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DAWN - Opinion; December 17, 2007

December 17, 2007

And now the oil crisis

By Dr M. Asif

THE helpless and wretched people of Pakistan are not aware of the turmoil that is about to hit them. An ordinary Pakistani probably cannot remember when he was last provided with any economic relief. Economic shocks have become part and parcel of his life. Examples abound of how crises have overtaken his life.

The very basic necessities of life have become scarce and expensive, be it sugar, flour or oil. It indeed speaks of the courage and integrity of the people of Pakistan that they are managing to survive.

The trouble though is far from over. Yet another economic blow is just round the corner in the form of an imminent jump in the prices of petroleum products. Official sources are hinting as much and media reports suggest a rise of 25 per cent in the next few weeks.

Given the basic position of oil in the global economy, it is important to look at the issue of energy from a wider perspective. For the last five years, crude oil prices in international markets have been on a steep rise. As of December 2007, oil prices have increased by more than 30 per cent in the calendar year. According to energy circles, including the International Energy Agency (IEA), global economic expansion is one of the major reasons driving the biggest increase in oil demand for decades. Other reasons are a disproportionate rise in production capacity, threats of falling stocks and geopolitical conflicts.

The higher than expected growth of the emerging economies, particularly China, has created a huge demand for oil. Chinese demand in 2006 soared by 20 per cent. Experts believe this rapid growth will continue for several years although there is a chance that the economy will overheat and oil demand growth may slacken. Demand has also risen in the US because of the strengthening economy and greater need for higher-grade crude that can be processed into petrol for the fuel-hungry sport utility vehicles (SUVs) popular with American drivers.

In Pakistan, with the imminent increment in oil prices, the cost of living is set to rise. The track record suggests that the 25 per cent hike is going to set a benchmark based on which prices of food, transportation and utilities are all going to increase in a somewhat bigger proportion. For the vast majority of people who are already struggling to make ends meet it is going to be no less than a calamity, having profound economic as well as social implications.

There are valid fears that the present socio-economic crisis in the country will worsen and make economic disparities and social injustice more acute.

The alarm has already been raised about the emerging energy crisis which has manifested itself in the form of an unprecedented rise in oil prices and shortage of supply. It is feared that the surging oil prices coupled with anticipated supply shortages could lead to disturbing scenes of mass unrest. For the government, industry and the wider public, just muddling through is not an option any more as this situation could spin out of control and lead to a complete meltdown of society.

Challenges of a global nature notwithstanding, Pakistan can still do a lot to substantially mitigate the adverse impact. In order to lessen the suffering of the masses and to leave some room for economic activities to continue, a meaningful energy policy would have to be adopted, unlike what has been the practice so far. It is necessary to holistically understand the anatomy of the energy challenge which is diverse both in nature and intensity. And the solution to the energy problem facing the country lies in the generation of energy from indigenous resources.

Pakistan today produces nearly 30-33 per cent of its electricity from hydro-power and more than 65 per cent from fossil fuels (oil and gas). Back in the 1960s the respective share of the two sources in the electricity generation mix used to be 70 per cent and 10 per cent. This indicates a categorical shift from hydro-power to fossil fuels. This has happened despite the fact that hydro-power is an indigenous source and fossil fuel to a large extent a foreign one.

In other words the country has become more dependent on imports and has added to the concerns regarding energy independence and security. In the last fiscal year, crude oil and petroleum products accounted for a little over 24 per cent of Pakistan’s entire import bill. The petroleum group’s share is going to be substantially higher this year since crude oil prices have soared to US$90-99 per barrel as against US$50-60 per barrel a year ago.

It doesn’t take specialist knowledge to know that the recent rise in oil prices is destined to increase both transportation and electricity costs. The combination of the two will in turn boost the cost of every aspect of living.

Pakistan in these circumstances must go back to its indigenous resources, hydro-power and coal. Hydro-power, especially, is critical in achieving energy and economic prosperity. It is indigenous, abundant, renewable, environmentally friendly and, most important, economical. The country has so far capitalised only 15 per cent of available resources. Careful estimates suggest that hydro-power in Pakistan is more than 10 times cheaper than electricity produced from fossil fuels. Hydro-power growth is therefore crucial to bailing the country out of the looming energy and economic crisis. Attention must also be paid to electricity generation from coal.

