Sunday, August 30, 2009

NY Times Harpoon Aims at Heart of Pak Aid Bill

The New York Times is quoting unnamed senior Obama administration and Congressional officials as claiming that the United States is accusing Pakistan of illegally modifying American-made Harpoon anti-ship missiles to expand its capability to strike land targets, a potential threat to India.

American military and intelligence officials reportedly say they suspect that Pakistan has modified the Harpoon antiship missiles that the United States sold the country in the 1980s, a move that would be a violation of the Arms Control Export Act. Pakistan has denied the charge, saying it developed the missile itself. The United States has also accused Pakistan of modifying American-made P-3C aircraft for land-attack missions, another violation of United States law that the Obama administration has protested.

According to a senior Pakistani official, Pakistan has taken the unusual step of agreeing to allow American officials to inspect the country’s Harpoon inventory to prove that it had not violated the law, a step that the US administration officials praised.

Independent experts are also skeptical of the alleged American claims, according to Asian Defense blog. Robert Hewson, editor of Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, a yearbook and Web-based data service, has said the Harpoon missile did not have the necessary range for a land-attack missile, which would lend credibility to Pakistani claims that they are developing their own new missile. Moreover, he said, Pakistan already has more modern land-attack missiles that it developed itself or acquired from China.

According to Tech Lahore blog, Pakistan's Raa’d missile has been mated with Mach 2 capable Mirages and is now being integrated with Pakistan’s new fighter, the JF-17. The missile can be launched from a stand-off distance of almost 500km and employs more sophisticated guidance than the Harpoon. This raises the question as to why would Pakistan want to attack land targets with a slow, bulky aircraft like the P-3, firing shorter range Harpoon missiles, when it’s air force already has almost 175 Mirage aircraft with Raa’d cruise missiles and recently added in-flight refueling capability?

“They’re beyond the need to reverse-engineer old U.S. kit,” said Mr. Hewson about Pakistan's current capabilities. “They’re more sophisticated than that.” Mr. Hewson said the ship-to-shore missile that Pakistan was testing was part of a concerted effort to develop an array of conventional missiles that could be fired from the air, land or sea to address India’s much more formidable conventional missile arsenal.

Recently, the US has signed a nuclear cooperation deal with India and offered to sell over $2 billion worth of sophisticated weaponry, further enhancing India's military might.

Coming just a week before the $7.5 billion aid-to-Pakistan bill goes to the US senate, it is clear that the timing and the motives of Eric Schmitt and David Sanger of the New York Times “leak” are highly suspicious. It fits a pattern of "leaks" in Washington to either defeat or add poison pill amendments to any legislation likely to aid to Pakistan. Such well-timed "leaks” to the New York Times, known for similar well-timed "leaks" about Iraq WMDs prior to the ill-conceived US invasion of the middle eastern nation, are most likely inspired by the Israeli and Indian lobbies in Washington who are irrevocably opposed to any US assistance to Pakistan.

Past hypocritical denials of US weapons to Pakistan while offering modern offensive weapons to India has been a blessing in disguise for Pakistani military and its defense industry. Every time US has embargoed or quibbled over some insignificant little "arms control" violations with Pakistan, Pakistanis have responded to the challenge by developing their own indigenous capabilities. Such developments not only help strengthen the nation's defenses, domestic defense production also aids in developing human skills, enhancing arms exports and providing badly-needed jobs to many.

Here's a video clip about Pakistan's arms expo IDEAS 2008:

Related Links:

Pakistan's Defense Industry Goes High Tech

US Arms Sales to India

Pakistan Launches UAV Production at Kamra

Asian Defense

Pakistan's Defense Production Going High Tech

Flying High in Korangi: Pakistani Drones

Growing India-Israel Defense Collaboration

Pakistan Military Business and Industrial Revolution

Jane's Defense Industry Briefing on Pakistan

India-Pakistan Military Balance

Pakistan's Arms Industry

India's Israeli Supported UAV Plans

Pakistan Defense Production

Dinar Standard

Washington Offers Predators to Germany, Italy

Demolishing India's War Myths about Pakistan

Chuck Yeager on Pakistan Air Force

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pakistan Launches UAV Production Line at Kamra

At a ceremony held at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), Kamra, last Thursday, Air Marshal Farhat Hussain Khan, the chairman of the PAC board, announced the launch of Falco UAV production in Pakistan in collaboration with Selex Galileo of Italy. Speaking on the occasion, the Air Marshal said the UAV co-production facility was a major step towards the long-term goal of self-reliance in military aviation industry.

In the opinion of this blogger, it is expected that most Pakistanis will take pride in the nation's indigenous capacity to build and eventually use armed drones to put down the insurgent groups such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who have unleashed a reign of terror in Pakistani towns and cities. Most such attacks cause large numbers of innocent civilian casualties and powerful, palpable anger against the responsible groups.

Many Pakistanis will also see the development and manufacturing of UAVs positively in the context of Pakistan's competition with archrival India's UAV effort backed by the Israelis. But there are some elements in Pakistan who are irrevocably opposed to any military action by US or Pakistan against the Taliban or Al Qaeda and their allies. They will loudly oppose the the development, manufacture and use of drones against any internal insurgency, just as they have opposed the US drones attacking targets in Pakistan's FATA region. Fortunately, support for such groups on both the left and the right is rapidly declining, especially after the reported killing of Baitullah Mehsud who was seen as public enemy #1 by the vast majority of Pakistanis.

While it is absolutely desirable for Pakistan to replicate US Predator capabilities and become self-reliant to avoid the political backlash when US predator strikes claim innocent Pakistani civilian lives, I doubt if it'll happen any time soon. While Washington has offered the UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) technology to its allies in Europe, it has been reluctant to make it available to Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Indians are likely to get the US armed drone know-how through the Israelis.

The growing interest by Pakistani military and also foreign companies and governments has helped spawn several private Pakistani UAV companies specializing in air-frames, launch and propulsion, flight control, tele-command and control systems, signal intelligence, training simulators, etc. In addition to Integrated Dynamics, other private companies involved in UAV development and manufacturing include, East-West Infinity, Satuma and Global Industrial Defense Solutions.

Pakistan UAV1
Flamingo - Satuma Pakistan

Pakistan UAV 2
Mukhbar- Satuma Pakistan

Pakistan UAV Uqaab
Uqaab - Air Weapons Complex

I think the current generation of Pakistani drones, including the Italian designed Falco, are not at all comparable to the larger US drones armed with powerful Hellfire missiles and sophisticated targeting technology which still results in serious errors. Regardless of the sophistication of drones, such errors can only be reduced by improving the accuracy and reliability of the human intelligence on the ground in FATA.

Here's a recent report by Farhan Bokhari of Jane's Defense Weekly on Falco production launch in Pakistan:

The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), Pakistan's chief aircraft manufacturing facility, has formally launched plans to part-produce the Falco unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), a system already acquired by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) from Italian company Selex Galileo. The project, unveiled on 20 August, will result in some of the Falco's parts being manufactured domestically to reduce reliance on Italian imports.

The new programme marks an important step towards achieving an indigenous UAV capability - something seen as increasingly important to the PAF as it expands its role in the country's war against militants across North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, the chief of staff of the PAF, told Jane's earlier in August about the PAF's growing role in supporting anti-terrorism operations. UAVs are understood to be central to these efforts. Earlier this year, the Pakistani military successfully blocked an advance by Taliban militants in and around the northern Swat valley, with the PAF "carrying out several strikes on Taliban strongholds" following UAV surveillance, according to a senior Pakistani security official.

The PAC chairman Air Marshal Farhat Hussain Khan said at the project's opening ceremony that continued use of the Falco "would greatly enhance the PAF's operational capability". Western defence officials in Islamabad told Jane's that Pakistan would eventually seek another armed UAV or work with Selex Galileo to develop a weaponised version of the Falco. "Today, the Falco UAV is principally for [reconnaissance] and intel-gathering purposes," said one official. "But I am sure the Pakistanis will eventually try to go for UAVs armed with missiles."

