Thursday, February 24, 2011
I come to think governing South Asia is almost an impossible task.
BBC News - India's immense 'food theft' scandal
I am glad to see the New York Times has finally started to report on Raymond Davis, the American mercenary who shot and killed two youth in Lahore, Pakistan, after misreporting for weeks.
The US has backtracked after first identifying Mr. Davis as a technical officer affiliated with the US Consulate in Lahore. Now the US Government insists that Mr. Davis was attached to the embassy in Islamabad. The change in Mr. Davis' status is warranted by the fact that as an employee of the US Consulate, Mr. Davis would not be eligible for diplomatic immunity.
Consider Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963). In Section II of the treaty, Article 41 focuses on Personal inviolability of consular officers. Part 1 of Article 41 reads:
“Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority.”
Murder is a grave crime. It is up to the competent judicial authority (Punjab High Court) to determine what truly transpired. If Mr. Davis truly acted in self defense, he should plead his case in the court of law.
|Xe Training facility in San Diego, California|
The fact that the US government lied about his status in applying for his Visa should be a significant concern for the employees of the US State Department. This has put American foreign service employees in a bind because now even genuine US diplomats would now have to prove their bonafides.
Furthermore, what really needs to be debated in the international law is the legality of obtaining fraudulent visas. An individual not part of the US diplomatic core, or its armed forces, or its intelligence agencies, cannot and should not be carrying a diplomatic passport. The Vienna Convention, to the best of my understanding, covers only government employees, and not loosely attached contractors, mercenaries, and others.
There is also the grave concern about Mr. Davis' safety in Pakistan. Short of any other unexpected revelation, his acts could most likely be categorized as manslaughter, which is subject to section 307 of the Pakistan Penal code, rather than section 302, which carries death penalty. Even if he is trailed and convicted in Pakistan, it is highly unlikely that he be awarded capital punishment. Thus, it becomes Pakistan’s responsibility to prevent any harm to his person before and after the trial. One option could be that, if found guilty, he may serve his sentence in the United States, rather than in a prison in Pakistan.
I think it is not hard to imagine what the US government’s stance would have been if an ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) agent on a diplomatic passport from Pakistan were accused of murdering two civilians or muggers in Soho, New York. The US government would have most likely declined immunity to an ISI operative?
- Raymond Davis, American Held In Pakistan Shootings, Worked With C.I.A. (huffingtonpost.com)
- CIA man in Pakistan may not have immunity (salon.com)
- Pakistan Case Tests Laws on Diplomatic Immunity (nytimes.com)
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
This is an alarming figure for Pakistan where the sum of all taxes equals almost 10% of the GDP. This is contrast to other advanced governments where the tax revenue represents between 30% to 40% of the GDP. India, where taxes account for 17% of the GDP is in far better condition than Pakistan.
The key to get to tax cheats is to impose taxes on consumption and not income. Start with real estate. Those living in million dollar palatial homes in Pakistan cannot lie about the riches they hide. Every brick of their large home and every litre of gasoline poured into their luxury SUVs will expose their tax lies.
Lost revenues: ‘Tax evasion costs exchequer Rs1.27tr’ – The Express Tribune
Monday, February 21, 2011
It it were not for the Guardian newspaper, the New York Times would have complacently towed the Pentagon line, calling Mr. Raymond Davis a diplomat, while knowing all along that he was a spy working for either CIA or the now defunct, Blackwater.
Raymond Davis shot and killed two Pakistanis in Lahore through his car’s windshield. He claimed that he shot the two young men in self-defense. However, autopsy reports have revealed that the two men were shot multiple times in the back, while one dead body was found 30 feet away from Mr. Davis' car, suggesting that the person was trying to flee and not posing any threat to Mr. Davis. Hardly a matter of self-defense!
These recent revelations make it even harder for the United States to seek a diplomatic immunity for a person responsible for killing two individuals who at best is a spy, if not a mercenary working for a notorious American Security firm that has been found guilty of murdering numerous civilians in Iraq.