But a major problem is the lead time, the period between initiation and completion, associated with hydro-power facilities. As a matter of fact it is too late now to avoid the socio-economic earthquake that is set to hit the already deprived masses of Pakistan very shortly. If Pakistan were self-sufficient in its electricity needs through indigenous resources, as the more visionary nations have come to be, the impact of a rise in global oil prices would have been far less severe than what is expected now.

The government must orchestrate the expansion of hydro-power and coal-based electricity generation capacity on a war footing. This is the only help that can be provided to the ill-fated people of Pakistan.

The writer is a lecturer in renewable energy at Glasgow Caledonian University, UK.

American values

THE motto “Equal Justice Under Law” appears on the west facade of the Supreme Court building, not the White House. But presidents have played an important role in making good on that aspiration.

It was the court that ordered desegregation of public schools “with all deliberate speed,” but it was President Eisenhower who federalised the National Guard in Arkansas when a buffoonish governor tried to use troops to defy the court’s ruling; Eisenhower’s reluctant assertion of federal power allowed black students to enroll in a public school in Little Rock.

And although it was the court that upheld the 1964 Civil Rights Act against a constitutional challenge, it was President Lyndon B. Johnson who championed and signed that landmark legislation.

Thankfully, the next president won’t have to order troops to enforce rulings against school segregation. Nevertheless, he or she can act to promote and preserve equal justice.

The president chooses the attorney-general, who is responsible for enforcing laws against discrimination in voting, housing and public accommodations, and for ensuring that prosecutions aren’t perceived as being motivated by partisan politics, a responsibility bungled by former Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales.

The president also can champion expansions of civil rights laws, such as the bill recently passed by the Senate to expand the definition of hate crimes to include crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation. More broadly, a president can choose whether to make a priority of federal involvement in the investigation and prosecution of bias crimes and discrimination against minorities.

Last and perhaps most important, the president nominates federal judges, including justices of the Supreme Court. In a recent speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, Republican candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani offered 200 reasons why next year’s election is important: “the 200 federal judges that the next president of the United States will likely appoint over four years in the White House.”

In the same speech, Giuliani tantalised his audience on the issue of whether he would seek to appoint Supreme Court justices who might overrule Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision legalising abortion. He said he would appoint justices “like Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts.”

Yet only the first two justices he mentioned have made it clear that they would overturn Roe, and the other two emphasised their respect for precedent during their confirmation hearings.—Los Angeles Times

Terrorism is a pandemic

By Mushfiq Murshed

THE government has at last taken decisive action against militants in Swat. Official reports indicate that the operation has hitherto been successful. The misguided cleric Fazlullah and his cohorts are on the run. According to military sources, 290 militants have been killed and 143 captured.

Earlier this year, the erstwhile provincial government came to an understanding with Fazlullah under which he agreed to close down his illegal FM radio station. However, shortly afterwards he resumed his broadcasts spewing forth obscurantist tribal ideology. Girls’ schools were burnt down, music shops were vandalised and the shaving of beards became a criminal offence.

The brutality reached alarming proportions with the public beheading of security personnel. All this and much more was in the name of Islam and there can scarcely be a greater blasphemy. Yet the provincial administration remained a passive bystander.

The initiative in Swat can only be welcomed but it is important that the government should not rest on its laurels. The military success must not be allowed to become a Pyrrhic victory. The enemy is not only amorphous but also ubiquitous and can make its presence felt not only in other areas of the NWFP but also elsewhere in the country.

The suicide bomb attack in Swat on Dec 9 which resulted in ten deaths is a chilling reminder that the district has not yet been pacified and that religion-motivated terrorism will continue to be the foremost threat to durable peace and stability.

