Sunday, August 31, 2008

Michael Moore's Open Letter to God

This letter is not only relevant for what is happening this week with Hurricane Gustav coinciding with the Republican Convention in the US, but also because it offers lessons for the right wing demagogues in Pakistan and the Muslim world who engage in similar rhetoric as some fundamentalist Christian supporters of the US Republican Party. Islamic religious folks in particular blame the victims of natural disasters for their suffering on their "sinful " behavior and wish ill upon all those who oppose or even disagree with their extreme positions in supporting acts of widespread gratuitous violence and terror in the name of "jihad".
Here is Micheal Moore's letter:

An Open Letter to God, from Michael Moore

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Dear God,

The other night, the Rev. James Dobson's ministry asked all believers to pray for a storm on Thursday night so that the Obama acceptance speech outdoors in Denver would have to be cancelled.

I see that You have answered Rev. Dobson's prayers -- except the storm You have sent to earth is not over Denver, but on its way to New Orleans! In fact, You have scheduled it to hit Louisiana at exactly the moment that George W. Bush is to deliver his speech at the Republican National Convention.

Now, heavenly Father, we all know You have a great sense of humor and impeccable timing. To send a hurricane on the third anniversary of the Katrina disaster AND right at the beginning of the Republican Convention was, at first blush, a stroke of divine irony. I don't blame You, I know You're angry that the Republicans tried to blame YOU for Katrina by calling it an "Act of God" -- when the truth was that the hurricane itself caused few casualties in New Orleans. Over a thousand people died because of the mistakes and neglect caused by humans, not You.

Some of us tried to help after Katrina hit, while Bush ate cake with McCain and twiddled his thumbs. I closed my office in New York and sent my entire staff down to New Orleans to help. I asked people on my website to contribute to the relief effort I organized -- and I ended up sending over two million dollars in donations, food, water, and supplies (collected from thousands of fans) to New Orleans while Bush's FEMA ice trucks were still driving around Maine three weeks later.

But this past Thursday night, the Washington Post reported that the Republicans had begun making plans to possibly postpone the convention. The AP had reported that there were no shelters set up in New Orleans for this storm, and that the levee repairs have not been adequate. In other words, as the great Ronald Reagan would say, "There you go again!"

So the last thing John McCain and the Republicans needed was to have a split-screen on TVs across America: one side with Bush and McCain partying in St. Paul, and on the other side of the screen, live footage of their Republican administration screwing up once again while New Orleans drowns.

So, yes, You have scared the Jesus, Mary and Joseph out of them, and more than a few million of your followers tip their hats to You.

But now it appears that You haven't been having just a little fun with Bush & Co. It appears that Hurricane Gustav is truly heading to New Orleans and the Gulf coast. We hear You, O Lord, loud and clear, just as we did when Rev. Falwell said You made 9/11 happen because of all those gays and abortions. We beseech You, O Merciful One, not to punish us again as Pat Robertson said You did by giving us Katrina because of America's "wholesale slaughter of unborn children." His sentiments were echoed by other Republicans in 2005.

So this is my plea to you: Don't do this to Louisiana again. The Republicans got your message. They are scrambling and doing the best they can to get planes, trains and buses to New Orleans so that everyone can get out. They haven't sent the entire Louisiana National Guard to Iraq this time -- they are already patrolling the city streets. And, in a nod to I don't know what, Bush's head of FEMA has named a man to help manage the federal government's response. His name is W. Michael Moore. I kid you not, heavenly Father. They have sent a man with both my name AND W's to help save the Gulf Coast.

So please God, let the storm die out at sea. It's done enough damage already. If you do this one favor for me, I promise not to invoke your name again. I'll leave that to the followers of Rev. Dobson and to those gathering this week in St. Paul.

Your faithful servant and former seminarian,

Michael Moore

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Tale of Tribal Terror

Baba Kot, a village 50 miles from Usta Mohammad town of Jafferabad district in Baluchistan, is where this recent tale of tribal terror began.
The media reports and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) indicate that it was here that Mr. Abdul Sattar Umrani, a brother of Mr. Sadiq Umrani, a Baluchi tribal leader and a serving PPP provincial minister, came with more than six men and abducted five women at gun point. They were transported in a government vehicle to another remote area, Nau Abadi, near Baba Kot. Upon reaching Nau Abadi, Abdul Sattar Umrani and his men took the three younger women out of the jeep and beat them before opening fire with their guns. The girls were seriously injured but were still alive after the shooting. Sattar Umrani and his men pushed them into a wide ditch and covered them up with dirt and stones. When the two older women protested and tried to stop the burial, the attackers also pushed them into the ditch and buried them alive. After completing the burial, they fired several shots into to the air so that no one would come close and left the scene.

According to media reports, the five female victims were Fatima, wife of Umeed Ali Umrani, Jannat Bibi, wife of Qaiser Khan, Fauzia, daughter of Ata Mohammad Umrani, and two other girls, aged between 16 to 18 years, whose names have not been published. At the moment they were abducted, the women were preparing to leave for a civil court at Usta Mohammad, district Jafarabad, so that three of the girls could marry the men of their choice. Their decision to go to to court for a civil marriage was contrary to the wishes of the elders of the tribe.

The live female burials took place a month ago but the police have neither registered a crime report nor taken any action. There have been no arrests yet. Minister and tribal chief Sadiq Umrani confirmed the incident took place but insisted that only three women had been killed by unknown people.

Unfortunately,the headlines of horrific honor killings are not rare for Pakistanis. But this latest brutality in Baluchistan is an extraordinary tale of tribal terror. It is particularly shocking for three reasons:

1. Because it involves a medieval style live burial of five females by their fellow members of the tribe.
2. There was an attempted cover-up by a government minister whose brother used a government vehicle in committing the crime.
3. At least two Pakistani senators from Baluchistan, including the current acting chairman of the Senate, spoke on the Senate floor in support of this "Baluchi custom".

According to the Nation newspaper in Pakistan, Baluchistan's Senator Israr Ullah Zehri (also a tribal chief) defended the terrible atrocity in Baba Kot. While aggressively interrupting Senator Bibi Yasmin Shah, who condemned the brutal act of burying alive five women in Baluchistan on charges of 'love marriage', said it was part of their traditions, which, he said, should not be negatively highlighted.

Talking about tribal justice in Baluchistan, I am reminded of a book titled 'The Tigers of Balochistan', written by Sylvia Matheson (published 1967), that epitomizes the Baluchi chieftains' approach to life. Late Nawab Akbar Bugti (killed by Pakistani military in 2006), who was twenty-one when Matheson spoke to him in the 1960s. She was questioning him on his casual statement to her, reminding her that he had killed his first man at the age of twelve. "About this man you killed — er, why?" "Oh that!" he responded as he sipped his tea, "Well, the man annoyed me. I've forgotten what it was about now, but I shot him dead. I've rather a hasty temper you know, but under tribal law of course it wasn't a capital offense, and, in any case, as the eldest son of the Chieftain I was perfectly entitled to do as I pleased in our own territory. We enjoy absolute sovereignty over our people and they accept this as part of their tradition."

The scourge of honor killings, however, is not limited to Baluchistan alone. Such barbaric and brutal murders are not uncommon in many parts of Pakistan, India (The Sikhs engage in it too) and the Arab and the Muslim world. The problem seems to stem from a distorted sense of honor and shame and deep-rooted misogyny found in all parts of the world. Some Hindus, too, routinely commit female infanticide by either aborting female fetuses or killing live born girls. The Chinese are reported to engage in the terrible practice of female fetus abortion and infanticide because of the government's one-child policy. As a result, there is a growing imbalance between male and female populations in India and China, an unhealthy trend for society. In almost all instances, such killings are sanctioned not by law or religion but by local customs and legitimized by courts which routinely acquit the perpetrators. This problem has much deeper roots than just the ordinary crimes or the problems of feudal or tribal excesses.

It is a particularly huge concern in Pakistan where the "democratic, civilian" governments are dominated by feudal and tribal leaders who accept honor killings as routine and legitimate. Having been raised in a system of arbitrary rule, these leaders in power do not have any understanding of the fundamental human rights of life and liberty or the concepts of rule-of-law or of due process. Fighting this terrible tradition of unjust killings will require a much bigger campaign than the one that toppled President Musharraf. Such a campaign will have to challenge not just an individual dictator, but defeat the power of feudal-tribal system and end evil social customs that continue to deny basic human dignity, political and economic justice, and genuine freedom to the vast majority of rural and urban Pakistanis.