From NY Times:
February 21, 2011
American Held in Pakistan Shootings Worked With the C.I.A.
By MARK MAZZETTI, ASHLEY PARKER, JANE PERLEZ and ERIC SCHMITT
This article was written by Mark Mazzetti, Ashley Parker, Jane Perlez and Eric Schmitt.
WASHINGTON — The American arrested in Pakistan after shooting two men at a crowded traffic stop was part of a covert, C.I.A.-led team of operatives conducting surveillance on militant groups deep inside the country, according to American government officials.
Working from a safe house in the eastern city of Lahore, the detained American contractor, Raymond A. Davis, a retired Special Forces soldier, carried out scouting and other reconnaissance missions as a security officer for a Central Intelligence Agency task force of case officers and technical surveillance experts, the officials said.
Mr. Davis’s arrest and detention, which came after what American officials have described as a botched robbery attempt, has inadvertently pulled back the curtain on a web of covert American operations inside Pakistan, part of a secret war run by the C.I.A. It has exacerbated already frayed relations between the American intelligence agency and its Pakistani counterpart, created a political dilemma for the weak, pro-American Pakistani government, and further threatened the stability of the country, which has the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal.
Without describing Mr. Davis’s mission or intelligence affiliation, President Obama last week made a public plea for his release. Meanwhile, there have been a flurry of private phone calls to Pakistan from Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all intended to persuade the Pakistanis to release the secret operative. Mr. Davis has worked for years as a C.I.A. contractor, including time at Blackwater Worldwide, the controversial private security firm (now called Xe) that Pakistanis have long viewed as symbolizing a culture of American gun slinging overseas.
The New York Times had agreed to temporarily withhold information about Mr. Davis’s ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk. Several foreign news organizations have disclosed some aspects of Mr. Davis’s work with the C.I.A.. On Monday, American officials lifted their request to withhold publication, though George Little, a C.I.A. spokesman, declined any further comment.
Since the United States is not at war in Pakistan, the American military is largely restricted from operating in the country. So the Central Intelligence Agency has taken on an expanded role, operating armed drones that kill militants inside the country and running covert operations, sometimes without the knowledge of the Pakistanis.
Several American and Pakistani officials said that the C.I.A. team in Lahore with which Mr. Davis worked was tasked with tracking the movements of various Pakistani militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, a particularly violent group that Pakistan uses as a proxy force against India but that the United States considers a threat to allied troops in Afghanistan. For the Pakistanis, such spying inside their country is an extremely delicate issue, particularly since Lashkar has longstanding ties to Pakistan’s intelligence service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.
Still, American and Pakistani officials use Lahore as a base of operations to investigate the militant groups and their madrasas in the surrounding area.
The officials gave various accounts of the makeup of the covert task force and of Mr. Davis, who at the time of his arrest was carrying a Glock pistol, a long-range wireless set, a small telescope and a headlamp. An American and a Pakistani official said in interviews that operatives from the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command had been assigned to the group to help with the surveillance missions. Other American officials, however, said that no military personnel were involved with the task force.
Special operations troops routinely work with the C.I.A. in Pakistan. Among other things, they helped the agency pinpoint the location of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy Taliban commander who was arrested in January 2010 in Karachi.
Even before his arrest, Mr. Davis’s C.I.A. affiliation was known to Pakistani authorities, who keep close tabs on the movements of Americans. His visa, presented to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in late 2009, describes his job as a “regional affairs officer,” a common job description for officials working with the agency.
According to that application, Mr. Davis carried an American diplomatic passport and was listed as “administrative and technical staff,” a category that typically grants diplomatic immunity to its holder.
American officials said that with Pakistan’s government trying to clamp down on the increasing flow of Central Intelligence Agency officers and contractors trying to gain entry to Pakistan, more of these operatives have been granted “cover” as embassy employees and given diplomatic passports.
As Mr. Davis languishes in a jail cell in Lahore — the subject of an international dispute at the highest levels — new details are emerging of what happened in a dramatic daytime scene on the streets of central Lahore, a sprawling city, on Jan. 27.
