Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pakistan Focused US Mutual Funds

Pakistan's Karachi Stock Exchange has been one of hottest stock markets in the world. Backed by strong economic expansion and double digit profit and revenue growths in the major private sector companies, the KSE-100 rose 44% last year. Pakistan has been designated among the "Next-11" emerging economies by Goldman Sachs and called a "safe haven" for investors by Merrill Lynch Asia Chief Strategist Mark Matthews.

There is considerable interest by individual US investors looking for opportunities to invest in Pakistan stocks. Unfortunately, there are no pure-play mutual funds investing exclusively in Pakistan. However, there are at least two companies specializing in Asian economies that invest part of the portfolio in Pakistan along with India, Sri Lanka and other countries in Asia. These companies are Matthews Funds and Eaton Vance Funds.

Eaton Vance has Eaton Vance Greater India A Fund(ETGIX) that describes itself as follows: The investment seeks long-term capital appreciation. The fund normally invests at least 80% of net assets in equity securities of companies in India and surrounding countries of the Indian subcontinent. At least 50% of total assets will be invested in equity securities of Indian companies, and no more than 5% of total assets will be invested in companies located in countries other than India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. The fund invests in companies with a broad range of market capitalizations, including smaller companies.

Matthews Asia Funds has Matthews Asia Pacific Equity Income Fund (MAPIX) which describes its geographic focus as follows: The Asia Pacific Region, which includes Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

If the Pakistani economy and markets continue to perform well and the US individual investor interest in Pakistan continues to grow, I see more mutual fund management companies developing focused funds to take advantage of the high investment returns in Pakistan.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wheat Price Up 400 Percent

Wheat Price Touches $900 Per Ton
Triggered by wheat export curbs by Kazakhstan and the lowest world inventory in 26 years, wheat price hit a new record at $25 per bushel or about $900 per ton. This translates into Pakistan Rs. 55 per kilo for raw wheat in bulk excluding transportation, milling and bagging. It represents a 400% increase in less than a year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service, Kazakhstan is the sixth-largest exporter of wheat, behind the U.S., Canada, Russia, Argentina and the European Union. Kazakhstan is in the belt of wheat production that stretches from Ukraine through southern Russia. It already has exported nearly seven million tons of grain, of the available 10 million tons from the 2007-08 crop, Agriculture Minister Akhmetzhan Esimov said.

Price Doubled Since Dec, 2007
In my January 15, 2008 blog post Wheat Flour Shortage in Pakistan, I wrote as follows: " Former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz announced in Sept, 2007 that the Pakistani government would import one million tons of wheat, stating that this action was necessary to “maintain a reasonable buffer stock for the future.” The export price for Pakistani wheat during the April-May export window was approximately $225-232 per ton. For December 2007 delivery, Pakistan is now looking at an estimated import price of $380-400 per ton, exclusive of transportation." Well, here we are in February 2008 and the price of wheat has more than doubled yet again since Dec, 2007. In fact, the inflation of wheat prices now exceeds all other commodities including oil, gold, metals etc.

Implications For Pakistan
Like most developing nations, the average person in Pakistan has very low discretionary spending,with the bulk of his or her income spent on food, clothing and shelter. The dramatic increases in commodity prices, particularly food, is very troubling for the vast majority of populations living in the developing countries such as Pakistan, India, China and the African nations. The exceptions, of course, are the nations with their own significant production of food and fuel and other natural resources. The nations producing and exporting food, fuel, and metals actually benefit from this trend of higher commodity prices.
The incoming government in Pakistan will face a very difficult challenge in containing tremendous inflationary pressures on basic commodities such as food and fuel. A failure in this effort can lead to significant instability and has the potential to threaten the future of democracy in Pakistan.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Zardari Ready to Reconcile With Musharraf

As Mr. Asif Ali Zardari reviews his political options and the PPP-PML(N) coalition takes shape, there are clear indications that the PPP is ready to work with President Musharaf rather than seek confrontation. "The ground reality is that we do not have two-thirds majority in both the houses of Parliament" that would be required for a successful impeachment, Mr. Zardari said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. The widower of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and leader of the party that won the most seats in parliamentary elections last week, said his coalition will be unable to impeach President Pervez Musharraf, and that he would instead seek a working relationship with the embattled leader.

As I said in my previous posts on post-election horse-trading and PPP's national character this recognition of "the ground reality" seems to be based on the following factors:
1. The PPP-PML(N) coalition lacks the two-thirds majority in both houses to impeach the President, as acknowledged by Mr. Zardari.
2. The outcome of the Feb 18 polls amounted to a split verdict: Together, the pro-Musharraf forces won the second largest number of seats after PPP.
Out of total votes cast, the former ruling coalition received 10,844,233 votes followed by PPPP with 10,055,491 votes and PML-N with 6,240,343 votes.
3. PPP's US patrons are urging Mr. Zardari to work together with Mr. Musharraf. It shoud be noted that the US sponsored the return of Mr. Zardari under an amnesty signed by Musharraf. The US senators who reportedly called for Musharraf's resignation yesterday have denied that report. They clarified that they asked Musharraf to "step back", not "step down".

I believe that it is in the best interest of Pakistan, its democracy and its economy for all the key players to move forward in a conciliatory manner and focus on the serious challenges ahead rather than waste energies fighting each other. The conciliatory course is the wisest course for Mr. Zardari as the senior partner in the new coalition. Let's hope that Mr. Zardari can persuade Mr. Nawaz Sharif to abandon his personal vendetta against Musharraf. This will be the first real test of the coalition being formed.

Comparing Ralph Nader and Imran Khan

Amidst the dismissive comments and the howls of protests from Democrats, Ralph Nader has entered the 2008 US presidential race. As expected, his reasons include the lack of debate among the mainstream candidates on what he sees as the core issues of the day. No stranger to US presidential politics, Ralph Nader (born February 27, 1934, in Winsted, Connecticut) is an Arab American attorney of Lebanese descent, author, lecturer, political activist, and currently a candidate in the United States presidential election, 2008. Areas of particular concern to Nader are consumer rights, humanitarianism, environmentalism, and democratic government. A recent documentary titled "The Unreasonable Man" chronicles the life of Ralph Nader. The title "The Unreasonable Man" comes from a famous quote attributed to the early 20th century British playwright George Bernard Shaw who said, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him... The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself... All progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Laying out the case for his candidacy, Nader has told the media that include NBC's "Meet The Press" that he wants to bring significant but neglected issues to the table such as the lack of single-payer universal health coverage, the bloated US military budget and the failed US policy of unqualified support for Israel in the Middle East. Attacking both Clinton and Obama in an interview, Nader said, "Obama is an overly cautious captive of his handlers and Clinton is a panderer and a flatterer.”

Nader took Obama to task for changing his position on the Palestinian issue. It should be noted that in March 2007, Obama said at a small gathering in Iowa, "Nobody's suffering more than the Palestinian people. But here's Obama's position in February 2008: "The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks against Israel.… If it cannot...I urge you to ensure that it does not speak at all," Obama wrote to Ambassador Khalilzad, adding he understood why Israel was "forced" to shut down Gaza's border crossings." What has happened in the 11 months between then and now is an object lesson and a reminder of the intense pressure under which presidential candidates stake out positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the demonstrated effectiveness of the Israeli lobby in the United States.

While Ralph Nader may succeed in bringing the neglected but important issues into the US political debate, he has almost no chance of being elected to any office. "Obviously, the system is triple-rigged against any small candidate," he said. "All we can do is try to loosen it up, challenge it, bring it to account in some court cases and build for the future. We can also keep an exciting, practical, progressive agenda before the American people — get more people to run for local, state and national office."

Ralph Nader reminds me of Imran Khan in Pakistan. Imran Khan is a well-meaning, well-respected, and honest former cricket hero bringing out the issues of democracy, civil society and rule of law, that the mainstream parties do not particularly care about. But the presence of Imran Khan on the Pakistani political scene does offer hope for the future.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pakistan Blamed For Global YouTube Outage

Pakistan is responsible for almost total blackout of YouTube, the popular video site, around the world. The BBC is reporting that the hour-long global outage was almost certainly connected to Pakistan Telecom and Asian internet service provider PCCW.
The BBC News website's technology editor, Darren Waters, says that to block Pakistan's citizens from accessing YouTube it is believed Pakistan Telecom "hijacked" the web server address of the popular video site.

In the last couple of days, the Pakistan Telecom Authority was being attacked by the bloggers and others in Pakistan for attempting to block anti-government video content. Some believed it had to with alleged "election rigging" by MQM. In fact, the motivation was to block access to material deemed offensive to Muslims. It is thought that, unlike the filters in China and Saudi Arabia, Pakistani filters lack the ability to stop content selectively and block the entire domains instead.

A leading net professional told BBC News: "This was probably a simple mistake by an engineer at Pakistan Telecom. There's nothing to suggest this was malicious."
IP hijacking involves taking over a web site's unique address by corrupting the internet's Domain Name Servers (DNS) that resolve domain names to specific IP addresses and direct the flow of data around the world.

