Reviving Doha trade talks
WHAT should a country in Pakistan’s situation do when it comes to taking a position on reviving the currently stalled Doha trade negotiations? Readers will recall that a new round of multilateral trade talks was launched after a meeting in Nov 2001 of the world trade ministers.
The meeting was held at Doha, the capital of Qatar. It was labelled the ‘development round’ since the world’s large trading nations — the European Union, the United States and Japan — promised to concentrate on removing some of the injustices done to the developing world in the previous rounds.
The most egregious of these was the constraint on trade in textile products and generous subsidies provided to the farmers in rich countries to generate products and commodities that could be produced much more cheaply in developing countries.
In the agreement that led to the launch of the Doha talks, the world’s trading nations set themselves the goal to create a new international trading order by Jan 1, 2005. To reach this goal, the developed world promised that it would significantly reduce the payments being made to its farmers, reduce the tariffs and other restrictions on the import of textile products from poor countries, and reduce the scope of non-tariff barriers faced by the developing world in the markets of rich countries.
All these moves were of considerable interest to Pakistan. But these concessions would be made only if the developing countries — in particular those that had large economies such as Brazil, China, India and South Africa — were prepared to lower their high tariffs against imports from the industrial world.
If such a move was to be made it would certainly also affect Pakistan. These countries had been allowed to maintain high tariffs on the ground that they had to protect and nourish their ‘infant industries’.
But many of these industries were now mature. The Indian companies were competing vigorously in the global market place. Some of them, such as Tata Steel, had begun to acquire industrial assets in the developed world.
The Brazilians were effectively competing in the regional aircraft market. And China had become an industrial power house, able to compete with the industries in rich countries in a wide array of products.
However, before serious negotiations could be held with developing countries the rich nations had to settle one dispute between them. This concerned the subsidy to the farmers. Among the rich countries there were some that could cheaply produce farm products. Even though agriculture provided only three per cent of its gross domestic product, the United States was the world’s largest exporter in agricultural products.
Nonetheless, it aided its farmers by the use of selective subsidies. It was prepared to reduce the level of the support provided if the Europeans followed with a similar move. Exactly how much should be cut by the two sides became the subject of intense negotiations and is one reason why the trade talks did not make much progress.Two proposals are now on the table. The action on them is waiting for a move by the large developing countries that would be acceptable to the rich nations. That has not happened and the talks are stalled.
There are four options available to Pakistan at this stage. It could opt for what economists call the ‘free rider’ approach. This implies that a party in an economic transaction does nothing on its own and takes advantage of the work done by others and the cost paid by them. This would mean surrendering the leadership in trade talks to Brazil, China, India and South Africa.
This stance would make sense if Pakistan’s interests were seen as perfectly symmetrical with those of the large emerging economies. That, however, is not the case. Pakistan has an underdeveloped industrial sector which cannot effectively compete with the industries of either the large developing countries or of the established industrial countries.
The second approach the country could follow is to concentrate on developing bilateral trading arrangements with the nations that have good markets for its products. It has already signed free trade agreements with China and Sri Lanka and is working on a treaty with the United States.
However, the history of bilateral arrangements is that they seldom deliver benefits to the weaker party. In the case of the agreement with China, for instance, it is not clear whether Pakistan would gain much in terms of additional exports to that country.
It takes a great deal of bureaucratic time to negotiate these agreements. It is not entirely clear whether spending scarce human capital on them is the best approach for the government to adopt.
The third approach is to take an active part in regional trading arrangements. Pakistan is a member of several of these, most notably the South Asia Free Trade Area.
There is much to gain from an active participation in Safta but Islamabad has approached this agreement as a way of leveraging concessions from India. There is little India is prepared to give to Pakistan in order to infuse life into this particular trading arrangement.
The final approach would be to play an active role in the Doha round and not let the leadership of the developing world remain with the big four — Brazil, China, India and South Africa.