By the American account, Mr. Davis was driving alone in an impoverished area rarely visited by foreigners, and stopped his car at a crowded intersection. Two Pakistani men brandishing weapons hopped off motorcycles and approached. Mr. Davis killed them with the Glock, an act American officials insisted was in self-defense against armed robbers.
But on Sunday, the text of the Lahore Police Department’s crime report was published in English by a prominent daily newspaper, The Daily Times, and it offered a somewhat different account.
It is based in part on the version of events Mr. Davis told Pakistani authorities, and it seems to raise doubts about his claim that the shootings were in self-defense.
According to that report, Mr. Davis told the police that after shooting the two men, he stepped out of the car to take photographs of one of them, then called the United States Consulate in Lahore for help.
But the report also said that the victims were shot several times in the back, a detail that some Pakistani officials say proves the killings were murder. By this account, after firing at the men through his windshield, Mr. Davis stepped out of the car and continued firing. The report said that Mr. Davis then got back in his car and “managed to escape,” but that the police gave chase and “overpowered” him at a traffic circle a short distance away.
In a bizarre twist that has further infuriated the Pakistanis, a third man was killed when an unmarked Toyota Land Cruiser racing to Mr. Davis’s rescue, drove the wrong way down a one-way street and ran over a motorcyclist, killing him. As the Land Cruiser drove “recklessly” back to the consulate, the report said, items fell out of the vehicle, including 100 bullets, a black mask and a piece of cloth with the American flag.
Pakistani officials have demanded that the Americans in the S.U.V. be turned over to local authorities, but American officials say they have already left the country.
Mr. Davis and the other Americans were heavily armed and carried sophisticated equipment, the report said.
The Pakistani Foreign Office, generally considered to work under the guidance of the ISI, has declined to grant Mr. Davis what it calls the “blanket immunity” from prosecution that diplomats enjoy. In a setback for Washington, the Lahore High Court last week gave the Pakistani government until March 14 to decide on the issue of Mr. Davis’s immunity.
The pro-American government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, fearful for its survival in the face of a surge of anti-American sentiment, has resisted strenuous pressure from the Obama administration to release Mr. Davis to the United States. Some militant and religious groups have demanded that Mr. Davis be tried in the Pakistani courts and hanged.
Relations between the two spy agencies were tense even before the episode on the streets of Lahore. In December, the C.I.A.’s top clandestine officer in Pakistan hurriedly left the country after his identity was revealed. Some inside the agency believe that ISI operatives were behind the disclosure — retribution for the head of the ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, being named in a New York City lawsuit filed in connection with the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, in which members of his agency are believed to have played a role. I.S.I. officials denied that was the case.
One senior Pakistani official close to the ISI said Pakistani spies are particularly infuriated over the Davis episode because it was such a public spectacle. Besides the three Pakistanis who died at the scene, the widow of one of the victims committed suicide by swallowing rat poison.
Moreover, the official said, the case was embarrassing for the ISI for its flagrancy, revealing how much freedom American spies have to roam around the country.
“We all know the spy-versus-spy games, we all know it works in the shadows,” the official said, “but you don’t get caught, and you don’t get caught committing murders.”
Mr. Davis, burly at 36, appears to have arrived in Pakistan in late 2009 or early 2010. American officials said he operated as part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Global Response Staff in various parts of the country, including Lahore and Peshawar.
Documents released by Pakistan’s foreign office show that Mr. Davis was paid $200,000 a year, including travel expenses and insurance.
He is a native of rural, southwest Virginia, described by those who know him as an unlikely figure to be at the center of international intrigue.
He grew up in Big Stone Gap, a small town named after the gap in the mountains where the Powell River emerges.
The youngest of three children, Mr. Davis enlisted in the military after graduating from Powell Valley High School in 1993.
“I guess about any man’s dream is to serve his country,” said his sister Michelle Wade.
