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DAWN - Opinion; November 07, 2007

November 07, 2007

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Oil wars have already started

By Zia ul Islam


IS the war in Iraq and Afghanistan really a fight for the last traces of oil and gas left on earth? After Alan Greenspan’s (former chairman of the US Federal Reserve) outburst comes the report of the Germany-based Energy Watch Group to convince the world that it is.

It confirms that global oil production peaked in 2006, that production is now falling by seven per cent per year and that by 2030 world oil production will fall by half. Meanwhile, oil prices have been at an all-time high in recent weeks, touching $96 per barrel.

If it is true that oil is headed towards extinction, then life as we know it will come to an end by the end of this century. The International Energy Agency and most governments believe that there will not be an oil shortage crisis any time soon. So claim the Americans, but they know better.

Oil production in the United States peaked in 1970, in Russia in 1987, the UK in 1999. Ninety per cent of the world’s oil comes from 44 nations, 24 of which are past their peak in terms of oil production which is now in decline. The current world oil production is around 30 billion barrels per annum while new discovery of oil reserves generates only four billion barrels per year. The demand is calculated to double over the next 10 years.

It was in 1977 that the CIA prepared a comprehensive, sophisticated and multi-faceted plan called Go to War to Get Oil, calling upon the use of military force to secure and control the globe’s energy resources.

In April 2001, a report commissioned by US Vice-President Dick Cheney and titled Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century concluded, “The US is facing the biggest energy crisis in history” and “The crisis requires a reassessment of the role of energy in American foreign policy.”

A September 2005 report from the US Army Corps of Engineers titled Energy Trends and Their Implications for US Army Installations said that current trends were not sustainable.

In March 2005, the US Department of Energy prepared a report titled The Mitigation of the Peaking of World Oil Production which said, “Without timely mitigation, world supply/demand balance will be achieved through massive demand destruction (shortages), accompanied by huge oil price increases, both of which would create a long period of significant economic hardship worldwide.”

In May 2001, George W. Bush said, “What people need to hear loud and clear is that we’re running out of energy in America.”

US policies, beginning with the CIA’s 1977 report, have been geared towards securing the energy resources of the planet: the intensification of the Cold War culminating in freedom for the oil- and gas-rich Caspian countries, the first Gulf war (enabling the permanent stationing of American troops on Saudi soil, just in case), the attack on Afghanistan (bringing the Central Asian oil and gas reserves under close US range and supervision) and the invasion of Iraq.

Why are Americans waging wars and sacrificing lives for the sake of oil? Why are they not developing alternative energy sources that are already well known?

America’s unparalleled prosperity began with the discovery of oil in 1859 and is likely to end with the demise of oil. Mass production of automobiles in the early 1900s, the birth of suburbs which fuelled the real estate and housing booms of the 20th century, a massive demand for steel and copper, and the construction of roads, buildings and railways were all possible because of the availability of cheap oil.

Scarcity and the ultimate disappearance of oil will mean an end to abundant food, good health and almost everything else that we are used to because, over the last 100 years.

The cruel irony is that most alternative systems of energy — solar panels, windmills, hydrogen cells, bio-diesel, nuclear plants — rely on technology using oil. All electrical devices make use of silver, copper and platinum, which in turn need oil for their discovery, extraction and transportation. The manufacture of all machinery needs oil. Nuclear energy requires uranium, which is discovered, extracted, and transported using oil-powered machinery.

Hydrogen could be another abundant source of energy, but the cost of hydrogen fuel cells is astronomical. One cell costing a million dollars supplies energy to drive a car for one year only. Hydrogen cells are made from platinum. Even to produce platinum, oil is required.

Bio-fuels like ethanol and bio-diesel are also possible but there is hardly enough arable land for growing the crops to meet the enormous demand. The world is already running out of arable land on which to grow food. It takes 11 acres to grow enough corn to fuel one automobile with ethanol for about a year’s driving.

