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.