Shrugging off the portrait of him as an international spy comfortable with a Glock, Ms. Wade said: “He would always walk away from a fight. That’s just who he is.”
His high school friends remember him as good-natured, athletic, respectful. He was also a protector, they said, the type who stood up for the underdog.
“Friends with everyone, just a salt of the earth person,” said Jennifer Boring, who graduated from high school with Mr. Davis.
Mr. Davis served in the infantry in Europe — including a short tour as a peacekeeper in Macedonia — before joining the Third Special Forces Group in 1998, where he remained until he left the Army in 2003. The Army Special Forces —known as the Green Berets — are an elite group trained in foreign languages and cultures and weapons.
It is unclear when Mr. Davis began working for the C.I.A., but American officials said that in recent years he worked for the spy agency as a Blackwater contractor and later founded his own small company, Hyperion Protective Services.
Mr. Davis and his wife have moved frequently, living in Las Vegas, Arizona and Colorado.
One neighbor in Colorado, Gary Sollee, said that Mr. Davis described himself as “former military,” adding that “he’d have to leave the country for work pretty often, and when he’s gone, he’s gone for an extended period of time.”
Mr. Davis’s sister, Ms. Wade, said she has been praying for her brother’s safe return.
“The only thing I’m going to say is I love my brother,” she said. “I love my brother, God knows, I love him. I’m just praying for him.”
Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, Jane Perlez from Pakistan and Ashley Parker from Big Stone Gap, Va. Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Waqar Gillani from Lahore, Pakistan.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
The violence in Afghanistan continues to claim victims. However, a recent report by the United Nations has revealed that Afghan children are increasingly becoming the victims of the senseless violence perpetrated by the Taliban and other militants. In the past two years, almost 1800 children were killed or injured as a result of this conflict.
According to the reports, 2400 civilians died in 2010 alone as a result of violence. Furthermore, the Taliban another militant groups were responsible for at least ¾ of the civilian deaths in 2010.
The senseless violence in Afghanistan has to end. That NATO’s war on terror has failed to return stability, peace, and calm in Afghanistan or in the countries surrounding it. The manifold increase in militancy is a sign of a failed policy, which is in serious need of a rethink.BBC News - UN report says violence against Afghan children growing
It took three minutes in to the speech before someone else informed the Indian foreign minister, S. M. Krishna that he was reading from the text of speech meant for Portugal's foreign minister. How long was the Indian foreign minister's speech anyways? If it was a less than a 10-minute affair, similar to the norm at the UN, he then spent 30% of his time presenting Portugal's position.
I am also reminded of another example when a former prime minister of Pakistan in a speech in the United States confused 'us' with 'US' throughout his address.
BBC News - India's foreign minister criticised for UN speech gaffe
WSJ is highly one-sided and omits key details that put in question Mr. Davis's innocence.
Review & Outlook: Pakistan's Undiplomatic Bungle - WSJ.com
Monday, February 14, 2011
It cannot get any more bizarre than this. Young students brought cards and gifts to the Adiala prison in Rawalpindi for Mumtaz Qadri, who is accused of murdering the former Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer.
This bizarre Valentine’s Day celebration of red roses brought by bearded young men for another bearded man accused of murder, is a reflection of how messed up things have become in Pakistan.
Why such religious hardliners, who brought gifts for a murderer, are celebrating Valentine’s Day is beyond my comprehension.
Then, last June, 15 members of his extended family were blown to pieces during a funeral procession in his village.
Khan, who was nearby and heard the explosion, alleges the mourners were targeted by pilotless US drone aircraft missiles.
He stares into the distance blankly when asked to describe that day. His brother, Mulaqat, has to recount the tragedy because he is still too traumatized, to speak at length.
He sits by Khan’s side in a psychiatric section of an Islamabad hospital where he is being treated with antidepressant and anti-psychotic medicines.
