Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hookah Smoking Alarms American Health Advocates

Since the hookah (shisha or water pipe) made its debut in North America a few decades ago among immigrant communities, it has continued to gain in popularity and now found its way to hundreds of college campuses all over the continent.

Most of the hookah tobacco used in the United States is imported from the UAE, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia; as a way of catering to Western tastes, tobacco manufacturers are introducing flavors like kiwi, watermelon and blackberry. Handcrafted pipes made of glass and brass are produced in Syria and Egypt, although China is making less expensive pipes out of acrylic. Pipes cost between $50 and $180. In lounges and bars, the tobacco is sold in batches for as little as $5 or as much as $20. One batch can last a person an hour or longer.



Contrary to popular belief that hookah is less harmful than cigarettes, a 2005 study by World Health Organization has concluded that a typical hour-long hookah smoking session does as much harm as 100 cigarettes. This study puts the hookah tobacco merchants in the same category as Philip Morris, often described as a merchant of death. Philip Morris has been heavily promoting to achieve double digit growth in demand for is tobacco products in developing nations such as China, India and Pakistan.

The WHO study also found that the water in hookahs filters out less than 5 percent of the nicotine. Also, hookah smoke contains tar, heavy metals and other cancer-causing chemicals. An additional hazard: the tobacco in hookahs is heated with charcoal, leading to dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide, even for secondary smokers, according to a recent University of Florida study. No surprise, then, that several studies have linked hookah use to many of the same diseases associated with cigarette smoking, like lung, oral and bladder cancer, as well as clogged arteries, heart disease and adverse effects during pregnancy. And because hookahs are meant to be smoked communally — hoses attached to the pipe are passed from one smoker to the next — they have been linked with the spread of tuberculosis, herpes and other infections.

Many young Americans are attracted to the sweet, aromatic and fruity flavors of hookah smoke, which causes them to mistakenly believe it is less harmful than hot, acrid cigarette smoke, according to a report in the New York Times.

Hookah was reportedly invented by a physician, Hakim Abul Fath, in Emperor Akbar's 16th century court in India as a less harmful method of tobacco use. Growing up in South Asia, I saw mostly older people smoking hookah. And they, too, believed the myth that the water filters out much of the harmful components of the tobacco smoke in a hookah. In fact, my grandfather was an avid hookah smoker and lived a healthy life well into his nineties. So did one of my hookah-smoking uncles, while my father, a non-smoker, died at the age of only 69. The American Lung Association, however, is not persuaded by such anecdotal evidence. It is campaigning for hookah bar bans at colleges and in cities across the United States.

“Teens and young adults are initiating tobacco use through these hookahs with the mistaken perception that the products are somehow safer or less harmful than cigarettes,” said Paul G. Billings, a vice president of the American Lung Association. “Clearly that’s not the case.”

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Merchant of Death Eyes Pakistan Market

Health Risks Rise With Bunge in Pakistan

WHO Advisory on Water Pipe

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Culture of Corruption in Pakistan

Rampant corruption is believed to be a major factor impeding economic development in Pakistan and many other developing nations.

Is this corruption and lawlessness rooted in the absence of adequate law enforcement, or the lack of independent judges? Or is it a national culture of corruption that ranks such nations among the most corrupt in the world on Transparency International surveys?



A paper titled "Cultures of Corruption: Evidence from Diplomatic Parking Tickets" by Ray Fisman of Columbia University and Edward Miguel of University of California, Berkeley attempts to answer the above question by using parking violations data on international diplomats living in New York City during 1997-2005.

Since all foreign diplomats have immunity from prosecution in the host country, they do not have to pay fines for any parking violations in New York City. The authors argue that the way the diplomats from different nations behave in such a situation is entirely based on the cultural norms of the nations they represent.



The data presented by the authors shows that Pakistani diplomats with 69.4 tickets per diplomat are the tenth worst offenders, behind those from Kuwait (246.2), Egypt (139.6), Chad (124.3), Sudan (119.1), Bulgaria (117.5), Mozambique (110.7), Albania (84.5), Angola (81.7) and Senegal (79.2). The authors also report that diplomats from low corruption countries (e.g., Norway and Sweden with zero parking citations) behave remarkably well even in situations where they can get away with violations, suggesting that they bring the social norms or corruption “culture” of their home country with them to New York City. Others with no parking violations include diplomats from Oman, Turkey and UAE.



In addition to a strong correlation between number of parking tickets and TI's corruption index, Fisman and Miguel also find that officials from countries that have less favorable popular views of the United States commit significantly more parking violations, providing nonlaboratory evidence on the role that sentiment and affinity play in economic decision-making.

With 69.4 tickets for each official ranking them at number 10, Pakistani diplomats in New York are also the worst among fellow South Asian diplomats. Bangladeshi diplomats rank 28 (33 tickets), Sri Lanka ranked 40 (17.2 tickets), Nepal ranked 43 (16.5 tickets) and India ranks 79 (6.1 violations per diplomat).

