Wednesday, December 29, 2010

IMF extends SBA until September 2011

The International Monetary Fund has agreed to extend the standby agreement (SBA) until September 2011. This implies that the government has exactly nine months to deliver on its promises of the value added tax as well as reducing budget deficits.

Given the lack of consensus on maters that matter in Pakistan, it is a forgone conclusion that these 9 months will be lost. National debate will focus on who really was behind Benazir Bhutto's murder and other issues whose resolution will not deliver shelter, food, or medicine to the millions of the flood affectees whose plight is mentioned now only in foreign newspapers. The Pakistani media has moved on to other juicy stories.

The fact that Pakistan's economy is not supported by efficient taxes is known to experts within and outside of Pakistan. Given the lack of intellect or sense in the political establishment in Pakistan, tax reform will remain a hugely debated yet never resolved issue. The expatriates sending billions back to Pakistan, the American taxpayers and the goodwill of charities based in Europe may continue supporting the near defaulted economy of Pakistan.

cr10384.pdf (application/pdf Object)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Feeding the hungry in Pakistan while fending off bombs

The World Food Program (WFP) has decided to stop its operations in Pakistan after a bomb in the tribal areas killed 45waiting in line for food disbursements at a distribution centre operated by WFP in Pakistan’s tribal areas. This is the second time WFP has been hit in Pakistan with deadly outcome.

There is no morals left in the war on terror. As the collateral damage from the American bombings sends more civilians to the morgue, their surviving clan members attack with vengeance against any one seen associating with a Western entity in Pakistan. UN, WFP, and the rest are no longer immune. This is indeed very sad for Pakistan.

Monday, December 27, 2010

IMF extends reform deadline for Pakistan to September 30, 2011

The federal government in Pakistan struggles to convince the rest in the coalition on the new sales tax. The result is a government fast loosing allies who are ganging up under the umbrella of no tax.

the IMF has rightfully extended the deadline to the end of September 2011. Even if the Peoples Party government fails the sales tax test, those who will replace them will have to swallow the same bitter on the first of October 2011.


Press Release No. 10/515
December 27, 2010

The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) today approved—on a lapse-of-time basis1—a nine-month extension of Pakistan’s Stand-By Arrangement (SBA), to September 30, 2011.

The extension will provide time to the Pakistani authorities to complete the reform of the General Sales Tax, implement measures to correct the course of fiscal policy, and amend the legislative framework for the financial sector. The IMF staff is continuing its dialogue with the Pakistani authorities on the program’s fifth review.

A 23-month SBA in an amount equivalent to SDR 5.1685 billion (about US$7.61 billion) was originally approved on November 24, 2008 (see Press Release No. 08/303). On August 7, 2009 the SBA was augmented to SDR 7.2359 billion (about US$10.66 billion) and extended through December 30, 2010 (see Press Release No. 09/281). Following the completion of the fourth review in May 2010, disbursements under the arrangement reached SDR 4.936 billion.

1 The Executive Board takes decisions under its lapse of time procedure when it is agreed by the Board that a proposal can be considered without convening formal discussions.

Graeme Smith of the Globe and Mail stands out for his coveage of the floods in Pakistan

Graeme Smith of the Globe and Mail in Canada stands out in his coverage of the devastating floods in Pakistan that affected more than 15 million in July/August 2010. He has continued to file stories about the struggles of the flood victims who continue to strive for food, shelter, and medical aid in the remotest parts of Pakistan. He has been the world's eyes and years to one of the most devastating natural disasters.

Six months after Pakistan floods, seven million remain without shelter - The Globe and Mail
December 26, 2010
By Graeme Smith

Several hours north into the flood zone of the Swat Valley, past the ruined buildings that stand like crippled giants, past the doorways that lead nowhere, men heave rocks out of the riverbed and stack them in orderly rows.

It looks impossible for a small group of thin-limbed workers to undo so much destruction with their bare hands. The biggest disaster in Pakistan's history inflicted its deadliest wrath in these northern reaches, as summer monsoons ripped down the valleys, devouring land, people and entire villages. The brown torrent killed almost 2,000 people, but that number hardly begins to encompass the months of misery that followed, those who died of malnutrition or disease as they fled the rising water.

Now, as winter blows into the mountains, an estimated seven million people remain without proper shelter. Villagers scrabble in the earth, trying to build homes that will keep them warm among the snow drifts.

It's a Herculean task, made harder by a lack of funding: donors gave only half of the initial amount requested by the United Nations and another major appeal seems likely in the coming weeks.

"If the situation remains like this, many people will die in the cold," says Khan Bahadur, 55. He stands beside his ruined house, watching young men from his village heaving boulders to remake the terraced lands that were washed away. Mr. Bahadur was among the lucky ones who received a temporary shelter, one of 49,000 such one-room structures distributed so far, but its corrugated tin walls won't do much to fend off the chill as snows become waist-deep. The bad weather is also expected to block the road that links these northern villages to the rest of the country. Jeeps fill the narrow tracks along the valley, bumper to bumper, hauling bags of flour and other supplies in a desperate race against winter.

Nobody has a firm grip on the scale of the disaster, even six months after the floods hit. The latest bulletin from the United Nations' co-ordinating body, published Dec. 23, describes a "dynamic situation" in a flood zone the size of England, with some people still waiting for waters to recede and others going home to an uncertain future.

Thousands took shelter in schools and other public buildings in the aftermath of the disaster; they now form a second wave of dislocation as they are evicted from those premises. Respiratory infections are rising, as people find themselves sleeping outdoors in the cold.

"Falling temperatures continue to compound the suffering of hundreds of thousands of families whose homes have been destroyed or badly damaged," the bulletin says.

Emergency planners had assumed they would be shifting gears by now, moving from immediate relief work to the rebuilding phase. Some parts of Pakistan are turning that corner, as the central Punjab regions and northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are taking on early recovery projects. But the flood waters lingered longer than expected on the clay plains of the southern Sindh province and many farmers have missed a full season of wheat planting.

"There are still parts of Sindh, even today, where you see water everywhere," said Benoit de Gryse, head of mission in Pakistan the aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières.

Aid experts are scrambling to find replacement crops, but it seems likely that millions of people will continue relying on handouts until the fall harvest. Instead of declining, the number of food-aid recipients is projected to grow by 500,000 this month.

"We had assumed the emergency phase would be over in December, but there's no way," said Mengesha Kebede, the Pakistan head of UN's High Commission for Refugees in Islamabad. "It just doesn't seem to end."

The crisis has stopped getting much attention in the international media, however, and even local Pakistani journalists have largely shifted their attention to other issues. Donations dried up in recent months, with little increase in the $976-million contributed in the initial aftermath. That's almost exactly 50 per cent of the UN's estimate of emergency needs and it won't begin to cover the costs of rebuilding. Some guesses have put the price tag at $10-billion, but it could easily climb higher.

The last time such a major disaster hit Pakistan, donors pledged $6-billion within a month of the 2005 earthquake and the money covered the new homes and repairs for an estimated three million people.

Such generosity now seems unlikely. Pakistan's foreign partners say their coffers were drained by recovery work in Haiti as well as the aftermath of the global recession. And Pakistan's government cannot afford new housing for so many people; Islamabad was already crippled by debts before the floods. Flood victims themselves often owe huge sums to landlords or crop buyers who gave loans against the value of future harvests; the floods ruined farms, but did not wash away the debts.

With so few resources, aid workers are focusing on the worst-affected districts and trying to build modest shelters, often just bamboo huts.

Even so, without extra funding, the UN estimates that 800,000 families whose houses were completely destroyed - not just damaged - won't get even the basic shelter offered by early recovery programs.

Those estimates are still cautious guesses because many people remain in so-called "unregistered" camps - informal settlements not recognized by the government as official locations of flood victims. Some observers say the disaster could mark a permanent shift in the country's population, away from rural areas and into the sprawling slums around major cities. The largest such influx has already started to affect Karachi, the southern metropolis, whose poor neighbourhoods lit up with violence in recent months.

But the floods also brought out the best in Pakistan's society, as private donors stepped into the gap left by the shortfall in foreign funding. Aid workers say they've seen many acts of kindness by local businessmen and charities. Some of those groups make Pakistan's international partners uncomfortable, because of their links with militancy, but more often it's a case of ordinary people muddling through a disaster without help from the outside.

The sheer scale of their task looks daunting. In Bahrain, at the north end of the Swat Valley, the floodwaters had so much strength that they carried along entire trees and, according to local lore, pushed a boulder the size of a house two kilometres downstream. Villagers now point to the huge rock in the middle of the river as a monument to the water's power.

That same thunderous force reshaped the terraced lands in the valley.