I encourage my readers to visit AHRC website and urge Pakistani leadership to fully investigate honor killings and bring perpetrators to justice. The petition campaign may or not be effective, but we should all try, nonetheless. When submitting the AHRC online appeal to the government leaders in Pakistan, please change the subject slightly to avoid the risk of being blocked as unsolicited bulk mail.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Investor Confidence Hits New Lows in Karachi

Fearing a complete meltdown of stock prices at Karachi Stock Exchange, Pakistan's Securities and Exchange Commission imposed a floor of 9144 for the market's benchmark KSE-100 index. The index closed at 9144 level on Wednesday, Aug 27, the day the KSE and SEC announced their decision to not allow the KSE-100 to trade below this arbitrary level. This extraordinary action, the first of its kind since the exchange opened its doors in 1948, came after investors pushed down the index to its lowest level in more than two years.

Karachi stock exchange saw very thin trading on Friday and the KSE-100 index finally closed at 9,208.26 points, with a meager gain of 4.48 points. The KSE-30 index increased by 15.87 to close at 10,198.05 level.

The KSE-100 has lost 34.6% of its value this year, as investor confidence has been been hurt by political uncertainty and a long list of economic troubles, including skyrocketing inflation, disappearing foreign exchange reserves, declining rupee and a soaring deficit. Putting it in perspective, India's Sensex is down 48%, Shanghai has lost 44 percent, Russia is down 25 percent, and Brazil, 36 percent.

"One thing that is badly missing in Pakistan is investor confidence," said analysts at JS Global in a research report on Thursday. "The global financial crunch, rising commodity prices and [the] local political situation has affected the macroeconomic picture," they said. "And that is reflected in the stock, money and currency markets." Pakistan's currency, the rupee, has fallen about 16% in the last four months.

Prior market stabilization measures introduced by Karachi Stock Exchange in June included tighter circuit breakers on the downside and a complete ban on short selling. However, when these measures were reversed in July, the market continued its downward slide because the fundamentals further deteriorated.

The latest media reports indicate that the Pakistani stock-market regulator will review the freeze imposed on the market within the next 12 days. It is almost certain the market will continue to slide as soon as the freeze is lifted, unless political stability and economic fundamentals show any signs of clear improvement.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Harry Potter Versus Hari Puttar

"We have recently commenced proceedings against parties involved in the production and distribution of a movie entitled Hari Puttar," Warner Bros spokeswoman Deborah Lincoln told The Hollywood Reporter.

"Warner Bros values and protects intellectual property rights.

"However, it is our policy not to discuss publicly the details of any ongoing litigation."

Hari Puttar, made by Mirchi Movies of India, tells the story of a 10-year-old Indian boy, named Hari, who moves to England with his parents and becomes embroiled in a battle over a secret microchip. The boy, left home alone, fights off burglars when his parents go away on vacation - a plot more reminiscent of the popular film Home Alone, starring Macaulay Culkin.

In response to the Warner Bros. lawsuit, Munish Purii, chief executive officer of Mumbai-based producer Mirchi Movies, said, "There is absolutely nothing to link Hari Puttar with Harry Potter." Hari is a common name in India and puttar is Punabji for son, he said.

What is all the fuss about Hari Puttar? Hari Puttar may or may not be a copy of Harry Potter. However, Bollywood movie makers do routinely lift story lines, complete scenes, word-for-word dialog and music tunes from popular Hollywood hits. On occasion, they even copy titles or pick similar titles. Recent examples of Bollywood plagiarism include "God Tussi Great Ho", a copy of "Bruce Almighty", and "Partner" which is a copy of "Hitch".

The fuss is about the threat to Harry Potter, a global brand that is estimated to be worth multiple billions of dollars. Harry Potter has made J.K. Rowling one of most famous authors and put her on the Forbes list of the richest people in the world. It is one of most successful franchises in the history of publishing, entertainment, manufacturing and retail. At least a dozen companies list Harry Potter as a factor that has either boosted or slowed their sales over the years. Time Warner is the biggest beneficiary. Others include Scholastic, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Mattel, Electronic Arts, etc.

Bollywood seems to have been emboldened by getting away with plagiarism for a long time. But, as the Indian movie industry matures and competes for richer markets, it is bound to be challenged for some of its illegal practices which threaten the profits of others. Bollywood will now have to tread more carefully and be forced to create movies and entertainment with original ideas and distinct story lines, songs and music.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mobile Internet Revolution for South Asia

Mobile application developers and high-bandwidth wireless data network operators are being dramatically boosted by latest innovations, growing popularity and rising demand of smartphones such as iPhone, Blackberry, Palm Treo and other mobile platforms. Some 10 percent of phones shipped worldwide — and some 19 percent of phones sold at retail in the United States — are smart-phones. Taiwanese smartphone maker High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) expects its sales in India to double in 2008, from 100,000 in 2007 to 200,000 in 2008. Although reliable figures are not available, Blackberry is finding traction in Pakistan and HTC is promoting its low-cost smartphones. Overall, there is room for substantial growth. In terms of wireless voice and data, markets with large populations and relatively low penetration rates, such as India, China, Philippines, Pakistan, Vietnam and Indonesia, will continue to grow at a rapid rate, according to an Aug 2008 report by Paul Budde Communication Pty Ltd.

Each platform provider is vying for greater developer mindshare and faster wireless networks to add value to its device and gain market share to become the standard in mobile computing and communication. These developments are pulling together all of the necessary ingredients for explosive growth of mobile internet business in the coming decades. Though it's early, this ongoing mobile platform revolution could easily eclipse the PC and Internet revolutions of the 1980s and 1990s. The reason is simple: The cost and convenience of mobile devices makes them much more affordable and useful to a much larger population of the world today.

In an earlier post titled Mobile Internet for Pakistan, I wrote as follows: 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.

So what would the mobile internet do for people? Many consumers already use programs that come with their phones to send text messages, browse the web or take and email pictures. In addition to standard widgets like time, temperature, stock prices, and maps, Apple is offering an iTunes like online store called AppsStore that lets users download and install applications. iPhone owners can install programs that let them tune into Internet radio stations or get directions to the nearest gas station.

In future, phones will be able to do a lot more. For example, San Jose Mercury quotes analysts as saying:

1. By simply using your phone's camera to take a picture of a bar code, you will find out instantly whether the store across the street or one online is selling a coffee maker at a lower price than the store you are at.

2. Whenever your bank account dips below a certain balance, your phone will notify you — and allow you with one click to instantly move more money into the account.

3. If you have a medical device implant, you will be able to use your phone to instantly and automatically alert your doctor to any troubling conditions.

4. Your phone will be able to tell you when you need to leave your house or office to make an appointment on time, given existing traffic conditions along your route.

As PC-like standards emerge in the mobile space and all-you-can-eat data services become inexpensive , the natural progression toward cloning and commoditization will happen, thereby making highly useful and multi-functional mobile platforms more affordable and ubiquitous in emerging markets such as India and Pakistan.

Indian Brothers Lash Out at Facebook

Jayant and Rajat Agarwalla, the Calcutta-based developers of the Facebook application Scrabulous, have lashed out at Facebook for worldwide removal of their popular creation. With over half a million users, Scrabulous is likely the most popular online version of Scrabble (Hasbro's own Facebook version of Scrabble, which was released in July, has a little over 9,000 users). The Agarwalla brothers have a point: Why did Facebook yield to bullying by Mattel in the absence of a court order?

The Indian brothers are not alone in their criticism. Prof. Peter Fader, co-director of the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative, told the Knowledge@Wharton online business journal that Hasbro’s move was an “incredibly bad business decision.” Scrabulous “has been such a fabulously good thing for the Scrabble franchise [that] Hasbro should have been celebrating. ” The Wharton online article notes that Scrabulous in 2007 had about 1.3 million monthly users and had 600,000 players each day. Not only is Hasbro making a big PR blunder by alienating and angering Scrabulous’s fans, but it’s also missing a great opportunity to harness the online game’s popularity, Prof. Fader added.