The launch of the Falco project precedes the PAC's roll-out, expected later this year, of the first locally built JF-17 fighter, an aircraft jointly developed by the PAC and China's Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC). The PAF plans to acquire at least 250 JF-17s to form the backbone of its fighter fleet. "The Falco UAV and the JF-17 both fit into the same philosophy, which is to reduce reliance wherever possible on imports," said the Western official. "Over time, Pakistan seems to be getting into handling more and more sophisticated technology."

Falco UAV Finds Pakistan A Most Suitable Environment

The Pakistan Air force has initiated the start of the Falco UAV Co-Production Project. The project was inaugurated at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra last Thursday, with Air Marshal Farhat Hussain Khan, Chairman, PAC Board, was the featured guest at the occasion. Falco is an advanced tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) designed by Selex Galileo, Italy, and will be co-produced by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, Kamra. The Falco UAV will address the present and future surveillance and reconnaissance needs of the Pakistan Air Force. Speaking on the occasion, Air Marshal Farhat Hussain said the addition of UAV co-production facility would be a major step towards the long-term goal of self reliance in military aviation industry. He lauded the efforts of engineers and technicians of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex who had worked diligently for the last two years to establish the facility. He further stated that Falco UAV will greatly enhance the PAF operational capability. Earlier, Managing Director Aircraft Manufacturing Factory, Air Vice Marshal Aminullah Khan and Managing Director F6 RF, Air Commodore Nadeem Aslam, presented an appraisal of the project activities. The induction of this technology has opened a new dimension in the field of aviation manufacturing at PAC and would be used for other requirements of aviation industry. The roll-out of the first co-produced Falco UAV from Pakistan Aeronautical Complex should occur in the near future.

Here is a video clip about Pakistani drones:

Related Links:

Asian Defense

Pakistan's Defense Production Going High Tech

Flying High in Korangi: Pakistani Drones

Growing India-Israel Defense Collaboration

Pakistan Military Business and Industrial Revolution

Jane's Defense Industry Briefing on Pakistan

India-Pakistan Military Balance

Pakistan's Arms Industry

India's Israeli Supported UAV Plans

Pakistan Defense Production

Dinar Standard

Washington Offers Predators to Germany, Italy

Demolishing India's War Myths about Pakistan

Chuck Yeager on Pakistan Air Force

Monday, August 24, 2009

80/20 Strategy and Marshall Plan for Pakistan

There has been much discussion but little action on the new US strategy to emphasize economic aid for Pakistan, in addition to the concerted NATO-Pakistan military action against the insurgents. The 80/20 rule, as outlined by General Petraeus, calls for 80% emphasis on the political/economic effort backed by 20% military component to fight the Taliban insurgency in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. This rule has led many to speculate about a US-backed "Marshall Plan" style effort to help Pakistan expand the economic opportunity for its young and growing population, vulnerable to exploitation by extremists.

The Marshall Plan, named after General George Marshall, the US secretary of state after the Second World War, is credited with the rapid economic rise of Europe and Japan from the ruins of the war. The Marshall Plan aid by the US amounted to about 100 billion in today's dollars. Pakistani leadership called for their own "Marshall Plan" earlier this year, saying the country needed $30 billion over the next five years to fight Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.

The United States, United Kingdom and Western allies met in Istanbul yesterday to draft a $5 billion "Marshall Plan for Pakistan" to help rebuild the swaths of the country destroyed in its war against terrorism. While $5 billion will help in Pakistan's economic recovery, it is really a stretch to compare it to the $100 billion (today's dollars) US Marshall Plan for Europe after WW II. To put it in perspective in Pakistan's context, let's consider the following: At the end of calender year 2008 in Pakistan, remittances topped 7 billion dollars, an increase of 17 per cent year over year, led by higher remittances from oil-rich GCC countries, which grew by 30 per cent year on year. Similarly, FDI inflows jumped 100 per cent year over year to 708 million dollars for December, 2008, as the telecom, oil and gas, and financial-services sectors continued to attract foreign inventors, according a report in the Nation newspaper. Annual cash remittances from overseas Pakistanis and foreign direct investments (FDI) in Pakistan in this decade have been far larger and much more significant in its economic growth than all of the well-publicized foreign aid put together.

Though the amount of aid appears to be far less than what Pakistanis need and asked for, it does seem that the Friends of Pakistan Aid Consortium, led by US and UK, is beginning to get serious about the economic component of the fight to save nuclear Pakistan from the potential danger of falling prey to the powerful insurgency still plaguing the two neighbors in West Asia.

The Telegraph of London has reported today that "Friends of Democratic Pakistan, including ministers from Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, China, Australia and the European Union, met to agree funding and draft in experts to agree a series of projects to support reconstruction efforts and shore up the country's new democratic government. Gordon Brown and Barack Obama will co-chair the group's next meeting in New York next month where the scale of funding and support will be finalised."

The British newspaper adds that "Britain is expected to take a lead role in creating an education task force to explore non-madrassah (religious) schools. It will also play a role in developing new public-rivate partnerships to accelerate new investment in services. “There’s a bit more openness [in Pakistan] now to discuss these things with friends, the new democratic government is opening up,” said a diplomat."

This reported plan of serious economic aid and expertise, if true, is a step in the direction. But it must not be allowed to become victim of bureaucratic redtape, incompetence and corruption. Such an effort must also address the issues of poor governance and feudal excesses in Pakistan to ensure the effectiveness of the money offered in making a real difference in the lives of the average people of Pakistan in terms of their human development and expanded economic opportunity.

Related Links:

Feudal Punjab Fertile for Terrorism

Taliban target Swat's landed elite

HDF Fundraiser in Silicon Valley

Valuing Life in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Missiles versus Schools

Pakistan's Choice: Globalization versus Talibanization

Feudal Raj in Pakistan

Aid, Trade and FDI in Pakistan

Obama's Ramadan Message

Here's the full transcript of President Barack Hussein Obama's Ramadan Message

On behalf of the American people – including Muslim communities in all fifty states –I want to extend best wishes to Muslims in America and around the world. Ramadan Kareem.
Ramadan is the month in which Muslims believe the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, beginning with a simple word – iqra. It is therefore a time when Muslims reflect upon the wisdom and guidance that comes with faith, and the responsibility that human beings have to one another, and to God.
Like many people of different faiths who have known Ramadan through our communities and families, I know this to be a festive time – a time when families gather, friends host iftars, and meals are shared. But I also know that Ramadan is a time of intense devotion and reflection – a time when Muslims fast during the day and perform tarawih prayers at night, reciting and listening to the entire Koran over the course of the month.
These rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.
For instance, fasting is a concept shared by many faiths – including my own Christian faith – as a way to bring people closer to God, and to those among us who cannot take their next meal for granted. And the support that Muslims provide to others recalls our responsibility to advance opportunity and prosperity for people everywhere. For all of us must remember that the world we want to build – and the changes that we want to make – must begin in our own hearts, and our own communities.
This summer, people across America have served in their communities – educating children, caring for the sick, and extending a hand to those who have fallen on hard times. Faith-based organizations, including many Islamic organizations, have been at the forefront in participating in this summer of service. And in these challenging times, this is a spirit of responsibility that we must sustain in the months and years to come.
Beyond America’s borders, we are also committed to keeping our responsibility to build a world that is more peaceful and secure. That is why we are responsibly ending the war in Iraq. That is why we are isolating violent extremists while empowering the people in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we are unyielding in our support for a two-state solution that recognizes the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security. And that is why America will always stand for the universal rights of all people to speak their mind, practice their religion, contribute fully to society and have confidence in the rule of law.
All of these efforts are a part of America’s commitment to engage Muslims and Muslim-majority nations on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect. And at this time of renewal, I want to reiterate my commitment to a new beginning between America and Muslims around the world.
As I said in Cairo, this new beginning must be borne out in a sustained effort to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to respect one another, and to seek common ground. I believe an important part of this is listening, and in the last two months, American embassies around the world have reached out not just to governments, but directly to people in Muslim-majority countries. From around the world, we have received an outpouring of feedback about how America can be a partner on behalf of peoples’ aspirations.
We have listened. We have heard you. And like you, we are focused on pursuing concrete actions that will make a difference over time – both in terms of the political and security issues that I have discussed, and in the areas that you have told us will make the most difference in peoples’ lives.
These consultations are helping us implement the partnerships that I called for in Cairo – to expand education exchange programs; to foster entrepreneurship and create jobs; and to increase collaboration on science and technology, while supporting literacy and vocational learning. We are also moving forward in partnering with the OIC and OIC member states to eradicate polio, while working closely with the international community to confront common health challenges like H1N1 – which I know is of particular to concern to many Muslims preparing for the upcoming hajj.
All of these efforts are aimed at advancing our common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. It will take time and patient effort. We cannot change things over night, but we can honestly resolve to do what must be done, while setting off in a new direction – toward the destination that we seek for ourselves, and for our children. That is the journey that we must travel together.
I look forward to continuing this critically important dialogue and turning it into action. And today, I want to join with the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world – and your families and friends – in welcoming the beginning of Ramadan, and wishing you a blessed month. May God’s peace be upon you.

