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DAWN - Opinion; January 25, 2006

January 25, 2006

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IAEA stance on Iran

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh


AS the momentum builds for the International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting on Feb 2, Mr ElBaradei, its director-general, has given the western campaign something of a setback by making it quite clear that he would not advance the date of his formal report on the nature of the cooperation he has received from the Iranians in clarifying the many questions he has posed to them about their alleged undisclosed nuclear activities.

This should come as a relief to the Iranians who had, in an unwise move, cancelled at the last moment a meeting, they had themselves scheduled, to have a high-level delegation inform Mr ElBaradei of the exact nature of the research they would be undertaking at the facilities they were unsealing.

Hitherto, the IAEA had complained from time to time about Iran’s lack of transparency, lack of timely response to IAEA queries, and about the lack of access to various facilities. But at the same time, the atomic agency had acknowledged that Iran was cooperating in certain measure. It was the IAEA that had carried out most of the detailed study that led, according to a report, a group of scientist from the US and other countries to determine that “traces of bomb-grade uranium found two years ago in Iran came from contaminated Pakistani equipment and are not evidence of a clandestine nuclear weapons programme.”

It was the IAEA report of September 2 which, while mentioning that Iran had produced enough uranium hexafluoride (the gaseous form of uranium which when spun in a cascade of centrifuges can produce enriched uranium) for one nuclear bomb, also made it clear that the quality of the gas was such as to make it unusable. It was the IAEA’s briefings that led diplomats in the agency’s headquarters in Vienna to say that they were certain the Iranians had not mastered the art of getting a cascade of centrifuges to work.

It was, one can safely assume, partly the information gathered by the IAEA which led the American intelligence community to conclude that Iran was at least 10 years away from developing a nuclear weapon. It was the IAEA, which continued to maintain despite pressure from the Americans, that at this point they did not have evidence of Iran misusing its nuclear resources for military purposes.

In the last few days, however, the situation has changed. The normally equable and restrained director-general not only let it be known publicly that he was running out of patience with the Iranians but, in a Newsweek interview given after the unsealing of the research facilities, recalled that he had set a March 6 deadline for his report on Iran. He warned that “if I say that I am not able to confirm the peaceful nature of that programme after three years of intensive work, well, that’s a conclusion that’s going to reverberate, I think, around the world.”

With regard to the possibility of the weaponization of Iran’s nuclear activities he appeared to go further than western intelligence agencies saying that “if they have the nuclear material and they have a parallel weaponization programme along the way, they are really not very far - a few months - from a weapon.”

ElBaradei and his agency have high credibility. He resisted pressure from the Americans and maintained consistently that there was no evidence of an Iraqi military nuclear programme at a time when the Americans desperately needed such an endorsement to justify their invasion of Iraq. The Americans tried to prevent his reelection but failed and he and his agency then won the Nobel Prize for their independence. There is, therefore, no doubt that what he says about the Iranian programme will carry weight with non-western members of the IAEA board.

It is fortunate for the Iranians that while his patience has run out he is still intent on following procedure. Since he has told the Americans that he will not change the currently set deadline of March 6 for his final report on the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme the most he will do is give an interim report which highlights Iran’s failure to provide answers to many of the questions he has raised. In the present context, the important thing is that such a report will not be definitive and Iran’s friends on the board and others who resent western dictation can argue that they will oppose referral to the UN Security Council - the declared objective of the Americans and the Europeans - until the final report has been presented.

In a rather cleverly worded article which appeared in the Guardian, the Iranian embassy in London also maintains that “our plans are now just nuclear research and have nothing to do with enrichment” and has highlighted the cooperation, without mentioning the IAEA’s complaints, the high level of cooperation that Iran has extended to the IAEA and the extensive monitoring to which Iran’s nuclear programme has been subjected.

