Whilst it may long have been suspected to exist, there was little empirical evidence to support a causal linkage between violence and terrorism, and food insecurity and land inequality — but now there is. A report issued by the World Bank recently, titled “Addressing Inequality in South Asia”, highlights the need for governments — not just the government of Pakistan — to address what is seen everywhere as increasing inequality and outright poverty and what amounts to governmental indifference to it. Ignore the poor at your peril, appears to be the unspoken subtext. The Pakistan Institute for Policy Studies, in a set of research, shows that the impact of conflict differs across income groups — and throws up some surprises. Poor people dislike militants more than do the middle classes, and that dislike is greatest among the urban poor .
The World Bank report tells us that in two conflict-affected areas in Pakistan, it is the poor households that are likeliest to incur debt, suffer damage in the course of fighting, or be displaced, a feature graphically illustrated by the internally displaced persons who have had to leave their homes in North Waziristan. Militant violence stops the poor from getting their children educated, while they are also more likely to suffer from theft and other crimes. A consequence of that is a drop in consumption, especially in rural areas and a lowering of the quality of food the poor consume. The poor of Pakistan remain largely uncounted — accurately — because it is politically inconvenient to enumerate them. A result of that is that pro-poor policies remain underdeveloped because of the lack of accurate data to base planning upon. Poverty in Pakistan is unlikely to ever disappear, but it can be alleviated, and should be. Poverty may not drive people in the direction of militancy, but it may drive them to desperate anti-state actions.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2014.