Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pakistan’s conduct in Balochistan is simply unforgiveable


The bodies surface quietly, like corks bobbing up in the dark. They come in twos and threes, a few times a week, dumped on desolate mountains or empty city roads, bearing the scars of great cruelty. Arms and legs are snapped; faces are bruised and swollen. Flesh is sliced with knives or punctured with drills; genitals are singed with electric prods. In some cases the bodies are unrecognisable, sprinkled with lime or chewed by wild animals. All have a gunshot wound in the head.

This gruesome parade of corpses has been surfacing in Balochistan,Pakistan's largest province, since last July. Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have accounted for more than 100 bodies – lawyers, students, taxi drivers, farm workers. Most have been tortured. The last three were discovered on Sunday.

If you have not heard of this epic killing spree, though, don't worry: neither have most Pakistanis. Newspaper reports from Balochistan are buried quietly on the inside pages, cloaked in euphemisms or, quite often, not published at all.

The forces of law and order also seem to be curiously indifferent to the plight of the dead men. Not a single person has been arrested or prosecuted; in fact, police investigators openly admit they are not even looking for anyone. The stunning lack of interest in Pakistan's greatest murder mystery in decades becomes more understandable, however, when it emerges that the prime suspect is not some shady gang of sadistic serial killers, but the country's powerful military and its unaccountable intelligence men.

This is Pakistan's dirty little war. While foreign attention is focused on theTaliban, a deadly secondary conflict is bubbling in Balochistan, a sprawling, mineral-rich province along the western borders withAfghanistan and Iran. On one side is a scrappy coalition of guerrillas fighting for independence from Pakistan; on the other is a powerful army that seeks to quash their insurgency with maximum prejudice. The revolt, which has been rumbling for more than six years, is spiced by foreign interests and intrigues – US spy bases, Chinese business, vast underground reserves of copper, oil and gold.

clip_image002And in recent months it has grown dramatically worse. At the airport in Quetta, the provincial capital, a brusque man in a cheap suit marches up to my taxi with a rattle of questions. "Who is this? What's he doing here? Where is he staying?" he asks the driver, jerking a thumb towards me. Scribbling the answers, he waves us on. "Intelligence," says the driver.

The city itself is tense, ringed by jagged, snow-dusted hills and crowded with military checkposts manned by the Frontier Corps (FC), a paramilitary force in charge of security. Schools have recently raised their walls; sand-filled Hesco barricades, like the ones used in Kabul and Baghdad, surround the FC headquarters. In a restaurant the waiter apologises: tandoori meat is off the menu because the nationalists blew up the city's gas pipeline a day earlier. The gas company had plugged the hole that morning, he explains, but then the rebels blew it up again.

The home secretary, Akbar Hussain Durrani, a neatly suited, well-spoken man, sits in a dark and chilly office. Pens, staplers and telephones are neatly laid on the wide desk before him, but his computer is blank. The rebels have blown up a main pylon, he explains, so the power is off. Still, he insists, things are fine. "The government agencies are operating in concert, everyone is acting in the best public interest," he says. "This is just a . . . political problem." As we speak, a smiling young man walks in and starts to take my photo; I later learn he works for the military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency.

We cut across the city, twisting through the backstreets, my guide glancing nervously out the rear window. The car halts before a tall gate that snaps shut behind us. Inside, a 55-year-old woman named Lal Bibi is waiting, wrapped in a shawl that betrays only her eyes, trembling as she holds forth a picture of her dead son Najibullah. The 20-year-old, who ran a shop selling motorbike parts, went missing last April after being arrested at an FC checkpost, she says. His body turned up three months later, dumped in a public park on the edge of Quetta, badly tortured. "He had just two teeth in his mouth," she says in a voice crackling with pain. She turns to her father, a turbaned old man sitting beside her, and leans into his shoulder. He grimaces.


Bibi says her family was probably targeted for its nationalist ties – Najibullah's older brother, now dead, had joined the "men in the mountains" years earlier, she says. Now a nephew, 28-year-old Maqbool, is missing. She prays for him, regularly calling the hospitals for any sign of him and, occasionally, the city morgues.

