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Chinese bank pulls out of Pakistan-Iran pipeline project

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China won’t help finance the natural gas pipeline to Pakistan, apparently because of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

By Paul Richter and Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington and Islamabad, Pakistan—

China’s largest bank has backed out of a deal to finance a proposed Iran-to-Pakistan gas pipeline that is opposed by the United States, a potential sign of the lengthening reach of U.S. economic sanctions on Iran.

Pakistani officials confirmed Wednesday that Industrial and Commercial Bank of China had withdrawn from plans to head a consortium that would finance the $1.6-billion Pakistani portion of the cross-border pipeline, apparently over concern that the bank could be excluded from the U.S. economy.

Continue reading Chinese bank pulls out of Pakistan-Iran pipeline project

Pakistan’s rush for more bombs – why?

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

Excerpts;

….. In the military’s mind, the Americans are now a threat, equal to or larger than India. They are also considered more of an adversary than even the TTP jihadists who have killed thousands of Pakistani troops and civilians. While the Salala incident was allowed to inflame public opinion, the gory video-taped executions of Pakistani soldiers by the TTP were played down. A further indication is that the LeT/JuD is back in favor (with a mammoth anti-US and anti-India rally scheduled in Karachi next month). Pakistani animosity rises as it sees America tightly embracing India, and standing in the way of a Pakistan-friendly government in Kabul. Once again “strategic defiance” is gaining ground, albeit not through the regional compact suggested by General Mirza Aslam Beg in the early 1990s.

This attitudinal shift has created two strong non-India reasons that favour ramping up bomb production.

First, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are seen to be threatened by America. This perception has been reinforced by the large amount of attention given to the issue in the US mainstream press, and by war-gaming exercises in US military institutes. Thus, redundancy is considered desirable — an American attempt to seize or destroy all warheads would have smaller chances of success if Pakistan had more.

But such an attack is improbable. It is difficult to imagine any circumstances — except possibly the most extreme — in which the US would risk going to war against another nuclear state. Even if Pakistan had just a handful of weapons, no outside power could accurately know the coordinates of the mobile units on which they are located. It is said that an extensive network of underground tunnels exists within which they can be freely moved. Additionally, overground ones are moved from place to place periodically in unmarked trucks. Mobile dummies and decoys can hugely compound difficulties. Moreover, even if a nuclear location was exactly known, it would surely be heavily guarded. This implies many casualties when intruding troops are engaged, thus making a secret bin-Laden type operation impossible.

The second – and perhaps more important — reason for the accelerated nuclear development is left unstated: nukes act as insurance against things going too far wrong. Like North Korea, Pakistan knows that, no matter what, international financial donors will feel compelled to keep pumping in funds. Else a collapsing system may be unable to prevent some of its hundred-plus Hiroshima-sized nukes from disappearing into the darkness.

This insurance could become increasingly important as Pakistan moves deeper into political isolation and economic difficulties mount. Even today, load-shedding and fuel shortages routinely shut down industries and transport for long stretches, imports far exceed exports, inflation is at the double-digit level, foreign direct investment is negligible because of concerns over physical security, tax collection remains minimal, and corruption remains unchecked. An African country like Somalia or Congo would have sunk under this weight long ago.

To conclude: throwing a spanner in the works at the CD (Geneva) may well be popular as an act of defiance. Indeed, many in Pakistan — like Hamid Gul and Imran Khan — derive delicious satisfaction from spiting the world in such ways. But this is not wise for a state that perpetually hovers at the edge of bankruptcy, and which derives most of its worker remittances and export earnings from the very countries it delights in mocking.

To read complete article »  The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2012.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/328922/pakistans-rush-for-more-bombs–why/

Pakistan: The End of the Affair?

by Omar Ali

We have been here before, but it is being said that the unhappy marriage between the Pentagon and GHQ  has deteriorated further and once again, those watching this soap opera are wondering if this union can last? Writing in Al-Arabiya, GHQ’s own Brigadier Shaukat Qadir says that the US appears to be “gunning for Pakistan’s top generals”, who are said to be bravely resisting this latest perfidious American plot against General Kiyani.  And why is the US trying to undermine the good General? Because at a meeting with President Obama he made clear  “ that this soft-spoken, laid-back, easy-going general, far from being overawed by the privilege of meeting President Obama, would still give back better than he got.”