In two hours, Mohammed Aquil, 72, lost his house and the patch of land where his ancestors had lived for generations. Nothing remained except a broad stretch of river bed, strewn with boulders. It didn't scare him away, however; he returned and his relatives heaped rocks from the river onto the bank, building themselves a new plot of land.

"We were ruined, we would have died if the NGOs didn't help us," he said, with a nod to an Oxfam worker standing nearby. "The village disappeared. The mosque disappeared. All our belongings disappeared.

But God has saved our children, and our lives, and we will build this place again."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

East and South continues to simmer in Afghanistan

The Wikileaks reveal the location of trouble spots in Afghanistan. Compiled from the app. 72,000 cables is the breakdown of violence by region in Afghanistan. It turns out that Afghanistan’s South and East continue to be violent places where the number of militants (enemy) and civilians either killed in action (KIA) or wounded in action  (WIA) are much larger than the rest. Again, these are the parts of Afghanistan inhabited by the Pushtuns, who constitute the overwhelming majority of the Taliban resistance in Afghanistan.


Searchable Wikileaks, 76911 cables

The following interactive map is searchable. Zoom and click on the red dot to see details about the  incident.

Using statistics to understand armed conflict

Drew Conway, a doctoral student in New York, uses statistical analysis to make sense of armed conflicts. Pasted below is his graphic that he developed from analyzing Wikileaks data about Afghanistan in July 2010. He used R software to generate the graphic.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Finally the victims step out, albeit on cruches

The US bombings in Pakistan's tribal areas have killed several civilians. The number of militants killed in action is also not known with certainty. International humanitarian agencies are denied access by the nexus of American and Pakistani intelligent agencies.

The past few weeks though have seen a rapid shift in the status quo where at least two victims of American bombings have stepped forward and have filed suits against the CIA, forcing the CIA station head to leave Pakistan.

The rule of law has to prevail in Pakistan. This certainly includes the rights of all, including those who were simply bystanders in Pakistan's tribal areas and have been made victims by both the militants and the American/Pakistani war machine.

Pakistani drone victim seeks to put US on trial | Latest news, Breaking news, Pakistan News, World news, business, sport and multimedia | DAWN.COM

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How American militarism endangers America

The more militarily America is involved globally, the more it loses in security and goodwill. Here is an interseting piece from Foreign Affairs that argues:

It is time to ask a fundamental question that few government officials or politicians in the United States seem willing to ask: Has it been a terrible error for the United States to have built an all-but-irreversible worldwide system of more than 1,000 military bases, stations, and outposts? This system was created to enhance U.S. national security, but what if it has actually done the opposite, provoking conflict and creating the very insecurity it was intended to prevent?

The most compelling arguments for opposing this system of global bases are political and practical. U.S. military bases have generated apprehension and hostility and fear of the United States, and they have facilitated futile, unnecessary, unprofitable, and self-defeating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and now seem to be inviting enlarged U.S. interventions in Pakistan, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa. The 9/11 attacks, according to Osama bin Laden himself, were provoked by the "blasphemy" of the existence of U.S. military bases in the sacred territories of Saudi Arabia. The global base system, it seems, tends to produce and intensify the very insecurity that is cited to justify it.

The United States' present global military deployment does not seem to be the product of conscious design, nor was it assembled absent-mindedly. In part, it is the natural result of bureaucracy left unchecked. At the end of World War II, a precipitous dismantling of the U.S. wartime deployment was halted only by the outbreak of the Cold War. The United States' intervention in Vietnam brought some base expansion in Southeast Asia, but after its failure in Vietnam, the U.S. military was determined to have nothing further to do with insurgencies and quickly returned to reorganization and retraining for what it still considered its primary mission: classical warfare in Europe in the event of a Soviet invasion. This eventually led to the brilliant blitzkrieg against Iraq in the first Gulf War, fought under the Powell Doctrine of popular support, overwhelming force, focused objectives, and rapid withdrawal.


by William Pfaff
WILLIAM PFAFF wrote a syndicated column that appeared in the International Herald Tribune from 1978 to 2006 and contributed political "Reflections" to the The New Yorker from 1971 to 1992. His latest book, The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy, was published in June.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Israel and Pakistan: parallel destinies at opposing ends —Sikander Amani

If Pakistani nationhood is defined by Islam, how can non-Muslims be true Pakistanis; how can non-Jews be true Israelis if Judaism is considered the essence of Israeli citizenship? The status and rights granted to minorities is hence always a cornerstone, and a benchmark, of the democratic nature of a state...

Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan - ANALYSIS: Israel and Pakistan: parallel destinies at opposing ends —Sikander Amani

Friday, December 17, 2010

Obama earning his Nobel peace prize

The American drones have struck numerous targets in Khyber Agency in Pakistan’s tribal areas killing 60 individuals. The reports are claiming all dead were militants. That may very well be true. However, like so many times in the past, one has to wait for the dust to settle to see if civilians were also caught in the fog of war, which has no way of finishing in a victory for either party.

The Obama administration has increased bombings from unmanned aircrafts in Pakistan, violating its sovereignty. The Wikileaks recently revealed that Pakistani military and the civilian government is very much in line with the American plans to bomb targets in tribal areas. Pakistani people on the other hand are not very sure about foreign military striking targets within Pakistan.

The graphic below from BBC reveals an increase in bombings by American planes within Pakistan during fall 2010. The militants as well as the American drones are busy attacking each other resulting in the deaths of Pakistani civilians. Notice the map where those killed in US bombings are in a different part of the tribal areas than those who are killed by the militants.

The graph on the left suggests a slow-down in attacks by the militants and the American pilot-less planes in July and August, owing to the deadly floods that inundated almost 15% of the land area in Pakistan.

I am wondering what would have been the shape and format of war had President Obama not been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


The number of attacks are presented below:


Thursday, December 16, 2010

WikiLeaks inspires sanitary pad ad in Pakistan

KARACHI: Pakistani advertisers in the feminine hygiene business have harnessed the political notoriety of WikiLeaks to tell women that while the US State Department might leak, they don't have to.

Advertising sanitary pads on selected billboards in Pakistan's financial capital Karachi, the latest catchphrase is: "WikiLeaks... Butterfly doesn't".

Leaked American diplomatic cables turned the Internet whistleblower into a household name in Pakistan, fascinating and appalling members of the public over reported inner dealings of their political and military elite.

Pakistani advertisers usually avoid the divisive world of politics but advertisers said the commercial had attracted considerable attention.

"We have received a huge response from the public and everyone has commended us on it," said Syed Amjad Hussain, head of business development at RG Blue Communications, which pitched the advertisement to manufacturers Butterfly.

"It could have been yet another ad showing a girl promoting the sanitary pad, but we made it different, completely different," art director Munir Bhatti told AFP.

Hussain said the response had been "great" although a fully-fledged media campaign had yet to start.

Coverage of the leaked American cables highlighted Western concerns about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arms and politicians' private support for US drone attacks on al-Qaida and the Taliban in the country's tribal belt.

They also revealed that the Pakistani army considered forcing out President Asif Ali Zardari, who made contingency plans for his assassination.

Read more: WikiLeaks inspires sanitary pad ad in Pakistan - The Times of India

WikiLeaks inspires sanitary pad ad in Pakistan - The Times of India

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bangladesh clothes workers die in factory fire

25 workers died as a result of a fire at Bangladeshi factory. Factory workers in Bangladesh are in a midst of a struggle to get living wages and decent working conditions. The death of workers at a factory that makes garments, most likely for exports, will further infuriate the workers. The long-term future of Bangladesh as a source of cheap garment manufacturing now looks bleak.

As the wages and working conditions will improve in Bangladesh, it is very likely that importers in the west will abandon Bangladesh for the next cheap place to have shirt-less workers stitch clothes for consumers in the west.

BBC News - Bangladesh clothes workers die in factory fire

UNICEF warns epidemic outbreak among flood hit children

pakistani child R543 UNICEF warns epidemic outbreak among flood hit children

“The coming cold months will sharply increase the numbers of respiratory infections and malnutrition, two of the biggest killers of Pakistani children”, said Daniel Toole, UNICEF’s Regional Director for South Asia. – Reuters Photo

UNICEF warns epidemic outbreak among flood hit children | Latest news, Breaking news, Pakistan News, World news, business, sport and multimedia | DAWN.COM

Friday, December 10, 2010

Watch Lesley Hazleton speak about Quran

There are millions who talk about Quran. There are perhaps only a few who understand it. I have, since my early childhood, seen no one else explain Quran with such humility and respect.

Lesley Hazleton identifies herself as an agnostic Jew. Her understanding of the Quran appears superior to me than most Muslim clerics I have interacted with in the past three decades.

Watch the video below, you won't regret it.

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Top rabbis move to forbid renting homes to Arabs, say 'racism originated in the Torah' - Haaretz

Religious lunacy is not confined to hard line Muslim clerics!

