Pakistan News

PAKISTAN: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told a business gathering in Washington last week, “there are few places in the world today that so uniquely offer the promise of land, geography and people as does Pakistan”. This sounds a bit delusionary.

On the other hand, within five months into his term, he seems to have lost both the opportunity and the momentum to launch some desperately needed economic reforms.

Foreign exchange reserves continue to fall and are down to $4.1 billion; just enough to cover five weeks of imports. Getting the $6.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund was hardly an achievement. The IMF didn’t have a choice with letting Pakistan default being the only other option.

Some believe the elimination of $4.8 billion in circular debt (it’s accumulating again and touched the one billion dollar mark this month), raising electricity tariffs and thereby reducing subsidies, hiking sales tax, and announcing the privatisation of 31 state enterprises are measures in the right direction. This is a simplistic and superficial view.

Pakistan has been down this path many times before and back to square one. Is this time any different? It is not an industrialised country like Britain, where major issues could be addressed by just privatisation. The Asian Development Bank recently warned that the IMF’s new programme is at risk, as “most of the required reforms have political and governance dimensions which posed formidable barriers in the past”.

The greatest barrier is the unwillingness of the ruling elite to tax the rich and powerful, that is, themselves. The second is the patronage-based personalised style of governance.

These barriers, not the IMF, are principally responsible for persistent fiscal deficits, inflation, misallocation/abuse of resources, and under-investment in physical, social, and administrative infrastructure.

If the PML-N believes it can produce a miracle by attracting huge foreign investment through privatisation and by launching mega projects while doing just enough to get the next few tranches from the IMF, it is wishful thinking, not a plan.

Pakistan is unlikely to attract large-scale private sector foreign investment now or in the foreseeable future, given its precarious security situation and a weak state with dysfunctional institutions that are often at odds with each other.

Pakistan’s chronic economic issues are affecting the viability of state structures, and can no longer be addressed by prescriptions offered by conventional thinking (of both local and foreign experts), because it mostly focuses on the symptoms, while the rot turns into a gangrenous mess.

Take, for example, the energy crisis. The core problem revolves around the energy mix and the generous terms given to the independent power producers. Subsidy in that context is a misnomer, because it’s a consequence of a structurally flawed energy policy and not a simple case of providing goods below a price determined by the free market.

Re taxes: it would not take more than a few months to raise the rate of collections from direct taxes, but no government wants to do it, as one World Bank official once told me.

The security situation needs a revolutionary approach to strengthen the capacity of an out-of-date state apparatus to control terrorism. For instance, why do we need 20-22 infantry army divisions, given the tectonic changes in the nature of both external and internal threats? Shouldn’t we at least think about redeploying resources away from 4-5 of these divisions to form a well-trained, well-equipped and technologically sophisticated modern counter-terrorism force?

The very act of convening the all parties’ conference to initiate talks with the un-named militants signified the government’s lack of will to do what’s really needed: take the bull by the horns. Instead, it chose to pass the buck. Sharif does not want to assume responsibility for making tough decisions and take any risks. He would have to take risks — unless he just wants to survive in the office like his predecessor — to address issues of the state’s credibility and investor confidence.

These intangibles are of far greater importance than some traditional economists might believe, and are directly linked to Pakistan’s acute crisis of governance. If the state is widely perceived as weak and ineffective, rest of the issues become rather secondary.

Mr Sharif’s style of personalised governance hasn’t changed much since the 1990s, although Pakistan has become too big and complex — with its society violently fractured and institutions dangerously weak — to be governed by a kitchen cabinet of loyalists and relatives. It must restructure its predatory institutions — particularly the police, lower judiciary, and bureaucracy — through radical reforms to institutionalise governance.

Unfortunately, the federal government is in a limbo for many practical purposes after the devolution of significant powers to the provinces, because while it has taken place on paper, the provinces’ governing capacity is quite limited, as they have long suffered from under-investment and been undermined by a meddling security establishment.

What does it all mean for businesses and investors? I had stated in an interview given to a foreign news agency, published May 15, 2008: “Pakistan’s economic performance in the next few years will be weak, with an average GDP growth of not more than around 3.5 per cent, high inflation, weak currency, dwindling foreign exchange reserves, a large current account deficit and low investment levels.”

The outlook is even more clouded now, given the worsened situation and because the government has demonstrated neither the will nor the capacity to meet the extraordinary challenges Pakistan faces.

Mr Sharif’s own conduct has done little to inspire much confidence. One hoped that his clear majority would enable him to start a new era of an assertive civilian leadership, but he apparently wants to please every ‘stakeholder’ and rule with ‘consensus’. Mr Sharif may draw on Machiavelli, who wrote in his classic political treatise The Prince, “any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good”.

