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Archive for October, 2008

On Wednesday, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Pakistan’s Balochistan province, killing at least 170 people and leaving thousands homeless, [see related CHUP post]. When I first heard news of the tragedy, the first thought that came to me was an image I captured in a photograph almost three years ago, [see above], when I visited Balakot. The town, located in the NWFP, had been completely destroyed by the October 2005 earthquake, a disaster that killed about 74,500 people and injured over 100,000 in the region. It was one the largest natural disasters to afflict Pakistan, and was labeled the 14th deadliest earthquake of all time. Upon arriving in Balakot, we stopped to survey the devastation from a hilltop. The haunting image I captured above immortalized the emotions we were experiencing at that very moment – feelings of helplessness and concern, sadness and despair. The most overpowering emotion, though, was how small we felt amid the vast stretch of destruction and rubble that lay before us. It seems that no matter how much destruction we can cause by our own hands, through suicide bombings, violence, and intolerance, the power of God and nature will always bring us to our knees.

Those same emotions sat with me this morning, as I read article after article detailing the increasing casualty numbers in Balochistan and the relief efforts underway to recover survivors amid the rubble. This is the same conflict-ridden province that was hit by a cyclone last year, a disaster that destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes. Today, yet another tragedy has occurred, this time on the brink of a harsh winter. Mohammed Hashim, a resident in Wam, one of the hardest hit villages, told the AFP, “We are doomed…We have nothing left to save our families from the cold in the night.” The news agency reported, “Destitute survivors sat beside campfires as the night brought sub-zero temperatures to the mountainous quake zone bordering Afghanistan,” waiting for medical aid and supplies. The AFP’s correspondent in Wam reported that emergency tents had still not arrived by Wednesday night, “forcing exhausted villagers to hunker down in the ruined shells of their homes.” Many of the residents had spent “the day in a desperate search for loved ones or burying the dead in mass graves, as aftershocks nearly as big as the initial quake pounded the landscape, sending rocks spewing from nearby peaks and sparking fresh panic.”

If the earthquake in 2005 taught us anything, it’s that with immense tragedy comes the outpouring of human compassion. I still remember in 2005, when residents in Islamabad pitched in to help lift bricks and rubble in F-10, to help recover survivors from a collapsed apartment building. I remember how many people donated blankets, warm clothes, and tents to those suffering in the afflicted areas near Kashmir. Let us showcase that same compassion in the aftermath of this tragedy. We cannot stop the occurrence of natural disasters, but we can help restore what was left in their wake.

How you can help:

  • Visit the page set up via Wikia Pakistan to learn more about the grassroots relief effort
  • Organize drives to collect blankets, warm clothes, and money for tents to send to the affected areas
  • Contact an Edhi Foundation center in your area to learn how you can donate your time/money for the relief efforts
  • Islamic Relief is now accepting donations for relief efforts on their website, [thanks, Five Rupees].

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UPDATE [10/31]: The AP reported, “Doctors said Friday they were running out of drugs and artificial limbs for victims of the earthquake in southwestern Pakistan amid fears that the death toll would climb beyond 300.”

UPDATE [10/30 1100 EST]: Pakistani soldiers handed out tents, blankets, and sleeping bags to earthquake survivors on Thursday, as news agencies reported the death toll rose to 215.

UPDATE [1100 EST]: The AFP is reporting that  the death toll has now risen to at least 170. According to GEO News, “The death toll could rise as rescue workers move into more remote villages. Hundreds of others had been injured in the tremor and perhaps 15,000 left homeless and in need of help.”

