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Is terrorism the only impediment to development

By: Kazi Anwarul Masud
May-07-2009
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(The author is former Secretary and ambassador of Bangladesh)
 


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In politics achievement or failure of a government in the first hundred days generally catches the eyes of the people as some believe that morning shows the day. Bangladesh is no exception. Illogical though it may be some people have started counting the success/failures of the Awami League led coalescing political government.

Bangladesh, unlike many countries of the world, rarely had hung parliament. The elections have been decisive and the winning party and its allies have generally been given absolute majority in parliament. 1954 elections saw the obliteration of Muslim League from the political landscape of then East Pakistan, a party that had carved out for the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent a separate homeland. It is within the realm of possibility that the defeat of BNP-Jamaat combine can remove religion based politics from Bangladesh forever. One must, however, be on guard as the situation in Pakistan has become an "existential threat" to its survival. As the Pakistan government did not notice the emergence of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan until it was too late, Bangladesh, like India, can ill afford to relax its vigilance against any sign of resurgence by Islamic extremists who reportedly have a huge war chest. If the Taliban"s sway over the people is based more on fear than loyalty to its ideology then "Transformational leadership" that is according to Harvard University Professor Joseph Nye Jr. "induces followers to transcend their self-interest for the sake of the higher purposes of the group that provides the context of the relationship" could be an answer. The trust put in Sheikh Hasina is that she will bring back not only democracy but also put an end to the exploitive nature of the administrative rule which had been inflicted upon the people, particularly during the 2001-2006 BNP-Jamaat rule.

Priority has to be set as electoral democracy and development may not necessarily travel in the same compartment though they may move in the same direction. One set of argument would state that democracy, particularly in countries where supportive institutions have not been developed fully, would conflict with the pace of development ( economic growth and its distribution into individual and social welfare) because under a democratic set up politicians have to satisfy different interest groups which in the long run may not accord with the kind of development that would have met the measure of social justice and lessen income inequality in the society. This school of thought would state that democracy indirectly promotes economic development because it is based on market economy which has traditionally outperformed non-market forms of economy. Albeit examples of Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore are cited by supporters of conflict model i.e. where the pace of economic development conflicts with the necessity to seek broad agreement of large number of people. The conflict between what is known as "Western" concept of individual freedom as not being subordinate to social cohesion is not Western at all but is universal and not exported from the West at the time of colonization of the Orient which Edward Said described as the West"s richest colony and greatest intellectual contestant.

But it is incontestable that European renaissance, reformation and Christian missionaries as fellow travelers who accompanied the discoverers of the new world had fielded the seeds of democratic values in countries that for centuries had only known autocratic institutions. But the democratic values were sown by both secular and religious ethics. Professor Joseph Runzo (of Chapman University) dispels the common perception that has grown at the beginning of the twenty First century that religion is against human rights. He states that world religions advocate rationality and moral responsibility but opposes the egocentric secular claim to human rights and rule of law. Secularism needs religion as the most widely accepted guidance for political community while religion needs secularism as a mediator between various shades of opinion inhabiting the same political space. Democratic values, therefore, is not the exclusive wealth of any particular community or civilization. Runzo"s advocacy of religion will be conflictual with terrorism inflicted by the Islamic extremists and others in the name of religion. As Runzo himself conceded that "religion has too often been used to justify violation of human rights in parts through the hierarchical and selective use of the tools of ethics and postponement of temporal justice to divine judgment or future Karmic consequences".

Albeit, some are better acquainted with the workings of democracy than others because they posses ingredients to sustain a democratic way of life. Some of the essential ingredients are the state and the stage of the economy and the richness of the human resources that a country possesses. In case of those yet to reach the threshold of sustainable democracy disguised paternalism, however, well intentioned should not be welcomed.

The fundamental contingency for the success of any plan for development remains uninterrupted practice of democracy as only democracy can provide accountability from the governors. In early last century a prominent US politician had remarked that democracy deficit can only be met with greater democracy. Free and fair expression of the will of the people is non-negotiable. To quote German political theorist Jorgen Habermas: The States raison d"etre does not lie primarily in the protection of equal individual rights but in the guarantee of an inclusive process of opinion and will-formation in which free and equal citizens reach an understanding on which goals and norms lie in equal interest of all.