On a global scale, there has been a continuous wave of terrorist violence since 9/11 perpetrated mostly, but not exclusively, by a radicalised minority who profess Islam. As a consequence, the Quran’s doctrinaire emphasis on non-aggression has been obscured and the erroneous belief that it encourages violence has been strengthened. A sense of victimisation coupled with a real or imagined threat perception are perhaps the two most important reasons for recurring acts of terrorist violence and this is not peculiar to Muslims alone.

In an article titled ‘Think you understand Islamic terrorism? Think again’, Christine Fair and Hussain Haqqani wrote: “The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka are the world’s single largest group of suicide bombers. Their cadres are not Muslim but Hindu by religion and nearly 40 per cent are women.” However, the impact that Tamil terrorists have had has been against the Sri Lankan government; that of so-called Muslim extremists has been global and has resulted in the stigmatisation of Islam.

Conflict and tension between Islam and the West has been prevalent through history. 9/11 has been a catalyst to further aggravate the misconceptions about Islam. Jalal ad-Din Afghani, the nineteenth-century reformer, once wrote, “Every Muslim is sick, and the only remedy is the Quran” but to some writers in the West, such as Conor Cruise O’Brien, “the sickness gets worse the more the remedy is taken”.

After 9/11 hasty, perhaps even thoughtless, opinions have emerged that the recurring and incremental acts of terrorist violence demonstrate that Huntington’s warning of a clash of civilisations is fast becoming a reality.

When his essay was first published in the summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, the editors of the journal disclosed that only George K. Kennan’s, ‘The Sources of Soviet Conduct’, which he wrote in the 1940s under the pseudonym ‘X’ had generated so much comment. Kennan’s piece inspired debate in Washington’s policy-formulation circles and resulted in the US Cold War doctrine of containment.

Similarly, a perception has emerged among some Muslims that the theory of the clash of civilisations could trigger a policy built upon the containment of Islam.

However, ground realities speak differently. For the first time Muslims and non-Muslims alike face a common enemy in the form of terrorism. Though a majority of those who have carried out such acts profess Islam, Muslims themselves are among the major victims of extremist violence. Huntington’s assumption that the fault lines between civilisations will replace the “political and ideological boundaries of the Cold War as the flashpoints for future crisis and bloodshed” is unrealistic in the context of the Islamic world as it has ceased to be the unified monolith that it was in the early years of Muslim ascendancy.

Although the Islamic world has been an entity divided against itself, the decisive battle of the Cold War was fought and won for the West in Afghanistan by Muslims. They were trained, indoctrinated, armed and given financial assistance by the West and the more affluent ‘moderate’ Islamic countries, notably Saudi Arabia. Thousands of volunteers from Muslim countries, particularly the Arab world, were flown to training camps in Pakistan and sent into Afghanistan to fight the Soviet occupation forces. They were acclaimed as the ‘mujahideen’ or holy warriors and were lionised as the heroes of the liberation struggle.

According to Steve Col in his book Ghost Wars, mujahideen commanders were paid between US$20,000 and $50,000 each per month while those that were more influential received US$100,000. Afghan, Arab and Pakistani mujahideen were convinced they were fighting a ‘holy war’ against the ‘godless’ communists.

This is what they were taught in some, but not all, of the seminaries or madressahs of Pakistan. Steve Col estimates that in 1971 there were approximately 900 madressahs in Pakistan. By mid-1988 the number soared to 8,000 recognised religious schools and “an estimated 25,000 unregistered ones”.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, once said, “The next dreadful thing to a battle lost is a battle won.” The same mujahideen who fought and defeated the Soviet forces in Afghanistan now have a free hand to pursue an extremist agenda of their own. The overarching challenge to the contemporary era has become religion-motivated terrorist violence.

The international community has not even been able to reach an agreed definition of terrorism from which no nation is immune. The problem is that the enemy is amorphous. There is no structured organisation that can be identified, targeted and eliminated. Terrorism is the symptom of a malaise that feeds on perceived political and economic inequities. Till the causes are redressed the symptoms will keep reappearing with or without Al Qaeda and similar outfits, with or without persons such as Osama bin Laden, Fazlullah and their likes. It is the idea, therefore, that has to be vanquished.

The writer is the editor-in-chief of ‘Criterion Quarterly’.

