THE likely cut in the Public Sector Development Programme, estimated to be about Rs 118 billion, isn't going to bode well for our development scenario. The reasons cited are understandable, if sad. There is the poor security situation that eats up into developmental expenditure. Then there is the increase in food and fuel prices. The difference has to be financed from elsewhere. That has dragged down the PSDP from Rs 337 billion to Rs 219 billion. The problem with cutting development, however, is that in the larger scheme of things, a country can never rid itself of security situations without an adequate enough spending on development. It's the security-development conundrum. But Pakistan, for most part, isn't like southern Afghanistan. We might not be able to spend on development because of limited fiscal space but not because the situation is absolutely abhorrent of state spending. Throughout the NWFP, for instance, even in Swat right before the current conflict, there wouldn't have been any opposition, or even lack of interest in, investment in girls' education. All the talk of cultural factors not being conducive to development, in other words, though not entirely false, is a bit exaggerated. But that situation might not last long if obscurantist groups are given the run of the land by our security agencies. There is really no alternative to development. Perhaps, if the developmental expenditure is being cut, thee can be a greater stride on two fronts: one, the government can at least ensure that the quantum nevertheless being spent is spent well. Second, it could create more fiscal space for itself to counterbalance what it has lost; a streamlined taxation structure should be worked on. We have one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the entire region. Development is the purpose of the state; the lesser it spends on development, the more ground it gives to non-state actors to hijack not just religious sentiments but also populist demands.