Over a week of interviews in Karachi and Quetta, I meet the relatives of seven dead men and nine "disappeared" – men presumed to have been abducted by the security forces. One man produces a mobile phone picture of the body of his 22-year-old cousin, Mumtaz Ali Kurd, his eyes black with swelling and his shirt drenched in blood. A relative of Zaman Khan, one of three lawyers killed in the past nine months, produces court papers. A third trembles as he describes finding his brother's body in an orchard near Quetta.

Patterns emerge. The victims were generally men between 20 and 40 years old – nationalist politicians, students, shopkeepers, labourers. In many cases they were abducted in broad daylight – dragged off buses, marched out of shops, detained at FC checkposts – by a combination of uniformed soldiers and plain-clothes intelligence men. Others just vanished. They re-emerge, dead, with an eerie tempo – approximately 15 bodies every month, although the average was disturbed last Saturday when eight bodies were found in three locations across Balochistan.

Activists have little doubt who is behind the atrocities. Human Rights Watch says "indisputable" evidence points to the hand of the FC, the ISI and its sister agency, Military Intelligence. A local group, Voice for Missing Persons, says the body count has surpassed 110. "This is becoming a state of terror," says its chairman, Naseerullah Baloch.

The army denies the charges, saying its good name is being blemished by impersonators. "Militants are using FC uniforms to kidnap people and malign our good name," says Major General Obaid Ullah Khan Niazi, commander of the 46,000 FC troops stationed in Balochistan. "Our job is to enforce the law, not to break it."

Despairing relatives feel cornered. Abdul Rahim, a farmer wearing a jewelled skullcap, is from Khuzdar, a hotbed of insurgent violence. He produces court papers detailing the abduction of his son Saadullah in 2009. First he went to the courts but then his lawyer was shot dead. Then he went to the media but the local press club president was killed. Now, Rahim says, "nobody will help in case they are targeted too. We are hopeless."

Balochistan has long been an edgy place. Its vast, empty deserts and long borders are a magnet for provocateurs of every stripe. Taliban fighters slip back and forth along the 800-mile Afghan border; Iranian dissidents hide inside the 570-mile frontier with Iran. Drug criminals cross the border from Helmand, the world's largest source of heroin, on their way to Iran or lonely beaches on the Arabian Sea. Wealthy Arab sheikhs fly into remote airstrips on hunting expeditions for the houbara bustard, a bird they believe improves their lovemaking. At Shamsi, a secretive airbase in a remote valley in the centre of the province, CIA operatives launch drones that attack Islamists in the tribal belt.

The US spies appreciate the lack of neighbours – Balochistan covers 44% of Pakistan yet has half the population of Karachi. The province's other big draw is its natural wealth. At Reko Diq, 70 miles from the Afghan border, a Canadian-Chilean mining consortium has struck gold, big-time. The Tethyan company has discovered 4bn tonnes of mineable ore that will produce an estimated 200,000 tonnes of copper and 250,000 ounces of gold per year, making it one of the largest such mines in the world.

The project is currently stalled by a tangled legal dispute, but offers a tantalising taste of Balochistan's vast mineral riches, which also includes oil, gas, platinum and coal. So far it is largely untapped, though, and what mining exists is scrappy and dangerous. On 21 March, 50 coal workers perished in horrific circumstances when methane gas flooded their mine near Quetta, then catastrophically exploded.

Two conflicts are rocking the province. North of Quetta, in a belt of land adjoining the Afghan border, is the ethnic Pashtun belt. Here, Afghan Taliban insurgents shelter in hardline madrasas and lawless refugee camps, taking rest in between bouts of battle with western soldiers in Afghanistan. It is home to the infamous "Quetta shura", the Taliban war council, and western officials say the ISI is assisting them. Some locals agree. "It's an open secret," an elder from Kuchlak tells me. "The ISI gave a fleet of motorbikes to local elders, who distributed them to the fighters crossing the border. Nobody can stop them."