The Wharton article goes on to note that many companies are too quick to pursue infringers – especially in today’s Web 2.0 world where viral expansion can greatly help, not hurt, a brand. Hasbro clearly didn’t like another outfit capitalizing on the household name it spent years building. But nowadays having such enormous popularity associated with your brand – even if it’s not technically authorized — might not be such a bad thing after all.

Facebook decision to take down Scrabulous does have consequences for its own future. If Mark Zuckerburg does not learn to fight off challenges like the Hasbro/Mattel challenge, Facebook will have to pay a price in terms of stunted growth of what Forbes describes as the Facebook economy.

The Scrabulous fight is just another manifestation of the traditional media and entertainment companies' inability to understand and exploit the new opportunities presented by rapidly growing online consumers of content including music, videos, games, etc. In this particular instance, for example, Hasbro instead could have formed a partnership with the Agarwalla brothers or bought the game from them.

As the battle of Scarbulous rages on, the India-based brothers are not standing still. They have developed another online spelling game that’s gaining traction.

India's Wind Power Giant Faltering

India's Suzlon Energy (SUZL: BSE), with 8% market share of wind turbines in the US, is beset by quality issues at home and abroad, according the Wall Street Journal.

Suzlon Energy, with market cap of INR 270B, is a wind power company in India. In terms of market share, the company is the largest wind turbine manufacturer in Asia and the fifth largest worldwide. With headquarters in Pune it has several manufacturing sites in India including Pondicherry, Daman, Bhuj and Gandhidham as well as in mainland China, Germany and Belgium. The company is listed on the National Stock Exchange of India and on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

The window of opportunity for Suzlon opened up with growing demand for green energy amid global-warming fears and the soaring cost of oil, coupled with shortages of turbines from more established players. The company's less-expensive turbines raised hopes for a reduction in the cost of wind power, which currently is subsidized in many countries, including the U.S.

Suzlon's problems in India come as the company also is stumbling in the U.S. Blades on turbines sold to U.S. customers Deere & Co. and Edison International's Edison Mission Energy began splitting last year, leading to a blade recall for strengthening. Indian customers say the turbines have technical problems that make them vibrate excessively when operating at high wind speeds. Some turbines have run out of control in strong gusts, leading to generator blowouts and blades splitting.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Madras Cement has bought 36 units of Suzlon's 1.25 megawatt turbines since 2003. A.V. Dharmakrishnan, executive director of finance for the Chennai-based company, says excessive vibrations at high wind speeds, forcing turbines to run below capacity, are costing the company about $4 million in lost power this year. "The turbines are not capable of producing [electricity] even when the wind is there," he says.

Speaking to Wall Street Journal, Suzlon spokesman Vivek Kher denied the company's turbines have experienced technical problems in its home market. Any drop in performance, he said, is because of falling wind speeds in India in the past couple of years and regular problems connecting to India's shaky electricity grid, which frequently causes turbines to shut down. "There are many companies who are extremely happy with their investment in Suzlon wind turbines," Mr. Kher said.

These latest reports are clearly a blow to a rising Indian company at the forefront of the green energy revolution. How it addresses these issues will clearly determine its future.

The Suzlon shares closed at INR 207.45, down 1.55 from the opening bid of INR 209.00 in latest trading. However, Suzlon is down more than 50% from its 52 week high of INR 460 hit on Jan 9 of this year.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pakistan Political Mess Emboldens Taliban

Pakistani coalition government has splintered, the Taliban have stepped up their brazen suicide bombings claiming more innocent lives in Pakistan, and new violent protests followed by Indian government crackdown in Kashmir are making the headlines. It has hardly been a week since President Musharraf's exit and the four-headed monster of political, economic and security crises within Pakistan and, rising tensions in Kashmir, is raising its ugly head. Who will slay this fire-breathing monster? How will a sense of security and stability be restored for Pakistanis? How will rising tensions in Kashmir be handled? These are the questions that are begging for answers.

Islamabad Government:
A powerful, competent and honest federal government in Islamabad is the first pre-requisite to bring about any semblance of good governance to solve the multi-faceted challenges of political instability, faltering economy, growing militancy, and rising tensions in Kashmir. With the strong and committed support of the Pakistani military for the current civilian government, the first attribute of "powerful" is possible and seems likely to be achieved, in spite of a fractious parliament. However, being powerful is only one of three requirements for Islamabad to be effective. The second and third pre-requisites of competence and honesty will most likely be in short supply with Asif Ali Zardari as the choice of the PPP for the president, and Yousuf Raza Gillani as the prime minister.

Taliban Threat:
The growing militancy by the Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan is going to be a huge challenge for both the government and the people of Pakistan. While a ban on Taliban is a good start, it is no more than a token. As the world holds Messrs Zardari and Gillani responsible, the chances of success against the Taliban will really depend on whether the vast majority of Pakistanis stop being ambivalent about the Taliban and join the fight against them. The new leadership team of Zardari and Gilani must use all its resources and powers of persuasion to rally the people of Pakistan against the Taliban and their dastardly campaign of murder and mayhem on the streets of Pakistani cities. People need to be reminded that the 4000-plus victims of "jihad" in Pakistan over the last year have been Muslims with no connection at all to America. People need to understand that the Taliban are waging an armed struggle to remake society. They will keep fighting this war even if America were to miraculously disappear into thin air. The people of Pakistan need to be convinced that the Taliban perpetrating massive atrocities in the name of Islam are criminals and thugs. They are no friends of Islam, Muslims or Pakistan and they must be stopped, not for America’s sake, but for the sake of Pakistan. The anti-American attitudes in Pakistan must not be allowed in get in the way of fighting the terrorists who target innocent Pakistani civilians to achieve their nefarious political aims. Please read my post about the Taliban's atrocities to get the full picture of Taliban’s ambitions, people's ambivalence and the ineptitude of our current leadership.

Economic Revival:
Pakistan's economy has returned to the bad old days and the rupee has been hitting new lows since the assumption of power by the current civilian government. It is of utmost importance that the Pakistan economy be revived to address the basic challenges of livelihood, food and energy. The best way to accomplish this task is to restore some sense of political stability and to recruit a competent team of experts on economy and empower them to develop and carry out the nation's economic agenda.

Asif Ali Zardari and Yousuf Raza Gilani are carrying a heavy burden. They must be supported by the people of Pakistan in dealing with the extraordinary challenges the nation faces today. It is also important they prove their critics wrong by slaying the four-headed monster trying to devour Pakistan. They must not let history repeat itself by letting down Pakistanis. The future of Pakistani nation and the fate of democracy in Pakistan depend on how well they perform.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Prognosis of Kashmir as the Valley Erupts Yet Again

It seems that the only time serious issues get any attention in New Delhi or Islamabad is when there is a major crisis. But, as soon as the crisis subsides, the issues are ignored or completely dropped. That's what seems to have happened during the last 4 years in South Asia when a golden opportunity to settle Kashmir presented itself. With armed Muslim groups in Kashmir dormant since the post-2004 thaw and President Musharraf of Pakistan eager to make concessions, the world has seen an era of relative peace in Kashmir which has now shattered again. The Musharraf formula envisions soft or porous borders in Kashmir with freedom of movement for the Kashmiris; exceptional autonomy or "self-governance" within each region of Kashmir; phased demilitarization of all regions; and finally, a "joint supervisory mechanism," with representatives from India, Pakistan and all parts of Kashmir, to oversee the plan’s implementation. It is clearly a missed opportunity in South Asia.

Land has been at the center of disputes and violence since times immemorial. So it is not surprising that the latest flareup in Kashmir is about land. About 100 acres of land was appropriated by the Indian government on a mountain route leading to a Hindu shrine and given to a Hindu religious trust. This decision was seen by Muslims as an attempt to change the valley demographics and triggered massive protests in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. The decision was later rescinded, leading to counter protests in Hindu-majority Jammu.