A number of leading rabbis who signed on to a religious ruling to forbid renting homes to gentiles – a move particularly aimed against Arabs – defended their decision on Tuesday with the declaration that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews.

Top rabbis move to forbid renting homes to Arabs, say 'racism originated in the Torah' - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

Suicide car bomber rams hospital in Hangu, Pakistan

It's that time of the year when the Sunni militants step up their campaign of murderous suicide attacks against the Shiites. Why now, you ask. It is the start of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar when the Shiites commemorate the death of Imam Hussein (the grand-son of Prophet Muhammad) who was brutally murdered along with his family and friends at the banks of Euphrates in Iraq. The Omayyad Caliph, Yazeed, orchestrated the mass murder of the Prophet's family to take over control of the rapidly growing Muslim empire. Any living descendant of the Prophet's family would have questioned Yazeed's legitimacy to the throne, which he inherited from his father, Muawwiya.

So here is the schism that has plagued Islam over the past 1400-plus years. Those who sided with the Prophet's family, the Shiites, have always been in minority and have been attacked by those who sided with, and continue to support, Omayyads and their present-day decedents, the Wahabis based in Saudi Arabia.

The past week has witnessed an increase in suicide bombings in Pakistan where the Saudi-backed Sunni extremists have killed almost a 100 Sunni moderates and Shiites in suicide bombings.

Given that this conflict between the Shiites and the Sunnis continues to generate victims 1400 years hence, I have not much confidence in the Muslim ethos to resolve conflicts effectively. How many more centuries before this killing of Muslims at the hands of other Muslims would cease?

BBC News - Suicide car bomber rams hospital in Hangu, Pakistan

A suicide bomber has rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a hospital, killing 11 people in north-west Pakistan, say police.
Another 16 people were injured by the blast at the Shia Muslim-run facility in Hangu district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, according to police.
The explosion follows the start of the Islamic holy month of Muharram, which is especially important for Shias.
Meanwhile, a US drone plane killed four people in the neighbouring tribal belt.
Investigators suspect Friday's suicide bombing on the outskirts of Hangu was a sectarian attack. Sunni militant groups often target Shias during Muharram.
"A car rammed into the hospital while people were praying in a hall and we have reports of at least 11 killed," the news agency Reuters quoted Hangu police chief Abdul Rashid as saying.
A tractor and trailer carrying 250kg (550lb) of explosives were used for the attack, Hangu police spokesman Fazal Naeem told news agency AFP.
It was the fourth major suicide attack this week in Pakistan.
On Monday, two bombers killed more than 40 people as they attacked anti-Taliban militia talks in Mohmand, in the north-western tribal belt.
On Tuesday, a suicide attacker failed in an attempt to assassinate the chief minister of Pakistan's south-western province of Balochistan.
On Wednesday, a bomber blew himself up near a minibus in the town of Kohat, not far from Hangu, killing at least 16 people.
Friday's air strike on a vehicle and house in Khadar Khel, North Waziristan, killed four militants, according to Pakistani officials.
The report is difficult to verify because the region, which lies on the Afghan border, is one of the most dangerous in the world.
It would be the second drone strike in the region this week. The frequency of such attacks has increased under the administration of US President Barack Obama.
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Thursday, December 9, 2010

India's ambassador Meera Shankar frisked at US airport

If you are caught being brown at an American airport, you are a suspect; being an ambassador or a President doesn't help. This will only stop if the American ambassadors and former presidents are subjected to the same treatment at Indian, Pakistani, and Brazilian airports. Only then will the message get across. If however, the American establishment's representatives or that from Europe continue to be treated as deities in the developing world, it will be hard to get the brown guys and gals treated with respect at airports elsewhere in the world.

Meera Shankar
Ms Shankar was taken to a separate room and searched

India's ambassador to US has been pulled from an airport security line and frisked by a security agent in Mississippi, it has emerged.

The hands-on search took place last week even after Meera Shankar's diplomatic status was revealed.

Some reports said Ms Shankar, who was on her way from a conference, was singled out because she was wearing a sari.

The Indian embassy in Washington has strongly protested about the incident.

The search took place on 4 December at the Jackson-Evers International Airport, news agency Press Trust of India quoted an Indian Embassy official as saying.

Ms Shankar was about to board a flight to Baltimore after attending an event at Mississippi State University.

She was taken to a VIP waiting room despite staff being told that she was an ambassador, he said.

She was later pulled from a security line and patted down by a female Transportation Security Administration agent.

"This is unacceptable to India and we are going to take it up with the US government and I hope things could be resolved so that such unpleasant incidents do not recur," External Affairs Minister SM Krishna told reporters in Delhi.

'Stupid incident'

The incident has also embarrassed the university officials who had invited Ms Shankar to give a speech.

"It was a wonderful programme, maybe the best we've had, (but) this stupid incident ruined the whole thing," Associated Press quoted Janos Radvanyi, chair of the university's international studies department as saying.

"She said, 'I will never come back here'. We are sending her a letter of apology," he said.

Last year, America's Continental Airlines apologised to former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam for frisking him before he boarded a flight to the US.

Members of India's parliament were outraged after it emerged that Mr Kalam had been frisked and made to remove his shoes at Delhi airport in April.

Protocol exempts former presidents and other dignitaries from such searches.

BBC News - India's ambassador Meera Shankar frisked at US airport

Monday, December 6, 2010

Canadians donate $46.8 million for flood relief

Canadians donate $46.8 million for flood relief

ISLAMABAD: Canada on Tuesday announced matching an equivalent amount to the $46.8 million collected by its individual citizens for the flood victims in Pakistan and donating it to the Pakistan Flood Relief Fund (PFRF).

Canadian Minister of International Cooperation Beverley J Oda said in Ottawa that Canada will continue to support the Pakistani people with emergency aid and early recovery efforts. “Canadians have demonstrated their compassion and generosity, and the government is proud to partner with them to help the flood victims in Pakistan,” Oda said. The Canadian government had announced it would recognise the donations made by individual Canadians to eligible Canadian registered charities up to October 3. Registered charities had until October 18 to declare the amount of eligible donations they collected for Pakistan relief.

“Through the PFRF, Canada will assist those who are able to return to their homes as well as those who remain in camps,” Oda said. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has already disbursed $19 million from the PFRF to support logistics and transport capacity of the overall humanitarian response.

It was also used to deploy relief items from the CIDA stockpile - tents, jerry cans, tarps, hygiene kits, cook sets, and mosquito nets, aqua tabs for water purification, and Canadian humanitarian experts to the affected zones. app

Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan - Canadians donate $46.8 million for flood relief

Bomb, grenades hit two mosques in Pakistan; 70 dead

This would certainly have been avoided had the tribesmen not been complacent for decades in the murder of Shiites by the same who now target Sunnis in Pakistan. Very unfortunate loss of life in the name of serving Islam!

peshawartribals 543 Bomb, grenades hit two mosques in Pakistan; 70 dead

PESHAWAR: A local official says a bomb has exploded at a mosque in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 40 people and wounding 30. – (File Photo)

PESHAWAR: A suicide bomber struck a mosque frequented by anti-Taliban tribal elders in northwestern Pakistan during afternoon prayers Friday, killing at least 67 people in one of the deadliest attacks this year.

Later in the day, three grenade blasts killed three people at a mosque in another northwest area where an anti-Taliban militia was active.

The blasts were the latest to hit religious gatherings and underscored the relentless security challenge in the US-allied nation, where Islamist militants have managed to strike at the state and citizens who work against them despite pressure from army offensives.

In the first attack, the Sunni mosque’s roof collapsed as hundreds of worshippers were gathered inside for the most popular prayer session of the week, and many victims were trapped in the debris.

People in private vehicles rushed the wounded to hospitals in Peshawar, the main city in the northwest, TV footage showed. A woman was beating her head, while two elderly men in blood-soaked clothes rested in a hospital corridor.

The explosion occurred in Darra Adam Khel, an area famous for its illegal weapons bazaars and located near Pakistan’s tribal regions where Taliban-led militants have been active.

“The blast tossed me up, then I fell down,” Mohammad Usman, 32, a schoolteacher with wounds on his head and arms said from his hospital bed in Peshawar. “Later, it was just like a graveyard.”

Local government official Shahid Ullah said the mosque may have been targeted because local tribesmen running an anti-Taliban militia have often met there, though not on this particular Friday. The Pakistani government has encouraged tribal leaders to set up militias to fight the insurgents, and the Taliban have frequently targeted those opponents.

GEO News TV reported that the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, but the group’s spokesmen did not immediately respond to calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Another local government official, Saeed Khan, put the death toll at 67 and said 100 others were wounded. That made the attack the deadliest since a pair of suicide bombers killed 102 people and wounded 168 in the Mohmand tribal region in July.