On Wednesday, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in Balochistan [southwest Pakistan] killed at least 150 people, and left thousands homeless. While many media outlets quoted 150 casualties, AAJ Television and Dawn both reported that the death toll has risen to 160, with many “believed to be buried under rubble.” The news outlets reported that about about 20 aftershocks followed the earthquake, rattling “the survivors.” AAJ quoted a resume workers in Wam, “one of the worst-hit villages where authorities were using excavators to dig mass graves,” who said, “The village has been flattened. You can’t see a house still standing. There’s destruction everywhere.” [Images from BBC News, above]

Updated newswires reported that a second earthquake occurred in the same area later in the day. According to USA Today, “The initial quake obliterated hundreds of fragile mud-and-timber homes, officials said. There were no immediate reports of casualties in the second quake, which was felt in the city of Quetta and nearby regions of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

According to CNN, “Ten hours after the quake, the rescue operations continued with the Pakistani army sending helicopters to ferry in blankets and relief supplies and airlift the scores of wounded.” Dawn cited Minister for Revenue and Rehabilitation Zamaruk Khan, who said “the government was preparing to provide food, shelter and medical care to survivors of the quake.” BBC News reported that the worst-hit area appeared to be Ziarat, about 50km north of Quetta, where hundreds of mostly mud and timber houses had been destroyed in five villages. Dawn quoted Ziarat district chief Dilawar Khan, who said, “Hundreds of mud houses have collapsed. We are using whatever resources we have to help the people and have asked for help from the provincial government.” [Image from Dawn]

Media outlets report that this is the deadliest earthquake since the massive earthquake that hit the Kashmir region in 2005. CHUP will continue to provide updates as they occur.

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So far, the week has been marked with significant announcements of alliances and collaborations between Pakistan and other states in the international community. On Tuesday, the AFP cited German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who announced, “Germany stands ready to help Pakistan overcome its security and economic problems to help promote peace in the wider region.” In a joint conference with Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, he asserted, “We want to support Pakistan not only in fair weather but also in stormy weather.” Dawn, in its coverage of the meeting, reported that Germany would help Pakistan negotiate a deal with the International Monetary Fund [IMF], [see related CHUP post]. [Image from AFP]

The news agency cited analysts, who said, “With donors caught up with their own problems brought on by the global financial crisis, they would apparently prefer to wait for IMF involvement which would bring discipline by attaching conditions and targets.” Members of the Friends of Pakistan group, which includes the United States, the European Union, the UAE, the United Nations and China, reportedly expect Pakistan to come to a deal with the IMF before they will make concrete offers. Steinmeier signaled a similar stance today, noting that Germany “would be ready to step up development assistance to Pakistan but…declined to give a figure.” The Associated Press cited him saying that “Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, and other countries were discussing a separate package of assistance for Pakistan to boost faltering economic growth.”

On the security front, media outlets also reported Tuesday that Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to initiate contact “with militant groups through a tribal council.” According to GEO News, “The declaration came after two days of talks in Islamabad aimed at finding a lasting solution to the unrest which has wracked the region since the U.S.-led toppling of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime in 2001.” The Daily Times reported that Pakistani FM Qureshi emphasized yesterday that negotiations and reconciliation “are necessary to succeed in combating terrorism and extremism.” The joint declaration released today reiterated the “urgent and imperative need for dialogue and negotiations with opposition groups in both countries [in order] to find a peaceful settlement for the ongoing conflict…” The AFP cited Owais Ghani, the leader of the talks on the Pakistan side, who said that contacts will be established “with all those involved in the conflict situation,” including the Taliban and other militant groups, adding, “We will sit, we will talk to them, they will listen to us and we will come to some sort of solution. Without dialogue we cannot have any sort of conclusion.” [Image from Dawn]

Turkey on Tuesday also pledged to stengthen their bilateral relations with Pakistan in defense, commerce, energy, and communication, reported AAJ Television. Turkish PM Tayyep Erdogan and Pakistani PM Yousaf Raza Gilani held formal bilateral talks in Ankara. Erdogan, in a joint press conference, told reporters that “his country was ready to extend full cooperation and assistance to Pakistan to come out of its current economic crisis and enhance development in the country.” [Image from AAJ]

So it appears our senior officials have had their hands full today, with significant collaborations and deals made between Germany, Turkey and Afghanistan. However, let’s hope,  given the deteriorating economic and security conditions, more than just “pledges of cooperation” follow these talks.

