Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Culture of Theft on Display at Imran's Kasur Rally

Imran Khan, who often rails against kleptocracy in Pakistan, finds himself increasingly surrounded by the kind of people he fervently denounces. A large number of chairs stolen at his Kasur rally today by attendees in broad day light are Exhibit A for his critics' case against him.



In his defense, PTI Chief Imran Khan argues that the culture of corruption in Pakistan affects all strata of society from top to bottom, and he is forced to work with people, not angels, to achieve his noble goals of clean and competent governance. What happened in Qasur only reinforces Khan's argument.

It would be wrong to dismiss the crime committed in Kasur as an isolated incident of petty theft. In my view, it is symptomatic of the much larger problems of impunity that pervade in Pakistani society. A manifestation of such problems is the widespread power theft in Pakistan which accounts for as much as 40% of the revenue losses suffered by the power sector. These financial losses are partly responsible for the crippling electricity crisis that is badly hurting the nation's economy.

The electricity theft and other forms of corruption plague Pakistan but it is generally only poorer or less influential people who are occasionally held responsible for it. Last year in March, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's night rally in Lahore, the capita of the province his party governs, was lit by power stolen by what is commonly called "kunda", a metal hook illegally connected to live wires to secure the electricity supply. In response to embarrassing media reports, the BBC reported that a low level official at the Lahore power supply company was disciplined for it.

Corruption in Pakistan is highly organized and systematic. It stems from the politics of patronage which trumps everything else. The deep dysfunction of civil and police bureaucracy and the massive red ink flowing at state-owned enterprises ranging from PIA to Pakistan Railway to Pakistan Steel are the result of political favors doled out by the ruling politicians to their corrupt and incompetent family members, friends and cronies in exchange for monetary contributions and political support. Here's how Prof Anatol Lieven, author of Pakistan-A Hard Country explains political patronage in Pakistan:

"Rather than being eaten alive by a pride of lions, or even torn apart by a flock of vultures, the fate of Pakistan's national resources more closely resembles being nibbled away by a horde of mice (and the occasional large rat). The effects on the resources, and on state's ability to do things, are just the same, but more of the results are ploughed back into the society, rather than making their way straight back to bank accounts in the West. This is an important difference between Pakistan and Nigeria, for example."

Pakistan is probably better than Nigeria in terms of corruption, but I don't see this characterization by Prof Lieven as a compliment. What Pakistan needs now is someone to lead a process of social change to fight its widespread culture of stealing. Among the choices open to the people at this juncture, Imran Khan as Mr. Clean stands out as the best choice to lead this social change to reduce the level of corruption and spur the badly needed economic and human development in the country.

Here's a video of the rush to steal chairs after PTI's rally in Kasur, Panjab:



Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan's Culture of Corruption

Imran Khan's Lahore Rally

Pakistan's Politics of Patronage

Pakistani Judges' Jihad Against Corruption

Incompetence and Corruption in Pakistan

Zardari Corruption Probe

NRO Amnesty Order Overturned

Transparency International Rankings 2009

Transparency International Corruption Index 2010

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

It also tells the widespread poverty in Pakistan that chairs are considered worth stealing.

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "It also tells the widespread poverty in Pakistan that chairs are considered worth stealing."\

Let's not blame the poor people for a culture of theft in Pakistan.

From the photos and the video footage of the rally, it's obvious that the people stealing chairs looked well-clothed, well-fed and strong enough to lift and carry stacks of chairs...some of them on motorcycles and pick-up trucks and other vehicles.

I. KAMAL said...

Correct diagnosis, Riaz Saheb! The famous historian and philosopher Ibn-e-Khuldun had asserted that the general populace acquires the characteristics of its rulers. The plunder and loot of the two major political parties and the consequent degradation of moral values has shown its effect again and again in Pakistan. Part of the reason for the tremendous economic progress during the time of Parvez Musharraf was the honesty and absolute integrity of the man on top.

I hope Imran Khan will not be disheartedned. My father used to describe an event, in the early days of the Indian Freedom Movement, when the uneducated crowd was instigated not only to hoot out Jawahar Lal Nehru, but to demand back the 4 annas fees they had paid for membership of his party. Such behavior by an impoverished and uneducated public is not unexpected.

I. KAMAL said...

Riaz Haq: "From the photos and the video footage of the rally, it's obvious that the people stealing chairs looked well-clothed, well-fed and strong enough to lift and carry stacks of chairs...some of them on motorcycles and pick-up trucks and other vehicles".

It's quite likely that they were also WELL-PAID, by the by-hook-or-by-crook thugs who have ganged up to try and hound out Imran Khan.