Obama Campaign's Success On Social Networks

Election Campaigns Transformation:
President John F. Kennedy's campaign in the early 1960s transformed the way the US presidential campaigns use Television as a medium to reach the American electorate. This year, Barack Husain Obama's campaign is re-writing the rules as it embraces Web 2.0 technologies to reach out to the young voters across the nation. The dramatic success of the Obama campaign among young, affluent voters and on college campuses has been quite a phenomenon. Obama has personally been a very active participant on Facebook. Obama's most passionate supporters and workers are mostly young, college students or recent university graduates who hang out on the social networks for hours on a daily basis. This passionate support of young men and women has translated into great success in terms of votes and campaign contributions. There are reports of both the Clinton and the McCain campaigns having money troubles, in spite of their appeal to the big establishment donors in both parties. Obama has had no such problems.

Online Campaign Statistics:
Here are some statistics published by The Mercury News that show the extensive use the online communities by all three camapaigns:

Facebook Supporters:Obama: 610,225; Clinton: 121,955; McCain: 71,079; Huckabee:65,664
YouTube Views: Obama: 22m; Clinton: 7m; Huckabee: 5m; McCain: 2m
Percent of campaign web traffic: Obama: 44%; Clinton: 26%; Huckabee: 16%; McCain: 8%

Here are more excerpts from San Jose Mercury on Obama Fundraising success on the Internet:
"....the extent of Obama's online fundraising prowess - $28 million in January, with signs that total will be exceeded this month - has outstripped all competitors and stunned many political analysts. About 90 percent of that money came in donations of $100 or less, allowing donors to give again every few weeks - up to the limit of $2,300 each for the primary and general elections.
GOP strategist All said he knew Obama was onto something during a summer visit last year to a friend in Ohio who planned to contribute $10 or $15 a month to Obama. "That campaign understood ahead of everyone else that you don't need to rely on megabucks and bundlers, and I'm afraid some Republicans still don't get that," All said.
Obama's huge donor base, now approaching 1 million, allowed a long-shot campaign to grow into a national force, outspending Clinton in state after state. And it freed up Obama to campaign while Clinton had to spend time with fundraising events.
"This is a wonderful, new development," said Zephyr Teachout, a leader of the Howard Dean campaign in 2004, which raised a total of $27 million online over many months. "Instead of calling rich people for money, you can concentrate on your campaign."
The campaign invested early in Internet infrastructure, spending $2 million in 2007 on software and hardware. Some of Obama's new-media leaders, such as Joe Rospars, came from the Dean campaign and Blue State Digital, a consulting firm."

Election Campaigns in Pakistan:
Turning attention to Pakistan, this year we saw a dramatic increase in election campaigning on the multiple TV channels and networks in the recent elections. With the growth of the Internet access, we can expect a very active Pakistani blogosphere to play a bigger role in election campaigns of the future, particularly in urban Pakistan. Social networks such as PakAlumni Worldwide and are also starting to grow and may become useful tools for election campaigns as well as growth in online commerce.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

ISI's Former Leader's Mea Culpa: I Rigged 2002 Polls

General Ehtisham Zamir, the former head of ISI's political cell, has admitted playing a key role in rigging the 2002 polls to favor PML(Q), the pro-Musharraf faction of the Pakistan Muslim League. This was a joint effort of the ISI's political cell and the National Accountability Bureau. While it has been considered an open secret by many, this is the first time the ISI's role in 2002 election rigging has been confirmed by a former ISI top official who directly participated in it. In September 2002, Zahid Hussain of The News Online reported as follows:

"For several weeks before the nominations were filed, Tariq Aziz, President Musharraf's powerful principal secretary, had camped out in Lahore, wheeling and dealing with politicians. The country's most powerful bureaucrat had an important task assigned to him by his military leader. His job was to knock together a pro-military alliance. Aided by Major General Ehtisham Zamir, the head of the ISI's domestic wing, and the crafty Brigadier (retd), Aijaz Shah a former ISI officer and home secretary Punjab, Aziz finally manoeuvered a list of " loyal" candidates for the National Assembly from the province. Most of them belong to the PML (Q) and the Grand National Alliance, but there are several others who, the military government believes, were willing to cooperate."

In 2002, after a similar report in British newspaper The Guardian, the Daily Times of Pakistan quoted Maj-Gen Rashid Qureshi as saying, "The report is totally fabricated as there is no political wing at ISI. Such reports appearing at a time when the general elections are just coming close might have some vested interest. Maybe the reporter wants to project as if ISI is planning to manipulate the elections, which is absolutely incorrect,"

Talking to Umar Cheema of The News in Pakistan yesterday, Retired General Zamir, the head of the ISI’s political cell in 2002, admitted manipulating the last elections at the behest of President Musharraf and termed the defeat of the King’s party, the PML-Q, this time “a reaction of the unnatural dispensation (installed in 2002).”

The son of the well known Pakistani satirical poet Mr. Zamir Jaffery, Maj-Gen (retd) Ehtesham Zamir termed the 2008 elections ‘fairer than 2002’. He said the reason behind their fairness is that there was relatively less interference of intelligence agencies this time as compared to the last time. But he stopped short of saying that there was zero interference in the 2008 polls.

Just a few days prior to the Elections 2008, the Army Chief General Kayani issued orders barring officers from any unauthorized meetings with Pakistani politicians, including the president. The army commander also said the military wouldn't play any role in staging the February 18 parliamentary elections, outside of providing security.

It should be noted that the former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto issued the executive order creating a political cell within the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) with the purpose of influencing political processes in Pakistan. This fateful decision in 1975 eventually brought ZA Bhutto's own downfall when he used this cell to unnecessarily rig the 1977 elections and was overthrown and executed by General Zia-ul-Haq. It was also this cell that helped Nawaz Sharif , a protege of General Zia-ul-Haq, get elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan after the General's death in a mysterious air crash followed by a brief term in office by Benazir Bhutto. In 1990 the ISI received 140m rupees (US$2.2m at current values) to rig national elections, according to supreme court testimony by the then chief of army staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pakistan People's Party's National Character

In addition to winning the largest number of seats in Pakistan's National Assembly, Pakistan People's Party has demonstrated its national appeal by winning seats in all four provincial legislatures. In spite of its losses and third place finish, PML(Q) is the only other party with this distinction. All of the other parties, including the PML(N) with the second place finish, have won seats in only one or two Pakistani provinces.
The table on the right shows the respective positions of all the parties at the federal and provincial levels. There are several other observations that should be made based on Pakistan Election Commission's data.
1. Pro-Musharraf parties(Q,MQM, Functional League, PPP Sherpao) together got
more votes than either PPP or PML(N). According to ECP statistics, former ruling alliance comprising Pakistan Muslim League, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan
Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) and Pakistan Peoples Party-Sherpao (PPP-S) secured 40% votes of the total while expected ruling parties PPPP and PML-N got 37% and 23% votes respectively.
2. Teogether, the pro-Musharraf forces won the second largest number of seats after PPP.
3.Out of total votes cast, the former ruling coalition received 10,844,233 votes followed by PPPP with 10,055,491 votes and PML-N with 6,240,343 votes.
4. The religious parties, represented by the MMA, suffered the worst ever defeat in Pakistan's history.

The fact that the PPP, the largest single party in the National Assembly, truly represents all parts of the nation is good for Pakistan's federation. The final result appears to be a split verdict: Without giving an absolute majority to any one party, the people want the politicians of all parties to work together to serve the nation rather than dissipate their energies fighting each other. The defeat of the right wing religious parties explodes the myth that Pakistan is in danger of falling prey to the fundamentalists.

Pakistan Stock Index Hits New High

The KSE-100 closed at an all-time high of 14829.58, continuing the bullish trend after February 18 elections. The buying was spurred by hopes raised by the announcement of PPP and PML(N) agreeing on forming a coalition government.

According to Pakistan's Financial Daily "Business Recorder", the overall market capitalization reached an all time high of Rs 4.606 trillion with a net increase of Rs 41 billion. Healthy trading activity was seen at the share market as the market volume significantly increased to 397.695 million shares as compared to 359.151 million shares traded a day earlier. The futures market turnover however slightly declined to 51.615 million shares against 56.592 million shares previously.

The rally witnessed strong institutional buying coupled with foreign buying. The strong earnings announcements brought buyers in the share market. The investors' expectations for better political situation in days ahead encouraged them to take fresh positions.

There were concerns regarding possible confrontation with President Musharraf, causing the KSE-100 index to close well below the session’s high of 14,957.48 .
Pakistan's Dawn newspaper quotes an analyst as saying,“Quit Musharraf demand by the PPP and the PML-N leaders seems to have put a brake on market’s upward thrust, the perception that the president’s denial to oblige them could lead to a showdown triggered selling.”