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On Monday, Pakistani media outlets cited opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz [PML-N] that rejected President Asif Ali Zardari’s claim that there is no judicial crisis in the country. Dawn and The News quoted Ahsan Iqbal, PML-N Information Secretary, who said in a statement Sunday, “Until the unconstitutional decision of General Musharraf of November 3, 2007, is not reversed in letter and spirit, the legacy of the dictator will live and continue to challenge the independence of judiciary…” [Image from AAJ Television]

Iqbal asserted that there is still a judicial crisis in the country, and maintained that “the issue was not about the number of judges, it was about deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, whose unconstitutional dismissal on March 9, 2007, sparked a movement for his restoration.” Iqbal emphasized, “The matter may be over for the president but for PML-N, lawyers, civil society and the media it is very much on top of national agenda.” Last Thursday, another figure in the opposition party, Raja Zafar ul-Haq further clarified that the PML-N had not dropped the judicial issue from their agenda, asserting “that no compromise will be made on the demand of terming the November 3 steps as unconstitutional and illegal,” reported GEO News.

Despite the judicial issue falling lower on the national agenda in favor of arguably more pressing issues – the economic and financial crisis, as well as the deteriorating security situation -  members of Pakistan’s civil society [particularly the lawyers' movement] are still championing for the restoration of the judiciary. According to GEO News, the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Aitzaz Ahsan proclaimed last Thursday that “the time has come for the independence of judiciary, adding no power could prevent it now.” The news agency reported, “Speaking at a conference titled, ‘Role of the independent judiciary in economic growth’ here on Thursday, Ahsan said that foreign investors want to invest in the country where there is a rule of law and independent judiciary so that their investment could be protected.” On Monday, AAJ Television reported that lawyers in Lahore “continued their protest and boycott of courts to press for their demands for restoration of deposed judges.” [Image from GEO]

Given the current environment in Pakistan and the worsening economic and security crises, where on  Pakistan’s list of priorities does the judiciary movement fall for you? I would assume that for the country’s lower classes who are more worried about their next meal than the independence of the judiciary, this issue is not even a priority. And for the people in Swat and Bajaur, who are increasingly forced to relocate due to the violence amid the intensifying military campaign, the judiciary movement may not even be on their radar. This is not to say the issue is not important or significant for the future of the country, or that it’s by any means “over” - but given the more immediate issues at hand, its temporary drop from the national agenda may be understandable.

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A major push to open negotiations with the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is reported to begin Monday, “at a summit of leading political figures from the two countries,” reported McClatchy Newspapers. The news agency noted, “Pakistani Taliban, based in the country’s tribal border area with Afghanistan, have joined the battle in Afghanistan and also taken on Islamabad. Nevertheless, the assembly of 50 people, called a jirga, which will meet for two days in Islamabad with the backing of both governments, is likely to question the continued presence of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.”

The continued American presence in the region, as well as the recent increase of missile attacks on militant targets on Pakistani soil, has caused anti-U.S. sentiment to increase dramatically. A  recently released Gallup poll found that 45% of Pakistanis viewed the U.S. forces in Afghanistan as a menace to their country, [see related CHUP post]. On Monday, media outlets reported that yet another suspected U.S. attack struck the house of a Taliban commander in South Waziristan, killing up to 20 people, reported the Associated Press. The NY Times has recorded that “through Sunday, there were at least 18 Predator strikes since the beginning of August, some deep inside Pakistan’s tribal areas, compared with 5 strikes during the first seven months of 2008,” [see NY Times image above].

According to the news agency, “Pakistani leaders have protested the strikes as an unacceptable violation of the country’s sovereignty and argue that the attacks only fuel Islamic extremism in the region.” On Monday, Dawn cited statements made by the country’s Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani who asserted during a press conference that “U.S. attacks in tribal areas are harming the government’s efforts to isolate extremists and mobilize people against militancy.”

A feature in Sunday’s NY Times reported that the White House, in reaction to “furious” complaints from Pakistan’s government, “has backed away from using American commandos for further ground raids into Pakistan…relying instead on an intensifying campaign of airstrikes by the Central Intelligence Agency against militants in the Pakistani mountains.” The Times added,

At the same time, however, officials said that relying on airstrikes alone, the United States would be unable to weaken Al Qaeda’s grip in the tribal areas permanently. Within the government, advocates of the ground raids have argued that only by sending Special Operations forces into Pakistan can the United States successfully capture suspected operatives and interrogate them for information about top Qaeda leaders.

