Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pakistanis Join Hunt for "God Particle"

Humans have been engaged in the perennial effort to crack the code of the physical world; to figure out what the universe is made of; to know the origins of human and other species; in other words, to get to the very bottom of things. These are existential questions that religions and philosophers have offered answers to. But most scientists remain unconvinced with these answers and continue their hunt for "God Particle".

The most high-profile effort to find "God Particle" is taking place about 300 ft below ground in a tunnel at the French-Swiss border. Buried there is a massive particle accelerator and super collider called LHC (Large Hadron Collider) run by the Swiss lab CERN (European Organization of Nuclear Research), which has two beams of particles racing at nearly the speed of light in opposite directions and the resulting particles produced from collisions are being detected by massive detectors in the hope of experimentally finding the fundamental particle of which everything in the universe is built from: God Particle. The knowledge gained from this multibillion-dollar atom smasher may eventually help scientists treat diseases, improve the Internet, and open doors to travel through extra dimensions, according to the scientists associated with it.

Among the world scientists working at CERN on LHC project is Professor Hafeez Hoorani of Pakistan's Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. He is one of 27 Pakistani scientists at CERN.CERN is the most highly respected research lab in Switzerland responsible for LHC. He acknowledges that Pakistan government's support for Pakistani scientists' serious involvement at CERN materialized only after 1999, the year former President Musharraf's government assumed power. He also gives credit to Dr. Abdus Salam, Pakistan's only Nobel Laureate, for inspiring him and his colleagues to pursue serious scientific research. Here's what Professor Hoorani says about Pakistan's involvement in LHC and CERN:

When I first came to CERN, I was mainly working on technical things but became increasingly involved in political issues. In 1999, I went back to Pakistan to set up a group working on different aspects of the LHC project. There I had to convince my people and my government to collaborate with CERN, which was rather difficult, since nobody associated science with Switzerland. It is known as a place for tourism, for its watches, and nice places to visit.

However, Pakistan already had an early connection to CERN through the late Abdus Salam, the sole Nobel laureate from Pakistan in science and one of the fathers of the electroweak theory. CERN has been known to the scientific community of Pakistan since 1973 through the discovery of neutral currents which eventually led to the Nobel Prize for Salam. We are contributing much more now because of the students who worked with Salam, who know his theories and CERN, and who are now placed at highly influential positions within the government of Pakistan. They have helped and pushed Pakistan towards a very meaningful scientific collaboration with CERN. People now know that there is an organization called CERN. It took a long time to explain what CERN is about, and I brought many people here to show them, because they did not imagine CERN this way. Many people support us now which gives us hope…”

In addition to the 27 scientists, Pakistan has made material contributions to the tune of $10m. According to a post by Ujmi on WTF, Pakistan signed an agreement with CERN which doubled the Pakistani contribution from one to two million Swiss francs. And with this new agreement Pakistan started construction of the resistive plate chambers required for the CMS muon system. While more recently, a protocol has been signed enhancing Pakistan’s total contribution to the LHC program to $10 million.

CERN is a pan-European effort and all of its member states are European. Pakistan, with all of its contributions to LHC project, is hoping to join the ranks of India, Israel, Japan, Russia, Turkey and United States as an observer state at CERN.

Pakistan has contributed the LHC in numerous ways including some of the following in particular:

1. Detector construction
2. Detector simulation
3. Physics analysis
4. Grid computing
5. Computational software development
6. Manufacturing of mechanical equipment
7. Alignment of the CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) tracker using lasers
8. Testing of electronic equipment
9. Barrel Yoke: 35 Ton each feet made in Pakistan
10. Assembly of CF (Carbon Fiber) Fins for the Silicon Tracker’s TOB (Tracker Outer Barrel).
11. 245 of the 300 CMS chambers required were made in Islamabad, of which 226 are already installed at CERN.

The Higgs boson, also known as "God Particle", is a hypothetical massive scalar elementary particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model of particle physics. It is the only Standard Model particle not yet experimentally observed. An experimental observation of it would help to explain how otherwise massless elementary particles cause matter to have mass. More specifically, the Higgs boson would explain the difference between the massless photon and the relatively massive W and Z bosons. Elementary particle masses, and the differences between electromagnetism (caused by the photon) and the weak force (caused by the W and Z bosons), are critical to many aspects of the structure of microscopic (and hence macroscopic) matter; thus, if it exists, the Higgs boson is an integral and pervasive component of the material world.

The Standard Model of particle physics has its limits. It can't explain several big mysteries about the universe that have their roots in the minuscule world of particles and forces. If there's one truly extraordinary concept to emerge from the past century of inquiry, it's that the cosmos we see was once smaller than an atom. This is why particle physicists talk about cosmology and cosmologists talk about particle physics: Our existence, our entire universe, emerged from things that happened at the smallest imaginable scale. The big bang theory tells us that the known universe once had no dimensions at all—no up or down, no left or right, no passage of time, and laws of physics beyond our vision.

There have been many other efforts to build particle accelerators and supercolliders including SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator) and Fermi Collider, but none so ambitious and massive as the LHC. It is a commendable effort that will advance human knowledge. However, there is no guarantee that it will help find "God Particle".


CERN Website
CERN and the LHC Program
National Geographic
WTF Website
PAEC Newsletter

Monday, September 29, 2008

Pakistan's FATA Face Off Fears

"I've been to Waziristan. I can see how tough that terrain is. It's ruled by a handful of tribes", said Senator John S. McCain in a recent presidential debate referring to Waziristan "agency" in Pakistan's FATA region.

Often described in the world media as "lawless" and "a terrorists sanctuary", Pakistan's FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) region, particularly Waziristan, has been the topic of news, discussions and presidential debates in the United State this year. There are reports that President Bush has authorized US special ops covert strikes inside FATA. US presidential candidate Barack Obama has openly advocated US ground troops incursions and air strikes in FATA. While many Americans, including several prominent politicians and candidates for high offices, have heard about FATA, their knowledge appears to be very sketchy and completely inadequate for making potentially dangerous policy toward Pakistan. Even the "experts" and Washington think tanks do not fully understand or appreciate the consequences of FATA incursions by the US military. So what is FATA? What is its history? Who lives there? How is it governed or not governed? Can it turn into another Vietnam for the US troops? Let's try and discuss answers to these important questions.

What is FATA?

FATA is Pakistan's federally administrated tribal area. It is bordered by Afghanistan to the west with the border marked by the Durand Line, the North-West Frontier Province and the Punjab to the east, and Balochistan to the south. It is considered Pakistan's "wild west" where the inhabitants have always loved their guns and their freedom. The region, with its gun-loving culture, fierce independence and religious zealotry, was instrumental in Afghan Mujahedeen's successful resistance against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and the region contributed to the defeat and eventual fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. It became home to millions of Afghan refugees in the 1980s, many of whom grew up there. The region's seminaries (also called madrassahs) are believed to have given birth to the Taliban (literally meaning "students") who ruled Afghanistan until the US invasion of 2001.

The total population of the FATA is estimated at 3m Pashto-speaking people (Pashtoons or Pathans), or roughly 2% of Pakistan's population. The people of the region share common language, culture and tribal traditions with their kin across the border in Afghanistan. Region's inhabitants' tribal ties are stronger than their national identities. In many cases, the Pakistan-Afghan border (called the Durand line, drawn by the British colonial officials) divides the tribes between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Only 3.1% of the population resides in established townships. It is the most rural administrative unit in Pakistan.

FATA consists of seven "agencies", each nominally managed by Pakistan government's "political agents". The agencies are named Khyber, Kurram, Bajaur, Mohmand, Orakzai, North and South areas of Waziristan and six FRs (Frontier Regions) namely FR Peshawar, FR Kohat, FR Tank, FR Banuu, FR Lakki and FR Dera Ismail Khan. The main towns include Miranshah, Razmak, Bajaur, Darra Bazzar, Ghalanai as Head Quareters of Mohmand Agency and Wana .

FATA Governance Model:

FATA is constitutionally part of Pakistan, but the Pakistani constitution says that the country's laws do not apply there- unless the president of Pakistan specifically decrees otherwise in certain circumstances. The tribes rule by the age-old jirga system that makes rules and dispenses justice. This governance model was developed by the British colonial government based on treaties with the Pushtoon tribes, and continued unchanged after Pakistan's independence. It relies on Political Agents (PAs), appointed by the governor of NWFP (North West Frontier Province) on behalf of Pakistan's president. The PAs are the highest officials of the state of Pakistan in tribal agencies. They do not directly rule or administer, but they work with the tribal chiefs (maliks) using carrots and sticks to influence the tribes' behavior. The PAs provide money, infrastructure support and other incentives to the maliks in exchange for cooperation. When such cooperation is not forthcoming, the PAs withhold funds, levy fines and, in rare circumstances, threaten the use of military force to bring them in line. The bottom line is that the system relies on the PAs cooperation with the maliks. Without it, the governance model falls apart. After repeatedly trying and failing to establish control, this system was codified by the British in Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) in 1901 and remains in force today. Like the colonial Britsh rulers of the past, no government in Pakistan has managed to take full control of FATA since the country's independence in 1947.