Athar said...

Riaz, he is right when he says he has to deal with the Pakistani society which is inherently corrupt (or gone corrupt). However, whether he can / will enforce a zero tolerance policy today will set the tone of the party for years to come...

Riaz Haq said...

Athar,

Imran can and should lead by example in Pakistan, just as Manmohan Singh is doing in India. It does not mean that corruption will end; it just means one can hope for a reduction in graft to the point where economic growth can return to benefit a much larger slice of the population in the country.

I. KAMAL said...

If Imran comes to power, he would be well-advised not to spare those guilty of corruption in the past. Otherwise, the snakes whom he spares will come back to bite him, as they did to Parvez Musharraf.

Anonymous said...

Imran can and should lead by example in Pakistan, just as Manmohan Singh is doing in India.

HA ha..as an Indian I sincerely hope Imran Khan will not be like MMS!!

Completely sidelined with his on party members snubbing him every week!Complete washout there are popular phrases now'please put your phone on MMS' ie silent...

Omair said...

I am proud of PM Gillani for warning the military against a coup, and insisting that he is the boss under the constitution. He is the man with wisdom and courage, The roots of democracy in Pakistan is grabing its strenght, I am hopfull and I am faithfull to my beloved country Pakistan .

Riaz Haq said...

Omair: "I am proud of PM Gillani for warning the military against a coup"

You are forgetting that Nawaz Sharif also went to Washington and cried uncle in 1999, but to no avail!

Most Pakistani politicians, particularly Zardari and Sharif, are arrogant, incompetent and corrupt. Both Zardari and Sharif (when he was in power) have defied and disobeyed Supreme Court rulings when they saw it fit, flagrantly ignoring the constitution.

They do not respect any laws or institutions, and rule arbitrarily. The only time they invoke the constitution is when the military breathes down their necks and they fear loss of power.

Corruption in Pakistan is highly organized and systematic. It stems from the politics of patronage which trumps everything else. The deep dysfunction of civil and police bureaucracy and the massive red ink flowing at state-owned enterprises ranging from PIA to Pakistan Railway to Pakistan Steel are the result of political favors doled out by the ruling politicians to their corrupt and incompetent family members, friends and cronies in exchange for monetary contributions and political support. Here's how Prof Anatol Lieven, author of Pakistan-A Hard Country explains political patronage in Pakistan:

"Rather than being eaten alive by a pride of lions, or even torn apart by a flock of vultures, the fate of Pakistan's national resources more closely resembles being nibbled away by a horde of mice (and the occasional large rat). The effects on the resources, and on state's ability to do things, are just the same, but more of the results are ploughed back into the society, rather than making their way straight back to bank accounts in the West. This is an important difference between Pakistan and Nigeria, for example."

Pakistan is probably better than Nigeria in terms of corruption, but I don't see this characterization by Prof Lieven as a compliment. What Pakistan needs now is someone to lead a process of social change to fight its widespread culture of stealing. Among the choices open to the people at this juncture, Imran Khan as Mr. Clean stands out as the best choice to lead this social change to reduce the level of corruption and spur the badly needed economic and human development in the country.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Dr. Ataur Rahman's Op Ed in The News on building Pakistan's knowledge economy:

Agriculture represents the backbone of our economy. It can serve as a launching pad for transition to a knowledge economy, as it has a huge potential for revenue generation. But that can happen only if agricultural practices are carried out on scientific lines and use of technology maximised. The four major crops of Pakistan are wheat, rice, cotton and sugarcane. They contribute about 37 percent of the total agricultural income and about nine percent to the GDP of Pakistan.
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Wheat is the most important crop of Pakistan, with the largest acreage. It contributes about three percent to the GDP. The national average yield is about 2.7 tons per hectare, whereas in Egypt the yields are 6.44 tons per hectare and in European countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom they are above seven tons per hectare. We presently produce about Rs220 billion worth of wheat. If we can boost our yields to match those of Egypt, it can generate another Rs350 billion, allowing us to systematically pay off the national debt and make available funding for health and education.

However, the government has been reluctant to invest in research, water reservoirs and dams and extension services so that the country continues to suffer. Some progressive farmers in irrigated areas have been able to obtain yields of 6-8 tons per hectare but they are very much a minority. In rain-fed areas the yields are normally between 0.5 tons to 1.3 tons per hectare, depending on the region and amount of rainfall. In irrigated areas the yields are normally higher, in the range of 2.5 tons to 3.0 tons per hectare. Improved semi-dwarf cultivars that are available in Pakistan can afford a yield of wheat between 6-8 tons per hectare. It is possible to increase the yields substantially with better extension services, judicious use of fertilisers and pesticides, and greater access of water from storage reservoirs and dams that need to be constructed.