The latest media reports indicate that there have been dozens of civilian deaths. The massive unrest continues in spite of thousands of troops deployed in Srinagar and indefinite curfew imposed. Local media say 15 journalists were among those beaten by Indian police as they tried to cover the protest, despite having curfew passes. More violence is expected as protest leaders say this Monday's rally will go ahead despite the curfew. "They are scared of our peaceful but massive demonstrations for freedom," Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, one of Kashmir's main separatist leaders, told AFP news agency.

In his December 2006 peace offensive, President Musharraf said that Pakistan could be willing to give up its claim to Kashmir if India agreed to a self-government plan for the disputed Himalayan region, according the Guardian newspaper . With Musharraf no longer in charge, and Pakistani leadership in disarray, it is not realistic to expect Islamabad to play any significant role in dousing the flames and start serious talks on Kashmir. With the Indian parliamentary elections due soon, it is not clear whether Delhi would now be ready or serious about positive movement on Kashmir, even if the leadership in Islamabad were able to engage again. Unfortunately, it seems that Kashmir will return to the bad old days for a while, at least until the leadership situation in both Delhi and Islamabad gets clarified.

Here is a comprehensive video on the origins and the positions of various parties involved in the Kashmir dispute presented by Pakistani Peace Activist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy:

Related Links:

Musharraf's Kashmir offer

Kashmir Unrest reports by BBC

Lost Opportunities by Sumantra Bose

Pakistan MPs on Kashmir Violence

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sri Lanka's Inflation Higher Than Pakistan's

It may not be any consolation to an average Pakistani but Pakistani economy is not alone in returning to the bad old days. Sri Lanka is keeping pace with Pakistan.
While Sri Lanka's long running civil war has largely been limited to the north and east, leaving the populous, well-off west largely unscathed, its stresses are beginning to show in the island nation's economy.

The Economist reports that Sri Lanka's annual inflation is close to 30%, the highest in South Asia. The rupee has appreciated against the dollar, further hurting exporters. By one estimate, economic growth—which was 7.6% in 2006—will be 4.3% this year. As elsewhere, inflation is being driven by high food and energy prices. But in Sri Lanka, 25-year average annual inflation is 12%. Monetary policy has been too loose, in part to finance the war. Including the cost of resettling refugees, the war eats up around 30% of the government’s budget.

Sri Lanka's exports and economy have been propped up by special EU preferences for Sri Lankan textiles. Under a concession known as “GSP Plus”, awarded in 2005 to help Sri Lanka rebuild after the 2004 tsunami, Sri Lankan exporters enjoy preferential tariff treatment from the EU. As a result, the EU is Sri Lanka ’s biggest export market, accounting for annual sales of around $1 billion; about half are covered by GSP Plus. But there is a problem with the rules of GSP Plus. Beneficiaries must comply with 27 international conventions, on environmental, labour and human rights standards. And on the last of these, Sri Lanka is struggling. The agreement expires at the end of 2008. The Economist believes that it will not be renewed.

What has upset the EU are various reports indicating government complicity in the abduction or murder of hundreds of Tamil and Muslim men. It is at war with human-rights groups. It has refused to let the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights set up an office in Sri Lanka. The EU cancellation of Sri Lankan preferences would mean 4% cut in Sri Lanka’s garment exports. Overall, it would cost 2% of GDP. If the EU renewed the agreement without progress on human rights, it might be challenged at the World Trade Organization—as happened to an EU trade sop to Pakistan in 2004.

Is Obama-Biden Ticket Good for Pakistan?

Barack Obama has picked Joseph Biden as his running mate for the 2008 presidential race. Who is Joe Biden? How will Biden influence Obama administration's policy toward Pakistan?

Senator Joseph Biden, 65, is a senior senator from the small state of Delaware on the East Coast. He is currently the chairman of the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that plays a huge role in formulating US foreign policy. Biden voted in favor of the Iraq war resolution in 2002, a vote he now regrets. He has been a harsh critic of the Bush administration for its handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The choice seems to be an attempt to balance the ticket by combining charisma and inexperience of Obama with foreign policy and national security credentials of Biden. The choice clearly has echoes of Kennedy-Johnson and Bush-Cheney successful tickets from the 60s and earlier this decade. The other attributes Biden brings are his white, Catholic and working class background and his birth state of Pennsylvania, considered a battleground state that voted for Hilary over Obama in recent primaries.

Biden was a leading critic of Obama's Pakistan policy in the early stages of the Democratic primary. The Delaware senator and then-presidential candidate blasted Obama for saying, in an August 2007 speech, that he would attack terrorists in Pakistan with or without its government's consent, if Musharraf failed to act on intelligence.

"There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama's lack of experience than Joe Biden," said Ben Porritt, a spokesman for Republican rival John McCain, in the campaign's first official reaction.

While some Pakistanis see Biden as a friend of Pakistan because of his recent anti-Musharraf and pro-democracy stance, he is considered pro-India by many Pakistani-Americans because of his lead role in the US-India nuclear deal. He recently vowed to push the deal in the Congress “like the devil”. While most non-proliferation experts oppose it, Biden even supports giving India special NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) exemptions which would effectively allow Indian government to greatly expand India's nuclear weapons program. Biden is also a co-sponsor of a bill to triple non-military aid to Pakistan.

Joe Biden definitely understands the complexity and the nuances of US-Pakistani relations. He is likely to restrain Obama’s hawkish impulses on Pakistan, as shown by his criticism of Obama’s statement about sending US troops into Pakistan in pursuit of militants. But Biden will still be number 2, and only time will tell how effective he will be in the VP role. Please read my post on Obama's Two Faces.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Zardari Corruption Probe Alive in Switzerland

While the news of President Musharraf's resignation and Asif Zardari's nomination for president occupy the big headlines, the renewed reports of the continuing Swiss probe into corruption allegations against Zardari are also vying for attention in the same week.

Swiss Judge Daniel Devaud has "confirmed to NEWSWEEK that the prosecutor's office was still investigating "aggravated" money-laundering offenses. Likewise, Jacques Python, a Geneva lawyer hired by Pakistan to work with Swiss authorities on the corruption case, said he had every reason to believe that the Geneva prosecutor's investigation was still open. And Alec Reymond, a lawyer who had represented Bhutto in connection with the Swiss investigation, also says the case is still open."

In 1997, after Zardari had been imprisoned on suspicion of corruption, Judge Devaud found that Bhutto herself had purchased a necklace worth 117,000 British pounds from a London jeweler—using cash and a bank transfer from the account of Bomer Finance, a British Virgin Islands company, which the magistrate said was jointly controlled by Bhutto and Zardari. (Her supporters claimed this allegation was based on trumped-up evidence supplied by her political enemies. Bhutto herself reportedly claimed her husband had bought the necklace but never told her about it). In 2003, Bhutto was convicted of money laundering in Switzerland and filed an appeal of her conviction by Swiss Court.

According to Newsweek's Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff, Judge Devaud's investigations in 2003 resulted in a series of court orders against Bhutto, Zardari and one of their Swiss lawyers, Jens Schlegelmilch. The orders, akin to misdemeanor guilty findings by a U.S. justice of the peace, were issued by the Swiss judge, an investigating magistrate in Geneva who has handled many high-profile investigations into the alleged laundering of corrupt payments through Switzerland by foreign politicians. The full text of Devaud's orders can be read at a NAB site here.

As to the outcome of the Swiss prosecution, some legal experts believe that Swiss prosecutors have three possible courses of action: close the case entirely, prosecute it by bringing it into a superior court or arrange the Swiss version of a plea bargain, in which money seized by Swiss authorities during the investigation probably would be confiscated or handed over to charity, but charges would be settled without any prison sentences.

In June 2008, a senior PPP leader and president of Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association, Mr. Aitzaz Ahsan, who was interior minister in Benazir Bhutto's first government, told James Traub of the New York Times that most of the corruption and criminal cases against PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari which were dropped recently in Pakistan were justified, and that the PPP was a feudal political party led by a figure (Zardari) accused of corruption and violence. After a moment's reflection, Ahsan further added, “The type of expenses that she had and he has are not from sources of income that can be lawfully explained and accounted for.”

The charges of corruption will likely haunt Zardari for the rest of his life. The way for him to leave a better legacy is by renouncing the amnesty he received from President Musharraf and by offering to go through a fair trial to clear his name.