The other conflict is unfolding south of Quetta, in a vast sweep that stretches from the Quetta suburbs to the Arabian Sea, in the ethnic Baloch and Brahui area, whose people have always been reluctant Pakistanis. The first Baloch revolt erupted in 1948, barely six months after Pakistan was born; this is the fifth. The rebels are splintered into several factions, the largest of which is the Balochistan Liberation Army. They use classic guerrilla tactics – ambushing military convoys, bombing gas pipelines, occasionally lobbing rockets into Quetta city. Casualties are relatively low: 152 FC soldiers died between 2007 and 2010, according to official figures, compared with more than 8,000 soldiers and rebels in the 1970s conflagration.

But this insurgency seems to have spread deeper into Baloch society than ever before. Anti-Pakistani fervour has gripped the province. Baloch schoolchildren refuse to sing the national anthem or fly its flag; women, traditionally secluded, have joined the struggle. Universities have become hotbeds of nationalist sentiment. "This is not just the usual suspects," says Rashed Rahman, editor of the Daily Times, one of few papers that regularly covers the conflict.

At a Quetta safehouse I meet Asad Baloch, a wiry, talkative 22-year-old activist with the Baloch Students' Organisation (Azad). "We provide moral and political support to the fighters," he says. "We are making people aware. When they are aware, they act." It is a risky business: about one-third of all "kill and dump" victims were members of the BSO.

Baloch anger is rooted in poverty. Despite its vast natural wealth, Balochistan is desperately poor – barely 25% of the population is literate (the national average is 47%), around 30% are unemployed and just 7% have access to tap water. And while Balochistan provides one-third of Pakistan's natural gas, only a handful of towns are hooked up to the supply grid.

The insurgents are demanding immediate control of the natural resources and, ultimately, independence. "We are not part of Pakistan," says Baloch.


His phone rings. News comes through that another two bodies have been discovered near the coast. One, Abdul Qayuum, was a BSO activist. Days later, videos posted on YouTube show an angry crowd carrying his bloodied corpse into a mortuary. He had been shot in the head.

The FC commander, Maj Gen Niazi, wearing a sharp, dark suit and with neatly combed hair (he has just come from a conference) says he has little time for the rebel demand. "The Baloch are being manipulated by their leaders," he says, noting that the scions of the main nationalist groups live in exile abroad – Hyrbyair Marri in London; Brahamdagh Bugti in Geneva. "They are enjoying the life in Europe while their people suffer in the mountains," he says with a sigh.

Worse again, he adds, they were supported by India. The Punjabi general offers no proof for his claim, but US and British intelligence broadly agree, according to the recent WikiLeaks cables. India sees Balochistan as payback for Pakistani meddling in Kashmir – which explains why Pakistani generals despise the nationalists so much. "Paid killers," says Niazi. He vehemently denies involvement in human rights violations. "To us, each and every citizen of Balochistan is equally dear," he says.

Civilian officials in the province, however, have another story. Last November, the provincial chief minister, Aslam Raisani, told the BBC that the security forces were "definitely" guilty of some killings; earlier this month, the province's top lawyer, Salahuddin Mengal, told the supreme court the FC was "lifting people at will". He resigned a week later.

However, gross human rights abuses are not limited to the army. As the conflict drags on, the insurgents have become increasingly brutal and ruthless. In the past two years, militants have kidnapped aid workers, killed at least four journalists and, most disturbingly, started to target "settlers" – unarmed civilians, mostly from neighbouring Punjab, many of whom have lived in Balochistan for decades. Some 113 settlers were killed in cold blood last year, according to government figures – civil servants, shopkeepers, miners. On 21 March, militants riding motorbikes sprayed gunfire into a camp of construction workers near Gwadar, killing 11; the Baloch Liberation Front claimed responsibility. Most grotesque, perhaps, are the attacks on education: 22 school teachers, university lecturers and education officials have been assassinated since January 2008, causing another 200 to flee their jobs.

As attitudes harden, the middle ground is being swept away in tide of bloodshed. "Our politicians have been silenced," says Habib Tahir, a human rights lawyer in Quetta. "They are afraid of the young." I ask a student in Quetta to defend the killing of teachers. "They are not teachers, they work for the intelligence agencies," one student tells me. "They are like thieves coming into our homes. They must go."