The American "Jihad" and FATA governance:

After the Soviet invasion in late 1970s and occupation of Afghanistan in 1980s, the US got heavily involved in Afghanistan and threw its support behind the Pashtoons resisting the Russian invaders. In fact, President Ronald Reagan invited some of the current Taliban leaders back in the 1980s to the White House and hailed them as "moral equivalents of America's founding fathers". Saudi Arabia also joined the efforts to evict the Russians from Afghanistan. According to Maximilian Forte, the Taliban expert Ahmad Rashid points out that the core and founding leadership of the current Taliban movement did indeed form part of the anti-Soviet mujahidin struggle.

In particular, the following Taliban names need special mention:

* Mullah Omar
* Mullah Mohammed Hassan Rehmani, the former Taliban Governor of Kandahar, “a founder member of the Taliban…considered to be number two in the movement to his old friend Mullah Omar”
* Mohammed Ghaus, former Foreign Minister of the Taliban
* Nuruddin Turabi, former Justice Minister
* Abdul Majid, former Mayor of Kabul
* and Jalaluddin Haqqani, much in the news lately.

That is only a partial list of the Taliban leadership which, with the exception of the last entry, was provided by Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, author and an authority on the Taliban.

The joint American-Pakistani-Saudi inspired "Jihad" against the Soviet Union fundamentally altered the power structure and governance in FATA. During this period, two new groups emerged to subvert the the traditional model: Military commanders and Mullahs. The military commanders who led the fight against the Soviets became increasingly powerful and influential because of their leadership abilities and competence as fighters and organizers. The mullahs, who were marginalized and ridiculed before the "Jihad", rose in status and influence because of the religious inspiration they provided for "Jihad". The power of the commanders and the mullahs was also bolstered by the large amount of funding from US, Saudi and Pakistani sources that they received and controlled in this period. The PAs and the maliks are no longer unchallenged as the de facto power brokers in FATA. The power is now more diffused.

Historically, the army only entered FATA at the invitation of the tribal leaders. More recently, however, the traditional tribal power structure has suffered powerful blows as the Pakistani military forcibly entered the tribal areas upon the urging of the Americans. These operations by Pakistani military have had very limited success at the cost of more than two thousand Pakistani soldiers' lives. The FATA tribesmen, familiar with the difficult terrain (rough and barren jagged hills, deep valleys, thousands of caves and mazes of tunnels) and having been well trained and equipped by the US and Pakistani special ops in the 1980s, have demonstrated their upper hand repeatedly in many encounters with Pakistani and US military along the Pakistan-Afghan border. According to various investigators and the press, most of the "militant" casualties claimed by US and Pakistani militaries have turned out to be non-combatants, often women and children, further fueling the anger and resentment of the locals.

US and Pakistani Options:

Clearly, the situation in FATA and Afghanistan must be dealt with to stop the Talibanization of the entire region with all its terrible consequences for the world. But the available options are not good. The use of raw, naked military power will not work. Turning this into a war between the US and Pakistan will only help Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Though long-term and difficult, the only viable and durable option for US and Pakistan is to try and restore the traditional role of the PAs and the maliks by strengthening their power and authority over their respective regions. This option will require a combination of lots of carrots and a few big sticks, with tremendous patience to achieve a lasting solution to one of the most difficult problems in the world. The FATA problems have developed in over two decades as unintended consequence of US-Pak-Saudi intervention in the Afghan "Jihad" of the 1980s. Quick and dirty solutions relying on powerful military force alone will quickly make the situation a lot worse than it is now.

Full-Scale US-Pakistan War:

Initially brief missions by US commandos in FATA will turn into a full-scale US invasion and war with Pakistan, leading to the US getting bogged down in a situation worse than Vietnam. Although it is a remote possibility, resort to tactical nuclear weapons by either Pakistan or the US or both sides can not be completely ruled out if the war gets very protracted and frustrating for all parties involved. Indian or Chinese intervention is also possible, even probable, if a large number of refugees start to pour out of Afghanistan and Pakistan into India and China. The law of unintended consequences will prevail, unless we learn from our past mistakes.

Plea for Sanity:

With Pakistani and US media scrutinizing every US incursion into Pakistani territory, this dangerous game can easily unleash pent-up anger on both sides. For the sake of world peace and security in South Asia, I hope and pray that sanity will prevail in Washington and Islamabad before the US goes too far with its limited, covert commando raids into FATA.

Related Links:

Origins of the Taliban

Violence, Governance and Islam in Pakistan by Jochen Hippler

Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan

McCain-Obama Debate Pakistan Policy

Radicals Target FATA Tribal Elders

Sunday, September 28, 2008

McCain Says Palin's Pakistan Statement Not Policy

Only a day after the McCain-Obama debate, Senator McCain's running mate Governor Sarah Palin seemed to partially contradict McCain on Pakistan in an encounter with a student in Pennsylvania. While she did say she believes in "working with [President] Zardari to make sure that we're all working together to stop the guys from coming in over the border." Upon further questioning, she also went on to say that if it is necessary to strike across the border to "stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should,"

She was answering an impromptu question posed by Temple University graduate student Michael Rovito, who asked her about Pakistan.

"How about the Pakistan situation?," asked Rovito, who said he was not a Palin supporter. "What's your thoughts about that?"

"In Pakistan?," she asked.

"What's going on over there, like Waziristan?"

"It's working with Zardari to make sure that we're all working together to stop the guys from coming in over the border," she told him. "And we'll go from there."

Rovito wasn't finished. "Waziristan is blowing up!," he said.

"Yeah it is," Palin said, "and the economy there is blowing up too."

"So we do cross border, like from Afghanistan to Pakistan you think?," Rovito asked.

"If that's what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should," Palin replied.

Later, McCain made it clear that Palin did not represent his policy position on Pakistan.

"She was in a conversation with some young man," McCain said during an interview today on ABC's "This Week." "She understands and has stated repeatedly that we're not going to do anything except in America's national security interest and we are not going to, quote, announce it ahead of time."

McCain said Palin's exchange was not an official policy statement.

"I don't think most Americans think that that's a definitive policy statement made by Governor Palin," McCain said.

It's clear from this incident that Sarah Palin and John McCain have not quite gelled as a team yet. But if you look at some of Joe Biden's statements during the Democratic primary campaign, you would also think that he does not agree with Obama on Pakistan policy. Given the extreme difficulty of the issues in Pakistan, it is understandable that their thinking is still evolving. However, in such situations, the mindset of the person on top of the presidential ticket is what really counts. The vice president has some influence on policy but the ultimate power of the final decision rests with the person elected president.

Friday, September 26, 2008

McCain and Obama Debate Pakistan Policy

By various estimates, there are about 1.5 million to 2 million American Muslim voters, including several hundred thousand Pakistani-Americans, in the United States. The estimated number of people of Pakistani origin in the United States ranges from 250,000 to 500,000. The top three geographies are NY/NJ/CT tri-state area, Chicago metropolitan area and Southern California. Pakistani Americans are the seventh largest Asian American ethnic group after Chinese, Filipinos, Indians, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Japanese communities. Pakistani-Americans are the second largest Muslim group in America after African-American Muslims. There is a significant concentration of Muslim vote in the swing states of Florida and Michigan. If, as the anecdotal evidence suggests, Obama gets the lion's share of the Muslim American vote, then he could win the presidency by a thin margin of Muslim votes.

Is an Obama win good for Muslim-Americans or Pakistani-Americans? To answer this question, let's look at the first debate between McCain and Obama. Pakistan and Afghanistan figured prominently in the US presidential debate 2008 between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. Here's the relevant transcript on the subject:

LEHRER: Afghanistan, lead -- a new -- a new lead question. Now, having resolved Iraq, we'll move to Afghanistan.

And it goes to you, Senator Obama, and it's a -- it picks up on a point that's already been made. Do you think more troops -- more U.S. troops should be sent to Afghanistan, how many, and when?

OBAMA: Yes, I think we need more troops. I've been saying that for over a year now.

And I think that we have to do it as quickly as possible, because it's been acknowledged by the commanders on the ground the situation is getting worse, not better.

We had the highest fatalities among U.S. troops this past year than at any time since 2002. And we are seeing a major offensive taking place -- al Qaeda and Taliban crossing the border and attacking our troops in a brazen fashion. They are feeling emboldened.

And we cannot separate Afghanistan from Iraq, because what our commanders have said is we don't have the troops right now to deal with Afghanistan.

So I would send two to three additional brigades to Afghanistan. Now, keep in mind that we have four times the number of troops in Iraq, where nobody had anything to do with 9/11 before we went in, where, in fact, there was no al Qaeda before we went in, but we have four times more troops there than we do in Afghanistan.

And that is a strategic mistake, because every intelligence agency will acknowledge that al Qaeda is the greatest threat against the United States and that Secretary of Defense Gates acknowledged the central front -- that the place where we have to deal with these folks is going to be in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

So here's what we have to do comprehensively, though. It's not just more troops.

We have to press the Afghan government to make certain that they are actually working for their people. And I've said this to President Karzai.

No. 2, we've got to deal with a growing poppy trade that has exploded over the last several years.