Pakistan is in urgent need of a bold and courageous leadership style at this point and not a dithering one which hopes to somehow muddle through whilst wishing the problems would just go away when they are actually getting worse.


Yousuf Nazar runs an international consultancy firm and is a former head of Citigroup’s equity investments unit

WASHINGTON: In a document issued after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the United States, the White House has acknowledged improvement in a key area of US concern: the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets.

“Pakistan is engaged with the international community on nuclear safety and security issues and is working to ensure its strategic export controls are in line with international standards,” says the document.

“Pakistan is a state party to both the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention and is a partner in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism,” the White House notes.

“Pakistan is an active participant in the Nuclear Security Summit process and works closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Office of Nuclear Security to promote best security practices,” it adds.

“Through our joint security, strategic stability, and non-proliferation dialogue, we have shared views on non-proliferation challenges, as well as on the multilateral regimes on chemical and biological weapons, export controls, and the importance of regional stability and security,” the White House says.

The safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons has been a major issue in the United States ever since the country tested its devices in 1998. US lawmakers, media and think-tanks often claim that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not safe and can fall into the hands of militants if the security situation there continues to deteriorate.

During a visit to Washington earlier this month, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar raised this issue at various forums, assuring Americans that the weapons were “in safe hands and there’s absolutely no possibility of militants having access to them”.

Although the US officials have supported Pakistan’s position in the past as well, mentioning it in a White House document further strengthens Islamabad’s case.

The White House document also acknowledges that Pakistan has “taken positive steps” over the past year to increase its controls and interdiction of the illicit supply of the materials used to produce improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

During the last two years, when relations between the two countries deteriorated rapidly, the Americans regularly complained that Pakistan was allowing militants to smuggle IED-making material into Afghanistan, which was then used to kill US soldiers deployed there.

Since the IEDs killed scores of US soldiers, the issue became a major irritant in bilateral relations. US lawmakers would often urge the administration to stop aid to Pakistan over this issue.

The US acknowledgement that Pakistan had taken “positive steps” for removing this threat also removes this major hurdle in the restoration of a key partnership in the war against terror.

The White House document underlines the significance of US-Pakistan defence and counter-terrorism cooperation as well, noting that the two countries were working jointly to “bring about the defeat of core Al Qaeda and the extremist groups” that threaten the security of both nations and the region. With US help, Pakistan has significantly increased the effectiveness of its operations against militant groups, the document says.

Since 2009, the United States has trained nearly 730 members of the Pakistan Army, air force, and navy. The United States and Pakistan also conduct military staff exchanges and joint training exercises each year to enhance coordination and interoperability between our militaries.

PESHAWAR: All the government schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will switch over from Urdu to English medium gradually in a period of four to five years, according to officials.

They told Dawn that English would replace Urdu gradually as a medium in state-run schools of the province because elementary and secondary education department could not do it in one go. It was neither feasible for the students to start learning in the changed medium abruptly nor the teachers were trained to teach their subjects in English, they said.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led provincial government has decided to change the medium from Urdu to English from grade-1 in the government schools from the coming academic year commencing from April, 2014. Once the medium was changed from the grade-I, it would be changed onward with each passing year, officials said.

They said that the previous government of Awami National Party had already taken the initiative of changing the medium from grade-IV under the National Textbook and Learning Material Policy from the academic year 2013. After grade-IV, the medium would be changed with the passing of each year, officials said.

The change of medium has been commenced at two stages -- first from beginning and second from grade-IV -- which would take four or five years to change it to secondary level.

“Textbooks of mathematics and general science for grade-IV have already been converted into English while printing of both the subjects for grade-V has started,” officials in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Textbook Board told Dawn. They said that KPTB had also ordered the publishers to start printing of textbooks of mathematics and general knowledge for grade-1 in English.

Besides national and regional languages, they said, only Pakistan Studies would be taught in Urdu.

Directorate of Curriculum and Teachers Education Director Bashir Hussain Shah, when contacted, said that the required textbooks were already available with the education department as such books had already been taught in several government schools that switched over to English medium in the past.

“The department has no problem with the change of medium as only available books will be printed in English instead of Urdu,” he said.

A single teacher from each of the 23,500 primary schools in the province would be trained before changing the medium of the relevant books, Mr Shah said. The training of teachers would take around one month, he said.

Some international donor organisations were supporting the education department to train the teachers, the official said. The development of training manual was in final stage, he said.

“We are already having master trainers as training teachers is a continuous process,” he said. The master trainers would train the teachers at circle level across the province as each district was divided into several circles according to its size, he said.

“Hopefully teachers will be trained a month before change of the medium. The training duration of each group of teachers will be 12 days,” Mr Shah said.