Cotton represents an important fibre crop of Pakistan that generates about Rs250 billion to the national economy, and contributing about two percent to the national GDP. Pakistan is the fourth-largest producer of cotton in the world, but it is ranked at 10th in the world in terms of yields. The use of plant biotechnology can help to develop better cotton varieties. Bt cotton produces a pesticide internally and safeguards the plant against chewing insects. The yields of Pakistani seed cotton and cotton fibre are both about half those of China. A doubling of cotton yields is doable and it can add another Rs250 billion to the national economy.

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The failed system of democracy in Pakistan is strongly supported by Western governments. It serves Western interests as it leads to docile and submissive leaders who serve their foreign masters loyally. The stranglehold of the feudal system thrives with no priority given to education. More than parliamentarians have forged degrees and the degrees of another 250 are suspect. The Supreme Court decision of verification of their degrees is flouted and ignored by the Election Commission. The bigger the crook, the more respect he is given by the government and the biggest crooks are conferred the highest civil awards. The economy has nosedived and we are today ranked among the bottom six countries of the world in terms of our expenditure on education.


http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=83815&Cat=9

Riaz Haq said...

Here are a few excerpts of Imran Khan's interview with PressTV:

"People are sick and tired of these old political families who pretend that they are protecting democracy. People are sick of them plundering the country. Their wealth is lying outside. Their interests are outside. Their properties are outside. They don't pay any taxes. And then it's family parties. So, the father's already preparing their sons to take over.

This sort of politics has become redundant in Pakistan because Asif Zardari co-opted all the political parties in this broad coalition, and he gave them a piece of the cake. While they were all enjoying the perks and privileges of power, a wild caption was going through the roof. Never have people suffered in Pakistan as now. "

"Let me get the record right. All the parties, all political parties supported Musharraf against Nawaz Sharif because Nawaz Sharif was going to bring in the 15th amendment where he would have become the Amir-al-Muminim - he would have become the commander of the faithful.

Using a Shria law, he would have just assumed dictatorship powers. So, we all stood up against him.

When Musharraf came in and he announced that he had ended sham democracy and was going to bring in general democracy, all of us supported him. "


http://www.presstv.ir/detail/217866.html

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Dawn report on widespread gas theft in Pakistan:

The Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited and Sui Southern Gas Company Limited are causing a cumulative annual loss of about Rs300 billion to national economy, almost six times the losses caused by power sector, because gas shortage leads to civil unrest and affect businesses, transport and households.

The colossal loss has so far remained off the public eye because the gas shortage affects the public life only for three winter months and gas companies are paid at least 17 per cent guaranteed return on assets even if these continue to make losses. If these losses are controlled, about 700 million cubic feet of gas a day could be added to the overall supply, reducing the current shortfall by almost half.

A senior government official in the planning commission told Dawn that the transmission and distribution losses – described in the official jargon as unaccounted for gas – of the two utilities that went up to 13 per cent were resulting in wasteful consumption of 350 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd).

Given the fact that furnace oil is used as replacement fuel for power generation and industrial use, every million British Thermal Unit (mmbtu) costs the economy an additional burden of $20 per mmbtu, according to planning commission`s member energy Shahid Sattar. As such, the daily additional cost on import of furnace oil comes to about $7000, translating into an annual additional burden of $2.55 billion, he said.

Likewise, domestic geysers are described as gas guzzlers whose efficiency could be increased by 20 per cent by putting in a small conical baffle costing Rs500 per piece in every geyser and the efficiency could be further improved by up to 45 per cent by installing instant geysers. These two measures alone could provide another saving of 250 mmcfd, reducing import bill by $450 million or Rs40 billion in three winter months.

In comparison, the transmission and distribution losses of Wapda`s power companies currently stand at about 22 per cent which translates into an annual loss of about Rs60 billion. The official said the power losses at about 10-12 per cent were globally acceptable compared with 2-3 per cent losses in the gas distribution system.

SNGPL Managing Director Arif Hamid says his company`s system loss stood at 11.7 per cent in October 2011 which was scaled down to 11.4 per cent in November. He is of the view that six per cent gas losses are globally acceptable.

Ogra, in consultation with gas companies, had set a target of reducing system losses to 4.5 per cent by financial year 2010-11 when actual losses stood at about seven per cent and have since been increasing.

