Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Yellow brick road

In the month that Pakistan secured a seat on the new UN Human Rights Council, a UN Special Rapporteur has denounced the forced evictions of Karachi slum dwellers by Pakistani authorities. The evictions are designed to make way for the controversial Liyari Expressway, but the need for the expressway has been thoroughly debunked by Arif Hassan, a renowned urban designer and town planner.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Soldiers of the Pure will sell you a Christian slave

As if minorities in Pakistan didn't have enough to worry about already, now a banned militant organisation, Jamaat-ul-Dawa aka Lashkar-e-Taiba (Soldiers of the Pure), has added to their woes by selling Christian boys in a market in Quetta. As this story in the UK's Sunday Times documents, 6 Christian boys were rescued by missionaries from the market and returned to their homes in Punjab.

Jamaat-ul-Dawa gained popular support when it rushed to the aid of earthquake victims last October, but the organisation is really a reincarnation of the ultra-violent jihadi outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba, as both organisations were founded by Hafiz Sayeed and headquartered in Muridke, a town near Lahore.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Taleban? What Taleban?

Pakistanis have long been familiar with accusations of their government/military sponsoring 'cross-border' terrorism in Kashmir, but we've never been too keen on labelling the Line of Control as a border (de facto though it may). But never one to be tarred by a misstatement, our government/military has diligently ensured that the accusations are true with respect to another border - the one with Afghanistan. As this article in The Guardian chronicles, our support for the Taleban has only undergone cosmetic changes.

The Pakistan government/military has cried itself hoarse denying the claims. The official line: it's a porous border and the Afghans are no better are preventing infiltration. But speaking off the record, we're told something else entirely: "We kept telling the Taleban that they do have a future as a political entity indigenous to the area, whereas al-Qaeda doesn't."

By it's very nature, cloak and dagger stuff means the public may never fully learn the truth. But the documented and continuing presence of the Taleban in Baluchistan tells it's own tale.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The little engines that couldn't

The stage was set: three retired lieutenant generals accused of corruption by their civilian counterpart; the evidence was incontrovertible - the generals in charge of the Pakistan railways had imported Chinese locomotives that were sub-standard and of the wrong specification; the defence was particularly derisory - a $100 million faux pas blamed on 9/11 and the lack of prospective suppliers.

The result? “Though there was misconduct in the procurement of locomotives, the then administration had made the deal in good faith, therefore, this issue stands settled.”

Misconduct in good faith - an oxymoron if ever there was one. Read more about it here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Leaving a sour taste

The clamour for heads to roll over the sugar crisis in Pakistan (prices have doubled in the last couple of years for a commodity close to the hearts of the country's many tea drinkers) has left the PM unperturbed and he has all but exonerated his cabinet colleagues of any mischief. As this article in Dawn catalogues, the PM's comments are simply disingenuous. The irony of the behind-the-scenes politicking is that it's another body blow to this government's image as economic saviours of the common man. It's one thing to fail at improving the lot of the country's poor, but it's quite another to collude in making them worse off.

Battening down the hatches

It's hardly comeuppance (the less hospitable Adiala Jail has been home to many political prisoners), but apparently the Pakistani government has tightened the house arrest of A.Q. Khan. With the US in a tizzy over Iran and a few days after the House of Representatives reopened the case on the erstwhile 'national hero', it would appear the powers that be have gotten a case of the jitters. Perhaps they were worried that his daughter, a regular visitor until being denied access recently, would sneak out a note naming names?

For an excellent piece on A.Q. Khan's lifetime of deceit and hubris, click here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A personal failure

With Musharraf's future dominating the Pakistani political landscape recently, it's an opportune moment to assess his performance so far. Undeniably the choice of metrics is itself a subjective process, but here goes:

1. Economy: far removed from the brink of default and healthier macro statistics; a booming services sector with promise of more to come; inflation and anemic pro-poor policies have marred the report card.

2. Militantism: 80,000 troops in Waziristan have failed to prevent the Talebanization of the area; sectarian violence in Punjab has receded, but now frequently cripples Karachi.

