Bordering on progress
REPORTS from China on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit are so full of clichés like “positive”, “breakthrough” and a “meeting of minds” that it is difficult to get the real picture.
Both countries, giants in their own way, follow different ideologies and have done well economically.
But they are suspicious of each other. Has Manmohan Singh’s trip allayed the distrust that the two have harboured for years?
Cooperation in the civil nuclear field, the $60m mutual trade, support for the Security Council’s membership and the 11 bilateral documents are welcome signs indicating progress and the economic prowess which one is beginning to recognise in the other.
The litmus test is how far China has given in on the border dispute. Here the score is zero. In fact, China has resiled from the earlier understanding given to India. The formulation at Beijing this time was that both sides “seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable resolution” on the basis of the political parameters and guiding principles announced in the past. This is nothing more than a pious statement.
The understanding given to New Delhi was that the line of demarcation would not go through the populated areas. It meant that China had moved away from its claim on Arunachal in the northeast. New Delhi wanted this to be written down. Now China has talked in terms of small, medium and dense pockets. Another thing agreed upon earlier was the exchange of maps. There was not even a mention of that.
It is no use getting euphoric over gestures like the private dinner given by the Chinese premier to Manmohan Singh. The hype was bigger when India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, visited China in 1954. One million people had turned out to welcome him on a 12-mile-long route from the airport. It was described as a “Roman triumph”.
We who were following the visit got involved equally emotionally like the media personnel covering Manmohan Singh’s trip. We too refused to report odd border incidents that had cast a shadow on the sunlit mountain tops. New Delhi will be committing the same mistake by minimising the dispute for the sake of good relations.
The progress on the dispute has been dismal. The meetings of different Indian prime ministers with their counterparts and the unending rounds of talks between the officials of the two countries have not made China withdraw even an inch from the Indian territories it nibbled away at during the 1950s and occupied after the 1962 war.
China has not responded even to the Colombo proposals which the six non-aligned countries, led by Sri Lanka, had formulated in December 1962 to keep the two sides disengaged after hostilities. The Colombo proposals suggested the withdrawal of Chinese forces by 20 kilometres from the line of actual control on Nov 7, 1959.
As the days went by, India accepted the status quo on the border and took steps to have economic and trade contacts with China. Incidentally, the same kind of arrangement was offered to Pakistan which it rejected. India had proposed that both countries could have trade and economic ties and not let the dispute on Kashmir come in the way. Islamabad said that unless the Kashmir issue was settled, there was no question of having business relations with India.
The problem India faces with China is that the status quo on the border is 45 years old. What is de facto looks like becoming de jure. I concede that all Indian claims cannot be justified. There has to be a give-and-take policy. But China should at least implement the Colombo proposals to prove that it is willing to go beyond the status quo. By all means, we should move on and overcome the hurt of the past. Yet the aggression should be “a permanent piece of education”, as Nehru said, lest emotions should make us one day write off the occupation of Indian territories.
Nehru went to the furthest point to accommodate China. A CIA report of the sixties says that Nehru was “so afraid” of annoying China that he went on overlooking its intrusion into India. According to the report, he would rather have accommodated China than confront it. This is factually correct. Even when some soldiers of the Indian patrol on the Aksai Chin road were killed by the Chinese, Nehru did not register any serious protest. He kept on saying that it was a clash of wills, not of arms. All border violation reports which were forwarded to Nehru ended up in a “border file” in the home ministry.
The bureaucrats would laugh at Nehru’s inaction, particularly in the home ministry where I worked as information officer. I too felt let down by my hero, Nehru. However, when I now analyse the events of those days I feel that Nehru, although disappointed with China’s behaviour, wanted to go to the maximum limit to stay friendly with the country. He could visualise the dangerous fallout if the two were to clash.
He wrote to the chief ministers: “It is a little naïve to think that the trouble with China was essentially due to a dispute over some territory. It had deeper reasons. Two of the largest countries in Asia confronted each other over a vast border. They differed in many ways. And the test was as to whether anyone of them would have a more dominating position than the other on the border and in Asia itself. We do not desire to dominate any country and we are content to live peacefully with other countries provided they do not interfere with us or commit aggression. China, on the other hand, clearly did not like the idea of such a peaceful existence and wants to have a dominating position in Asia.”