The planning commission official said that Ogra had successfully brought down gas distribution losses to 4.5 per cent through mandatory one per cent loss reduction every year until 2008 but the previous Ogra chairman appointed on political grounds, and then sacked on orders of the Islamabad High Court and then the Supreme Court of Pakistan, raised these benchmarks to about 11 per cent.
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This additional cost estimated at over Rs70 billion over the past four years has not only created an additional demand of about 500 mmcfd but has also translated into gas tariff as expenditure incurred by the companies because the two utilities are guaranteed 17 per cent and 17.5 per cent return on assets under international covenants with the World Bank.
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The economic value multiplies manifold in view of the fact the supply is already short of demand by about 50 per cent in winter months. Giving an example, the official said a private domestic fertiliser plant was generating an annual revenue of about Rs15 billion by consuming only 35 mmcfd of gas. Its ultimate contribution to agriculture, employment generation and the national economy was manifold and not included in these estimates, the official said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a blog post titled "A Pakistani Spring?" by Huma Yusuf in NY Times:

KARACHI – While I was living in Washington on a research fellowship last year, Pakistanis often urged me to use the opportunity to promote Pakistan’s “positive aspects” to Americans. With the country steeped in ethnic and sectarian violence and regressing along the Human Development Index, this seemed like a challenge, and I’d struggle to muster compelling examples.

No longer. An exciting shift is now underway in Pakistan: the young are becoming politically engaged. In coffee shops, beauty salons and workplaces, instead of gossiping or deconstructing the latest televised drama, youngsters are arguing about the merits of various politicians. As a journalist, I can’t walk into a social gathering without getting grilled by my peers and their younger siblings about this policy or that. Older Pakistanis who have long bemoaned the apathy of the country’s educated, middle-class youth are sighing in relief at this newfound activism. As one elderly family friend put it, “Your lot has finally woken up.”

Unlike their counterparts in the Arab world, young Pakistanis are less inspired by revolutionary rhetoric than in producing results through the existing system. They are demanding issue-based politics and sound government policies to reduce corruption, create jobs and recalibrate U.S.-Pakistani relations. Blogging in the Express Tribune, Muhammad Bilal Lakhani describes the evolution, “A visible and growing number of young, educated professionals in Pakistan are channeling their energies to incrementally improve the system by engaging with the current set up.”

Pakistani youngsters’ desire for change and a greater stake in their country’s future has fueled the unexpected success of the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. He boasts more than 150,000 followers on Twitter and more than 330,000 Facebook likes. The student wing of his Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (P.T.I.) party counts over 4,000 members in Karachi. A P.T.I. rally in Lahore in October attracted more than 7,000 students and thousands of young voters; with so many fresh faces in the crowd, the line between political gathering and rock concert seemed blurred.

And this energy goes beyond P.T.I. supporters. Several social media sites have hosted online voter-registration drives for the 2013 general elections. Many of these are not affiliated with any political party; they are simply seeking to boost youth participation at the polls. Pakistan’s mainstream political parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party (P.P.P.) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N (P.M.L.N.), are launching youth-oriented campaigns and showcasing a new generation of politicians. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, of the P.P.P., is encouraging private media outlets to emphasize youth-oriented programming. The opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, who heads the P.M.L.N., recently drafted a new strategy to revamp his party’s Facebook presence and, in a bid to entice young voters, promised to distribute 300,000 laptops to students if he is elected.

The heightened political engagement of Pakistan’s youth is especially significant these days as judicial activism and military interference in the political arena threaten the country’s democratic foundations. Now that’s a positive aspect of Pakistan I’m happy to highlight to Americans or anyone around the world.


http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/06/a-pakistani-spring/

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from an interesting Friday Times Op Ed on Pakistan's undocumented (informal & illegal) economy:

The economy is in the doldrums, but that is not news any more. What is more interesting, and more difficult to investigate, is what is happening in the world beyond the survey operator and tax collector's ambit. Papers published by the Social Policy Development Center (SPDC) in Karachi and the State Bank place the informal economy in a range of 20 to 30 percent of GDP. But most of this undocumented economy does not include strictly illegal, or shall we say criminal, practice.
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that militant groups are running their own businesses (during the TNSM's movement in Swat, emerald mines were reputed to be in the hands of Maulana Fazlullah's men); that militants and terrorists are even coming up with new ways to generate funds (kidnapping for ransom being a case in point).
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According to data from the UN, Afghanistan produced about 90% of the global output of opium in 2007. This fell to just over 62% by 2010 (with Myanmar accounting for most of the rest). Three quarters of the poppy production was in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, which border Pakistan. Domestic consumption of opium in Afghanistan is next to nil. Also, the country does not legally import the chemicals needed to process opium into heroin, although these are imported in Pakistan for legitimate uses. Almost 7,000 metric tons of opium, both raw and processed, in the form of morphine and heroin, leaves Afghanistan and finds its way to the lucrative markets of Western Europe.
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Given that the global trade in opiates is estimated to have a value of some $70 billion, even a small proportion of the proceeds can make life comfortable for a lot of people in Pakistan.
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With close to 80 suicide attacks in 2010, about 400 rocket attacks, and about 350 bomb blasts in addition to target killings, use of improvised explosive devices etc, its not hard to deduce that there is a significant trade in arms and ammunition in Pakistan. The ISAF container scam case led to some interesting findings. There were the obvious conclusions - including that the abuse of the Afghan Transit Trade facility is massive. More tellingly, the Supreme Court's suo moto case found that 7,922 ISAF containers simply went missing. In addition to the packed meals, the alcohol and the camp supplies stamped with ISAF logos that appear in border markets, the possibility of pilferage of more dangerous items cannot be ruled out.

The smuggling masked by the Afghan Transit Trade is another story altogether, and according to some stakeholders extends to the illegal trade in timber, antiquities and gemstones stemming from that unfortunate nation. Being a neighbor to a land-locked, war-ravaged country with no semblance of law and order was never going to be easy. But Pakistan's governance failures have made a bad situation worse.

There's much more to Pakistan's economy than meets the eye, and many of the more interesting activities are practically impossible to investigate unless someone is prepared to take considerable personal risks. The few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that are available from public data and information paint a tantalizing picture. If the downslide of the formal economy continues, things could get even more interesting.


http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta2/tft/article.php?issue=20120113&page=7

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Op Ed by Prof Anatol Lieven published in the Guardian:

If Pakistan's chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, manages to press his charges of corruption against the president, Asif Ali Zardari, he will bring down the existing Pakistani government. If he extends his anti-corruption campaign to the political elites as a whole, he will bring down the entire existing political system – and replace it, his critics say, with a dictatorship made up of an unelected (and equally corrupt) judiciary.
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The truth is that Pakistani politics revolves in large part around politicians' extraction of resources from the state by means of corruption, and their distribution to those politicians' followers through patronage. Radically changing this would mean gutting the existing Pakistani political system like a fish. Nor is it at all certain how popular the process would really be with most Pakistanis.

For while the greater part of this process of extraction and redistribution is illegal according to Pakistani law, how much of it is immoral in Pakistani culture is a much more complicated question. Every Pakistani politician accuses his rivals of corruption but, equally, the perception that he himself is "generous" and "honourable" to his own supporters is likely to be central to his own local prestige. If a public monument is ever erected to the Ideal Pakistani Politician, the motto "He dunks but he splashes", originally coined by Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago, should be inscribed on its pedestal.

And this is not just a matter of cynical politics. It also obeys a fundamental moral imperative of local culture to be loyal to one's followers and, above all, one's kinfolk. The politician who is really despised is the kleptocrat who both steals immoderately and does not share the proceeds. As a result, a good deal of the proceeds of corruption does get distributed through parts of society, thereby helping to maintain what until recently has been the surprising underlying stability of the Pakistani political system.

The military is widely seen as relatively immune to corruption, and when it comes to its own internal workings, this is largely true – though it usually ceases to be true when generals go into politics. However, it is vitally important to note that this is in large part because for many decades the military as a whole has acted as a kind of giant patronage network, extracting a huge share of Pakistan's state resources via the defence budget and other concessions, and spending them on itself. Because – to its credit – it has distributed the resulting benefits in an orderly if hierarchical way among its generals, officers, non-commissioned officers and even to a degree privates, it has managed to keep a lid on corruption within the military itself. However, a belief is growing among ordinary soldiers, not just that the generals' perks are immoderate but that in some cases their families are using their connections to make huge corrupt fortunes outside the military.

As for Zardari, it seems highly doubtful that he can hang on much longer. The chief justice is pursuing him with bulldog determination and the letter of the law is on his side. The military has been infuriated by what it believes are his attempts to ally with Washington against it. It does not want another military government, but it does want a civilian regime that is much more responsive to its wishes. And the opposition want him out before, not after, senate elections that might just enable him to cling to the presidency even if as expected his Pakistan People's party is defeated in general elections due by early 2013. Whether getting rid of Zardari will fundamentally change Pakistani politics, however, is a very different matter.


http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/19/pakistan-culture-honourable-corruption?newsfeed=true

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Global Post story on NATO using smugglers to supply its troops in Afghanistan through Pakistan:

With few other options available to it since Pakistan closed its border crossings almost two months ago, NATO has at times resorted to paying local smugglers to get much-needed supplies to its troops fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistani officials say.