Killing of Pakistanis in US-led drone strikes may amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions, according to a report to be released by the London based right's group on Tuesday.

Based on restricted and rare access to the region, the report titled "'Will I be next?' US drone strikes in Pakistan" documents nine strikes that occurred in 2012 and 2013 and the deaths resulting from these in Pakistan's northwestern areas, including the killing of Mamana Bibi who was a 68-year-old grandmother, and 14-year-old boy.

Mamana Bibi's grandchildren told the Amnesty International that she was killed by missile fire on Oct 24 2012, as she was collecting vegetables in a family field in the North Waziristan tribal region, a major militancy infected area near the Afghan border.

Three of Bibi's grandchildren were also wounded in the strike, as were several others who were nearby, the victims said.

An even deadlier incident noted by the report occurred in North Waziristan on July 6, 2012.

Witnesses said a volley of missiles hit a tent where a group of men had gathered for an evening meal after work, and then a second struck those who came to help the wounded, one of a number of attacks that have hit rescuers, the rights group said.

Witnesses and relatives said that total of 18 male laborers with no links to militant groups died, according to Amnesty. Pakistani intelligence officials at the time identified the dead as suspected militants.

The US did not respond to request for comment on the strike.

President Barack Obama said during a speech in May that the US does not conduct a drone strike unless there is ''near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.''

But Amnesty said the US is so secretive about the program that there is no way to tell what steps it takes to prevent civilian casualties.

They say it has ''failed to commit to conduct investigations'' into alleged deaths that have already occurred.

The report would be released jointly with another report on US drone strikes in Yemen.

Pakistan has repeatedly stated that drone attacks are a violation of its sovereignty and has termed the attacks as counter-productive and a violation of international law.

Premier Nawaz Sharif also raised the drone issue at this year's United Nations General Assembly session and sought an end to the attacks.

 

Moreover, Sharif who is visiting the United States had said prior to his arrival there that he would take up the issue during his meeting on Wednesday with US President Barack Obama.

The issue has been raised on several platforms and the legality of drone strikes has also been previously questioned by the UN human rights chief, Amnesty International, and other organisations.

UN chief Ban-Ki moon, during his visit to Islamabad this year, had also urged for the controversial strikes to be brought within the sphere of international law. These attacks have also been described to undermine world security, according to another UN report.

 

Moreover the Bureau of Investigative Journalism had launched a report aimed at keeping track of victims of drone attacks.

These groups indicated that the attacks have killed between 2,065 and 3,613 people, the report said. Between 153 and 926 were thought to be civilians.

Amnesty said it is concerned that the attacks outlined in the report and others may have resulted in unlawful killings that constitute extrajudicial executions or war crimes, even though the US insists the strikes are legal.

 

''We cannot find any justification for these killings. There are genuine threats to the USA and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances,'' said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International's Pakistan researcher. ''But it is hard to believe that a group of laborers, or an elderly woman surrounded by her grandchildren, were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States.''

The US on the other hand considers its drone program to be a key weapon against insurgent groups that it says stages cross-border forays into neighboring Afghanistan.

Amnesty called on the US to comply with its obligations under international law by investigating the killings documented in the report and providing victims with ''full reparation.''

 

The US carried out its first drone strike in Pakistan in 2004 and has carried out nearly 350 more since then, the majority of which have been in North Waziristan.

President Barack Obama significantly ramped up attacks when he took office in 2009, and the number peaked the following year with over 100 strikes.

The frequency has steadily dropped since then, partly because of growing tension between Pakistan and the US There have only been around two dozen strikes so far this year.

Pakistani officials regularly denounce the attacks in public as a violation of the country's sovereignty, but senior members of the government and the military are known to have supported the strikes in the past.

''Amnesty International is also extremely concerned about the failure of the Pakistani authorities to protect and enforce the rights of victims of drone strikes,'' said the report. ''Pakistan has a duty to independently and impartially investigate all drone strikes in the country and ensure access to justice and reparation for victims of violations.''

Amnesty said victims they interviewed with no apparent connection to militant groups have either received no compensation or inadequate assistance from the Pakistani government.

The top political official in North Waziristan gave Bibi's family around $100 to cover medical expenses for the children injured in the strike, even though the total cost to the family, including loss of livestock and repairs to their home, was around $9,500, the rights group said.

None of the victims in the attack on the laborers received any compensation, the report added.

RAIWIND: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Wednesday that the government’s hands were tied and it was forced to increase electricity prices, DawnNews reported.

Addressing party workers at his residence in Raiwind, the premier said the government would reduce the electricity tariff after completion of new power projects.

Last week, the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) federal government had notified a massive increase of over 70 per cent in power tariff to be effective from November 1.