Faced with the certainty of an oil-less life, of horse-driven carts and flint stone fires, it seems difficult to blame the United States for taking extreme measures to access this vanishing fuel. Said James Woolsey, former director CIA: “I fear we’re going to be at war for decades, not years...one major component of that war is oil.” Henry Kissinger made this statement to the Financial Times in June 2005: “The amount of energy is finite…and competition for access to energy can become the life and death for many societies.”

This is simple Machiavellian logic. The war for oil must go on whether the White House is occupied by Republicans or Democrats, and whether it is called a cold war or one against terror. It might appear as a ‘clash of civilisations’ because by sheer coincidence the richest deposits of oil happen to be under the soil ruled by Muslims.

Is fighting for scarce oil reserves the only solution available? Theoretically, there may be another. If leaders of the world jointly diverted all remaining oil from fighting wars towards developing alternative sources of energy, they might still succeed before it is too late.

After all, sun and wind can provide endless energy for all times to come. However, considering what humans have been doing to one another throughout history, this is surely a tall order. Let us prepare for endless wars until we re-enter the Stone Age.

Two coups in a row

By Khalid Jawed Khan


GENERAL Musharraf has once again imposed ‘martial law’ in the country and suspended the Constitution of Pakistan. Eight years ago when the elected prime minister had dismissed him from the office of COAS, he had responded by overthrowing the government and placing the Constitution in abeyance.

Now in 2007 he has once again put the Basic Law aside in what is believed to be an attempt to pre-empt the judgment of the Supreme Court which may have found him ineligible and disqualified to be re-elected as president of Pakistan.

With this coup, he has achieved the distinction of overthrowing the Constitution twice over — which even General Ayub Khan and General Ziaul Haq did not do. He is likely to even surpass the legacy of General Yahya Khan.

While his first coup in 1999 was aimed at displacing the parliament and the elected government, his second coup is aimed at the judiciary. As usual the media also took the brunt of this coup and all independent television channels were immediately restrained from broadcasting within the country.

The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, the judiciary and the media were the major obstacles in the road to power. With the Proclamation of Emergency, the Provisional Constitution Order and amendment to the Pemra Ordinance, the general has achieved all his goals in one stroke or so he believes.

A simple reading of the proclamation reveals that its allegations against the judiciary are misleading. It is equally intriguing in its reference to the sources of the general’s action. It is declared to be his deliberations with the prime minister, the provincial governors and the military leadership of the country.

It completely omits any reference to his consultations with the source of much of his strength namely the Americans. It also attributes this action to deliberations with the prime minister who, only hours before the coup, had categorically dispelled rumours of emergency or martial law. So much for the authenticity of the proclamation.

The Oath of Office (Judges) Order, 2007, has been promulgated with the effect that most of the judges of the Supreme Court and the provincial high courts have either refused to take oath under the PCO or were considered too independent and dangerous to be invited to join the new compliant judiciary. The new dispensation does not need judges, it needs judicial actors following the military rulers’ line.

It was indeed heartening to see that judges with unimpeachable integrity, dignity and ability led by the Chief Justice flatly refused to be part of this drama enacted in the name of the rule of law. Their names will be forever engraved in the hearts and minds of the people.

The Proclamation of Emergency and the PCO are not only unconstitutional instruments but are patently misconceived. Contrary to the false and frivolous allegations made in the proclamation against the judiciary, the primary motive behind this coup was to subdue and silence the courts which were beginning to redeem the constitutional pledge of an independent judiciary.

The proclamation also attributes the low morale of the members of the law enforcing agencies to the courts’ actions. The real reason for their low morale has nothing to do with the courts. What lowers their morale is when our soldiers are asked to fight an alien war against their brothers inside Pakistan and the apathy of the leadership when they are abducted and beheaded while fighting such a war.

It is equally absurd to suggest that the courts were usurping the functions or powers allocated by the Constitution to other organs of the state or that they were interfering in the war against terror.

All that the courts were doing was to restrain various functionaries of the state from committing illegal and criminal acts ranging from the dubious sale of national assets such as the Steel Mill to the abduction of its own citizens without any acknowledgment or lawful justification.