Here's a video clip of Obama speaking to Muslims:

Related Links:

The Prophet I Know!

Is Ramadan Break from Work?

Obama on Urdu, Daal, Cricket, Keema

Obama Says Real Life Experience Trumps Rivals' Foreign Policy Credits

Barack Obama's Pakistan Connections

Obama Reaches Out to the Muslim World

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Is Ramadan a Break from Work in Pakistan?

By Nisar Abbas Mirza

We know how the world works. In that we are like the little boy who used to pray to God to give him a bicycle. Very soon he realized that God doesn’t work this way so he stole a bicycle and prayed to God for forgiveness

From the 1st of Ramadan to the 10th of Muharram, that’s about four months in the Islamic calendar. In this period the country is in no mood to work. This is the annual sabbatical when the faithful and the unfaithful pretending to be faithful take a break, a long break, a four-month-long break from work.

Not that we are renowned for work ethics and hard work, but what we accomplish in these four months is so puny and pathetic that it makes us look good in the remaining eight months in the calendar.

In Ramadan the working hours are nine to one. That’s it. And in these four hours work is the last thing on the workers’ mind. Go to any government office during these four hours and you will encounter a grouchy, lazy and sick-of-life person with bad breath (apparently even brushing your teeth in the morning is not kosher if you are fasting). No matter how urgent your work, leave the place and come back after two and a half months in the third week of Muharram. This man is in no mood to do anything. He’d rather go home and watch an Indian movie till he breaks fast.

This person, and millions of others like him, wants the world to be eternally grateful to him for his fasting. The entire humanity is indebted to him for the good religious duty he is fulfilling. Don’t mess with any such person.

It is almost a sin to exhort someone to work during the month of Ramadan because his or her indolence comes with a divine sanction. You may feel like kicking, caning or whipping people to get to work but you dare not try it. Don’t even say anything because you may end up being burned alive or stoned to death or just plain murdered like Najeeb Zafar, the leather factory owner in Muridke. Poor fellow, he just wanted people to get back to work after an ‘overly extended’ Friday prayer break. (RH Note: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan claims that the factory clerk played a vital role in deteriorating the situation and told the protesters that Najeeb Zafar had committed blasphemy of the verses of the Holy Quran written on a wall calendar.)

Everything else except work goes on. People get busy with religious and festive activities. Attendance in mosques increases, tarawih, mahafil and dars are daily affairs. Since we are such crooked and corrupt souls during the rest of the year that people go all out in beseeching God’s forgiveness in this month — Ramadan is, after all, the month of maghfirat (repentance).

On the festive side Iftar parties were always in vogue but now Sehr get-togethers are catching up fast with Iftar parties. Restaurants are open all night because people stay up all night. Meet up at a Sehr party and then sleep. Other than that, one line dominates the workplace, “We will see what we can do about it; come after Eid”.

All the overt praying, charity and piety aside, we don’t actually become good during this month. Can’t afford to. We carry on with what we do best: lie, cheat, bribe, rob, extort, etc, but since it is Ramadan, we repent in earnest. We know how the world works. In that we are like the little boy who used to pray to God to give him a bicycle. Very soon he realized that God doesn’t work this way so he stole a bicycle and prayed to God for forgiveness. We are past masters at this and we do it all the time, only more so in Ramzan.

Contrary to the spirit of the month, for us this is a month of indulgence in every sense of the word. Be it religious indulgence, spending indulgence or eating indulgence, we go the whole hog. This is a uniquely Pakistani phenomenon. In ten hours or so people take three meals and none of them is a healthy meal. The three meals comprise only three ingredients: sugar (hence the sugar crisis), wheat (hence the atta crisis) and oil (hence the ghee crisis). All across the Muslim world there is less consumption of eatables and as a result prices come down. Read a newspaper or watch any tv channel to see what is happening in Pakistan these days.

It may be a holy month but our rules of business are clear: God and Mammon have to be served simultaneously. We do it without even a hint of compunction.

Indulgence exerts its ugly head in religious anarchy too. Selling food and eating food are a crime punishable by vigilantes on the spot. The faithful can, and do, disrupt normal course of life anywhere at any time as a matter of right. Airport lounges, aircraft aisles, railway stations or main roads, can all be blocked for, say, prayers. Who is to stop them? Loudspeakers in the mosques? Who can silence them?

To cut the long story short, the first twenty-odd days of Ramadan are spent working three or four hours every day. Towards the end, you may take full time off for umra (if you can afford it), or itikaaf, or both.

At the end of Ramadan the nation takes a seven to ten days holiday. Then slowly people drag themselves to work. It takes a lot of yawning, stretching and scratching for them to get back in the nine to five rhythm but they finally do get back in work mode. A few weeks later it is the Haj and Eid-ul-Azha season. That’s another week off.

The last two holidays in this 110-day sabbatical are the ninth and tenth of Muharram. Interspersed, of course, are our Gregorian calendar holidays — 23rd March, 14th August, 25th December and so on. They too need to be accounted for. All in all, this ends up as a period of extremely low productivity and low efficiency. If you are so inclined, take out the calculator and do the maths yourself. I am too lazy to do that; I am too lethargic to do anything. I am practicing for the days to come.

Source: Daily Times

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Are Pakistan's Uncivil Lawyers above the Law?

After elevating the lawyers to very high stature, the "civil society" including foreign-funded NGOs and their media and politician cheerleaders in Pakistan have recently witnessed a string of unprovoked physical attacks by lawyers on law-enforcement officials and media men. While some of the lawyers and their supporters dismiss such incidents as isolated and involving only a few bad apples, the fact is that such violent behavior has repeatedly been displayed by Pakistani lawyers, particularly in Lahore, for at least two years or more. In the last month, there have been 18 cases of assaults carried out by lawyers in Lahore alone, according to superintendent Sohail Sukhera of Lahore police force. "In one case, lawyers broke the leg of a police inspector. Others have had their skulls exposed when lawyers have hit them on the head with stones or chair legs. It's really uncalled for."

While violence by lawyers has grown in terms of numbers of incidents and intensity, the phenomenon is not new. First, during anti-Musharraf protests in Islamabad in 2007, there were repeated scenes on television that showed anti-Musharraf lawyers viciously beating up a few Musharraf supporters carrying pro-Musharraf placards outside the Supreme Court building.

Then, there was an attack on former minister Sher Afgan Niazi by lawyers outside Lahore High Court last year. While there was no expectation from the politicians to be truthful and take responsibility for lawyers violence, it was a pleasant surprise to see Mr. Aitazaz Ahsan show a sense of responsibility by resigning. However, barely 24 hours after the resignation, Mr. Ahsan backtracked and used "conspiracy theories" and "invisible hands" and placed the blame on his favorite target: President Musharraf.

Recently, media men and policemen have been the target of violence in Lahore. As the BBC reported recently, "These days, their footage is all over the Pakistani news channels. Lawyers, dressed in black suits and ties, on the attack. Every few days seem to bring a new incident; the beating of a policeman; a scuffle with members of the press outside the high court in Lahore."