Whatever distance we span with China and however close the ties we develop with it — Manmohan Singh’s trip has done that — we should never forget that at the height of the Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai relationship, China crossed India’s border to defeat it. Nehru too tried to give China a new vision. But it was at that time opposed to the path of “cooperation” for development, and peace and had opted for “self-reliant detachment and confrontation”. Times have changed. China has now a stake in peace because it does not want any obstruction in its soaring growth rate.
Manmohan Singh, too, has given another angle to the relationship: the two countries can dislodge the West as the centre of global economic gravity. But confrontation, as he said, has to be avoided. This may persuade China not to insist on India accepting the status quo as a border. Beijing should realise that Manmohan Singh cannot sell that. It has political overtones which can disturb the economic rhythm.
The writer is a leading journalist based in New Delhi.
Two worlds collide
“Charities must not be ‘exclusive clubs’ that only a few can join.” That judgment hardly sounds controversial. It tallies with all teaching about charity, from the good Samaritan to the Qur’an.
But its inclusion in official guidance published in Britain on Wednesday raises big questions for some organisations enjoying charitable status -–– and the tax breaks that come with it. The reality is that many of them, from opera houses to private hospitals, charge fees that exclude many people. The new public benefit test, which the charity commission developed in the guidelines, will require all of them to reach beyond the elite.
Despite the potentially sweeping effect, debate has been dominated by the effect on one sector: education. For many of those who pay school fees the reason might seem obvious –– if charitable tax breaks were withdrawn, fees will go up. But that is also true of opera tickets. What makes independent schools different is that they do not just produce social benefits –– in terms of education and exchequer savings –– but also social costs.
This week the head of one public school described them as a form of educational “apartheid”. His language was dramatic and paid insufficient respect to the excellent teaching in many comprehensives. But when children from better-off families are helped to go private, there is no doubt state education is diminished.
The charity commission will explain next month how the public benefit test will apply in an educational context. But it is already clear that it will not be enough to overturn two-tier education.
Schools might be able to meet the test by sharing games facilities with local state students, equalising access to the playing field perhaps, but hardly levelling the metaphorical one. Another option might be to introduce more bursaries for able poor students, extending opportunity for some, but also draining more talent away from the state schools.
By making plain that charitable status will only be withdrawn in “exceptional circumstances” the commission’s chair, Suzi Leather, has arguably weakened her hand in pushing private schools to go further. But it wasn’t realistic to expect the commission to close the educational gap on its own — not least because charitable tax breaks are worth less than five per cent of independent schools’ income, so if the requirements were made too onerous, they could simply become private firms.
—The Guardian, London
Direction for the general
IF you are a book-keeper, make sure that you do not bet on anything related to Pakistan. Just when you think something is happening, the opposite will happen. This is what some would call a high form of instability. People had predicted a marriage of convenience between Musharraf and Benazir until someone in the establishment changed their minds. At this juncture, everything seems possible.
Surely, the centre of attraction remains our former soldier-president. He definitely has a lot of worth. While he plays his games, which benefit his institution and its cronies, the former general is there to take all responsibility for all that appears ugly and surreal.
The army now has the comfort of distancing itself from what he says, without actually discarding the idea. I recently heard an interview of the newly appointed ISPR director-general Athar Abbas. When asked about his views on Musharraf’s claims that the army disliked Benazir Bhutto, Abbas’s diplomatic answer was “ask the president”. One is not objecting to his diplomacy — because it is important for the military to keep its distance from politics and policymaking — but it is a comment on how Musharraf’s presence can actually deflect a lot of attention.
Potentially, Pervez Musharraf is an excellent fall guy like, for instance, A.Q. Khan who bore the brunt of all negative publicity while other Pakistani scientists went around completing the nuclear weapons project. The good doctor had a critical role in the country’s nuclear programme. But this dealt with just a segment of the entire programme, not the whole. What A.Q. Khan’s colleagues, who were unhappy with him for getting extra publicity and mileage, did not realise was that he did them a favour by diverting international attention towards himself.
