The food crisis might push ordinary Pakistanis over the edge
The headline writers at Mail Today were certainly creative. What was originally “Anger over atta” (based on this post) became “Pakistan could now be hit by a food bomb”, in yesterday’s edition. Some excerpts:
Frequent power cuts affected flour mills, disrupting the production of wheat flour. By end November 2007, queues started forming outside provision shops across many Pakistani cities. Political violence, after the attack on Benazir Bhutto’s Karachi rally in October and after her assassination in December made the supply situation worse. The government decided to import wheat from the international market, but prices had risen by this time. It has had to subsidise wheat in order to keep the prices low enough. But as is expected in such situations, traders and sellers have found ways to divert the subsidised wheat into the open market, where it sells at a almost double the price. The government now hopes that paramilitary troops will be able to prevent millers and traders from hoarding and ‘smuggling’.
The crisis also reveals why the Pakistani establishment is opposed to granting India most-favoured nation (MFN) trading status. Beyond the hang-up over Kashmir, freer trade with India is inimical to the interests of the feudal and business elite. The current arrangement suits them better: they have access to the Indian market through indirect routes which allows them to export goods if world prices are higher. Blocking imports works to their advantage by strengthening their stranglehold over the supply, even if ordinary Pakistanis have to suffer for it. Little wonder that a free-trade agreement with Pakistan remains elusive.
The Musharraf regime is mistaken in thinking that deploying troops around warehouses and flour mills will solve the problem. Yet that might be the best it can do. That is bad news, because a hungry population is an angry population. And anger, unfortunately, is one commodity that the Pakistan is not short of. While lawyers, civil society groups and opposition party supporters have led public protests over the last year, ordinary Pakistanis by and large, have refrained from taking to the streets. A persistent shortage of food and other essential commodities might just push ordinary Pakistanis over the edge. [Mail Today JPG PDF]
Thanks to Amit Varma for introducing me to Mail Today, a partnership between the India Today group and the UK’s Daily Mail.
Update: A great post by Fatima Shakeel over at Metroblogging Islamabad.