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Pakistani activist plans fast against corruption

(Reuters)
Filed on August 19, 2011

ISLAMABAD A Pakistani political activist plans to go on hunger strike against corruption and high military spending, mirroring a move in neighbouring India where efforts to stop popular anti-graft activist Anna Hazare from a hunger strike this week sparked national protests.

The protest by Jhangir Ahktar, an Islamabad businessman who has observed hunger strikes before to draw attention to bad governance, is not slated to begin until after the fasting month of Ramadan ends.

He says the campaign is for “Pakistan to bring a bill in the parliament against corruption ... and to cut the budget of the army of Pakistan.”

But Ahktar says although he supports Hazare’s protest, the Gandhian-style campaigner is not his inspiration.

“I announced my hunger strike before Anna Hazare, but due to Ramadan I postponed it, because our custom in Pakistan is that I cannot take water during Ramadan.” Ahktar plans to start his strike on September 12.

Majority Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan share a common political administration system, a legacy of British rule of the subcontinent that ended with partition into two states in 1947.

Pakistan’s army, which ran the country for nearly half of the post-independence period, has come under criticism for eating up to a quarter of each year’s budget, while education and health care spending account for less than two per cent of spending.

Ahktar says he hopes he will draw enough attention to the issue that an anti-corruption bill will be introduced in the National Assembly, and that funds will be directed away from Pakistan’s military budget and towards tackling issues that effect the population, like the nation’s beleaguered power sector.

“Pakistan is a developing country, and in our country the two most important problems are corruption and the high percentage of expenditure that goes on our army budget.”

Pakistan is also regularly listed as one of the world’s most corrupt countries, with Transparency International raking it as the 34th most corrupt in 2010.

“In Pakistan the situation is worse now,” Ahktar said. “The economic crisis is here, terrorism is here, there is political instability. There are a lot of problems that reflect on our society. I am trying to show — and say — the Pakistan common man has power.” —


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