The decision to focus on an intensified Predator campaign, therefore, “appears to reflect dwindling options on the part of the White House for striking a blow against Al Qaeda in the Bush administration’s waning days.” The American ground mission known to have taken place in Pakistan was the Special Operations raid on September 3rd, “in which the roughly two dozen people killed included some civilians,” reported the Times. The raid drew outrage from Islamabad, with Pakistani national security adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani paying a surprise visit to Washington to register the government’s complaints in person. American officials say there has not been a commando operation since the previous attack.

According to the NY Times, “As part of the intensified attacks in recent months, the C.I.A. has expanded its list of targets in Pakistan and has gained approval from the government there to bolster eavesdropping operations in the border region.” Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, reportedly told the Council on Foreign Relations this month that the U.S. and Pakistan “were cooperating in deploying ‘strategic equipment that is used against specific targets.’”

While such a development [the U.S. backing away from ground campaigns due to complaints from Islamabad] may be significant, the truth is that Predator strikes are increasing, and with greater intensity. And while Pakistani officials have reportedly made clear in public statements that they regard the Predator attacks “as a less objectionable violation of Pakistani sovereignty,” each strike still garners an outraged response from Pakistan’s public. It seems like we have been forced to accept the lesser of the two evils – but at what cost?

Also good to note: The Associated Press did a brief, albeit overly simplified breakdown of the militant groups operating along the Afghan-Pak border.

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According to the AFP, “A small contingent of U.S. military instructors have begun a training program scheme aimed at turning Pakistan’s Frontier Corps into an effective counter-insurgency force.” The news agency cited a U.S. military official, who told the news agency Thursday, “About 25 U.S. military personnel last week began training Pakistani counterparts at a location in Pakistan outside the troubled tribal areas where the Frontier Corps operates.” He emphasized that the Americans will not directly train the Frontier Corps, but their Pakistani army instructors, noting that the aim is “basically to train the Frontier Corps in counter-insurgency warfare to make them more effective in the tribal areas.” [Image from Dawn]

The “politically sensitive” program has been stalled for months by negotiations between the U.S. and Pakistani military. Although the AFP reported that the U.S. official “attributed the delay to difficulties in getting the facilities needed to conduct the training,” recent tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan may also have played a part.  According to the Washington Post yesterday, “Zardari and the government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani have been at pains to balance their support of U.S. objectives with a recognition of widespread Pakistani distrust of the United States — among the population as well as the political class.” Such distrust has been intensified with increasing U.S. air strikes on Pakistani soil. Just yesterday, news agencies reported that a U.S. missile attack hit a Pakistani madrassa [reportedly set up a Pakistani Taliban commander] in North Waziristan, killing eight students.

BBC News reported that yesterday’s attack came just “hours after the Pakistani parliament unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the government to defend its sovereignty and expel foreign fighters from the region.” An editorial in Pakistan’s Daily Times called the resolution, “an important moment in Pakistan’s history in so far as the politicians did not sabotage the session as they appeared to indicate earlier, but agreed to make an effort to arrive at a consensus over the crisis of terrorism in Pakistan.” According to Bloomberg, “Lawmakers approved a resolution…that called for a review of Pakistan’s counterterrorism strategy while saying that a dialogue with militants must be a  ‘principal instrument’ toward managing and resolving conflicts.” The news agency added, “Pakistan has called on the U.S. to stop carrying out unilateral air strikes and raids into its territory to attack suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda bases, saying such moves hamper its efforts to combat extremists.”

Other notable figures in Pakistan have also voiced their increasing concern over the U.S. presence in the country. On Thursday, cricketer-turned-politician [and philanthropist] Imran Khan also called for dialogue with Pakistani militants, asserting that “the way the United States was trying to tackle extremism was like fighting ‘fire with gasoline’ and that the aerial attacks were ‘the worst way to deal’ with the issue. He emphasized, “Unless there’s a change of strategy, in my opinion there’s no victory in sight for the U.S.” Khan  also paralleled the current situation to the Vietnam War, noting, “Certainly the biggest casualty out of this is going to be Pakistan… [We are] heading the way Cambodia did during the Vietnam war where Cambodia was accused of sending in insurgents and Cambodia was bombed, destablized and you had the killing fields there.” [Image from the AFP]

The U.S. military training program has therefore been initiated within this atmosphere of distrust and increasing anti-American sentiment. In a recently released Gallup poll, 45% of Pakistanis said they viewed the U.S. forces in Afghanistan as a menace to their country. The fact that the program involves the U.S. indirectly training the Frontier Corps [via Pakistani Army officials] may indicate that the United States at least acknowledges this fact.