Going by the highly persuasive data and arguments by Fisman and Miguel, it is hard to see how better law-enforcement and independent judiciary can solve the highly corrosive problem of widespread corruption in Pakistani society, unless it is also accompanied by a national campaign to promote a culture of honesty in the country. Such an effort must begin with open acknowledgment of the seriousness of the corruption crisis and an earnest desire to change, followed by wide-ranging ethics reforms in all spheres of life which are actively role-modeled and led by civil, social, political, business, military and religious leaders of the country.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pakistan Leads Asia in Biometric IT Services

All the hype about Indian IT sector makes it hard to believe that it is Pakistan, not India, which has widely deployed biometric identification technology to issue multi-purpose national ID cards and e-passports to its citizens. Is this just another case of the proverbial shoemaker's children going barefoot?



In fact, Pakistan is among the first few countries of the world to issue biometric national ID cards to 83 million citizens. Pakistan has also issued over 7 million e-passports to its citizens since October, 2004. These Multi-Biometric Electronic Passports, containing an RFID chip, facial and fingerprint images of the passport holder, PKI and other security features are compliant with ICAO standards.



Established in the year 2000, NADRA, the National Database and Registration Authority, is Pakistan's state-owned IT services company that specializes in implementing multi-biometric national identity cards and e-passports, as well as secure access verification and control systems in both public and private sectors. It is recognized among the top 50 IT firms in the world by the ID World Congress.

NADRA's database is among the largest, if not the largest, fully integrated databases in the world that supports both an Automatic Finger Identification System (AFIS) & a Facial Recognition System:

• National Data Warehouse
• Storage Capacity of 60 Terabytes
• Processing Speed of 18 Trillion Instructions/ Sec
• Multilingual Support of English/ Urdu/ Sindhi
• AFIS with a matching speed of 16 million/sec
• World's largest Facial Library of 83 million images (ICAO)
• Network Infrastructure
• Highly redundant, scalable and mission critical
• Connected with more than 8000 computers
• Equipped Terrestrial, VSAT, and DVB RCS/2 network Links

Beyond the national ID cards and passports, other current NADRA projects are motor vehicle registration (VINs or vehicle ID numbers), driver licenses, law enforcement, gun licensing, credit reporting, authentication of various transactions, statistical data, birth/ marriage/ death registration, GIS, e-Governance, disbursement of grants and planning at federal, provincial, district and local government levels using the national database.

NADRA's domestic public sector clients include the Ministry of Interior, Directorate of Immigration and Passports, National Highway Authority, Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehab Authority, UNHCR-Pakistan and Benazir Income Support Program for the poor.

NADRA issued Watan cash cards as part of a recent project to hand out Rs 28.8 billion among 1.527 million flood affected families in rural Pakistan last year. It is now working with the FBR, Pakistan's tax collectors, to catch millions of income tax evaders.

NADRA's corporate clients are Mobilink, Ufone, Telenor, Barclays Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, Standard Charter Bank, PTCL, IESCO, SNGPL and SSGPL.

International clients of NADRA include governments of Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria and Sudan. NADRA Technologies has recently entered into a agreement with Global Defense, a Turkish company, to pursue biometric IT services opportunities in Turkey and other European and Middle Eastern nations.

PTCL, another state-owned company, is rolling out fast broadband access at low cost, and building data centers in Pakistan to enable cloud computing on a large scale. PTCL has recently started rolling out 50 Mbits/sec broadband service in several cities and towns, and built large data centers in Karachi and Lahore.

IT sector is alive, and it is focusing on solving real problems in Pakistan. And the state-owned enterprises like PTCL and NADRA are building IT infrastructure and developing and deploying information and communication technology to lead the way for both public and private sector companies in the country.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

NADRA Case Study

Pakistan's $2.8 Billion IT Industry

PTCL Data Centers

PTCL's 50 Mbps Broadband Access in Pakistan

Mobile Internet in South Asia

Media and Telecom Sectors Growing in Pakistan

Internet Service Providers of Pakistan

Poverty Reduction Through Telecom Access

Pakistan's Telecom Boom

Pakistan Tops Text Message Growth

WiMax Rollout in Pakistan

Mobile Internet in Pakistan

Smartphones in Pakistan

Monday, May 23, 2011

Military Mutiny in Pakistan?

Pakistani military is a disciplined force. Its soldiers have a long history of acting in strict accordance with the orders of senior military commanders through various crises, coups, insurgencies, national emergencies, natural disasters and external hostilities the nation has seen since 1947. However, the cohesion and discipline of Pakistan's armed forces is being tested like never before, as the fears of a mutiny within the ranks are rising in the aftermath of America's Bin Laden raid in Abbottabad and PNS Mehran terrorist attacks in Karachi.

Public comments highly critical of the current military leaders by retired Pakistani military officers are just one indicator of the depth of discontent among serving officers. Among others, press reports quote retired Gen. Talat Masood as saying “It’s never good for a military of that size to have a feeling of resentment". The discovery of bin Laden, he added, “has stung them as much as it has stung the whole world.” “This is a security failure,” Shehzad Chaudhry, a retired air vice marshal, said on GeoTV. The need of the hour is to focus on the security forces and their capability, instead of on the question of who could be behind the Taliban who are attacking the Pakistani military, he said. “There is a need to develop national counterterrorism policy and bring our own house in order first.”

A recent Washington Post report talks of "seething anger in barracks across the country". The Post report mentions Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani's "town-hall-style meetings at five garrisons, where he faced barbed questions from officers about the U.S. raid".