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Marching Toward Hell

"Marching Toward Hell" by Michael Scheuer, the former head of CIA's Bin Laden unit, was recommended reading by Bin Laden in his most recent video message. As the CIA man in charge of pursuing Bin Laden, Michael Scheuer has done a lot of reading and research to understand what motivates Bin Laden and his supporters to attack the US and Western interests around the world. He has condensed his learning in two books published last year. The first is titled "Imperial Hubris" and the the most recent one is "Marching Toward Hell". In both of these books, he rejects the common refrain heard in the United States that "Al-Qaeda hates us because we stand for freedom and democracy". Instead, he argues that it is our interventionist policies around the world that motivate our enemies to be so determined to commit violence against our interests. He singles out our policies in the Middle East and our unqualified support for Israel as the biggest obstacles to a peaceful coexistence between Islam and the West. Among the prominent US political elite, all of the mainstream parties and leaders disagree with Sheuer's message. The only two people that show any agreement with Sheuer are Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who recently dropped out of the Democratic primaries and Congressman Ron Paul, the Republican candidate running a distant third in the Presidential primaries.

Here's a video clip of a recent interview of Mr. Scheuer:

Here's former CIA official Michael Scheuer talking to NPR about the Chapman incident involving suicide bombing and killing of CIA agents:

Switzerland Pursues Zardari Corruption Charges

Months after the amnesty signed by President Musharraf, Switzerland is continuing to pursue corruption charges against Mr. Zardari. Asif Zardari, the widower of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is accused of depositing $55 million worth of bribes in Swiss bank accounts. Swiss judicial authorities have been investigating Zardari and Bhutto for the past 10 years over allegations that they took bribes from Swiss cargo inspection firms and transfered them into their accounts, according to Reuters and Al Jazeera.

At a hearing on Feb 20, Swiss lawyers for Pakistan argued that money-laundering charges against Zardari should proceed in Geneva despite Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, dropping all graft charges against the couple last year. The constitutionality of the amnesty has not yet been ratified by the supreme court in Pakistan. The Swiss lawyers said the decision was expected in "a few weeks".
Dominique Henchoz, Pakistan's Swiss lawyer, told the Geneva court: "This dossier is a bomb for Zardari. "His name appears on each page as the beneficial owner of offshore companies. Some 60 million Swiss francs have been frozen in Geneva accounts", reports Al Jazeera. Saverio Lembo, Zardari's lawyer in Geneva, said that the case should be suspended until a decision on the amnesty is made.

In 2003, a Geneva court convicted Bhutto and Zardari of laundering funds linked to alleged kickbacks worth $13m. However, the verdict was thrown out on appeal and a new investigation by magistrates was dismissed last October. Charges against Bhutto ended when she was assassinated.

As Mr. Zardari attempts to put together a coalition with Mr. Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, the restoration of judiciary remains a point of contention. While this difference seems to have been glossed over temporarily, it has the potential to cause a serious split between the two coalition partners. The fact that the amnesty for Zardari signed by President Musharraf is still to be ratified by the Supreme Court will figure prominently in the outcome of any negotiations.

In spite of all the efforts by late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her US backers, and the recent electoral success of the PPP, this issue of corruption refuses to go away.
It will be interesting to see how this gets resolved. In my humble opinion, Mr. Zardari should insist on the completion of this trial to clear his and his late wife's name.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Post-Election Horse-trading In Pakistan

The Pakistan People's Party has emerged as the largest single party with 87 seats, Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League as the second largest with 66 seats, and pro-Musharraf PML(Q) third at 40 seats, with votes counted in 258 out of 272 constituencies. Now that a clear picture is emerging of the relative strengths of various parties in Pakistan's incoming parliament, there is a lot of posturing going on in front of the TV cameras by the key players. Some of it is for public consumption, but most of it is to establish negotiating positions by each party leader.
While what you see on the public stage is interesting, the rumor mill has it that it is the action behind the scenes that will ultimately determine the future of President Musharraf, Pakistan's role in the "war on terror" and the shape of the new government. It's not really clear how this will play out. It would be a mistake to assume President Musharraf's position is weak. No single party has enough seats to confront him alone. It depends on how Pervez Musharraf and Asif Zardari, the leader of PPP, play their cards and the US role in it. Mr. Nawaz Sharif, the leader of PML with the second largest number of seats, is disliked intensely by Musharraf, Zardari and the US. Let's just wait and see what happens. I wouldn't completely rule out
the PPP joining forces with pro-Musharraf parties including MQM (19 seats) and PML(Q) to edge Nawaz Sharif out. Together, the three parties can buy out independents. Asif Zardari fears restoration of independent judiciary (particularly Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry) as much as Musharraf. Especially if it jeopardizes the National Reconciliation Ordnance that gave blanket amnesty to Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari and key members of the Pakistan Peoples Party.
I think this horse-trading is going to be interesting. We can expect a clear picture of the new government composition to emerge within a few days.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pakistan Vote: Against Musharraf Or For Opposition?

Many commentators in Pakistan and the World are in overdrive talking about mandates and profound meanings of the February 18 vote in Pakistan. Some are claiming it is a mandate to restore an independent judiciary, media and democracy while others are talking about it as rejection Musharraf's pro-US policies, "extremism" and "war on terror" etc.
In my humble opinion, there is a far simpler explanation for it: People voted in a predictable way based on the issues that affect them directly on a daily basis. These issues are the basic bread and butter issues such as the availability of cheap atta (wheat flour), more reliable supply of fuel and electricity and improved sense of security. Overall macro-economic improvements, significant growth in GDP, per capita income, explosion in mass media etc over the last 8 years did not count for much as people voted.
The reason I call it "predictable" is because all humans want their basic physiological and safety needs met before they turn their attention to higher level issues of civil society, liberty and realization of full potential. In fact, this is something all managers dealing with people routinely learn as "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs" in management training so they can get better at motivating the people they manage.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology that Abraham Maslow proposed in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation", which he subsequently extended to include his observations of humans' innate curiosity. The diagram above shows that most Pakistani voters were operating at the two lower levels of the pyramid in their decision to punish the ruling party. This conclusion is further re-enforced when you look at how the results of the IRI (International Republican Institute) opinion polls changed from September 2006 to January 2008. According to an IRI poll in September 2006, Musharraf had a 63 percent approval rating. But last October 11, IRI released a poll showing him at 21 percent. By late January 2008, Musharraf's approval rating plummeted to 14%. What happened in this intervening period that affected people directly: It was increase in suicide bombings following Lal Masjid, the wheat flour price hike and shortage, serious electricity load-shedding and brown-outs, the firing of the chief justice, his restoration and then re-firing, and Benazir Bhutto's assassination. While each contributed to the drop in Musharraf's approval, the biggest drop came between November 2007 and January 2008 with the food, fuel, electricity crises intensifying and Benazir Bhutto assassination. The final straw came when people directly felt the full impact of the food, the fuel, the power and the security issues. In the end, it was clearly a vote to punish the ruling party of PML-Q and Musharraf rather than to give any mandate to the PPP and and the PML(N).
The fact that MMA, who ruled NWFP and Baluchistan, suffered the same fate further illustrates the fact that the people voted to punish those in charge. It was "Throw The Rascals Out" votes cast in anger and protest all over the country.
The winners will probably get a very short honeymoon period before people start demanding quick resolution to their basic concerns with food and fuel prices and security. Given the worldwide commodity price inflation and the worsening situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan's FATA region, the new government faces very difficult challenges as soon as it takes charge. If the winners choose to focus on settling scores with Musharraf and other political opponents rather than attend to the real bread, butter and security issues, they will quickly lose the support of the people who have elected them.

Musharraf Delivers Free, Fair, Peaceful Polls

People of Pakistan have spoken and handed a resounding defeat to the ruling coalition. The results of Pakistan Elections 2008 indicate that President Pervez Musharraf has delivered on his promise of free, fair and peaceful polls. Sen Tariq Azim and Mr. Shujaat Chaudhry of PML(Q) have both graciously accepted the outcome and indicated their readiness to sit in the Opposition. Musharraf has indicated he is ready to work with the winners. These are history making events for Pakistan.

Another important development is the lackluster performance of religious parties in sharp contrast to the 2002 election held in the aftermath of the US bombing in Afghanistan. There is clearly "Mullah Fatigue" in the NWFP which was until recently ruled by the MMA, the religious party alliance. This vote should set to rest any fears of pro-Taleban, Pro- Al-Qaeda religious extremists taking control of Pakistan.

The leaders of PPP and PML(N), the victorious parties, deserve to be congratulated. However, as they celebrate these wins, they must prepare for the serious challenges ahead. They must not be vengeful. They must show grace in accepting the responsibilities the nation has placed on them. They should reassure all Pakistanis, their supporters and those who voted against them, that they will work for the benefit of the entire nation. They must demonstrate they have learned from their past mistakes when each got a chance to run the country twice. They must not engage in corruption that marred their previous terms in office. They should not seek confrontation with Musharraf, the military and their opposition parties in Parliament. They must sincerely pursue building democratic institutions without derailing the economy that has experienced robust growth for the last five years.
I sincerely hope the PPP and the PML(N) will set aside their differences and not throw a third chance to help build Pakistan into a powerful, democratic and prosperous nation.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Illegal Immigration From India Jumps 125 Percent

There are an estimated 270,000 illegal Indian immigrants in the United States, according to 2006 figures from the US Department of Homeland Security. With 125% percent increase from 2000 to 2006, India represents the fastest growing source of illegal immigrants to the United States, reports San Jose Mercury News, a major Silicon Valley newspaper. In absolute numbers, Central and South American nations account for the bulk of the estimated 11.5 million illegals, with India a distant second with 270,000 in 2006.

