Monday, December 18, 2006

PWC-ing has moved

PWC-ing has a new site and a yet-to-be-determined new name:

Friday, December 15, 2006

Pakistanism No 7

“As a journalist you can raise as many questions as you like with regard to the political fallout, morality or whether the re-election of the president by the same assemblies would go down well in the history or not, and whether there would be a hue and cry over the re-election of the president by the same assemblies, but the fact remains that we have to go by the Constitution,” according to an aide of Gen. Musharraf.

At issue is the re-election of Gen Musharraf as president for another five year term by the present national assembly, which has already elected him once. It's worth spelling out what this means: a government elected for five years - one term - will elect a president for ten years - two terms.

Pakistanism No 6

See no evil

The Karachi Stock Exchange scandal has had many twists (See Bears and bulls; foxes and eels?), but appears to finally have been definitively buried. Dawn reports that "data pertaining to the booking of shares were deleted not only from the records of the stock market and the brokers but also that of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, leaving no proof for the forensic experts to ascertain anything substantial."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Is this freedom?

The much ballyhooed "free press" during Gen. Musharraf's regime has had its share of consistent critics, who argued that the methods of coercion may have changed, but the ethos had not (See Carrots and sticks and the media). Now, with an upcoming general election, widespread political unrest and armed resistance to the government's policies, the old ways appear to be making a comeback.

The News reports that its Islamabad editor was followed on his way home at 4 a.m. by several unmarked cars and then surrounded outside his home by the occupants of the cars. The editor was not harmed, but the message was loud and clear: "We can get you any time we want".

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Military Inc.

Most countries have an army; in Pakistan, the army has a country. Ayesha Siddiqa Agha, writing in Newsline, exposes the hidden economy of the armed forces. Excerpts below.

On the scale of the armed forces' commercial ventures:

"The Pakistan military is among several other armed forces in the world engaged in commercial ventures. Today, its financial empire has an approximate financial size of 200 billion rupees with military-controlled welfare foundations operating in areas ranging from banking, insurance, leasing and real estate to private security, education, airlines, cargo services, knitwear, and major agri-based industries."

On the financial cost to the state:

"These businesses denote an additional cost for the government because of the use of state assets. A number of the commercial operations of the four welfare foundations, the Fauji Foundation, Army Welfare Trust (AWT), Bahria Foundation and Shaheen Foundation, as pointed out by several reports of the auditor-general of Pakistan, use state resources without reimbursing the government. However, the military's top management continues to claim that these are purely private sector ventures that do not fall under the scope of government accountability procedures and, hence, have continued to grow as part of the military's hidden economy."

On blatant illegalities:

"Referring to the military's small and medium enterprises, one would like to cite the example of one recent venture started by the corps command/cantonment board Bahawalpur. In this case, the cantonment board erected a toll plaza on the main GT road and started to collect money, an action that is in contravention of the cantonment board/local bodies law. As per the rules, none of these organisations can impose a tax on a highway."

On support from civilian politicians:

"Some of the military's concerns have huge operating/management costs. As for the AWT, it had to ask the government for a 5.4 billion rupee bailout in 2002. According to sources, the Nawaz Sharif government bailed out the trust through helping it with one of its foreign loans. This is highly scandalous, and certainly as scandalous as the Sharifs getting unfair concessions for the Ittefaq group.

"Nawaz Sharif is not the only one who supported the military's business. A number of projects by the welfare foundations were sanctioned under Benazir Bhutto's government as well, with rumors of close linkages between Asif Zardari's close friends and Shaheen Foundation's management regarding the setting up of the Shaheen pay-TV and radio projects. None of the political governments raised any major objection to the military business complex during the 1990s."

On the impact on professionalism of the armed forces:

"(C)ommercial ventures, even if they do not use serving officers, do, unarguably, have an impact on the professional mindset. Senior officers, who are quite aware of the rewards that await them after retirement in terms of extension of perks and privileges as a result of jobs in these companies, tend to compromise on the quality of their work during service. It is important to note that there is no streamlined system for selecting people for appointment in these organisations."

Click here for more Ayesha Siddiqa Agha.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Baluchistan and the federal government has an excellent two-part series on the present Baluch insurgency. In Baluchistan: Pakistan's Internal War and Baluchistan's History of Insurgency, Ray Fulcher presents Balochistan as the federal government would rather not have you know. The commonly held view is that the Baluch sardars have been denying their people the fruits of development and that the creeping Islamisation in the province is also somehow the sardars' doing. The excerpts below prove both views to be wrong.

On the sardars' record on development:

"The Musharraf regime has long blamed the nationalist leaders for Baluchistan's underdevelopment, arguing that they are "anti-development." However, research conducted by the Social Policy and Development Center in 2001 shows those areas under control of nationalist leaders, such as the late Nawab Akbar Bugti, Nawab Khair Mari and Sardar Attaullah Mengal, were often better developed. A number of indicators, such as road networks, primary school enrollments, access to clean water and irrigation are often ranked higher than areas aligned to the federal government."

On the sources of discontent:

"A central demand of Baluch nationalists is the equitable sharing of revenue from the province's natural resources. A case in point is Baluchistan's production of natural gas, which is crucial to Pakistan's economy. Despite accounting for 36-45 percent of Pakistan's gas production, the province consumes only 17 percent of what it produces. The remainder is sold at a much lower price to the rest of the country than gas produced in Punjab and Sindh. That the federal government returns only 12.4 percent of the gas royalties actually due to the provincial government compounds this inequality."

"Almost all the construction contracts were awarded to non-Baluch, mainly Punjabi, firms. Despite thousands of jobless Baluch engineers and technicians being available, only low-grade jobs are offered to Baluch workers. The rest of the positions are filled largely by Punjabi and other non-Baluch workers. Of the 600 personnel that worked on the first stage of construction, only 100 were Baluch, and they were mainly day laborers. No effort has been made by the central government to train the local population so they can obtain jobs at Gwadar."

On the Islamisation of the province:

"Through the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the federal government continues to establish madrassahs (religious schools) to bolster the mullahs' influence. The lack of secular education is more noticeable in Baluchistan than in any other province, with 50 percent of children compelled to attend the religious schools. This is not surprising given that the national budget for the Ministry of Religious Affairs is around 1.2 billion Pakistani rupees ($19.7 million) while the secular education ministry is allocated 200 million rupees ($3.3 million). It is leading to what Baluch nationalists call the "Talibanization" of Baluchistan."

Click here for more on the Baluch insurgency.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Pakistanism No. 6

“The Naib Qasid got it from somewhere and even had a bite of it, thinking it is a biscuit. He later threw it in a dump in front of our office when realized it was not something eatable,” explained a chief of the Intelligence Bureau, while trying to clear up why a stick of dynamite was thrown outside the NWFP Chief Minister's house by one of his agents.

It should be noted that the MMA-led NWFP government is at loggerheads with the president.

Pakistanism No. 5

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Carrots and sticks and the media

Ayesha Siddiqa Agha, a civilian defence analyst and a shrewd political observer, writes in the News: "General Zia’s days were bleak; the present system is smarter. But the essence has not changed."


"The strategic management of the media is about using it to create an image that benefits the regime. The rulers understand that co-option and carefully monitored freedom can prove a more effective tool than uncouth coercion."

"Most of the print media groups have learnt the art of strategic silence and acquire the benefits of being cautious. Therefore, while some members of the media will keep their silence and engage in selective reporting and commentary because they believe it is in the national interest to do so, others might become careful because there are material benefits in toeing the official line. The construction of housing schemes for journalists and other important communities such as the judiciary or the civil bureaucracy is another such method."

"Surely, the method of negative coercion has not entirely been abandoned. The disappearance of over 40 journalists reporting from areas of critical importance to the military or the fact that journalists are randomly picked up and released indicates that the art of coercion has been fine-tuned. The statements of the information minister highlighting the government’s zero tolerance towards those that are critical of the armed forces further underscores the aforementioned policy."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dirty deals

"With the army at the helm, the DHA [Defence Housing Authority] is doling out thousands of acres of Karachi’s coastline for peanuts, as the Sindh government watches helplessly," Newsline reports in an expose.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Abused and missing women

From the Nation:

Eighty per cent of women in Pakistan face domestic violence at one or the other stage of their lives and seven million of them are missing, revealed Farhana Faroqi representative of Oxfam at a seminar on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women here on Monday.

"Missing women" was a term coined by Amartya Sen to label the skewed male to female gender ratio in Asian countries, where the abortion of girl foetuses and the maltreatment of girl children resulted in fewer of them growing to maturity.

The Nation's article is a reminder for every Pakistani that the fight for female emancipation is not just against obscurantist beards, but society itself.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Karachi needs better IDEAS

In this city awash with arms, where mosquito repellent is harder to come by than a pistol, the country’s administrators, in their infinite wisdom, have made a habit of hosting a biennial arms fair, the International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS). Grin and bear it, Karachiites were told, it’s good for the image of the city. “Arms for peace” was the organisers’ slogan. Orwell was smiling from his grave.