No. 3, we've got to deal with Pakistan, because al Qaeda and the Taliban have safe havens in Pakistan, across the border in the northwest regions, and although, you know, under George Bush, with the support of Senator McCain, we've been giving them $10 billion over the last seven years, they have not done what needs to be done to get rid of those safe havens.

And until we do, Americans here at home are not going to be safe.

LEHRER: Afghanistan, Senator McCain?

MCCAIN: First of all, I won't repeat the mistake that I regret enormously, and that is, after we were able to help the Afghan freedom fighters and drive the Russians out of Afghanistan, we basically washed our hands of the region.

And the result over time was the Taliban, al Qaeda, and a lot of the difficulties we are facing today. So we can't ignore those lessons of history.

Now, on this issue of aiding Pakistan, if you're going to aim a gun at somebody, George Shultz, our great secretary of state, told me once, you'd better be prepared to pull the trigger.

I'm not prepared at this time to cut off aid to Pakistan. So I'm not prepared to threaten it, as Senator Obama apparently wants to do, as he has said that he would announce military strikes into Pakistan.

We've got to get the support of the people of -- of Pakistan. He said that he would launch military strikes into Pakistan.

Now, you don't do that. You don't say that out loud. If you have to do things, you have to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government.

Now, the new president of Pakistan, Zardari, has got his hands full. And this area on the border has not been governed since the days of Alexander the Great.

I've been to Waziristan. I can see how tough that terrain is. It's ruled by a handful of tribes.

And, yes, Senator Obama calls for more troops, but what he doesn't understand, it's got to be a new strategy, the same strategy that he condemned in Iraq. It's going to have to be employed in Afghanistan.

And we're going to have to help the Pakistanis go into these areas and obtain the allegiance of the people. And it's going to be tough. They've intermarried with al Qaeda and the Taliban. And it's going to be tough. But we have to get the cooperation of the people in those areas.

And the Pakistanis are going to have to understand that that bombing in the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad was a signal from the terrorists that they don't want that government to cooperate with us in combating the Taliban and jihadist elements.

So we've got a lot of work to do in Afghanistan. But I'm confident, now that General Petraeus is in the new position of command, that we will employ a strategy which not only means additional troops -- and, by the way, there have been 20,000 additional troops, from 32,000 to 53,000, and there needs to be more.

So it's not just the addition of troops that matters. It's a strategy that will succeed. And Pakistan is a very important element in this. And I know how to work with him. And I guarantee you I would not publicly state that I'm going to attack them.

OBAMA: Nobody talked about attacking Pakistan. Here's what I said.

And if John wants to disagree with this, he can let me know, that, if the United States has al Qaeda, bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out.

Now, I think that's the right strategy; I think that's the right policy.

And, John, I -- you're absolutely right that presidents have to be prudent in what they say. But, you know, coming from you, who, you know, in the past has threatened extinction for North Korea and, you know, sung songs about bombing Iran, I don't know, you know, how credible that is. I think this is the right strategy.

Now, Senator McCain is also right that it's difficult. This is not an easy situation. You've got cross-border attacks against U.S. troops.

And we've got a choice. We could allow our troops to just be on the defensive and absorb those blows again and again and again, if Pakistan is unwilling to cooperate, or we have to start making some decisions.

And the problem, John, with the strategy that's been pursued was that, for 10 years, we coddled Musharraf, we alienated the Pakistani population, because we were anti-democratic. We had a 20th-century mindset that basically said, "Well, you know, he may be a dictator, but he's our dictator."

And as a consequence, we lost legitimacy in Pakistan. We spent $10 billion. And in the meantime, they weren't going after al Qaeda, and they are more powerful now than at any time since we began the war in Afghanistan.

That's going to change when I'm president of the United States.

MCCAIN: I -- I don't think that Senator Obama understands that there was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf came to power. Everybody who was around then, and had been there, and knew about it knew that it was a failed state.

From this debate transcript and prior statements, it is clear that Sen McCain is far more knowledgeable about Pakistan than Senator Obama. Mr. McCain has also repeatedly stressed diplomacy and close working relationship with Pakistan and demonstrated his commitment by his actions such as several visits and phone conversations with Pakistani leadership recently and in the past. On the other hand, Mr. Obama has made aggressive statements about Pakistan without making serious effort to understand the issues faced by Pakistanis in FATA.

Beyond the debate specific to Pakistan policy, the most oft-repeated phrase by Senator McCain was “I don’t think Sen Obama understands”, while Obama repeated “I agree with John” more often than any other phrase. Just these two phrases capture the essence of the tone of the debate on foreign policy.

Here's a video clip of the McCain-Obama foreign policy debate regarding Pakistan:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Story of Fear, Greed and Bailout on Wall Street

As the US faces its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the American financial and economic leadrship has come under severe criticism by the world. Last week -- even before Wall Street's latest collapse -- 13 former finance ministers met at the University of Virginia campus and called on the Americans to fix their 'broken financial system.' Australia's Peter Costello noted that lately the US has been "exporting instability" in world markets, and Yashwant Sinha, former finance minister of India, concluded, "The time has come. The U.S. should accept some monitoring by the IMF." The Wall Street Journal reports that the turmoil in the U.S. financial sector is rippling through political debates around the world, giving ammunition to foreign officials who question American economic leadership and oppose policies that follow the U.S. model. While the U.S. has been a model for Chinese reforms, now it's clear "the teachers have their own problems," says Song Guoqing, an economist at Peking University's China Center for Economic Research. Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has criticized the U.S.'s handling of the financial crunch on his Web site. "I remember well how we were told never to bail out failing companies," he wrote in his blog on Sept. 18. "But in the last one year the Fed has bailed out dozens of failing banks, mortgage corporations and other businesses."

Clearly, this crisis has presented a rare opportunity to the critics of the American economic leadership around the world, especially those who have had to listen to lectures from American officials or accept the IMF-prescribed bitter medicines as cure for their economic ills. In spite of the harsh and overt criticism by these ministers and economists, the fact remains that their own nations have been emulating the US financial system and their banks have been full participants in it. What drives the financial markets of the world today are the basic human emotions of fear an greed.

"Greed is good", said Gordon Gekko, a fictional character from the 1987 film "Wall Street". Gekko is based loosely on arbitrageur Ivan Boesky, who gave a speech on greed at the University of California, Berkeley in 1986 and real-life activist investor / corporate raider Carl Icahn. A number of prominent Wall Street figures, including Ivan Boesky, were found guilty of criminal behavior and convicted in the 1980s.

Fear and greed. These are the two main human emotions that primarily drive the world of finance and investing. Sanity prevails when fear and greed are in a state of near equilibrium. Things go badly out of kilter when one of these emotions significantly dominates investors and finance executives behavior. The years of extraordinary greed, unhindered by regulators, produced massive hedge funds, rampant speculation and AAA and AA rated questionable mortgage-backed securities and other new-fangled financial instruments such as CDSs (credit default swaps) with shaky foundations that brought enormous profits to the investment banks on Wall Street. Now, overwhelming fear is driving the big Wall Street firms into bankruptcy and the US economy toward a prolonged and deep recession. The fear is so great that the investors around the world have grown increasingly nervous and stormed into the safest investment around -- short-term Treasury Bills issued by the US government.

The behind-the-scenes nightmare scenario for US economy, painted by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, has scared the recalcitrant US Congress into agreeing to a massive $700b bailout of Wall Street. This large sum amounts to $2,333.33 for each American. On Tuesday, in his testimony before the US Congress, Bernanke said "Despite the efforts of the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, and other agencies, global financial markets remain under extraordinary stress". "Action by Congress is urgently required to stabilize the situation and avert what could otherwise be very serious consequences for our financial markets and our economy", he said further. "We must do so in order to avoid a continuing series of financial institution failures and frozen credit markets that threaten the well-being of American families' financial well-being, the viability of businesses both small and large and the very health of our economy," Paulson said.

As the criticism of the bailout plan on the Main Street mounts, the markets around the world are taking huge sigh of relief, confirming the pre-eminent status of the US as the epicenter of the world economy. Meanwhile, there are reports of a compromise deal in US Congress that will dole out $250b immediately, followed by a second tranche of $100b in a few months, after review by Congress. The remaining $350b is not committed but it will be considered in the future, based on the progress made by the US Treasury.

According to media reports, the plan would allow the government to buy bad mortgages and other troubled assets held by the banks and financial institutions at risk. Getting those debts off their books should bolster their balance sheets, making them more inclined to lend and easing one of the biggest choke points in the credit crisis. If the plan works, it should help lift a major weight off the sputtering economy. There reports also indicate that there will be strong Congressional oversight, new regulations, limits on executive compensation and the government will get warrants that can be converted to common stock of the Wall Street firms which accept the government's bailout offer.

As the White House and Congressional leadership try to hammer out a bailout plan, the FBI is reportedly investigating market manipulation charges against a number of leading traders and short sellers. It is alleged that speculators started and spread false rumors about many Wall Street firms to profit from the precipitous decline and collapse of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and other financial institutions.