The vast majority of the estimated 2.5m Indians in the United States are legal immigrants with about a half of them with citizenship status. Highly educated with many in professionals such as doctors and engineers, Indians are a very affluent ethnic group whose median household income is 62% higher than the national average.

The top three geographies with the highest concentrations of Indians in the US are San Francisco Bay Area at number 1, New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area at number 2 and Chicago at number 3.

As the demand for high-tech workers in Silicon Valley has grown, so has the influx of Indians on H-1B visas. At 44%, Indians accounted for the lion's shares of H1B visas in 2005-06, five times the number from the second-place Chinese.

The estimated number of people of Pakistani origin in the United States is about 500,000. The top three geographies are NY/NJ/CT tri-state area, Chicago metropolitan area and Southern California. Pakistani Americans are the sixth largest Asian American ethnic group after Chinese, Filipinos, Indians, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Japanese communities. The demographics and socio-economic status of Pakistanis in the United States are quite similar to Indians'. Pakistan does not show up in the list of top 10 countries of origin for legal or illegal immigration to the United States.

New York Times estimate of 109,000 Pakistani-born American workers' occupations include salesmen, managers or administrators, drivers, doctors and accountants as the top five categories.

Kosovo: A New Muslim State Is Born In Europe

As Kosovo-a small, pro-West, secular and mostly Muslim state of 2 million people dominated by ethnic Albanians- declared its independence on February 18, the moment was pregnant with history. It reminded the world, in particular the Serbs and the Turks, of the Battle of Kosovo fought here in 1389, which pitted Prince Lazar of Serbia against Sultan Murad I of the Ottoman Empire both of whom lost their lives in this epic battle. Prince Lazar

In the end, the Turks prevailed and thus began five centuries of Turkish domination of the Serbs. While the Serbs claim Kosovo as the birthplace of the Serbian identity, the ethnic Albanians claim they are descendants of Ilyrians, Kosovo's first known inhabitants.
As the Kosovars celebrate their independence, they face many challenges beyond the weight of history.

Sultan Murad I

While they enjoy the backing of the United States and European Union, the Russians and the Serbs are irrevocably opposed to their unilateral declaration of independence. Kosovo suffered greatly under the Serb rule and it remains the poorest region of the former Yugoslavia, it inherits a shoddy infrastructure; a population of about two million, half under the age of 25; an unemployment rate above 50 percent; and a tax system that depends on custom duties for 60 percent of receipts. From roads and housing to schools, you name it and Kosovo needs it. Electricity production is so erratic, lights go out in the capital several times a day, while some villages have no electricity at all.

The good news for Kosovo is that the US and the major EU nations have recognized the new nation and indicated their willingness to help in rebuilding it. The World Bank has sponsored plans for a new power station fueled by Kosovo's plentiful lignite coal deposits. Four U.S. and European companies have submitted bids. The new plant, which will cost as much as $4 billion, won't be operational until 2014, however. The project's second phase, which would generate revenue by selling energy to neighboring countries, isn't scheduled to come on line until 2018.

While Kosovars have made great sacrifices to achieve independence, the hard work has just begun for them to build their nation's institutions and economy to emerge as a viable nation. Given their determination as demonstrated recently, I believe the Kosovars, with some help from the world, are quite capable of dealing with these challenges.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

All Hell Will Break Loose

On the eve of the voting in Pakistan, someone responded on Facebook to my post Pakistan Election Rigging 101 as follows: "All Hell Will Break Loose" tomorrow. As much as I would like to disagree with this comment, the history of elections in Pakistan makes me pause and ponder on it. Regardless of whether the elections are free and fair, there is usually trouble in the aftermath. The general elections of 1970, held under the military regime of General Yahya Khan, were widely believed as free and fair. However, there was serious trouble and Pakistan lost its eastern wing resulting in the creation of Bangladesh. The elections organized by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 were generally accepted as flawed and caused widespread rioting leading to military takeover by General Ziaul Haq who executed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. So the lesson is that Pakistan has a checkered history of general elections. And there is mounting concern, given the opposition leaders' threats of mass protests if the results are not favorable to them. Such protests invariably descend into major rioting, widespread chaos and violence on the streets. Recently, I wrote a blog post titled "What If Pakistan Opinion Polls Are Wrong?". This post outlined the possibility that the opinion polls like the IRI's may be wrong based on the limitations and the history of such polls. But the key reason was to warn my readers and Pakistanis at large to use caution in assuming that the results of the general elections would just exactly reflect the findings of the latest IRI poll. I felt it is particularly important to point to the flaws because the potential for widespread violence and mass casualties in the aftermath of the February 18 elections is so great that anything anyone can do to minimize it is worthwhile. Since I wrote this piece, Wall Street Journal has published the details of the recent flawed polls in the US Presidential primaries. I reproduce this Wall Street Journal article by Carl Bialik as follows:

In the month leading up to last week's delegate-rich California primary, at least a dozen polling firms canvassed the state, collectively calling tens of thousands of households.

Political junkies tracking television, newspaper and online coverage of the voting also heard the names of two main providers of polling data that didn't place a single call: Real Clear Politics and Both are mashing up surveys from various sources this election year to produce composite numbers meant to smooth out aberrant results. Their methods are criticized by statisticians, but their numbers are embraced by news organizations eager for a way to make sense of conflicting polls.

Numbers from Real Clear Politics, which has been averaging polls since the 2002 congressional races, are used regularly on Fox News, MSNBC's "Hardball," and the Web sites of CBS News and the Washington Post. Pollster, which started combining polls in 2006 and attempts a more complicated mix than a straight average, is featured on Slate and the political Web site, Talking Points Memo.

Stirring disparate pollsters in one pot has its critics. "That's dangerous." says Michael Traugott, professor at the University of Michigan, and author of a recent guide to election polls. "I don't believe in this technique."

Among the pitfalls: Polls have different sample sizes, yet in the composite, those with more respondents are weighted the same. They are fielded at different times, some before respondents have absorbed the results from other states' primaries. They cover different populations, especially during primaries when turnout is traditionally lower. It's expensive to reach the target number of likely voters, so some pollsters apply looser screens. Also, pollsters apply different weights to adjust for voters they've missed. And wording of questions can differ, which makes it especially tricky to count undecided voters. Even identifying these differences isn't easy, as some of the included polls aren't adequately footnoted.

Mark Blumenthal, a former Democratic pollster and co-founder of, admits that combining different polls violates "a rule we were taught at pollster school." The site attempts to address concerns over using older polls by giving more weight to the latest ones.

John McIntyre, co-founder of Real Clear Politics, says that averaging polls is better than cherry-picking individual ones, which is what campaigns might do to highlight numbers favoring their candidate, or journalists might do to create the impression of a close race. He requires at least three polls before producing an average. His site's numbers, he says, provide "a clearer picture of where things truly stand."

Combining polls isn't perfect, adds Mr. Blumenthal, but "let's hope that by combining them we're getting some better version of the truth."

A case in point is the Reuters/Zogby poll completed a day before last week's California primary showing Sen. Barack Obama leading Sen. Hillary Clinton in the state, 49% to 36%. That day, SurveyUSA had Sen. Clinton ahead by 10 points -- her eventual winning margin. (Zogby blames an underestimate of the Hispanic vote and an overestimate of the African-American vote.) Still, the composite numbers produced by Pollster and Real Clear Politics showed a close race where one didn't exist.

But then, SurveyUSA had Sen. Clinton ahead by 11 points in Missouri, a state Sen. Obama narrowly won. Zogby had Sen. Obama up by three points. Noting that the Associated Press initially called Missouri for Sen. Clinton as election results came in, SurveyUSA President Jay Leve says, "Missouri is a tough state." The Pollster and Real Clear Politics combined polls did correctly depict a close race.

Jeff Jones, managing editor of the Gallup Poll, complains that some of his competitors use more-careful methodologies than others. "So, the firms that attempt to do things the right way are treated as no better than the ones that use less-accepted methods," he says.

The problem is identifying that best poll. Pollsters tend to do well here, badly there. "There are 50 almost uniquely different state systems," says Mack Shelley, an Iowa State University political scientist. "You almost have to have a poll that's right for each particular state or region."

"There's no single best pollster who always gets all the races right," says Charles Franklin, professor at the University of Wisconsin and co-developer of He says even the best poll occasionally misses the result by a few points or more, thanks to statistical sampling error. Pollster and Real Clear Politics could bolster their case by comparing their numbers directly against those from individual polling firms in terms of election accuracy, a step neither has taken.

Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, embodies the conflict many pollsters feel about the averages. "The average of good and bad polls could be worse than just looking at the best available single poll," he says. However, Mr. Keeter adds, "I confess to looking at the averages myself."

Mr. Blumenthal says visitors to his site don't necessarily share the concerns of statisticians. "Asking political junkies to stop paying attention to a horse race is like asking them to stop blinking," he says.