Drone strike wipes out man’s family, faith | | DAWN.COM
By DAVE LINDORFF
The mystery of American Raymond A. Davis, currently imprisoned in the custody of local police in Lahore, Pakistan and charged with the Jan. 27 murder of two young men, whom he allegedly shot eight times with pinpoint accuracy through his car windshield, is growing increasingly murky. Also growing is the anger among Pakistanis that the US is trying to spring him from a Punjab jail by claiming diplomatic immunity. On Feb. 4, there were massive demonstrations, especially in Lahore, demanding that Davis be held for trial, an indication of the level of public anger at talk of granting him immunity.
Davis (whose identity was first denied and later confirmed by the US Embassy in Islamabad), and the embassy have claimed that he was hired as an employee of a US security company called Hyperion Protective Consultants, LLC, which was said to be located at 5100 North Lane in Orlando, Florida. Business cards for Hyperion were found on Davis by arresting officers.
However CounterPunch has investigated and discovered the following information:
First, there is not and never has been any such company located at the 5100 North Lane address. It is only an empty storefront, with empty shelves along one wall and an empty counter on the opposite wall, with just a lone used Coke cup sitting on it. A leasing agency sign is on the window. A receptionist at the IB Green & Associates rental agency located in Leesburg, Florida, said that her agency, which handles the property, part of a desolate-looking strip mall of mostly empty storefronts, has never leased to a Hyperion Protective Consultants. She added, “In fact, until recently, we had for several years occupied that address ourselves.”
The Florida Secretary of State’s office, meanwhile, which requires all Florida companies, including LLSs (limited liability partnerships), to register, has no record, current or lapsed, of a Hyperion Protective Consultants, LLC, and there is only one company with the name Hyperion registered at all in the state. It is Hyperion Communications, a company based in W. Palm Beach, that has no connection with Davis or with security-related activities.
The non-existent Hyperion Protective Consultants does have a website (www.hyperion-protective.com), but one of the phone numbers listed doesn’t work, an 800 number produces a recorded answer offering information about how to deal with or fend off bank foreclosures, and a third number with an Orlando exchange goes to a recording giving Hyperion’s corporate name and asking the caller to leave a message. Efforts to contact anyone on that line were unsuccessful. The local phone company says there is no public listing for Hyperion Protective Consultants--a rather unusual situation for a legitimate business operation.
Pakistani journalists have been speculating that Davis is either a CIA agent or is working as a contractor for some private mercenary firm--possibly Xe, the reincarnation of Blackwater. They are not alone in their suspicions. Jeff Stein, writing in the Washington Post on January 27, suggested after interviewing Fred Burton, a veteran of the State Department’s counter-terrorism Security Service, that Davis may have been involved in intelligence activity, either as a CIA employee under embassy cover or as a contract worker at the time of the shootings. Burton, who currently works with Stratfor, an Austin, TX-based “global intelligence” firm, even speculates that the shootings may have been a “spy meeting gone awry,” and not, as US Embassy and State Department officials are claiming, a case of an attempted robbery or car-jacking.
Even the information about what actually transpired is sketchy at this point. American media reports have Davis driving in Mozang, a busy commercial section of Lahore, and being approached by two threatening men on motorcycles. The US says he fired in self-defense, through his windshield with his Beretta pistol, remarkably hitting both men four times and killing both. He then exited his car and photographed both victims with his cell phone, before being arrested by local Lahore police. Davis, 36, reportedly a former Special Forces officer, was promptly jailed on two counts of murder, and despite protests by the US Embassy and the State Department that he is a “consular official” responsible for “security,” he continues to be held pending trial.
What has not been reported in the US media, but which reporter Shaukat Qadir of the Pakistani Express Tribune, says has been stated by Lahore police authorities, is that the two dead motorcyclists were each shot two times, “probably the fatal shots,” in the back by Davis. They were also both shot twice from the front. Such ballistics don’t mesh nicely with a protestation of self-defense.
Also left unmentioned in the US media is what else was found in Davis’ possession. Lahore police say that in addition to the Beretta he was still holding, and three cell phones retrieved from his pockets, they found a loaded Glock pistol in his car, along with three full magazines, and a “small telescope.” Again, heavy arms for a consular security officer not even in the act of guarding any embassy personnel, and what’s with the telescope? Also unmentioned in US accounts: his car was not an embassy vehicle, but was a local rental car.