A tariff revision was made through the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) on directives issued by the Supreme Court earlier this month.

Sharif said that the government had launched an operation against power theft to overcome the electricity shortage.

He said the energy crisis had become a major challenge which badly affected the economy adding that the government was fully committed to overcome it during its five years constitutional term.

Speaking about an ongoing operation to restore law and order in Sindh’s provincial capital Karachi, the premier said the government was not under any political pressure to conduct targeted operations.

He said citizens of Karachi were satisfied with steps taken by the government to rid the city of criminal elements and extortionists.

He moreover said that the PML-N government had assumed charge over the nation in difficult times, adding that it wanted lasting solutions to the problems faced by the country.

The premier said the government would undertake tough decisions to enforce law and order in the country.

“We are going to take bold decisions for the sake of restoring peace and maintaining law and order in Karachi and everywhere in the country,” he said.

The prime minister appreciated the performance of law enforcement agencies in Karachi which, he said, had decreased to some extent crimes like kidnapping for ransom, targeted killings and extortion.

Sharif said the government had taken all political parties on board for preparing a common agenda to eradicate terrorism from Pakistan. He said the dialogue process was adopted to restore peace and hoped that the efforts of talks would be successful.

“By the grace of Allah Almighty, we are determined to make a bright future of Pakistan through hard work to come to the expectations and aspirations of the people” he said.

KARACHI: Pakistan will become the first country to offer top-quality education on an integrated online platform that will include free online courses from hundreds of top universities around the world, claimed Dr Prof Atta-ur-Rahman, the former chairman of the Higher Education Commission, at the Second National Conference on Space Science on Monday.

Speaking to Dawn on the sidelines of the first day of the conference, he said that the search engine had been developed. He added that the Hussain Ebrahim Jamal (HEJ) Institute of Chemistry would launch the integrated platform for the best available free online courses like MIT open courseware, Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy, Virtual University of Pakistan and other courses next month.

Dr Rahman said that the lack of trained faculty was a major hurdle in educating the masses especially in developing world. And joining hands with world’s top varsities such as MIT and Harvard to deliver excellent academic material would greatly help Pakistan and other developing countries, he added.

According to the former HEC chairman, Pakistan will be the only country to have brought together the great wealth of educational material from around the world on one single platform.

Some 60 research presentations and papers will be presented at the two-day event being organised by the Institute of Planetary Astrophysics (ISPA), the University of Karachi, to celebrate the ‘World Space Week 2013’.

The first day of the two-day conference brought together scholars and experts from Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Institute of Space Technology, ISPA and other institutes.

The official topic of this year’s Space Week celebrations is “Exploring Mars, Discovering Earth”.

In an interesting presentation, Salman Zubair from the department of Geography, Karachi University, shared his findings about road designs and accidents, which according to him, could be curbed using the help of satellite imagery and Geographical Information System.

He also urged road planners to consider the mass awareness about the new road facilities and GIS planning while designing major roads, a lack of which was responsible for 34 per cent accidents directly or indirectly.

Mr Zubair said that Karachi ranked fourth in the world when it came to road accidents.

In another lecture, Mohammad Shafique from the National Centre of Excellence in Geology, the University of Peshawar, said that Pakistan witnessed 138 major disasters over the past 30 years. He said remote sensing and satellite imaging could be used as an important tool in disaster mitigation and management.

Other scholars presented their findings in cosmology, theoretical physics, renewable energy, Mars explorations and other topics related to Space Science, technology and cosmology.

NCSS-2013 has been organised with the collaboration of Suparco, HEC and Pakistan Science Foundation.

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday refused to authorise overseas Pakistanis to vote in the local government elections in the absence of legislation at the provincial level, DawnNews reported.

According to the commission, none of the provinces had extended the facility of voting in LG polls to Pakistanis living abroad.

An ECP official said they could not authorise overseas Pakistanis to vote without appropriate legislation at the provincial level.

The official moreover said that overseas Pakistanis were playing a major role in the construction and development of Pakistan, adding that in the past five years, they had sent 55 billion dollars to the country as foreign exchange.

He was of the view that Pakistanis living abroad should be included in the country’s electoral process.

It may be mentioned that an inter-provincial meeting was informed last week that holding of local government elections was not possible this year because provinces had not done basic work to conduct the exercise.

It transpired during the meeting, presided over by acting Chief Election Commissioner Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jilani, that provinces were yet to have complete delimitation, which would have to be carried out afresh on the basis of new census blocks.

ECP secretary Ishtiak Ahmad Khan told reporters that all provinces had assured the meeting of sending a requisition to the commission for holding LG elections in the first week of December after completing prerequisites for the polls in November.

And after receiving requisitions, the ECP required one month to carry out multiple tasks before announcing the election schedule, he said.

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