3. Baluchistan: alienation and mega-projects in Baluchistan (which locals believe will dilute their stake in their resource rich province) stirred up a fifth insurgency which Musharraf has shown little capacity for understanding or controlling; ignored his own party's assessment of the problem.

4. India: CBMs galore, but Indians, be it the BJP or Congress, have dug in their heels on Kashmir; dreams of a Nobel Prize have receded.

5. Women: a few firsts (1/3 allocation of seats to women in elected assemblies, appointed woman to head the State Bank), but nothing for the ordinary woman; notoriously dismissed rape victims as gold-diggers; bundled another, Dr. Shazia Khalid, out of the country; no attempt to revise the Hudood Ordinance.

6. Minorities: set back any discussion of the blasphemy law by a decade when minimal cosmetic changes were quickly shelved to placate the beards

7. Enlightened moderation: if we had late night comedy on TV, the phrase would be comedians' manna; courted the beards to get his constitutional amendment and handed over two provinces to drag further back into the dark ages; mercifully has stopped casting himself as a modern day Ataturk.

It would appear then that the General has been a personal failure. The economy has never been his forte, and credit - as well as the blame - should be laid at the feet of his team of imported economic managers. Yet, it's also the one topic he prefers to focus on because it's the only area where his government has met with success. Everything he appears to personally initiate, administer or supervise either goes into decline or is afflicted by stasis. Which brings us to the key question: how much does Pakistan really need this one man? For his western supporters, he's cast himself as the bulwark against extremism; meanwhile at home he's been quick to jump into bed with the political sponsors of that very extremism. It's widely believed that his key constituency, the corps commanders, acts on consensus, and, anway, after seven years of purging and gently nudging out rivals, it's likely they largely share his outlook.

So what use then this man in uniform? Isn't it time he took off the uniform and jumped into the mud pit of Pakistani politics? If anything, his rule has pointed to one irrefutable trait: he can can mix it up with the best of our civilian politicians.

Hoodwinked by the Hudood Ordinance

Geo TV's 'Zahre Sochieye' (Think) campaign has turned the spotlight on the sacrosanct status of Zia's Hudood Ordinance, and the conclusion of the beards they sought out for comment is unanimous: the Ordinance is indeed amenable to scrutiny and revision.

But don't pop the champagne (non-alcoholic, if you so choose) corks just yet. While it is a good thing that the topic is being debated on Pakistan's most popular TV channel, in my opinion it leaves a lot to be desired. The framing of a debate is critical to its success, and on this score Geo fails miserably: the channel posits the Hudood Ordinance as divine law that may be legitimately considered to be immune from scrutiny. The very idea that a repressive militay dictator could be acting as an agent of Allah is clearly an insult to any religion, but Geo isn't brave enough to tackle the obvious head on. Indeed, in the FAQs section of its website, the channel issues this disclaimer: Geo does not aim to repeal the Hudood Ordinance or amend it.

So expect no more than talking heads and learned beards to soberly state the obvious. My suggestion: tune in to the Late Show with Begum Nawazish Ali on Aaj TV instead.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Refusing to grow up

The recent glut of imported cars in Pakistan has been a significant factor in the country's worsening current account and the local automotive industry is - predictably - up in arms. But there are two sides to every story. The local automotive sector was cosseted for over a decade in a classic example of 'infant industry' economic reasoning: protect local industry from foreign competition in its nascent phase so as to allow them to reach economies of scale, expertise, competitiveness, etc. later on. The national economy is the winner as both consumers and producers are better off in the long-term. Impeccable logic.

Except it doesn't work. Weaning local industry off its incentives and lack of competition is notoriously difficult. The automotive lobby in Pakistan has grown to be particularly formidable, and moves are afoot to restore their ascendancy. As this report from Dawn suggests, the lobby and its allies in parliament are conspiring to continue to defraud the consumer. According to the report,the Indus Motor Company, which began production thirteen years ago, has stated that a 'long-term policy and restriction on imports of used car is necessary'. Obviously a decade isn't enough to get their house in order.