This interesting article (I highly recommend reading it twice to get the full flavor) can be read in a number of ways, all of which are worrisome. One is to assume that Brigadier sahib means exactly what he is saying. That there is some core Pakistani interest that General Kiyani bravely insisted on defending, and for that sin, he is now being systematically undermined. Note that Pakistan’s elected government did not decide what this core interest is supposed to be, nor was it consulted before General Kiyani decided to defend this core interest against US imperialism. In fact, Brigadier sahib hints that the elected regime may include “powerful individuals who have no loyalty to this country and its people”. No, this core interest, for which Kiyani sahib is supposedly willing to risk a clash with the United States (and by extension, NATO, Japan, etc) is defined by GHQ, as it has been for decades.

Strategic depth”, it seems, is alive and well and we can live with bombings, insurgencies, electricity shortages and all sorts of economic and social crises, but we cannot live without strategic depth.  For the sake of this strategic depth, we kept the Taliban alive and made sure the new American-installed regime in Afghanistan would not stabilize. And when the Americans leave (something that everyone in GHQ seems convinced is happening very soon), we will restart a civil war in Afghanistan, with “our side” led by the Haqqanis and Mullah Omar.

This war we expect to win in very short order, after which we will move on to our Central Asian Nirvana. Having antagonized all the hardore jihadis by siding at least partially with the US, we are now to antagonize the US and its allies by sticking by the Taliban. This is known as GHQ’s “Sau Gunndey tey Sau CHittar” strategy”. * The problems with this approach are manifold and include:

  1. “The imperialists” are unlikely to leave as soon as imagined. This alone puts the whole strategy in question because as in Kargil, there seems to be no plan for the possibility that the “enemy” may not do what we expect it to do.
  2. “Our side” is unlikely to win all of Afghanistan even if the Western imperialists leave according to our timetable.  Given the opposing interests of many regional powers, that struggle is likely to be even more prolonged and bloody than the last attempt to fill the Afghan vacuum.
  3. “Blowback” from this war will be worse than the blowback from the current confused operation. The Taliban refused to cooperate with us against anti-Shia terrorists even in the good old days of the nineties. This time around, they will be much more difficult to control. We cannot even control the current (relatively small) Islamic Emirate of Waziristan. To imagine that we will control the much larger and more fractious Islamic emirate of the future seems to be a pipe dream.
  4. Any exit of the imperialists and return of the Taliban will inevitably be followed by a house-cleaning of Western “fellow travellers” in Pakistan. That cleansing may not be on the army’s immediate agenda, but pressure to Islamize Pakistan will be hard to resist once the Islamists are winning. The establishment may then find it expedient to try and get rid of the ANP, Pakistani liberals and other riff-raff that the army has tolerated in the Sulah e Hudaybia phase. Naturally the Americans will respond with retaliatory measures of their own and a liberal efflux will have some modest but detectable negative impact on the economy and the state; the final outcome, in a weak and fractious state, may not even be up to North Korean standard.

But that is only one interpretation of Brigadier sahib’s views. There is another; it may well be that cooperation with the United States is set to continue, but the haze of lies that surrounds the relationship now needs to be raised to new heights.  Pakistan’s deep state is highly “Westernized” in very practical ways and has always been a willing and even eager partner of the CIA and the Pentagon in the region. But both the state and its American minders have been operating with  the view that those who matter will calculate profit and loss, and everyone else can be kept suitably entertained with our own peculiar version of Jihadi kool-aid (a uniquely Pakistani mix of Islam, militarism and the “two nation theory”).

In one of the more spectacular “own goals” in history, this convenient and previously useful propaganda has now created a large constituency within the rank and file of the armed forces and the semi-educated middle class. How now to tell them the truth, smack dab in the middle of a crisis? Better to just update the kool-aid, pray to Allah, and keep going while hoping for a miracle. In this version, no breach with America is intended or desired, but the natives are restless and the Jihadi/Paknationalist credentials of the supreme commander must be burnished to prevent any unpleantness, hence the article and others like it. The problem with this version is that it means the state will continue its policy of trying to appease both the Islamists and the Americans and this only postpones the day we fall between two stools, it does not alleviate that risk.

Yet another version holds that this is simply more of the “controlled burn” strategy, the aim being to get the Americans to cough up more money by raising the threat of a “rogue” nuclear state (a strategy with which we have long years of practice by now). The problem with this version is the one pointed out by Mr. Lincoln a long time ago; you cannot fool all the people all the time. What happens if someone decides to call our bluff?

