Why job creation alone isn't going to save Pakistan

Jobs might be one solution, but Pakistan needs to battle feudalism and strengthen community building to recover.

Bryan Farris December 25, 2010
Pakistan is a land of opportunity, but also has many needs.  It is critical to create jobs in this country, but it would be an error to believe that jobs alone will solve the issue of poverty.

An article from Business Week titled, “A silver lining in Pakistan’s floods” states that “this natural disaster may have given the country an opportunity to tackle a recurring point of contention in Pakistan—feudalism.”

The author states that aid money going to Pakistan should focus on job-creation strategies in addition to housing. She argues that the provision of jobs in relief work and an emphasis on business training would pave the way for the end of Pakistan’s feudal system and sustained improvements for the country’s poorest.

Though I appreciate the optimism, I respectfully disagree with the author; Pakistan is akin to a rose bush nurtured inside of a closed box. Watering the plant (creating jobs) is necessary and will help it grow. Yet, for the flower to really flourish one must add fertiliser, open up the box, and allow sunlight to flow in freely; only then will the rose reach its full height and blossom unfettered.

A holistic approach is necessary; there are five key reasons why jobs alone are not enough:

1. Feudalism is an entrenched system

Corruption is rampant in Pakistan and those with power and money have the ability to run the country. Feudalism has existed in Pakistan since its inception and at times has been reinforced by politicians in need of a vote.

In his book, “Pakistan: Eye of the storm”, Owen Bennet Jones describes how feudal lords have either ordered or tricked their subjects into voting a certain way.  Thus, democratically elected politicians tend to be respectful of the feudal lords.

Short-term jobs may help subjects break their dependency from their feudal lord on a temporary basis, but the reliance is so entrenched that it will take more than a job to instill lasting change.

In fact, in feudal areas, law tends to be nonexistent; instead lords are often consulted for judgment regarding civil disputes.  Thus, dependency is so great that it is linked to law and order; eliminating the feudal system too quickly would likely lead to chaos.

2. Homes provide more than just a roof

Don’t underestimate the power of homes in and of themselves.  One of the key pitfalls of feudalism is that the residents don’t own their own land.

Through flood relief efforts and subsequent housing projects, it is possible to empower residents by providing access to clear title.

As described in the book “Mystery of capital” by Hernando de Soto, one of the primary reasons the poor across the world cannot build assets is that their homes and businesses exist only in the extralegal sector.

Owners of homes can use their title as collateral for raising debt.  Additionally, access to a title defends an owner’s rights to improvements made on their property. As a result, the risk of investing in one’s land and farms is significantly reduced because ownership cannot be retracted.

The informal (extralegal) sector is quite widespread and currently many people hold assets that they cannot legally prove to be their own.  Overcoming the immense litigation challenge of incorporating informal arrangements into the formal sector will be required.

Providing housing with a clear title is a start.

3. Sustained improvements are impossible without education

Wikipedia ranks Pakistan as the 18th least literate country in the world with a 54% per cent literacy rate. It goes without saying that education is essential to the growth of any economy.

The feudal areas probably boast an even lower rate. It’s no surprise that parents prioritise education for their children so highly. It is for this reason that Greg Mortenson’s schools are so critical.

However, much more effort is required to make a difference—in particular to keep the poor from turning to terrorism. No business training program can make up for the lack of proper basic education in the country.

4. Pakistan needs community building

One benefit of feudal systems is that they provide residents with a sense of order (not to be confused with certainty).  Residents do not need to feel accountable for their land because the feudal lord is responsible for that.

Pakistanis need to take ownership over communal spaces to maintain order and cleanliness. Community development efforts are required to enable a transition to go smoothly and to empower residents to participate in their community’s decision making and maintenance.

Currently, my work in Lahore is with Ansaar Management Company, an organisation that prioritises community development.

5. Immediate aid required

Granted, the long term view is crucial, but right now Pakistan also has so many immediate needs that cannot be ignored.

The international community has largely forgotten about Pakistan and, given the floods unfortunate chronological proximity to the earthquake in Haiti, and donor-fatigue is at a high.  The real tragedy however, is that the domestic community has also moved on.

Worst of all, as Aid Watch reported, significant amounts of aid from the US to Haiti went to US contractors rather than local businesses.  The same exact issue has been observed in Pakistan.

Right now, aid is still needed to help the flood victims.  Before we start asking for the next round of aid to create job programs, money needs to be spent on redevelopment.  As a bonus, it wouldn’t hurt if that money went to Pakistani companies instead of going to foreign contractors.

The bottom line

Let’s be realistic; apart from creating conversations about how to help Pakistan, the floods did very little to help the poor. What is needed is long term, sustained investment in several areas. If anything, the floods diverted resources to address the immediate need.

Business Week is right that jobs need to be created.  A rose does need water.  But, there is much more that needs to be accomplished and it should be stressed that the answer is not simple.  The restrictions imposed on the rose by the closed box need to be removed and sunlight allowed in. Pakistan is a beautiful country full of wonderful people - let’s not let them down.

We should re-double our efforts but not expect an overnight solution.  Even under perfect conditions, it takes time and maintenance for a budding beauty to flourish.

Unrealistic expectations are dangerous. Should they fail to materialise, we risk sustained disillusionment with the state of Pakistan.

The original post was published here.
Bryan Farris An Acumen Fund fellow in the class of 2011 who blogs at RisingPyramid.org.Bryan currently works at Ansaar Management Company in Lahore.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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