of humanity, scarcely above the level of brutes in living conditions.


It was at this time that the British transformed their Law of Development of the Colonies into the Law of Development and Welfare of the Colonies. This was done in order, it was said, to guarantee minimum levels of nutrition, health and education. However, the new found concern by the British for the lives and the poverty of ordinary Indians was motivated by more than altruism. The amended law came at a time when World War II started. The new law may well have been an attempt to buy public support for Britain in the war and the need for such support had never been more desperate. The movement for independence had created severe problems for continued British rule in India. The leaders of the movement argued that India, rather than being developed by the British, was being kept in poverty, its people illiterate, so that Britain could become wealthy. The promise of independence was that in the new nation these problems would be solved.

National Development

The first attempts by the new state of Pakistan to set its own priorities for development show how, like many other laws, policies, and institutions left over from colonialism, the practice of development continued largely unchanged. A British official, Archibald Rowlands, was asked to make recommendations on how to organise economic planning and development. Not surprisingly, his recommendations were to set up a duplicate of the imperial ideal, with the planning and financing of development to be controlled by the central government. His policy was summed as "if Pakistan is to be strong, it must be strong at the Centre."


The first step was obviously to create the strong centre. The measure of strength the newly independent state used was an imperial measure. In the first budget of Pakistan, the government announced that 65.2% of central government expenditures was to be for the military. The very first budget speech included the admission that the expenditure on defence was higher than would normally be justified for a young state like Pakistan, but claimed there was no choice. The demands of creating the state took precedence over the needs of the people.


The first year turned out not to be an exception. In the second year, the military's share was set as 71.3% of government spending. This increased again in the third year, with military spending reaching 73.1%. The military share of central government expenditures did not in fact fall below 50% until 1973. It is currently around 25% of central government expenditure. While this may seem to show great progress in reducing the burden of military spending, it needs to be remembered that this 25% share is in the presence of a massive foreign and domestic debt which was not there before. Since successive governments have chosen to put paying the debt above all other priorities, it is necessary to subtract debt servicing from government expenditures before assessing the impact of current levels of military spending. Doing this shows that, in 1995-1996, military expenditure was over 40% of what little was left after paying the debt. As debt payment increases, and military expenditure remains more or less fixed, it will take an ever larger share of what few resources are left.


The attempt to begin development, and the preference given to first creating a strong state came at a historic moment. As mentioned earlier, it was in 1949 that US President Truman launched the new Age of Development, calling for the development of underdeveloped areas. The Cold War had just started, and the US was engaged with its Marshall Plan of aid to Western Europe. This plan was in large part an attempt to stop Europe going into the communist camp. It was also designed to help the American economy recover from the war by creating a strong demand for US goods in a European market.


The US had a similar strategy for engaging with the third world. Truman had linked US economic and national security interests directly to the underdeveloped areas by declaring: "Their poverty is a... threat both to them and to more prosperous areas." The US offered both military aid and support for development to third world countries, including Pakistan. Pakistan was unusual though. Even without the generalised concern the US had about newly independent states taking the USSR's side in the Cold War, Pakistan was recognised as having a strategic importance. A 1949 study for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff argued that Pakistan "might be required as a base for air operations against [the] central USSR and as a staging area for forces engaged in the defence or recapture of Middle East oil areas." This naturally required supporting and strengthening Pakistan's military.


Development was not neglected, however. The US sent its brightest and best to Pakistan to help provide the knowledge of what it should develop into, and how to do this. These new foreign advisors, while being expert in all kinds of things, had little or no planning experience in third world countries. But, nonetheless, they were relied on very heavily by Pakistan's planners. The degree of reliance was such that their job was to both prepare the first five year development plan for Pakistan, advise the government on day to day economic policy, and train Pakistanis to replace them.


The larger context within which this advice was given was of course determined by the fundamental aims of US policy towards underdeveloped areas. This was laid out clearly by President Kennedy, when he said:


Too little attention has been paid to the part which an early exposure to American goods, skills, and American ways of doing things can play in forming the tastes and desires of newly emerging countries - or to the fact that when our aid ends, the desire and need for our products continue.