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Many issues arose after the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, including one over the sharing of the Indus River system. In 1960, both countries agreed on the Indus Water Treaty, which effectively divided up the water in the region. Although the IWT has remained intact, recent developments have brought this water dispute back into the spotlight. Below, Zain ul-Arifeen, a science teacher in Mansehra, [a city in Pakistan's NWFP], discusses the history and current status of the Indus Water Treaty, and why it’s significant:

The total area of the Indus Basin, the area draining the , Himalayan water into the Arabian Sea, is about 365,000 square miles (934,000 sq.km), larger than the Pakistan’s total area of 310,000 square miles (794,000 sq. km). Pakistan covers the major part of the Indus Basin (about 217,000 squares miles out of 365,000 square miles). The Indus River system consists mainly of the Indus River and its major eastern tributaries, the Jehlum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej Rivers. A number of relatively small rivers join the Indus on its west side. The largest is Kabul with its main tributary, the Swat River.

The Indus and its tributaries easily make up the most important river system in the world. The basin was converted into an extensively cultivated area during the British colonial period, with millions of acres irrigated by large canals. At the time of Pakistan and India’s Partition in 1947boundaries were drawn without first considering the realities of the region. The part of the Punjab to the west of this boundary become a part of Pakistan, while the east was incorporated into India. The immediate effect of this partition was that the Indus Basin became divided and conflicts subsequently arose between the two countries over the sharing of water resources.

In 1948, after India obtained control of the headwaters and halted the water flow into Pakistan, the dispute drew international attention. In 1960, after years of negotiations, the World Bank brokered the Indus Water Treaty, [IWT] which regulated the use of the Indus Basin rivers. The agreement was signed on September 19, 1960 by Pakistan’s President Mohammad Ayub Khan, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the World Bank’s Mr. W. A.B Iliff.

The IWT consists of three parts: the preamble, twelve articles and annexure A to H. The principal subjects covered in the treaty’s annexure are: the exchange of notes between the governments of India and Pakistan, India’s agricultural use of certain tributaries of  the Ravi, India’s agricultural use of the upper reaches of the western rivers, India’s generation of hydroelectric power and the storage of water from the western rivers, a procedure to solve disputes and differences through a commission, a neutral court of arbitration, and allocation to Pakistan of some waters from the eastern rivers during the period of transition.

The Treaty gave India exclusive use of the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers. Pakistan was given access to the western rivers – the Indus, Jehlum and Chenab. Under the agreement, India has to allow these rivers to flow to Pakistan without any hindrance or interference, except as specifically allowed by the Treaty. This includes the use of water for domestic and other non-consumptive purposes, as well as the generation of hydroelectric power. However, the agreement precludes the building of any storage by India on the rivers allocated to Pakistan. For example, if India wanted to generate hydroelectric power it could only build run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects (unlike a dam or a reservoir), which does not create any storage [in the Treaty, Paragraph 2(c) (d) of Aricle III allows and Annexure C and D explains that how India can use the water of western rivers].

The Treaty established a Permanent Indus Commission, led by two high-ranking engineers, one from either country. The commission’s job is to monitor that neither country violates the treaty, and smooth out any differences that may arise. It can refer to either the World Bank [in the case of the Baghliar Dam dispute] or the Court of Arbitration for help in settling a conflict.

At the time the IWT was signed, Pakistani President Ayub Khan stated:

The sources of the rivers are in India…and India had made arrangements to divert the waters…every factor was against us, the only sensible thing to do was to try and get a settlement; though it might be the second best, but if we did not we stood to lose everything.