On Friday night, three hand grenades exploded during evening prayers at a Sunni mosque in the Badhber area on the outskirts of Peshawar. Along with three dead, the blast wounded 24 others, said police official Ejaz Khan.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the northwest province’s information minister, said an anti-Taliban citizens’ militia had been pushing insurgents out of the area and that the attack may have been a reaction to that. Pakistani TV channels showed bloodied victims being rushed to the hospital.

Several shrines and mosques belonging to rival sects hated by the Taliban have been targeted in Pakistan this year. At least three such attacks occurred in October alone.

Hussain called the militants “beasts” that are lashing out at Pakistan’s crackdown against them.

“This is part of international terrorism. America, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the main players, who need to work closely and more aggressively to root out this menace,” said Hussain, whose only son was killed by militants earlier this year.

Pakistan is in the midst of multiple offensives against Taliban and linked militants in its northwest, including the tribal areas that border Afghanistan.

The US has praised the offensives, in hopes they will break the backs of at least some of the groups involved in attacks on American and Nato troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

However, Pakistan has yet to mount an operation in North Waziristan, the tribal region where the most dangerous groups working against the US in Afghanistan have bases.

The US needs Pakistan’s support for the war in Afghanistan in part because it uses its roads to transport supplies to troops across the border. Those supply trucks, however, have become targets of suspected militants and criminal groups.

Two blasts targeting Nato supply trucks damaged 11 of the vehicles at the Torkham border crossing in the Khyber tribal region on Friday, government official Tahir Khan said.

The explosions struck an area where the trucks were waiting for their turn to go through to Afghanistan. Authorities were still investigating the nature of the blasts, Khan said.

In Pakistan’s southwest, two men on a motorcycle opened fire at a Nato supply truck in Sohrab town, killing its driver and wounding two others, police official Mohammad Younus said.

The truck was on its way back to Karachi after off loading Nato supplies in Afghanistan. — AP

Bomb, grenades hit two mosques in Pakistan; 70 dead | Pakistan | DAWN.COM

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan - Saudi Arabia wants military government in Pakistan

Saudi Arabia wants military government in Pakistan

LAHORE: America is often portrayed as the big dog in Pakistan’s yard: a swaggering power that makes rules, barks orders and throws its weight around. But the WikiLeaks cables highlight the understated yet insistent influence of another country with ideas about Pakistan’s future: Saudi Arabia. According to a Guardian report, in recent years, Saudi rulers have played favourites with Pakistani politicians, wielded their massive financial clout to political effect and even advocated a return to military rule. “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants,” the Saudi ambassador to the US, Adel al Jubeir, boasted in 2007. A senior US official later bemoaned as “negative” the Saudi influence. Saudi Arabia has longstanding ties with Pakistan. In the 1980s Saudi intelligence, along with the CIA, funded the anti-Soviet “jihad” in Afghanistan. Since then the Saudis have given billions in financial aid and cut-price oil. In January 2009, Abdullah told James Jones, then the US national security adviser, that Pakistan Army was “staying out of Pakistani politics in deference to US wishes, rather than doing what it ‘should’”. Abdullah’s preference for military rule was recorded by the Saudis’ American guests, “They appear to be looking for ‘another Musharraf’ – a strong, forceful leader they know they can trust.” His views were echoed by the interior minister, who said Saudi Arabia viewed the army as its “winning horse” in Pakistan. Meanwhile, US diplomats see the Saudis as allies but also competitors for influence in Pakistan. In 2009, special envoy Richard Holbrooke warned Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef of “unimaginable” consequences for Saudi Arabia if Pakistan fell apart, especially if its nuclear weapons fell into unfriendly hands. But in Islamabad, American diplomats have sought to diminish Saudi influence by allying with another Muslim country, Turkey. After a meeting with the Turkish ambassador in May 2009, ambassador Anne Patterson noted that moderate, progressive Turkey presented a “positive role model” for Pakistan. daily times monitor

Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan - Saudi Arabia wants military government in Pakistan

US military ends Pakistan flood relief

US military ends Pakistan flood relief
(1 minute ago) Today
US pakistan flood 543 US military ends Pakistan flood relief

Stranded flood affected people rush to board a US forces Chinook helicopter, in Kalam in Pakistan's Swat Valley.—AP photo

ISLAMABAD: The US military has ended its relief mission helping victims of this summer’s floods in Pakistan.

American choppers flew in from Afghanistan once the scale of the disaster became apparent in early August.

They have flown hundreds of missions in the northwest and in Punjab, dropping off food and relief supplies and rescuing stranded people.

Pakistani and American officials Thursday staged a ceremony at an aviation base to mark the end of the mission.

At their peak, the floods affected 20 million people across the country.

The American mission was an opportunity for Washington to show that it cared for ordinary Pakistanis.

US officials have expressed hope it may have reduced —if only a little —widespread anti-US sentiment in the militancy-wracked country.

US military ends Pakistan flood relief | World | DAWN.COM

Pakistan’s flood aid ‘unspent and mismanaged’

ISLAMABAD: Mismanagement and misuse of cash are hampering relief efforts for Pakistan’s flood victims with nearly 60 million dollars in a prime minister’s fund still unspent, officials say.

Catastrophic monsoon rains that swept north to south in July and August affected 21 million people, consumed entire villages, wiped out agricultural land and destroyed industries in the country’s worst ever natural disaster.

Foreign donors have stumped up just half of a UN appeal target of 1.93 billion dollars, sparking fears for 6.8 million who need emergency shelter as winter sets in, while farmland could remain flooded for another six months.

But officials say efforts to rebuild 1.6 million homes are being compromised by infighting between federal and provincial authorities, and express amazement that a 58.5 million dollar prime minister’s fund remains entirely unspent.

Shabbir Anwar, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, said plans for the money were still being finalised as part of a national recovery plan.

“The government has prepared a national strategy for rehabilitation and reconstruction. The details are being finalised by the financial division,” he told AFP.

But a top Pakistani official said “malaise” at the heart of government was to blame for inaction, as thousands of families remain camped out on roadsides in makeshift tents.

“Once a decision is taken at the highest level it must be done — but it doesn’t get done,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Huge swaths of Sindh province in the south remain underwater. From the air all that can be seen in the worst-affected parts of Dadu province are the tips of trees jutting above inland lakes.

Just outside Gul Mohammad Chandio village, families languish under tents overlooking fields submerged in water, clamouring for the relief that they say has failed to arrive in the months since the disaster.

Villagers returning from relief camps by donkey found homes still flooded or destroyed. A chair balanced on a rubber ring was the only way to ferry people across a flooded street.

“We’re very worried about our income because our land is under water. Nobody has helped us,” said 45-year-old Mohammad Khan, who returned to his home with seven children to find a pile of rubble.

“Please rebuild our homes. We’re worried, we don’t have anything.”

UN officials have complained about a lack of international financial support for Pakistan, blaming that partly on the government’s poor reputation for mismanagement and corruption.

The World Bank has put the overall figure for flood recovery at 9.7 billion dollars.

But despite crippling debts, the federal government insists on doling out the money itself to rebuild schools and hospitals, and has asked donors to contribute only to a cash fund, rather than offer infrastructure assistance.

Under a cash compensation scheme, 1.6 million of the worst-off families should each receive more than 85,450 rupees to rebuild their homes using an electronic card system.

The United States has been quick to endorse the fund, with US envoy Richard Holbrooke telling a development conference in Islamabad that its aid could be fast-tracked into the scheme.

But the World Bank has refused to back the scheme until the fund is made more transparent and accountable, and there have been widespread reports of problems with the cash card system, said Oxfam media officer Amil Khan.

“We have reports of people not knowing how to use the cash cards, machines not having any cash, not having any power. There have been issues of access…it’s a significant issue,” said Khan.

Head of the National Disaster Management Authority that coordinates flood relief, General Nadeem Ahmed, said he has “strong reservations” over the plan because there is no system in place to oversee the home rebuilding.

Of the 1.6 million homes earmarked for construction, he said 400,000 needed to be built elsewhere to avoid flood plains and fault lines in the earthquake-prone country.

“People are making houses and schools in the river beds,” said Ahmed.

“We want to make sure that whatever reconstruction we do must make use of the opportunity to build back better.”

USAID officials met Pakistan’s National Accountability Board last week to discuss allegations of misuse of American money by aid organisations, a Pakistani official said on condition of anonymity.

Pakistan’s flood aid ‘unspent and mismanaged’ | Pakistan | DAWN.COM

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

ANP shifts from left to center to right

The most intriguing part of the latest release of classified documents by the WikiLeaks is not that General Kiyani had considered ousting Zardari, what else was new, but instead the fact that the chief of the Awami National Party, Asfandyar Wali Khan, was actively negotiating with the American ambassador about the political outcomes in Pakistan.