In defence of politics

By Aqil Shah

MANY in civil society are once again bitterly disappointed with our ‘no-good’ politicians. By not banking on the tide of anti-Musharraf public sentiment, they argue, both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have squandered a historic opportunity to uproot autocracy. Since the two have made peace with the devil, they are mere opportunists with no regard for the rule of law.

It is not clear whether these anti-political views reflect intellectual vanity or principled politics. But they are dangerously reminiscent of the pre-1999 discourse in civil society which helped shape the permissive environment for General Musharraf’s coup.

Back then, many prominent journalists, economists and NGO leaders shared the military’s self-serving ‘amputate the limb to save the body’ logic. The trouble is, given the number of times the military has dismembered the body politic it is doubtful that there are any limbs left to be severed.

Trashing politicians does not cost anything. But rather than claiming the moral high ground, it is important to understand that politicians operate under real constraints. In fact, the PPP and PML-N leaders find themselves in a classic ‘prisoner’s dilemma’.

This dilemma, used in game-theory social science models, arises when two prisoners caught for the same crime are interrogated separately from each other. While they are likely to benefit from not confessing, the absence of both information on what the ‘other’ will do and binding mutual agreements create incentives for defection which makes both parties worse off. In this case, the PPP defected from a boycott first, and the PML-N expectedly followed suit.

Put simply, self-interested, rational actors like political parties typically engage in behaviour which will not produce mutually beneficial results. Retreats and U-turns born out of self-interest are part and parcel of electoral politics, however offensive these features might be for the puritans of civil society.

There is no theoretical or logical reason to apply the ethical norms of civil society to parties which exist to capture state power. Undoubtedly, civil society has an important ‘watchdog’ role to play in politics, but it cannot replace political parties or deny them the right to participate in electoral politics.

The disappointment in civil society is not just because these parties have jumped on the electoral bandwagon but also because they have recruited the same old faces to contest elections.

Ideally, one would like to see a new generation of leaders take over the mantle of political parties every few years or so. But given the state of world democracy, is that really an option? After over two hundred years of democracy, the US House of Representatives has an extremely low turnover rate of less than ten per cent.

And new blood is particularly difficult to induct when democracy is interrupted so often that only traditional local elites can afford to participate in elections.

Parties reflect and respond to electoral incentives and internal pressures. They cannot genetically engineer new politicians, and allot tickets to those who can win seats even if some of these might be unsavoury characters. Besides, the mythical notion of ‘fresh leadership’ is deceptively anti-democratic as it benefits autocrats who use it to justify their demolition of organised political power.

In the process, as we have seen since 1999, they end up exacerbating non-partisan, sectarian and ethnic divisions.

It is easy for our armchair moralists to berate politicians while sitting on the fence and claiming partisan neutrality.

But it is less convenient to understand that the PPP and, since 1999, the PML-N have survived under conditions that are hardly conducive to party institutionalisation. For over a decade, their leaders were virtually kept in exile. These parties were divided and repressed by an authoritarian state.

And all this time, the new torch-bearers of democracy, such as Imran Khan and Qazi Hussain Ahmed, were helping cement Musharraf’s authoritarian regime.

Even if one gives the two the benefit of the doubt, they are hardly the mythical democratic messiahs some in civil society think they are. They are politicians who are taking the moral high ground mainly because of their inability to mobilise votes. This is not to say that they are wrong in principle.

With Musharraf at the top, a handpicked administration and judiciary, a media blackout and our notorious intelligence agencies at work, the forthcoming elections are unlikely to be free and fair.

In fact they might even be futile, much like 2002, in terms of reconfiguring the balance of civil-military and executive-legislative power. Had the PPP and the PML-N jointly boycotted the election, the entire electoral exercise would indeed have lost legitimacy.

But politicians will be politicians, and expecting them to behave as moral agents is a misreading of the basic modus operandi of politics. Besides, authoritarian regimes do not need electoral legitimacy to survive per se, instead they rely on public apathy and its fear of coercion. And politicians cannot be expected to overthrow Musharraf by force especially because he still enjoys the backing of both the world’s only superpower and a state security apparatus willing and capable to use force against its own people.