The Doha round has arrived at a critical stage; it has reached the point where the initiative will have to be taken by the head of the WTO to define the contours of an agreement rather than leave this task to the trade ministers of the major trading nations. An attempt was made this summer to get the seven large trading nations and blocs to agree to a draft agreement.
The European Union and the United States presented a draft agreement to substantially reduce European tariffs on farm imports and American domestic agricultural subsidies in return for lower tariffs in the developing world on manufactured products and greater access for services.
Brazil and India rejected this on behalf of the developing world. It is in the interest of developing countries such as Pakistan to have the more developed developing countries lower their tariffs and other protective measures. Had Pakistan involved itself more vigorously in trade talks it could represent the second tier countries of the developing world.
The only way Pakistan can draw benefit from the emerging global trading order is to find niches for itself in modern services. Since it would be hard for the country to break into the areas that are already crowded with established operators it would be wise to first identify the country’s comparative advantage and then determine how this could be developed in the context of a multilateral trading arrangement.
In other words, Pakistan should take an active interest in the Doha Round and seek a lowering of barriers in both developed and developing countries on imports of products and services the country can supply competitively.
These include agricultural products and skill intensive services. This may be a good time to challenge the role that has been acquired by Brazil, China, India and South Africa as representatives of the developing world.
Pakistan’s Tonton Macoutes
WHO saw the unedifying scenes of the Islamabad and Punjab police, and government ruffians in civvies, mercilessly beating unarmed lawyers who were protesting the utter absurdity of a uniformed general, a sitting chief of army staff, contesting elections for president; and journalists who were covering the event?
While most of the cable operators had been forced to go off the air, satellite channels showed us in living colour Pakistan’s day of unmitigated shame. We saw senior lawyer and respected public figure Aitzaz Ahsan first being hit in the stomach by a large rock thrown right before our eyes by the police, and when he bravely fought back, being cruelly beaten by five of them with sticks, the assault breaking the arm of Zamurrad Khan, MNA of the PPP who was trying to protect Aitzaz.
While any violence is to be condemned, the primary responsibility for Saturday’s rests completely and entirely with the junta and its minions. Why, the inspector-general of the Islamabad police, an individual recently posted reportedly for his well known more-loyal-than-the-king attitude, was himself running up and down the police cordon stick in hand, beating whoever came within range. He also looked quite ludicrous: a major general’s ranks on his shoulders, but his peak cap secured under his chin with a chinstrap much like a cavalry trooper (sawar) out of Doctor Zhivago.
But let us not be too hard on the man: the geographical size and population of Islamabad the Beautiful is smaller than a sub-tehsil in the Punjab in which an inspector of police is the senior police officer. Mayhap the interior ministry deliberately chooses officers of the administrative capability of an inspector for Islamabad’s inspector general. The man’s behaviour was shameful. He should be tried in a court of law.
A little about the so-called police in uniform and the young Yahoos in civvies. They reminded me of Haitian dictator ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier’s militia of brutes known as the Tonton Macoutes who were ‘known for dressing in militant clothing comparative of Italian fascist and Nazi attire, also in civilian clothes ... wielding machetes, and sticks and stones and leaving their victims hanging in a public place as a warning to others. They often had firearms but resorted to machetes and blades and batons to inflict severe and grievous bodily harm on their victims. Torture was a widespread tactic and used to warn enemies of the dictatorship’.
How reminiscent is this description of our own ‘agencies’ which too leave their victims badly beaten up, many times dead, wherever it takes their fancy (kindly note that tribal journalist Hayatullah’s death is as yet unexplained), even in Islamabad the Beautiful. The louts in civvies on, irony of ironies, Constitution Avenue, too had batons and were dressed Tonton Macoute style. Shame, sirs, shame on you.
Incidentally, the Macoutes were led by Duvalier’s second in command, Luckner Cambronne, who died on Sept 29, 2006, in, you guessed it, Miami, Florida, US of A. So much for the loud talk that emanates from the Americans about human rights and democracy and freedom for all.