The last few days have severely tested the abilities of Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke as crisis managers. Both have spent long days and sleepless nights working on their bailout plan and convincing President Bush, congressional leadership, and presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain to come together in supporting their plan with a great sense of urgency. They seem to be succeeding in spite of the bitterly contested US elections only about 40 days away. The key leaders and presidential candidates have met today at the White House and agreed to expedite the passage of the plan.

There are still many critics and many unanswered questions about the plan. The most common criticism is based on the concern, known as "moral hazard", that the bailout will encourage more reckless behavior by market participants if they do not bear the full consequences of their actions. Some, particularly conservative Republicans, are ideologically opposed to government intervention in capital markets. They consider any government-led bailout as "socialism" or even "communism". Others are proposing some form of government backed insurance plan for the troubled mortgage-backed securities rather than outright purchase by the US Treasury. However, there is broad consensus emerging that the price of inaction would be far greater than the cost of the proposed plan to the American taxpayers. It is clear that decisive action is needed by the US to stabilize the world markets and reduce the chances of a deep, worldwide recession that will likely take its biggest toll on the most vulnerable people around the world. While the deal appears close, it could still fall apart due to political rancor and powerful Republican opposition led by Sen Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Who Shares Blame for Islamabad Marriott Bombing?

According to media reports, suicide bombers killed more than 53 people (including the Czech ambassador) and injured more than 260 in an attack on the 290-bedroom Marriott hotel in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad at 8pm on Saturday night. Overwhelming majority of the victims were Pakistanis and Muslims celebrating the holy month of Ramadan. Witnesses believe a truck carrying 600kg of explosives could have totally destroyed the hotel if it had been able to ram past the security barrier. It was followed by at least another explosion. The bombs blew a 30-foot crater in the road in front of the hotel, which is popular with foreigners, diplomats and businessmen, and ignited gas cylinders in the kitchens. According to witnesses, security staff at the front of the hotel, where the blast was strongest had "simply been vaporised".

Mr. Sadruddin Hashwani, the hotel owner, says at least 700 people were in the hotel at the time of the attack, many enjoying iftar, the traditional meal at the end of the day-long Ramadan fast. The blasts caused the ceiling collapse in a banquet room where up to 300 people were eating, but another 300 eating under a marquee to the rear survived. The hotel has been attacked twice in the past and an attempted suicide bombing was foiled by a security guard in 2007. It was one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan in over a decade.

As usual, most Pakistanis find it hard to accept that the perpetrators of such a heinous act in Ramadan could be Muslim or Pakistani. It seems the whole nation is in a state of denial. The following music video titled "Yeh Hum Nahin" (It's not us) captures the common refrain heard in Pakistan:

The fact that the bombers were able to penetrate such a secure fortress inside Islamabad, and carry out the most deadly Marriott bombing just before an undisclosed Pakistani leadership dinner, shows that there are insiders involved. It’s an unfortunate fact that many Pakistanis (a significant minority) see this as jihad rather than the cold blooded mass murder of innocent people, while others sympathize with the perpetrators' cause or at least rationalize such dastardly acts by blaming America or the Pakistani military or someone other than the jihadis who carry out these murderous rampages. Just watch the apologists and the conspiracy theorists engaged in blame-America or blame-military or blame-anyone-but-us talk on Pakistani TV channels and you’ll see what I am talking about. To stop this senseless Muslim-on-Muslim and Pakistani-on-Pakistani violence, the people of Pakistan have to first acknowledge the reality of what is going on in their midst and purge violent jihadi elements. According to anecdotal evidence and some published polls, the support for war on terror is at a low point in Pakistan, in spite of the continuing killing of innocent Pakistanis. This is the sad reality of the denial and insensitivity within Pakistan. It has to change for sanity to prevail for saving innocent lives being lost on a daily basis. The tide of Pakistani public opinion must turn against the homegrown, violent, jihadi terrorists soon to stop the recurrence of more deadly bombings like the Islamabad Marriott's.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Can You Imagine US-Pakistan Role Reversal?

Earlier in February this year, Haq's Musings blog brought to you the "Pakistani View of US Nuclear Weapons Safety" by Hugh Gusterson, a parody of Pakistani position regarding US nuclear weapons safety. With the increasing frequency of US incursions into Pakistan's FATA region, have you ever wondered how things would look to an independent observer if the US and Pakistan found themselves in each others' shoes? Well, Pakistani-American Junaid Levesque-Alam has imagined such role reversal. Here's a post he recently wrote for his blog "Crossing the Crescent".

Pakistan Invades America -- "Without Permission"

By M. Junaid Levesque-Alam

September 17, 2008

The U.S. State Department lodged a sharp protest over ongoing Pakistani missile strikes and ground raids today, saying the Islamic Republic was violating American sovereignty.

"We will try to convince Pakistan . . . to respect [the] sovereignty of the United States -- and God willing, we will convince," State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.1

The controversy stems from the Pakistan Army's recent decision, leaked in a prominent Pakistani newspaper, to mount intensifying air attacks and new ground assaults against extremists hiding in American safe havens across the ocean.

American papers reported that under the new policy, the Pakistani military will no longer seek America's permission in killing Americans, but will inform American diplomats about these killings as a friendly gesture between close allies.2

Pakistan Army General Ashfaq Kayani told reporters outside Islamabad late last night that the new strategy was justified. "We are working to prevent more attacks on the Pakistani people," he said.3

The general's stance signified strong Pakistani dissatisfaction with America's reluctance to crack down on religious fundamentalists and neoconservatives, who, experts note, have deep ties to American intelligence services and military leaders. The largely unchecked extremists, experts observe, have used America to bolster the agenda of their ideological counterparts across the ocean in Israel, and to strike directly against Pakistan and other parts of the Muslim world.

"We have to strike them over there so that they cannot order strikes against us here at home," General Kayani said, referring to American firepower that has terrorized hundreds of thousands of civilians on either side of the Pak-Afghan border and in the Middle East.

As Kayani spoke, new precision attacks and commando raids were being conducted against ranches in Texas, small towns in Alaska, the offices of AIPAC and energy-related lobbying firms in Washington, D.C. Commandos were also dispatched to America's unruly federally-administered Bible Belt, where resentment of government authority runs high.

Several high-value targets were killed in the attacks. Local media outlets claimed 50 civilians were also killed, but these assertions could not be independently verified. Pakistani officials said they would send in their own team to investigate the claims, time permitting.

Seeking to assuage domestic concerns, American officials downplayed the actions of their staunch ally. "The nation should not be upset by the statement of Pakistani General Kayani," White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said in an official statement.4 "Pakistan respect U.S. sovereignty and looks at us as partners," she added.5

U.S. officials also insisted no secret deal had been reached beforehand allowing Pakistanis to strike inside American territory. "Media reports about authorization for Pakistani raids into the U.S. are incorrect," the American ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, told Fox News last night. She added that the South Asian country had "no aggressive designs or postures" toward America.6

Regimes allied to Pakistan, including those in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Palestine, expressed support for the new Pakistani strategy, citing the need to "remove and destroy" strongholds where key militants have masterminded attacks against their countries.7

Informed of this, Ambassador Patterson appeared unfazed, saying, "Pakistan respects American sovereignty." She insisted that Pakistani officials provided her with assurances that "no such order had been given" for new rules of engagement.8 Finally, the ambassador explained, America had already carried out its own recent military offensive that left hundreds of rural Americans dead, relieving the need for further Pakistani intervention.

But in Islamabad, Pakistani corps commanders said their new strategy would see continued implementation in the coming weeks. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one commander said that as far as Pakistan was concerned, "most things have been settled in terms of how we're going to proceed."9


Except for note 2, all the above-quoted statements are real quotes; only the roles have been switched.

1 Quote actually taken from Pakistani PM Yousaf Gilani. Reuters, Sept. 12, 2008.

2 It was actually the Pakistan daily, Dawn, which reported on the U.S. policy shift as follows: "Under this new policy, the US military will notify Pakistan's government when it conducts raids, but will not seek its permission." Sept. 12, 2008.

3 Quote actually taken from US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Dawn (Pakistan Daily), Sept. 12, 2008.

4 Quote actually taken from PM Gilani. (Source: note 3)

5 Quote actually taken from Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani. (Source: note 3)

6 Quotes actually taken from Ambassador Haqqani. (Source: note 3)

7 Quote actually taken from U.S. ally and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Washington Post, Sept. 12, 2008. ()

8 Quotes actually taken from Ambassador Haqqani. (Source: note 7)

9 Quote actually taken from anonymous U.S. official. (Source: note 7)
M. Junaid Levesque-Alam is a Pakistani-American who blogs about America and Islam at Crossing the Crescent. He writes about American Muslim identity for WireTap magazine and has been published in CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, The Nation (online), and The American Muslim. He works as a communications coordinator for an anti-domestic violence agency in the NYC area and obtained his undergraduate degree in journalism from Northeastern University. He can be reached at: junaidalam1@gmail.com

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Zardari Selling Pakistan's Assets

Pakistan considers asset sales to bolster economy
By Heather Timmons
Tuesday, September 9, 2008

NEW DELHI: Pakistan plans to sell valuable energy assets, beginning with a major gas field, as it tries to reap billions of dollars from deals with investors in industries like banking and farming.