A clear example of how this has worked in Pakistan is the fact that by the late 1960s, in Karachi, there were eleven different soft drinks being made from imported concentrate -- including Coca Cola, Pepsi, Seven Up, and Fanta -- but only three sources of bottled milk supply. It was not just soft drinks; in 1952, only 6% of Pakistan's imports were from the US, by 1966 this had risen to over 30%. There is also proof of Kennedy's claim about how the desire and need for American products continues even after aid stops. Despite the end of all US aid to Pakistan seven years ago (in 1990, because of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme), over 10% of all Pakistan's imports are still from the US and the US is the largest foreign investor in Pakistan.


The most recent evidence of the success of decades of US development aid is the arrival in Pakistan of American fast food companies such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Burger King. The response can be gauged from the news that the Pizza Hut store in Lahore is said to have broken the company's record for the highest volume of sales in any of its outlets anywhere in the world. This news came in the same year as the reports of atta riots in Lahore, Peshawar, and Quetta.

Economic and Social Development

Pakistan's first attempt to lay out a road map of how it wanted to develop was in the First Five Year Plan, which was supposed to cover the period from 1955-1960. The plan actually came out several years after it was supposed to have started. The key strategy the state decided to adopt was summed up in one sentence: "The economic and social objectives of government policy are to develop the resources of the country as rapidly as possible so as to promote the welfare of the people."


Ten years later, the problems with this strategy were starting to induce some concern among the development planners in Pakistan. In the Third Five Year Plan, the planners wrote that "The requirements for rapid economic growth are, to some degree, in conflict with social and political objectives." Nevertheless they decided to press on, arguing: "It is to rapid economic growth that the nation must look to free itself from poverty, ignorance, disease."

Summing up the experience of two decades of planning and development, the authors of the Fourth Five Year Plan, intended to cover the period 1970-1975, were a little more direct about what had actually happened. Rather than simply talking about abstract conflicts between the economic growth and social justice, they admitted that things had gone terribly wrong:


In the last two decades, the basic objective of national economic policy was to seek maximum possible economic growth... The genuine requirements of the social sectors, like education, health and housing, were badly neglected... The stage was set, therefore, for the social and economic confrontations which took place in early 1969... they represented a forceful articulation of the deeply felt aspirations of the masses.


The response they came up with was simple and familiar. Following in the footsteps of the British, when faced with rising public discontent Pakistan's development planners added a new-found commitment to welfare to the process. They declared that:


The development strategy for the 1970s has to change fundamentally. While essentially protecting the growth rate already achieved, a greater regional and social balance is being attempted in its composition.


The failure of official development plans is evident. It has been estimated that 38% of Pakistan's population were poor in 1960. By 1980, after two decades of development, this proportion was unchanged. In 1995, after thirty five years of development, 30% of the people were still poor. In absolute numbers the failure becomes stark. The total population of Pakistan in 1960 was 50 million, there are now 42 million poor people. The story is worse than this though. There is now a greater gap between rich and poor than at any time in the last thirty five years, and the inequality is greatest in the cities, where more and more of the population lives.


But such failure was by no means necessary. Dramatic improvements in the lives of people is possible, even in South Asia. A good example is infant mortality, as the most helpless members of any society, new born babies are the most sensitive to the capability of that society to provide care. In British India, in 1931, out of every 1,000 babies born, 162 died before reaching the age of one. In Sri Lanka, also part of the empire, 158 out of every 1,000 babies died in their first year. In 1994, in Pakistan, the infant mortality rate was about 95 deaths out of every 1,000 that were born -- for comparison, the figure was 79 out of every 1,000 in India, in Bangladesh it was 91. Over this same period Sri Lanka has reduced its infant mortality rate to 15 out of every 1,000. This is comparable to the infant mortality rates found in developed countries.


The amazing difference in infant mortality between Pakistan and Sri Lanka is not due to Sri Lanka being much wealthier than Pakistan, India or Bangladesh. All these countries are equally poor. The difference is due to the fact that, for decades, the Sri Lankan state chose to invest in improving the lives of its people rather than the fastest possible economic growth. It was government policy that made the difference.