Let's examine the reality of the "esteemed" legal profession in Pakistan in a little more depth:

1. After claiming the restoration of the rule of law in Pakistan as the goal of their protest movement against Musharraf and Zardari, the lawyers have repeatedly proved by their behavior time and again that they think they are above the law.

2. In most international opinion surveys on professional ethics, lawyers consistently rank near the bottom. They are slightly below the journalists and above the politicians and used car salesmen in how they are perceived by the general public worldwide. If the recent success of the movie "Michael Clayton" is any indication, the public perception of lawyers breaks down into four archetypes, each represented by a character in the movie: brutal (Sydney Pollack), disappointed (George Clooney), psychotic (Tom Wilkinson) and criminal (Tilda Swinton). It’s probably no coincidence that Clayton’s only Oscar went to Swinton.

3. According to a Transparency International survey, the judiciaries of India and Pakistan fare among the worst, with 77 per cent and 55 per cent of respondents in the two countries, respectively, describing the judicial system as corrupt.

4. In most of the rest of the world, the judges are generally perceived as honest. But not in South Asia. According to Transparency International surveys, the Pakistani judiciary is considered the third most corrupt institution after police and power departments. Even the taxation and customs people are regarded as more honest than the judges. Among the four provincial governments, the Transparency survey ranks Punjab (the hub of the lawyers movement) as the most corrupt and NWFP the least corrupt.

5. Pakistani judiciary, including Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry who legitimized Musharraf's overthrow of Nawaz Sharif's elected government in 1999 by taking the oath of office under PCO-I, has a long and inglorious history of undermining the laws and the constitution of Pakistan. This scribe has had personal experience with the individual judges of the highest courts showing little respect for the rule of law and engaging in corrupt practices and nepotism in their own personal lives for petty gains.

The lawyers' violence is becoming so ugly that the media people, who were lawyers' closest allies opposing Musharraf, have now turned against the lawyers themselves. "The media is trying to show all lawyers in a bad light. And there are others who benefit through making us look bad," complains Raja Hanif, 33, a member of Lahore High Court Bar. However, Mr. Hanif says nothing about any disciplinary action the lawyers' body should take to punish the misbehaving lawyers for their unprofessional conduct.

Now that Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, known for frequent suo moto actions, is back on the bench as the chief justice of Pakistan, it's important for him to act to preserve the dignity of the legal profession in Pakistan.

Here's a videoclip of lawyers attacking a police officer in Lahore:

Related Links:

Long March or Big Farce?

Has Pakistan's Lawyers Movement Gone Awry?

Lawyers Liars!

Pakistan's Lawyers above the Law?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Jaswant Lauds Jinnah as "A Great Indian"

Jinnah was a great Indian.

Gandhi himself called Jinnah a great Indian. Why don't we recognize that?

Jinnah stood against the might of the Congress party and against the British who didn't really like him.

Jinnah was not against Hindus.

Indian Muslims are treated as aliens.

Nehru's insistence on centralized system led to India's partition.

Senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh has said Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah was "demonized" by India even though it was Jawaharlal Nehru whose belief in a centralized system had led to the Partition.

Jaswant, whose book "Jinnah - India, Partition, Independence", is being released today, also said Indian Muslims are treated as aliens.

"Oh yes, because he created something out of nothing and single-handedly he stood against the might of the Congress party and against the British who didn't really like him...Gandhi himself called Jinnah a great Indian. Why don't we recognize that? Why don't we see (and try to understand) why he called him that," Singh said, when asked by Karan Thapar in an interview whether he viewed Jinnah as a great man.
He said he did not subscribe to the popular "demonization" of Jinnah.
Singh, a former external affairs minister, feels India had misunderstood Jinnah and made a demon out of him.

Contrary to popular perception, Singh feels it was not Jinnah but Nehru's "highly centralized polity" that led to the Partition of India.

Asked if he was concerned that Nehru's heirs and the Congress party would be critical of the responsibility he was attributing to Nehru for Partition, Singh said, "I am not blaming anybody. I am not assigning blame. I am simply recalling what I have found as the development of issues and events of that period."
Singh contested the popular Indian view that Jinnah was the villain of Partition or the man principally responsible for it. Maintaining that this view was wrong, he said, "It is. It is not borne out of the facts...we need to correct it."
He feels Jinnah's call for Pakistan was "a negotiating tactic" to obtain "space" for Muslims "in a reassuring system" where they would not be dominated by the Hindu majority.

He said if the final decisions had been taken by Mahatma Gandhi, Rajaji or Maulana Azad -- rather than Nehru -- a united India would have been attained, he said, "Yes, I believe so. We could have (attained an united India)."
Singh said the widespread opinion that Jinnah was against Hindus is mistaken.
When told that his views on Jinnah may not be to the liking of his party, he replied, "I did not write this book as a BJP parliamentarian. I wrote this book as an Indian...this is not a party document. My party knows I have been working on this."

Singh also spoke about Indian Muslims who, he said, "have paid the price of Partition". In a particularly outspoken answer, he said India treats them as "aliens".

"Look into the eyes of the Muslims who live in India and if you truly see the pain with which they live, to which land do they belong? We treat them as aliens...without doubt Muslims have paid the price of Partition. They could have been significantly stronger in a united India...of course Pakistan and Bangladesh won't like what I am saying.

In his book, Singh says Pakistan's "induced" sense of hostility to New Delhi is now somewhat "mellowed" and it is ready to accept a greater understanding of the many oneness that bond it with India. However, he admits Pakistan had chosen terror as an instrument of state policy to be used as a tool of oppression.

"...nemesis had to visit upon such policy planks; that malevolent energy of terror, by whatever name you choose to call it, once unleashed had to turn back upon its creator and to begin devouring it," Singh writes in "Jinnah - India, Partition, Independence", which will hit the stands tomorrow.

"This has now converted Pakistan into the epicenter of global terrorism, sadly, therefore, Talibanization now eats into the very vitals of Pakistan," the 669-page book says.

"Its (Pakistan's) induced and perpetual sense of hostility to India is now somewhat mellowed, it is more confident of itself, therefore, accommodative and is now ready to accept a greater understanding of the many oneness and unities that bond India and Pakistan together. Or is it really ready? Dare I ask?" Singh questions.
The BJP, however, maintains that Pakistan has been responsible for terrorist acts against India by elements trained and funded from its soil.

Source: ExpressBuzz India

Here's a video clip of Former Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh discussing the current situation in Pakistan:

Related Links:

Iqbal and Jinnah

Jinnah's Pakistan Booms Amidst Doom and Gloom

Quaid-e-Azam M.A. Jinnah's Vision of Pakistan

Eleven Days in Karachi, Pakistan

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chinese Strategist Argues for India's Disintegration

Given the many ethnic, regional, religious and caste fault lines running through the length and breadth of India, there have long been questions raised about India's identity as a nation. Speaking about it last April, the US South Asia expert Stephen Cohen of Brookings Institution said, " But there is no all-Indian Hindu identity—India is riven by caste and linguistic differences, and Aishwarya Rai and Sachin Tendulkar are more relevant rallying points for more Indians than any Hindu caste or sect, let alone the Sanskritized Hindi that is officially promulgated".

Now, in a report written by strategist Zhan Lue of the China International Institute of Strategic Studies in July, the author argues that a fragmented India would be in China's best interest, and would also lead to prosperity in the region. The report proposes dividing the country into thirty independent states.

The Times of India quotes it as saying that Beijing "should work towards the the break-up of India into 20-30 independent states with the help of friendly countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan".

On the surface, Lue's proposed strategy appears to be a natural response to the burgeoning India-US ties that the US expects to use as a counterweight to the growing power and influence of China in Asia and the rest of the world.

The writer proposes that China, in its own interest and the progress of Asia, should join forces with different nationalities within India like the Assamese, Bengalis, Naxalites, Marathis, Punjabis, Tamils, and the occupied Kashmiris and support all of them in establishing independent nation-States of their own, out of India. In particular, the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) in Assam, a territory neighboring China, can be helped by China so that Assam realizes its national independence.