American news reports say that a “consular vehicle” sped to Davis’ aid after the shooting incident and killed another motorcyclist enroute, before speeding away. The driver of that car is being sought by Lahore prosecutors but has not been identified or produced by US Embassy officials. According to Lahore police, however, the car in question, rather than coming to Davis’s aid, actually had been accompanying Davis’s sedan, and when the shooting happened, it “sped away,” killing the third motorcyclist as it raced off. Again a substantially different story that raises more questions about what this drive into the Mozang district was all about.
Davis has so far not said why he was driving, heavily armed, without anyone else in his vehicle, in a private rental car in a business section of Lahore where foreign embassy staff would not normally be seen. He is reportedly remaining silent and is leaving all statements to the US Embassy.
The US claim that Davis has diplomatic immunity hinges first and foremost on whether he is actually a “functionary” of the consulate. According to Lahore police investigators, he was arrested carrying a regular US passport, which had a business visa, not a diplomatic visa. The US reportedly only later supplied a diplomatic passport carrying a diplomatic visa that had been obtained not in the US before his departure, but in Islamabad, the country’s capital.
(Note: It is not unusual, though it is not publicly advertised, for the US State Department to issue duplicate passports to certain Americans. When I was working for Business Week magazine in Hong Kong in the early 1990s, and was dispatched often into China on reporting assignments, my bureau chief advised me that I could take a letter signed by her to the US Consulate in Hong Kong and request a second passport. One would be used exclusively to enter China posing as a tourist. The other would be used for going in officially as a journalist. The reason for this subterfuge, which was supported by the State Department, was that once Chinese visa officials have spotted a Chinese “journalist” visa stamped in a passport, they would never again allow that person to enter the country without first obtaining such a visa. The problem is that a journalist visa places strict limits on a reporter’s independent travel and access to sources. As a tourist, however, the same reporter could – illegally -- travel freely and report without being accompanied by meddling foreign affairs office “handlers.”)
Considerable US pressure is currently being brought to bear on the Pakistani national government to hand over Davis to the US, and the country’s Interior Minister yesterday issued a statement accepting that Davis was a consular official as claimed by the US. But Punjab state authorities are not cooperating, and so far the national government is saying it is up to local authorities and the courts to decide whether his alleged crime of murder would, even if he is a legitimate consular employee, override a claim of diplomatic immunity.
Under Pakistani law, only actual consular functionaries, not service workers at embassy and consulate, have diplomatic status. Furthermore, no immunity would apply in the case of “serious” crimes--and certainly murder is as serious as it gets.
The US media have been uncritically quoting the State Department as saying that Pakistan is “violating” the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 by holding Davis in jail on murder charges. Those reporters should check the actual document.
Section II, Article 41 of the treaty, in its first paragraph regarding the “Personal inviolability of consular officers,” states:
“Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority.”
In other words, the prosecutorial, police and judicial authorities in Lahore and the state of Punjab are doing exactly what they are supposed to do in holding Davis on murder charges, pending a judicial determination concerning whether or not he can properly claim diplomatic immunity.
The US claim that Pakistan is violating the convention is simply nonsense.
There is also the matter of double standards. The US routinely violates the Vienna Diplomatic Accord that governs international diplomatic rights. For example, the same convention requires countries that arrest, jail and prosecute foreigners for crimes to promptly notify the person’s home country embassy, and to grant that embassy the right to provide legal counsel. Yet the US has arrested, charged with murder, and executed many foreign nationals without ever notifying their embassies of their legal jeopardy, and has, on a number of occasions, even gone ahead with executions after a convict’s home country has learned of the situation and requested a stay and a retrial with an embassy-provided defense attorney. The US, in 1997, also prosecuted, over the objections of the government of Georgia, a Georgian embassy diplomat charged with the murder of a 16-year-old girl.