The courts never ordered the release of a single criminal or terrorist whose guilt had been proved. All that the courts were doing was to give effect to Article 9 of the Constitution of Pakistan which requires that no person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with the law. That is all that the courts were compelling the state functionaries to do.

If a person was to be arrested, there should be some material to justify such action and he should be produced before the judicial authorities for remand/trial. It is, therefore, wholly untrue that the courts were setting free the criminals and terrorists at large. It may also be added that curiously enough the judges who passed orders in the Lal Masjid case have now been administered oath under PCO.

Indeed many people allegedly involved in criminal and terrorist activities have been set free by the government itself in the last few weeks under the National Reconciliation Ordinance. At least the facts should have been checked before these allegations were levelled against the judiciary.

While in the short term General Musharraf may have pre-empted his imminent fall from power by forcibly removing the independent-minded judges from the superior judiciary, it is now firmly evident that he is more isolated and vulnerable than ever before. Having presided over a government with no direction in the last eight years, the general cannot easily pass the blame on to the judiciary or the media. By shutting down private channels, he may delude himself that all is quiet but the facts are too stark to ignore. He cannot escape reality.

It would be in the nation’s as well as his own interest that the general acknowledges the problems that Pakistan faces today, many of which are of his own making. He should show magnanimity and grace and accept the inevitable before it is too late.

The proclamation and the PCO should be immediately revoked and all the judges who were removed under these dubious instruments should be restored to office immediately. Power should be handed over by the president to the chairman of the Senate and free and fair elections should be held by a neutral caretaker government and a new and independent Election Commission.

If the general persists in his present policy, the results could be disastrous. The people would resist his action of holding the Constitution in abeyance. Many would seek to invoke Article 6 of the Constitution which equates the subversion of the Constitution with high treason.

General Musharraf’s brinkmanship has pitched the executive against the judiciary, as is being perceived. Some members of the judiciary have now been removed. But why have the fundamental rights of the people been suspended? Doesn’t it mean that the government is now pitched against the people?

Perks and privileges

By Hafizur Rahman


WHETHER we are bureaucrats or politicians (or, for that matter, journalists) we Pakistanis are so accustomed to perks and privileges that we gobble them up like mother’s milk. We consider them our right and are highly indignant if we are deprived of them.

We bewail corruption in others but we feel no compunction when we ourselves indulge in what can be described as legalised dishonesty. In fact we are hardly conscious of it.

Anyone who is a candidate for a job in government service or in a private firm, wants to know first what extra benefits will be available to him by way of perks, concessions and allowances. That is why they would prefer to have a job in Dubai or Abu Dhabi where, apparently, employers are more generous and are not bothered about educational qualifications and experience and offer them all these facilities.

Truly, there is no end to man’s greed. For example, some years ago, in response to a question, the National Assembly was informed by a minister about the once common practice (now thankfully given up) of high-powered cars being imported with government permission during a certain period. Included among these were cars allowed to be brought duty-free into the country by presidents, prime ministers and governors, and chiefs of the defence services as personal property.

They only paid the actual price of these cars which, of course, most of them recovered as part of the huge profit on their re-sale within Pakistan. Name of the beneficiaries were disclosed to the Assembly. I must add by the way that conspicuous by his absence from this gallery of greed was Malik Meraj Khalid, who never thought of acquiring such a limousine when he was caretaker prime minister for three months after Ms Benazir Bhutto’s second dismissal.

As for BB herself, she probably holds the record for getting the most high-powered car imported duty-free by any government leader –– a 6,000 cc model. Counting the one she imported during her first term, she obtained two cars and saved Rs 1.6 crores on duty, or rather, caused a loss of Rs 1.6 crores to the state. Of course this was peanuts compared to what she did to the country otherwise.