Growing up in Peshawar, I viewed the ANP project itself as the credible left-leaning party of some integrity who was opposed to any intervention by the Americans or others in the domestic affairs of Pakistan. The transcripts below present a very different picture of the same party, which draws its lineage from Sarhadi Gandhi, Khan Abdul Wali Khan. Here we see the leader of the party (Asfandayar Wali Khan) spilling his guts to the American ambassador, while reminding her that he was offered the office of the prime minister by president Zardari, which he (Khan) refused to accept.

Later, in other documents we see the chief of army staff of Pakistan's armed forces advising the American ambassador Patterson that he considered replacing Zardari with Khan, the head of supposedly pro democracy, left leaning Awami National Party.

President Zardari epitomizes the culture of corruption and incompetence that prevails in Pakistan. There will perhaps be no teary eyes if he were to be removed from the Presidency. However, in a country where due process is never followed, I'd opose any non-democratic means to remove the incompetent and politically inept President Zardari. Let the democratic process take its due course in Pakistan and not make a political martyr out of Zardari, whose otherwise political legacy is destined for the dustbin of history.

For me, there was some hope of semblance of integrity left in the political system of Pakistan where one could look up to Asfandyar Wali Khan and a handful of others for dignified leadership. If WikiLeaks documents are genuine, I am up for a major disappointment.

Thursday, 12 March 2009, 04:28
EO 12958 DECL: 08/04/2018
Classified By: Anne W. Patterson, for reasons 1.4 (b)(d)

1. As street protests threaten to topple the Pakistani government, the US ambassador discusses ways to end the crisis with leaders. In one meeting the head of the Pakistani army, General Ashfaq Kayani, tells her that he may be forced to "persuade" President Asif Ali Zardari to resign. The ambassador says the comments are not an indicator of an imminent army coup. Key passage highlighted in yellow.

2. Read related article

1. (C) Summary. In a last-ditch effort to reduce tensions with the Sharif brothers ahead of the start of the lawyers' march on March 12, President Zardari offered Pakistan Muslim League (PML) leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain the post of Senate leader if PML would form a government with the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in Punjab but will do little to pacify Nawaz Sharif or the lawyers. Shujaat is considering the deal, which will be sealed by the March 12 vote in the Senate; it could end governor's rule in Punjab--if Shujaat can keep the PML forward block in line. Other compromise efforts have failed, although the UK High Commission is probing for the various parties' positions in advance of a possible HMG mediation effort. After seeing Interior Minister Malik and Awami National Party leader Asfundyar Wali Khan, Ambassador will see Shujaat March 11 and the Sharifs on March 12.

2. (C) Amid reports of possible targeted killings and Mumbai style attacks during the march, the GOP began arresting Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) members and some civil activists. Interior Minister Malik assured Ambassador he had no plans to arrest the Sharifs or key civil society leaders like Aitzaz Ahsan, but caveated this by saying he might have to arrest Imran Khan or others "who did not obey the law." Lawyers and JI activists already have begun infiltrating Islamabad; if a significant number of demonstrators cannot enter the capital, we expect protests in multiple areas, especially in Punjab, beginning March 12. Accordingly, we are issuing a Warden Notice March 11.

3. (C) During Ambassador's fourth meeting in a week with Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Kayani on March 10, he again hinted that he might, however reluctantly, have to persuade President Zardari to resign if the situation sharply deteriorates. He mentioned Asfundyar Wali Khan as a possible replacement. This would not be a formal coup but would leave in place the PPP government led by PM Gilani, thus avoiding elections that likely would bring Nawaz Sharif to power. We do not believe Army action is imminent. We do believe Kayani was laying down a clear marker so that, if he has to act, he can say he warned the U.S. in advance and gave us ample opportunities to pressure both sides to back down. Kayani is trying to leverage what he considers predominate U.S. influence over Zardari, instead of seeking a direct confrontation that could provoke an unhelpful civil-military clash.

4. (C) Two weeks ago, Zardari was staring at victory on all fronts; today, he recognizes he must compromise with the Sharifs and might well be looking over his shoulder at the Army. Even if the lawyers' march fizzles--and it may--Nawaz retains the high moral ground in public opinion and can continue attacking a now weakened Zardari. We should encourage Zardari to continue efforts to ease tensions and ask the Saudis and the UAE to weigh in with their respective allies. This could be a protracted process. End Summary.



5. (C) There are three political scenarios in play as tensions between President Zardari and the Sharif brothers rise ahead of the start of the lawyers' march on March 12: mediation/accommodation, which resolves the Sharifs' disqualification from holding public office, ends governor's rule in Punjab and addresses the judicial issue; confrontation, which leads to violence and possible Army intervention; and a fizzled march that sets the stage for continued conflict.



6. (C) On March 11, Awami National Party (ANP) leader Asfundyar Wali Khan described to Ambassador and Polcouns his

ISLAMABAD 00000516 002 OF 004

mediation efforts with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader Fazlur Rehman over the past week. Zardari, he asserted, agreed to request a review of the Supreme Court decision disqualifying the Sharifs, said that after a positive outcome to that review Shahbaz Sharif would be reinstated as Chief Minister Punjab, and agreed to a conference to discuss restoring the judiciary. In return, Nawaz should delay the lawyers' march.

7. (C) Nawaz reportedly agreed but then changed his mind and demanded reversal of the court decision, an end to governor's rule in Punjab and reinstatement of the former Chief Justice. Under pressure, Nawaz relented and agreed to the judicial conference idea but offered only to ask the lawyers to consider postponing the march, and said all this had to be accomplished in a day. Asfundyar noted that it was impossible to demand a immediate review of a Court decision that had not been formally issued. He told Nawaz that he would win the next election and should just be patient; by pressing now, he threatened a political vacuum that would be filled by the Army. This time, warned Asfundyar, Nawaz might not be sent into a comfortable exile. Nawaz refused to budge.

8. (C) Asfundyar said that Zardari was surrounded by advisors who were not politicians, so he was not being encouraged to compromise; Nawaz's chief advisor was Chaudhry Nisar who, with the Sharif brothers disqualified, stood the best chance of being the next PML-N Prime Minister. Nawaz had provoked the Court by launching a campaign over the doctored exam scores of the Chief Justice's daughter, and this had prompted the ruling against Shahbaz. Asfundyar attributed the crisis 70 percent to Nawaz and 30 percent to Zardari. In Asfundyar's view, there was an absence of trust on both sides, and what was needed was a cease-fire in which to conduct reasonable negotiations. If the march fizzled, there could be time to work out a compromise; if the march sparked violence, there was "nothing to do but pray."

9. (C) Asfundyar welcomed the idea of UK mediation but said it was the U.S. view that counted most. He also urged that we contact the UAE to pressure Zardari and the Saudis to pressure Nawaz to back off. ANP had seen PML-N members distributing cash envelopes to a stream of supporters this week; like Zardari, Asfundyar said he believed the money was coming from the Saudis. Asfundyar was open to continue mediating if asked. He reminded Ambassador that Zardari had offered him the job of Prime Minister immediately after the February 2008 elections.

10. (C) In a separate meeting with Ambassador and Polcouns, UK High Commissioner Brinkley said he had received approval to approach the various sides, discern their bottom lines, and report back to London. HMG had not yet decided whether to take on any role of mediator or guarantor. The UK planned to make a public statement today urging the parties to resolve their differences democratically and eschew violence. Brinkley was scheduled to see PM Gilani and possibly Zardari and Shahbaz Sharif on March 11, and Chief of Army Staff General Kayani and Asfundyar Wali Khan on March 12.

11. (C) Late on March 11, the PML confirmed press reports that the PPP had reversed course (Ref B) and now had offered Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain the post of leader of the Senate if PML agreed to join PPP in a coalition government in Punjab. Shujaat will meet PM Gilani later March 11; on March 12, the newly constituted Senate would vote on a party leader. If the deal goes through, it would end governor's rule in Punjab but it is unclear if a PPP-led government will reduce tensions. It remains unclear, however, if Shujaat can hold on to his 28-35 member "forward block" of Nawaz supporters to seal this deal. Without the PML forward block, the PPP cannot form a government.



12. (C) In a March 11 meeting with Ambassador and Polcouns, Interior Minister Malik described his efforts to mediate with the lawyers to convince them to hold a peaceful march outside of Islamabad, but he said the lawyers so far have spurned the GOP's proposals. Malik plans to block roads into Islamabad

ISLAMABAD 00000516 003 OF 004

beginning March 13. Ambassador warned that efforts to arrest the Sharifs or high-profile activists like Aitzaz Ahsan would not be well received in Washington or elsewhere. Malik denied he had any intention of arresting the Sharifs or Aitzaz but qualified this by saying "unless they do not stop, but I will tell you first. I have to maintain law and order." He said he might have to arrest Imran Khan and some JI activists. (Note: On March 10, Punjab police began arresting 200-250 JI student activists and low-level PML-N workers. Mission contacts report many activists already are going underground. Neither the Sharifs nor Aitzaz Ahsan have been arrested. Geo TV News, which the GOP has criticized for being anti-government, disappeared from cable TV. See septel for updates.)