According to the article, if India today relies on anything for unity, it is the Hindu religion. The emergence of a republic of India in 1947 was based on religion [the Hindus were a majority so they should rule.] The Chinese strategist wrote that India could only be described today as a 'Hindu religious state'.

Adding that Hinduism is a decadent religion as it allows caste exploitation and is unhelpful to the country's modernization, the report described the Indian government as one in a dilemma with regard to eradication of the caste system as it realizes that the process to do away with castes may shake the foundation of the consciousness of the Indian nation.

Does Lord Meghnad Desai's question "A country of many nations, will India break up" raised in his latest book "The Raisina Model" make any sense? Why would India break up? What are the challenges to India's unity? Is there an identity crisis in India? Is it the power imbalance among Indian states? Is it growing income disparity among peoples and states? Is it religious, ethnic, caste and/or regional fault lines running through the length and breadth of India? Is it beef ban?

Growing Income Gap of Indian States. Source: Bloomberg

How did Democrat Doug Jones' pull off a win in the US Senate race in deep red Alabama? Did the allegations of sexual harassment against Republican Roy Moore play a big role? Or was it the heavy turn out of black voters that overwhelmed the vast majority of white voters (65% of white women, 74% of white men) who voted for Roy Moore? Would the result have been different if more women voted for Moore? Does it save considerable embarrassment for the Senate Republicans to see an openly racist, Islamophobic, homophobic, pedophile Judge Rpy Moore lose in a state in the Deep South?

Viewpoint From Overseas host Faraz Darvesh discusses these questions with Misbah Azam and Riaz Haq (

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Disintegration of India

Dalit Death Shines Light on India's Caste Apartheid

US Hypocrisy in Dr. Afridi Case

Who Killed Sabeen Mahmud?

Trump's Dog Whistle Politics

Funding of Hate Groups, NGOs, Think Tanks: Is Money Free Speech?

Riaz Haq Youtube Channel

VPOS Youtube Channel

The Chinese think tank report has been angrily dismissed by the Indian Foreign Ministry, according to the BBC.

Prior to this report, there was an article in Forbes magazine issue of March 4, 2002, by Steve Forbes titled "India, Meet Austria-Hungary" which expressed similar views by comparing India with the now defunct Austria-Hungary. Here is the text of that article:

Influential elements in India's government and military are still itching to go to war with Pakistan, even though Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has taken considerable political risks by moving against Pakistani-based-and-trained anti-India terrorist groups. Sure, Musharraf made a truculent speech condemning India's ``occupation'' of Kashmir, but that was rhetorical cover for cracking down on those groups. Washington should send New Delhi some history books for these hotheads; there is no human activity more prone to unintended consequences than warfare. As cooler heads in the Indian government well know, history is riddled with examples of parties that initiated hostilities in the belief that conflict would resolutely resolve outstanding issues.

Pericles of Athens thought he could deal with rival Sparta once and for all when he triggered the Peloponnesian War; instead his city-state was undermined and Greek civilization devastated.

Similarly, Hannibal brilliantly attacked Rome; he ended up not only losing the conflict but also setting off a train of events that ultimately led to the total destruction of Carthage. Prussia smashed France in 1870, annexing critical French territory for security reasons, but that sowed the seeds for the First World War. At the end of World War I the victorious Allies thought they had dealt decisively with German military power. Israel crushed its Arab foes in 1967, but long-term peace did not follow.

India is not a homogeneous state. Neither was the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It attacked Serbia in the summer of 1914 in the hopes of destroying this irritating state after Serbia had committed a spectacular terrorist act against the Hapsburg monarchy. The empire ended up splintering, and the Hapsburgs lost their throne. And on it goes.

Getting back to the present, do Indian war hawks believe China will stand idly by as India tried to reduce Pakistan to vassal-state status? Do they think Arab states and Iran won't fund Muslim guerrilla movements in Pakistan, as well as in India itself? Where does New Delhi think its oil comes from (about 70%, mainly from the Middle East)? Does India think the U.S. will stand by impotently if it starts a war that unleashes nuclear weapons?

In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln summed up the unpredictable consequences of war, vis-ë-vis America's Civil War: "Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained....... Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding."

While cracking down on anti-India terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, Islamabad can take the wind out of Indian war sails by turning over the arrested terrorists who carried out murderous acts in Kashmir and New Delhi. It can turn them over not to India --which would be political suicide domestically--but to The Hague for investigation and trial by an international tribunal. India's moral case would then evaporate.

Here's India's friend Tarek Fatah calling for India's dissolution into multiple nations:

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

BBC report

India, Meet Austria-Hungary by Steve Forbes

Challenges for India's Democracy

July Vacation in Beijing

Violence Against Indian Christians

Vito Corleone: Metaphor for Uncle Sam Today?

A Chinese View of Crisis in Pakistan

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Ode" to the Feudal Prince of Pakistan

In spite of its claims to the contrary, the Bhutto family's private jagir (property) of Pakistan People's Party has been instrumental in preserving the feudal system in Pakistan, through perpetuation of its feudal democracy, controlled by the largest landowners in Sind and Punjab.

Z.A. Bhutto's nationalization in the 1970s was the biggest culprit that stymied industrialization of Pakistan and the growth of the middle class, while it preserved the feudal system. Bhutto emasculated the industrialists who encouraged better education and skills development for workers for their industries, while feudal rulers continued to take their toll on the rural poor living on their lands who remain their slaves and reliably continue to vote their feudal lords into power in the name of democracy.

The Bhutto era nationalization has left such deep scars on the psyche of Pakistani industrialists that, to this day, these industrialists are not willing to make long-term investments in big industrial projects with long gestation periods.

To perpetuate the feudal system in the name of democracy, the PPP has a new prince, Prince Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, with his father Asif Ali Zardari acting as regent. Prince Bilawal is being heavily used and abused by Asif Zardari to promote the interests of the his incompetent and corrupt leadership, and to ensure that PPP remains in power to serve the feudal elite under the guise of democracy.

Here are a couple of video clips of Prince Bilawal who spent part of his summer vacation in Pakistan stumping for the PPP:

The military governments have, in fact, been more pro-industrialization because the military elite benefits from the manufacturing sector as much much as it does from real estate and agriculture sectors.

I am disappointed that the military, particularly President Musharraf, did not dismantle and destroy the feudal system when they had a chance. Instead, to respond to external pressure from the West, the military dictators, including General Musharraf, bought off some of the PPP or PML feudals, held elections and created the facade of democracy. This allowed the feudals to continue to dominate Pakistan's political landscape under both military and civilian governments.

However, over the decades, Pakistani economy has consistently performed better and created a lot more jobs during military rule than under the PPP or the PML "democratic" governments. These new jobs have helped tens of millions in the rural areas with the option to leave the life of slavery on the farms to get jobs in cities in the industrial and services sectors of the economy.

Pakistan's average economic growth rate was 6.8% in the 60s (Gen. Ayub Khan), 4.5% in the 70s(Zulfikar Bhutto), 6.5% in the 80s (Gen. Zia ul-Haq), and 4.8% in the 90s (Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif). Growth picked up momentum in the 21st Century under General Musharraf, and from 2000-2007, Pakistan's economy grew at an average 7.5%, making it the third fastest growing economy in Asia after China and India. There were 2-3 million new jobs created each year from 2000-2007, which significantly enlarged the middle class, and helped millions escape poverty.

Related Links:

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at Oxford

Biawal's Extracurricular Activities

Musharraf's Economic Legacy

Taliban Target Pakistan's Landed Elite

Pakistan's Feudal Democracy

Will Someone Hand Bilawal a Spliff?

Pakistan's Military-Industrial Complex

Pakistan: A Cradle of Civilization Breeds a New Nation

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Female Literacy Lags Far Behind in India and Pakistan


Beyond basic necessities like food and shelter, few things matter more than education — which begins with achieving literacy. However, in many parts of the world, literacy disparities between the genders have devastating consequences not just for the equality of the sexes, but also for women's economic prospects. We wonder: Which of the following major countries or regions has the largest gap between the literacy rates of adult men and women?