I always ponder by what moral law a person in those days was permitted to import an expensive car without paying customs duty on it if he had fortuitously remained governor or chief minister of a province for some time, or even for a few days, and subjecting the exchequer to a loss of 25 to 35 lakhs of rupees. And if he already had a Mercedes or a BMW, as all those do who fall in the category of potential VVIPS do have, and didn’t really need this duty-free limousine, what were the ethics that allowed him to dispose of it t a huge profit? The beauty of the entire proceeding was that during this transaction he retained a clean conscience, for he was doing nothing prohibited by rules and regulations.

And mind you, when he was holding that coveted post which entitled him to the import of a duty-free car, he also enjoyed numerous other perks and facilities (amounting almost to roti, kapra aur makaan) which by themselves cost the state many lakhs of rupees per month, even if he had remained honest and didn’t indulge in corruption proper during his tenure which would be a miracle any day.

It is a matter of gratification that this anti-national practice was ultimately stopped by Mian Nawaz Sharif when he was prime minister. Bravo Mian Sahib! Despite knowing that, I am writing about it so that readers can imagine the astronomical loss that was caused to the treasury during all these years. It must have run into billions of rupees. I sincerely believe that both the malpractice and the fact that it was put down deserve to be mentioned to keep the public memory fresh about such doings of government leaders.

Another example of legalised corruption is the allotment of residential and commercial plots to politicians, bureaucrats and cronies by successive prime ministers and chief ministers.

It is so common that no one bothers to look at the ethical and moral side of the practice. The truth is (and I defy anyone to say I am wrong) that 75 per cent of such plots, made available at cheap rates by the government, are sold in benami transactions the very next day by the lucky recipients. In the case of a commercial plot in a prize location, the selling price can be ten times what the favoured few paid for it.

What is the justification for these allotments? Where is the public interest involved even if this largesse is undertaken by prime ministers and chief ministers in the so-called public interest?

The trouble is that in such cases the conscience is not bothered. The beneficiaries believe they have done nothing wrong, either in getting the undeserved benefit or disposing of it at excessive prices. It doesn’t take much to convince one’s conscience to keep in line with worldly wisdom. Every wrong-doer feels qualms of conscience for the first time, but then sensibilities get dulled and it becomes an everyday affair, not even worth talking about.

The other day there was a press report that the police had requested Pakistan Television to initiate programmes that could teach the people to abstain from heinous deeds. It repeated the trite observation that TV could play a vital role in influencing the people and helping the law-enforcing agencies in the noble work of combating crime and lawlessness.

It made me laugh to think that any TV programme could do that. I said to myself that if programmes about almost free plots could possibly go on air, I bet the chief ministers would have them stopped at once.

Development: expansion of freedoms

By Jamil Nasir


THE conventional wisdom on development is premised on growth theories. According to traditional dogmas, the basic function of economic theory is to create such conditions that help the business elite to accumulate profits at the highest possible rates. The proponents of this theory call it growth and equate it with development.

Simply put, development is possible when a nation is able to sustain high growth rates. Once GNP has increased, its blessings are supposed to flow to the poor segments of society. The purpose of development is thus to guarantee growth. Its fruits can be enjoyed at some indeterminate time in future which will automatically benefit the masses through the highly eulogised ‘trickle-down’ effect.

This dogmatic approach to development thus requires that state expenditure should be directed towards creating an enabling environment for growth. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s perspective on development, however, constitutes a comprehensive challenge to the conventional economic wisdom and mantras, which dominated economic thought for a very long time.

According to Sen’s perspective, development should be seen as a process of expanding freedoms. The well-being of humans should be at the centre-stage of development. The idea of expanding freedoms is both the goal as well as means for development.

This challenge to the shibboleths of conventional economic wisdom is tempered with reason and realism. For example, while attacking the concept of per capita income, Sen argues that per capita income does not necessarily correlate with greater life expectancy and in order to prove his standpoint, he quotes that the poor Afro-Americans have a lower life expectancy than the poor in the Indian state of Kerala. The reason, in his view, is that in the state of Kerala public services have long been accessible to the poor.

Development does not merely denote an abstract notion of growth; rather it is a multi-layered phenomenon. It has come to be equated with certain instrumental freedoms i.e. freedoms which contribute directly or indirectly to overall freedom enabling the people to live their lives in a manner they would like to. These freedoms include political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities and protective security.