Apparently diplomatic immunity has more to do with the relative power of the government in question and of the embassy in question than with the simple words in a treaty.
It remains to be seen whether Davis will ever actually stand trial in Pakistan. The US is pushing hard in Islamabad for his release. On the other hand, his arrest and detention, and the pressure by the US Embassy to spring him, are leading to an outpouring of rage among Pakistanis at a very volatile time, with the Middle East facing a wave of popular uprisings against US-backed autocracies, and with Pakistan itself, increasingly a powder keg, being bombed by US rocket-firing pilotless drone aircraft.
Some Pakistani publications, meanwhile, are speculating that Davis, beyond simple spying, may have been involved in subversive activities in the country, possibly linked to the wave of terror bombings that have been destabilizing the central government. They note that both of the slain motorcyclists (the third dead man appears to have been an innocent victim of the incident) were themselves armed with pistols, though neither had apparently drawn his weapon.
A State Department official, contacted by Counterpunch, refused to provide any details about the nature of Davis’ employment, or to offer an explanation for Hyperion Protective Consultants LLC’s fictitious address, and its lack of registration with the Florida Secretary of State’s office.
Davis is currently scheduled for a court date on Feb. 11 to consider the issue of whether or not he has immunity from prosecution.
Dave Lindorff, a frequent contributor to Counterpunch, is the founder of the online alternative newspaper ThisCantBeHappening! at www.thiscantbehappening.net
Dave Lindorff: The Deepening Mystery of Raymond Davis and Two Slain Pakistani Motorcyclists
Sunday, February 13, 2011
It is, however, very naive to believe that the closure of Heera Mandi in Lahore will also mean an end to dancing girls in Pakistan. Now, such events will be increasingly held in private, and will further jeopardize the welfare and safety of the women partipcipating in such events.
Historian Dr Mubarak Ali told the BBC that the end of the dancing girls tradition was another nail in the coffin of Lahore's artistic and cultural heritage, which had been "whittled away by radicalisation" since the 1970s.
BBC News - Dancing girls of Lahore call time
Friday, February 11, 2011
BBC News - Egypt crisis: President Hosni Mubarak resigns as leader
Invert the pyramid By Sakib Sherani | From the Newspaper
TWO weeks ago, I had concluded my op-ed piece by asserting that, essentially, Pakistan faces a classic agency problem. This refers to how Pakistan has been governed by its ‘managers’ (political and economic) on behalf of its true ‘owners’ — the people, electorate, as well as future generations, usually under misaligned incentives.
Hence, policymakers have operated with a short-term horizon, have used public policy for private gain, or have completely disregarded the interests of the masses.
As the political parties sit together to evolve a roadmap out of the present ‘crisis’, it is imperative to recognise that Pakistan is afflicted with a far deeper malaise than the antidotes (band-aids) brought to the table are able to deal with. The biggest challenge for those discussing agendas to bring the economy back to health is how to incentivise their own political class to think beyond an election cycle. The manifestation of this malady — state capture by an elite with its attendant atrophy of institutions — and its pernicious effects are everywhere.
The most egregious example is found, of course, in our tax who’s who. With around 2.5 million income tax filers (not necessarily all payers), a large portion of who are salaried, it is hardly surprising that direct taxes on income constitute a meagre 3.6 per cent of GDP. Hence, of the abysmally low — and declining — tax-to-GDP ratio, 60 per cent comes from taxing the consumption of every Pakistani, irrespective of income.
For the people at the top of the pyramid, Pakistan is a tax haven — much of it officially. Less than 50 per cent of the economy is taxed — significantly less if the thriving informal economy is taken into account. So if the media reports that over 60 per cent of parliamentarians declared in their election filings to have paid zero income tax, it should not come as a surprise.
Still, the scale of tax evasion, much of it in collusion with tax authorities, is staggering. In Shaukat Tarin’s tenure as finance minister, a study was conducted on identifying large tax evaders using the country’s various databases. The result was mind-boggling. Our computerised search yielded 776,000 people with records of asset ownership, including multiple bank accounts and properties, but who were not even on the tax register. And these were the results for just the three largest cities.