A. Latin America

B. Arab states

C. Sub-Saharan Africa

D. India


Latin America is not correct.

In Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole, literacy — defined as the ability to read and write a simple statement on one's daily life — is high, averaging 91 percent. The region has also accomplished considerable gender equality, with the literacy rate for men only 1 percentage point above that for women. Brazil, Latin America's most populous country, also has a high adult literacy rate, at 90 percent — and Argentina's is even higher, at 98 percent.


Arab states is not correct.

With an overall literacy rate of just 71 percent, literacy in Arab states significantly lags that in Latin America. In addition, men in that region are significantly more likely to be literate than women, with a male literacy rate of 80 percent and that of females at just 62 percent. The literacy gap is especially large in Yemen, at 37 percentage points. In comparison, the gap stands at 17 percentage points in Egypt and 10 points in Saudi Arabia.


Sub-Saharan Africa is not correct.

Sub-Saharan Africa's overall literacy rate is 62 percent, with women's literacy (54 percent) lagging that of men (71 percent) by 17 percentage points — an indicator of considerable discrimination in providing access to primary education. Too often, when family resources to pay for education are scarce, the choice is made to send boys to school — and few, if any, girls. In the region's largest country, Nigeria, overall performance stands at 72 percent — considerably better than that of sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. And yet, with men's literacy 16 percentage points higher than women's, it also discriminates against women in this respect.


India is correct.

Despite India's high-tech successes, the country lags in providing all its citizens with basic education. With an overall adult literacy rate of only 66 percent, India lags significantly behind China (93 percent), according to data from UNESCO. In addition, at 77 percent, men in India have a literacy rate that is 22 percentage points higher than that of women (55 percent). India's literacy gender gap is thus worse than the average gap of 18 percentage points in the world's least-developed countries.

Source: San Jose Mercury News

Note: Pakistan's gender gap of 27% in literacy is worse than India's 22%. At overall literacy rate of only 52%, and with more than 50 million people illiterate, Pakistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in Asia. The literacy rate for males over 15 years is 63% while that for females is 36% in Pakistan. Only Yemen's literacy rate and gender gap is worse than South Asia's.

Related Links:

UNESCO Literacy Report

Female Genocide Unfolding in India

Challenges of Indian Democracy

Status of Women in Pakistan

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Karachi Fourth Cheapest for Expats

Pakistan's financial capital Karachi shows up among the least expensive cities for expatriates in a survey conducted by consulting firm Mercer UK. Cost of living for employees is one of the factors considered by businesses looking to expand globally.

There are several large cities in Pakistan, but Karachi is the largest with a population exceeds 12 million, according to the United Nations. Whilst the political capital of Pakistan is Islamabad, Karachi is definitely the economic center. It is home to the largest port in Pakistan situated in a sheltered natural harbor, and it is this which originally provided the conditions for the city to grow. Whilst the port continues to play an important part in economy of Karachi, the economy has diversified. Karachi is the location for the headquarters for many of the largest Pakistani companies, as well as being the location for the Pakistani offices of many international firms. Manufacturing plays a big part in the local economy, and increasingly outsourcing of services from richer countries plays a part, particularly with call centers. Pakistan has been ranked at number 20 on the 2009 A.T. Kearney Global Services Location Index of the most attractive outsourcing destinations in the world. All of these factors combine to result in Karachi having what has been claimed to be the highest average wage of any city in south Asia. However, despite the regionally high wages, Karachi is still located in south Asia, and so many of the prices for goods and services reflect this. In addition, the excellent infrastructure links to the world further reduce the price of imported goods. These high wages, coupled with low prices of goods and services, result in Karachi being among the cheapest major cities in the world in which to live, not necessarily for the local residents, but certainly for the expatriates earning in hard currency.

Here are Mercer's picks for the least expensive cities of the world in 2009:

1. Johannesburg, South Africa
2. Monterrey, Mexico
3. Asuncion, Paraguay
4. Karachi, Pakistan
5. Wellington, New Zealand
6. Auckland, New Zealand
7. Mexico City, Mexico
8. Quito, Ecuador
9. Chennai, India
10.Tunis, Tunisia

The survey covers 143 cities across six continents but concentrates mostly on Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The only countries in the Americas covered were Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and the U.S. Mercer looks at more than 200 factors, including the cost of housing, transport and food.

Tokyo, last year’s second most expensive city, climbed to the top spot, knocking Moscow down to number 3. Geneva and Hong Kong ranked 4th and 5th, with Asian and European cities dominating the top 10 slots.

The survey, conducted in March, uses New York as the base city for the index, with currency moves measured against the dollar. New York itself jumped to 8th from 22nd last year.

“As a direct impact of the economic downturn over the last year, we have observed significant fluctuations in most of the world’s currencies, which have had a profound impact on this year’s rankings,” Nathalie Constantin-Metral, a senior researcher at Mercer, said in a statement on the firm’s website.

“Now that cost containment and reduction is at the top of most company agendas, keeping track of the change in factors that dictate expatriate cost of living is essential,” she added.

Tel Aviv ranked as the most expensive city in the Middle East, while Caracas was top in South America, and Sydney was the priciest city for expatriates in the Pacific.

Following are the top 10 most expensive cities, according to the Mercer survey. Last year’s rankings in brackets:

1. Tokyo, Japan (2)
2. Osaka, Japan (11)
3. Moscow, Russia (1)
4. Geneva, Switzerland (8)
5. Hong Kong, China (6)
6. Zurich, Switzerland (9)
7. Copenhagen, Denmark (7)
8. New York City, USA (22)
9. Beijing, China (20)
10.Singapore, Singapore (13)

Related Links:

Eleven Days in Karachi

AT Kearney Global Services Location Index

Outsourcing to Pakistan

Power Shortages in Pakistan

Karachi: The Urban Frontier

Garbage Collection in Karachi

Pakistan's Electricity Crisis

America's Best Run Cities

Emaar Bullish on Pakistan

Infrastructure and Real Estate Development in Pakistan

Karachi Dreams Big

Cost of Power Outages in India

Thursday, August 6, 2009

July Vacation in Beijing

My family and I arrived on a Saturday evening in late July at Beijing's international airport's beautiful and spacious terminal 3, the new massive glass and steel structure that was opened just prior to last year's Summer Olympics in the city. I did not see it when I visited Beijing back in 2006, and this July visit was my family's first visit to Beijing. All of the airline and ground staff and many of the Asian passengers were wearing masks, an indication of the heightened concern about the spread of swine flu. We had to fill out health declaration forms along with the usual disembarkation cards prior to arrival. In addition to many watchful health workers, we saw infra-red detectors at several points along the way to the exit, in an attempt to identify any passengers with fever or flu-like symptoms. The process of health checks, immigration, baggage claim and customs went quickly and smoothly, and we emerged from the terminal to be greeted by an English-speaking Chinese driver who was holding a placard with my name on it.

Drive from the Airport

We were driven to our hotel room in a black Buick van. The multi-lane highway from the airport to our hotel in the financial district was wide, clean and smooth, with extensive landscaping on both sides. Clearly, Beijing has benefited from its three year intensive preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics that forced a number of significant infrastructure improvements which are taken for granted in the industrialized West. As we entered the city, we saw a dense buildup of modern skyscrapers along the streets. It took us less than 30 minutes to reach the hotel lobby. We had made reservations for a suite to accommodate all four of us via an online travel service. Unfortunately, however, there was some confusion, and we were first shown into a small, single-room suite that was too small for us. The hotel staff immediately realized it, and apologized even before I could protest, and corrected the mistake by moving us into a large two-room suite with club lounge access. The fact that I showed the staff a print-out of the hotel reservation was helpful in making the change.

It was 11 PM by the time we settled in our suite. The club lounge had already closed, and we ordered room service to eat a light meal before going to bed. Since we arrived later than scheduled because of flight delays in Hong Kong, it was almost mid-night when I called the tour operator for the tour we had booked for Sunday. To my surprise, the hotel staff found the contact person at the tour operator and had me talk with her to confirm an 8AM pickup from the hotel lobby the next morning.