The thug Cambronne who had the blood of thousands of innocent Haitians on his hands was allowed to live the last two decades of his miserable life as a guest of the so-called Leader of the Free World. You too, sirs, be ashamed of yourselves! (Of course, the minions of the junta can go on being as brutal as they like. If the Americans could give shelter to Papa Doc’s people why should they not do likewise for Musharraf’s?).
Which brings me to the People’s Party’s flips and flops and pole vaults and cartwheels and such other gymnastics that has left the country, particularly those who considered themselves PPP voters, breathless with disgust.
And its spokespeople so confounded that they have stopped saying anything at all. What else did anyone expect, please, when one day the policy is to resign from the assemblies if the Commando stands for election in uniform, the very next that the party has left the matter to the courts to decide, the third that it will not resign, and on the fourth bringing in its own candidate forward to lend the Commando’s ‘election’ credibility surely? Shame on it.
But does the PPP not see the situation as it is? Consider: even if the Commando agrees to the demands of the PPP on American prodding and the ‘dream team’ comes into being, will it become part of the system with the other major party in the country, the PML(N), out in the cold? Does the PPP not realise the foolishness of its ways? What if the next time around Amreeka Bahadur finds it expedient to throw in its lot with a right-wing, Islamist general (remember Ziaul Haq, folks?) and, say, Nawaz Sharif strikes a compromise with that general to the exclusion of the PPP? What then?
Will the political parties remain at each other’s throats, following the machinations of the establishment, forever and aye? How long will this terrible joke continue to be played with the Pakistani people?
There is only one way for every democrat: political party or individual; whoever believes in the rule of law and Constitution and sits in the legislatures today. And that is to resign their seats and rob the dictator of any credibility. Otherwise, they should be prepared to go down in history as collaborators of the very worst kind.
A little about the transitionists’ argument that we must acquiesce in General Musharraf’s election to the presidency in or out of uniform because not doing so will bring extreme measures from him and the army (which is at his beck and call surely?) and which will spell doom for the economy, peace, and so on.
Why, may one ask, are the people of the country being asked to walk on egg shells when it comes to the army’s delicate sensibilities, and not the other way around? Why is the onus of Pakistan’s ‘safety’ only on the people? Why don’t those touting a ‘gradual’ transition tell the army that it is time for it to jolly well get off the gravy train?
A short question to Their Lordships: why, My Lords, did you take two long weeks to decide you could not hear the cases against a uniformed general fighting the election? I ask you!
‘This is my own, my native land…?’
I WAS having coffee with my friend Samar Al-Husseini in a café when we heard the recent Supreme Court verdict on the right of every citizen to return to Pakistan and live there. Samar wistfully asked if there was some court in the world that would grant her and her family the right to go back to Jerusalem which she left with her family in 1960, just like many of her relatives and friends had done.
She cannot return even though her family still legally owns their house and her mother keeps the keys to it as a prized possession. Samar was born in that house and 20 generations of her family had lived in it. That accounts for at least 400 years.
We wondered how many generations does one have to live on a land for one to be given the rights of a citizen — one lifetime, two, or a 100 or just a few years or can you just move in and be called a person with inalienable rights to live in that land? Or can this be decided through the political expediency of those in power? Or through international institutions? Or the courts? Can people be driven out of their home because they do not fit into the pattern on which a state is built — religion for Israel, as well as for Pakistan, language for Bangladesh and so on?
Our painful conclusion was that nations and boundaries are tenuous at best and the land belongs to the people who at the point in time that political boundaries are drawn have the clout, or the support of global powers, or, as in the case of Samar’s home, the state is able to acquire state of the art weapons by political manipulation and then use them with impunity. And also justify it!
Samar left Jerusalem at the age of six, but she says, “When I dream of myself with someone it is in Jerusalem, not Kuwait, not Jordan and not even the UAE where I have lived for 16 years…I want to walk through the front door of my beautiful home in that cherished neighbourhood with the blue skies and the almond trees.”