If one were to go by the A.Q. Khan recipe, it would make sense to keep Musharraf around. In any case, there are two possibilities as far as the former general’s future is concerned. The first relates to him becoming a Hosni Mubarak. This means continuity of service as president for many years because it suits the interests of Pakistan’s foreign patrons.
Indeed, Musharraf has been extremely good at defending American interests in and around Pakistan. This has been duly appreciated by the American president and other members of his administration. So then, what does one make of the American media’s outburst regarding Pakistan’s inability to deal with militants and its nuclear weapons being unsafe?
Not only do such comments get an angry reaction from Musharraf, his response is duly circulated through journal articles and e-mail messages as a bid to defend the interests of the Pakistani state. How brave and manly of Musharraf to stand up to pressure from the Americans and to look them in the eye while defending Islamabad’s position. There are many hired agents who immediately publicise such acts of seeming bravery.
But the act of bravado is a great cover. It is used to hide the fact that Musharraf is actually doing a wonderful job and no one wants to conspire against him. The fact of the matter is that a significant part of Pakistan’s establishment is dependent on American largesse. And this has always been the case.
The perks and privileges received during the period of alignment with the US endear the superpower to a lot of people in the corridors of power in Islamabad. How can Musharraf, his military and the rest of the government forget that the country has received about $10bn to $15bn to fight the war on terror? One does not know how the money has been used since there is no accountability of military expenditure.
The money is given to render service — which is helping Washington attain its strategic objectives — for the US. The basic contradiction here is that no institution in Pakistan can carry out any mandate for long if it lacks political legitimacy which is the core problem afflicting all the country’s organisations and prominent individuals. One method to gain legitimacy is using the anti-US card which has always been relevant in Pakistan’s case. This is not because the people of this country are fundamentalists or rabidly anti-West. However, they see the class of domestic exploiters as an extension of a predatory foreign elite.
Unfortunately, ordinary people also make the mistake of believing that those who seem to be against the US are actually against the superpower and its exploitation of others. Even some of the top mullahs in Pakistan are frequent visitors to the American embassy and its junior partner, the British High Commission.
So, it is not surprising to see Musharraf or the establishment issuing seemingly provocative statements regarding the US to gain legitimacy which could be used later to benefit Washington. According to this scenario, Musharraf might continue in power. A lot of people have pegged their hope for change in Pakistan to a change of government in the US. Surely, the Democrats will not deal with a dictator in Islamabad. But then, there is no sign of a major policy shift in the US either.
Senator Barack Obama sounds too conciliatory and confused. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is too sharp to want to attract the attention of rightwing interests in the US by planning major changes in foreign policy. There might not be any major policy shift if she makes it to the presidency. She will definitely not withdraw forces from Iraq or Afghanistan. The fact of the matter is that none of the candidates vying for the American presidency have anything to offer to their people. So, Musharraf is right when he says that a new American administration will realise Pakistan’s importance and take no adverse action.
In any case, there is good cooperation between the militaries of the US and Pakistan. According to the commander of the US Central Command, Admiral William J. Fallon, the Pakistani establishment is eager to receive training from the US to fight terrorism. This means greater American involvement.
Under the circumstances, Musharraf’s supposed belligerence towards the US could just be a method to hide his real support for Washington. His interviews which suggest that Benazir Bhutto was killed because she was more pro-US just hide facts pertaining to his own loyalty. The bottom-line is that he could continue in his position and become something like the Egyptian president, willing to serve US interests and deflect attention from the armed forces. By now, the majority of the people are so focused on just one individual that they would have forgotten to treat the illness rather than the symptom.
The other scenario is one in which Musharraf begins to resemble Saddam Hussein rather than Hosni Mubarak. It would be interesting to recollect the last days of the Iraqi dictator who had been made to believe in his own infallibility and indispensability. While various centres of power distanced themselves from Saddam, he continued to think of himself as all-powerful. Many believe that the second scenario is a greater possibility. In fact, the situation is being allowed to spin out of control so that a political change could be brought about.