We got up early on Sunday morning, showered and changed, and then had a good, healthy, freshly cooked breakfast served in the hotel club lounge. We made it to the lobby at 8AM, and found our tour guide waiting for us there.

Tienanmen Square

The Sunday tour started in the famous and historic Tienanmen Square. Though the city was hot, humid and hazy, but the climate and the environment were still significantly better than what we experienced in Dubai and Karachi. The city streets appeared to be quite clean, landscaped and well managed. Upon arriving at the Tienanmen Square, we were warned by our tour guide that as pedestrians we do not have the right of way on Beijing streets, though we noticed that the drivers appeared to be a bit more courteous than what we observed in Karachi. Our guide pointed to the various important buildings in the famous Square, including the one housing the embalmed remains of Communist leader Mao Zedong on display in a crystal sarcophagus, and the entrance to the Forbidden City with a large portrait of Chairman Mao. There were hordes of aggressive street vendors trying to sell all kinds of souvenirs in the Square, but the one that caught my eye was a Mao watch, a watch with a picture of Mao on the dial, with both hands waving. This watch and the vendors selling them are symbolic of how far China has come from Mao's days of strong denunciation of capitalism.

In recent history, Tienanmen Square was the scene of the Chinese government crackdown by the units of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) against mass students protests in 1989. Since the death of Chairman Mao and passing of the leadership to late Deng Xiaoping in 1980s, the Chinese communist party has pursued liberalizing the nation's economy without political liberalization, in the same way other East Asians did earlier. Such a strategy has allowed them to pursue rapid industrialization with accelerated economic growth over the last two decades, while forcefully controlling the chaos on the streets, to lift a record number people out of poverty. China's large neighbor India has failed to use a period of high economic growth to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty, falling far short of China’s record in protecting its population from the ravages of chronic hunger, United Nations officials said recently. Last year, British Development Minister Alexander contrasted the rapid growth in China with India's economic success - highlighting government figures that showed the number of poor people had dropped in the one-party communist state by 70% since 1990 but had risen in the world's biggest democracy by 5%.

But China still has a lot more to do to catch up with the industrialized West. A visit to a public toilet in the Square by my family was a bit of an unpleasant surprise. While the squat toilets were expected, the lack of toilet paper (or water, as they saw in Pakistan and UAE) and open doors or no doors were something unexpected. However, there were vendors next to the public toilet doing brisk business selling toilet paper to the tourists. As part of pre-Olympic prep, the International Olympic Committee required the construction of hundreds of public toilets in Beijing, but apparently it did not require the availability of toilet paper to go with the new facilities. Beijing launched a three-year campaign -- with a 400-million-yuan (57 million U.S. dollars) investment -- to modernize its public toilets in 2005 as part of its effort to prepare for the 2008 Olympic Games. Now, Beijing has over 5,000 public toilets available within a five-minute walk of any downtown location.

Forbidden City

As we entered Forbidden City (Zijin Cheng), it bought back memories of the story and the scenes from Bernardo Bertolucci's movie "The Last Emperor", that was filmed here back in the 1980s. Built from 1406 to 1420, the Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It now houses the Palace Museum. For 500 years, it served as the home of the Emperor and his household, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.

According to a Wikipedia entry, the Forbidden City has 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms and covers 7.8 million square feet in the heart of the Chinese Capital. The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture, and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

It was fairly long walk in the July heat through the Forbidden City, where we saw many buildings of the imperial palace serving different needs, and heard stories of the various emperors, their queens and concubines, and the eunuchs who served them. What I found missing this time was the Starbucks coffee shop, but I was told by our tour guide that only the sign has been removed in an effort to placate the opponents. As our guide continued with his narration, there was a lot of pomp and ceremony as well as the stories of palace intrigue. Some of these stories about Pu Yi, the last emperor, formed part of the plot and the screenplay of Bernardo Berolucci movie of 1987. During filming of the immense coronation scene in the Forbidden City, Queen Elizabeth II was in Beijing on a state visit. The production was given priority over her by the Chinese authorities and she was therefore unable to visit the Forbidden City. Though Mao's picture adorns the entrance to the Forbidden City, it is believed that Mao Zedong made a pledge to never set foot in it and he kept his pledge.

Summer Palace

After lunch, we headed to the Summer Palace (Yihe Yuan) in northwest Beijing. An aggressive vendor outside the Palace persisted in selling me a set of post cards for 10 yuan. I agreed and gave him a 100 yuan bill, and then he gave me the post cards and change in some unknown currency (probably Russian ruble) which I didn't realize until I tried to use it buy a bottle of water and it was refused by the water vendor. So, beware of unscrupulous vendors.

The Summer Palace was really crowded, mostly by the locals and their children out on a Sunday afternoon. It attracts a lot of Beijingers during summer because of its pleasant breeze, relatively lower temperature, and a nice boat ride on the lake that offers relief from the city heat. There were also many paddle boats on the lake rented out by visitors.

The Summer Palace, built in 1750 by Emperor Qianlong, covers an area of 2.9 square kilometers, three quarters of which is water. The central Kunming Lake covering 2.2 square kilometers was entirely man made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill. In the Summer Palace, one finds a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures. In 1888, it was given the current name, Yihe Yuan. It served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi, who diverted 30 million taels of silver, said to be originally designated for the Chinese navy (Beiyang Fleet), into the reconstruction and enlargement of the Summer Palace.

We walked through a long corridor enjoying the gentle breeze while our tour guide Frank Zhang entertained us with a narration of the evil Empress Dowager Cixi who imprisoned and killed the pro-industrialization and reform-minded young Guangxu in 1898. About the same time period when Meiji reforms in Japan transformed it from a medieval society to a leading economic and military power in Asia, China's Guangxu's idealistic pro-western movement called for drastic reforms in the governmental, educational, and social systems. With support from foreign powers, the Guangxu Emperor looked to industrialize China, institute capitalism, cut government waste through entitlements and continue to strengthen the military. He looked to create a modern educational system modeled on western school curriculum and transform the government from an absolute monarchy to a western styled constitutional monarchy with democratic institutions.

Temple of Heaven

From the Summer Palace, we went diagonally across town from the north west to the south east of Beijing where the Temple of Heaven is located. Constructed from 1406 to 1420 during the reign of the Emperor Yongle (1402–1424) of Ming dynasty, it is a complex of Taoist buildings in Beijing's Xuanwu District. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. It is regarded as a Taoist temple, although Chinese Heaven worship, especially by the reigning monarch of the day, pre-dates Taoism.

It is similar to a central park in major US cities and, in spite of its admission fee, it attracts a many city folks in Beijing. We saw a large number of people of various ages engaged in all kinds of fun activities from playing games to singing and dancing.

Exploring on Our Own

On Monday, we decided to explore the city on our own. Knowing how difficult it is to get around town without knowing the local language, we sought the help of the concierge at our hotel. The concierge gave us a map of the hotel location that said to the taxi driver to bring us back there if we get lost. The concierge also gave us a card with the names a number of popular locations such as the silk market, the pearl market and Tienanmen Square written in both Chinese and English. In addition, we requested the concierge to give us cards with the Chinese names/addresses of Beijing's main Muslim mosque and neighborhood, as well as Wall Mart, Maojiao Hunan restaurant and South Beauty Sichuan restaurant.

I also bought and installed a local China Mobile SIM for my cell phone and saved the phone number of our hotel concierge, which I could potentially use to call for help to give instructions to taxi drivers.

We first ventured out to Niu Jie neighborhood where Beijing's main mosque is located. It is believed that Islam was first introduced in China in 616-18 AD by Waggas (Sad ibn abi Waqqas), Sayid Wahab ibn Abu Kabcha. Sad ibn abi Waqqas was the maternal uncle of Prophet Muhammad. Wahab ibn abu Kabcha (Wahb abi Kabcha) might be a son of al-Harth ibn Abdul Uzza (known as Abu Kabsha). These pioneers were companions of Prophet Muhammad.