Although the Indus Water Treaty has survived hostilities between India and Pakistan over the years, recent developments threaten to undermine this agreement. On October 10, 2008, India inaugurated the controversial Baglihar hydro-electric dam project in Indian-administered Kashmir. Although India says the dam would be crucial for meeting the country’s power needs, it is located on the Chenab River [one of the western rivers given to Pakistan in the IWT], and is a clear violation of the 1960 agreement.

Islamabad has claimed the dam would reduce the flow of water to Pakistan, depriving its agricultural regions of irrigation.  Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari recently told the Associated Press of Pakistan, “Pakistan would be paying a very high price for India’s move to block Pakistan’s water supply from the Chenab river,” adding that any violation of the Indus Water Treaty “would damage the bilateral ties the two countries had built over the years.” The question over the future of the IWT is a very serious issue and is only marginally addressed in the media. The sharing of the Indus River system is significant for Indian-Pakistani relations and disputes over this issue could further complicate tensions between the two countries.

If you would like to become a contributor for CHUP, email your article [no more than 700 words please] on a pertinent issue facing Pakistan to Kalsoom at changinguppakistan@gmail.com.

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Today, India and Pakistan reopened an old trade route across the Line of Control [LoC] for the first time in sixty years. The development garnered major news coverage among Western, Pakistani, and Indian media outlets on Tuesday. According to CNN, “India and Pakistan finalized the trade plans last month. Sixteen trucks carried 21 pre-approved goods from both sides of the 170 km (110-mile) highway that divides Kashmir.” The UK Guardian noted that today, “From Indian Kashmir came fruit, nuts and honey while Pakistani Kashmiri traders sent rice and rock salt. Security was tight for the opening, with even the fruit subject to stringent security checks.” The news agency added, “Hundreds gathered on both sides of the de facto border – symbolizing the yearning for a solution to the bitter dispute which has led to three wars.” [Image from the AP]

Many news outlets cited eyewitness accounts in their coverage. The AFP cited statements by the leaders of both Indian and Pakistani Kashmir. Indian Kashmiri Governor N.N. Vohra, said of the twice-weekly trade, “It is a historic day which will surely help the economy of both parts of Kashmir…I hope it will herald peace in the region.” Pakistan Kashmiri Prime Minister Atiqur Rehman echoed that he hoped the development, help make headway towards resolving the Kashmir issue will “help make headway towards resolving the Kashmir issue.” BBC News noted that the governments of both India and Pakistan “hope that these steps will bolster the four-year-old peace agreement, which has recently come under strain.”

A Muslim insurgency broke out in Indian Kashmir in 1989, “although militant violence has fallen sharply since the nuclear-armed states began a peace process in 2004 aimed at settling all issues including the future of Kashmir,” reported the AFP. The news agency added, “But in the past few months, the Kashmir valley has witnessed the biggest pro-independence demonstrations since a revolt erupted in 1989, triggering a violent crackdown by Indian security forces.” AAJ Television reported, “The opening of the trade route has been a key demand of Kashmiri leaders [other media outlets called these leaders, Kashmiri separatists]. In recent months they led weeks of protests that were sparked by a decision to provide land in the Indian occupied part of the region to a Hindu pilgrim trust.” The BBC’s Altaf Hussain, reporting from the Indian side of the LoC, said “the overwhelming majority of separatist groups in Indian administered Kashmir” welcomed” today’s development, although “most militants groups have not commented.” Reuters quoted separatist leader, Mirwaiz Omer Farooq, who said, “This is the first step toward achieving economic independence for Kashmir.” However, Dawn reported, the separatists still assert that India “still needs to acknowledge that Kashmir is disputed, and be prepared to address the underlying issue of the future of the region.” [Image from BBC News]

Although India has been reluctant to reopen the LoC, in part for fear that it would receive an influx of Islamist militants from Pakistan, “the new administration in Pakistan has surprised many in India with its emphasis on building trust through trade,” reported the Guardian. This month, President Asif Ali Zardari raised eyebrows in both Islamabad and New Delhi when he asserted that India “had never been a threat to Pakistan,” telling the Wall Street Journal, “There is no other economic survival for nations like us. We have to trade with our neighbors first.” BBC News cited analysts, who note that trade between India and Pakistan could reach $6 billion a year if both sides ease restrictions. Given Pakistan’s burgeoning economic crisis, such a statistic is both pertinent and significant.