Karachi Investors Shrug Off Election Jitters

Stock Investors Bullish
As the world holds its breath for the February 18 voting in Pakistan, the stocks continue to surge with major Pakistani companies posting record profits. The KSE-100 rose for the fourth day closing up 70 points at 14,353. Pakistan State Oil Company Limited, the largest state owned oil marketing company in the country has achieved a record profit before tax of Rs 8.2 billion and profit after tax of Rs 5.5 billion in the first half of financial year 2007-08 with 13% increase in sales volume. Shares buyback by a number of listed companies including Ahmad Spinning Mills, Sarhad Cigarettes and Noon Textiles inspires confidence that the share prices are likely to continue the uptrend.

External Debt Rises
Pakistan's external debt rose by US$2.4b to reach a new high of US$42.9 during July-Dec 2007. As a percentage of GDP, however, it declined to 26% from 27% at the end of FY2007 ending June 2007. The total debt-to-GDP ratio is 57%, helping Pakistan maintain its Moody's and S&P credit ratings of B1 and B+, the same as Indonesia's but a notch below India's debt rating of BBB. Pakistan current debt rating is about 5 levels below the top investment grade of AAA but it is the best Pakistan has ever achieved.

Post-Election Scenarios
"Formation of a stable democratic government will be the most important event to consider," said Mark Mobius, executive chairman at Templeton Asset Management Ltd talking with Reuters. "Investors are still keen on Pakistan and there has been no sharp withdrawal of capital from Pakistan despite the recent events as well as the financial turmoil across the world," Mobius said. "In fact, markets in Pakistan have been fairly resilient."
I believe investor confidence, company profits, and debt ratings can change dramatically based on the realities on the ground. If the February elections go well, and there's little or no violence in the aftermath, then we can hope for a continuation of the current positive trends. Whoever wins will need to reassure investors on the continuity of economic policies to retain investor interest in Pakistan. If there is post-election violence and it gets out of hand and there is prolonged uncertainty as to the new government, then all bets are off.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bush's Lessons In Secularism, Human Rights, Free Media

As George W. Bush makes his faith-based appointments, buys news media, blocks anti-torture legislation at home and spies on telephone conversations, the US continues the policy of supporting secularism, democracy, human rights and media freedom in the Islamic world. The following is an interesting story, a little dated but still very relevant in 2008:

Published: October 19, 2005

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 (Iraq News Agency) - A delegation of Iraqi judges and journalists abruptly left the U.S. today, cutting short its visit to study the workings of American democracy. A delegation spokesman said the Iraqis were "bewildered" by some of the behavior of the Bush administration and felt it was best to limit their exposure to the U.S. system at this time, when Iraq is taking its first baby steps toward democracy.

The lead Iraqi delegate, Muhammad Mithaqi, a noted secular Sunni judge who had recently survived an assassination attempt by Islamist radicals, said that he was stunned when he heard President Bush telling Republicans that one reason they should support Harriet Miers for the U.S. Supreme Court was because of "her religion." She is described as a devout evangelical Christian.

Mithaqi said that after two years of being lectured to by U.S. diplomats in Baghdad about the need to separate "mosque from state" in the new Iraq, he was also floored to read that the former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, now a law school dean, said on the radio show of the conservative James Dobson that Miers deserved support because she was "a very, very strong Christian [who] should be a source of great comfort and assistance to people in the households of faith around the country."

"Now let me get this straight," Judge Mithaqi said. "You are lecturing us about keeping religion out of politics, and then your own president and conservative legal scholars go and tell your public to endorse Miers as a Supreme Court justice because she is an evangelical Christian.

"How would you feel if you picked up your newspapers next week and read that the president of Iraq justified the appointment of an Iraqi Supreme Court justice by telling Iraqis: 'Don't pay attention to his lack of legal expertise. Pay attention to the fact that he is a Muslim fundamentalist and prays at a Saudi-funded Wahhabi mosque.' Is that the Iraq you sent your sons to build and to die for? I don't think so. We can't have our people exposed to such talk."

A fellow delegation member, Abdul Wahab al-Unfi, a Shiite lawyer who walks with a limp today as a result of torture in a Saddam prison, said he did not want to spend another day in Washington after listening to the Bush team defend its right to use torture in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfi said he was heartened by the fact that the Senate voted 90 to 9 to ban U.S. torture of military prisoners. But he said he was depressed by reports that the White House might veto the bill because of that amendment, which would ban "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of P.O.W.'s.

"I survived eight years of torture under Saddam," Unfi said. "Virtually every extended family in Iraq has someone who was tortured or killed in a Baathist prison. Yet, already, more than 100 prisoners of war have died in U.S. custody. How is that possible from the greatest democracy in the world? There must be no place for torture in the future Iraq. We are going home now because I don't want our delegation corrupted by all this American right-to-torture talk."

Finally, the delegation member Sahaf al-Sahafi, editor of one of Iraq's new newspapers, said he wanted to go home after watching a televised videoconference last Thursday between soldiers in Iraq and President Bush. The soldiers, 10 Americans and an Iraqi, were coached by a Pentagon aide on how to respond to Mr. Bush.

"I had nightmares watching this," Sahafi said. "It was right from the Saddam playbook. I was particularly upset to hear the Iraqi sergeant major, Akeel Shakir Nasser, tell Mr. Bush: 'Thank you very much for everything. I like you.' It was exactly the kind of staged encounter that Saddam used to have with his troops."

Sahafi said he was also floored to see the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, declare that a Bush administration contract that paid Armstrong Williams, a supposedly independent commentator, to promote Mr. Bush's No Child Left Behind policy constituted illegal propaganda - an attempt by the government to buy good press.

"Saddam bought and paid journalists all over the Arab world," Sahafi said. "It makes me sick to see even a drop of that in America."

By coincidence, the Iraqi delegates departed Washington just as the Bush aide Karen Hughes returned from the Middle East. Her trip was aimed at improving America's image among Muslims by giving them a more accurate view of America and President Bush. She said, "The more they know about us, the more they will like us."

(Yes, all of this is a fake news story. I just wish that it weren't so true.)

Pakistan Questions Safety of US Nukes

Pakistani nuclear weapons safety has been in the news lately. There are widespread concerns being expressed in the Western media about the possibility of Pakistani nukes falling in to the hands of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban or their alleged sympathizers. Even Mohamed El-Baradie of IAEA has chimed in on this issue. However, the Pakistani nukes are not the only ones making the news recently. The US nuclear weapons safety and handling procedures have also raised concerns, especially since the news of of a US Air Force B52 bomber loaded up with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles by mistake. What is even more alarming is the fact that the American B52 crew was not aware they were carrying nuclear weapons. This may sound like a "Man Bites Dog Story" but the Pakistanis have seized on this news and they are questioning the US right to raise alarm about Pakistani nuclear weapons safety, when in fact, it is the US whose procedures are more lax than Pakistan's. For example, the Pakistani nuclear warheads are kept separate from the missiles but the US nuclear warheads and missiles are always kept ready to launch at any moment, even though the Cold War has now been over for about two decades. Furthermore, it takes two levels of approval in the US versus three levels required in Pakistan. Pakistan's Gen Iqhman offered to provide technical advice and assistance to the United States on improving its nuclear weapons handling procedures. Here's the story from The Bulletin Online, a non-profit specializing in global security news and analysis:

A Pakistani view of U.S. nuclear weapons
By Hugh Gusterson | 5 February 2008
"The [U.S.] Air Force has made substantial changes in its handling of nuclear weapons in the wake of a B-52 flight last August during which the pilots and crew were unaware they were carrying six air-launched cruise missiles with nuclear warheads."
-- "Air Force Alters Rules for Handling of Nuclear Arms," Washington Post January 25, 2008.