Whether the industry is simply incapable of ever achieving competitiveness is a technical question, but anyone who has tried to buy a car in Pakistan can attest to another truth: motor companies, car dealerships and banks have conspired to keep the sticker price of a car out of reach. Through a combination of that peculiar creature known as 'on' money and long waiting lists, anyone who wants to buy a car outright is probably better off obtaining car financing from a bank.

Given the collusion between the industry and our legislators, effective policing of the industry appears out of the question. In the meantime, for once the government's mantra of neo-liberalism can come to the rescue of consumers. For the sake of car users across the country, let's hope efficiency trumps nepotism.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Killing fields?

A day after the US House of Representatives re-opened the case on A.Q. Khan's network of death, a Pakistani senator has come out with claims that the country's nuclear program has been dumping radioactive waste in the open. The government has issued its predicatable denial, but more revelations will undoubtedly follow in the days and weeks ahead. If our nuclear guardians turned a blind eye to the export of their deadly technology, it would be hardly be surprising if allegations of domestic malfeasance are proved to be true.

Discussion of the country's nuclear program is conspicuously absent from the national press and it remains firmly hidden behind a veil of secrecy. If these allegations gain momentum they may be welcomed for not only exposing possible criminal liability but for also chipping away at that wall of secrecy. Another interesting fact: the allegations have been made by a member of the ruling PML-Q - Musharraf's own party. The cracks in the system keep growing wider.

Pakistani lawmaker says nuclear waste dumped in open

Tue May 23, 2006 5:24 PM IST

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani lawmaker on Tuesday accused the country's nuclear authorities of dumping radioactive waste near a village in central Punjab province, causing cancer, miscarriages, and infertility among villagers and livestock.

Senator Sardar Jamal Khan Leghari said tonnes of contaminated waste from milled uranium had been dumped outside abandoned mines in Baghalchur village, some 350 km southwest of Islamabad, flouting international nuclear safety norms.

"It is fact. It is a matter of security of our people and animals," Leghari, a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) and son of a former president, told Reuters.

The lawmaker said the country's two prime nuclear institutions, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and Kahuta Research Laboratory (KRL), dumped radioactive waste in the area.

PAEC issued a statement on Saturday saying no waste was dumped in the open. It was disposed of in caverns that were fenced off and guarded against intruders.

PAEC said it has not found radioactivity in water, vegetation and air during its regular surveillance in the area.

"No dumping of this waste is being undertaken in the open but in specially prepared rooms/caverns," it said.

Leghari maintained that, due to uranium radiation, the rate of miscarriages, infertility, cancer and skin-related diseases had increased 200 percent in his constituency of Choti, some 100 km away (62 miles) from the dumping area.

"I have proof. We conducted survey and collected about 1,200 samples from Choti," he said adding that he planned to present the evidence in parliament.

Last week, a bushfire broke out near PAEC's uranium extraction plant near Baghalchur, in Dera Ghazi Khan district, raising a scare over safety at the facility.

Residents had earlier filed a case against PAEC, out of fear that it was dumping nuclear waste in the area. The proceedings were being conducted behind closed doors.

Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998 and many aspects of its nuclear programme remain secret.


A valuable alternative to the MSM on the web is openDemocracy.net. Described as a forum for human rights and democracy, there's a wealth of information that is organized thematically. It's interesting to note that the India/Pakistan section is listed under the theme of Conflict. While this says much about how the outside world continues to view Pakistan, the section nevertheless contains some incisive analysis from regional journalists. Definitely worth bookmarking.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Shooting the messenger

Fourteen months into the job, the NWFP Governor, Khalilur Rehman, has been unceremoniously dumped by Musharraf. According to this report in Dawn, Musharraf was unhappy with Rehman's handling of the situation in Waziristan.

At his swearing-in ceremony the Governor told reporters, "I would follow merit and ensure justice and fairplay. Accelerating the pace of development in Fata would be my foremost priority." Against a backdrop of 80,000 troops waging an all-out war in Waziristan, it was always unlikely that the political option would succeed.