The move comes as Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, is stepping in as president.

Because of a hefty oil bill and a slowing economy, Pakistan is struggling under its biggest budget deficit in a decade, $21 billion; inflation that hit a 30-year high, 24.3 percent, in July; and fast-rising unemployment that is projected to reach 6.6 percent in 2009. Government leaders are eager to raise money, quickly.

"The government is going through all their funding options," a banker advising the Pakistani government said. Financial advisers to the government spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to alienate their client.

The Qadirpur gas field in Pakistan, a natural gas reserve of 2.9 trillion cubic feet in the Indus River flood plain, may be one of the first big-ticket sales. The field, the second-largest in the country, is valued at about $3 billion.

Bids for the field, about 260 miles northeast of Karachi, may be submitted in the next week or so, bankers say. Likely bidders include foreign companies already involved in Pakistan's energy industry, like Kuwaiti state corporations and OMV, a private Austrian energy company.

"They're testing the market with an auction," said an energy banker who asked to remain anonymous because he was pricing the deal for a client.

The selling of the Qadirpur field could be controversial because it is considered a strategic asset. Pakistan imports more than three-quarters of its petroleum and is struggling to become less dependent on imports. But a person close to the deal said there were no guarantees that the field would be sold. He characterized the bid solicitation as an informal process. He asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the deal.

Some investors are questioning the wisdom of Pakistan's selling valuable assets and are wondering whether sales will be conducted transparently and fairly.

But there is no question that the country needs to raise money, analysts said.

Pakistan's economic situation is "a result of rising commodity and food prices, exacerbated by a lot of pre-election spending by the previous government," said Gareth Price, head of the Asia Program at Chatham House, a research center in London, referring to the general elections held in February.

In an effort to win votes, the previous government, led by Pervez Musharraf, kept subsidies high on food, electricity and oil, helping drive up the budget deficit.

The sale of the Qadirpur field is part of a full-scale review of the biggest energy company in Pakistan, Oil and Gas Development, which owns 75 percent of Qadirpur. The review is being led by Merrill Lynch.

Pakistan's privatization commission said in late August that it also planned to offer stakes in Kot Addu Power on international stock exchanges this year and to privatize Hazara Phosphate Fertilizers. It invited bidders for 51 percent of Jamshoro Power, a long-discussed privatization deal. Salt and coal mines are also scheduled to be privatized.

The list of state assets for sale may not necessarily be followed by deals, analysts warned. "Talk of investing huge sums of money doesn't always materialize, because people are put off by the political machinations" in Pakistan, Price said.

Pakistan's "economic curse" is that the ruling elite — civil servants, politicians and the military — have worked in their own interest, not that of the wider population, limiting how much capital the country can raise, he said.

One possible source of new investment is the Middle East.

"There is a cultural and long-term affinity between the two regions," said Youssef Nasr, the chief executive of HSBC in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, in particular, have been strong supporters of Pakistan.

Investors from the Middle East have already bought stakes in telecommunications, banking and industrial companies in Pakistan and have been pleased with the results, he said.

One area of cooperation between Pakistan and the Middle East may be agriculture. The arid climate of the Middle East, coupled with rising food prices, has ignited fears about food security. Pakistan, meanwhile, has swaths of arable land that is lying fallow. Government officials on both sides are exploring links that could lead to joint farming ventures, Nasr said.

"It's not going to be a huge industry, by international standards," he predicted, but it could be large enough to make a difference to Pakistan's economy.

The Pakistani government plans to raise money in ways besides asset sales and joint ventures. Pakistan's central bank said on Thursday that it would sell bonds compliant with Islamic law in the domestic market and that the World Bank would "fast track" $1 billion in planned investments in the country.

Attempts to privatize and sell some state-owned assets have proved contentious. The government's plans to sell Pakistan Steel to a group of investors in 2006 were overturned, in part because the agreed-upon price was deemed to be about a third of the $1 billion value. Other sales of equity stakes have gone through with less controversy. In June 2007, United Bank Limited of Pakistan raised $650 million on the London Stock Exchange.

One bright spot for the county's economy has been remittances, or money transferred home by Pakistanis working outside the country, which are on the rise, Price said. The government is lobbying to get more permits for workers to travel to the Gulf, from which most remittances are sent.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Renewable Energy to Tackle Pakistan's Electricity Crisis

In June 2007, the power cuts in Pakistan lasted no more than 3 or 4 hours a day. Today, in extremely hot weather, Pakistanis have to endure without electricity for 8 to 10 hours a day. Industrial production is suffering, exports are down, jobs are being lost, and the national economy is in a downward spiral. By all indications, the power crisis in Pakistan is getting worse than ever.

Extended Load-shedding:
Extended electricity load shedding in Karachi's five major industrial estates is causing losses in billions of rupees as the production activity has fallen by about 50 per cent. KESC, Karachi's power supply utility, is dealing with with a shortfall of around 700MW against a total demand of 2200MW. Almost all forms of power generation from fossil fuel-fired thermal to hydroelectric to nuclear are down from a year ago. As a result of the daily rolling blackouts, the economy, major exports and overall employment are also down and the daily wage earners are suffering. The KESC and PEPCO owe more than Rs. 10b to the independent power producers (IPPs) and paying them will help bring them into full operation and ease the crisis at least partially.

Electricity Demand:
As discussed in an earlier post, Pakistan's current installed capacity is around 19,845 MW, of which around 20% is hydroelectric. Much of the rest is thermal, fueled primarily by gas and oil. Pakistan Electric Power Company PEPCO blames independent power producers (IPPs) for the electricity crisis, as they have been able to give PEPCO only 3,800 MW on average out of 5,800 MW of confirmed capacity. Most of the IPPs are running fuel stocks below the required minimum of 21 days. IPPs complain that they are not being paid on time by PEPCO.

Per capita energy consumption of the country is estimated at 14 million Btu, which is about the same as India's but only a fraction of other industrializing economies in the region such as Thailand and Malaysia, according to the US Dept of Energy 2006 report. To put it in perspective, the world average per capita energy use is about 65 million BTUs and the average American consumes 352 million BTUs. With 40% of the Pakistani households that have yet to receive electricity, and only 18% of the households that have access to pipeline gas, the energy sector is expected to play a critical role in economic and social development. With this growth comes higher energy consumption and stronger pressures on the country’s energy resources. At present, natural gas and oil supply the bulk (80 percent) of Pakistan’s energy needs. However, the consumption of those energy sources vastly exceeds the supply. For instance, Pakistan currently produces only 18.3 percent of the oil it consumes, fostering a dependency on expensive, imported oil that places considerable strain on the country’s financial position, creating growing budget deficits. On the other hand, hydro, coal, wind and solar are perhaps underutilized and underdeveloped today, as Pakistan has ample potential to exploit these resources.

The country's creaky and outdated electricity infrastructure loses over 30 percent of generated power in transit, more than seven times the losses of a well-run system, according to the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank; and a lack of spare high-voltage grid capacity limits the transmission of power from hydroelectric plants in the north to make up for shortfalls in the south.

Gilani Government's Response:
Neelum-Jhelum hydroelectric project, first formally announced by former Minister Omar Ayub on June 10, 2007, is finally starting in earnest under the PPP government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. This hydro project is expected to add 963MW power generating capacity at a cost US $2.2 billion, according to Business Wire. Prior to this project, the new Pakistani Prime Minister signed a deal with a Chinese company, Dong Fong, for setting up 525 MW thermal power plant with an investment of $450 million at Chichoki Mallian (Sheikhupura). Both of these projects are expected help partially close the 3000 MW gap that exists today between supply and demand in Pakistan.

Green Energy Opportunities:
In response to the warnings of energy crisis in Pakistan, President Musharraf's government recognized the need and the potential for renewable alternatives and, in 2006, created Alternative Energy Development Board to pursue renewable energy. In particular, AEDB is focusing on wind and solar as viable alternatives. AEDB is facilitating setting up of small renewable energy projects in line with government’s policy of promoting the use of renewable energy in the country’s power generation mix, says the board’s chief executive officer Mr Arif Alauddin. AEDB has recently issued Makwind Power Private Ltd (MPPL) a Letter of Intent for the setting up of 50MW wind farm at Nooriabad in Sindh, as part of its efforts to facilitate 700 MW wind energy by 2010.

According to data published by Miriam Katz of Environmental Peace Review, Pakistan is fortunate to have something many other countries do not, which are high wind speeds near major centers. Near Islamabad, the wind speed is anywhere from 6.2 to 7.4 meters per second (between 13.8 and 16.5 miles per hour). Near Karachi, the range is between 6.2 and 6.9 (between 13.8 and 15.4 miles per hour). Pakistan is also fortunate that in neighboring India, the company Suzlon manufactures wind turbines, thus decreasing transportation costs. Working with Suzlon, Pakistan can begin to build its own wind-turbine industry and create thousands of new jobs while solving its energy problems. Suzlon turbines start to turn at a speed of 3 meters per second. Vestas, which is one of the world's largest wind turbine manufacturers, has wind turbines that start turning at a speed of 4 meters per second. In addition to Karachi and Islamabad, there are other areas in Pakistan that receive a significant amount of wind.