The latest terrorist attack on PNS Mehran, a naval air base in Karachi, has only increased the fears of a massive mutiny within the military. The breach of a heavily guarded military installation and the resultant loss of life and property have yet again humiliated the military and security agencies like the ISI, and exposed them to unprecedented criticism of incompetence.

Deflecting mounting criticism by blaming America or India will no longer do. Pakistan's military and intelligence leaders must accept responsibility for their massive failures, and clean house if they wish to regain the public confidence and the support of their rank and file which they are rapidly losing.

The US must play a constructive role by encouraging reform and strengthening Pakistani military rather than contributing to its humiliation and destruction as it appears to have done recently. This is necessary to prevent the nightmare scenario of disaffected junior officers joining with the radicals to gain access to Pakistan's rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal to threaten those who oppose terror in Pakistan, Asia and the world.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Twitter Revolution in Pakistan

Pakistan's Tax Evasion Fosters Foreign Aid Dependence

Seeing Bin Laden's Death in Wider Perspective

Daily Carnage Amidst Intelligence Failures in Pakistan

Can US Aid Remake Pakistan?

ISI Rogues-Real or Imagined?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

World Bank on Poverty Across India in 2011

In spite of recent poverty declines with its rapid economic expansion, India still has higher poverty rates than Pakistan, according to a 2011 World Bank report titled "Perspectives on poverty in India : stylized facts from survey data" released in 2011.



Overall, the latest World Bank data shows that India's poverty rate of 27.5%, based on India's current poverty line of $1.03 per person per day, is more than 10 percentage points higher than Pakistan's 17.2%. Assam (urban), Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are the only three Indian states with similar or lower poverty rates than Pakistan's.



Although consumption poverty has steadily declined in India, the number of people who actually consume calories above the minimum level associated with the poverty line—2,400 and 2,100 kilocalories per day in rural and urban areas, respectively—has not risen. As of 2004–05, as many as 80 percent of rural households were estimated to be “calorie poor.”

Agriculture Value Added Per Capita (Source: World Bank)


India’s middle-class lives barely or not far above India’s poverty line of $1.02 a day, and well below international poverty lines, especially in rural areas.



Large differences in poverty levels persist across India’s states and indeed are growing in urban areas. The rural areas of India’s poorest states have poverty rates that are the highest in the developing world. In contrast, urban areas of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh have poverty rates that are similar to those found in countries such as Turkey or the richer Latin American countries.

The World Bank findings are consistent with the 2008 India State Hunger Index study by Purnima Menon, Anil Deolalikar, Anjor Bhaskar. It showed that Assam and Punjab have much less hunger than the rest of India. Madhya Pradesh has the most severe level of hunger in India, comparable to Chad and Ethiopia. Gujarat, 13th on the Indian list is below Haiti, ranked 69 on the World Hunger Index.

India's Poverty Line Source: World Bank


The World Bank report discusses various causes of poverty in India, particularly discrimination against certain castes and tribes who make up most of the poor. It describes exclusion based on caste (SC or scheduled caste) and tribes (ST or scheduled tribes) and describes it as follows:

The Hindu hierarchy is said to have evolved from different parts of the body of Brahma—the creator of the universe. Thus, the Brahmans, who originated from the mouth, undertake the most prestigious priestly and teaching occupations. The Kshatriyas (from the arms) are the rulers and warriors; the Vaishyas (from the thighs) are traders and merchants. The Shudras, from the feet, are manual workers and servants of other castes. Below the Shudras and outside the caste system, lowest in the order, the untouchables engage in the most demeaning and stigmatized occupations (scavenging, for instance, and dealing with bodily waste).

Similarly, the scheduled tribes are also referred to as the Adivasis. .... we use the terms SC and ST, as these are standard administrative and survey categories. In
the text we use the terms Dalits and Adivasis or tribals interchangeably with SCs and STs, respectively.


The report acknowledges that "the Indian Constitution set the stage for almost unparalleled affirmative action and other forms of positive actions. These have been translated into laws, programs, and procedures".

The authors explain that "the combination of identity politics, inflexibility of the very systems that seek to promote inclusion, and the attendant poor implementation has resulted in patchy impact, affecting some groups more than others. To state the real challenge is to state a truism—that the implementation of policies and of reforms of institutions is the key to ensuring that growth becomes more equitable".

Here's a video clip on grinding poverty in resurgent India:



Related Links:

Haq's Musings

New Index Finds Indians Poorer Than Africans

India 63 Years After Independence

South Asia Slipping in Human Development
OPHI Country Briefing: Pakistan

OPHI Country Briefing: India

Slumdog Inspires India's "Big Switch"

Mumbai's Slumdog Millionaire
Poverty Tours in India, Brazil and South Africa
South Asia's War on Hunger Takes Back Seat

British TV Accused of Making "Poverty Porn"

Orangi is Not Dharavi
Bollywood and Hollywood Mix Up Combos
Grinding Poverty in Resurgent India

World Bank FAQs on Indian Poverty

Slumdog Is No Hit in India

Pakistani Children's Plight

UNESCO Education For All Report 2010

India's Arms Build-up: Guns Versus Bread

South Asia Slipping in Human Development

World Hunger Index 2009

Challenges of 2010-2020 in South Asia

India and Pakistan Contrasted 2010

Food, Clothing and Shelter in India and Pakistan

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pakistan's Tax Evasion Fosters Foreign Aid Dependence

As Pakistan's ruling elite and its ghairat brigade, led by PML's Sharif brothers, engage in loud empty rhetoric about infringement of their national sovereignty by the United States, here is something to ponder:
Pakistan runs chronic budget deficits of around 5% of its GDP, and its government collects less than 10% of GDP in tax revenue which is among the lowest in the world. A big share of these deficits is funded by foreign aid and loans, making Pakistanis beholden to the interests and whims of major foreign donors and lenders.