The same article also states that further discussions on the Russian proposal for uranium enrichment to be carried out in Russia or Central Asia rather than in Iran have been scheduled for February 17 in Moscow. Separately, Russia’s top nuclear power official, Sergei V. Kiriyenko, reported to President Putin that the proposal is “extremely interesting” for the Iranians and that Russia had the production units ready to undertake the task. The Russians have publicly expressed concern about Iran’s unsealing of nuclear research facilities and the Russian foreign minister has apparently assured US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Russia would not oppose a referral to the Security Council. But more and more reports suggest that Russia does not want the crisis to get out of hand, arguing that it would be in no one’s interest if Iran retaliated by renouncing the additional protocol and threw IAEA inspectors out of the country. They are said to favour a resumption of negotiations between Iran and the EU, failing that to have no more than a debate in the UN Security Council. This is an approach that is also likely to find favour with the Chinese.

In what has been interpreted as a preparation for the possible imposition of sanctions on Iran, the governor of the Iranian Central Bank has confirmed that Iran is moving its foreign exchange reserves out of European banks. It is, of course, possible that this move has been prompted not by the present crisis but by a decision of an Italian court last month to order the seizure of an Iranian government bank account in a case where Iran has been accused of being responsible for the death of three Americans in Israeli-occupied Palestine.

The Iranian claim of immunity under the Vienna Convention has apparently been turned down by the Italian court. There are also reports that on the basis of an American court ruling awarding $126 million to families of Americans who died in the 1983 Hezbollah bombing of the American embassy in Beirut the claimants are planning to file suits in Europe to have Iranian government assets seized. The Americans are, of course, holding enormous Iranian assets which were seized after the American hostage crisis in 1979 but apparently these are not being made available to satisfy the US court’s ruling.

Iran has also called for the reduction of Opec oil production by one million barrels of oil a day. This proposal is unlikely to win any support when the Opec meeting is held in Vienna on January 31, but it does send a signal to the oil market which has become jittery enough to push the oil price to $68 a barrel. Iranian newspapers have, of course, highlighted this price hike as indicative of the price the West and the rest of the world may have to pay if the crisis worsens.

Given the Russian position, the refusal of ElBaradei to give a definitive report, given the consequent prospect of a very deeply divided vote at the IAEA and the impact of higher oil prices on the global economy, there seems to be a slight chance, that the Americans and Europeans may back off particularly if the Iranians were to signal that in return for a European commitment to time-bound negotiations they would reseal the research facilities. Alternatively, it seems that they may have to settle for a UN Security Council debate on the issue after which it would be sent back to the IAEA for further discussion.

The current crisis has placed India in a difficult situation. Its vote for the last resolution on Iran invited enormous domestic criticism since it was seen as kowtowing to American pressure. Nobody was willing to take account of the reservations India had attached to its positive vote. The negotiations on the Indo-US nuclear cooperation deal also appear to be stymied. After the latest round of negotiations during the visit of US Under-Secretary Nicholas Burns last week it became apparent that the differences between the two sides could not be reconciled in time for the agreement to be finalized during President Bush’s visit to India in the first week of March. A finalization is now being visualized in time for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US in 2007.

India is intent on getting the same freedom for its nuclear programme as is enjoyed by the current recognized nuclear weapon powers, while the US, under congressional pressure at home and from other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group abroad, is intent on ensuring Indian acceptance of safeguards in perpetuity on facilities India includes in its civilian programme and on the Indian Fast Breeder reactors.

My own feeling is that the differences may well prove to be irreconcilable. Until that irreconcilability is established, however, the Indian establishment will be loath to cause umbrage to already sceptical members of the US Congress. It wants the deal both because it is short of fuel for its power reactors and because it will place a seal on the Indo-US strategic alliance.

On the other hand, its energy interests require the maintenance of what it calls its “civilizational relationship” with Iran. It needs to ensure that the LPG deal that it has made with Iran is ratified by the Iranian majlis. It needs to maintain the oil concessions that it secured as part of the deal. It also needs, if it can get it, Iranian gas by the overland route. More than deft diplomacy is going to be needed.