Perhaps instead of changing his Governors, Musharraf needs to re-think his policy in the tribal areas. Seven years of political machinations at the top haven't blunted his soldier's instinct for using force to crush opposition. FATA's tribal leaders may be anathema to democrats, but in times of crisis a silken touch is needed. Unless the centre moderates its language of force, Governor No. 26 may soon find himself making way for No. 27.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

They take the bus

It seems that the recent boom in the automobile sector has passed by some of the country's political elite. At a time when its probably easier to obtain car financing than to pay a utility bill, some 100 parliamentarians would have us believe that they - and their spouses and dependents - don't own a car.

Based on the list, I have a few suggestions:
-Humayun Akhtar Khan, the Commerce Minister, should be relieved of his post. What use an architect of commerce who can't afford his own car? Incidentally, perhaps it's time people stop referring to him as 'Million Dollar Khan'.
-Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali should sell some of the official gifts he carted off to buy himself a car.
-Qazi Hussein Ahmed should have educated his sons in one of his madressahs instead of the US and used the savings to buy his family a car.
-Had 'Maulana Diesel' aka Maulan Fazlur Rehman stored away a few gallons he may yet have been able to afford a car in these days of high petrol prices.

You can log your protest here.

The News, 21/05/06
Believe it or not — they don’t own a car
By Ansar Abbasi

ISLAMABAD: Almost 100 members of the National Assembly including those known for being fabulously rich do not have any conveyance of their own.

Their declaration of assets as notified by the Election Commission exposes the financial strength, if one tends to believe their returns, of the Chaudhrys, Soomros, Pirs, Gilanis, Qureshis, Sardars, Mirs, Achakzais, Rajas, Fatianas, Nakais, Wattos, Mengals and many others of the country’s elite.

It really looks unbelievable when the likes of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Rao Sikandar Iqbal, Humayun Akhtar Khan, Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, Faisal Saleh Hayat, Muhammad Nasir Khan, Ejaz-ul-Haq, Raza Hayat Hiraj declare “solemnly” that they don’t have a car to drive.

A total of 13 MNA ministers and ministers of state are included in the list of those having no conveyance.

Even some opposition members who are considered well-off like Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal’s Mian Muhammad Aslam, Pakistan People’s Party-Parliamentarians’ Raja Pervez Ashraf, MMA’s Hafiz Suleman Butt, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, etc, also fall in the same category of MNAs.

Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Maulana Fazlur Rehman also say that they don’t own any car. Amongst the women MPs, besides several others, Dr Attiya Inayatullah and Kashmala Tariq have also declared to have no vehicle.

The Election Commission declaration bound members of the National Assembly to declare not only their own assets but also the assets of their spouses and dependent children.

Amongst the ministers and ministers of state the “car-less” brigade includes Rao Sikandar Iqbal, Humayun Akhtar Khan, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, Maj (retd) Tahir Iqbal, Dr Sher Afgan, Wasi Zafar, Muhammad Nasir Khan, Ijazul Haq, Ghaus Bux Khan Mahar, Ghulam Bibi Bharwana and Muhammad Raza Hayat Hiraj.

Begum Shahnaz Shaikh had a car but sold it.