Political freedoms centre on the principles regarding free choice of the people as to who will govern them and what will be the governing principles of such a social contract so formed between state and citizens? These freedoms also include right of political expression, free press, freedom to choose between different political parties and certainly freedom to scrutinise and criticise the authorities. Thus according to this perspective of development, political freedoms are highly important for the progress and prosperity of a country.

It is, however, imperative to point out that political freedoms can only be meaningful for the vast majority of the poor if they have economic freedoms, implying thereby that distributional and equity considerations are held to be as important as the growth of national economies.

It is to be acknowledged that economic empowerment fosters self-esteem among individuals and gives them the confidence to take independent decisions both individually and collectively. The spirit of ‘social contract’ lies in taking steps that aim at ensuring individuals’ participation in political and economic decision-making.

Given this background, the problems of the poor deserve to be given top priority in Pakistan for comprehensive and meaningful development. Serious efforts should be made to do away with ‘un-freedoms’ by initiating poverty alleviation programmes for the most vulnerable sectors of society.

There is a need to expand the education and healthcare network as illiteracy and poor health may act as major barriers to the participation of a community in economic activities. Protective security through enhanced social safety nets is a pre-requisite for development.

Social protection programmes to supplement and stabilise the income of the poorest households are very limited in Pakistan, particularly in the rural areas. The largest poor-targeted programme is in the form of zakat but it has not made much impact on poverty alleviation and the reduction of inequality as there are leakages benefiting the non-poor due to irregularities and political considerations in its distribution. The size of the zakat fund is already very small in relation to the enormity of the problem, which coupled with institutional mismanagement and irregularities, further reduces its impact.

Secondly, access to land and microfinance, two basic pillars of economic freedom, is highly skewed in Pakistan. The access of the rural people to the formal credit facility is not easily available due to a number of factors like illiteracy, lack of information, stringent collateral requirements and the limited outreach of micro-financing institutions etc. In the absence of such an arrangement, people are automatically compelled to resort to informal lenders with all the attendant evils.

With social security not being implemented in letter and spirit, a large number of labourers working in sectors like carpet weaving, brick kilns, stone quarrying and construction are badly affected due to unfair labour conditions and poor credit arrangements. Debt bondage is diametrically opposed to the concept of freedom as development. Lack of assets, extremely low incomes and lack of funds make these poor people dependent on the landlord or the employer for credit with high implicit interest rates.

This labour bondage is reminiscent of slavery. It has continued for decades on end leading to the violation of basic human rights enshrined in the Constitution.

The need of the hour is to make safety nets for the rural and urban poor more efficient. Nutritional interventions aimed at improving health and the nutrition of women and infants should be scaled up to alleviate poverty. Pilot projects to provide temporary employment to vulnerable households may also be initiated by the government in the rural areas.

Poverty alleviation should be the ultimate aim of development. If a development strategy does not bring about a positive transformation in the lives of the people and does not help them to become masters of their own destiny, then it is misplaced.

Merely increasing the size of the GNP cake is not sufficient; its distribution is just as important. Concepts like GDP as a measure of human welfare and per capita income are liable to serious questioning from an economic and political angle due to their inherent deficiencies. Development means visible change in the lives of the people; otherwise it remains an illusion and an abstract concept.

The spread of freedom is also closely linked with the distribution of power and institutional quality in a society. According to the World Development Report (2006), poor institutions will emerge and persist in societies where power is concentrated in a minority who hegemonise the power structure. There is a need to democratise the power structures in order to ensure maximum participation of real stakeholders — the common people. It is thus imperative that development strategies are devised in a fashion that they enhance the freedoms of the people.Concrete steps for tackling poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and eliminating gender discrimination should be at the heart of these strategies. The yawning gaps in terms of income, gender, access to health, participation in the political system and education need to be narrowed down through proactive development policies. A society developed on the foundation of such freedoms can provide strong deterrence against extremism and terrorism.



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007