The Pakistani and Afghan smugglers, who must pay bribes to militants to travel safely through some areas, navigate treacherous routes over the 1,800-mile mountainous divide that separates the two countries to bring containers of oil, food and other essential items — all at a price — to soldiers on the other side.

“Borders mean nothing to us. We have been crossing in and out for centuries,” Sahib Khan, a smuggler who said NATO had hired him, told GlobalPost.

The hiring of illegal smugglers came after a failed attempt by NATO to pay private companies, which truck goods across the border under the Pakistan-Afghanistan Free Trade Agreement (PATA). These private companies, Pakistani officials said, were secretly swapping out their normal cargo for NATO supplies until Pakistani security forces caught wind of the scam.

A senior officer for the Frontier Corps, an elite military unit that is responsible for security along the border, told GlobalPost that a total ban on the movement of containers under PATA, which was signed in 2010 to promote bilateral trade, eventually foiled the strategy.

“We had concrete evidence that some of the containers being imported by private companies, under PATA, were being used to smuggle supplies for NATO troops under cover of commercial imports,” the official said.
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Smuggling between Pakistan and Afghanistan has long been a profitable and vibrant business. Various trade agreements have been signed between the two neighbors in a bid to contain the practice, but high import and export taxes coupled with little government oversight, thwarted those attempts.

Mostly items like flour, edible oil, lentils, dried vegetables, contraband cigarettes, and animals for meat are smuggled into Afghanistan, while spare auto parts, electronics and unregistered vehicles are smuggled the other direction.

Smuggling is so widespread that it has become the backbone of the economy in towns and villages along the border, where locally it is treated simply as normal trade. The mountainous terrain provides an edge over security to smugglers who regularly trickle across the border without any trouble.

Sahib said that most of the food and oil supplies he has carried across the border for NATO originate from the southern port city of Karachi, and are moved through Peshawar and Quetta, and finally through Pakistan’s tribal areas, which are largely under the authority of various militant groups.

For those militants, the smugglers have been an important source of income. Smugglers are required to pay “rahdari,” or “passage,” an unofficial tax that allows them safe passage.

“Once we are onto the route, it’s the responsibility of those who receive rahdari to ensure we are able to safely enter into Afghanistan,” Sahib said.

Any smuggling that is done on behalf of NATO can in no way make up for the closed borders, however. Smugglers say they carry between 20 and 25 small containers a day while, when the border crossings were open, NATO shipped an average of 250 large containers a day — making the reopening of the borders essential to the war effort.


http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/pakistan/120123/pakistan-border-nato-us-troops-afghanistan

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts of BBC's Soutik Biswas's review of Pulitzer-winning New Yorker reporter Katherine Boo's "Beautiful Forevers":

"We try so many things," a girl in Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai tells Katherine Boo, "but the world doesn't move in our favour".

Annawadi is a "sumpy plug of slum" in the biggest city - "a place of festering grievance and ambient envy" - of a country which holds a third of the world's poor. It is where the Pulitzer prize winning New Yorker journalist Boo's first book Behind the Beautiful Forevers is located.

Annawadi is where more than 3,000 people have squatted on land belonging to the local airport and live "packed into, or on top of" 335 huts. It is a place "magnificently positioned for a trafficker in rich's people's garbage", where the New India collides with the Old.

Nobody in Annawadi is considered poor by India's official benchmarks. The residents are among the 100 million Indians freed from poverty since 1991, when India embarked on liberalising its economy.
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She used more than 3,000 public records, many obtained using India's right to information law, to validate her narrative, written in assured reported speech. The account of the hours leading to the self-immolation of Fatima Sheikh derives from repeated interviews of 168 people as well as police, hospital, morgue and court records. Mindful of the risk of over interpretation, the books wears its enormous research lightly.
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The local councillor runs fake schools, doctors at free government hospitals and policemen extort the poor with faint promise of life and justice, and self-help groups operate as loan sharks for the poorest. The young in Annawadi drop dead like flies - run over by traffic, knifed by rival gangs, laid low by disease; while the elders - not much older - die anyway. Girls prefer a certain brand of rat poison to end their lives.
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Boo has an interesting take on corruption, rife in societies like India's. Corruption is seen as blocking India's global ambitions. But, she writes, for the "poor of a country where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained".