As we entered the mosque, we were warmly greeted by a bearded gentleman wearing a white cap who said Assalam-Alaikum. As we walked around, we saw signs in English indicating that the mosque was constructed in 995 by two Arab Muslim Imams who are buried within the mosque compound. Throughout the Yuan, Ming and Qing periods (13th-19th C), it underwent several alterations and since 1949 it has been repeatedly restored. Unlike the traditional mosque architecture in Muslim nations, the Niu Jie mosque has a Chinese style roof with no minarets. Its traditional Chinese roof design has animal figures found on the corners of the temple roofs in China.

Niujie Mosque's Imams Tombs

Most Hui Muslim Chinese are similar in culture to Han Chinese with the exception that they practice Islam, and have some distinctive cultural characteristics as a result. For example, as Muslims, they follow Islamic dietary laws and reject the consumption of pork, the most common meat consumed in Chinese culture, and have also given rise to their variation of Chinese cuisine, Chinese Islamic cuisine. Their mode of dress also differs only in that adult males wear white caps and females wear headscarves or (occasionally) veils, as is the case in most Islamic cultures.

Niu Jie (Ox Street) is a cramped road running north-south in the Muslim Quarter, about a mile directly west of the Temple of Heaven. In addition to the signs in Chinese, you can see signs in Arabic as well. The street is lined with Muslim restaurants, halal meat shops and vendors selling fried dough rings, rice cakes and shaobang (muffins), and you can see men wearing white caps and beards. While I had been warned about beggars in all parts of Beijing, I was saddened to see that this is the only part of town where we encountered the street beggars, mostly children, during our visit to Beijing. Just to put it in perspective, the street begging and the beggars we saw in Beijing pale in comparison to my experience in India and Pakistan. As India struggles to stage Commonwealth Games next year, India's 1200 beggar families in Delhi are learning to ask for charity in multiple languages to appeal to the 100,000 foreign visitors expected to attend the games.

We took a taxi in Niu Jie and went to see the local Wall Mart store. It turned out to be quite different from a typical Wall Mart Store in the US. Most of the floor space was dedicated to food and groceries, with a section for apparel and other items. The prices of the apparel we saw seemed to be a lot lower than the prices of similar apparel in US stores. This persuaded us to do some shopping there. Since there was expectation of rain the next day, I decided to buy a rain jacket for a couple of US dollars.

It was about 1 PM and we were all hungry, and we all love spicy food. The obvious choice for us was a Hunan restaurant Mao Jiao in the financial district. The concierge at our hotel told us that it was established and initially run by Chairman Mao's mother. It features a large, golden bust and pictures of Chairman Mao as part of its decor. Mao was from Hunan province and loved hot, peppery dishes of the Hunan region. Fortunately for us, there was a menu in English and the fact that the staff spoke no English did not prevent us from ordering spicy grilled shrimp piled high with red peppers and hot shredded beef with green peppers. It was really good food, the best Chinese food we have had in a long time. We then walked to our hotel for a brief rest.

In the evening we headed out to the Silk Market (Xiushui), located close to the embassies protected by barbed wires and armed guards. Contrary to our expectation, almost all of the vendors spoke English well enough to engage in serious bargaining. These were some of the most aggressive vendors, mostly girls, I have seen who actively solicit and get customers to buy their "designer" wares, ranging from apparel to jewelry to gifts and souvenirs. Their asking prices are any where from three to six times the final prices at which they are quite willing to sell. You can also find traditional Chinese items made from "authentic" pearls to silk to jade at "low" prices, but it is a "buyers beware" market. We did some shopping here and paid less than a third of asking prices for the items we, bought but I am still convinced we paid more than others who are better hagglers.

After our brief "shopping spree", we decided to go for dinner at South Beauty, a Sichuan restaurant in the financial district. I called our hotel concierge to give directions to the taxi driver who dropped us off right in front of the restaurant within a half hour drive. This restaurant was definitely more upscale than Mao Jiao, and the hostess and waitresses all spoke English. The menu was also presented in English. We ordered the familiar Kung Pao chicken, the spicy stone grilled shrimp, fried beef with a fiery sauce of Sichuan chilies, garlic, cilantro and peanuts on the side, and white rice. The food was excellent, as was the service. The bill, including a generous tip, added up to about $85 for all four of us, quite normal by US standards, but pricey in terms of the Chinese Yuan.

Ming Tombs and Great Wall

Our Tuesday tour started real early, with the tour guide picking us up at 7:30AM in the hotel lobby. The guide then picked up several more people, including a Chinese Canadian couple, a German couple and an Australian from various hotels before heading out about 30 miles north to the Ming Tombs. The site was picked by the third Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle (1402–1424), who moved the capital of China from Nanjing (lit: South Capital) to the present location of Beijing (lit: North Capital). There is a massive statue of Yongle, and various artifacts and a model of the tombs in the structure leading up to the mound under which Yongle was buried.

Our guide explained to us that from the Yongle Emperor onwards, 13 Ming Dynasty Emperors were buried in this area. The tombs of the first two Ming Emperors are located near Nanjing (the capital city during their reigns). Emperor Jingtai was also not buried here, as the Emperor Tianshun had denied Jingtai an imperial burial, but was instead buried west of Beijing. The last Chongzhen Emperor, who hanged himself in April 1644, named Si Ling by the Qing emperor, was the last to be buried here, but on a much smaller scale than his predecessors. During the Ming dynasty the tombs were off limits to commoners, but in 1644 Li Zicheng's army ransacked and set many of the tombs on fire before advancing and capturing Beijing in April of that year.

We then had the customary stop at one of the tourist traps to get us to buy exorbitantly priced jade, pearl or silk items, followed by an unremarkable lunch provided as part of the tour. Then on to the Great Wall.

Great Wall

We arrived at the Badaling section of the Great Wall in the afternoon. One big change I saw since my last visit was the massive "Beijing 2008 One World One Dream" sign that dominates the landscape. I also did not see the Starbucks coffee shop that was so visible before, but it may just be that the Starbucks sign has been removed to fend off protests.

Badaling section of the wall was built on one of the highest peaks of the Jundu Mountain, which belongs to the Yanshan Range. It is the most famous section of the Great Wall close to Beijing. It leads to Beijing to the south, Yanqing country to the north, Xuanhua and Datong to the west.

Long regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Wall of China was built from the 5th century BC to the 16th century CE. It stretches for about 5,500 miles of an arc that runs along the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. The average height of the Ming Great Wall is 33 feet and the width is about 15 feet. The historic Wall winding through the hills is fairly steep at certain locations along the mountain sides. It is not merely a wall but instead a complete and rigorous defense project composed of a large number of passes, watchtowers, garrison towns, beacon towers and blockhouses. At its peak during the Ming period, this Wall was guarded by more than a million soldiers to keep out Mongol invaders. It has been estimated that somewhere in the range of 2 to 3 million Chinese died as part of the centuries-long project of building the wall.

The walk on the Wall was an exercise similar to the hike on Mission Peak in Fremont, CA. It was quite demanding and exhilarating at the same time. I spent about two hours on the Wall, then returned to the coffee shop where the rest of the group gathered for the return trip. On our way back, we drove by the Olympic village, the picturesque Bird's Nest stadium and the beautiful aquatic center. The whole area looked quite impressive. The Olympic Village, covering 27.55 hectares with a floor space of more than 500,000 square meters, was home to about 16,000 athletes and officials during the Olympics. The apartments have now been sold to the general public at 31,000 yuan (4,558.8 U.S. dollars) per square meter, averaging about a million US dollars for each unit. By comparison, equivalent units at Karachi's upscale Emaar Crescent project by the sea are selling at $500,000 or less.

We returned to our hotel room on Tuesday evening, had dinner at the club lounge and then packed up to leave the next morning for San Francisco. It was an educational, memorable, emotional and fun-filled vacation for me and the rest of the family. But, after about three weeks in three countries, we were all quite happy to be returning to the comforts of our home in the United States.

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