Regardless of how well this carefully monitored trade pans out in the next few months, all news agencies, Western, Indian, and Pakistani alike, agreed that it was a significant development, one that prompted festivities on either side of the Line of Control.

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Media outlets report that Pakistani officials will meet with representatives from the International Monetary Fund in Dubai on Tuesday, “amid growing speculation that the country may formally ask for a balance of payments support program,” noted Reuters. According to the news agency, “The CNBC news channel reported on Sunday that the seven-month-old civilian government would ask the IMF for $10 billion, though officials were unavailable or declined to comment on the report.” Bloomberg reported today that the loan would essentially “prevent default after foreign-exchange reserves plunged 74 percent.

Bloomberg, in its coverage, also cited Pakistan’s new finance minister, Shaukat Tarin, [replacing Naveed Qamar] who said that Pakistan is also seeking support from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The news agency noted,

Reserves have fallen to about $4.3 billion in the past year, putting at risk the country’s ability to pay the $3 billion in debt- servicing costs due in the coming year. Credit-default swaps on Pakistan’s $2.7 billion of dollar- denominated bonds outstanding have more than tripled since August to 2,453.7 basis points, according to CMA Datavision.

Pakistani officials have so far not commented on whether Tuesday’s IMF meeting will actually include a request for aid. Although Dawn reported that Tarin said Saturday “that officals would meet IMF representatives in the coming week for a regular, usually annual, comprehensive discussion of Pakistani policies, known as the Article IV consultation process,” Bloomberg cited him stating in an interview yesterday, “If I don’t feel the comfort level with the multilateral agencies and our bilateral friends in three to four weeks, then I’ll have to write to the IMF… [A default is] out of the question.”

Ultimately, seeking an IMF bailout is a politically unpopular move. However, after Pakistan was “rebuffed” by China, [the NY Times reported that President Zardari returned from his trip without a financial commitment from Beijing], Saudi Arabia refusing to offer concessions on oil, and with the United States and other nations preoccupied with the financial crisis, an IMF-backed plan may be the only viable option. Why is this a last resort? According to the Times, accepting a bailout package would not only be humiliating for the new regime, but it would require Pakistan’s government “to cut spending and raise taxes, among other measures, which could hurt the poor.” Given that the country’s power and food crises have already impacted the entire population, particularly the lower classes, further cuts would be problematic. [Image from the AP]

The AFP framed U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher‘s visit to Pakistan in light of these “economic woes.” According to the news agency, Boucher and Zardari would discuss both the “war on terror” and the worsening economic issues in Pakistan today. According to the NY Times, “The Bush administration is concerned that Pakistan’s economic meltdown will provide an opportunity for Islamic militants to capitalize on rising poverty and frustration,” [also see CHUP's past piece, "Security Implications of Pakistan's  Bankruptcy Fears"]. Despite this concern, however, Boucher said “Pakistan will not receive aid in cash [from the U.S.] in the meeting of Friends of Pakistan.” According to GEO Television, Boucher added that the meeting “would deliberate on ways to provide aid to Pakistan through alternative modes.” [Image from GEO]

Other good background to check out from CHUP:

* Insight into the Problems Facing Pakistan’s Textile Industry – Abida Mukhtar

*Pakistan’s Food Crisis – Abida Mukhtar

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Selling the War on Terror

The most recent issue of the Friday Times** included an in-depth discussion of the October 8th in-camera parliamentary briefings, [see this past post for more background]. According to the news agency,

In a move seen as an attempt by the government to win over skeptics and dissenters within Parliament, parliamentarians were given an overview of the nature of terrorist threat facing Pakistan, and the steps taken by the government and the military in countering it…

The Friday Times ran a series of interviews conducted by Shaukat Piracha with various Pakistani members of Parliament (MPs) from different political parties, on their reactions and thoughts on the briefings. After sifting through their accounts, I thought it significant to highlight the key statements made by these political figures. Ahsan Iqbal, the central information secretary of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz [PPP's initial coalition partner, now sitting on the opposition bench due to "irreconcileable differences" over the judiciary issue], asserted that his party believes,

…the nation is looking towards [the] parliament at this critical juncture in history…We believe the time has come…for a comprehensive strategy which is not simply based on security policy. The crisis is multi-dimensional…We want a comprehensive strategy that also gives due consideration to the educational and employment needs of the people. By doing so, we can bring all into the mainstream against extremism and terrorism.