Related Links:

Bhutto Convicted of Money Laundering by Swiss Court

House of Graft by New York Times

Can the West Help End Corruption in Developing Nations? on Haq's Musings

Bhutto's New York Apartment , A Luxurious East Side Penthouse

Bhutto-Zardari Front Company in Virgin Island

Asif Zardari wikipedia entry

Financial Times on Zardari's mental health

Is Zardari Guilty? on PakAlumni Worldwide

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Taliban Killing Spree Claims More Innocent Pakistanis

As innocent Pakistani civilians are hit yet again, this time in Wah, by the mindless and ruthless Taliban, Pakistan's clueless leadership continues its now familiar infighting. While I fully expect them to escape-goat Musharraf and the military once again for this latest outrage involving the massacre of over 70 people, the fact remains that these inept politicians will now have a much harder time justifying blaming someone else. They are now fully in charge and they must accept responsibility for the security and well being of all Pakistani citizens. To paraphrase former US president Harry S. Truman, "the buck stops at Zardari's desk".

While the world must hold Messrs Zardari and Sharif responsible, I believe it is time for all Pakistanis to stop being ambivalent about the Taliban and join the fight against them. The Taliban perpetrating these atrocities in the name of Islam are criminals and thugs. They are no friends of Islam, Muslims or Pakistan and they must be stopped, not for America’s sake, but for the sake of Pakistan. The anti-American attitudes in Pakistan must not be allowed in get in the way of fighting the terrorists who target innocent Pakistani civilians to achieve their nefarious political aims. Please read my post about the Taliban's atrocities to get the full picture of Taliban’s ambitions and the ineptitude of our current leadership.

To those who defend the Taliban or the Lal Masjid terrorists or sympathize with their radical ideology, here’s what I’d like to say:

Let’s not be blind to the wave of deadly suicide bombings in Pakistan and the rest of the world unleashed by your jihadist friends who have killed large numbers of innocent, nameless, faceless people, mainly Muslims, and innocent civilians of other faiths.

Let us not be blind to the threats issued by your Lal Masjid friends to Najam Sethi recently and many more media men and women in the past.

Let us not be blind to the broadcast threats of your radical Lal Masjid friends who threatened to throw acid in the un-veiled faces of Muslim women in Islamabad during their reign of terror.

Let us not be blind to the desecration of mosques in Pakistan by your friends who turned them into arms and ammunition depots and launch pads for vicious attacks against fellow Muslims who disagreed with their extreme interpretation of Sharia.

Let us not be blind to those who are trying to impose their violent version of Shariah by the force of arms.

Let us not be blind to the atrocities Taliban and Al-Qaeda and their sympathizers have committed against the poor Aghans during their short rule and later, particularly against the weak including women and girls whose schools have been shut down or burned down. or the barber shops which have been shut or burned down for shaving men’s facial hair.

Let us not be blind to the fact that any one, including Musharaf ( and I admit he is no angel) , who challenged your extremist friends engaged in violence against fellow Muslims, has become the object of hate by you.

Let us not be blind to the to the fact that your radical “Islamic” friends have done more to damage the name and perception of Islam and Muslims than any one else in the history of the world.

Acknowledgment: Taliban Cartoon Sourced from The Economist

Sharif Emerges as Pakistan's Power Broker

Less than nine years ago, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, the two-time prime minister of Pakistan, was overthrown, jailed and then forced into exile by General Musharraf. Now, he is emerging as the ultimate come-back kid of Pakistani politics. Recent polls indicate he is the most popular politician in Pakistan. His party, the PML(N) has emerged as the second largest force in Pakistan's parliament in February elections held under President Musharraf. His brother rules Punjab, the largest province in Pakistan, and Sharif has forced Asif Zardari to join him in removing Musharraf, his personal nemesis, under the threat of impeachment.

Who is Nawaz Sharif? What is his past? What does he want? These questions are gaining great relevance with the rising popularity and increasing clout of Nawaz Sharif. A recent Wall Street Journal interview and story shed some light on Mr. Sharif.

Here are some excerpts from the Wall Street Journal report today:

Mr. Sharif hails from a family of industrialists. At his heavily guarded home on the outskirts of Lahore, his wealth and power are both on display. Peacocks stroll on neatly trimmed grass and statues of a doe and her fawn mark an entrance where security guards wearing black T-shirts and carrying automatic weapons await visitors. Just outside Mr. Sharif's cavernous dining room are two stuffed African lions that appear to be stalking prey. "From Botswana," Mr. Sharif said. "Male lions."

In an interview at his home Wednesday, Mr. Sharif said he is prepared to withdraw his Pakistan Muslim League (N) from the governing coalition, led by the Pakistan People's Party, if about 60 judges -- sacked during a six-week state of emergency declared in November -- aren't given their jobs back immediately. Mr. Sharif added, "Mr. Musharraf threw the judges out of office. He ridiculed the institution," he said. "If this institution is not restored, it will shake the foundations of this country."

In answer to a question on business, Mr. Sharif said, "The privatization program started from our government. We should open up further. I'd like to privatize everything. This is the key to success. The government shouldn't be in the business of running factories".

Answering another question, Mr. Sharif said, "The coalition of the PPP and our party came into being on the basis that democracy would be strengthened and judges restored. And of course, we would restore the constitution as it stood before Mr. Musharraf overthrew an elected government, my government. The reinstatement of the judges hasn't come through."

Is Mr. Sharif a really changed man? Has he learned from his past mistakes? Has he had a real epiphany? Let's see how one can square the new persona of Mr. Sharif with the following realities from his past two stints as prime minister:

In June 1994 when Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister, Pakistan faced its worst-ever constitutional crisis when a pro-Sharif mob stormed into the supreme court, forcing Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah to adjourn the contempt of court hearing against Sharif. Hundreds of Pakistan Muslim League supporters and members of its youth wing, the Muslim Students Front (MSF), broke the police barricade around the courthouse when defense attorney Mr. S.M. Zafar was arguing his case.

A journalist ran into the courtroom and warned the bench of an impending attack. Heeding the warning, the chief justice got up abruptly, thanked Zafar and adjourned the hearing. While judicial members left the courtroom soon after, the mob ran in shouting anti-Supreme Court slogans, and damaging furniture.

The angry mob, led by ruling party member from Punjab Sardar Naseem and Colonel (retired) Mushtaq Tahir Kheli, Sharif's political secretary, shouted slogans against the chief justice. The mob also beat up Pakistan Peoples Party senator Iqbal Haider. The police managed to restore normalcy after baton charging and teargassing the mob, both inside and outside the courthouse. The court which assembled at 9:45 a.m., could continue the proceedings for only about 45 minutes.

According to media reports in 1998, Nawaz Sharif, after taking over as prime minister for the second time, amended Pakistan's constitution twice to consolidate his power. He attempted to transform the constitution and system of government completely by attempting to get unlimited powers of Amir ul Momineen (the chief of the faithful) by means of the Sharia Bill, which he introduced.

In April 2001, Ayaz Amir, a popular newspaper columnist and now a PML(N) MNA, wrote as follows about the Sharif brothers: The Sharifs’ notions of government were intensely private: which is to say, have your own man at every key post. They began with commissioners and police DIGs, the dregs of both services pandering to their whims and enriching themselves in the process. Major Mushtaq of the Police Service who has finally been caught by NAB for becoming a real estate tycoon while in service was an outstanding example of this breed: doing as he was told and becoming an impressive man of property along the way. But when Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister the second time round the family’s sights were set higher. They had whiz-kid younger brother running Punjab. They had their own man in the presidency. After Sajjad Ali Shah’s arranged departure from the Supreme Court, they thought they had the apex court lined up in their favor. In the person of Justice Qayyum at the Lahore High Court they had the closest thing they could get to a personal judge. Division of family assets, balancing of huge bank loans against dummy collateral, tightening the noose around Asif Zardari and Benazir: the only judge who could handle these sensitive matters was Justice Qayyum.