The Islamabad government seems helpless to halt Balochistan's slide into chaos. Two years ago, President Asif Ali Zardari announced a sweeping package of measures intended to assuage Baloch grievances, including thousands of jobs, a ban on new military garrisons and payment of $1.4bn (£800m) in overdue natural gas royalties. But violence has hijacked politics, the plan is largely untouched, and anaemic press coverage means there is little outside pressure for action.

Pakistan's foreign allies, obsessed with hunting Islamists, have ignored the problem. "We are the most secular people in the region, and still we are being ignored," says Noordin Mengal, who represents Balochistan on the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In this information vacuum, the powerful do as they please. Lawyer Kachkol Ali witnessed security forces drag three men from his office in April 2009. Their bodies turned up five days later, dead and decomposed. After telling his story to the press, Ali was harassed by military intelligence, who warned him his life was in danger. He fled the country. "In Pakistan, there is only rule of the jungle," he says by phone from Lørenskog, a small Norwegian town where he won asylum last summer. "Our security agencies pick people up and treat them like war criminals," he says. "They don't even respect the dead."

Balochistan's dirty little war pales beside Pakistan's larger problems – the Taliban, al-Qaida, political upheaval. But it highlights a very fundamental danger – the ability of Pakistanis to live together in a country that, under its Islamic cloak, is a patchwork of ethnicities and cultures. "Balochistan is a warning of the real battle for Pakistan, which is about power and resources," says Haris Gazdar, a Karachi-based researcher. "And if we don't get it right, we're headed for a major conflict."

Before leaving Quetta I meet Faiza Mir, a 36-year-old lecturer in international relations at Quetta's Balochistan University. Militants have murdered four of her colleagues in the past three years, all because they were "Punjabi". Driving on to the campus, she points out the spots where they were killed, knowing she could be next.

"I can't leave," says Mir, a sparky woman with an irrepressible smile. "This is my home too." And so she engages in debate with students, sympathising with their concerns. "I try to make them understand that talk is better than war," she says.

But some compromises are impossible. Earlier on, students had asked Mir to remove a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founding father, from her office wall. Mir politely refused, and Jinnah – an austere lawyer in a Savile Row suit - still stares down from her wall.

But how long will he stay there? "That's difficult to say," she answers.

The missing tax payers

They travel abroad regularly, live in palatial homes and drive luxury vehicles. They are 2.3-million strong – they are the affluent Pakistanis who are also distinguished because they do not pay any taxes. They don’t even have a tax number, which suggests that these 2.3 million affluent Pakistanis have never paid taxes in Pakistan.

This is about to change, if one were to believe Salman Siddiqui, Chairman of the Pakistan’s Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR). The FBR has issued notices to the 700,000 wealthiest of the 2.3 million affluent Pakistanis to pony up withheld taxes. Mr. Siddiqui did not elaborate on the penalties for those who would continue  to evade taxes.

From Dawn:


KARACHI: Only 2.75 million Pakistanis, or 1.6 percent of the country’s estimated 160 million people, are registered tax-payers and posses the National Tax Numbers (NTN), FBR report said.

Out of these NTN holders, only around two million people file their returns to the tax authorities, the report said. “The compliance ratio has always been below. The share of taxpayers to population is low when compared with the few selected developing and developed countries, where the share ranges between 4.7percent and 86.4 percent.”

The report said that in India, the share of taxpayers to population is 4.7 percent, in Argentina 16.5 percent, France around 58 percent. “The share of taxpayers belonging to non-corporate sector is close to 99 percent in the total return filers. On the other hand, the corporate sector that contributes around 66 percent in the total income-tax collection has a share of only one percent in the income tax base.”

Female infanticide continues in the 1.2-billion strong India

According to the latest census, the Indian population is 1.2-billion strong and is set to take over China as the world’s most populous country by 2030. Since 2001, India’s population has grown by 181 million, which is approximately the same population as that of Pakistan.

Despite the growth in population, the preference for a male child, and the resulting female infanticide, in India has resulted in a demographic imbalance in the Indian society where 914 girls were born for every 1000 boys. This ratio has continued to deteriorate over the years (see the graph) suggesting that significant increase in literacy and media awareness has not been able to reverse the tide of female infanticide.

