Pakistan’s embassies and high commissions all over the world should be transformed from being bureaucratic and didactic operations into proactive and innovative sales and marketing outlets for Pakistani textiles and other produce
When the Bolsheviks came to power in November 1917, electrification of the newly born Soviet Union was the first national building task embarked upon. GOELRO, the Russian abbreviation for State Electrification Commission, was formed by the All-Russia Central ExecutiveCommittee on February 7, 1920. The purpose was to construct a network of regional power stations across the new country so that the foundations for transforming the Russian economy from a “small-peasant basis into a large-scale industrial basis” could be laid. Lenin oversaw the implementation and the day-to-day running of the project. The plan was eventually put into action by the main electro-technical administration (Glavelektro), a power and energy department developed within the supreme council of the national economy.
During his presentation on the work of the Council of People’s Commissars on December 22, 1920, the architect of the Bolshevik Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, declared that without a plan of electrification they could not undertake any real constructive work. He emphasised that only electricity provided the basis to place the economy of the country, including agriculture, on a new technical basis — that of modern large-scale production.
During September 2011, Mr Amin Fahim, the federal minister of commerce of Pakistan, arrived in New Delhi at the head of an 80-strong business trade delegation. One of the purposes of the visit was to convince his Indian counterparts to withdraw their opposition to the EU’s decision to waive all taxes and duties for Pakistani textile imports. Pakistan won this status in the EU after it faced the horrific devastation caused by the 2010 floods.
Over the past decade, Pakistan’s textile exports to the EU have been in decline. For example, our export of readymade garments during 2007-08 was 42 million dozen, but during the years 2008-09 and 2009-10 it went down to 29 and 27 million dozen respectively. This was a decline of 23 percent. However, during the same period, the textile exports of Bangladesh, which get duty-free access to countries in North America, rose dramatically and earned $ 12.35 billion in the fiscal year 2008-09 alone. Other factors that contributed to the rise in Bangladesh’s textile exports were its cheap labour costs despite the fact that in 2010 Bangladesh doubled the wages of garment workers to the tune of $ 43 a month! Yet the average wage of a Bangladeshi garment worker still remains lower than that of garment workers in China and India.
Pakistan, with some effort, can dramatically increase its textile exports to the EU and US but, in order to achieve that, more needs to be achieved than just winning the status of duty-free imports into the EU market. We need to work on at least four fronts. First and foremost is the generation and uninterrupted supply of power and energy to all sections that are involved in the production and manufacture of textile goods. Since most of our apparels are produced in tiny shops, flats and houses in mohallas (slums), continuous bouts of unregulated load shedding have caused many to seek other professions such as rickshaw driver, security guard and domestic worker, thus depriving the industry of its skilled work force.
To address the issue of power and energy, we need to follow a workable plan that takes its lead from the Russian experience. We need to build a network of regional power stations across Pakistan that can provide uninterrupted electricity to the industrial units involved in the manufacture of textile products.
Second, we need to address the issue of the drastic decline in our cotton crops. One reason is the America virus and natural calamities such as the floods that we experienced last year and again now. There is an urgent need to construct a network of irrigation canals and reservoirs to contain extra water during heavy rainfall. We also need to address the issue of cleaning the riverbeds annually and maintaining their capacity to hold flood waters. Riverbanks need to be reconstructed in the wake of recent events, where the floods wrecked massive destruction of our crops. The construction of reservoirs will complement our plans for regional power stations.
Third, corporate farming needs to be introduced. It should be under the control of an elected body of farmers with representatives from the export and textiles industry. In order to achieve this objective, the current land ownership laws need to be abolished and replaced with collective ownership by the farming community. Soft loans to buy seeds and fertilisers plus adequate agro-machinery should be provided by an agriculture development council, which must overlook the overall farming industry. Fourth, all large textile units should be nationalised and put under the democratic control of the workers. The wages of the workers should be of a reasonably agreed scale between the government and the workers and subsidies should be made available to keep the production cost of the manufactured goods to a minimum.
This will end the present situation of favouritism that stems from greed to gain more profits for individual textile manufacturers who use bribes and political clout to gain favours such as obtaining electric and gas supplies while depriving dozens of other less fortunate manufacturing units of this vital component.
The current law and order situation, which has taken Karachi hostage, should be mended. It was reported in a local English language daily in Pakistan that Pakistani businessmen are flying to Mumbai, Dubai, Hong Kong and even to Europe and the US just to sign contracts! The federal government has tried and failed to achieve peace in the metropolitan city of Karachi. The provincial government is handicapped by its own vested interests embedded in its desire to keep hold of its position and to keep taking kickbacks from those who head the drug mafias and land grabbers. The only way to fix this situation is to empower the people by organising them into democratically elected defence militias and putting them under the command of elected workers’ councils. With the coordination of such new organs of power, the menace of criminal gangs can be crushed in a matter of weeks.
Last but not least, Pakistan’s embassies and high commissions all over the world should be transformed from being bureaucratic and didactic operations into proactive and innovative sales and marketing outlets for Pakistani textiles and other produce. Every embassy and high commission should develop an exhibition hall to display our products. The government of Pakistan should seriously consider purchasing warehouses in Europe and North America. These warehouses should be made available to Pakistani exporters at a nominal rent so that their imports in foreign countries can be properly stored and so that they do not have to rent warehouse space at extortionist rates.
Whether or not the current government can deliver this is the question. History teaches us that only revolutions have drastically transformed the direction of nations. The Russian Revolution was one such example, another was the Chinese Revolution of 1949. Can Mr Asif Ali Zardari spearhead this transformation? He has got the leadership of a party that once claimed to deliver the above, but does he have the will?
The writer is a freelancer based in London. He also carries the portfolio of PPP UK Media Cell Coordinator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times on October 11, 2011.