Pakistan's tax policies are among the most regressive in the world. Direct taxes make up less than 3.5 percent of GDP, with wide ranging exemptions to powerful segments of society coupled with governance issues at Federal Board of Revenue, according to former finance minister Shaukat Tarin. The bulk of the tax receipts are collected in the form of sales tax, placing the heaviest burden on the lower-income people who spend almost all of their income on their basic needs.



The other major weakness in public finances is the lack of fiscal effort by the provinces. With some of the largest segments of economic activity such as agriculture, real estate, and services in the provincial domain, the provincial tax receipts total an abysmal 0.7 percent of GDP.



Farm income, mostly earned by the nation's feudal ruling elite, accounting for about 20% of the GDP is entirely exempt from any income tax under the law. Only about 2 million of 180 million Pakistanis pay income tax. Of them, 1.8 million are salaried and paid Rs.27.37 billion in taxes during ended fiscal 2008-09, according to a report to the Senate by Minister of State for Finance and Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar. The government runs large current account deficits, forcing it to beg and borrow to meet the budget needs. The budget deficit for 2008-09 was 4.3% of GDP and it is likely to grow with lower revenue amidst slowing economy in 2009-10. The tax evasion in Pakistan is estimated at Rs500 – 600 billion a year, almost half of the total tax collection of about Rs1200 billion during 2007-08. The untapped amount is almost equivalent to the country’s annual budget deficit.



In a country where majority of the transactions, including purchase of big ticket items, occur in cash, there is widespread tax evasion and a sizable informal economy. The estimates for Pakistan's underground economy vary from 25% to 50% of the formal economy. A recent World Bank (WB) report concluded that every Pakistani citizen evaded tax amounting to Rs 4800 in the year 2007-08, while the total tax evaded in the period stood at Rs 796 billion.





Food prices have dramatically increased since the current PPP government took power in 2008. These higher food and commodity prices are resulting in the transfer of additional new tax-free farm income of about Rs. 300 billion in the current fiscal year alone to Pakistan's ruling party's power base of landowners in small towns and villages in Southern Punjab and Rural Sindh, from those working in the the economically stagnant urban industrial and service sectors who pay bulk of the taxes. The downside of it is an even bigger hole in Pakistan's pubic finances which is being funded with increased foreign aid and loans.

During the height of corruption under Bhutto-Zardari-Sharif governments in the 1990s, the size of the underground economy rose to almost 55% in 1999, by one estimate. As the military regime of President Musharraf cracked down on tax cheats, the nation's revenue collection doubled from Rs. 500 million in 2000 to to Rs. 1.04 trillion in 2007-08.

While the income, assets and taxes of the president and top government officials are publicly disclosed and heavily scrutinized by all in the US, no such transparency exists in Pakistan. In fact, tax cheating in Pakistan starts at the top. The richest and the most powerful politicians in the ruling elite pay little or no taxes, setting a horrible example for the rest of the nation.

For example, Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari and Nusrat Bhutto declared assets totaling $1.2 million in 1996 and never told Pakistani authorities of any foreign bank accounts or properties, as required by law in Pakistan. Zardari declared no net assets at all in 1990, the year Bhutto's first term ended, and only $402,000 in 1996, according to a report in the New York Times.

Bhutto's family's income tax declarations were similarly modest. The highest income Bhutto declared was $42,200 in 1996, with $5,110 in tax. In two of her years as prime minister, 1993 and 1994, she paid no income tax at all. Zardari's highest declared income was $13,100, also in 1996, when interest on bank deposits he controlled in Switzerland exceeded that much every week. 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.”

It was only in 2007 that President Asif Ali Zardari returned to Pakistan under an amnesty, euphemistically called National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), sponsored by the Americans. However, the Americans know that the corruption charges against Zardari were credible and he, along with his late wife, was convicted in at least one case by a Swiss judge. The conviction was under appeal in Switzerland when Pakistan government withdrew all charges pursuant to the NRO signed by then President Musharraf under pressure from the Americans.

The PPP leadership is not alone in evading taxes. The PML leadership appears to be just as guilty. The entire Sharif family paid a nominal income tax of Rs 250,000, wealth tax of Rs 550,000 and agriculture tax of Rs 130,000, considering their vast assets and properties of at least 23 sugar and textile mills and huge agricultural land, according to the News. The tax evasion by the the Sharif family was the reason that the donor agencies giving aid to Pakistan in late 1990s insisted on publishing tax records of all lawmakers and senior bureaucrats, The News said, adding that for this reason, the donor agencies insisted on broadening the tax net to prop up government revenues.