Such MNAs, both of the treasury and opposition benches, include Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Chaudhry Amir Hussain (wife has a car), Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Mian Muhammad Aslam, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Hafiz Salman Butt, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Zumarud Khan, Tasneem Ahmed Qureshi, Chaudhry Muhammad Asim Nazir, Raja Ali Khan Baloch, Muhammad Safdar Shakir, Rana Asif Tauseef, Dr Nisar Ahmad, Mushtaq Ali Cheema, Chaudhry Abid Ali, Ch Amjad Ali, Muhammad Farhan Latif, Riaz Khan Fatiana, Ch Imranullah, Qari Hameedullah Khan, Imtiaz Safdar Warraich, Chaudhry Bilal Ejaz, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Rehman Naseer, Muhammad Pervez Malik has got a tractor but wife owns a car, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Farooq Ahmad Mir, Malik Zaheer Abbas Khokhar, Samina Khalid Ghurki, Brig (retd) Zulfiqar Ahmad Dhillon, Khurram Munawar, Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmad, Sikandar Talib Hussain Nakai, Rai Muhammad Aslam Khan Kharal, Rubina Shaheen Watto, Rana Mahmoodul Hasan, Makhdoomzada Syed Asad Murtaza Gilani, Engineer Muhammad Shahid Jamil Qureshi, Syed Ali Hussain Gilani, Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob Khan Nasar, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sheerani, Mir Ghulam Haider Khan, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Abdul Rauf Mangal, Maulana Hamidul Haq Haqqani, Attaur Rehman, Maulana Amanullah Khan (using son’s car), Asadullah, Maulana Syed Naik Zaman, Habibullah Bughio, Mir Ijaz Hussain Jakhrani, Shamshad Sattar Baghani, Pir Aftab Hussain Shah, Syed Ayaz Ali Shah Sheerazi, Muhammad Ali Malkani, Muhammad Laeeq Khan, Syed Haider Abbas Rizvi, Israul Ebad Khan, Abdus Sattar, Muhammad Shamim Siddiqi, Sher Mohammad Baloch, Maulvi Noor Muhammad, Haji Gull Muhammad Dummar, Maulana Rahmatullah Khalil (using brother’s Suzuki), Sabir Hussain Awan, Maulana Muhammad Qasim, Muhammad Usman advocate, Maulana Khalil Ahmad, Shah Abdul Aziz, Sardar Shahjahan Yousaf, Maulana Abdul Malik, Maulana Abdul Haleem, Haroonur Rashid and Muhammad Noorul Haq.

Amongst women MPs, who were voted to the NA on the reserved seats for women include Dr Donyia Aziz, Kashmala Tariq, Dr Attyia Inayatullah, Begum Tehmina Dasti, Ms Onaza Ehsan, Bushra Anwar Sipra, Dr Rozina Tufail, Rukhsana Bangash, Samia Raheel Qazi, Mrs Mahmoona Hashmi, Ayla Malik Rind, Dr Firdaus Ashiq Awan, Riffat Amjad, Ms Ruqia Khanam Soomro, Rubina Saadat Qaim Khan, Mrs Shamim Akhtar, Mrs Shabina Talat, Afsar Begum, Gul-e-Farkhanda, Khurshid Afghan and Inayat Begum.

Such minority members of the National Assembly are M P Bhandara, Professor Mushtaq Victor, Krishan Bheel and Devdas Shagman.

As against the above there are two Maulanas — Maulana Abdul Malik and Maulana Merajuddin — who have no assets but a car each.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

P.S. The PSDP isn't working

The numbers are in and yet again the utilisation of the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) funds is abysmal: only Rs. 103 billion of the Rs. 204 billion federal share has been spent in the first nine months of the current fiscal year. One can only wish that the military emulate their development counterparts in thriftiness.

Three observations are in order. First, the last quarter is going to see a spurt in expenditure as departments scramble to meet budgetary targets. The planning commission has baldly stated that '(t)he expenditure is likely to further pick up in the last quarter ... Rs193 billion (95 per cent) of the total Rs204 billion federal allocation would be spent up to June 30, 2006.' (Dawn) In turning on the spigot issues such as quality, merit and utility of projects are sure to fall by the wayside.

Second, the same planning commission has budgeted Rs. 250 billion as the federal share of next year's PSDP fund. No one realistically expects such an amount to be utilized, but it's a nice number for Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz to throw around in the countless foreign capitals they will visit next year.

Third, there will be no attempt to understand why the PSDP has failed to be fully utilized year after year now. A developing country by definition has no shortage of sectors in need of development. The likely culprit is institutional capacity: there just isn't enough expertise or manpower to take advantage of the vasts sums of money being poured into the system. In fact, providing departments with the financial wherewithal but not the necessary management is a recipe for incompetence, corruption and worse.