As VVIPS (Very, Very Insecure Persons?), foreign delegates and sundry other people from the military world converged on this city, even the most jaded Karachiites were left wondering what sins of their forefathers they were being punished for. Busy thoroughfares were closed, traffic diverted and parking disallowed as the special ones made their way to and fro in phalanxes of flashing lights. If the country’s guardians-cum-overlords wanted to prove that Karachi was a city of lights, they did a bang-up job - though perhaps not in the manner they hoped to. The administration’s idée fixe is an “investor friendly” country, but there is nothing friendly about a city under siege.

As sieges go, the one in Karachi vied for the beauty title. The obsequious CDGK mobilised hordes of workers to scrub roads, daub paint, erect billboards and drape the city’s thoroughfares with Christmas lights, even as dengue and other haemorrhagic fevers continued to stalk the city. Frightened residents desperate for fumigation were instead treated to scores of rented police cars and paramilitary vehicles. Let them eat cake was the message to the people of this city.

The toll the arms fair took on this city is still being counted. On the eve of the arms bazaar, some ingenious officials struck upon an idea to facilitate the movement of participants: close all schools in the city. Trading weapons for education was what brought this city to the knees in the first place, but tears of despair are no match for chutzpah. The venue for the bazaar was a stone’s throw from the nerve centre of the city’s administration, so that too was shut. The logic of madness is impeccable, Foucault has told us, and Karachiites would be hard-pressed to disagree. And for all the swarms of police, paramilitary and armed guards, it was business as usual for the petty criminals at Ground Zero. An indignant resident wrote to one newspaper, bemused at the mugging of a relative close to the venue. A delegate was relieved of his possessions at the door of the venue, by men in uniform no less. It would seem that the only people who came out of this whole sorry affair with their reputations enhanced are the petty criminals: at least they proved themselves to be equal opportunity bandits.

The upshot of deputising virtually every able bodied policemen to facilitate the arms circus was that the rest of the city wore an anarchic look. The police barely contain the beast of Karachi traffic at the best of times; however, with no one left to watch over the roads, drivers had a field day. The fair itself was shrouded in mystery: arms were being sold, but by whom and to whom nobody quite seemed to know. Ordinary Karachiites who weren’t privy to the secrets of the military elite were shut out altogether. When the organisers finally did condescend to allow some school children to visit on the last day, they shut up shop earlier than expected, leaving hundreds of schoolchildren stranded outside. So much for a “thank you” to this city.

Yet, Karachiites are nothing if not tolerant. The fair will be back in 2008, so here’s an idea for IDEAS: Karachiites will welcome the big men with their shiny toys, if the profits from the arms bazaar are used to finance the army and the savings in the defence budget are allocated to development expenditures in Karachi. Any takers?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thursday, November 23, 2006

This land is my land

The prime minister's cabinet appears to be the place to be if you want to more or less perpetuate the status quo, i.e. more for the rich, less for the poor. Senior ministers, who also happen to own a number of the country's sugar mills, made sure that investigating the sugar crisis would remain a non-starter (Leaving a sour taste). Now the landlords in the cabinet have acted to scotch any attempt to breathe some life into the country's dormant laws on ceilings for agricultural landholdings.

The landholding ministers objected on the grounds that there was no ceiling on industrialists and others. They would. But what they won't say is that a) they don't get taxed and b) the agricultural sector employs approximately 50% of the labour force. Vast landholdings are inimical to social cohesion and the well-being of the country's poor. They are, of course, good for those who can get them; and those who do have them won't give them up without an almighty struggle.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bulls and bears; foxes and eels?

Countries looking to burnish their international economic credentials crave record-breaking stock markets. So, when General Musharraf determined that economic growth would be the cornerstone of his rule, his minions went out and conjured up the shiniest stock market in the world. But emphasis on records and not regulation, on form and not substance, had wrenching consequences for the small investors, who were lured by the mirage of impossibly high returns only to have their worlds implode when the powerful and the mighty engineered a spectacular collapse in March 2005.

The then-chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), Dr Tariq Hassan, identified powerful brokers responsible for the scam, but was unceremoniously shown the door when it became apparent that he was going to take action against the brokers. Dr Hassan later publicly accused the prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, of protecting the culprits. Public pressure, however, led to a commission being formed to probe the market crash and issue a report of its findings. That report is now ready, but the government is trying to bury it by stealth and parliamentary subterfuge. The message to the people is clear: money matters; they don't.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Why I am a liberal extremist

President General Pervez Musharraf is angry with extremists; not just your garden variety bearded kind, but also “liberal extremists”. Addressing the nation in the wake of the passing of the watered down and egregiously named – more on that in a minute - Women’ Protection Bill, the President patted himself on the back for masterminding a path through the middle ground. Women are safer; the beards have been dealt a blow; and the demands of liberal extremists have been parried.

The beards have long been the bête noire of progress in Pakistan, but liberals have come in for some stick lately. For sure, the objects of the president’s displeasure were not all extremist liberals. Indeed, in the current dispensation, a certain kind of liberal extremist has been embraced and feted: the economic liberal extremist. Laissez faire is the order of the day with coastlines, islands, land and other assets being sold for a song and with the president regularly heard praising the “investment” in our country.

No, it is clear that the president reserves his disapproval for a particular kind of liberal extremist – the social one. Indeed, the label of “liberal extremist” is disingenuous for more often than not it is used as a proxy for a secularist. Secularists are definitely the most misunderstood group in the country; they are scorned as evil people who are determined to rid the world of religion, thereby invoking the wrath of God and expediting the end of the world. The particulars may vary, but they are all tarred with the brush of godlessness. Of course, the protests of secularists traduced in this manner are dismissed; the subtleties of the difference between neutrality and opposition to religion are ignored. Secularists, we are told, cannot comprehend the cosmic forces that they threaten to unbalance. If you’re not with us, you’re against us.

Well, Mr President, I protest this imprimatur given to misogyny in the name of religion. If secularism is liberal extremism, then I’m a liberal extremist and proud of the fact. I take umbrage at the charge that we are an incoherent lot. I pour scorn on the title of your bill to protect women; women don’t need “protection”, they need emancipation and empowerment. It’s not mere semantics; women are not the wards of the state and, if history has taught us anything, meddling in their lives only worsens their plight.

Mr, President, as a proud liberal extremist, I am neither an aberration nor a perversion of right-thinking. On the contrary, liberal extremists have a rich pedigree in this land. Allow me, Mr President, to quote the standard-bearer of liberal extremists:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

I’m sure you know those words well, Mr President. Despite the best efforts of your predecessor to erase the record of Mr Jinnah, his words have survived and continue to inspire. Liberal extremists are nothing if not determined to preserve the truth, Mr President. Many have tried to debunk the notion that Mr Jinnah was a secularist – a liberal extremist, if you will – but none have been able to reconcile his personal affairs and eating and drinking preferences with that assertion. Indeed, Mr Jinnah would have had to have been a self-loathing man of the highest order to live his life in the manner he chose and yet advocate that the state he created ought to dictate the religious mores of its people.

As a liberal extremist, I worry about the alternative. Religion is either a part of the state or it is not – the middle ground will yield no more than a slippery slope towards religious intolerance. It may be difficult to accept the word of a self-confessed liberal extremist, Mr President, so I refer you to the Report on the Punjab Disturbances of 1953, i.e. the Munir Report. Charged with examining the causes of anti-Ahmadi riots, Chief Justice Munir called the great and the good amongst Islamic scholars and asked them, amongst other things, to define a Muslim and the grounds for apostasy. After hearing the opinions of all the learned men who came before his commission, the Chief Justice made an observation that is so stunning in its logic and clarity that it is would be considered subversive today:

The net result of all this is that neither Shias nor Sunnis nor Deobandis nor Ahl-i-Hadith nor Barelvis are Muslims and any change from one view to the other must be accompanied in an Islamic State with the penalty of death if the Government of the State is in the hands of the party which considers the other party to be kafirs. And it does not require much imagination to judge of the consequences of this doctrine when it is remembered that no two ulama have agreed before us as to the definition of a Muslim. If the constituents of each of the definitions given by the ulama are given effect to, and subjected to the rule of ‘combination and permutation’ and the form of charge in the Inquisition’s sentence on Galileo is adopted mutatis mutandis as a model, the grounds on which a person may be indicted for apostasy will be too numerous to count.” (Emphasis added.)

Chief Justice Munir’s comments ought to have been printed and dropped from the skies all across the country, but truthfulness has never been a forte of our leaders. The report was buried for decades, an uncomfortable reality for a country bent on turning its back on the principles its founder. Mr President, it is easy, indeed, fashionable, to flog the body of secularism – liberal extremism – but it cannot be killed for it has already been immortalised.