Whether we like it or not, the PPP and the PML-N provide the two main institutional party mechanisms for re-democratising Pakistan. Of course it is our right to criticise them and hold them accountable for their actions.

But it might be a good idea to separate our criticism of their flaws and failures from the generalised ‘anti-political’ disdain many liberals in civil society have for mass electoral politics. That distinction is important to make because in the rush to rubbish political parties, it is all too easy to forget that the alternatives are much worse.

Behind the election rhetoric

By Manzoor Chandio

“WE will build a society in which the old values of greed and advancement will be replaced by a common concern for the welfare of the whole community.”

The election manifesto of the Pakistan People’s Party for the Jan 8 polls begins with these words from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Besides repeating old party slogans (‘Islam is our faith’, ‘democracy is our politics’, ‘all power to the people’), it says the provinces will be given autonomy and due share in their resources, and that the Concurrent Legislative List will be abolished.

The manifesto, however, lacks strong commitment to empowering the poorest of the poor, the country’s women, minorities, peasants and labourers who figure prominently in the PPP’s vote bank. It also deals only half-heartedly with the genuine issues and concerns of the people of Sindh and Balochistan, the two provinces in the federation of Pakistan that are caught in a particularly vicious downward spiral of poverty and unrest.

In the past four decades the people of Sindh have always voted for the PPP, rejecting the catchy slogans of the nationalist parties. Benazir Bhutto, whose voice is respected across the province, could have worked for the empowerment of disadvantaged groups, but contrary to the ideals of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto she has always chosen to surround herself with big feudal lords and gaddi nashins.

The world has entered a new global paradigm. As the rest of the country advances into an era of modernisation, interior Sindh and Balochistan are still stuck in the morass of an age-old feudal system with big landlords, sardars and gaddi nashins ruling the roost. They have assisted and condoned human rights abuses in their constituencies, proving to be major impediments to the empowerment of the people. They have opposed tooth and nail any move to liberate the people from the shackles of poverty and illiteracy.

In keeping with past practice, big landlords representing local political dynasties and fiefdoms have been awarded tickets by the PPP. They have always stood for the status quo.

One cannot expect them to work in parliament and have laws enacted to protect people’s rights when they continue to oppress the people in the areas under their control.

Agriculture being the only mode of production, there is a need to diversify Sindh’s economy and give it a solid industrial base, as is happening in Punjab. Over the years, Punjab has witnessed the emergence of industrial centres in cities such as Lahore, Faisalabad, Wazirabad, Gujrat, Gujranwala and Sialkot. Electoral support for the PPP has always been overwhelming in Sindh, but the party has never mentioned in its manifestos the need for industries in Hyderabad, Sukkur, Larkana, Nawabshah and Mirpurkhas. Thus alone can the agro-based society of Sindh be transformed into an industrial one.

A look at the employment pattern in federal government institutions is enough to show how small is the representation of the people of Sindh and Balochistan. The Pakistan Army, which also enjoys considerable influence in national decision-making, has been dubbed the Punjab army because it does not have many members from the smaller provinces.

The same is the case with all other services, be they the diplomatic corps, the civil bureaucracy or the police.

This aberration can be rectified only by diversifying the leadership. How can this be done? By allowing a middle class to emerge and inducting people from different walks of life into politics.

Over the years, the major political parties have perpetuated the predominance of the feudals by awarding party tickets to people from that class. The reason: the feudal landlord is sure to win. The persistence of this pattern has not only promoted self-interested individuals but also proved a stumbling block to the advancement of rural society.

Democracy can only be strengthened by dismantling the feudal system. There is pressing need for introducing equal opportunity and affirmative action programmes to empower the people in the rural areas. Thus alone will they be in a position to defeat the old institutions like jagirdari and gaddi nasheeni.

Until and unless genuine representatives of the people are encouraged to enter the assemblies, and until the public has a role in shaping a leadership that can identify with the people and understand their problems, the woes of peasants and labourers from Sindh and Balochistan will remain unmitigated.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007