In 1999, when Nawaz Sharif was prime minister, Pakistani economy was in shambles. 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). The Economist recently noted that the current macroeconomic disarray will be familiar to the coalition government led by the Pakistan People's Party of Asif Zardari, and to Nawaz Sharif, whose party provides it “outside support”. Before Mr Sharif was ousted in 1999, the two parties had presided over a decade of corruption and mismanagement. But since then, as the IMF remarked in a report in January, there has been a transformation. Pakistan attracted over $5 billion in foreign direct investment in the 2006-07 fiscal year, ten times the figure of 2000-01. The government's debt fell from 68% of GDP in 2003-04 to less than 55% in 2006-07, and its foreign-exchange reserves reached $16.4 billion as recently as in October."

Like his coalition partner Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif has also been the subject of corruption allegations. He is accused of abuse of power and amassing personal wealth at Pakistan's expense, and leaving the country bankrupt in 1999. There are lingering questions of where and how Mr. Sharif got the money to pay off the $450m judgment as rendered by a British court against him in 1998, in connection with Hudaibia Paper Mills Ltd.

Let me conclude with some questions and a sincere hope: Is the transformation of Nawaz Sharif genuine? Or, are we seeing just another two-faced politician vying for more power and popularity? Sometimes, people do change profoundly. I sincerely hope, for the sake of Pakistan's future, that the metamorphosis of Nawaz Sharif is positive and genuine. I also hope that Asif Zardari , the other major power broker in Pakistan, has gone through similar transformation to enable genuine democracy to take roots in Pakistan.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bush and Musharraf Share Lowest Approval Ratings

Beyond their commitment to fighting the "war on terror", George W. Bush and his former ally Pervez Musharraf have something else in common. Both of them share the dubious distinction of having the world's lowest approval ratings as leaders, according to a study released recently by the University of Maryland outside the US capital.

While George W. Bush's approval rating at home dipped to 30% and disapproval at 64%, respondents in two countries - Nigeria and India - gave Bush stronger positive than negative ratings. Thailand was about evenly divided. Nigeria gave Bush a 60-per-cent positive and 33-per-cent negative rating. India gave the US leader a 45-per-cent positive and 34-per- cent negative score.

With two countries approving of George W. Bush, he is doing slightly better than Musharraf's fan club of one - China, which gave him a 37-per-cent positive versus a 30-per-cent negative rating. Some of the leaders were at least admired at home - such as Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, China's Hu Jintao and Russia's Vladimir Putin. Gordon Brown did pretty well with a 48-per-cent positive, 46-per-cent negative rating in Britain, after a dozen yeas of Labor Party rule. France's Nicolas Sarkozy got a 54 per cent negative rating at home.

President Bush's popularity in Nigeria is quite understandable because he is the first ever US president to pursue policies and to provide substantial financial aid that have helped the entire continent of Africa. President and Mrs. Bush's Africa trip underscored the new approach to Africa Policy under the Bush administration, and built on a significant increase in the United States' commitment to African development.

India, the only other nation which approves of Bush, has benefited from his policies of closer economic and nuclear cooperation which led to India's rapid economic growth in recent years, and its acceptance as a legitimate member of the prestigious nuclear club, a distinction not bestowed on nuclear rival Pakistan. The US-led war on terror has also legitimized India's crackdown on Islamic and other insurgents and helped India regain influence in Afghanistan and South Asia. Bush's pressure on Musharraf was instrumental in reducing violence in Indian held Kashmir and India, a Musharraf policy that angered the Islamists who started targeting Pakistani civilians and military. Bush popularity is, therefore, based on concrete results India achieved from the support of the outgoing US president.

Regardless of whether Indians agree or not, two of the most important foreign relationships for India are with the US and Pakistan. With Musharraf already out of office and Bush to leave soon, Indians may well have to rethink their strategy vis-a-vis Pakistan and the United States. Delhi may have to be more conciliatory with Pakistan in its bilateral relations and with US in multi-lateral trade, environment and other negotiations to continue to be regarded as a reliable partner in Islamabad and Washington.

Stop and Smell the Roses in Pakistan

By Mona Eltahawy

NEW YORK -- As an Egyptian whose country’s military dictators are either taken by God or an assassin’s bullet, I envy the Pakistani people their ability to now use the term “former president.”

As former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf contemplates how his friends in the U.S. administration dropped him quicker than you can say “hot freedom fries,” for those of us from the Muslim world -- awash in military dictators who have friends in high places in Washington -- his exit from Pakistan’s frenetic political stage is miraculous.

The naysayers will remind us of all the “ifs” and “buts” that remain for Pakistan. For starters, Musharraf’s two main rivals, who engineered the threatened impeachment elbowing him towards resignation -- Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari -- are nowhere near perfect leaders, especially since the only factor uniting them is now contemplating the real estate of exile sites in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Sharif -- the former prime minister swept aside by Musharraf’s bloodless 1999 coup -- was himself in exile until last year when he returned home vowing political revenge. He wants to try Musharraf for treason. Meanwhile, Zardari, the widow of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has taken a more conciliatory line.

They might disagree on Musharraf’s future, but what they do have in common is ignominious histories of corruption -- a reminder that dictators like Musharraf are experts at stifling the life out of their country’s politics, and leaving poor alternatives to their rules by coup d’├ętat.

We will be reminded that the Taliban and al-Qaeda and all those other scary figures Musharraf dutifully fought as part of his card-carrying membership in the ‘war on terror’ are now celebrating in every cave that straddles Pakistan’s troubled border with Afghanistan.

Last year, militant friends of the newly insurgent Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies slaughtered hundreds of Pakistanis in waves of suicide bombings across the country. But much like his fellow Muslim dictators befriended by Washington, Musharraf just perfected his technique of using them as Islamist boogeymen.

My country’s President Hosni Mubarak points to the Muslim Brotherhood. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas points to Hamas. But neither can beat having Osama bin Laden allegedly hiding somewhere in his country!

Although he presented himself as a secular leader, Musharraf gave free rein to those same Islamists that he was warning the West about, because they were a foil to Pakistan’s vibrant liberal community.

It’s unclear who will become Pakistan’s next president but there’s no doubt that the ruling coalition’s challenges are many, now that Musharraf is out of the picture: fighting inflation, reducing the gap between rich and poor, and continuing to fight militancy in the nuclear-armed country. For Pakistan, politics has been a rollercoaster ride since its birth in 1947, as a partition from India.

But let’s stop for a moment and appreciate what has just happened in Pakistan: The Constitution and the justice system of a Muslim country were about to impeach a sitting president who was once head of the armed forces. Rather than face such accountability, that president resigned.

To further put Pakistan’s achievement in context consider that had he insisted on fighting impeachment, Musharraf faced charges of violating the constitution and gross misconduct. Why?

Because he imposed six weeks of emergency rule and fired dozens of judges last November, when the Supreme Court met to decide his eligibility to stand for re-election for a third term as president while still army chief.

Egypt has lived under emergency rule for each and every one of Mubarak’s four terms in power straddling 26 years. In 2006, his regime showed a similar allergy to an independent judiciary. Mubarak’s regime disciplined two senior judges and arrested and beat dozens of their supporters when the judges had the temerity to press for an inquiry into electoral fraud during the 2005 parliamentary elections which Mubarak’s party swept. The elections were marred by violence, several deaths, and plenty of intimidation.

Just like Musharraf, Mubarak recognized the dangers of an independent judiciary -- which in many Muslim countries constitutes the most potent secular opposition. But don’t hold your breath for Mubarak’s impeachment any time soon.

“Let’s hope we can learn from this in Egypt,” my dad told me as we discussed Musharraf’s resignation. “It will tell our dictators ‘you are not more powerful than the people’.”

It will also signal to our various dictators that no matter how tight you are with Washington, no matter how well you have managed to persuade your American friends that you’re the only thing that stands between them and Islamist lunatics, they will look away when your people have had it with you.

For years Pakistan has been home to much that ails the Muslim world -- coups, dictatorship, militancy, and corruption. Let’s recognize it now as home to judges and lawyers who won their stare-down with the dictator.

And let’s remind Sharif, Zardari and whoever becomes Pakistan’s next president:

“Hey, those same judges and lawyers against whom Musharraf foolishly picked a fight and lost are there keeping an eye on you, too.”

To the people of Pakistan -- I salute you!

Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning New York-based journalist and commentator, and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues.