More from BBC:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Libyan rebels moonlighting as oil merchants

It can't get any better than this. Suddenly, the Libyan rebels, who were fighting for freedom and all other great ideals, have announced that they are ready to export up to 300,000 barrels a day of Libyan oil through Qatar.

Wars and peace in the Middle East ends up about oil eventually. The Libyan story is ending up no different. It is however not clear under what law will some gun wielding men will export oil and earn revenue that was supposed to be shared with all Libyans. The same critique goes for the Qadhafi regime who also failed to share equitably the wealth earned through oil sales with Libyans.

As for Qataris, their real motivation behind joining the western coalition to bomb Libya is now revealed. By contributing fighter jets and pilots to bomb Libya, Qatar gets the right to make money from Libyan oil. Brilliant!

BBC News - Libyan rebels 'sign oil export deal with Qatar'
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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pakistan fails in basic education

By Nosheen Abbas 

A tiny child looks into the camera and timidly states his plight. "A brick fell on my head," he says, almost whimpering. "What happened then?" the interviewer asks. "I got head injuries," he replies simply, obviously traumatised by the crumbling ceiling in his school.

This video clip was part of a presentation shown during the launch of Pakistan's March for Education Campaign. According to the campaign, 30,000 school buildings in Pakistan are in such a poor state that they pose a threat to the wellbeing of the children being taught in them. A further 21,000 schools have no building whatsoever.

These are just two of the shocking facts revealed by the Emergency Education Pakistan report produced by the Pakistan Education Task Force (ETF), which was created in 2009. The task force, which was set up with the approval of Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, is a non-partisan body that includes representatives from federal and provincial governments as well as non-governmental experts. It is co-chaired by Pakistani politician Shahnaz Wazir Ali and Sir Michael Barber, an international expert on education reform and former education advisor to Tony Blair during his time as British prime minister.

Throughout the month of March, the task force is working to raise the profile of the plight of Pakistani education in the hope of building popular demand for action.

'A self-inflicted disaster'

To convey the extent of the challenge facing the country, the report has drawn parallels equating the cost of the failure to educate the country's citizens with the cost of enduring one flood each year, adding: "The only difference is that this is a self-inflicted disaster."

Roughly one-in-ten of the world's primary school aged children who are not in school live in Pakistan - placing Pakistan in second position on the global ranking of out-of-school children.

Arshad Bhatti, the task force's political engagement strategist, believes their mission can be broken down into three main steps: Getting every child into school (something they call the retention and learning stage), while simultaneously improving the management and quality of public schooling and establishing some kind of financial commitment from the government.

Since it briefed the media and relevant technocrats on the report on March 9, the ETF has had high profile meetings with the prime minister, Asif Ali Zardari, the president, and Raza Rabbani, the minister for inter-provincial coordination. But, despite the fact that on April 19, 2010, the government passed an amendment to the constitution which included an article stating the constitutional right of every child to receive an education, collective political will remains questionable.

But Bhatti is optimistic. "The prime minister declared 2011 as the year of education, and we are seeing that senior politicians are taking this seriously," he said, adding: "I think there can be an education revolution when the political will is there."

Tazeen Javed, the task force's communications consultant, says the first phase of the British government-backed campaign will run until the end of March, after which "there will be a phase two and we're going to scale up efforts above and beyond approaching technocrats".

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the campaign is that it was initiated from within the government with the aim of appealing to the government to increase its spending on education. And in the current economic climate, that may be a challenge too far.
Financial obstacles

After the passage of the yearly budget, the Pakistani government decided to increase taxation - in what could be said to have amounted to a 'mini budget'. To meet International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditions, the government is increasing taxation and curbing spending - something that only seems likely to add more rungs to the ladder the ETF must climb if it is to succeed in its aims. In such economic circumstances, it seems unlikely that the education sector will get the share of the budget it both needs and deserves.

"The efforts need to be bipartisan and we want now that if the budget for education can't be increased then they should not decrease it - that is what we have to fight for," says Fasi Zaka, the campaign's spokesman.