In only the Balochistan and Sindh provinces, sufficient wind exists to power every coastal village in the country. There also exists a corridor between Gharo and Keti Bandar that alone could produce between 40,000 and 50,000 megawatts of electricity, says Ms. Katz who has studied and written about alternative energy potential in South Asia. Given this surplus potential, Pakistan has much to offer Asia with regards to wind energy. In recent years, the government has completed several projects to demonstrate that wind energy is viable in the country. In Mirpur Sakro, 85 micro turbines have been installed to power 356 homes. In Kund Malir, 40 turbines have been installed, which power 111 homes. The Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) has also acquired 18,000 acres for the installation of more wind turbines.

In addition to high wind speeds near major centers as well as the Gharo and Keti Bandar corridor, Pakistan is also very fortunate to have many rivers and lakes. Wind turbines that are situated in or near water enjoy an uninterrupted flow of wind, which virtually guarantees that power will be available all the time. Within towns and cities, wind speeds can often change quickly due to the presence of buildings and other structures, which can damage wind turbines. In addition, many people do not wish for turbines to be sited near cities because of noise, though these problems are often exaggerated. Wind turbines make less noise than an office and people comfortably carry on conversations while standing near them.

As is painfully evident in summers, Pakistan is an exceptionally sunny country. If 0.25% of Balochistan was covered with solar panels with an efficiency of 20%, enough electricity would be generated to cover all of Pakistani demand. In all provinces the AEDB has created 100 solar homes in order to exploit solar energy.

Solar energy makes much sense for Pakistan for several reasons: firstly, 70% of the population lives in 50,000 villages that are very far away from the national grid, according to a report by the Solar Energy Research Center (SERC). Connecting these villages to the national grid would be very costly, thus giving each house a solar panel would be cost efficient and would empower people both economically and socially.

Coal Power and Hydroelectricity
In addition to high winds and abundant solar potential, Pakistan has the fifth largest coal deposits in the world. The negative environmental effects of coal burning can be be mitigated by making use of the latest clean coal technologies that limit noxious gas exhaust into the atmosphere.

Pakistan also has some deposits of natural gas in the Potwar Plateau region and near the border between Balochistan and Sindh, but these are likely to disappear within 20 years.

Because of the presence of many rivers and lakes, it makes sense for Pakistan to build dams to support water management and electricity generation projects. However, it must be done with care to avoid damage to the environment or loss of farmland.

Financial and Policy Incentives
Despite the fact that Pakistan is so well endowed with wind and solar potential, only a few projects such as those mentioned above have been completed. One of the reasons why this has occurred is that Pakistan does not have major financial incentives available for those who want to install wind turbines or solar panels. Let us look at the case of India, Pakistan's neighbor. Despite having less potential for wind, India now has the world's fourth largest number of wind turbines installed at 7,093 MW, according to India: Renewable Energy Market report. Ahead of India are Germany at 21,283 MW, Spain at 13,400 MW and the US at 12,934 MW. In Germany, Spain and India, those who install wind turbines and solar panels are guaranteed a certain rate per kilowatt hour. In India, this varies according to the technology and the area. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, India reports that in most areas, between 2500 and 4800 rupees are guaranteed for solar panels, and for wind turbines, between 250,000 and 300,000 rupees are awarded.
Because of the above incentives, the cost of wind in India is between 2 and 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour while in Pakistan, the cost is 7 cents. In December 2006, President Musharraf announced a national renewable energy policy. This policy means that small projects do not need approval and that any person can put up their own project. However, there are no financial incentives for doing so. At the moment, all renewable energy equipment has no sales or income tax and is free of custom duty, but these incentives are not enough to stimulate major growth in the renewable energy market where ROIs and other financial ratios have a long gestation or breakeven period. In certain situations, such as the textiles and other Karachi industrial units losing production and export opportunities due to power cuts, it may make sense for the owners to join hands and build power generation capacity they can rely on.

In addition to coal and hydro electricity generation, Miriam Katz argues that it is clear that Pakistan is a suitable country for the installation of wind and solar: due to high winds near cities; the presence of rivers and lakes as well as the availability of wind turbines from nearby India. There are also other reasons for installing renewable energy. It is quite normal for extended power outages to happen on a daily basis in the country, but this cannot continue if the Pakistani economy is to grow. In March 2007, President Musharraf stated that renewable energy should be part of the push to increase energy supplies by 10 to 12 percent every year. The government also set a target of 10 percent of energy to come from renewables by 2015. If the new PPP-led government follows through with aggressive renewable energy push, Pakistan could be an Asian leader in renewable energy given its natural resources of wind and solar as its strategic endowments.

Related Links:

Renewable Energy Businesses in Pakistan

Pakistan Council of Renewable Energy Technology

Renewable Energy for Pakistan

Pakistan Policy on Renewable Technology

Sugarcane Ethanol Project in Pakistan

Community Based Renewable Energy Project in Pakistan

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Is Pakistani Democracy Part of the Great Game?

Dr. Sathanathan, a South Asian scholar specializing in International Studies, claims it is. Here is how he explains his conclusions in the latest issue of Outlook India:

There is great euphoria among Pakistani liberals over the presumed "return to democracy". They are yet to discover Late Neo-colonialism. The maneuvers against Musharraf bear uncanny resemblances to organized "people's power" the CIA unleashed during "color revolutions" and upheavals against Hugo Chavez.

The widely expected victory for Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari in the presidential election brought to a high point the tortuous process of regime change in Pakistan. Anyone who has followed the "color revolutions" that installed pro-American rulers in Georgia (Rose Revolution, 2003), Ukraine (Orange Revolution, 2004) and Kyrgystan (Tulip Revolution, 2005) could surely not have missed the tell tale signs.

The earliest foreboding surfaced in the backroom manoeuvres by United States (US) and British intelligence services to engineer panic about the security of Pakistan's nuclear assets. It was a repeat of the duplicitous hysteria they generated over non-existent weapons of mass destruction that Iraq allegedly possessed. A carefully worded article, co-authored by former State Department officials Richard L. Armitage and Kara L. Bue, signalled the shift in US policy. After formally acknowledging then President Pervez Musharraf's many achievements, the authors continued: "much remains to be accomplished, particularly in terms of democratization. Pakistan must…eliminate the home-grown jihadists…And…it must prove itself a reliable partner on technology transfer and nuclear non-proliferation." And the denouement: "We believe General Musharraf…deserves our attention and support, no matter how frustrated we become at the pace of political change and the failure to eliminate Taliban fighters on the Afghan border." Translation: Musharraf has to go.

Almost simultaneously a 2006 country survey in The Economist, titled "Too much for one man to do", began on a jingoistic overkill: "Think about Pakistan, and you might get terrified. Few countries have so much potential to cause trouble, regionally and worldwide". The following year a Carnegie Endowment report faulted western governments that "contribute to regional instability by allowing Pakistan to trade democratisation for its cooperation on terrorism". Senior US State Department officials repeatedly accused Musharraf of "not doing enough" to combat Islamists within Pakistan and prevent their infiltration across the Durand Line into southern Afghanistan.

Sensing the way wind was blowing, then PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto redoubled efforts to convince Washington and London that, if she were to become Prime Minister, she would gladly do their bidding. She underscored her enthusiasm to serve and ensured her party was fully responsive to America's Late Neo-colonialism. She summoned senior party members to Dubai on 9 June 2007 for a "briefing" by a team from the US Democratic Party's National Democratic Institute (NDI), ostensibly on the subject of elections in Pakistan. The ruling Republican Party's International Republican Institute (IRI) had conducted the previous four "briefings" in June and September 2006 and March and April 2007. Benazir leaned towards the Democratic Party in the last one no doubt as a hedge against the party's possible victory at the forthcoming US Presidential Election.

Even a cursory knowledge of US Imperialism's standard operating procedure is sufficient to surmise at least some among the IRI and NDI officers were covert intelligence operatives; and that their "briefings" went beyond "tutelage of natives". Rather they have been grooming the PPP as America's satrap.

Benazir's predilection to collaborate with the West has its roots in the Bhutto family's micro political culture. Her grandfather, Shah Nawaz Bhutto was a minor comprador official in the British colonial regime. The British rewarded his "loyal" services with the title Khan Bahadur and later appointed him President of a District Board and still later elevated him to knighthood.Her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's populist programmes did not dilute that legacy, which left a lasting impression on Benazir; she firmly believed the path to political power in Pakistan meanders through the Embassy of the United States, the current neo-colonialist.

She promised to offer the International Atomic Energy Agency access to Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan to "satisfy the international community", an euphemism for the major powers; and to allow the US-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan to operate inside north-western Pakistan. By the time Benazir visited the Senate in September 2007, she had convinced the Bush Administration of her unswerving loyalty; for "she received a standing ovation from a select gathering of US lawmakers, diplomats, academics and media representatives. This contrasted sharply with her previous visits to the US capital when she received little attention." To deepen "Washington's renewed interest in her" Benazir cautioned that supporting Musharraf was "a strategic miscalculation" and pleaded "the US should support the forces of democracy", which, of course, refers to her PPP.