Turning to the subject of the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, the prospect seems to have become bleaker. Whatever the outcome of the present crisis, it is almost certain that there is going to be no early meeting of minds between the present rulers in Iran and the West. Under these circumstances, a measure of economic pressure will continue to be maintained on Iran and the Indians and Pakistanis will both be reminded in stronger terms than has been done already that the US will regard any promotion of Iran’s energy sector as inimical to American interests.

There will then be a strong inclination in India to suggest that New Delhi should revert to the proposal of having nothing to do with the financing or construction of the pipeline but commit itself only to buying such gas as is delivered at its border. This was, as the Indian petroleum minister, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, a strong supporter of the pipeline, reluctantly conceded, one of the options that he was to place before the Indian cabinet.

The justification would be found in the fact that there is insecurity in Pakistani Balochistan, that the Indo-Pakistan political climate remains uncertain and, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said, there would be no international financing available. Pakistan may be able to resist American pressure but this will be of academic interest. The economics of the pipeline are such that without active Indian participation the project just cannot take off since it will be madness on the part of Pakistan alone or Iran and Pakistan together to build a pipeline at their own cost to service Indian needs.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

The ways of our politics

POLITICIANS in Pakistan are not exactly famous for original utterances. In fact some of them have been repeating themselves fox the last many decades or echoing the statements of others. This is because they want to rush to the press on any flimsy excuse, without bothering about the merits of a proposed statement. Their intention merely is to see their names in the newspapers.

One statement that is more often used than others is about a legislative assembly or an elected government — national or provincial — and its purport is to assert that it is going to complete its allotted term and is not likely to be dismissed by the powers-that-be or disappear otherwise.

So when last week national newspapers published a statement of Sindh Governor Dr Ishrat-ul-Ibad denying that any change in the governmental set-up was in the offing, and relying on the fact that the provincial assembly had safely completed three of its five years, I was not surprised. I understood that the worthy doctor was only following a time-tested practice of claiming “no- change.”

A claim of this nature is very popular among politicians, and you must have heard it many times in respect of one assembly or another, or an existing elected regime. I have not been able to appreciate why this is so. Why can’t they just talk about the achievements of the regime or the legislation passed by the assembly, and why do they feel it necessary to make this meaningless claim?

There is something of a challenge in this claim, as if the speaker was defying the gods to do their worst against the institution concerned. No power on earth could cause it harm and it would cover its allotted span of time with impunity. But these institutions have now and then had to face the situation caused by the amended adage. “Man proposes and the Army disposes,” and this has happened many times since August 1988 when democracy was restored in Pakistan by the death of General Ziaul Haq.

Otherwise, during this period, the two main political parties in the country, the PML-N and the PPP, have been taking turns to rule Pakistan, not once but twice, and when they were in the saddle they felt as comfortable as the government of any democratic power in the West. Not only that, they claimed that they were going to complete their tenures and nobody would be able to dislodge them, as they had come into power with the votes of the populace. Every time they forgot that the populace was powerless in the face of the army.

And every time Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif, the heads of the two parties, learnt no lesson and acted like autocratic prime ministers, almost like dictators, and never felt threatened. Neither of them had much Urdu in their academic attainments, or they would have remembered the proverb which says that the only thing constant in this world is change and there is no escaping it.

It is very strange. Just as every human being knows that, sooner or later, life must end in death, every political regime too is aware from Day One that its supremacy is only for a certain fixed period and no more (unless the people choose to give it another term in office). Unfortunately our political system does not teach elected regimes to act accordingly and they tend to behave as if they are there for good.

In fact, people close to Mian Sahib assert that his undoing during the second term was his obsession with power. He intended to make the National Assembly just a tool in his hands and his heart was set on being crowned Amir-ul-Momineen, of Pakistan to begin with. He met his nemesis in the shape of an angry and indignant chief of the army staff whose aircraft he had unsuccessfully tried to hijack. Is this what democracy teaches our political leaders?