I do not, indeed cannot, aspire to reach your high office, Mr President. But I do decry the pusillanimity of our elected leaders in the face of the beards’ bluster. And I demand that all the misogynistic and religiously intolerant laws that are a blot on the country’s consciousness be struck out. If I were ever to occupy a public office, I would eschew travelling across the globe to make a pilgrimage to the village of Miranwala and proudly stand besides that brave woman, Mukhtar Mai, who is probably the only genuine hero figure this country has produced since the death of its founder. I would do that, Mr President, because I am proud to stand up and be counted as a liberal extremist.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Spare the others their lives, too

Mirza Tahir Hussain is a lucky man: he was born British. Undoubtedly his release after 18 years on death row is a good decision - Amnesty International has campaigned for his release, arguing that Hussain did not receive a fair trial - but it was the personal intervention of the British prime minister, Tony Blair, that prompted Musharraf to release the man.

Others are not so lucky in Pakistan. The Asia Death Penalty has highlighted the plight of the more than 7,400 men and 36 women who are on death row in Pakistan and the rapid rate at which people are added to it. Given the broken state of Pakistan's judiciary and the country's overcrowded prisons, the president should declare a moratorium on the death penalty - not only should all current prisoners on death row have their sentences commuted, but the courts should be estopped from sentencing anyone to death.

A theoretical defence of the death penalty is possible in strictly limited circumstances; however, the praxis of capital punishment in Pakistan will remain dysfunctional in the foreseeable future. No one deserves to die if they are innocent; not even if it means the guilty get less than they deserve.

Friday, November 17, 2006

When servants become masters

Civil servants are by definition servants of the people; however, Pakistani civil servants are of a different ilk. In The State of Martial Rule, Ayesha Jalal authoritatively argued that, soon after the creation of Pakistan, "senior echelons of the civil bureaucracy and military succeeded in tilting the institutional balance of power against parties and politician". Nearly sixty years later that partnership is stronger than ever: the generals are de facto in power and senior bureaucrats set their own rules.

From a report in The News:

"Sources told The News that the Punjab bureaucracy in particular has repeatedly foiled the federal government’s attempts to transfer the Centre’s officers outside the province, particularly to Balochistan, that is facing a serious deficiency of District Management Group (DMG) and Police Service of Pakistan (PSP) officers.

"Last week, the Establishment Division (ED) yet again had to eat humble pie by cancelling the transfer orders of six DMG officers, who were posted to Balochistan from the Punjab several months ago. Instead of complying with the government orders, these officers continue to serve in the Punjab."

The News goes on to detail how the federal government has in essence tried to bribe bureaucrats to take up posts in Baluchistan by offering them lucrative financial incentives, but have been rebuffed by the bureaucrats. In desperation, the government has resorted to nominating junior bureaucrats without the relevant (read: Punjabi) political contacts to send to Baluchistan.

That the bureaucrats have defied government orders is merely another instance of their power. But what does it say about the state of the federation if those most attuned to the country's political current refuse to serve its most backward province?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Not even if you wish upon a thousand stars

In the build up to talks between the Pakistani and Indian foreign secretaries, the Pakistani foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, raised eyebrows on both sides of the border by claiming that the two countries were close to an agreement on the Siachen dispute. It quickly became evident that Mr Kasuri was bluffing; the foreign minister was hoping to paint the Indians into a corner with a combination of bluster and spin. The Indians were having none of it; even the army expressed its disapproval - a rare instance in a service firmly wedded to the principle of civilian control.

The reason for the Pakistani foreign minister's bravado? The degenerating security position in west (Afghanistan and the tribal belt) and south (Baluchistan) Pakistan are cementing India's ascendancy between the two neighbours. A quick peace is always sought by the party most likely to lose from the perpetuation of the status quo.

India, of course, knows this. Ajay Sahni, director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, told the CS Monitor, "The more difficulties (Pakistan) has internally, the more the calculus favors India. India's position will tend to become a little more inflexible. Why make concessions at a time when your enemy is weakening?"

The paper continues:

"Analysts in both countries agree that the unrest, while unlikely to change the overall tone of the discussions, is liable to weaken Pakistan's position at the negotiating table. That means Paki- stan's pushing on the large issue of Kashmir, the Himalayan territory to which both sides stake claim, will fall on deaf ears."

Indeed. Upon the conclusion of the foreign secretaries' talks today, the Times of India reports:

"On the Siachen issue on which Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri had claimed a settlement was on the cards in a few days, Khan said that talks were on and further discussions were needed."

The HDI report card

The Human Development Report 2006 makes for grim reading for Pakistanis. Based on statistics from 2004 - five years into the Musharraf regime - the country has limped to 0.537 on the Human Development Index which gives it a rank of 134th out of 177 countries.

From the Pakistan Fact Sheet:

"The HDI provides a composite measure of three dimensions of human development: living a long and healthy life (measured by life expectancy), being educated (measured by adult literacy and enrolment at the primary, secondary and tertiary level) and having a decent standard of living (measured by purchasing power parity, PPP, income).

"The HDI measures the average progress of a country in human development. The Human Poverty Index for developing countries (HPI-1), focuses on the proportion of people below a threshold level in the same dimensions of human development as the human development index - living a long and healthy life, having access to education, and a decent standard of living.

"The HPI-1 value for Pakistan, 36.3, ranks 65th among 102 developing countries for which the index has been calculated.

"The gender-related development index (GDI), introduced in Human Development Report 1995, measures achievements in the same dimensions using the same indicators as the HDI but captures inequalities in achievement between women and men. It is simply the HDI adjusted downward for gender inequality. The greater the gender disparity in basic human development, the lower is a country's GDI relative to its HDI.

"Pakistan’s GDI value, 0.513 should be compared to its HDI value of 0.539. Its GDI value is 95.2% of its HDI value. Out of the 136 countries with both HDI and GDI values, 132 countries have a better ratio than Pakistan's.

"The gender empowerment measure (GEM) reveals whether women take an active part in economic and political life. It tracks the share of seats in parliament held by women; of female legislators, senior officials and managers; and of female professional and technical workers- and the gender disparity in earned income, reflecting economic independence. Differing from the GDI, the GEM exposes inequality in opportunities in selected areas.

"Pakistan ranks 66th out of 75 countries in the GEM, with a value of 0.377."

It is worth noting the gender empowerment measure (GEM) amongst all these depressing statistics. Pakistan's ranking of 66th out of 75 comes despite having a generous 1/3 of reserved seats for women in parliament and a sizable percentage of reserved seats in the local government structure. The presence of women in the legislature is largely a token gesture ( indeed, the MMA-nominated women parliamentarians, in a singular act of self-loathing, have urged the government to send female legislators back to their homes) and if the measure is taken out, Pakistan would probably finish at the bottom of the pile.

Most worryingly, Pakistan's HDI trend has been falling behind the South Asian trend since 2000.

Read the full report here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Organs for sale

With all the wars being fought in and around Pakistan, it's easy to forget that for the majority of the country the biggest battle is the one against poverty. The daily grind of a hard life has led an increasing number of Pakistanis to resort to selling their kidneys through middlemen and clinics to rich Pakistanis. The AP story estimates that 'organ tourists' make up less than 10% of the current demand in Pakistan, but, as word spreads and more clinics start cashing in, Pakistan could find itself with a distasteful solution to its tourism problems.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Free media?

Gen. Musharraf is fond of trumpeting the era of "free media" that he has purportedly ushered in. Well, General, all is not well in the fourth estate. From the Daily Times:

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) is understood to have suspended the transmission of a Sindh-based TV channel.

The reason? "Sindh TV has been airing documentaries and programmes with a special focus on the chaos in Balochistan and issues related to rural Sindh."

"The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) issued a press statement Thursday condemning the “forced suspension” of the channel allegedly on the order of high officials, following a news film related to the murder of a policeman and his alleged links with an ex-MNA close to the ruling party.

"The PFUJ’s Mazhar Abbas said that Sindh TV journalists have been working under stress after they received threats and a few days back its Dadu correspondent Pervaiz Narejo moved to Karachi with his family following his reporting and filming of the murder of a policeman after the attack on Dadu District jail."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

This land may be pure, but its rulers are not

Good governance starts with bigger plots. Or so the prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, would want the country to think as he hands out 82 plots of land, valued at Rs20 million ($330,000) each, to federal secretaries and grade 22 (the highest ranking) civil officers.

On the same day as the news of the land allotment, the Daily Times reported that Pakistan had slipped to 147th out of 163 countries in a Corruption Perception Index compiled by Transparency International.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Accountability, anyone?

Excerpts from The Nation on proceedings in the Supreme Court:

"During the hearing of an appeal seeking release of a NAB prisoner Ishfaq Khalid, the bench was informed that the four former provincial ministers were released without paying the fine imposed on them by the NAB courts.

"According to NAB, the four former provincial ministers were ordered by the trial court to collectively pay a fine amounting to 468.9 million rupees for embezzlements and abuse of their offices but were later released by the Balochistan Home Ministry without recovering the huge amount of fine.