As Pakistan faces a severe economic crisis and the current leaders appear ready to mortgage the nation's future, the chances of the ruling elite setting a good example by paying their taxes in full appear rather remote. In fact, the feudal politicians are fighting the current IMF condition for even a modest tax on farm income. The only hope for a fairer tax system and improved collection from the rich and powerful to fund education and health care lies in serious and sustained pressure on Pakistan's ruling elite from the donors and lenders, backed by the United States.

To conclude this post, let me quote former finance minister who said the following in a recent op ed: "At the heart of it, these issues are related to governance. This state of affairs is a manifestation of a broader challenge that Pakistan has grappled with virtually since independence – the shifting of the burden of responsibility by a small, self-serving and venal elite to the rest of the population."

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Comparing US and Pakistani Tax Evasion

Pakistan's Economic Performance 2008-2010

Brief History of Pakistan's Economy 1947-2010

US Raid in Abbottabad

Pakistan's Rural Economy Showing Strength

Shaukat Tarin on Pakistan's Regressive Tax Policies

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pakistan's Vast Shale Gas Deposits

Reports of new gas reserves of 40 trillion cubic feet (upped to 105 TCF in 2013 by US EIA) are specially welcome at this moment in Pakistan when it is facing a very serious and growing energy crisis. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) puts the estimates even higher at 51 trillion cubic feet. Even if the demand doubles from the current one trillion cubic feet a year to two trillion cubic feet a year, the estimated current gas reserves can last as long as 30 years or more.



Pakistan is particularly heavily dependent on natural gas for its energy needs. Demand for natural gas in Pakistan has increased by almost 10 percent annually from 2000-01 to 2007-08, reaching around 3,200m cubic feet per day (MMCFD) last year, against the total production of 3,774 MMCFD, according to Pakistani official sources. But, during 2008-2009, the demand for natural gas exceeded the available supply, with production of 4,528 MMCFD gas against demand for 4,731 MMCFD, indicating a shortfall of 203 MMCFD.

The gas supply-demand imbalance is expected to grow every year to cripple the economy by 2025, when shortage will be 11,092 MMCFD (Million standard cubic feet per day) against total 13,259 MMCFD production. The Hagler Bailly report added that Pakistan's gas shortage would get much worse in the next two decades if it did not bring on any alternative sources.


Shale gas offers an alternative source for energy-starved Pakistan. Rough estimates indicate the presence of at least 33 trillion cubic feet of unconventional gas reserves trapped in tight sands, according to an ENI Pakistan report. Another report by Shahab Alam, technical director of Pakistan Petroleum Concessions, puts the estimate at 40 trillion cubic feet of tight gas reserves in the country. These unconventional gas reserves are in addition to the remaining conventional proven gas reserves of over 30 trillion cubic feet.



With the pioneering work done in the United States on deep drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract hydrocarbons from shale rock, it is now estimated that the US alone has over 1000 trillion cubic feet of recoverable unconventional gas, according to the Wall Street Journal. Unlike the bulk of world's conventional natural gas reserves that are found in Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Qatar, the shale gas reserves have been discovered in rock formations spread across many parts of the world, including Australia (396 TCF), China (1275 TCF), North America (1931 TCF), South America (1225 TCF), Europe (639 TCF), South Africa (485 TCF), India (63 TCF) and Pakistan (51 TCF). Many energy analysts argue that tapping these new hydrocarbon resources could be a game-changer in terms of global economics and geo-politics.



Increased production of gas from shale in the US has created a glut, pushing down gas prices from $13/BTU (million British thermal units) four years ago to just $4.23/BTU today, even as the price of oil has more than doubled. By contrast, the Iran pipeline gas formula links the gas price to oil prices. It means that Pakistan will have to pay $12.30/BTU at oil price of $100/barrel, and a whopping $20/BTU for gas if oil returns to its 2008 peak of $150/barrel.

To encourage investment in developing domestic shale gas, Pakistan has approved a new exploration policy with improved incentives as compared with its 2009 policy, a petroleum ministry official said recently. Pakistan Petroleum is now inviting fresh bids to auction licenses to explore and develop several blocks in Dera Ismail Khan (KPK), Badin (Sind), Naushero Firoz (Sind) and Jungshahi (Sind), according to Oil Voice.

Under the new policy, exploration companies will be offered 40-50% higher prices for the extracted gas compared with the $4.26/Btu price announced in Exploration and Production Policy 2009. Companies which succeed in recovering gas from tight fields within two years will get 50% hike over the 2009 price and if it takes more time they will get only a 40% hike on the 2009 price. As an added incentive, the leases for the fields will now be for 40 years instead of 30 in the 2009 policy, the official said.

Even with the higher prices for the tight gas offered to the exploration companies, it is estimated that Pakistan will have to pay a maximum of $6.50/Btu for the gas compared with $12.30/Btu for gas imports, according to a report by Platts.

Although it does burn much cleaner than coal and oil, the process of extraction of shale gas in Pakistan, or anywhere else, is not without risks, particularly risks to the environment. In the United States, there have been many reports of ground water contamination from chemicals used to fracture rocks, as well as high levels of methane in water wells. In the absence of tight regulations and close monitoring, such pollution of ground water could spell disaster for humans and agriculture.