On the expenditure side, the pattern of patronage is equally telling. An important manifestation of state capture can be found in the per-capita spending by the state on the upkeep of the ruling elite — president, prime minister, cabinet, parliamentarians, the armed forces and the civilian bureaucracy, all put together — versus the rest. While thousands of teachers, lady health workers, railway staff and pensioners are routinely denied salaries and pensions for months, it is inconceivable that any ‘freebie’ of the president, prime minister or a chief minister is delayed.
Two egregious examples from the recent past of public policy priorities skewed to the benefit of ‘small’ constituencies. First, the exemption from capital gains tax on equities under Musharraf-Shaukat Aziz is estimated to have cost the exchequer Rs120bn in foregone tax revenue in 2007 alone. The pool of beneficiaries: less than half a million estimated stock investors, with the biggest gains accruing to a handful of the largest stock brokers.
With such largesse (and misplaced priorities) little wonder that the same government borrowed nearly Rs700bn from the central bank between 2004 and 2007, laying the seeds for the inflation spiral that was to follow.
The second example: encouragement of private ownership of cars, which led to a pre-emption of resources towards a small car-owning elite. The continued obsession of the cabinet with lowering car prices, an issue affecting around 100,000 people a year, at a time of far larger economic issues to deal with, is reflective of a similar mindset. Focusing on delivering an efficient mass transit system for the larger urban centres should have concentrated the minds and consumed the energies of policymakers ostensibly from the people. No such luck. Two different governments, similar priorities.
In short, state capture by an entrenched ruling elite has subverted resources to the use of a relatively small minority, while the vulnerability of the rest has only increased. This ecosystem of pelf and patronage, and the rents that flow from it, can only thrive in the absence of strong institutions.
Hence, not only have institutions of the state been deliberately undermined, the beneficiaries have been the full spectrum of Pakistan’s elite — civilian and non-civilian, political as well as non-political — and the country’s external ‘patrons’. The last lot, the US and UK in particular, pressured an autocrat to construct the National Reconciliation Ordinance, which undermined Pakistan’s judicial and accountability processes rather than strengthening them.
The weak institutional framework has stultified the economy and is the leading cause by far of Pakistan’s economic stagnation over the past two decades. Because institutions provide a rules-based system of checks and balances, an economy with a weak institutional framework will inherently lack policy stability and be more volatile for businesses.
It is no surprise then that growth of businesses has been more constrained in Pakistan, or that the informal sector is growing faster at the expense of the formal sector. Such an environment has arguably shortened investment horizons and increased the required rate of return — hence constricting the universe of potential investments that businesses have been willing to undertake.
The elite should take heed. It is not just the hungry and dispossessed who are marching on the streets of Tunis or Cairo. Weak institutions, bad governance and corruption will widen the ambit of brewing discontent to a disaffected urban middle class. While the dismantling of their present brings out the poor onto the streets, the undermining of their economic future will bring out the rest.
The writer was until recently the principal economic adviser to the Ministry of Finance.
Monday, February 7, 2011
It will not merely be the economic growth, but the very survival of the poor that may be thereatned by the uncontrolled inflation in the near future.
BBC News - India's economic growth under 'threat' from inflation
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Bush was to be the keynote speaker at Keren Hayesod's annual dinner on February 12 in Geneva. But pressure has been building on the Swiss government to arrest him and open a criminal investigation if he enters the Alpine country.
Criminal complaints against Bush alleging torture have been lodged in Geneva, court officials say."
Bush's Swiss visit off after complaints on torture | Reuters
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
NEW DELHI -- The Asian Development Bank will lend India $7.4 billion to mostly fund projects to develop the country's shabby infrastructure that is hurting growth in Asia's third-largest economy.
Under the pact, the multilateral agency will spread the loans through 2011-2013 to help the Indian government finance projects aimed at reducing disparities between states, a statement from the ADB said Monday.