Copyright ©2008 Mona Eltahawy – distributed by Agence Global
Released: 19 August 2008
Word Count: 843

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Taliban Preparing for Kabul Siege

"You guys better get out of town fast," Faridoon, a 21-year-old Afghan says as quietly as possible to the two Newsweek reporters who just walked into his shop, just outside of Kabul. "There's Taliban everywhere." Clearly, the Afghan does not want to been seen doing business with the Americans. He's afraid of the Taliban laying a siege around Kabul by taking over the belt of towns and villages surrounding the capital.

"Kabul's early morning silence was broken last night first by the crunch of rockets exploding in the city, then by the emergency sirens at Nato headquarters warning the officers and generals to head for the shelters," says a BBC report following the killing of ten French soldiers by the Taliban insurgents yesterday.

After Kandahar and Peshawar, Kabul is the third major city to be targeted by the resurgent Taliban. Recently, the Taliban have staged daring raids in Kandhahar and briefly taken over parts of the city and freed large numbers of prisoners. On June 16, the Associated Press reported that the Taliban assault on the outskirts of Kandahar is the latest display of prowess by the militants despite a record number of U.S. and NATO troops in the country. The push into the Arghandab district — a lush region filled with grape and pomegranate groves that the Soviet army could never conquer — comes three days after a Taliban attack on Kandahar's prison that freed 400 insurgent fighters. Those fighters, NATO conceded Monday, appear to be massing on the doorstep of the Taliban's former power base. The city of Kandahar lies only 10 miles to the southeast.

In Peshawar, heavily armed bands of Taliban fighters have been intimidating people into observing their strict interpretation of Islamic law. In the last two months, they have suddenly tightened the noose on this city of three million people, one of Pakistan’s biggest, establishing bases in surrounding towns and, in daylight, abducting residents for large ransom. A New York Times report says they have turned up at courthouses in nearby towns, ordering judges to stay away. On Thursday, they stormed a women’s voting station on the city outskirts, and they are now regularly kidnapping people from the city’s bazaars and homes. There is pervasive fear that the city could fall to the Taleban at any moment. The provincial NWFP government in Peshawar, recently elected by a large majority, appears helpless against the Taliban.

As the US-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan and the post-Musharraf government in Pakistan find themselves in policy disagreements and total disarray, with Hamid Karzai playing the spoiler, the resurgent Taliban appear to be preparing for the takeover of major cities on both sides of the border: Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan and Peshawar in Pakistan. This is something that would have been considered unthinkable just a few months ago. The concern until recently was focused on the tribal areas of Pakistan. Now the Taliban are asserting themselves in the settled areas, such as Swat and Peshawar, long controlled by the Pakistani government and attempting to enforce their tribal code of morality and cultural norms. The Taliban have clearly taken advantage of the sincere efforts of the new Pakistani government to bring peace in the region. They have used the lack of pressure, and windfall narco-profits from Afghanistan, to regroup and rearm themselves to push their broader agenda of seizing control of Islamabad and Kabul.

The actions of NATO and Pakistani military in response to the Taleban's latest offensive appear to be too little, too late. An effective response to this seriously deteriorating situation requires a joint NATO-Pakistani strategy backed by strong coordinated action to strike a powerful blow against the Taliban on both sides of the border. This powerful action must then be followed by sustained pressure on both sides of the border to prevent Talebanization of the entire region with all its disastrous consequences for the people in Pakistan and Afghanistan and wider implications for the rest of the world.

Musharraf's Economic Legacy

Regardless of the criticism of President Musharraf's politics or personality, there is general agreement among independent economists that, through his structural reforms and economic management, President Musharraf left Pakistan's economy in much better shape than he found it when he seized power in 1999.

Here are some of the key highlights of the results of Musharraf era economy:

1. Pakistan's tax base and government revenue collection more than doubled from about Rs. 500b to over Rs. 1 trillion.

2. Pakistan's GDP more than doubled to $144b since 1999.

3. 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.

4. Pakistan attracted over $5 billion in foreign direct investment in the 2006-07 fiscal year, ten times the figure of 2000-01. Contrary to accusations by Musharraf's detractors that it was an artificial consumer-led growth, it was really an investment-led boom that Pakistan experienced in Musharraf years.

5. In spite of the election-related political turmoil, Pakistan’s economy maintained its momentum in 2007, growing by 7%, slightly more than the 6.6% for 2006. Agricultural sector growth recovered sharply, from 1.6% in 2006 to 5% in 2007, while the manufacturing sector growth continued at 8.4% in 2007, slightly more moderate than the 10% for 2006. Services grew at 8% in 2007, down from 9.6% in 2006.

6. The strong consumer demand in Pakistan drove large investments in real estate, construction, communications, automobile manufacturing, banking and various consumer goods. Millions of new jobs were created. By all accounts, the ranks of the middle class swelled in Pakistan during Shaukat Aziz's term in office. According to Tara Vishwanath, the World Bank's lead economist for South Asia, about 5% of Pakistanis moved from the poor to the middle class in three years from 2001-2004, the most recent figures available. In 2007, analysts at Standard Chartered bank estimated that Pakistan has a middle class of 30 million which earns an average of about $10,000 per year. And adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), Pakistan's per capita GDP is approaching $3,000 per head.

7. The Karachi stock market surged ten fold from 2001 to 2007.

8. Pakistan positioned itself as one of the four fastest growing economies in the Asian region during 2000-07 with its growth averaging 7.0 per cent per year for most of this period. As a result of strong economic growth, Pakistan succeeded in reducing poverty by one-half, creating almost 13 million jobs, halving the country's debt burden, raising foreign exchange reserves to a comfortable position and propping the country's exchange rate, restoring investors' confidence and most importantly, taking Pakistan out of the IMF Program.

9. Funding for higher education was increased five fold resulting in massive new enrollment of students and huge strides in research publications.

10. Pakistan is more egalitarian than its neighbors. The CIA World Factbook reports Pakistan’s Gini Index has decreased from 41 in 1998-99 to 30.6 in 2007-8, lower than India's 36.8 and Bangladesh's 33.2.

The Wall Street Journal did a story in September 2007 on Pakistan's start-up boom that said, "Scores of new businesses once unseen in Pakistan, from fitness studios to chic coffee shops to hair-transplant centers, are springing up in the wake of a dramatic economic expansion. As a result, new wealth and unprecedented consumer choice have become part of Pakistan's volatile social mix."

The one sore spot that sticks out in President Musharraf's and Shaukat Aziz's record is their lack of attention to the rising energy needs of the country. Appropriate planning should have comprehended new power plants to support growth forecasts. There were other mistakes as well, such as the decision to export wheat in 2007 that created shortages and price hikes that helped bring down the PML (Q) government and ultimately led to President Musharraf's departure.

Since the takeover by the PPP-PML(N) coalition, there has been a sharp decline in Pakistan's economy. Summing up the current economic situation,the Economist magazine in its June 12 issue says as follows:" (The current) macroeconomic disarray will be familiar to the coalition government led by the Pakistan People's Party of Asif Zardari, and to Nawaz Sharif, whose party provides it “outside support”. Before Mr Sharif was ousted in 1999, the two parties had presided over a decade of corruption and mismanagement. But since then, as the IMF remarked in a report in January, there has been a transformation. Pakistan attracted over $5 billion in foreign direct investment in the 2006-07 fiscal year, ten times the figure of 2000-01. The government's debt fell from 68% of GDP in 2003-04 to less than 55% in 2006-07, and its foreign-exchange reserves reached $16.4 billion as recently as in October." Please read "Pakistani Economy Returning to the Bad Old Days".

The current government hailed the performance of Pakistan's economy under President Musharraf's watch as follows: "Pakistan's economy witnessed a major economic transformation in the last decade. The country's real GDP increased from $60 billion to $170 billion, with per capita income rising from under $500 to over $1000 during 2000-07". It further acknowledged that "the volume of international trade increased from $20 billion to nearly $60 billion. The improved macroeconomic performance enabled Pakistan to re-enter the international capital markets in the mid-2000s. Large capital inflows financed the current account deficit and contributed to an increase in gross official reserves to $14.3 billion at end-June 2007. Buoyant output growth, low inflation, and the government's social policies contributed to a reduction in poverty and improvement in many social indicators". (see MEFP, November 20, 2008, Para 1)

In addition to the improved economy, President Musharraf's policies enabled halving of poverty from 34% in 2000 to 17% in 2008, proliferation of independent radio and television stations, and an expanded middle class, which ultimately led to his downfall.