Good examples can be found else where. At independence Pakistan had a literacy rate of about 13%, it now has an official literacy rate of 35-40%, barely a three-fold increase in fifty years and much slower than the rate of increase of population. The number of illiterate people has increased enormously, there are now more than 80 million. For comparison, the average literacy rate in other low income countries is now over 60%. It does not take decades to tecah people to read and write. Consider, for instance, the case of Zimababwe, a country poorer than Pakistan, which increased primary school enrolment among its black population from about 50% to almost 100% within five years of independence. This was achieved by cutting military spending and increasing education spending to over 20% of the budget.

The inequalities that development creates, and claims that it will remove once there is enough development, express themselves in many ways. The poor are not simply an anonymous mass spread equally over the country. They are concentrated in different places, places that are determined by the choices that the state makes as it plans and implements its development policies. The most poignant example of this in the history of Pakistan was the treatment of East Pakistan, which led ultimately to civil war, genocide, and independence for Bangladesh.


East Pakistan, with a majority of the country's population, contributed more than half of all Pakistan's exports, but received less than half of its imports. They were clearly:


a backward people in a backward region. At $63, per capita income in East Bengal before secession was just half of that of West Pakistan… The Bengalis contended that expenditure per capita was skewed towards West Pakistan, where development investment would presumably bring a higher rate of return.


The struggles by East Pakistan for a fair share of development ended with independence from Pakistan. But, East Pakistan was only the most extreme case of regional inequality. Such inequality also existed in West Pakistan, most notably in Baluchistan. At the end of the 1960s, at least 70% of households in the province were below the poverty line. Baluchistan had the lowest literacy rate of any province in Pakistan, and a per capita income just over half of that in Punjab. At the same time, the natural gas it supplies fuelled the industrial development of the country but was not available to heat the homes of people who live in the area. This led to the revolt of Baluchi people against the central government of Pakistan in 1973. As in the case of East Pakistan, the demands were for greater local control over natural resources and development.


The conflicts over development continue. Baluchistan still demands the federal government pay a fair price for its gas. Sarhad demands a fair price for the hydro-electricity provided by its dams. Sindh demands a fair share of the revenues that the government collects as taxes from industry and business in the province. These demands are driven by the fact that under the 1973 Constitution it is provincial governments that are responsible for providing social services, especially health and education, but the money for this comes from the federal government. The federal government has chosen its own priorities and preferred to spend what little money is left over from paying the debt on the military and itself.


Development in Practice

The conflict created by development expresses itself in more than statistics of poor people, or percentages who are illiterate, or homeless, or bad relations between various levels of administration. Development destroys local communities, people's livelihoods and their environment. It destroys people's ways of making sense of the world, of how individuals are supposed to live, and forces them to adapt to circumstances that are not of their choosing. Development, in short, changes the ground under people's feet and expects them to cope with it.


These consequences of development can be seen by looking at Pakistan's proudest development project, Tarbela Dam -- the largest earthfilled dam in the world when it was completed in 1974. Initially constructed for irrigation purposes it was also turned into a power generation project. This symbol of development submerged 120 villages and displaced 96,000 people. To date, over 2000 people of these people have not been compensated at all and many more have been compensated inadequately. It would require only 2% of the revenues that the government of Pakistan gets from Tarbela to compensate all the people displaced. As of 1997, the Government still refuses to pay this compensation.


The attempts to resettle the dispossessed farming communities produced unanticipated consequences. Those who were granted alternate land in Sindh faced serious hostility from local land-owners and farmers. On arrival at their new land, the displaced people were unable to take possession, the land was already in use. Where possession was possible, the water supply was disrupted by local "kabza groups’ (water users groups), who were deriving benefit from the vacant land. The displaced farmers were often physically threatened by the local population. In part this was due to land ownership in Sindh being run on a large-owner, or feudal system, a system that the presence of a small farmer from the area around Tarbela would obviously threaten.


During the displacement period the people settled around Tarbela were promised new homes in 'model villages' -- planned settlements that would have improved access to social services, health and jobs. In other words, the townships were presented as areas with more potential for economic development than what people were experiencing before displacement. But, twenty-five years later, the townships still provide inadequate social services, such as health, transport and education. In addition, lack of employment opportunities and depressed economic conditions in these areas has led to a very high rate of male out-migration, causing a variety of social problems, including a high incidence of drug abuse.