Given Pakistan's heavy dependence on natural gas for energy and as feedstock for industries such as fertilizer, fiber and plastics, it's important to pursue shale gas fields development under reasonably tight environmental regulations to minimize risks to the ground water resources.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Abundant and Cheap Coal Electricity

US Dept of Energy Report on Shale Gas

Pakistan's Twin Energy Crises
Pakistan's Electricity Crisis

Pakistan's Gas Pipeline and Distribution Network

Pakistan's Energy Statistics
US Department of Energy Data

Electrification Rates By Country

CO2 Emissions, Birth, Death Rates By Country

China Signs Power Plant Deals in Pakistan

Pakistan Pursues Hydroelectric Projects

Pakistan Energy Industry Overview

Water Scarcity in Pakistan

Energy from Thorium

Comparing US and Pakistani Tax Evasion

Zardari Corruption Probe

Pakistan's Oil and Gas Report 2010

Circular Electricity Debt Problem

International CNG Vehicles Association

Rare Earths at Reko Diq?

Lessons From IPP Experience in Pakistan

Correlation Between Human Development and Energy Consumption

BMI Energy Forecast Pakistan

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Can Bin Laden Raid Ignite Twitter Revolution in Pakistan?

Live tweets of the Abbottabad raid have brought instant fame to Pakistani blogger Sohaib Athar, and shined new light on the role of Facebook, Twitter and other social media in the country.

Dramatic expansion of the nation's middle class in the last decade has spawned telecom and media revolutions in Pakistan. Number of radio stations, television channels, mobile phone subscribers and Internet users have all experienced unprecedented growth since the turn of the century.



The level of Internet penetration is Pakistan is still low. In a population of 177 million, only 18.5 million (10.4 percent) are connected to the Internet, though government officials quote a slightly higher figure of 20 million. Although it's twice that of India's Internet penetration of about 5%, Pakistan's penetration percentage is less than those in Tunisia (33.4 percent) and Egypt (21.1 percent). However, Internet use in Pakistan is growing at a rapid rate, particularly in urban centers where 40% of the population lives, which are also home to the middle class which often forms the backbone of mass-scale uprisings. Mobile Internet use shot up 161 percent in 2010 alone.

Pakistan figures prominently in the population of users of Facebook and Twitter, two of the most popular social networking sites.

In terms of Facebook users in Asia, South Korea saw the largest increase of 65%, between March 01 2010 and June 01 2010. Other countries with double-digit growth rate are Thailand with 28.3%, India 27.7%, Japan 21%, Pakistan 12.9%, Malaysia 12.3%, and Vietnam 10.4%. Compared to figures extracted in March 2010, total Facebook users in Indonesia and Taiwan have shown decline, according to Grey Review.

According to Alexa, Twitter.com is the number twelve website in the world. It also ranks at number twelve in the United States. Outside the United States, Twitter is the eighth largest website in South Africa. The United Kingdom, Pakistan, and the Philippines all have Twitter as their tenth largest website, according to The Next Web.

Pakistan saw the beginnings of online civil and political activism in 2008-2009 when the lawyers, according to Woodrow Wilson Center's scholar Huma Yusuf, "used chat forums, YouTube videos, Twitter feeds, and blogs to organize the Long March, publicize its various events and routes, and ensure that citizen reporting live from the march itself can be widely circulated to counter the government-influenced coverage of the protest on mainstream media outlets (such as state-owned radio and private news channels relying on government-issue licenses".

With Pakistan's youth bulge and rapid growth in online user population, it is natural to ask if an Egyptian or Tunisian style youth-led revolution is on the horizon in the South Asian nation? Can the current disgust with the the failed political, military and intelligence establishment catalyze a mass youth uprising against the established order?

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



Related Link:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan's 50Mbps Broadband Rollout

Daily Carnage and Intelligence Failures in Pakistan

Pakistani Online Social Network

Telecom and Media Revolution in Pakistan

Middle Class Growth in Pakistan

Geo Sports Ban Amidst Youth Bulge

US Mining Twitter Feed Urdu Content

Obama's Success With Social Media

Obama on Urdu Poetry, Cricket, Daal, Keema

Case Against Wikileaks' Assange

PakAlumni-Pakistani Social Network

Media and Telecom Revolution in Pakistan

Pakistan's Telecom Boom

Pakistan Tops Text Message Growth

WiMax Rollout in Pakistan

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

India's America Envy

Since Osama Bin Laden's death in Pakistani town of Abbottabad on May 1, 2011, I am seeing a dramatic increase in cyber activity by many Indians manifesting itself as a constant stream of anti-Pakistan hateful commentary being posted on almost all major news discussion forums.

But, amidst all the usual venomous babble, the following fantasy by an Indian blogger Prashant Agrawal published in the Wall Street Journal stands out in particular:

India’s prime minister greets the Mi-25 helicopters carrying Indian Navy MARCOS commandos. He shakes hands with the returning troops, congratulates and thanks them. For the photographers, he holds up his thumbs, “Mission Accomplished”-style. The MARCOS are returning from Pakistan where they took out some of India’s, and the world’s, most wanted terrorists.

That was the story that didn’t happen yesterday or the week before or the month before or the year before or the decade before that. It’s the story that some, perhaps many, Indians have wished to read. It hasn’t happened but the chances of it happening have gone up slightly.


How interesting!