It was on "dictator" Musharraf's watch that Pakistan saw unprecedented deregulation of the mass media, prolific growth, and vibrant debate that had never occurred before him. None of the "democrats" or "dictators" who ruled before him gave such a gift to the people of Pakistan.

It is this media freedom that I think is Musharraf's best legacy that can not be easily denied or reversed. It'll serve Pakistan well by shining light on the misdeeds of Pakistan's leaders now, and in the future.

Here's a video titled "I Am Pakistan":

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

FDI in Pakistan

Video: Who Says Pakistan Is a Failed State?
Structural Reforms in Pakistan's Economy

President Musharraf Video Defense on Power Crisis

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Obama's Two Faces

"We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions," Senator Barack H. Obama told Berliners in a July 24 speech to an estimated 200,000 cheering Germans.

"That was really what Germans wanted to hear and it was very well received," said Stormy Mildner, a senior researcher at the German Institute for International Security Affairs. Polls indicate that 76% of Germans favor Obama to become the next president of the United States.

More recently, however, Sen. Obama spoke to Candy Crowley of CNN in the US, who asked him if “there’s anything that’s happened in the past 7 1/2 years that the U.S. needs to apologize for in terms of foreign policy?” Obama's response: “No, I don’t believe in the U.S. apologizing. As I said I think the war in Iraq was a mistake. We didn’t keep our eye on the ball in Afghanistan. But, you know, hindsight is 20/20, and I’m much more interested in looking forward rather than looking backwards.”

The two conflicting statements made by Senator Obama raise several questions as to his real feelings about what has transpired in the last 7 years since the tragedy of Sept 11, 2001. Is he giving contradictory messages depending on who the audience is and what they want to hear at an given moment? Is he sincere about his message of "Change"? Shouldn't change begin with an open and honest acknowledgment of what is wrong and how it must be changed? Does he not believe that the Bush administration's assault on basic human rights and the shredding of the US bill of rights have created many victims in US and abroad who have been terribly wronged? Shouldn't the US government apologize to them? Or is it too risky for him to even mention that in a interview with CNN? Is he afraid to give fodder to his conservative critics who would challenge his "patriotism"?

While Senator Barack Obama has been benefiting from his opposition to the unpopular war in Iraq and winning kudos for wanting to unconditionally talk with America's enemies, he has also been sounding more and more hawkish on Pakistan, a US ally. Governor Mitt Romney summarized it well last year when he said that Obama is essentially "saying he's going to sit down for tea with our enemies but then he's going to bomb our allies." Is Sen. Obama planning to end one war(in Iraq) and start another, more dangerous and longer-lasting war in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Did Obama explain the implications of this new war for Germans, NATO allies, and the world? Does he expect Germany to contribute thousands of more troops for his new adventures in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

What happened recently when the Obama campaign quickly dumped Chicago attorney Mazen Asbahi as director of Muslim Outreach also raises serious questions about how genuine Obama's "Change" message is. Asbahi and James Zogby, president of Arab-American Institute, are not radicals by any stretch, and yet they are targeted because of who they are: Muslim-American and Arab-American. It's a big mistake to push away the moderates in this battle against the extremists within Islam. Extremists on both sides of any battle draw strength from each other by pointing to the excesses of the opposite side. Attacking and marginalizing the Muslim moderates only helps the extremes in the West and the Islamic world and perpetuates the ongoing man-made "clash of civilizations". In response to the expected assault by the pro-war right wing pundits and commentators, the weakness shown by the Obama campaign represents a huge obstacle in the way of the "dialog of civilizations" needed to bring real "Change" from the madness that has characterized the last seven years of the Bush administration. How will President Obama pursue this all-important dialog if he caves in so quickly to the purveyors of hate in America?

Unless Mr. Obama and his campaign answer the fundamental questions raised here, it will be hard for most rational and thinking people to believe that Obama's talk of "Change" is sincere. Instead, all of his carefully crafted "change" messages will appear to be merely politically convenient slogans to win the upcoming elections. To demonstrate that he is genuine, Obama must stop being an overly cautious captive of his political handlers and show moral fortitude to bring about real "Change" in America and the world.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Musharraf's Departure Imminent

Secret talks between representatives of President Musharraf and PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari have produced an agreement that allows Musharraf immunity in exchange for agreeing to resign immediately.

"Musharraf will neither face impeachment nor be prosecuted," said one person familiar with the situation. He is expected to step down once a guarantee of safe passage and immunity from prosecution has been struck. "We expect a major development in the next 48 hours," this person said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

President Musharraf seized power in a military coup against then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999. Mr. Musharraf's major accomplishment during these years was to put the economy on a sound footing and on a growth trajectory that more than doubled Pakistan's GDP during his time in office. Growing economy helped double the size of the middle class. Pakistan changed in fundamental ways by the proliferation of private TV channels and other media. But he also made many enemies by siding with the US in fighting terrorism, cracking down on the Islamists, restraining the vibrant media he helped create, and firing the chief justice and dozens of senior judges of the country.

The President delivered on his promise to hold free, fair and relatively peaceful elections that swept his allies out of power earlier this year. He has come under increasing pressure to resign since the elections in February, 2008. Recently, Mr. Asif Zardari joined Mr. Nawaz Sharif, who has a personal vendetta against Mr. Musharraf, to ratchet up the pressure by announcing plans to impeach the President.

Prior to the start the actual impeachment proceedings, the coalition partners have demonstrated their strength by asking the provincial legislatures to pass resolutions supporting Musharraf's impeachment drive. While the vote against President Musharraf was generally expected to pass in Punjab and NWFP assemblies, the recent vote against him in Sind Assembly showed that even the members of MQM, his staunchest allies, decided to abstain rather than side with the President. This came as the clearest indication yet that his supporters have decided to retreat in the face of mounting pressure for him to resign. The President's support has almost entirely collapsed.

Musharraf's resignation seems likely to trigger a new wave of instability in Pakistan as the two main parties in the coalition government jockey for his share of power. It would also remove from the political stage the man who has become a favorite whipping boy for various groups including the lawyers, the rights activists, the Islamic radicals, and the politicians of various stripes, brought together by nothing more than their common hatred of Musharraf. Once these diverse elements accomplish this goal, each of them will, in all likelihood, continue to agitate for their own separate, conflicting agendas, contributing to greater instability. Ironically, this resignation will shine the spotlight with greater intensity on the incompetence and corruption of the new civilian leadership as people demand solutions to their real problems such as high inflation, unemployment, security and serious ongoing power outages.

While accountability of its leaders is healthy for a nation, the process must be fairly implemented and no one should be above the law. The process should be designed to improve the overall quality of governance in Pakistan. Musharraf, Sharif, Zardari and others must all be held equally accountable for their current and pass actions for the process of accountability to be fair and balanced.

The US media are focusing on how Pakistan fares in a post-Musharraf era as a paramount concern to the U.S., where officials have become increasingly concerned about the country's direction. Mr. Musharraf's pro-American stance and his military campaign against Islamic insurgents in his country have given way to a troubled strategy of peace deals with militants, says the Wall Street Journal.

With the expected exit by President Musharraf, and Barak Obama’s likely success in the upcoming US presidential elections, I think the unresolved Kashmir issue will have a much bigger negative impact on all of South Asia. President Musharraf was very sincere in his efforts to permanently resolve the Kashmir issue with India. The prospect of Kashmir resolution led to improved relations between India and Pakistan, with George W. Bush’s backing. With Obama’s stated hawkishness about the growing Taliban insurgency in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and India’s growing influence in Afghanistan, Pakistani government is likely to come under intense domestic pressure to take a firm stand against the US and India, and it will be forced to see the warming relations between the US and India with greater suspicion.

Pakistan is entering a new era where there will be greater uncertainty, less clarity on who is in charge, bigger economic problems, increased corruption, more intense violence and spreading chaos with Musharraf's absence from the scene. It will be a real test of the recently elected politicians to maintain a basic semblance of law and order, and political stability, and to continue to meet Pakistan's international obligations in this new post-Musharraf era.