13. (C) Malik said he had received serious threat information regarding a Mumbai style attack in Karachi on March 13-14 by the Jandallah group that previously had attacked the U.S. Consulate. There were also reports of a proposed targeted killing, against whom was unclear. JI leaders were giving their students "black coats" so they could look like lawyers and already were infiltrating Islamabad. Malik expected crowds of at least 4,000-5,000 in the capital, even with road closures.

14. (S) In four conversations with Ambassador this week, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Kayani hinted that, however reluctantly, he might have to urge Zardari to resign, if conditions deteriorate. He did not offer any red lines. Kayani indicated that Asfundyar Wali Khan or someone else broadly acceptable might be an appropriate replacement for Zardari. We do not believe Army action is imminent, but we do believe Kayani was laying down a marker that, if he had to intervene, the U.S. had been forewarned and given many opportunities to avoid intervention by pressuring both Nawaz and Zardari. Kayani made it clear that regardless of how much he disliked Zardari, he distrusted Nawaz even more. The scenario Kayani hinted at was one in which he would pressure Zardari to resign (and presumably leave the country). This would not be an official Army "coup;" it would leave the PPP government led by Prime Minister Gilani in place and preclude the need for elections that likely would bring Nawaz to power.

15. (S) Kayani hinted at disquiet among his corps commanders who believe Zardari is corrupt and has not been paying enough attention to Pakistan's economic and security challenges. ISI DG Pasha highlighted to Ambassador his concerns about Zardari's alleged corruption on the flight to the U.S. for the strategic review, and we have multiple sources demonstrating Army complaints about Zardari. Kayani believes the U.S. has the most influence over Zardari, and he knows we are Pakistan's most important ally, especially for increasing the capacity of the Pakistani Army. Kayani told Ambassador he has talked directly to Zardari, but he does not appear to have conveyed the seriousness of Army concerns about Zardari or the security situation vis a vis the march. (Note: Kayani may be seeking to avoid a confrontation that would prompt Zardari to make a disastrous decision to try and oust the COAS.)

A Fizzle


16. (C) At this point, everything appears to rest on the outcome of the lawyers' march. PML-N does not have a proven reputation for putting demonstrators on the streets, although JI does. By applying the road closure/detention tactics that worked for Musharraf in 2007 to stop pro-Nawaz demonstrations, the government might be able to avoid a serious clash this time. But if a policeman fires into the crowd or a terrorist attacks protesters, all bets are off.

17. (C) There is also the likelihood that the march will not occur as scheduled. Blocked from Islamabad, there could be multiple flash points in the Punjab, early demonstrations in Islamabad, and a series of confrontations with the police. This could be a protracted clash of wills.

18. (C) Comment: Two weeks ago, Zardari was staring victory in the face after negotiating a PPP win in Senate elections, setting Nawaz up for an entirely legal

ISLAMABAD 00000516 004 OF 004

disqualification, and looking toward successful Friends and Donors meetings that would provide the financial support needed to bolster his sagging popularity. By over-reaching to make a grab for Punjab without doing his homework on vote counting in Punjab, Zardari now needs to compromise with the Sharifs and might well be looking over his shoulder at the Army. Even if the march fizzles, Nawaz retains the high moral ground in the public's eyes and will use it to continue attacking a weakened Zardari. Zardari needs to win back the military's confidence.


US embassy cables: Pakistani army chief hints at unseating Zardari | World news |

Kayani: the mumbler

From Ambassador Patterson's desk:

29. (U) General Ashfaq Kayani was born in Punjab in 1952, grew up in a working-class family and is the son of a former junior officer. He was commissioned in the Pakistan Army after graduating from the Pakistan Military Academy in 1971. His long career has included command at every level from Company to Corps. He has served in key staff positions, to include Military Assistant to the Prime Minister under Benazir Bhutto from 1988-1990, Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), 2000-2003, Director General, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) from 2004-2007, and Vice Chief of Army Staff in 2007. In November 2007, he became Chief of Army Staff (COAS). He is the only officer ever to have served as both DG-ISI and COAS. His term as DGMO coincided with the intense military standoff with India of 2001-2002.

30. (C) C) In interactions with post, Kayani is often direct, frank, and thoughtful. He has fond memories of his IMET training at Fort Leavenworth and values his personal relationships, particularly with U.S. military leaders. Kayani is married and the father of two children, a son and a

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daughter. An avid golfer, he is President of the Pakistan Golf Association. He smokes heavily and can be difficult to understand as he tends to mumble.


US embassy cables: Scenesetter for Washington visit of Pakistan military boss | World news |

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Troubling tradeoffs in the Human Development Index, Vol. 1 of 1

"Summary: The 20th Human Development Report has introduced a new version of its famous Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI aggregates country-level attainments in life expectancy, schooling and income per capita. Each year's rankings by the HDI are keenly watched in both rich and poor countries. The main change in the 2010 HDI is that it relaxes its past assumption of perfect substitutability between its three components. However, most users will probably not realize that the new HDI has also greatly reduced its implicit weight on longevity in poor countries, relative to rich ones. A poor country experiencing falling life expectancy due to (say) a collapse in its health-care system could still see its HDI improve with even a small rate of economic growth. By contrast, the new HDI's valuations of the gains from extra schooling seem unreasonably high -- many times greater than the economic returns to schooling. These troubling tradeoffs could have been largely avoided using a different aggregation function for the HDI, while still allowing imperfect substitution. While some difficult value judgments are faced in constructing and assessing the HDI, making its assumed tradeoffs more explicit would be a welcome step."

Troubling tradeoffs in the Human Development Index, Vol. 1 of 1

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Taliban Leader in Peace Talks Was an Impostor -

Americans should stop embarrassing themselves and exit Afghanistan pronto. The place is a bigger mess now than it was before NATO tried to fix it. The loss of life, property, and hope in Afghanistan is too big a cost to justify the continuation of a flawed policy, which has led to sustained invasion and destruction of Afghanistan.

Why wait for 2014? Leave now and let the healing begin.
November 22, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”

American officials confirmed Monday that they had given up hope that the Afghan was Mr. Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership.

NATO and Afghan officials said they held three meetings with the man, who traveled from in Pakistan, where Taliban leaders have taken refuge.

The fake Taliban leader even met with President Hamid Karzai, having been flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace, officials said.

The episode underscores the uncertain and even bizarre nature of the atmosphere in which Afghan and American leaders search for ways to bring the nine-year-old American-led war to an end. The leaders of the Taliban are believed to be hiding in Pakistan, possibly with the assistance of the Pakistani government, which receives billions of dollars in American aid.

Many in the Taliban leadership, which is largely made up of barely literate clerics from the countryside, had not been seen in person by American, NATO or Afghan officials.

American officials say they were skeptical from the start about the identity of the man who claimed to be Mullah Mansour — who by some accounts is the second-ranking official in the Taliban, behind only the founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Serious doubts arose after the third meeting with Afghan officials, held in the southern city of Kandahar. A man who had known Mr. Mansour years ago told Afghan officials that the man at the table did not resemble him. “He said he didn’t recognize him,” said an Afghan leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The Western diplomat said the Afghan man was initially given a sizable sum of money to take part in the talks — and to help persuade him to return.

While the Afghan official said he still harbored hopes that the man would return for another round of talks, American and other Western officials said they had concluded that the man in question was not Mr. Mansour. Just how the Americans reached such a definitive conclusion — whether, for instance, they were able to positively establish his identity through fingerprints or some other means — is unknown.

As recently as last month, American and Afghan officials held high hopes for the talks. Senior American officials, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, said the talks indicated that Taliban leaders, whose rank-and-file fighters are under extraordinary pressure from the American-led offensive, were at least willing to discuss an end to the war.

The American officials said they and officials of other NATO governments were helping to facilitate the discussions, by providing air transport and securing roadways for Taliban leaders coming from Pakistan.

Last month, White House officials asked The New York Times to withhold Mr. Mansour’s name from an article about the peace talks, expressing concern that the talks would be jeopardized — and Mr. Mansour’s life put at risk — if his involvement were publicized. The Times agreed to withhold Mr. Mansour’s name, along with the names of two other Taliban leaders said to be involved in the discussions. The status of the other two Taliban leaders said to be involved is not clear.

Since the last round of discussions, which took place within the past few weeks, Afghan and American officials have been puzzling over who the man was. Some officials say the man may simply have been a freelance fraud, posing as a Taliban leader in order to enrich himself.