Her parents reinforce her memory. Samar’s right to return to her place of birth is enshrined in international law but who gives a damn? Whereas a ‘law of return’ gives the chosen people the right to ‘return’ to Samar’s home from wherever they may have been born on the globe as this was their land in biblical times. That it was the land of Samar’s people as well is conveniently ignored. If one talks of her right as opposed to the rights of those who live in Europe or America one is sure to be labelled as anti-Semitic although Samar’s people are also Semites.
Under the law of return, most people of Jewish heritage can immigrate to Israel no matter where they may have been born, even if they have citizenship of that country and have lived there for years. They can receive Israeli citizenship and all the privileges and obligations that ensue.
The state of Israel came into being in its present location because the Jews believe that it is the biblical Land of Israel. This links people of Jewish heritage to Palestine. The Jewish ‘right of return’ was embodied in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel of May 14, 1948: “The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the ingathering of the exiles...”
However, a Palestinian born in Palestine cannot return to his or her homeland even though he or she was ousted by design, force and the use of laws that border on apartheid. Village after village, town after town, became part of refugee camps in Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon etc. The subsequent wars swelled these numbers. So even if a Palestinian state is set up in the lands currently under the nominal control of the Palestinian Authority the people in the camps still have the right and the desire to return to the villages they left behind in 1948.
The term ‘right of return’, when applied to Palestinians with respect to the State of Israel differs significantly with the accepted universal definition of the term. It reflects a belief that Palestinian refugees and their descendants have a right to return to the homes their families had possessed and left prior to or during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
One reason that is given to prevent Samar from returning is that this will alter the nature of the Jewish state. Although in a democratic country you cannot differentiate between people on the basis of race, religion, etc, it is feared that if all the people who were expelled from the areas which now constitute Israel and are now refugees were allowed to go back, the demographics of the Israeli state would change.
If this is not apartheid what is? Can a state be created on land belonging to others and then declare that in fact the owners of the land have become the ‘other’? This is hardly an acceptable situation in international law. So here we ask if laws can really safeguard the rights of people of the world. And indeed, can the law be implemented even if upheld by national and international courts?
When individual assertions reach a critical mass then truth and justice prevail. So dear Samar, dream on and hold on to the keys to your house, but do not keep silent. Tell everyone you can about your desire and right, and question anyone who says it is futile to do so.
The writer is a freelancer based in Abu Dhabi.
No longer on the back foot
AFTER the Sept 28 majority decision of the Supreme Court bench, General Pervez Musharraf is on his way to being elected the president in the manner he has wanted. His camp is relieved and buoyed by the verdict. The opposition that leaned on the crutches of the Supreme Court is now finding it difficult to block Musharraf’s re-election though some more legal battles are in the offing.
Musharraf is no longer, to use cricket analogy, playing on the back foot as he was in July. In the zero-sum game of Pakistani politics, the president’s triumphs are his opponents’ tribulations. Events of the past couple of months suggest that the opponents of the current regime have a long — and violent — way to go before they can meaningfully challenge the institutional and personal power of the armed forces and its chief.
We can divide the political opposition to Musharraf in two camps, namely, the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Their leadership have followed separate routes to rearrange the current political configuration. The APDM knocked at the Supreme Court’s door and the PPP leader chose to plead her case with the US policymakers and opinion-shapers. Neither approach seems to have worked. There are reasons for that.
The APDM equated the Supreme Court with a new anti-Musharraf front because of its decision to reinstate the Chief Justice in July. As a result, the APDM put most of its eggs in the Supreme Court’s basket. And not all of them hatched, as was to be expected.
The APDM wanted to ride the wave of the anti-Musharraf sentiment by bringing Nawaz Sharif back to the country. For that it went to the court, and its favourable decision was viewed as being sufficient to pave the way for Nawaz Sharif’s return and the start of a movement to unseat the military dictator. But this move was thwarted by developments not foreseen by the opposition.