This reminds me of what Indian author and journalist Pankaj Mishra wrote some years ago. Here's an except from his article:

Gung-ho members of India's middle class clamor for Israeli-style retaliation against jihadi training camps in Pakistan. But India can "do a Lebanon" only by risking nuclear war with its neighbor; and Indian intelligence agencies are too inept to imitate Mossad's policy of targeted killings, which have reaped for Israel an endless supply of dedicated and resourceful enemies.

Prior to this latest episode of wishful thinking, I had heard of India’s “Israel Envy”, a phrase coined by former Indian minister Sashi Tharoor immediately after Mumbai terror attacks in 2008.

Now it seems that gung-ho Indians like Prashant are also suffering from India’s “America Envy”.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Usama's Death in Perspective

India's Israel Envy-Haq

Can India Do Lebanon in Pakistan?

India-Pakistan Military Balance

India's Israel Envy-Tharoor

ISI Rogues-Real or Imagined?

India's Missile Shield and Israel Envy Threaten Pakistan

Gaza Compared With Nazi Concentration Camps

Gaza Bombing Witnesses Describe Horror

Monday, May 2, 2011

Seeing Osama Bin Laden's Death in Broader Perspective

Usama Bin Laden was not only the "Most Wanted" man for his horrible crimes against innocent civilians, but also the most hated person in the world, particularly in the United States where his al Qaeda terrorists killed thousands of innocent people on Sept 11, 2001. So it's not a surprise to see on TV wildly cheering crowds in America celebrating his death announced by President Obama on May 1, 2011. In polling by the Pew Research Center before he was killed, support for bin Laden dropped precipitously from a high of 52% in 2005 to just 18% in 2010, lower than 25% in Indonesia and 48% in Nigeria.



While many questions remain unanswered about the events before and during the US commando raid in Pakistani city of Abbottabad where Bin Laden was reportedly killed, it's important to put Osama's death in a broader context as laid out in a recent paper by the Pentagon's "Mr. Y" titled "A National Strategic Narrative". It's a wide-ranging and thought-provoking paper calling for reorienting American policy thinking from the current concept of "National Security" to "National Prosperity and Security".

An important step toward re-establishing credible influence and applying it effectively is to close the “say-do” gap. This begins by avoiding the very western tendency to label or “bin” individuals, groups, organizations, and ideas. In complex systems, adaptation and variation demonstrate that “binning” is not only difficult, it often leads to unintended consequences. For example, labeling, or binning, Islamist radicals as “terrorists,” or worse, as “jihadis,” has resulted in two very different, and unfortunate unintended misperceptions: that all Muslims are thought of as “terrorists;” and, that those who pervert Islam into a hateful, anti-modernist ideology to justify unspeakable acts of violence are truly motivated by a religious struggle (the definition of “jihad,” and the obligation of all Muslims), rather than being seen as apostates waging war against society and innocents. This has resulted in the alienation of vast elements of the global Muslim community and has only frustrated efforts to accurately depict and marginalize extremism. Binning and labeling are legacies of a strategy intent on viewing the world as a closed system.

Who is Mr. Y? It is a pseudonym for US Navy Capt Wayne Porter and US Marine Col Mark "Puck" Mykleby who are active serving military officers. The paper offers a disclaimer that "Mr. Y is a pseudonym for CAPT Wayne Porter, USN and Col Mark "Puck" Mykleby, USMC who are actively serving military officers. The views expressed herein are their own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government".

According to Foreign Policy magazine, "Mr. Y" pseudonym "is a takeoff on George Kennan's 1946 "Long Telegram" from Moscow (published under the name "X" the following year in Foreign Affairs) that helped set containment as the cornerstone of U.S. strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union".

The authors are senior members of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff who say they wrote the "Y article" in a "personal" capacity, but it is clear that it would not have seen the light of day without official sanction.

Relative to the latest developments, it's important to emphasize Mr Y's argument "to accurately depict and marginalize extremism" without alienating Muslim allies like Pakistan. To make this point further, let me offer the following quotes from a Washington Post Op Ed by President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan:

"Although the events of Sunday were not a joint operation, a decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world. And we in Pakistan take some satisfaction that our early assistance in identifying an al-Qaeda courier ultimately led to this day."

"Only hours after bin Laden’s death, the Taliban reacted by blaming the government of Pakistan and calling for retribution against its leaders, and specifically against me as the nation’s president. We will not be intimidated. Pakistan has never been and never will be the hotbed of fanaticism that is often described by the media.

Radical religious parties have never received more than 11 percent of the vote. Recent polls showed that 85 percent of our people are strongly opposed to al-Qaeda. In 2009, when the Taliban briefly took over the Swat Valley, it demonstrated to the people of Pakistan what our future would look like under its rule — repressive politics, religious fanaticism, bigotry and discrimination against girls and women, closing of schools and burning of books. Those few months did more to unite the people of Pakistan around our moderate vision of the future than anything else possibly could."


Here's how President Obama acknowledged Pakistan's role in the Abbottabad operation in his May 1 speech televised live from the White House:

"Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates."