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN, JANUARY 25--At a press conference in Islamabad today, Pakistani Brig. Gen. Atta M. Iqhman expressed concern about U.S. procedures for handling nuclear weapons. Iqhman, who oversees the safety and security of the Pakistani nuclear force, said that U.S. protocols for storing and handling nuclear weapons are inadequate. "In Pakistan, we store nuclear warheads separately from their delivery systems, and a nuclear warhead can only be activated if three separate officers agree," Iqhman said. "In the United States, almost 20 years after the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons still sit atop missiles, on hair-trigger alert, and it only takes two launch-control officers to activate a nuclear weapon. The U.S. government has persistently ignored arms control experts around the world who have said they should at least de-alert their weapons."
Iqhman also questioned the adequacy of U.S. procedures for handling nuclear weapons. He expressed particular concern about the August 29, 2007, incident in which six nuclear weapons were accidentally loaded under the wing of a B-52 by workers who did not observe routine inspection procedures and thought they were attaching conventional weapons to the B-52. The flight navigator should have caught their mistake, but he neglected to inspect the weapons as required. For several hours the nuclear weapons were in the air without anyone's knowledge. "The United States needs to develop new protocols for storing and loading nuclear weapons, and it needs to do a better job of recruiting and training the personnel who handle them," Iqhman said.
Iqhman added the Pakistani government would be willing to offer technical advice and assistance to the United States on improving its nuclear weapons handling procedures. Speaking anonymously because of the issue's sensitivity, senior Pentagon officials said it is Washington's role to give, not receive, advice on nuclear weapons safety and surety issues.
Iqhman pointed out that the August 29 event was not an isolated incident; there have been at least 24 accidents involving nuclear weapons on U.S. planes. He mentioned a 1966 incident in which four nuclear weapons fell to the ground when two planes collided over Spain, as well as a 1968 fire that caused a plane to crash in Greenland with four hydrogen bombs aboard. In 1980, a Titan II missile in Arkansas exploded during maintenance, sending a nuclear warhead flying 600 feet through the air. In a remark that visibly annoyed a U.S. official present at the briefing, Iqhman described the U.S. nuclear arsenal as "an accident waiting to happen."
Jay Keuse of MSNBC News asked Iqhman if Pakistan was in any position to be lecturing other countries given Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan's record of selling nuclear technology to other countries. "All nuclear weapons states profess to oppose proliferation while helping select allies acquire nuclear weapons technology," Iqhman replied. "The United States helped Britain and France obtain the bomb; France helped the Israelis; and Russia helped China. And China," he added coyly, "is said by Western media sources to have helped Pakistan. So why can't Pakistan behave like everyone else?"
Iqhman's deputy, Col. Bom Zhalot also expressed concern about the temperament of the U.S. public, asking whether they had the maturity and self-restraint to be trusted with the ultimate weapon. "Their leaders lecture us on the sanctity of life, and their president believes that every embryo is sacred, but they are the only country to have used these terrible weapons--not just once, but twice. Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the plane that bombed Hiroshima, said he never lost a night's sleep over killing 100,000 people, many of them women and children. That's scarcely human."
While Iqhman glared reproachfully at Zhalot for this rhetorical outburst, Zhalot continued: "We also worry that the U.S. commander-in-chief has confessed to having been an alcoholic. Here in Pakistan, alcohol is 'haram,' so this isn't a problem for us. Studies have also found that one-fifth of U.S. military personnel are heavy drinkers. How many of those have responsibility for nuclear weapons?"
John G. Libb of the Washington Times asked if Americans were wrong to be concerned about Pakistan's nuclear stockpile given the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan. Colonel Zhalot replied: "Millions of Americans believe that these are the last days and that they will be raptured to heaven at the end of the world. You have a president who describes Jesus as his favorite philosopher, and one of the last remaining candidates in your presidential primaries is a preacher who doesn't believe in evolution. Many Pakistanis worry that the United States is being taken over by religious extremists who believe that a nuclear holocaust will just put the true believers on a fast track to heaven. We worry about a nutcase U.S. president destroying the world to save it."
U.S. diplomats in Pakistan declined comment.


Ho-Hum Elections 2008

There are many reports from Pakistan indicating a general lack of visible enthusiasm on the streets in major cities with election 2008 only a few days away. This is in sharp contrast to prior elections when you could see a visible rise in mass rallies, big marches, personal outreach and candidate speeches on a daily basis in many parts of the big cities.

There could be several possible reasons for this absence of action and enthusiasm of previous elections. Here are a few:
1. Benazir Bhutto's assassination has had a chilling effect on street marches and rallies.
2. The multiplicity of public and private TV channels, a recent phenomenon since the last election in 2002, has moved the action from the street to the TV screen, more like the elections in the developed world. You can see quite a few political commercials and messages promoting various parties and their candidates.
3. The average people are just too disillusioned. They don’t believe anything will change for them regardless of who wins. They do not seem to feel they have a stake in the outcome.

I personally think it’s all of the above with #3 being the dominant reason.
Amidst all the cries for democracy, independent judiciary, human rights, and fair polls in Pakistan, most people believe nothing will change fundamentally on Feb 18. Regardless of the party labels and promises, the feudal power will endure in the name of democracy. The choices remain narrow for Pakistanis: Choose between military and the feudal class. There is no third choice as long as the middle class remains small and unable to exert any real influence. The only hope for real democracy lies in continued robust growth of the middle class over an extended period of time of another decade or two. There are no guarantees that feudal rulers will permit that.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What If Pakistan Opinion Polls Are Wrong ?

A recent International Republican Institutes's public opinion poll in Pakistan has made big headlines. The results of this poll do not augur well for President Musharraf and his allies in PML-Q. While the science behind such polls is sound, there are limitations as shown recently in the US primaries. Similar polls conducted at the start of the primaries did not see the Obama phenomenon and wrote off John McCain. So the question is: What if the polls are wrong? When polls go wrong in the US, most Americans just recognize the limitations of the methodology and move on. But, would that be the case in Pakistan? Would this poll not give the ammunition to those politicians and parties who are already threatening violence if they do not win? I think these questions are worth pondering, especially if the consequences of the inaccurate poll result in significant loss of life in an already troubled nation.

Just to try and prepare the people for such as possibility, let me suggest that we approach the IRI and other polls like it with caution. Here are some of the reasons why:

1. The sample size is small and not truly random. The sample is biased by those participants willing to respond who generally happen to be more interested AND more available. I personally rarely participate in these polls because the pollsters usually call when I am about to start dinner at about 7:30PM. They usually do not call back.
2. People do not always tell the truth. They say one thing and do another. The most famous case of this kind happened in California gubernatorial elections in 1982, when many white voters said they would vote for Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles who happened to be black but in fact voted for George Deukmejian, the white candidate for governor. This is now known as "Bradley Effect".
3. The national poll does not take into account regional, ethnic and class differences, the level of enthusiasm (likely voters) and multi-way races resulting in skewed seat allocation on constituency by constituency basis.
4. The way the questions are framed can change the outcome in significant ways. Asking someone "if you approve of XYZ?" is not the same as "Would you considering voting for XYZ? " As seen in this IRI survey, these two questions produced two different answers. While only 15% of respondents said they approve of Musharraf, 29% of respondents said they would vote for the coalition supporting Musharraf.

Let us all exercise caution in accepting these poll results as truly representative of the real vote scheduled for February 18. If these polls were representative of the general elections, there would be no need for holding large scale general elections in Pakistan or elsewhere.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Feudal Power Dominates Pakistani Elections

As Pakistanis go to the polls on Feb 18, 2008, the role of the feudal class in Pakistan as power brokers is getting scrutiny from the world media. Some Pakistani feudals and politicians, including Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi of PPP, Syed Fakhr Imam of PPP, Imran Khan (Tehreek Insaf), and others argue that the feudal influence is overrated. They say the feudal power is declining and represents more of a mindset than reality. However, the media men traveling through rural Sind and rural Punjab are finding that most, if not all, of the candidates of the major parties are big landowners. And the people living on their lands must choose from them. When asked by the BBC correspondent Shoaib Hasan why none of the farmers or other poor people consider standing as candidates, a group of village people burst out laughing.

Here are some of the foreign media reports that caught my attention:

William Dalrymple, writing for the Guardian in London says: "There is a fundamental flaw in Pakistan's political system. Democracy has never thrived here, at least in part because landowning remains almost the only social base from which politicians can emerge. In general, the educated middle class - which in India seized control in 1947, emasculating the power of its landowners - is in Pakistan still largely excluded from the political process. As a result, in many of the more backward parts of Pakistan the local feudal zamindar can expect his people to vote for his chosen candidate. Such loyalty can be enforced. Many of the biggest zamindars have private prisons and most have private armies."

Writing about Mumtaz Bhutto, whose son is a candidate for parliamentary seat, Aryn Baker of Time Magazine reports: As one of Pakistan's largest landowners, Bhutto is both a victim and a perpetrator of the corrosive feudal system that has shaped Pakistani society for most of its 60-year history, and still dictates how politics are done today. Bhutto's family has owned this patch of fertile land alongside the Indus River for nearly half a millennium, and on the wall of his stately home is the family tree to prove it. (He is a cousin of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto.) Sharecroppers till the lands, exchanging half they produce — rice, wheat and sugarcane — for a place to live, seeds and fertilizer. And patronage. "If my tenants are happy with me, they work more efficiently on the lands," says Bhutto. "You help the people and they will help you." That exchange extends into the political realm. Bhutto isn't running in this year's parliamentary elections — he's retired — but his son is. With some 10,000 acres of land being cultivated by a vast network of thousands of sharecroppers dependent on feudal largesse, the Bhutto family can count on a large turnout of supporters at the polls.

BBC South Asia service talks about the power and influence of the feudal lords near Multan in Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi's district as follows: The term "feudal or "feudal lord" refers to the large-scale landholding families in Pakistan.By dint of their landholdings, which they rent to tenant farmers, the feudal lords are able to exercise immense financial and political influence. In many cases they are also able to claim the loyalty of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of "murids" (devotees) who believe they are directly descended from local saints. On top of this, they usually control the "station and katchery" (the police and the courts) which ensures the compliance, willing or not, of the local populace.

Regardless of which party or parties emerge as the winners on February 18, one thing is certain: The power and the influence of the feudals will be very well represented in the corridors of power. And the ordinary people of Pakistan will continue to be at their mercy in the name of democracy, unless the military refuses to cede power to the elected feudals.

Amidst all the cries for democracy, independent judiciary, human rights, and fair polls in Pakistan, nothing will change fundamentally on Feb 18. Regardless of the party labels and promises, the feudal power will endure in the name of democracy. The choices remain narrow for Pakistanis: Choose between military and the feudal class. There is no third choice as long as the middle class remains small and unable to exert any real influence. The only hope for real democracy lies in continued robust growth of the middle class over an extended period of time of another decade or two. There are no guarantees that feudal rulers will permit that.