"Under separate orders in various corruption references, Faiq Jamali was ordered to undergo 38 years, Behram Achakzai 19 years, Hafeez Looni 10 years and Nisar Hazara four years imprisonment."

"Noting the release of prominent persons even after being convicted by the courts of law, the bench asked that if all the big fishes (sic) were released then what was the need for keeping ordinary persons behind the bars in the name of accountability."

Indeed. What is the reason?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Pakistanism No. 5

'We won’t allow anyone to criticise Pakistan, the integrity of Pakistan and the institution of the armed forces as it is enshrined in the constitution,' said the minister of information, Ali Durrani, while addressing the Pakistani media.

And for good measure he threw in the following:

'Pakistan and the armed forces, which are responsible for the protection of Pakistan, are beyond criticism.'

Pakistanism No. 4

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Pakistanism No. 4

On the government's refusal to pass on the benefits of lower fuel prices to consumers:

Azeem (State Minister for Information and Broadcasting) said that between May 2004 and October 2006, the government froze prices for 26 months, allowing partial increases only eight times.

Pakistanism No. 3

Saturday, October 07, 2006

One man's boast is another's nightmare

Gen Musharraf bragged in his memoir that Pakistan received millions of dollars for delivering suspected terrorists into American hands. The resulting furore caused him to issue a clumsy denial, but the essence of the claim remains: Pakistan has handed over many hundreds of alleged terrorist to the Americans.

Moazzam Begg was one of the men handed over; he was innocent and was released from Guantanamo bay without any charges after three years in captivity. His story is a sobering reminder that many ordinary Pakistanis have been tortured and maimed in the name of the 'war on terror'.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Pakistanism No. 3

"Law enforcement personnel rushed to the site and took the rockets into custody," according to The News in report on the latest plot to kill Musharraf.

No word yet on whether the police have tortured the rockets or forced them to sign a confession.

The irony is that the same edition of The News also carried a piece by Shaheen Sehbai lambasting Simon & Schuster for grammatical errors in 'In the Line of Fire'.

Pakistanism No. 2

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sifting through the bombast

He came, he saw, he conquered. Well, not quite. The New York Times has published refutations of claims made by Musharraf in his speech at the Council of Foreign Relations. This is no 'he said, she said' stuff; the Times has pounced on factual errors made by Musharraf.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

AI slams Pakistan's HR record

Amnesty International has slammed Pakistan's terrible human rights record in a recently published report. Excerpts from the executive summary:

The Pakistani government has committed numerous human rights violations as a result of its cooperation in the US-led "war on terror". Hundreds of people have been arbitrarily detained. Many have been subjected to enforced disappearance - held secretly, incommunicado and in undisclosed locations, with the government refusing to provide information about their fate and whereabouts. Many have been tortured or ill-treated. Their families, distressed about lack of information about fate or whereabouts of their loved ones, have been harassed and threatened when seeking information. The right to habeas corpus has been systematically undermined: state agents have refused to comply with court directions to provide information about the whereabouts of detainees or have denied any knowledge in court. Many detainees have been unlawfully transferred to the custody of other countries, notably the USA.

In May 2006, Pakistan was elected to the newly established UN Human Rights Council which, in June, unanimously adopted the draft International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. The draft Convention bans enforced disappearances and declares widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearances a crime against humanity. Amnesty International calls on the Pakistani government to uphold the standard that it has contributed to developing.

On the capture and incarceration of children:

Several children of varying ages have been detained in the "war on terror" and denied necessary safeguards contained in international and national law. Some were arrested alongside their adult relatives, some were themselves alleged to be terror suspects and some were held as hostages to make relatives give themselves up or confess.When Tanzanian terror suspect Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was arrested in Gujrat, Punjab province on 25 July 2004, three women and five children were also arrested. They reportedly included a baby and a 13-year-old Saudi boy, Talha. Nothing is known about the fate and whereabouts of the women and children.

On torture:

The secrecy surrounding the detention of terror suspects provides conditions in which torture and ill-treatment flourish. Forms of torture reported by detainees include: being beaten; being hung upside down and beaten, including on the soles of the feet; sleep and food deprivation; hooding; prolonged solitary confinement; and threats to the detainee and their families. These methods are often used in combination. Torture was reportedly inflicted in many places of detention; some former detainees reported seeing rooms apparently specifically set up for torture.

On enforced disappearances:

Hundreds of people have been subjected to enforced disappearance since Pakistan joined the "war on terror" in late 2001. The government has failed to acknowledge that enforced disappearances have occurred. In habeas corpus proceedings before provincial high courts, state representatives have consistently denied knowledge of the fate and whereabouts of detainees, despite eyewitness accounts of arrests and even in cases where the individuals have subsequently reappeared.

On ineffective remedies:

Ineffective remedies Relatives of persons subjected to enforced disappearance can either file a complaint with the police, who are then obliged to investigate, or assert their right to habeas corpus by filing petitions in provincial high courts. In the context of Pakistan’s cooperation with the "war on terror", both options have proved ineffective in tackling the violations. Many relatives have turned to informal mechanisms for tracing victims of enforced disappearances, usually without success.Police have in virtually all the cases monitored by Amnesty International refused to register First Information Reports (FIR) on the basis of which a police investigation begins. In some cases police have said that they have no competence to do so as the individuals were reportedly captured by intelligence agencies.

On extrajudicial killings:

Amnesty International is also concerned that the clandestine nature of the conduct of the "war on terror", particularly in the tribal areas of Pakistan, may conceal widespread and systematic human rights violations. In particular, the organization is concerned about reports that Pakistani and US law enforcement and security forces may have used force, including lethal force, unnecessarily and excessively, and have extrajudicially executed a number of individuals, some suspected of links with al Qa’ida and others unconnected with any terrorist activities. Under international law, extrajudicial executions are prohibited at all times. In none of the cases reported do Pakistani or US forces appear to have made any attempt to arrest the suspects before using lethal force.

Pakistanism No. 2

'The American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) did not pay the Pakistan government for handing over Al Qaeda suspects, but paid the agency which hunted them down,' Gen. Musharraf.

The comment was a clarificiation - or obfuscation? - of Musharraf's claim, in his own memoir no less, that Pakistan received payments from the American government for delivering captured terrorists.

Pakistanism No. 1

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Musharraf shows a lighter side

Musharraf's appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was one of the most anticipated stops on his 11 day American tour. How would the general handle Jon Stewart, host of a faux news programme, who has adroitly skewered political guests on his show before? The answer is pretty well.

After making a show of serving Musharraf jasmine tea and twinkies, Stewart tried to blindside Musharraf by asking, 'Where is Osama bin Laden?' A relaxed Musharraf replied, 'I don't know. You know where he is? You lead on, we'll follow you.'

And at the end of the interview Musharraf drew a roar of laughter from the audience. When asked by Stewart who, between Osama and George Bush, would win the popular vote in Pakistan, Musharraf mischievously responded, 'I think they'll both lose miserably.' Musharraf was so pleased with his joke that he threw his head back and giggled like a schoolboy, failing to notice the extended hand of Stewart's for a few seconds.

If only the general could remember his sense of humour while dealing with his own countrymen.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Daily Times gets it wrong - again

The Daily Times just doesn't get it. The National Perception Survey 2006 conducted by Transparency International was picked up by Daily Times journalist, Khalid Hasan, who claimed that the survey showed that Pakistanis considered the post-2002 Musharraf government to be the most corrupt of any government since the end of Zia's regime. This was wrong; I blogged on the Daily Times report the day it appeared, but when I sat down to peruse the the 75 page survey I caught the Daily Times' error and fired off this missive to the Daily Times:

Cyril Almeida
Dear Sir,

This is with reference to Khalid Hasan's report on the National
Corruption Perception Survey 2006 conducted by Transparency
International and the subsequent editorial on the subject in your

Both Mr. Hasan and the editorial make the claim that the NCPS suggests
that Pakistanis view the present Musharraf government to be the most
corrupt of all governments, civilian and military led, since the late
1980s. This is simply not true. A glance at page 30 of the NCPS report
shows that respondents were asked to compare only the four civilian
governments of the 90s and then, separately, asked to compare the
pre-2002 and post-2002 governments of Gen. Musharraf. The survey
merely tells us that of the four civilian governments, Ms. Bhutto's
second government was considered the most corrupt and of the two
Musharraf governments, the post-2002 government is more corrupt than
the one that preceded it. To claim that the post-2002 Musharraf
government is perceived as more corrupt than the second government of
Ms. Bhutto is disingenuous as respondents were not asked to compare
the two.

Surveys are notoriously difficult to interpret, but in this instance
the conclusions are plainly wrong.

Cyril Almeida.

Daily Times and other newspapers received a clarification from Transparency International Pakistan itself, expressing exactly the same opinion on the interpretation of the NCPS 2006. What was Daily Time's reaction? A preposterous editorial suggesting that dark powers were at work to force TI to contradict the findings of it's own survey.