So, President George W Bush enabled Benazir's return from exile by arm-twisting Musharraf to promulgate the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). The NRO of 5 October granted amnesty to politicians active in Pakistan between 1988 and 1999 and effectively wiped the slate clean of corruption charges for Benazir and her husband Asif Zardari. Three weeks later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made it appear the Bush Administration wished to bring together "moderate" forces, implying a scenario in which Musharraf and Benazir would join forces as President and Prime Minister respectively; and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte corroborated Rice: "Our message", he intoned, "is that we want to work with the government and people of Pakistan".

However, Musharraf saw through the US Administration's transparent ploy to lull him into believing it would not remove him and install Benazir in his place. So, he swiftly invited Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), back from exile in Saudi Arabia to counter Benazir. But he could not consolidate his position, especially because he mishandled the judiciary, and was compelled to resign on 18 August 2008.

In a nutshell, the reason for "Washington's renewed interest" in Benazir is Musharraf's firm opposition to US Late Neo-colonialism, to its manoeuvres to occupy, pacify and ravage Pakistan. In the 19th century British colonialism waged the "war on piracy" on the high seas ostensibly to bring "the light of Christian civilization". But the British were the most successful pirates, as Spanish and Portuguese historians would gladly confirm. The "war on piracy" was the duplicitous justification trotted out to dominate lucrative maritime trade routes that were in the hands of Chinese, Arab and Tamil maritime empires and to invade kingdoms and/or countries essential to control trade and plunder resources. During most of the 20th century heroic anti-colonial movements and anti-imperialist wars rolled back much of colonial rule, which in some instances however morphed into neo-colonialism. Indonesia after Sukarno, Iran after Mosaddeq and Chile after Allende are well known examples.

The "war on terror" and "promoting democracy" are the 21st century equivalents of the 19th century British gobbledygook. American Late Neo-colonialism purveys them as moral justification and uses as political cover for intervening and, where necessary, invading resource-rich and strategic countries to overthrow nationalist leaders, install puppet regimes and savage the countries' wealth. And of course the US is by far the most powerful terrorist force.It succeeded in Iraq (for now); but the CIA-organised regime change could not dislodge Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who rejected the neo-colonialist 1989 Washington Consensus and supported alternative nationalist economic models.

Politically challenged Pakistani liberals -- a motley crowd that includes members of human rights and civil liberties organisations, journalists, analysts, lawyers and assorted professionals -- are utterly incapable of comprehending the geo-strategic context in which Musharraf manoeuvred to defend Pakistan's interest. So they slandered him an "American puppet", alleging he caved in to US pressure and withdrew support to the Afghan Taliban regime in the wake of 9/11 although in fact he removed one excuse for the Bush Administration to "bomb Pakistan into stone age", as a senior State Department official had threatened.

Nevertheless American discomfort with Musharraf's government was palpable by late 2003, after he dodged committing Pakistani troops to prop up the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. When he offered to cooperate under the auspices of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), naïve Pakistani media and analysts lunged for his jugular, condemning him once again for succumbing to US demands. But in fact he nimbly sidestepped American demands: he calculated that diverse ideological stances of the 57 Muslim member-counties would not allow the OIC to jointly initiate such controversial action and therefore Pakistan's participation cannot arise, which proved correct.

Washington of course was not amused and the Bush Administration grew increasingly hostile to Musharraf's determination to prioritise Pakistan's interests when steering the ship of the state through the choppy waters of the unfolding New Great Game, in which the West -- led by the US -- is manoeuvring to contain growing Russian and Chinese influences in Central and West Asia. His foreign policy decisions over time convinced Washington that under his leadership, Pakistan would side with enemies of US and Britain in the New Great Game. First, he refused to isolate Iran; instead he vigorously pursued energy cooperation to build the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline in the face of stiff American opposition. Second, Washington was alarmed by Musharraf's preference for deepening Pakistan-China bilateral relations and forging nuclear cooperation; and more so when he offered Beijing naval facilities at the Gwadar port on Balochistan's Arabian Sea coast overlooking the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic chokepoint through which passes approximately 30 per cent of world's energy supplies.

Perhaps the last straw was his success in gaining Observer Status for Pakistan in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Russia and China are spearheading the SCO, which includes four other countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan; Iran and India are also Observers. The SCO is widely perceived as a rising eastern counterweight to western security and economic groupings and Islamabad drifting towards the SCO was simply unacceptable in Washington.

To rub salt into its wounds, Musharraf refused permission to interrogate Dr AQ Khan and firmly rejected Washington's demands that NATO troops be allowed into the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to hunt down Osama bin Laden and his associates.

By early 2006 it was clear Washington was looking for nothing less than a pliable leader in Islamabad, a firm political foothold in Pakistan and a Pakistani foreign policy that complemented US strategic aims in Central Asia.

What perhaps angered Washington the most were actions Musharraf took to wind down the "war on terror" within Pakistan.Immediately after taking power, he outlawed three Islamic extremist groups and, after 9/11, intensified military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan.

Washington would have gone along with Musharraf had he focussed on military operations to curb Islamists. Military action alone cannot defeat guerrillas; but it can kill many of them and in turn induce new recruits -- well known points reiterated by William R Polk in Violent Politics (2007) – so that the so-called "war on terror" would not end any time soon.

That could supplement US Administrations' assiduous manufacture of the "Islamic threat" through the 1990s to launch an endless "war on terror" -- the New Cold War -- to rescue America's permanent war economy. For after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US economy (and by extension west European economies) faced perhaps its biggest crisis: the "Communist threat" ceased to be credible; it could not be exploited to terrify the American people into acquiescing to rising military expenditure that keeps wheels of the permanent war economy rolling and to expanding the repressive security apparatuses.

So the Bush Administration deftly replaced the "Communist threat" with the "Islamic threat", no doubt following Machiavelli's famous advice in The Prince, that a wise ruler invents enemies and then slays them in order to control his own subjects. The apparently counterproductive bombings, arrests, torture, kidnappings and disappearances (sanitised as Extraordinary Rendition) carried out by US forces while the CIA covertly funded, armed and supported Islamists are intended not to eliminate the "Islamic threat" but to contain it within manageable limits and to spawn the next generation of "terrorists".

Sometimes, plans go awry; "culling" may not contain the resistance, as seen in Afghanistan from time to time. Nevertheless, the strategy is to "feed terrorism" and simultaneously "cull terrorists" so that the perpetual New Cold War oils America's moribund permanent war economy.

Musharraf, however, did not play ball. He complemented military force to defeat Islamists with political initiatives.

He signed a peace treaty with tribal elders in North Waziristan (within FATA) to marginalise the Islamists. To combat the Islamists' religious ideology, he promoted "enlightened moderation", a veiled reference to secularism and tolerance. Musharraf's vision of a secular Pakistan has its roots in exposure to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's legacy when he attended school in Ankara during his father's diplomatic posting to Turkey. In fact, after taking power in Pakistan he often held up Ataturk as his role model. He planned to "wean away" the people from the "extremists" through education is how he described his approach to this writer. Towards this end, he introduced educational reforms and re-wrote school history text books; enacted laws protecting women's rights and diluted Islamic laws against women; and he liberalised the media. To deny Islamists their traditional rallying cry -- Kashmir -- he opened path breaking negotiations with India to remove that arrow from the Islamists' quiver.

When Musharraf skilfully combined military operations against Islamists with a political front promoting secularism to ideologically disarm them, the US administration saw red. By secularising Pakistani society over time Musharraf would de-fang the "Islamic threat" within Pakistan and extricate the country out of the contrived orbit of "war on terror".That would greatly diminish Washington's leverage to intervene in the country to distance Islamabad from Beijing and exploit energy resources abundantly found in Balochistan and, in the long run, perhaps derail US administration's well laid plans to bring Afghanistan to heel and to dominate Central Asia and its oil-rich Caspian Sea basin.

But Musharraf was in no mood to back down. So the Bush Administration slipped regime change into gear. Taking advantage of his missteps, the anti-Musharraf media blitz, NGO and student mobilisations, lawyers agitations, protests by political parties and civil society organisations seemingly coming from all directions in fact displayed a fantastic degree of organisation, coordination and financing clearly beyond the ken of the fratricidal activists and often ad hoc institutions and never witnessed before in the country. Very likely they will not be seen again either; indeed later the activists were singularly incapable of organising any significant agitation when three women were buried alive for defying their parents' choice of husbands. The manoeuvres against Musharraf bear uncanny resemblances to organised "people's power" the CIA unleashed during "colour revolutions" and upheavals against Hugo Chavez.

The Bush Administration began reaping the rewards of unseating Musharraf within 24 hours of his resignation. Chief of Army Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani travelled to Kabul to meet NATO and Afghan commanders on 19 August. About 10 days later Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen informed a Pentagon news conference on 28 August that Kayani and his lieutenants held a "secret meeting" with their US counterparts on a US aircraft carrier, reminiscent of American gun boat diplomacy in Latin America and unthinkable in Pakistan under Musharraf's watch..