Is Bombay Bubble Bursting?

In addition to the performance of BSE-30 index, there are two recent reports that seem to suggest that Indian and foreign investors are starting to worry about the bubble in Bombay. The first report indicated that Reliance Power IPO did not meet expectations. While the issue price was Rs. 450, it opened at Rs. 530 but declined soon after closing at Rs.372. The second report said Emaar, the Dubai-based real estate giant, has decided to delay its Indian IPO.

With the impressive growth in the Indian economy and very healthy returns in the stock market for several years, a lot of investors have flocked to Bombay to profit from Indian stocks. This phenomenon has pushed the P/E ratios of Indian shares to new heights. According to the Bombay Stock Exchange which computes PE for its dozen odd sectoral indices, the average PE of BSE Realty Index was as high as 71.55 as on January 4, while the average PE ratio for BSE Capital Goods was second highest at 51.20. The BSE Power Index PE ratio was at 42.94. The P/E ratio for Sensex is 28.31. This compares favorably with Shangai stocks average P/E ratio of 33, which also is considered to be a bubble by many analysts. These PE ratios are about twice the PE ratio of 16.21 for Karachi KSE-100, making it an attractive opportunity for investors willing to accept political risks. Merrill Lynch Chief Strategist Mark Matthews believes that these political risks are worth taking for the bargain basement share prices and high returns based on the KSE track record.

Sources: Bloomberg
IGI Research
Yahoo Finance

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Pakistan's Military Brass: Is It Distancing From Musharraf?

General Kayani's Orders
Pakistan's Army Chief Gen. Kayani has initiated a number of changes that establish a divide between the uniformed army and Mr. Musharraf, say senior Pakistani officers. Last month, Gen. Kayani, 55 years old, issued an order barring officers from any unauthorized meetings with Pakistani politicians, including the president. The army commander also said the military wouldn't play any role in staging next week's parliamentary elections, outside of providing security, according to the Wall Street Journal.

ISI Political Cell
The moves, say senior Pakistani officers, stand as a clear signal to Mr. Musharraf that he can't rely on his former allies in the military to get "desirable results" from the vote, says an active Pakistani general. "We don't want the army to be seen as involved in political affairs in any way," he says, a move the army hopes will inoculate it from being tarnished by any potential electoral improprieties.

If these reports are credible, then the ISI's political cell can no longer to be used to manipulate the results of the February 18 elections this year. It was former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who issued the executive order creating this political cell within the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) with the purpose of influencing political processes in Pakistan. This fateful decision eventually brought ZA Bhutto's own downfall when he used this cell to unnecessarily rig the 1977 elections and was overthrown and executed by General Zia-ul-Haq. It was also this cell that helped Nawaz Sharif , a protege of General Zia-ul-Haq, get elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan after the General's death in a mysterious air crash followed by a brief term in office by Benazir Bhutto. In 1990 the ISI received 140m rupees (US$2.2m at current values) to rig national elections, according to supreme court testimony by the then chief of army staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg.
As recently as two weeks ago Chaudhry Shujaat Husain of PML-Q argued that this cell should continue working. It seems that General Kayani disagrees and has decided to not allow the use of the cell for influencing the upcoming vote.

Fair Polls
There have been a number of specific allegations of poll rigging such as ghost polling stations, ballot stuffing, and counting irregularities made by the opposition. Each of these allegations have been rebutted quite well by Staffan Darnolf, Pakistan Country Director of IFES in his responses to a blog post by Barnett Ruben. However, the one issue that hung over the elections was the acknowledged existence of the ISI political cell. These latest reports of Gen Kayani's orders, if true, should eliminate this issue as well.

Monday, February 11, 2008

RAND Report: US Strategy In Muslim World Counterproductive

The RAND Corporation, a highly respected non-profit policy research institute in the United States, says in its latest report on the ongoing War on Terror: "Large-scale U.S. military intervention and occupation in the Muslim world is at best inadequate, at worst counter-productive, and, on the whole, infeasible."

“Violent extremism in the Muslim world is the gravest national security threat the United States faces,” said David C. Gompert, the report's lead author and a senior fellow at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Because this threat is likely to persist and could grow, it is important to understand the United States is currently not capable of adequately addressing the challenge.”

The study finds that when infected by religious extremism, local insurgencies become more violent, resistant to settlement, difficult to defeat and likely to spread. The jihadist appeal to local insurgents is the message that their faith and homelands are under attack by the West and they should join the larger cause of defending Islam. This makes U.S. military intervention not only costly, but risky.

While the recent military surge has improved security in much of Iraq, “it would be a profound mistake to conclude from it that all the United States needs is more military force to defeat Islamist insurgencies,” Gompert said. “One need only contemplate the precarious condition of Pakistan to realize the limitations of U.S. military power and the peril of relying upon it.”

The report recommends that the United States should shift its priorities and funding to improve civil governance, build local security forces, and exploit information — capabilities that have been lacking in Iraq and Afghanistan."

It is good to see that the US policy think tanks and researchers are finally beginning to recognize the follies of US policies. Let us hope that the current and incoming US administrations pay heed to what these researchers are finding and make dramatic policy changes before it is too late. I am hopeful that the world leaders can still pull us back from the brink and avoid catastrophic consequences of the Bush-Cheney policies of the last seven years.

Poll: Musharraf Hits New Low

A new poll in Pakistan conducted by the US-based International Republican Institute shows President Musharraf's opposition receiving support from 72% of respondents. Only 15% of the poll participants approve of Mr. Musharraf, lowest ever positive rating registered for him to date. The sympathy wave for PPP in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination has lifted it to 50% of the respondents voting for it, with PML (Nawaz Sharif) at 22%. This poll of 3,845 adults was conducted Jan 19-29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.69%, reports the Washington Post in today's edition. Only 14% said they planned to vote for PML-Q, the main pro-Musharraf party.

While this poll result does not augur well for pro-Musharraf forces, there are questions about the sample size, the regional differences, and the presence of other smaller ethnic parties affecting the final outcome in terms of the number of parliamentary seats won by PPP, PML (N), PML (Q), MQM, JUI, and ANP. Similar polls have notoriously failed to correctly predict the outcome in the recent primaries in the US.

In answer to the question "Would you say the ruling coalition has done a good enough job to deserve re-election", 29% of the respondents said yes, 62% said no and the rest did not know or did not answer. This suggests that there's some ambivalence among 10-20 % of the people in this sample as to who to vote for.

Based on this poll, it is likely that PPP will emerge as the single largest party, though not necessarily with 50% of the seats. The rest of the seats will probably be won by PML(N), PML(Q), MQM, JUI and ANP in that order. The composition of the future government will likely depend on whether the traditional rivals in the PML(N) and the PPP can really work together and reach an accommodation with Musharraf, at least for a while.

The fear still remains that, if the results are substantially different from this expected outcome, the predictable mass protests in Pakistan will succeed in upending the entire nation and its economy with severe negative, long term consequences for Pakistan.
Such a situation could lead to another military takeover and Martial Law setting the political process back. It is in the best interest of all Pakistani leaders to show flexibility in the interest of advancing the political process without repeating the vicious cycle Pakistan has been in for the last 50 years.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Mobile Internet For Pakistan

With the personal computers and the Internet penetration in Pakistan in single digit percentages and the mobile phone penetration approaching 50%, should Pakistanis still aspire primarily for the Western style PC/Internet access model? The answer to this question is clearly a resounding NO. Here is an opportunity for a strategic leapfrog to ubiquitous Internet connectivity via the most prevalent device owned by the largest number of people--the mobile phone. It makes sense from many perspectives: Device cost, connectivity options, electricity availability, usefulness for the vast majority of people, etc. It seems that the Japanese have already been pursuing the mobile connectivity model with widespread voice and data connectivity through the cell phones, popularity of text messaging, use of cell phone as a gaming/entertainment and payment platform.
While the efforts such as OLPC (One laptop per child) for developing nations including Pakistan are laudable, a similar or even greater focus on robust mobile phones is likely to be a faster and cheaper method to accomplish the OLPC program goals. There is no reason why these robust mobile devices could not be used to help students in their academic pursuits. With new capabilities in mobile phones such as voice recognition, speech-to-text, real time audio, video, and translation, students learning can be enhanced at the same time as higher business productivity
is realized for an increasingly mobile workforce in Pakistan, India, and the rest of the developing world.
The policy makers and planners should initiate public-private partnerships to make mobile Internet a reality in Pakistan. The government should work with the mobile phone companies such as Mobilink and Motorola as well as the Internet giants such as Cisco, Google and Microsoft to ensure that the widespread mobile phones in Pakistan are leveraged to improve education and business productivity.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Does Pakistan Face Debt Crisis?