The fear that spending on education might, in fact, be cut, is very real; in 2005/2006 the Pakistani government spent 2.5 per cent of its budget on schooling, it now dedicates just 1.5 per cent of its budget to education. That is less than the subsidies given to Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Pakistan Electric Power Company (PEPCO) and Pakistan Steel.

In addition, when provinces are allocated funds for education they often fail to spend all the money - mainly due to a lack of absorption capacity. The ETF is hoping to combat this via a petition that is being circulated on the internet and which it will eventually present to four provincial chief ministers.
"Education is now a constitutional right and the provinces are in the driving seat," says Bhatti. "They need to be convinced that there is a big demand for this, which there is. We need better political leadership now."
Good news?
Provincial governments are promising to take solid steps towards educational reform - and news of action is emerging much more promptly than is usually the case.
According to Bhatti, Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, has taken personal responsibility for the campaign in Punjab and is due to announce a far-reaching road map for access to and quality of education. The aim is to accelerate the delivery of the campaign's goals by meeting regularly to keep tabs on the progress of reform. Longer-term trajectories involve real action within the electoral term.
In Balochistan, the chief minister and education secretary have also committed to a plan for the province with a series of immediate steps to be undertaken.
And in the wake of the floods, the planning department of Sindh has realised that it must consolidate smaller schools into larger comprehensive schools and accelerate the delivery of quality education to its residents.
The ETF is working closely with the provincial governments in Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan to push this initiative towards the execution phase.
A media revolution

The ETF has been trying to partner with Pakistani media to raise the profile of their campaign and in the weeks since the Emergency Education Pakistan report was launched there have been 60 news articles, including op-eds, and six television shows on the topic. More are expected in coming weeks.

But with the media frenzy surrounding the Raymond Davis story – the CIA contractor charged with killing two Pakistani men in Lahore – and the cases of two high profile Pakistani politicians who were murdered over their positions on the country's blasphemy law, to say the competition for column inches is intense is an understatement.

And education has traditionally been a near invisible topic in the Pakistani media. "We wanted to make noise about this issue," Tazeen says. And it seems to be working. Zardari was quoted using the term "education emergency" during a meeting with the minister of education and literacy in Sindh on March 15.

The ETF is understandably taking credit for this statement as no political figure in Pakistan has ever previously publicly referred to the deplorable state of Pakistani education as an emergency.

But will the hype the ETF has managed to manufacture last? And will it translate into results?

"Proliferation of the media hasn't been good - for example, as it was on Governor Taseer's assassination. But across the political divide people have gone against news pressure, those who are invested in the good of Pakistan," says Zaka.

He believes that while the hype about education will eventually die down, it will leave a trail behind it. "There's been repetition of information and it'll keep coming up in the future," he says. "It won't be a concentrated effect but the education debate has been reset."

A global dimension?

Despite there being no proven direct correlation between the absence of education and extremism, the ETF feels that all of Pakistan's problems can ultimately be traced - directly or indirectly – back to its public education system.

"It's what we're teaching, the nuanced information, the books, the curriculum or just simply the lack of everything," says Zaka.

But, interestingly, Pakistani higher education was rated extremely highly during a recent 'Going Global' conference in Hong Kong.

"When you are spending and it is working you don't want to touch it," says Zaka. "But when it comes to law and governance issues, primary and secondary education is extremely important."

Looking within

While political will is being nurtured by the ETF, power holders and politicians must begin by improving the state of education in their own constituencies. It is also important to raise the profile of teaching – a profession widely viewed among the general public as a last resort after attempts at pursuing other career paths have failed. The value attributed to academia must also be increased.

The role of women – or rather the lack of it – in the process of national progress is perhaps the most critical element of Pakistan's education challenge. According to the Emergency Education report, in a population of approximately 160 million people, fewer than half of all Pakistani women have ever been to school – a figure that drops to just 35 per cent in rural areas. And, according to the World Bank, educating girls delivers a higher return than any other investment in the developing world.

With at least seven million children out of primary school, the report bursts the myth that there is not a high demand for education from parents, revealing that only four per cent of those whose children are not in school say they have "no use for education".