Two questions arise. Why should the TI office in Islamabad rise in defence of the present regime by trying to obfuscate the conclusions of its own survey? More intriguingly, why didn’t any of the other newspapers of Pakistan carry the results of the survey like we did even though they were quick to carry the clarification? Something is clearly rotten somewhere. Did this government lean on the local office of TI to issue a pathetic clarification? Does TI’s head-office know about this and approve of it? Did this government lean on the other papers not to carry the original story because it was so embarrassing?

No, sir. You, the editors of the Daily Times, got it wrong on the first instance, and now are compounding the original error with chutzpah unbecoming of a serious news organisation. Shame on you, Daily Times!

To recapitulate the disputed aspect of the NCPS 2006:

Respondents were asked two separate questions : firstly, of the four civilian governments since the late-80s which was the most corrupt? And secondly, which of the pre- and post- election Musharraf governments has been more corrupt?

So when the Daily Times wrote in its latest editorial "(the statistics) prove one evident comparative fact. On both counts of first and second term, more Pakistanis thought the Musharraf regime to be corrupt than did those for the Bhutto and Sharif governments" the newspaper itself is guilty of obfuscation. Of course, in absolute terms more Pakistanis would think either of the Musharraf governments were more than the four civilian governments. When given four options the statistical spread is likely to be greater than when given only two. The Daily Times has fallen into the age-old trap of comparing oranges and apples.

Coups are in the air

Thaksin Shinawatra, prime minister of Thailand, lost his job while in the United States last week. Could lightning strike twice? Pakistanis certainly think so. When the national electricity grid collapsed on Sunday afternoon, the state-run Pakistani Television (PTV) temporarily ceased its transmission, triggering rumours of a coup.

Earlier in his American trip, Gen. Musharraf dismissed fears of domestic instability and boasted to journalists:

“The fact that I am roaming around shows how confident and relaxed I am,” he said, adding that there was no problem in Pakistan. “This is my longest trip and it shows my confidence.”

Musharraf may want to take note; his countrymen don't share his optimism.

Talking in America

Gen. Musharraf has announced a six point strategy to tackle extremism. Apart from the cynicism that announcing a domestic policy while on a trip to the United States will generate, let's examine the general's strategy:

The strategy provides (i) reforms in education with changes in curricula (ii) elimination of use of religious places for extremism (iii) stoppage of publication of hate material (iv) dissemination of knowledge (v) reduction of poverty and (vi) effective check on the activities of disgruntled elements.

Reforms in education - anyone recently hear of news on the government's plan to register madressahs? No, apparently not. Dissemination of knowledge - more like dissembling; read Dawn's editorial on education in Pakistan. Reduction of poverty - when the government isn't fudging numbers, it's strategy to reduce poverty is being knocked by international organisations. As for the disgruntled elements - appeasement of the Taliban in Waziristan and crushing the Baluch will only effectively ensure more problems down the road.

Musharraf also referred to the most urgent matter for citizens, inflation:

Musharraf acknowledged that the prices of essential commodities have increased in the recent months. “This is because of the demand and supply situation where the former has increased due to the overall development of the country,” he added. “The government is working on a mechanism to tackle the spiraling prices.”

Curiously when talking about supply and demand, he made more mention of the former. Undoubtedly referring to supply issues would have raised awkward questions regarding the
sugar scam.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pakistan's worsening trade gap

The worrying trend in Pakistan’s trade deficit has continued in the first two months of the new fiscal year. According to the Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS), Pakistan’s trade deficit rose by 36.7% to a record $2.13 billion for the months of July and August 2006. The trade gap was propelled by a sharp increase of 17.86% in imports to $4.98 billion which eclipsed the anaemic 6.87% growth in exports, rising to $2.85 billion. The FBS has also indicated that the growing trade deficit will continue to increase over the current fiscal year, calling into question the government’s target of $9.4 billion. If the July-August 2006 trend continues the trade deficit for the fiscal year 2006-07 will approach $13 billion. The key concern for Pakistan is that the widening trade gap will adversely affect the rupee’s exchange rate against foreign currencies, especially the US dollar, which may lead to a spike in interest rates and ultimately squeeze the already pressured common man.

A worsening trade gap leads to downward pressure on the rupee because Pakistani importers will require more US dollars to pay for the higher levels of imports, rendering dollars dearer in the local market. In principle the higher demand for foreign currency can be met in one of two ways: one, an inflow of foreign currency into Pakistan from abroad; and two, Pakistan can tap into its own foreign currency reserves.

The first, inflow from abroad, route, while preferable, is unadvisable or problematic, especially keeping in view the rapid deterioration of the trade balance. The inflow of currency can be achieved in several ways: an increase in foreign investment; increased remittances; foreign aid and/or loans; and an increase in exports. Other than resorting to foreign loans – the least desirable option – the other avenues cannot be short term solutions. Foreign investment will not experience a steep increase so long as the country’s political climate and law and order situation remain volatile and infrastructure bottlenecks persist. The flow of foreign remittances is already considered to be near its potential following the post-9/11 crackdown on alternative, non-official channels.

Enhancing exports may be the most economically sound course of action; however, Pakistan’s export sector is showing worrying trends of not just failing to keep up with imports, but potentially declining in monetary terms. Consider the data from July 2006 (the FBS has not yet released the breakdown of exports and imports from August 2006): growth of cotton exports, still the backbone of Pakistan’s export sector, continue to skew away from high value-added products, such as knitwear, bed wear and cotton cloth, and towards the low-profit cotton yarn and towels segments. Knitwear, bedwear and cotton cloth accounted for Rs. 27.491 billion of total exports of Rs. 73.558 billion in July 2006, but declined by 0.03%, 8.62% and 11.62%, respectively, when compared to July 2005.

A depreciation of the rupee may provide a small, short-term boost to the competitiveness of Pakistan’s exports, but, besides risking higher inflation, such a move is a disincentive for exporters to increase their competitiveness and only encourages rent-seeking behaviour.

The second route that Pakistan can follow to pay for its increased imports is to dip into its foreign currency reserves. However, as already noted, if the July-August 2006 trade trend continues, Pakistan’s trade deficit at the end of fiscal year 2006-07 will be in the region of $13 billion – wiping out the country’s entire stock of foreign currency reserves in a year, were they to be used for this purpose.

The conclusion then is that the current level of imports is unsustainable. Tightening fiscal and monetary policy can help reduce the demand for imports by reducing aggregate demand. However, as sustained, high growth rates are vital for Pakistan’s economy, a targeted regime of import cutbacks is more desirable than blanket measures, which would reduce economically salubrious imports, such as capital investments in manufacturing, plant, machinery, agriculture, etc.

The starting point for identifying possible cutbacks in the country’s import bill must be petroleum products, the single largest imported commodity according to the FBS. In July 2006 the import of the petroleum group of commodities rose by 43.73% as compared to July 2005 to Rs. 43.717 billion. With few economists forecasting a significant reduction in oil prices over the next few years, Pakistan needs to urgently increase its use of CNG and alternative fuels.

July 2006 also saw Rs. 2.269 billion spent on the import of foreign assembled cars. In light of the required belt tightening this is an unwarranted expense. However, it should be noted that were such a cutback established a caveat must be better regulation of the local car industry in order to prevent local manufacturers from exploiting consumers.

The FBS also indicates that in July 2006 Rs. 3.746 billion worth of sugar was imported – an increase of 293.49% over July 2005. While the government continues to prevaricate over the sugar crisis and refuses to launch an independent and transparent investigation of the sugar cartel, the real need for such quantities of imported sugar cannot be established. Clean governance may directly help reduce the country’s import bill in this instance.

Beyond these areas the opportunities for targeted import reductions are limited, suggesting grim choices lie in the months ahead. Macroeconomic measures to reduce imports across the board will hurt economic growth, but so will the alternative of financing the import binge. The present government is truly caught between a rock and a hard place, but it is a situation of its own making; the economic cul-de-sac the government finds itself in is a logical and predictable outcome of its economic policies since 1999.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Pakistanism No. 1

"Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence" - Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

More details wanted

A roundup of the mainstream media's opinion of the latest in the awkward Pakistan-India peace process can be found in the excellent CS Monitor's daily update on Terrorism and Security. The verdict: possibly interesting, but more details are needed.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Eating crow instead of crowing

One of the criticisms of the Bhutto-Sharif game of musical chairs was that the civilian-led governments of the 90s were undoubtedly corrupt. Musharraf's coup, the immediate reason for which was the general being fired by the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was later justified on the grounds of corruption. Now 7 years into his rule, Musharraf stands accused of sitting atop a pyramid of corruption that, in the eyes of the public, exceeds that of the civilian governments of the 90s.

From the National Corruption Perception Survey 2006:

Comparative assessment about the previous of government of Ms.Benazir , Mr.Nawaz
Sharif, the first phase of each one has been rated as less corrupt than second phase. In
case of General Pervaiz Musharaf the 1st period (without assemblies) is cleaner than
the 2nd period (with assemblies), and the corruption has been linked with inflation,
unemployment, Power shortage, ris ing trend of street crimes.