A number of Pakistani economists and newspaper columnists are fretting about what they call "Pakistan's Debt Crisis". They claim that Pakistan's national debt has risen dramatically over the last 8 year. Putting in perspective, it seems to me that they are raising an unnecessary alarm. While it is true that Pakistan's total external debt has increased by about 10% since 1999, it is also true that Pakistan's GDP has more than doubled.
Here are the facts:
In 1999 Pakistan’s total debt as percentage of GDP was the highest in South Asia – 99.3 percent of its GDP and 629 percent of its revenue receipts, compared to Sri Lanka (91.1% & 528.3% respectively in 1998) and India (47.2% & 384.9% respectively in 1998). Internal Debt of Pakistan in 1999 was 45.6 per cent of GDP and 289.1 per cent of its revenue receipts, as compared to Sri Lanka (45.7% & 264.8% respectively in 1998) and India (44.0% & 358.4% respectively in 1998).
Most recent figures in 2007 indicate that Pakistan's total debt stands at 56% of GDP, significantly lower than the 99% of GDP in 1999. It also compares favorably with India's debt-to-GDP ratio of 59% and Sri Lanka's 85% in 2007. From being the highest debtor nation in South Asia, Pakistan has, in fact, become the lowest debtor nation in its region and achieved economic growth rate of about 7% a year during the last 6 years.

Sources: CIA World Fact Book
Jubilee Research
State Bank of Pakistan

Pakistani Media: Where Are The Fact-Checks?

Fact Checks
Politicians in all parts of the world deal in hype, half-truths, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, inaccuracies and wild allegations. This applies to politicians of all stripes; ruling parties, opposition, left, right, center, etc. Pakistan is no exception to this reality. While there has been a tremendous growth in the media outlets, Pakistan still seems rather unique in that its burgeoning media lack the knowledge, the ability and the desire to expose these infractions as independent, objective observers and reporters of facts. The tradition of investigative journalism and fact-checking has not taken hold in Pakistani media. There are no examples of outfits such as USA's CBS 60 Minutes, India's or CNN's Fact-Checks.

Examples of media representatives' failure to challenge their guests are many. I'll cite just a few of them here. While there are lots of factual data available on Pakistan Governments missteps in the wheat crisis, the pro-government politicians continue to argue that the government was not at fault. The media reps, however, do not cite the data from reputable sources such as the US Dept of Agriculture to challenge these politicians' statements. My blog post at South Asia Investor Review addresses wheat crisis in Pakistan.
In an interview with an economist favoring opposition, Dr. Shahid Masood was surprised and alarmed to hear that the national debt has increased over the last 5 years. The economist then went on to further exaggerate the debt without also mentioning the fact that the GDP has doubled and the debt has actually dropped significantly as percentage of GDP(from 90% to 54% of the GDP) during this period. Shahid Masood did not have a clue on how to intelligently handle the subject. Any half decent journalist talking to an economist would have prepared for this subject and challenged the guest. Please read my blog post at South Asia Investor Review on the subject of Pakistan's debt.
It is very fashionable to talk about poll rigging in Pakistani media just prior to the elections of February 18, 2008. There are many general and specific allegations made without seriously pursuing the facts behind any of them. In fact, I find much better coverage of these allegations and rebuttals in the US and International blogs where knowledgeable international analysts and observers contribute. One such blog I have found is Informed Comment: Global Affairs. You can also check my recent blog post at Haq's Musings on this subject.

Navel Gazing
I am a big fan of Pakistani media, particularly the TV channels such as Geo and ARY. Pakistani media have come a long way in the last five years. In order to continue to improve their performance, they and their supporters should not become defensive when their shortcomings are pointed out to them. They should do much more self-analysis (also known as navel gazing in the US) and look at themselves more critically. I would suggest that they watch and start producing TV shows such as CNN's Reliable Sources by Howard Kurtz that look at the journalism standards and practices on a regular basis.

While I fully expect accusations of being an ivory tower commentator from the defenders of the media in Pakistan, I would suggest that the media not use any government restrictions as an excuse to avoid doing their jobs well, to the extent it's reasonable and possible. This is the only way they can avoid mediocrity and achieve excellence.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Scotland Yard: Benazir Killed By Blast, Not Bullet

Early reports in York Times and Times Online indicate that Scotland Yard's conclusions support Pakistan Government's findings on the cause of Benazir Bhutto's death. Investigators from Scotland Yard have concluded that Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani opposition leader, died after hitting her head as she was tossed by the force of a suicide blast, not from an assassin’s bullet, officials who have been briefed on the inquiry said Thursday, according to the New York Times. The British inquiry also determined that a lone gunman, whose image was captured in numerous photographs at the scene, also caused the explosion, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been made public. Pakistani authorities originally said there were two assailants, based partly on photographs splashed across the front pages of the nation’s leading newspapers.

Apparently, these conclusions are based on the brain scans, video and photographic evidence, eyewitness accounts and other forensic evidence gathered without an autopsy or other crime scene evidence washed away immediately after the tragedy.

This report is likely to anger Bhutto supporters and re-ignite charges of conspiracy and cover-up. It may also intensify demands for a UN inquiry into the tragic event.

Pakistan Election Rigging 101

Rigging Allegations
The allegations of poll rigging are getting louder as Pakistan approaches the Feb 18, 2008 parliamentary elections. When you hear the opposition politicians, particularly from PPP and PML-N, describe the details of alleged rigging in Pakistani and world media, it seems that they have a great deal of personal knowledge and expertise in
this specialty, the kind of depth that can only come from having engaged in it for themselves. I am writing this blog post to try and explain the crux of the issue as I understand it.

ISI Political Cell
As I read through a lot of material in my quest for the answers, what caught my eye was a PPP report alleging that "Military Intelligence sits in the offices of returning officers, police officials and other elections officials." The question is: What does the military intelligence have to do with organizing elections? To find the answer, I had to go as far back as 1975 when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ruled the country with an iron hand under emergency rules. Talking about ISI's role in Pakistani elections, former ISI chief Gen. Hamid Gul recently said in an interview to, " The ISI has played an important role and it has in its charter — through a prime ministerial decree signed by Zulfiqar Bhutto — a political cell, so the politicians are at fault and the Army chief and his coterie of generals are at fault."

Bhutto Legacy
It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who issued the executive order creating a political cell within the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) with the purpose of influencing political processes in Pakistan. This fateful decision eventually brought ZA Bhutto's own downfall when he used this cell to unnecessarily rig the 1977 elections and was overthrown and executed by General Zia-ul-Haq. It was also this cell that helped Nawaz Sharif , a protege of General Zia-ul-Haq, get elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan after the General's death in a mysterious air crash followed by a brief term in office by Benazir Bhutto. In 1990 the ISI received 140m rupees (US$2.2m at current values) to rig national elections, according to supreme court testimony by the then chief of army staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg.
Described aptly as "Bhutto Legacy" by Pakistani newspaper Dawn's columnist Mr. Aredeshir Cowasjee, this political cell in the ISI continues to exist and it is still being used by the pro-government politicians to influence the outcome of the elections. Recently, Chaudhry Shujaat Husain of PML-Q, argued that this cell should continue working. Obviously, the opposition politicians want it disbanded, as long as they can not use it to their advantage.

Specific Allegations
In terms of the specific allegations such as ghost polling stations, ballot stuffing, counting irregularities, etc, each of these are rebutted effectively by Staffan Darnolf, Pakistan country director of IFES with lots of experience in elections in developing nations. Responding to a blog post by Barnett Ruben, Staffan wrote: "In this article you mentioned that the elections are likely to be rigged with the assistance of ISI and district administration as “[t]hese ballots, already printed, filled out, and prepared, are then added to those transported from polling places for the final count.” Could you elaborate a bit more here, as I simply don’t understand your argument. The reason being that no central counting of ballot papers take place. The ballot boxes are opened at the polling stations and the ballot papers are counted at the individual polling stations.
On ghost polling stations, Staffan says: "What my argument boils down to is that this notion of ghost polling stations is a red herring. Why go through this huge exercise involving thousands of people to try to siphon off ballot papers, get your hands on ballot boxes, security seals, the right stamps, the original forms, prep the ballot papers and then have them sent to the Returning Officers' premises where no counting of the ballots are taking place? Also, how do you produce faked voters list for these ghost polling stations now when the voters lists are computerized and can be easily verified?"
Staffan goes on: "To me, this seems as far-fetched as the allegation by some political parties in late November and the first week of December stating that 108 Punjab NA constituencies had been selected for rigging, as the ruling party's representatives had already received 20-30K (the reported number varied) extra ballot papers for stuffing. The problem with this accusation is that candidate nomination only ended on Dec 15. And before that no one knows which parties and candidates will actually run for office. Hence, it is only on December 16th that the final design of the real ballots are known and they can be produced for any of the 849 directly elected constituencies."
While specific allegations are rebutted well, just the existence of the ISI cell creates doubt as to the fairness of the polls in Pakistan.

Disband ISI Cell
Given the acknowledged existence of this political cell within ISI, can we expect any confidence in the results of the upcoming elections? The answer is clearly NO. Would such a cell give the losers the justification to launch mass protests, even if the elections are largely free and fair? The answer is clearly YES. I think it would be in the best interest of the nation if all politicians and generals agree to disband this ISI cell to make sure the elections are, in fact, free and fair and seen to be completely free, fair and transparent.