It is hard to say which of these theories is correct. If I had to pick, I would pick the last one because I am a cynical person, but there is little objective evidence based on which an outside observer can decide between these theories. It is even possible that all three (and others I have failed to imagine) are ALL simultaneously true. Pakistan’s biggest curse and the army’s most treacherous gift to the nation is its culture of secrecy and double-dealing. Domestically, the army (and particularly its intelligence agencies) have thoroughly undermined the credibility and effectiveness of politicians, civil bureaucrats and the media by decades of behind the scenes manipulation. They have done the same thing abroad by keeping foreign policy under their opaque control. This is fertile ground for conspiracy theories of every stripe (including the three I have managed to outline above) and the truth is impossible to know for sure (“loose change” aficionados will no doubt feel it’s the same in the United States, but the murkiness in Pakistan is an order of magnitude above anything an American can imagine). And the same opacity and confusion may now extend to the supreme command; it is possible that not only are we unable to discern what is going on, the corps commanders who meet every month are equally clueless and confused. Not being the best and the brightest, and acutely conscious of their intellectual shortcomings but determined to stay in charge no matter what, they may be flying blind too….this final irony raises the disturbing possibility that the past may not be an adequate guide to the future and very nasty black swans may be swimming just beyond the next bend in the river. Perhaps India should prepare for an influx of Pakistanis seeking refuge from chaos that even the worst enemies of Pakistan may not have imagined. Being our cousins, and with a bureaucracy not known for its boldness and vision, one doubts that India will have a policy adequate to the needs of this mother of all black swans. The rest of the world may be equally unprepared. The Chinese, supposedly used to thinking one hundred years ahead, may be our only hope.

* “Sau Gunndey tey Sau CHittar strategy“: Literally, one hundred onions and one hundred lashes. A man was to be punished and was given the choice of eating a hundred onions or getting a hundred lashes. He opted for the onions but after 3-4 onions, he thought this is too hard and switched to lashes. But after 5 of those the pain was too much, so he switched again to onions..he ended up with a hundred of both. GHQ runs the risk of being punished by both sides to the full extent of the law. Picking one poison might have been a more rational choice.

Post Script: Sufi masters in upstate New York have sent a sufi teaching story that they claim has some relevance to why the hapless civilian regime is having so little success in Pakistan; It is not known if these are true sufis or impostors, so the story may or may not apply. Halva strategy: The Mongols were coming and the capital was in a state of panic. A holy man showed up and his followers claimed he had magical powers and could stop the Mongols. He was invited to take over and do his thing. He took over command and ordered the ministers to prepare the finest halva. They did so, he ate and let others eat as well. Next day, they said the Mongols are only 100 miles away, what now? He asked for more halva. It was done. This went on for days, every day the Mongols got closer and he asked for more of the best halva. Finally the Mongols arrived at the gate. He packed up his sleeping bag and said “I am off, do what you can to save yourself”. Everyone screamed “But what about the your magic”? He said “dudes, I came for the halva and I had lots of it and it was indeed good. The Mongols are your problem. Good bye.”

Read more: 3 Quarks Daily

Is Egypt Going To Become Pakistan?

by K. Ashraf

We credited Pakistani analysts; commentators and anchormen with the habit of getting carried away with lofty notions like replication of Egyptian events in Pakistan. Now we see some western analysts also expressing identical views. None other than the US Vice President Joe Biden is included among them. Few days ago, he voiced similar concerns. Can events like Cairo repeat in Pakistan ?

There is a remote possibility that Egyptian events will repeat in Pakistan. Pakistan is not following Egypt it is Egypt that is following Pakistan . Pakistan witnessed similar events three years ago. Those events gave birth to present day political set-up—a negotiated democracy.

Continue reading Is Egypt Going To Become Pakistan?

Many in Pakistan Fear Unrest at Home

By JANE PERLEZ

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Protests over crippling prices and corrupt leadership are sweeping much of the Islamic world, but here in Pakistan this week, the government blithely dismissed any threat to its longevity or to the country’s stability.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani insisted that Pakistan was not Egypt or Tunisia. “Our institutions are working and democracy is functional,” he said. The economy, while under pressure, is not in crisis.

But while Mr. Gilani appeared unruffled, diplomats, analysts and other Pakistani officials admitted to unease, and conceded that Pakistan contained many of the same ingredients for revolt found in the Middle East — and then some: an economy hollowed out by bad management and official corruption; rising Islamic religious fervor; and a poisonous resentment of the United States, Pakistan’s biggest financial supporter.