Sadly, in both cases, the highest price for any form of transition will have to be paid by the common people. There is some worth in not being born a common citizen!
The writer is an independent analyst and the author of the book ‘Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy’.
Fuel poverty in Pakistan
ENERGY-conscious societies are committed to eliminating the problem of fuel poverty. This is a new concept that is being promoted as a yardstick to judge the sustainability levels of fuel in a country. Any house that cannot afford to maintain comfortable temperature conditions is said to be fuel poor.
More precisely, fuel poverty is said to occur when a household needs to spend more than 10 per cent of its income on fuel to heat or cool the home environment to a stipulated standard of temperature.
The temperature range that is considered to be ideal for living is between 21-24°C. The desired temperature range, however, may vary from place to place. For example, in colder climes, the adequate temperature is generally defined as 21°C in the main living room and 18°C in other occupied rooms, as recommended by WHO.
Fuel poverty is a major issue even in certain rich and energy-affluent societies. In the UK, for example, back in 1991 there were 7.3 million households that were either fuel poor or considered vulnerable. By 2002, this figure had fallen to just over two million. Now the figure has further dropped to around five per cent.Fuel poverty results from a combination of low household income, unaffordable energy costs, inadequate thermal insulation, and inefficient and uneconomic heating systems.
Now let’s take a look at fuel poverty in Pakistan. The per capita energy consumption is an index to measure socio-economic prosperity in any country. The figure for Pakistan is approximately a quarter that of the world average. Per capita energy consumption in the UK and the US is respectively eight and 18 times higher than that of Pakistan. Bringing GDP into the equation, as of the Jan 3, 2008, rates, average annual income in Pakistan is equivalent to the price of 25 barrels of oil. In the UK and the US, the average annual income is equivalent to the price of 233 and 338 barrels of oil respectively.
Putting it another way, one can compare the fraction of the per capita GDP that will be spent on consuming a reference energy quantity, say 10,000kWh of electricity, in Pakistan, the UK and the US. These figures are respectively, 40, seven and four per cent. With these unhealthy statistics, the status of fuel poverty in Pakistan is fairly easy to guess.
The challenge of tackling fuel poverty is far too complicated as compared to developed countries such as the UK. Realistically, the status of fuel poverty in Pakistan is at the opposite end — at nearly 180 degrees due to a number of factors. First, the energy-purchasing capacity for Pakistanis is much lower, almost one-tenth that of British citizens. As per GDP figures, the total annual income of an average Pakistani can buy just over 2,500 litres of petrol (the figure will be substantially lower when petrol prices rise). A British citizen’s annual income enables him to purchase around 25,000 litres of petrol.
Secondly, owing to certain features of its culture and lifestyle, Pakistan has a consumption pattern that is quite different to that in the UK. For example, in the latter case, houses, on average remain unoccupied for nearly eight to 10 hours of the day since every family member is working away from home. In Pakistan, on the other hand, houses remain occupied round the clock, thus generating a continuous demand for energy.
Thirdly, Pakistan is not located in a temperate climatic zone. Most of its regions experience extremes of weather. For nearly half the year (April to September), one has to fight against heat to maintain a comfortable temperature as defined by WHO. From December to February, heating becomes a necessity. While gas heaters in winter are relatively cheaper, air conditioners in summer are the most energy-intensive home appliances. An average Pakistani cannot afford cooling his home throughout the summer months even for a few hours a day.
Lastly, unlike enveloped housing in the UK, people in Pakistan live in airy and open houses. Also, poor insulation leaves very little margin for achieving thermal insulation in houses to a level anywhere near to that in the UK.
Under these conditions, can anyone assume that more than two to three per cent of Pakistanis live above the line of fuel poverty? Before declaring that overcoming fuel poverty is simply a dream for Pakistanis, let’s take a look at some ground realities.
The fact is that even for the purposes of meeting basic necessities, energy has become unaffordable in Pakistan. Electricity is becoming a rare commodity. So is the case with gas. Metropolitan and industrial cities are facing five to 15 hours of undeclared load-shedding. Life in villages and remote areas is worse. Bearing in mind the vital role of energy in every aspect of modern life, it is clear that one cannot lead a normal life without it. When power is in short supply, industry and agriculture cannot be sustained, hospitals and schools cannot function, four-wheelers cannot run on roads, and public and private businesses cannot operate.