Click here for the main page of Transparency Internatinal's Pakistan site.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Deal with Taliban panned

The reaction to the government's deal with the militants in Waziristan has been given the thumbs down by the Western media. Click here to read the CS Monitor's review of comment on the deal.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

HRCP clarifies

The Sept. 1 countrywide strike to protest the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti was supported by opposition parties, sundry organisations - and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

The HRCP's endorsement of a strike was contrary to its purpose and seemingly undermined the tremendous work carried out over the years. I e-mailed Asma Jahangir, Chairperson of the HRCP, requesting her to explain the HRCP's position. Below are excerpts from the correspondence:

Cyril Almeida
Dear Ms. Jehangir,

I have had great respect for the work of the HRCP and the manner in
which it has served the people of Pakistan. However, the HRCP's recent
endorsement of the countrywide strike to protest the killing of Nawab
Akbar Bugti has left me bemused and distressed.

Can you explain the reason for the HRCP's support for the strike? In
particular how did HRCP square its commitment to the ordinary people
of Pakistan with a strike that compromised their economic and social

Furthermore, while the HRCP was right to condemn the killing of Nawab
Bugti, by endorsing a strike called by the MMA and ARD the
organisation has called into question its impartiality. Would you not
accept that the average Pakistan will perceive that the HRCP has waded
into the muck of Pakistani politics, instead of staying above it as it
ought to?

I look forward to your response.


To: Cyril Almeida
Dear Cyril,

You are absolutely correct and right. I myself was shocked to see a
statement from Karachi on an issue which is fundamental to HRCP. It
transpired later that this statement was issued by a partner organisation of
Joint Action Committee of which we are a member but were not aware of this
decision. This is my understanding from our Karachi colleagues.


Asma Jahangir

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Soft image?

Pakistan's quest for a soft image just got brighter - Mariyah Moten was the Pakistani representative at a no-name bikini contest held in China.

Cue the beards to denounce women, freedom, sex, and all-around depravity of modernity.

Update (Sept. 6): Government reaction

“In Pakistani culture, there is a tradition of cattle shows only, whereas women are connected with respect and honour of the family,” an official told The News in a bid to distance itself from the bikini contest.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bugti and the Baluch insurgency

In the aftermath of the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti one of the casualties has been informed commentary. Sifting through the slew of articles does, however, unearth the Nawab's background, his role in the present Baluch insurgency and the regional impact of the insurgency.

From Time magazine's Pakistan's Other War, a look at the complex, contradictory Nawab:

"Bugti symbolizes Baluchistan's character. He says he killed his first man when he was just 12, and his life ever since has been a series of unending blood feuds with other clans and with the Pakistani military. Bugti sees himself as a warrior fighting a noble cause. He is self-taught and an avid reader—until March, the library in his rambling, earthen castle was lined with hundreds of books on philosophy, Western and oriental religions and the European classics. Then the castle, and the library with it, were destroyed by army cannon fire. Bugti is a vegetarian, a rarity among the meat-chomping Baluch, and sups every night on a bowl of green chili peppers, according to a frequent guest."

On Bugti becoming the face of the current insurgency, Imtiaz Alam writes in The News:

"Ironically Akbar Bugti had never joined the nationalist movement or the alliances of various nationalist groups formed in Pakistan ... He became chief minister during the first tenure of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and ran the province like an authoritarian patriarch. However, he developed serious differences with Islamabad over the issue of royalty which he said that the government needed to pay to him for the Sui gas field.

"His survival depended on making a larger nationalist cause out of this dispute, especially when he was engaged in a battle with the rival Kalpar Bugti clan and at a time when the military authorities were bent upon constructing a garrison in the area.

"The fact of the mater is that after losing his sons Akbar Bugti had taken refuge in his home town, Dera Bugti, to evade retaliation from the clans locked in a bloody feud with him on the one hand and to put up resistance to the Musharraf government and the military's plans to establish a cantonment in the area on the other. The construction of the cantonments became the main irritant to Bugti who wanted to keep his tribal-feudal fiefdom unchallenged."

On the possible transnational impact of Bugti's killing, The Christian Science Monitor reports:

"Bugti's death could also reverberate in the region, some analysts say. The Balochis are spread across several countries, with millions living in parts of Iran and Afghanistan that border Pakistan."

The CS Monitor's report also adds the following on the fight against the Taliban:

"The province also shares hundreds of miles of unmanned border with Afghanistan, giving the Taliban a sprawling front for their operations.

"The solution, such as it exists, masks a potent irony. The most effective counterbalance to the Taliban, observers say, are the very people the Army is targeting in its military operations.

"Baloch nationals have acted as a countervailing force to extremists, espousing democratic and liberal political values, observers say. In the arena of the provincial assembly, Baloch leaders argue, they regularly battle against measures that create an amenable atmosphere to the Taliban."

Lest one assume that the regional dimensions of the current insurrection are exaggerated, consider this report from on the last insurgency in the 1970s:

"A long-dormant crisis erupted in Balochistan in 1973 into an insurgency that lasted four years and became increasingly bitter. The insurgency was put down by the Pakistan Army, which employed brutal methods and equipment, including Huey-Cobra helicopter gunships, provided by Iran and flown by Iranian pilots. The deep-seated Baloch nationalism based on tribal identity had international as well as domestic aspects. As the insurgency wore on, the influence of a relatively small but disciplined liberation front seemed to increase.

"External assistance to Bhutto was generously given by the shah of Iran, who feared a spread of the insurrection among the Iranian Baloch."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sex, lies, and beards

When is a rape not a rape? When it is committed by a husband, according to Aamir Liaquat Husain a.k.a. Dr. Fake, Minister of State for Religious Affairs in this government of enlightened moderation. Mr. Liaquat made his assertion in response to a demand that marital rape be recognised as a crime. The demand was made by Kashmala Tariq, member of the National Assembly Select Committee on Women’s Protection Bill, citing a woman's right not to be treated as a 'buffalo'.

ISI and Jenna Bond?

Camera rings. Fervent speculation. Massive manhunts. Rafata, a Kashmiri woman, has Indian Punjab in a tizzy: police are desperate to locate the alleged ISI spy who 'heads one of the biggest spy networks for Kashmiri militants'. ISI: An equal opportunity employer.

He said, she said

With the explosion in the number of op-ed contributors in the country's dailies, the quality of the commentary has often been criticised. In an op-ed column for The Nation, Wajahat Latif began by attacking Dushka Saiyid, wife of Mushahid Hussain and a current Allama Iqbal Fellow at Cambridge, for allegedly ignoring the military's role in the country's brief experiments with democracy.

I e-mailed Dr. Saiyid and requested a response to Mr. Latif's claim. The following are excerpts from the e-mail exchange:

Cyril Almeida
To: Dushka Saiyid
Dear Dr. Saiyid,

I am writing to you to seek your response to an op-ed piece in The
Nation by Wajahat Latif that started off by referring to you:

'Ms Dushka Syed did not have the courage last night (19th August) on a
private TV channel to blame military coups for the mess Pakistan finds
itself in today. She blamed the political leadership for corruption
and failure of democracy and justified army interventions without
naming the army.

According to her, the failure of the political leadership forced "a
well organized body of people of the middle class to take over the
government from time to time".'

I don't know who Mr. Latif is and I haven't seen the show in question,
so is it true that you 'blamed the political leadership for corruption
and failure of democracy and justified army interventions without
naming the army'? To my mind that would be disingenuous and I would be
interested in reading your opinion, as a Pakistani scholar, on the


dushka saiyid
To: Cyril Almeida
Dear Cyril,

The following is what i said on the program:-
a)that the failure of the political system and
weakness of the political institutions is because of
the dialectical relationship between the two, military
and civil both. Political leadership fails, hounds the
opposition, and the latter run to the military to

b)Democracy flourishes where there is a strong
middle-class. Pakistan has a strong landed class and
tribal heads and so the constituents are captives and
can vote for either one regressive feudal lord or the

In other words my comments were very nuanced as an
academic, and I certainly did not eulogize the army or
its takeovers. I DO NOT believe coups are the answer,
but i also believe that our country is hostage to
corrupt political leaders.
Best wishes, Dushka

Friday, August 25, 2006

Mo' money, no problems

500 million. That's what it costs to ferry Musharraf and his sidekick, Shaukat Aziz, to and fro on their mission to drag Pakistan into the 20th century - yet, it's already the 21st century, but they would do well to keep us only a few decades behind modernity.

From the government's website comes this list of journalists allotted plots in Islamabad. Dawn, The News, Daily Times, The Nation and Business Recorder all have successful candidates.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A new father of the nation?

If the beards had their way, Jinnah would likely be erased from Pakistan's history. But since their time has not yet come to pass, they have to make do with excising the memory of Jinnah from their personal lives. So it is that Fazlur Rehman, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, has taken down the portrait of Jinnah in his parliamentary chambers - and replaced it with one of his father, Mufti Mehmood.