Development removed this community from a situation in which they may have had less access to 'modern' facilities but at least had some control over their access to natural resources, land and income. Their relocation to quasi-urban townships and the subsequent economic stagnation of these townships has led to the overall deterioration of their lives.


The alienation of the people dispossessed by Tarbela Dam is compounded by their belief that they have sacrificed their homes and community for the development of Pakistan and received no recognition. They see themselves being denied equality with other national 'servants', pointing to the armed forces and civil service, who are given privileged access to jobs, land, housing, life-time pensions, etc. The sense of betrayal is complete.


A Developed Future

The limits of development are now clear. The government estimates that Pakistan's population was 135 million in January 1997. The rate of increase of this population is estimated to be close to 3%. If the population keeps growing at 3% per year then it will double in size every twenty five years or so. This means that fifty years from now, when Pakistan is celebrating 100 years of independence, the population will be close 600 million people, more than four times what it is now.


Where will these people live? Pakistan has a total area of some 800,000 square kilometres, but not all of it is equally habitable. About a third of the land is incapable of growing trees, shrubs or even grass and cannot support large numbers of people. Another 30% is agricultural, and cannot be used for intense settlement. The population of 600 million will have to live in the remaining one-third of the country. If 600 million people are packed equally into this area it will mean a population density of about 2500 people per square kilometre. For comparison, Karachi has a population density that ranges from 1500 to 2500 people per square km. In other words, by 2047 all of the inhabitable area of Pakistan would be one giant Karachi slum.


To get some sense of what such a city would be like, consider the basic facts of day to day life. Assume that the land set aside for producing food for all these people can indeed feed all these people, by dint of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fertilisers, and genetic engineering of plant variety, they will still need water to drink, to cook with, to wash in, and to wash their clothes in. The population would need at least 200 Tarbela reservoirs full of fresh water every day.


Since the rivers carry much of their water in the spring and will be full not only of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, but will also carry much greater amounts of industrial wastes such as chemicals and toxic heavy metals, they will not be able to offer a clean and reliable water supply -- ask anyone who lives in Karachi! The water that will be needed could be produced by using all 300,000 or so tube-wells presently operating in Pakistan. It is worth remembering though that since the water the tube wells extract from the ground has first to get there, by slowly leaking down from the rivers, canals and after heavy rain, the underground water reservoirs can become polluted by industrial and agricultural processes and may remain polluted for hundreds if not thousands of years.


The real crisis, however, is much closer. As the cities grow, and demand for drinking water increases, and as the need for food increases, and demand for water for these crops grows, and as the debt gets bigger, and the need for cash crops and industrial goods for export becomes more pressing, and again increases the demand for water, Pakistan faces the natural limits of development.


Coping with the growing social and ecological failures created by development requires creating and implementing the kind of social policies that will address these failures and the underlying problems of development. To do this, and not repeat the mistakes of the last fifty years of development planning, means setting up participatory institutions that give people and communities direct control over the development process and the state. Such institutions are lacking in Pakistan. It is this need that the more than 2,000 thousand Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Pakistan have tried to fill. But, NGOs can at most mediate between communities and the state. They offer no possibility of taking over the state and lack the financial resources and the political mandate to be a substitute for the state.


In this political vacuum, rather than confront the true scale of its earlier failures at development, the debt ridden and militarised Pakistani state, administered by an elite that has enriched itself by siphoning off what little wealth was generated by development, is now surrendering to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and abandoning the rest of society. It is increasingly leaving citizens to fend for themselves and obtain what the state had once promised it would provide, namely, employment, education, health, and housing. The response to this act of abandonment is that society is, in turn, abandoning the state. People refuse to pay taxes, have contempt for public authority, especially the police, and see the state as irrecoverably corrupt, an institution designed only for the illicit accumulation of wealth by those working for it, their families and friends. People are individually declaring their independence from government. If this continues, there will soon be a state without people and people without a state.