A piping hot agenda

IN OCTOBER 1988, roughly two years before Saddam Hussein would invade Kuwait, there was a huge uproar in London against the Kuwait Investment Office, which found an echo in other financial districts of the Western world.

As Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in Washington this week, reads out his wish-list in the energy sector, including a skein of gas pipelines, to President Bush, he would do well to bear in mind the genesis of this uproar.

That year, that month, the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had arbitrarily instructed the Kuwait Investment Office to cut its $5 billion stake in British Petroleum Company from 21.6 per cent to 9.9 per cent within 12 months. KIO had built up a 21.6 per cent stake in BP, Britain’s largest firm and the world’s third largest oil giant, late in 1987.

The free-market economist in Dr Singh would be riled and rightly so to see the ideological guru of free trade flinch from its stated objective of fair play. But this is not the end of the story.

Dr Singh should closely read a paper on the issue presented to the British Parliament by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in October 1988.

He should read it, because he will find the explanation in it for another raging controversy of our times, about the Chinese buying Unocal, the American energy giant. Dr Singh should not be amazed by the wild-west like reaction in the US Congress against the move.

The executive summary of the British charge against Kuwait, which rightly or wrongly seems to have been construed as an open season on his neighbour by Saddam Hussein, reads thus: During the autumn and winter of 1987-88 the Government of Kuwait acquired a holding of shares of The British Petroleum Co plc (BP) amounting to some 21-6 per cent of its issued ordinary share capital.

On 3 May, 1988, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry required the commission to investigate and report on whether the move was against the British public interest.

BP’s share capital was very widely held. At 21.6 per cent the holding by the Government of Kuwait dwarfed all others, the next largest individual beneficial holdings being the 1.8 percent held by the Prudential Corporation and 1.7 per cent held by the British government.

In 1988, BP was the United Kingdom’s largest company and the third largest international oil company. It was the largest producer of oil and holder of oil reserves in both the United Kingdom and the United States. It occupied an important place in the United Kingdom economy, and the major sector in which it operated, oil extraction, refining, marketing and trading, is of strategic importance.

“The commission concluded that its ability to operate independently and free from external governmental influence was a matter of public interest.”

A particular feature of the reference was the assurances and undertakings given by the Government of Kuwait in relation to their shares in BP.

At a late stage in the reference the assurances and undertakings were incorporated in the form of a deed executed by the Government of Kuwait.

Interestingly, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who was named in the deed, disclaimed the document and it was therefore declared to be ineffective.

“The commission took into consideration, amongst other matters, the areas of potential conflict of interest over the long-term between the State of Kuwait on the one hand and BP and the United Kingdom on the other hand.”

The following paragraph in the 1988 report seems to have a direct bearing on the current US-China standoff over Unocal, with implications for everyone — India, Pakistan, Iran, name them.

“Unlike other shareholders Kuwait is a sovereign state with wide strategic and political interests and could be expected to exercise its influence in support of its own national interest. This would be to the detriment of BP’s interests and to the United Kingdom’s public interest,” the document says.

Among the factors taken into account by the commission were:

(a) the strategic and economic importance of oil and its place in the fluctuating relations between the West, including the United Kingdom, and the states of the Middle East which results in a basic conflict of interest between the countries of the Gulf with vast reserves of oil that are and will remain cheap to extract and oil-consuming countries including those with dwindling reserves of oil that will become more difficult and costly to extract; and

(b) the likelihood of future conflicts of interest on matters such as the exploration and development of new production facilities for oil; research and development including the development of substitute sources of energy or oil products; and downstream acquisition policy.

“In all the circumstances the commission concluded that the effective remedy for the public interest detriments would be for the shareholding of the Government of Kuwait to be reduced to the level at which the capacity to exercise material influence was removed.”

If Dr Singh finds the British report a tad dated for his purposes in Washington, he should read the pithy observation of fellow economist Joseph Stiglitz which has relevance for the world’s arriving energy architecture.

“Democracies are undermined by corporate interests being able to, in effect, buy elections,” says Stiglitz. He then adds helplessly: “The Bush administration refuses to disclose information which would show the role of corporate interests in setting its energy policy.”

*****

WHEN it serves its interests India projects its English-speaking population as an asset over countries like China. On other occasions it dumps the same people as aliens.

Indian movie actress Shabana Azmi is believed to have given a superlative performance in Mahesh Dattani’s “Morning Raga” but that did not impress the National Awards committee. The film was declared ineligible.