What values did the late Mufti Mehmood espouse that make him a better role model than Jinnah?

According to Aijazz Ahmed: 'Both Mufti Mehmood and Maulana Maodudi played vital and central roles in the politics of Pakistan after partition and they provided their weight to general Zia ul-Haq's toppling of a democratically-elected government for a military coup in 1977.'

The arch constitutionalist discarded in favour of a father who supported the country's most regressive military dictator - sometimes a son's love is a nation's fear.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

An unhappy marriage, but no divorce

The alleged London airline terror plot has prompted a slew of commentary in the American and British press on Pakistan's role in global terrorism.

The key concerns are summed up by an Aug. 14 article in the New York Times:

'A series of planned terrorist attacks with links to Pakistan as well as a sharp rise in crossborder Taliban attacks in Afghanistan have prompted renewed debate within the Defense Department about Pakistan, according to two people involved who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

They said that in particular, the sharply rising American casualty rate in Afghanistan had increased skepticism among some American military officers about the Pakistani intelligence service’s efforts to rein in the Taliban.

“There is an increasing view in the United States that Pakistan isn’t very helpful,” said one researcher involved in the debate, referring to frustration among some officers. “There are people who are really thinking twice about this relationship with Pakistan.”'

Lest one be tempted to think that support for Gen. Musharraf is ebbing, an op-ed column co-authored by Richard Armitage in today's New York Times dismisses that notion:

'We believe General Musharraf continues to stand for these principles (enlightened moderation) and deserves our attention and support, no matter how frustrated we become at the pace of political change and the failure to eliminate Taliban fighters on the Afghan border.'

So despite being caught in, according to Sengupta in her Aug. 14 article, 'one of the most serious political binds of his nearly seven-year tenure', Gen. Musharraf still has the support of his chief patrons. For Pakistanis, the 'war on terror' can more aptly be described as the war on democracy.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Musharraf the real target of London airline plot?

According to John B. Roberts II, an official in the Reagan White House, the alleged terrorist plot uncovered by British and Pakistani intelligence agencies was aimed squarely at Musharraf:

' The objective of those who backed the British plotters was to pull off a terrorist spectacular that would demonstrate the strength of the Islamic militancy and spark popular uprisings against the Musharraf government. The symbolism of Pakistan breaking away from its close alliance with the West on its 59th celebration of independence would have resonated throughout the Muslim street. Pakistani officials are probing whether there was an inside coup plan to complement the terrorist plot and planned street agitation.'

Hyperbole? Probably. But if true, it may be the best news Musharraf has heard in a while. Lashed by domestic crises and faced with political opposition that is increasingly united, another assassination attempt would ensure virtual carte blanche in domestic politics for the general from his American supporters.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Vermont to Pakistan

Pakistan just can't cut a break. When a white American woman, Catharine Mayo, became unruly on a London-to-Washington D.C., leading to a security scare and an emergency landing in Boston, a Pakistani connection seemed improbable.

But when the Associated Press sent a reporter to Mayo's hometown of Braintree (population: 1,200) in Vermont, the improbable became fact: Ms. Mayo has been a frequent visitor to Pakistan since 9/11. But unlike most of the visitors to Pakistan in the news lately, Ms. Mayo was neither a guest of one of the country's estimated 14,000 madressas nor did she meet any terrorist mastermind; instead she came to Pakistan to visit her boyfriend who was unable to secure a US visa.

Described by her son as a peace activist, Ms. Mayo published her views on American democracy in the Daily Times in 2003.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Absentee democracy

As the country's political elite gear up for next year's general election, 'democracy' is this political season's hottest accessory - everyone wants a piece of it. The government led by a serving uniformed general claims it has already given the people democracy; nonsense, cry the opposition, pointing out that parliament is parody of itself.

Who is right? Absentee ministers and a helpless speaker tell their own tale; the claims of democracy ring hollow when the government's ministers bluntly remind the country that power lies not with the people, but with Musharraf. 7 years into his rule, on the eve of Pakistan's independence, the General has not led us out of the wilderness. Indeed, he seems eager to continue for another 33. But on the evidence before us thus far, even a miracle of Biblical proportions may not be able to deliver democracy then.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Bureaucrats' SOS

The Pakistani bureaucracy is often accused of being corrupt, incompetent and in disarray. Poor training, spotty accountability and great power are a poisonous combination in any organisation. Add political interference to that combination and the possibility of a turnaround is further diminished.

In an era when good governance is one of the government's favourite catchphrases, the bureaucrats' political masters are increasingly being blamed for exacerbating the sorry state of affairs. For every Saira Kazim, Dr. Aleem Mehmood and Javed Nizam that the public hears of, there are likely scores of other civil servants who acquiesce to illegal demands.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The general's shame

Enlightened moderation be damned when there's power to be held on to. Musharraf has spoken: the misogynistic Hudood Ordinance is only to be amended, not repealed.
Ignoring the impassioned case presented by three sensible ministers to scrap the ordinance altogether, Musharraf saw sense in the following:
The president was told that according to one proposed amendment, if charges of adultery were not proved against an accused woman, the person levelling the allegation would be prosecuted.
The flip side is that where adultery can be 'proved' women ought to be thrown into jail. The beard's must secretly be rejoicing: if this is the furthest a liberal dictator can go, surely the beards' time will come.
For women this is yet another case of one step forward, two steps backward. A cuckolded husband's motive for prosecution is almost invariably vengeance, which, even in the absence of conclusive proof, may still be fulfilled by a conservative judiciary and a shambolic judicial process. Indeed, the trial process itself is akin to punishment in Pakistan.
Even the eternal optimists must surely have lost faith in Musharraf by now. 7 years into his rule, he can't still claim to be biding his time.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Could Maduro and Oscuro be far off?

The establishment of a Cuban embassy in Islamabad is testament to the possibilities of solidarity in the midst of adversity: Cuba sent 2,400 doctors and medical staff to Pakistan's quake ravaged northern areas last year despite not having diplomatic relations with the country at the time. It is only right that Pakistan at least have taken this small step to express its gratitude.

Amazingly, the Cubans are not satisfied with just providing us with fish - they want to teach us how to fish, too. The Cuban healthcare system is one that Pakistan, indeed most developing countries, would do well to emulate. The system does have its critics, but they emphasise the problems of resource allocation in a centralised economy - something Pakistan does not have to fear in the foreseeable future.

The 1,000 medical scholarships the Cubans are offering will be a boost to Pakistan's chronically understaffed clinics and hospitals. However, the full effect of the Cuban miracle will only be felt if Pakistan's policy makers and administrators are also sent across to learn how the system itself operates: governance and development issues are fundamentally about good management.

The choice is ours: will we import knowledge or will we import cigars?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The secret war

In an interview with a local news channel, Musharraf has rejected Nawaz Sharif's claim that he was in the dark over the Kargil conflict until Atal Behari Vajpayee, then Prime Minister of India, called to demand an explanation.

Let's set aside the accusations and counter-accusations for a minute - from the assassination of the first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, onwards, Pakistanis have rarely learnt the truth on any matter of national interest - and instead focus on some of Musharraf's comments:

Sounding a note of warning, he said issues relating to Kargil were extremely confidential and of paramount national importance, and these should not be publicised in the way in which the former prime minister was doing so consistently.

“I would advise him to talk economically on this issue because it is an issue of great national confidentiality,” he said.

The reasons for provoking a war are of 'great national confidentiality'? If so, maybe even Allah won't be able to save us from ourselves.

From Muridke to Bombay: Lashkar-e-Taiba's journey of mayhem?

The future is now. Yesterday I posted an article from the Economist, The future looks bearded, which criticised Musharraf's chicanery when it has come to dealing with Islamic extremists, particularly Jamaat-ul-Dawa, the alter ego of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Then the dastardly attack on Bombay's trains shook the world. Lashkar-e-Taiba have denied involvement, but the use of RDX explosives and other intelligence indicate elsewise. It is too early to reach any conclusions on the Bombay attack. But it is not too early for Pakistan to dismantle Laskhar-e-Taiba and its counterparts. Indeed, it may already be too late.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Economist on Pakistan, Part IV

The future looks bearded is perhaps the best article in the Economist's survey of Pakistan because it nails a key problem of Musharraf - his half-hearted attempts to tackle extremism. As this editorial in the News points out Musharraf is adept at making the right noises, but poor when it comes to delivering.

The Musharraf era is rife with contradictions when it comes to dealing with Islamist extremists: ban the Lashkar-e-Taiba, but let its alter ego, Jamaat-ul-Dawa, flourish; hound the secular PPP, but cut a deal with bearded politicos; jail reporters rather that the Taliban they report on.

Pakistan's political elite have a painful habit of dismissing the past. 1971, a monstrous war that ought to have been seared on our collective conscience, elicits no more than a shrug. The senseless Kargil war has been forgotten even during the rule of its architect, Musharraf. The Afghan war only stayed on the radar because of the devastation it wrought on Pakistani society in the form of guns, drugs, and Islamic extremism.