So far, politicians have made lofty promises to improve education, but they have all too often shown more bark than bite. Only sincere leadership can now stop the country from being swallowed whole by Pakistan's worst emergency to date.

پیامبر نہ میسر ہوا تو خوب ہوا

In this age of great communication devices, the communicated word is no longer sacred.

If Khwaja Haider Ali Aatish (1778-1848, خواجہ حیدر علی آتش ) of Lucknow were alive today, he would certainly had been dismayed by the ubiquitous communication devices. He cherished the fact that he could not find a messenger to convey his feelings to his beloved and wrote:

پیامبر نہ میسر ہوا تو خوب ہوا

زبان غیر سے کیا شرح آرزو کرتے

How would a stranger convey my feelings, wrote the legendry poet.

The unmet desires that created such great poetry exist no more. The ‘beloved’ is far too accessible by the phone, sms messages, emails, twitter, and Facebook. The ease in communication has left no time to compose great thoughts. Half baked ideas, poorly structured phrases are being dumped on loved ones, thanks to the communication revolution.

Sunni tribesmen kill Shiites in an ambush

The peace accord with the feuding Sunni tribesmen was announced only weeks ago by the Pak government with great fanfare. A symbolic trip was taken by the state functionaries on the road that the Sunni tribesmen had kept shut for the past few years.

The accord was supposed to end the sectarian war in Pakistan's tribal areas where the Sunni militants, aided by the battle-hardened Afghan militants, had locked horns with some 50,000-strong Shiite tribesmen in the Kurrum Agency, which borders Afghanistan. The war had left victims across the sectarian divide.

Despite the accord there has been no stoppage in bloodletting. The recent attack on a civilian convoy of Shiites traveling between Peshawar and Parachinar left several dead, including a woman and a child. Given their very small number, the Shiite tribesmen have borne the brunt of this war over the past few years during which the Sunni tribesmen have blocked all access to the remote town of Parachinar. The government has been supplying the town of 20,000 people with helicopters, which is another sign of how much control the state enjoys in Pakistan's tribal areas.

At some point in Pakistan a debate has to take place about what constitutes citizenship. I think citizenship at its very core is about shared values that allow people to have common goals and objectives. Pakistanis living in the settled areas have to seriously explore if they share any values with the warring tribesmen of Waziristan, Hangu, Khyber, and/or Orakzai agencies.

If there is a huge gulf between the very ideals about the state and society between those who live in urban Pakistan and the ones who live in tribal areas, and if a common purpose, identity, and a common set of goals cannot be reached in the foreseeable future, then I'd humbly suggest that Pakistanis may want to consider defining Pakistan's geography based on shared ideals. Otherwise, the lack of a common vision will continue pushing Pakistan's economy and society deep into mayhem and chaos.

BBC News - Convoy in Pakistan Kurram agency ambushed by gunmen

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Buses run the intercity commuting in Pakistan

A Gallup poll conducted earlier in Pakistan has suggested that the intercity commuting in Pakistan is overwhelmingly dominated by buses and wagons, which command a huge mode share of 67%. Train was used by 16% of the commuters. Despite the concerns of increasing motorization, a mere 8% trips were made by cars. Air was barely present at 1%, suggesting the airline market has not yet started to mature in Pakistan.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wastage makes Pakistan one of most “water stressed” countries in world

"The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have termed Pakistan as one of the most "water stressed" countries in the world, which is likely to face an acute water shortage over the next five years owing to lack of water availability for irrigation, industry and human consumption.

According to Falkenmark Water Stress Indicator, a country or region is said to experience "water stress" when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 cubic metres per person per year.

Importance of water- a lifeline for the existence of every species on earth- is yet to be taken seriously in Pakistan, given the unscrupulous use of the water everywhere, the Daily Times reports.

In Pakistan, water is excessively wasted at houses, offices, markets, and factories, with even fresh and drinking water being used for washing, gardening and other non-drinkable purposes.

Besides wastage, other key factors squeezing water availability in the country are a burgeoning population, climate change and a lack of water reservoirs.

Up to 30 million gallons of water- equivalent to the quantity of water stored in Simly Dam- are wasted daily in Islamabad alone, owing to shabby pipelines.