This is how the people of Pakistan live. They can never hope for ‘fuel prosperity’ and will have to concentrate on trying to survive in the modern ‘Stone Age’.
The writer is a lecturer in renewable energy at the Glasgow Caledonian University, UK
This maddening fickleness
THERE’S definitely more than meets the eye behind the current wave of terrorist attacks. For instance, Monday’s bombing in Karachi was hardly aimed at settling scores with those believed to be working to wipe out Al Qaeda and its local sympathisers.
On the contrary, it can be argued that the deadly blast which killed mostly labourers and their children will harm rather than further the cause of the extremists trying to win over the underprivileged to their side. It is as if arguing that Al Qaeda is either foolish or led by people who advocate violence just for the fun of killing people, offering in turn the actual perpetrators the opportunity to commit suicide for whatever reason they might have for hating the world. Even the Bush administration would not buy this argument regardless of how mindlessly it may trust its Pakistani friend at the top.
How flawed the official line of argument could be is clear for all to see. The bomb blast in a factory area during the evening rush hour and ostensibly aimed at killing labourers prompted the government to offer additional security to all politicians — as if that prevented Benazir Bhutto from being killed. This will be seen as a ruse to build pressure on opposition politicians with the aim of curtailing their movement and thus their election campaigns.
Those killed in Monday’s bombing were not leaders but mere statistics. There were no known uncles and aunts or nephews and nieces of the well-known that perished in the attack. The survivors too are statistics. The most the aggrieved did was to block the road for a few hours, force the shops to observe a shutter-down the next day so they could register their protest before going out to queue for atta, which of late has become quite a rare commodity owing to its disappearance from neighbourhood stores.
However, the statements given by the president who happened to be in town on the day of the bombing took a rather abrupt and curious view of the situation. Without elaborating, he said that it was once again time to take some tough decisions, leaving one to wonder whether that meant the postponement of elections. He went on to say that the Rangers deployed to oversee law and order would be given orders to shoot (the protesters) at sight. The next day, the sacked Supreme Court judge, Rana Bhagwandas, was put under house arrest, though no detention order was served on him.Clearly, there is a strange mix of paranoia and megalomania at work here. Or else what does one make of viewing people like Bhagwandas, Aitzaz Ahsan and their colleagues as posing a threat to the country’s stability? This, at a time when terrorists and dacoits are striking in our cities and in the countryside with impunity. It’s a shame that not even half the rigour applied to tackling the legal community is reserved for dealing with the threat posed to the country’s internal security by rogue, extremist elements. The will to take them on is what is perhaps missing in the official scheme of priorities.
The tough decisions the president has talked about sounds like a Freudian slip. For, if it were true and really warranted by the law and order situation, President Musharraf would not have ruled out the formation of a national, consensus-based government. This was done ostensibly after the failure of the government’s overtures made to the Sharif brothers to lure them into such a deal.
Mr Zardari, however, has kept his options open, using the PPP’s resolve to seek UN intervention into the Bhutto death probe as a lever. What the PPP leader fails to understand — and that perhaps reveals his lack of knowledge of international relations and organisations — is that the UN cannot act on its own unless it is given a mandate by member nations to do so on a specific matter. How many member countries having any influence with the UN are willing to support the PPP’s call for a role by the world organisation in the Bhutto probe should be the first inquiry the party should have made.
Despite his growing predicament at home, President Musharraf continues to be seen in the West as its best bet in Pakistan. And how can you blame that thinking? If the disappearance of a staple food item such as wheat flour cannot bring the multitudes out in protest, you wonder what else will. The opposition parties’ failure to make a case out of the wheat crisis and use it as an agent of bringing popular change will further doom their demand for holding a free and fair election — if it is held. There is no reason why any government, let aside an all powerful president, should lend an ear to any reasoning anymore. Hence the madness in that quarter.
|© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2008|