9/11 was a major blow to the Americans, but it was also a stark warning to Pakistan: slay the dragon of Islamist extremism or else it will destroy you. Musharraf decided to play with fire instead. As a result, 5 years on, Pakistan is a more dangerous place.

The future looks bearded
Jul 6th 2006
From The Economist print edition

Islamist militancy is alive and well

ON OCTOBER 8th 2005, earthquakes rippled across northern Pakistan and the area of Kashmir it controls, opening mile-wide fissures and sending mountain villages clattering into the valleys below. Over 70,000 people died in the debris and 3m more were made homeless. The army took days to deliver much relief, and the civil administration proved ineffective. But from one direction help came fast: hundreds of bearded Islamists, including armed guerrillas already in the area to infiltrate the nearby border with India, pitched tents and began dispensing aid.


The cartoon that turned serious

They are doing so still, long after most foreign agencies came and went, and Kashmiris are indebted to them. The interior minister, Mr Sherpao, has called them “the lifeline of our rescue and relief work”. The biggest Islamist charity, Jamaat-ul-Dawa (JUD), has supplied the army with medicines. After the quakes, JUD's fundamentalist helpers ferried NATO soldiers across angry rivers. Yet in April America banned the charity, which is a front for the biggest Islamist militant group in Indian-held Kashmir, Lashkar-i-Toiba. Founded by JUD's leader, Hafeez Saeed, it is banned by Pakistan, America and the UN because of its close links to al-Qaeda, and because it tried to kill General Musharraf. But Pakistan refuses to ban JUD.

There are dozens of militant groups in Pakistan, including several, like JUD, that are banned under other names. Most, including JUD/Lashkar, have roots in the Afghan jihad of the 1980s, when General Zia's intelligence agents armed them to fight the Soviet Union with American and Saudi cash. After the Soviet army withdrew in 1989, Pakistan sent the jihadists to Indian-held Kashmir to help wage an insurgency estimated (by India) to have claimed over 40,000 lives.

Pakistani governments also used them to fight their wars at home. They armed Sunni militants to kill Iranian-backed Shia groups, for example, and turned a blind eye when these assassins also killed Christians, Hindus and members of other Muslim sects. Some 4,000 Pakistanis, mostly Shias, are estimated to have died in sectarian violence in the past 15 years, especially in poor, swollen Karachi.

From the start, General Musharraf seemed to realise that this was a mess. He denounced extremism shortly after his coup and has campaigned against it since, but selectively. He has caught scores of al-Qaeda members and handed them to America, including Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, designer of the attacks on New York's twin towers. He has turned his back on the Taliban government in Afghanistan, but arrested few of its members when they fled to Pakistan. He has sent Pakistani troops into the northern tribal areas to fight the foreign jihadists who have found refuge there (see article). He has stopped, or at least greatly reduced, support for the militant groups in Kashmir. But he has not dismantled the biggest group, JUD/Lashkar, or arrested its leaders; and sectarian murders continue. Justice rarely catches up with the killers. Though a few dozen are currently on death row, the supreme court's judges are too frightened of a deadly reprisal to hear their appeals.

There are two explanations for General Musharraf's reluctance to crack down harder, and probably both are correct. The first is that, unlike America, he distinguishes between truly dangerous militants, such as members of al-Qaeda, and those that he thinks he can control.

The second explanation for General Musharraf's half-measures is that he is afraid of the extremist groups. There may be only a few thousand active militants, but their potential support is much greater. The biggest jihadi newspapers, including several banned under different names, have print-runs of up to 100,000. Islamic extremists are the only political force in Pakistan easily able to rally a crowd. On February 14th, after JUD's Mr Saeed denounced cartoons of the Prophet published in a Danish newspaper, a mob rampaged through Lahore, burning hundreds of cars and foreign businesses as well as the Punjab provincial assembly. JUD thugs were in the thick of it. “They have to be squeezed systematically,” said a senior intelligence official. If confronted suddenly, “they will kill the president, the prime minister, a couple of generals, a couple of chief ministers; there will be bomb blasts all over India.”

The militants would pose a security threat to Pakistan and its region even if deprived of the state support that they have enjoyed for so long. There is no question, however, of them taking over the country soon. A heavy majority of Pakistanis, certainly outside North-West Frontier Province, are politically secular. The Islamic parties have never won more than 11% of the vote—and that was with considerable help from General Musharraf.

But Pakistan is a bigoted place, and becoming more so. That may be true of all countries with a Muslim majority, yet few have hurtled towards the Islamist edge as fast as Pakistan. Its leaders are at least partly to blame. Almost all of them, civilian and military, have pandered to the mullahs. In 1977 whisky-swigging Zulfikar Ali Bhutto banned alcohol. Under General Zia, the only sincerely pious leader, Pakistan introduced draconian sharia punishments, made blasphemy a capital offence and ruled that unless rape victims could produce at least four male Muslim eye-witnesses they would be held guilty of fornication, a serious crime. Ms Bhutto did not seriously attempt to repeal these laws. Nawaz Sharif tried to introduce full sharia law. And General Musharraf helped the mullahs to unprecedented power. The Islamic parties, it should be noted, are not much better than any other extremist group in Pakistan: their ends are the same, and so, often, are their people.

Islamists have an influence in Pakistan far greater than their vote-count suggests. Take education. At the time of its creation, Pakistan had a couple of hundred Islamic schools, or madrassas. Now, having failed to build a decent education system, it has accumulated between 10,000 and 40,000 madrassas—up to 20% of which, according to a World Bank study, teach fighting skills. The national curriculum for regular schools is infected with religious and sectarian bigotry; until recently, ten-year-olds had to learn to “make speeches on jihad and shahadat (martyrdom)”.

Pakistan's impoverished public universities are largely controlled by the youth wing of the biggest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islaami. At the University of Punjab, in Lahore, these ambitious religionists have banned Coca-Cola, which they call “Jews' drink”. Last year, they broke the legs of a student accused of flirting with one of his female class-mates. In Islamabad, Quaid-i-Azam University has three mosques but no bookshop. One of Pakistan's handful of serious academics spoke yearningly of the liberal scholarly atmosphere he had recently enjoyed at a conference in Tehran.

Without deep reform to Pakistan's laws and institutions, a young and rapidly growing population seems likely to continue drifting towards extremism. An increase in public disorder and in electoral support for the mullahs would logically follow. Evidence from other countries suggests that economic growth would not prevent this. Nor will elections alone: indeed, Pakistan would perhaps be more Islamist but for the pervasive influence of its most undemocratic force, the feudal landlords, who keep rural mullahs in check.

After nearly seven years in charge, General Musharraf has overseen a few minor changes to the inflammatory school textbooks and promised a more thorough revision. “There will be no hate or teaching against any caste, sect, nationality or whatever,” says the education minister, Javed Ashraf Qazi. But given the president's lack of progress on repealing General Zia's Islamic laws, there is cause for some scepticism. True, the law ministry recently proposed changing the burden of evidence in rape cases, but its suggestion was not a liberal triumph: still four eye-witnesses, but only three of them need be Muslim males. As for madrassas, General Musharraf has introduced laws to bring them under closer supervision, but extremist institutions have ignored them.

The president also vowed to expel a couple of thousand foreign Islamic students, but he has not done so. The Jamia Binoria, a madrassa in Karachi, run by Deobandis, the sub-continent's home-grown extremists, has 4,500 students, including 500 foreigners. Sitting under whirling fans, during a break from the Koran, youths from countries including Britain, America, Canada and Australia said they had received notice last January to quit Pakistan, but the police had told them to ignore this.

Some liberal progress may yet emerge from General Musharraf's rule. If he fulfils his promise to improve regular schools, he may put many of the madrassas out of business. He has also liberated the media, prompting a proliferation of television stations that are giving Pakistanis more and better information about the outside world. Mullahs feature in many televised debates, and some of them sound quite sensible. One such pundit, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, is no liberal: he supports the use of Islamic punishments, including amputations in extreme cases. He is scathing about America's recent foreign policy, but also about his own country's Islamic laws and Islamic parties. Having received death threats from JUD's Mr Saeed, he has only recently emerged from hiding. But unlike General Musharraf, Mr Ghamidi is a passionate democrat. “Pakistan should be a democratic state, neither secular nor Islamic,” he says.

Across Pakistan, roads are being excavated and optical-fibre cables laid. Television viewers can increasingly receive foreign stations, including Indian ones. Pakistani television stations are already putting out lots of Indian music videos, and in May for the first time broadcast a couple of carefully selected (and not terribly good) Indian films. Pakistan's beleaguered liberals are hoping for a cultural return from the Middle East, where General Zia dragged them. According to Khaled Ahmed, a Pakistani columnist: “If we lost our culture through Talibanisation in the west [of the country], we can get it back from India, where our culture is still alive.”