On the other hand, Boo believes, corruption stymies our moral universe more than economic possibility. Suffering, she writes, "can sabotage innate capacities for moral action". In a capricious world of corrupt governments and ruthless markets the idea of a mutually supportive community is a myth: it is "blisteringly hard", she writes, to be good in such conditions. "If the house is crooked and crumbling", Boo writes, "and the land on which it sits uneven, is it possible to make anything lie straight?


http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-17038326

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts of a David Brooks' NY Times column on why political participation is important for idealistic youth:

Often they are bursting with enthusiasm for some social entrepreneurship project: making a cheap water-purification system, starting a company that will empower Rwandan women by selling their crafts in boutiques around the world.

These people are refreshingly uncynical. Their hip service ethos is setting the moral tone for the age. Idealistic and uplifting, their worldview is spread by enlightened advertising campaigns, from Bennetton years ago to everything Apple has ever done.

It’s hard not to feel inspired by all these idealists, but their service religion does have some shortcomings. In the first place, many of these social entrepreneurs think they can evade politics. They have little faith in the political process and believe that real change happens on the ground beneath it.

That’s a delusion. You can cram all the nongovernmental organizations you want into a country, but if there is no rule of law and if the ruling class is predatory then your achievements won’t add up to much.

Furthermore, important issues always spark disagreement. Unless there is a healthy political process to resolve disputes, the ensuing hatred and conflict will destroy everything the altruists are trying to build.

There’s little social progress without political progress. Unfortunately, many of today’s young activists are really good at thinking locally and globally, but not as good at thinking nationally and regionally.

Second, the prevailing service religion underestimates the problem of disorder. Many of the activists talk as if the world can be healed if we could only insert more care, compassion and resources into it.

History is not kind to this assumption. Most poverty and suffering — whether in a country, a family or a person — flows from disorganization. A stable social order is an artificial accomplishment, the result of an accumulation of habits, hectoring, moral stricture and physical coercion. Once order is dissolved, it takes hard measures to restore it.

Yet one rarely hears social entrepreneurs talk about professional policing, honest courts or strict standards of behavior; it’s more uplifting to talk about microloans and sustainable agriculture.

In short, there’s only so much good you can do unless you are willing to confront corruption, venality and disorder head-on. So if I could, presumptuously, recommend a reading list to help these activists fill in the gaps in the prevailing service ethos, I’d start with the novels of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, or at least the movies based on them.

The noir heroes like Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” served as models for a generation of Americans, and they put the focus squarely on venality, corruption and disorder and how you should behave in the face of it.

A noir hero is a moral realist. He assumes that everybody is dappled with virtue and vice, especially himself. He makes no social-class distinction and only provisional moral distinctions between the private eyes like himself and the criminals he pursues. The assumption in a Hammett book is that the good guy has a spotty past, does spotty things and that the private eye and the criminal are two sides to the same personality.

He (or she — the women in these stories follow the same code) adopts a layered personality. He hardens himself on the outside in order to protect whatever is left of the finer self within.


http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/opinion/brooks-sam-spade-at-starbucks.html

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from Raymond Baker's book "Capitalism's Achilles Heel" regarding Pakistan's venal politicians:

"While Benazir Bhutto hated the generals for executing her father, Nawaz Sharif early on figured out that they held the real power in Pakistan. His father had established a foundry in 1939 and, together with six brothers, had struggled for years only to see their business nationalized by Ali Bhutto’s regime in 1972. This sealed decades of enmity between the Bhuttos and the Sharifs. Following the military coup and General Zia’s assumption of power, the business—Ittefaq—was returned to family hands in 1980. Nawaz Sharif became a director and cultivated relations with senior military officers. This led to his appointment as finance minister of Punjab and then election as chief minister of this most populous province in 1985. During the 1980s and early 1990s, given Sharif ’s political control of Punjab and eventual prime ministership of the country, Ittefaq Industries grew from its original single foundry into 30 businesses producing steel, sugar, paper, and textiles, with combined revenues of $400 million, making it one of the biggest private conglomerates in the nation. As in many other countries, when you control the political realm, you can get anything you want in the economic realm."
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Like Bhutto, offshore companies have been linked to Sharif, three in the British Virgin Islands by the names of Nescoll, Nielson, and Shamrock and another in the Channel Islands known as Chandron Jersey Pvt. Ltd. Some of these entities allegedly were used to facilitate purchase of four rather grand flats on Park Lane in London, at various times occupied by Sharif family members. Reportedly, payment transfers were made to Banque Paribas en Suisse, which then instructed Sharif ’s offshore companies Nescoll and Nielson to purchase the four luxury suites.
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Upon taking office in 1988, Bhutto reportedly appointed 26,000 party hacks to state jobs, including positions in state-owned banks. An orgy of lending without proper collateral followed. Allegedly, Bhutto and Zardari “gave instructions for billions of rupees of unsecured government loans to be given to 50 large projects. The loans were sanctioned in the names of ‘front men’ but went to the ‘Bhutto-Zardari combine.’ ” Zardari suggested that such loans are “normal in the Third World to encourage industrialisation.” He used 421 million rupees (about £10 million) to acquire a major interest in three new sugar mills, all done through nominees acting on his behalf. In another deal he allegedly received a 40 million rupee kickback on a contract involving the Pakistan Steel Mill, handled by two of his cronies. Along the way Zardari acquired a succession of nicknames: Mr. 5 Percent, Mr. 10 Percent, Mr. 20 Percent, Mr. 30 Percent, and finally, in Bhutto’s second term when he was appointed “minister of investments,” Mr. 100 Percent.