Mullen touchingly chronicled how he "learned to trust" Kayani and bent over backwards to emphasise that Kayani is no American puppet, that Kayani's "principles and goals are to do what's best for Pakistan." But a few sections of the US media, weaned on decades of Pentagon-speak from the debacle in Vietnam to the illegal invasion of Iraq, saw through the verbal obfuscation. And when a reporter pointedly queried Mullen whether Kayani's "goal for Pakistan also aligned a hundred per cent with the US goal", the Admiral waffled: "[Kayani] knows his country a whole lot better than we do. And again, I just think that's where he is, that's where he'll stay." Translation: US administration has got Kayani on tight leash.

And to maintain there is no substantial change from Musharraf's policies, Kayani's spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas and Mullen alleged the meetings had been arranged several weeks earlier, when Musharraf was President, to facetiously imply he had approved the contacts.

The import of "coordination" between American, NATO, Afghan and Pakistan militaries will become clearer over the next weeks and months. For now the suspicion is unavoidable that the US Administration has at long last begun frog-marching Pakistan into the US-created Afghan quagmire to further destabilise the country and justify intervention.

Musharraf had resolutely opposed precisely this eventuality. He rejected US demands that the Pakistani army assist NATO forces in Afghanistan. He underlined the country will not repeat the catastrophic mistakes of the 1980s when it got embroiled in America's war in Afghanistan against the then Soviet Union, for which the Pakistani people continues to pay a heavy price. Rather, he insisted his army will fight only Pakistan's war within Pakistan's borders.

The consequences of the PPP leadership following the US into the Afghan quagmire will soon be evident.Already, within 16 days of Musharraf's resignation, US forces carried out the first ground assault in Angoor Adda area within Pakistan's borders -- which Musharraf had disallowed -- with the connivance of the new leadership. Obviously there is more to come since the Bush Administration has eagerly caricatured the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as "The New Frontier" in the New Cold War.

For the moment, there is great euphoria among Pakistani liberals over the presumed "return to democracy". The comments by Ayesha Tanmy Haq are typical: "We have removed a dictator by the citizenry showing that real power lies with them." The hapless liberals have yet to discover Late Neo-colonialism and its devious manoeuvres for regime change; they have in fact effectively legitimized them by opposing Musharraf. They are agonizingly unaware of the labyrinthine geo-politics and economic imperatives underlying the New Cold War. They are blissfully going along with the collaborationist leaders who are bartering away the country's future for the proverbial pieces of silver.

Dr Sachithanandam Sathananthan earned his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. He serves as a Visiting Research Scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University School of International Studies.

Sep 12, 2008
The Great Game Continues


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fighting Agents of Intolerance

Sadly, the news of intolerance, abuse and hate crimes, continue to pour out of various parts of South Asia and the Muslim world. Unfortunately, the threats are issued and crimes committed in the name of religion or tradition or ethnicity. What gets reported is probably only the tip of the iceberg, but here's a sampling of what has caught my attention recently:

Top Saudi Judge on Satellite TV operators:

According to media reports, Saudi Arabia’s top judiciary official has issued a religious decree saying it is permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV networks that broadcast "immoral" content.

The 79-year-old Sheik Saleh al-Lihedan said Thursday that satellite channels cause the “deviance of thousands of people.” ...

Al-Lihedan was answering listeners’ questions during the daily “Light in the Path” radio program in which he and others make rulings on what is permissible under Islamic law. One caller asked about Islam’s view of the owners of satellite TV channels that show “bad programs” during Ramadan.

“I want to advise the owners of these channels, who broadcast calls for such indecency and impudence ... and I warn them of the consequences,” he said.

“What does the owner of these networks think, when he provides seduction, obscenity and vulgarity?” he said.

“Those calling for corrupt beliefs, certainly it’s permissible to kill them,” he said. “Those calling for sedition, those who are able to prevent it but don’t, it is permissible to kill them.”

Pakistani TV Host Calls for Ahmadis' Murder:

According to Asia Human Rights Commission, the host of the religious talk show 'Alim Online', Dr. Amir Liaquat Hussain--also former federal minister for religious affairs--declared the murder of Ahmadis, members of a minority sect excommunicated by fundamentalist Islam, to be obligatory (Wajib ul Qatal) according to Islamic teachings, because its followers don't believe in the last prophet, Mohammad. Dr. Hussain repeated his instruction several times, urging Muslim listeners to "kill without fear".

While on air the host also pressed two other Islamic "scholars" (from two different sects) on the program to support the statement. This resulted in a unanimous agreement among the "scholars", on air during the popular television show, to urge lynching of Ahamdis. This was not the first time Mr. Hussain has done this. On September 9, Mr. Hussain answered a query with the comment that blasphemers are liable to be put to death.

According to media reports, at 1:15pm on September 8, 18 hours after the broadcast, six people entered the Fazle Umer Clinic, a two-story hospital at Mirpur Khas city and two of them went to the second floor and asked 45 year-old Dr. Abdul Manan Siddiqui to come downstairs to attend to a patient in crisis. Dr. Manan left his office and descended into an ambush. He was shot 11 times and died on the spot. His private guard was also shot and is in a serious condition. A woman was also injured by firing. The killers remained at the hospital until the doctor was declared dead, then they walked out of the building's front entrance. Police registered the killers as unknown.

On September 9, 48 hours after the broadcast, Mr. Yousuf, a 75 year-old rice trader and district chief of the Ahmadi sect was killed on his way to prayer in Nawab Shah, Sindh province. Yousuf was fired on from people on motor bikes, and sustained three bullet wounds. He died on the way to the hospital. The assailants had taken a route past a police station. No one was arrested.

Thackeray Threatens Bollywood's Bachchan Family:

A star-studded premiere for Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan's new film, The Last Lear, has been scrapped in Mumbai, India, because of security concerns for guests, after the Shiv Sena chief made threats against the Bachchan family. Mr. Bal Thackeray has vowed not to allow any film starring any member of the Bachchan family from being released in the state of Maharashtra of which Mumbai is the capital, according to media reports. Mr. Thackeray has rejected repeated apologies from Mr. and Mrs. Bachan over their reported remarks denigrating Marathi language.

So who is Bal Thackeray and why is he so feared? According to a Wikipedia entry, Bal Keshav Thackeray (born January 23, 1926), popularly known as Balasaheb Thackeray, is the founder and chief of the Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist, Marathi ethnocentric and populist party active mainly in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. He is also referred to as Hindu Hridaysamrat (lit. "Ruler of Hindu hearts") and Sher (Tiger) by members of the Shiv Sena.

Thackeray is very vocal in his opposition to people who migrate to Mumbai, to non-Hindus (especially Muslims), and to Bengali Muslims he believes are Bangladeshis. In the late 1970s, as part of his "Maharashtra is for Maharashtrians" campaign, Thackeray threatened migrants from South India with harm unless they left Mumbai.

Women Buried Alive in Baluchistan:

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

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

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

India's Guantanamos and AbuGhraibs:

An essay on TwoCircles.net by Yoginder Sikand describes the deteriorating human rights situation of Indian Muslims. America's 'global war on terror' has provided a convenient cover to the Hindutva lobby and to fiercely anti-Muslim elements within the Indian state machinery to launch a concerted campaign of terror against Muslims. Large numbers of Muslims in various parts of India continue to languish in jails on trumped-up terror charges, suffering brutal torture as well as routine insults to their religion by police officials. Meanwhile, Hindu terrorists, often in league with the police and the state machinery, are allowed to run riot, unleashing violence and bloodshed on a frightening scale, while the state, the police and the courts take no firm action against them. Bomb blasts that are now occurring with frightening frequency, whose perpetrators remain unknown, are automatically blamed on Muslims, while some of these might possibly be engineered by Hindutva outfits or by elements within the state apparatus, or even by foreign intelligence agencies like the CIA or the Israeli Mossad who have a vested interest in demonizing Muslims and thereby driving India closer into the deadly American-Israeli embrace. That, in brief, was what numerous social activists as well as dozens of Muslim victims of police and state terror testified to at a public hearing on brutalities against Muslims in the name of countering 'terrorism' recently organized in Hyderabad by a group of noted human rights' activists. Going by their depositions and the verdict of the jury of eminent social activists, journalists and retired judges, it appears that powerful elements within the state apparatus are deeply implicated, along with Hindu terrorist groups, in a witch-hunt of India's Muslim citizens.

Aafia Siddiqui 11-year old son in detention:

According to media reports and Human Rights Watch, Ahmed Siddiqui, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui's 11-year-old son, is being held under inhumane conditions by the Afghan authorities. While considerable doubts remain about the US and Afghan accounts of Dr. Siddiqui's arrest in Ghazni, most human rights activists see no justification for holding her son in custody.

Call For Action:

How can we, as individuals, fight this scourge of rising intolerance, abuse and hate crimes? In addition to supporting organizations that fight for human rights such as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Commission, etc, each of us should raise our voice against it through whatever platform is available to us. We can blog about it, write to newspaper editors, join the call-in shows and sign petitions to officials. Whatever it takes, it is important that we speak up for the basic rights of our fellow human beings everywhere in the world.