"We have prepared a PC-1 of 11 billion rupees that is lying with the Planning Commission for approval as the Cabinet Division has already given a go-ahead to replace and rehabilitate the outdated water supply network to save 30 million gallons water that goes to waste every day," said a senior Capital Development Authority (CDA) official.

Pakistan's water woes are also compounded by silting at the Tarbela and Mangla dams, with an internal official assessment admitting that it has lost 32 per cent of its storage capacity due to this problem.

The country has been termed as "water stressed" despite having a large surplus of unused water. Documents show about 30 MAF (million-acre-feet) as "available surplus" with a very high escapade to the sea."

Wastage makes Pakistan one of most “water stressed” countries in world

Monday, March 21, 2011

6-7m people joining the pool of poor each year

Poverty is fast increasing in Pakistan. The presidential task-force however has came up with the same export-driven solutions to address poverty. The lack of focus on the domestic consumer markets, which have failed to evolve in Pakistan, is surprising.

Textile exports are governed by complex quota systems that are driven by the ever evolving geo-political realities. Consumer markets in developed countries are also influenced by the domestic textile producers, who fight tooth-and-nail to prevent cheaper imports in their markets. Increasing textile exports from Pakistan will therefore be a very hard target to achieve.

On the other hand, developing domestic consumer markets for entertainment and other consumption is much easier to achieve. However, this is not favored by the experts who are often trained in macro-economics and do not understand the power of micro-markets.

For record, more than 70% of the US GDP comprises domestic consumption and not trade!

6-7m people joining the pool of poor each year | Newspaper | DAWN.COM
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20,000 Kashmiris detained without trial in India

Amnesty International has reported that over 20,000 Kashmiris have been detained in the Indian controlled Kashmir without trial.

This is a major source of embarrassment for the world's largest democracy. India has no option but to address the genuine grievances of Kashmiris (Muslims and Pandits alike). So should Pakistan where the Kashmiris have been used as a pawn by various civil and military powerbrokers.

While Pakistan has no claim on being a democracy, given its struggles against military and civil dictatorships, India does claim to be the world's largest democracy. Incarcerating 20,000 without trial hurts India's standing among other democracies.

Kashmiris living in India and Pakistan have earned their right of self-determination after being suspended in a state of political vacuum since 1947. It is in India's and Pakistan's interest to resolve the issue of Kashmir by letting Kashmiris decide upon their own future. There is simply no other viable solution.

Kashmiris detained without trial in IndiaBBC News - Amnesty International criticises 'tough' Kashmir law

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Pilots with fake licenses

The director general of civil aviation, Mr. Bharat Bhushan, reacting to the news of fake pilot licenses commented: Fake licences are very few so there is no need to panic. Very true, no need for everyone to be panic-stricken. This should be reserved for those fortunate ones who are passengers in the planes commandeered by pilots with fake licenses.

Shouldn't the pilots have their licenses pasted on the cockpit doors, just like engineers and doctors who hang their licenses on the walls in their offices.


Monday, 14 March 2011

India is checking the licences of all its airline pilots after at least four were found to be flying using fake documents.

Two pilots were arrested last week for using fake certificates to gain licences, including a pilot with national carrier Air India who falsified his qualifications.

The other two pilots were being investigated for irregularities in their licences.

The licences and other documents of all 4,000 pilots flying commercial aircraft in the country will be scrutinised, said Bharat Bhushan, director general of civil aviation.

A second pilot was arrested last week after damaging an aircraft while landing and a scrutiny of her papers showed she had used fake documents to get a licence, Mr Bhushan said.

"Fake licences are very few so there is no need to panic," he said.

Opposition MPs accused the government of failing to check corruption in granting licences and endangering the lives of thousands of travellers.

Civil Aviation Minister Vyalar Ravi told parliament last week that authorities had taken action against 57 pilots who reported for duty drunk over the past two years.

Ten were fired and some others had their licences suspended or were taken off the flying roster for short periods.

Air travel has boomed in India on the back of a growing economy, leading to the rise of private airlines that have been struggling to hire pilots.

Fake pilot licence alert in India - Asia, World - The Independent