Early into his regime, Musharraf's financial mandarins set out a three-stage plan to rehabilitate the economy. Seven years on we are firmly into the third stage - long-term social development. Embrace neo-liberal policies and pay no attention to the new class of the super-rich, we were told, for they were only a means to an end. Now that the time has come to start to deliver on the promised end, it keeps getting pushed farther into the future. A particularly damning statistic from the PSDP accounts is that the utilisation ratio of social sector and infrastructure funds is amongst the lowest of all sectors. Khaleeq Kiani (The Outcome of Increased Public Spending, Dawn, 27/03/06), in an assessment of half-yearly expenditures, provided the following utilisation statistics: labour ministry (1.2%), women development (5.3%), local government (nil), industries (5.7%), commerce (3.9%), water sector infrastructure (28%).

It's time our economic managers made the postscript of their memos the main subject.

Wither revolution?

Not if you're Nepalese! The reinstated House of Representatives has begun to systematically dismantle the Monarchy-Army nexus that tried to turn back the clock on modernity 15 months ago. The army is being placed more firmly under the control of the Cabinet and soon the army chief's head may roll.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan the army seems more entrenched than ever and the Bhutto-Sharif Charter of Democracy has been met with snickers. In fact Musharraf himself couldn't resist mocking the Charter by assigning Mushahid Hussain to examine the document - Mushahid after all was the trumpeter-in-chief of the deposed Sharif government, but is now the Secretary General of Musharraf's party. There is also the wonderful irony of Pakistani politicians hunkering down in the capital of the erstwhile British Raj to devise a strategy to depose a government of their fellow Pakistanis. Jinnah is surely turning in his grave.

The problem for democrats in Pakistan is simple, yet depressing: Bhutto and Sharif have been utterly discredited by their 90s back-and-forth, while the radical Islamist option (assuming it can itself move beyond its own corrupt politics) is pure anathema. Who will lead us out of the wilderness?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Protecting the Taleban?

As frustration mounts over the rising number of deaths on the Afghan side of the border, the chorus of accusations aimed at Pakistan grows louder. The former editor of Herald, Aamer Ahmed Khan, has given a cogent explanation of post-9/11 events: in the wake of the American war the Pakistan military/government reassured their erstwhile allies, the Taleban, that they still had a future in the region. The Taleban's presence in and around Quetta is well-known; Pakistani reporter, Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, was jailed for four months for acting as a stringer for two French journalists who filmed the Taleban moving around freely in Quetta and other nearby tribal areas.

Pakistan sheltering Taliban, says British officer

Declan Walsh in Kandahar
Friday May 19, 2006


A senior British officer accused Pakistan of allowing the Taliban to use its territory as a "headquarters" for attacks on western troops in Afghanistan as insurgents struck on multiple fronts yesterday.

In one of the worst 24-hour periods since they were ousted from power in 2001, the Taliban launched two suicide bombs, numerous firefights and a massive assault on a village in Helmand province, where 3,300 British soldiers are being deployed. The violence, which started on Wednesday night, caused 105 deaths including 87 Taliban, 15 police, an American civilian and a Canadian woman soldier, according to the highest estimates. British forces were not involved.

Colonel Chris Vernon, chief of staff for southern Afghanistan, said the Taliban leadership was coordinating its campaign from the western Pakistani city of Quetta, near the Afghan border. "The thinking piece of the Taliban is out of Quetta in Pakistan. It's the major headquarters," he told the Guardian. "They use it to run a series of networks in Afghanistan."

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, echoed these comments by accusing Pakistan of arming the insurgents. "Pakistani intelligence gives military training to people and then sends them to Afghanistan with logistics," the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency quoted him as saying.

Col Vernon said the Quetta leadership controlled "about 25" mid-level commanders dotted across the Afghan south, one of whom was captured last month. He declined to name him.

The unusually forthright British criticism, reflecting sentiments normally expressed in private by western commanders, drew a furious denial from the Pakistani military.

"It is absolutely absurd that someone is talking like this. If the Taliban leadership was in Quetta we would be out of our minds not to arrest them," said a spokesman, Major General Shaukat Sultan. "They should give us actionable intelligence so that we can take action."

The clash reflects growing tensions between Pakistan and the west as Nato prepares to assume command of southern Afghanistan from the US on July 31.

About 7,000 troops from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands are deploying to Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan provinces, while another 1,000 Americans and Romanians will be stationed in Zabul.