Others say the man may have been a Taliban agent. “The Taliban are cleverer than the Americans and our own intelligence service,” said a senior Afghan official who is familiar with the case. “They are playing games.”

Others suspect that the fake Taliban leader, whose identity is not known, may have been dispatched by the Pakistani intelligence service, known by its initials, the ISI. Elements within the ISI have long played a “double-game” in Afghanistan, reassuring United States officials that they are pursuing the Taliban while at the same time providing support for the insurgents.

Publicly, the Taliban leadership is sticking to the line that there are no talks at all. In a recent message to his followers, Mullah Omar denied that there were any talks unfolding at any level.

“The cunning enemy which has occupied our country, is trying, on the one hand, to expand its military operations on the basis of its double-standard policy and, on the other hand, wants to throw dust into the eyes of the people by spreading the rumors of negotiation,” his message said.

Despite such statements, some senior leaders of the Taliban did show a willingness to talk peace with representatives of the Afghan government as recently as January.

At that time, Abdul Ghani Baradar, then the deputy commander of the Taliban, was arrested in a joint C.I.A.-ISI raid in the Pakistani port city of Karachi. Although officials from both countries hailed the arrest as a hallmark of American-Pakistani cooperation, Pakistani officials have since indicated that they orchestrated Mr. Baradar’s arrest because he was engaging in peace discussions without the ISI’s permission.

Afghan leaders have confirmed this account.

Neither American nor Afghan leaders confronted the fake Mullah Mansour with their doubts. Indeed, some Afghan leaders are still holding out hopes that the man really is or at least represents Mr. Mansour — and that he will come back soon.

“Questions have been raised about him, but it’s still possible that it’s him,” said the Afghan leader who declined to be identified.

The Afghan leader said negotiators had urged the man claiming to be Mr. Mansour to return with colleagues, including other Taliban leaders whose identities they might also be able to verify.

The meetings were arranged by an Afghan with ties to both the Afghan government and the Taliban, officials said.

The Afghan leader said both the Americans and the Afghan leadership were initially cautious of the Afghan man’s identity and motives. But after the first meeting, both were reasonably satisfied that the man they were talking to was Mr. Mansour. Several steps were taken to establish the man’s real identity; after the first meeting, photos of him were shown to Taliban detainees who were believed to know Mr. Mansour. They signed off, the Afghan leader said.

Whatever the Afghan man’s identity, the talks that unfolded between the Americans and the man claiming to be Mr. Mansour seemed substantive, the Afghan leader said. The man claiming to be representing the Taliban laid down several surprisingly moderate conditions for a peace settlement: that the Taliban leadership be allowed to safely return to Afghanistan, that Taliban soldiers be offered jobs, and that prisoners be released.

The Afghan man did not demand, as the Taliban have in the past, a withdrawal of foreign forces or a Taliban share of the government.

Sayed Amir Muhammad Agha, a onetime Taliban commander who says he has left the Taliban but who acted as a go-between with the movement in the past, said in an interview that he did not know the tale of the impostor.

But he said the Taliban leadership had given no indications of a willingness to enter talks.

“Someone like me could come forward and say, ‘I am a Talib and a powerful person,’ ” he said. “But I can tell you, nothing is going on.”

“Whenever I talk to the Taliban, they never accept peace and they want to keep on fighting,” he said. “They are not tired.”

Ruhullah Khapalwak contributed reporting.

Taliban Leader in Peace Talks Was an Impostor -

Thursday, November 18, 2010

BBC News - UK author Shadrake jailed for six weeks in Singapore

Had the British author written the same about Iran instead of Singapore, the whole world would've rushed to his rescue.

From the BBC

Alan Shadrake in Singapore (20 Oct2010)

Shadrake now faces a second trial on defamation charges

A Singapore court has sentenced the UK author Alan Shadrake to six weeks in prison for insulting the judiciary in a book he wrote about the death penalty.

The 76-year-old was found guilty last week, and faces a further trial on defamation charges.

He was also ordered to pay a S$20,000 (£9,585; $15,400) fine.

In his book, Once a Jolly Hangman - Singapore Justice in the Dock, he criticised how the death penalty is used, alleging a lack of impartiality.

Prosecution lawyers had sought a prison term of 12 weeks.

Shadrake offered an apology, which High Court Judge Quentin Loh called "nothing more than a tactical ploy in court to obtain a reduced sentence".

Shadrake's lawyer, M Ravi, said an appeal was unlikely to succeed.

He said his client was in ill health and regretted that he had received no support from the British public.

Mr Ravi added that Shadrake did not have any money and the fine could not be paid.

Judge Loh said that Shadrake would have to serve an additional two weeks in prison if he failed to pay the fine.

Malaysia-based Shadrake was arrested in July when he visited Singapore to launch his book.

The book contains interviews with human rights activists, lawyers and former police officers, as well as a profile of Darshan Singh, the former chief executioner at Singapore's Changi Prison.

It claims he executed around 1,000 men and women from 1959 until he retired in 2006.

"I think I've been given a fair hearing," Shadrake told the media after the verdict was issued last week.

US-based Human Rights Watch and other rights groups had urged Singapore to exonerate the author.

Separately, Shadrake is being investigated by the police for criminal defamation; his passport is being held by the police.

BBC News - UK author Shadrake jailed for six weeks in Singapore

India Microcredit Sector Faces Collapse From Defaults -

MADOOR, India — India’s rapidly growing private microcredit industry faces imminent collapse as almost all borrowers in one of India’s largest states have stopped repaying their loans, egged on by politicians who accuse the industry of earning outsize profits on the backs of the poor.

The crisis has been building for weeks, but has now reached a critical stage. Indian banks, which put up about 80 percent of the money that the companies lent to poor consumers, are increasingly worried that after surviving the global financial crisis mostly unscathed, they could now face serious losses. Indian banks have about $4 billion tied up in the industry, banking officials say.

“We are extremely worried about our exposure to the microfinance sector,” said Sunand K. Mitra, a senior executive at Axis Bank, speaking Tuesday on a panel at the India Economic Summit.

The region’s crisis is likely to reverberate around the globe. Initially the work of nonprofit groups, the tiny loans to the poor known as microcredit once seemed a promising path out of poverty for millions. In recent years, foundations, venture capitalists and the World Bank have used India as a petri dish for similar for-profit “social enterprises” that seek to make money while filling a social need. Like-minded industries have sprung up in Africa, Latin America and other parts of Asia.

But microfinance in pursuit of profits has led some microcredit companies around the world to extend loans to poor villagers at exorbitant interest rates and without enough regard for their ability to repay. Some companies have more than doubled their revenues annually.

Now some Indian officials fear that microfinance could become India’s version of the United States’ subprime mortgage debacle, in which the seemingly noble idea of extending home ownership to low-income households threatened to collapse the global banking system because of a reckless, grow-at-any-cost strategy.

Responding to public anger over abuses in the microcredit industry — and growing reports of suicides among people unable to pay mounting debts — legislators in the state of Andhra Pradesh last month passed a stringent new law restricting how the companies can lend and collect money.

Even as the new legislation was being passed, local leaders urged people to renege on their loans, and repayments on nearly $2 billion in loans in the state have virtually ceased. Lenders say that less than 10 percent of borrowers have made payments in the past couple of weeks.

If the trend continues, the industry faces collapse in a state where more than a third of its borrowers live. Lenders are also having trouble making new loans in other states, because banks have slowed lending to them as fears about defaults have grown.

Government officials in the state say they had little choice but to act, and point to women like Durgamma Dappu, a widowed laborer from this impoverished village who took a loan from a private microfinance company because she wanted to build a house.

She had never had a bank account or earned a regular salary but was given a $200 loan anyway, which she struggled to repay. So she took another from a different company, then another, until she was nearly $2,000 in debt. In September she fled her village, leaving her family little choice but to forfeit her tiny plot of land, and her dreams.

“These institutions are using quite coercive methods to collect,” said V. Vasant Kumar, the state’s minister for rural development. “They aren’t looking at sustainability or ensuring the money is going to income-generating activities. They are just making money.”

Reddy Subrahmanyam, a senior official who helped write the Andhra Pradesh legislation, accuses microfinance companies of making “hyperprofits off the poor,” and said the industry had become no better than the widely despised village loan sharks it was intended to replace.

“The money lender lives in the community,” he said. “At least you can burn down his house. With these companies, it is loot and scoot.”

Indeed, some of the anger appears to have been fueled by the recent initial public offering of shares by SKS Microfinance, India’s largest for-profit microlender, backed by famous investors like George Soros and Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems.

SKS and its shareholders raised more than $350 million on the stock market in August. Its revenue and profits have grown around 100 percent annually in recent years. This year, Vikram Akula, chairman of SKS Microfinance, privately sold shares worth about $13 million.