After all is said and done, I think OBL's killing is at best a Pyrrhic victory for America, unless it's followed by a fundamental reorientation of US policy posture as advocated in Mr. Y's "A National Strategic Narrative" in its concluding paragraph:

"This Narrative advocates for America to pursue her enduring interests of prosperity and security through a strategy of sustainability that is built upon the solid foundation of our national values. As Americans we needn’t seek the world’s friendship or to proselytize the virtues of our society. Neither do we seek to bully, intimidate, cajole, or persuade others to accept our unique values or to share our national objectives. Rather, we will let others draw their own conclusions based upon our actions. Our domestic and foreign policies will reflect unity of effort, coherency and constancy of purpose. We will pursue our national interests and allow others to pursue theirs, never betraying our values. We will seek converging interests and welcome interdependence. We will encourage fair competition and will not shy away from deterring bad behavior. We will accept our place in a complex and dynamic strategic ecosystem and use credible influence and strength to shape uncertainty into opportunities. We will be a pathway of promise and a beacon of hope, in an ever changing world."

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Appeasement in Swat

ISI Rogues-Real or Imagined?

Daily Carnage in Pakistan

King's Hypocrisy

India's Guantanamos abd Abu Ghraibs

Obama McCain Debate on Pakistan Policy

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pakistan's Fast Broadband at Low Cost

Pakistan is working on a major roll-out of bonded VDSL2 to deliver 50 Mbps, five times the top speed of the nation's highest level of service today, at a construction cost of just $200-300 per home passed.



Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL), the nation’s state-controlled phone company, is deploying VDSL2 Bonding technology to provide existing digital subscriber line (DSL) customers with speeds up to 50 Mbps. The project leverages Alcatel-Lucent’s VDSL2 Bonding expertise and will be completed by the end of the second quarter of 2011, according to a report in Daily Times.



VDSL2 technology is a good cost-effective option for Pakistan to upgrade existing DSL because it could serve as a platform to deliver broadband, video, and phone service, much like AT&T’s U-verse known as triple-play. VDSL2 Bonding takes two copper-based VDSL2 lines per subscriber and aggregates them—almost doubling the bandwidths available to existing customers, or expanding high-speed broadband access to areas that are underserved today.

PTCL selected VDSL2 over fiber to the home (FTTH) primarily because of cost. With fiber installs twice as expensive as a DSL upgrade, a developing country like Pakistan couldn’t justify the higher price. VDSL is expected to be an important part of broadband expansion in the developing world, particularly in Africa, southeastern Europe, and central Asia. Longer term, Pakistan is building Fiber To The Home (FTTH) network for much higher bandwidths, and several thousand homes have already been wired with fiber as a pilot roll-out in Islamabad by a Pakistani Internet service provider (ISP) called Nayatel.



With just over a million broadband subscribers as of October 2010, Pakistan’s broadband subscriber base is small. But it is in the midst of explosive growth with an increase of 63.5% from the 643,892 in December 2009. While the DSL remains the main technology used to access broadband services in the country, alternative wireless solutions WiMAX and EV-DO are catching up fast. The number of DSL users grew by 96.5% from 262,661 in June 2009, according to Business Monitor International (BMI). By contrast, subscriber figures of WiMAX and EV-DO increased by 246.6% and 708.5% over the same period to reach 306,665 and 181,947 respectively. The popularity of mobile broadband services is likely due to more affordable pricing plans bundled with low-cost mobile devices. Moreover, two-thirds of the population reside in rural areas where fixed-line infrastructure remains poor and wireless broadband service therefore becomes an attractive and relatively cheaper method to bring connectivity to the underserved regions.



At current pricing, PTCL offers a basic broadband service package with a 256kbps connection limited to 1GB of data for Rs. 299 ($3.50) a month. This low-cost package is designed for users interested in email and light browsing, not heavy downloads and uploads.

The next level is the popular 2Mbps unlimited package for around Rs. 1499 ($17.78) a month. And then there is 10Mbps service for an expensive Rs. 8500 ($100) a month. With the upgrades, PTCL can either raise speeds, reduce prices, or a combination of both. Other than the 256kbps service, all other broadband packages from the company offer unlimited use.

Considering all the massive negative propaganda in the Indian and western media about Pakistan, it is interesting to see that some Americans are noticing the high-speed access build-out in the "failed state" of Pakistan by a state-owned telephone company.

In a provocatively titled post "Osama bin Laden Getting Faster Internet Than You Have: Pakistan’s 50Mbps Future", an American blogger Philip Dampier complains as follows: "While America’s heartland is being wired for 3Mbps DSL service, residents in Pakistan are getting ready for speeds up to 50Mbps thanks to a major broadband expansion in the country".

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Mobile Internet in South Asia

Media and Telecom Sectors Growing in Pakistan

Internet Service Providers of Pakistan

Poverty Reduction Through Telecom Access

Pakistan's Telecom Boom

Pakistan Tops Text Message Growth

WiMax Rollout in Pakistan

Mobile Internet in Pakistan

Smartphones in Pakistan

Low Literacy Threatens Pakistan's Future

Gender Gap in South Asia

Mobile Financial Services in Pakistan

ITU Internet Access Data by Countries

Financial Services in Pakistan

Distance Learning in Pakistan

Top 5 ICT4D Trends in 2010

ICT4D in Pakistani Hospital

ITCN Asia 2010 Conference in Karachi

State of Telecom Industry in Pakistan