If no one expects Pakistan to be swept by revolution this week, the big question on many minds is how, and when, a critical mass of despair among this nation’s 180 million people and the unifying Islamist ideology might be converted into collective action.

Some diplomats and analysts compare the combustible mixture of religious ideology and economic frustration, overlaid with the distaste for America, to Iran in 1979. Only one thing is missing: a leader.

“What’s lacking is a person or institution to link the economic aspirations of the lower class with the psychological frustration of the committed Islamists,” a Western diplomat said this week. “Our assessment is: this is like Tehran, 1979.”

Mr. Gilani is right in that Pakistan held fairly free elections three years ago, when the democratically based Pakistan Peoples Party, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, won.

But the return to civilian government after a decade of military rule has meant little to the people because politicians have done nothing for voters, said Farrukh Saleem, a risk analyst and columnist in The News, a daily newspaper.

As it has been for all of Pakistan’s more than 60 years of history, Parliament today remains dominated by the families of a favored few, who use their perch to maintain a corrupt patronage system and to protect their own interests as Pakistan’s landed and industrial class. The government takes in little in taxes, and as a result provides little in the way of services to its people.

“Ninety-nine percent of Pakistanis are not affected by the state — it doesn’t deliver anything for them,” Mr. Saleem said. “People are looking for alternatives. So were the Iranians in 1979.”

There is little question that the images from Egypt and Tunisia are reverberating through Pakistani society, and encouraging workers to speak up and vent frustration in ways that were unusual even three months ago.

“There’s no electricity, no gas, no clean water,” said Ali Ahmad, a hotel worker in Lahore who is usually a model of discretion. “I think if things stay the same, people will come out and destroy everything.”

When a young banker in a prestigious job at a foreign bank was asked if Pakistan could go the way of Egypt, he replied, “I hope so.”

At the core of Pakistan’s problem are the wretched economic conditions of day-to-day life for most of the people whose lives are gouged by inflation, fuel shortages and scarcity of work.

They see the rich getting richer, including “the sons of rich, corrupt politicians and their compatriots openly buying Rolls-Royces with their black American Express cards,” said Jahangir Tareen, a reformist politician and successful agricultural businessman.

Food inflation totaled 64 percent in the last three years, according to Sakib Sherani, who resigned recently as the principal economic adviser at the Finance Ministry. The purchasing power of the average wage earner has declined by 20 percent since 2008, he said.

Families are taking children out of school because they cannot afford both fees and food. Others choose between medicine and dinner.

A middle-class customer in a pharmacy in Rawalpindi, the city where the powerful army has its headquarters, told the pharmacist last week to sell him only two pills of a course of 10 antibiotics because he did not have enough money for groceries. …

Read more : The New York Times

Pakistan – Borrow until broke: how to make a nation fail

– Dr Manzur Ejaz

The lack of governance, irresponsible spending by the governing elite and non-collection of income taxes are the biggest hurdles. Power shortages, corruption and nepotism are major hurdles for the private sector to increase production. The opportunism of different political parties does not allow any government to devise a rational policy …

Read more : Wichaar

The profit of misery: what they know and we do not

– Dr Manzur Ejaz

The ruling elites induce various crises to make money for themselves and their allies. From the power crisis to sugar shortages, every occasion is used to siphon off billions of dollars to private accounts. The misery of the Pakistani people has become a profitable commodity for the rich and powerful …

Read more : Wichaar

Pakistan – No sign of a rainbow

Banyan

No sign of a rainbow

Badly governed and short of the foreign help it needs, Pakistan’s people deserve a new covenant

….. Even the optimistic case for Pakistan’s survival is downbeat. It has long been “the most dangerous place on earth”, on the brink of some apocalypse. Yet it is more resilient than it looks. “This is Pakistan’s fifth last chance,” quips a government minister. Or, in the words of Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to America: “We’ll muddle through again.” Even if he is right, as Banyan hopes and believes, it is not just a question of limping through the next few weeks until the monsoon ends. The floods have washed away food and cash crops in the country’s agricultural heartland of southern Punjab. Livestock in the tens of thousands has been lost. Irrigation canals, roads, bridges and electricity networks have been damaged. The economic hardship will help provide recruits for terrorist outfits. Even if it survives without a political or social upheaval, Pakistan is going to worry its neighbours and the outside world for another generation.

To read full article >> The Economist