But for the global meltdown the world would have been satisfied with Alan Greenspan"s claim that the long standing debate between the virtues of the economies of free market and those governed by centrally planned socialism is over. In the case of the present Bangladesh administration it would have to choose between political and developmental approach. Political approach proceeds from a relatively narrow conception of democracy focused on the election and political liberty and a society in which democrats have an upper hand over non-democrats. Developmental approach rests on a broader notion of democracy encompassing concern for equality and justice. It favors democratization as a process of long term political and socio-economic development. Democracy is valuable in its own right but is secondary to a core developmental rationale. Economic development, as it is understood now, really started in 1930s though Adam Smith and Joseph Schumpeter did not ignore the developmental aspects of economics. Early concept of economic development basically put emphasis on growth and industrialization. Europe and the US were considered as developed and the other areas of the world were considered as primitive versions of European nations that would develop by stages. Walt W Rostow"s Stages of Economic Growth stressed that Europe and North America were at a linear stage of development that the underdeveloped countries would eventually catch up with. He argued that all countries must develop through a number of stages starting with traditional agrarian society and culminating in a modern industrialized society. The key to this transformation was seen to be mobilization of domestic and foreign resources for investment in economic growth. Capital formation was considered as crucial to accelerate development. High savings leading to high growth as a virtuous circle and low savings leading to low growth and the reverse as a vicious circle that could be changed through governmental intervention. This robotic development presupposed fruits of growth to trickle through from the top to the lower parts of society that ignored the concept of equity and justice that every society demands. The 1974 Cocoyoc Declaration asserted that the purpose of a growth strategy that benefits only the wealthiest minority or even increases disparity between and within a country is no development at all. It is exploitation. If there were supporters of unbridled capitalism who doubted the social democracy practiced by Scandinavian countries and held on to Adam Smith"s minimalist role of the government for economic prosperity, the present global meltdown should have convinced that their brand of economic philosophy just does not work.

With the irreversible exit of communism from the global stage and despite the global meltdown caused by unbridled capitalism no one seriously suggests the revival of socialism. It is, however, suggested that business as usual as in the pre-meltdown period cannot be allowed to continue. Some may advocate British Prime Minister Clement Attlee"s transformative democratic socialism that provided a strong welfare state, fiscal redistribution, and selective nationalization as a model. British Labor minister Anthony Crosland felt that it was possible to achieve greater social equality without the need for fundamental economic transformation. He favored fruits of accelerated growth to be invested in pro-poor public services than in fiscal redistribution. A complementary view has been expressed by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitzs support of an economic development where, in his words, there will be: moral growth that is sustainable, that increases living standard not just today but for future generations as well, and that leads to a more tolerant, open society. The idea is to avoid a situation as in the US today where 20% of the wealth is possessed by only one percent of the population. Since God in His infinite wisdom has capped the extent of consumption by an individual, despite his proclivity towards wastage, the surfeit of wealth has been channeled mostly into productive areas creating employment generating multiplier income effect. But the recession in the Western economies that is expected to continue for a few years, despite billions of dollars/pounds being injected by the governments, has not been able to regenerate Western economies as yet. The developing world, particularly the least developed among them, being mostly open economies and consequently being dependant on the West for aid and trade would be adversely affected.

In sum the global meltdown has brought about an opportunity for the people to rethink whether neo-liberalism of the past decades that was based on orthodox developmental theory that production, distribution, and consumption of all commodities should be left to market forces without governmental intervention for an economy to reach the heights of progress is the best way. This approach had ignored the problem of a silent crisis of underdevelopment, of global poverty, or ever mounting population pressure, of thoughtless degradation. Given he expectations of the people commitment and wisdom in crafting socio-economic policies are called for by the leaders of the Indian subcontinent, as by others, to particularly thwart the impediment posed by terrorism in the path of development.


Kazi Anwarul Masud

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