Kandahar has suffered the worst upheaval, much of it apparently aimed at unbalancing the Nato mission before it can settle down. Canadian troops have been pummelled with a string a suicide attacks, roadside bombs and an axe attack on an officer during a village meeting.

On Wednesday a suicide bomber rammed into a UN vehicle near the main coalition base at Kandahar airport, killing himself and injuring the driver. Col Vernon said he had tightened security on the road after similar attacks in March by "imposing Northern Ireland procedures". On Wednesday night hundreds of Taliban fighters assailed Musa Qala village in northern Helmand, sparking an eight-hour battle that officials said left 40 militants and 13 police dead.

Having convulsed the volatile south, the guerrilla summer offensive now threatens the rest of the country. Yesterday suicide bombers struck in the normally peaceful cities of Herat in the west and Ghazni to the north, killing an Afghan motorcyclist and a US police trainer.

"This is the worst things have been since the fall of the Taliban," said a western source in Kandahar.

Across the border, worried British and Canadian diplomats are pressing the Pakistani government to take a tougher approach to the Taliban. Although Pakistan forces have killed or arrested hundreds of al-Qaida suspects since 2001, it has detained only a handful of Taliban officials. The last big catch was spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi, who was arrested in October 2005 after his mobile phone was traced to Quetta.

"Clearly the Taliban are at large in Baluchistan, operating in Quetta. Obviously that's a cause for concern," said a British diplomat in Islamabad. "There's no evidence of a serious network of Taliban camps but it's easy for them to take cover in Afghan refugee camps."

The 930-mile border, most of it barren mountains and desert, is notoriously porous. Maj Gen Sultan said that it was impossible for Pakistani officials to discriminate between ordinary Afghans and Taliban insurgents.

Col Vernon did not say whether Mullah Omar, the Taliban's leader, was also sheltering in Quetta. Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan worsened sharply in March after Afghan allegations that Omar, Osama bin Laden and more than 100 Taliban leaders were hiding in Pakistan.

The Taliban fight has also become a propaganda war. The insurgents regularly paste "night letters" - threatening tracts against "collaborators" - on walls and doors in southern villages. A Taliban radio station has also started operating in Helmand, where the British troops are being deployed. Nato commanders are retaliating, pushing local media to publicise their successes. Domestic pressure means western journalists are also coming under scrutiny.

Of Champions and Supremacy

Musharraf's latest gems:

“There is no ambiguity in Constitution in this context. But people debating the issue of president’s election are unaware of the constitution,” President Musharraf said in a brief interview with AVT Khyber late on Wednesday.

“I completely believe in supremacy of parliament and stability of democratic institutions. And completion of the legitimate five-year tenure by the existing assemblies will provide an ample proof of my assertion that I’m the champion of democracy,” the president said.

Famous for shooting from the hip, these latest pronouncements are all the more cringe-worthy as only a few days ago our 'champion of democracy' decided to set up shop in Parliament for the day to paper over the cracks in his PML-Q coalition.

Champion of Democarcy v Charter of Democracy: Pakistanis really do suffer their fools gladly.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What's in a number?

Well, everything really if you go by budgets. For 2006-07 the Government/Military of Pakistan has proposed increasing defence expenditure from Rs. 224 billion to Rs. 280 billion. That's a full 25% increase! Puts war budgets to shame. But there you have it; proof, if you needed any, that the army looks after its own.

Thinking about Musharraf's attempts to cling on to civilian (President - or perhaps PM?) and military (COAS) power, it occurred to me that it was another indication of his failure of leadership over the past 7 years. 7 years this man has had and he hasn't even been able to convince his most important constituency, the Corps Commanders, that his policies are the best option for Pakistan. Musharraf doesn't strike me as a megalomaniac, so it's safe to say he doesn't want to hang on for fear of becoming one of the many Generals of Coups Past that dot the rolling hills of Islamabad and Pindi. Essentially this man can't trust his own people - the army, of course - to carry the baton for his brand of change. What hope for the rest of us then?

Monday, May 15, 2006