Another popular ploy is to blame the political opposition for the ruling regime’s failings because the tally of its failings is always much more than its achievements and successes. Actually opposition is not a happy word, for it carries an aura of enmity, and sadly this is how the two sides view each other — as enemies. During my observation of the political scene since August 1947 I do not recall any government sincerely trying to take the opposition along in its so-called striving for the people’s welfare.

But every political leader while in government pays tribute to the opposition by saying that in a democracy the opposition is an essential ingredient of the state. This is done only as lip- service, for otherwise, they do everything to malign the opposition and ensure that it does not get a good hearing in the press. Of course it is an old trick to get the statements of the opposition blacked out through the efforts oaf the information department.

In almost every public rally that l attended during my long service as an officer of the information department, speakers representing the government in power invariably spent most of their time hurling abuses at their opposition’s obdurate stand against the rulers, and castigated it for not cooperating with the government. At the same time no effort, or even attempt, was ever made to secure this cooperation.

When I was head of the information department in Punjab, I was always amused by the complaints of ministers that their statements against the opposition did not find proper place in the newspapers. “How will chief minister sahib know I am working so hard?” was one irate comment. By the way, a related issue is that ruling political parties in Pakistan have always relied on the information department for their publicity, never realizing that this was the party’s own responsibility, as is the case the world over.

Also, no effort is ever made to educate party cadres in formation of branches and training of workers and conducting party propaganda. This is so because, unlike in the rest of the world, a political party in Pakistan comes into existence in one day. A politician feels that his party is not giving him the importance he deserves, so he leaves it and sets up a party of his own of which he is the chairman and secretary general and everything else. Then he starts looking for followers and adherents. All these are vagaries of our politics.

Kalabagh on the backburner

By Zubeida Mustafa


LAST week, just when the opposition’s protest had begun to reach an uncomfortably high pitch, President Pervez Musharraf decided to take the wind out of the anti-Kalabagh lobby’s sail by announcing a change in the order of dam building.

In his 90-minute wide-ranging speech, the president announced that all the five dams identified by the government would be built by 2016 but the first to be taken up would be Bhasha.

The controversial Kalabagh dam could wait — though he didn’t make it clear when it would be taken in hand. It will be completed along with the others ten years from now.

With the political heat turned off for the moment, the time is appropriate for leaders of public opinion to begin doing their homework dispassionately on the dams issue. Let solid engineering issues and water management considerations rather than political populism be the determining factors in this debate. There are many questions which the president’s speech has raised and answers to these must be sought.

In his speech, President Musharraf said that the construction of the Bhasha dam will “get underway immediately. The earth breaking of Bhasha dam should take place in the first week of February.” This sounds incredulous. The Abbasi report (Technical Committee on Water Resources that was headed by A.G.N. Abbasi) clearly states on the basis of Wapda’s plans, “The detailed engineering design and tender documents would be completed in 2006. The construction work can be started in the year 2007. It would take seven years to complete.” Before work on the dam begins, the Karakoram Highway will have to be upgraded and that is expected to take 30 months.

The design of the dam has met with objections from seven members of the TCWR. But probably in deference to their views the height of the dam is to be reduced by 10 metres and its storage capacity will come down to 6.3 million acre feet (maf).

But these are not matters that have created a rumpus. There are other issues that are of serious concern that emerge from the various reports that have been released, namely the Abbasi committee report, the Independent Panel of Experts’ report (www.infopak.gov.pk/misc/misc_index.htm) and the World Bank’s report titled “Pakistan Country Water Resources Assistance Strategy: Water Economy Running Dry” (www.worldbank.org.pk/). One fact which clearly emerges from all three is that there is not enough water in the Indus river to fill the mega dams that are being undertaken.