Khurshid Ahmad, a senator from the Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious political party that has previously been vocal in opposing the government’s policy of conducting military operations against militants in the FATA, echoed the need for a more comprehensive strategy, and noted that Pakistan needs to adopt different policies to address the country’s “separate faces of terrorism.” He criticized the fact that “war on terror” has become “the label for all kinds of terrorism,” from sectarian to ethnic to religious militancy. He noted, “We have to review our attitude in the war on terror. We have to examine whether it is really a war on terror, or an instrument to further pursue the United States’  global agenda. If we do not steer the country out of this crisis, we will continue to pay a high price….in terms of economic coast, huge losses in trade, etc.”

Piracha also interviewed Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali, a PPP MNA and former foreign minister of Pakistan, who, unlike Ahmad and Iqbal, came out of the session “far more knowledgeable about sensitive issues,” and feeling “completely in the picture.” Ahmad, in contrast, asserted that “he learnt nothing new” from the in-camera briefing, while Iqbal noted there “were a lot of…gaps everywhere,” with the military officials and the information minister not providing any new information. Ali, on the other hand, stated, “For the first time in the history of the country, whether one admits it or not, I came out of the briefing far more knowledgeable about these sensitive issues. We now feel completely in the picture. There is an existential threat to this country…[for the first time since] 1971.” The PPP MP also discussed whether the government should dialogue with militants, [see CHUP's previous post and take part in the poll], asserting, “If they [militants] renounce violence and lay down their arms, they are welcome to talk to us. Short of this, dialogue and making agreements has already proved counterpoductive.”

All in all, the interviewed MPs made some pretty interesting statements. However, on whether or not the sessions were beneficial, Ali – not surprisingly – wholeheartedly agreed. Seeing as how the PPP is the ruling party, such an assertion was not unexpected. Perhaps most telling though was the Jamaat-e-Islaami MP’s reaction, specifically when he emphasized, “We have to examine whether it is really a war on terror, or an instrument to further pursue the United States’ global agenda.” Although recent attacks have increasingly shifted the associated perception [with the fight against militancy] from the U.S.-led war on terror to Pakistan‘s war, the momentum can still swing in the other direction, particularly if U.S. drone attacks on Pakistani soil continue.

On Sunday, Dawn cited the latest Pew Global Attitudes poll that found that both the United States and Osama bin Laden have reached a new low in support among the Pakistani population. According to the report, “On balance, more Pakistanis express a negative than a positive view of the Taliban and Al Qaeda…One third of Pakistanis hold an unfavorable view of the Taliban (33 percent) and Al Qaeda (34 percent). Roughly a quarter hold a favorable view of both groups while many Pakistanis do not express an opinion about either.” Dawn added, “72 percent said they were concerned about religious extremism in Pakistan.” Interestingly, a recent Pew poll found 64 percent of Pakistanis believe the United States is the greatest threat facing the country, and 73 percent fear U.S. military action against Pakistan. [The slogan in the above AP photo says, "We hate bomb blasts."]

Ultimately, both are increasingly perceived in an unfavorable light. However, the United States, by virtue of being a foreign state conducting raids across Pakistan’s borders, is a more  polarizing actor. The Pakistani Taliban, [not foreign militants from Al Qaeda], can skew that us-versus-them line because they are indigenous to the region. Although most of us do not see them as one of “us,” [Yeh hum naheen] they are arguably less of an “other” than the United States. While Pakistanis are more united against these militants, that is still a shaky development, likely to be complicated by these continued U.S. attacks [on militant targets]. If such incursions keep occurring, there is the underlying danger that the pendulum could swing in the other direction. Essentially, the Pakistani government and the military must develop a unified, comprehensive, and long-term strategy to ensure that would not be the case.

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