“Can you believe this?” complained an outraged Shabana. “It was apparently disqualified because English isn’t considered an Indian language. They asked for 80 per cent of ‘Morning Raga’ to be re-shot in an Indian language to be eligible for the National Awards. Considering so many Indian films are made in English, isn’t it time English was recognized as an Indian language?”—Email: jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Politics of convenience?

Known for making cryptic remarks, Pir Pagara, chief of the Pakistan Muslim League (Functional), often concedes that in national politics he “takes orders from the GHQ”. It is small wonder, then, that his proclamations about an imminent change in the government should send a ripple of anxiety down the spine of the present incumbents.

Sindh Chief Minister Dr Ghulam Arbab Rahim has been the butt of some very unkind jokes by Pir Pagara, who revived his faction after parting ways from the united PML in July last year. He had earlier merged his group with the PML “on the personal request of President General Pervez Musharraf.”

On a recent trip to the city, the president reportedly held a one-to-one meeting with Pir Pagara on July 12 and asked him to patch up with Dr Rahim. Two days earlier, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had called on him at Kingri House and described him as his “trustworthy mentor” at a subsequent press conference.

But political observers say that the current truce between the chief minister and the spiritual leader of the Hurs will be as short-lived as the one brought about by the president last year. They maintain that the inability of Pir Pagara and Dr Rahim to arrive at an equitable seat adjustment mechanism for Sanghar in the upcoming local body elections is likely to sour their relations once again.

No different

Those who do not think highly of the city’s robbers and anti-social elements said they stood vindicated on Friday when the absence of around 57 high-ranking officials from the city did not cause the crime and violence graph to follow an sharp upward trend.

President Pervez Musharraf had summoned over 200 senior police officials to the capital and asked them to crack down on those who disseminated hate material in Pakistan. He also asked them to take action against militant outfits which were resurfacing under new names after he banned them following 9/11.

“We all expected that, with the city police’s top brass away, there would be an upsurge in violence and crime on Friday. But fortunately our fears turned out to be wrong. Doesn’t this prove that at the end of the day the real job is done by low-ranking police official?” wonders a policeman when asked why the city remained relatively peaceful on July 15.

Living by the sea

June, July and August are three months that people living by the sea hate. For one thing, there is a lot of flying sand. Even if you keep your doors and windows closed, sand somehow enters the house.

Then there is too much moisture in the air. If you don’t switch on your TV set for a week, you may have to take it to a professional who will use a blower to dry up the machine. Even if you don’t like watching the idiot box, you have to switch it on for ten minutes twice a day to keep it in running condition. But at least you can do something about it.

One thing you can’t do anything about is the view of the sea from you apartment. The waves that are gentle for the better part of the year become venomous, willing to gobble everything that comes in their way. The sea that was blue becomes grey and misty. Even the visibility is poor. You can’t see the stars on a moonless night.

The Defence Housing Authority, which has made the beach in front of Seaview and Darakshan townships into a fine place for outing, took a sensible step when they switched off the powerful searchlights to keep the beach-goers away from the sea. This was necessary because all warnings and all news of drowning don’t deter some foolhardy fun lovers. Even those who don’t dip their feet in the sea, can be deceived by the waves which suddenly become savage, travel a few extra yards and drag everything that comes in their way.

So, if not during daytime, at least at night the DHA is able to keep the reckless away from the beach.

Winsome ways

Karachians have their preferences about who to give their hard-earned money, even when it comes to beggars. There are some who give generously to the handicapped, especially Afghan men who have lost their limbs in landmine explosions. Others are moved by the sight of old, bent, bespectacled men and women, making their way towards the traffic with the help of sticks.

Still others take pity on the skinny, gaunt children who scamper towards the car, offering to clean it for a small sum. The more pious charity givers are impressed by the sight of young men selling religious items including car decorations inscribed with holy verses. These able-bodied young men will invariably turn up with stories of starving sisters at home, and try to paint a potential purchase as a fine deed in the eyes of God.

But the ones that really tug at the heartstrings are the babes in the arms of young mothers. They may not be beggars themselves but their innocent gaze, or perhaps the sight of a tiny foot sticking out from under a bundle of dirty sheets, does more to loosen the purse-strings than any amount of lamentations by their mothers. It is at times like these that one starts to believe in predestination.

Traffic blues

The roundabout at what is known as Disco Chowrangi in Gulshan-i-Iqbal has turned into a traffic nightmare. There are three main reasons for this.