The Abbasi report states, “It is not likely that the future storages will be filled every year and therefore it will not be possible to supply the water according to their full storage capacity every year. As per computations... a dam of 6.0 maf capacity is likely to be filled in 10 years out of 28 years and it will provide 2.14 maf water per year.”

The IPOE which was set up to determine “the water escapages below Kotri Barrage to check seawater intrusion, and to address environmental concerns” has recommended an escapage of 5,000 cfs throughout the year that is, according to the experts, required to check seawater intrusion, accommodate the needs for fisheries and environmental sustainability. It also recommends a total volume of 25 maf in any five-year period to be released in a concentrated way as flood flow for sediment supply. But the report also adds, “The combined flows for the rivers upstream of Kotri Barrage is of the same magnitude as what is recommended for the reach below the Kotri Barrage.” In other words, if some of this water is taken away to fill a dam and distribute it for irrigation en route the quantum required to escape into the sea to check sea intrusion will not be available.

The World Bank’s strategy paper describes Pakistan as a “water stressed” country, “a situation which is going to degrade into outright water scarcity” owing to high population growth. It proceeds to warn, “There is no additional water to be injected into the system. There is no feasible intervention which would enable Pakistan to mobilize appreciably more water than it now uses. Arguably, the overall use for irrigation needs to decline so that there are adequate flows into the degrading delta.”

Do we then need these massive dams that will remain half-filled most of the time? All the money that will go into building them will be an added debt burden on our tax-payers to repay. The World Bank, which will dole out the money, appears to be overly keen that the mega projects should be built. After admitting that there is no extra water available, the report states: “Sobering Fact # 12: Pakistan has to invest, and invest soon, in costly and contentious new large dams. When river flow is variable, then storage is required so that the supply of water can more closely match water demands.” It then goes on to show how poorly Pakistan compares with other countries in storage capacity without stating how much water flows in the rivers that are to be dammed.

More alarming is the thrust of the World Bank report towards involving the private sector in the irrigation system in a big way. The report suggests that the government should try to attract private financing and even encourage “professionals from the irrigation departments to form private businesses for the provision of such services, thus ensuring that their skills are not lost, and that they do not see the changes as purely a loss of security.

The bulk business (operation of dams and barrages) would probably remain in state hands, but with many major functions (such as operation of power plants) concessioned out to private operators. The bank will emphasize the development of frameworks which encourage the entry of new players (including community organizations, and the small- and large-scale private sector), the use of contracts which specify the rights and obligations of providers and users and benchmarking for all water services.”

According to the bank, “this will mean going beyond the traditional public utilities and mobilizing the resources and innovative capacity of community organizations and the private sector, large and small, domestic and international.” The conventional argument of the private sector introducing an element of competition and thus providing more efficient and low-cost services has also been advanced although we

know how the private entrepreneurs join together to form a monopoly when the commodity they are selling is an essential item and in short supply.

One hopes that the president will not be taken in by the World Bank. He should adopt alternative strategies even if it means saying “no thanks” to the World Bank. Wapda’s Vision 2025 document lists a number of sites in the NWFP where small and medium storage dams can be built. These include Gomal Zam, Tank Zam, Kurram Tangi, Munda, etc. It has also been reported that the Planning Commission has suggested the construction of 20 small dams in the NWFP by 2010 at a cost of Rs 3.6 billion.

It is also important to explore alternative strategies such as conservation of water by lining the water courses and teaching the farmers to use drip irrigation rather than wasting water by unnecessarily flooding their fields. The president took note of these measures in his speech last week which means he is aware of them.

New technology is now also available to desilt the Mangla and Tarbela dams to increase their storage capacity. One hopes that the president will pursue these measures in a focused manner and thus change the irrigation scenario in Pakistan. Instead of electricity from Bhasha, the government can tap other sources. Hydroelectric plants generate cheap power but when they cannot be installed for one reason or another, other sources should be tapped.