http://books.google.com/books?id=Wkd0--M6p_oC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Capitalism%27s+Achilles+Heel&hl=en&sa=X&ei=R_2jT569HofViAKLzpzLAw&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=nawaz%20sharif&f=false

http://books.google.com/books?id=Wkd0--M6p_oC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Capitalism%27s+Achilles+Heel&hl=en&sa=X&ei=R_2jT569HofViAKLzpzLAw&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=zardari&f=false

Riaz Haq said...

Here's NY Times piece on Imran Khan written by Indian journalist Pankaj Mishra:

On a cool evening in March, Imran Khan, followed by his dogs, walked around the extensive lawns of his estate, sniffling with an incipient cold. “My ex-wife, Jemima, designed the house — it is really paradise for me,” Khan said of the villa, which sprawls on a ridge overlooking Himalayan foothills and Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. “My greatest regret is that she is not here to enjoy it,” he added, unexpectedly poignantly. We walked through the living room and then sat in his dimly lighted bedroom, the voices of servants echoing in the empty house, the mournful azans drifting up from multiple mosques in the city below.
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“Why can’t the West understand? When I first went to England, I was shocked to see the depiction of Christianity in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian.’ This is their way. But for us Muslims, the holy Koran and the prophet, peace be upon him, are sacred. Why can’t the West accept that we have different ways of looking at our religions?

“Anyway,” Khan said in a calmer voice, “I am called an Islamic fundamentalist by Rushdie. My critics in Pakistan say I am a Zionist agent. I must be doing something right.”

Those adept at playing Pakistan’s never-ending game of political musical chairs have begun to take note of Khan. His party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice, or P.T.I., as it is called), has never won more than a single seat in Pakistan’s 342-member National Assembly. But a recent Pew opinion poll reveals Khan to be the country’s most popular politician by a large margin, and his growing appeal has drawn together two rivals from the establishment parties — the suavely patrician figure of Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister from 2008 to 2011, and Javed Hashmi, an older street-fighting politician from Punjab, Pakistan’s politically dominant province — who are now, in Khan’s hastily improvised hierarchy, vice chairman and president of the P.T.I. respectively.

Khan’s campaign strategy is simple: he has promised to uproot corruption within 90 days, end the country’s involvement in America’s war on terror and institute an Islamic welfare state. ....
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I had already read Khan’s speech, peering over his shoulder in the car; it was not much different from what he said in previous rallies. Like many in the audience, I left before 5 p.m., late in Abbottabad’s valley, where darkness sets in early. On the way back to Islamabad, I stopped at a grocery store to buy some water. The owner, watching wrestling on his small television set, was a bit reluctant when I asked him to switch over to Khan’s rally. “Has Imran come?” he asked. “Is he speaking now? People have been waiting since noon.”

I told him the crowd was starting to disperse. “Of course they will,” he retorted. “They have to travel long distances in the hills.” He snorted when I said that the lateness of Khan’s speech was due to the media’s schedule. After some channel-hopping, I caught a brief clip of Khan at the rally repeating his gibe about Bilawal Bhutto’s lack of Urdu. The depleted crowd, it seemed clear, was not going to make history for Imran Khan, or supersede Abbottabad’s reputation as the town where a semiretired terrorist found marital bliss. But he seemed more relaxed than he was in Sialkot and Mianwali. The TV channels had clearly not betrayed him. And for once his groupies, spellbound by the cameramen, had not abandoned Khan onstage.


www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/magazine/pakistans-imran-khan-must-be-doing-something-right.html