One, a portion of the road that was dug up was never fully repaired, and traffic slows down there. Two, a monument built by a private hospital now stands in the way of easy movement of traffic. Previously, the monument served a purpose and people welcomed it, but now it does nothing but hinder the smooth flow of traffic. Three, a huge portion of the road coming to Disco Chowrangi from Time Square has been encroached upon by a shop selling electric appliances. This has narrowed the space for traffic turning left.

Will be traffic engineering bureau solve the problem?

— By Karachian

email: karachi_notebook@hotmail.com

Why was PM’s US visit called off?

By Qudssia Akhlaque


ISLAMABAD, July 17: It is official now. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s much publicized trip to the United States later this month has been put off for the time being. The last-minute postponement has indeed baffled all, particularly the White House that had announced on July 6 that President Bush will meet Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on July 29.

A statement issued by the White House on July 6 had said: “President Bush looks forward to working with the prime minister to build on shared long-term vision for US-Pakistan relations.”

It is clear now that the decision was taken in Islamabad against the prime minister visiting at this time. This was first confirmed by the US State Department on Friday. A formal announcement about the postponement of the visit was made by the Foreign Office on Saturday after the prime minister’s return to Pakistan from his trip to Germany and Italy.

Interestingly, the two-para statement issued by the Foreign Office did not cite any reason for the postponement of the visit. It merely said: “The visit of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to the United States and Canada being planned towards the end of the month has been postponed.”

The last-minute cancellation of a Pakistani prime minister’s visit to the US is unprecedented.

The decision was reportedly conveyed to the US government through the diplomatic channel on Wednesday. Reportedly Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Mr. Jehangir Karamat, has been giving explanations since Wednesday for the postponement of the visit to those think-tanks and institutions in Washington where the PM was to hold meetings.

According to knowledgeable sources in Washington DC, the cancellation of the visit came as a surprise to the Pakistan Embassy in Washington and the US government. It is learnt that the preparation for the visit was in full swing.

The embassy staff had also visited New York over the weekend to finalize the PM’s meetings, among others, with the Pakistani community.

So what exactly prompted this visit to be called off so abruptly and notably in the absence of the prime minister? This is the question that many in the capital, particularly in the diplomatic and political circles, have been wondering about. Various theories have been doing the rounds, official and unofficial.

Apparently Ambassador Karamat cited certain internal developments and domestic compulsions as the reasons for deferring the visit. These included the forthcoming local bodies elections, the Ghotki triple train disaster and floods. Reportedly the ambassador maintained that these factors demanded that the prime minister stayed at home to tackle situations that required his immediate attention. Some sources in Islamabad pointed out that another reason for putting off the US trip was growing criticism in some circles here of the prime minister’s frequent foreign visits.

However, political observers say none of these reasons quite explain this last-minute cancellation.

Perhaps one unstated reason for the postponement could have been the relatively different welcome that awaited Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz compared to what awaited his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh.

There appeared to be a marked difference between the two in terms of opportunity and status accorded to their visits just 10 days apart from each other. The Indian premier’s visit has been slotted as a high-profile visit in the US from the word go and the Bush administration has been giving special briefings on it.

Unlike Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s trip to the US that was linked with the UN meeting in New York, the Indian prime minister had been specially invited by the US president. Hence the former’s visit was to be treated as ‘official’ and the latter’s as a ‘state’ visit. For the Indian prime minister, US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice is to host a state luncheon and President Bush a state banquet but for Mr Aziz the White House had no such plans.

More importantly, unlike Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, the Indian prime minister was offered the opportunity of addressing a joint session of the US Congress. Notably this honour was accorded to Pakistan’s democratically elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto during her visit to the US in her first term.

It is believed in some quarters that Pakistan which sees itself as a key US ally in the war against terrorism may have taken an exception to this preferential treatment given to its eastern neighbour. One interpretation could be that by putting off the trip Pakistan wanted to convey its disappointment to Washington.

While Pakistan may be a key ally of the US in war against terrorism, the latter realizes that it needs to woo India to advance its long-term strategic interests in the region. During her visit to India early this year, US Secretary of State declared that her government considered India as a major global player and shared with it strategic objectives and democratic values. Therefore it should not be surprising that all told some 18 bilateral agreements are to be signed between India and United States during Prime Minister Singh’s July 18-20 visit.

Meanwhile, the word around is that Prime Minister Aziz will not be visiting the US any time soon. At least not till the UN General Assembly session in September at which President Musharraf will be representing Pakistan.

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