He defended the industry’s record before the India Economic Summit meeting, saying that a few rogue operators may have given improper loans, but that the industry was too important to fail. “Microfinance has made a tremendous contribution to inclusive growth,” he said. Destroying microfinance, he said, would result in “nothing less than financial apartheid.”

Indian microfinance companies have some of the world’s lowest interest rates for small loans. Mr. Akula said that his company had reduced its interest rate by six percentage points, to 24 percent, in the past several years as volume had brought down expenses.

Unlike other officials in his industry, Vijay Mahajan, the chairman of Basix, an organization that provides loans and other services to the poor, acknowledged that many lenders grew too fast and lent too aggressively. Investments by private equity firms and the prospect of a stock market listing drove firms to increase lending as fast as they could, he said.

“In their quest to grow,” he said, “they kept piling on more loans in the same geographies.” He added, “That led to more indebtedness, and in some cases it led to suicides.”

Still, he said, the number of borrowers who are struggling to pay off their debts is much smaller than officials have asserted. He estimates that 20 percent have borrowed more than they can afford and that just 1 percent are in serious trouble.

One of India’s leading social workers, Ela Bhatt, who heads the Self-Employed Women’s Association, or SEWA, said microfinance firms had lost sight of the fact that the poor needed more than loans to be successful entrepreneurs. They need business and financial advice as well, she said.

“They were more concerned about growth — not growth of the livelihoods and economic status of the clients, but only the institutions’ growth,” she said.

Mr. Mahajan, who is also the chairman of the Microfinance Institutions Network, said that the industry was now planning to create a fund to help restructure the loans of the 20 percent of borrowers in Andhra Pradesh who were struggling.

He also said the industry, which has been reluctant to accept outside help, would share its client databases with the government and was negotiating restrictions on retail lending that did not go through the nonprofit self-help lending groups.

The collapse of the industry could have severe consequences for borrowers, who may be forced to resort to money lenders once again. It is tough to find a household in this village in an impoverished district of Andhra Pradesh that is not deeply in debt to a for-profit microfinance company.

K. Shivamma, a 38-year-old farmer, said she took her first loan hoping to reverse several years of crop failure brought on by drought.

“When you take the loan they say, ‘Don’t worry, it is easy to pay back,’ ” Ms. Shivamma said.

The man from Share, the company that made her first loan, did not ask about her income, Ms. Shivamma said. She soon ran into trouble paying back the $400 loan, and took out another loan, and then another.

Now she owes nearly $2,000 and has no idea how she will repay it. The television, the mobile phone and the two buffaloes she bought with one loan were sold long ago. “I know it is a vicious circle,” she said. “But there is no choice but to go on.”

Lydia Polgreen reported from Madoor, and Vikas Bajaj from Mumbai, India. Hari Kumar contributed reporting from Madoor.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Press Release: IMF Statement on the Occasion of the 2010 Pakistan Development Forum

IMF Statement on the Occasion of the 2010 Pakistan Development Forum

Press Release No. 10/435
November 15, 2010

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff team, led by Adnan Mazarei, IMF mission chief for Pakistan, participated in the 2010 Pakistan Development Forum in Islamabad. Mr. Mazarei issued the following statement on the occasion of the forum:

“IMF staff is very happy to participate in this Pakistan Development Forum. Our statement will cover three topics: recent developments in the Pakistani economy, the current macroeconomic framework, and Pakistan’s financing needs.

“Prior to this summer’s floods, although growth was picking up, inflation was high and persistent. The 2009/10 budget deficit target was missed by a significant margin and the end-June 2010 ceiling on government borrowing from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) was also exceeded. As a result, the fifth program review could not be completed on time.1

“This summer’s floods have led to a sharp deterioration in the economic outlook. The agriculture sector—which accounts for 21 percent of GDP and nearly half of employment—has been hit particularly hard. There has also been substantial damage to infrastructure and private property. The floods will dampen economic growth significantly in 2010/11(July-June) and add to pressures on the balance of payments and public finances. Inflation, especially of food prices, has picked up, compounding the social pains of the recent floods.

“Asian Development Bank and World Bank staffs have estimated damages and losses from the floods at about US$10 billion. In 2010/11, the authorities plan to provide US$1.8 billion (1.0 percent of GDP) in cash transfers to flood victims, most of which is targeted to be spent on house reconstruction.

“The fiscal outcome in the first quarter of 2010/11 was weaker than expected, and the government continued to borrow from the SBP. With low revenues and large outlays for provinces and energy subsidies, the deficit reached about 1.6 percent of GDP. The borrowing from the SBP, together with the shock to food supplies following the floods, helped push inflation in October to 15.3 percent (year-on-year) from around 13 percent in August.

“The SBP raised interest rates in July and again in September on account of concerns about inflation, the external position, and the need to roll over government paper. Market interest rates have risen by 70–150 basis points since June 2010, reflecting both the increased policy rate and higher inflationary expectations.

“Despite the floods, the external position and the exchange rate have remained stable so far. The envisaged loss of reserves due to flood-related imports has not materialized; the external current account deficit was only 0.3 percent of GDP in the first quarter and the SBP reserves increased by US$200 million to US$13.2 billion. However, considerable risks to the external position remain.

“The authorities know that a swift and robust policy response is needed to manage the pressures existing before the floods, provide relief to flood victims, and contribute to reconstruction. They also recognize the need to manage the economy with considerable caution to preserve macroeconomic stability. Accordingly, they are adjusting economic policies.

“Public finances have been affected by lower revenue collections and higher outlays for humanitarian assistance. A revision of the 2010/11 budget will, therefore, be necessary. To this effect, the authorities have revised their fiscal deficit target for this fiscal year to 4.7 percent of GDP. Discussions of the required policy measures to attain this objective have started, but are not yet completed. Achieving the budget deficit target will be challenging, and will require an agreement with provinces on binding limits on provincial fiscal positions, consistent with the overall target.

“Structural reforms are needed to improve budgetary performance. Two areas stand out. One is the reformed general sales tax (RGST), including an effective input-crediting mechanism, reduced exemptions, and elimination of zero-rating and special rates. The other is electricity reform, where action is needed to eliminate untargeted subsidies while addressing load shedding and protecting the poor, and address the problem of circular debt. The authorities’ electricity sector reform plan will need to be reviewed by Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, which take the lead in this area.

“Adherence to the revised 2010/11 budget deficit target will be needed to bring government borrowing from the SBP down to the targeted level, which is essential for achieving a durable reduction in inflation, a major source of poverty. In this connection, the adoption of a flood tax is a welcome step.

“Financial sector reforms are also needed. Parliament has amended the SBP Act, which should help improve public financial management, and amendments to the banking and bankruptcy laws are being prepared. Nonperforming loans have increased through end-September, and are expected to increase further due to the floods. Also, several banks must increase capital to meet their statutory requirements, and there is a need to pass amendments to the banking law to strengthen the SBP’s supervisory powers.

“The balance of payments is expected to weaken in 2010/11, due in part to the impact of the floods. Imports will rise as food and other basic goods will need to be sourced from abroad and imports of capital equipment for reconstruction will increase. Although the major export plants have escaped physical damage, cotton and textiles exports may be lower. However, we expect that the higher trade deficit will be compensated in part by rising remittances from Pakistanis abroad. Even so, the current account deficit will likely widen by 0.8 percent of GDP to 2.8 percent of GDP. Overall, for 2010/11, we project an average inflation rate of 14 percent and real GDP growth of 2¾ percent. The medium-term outlook will be updated when discussions between the authorities and Fund staff have been completed.

“Given Pakistan’s large flood and development needs, additional donor financing would support the government’s efforts to finance flood relief and reconstruction as well as raise development and social spending. In this spirit, already in September, the IMF provided over $450 million in emergency assistance. This was new money (i.e., in addition to the current Stand-By Arrangement), which was made available quickly and unconditionally to help the authorities deal with the most urgent budgetary needs entailed by the floods. Additional financing would also reduce the risks to the economy, including from shortfalls in projected capital inflow. Specifically:

• Pakistan will continue to have large gross external financing requirements in the next few years. The floods have added to these needs.

• The Fund-supported program can accommodate additional foreign assistance during 2010/11. The macroeconomic effects would be generally favorable, including revived growth.

• Provision of external financing on concessional terms or, preferably, in the form of grants will reduce downside risks to debt sustainability. Reducing these risks will enhance investor confidence—and therefore increase the prospects for private external financing—and increase growth prospects for the Pakistan economy.

“The Fund has been providing Pakistan with policy advice and financial resources. We will continue to work together with the authorities toward putting the IMF-supported program back on track and completing the fifth review of the Stand-By Arrangement.”

1 See IMF Staff Report “Pakistan: Use of Fund Resources—Request for Emergency Assistance” of September 10, 2010 (

Press Release: IMF Statement on the Occasion of the 2010 Pakistan Development Forum