At this point in time, the agreement for the safe passage of the Sharif brothers to Saudi Arabia was made public. The drama that was enacted in Islamabad when the two dignitaries from Riyadh and Beirut visited the capital and addressed a press conference convinced the people in Pakistan that an agreement had been signed.Since Mr Sharif had been denying this all along, he emerged as the one having been economical with the truth. In this episode, the most decisive was Nawaz Sharif’s miscalculation about the Saudi role in the matter. When Mr Sharif arrived in Islamabad on Sept 10 and was immediately deported to Saudi Arabia his relations with the Saudi royal family — however close they may have been — did not take precedence over the kingdom’s official ties with the Musharraf regime.
Many in our media were miffed at the Saudi decision to take Sharif back. Ironically, the whole episode has antecedents in the subcontinent’s palace politics. During the Mughal period, according to noted historian Harbans Mukhia, ‘the pilgrimage to Mecca, a veritable exile, (was) standard punishment meted out by kings to offending nobles or relatives’. Akbar the Great sent off notables like Shah Abdul Ma’ali and close associates like Muzaffar Khan to Hijaz (modern-day Saudi Arabia) when they fell out of the royal favour.
Almost six centuries later, Nawaz Sharif’s ignominious exile is as much a commentary on Pakistan-Saudi Arabian relations as on the traditional methods still used in our politics.
Ms Bhutto, instead, has chosen to court the Americans rather than the Supreme Court. In the labyrinth of Pakistan’s politics, we cannot say anything definitively regarding the state or stage of negotiations between General Musharraf and Ms Bhutto, but one can observe the latter’s acknowledgment that her American interlocutors are in no hurry to let go of Musharraf.
Faced with such a situation, Ms Bhutto, of late, has been trying to tell the Americans that she can and will deliver what even Musharraf has failed to do. Her pledge to let the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) interrogate Dr A.Q. Khan while addressing a think-tank in the US at this juncture is indicative of the above mindset.
Her strategy of turning to America has given her opponents a reason to accuse the PPP of compromising national interest and self-respect for narrow party gains. When the PPP spin doctors unsuccessfully tried to claim that their leader had been misquoted, she reiterated what had been attributed to her.
As things stand right now, neither has the APDM managed to have the Supreme Court on its side, nor does the PPP have the categorical support of the US. As such, the government has been encouraged to resort to ham-handed measures. This has been on display in abundance in the police brutality against the media people and lawyers since Friday.
There is nothing surprising about the course that events have taken. Historically, the higher judiciaries in executive-dominated states like Pakistan, tend to favour the executive on strategic grounds, as pointed out by Paula Newberg in her book titled Judging the State (1995). Besides it is being pointed out that the Supreme Court judges gave Musharraf a bitter pill to swallow when they reinstated the Chief Justice, so why is the opposition behaving like an unsporting loser when the same court hands down a verdict that it finds distasteful.
From America’s vantage point, the Pakistani military may not have proved to be the ideal ally in the past 60 years. But it has been by far the more reliable partner than civilian politicians. More importantly in the ‘war on terror’ the Americans would rather not alienate Musharraf to please Ms Bhutto.
What next? The electoral college for choosing the president is stacked with Musharraf’s supporters. Barring the Supreme Court’s move to stay elections, Musharraf is unlikely to be defeated by others in the race. The APDM’s, especially the MMA’s, last-minute resignations are unlikely to carry weight with the common man. It amounts to, what a Sindhi proverb succinctly says, breaking the fast just before iftar.
Under the changed scenario, the dialogue between the PPP and Musharraf will most likely be conducted on a different footing. The latter is no longer in the kind of political bind that had forced him to travel to the UAE to meet Ms Bhutto. Furthermore, Musharraf is bound to reward the allies who stood by him in troubled times. Most of these allies happen to be virulently anti-PPP.
Ms Bhutto’s best bet now is to exert pressure on Musharraf for a better bargain by combining the American soft corner for her with the support from the masses she may be able to mobilise when she returns home. So far ordinary people have been conspicuously absent from deciding the future of Pakistan’s political set-up. They are Ms Bhutto’s best and last hope. We will have to wait and see whether they, the people of Pakistan, consider her as their hope as well.
The writer teaches at the University of British Columbia, Canada.
|© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007|