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DAWN - Editorial; October 07, 2008

October 07, 2008


Some hope for peace?

IT is not just the British commander’s assessment of the Afghan war that matters; a few positive developments elsewhere would seem to suggest a welcome rethink on how to tackle the insurgency. Ruling out “a decisive military victory”, Brig Mark Carleton-Smith, departing commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, said the aim of the coalition forces was to enable the Afghan army to manage security on its own in the wake of a Nato-Isaf withdrawal. More significantly, he told The Sunday Times, London, that this could require discussing security with the Taliban. On the heels of this statement came unconfirmed reports that Saudi King Abdullah hosted talks in Makkah last month between the Afghan government and some Taliban leaders with a view to finding a negotiated settlement to the insurgency. The report seems to back up President Hamid Karzai’s disclosure at a press conference on the eve of Eid that he had requested the Saudi monarch to intercede with the Taliban and help find a negotiated peace. At the same news conference, Karzai invited the Taliban commanders to “return” to their country and work for peace. This was a gesture worth making, for it is not unlikely that some militant commanders are motivated more by Pakhtun nationalism than the ideology of the Taliban.

For Pakistan, talking to ‘moderate Taliban’ — an oxymoron at first glance — is not a new idea, except that Islamabad’s experience, given its own gaucherie, has not been very happy. The September 2005 ‘deal’ enabled the Taliban to regroup, and most Taliban commanders seldom bothered to abide by the accord. However, the situation on this side of the Durand Line now seems to be changing. The military operations in Swat and Fata — Bajaur especially — have hit the militants hard and, more importantly, the havoc wrought by the war, the Taliban’s victimisation of neutral tribesmen, the execution of ‘spies’, heavy civilian casualties and mass internal migrations have hurt the Taliban cause. Now the tribesmen, encouraged by the government, are themselves organising their lashkars to go after the militants who have almost destroyed the tribesmen’s traditional way of life. American intelligence too seems to have improved, targeting mostly militants; there are fewer civilian casualties, and consequently there is less outrage among the tribesmen.

The induction of a democratic government in Pakistan, with the ANP as the NWFP’s ruling party, seems to have enabled the principal players in the Fata drama to chip away at the ossified way of looking at the insurgency. Of course, the insurgency is not going to die away that easily, and one can hardly expect the peace to return soon. But a combination of force and diplomacy is the only solution. Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel. Still, let us not be overly optimistic.

Consumer protection needed

THE market economy stands on three basic pillars – producers or service providers, consumers and regulators. Each of them has rights and privileges and a corresponding set of responsibilities and obligations. But where regulators are either weak or non-existent, producers/service providers exploit their privileges without bothering about their obligations. Consumers across Pakistan find this out the hard way every time they make a purchase or seek the delivery of a service. Ask those who were vainly wandering from one ATM to the other on Eid, or those who wanted to talk to their near and dear ones on the holy festival but couldn’t because of clogged networks. Producers/service providers can make the excuse that Eid was a special occasion with too many people needing money or using their cellphones. But even in ordinary circumstances, consumers rarely get what they bargain for. As a number of cases at a consumer court in Lahore have shown, car manufacturers, banks, producers and sellers of goods, and telecommunication companies have all failed their consumers ever so often. In fact, violation of consumer rights is rife across Pakistan and across all sectors of the economy. In some well-publicised cases, companies with an international presence have been found neglecting consumer rights so blatantly that one wonders whether they care at all.

But the court mentioned above is one of the few consumer protection forums that we have. There is little public awareness even about those that exist. Except for people who still somehow reach them, all other consumers are left to rant and rave in private about the money they lose on faulty products and less than satisfactory services. The intent here is not to condemn business and private entrepreneurship; the point is that business practices must be ethical. Business always thrives in a society that has laws and that respects them as much as it has the willingness to implement them. But no society can hope to do well by making exemptions to the rule of law. If producers and service providers think that their rights and privileges need legal protection of the best kind, they also need to ensure that they follow rules and regulations with the same assiduousness when it comes to respecting others’ rights. No business can run profitably in a legal void. This is as true for seeking legal protection for business contracts and money transactions as it is for ensuring that consumers get the best value for their money.

Kurdish rebel attacks

THE death of 15 Turkish soldiers at the hands of Kurdish rebels operating from northern Iraq has justifiably caused much grief in Turkey where there is increasing public anger over the failure of the government to stop cross-border attacks. But will retaliatory attacks such as the ones staged by Turkish warplanes on Kurdish bases inside Iraq be effective in the long term? Turkey, which also conducted ground operations in Iraqi territory some time ago, has had a long history of animosity towards its own Kurdish population. An exercise in introspection would be of great help if Ankara intends to take steps to find a solution to the Kurdish question. It will find that some of its own repressive policies vis-à-vis the Kurds are to blame for the militancy that is now in evidence. Indeed, other countries in the region must also be blamed for cracking down on the Kurds time and again. One especially recalls Saddam Hussein’s Halabja massacre in this regard. But in the case of Ankara, there has been a deliberate attempt to foist the Turkish identity on all minority groups, however distinct their ethnicity may be from the mainstream. Language and cultural rights have been long in coming, and the Kurds have also suffered economically. The vast majority of the Kurds are against the operations of the rebel Kurdish PKK. But unless Turkey goes beyond cosmetic reforms and reaches out to its Kurdish population in all sincerity, it will never earn the trust of this sizeable minority.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq should be urged to do much more to rein in the militants operating from its territory. For instance, what has been done to cut off the rebels’ supply lines? The failure of the Kurdish administration to sap the militants’ strength is prompting Turkey to take unilateral action which undermines the process of consensus that is the need of the hour. Moderate Kurdish elements should be inducted in the effort to influence the PKK to lay down its arms and to persuade all aggrieved parties to arrive at a political consensus. With the present upheaval in the Middle East, opening another front will have grave consequences for the region.

An energy policy with vision

By Dr M. Asif

AT a time when nations across the world are putting every effort to safeguard their long-term energy interests, Pakistan is facing the worst energy crisis in its history.

The gravity of the situation is all but evident. Demonstrations against loadshedding are almost a daily phenomenon. Hardly any part of the country has escaped such protests that often turn violent, usually in the form of attacks on Wapda and KESC offices and vehicles. For the relevant authorities, it is a clear signal that just muddling along is not an option any more as the situation could spin out of control and irrevocably damage the entire system. Acknowledgement of the issue is there, as highlighted in the president’s address to the joint session of parliament. But it has to be complemented by the right strategy and due resolve.

The gigantic nature of the roaring energy challenge requires a coherent and vigorous policy followed by stringent implementation. Such a policy should meticulously reflect the true nature and intensity of current and coming challenges. Besides the severe shortfall in electricity, the matrix of problems also includes soaring prices of energy (in all forms i.e. electricity, gas and transportation fuels), dwindling share of local oil and gas reserves, insecurity of supplies and intensifying global competition for petroleum resources.

While encompassing short-and medium-term goals, the crux of the policy should lie in a long-term approach covering at least 25 years. All stakeholders, including mainstream political forces, must be taken on board before and during the formulation process. Once such a policy has been made and approved in truly democratic fashion, it should be rendered legal indemnity so that future governments cannot jeopardise it for politics’ sake. In the past, many projects of vital national interest have been bulldozed for that very reason.

Such an unprecedented move appears to be logical given the nature of investment required to secure the energy future of the country. As of 2008, to overcome the existing electricity deficit of over 5,000MW, $6-8bn need to be invested in new power generation projects. With consistently growing demand, some estimates suggest investment in the range of $30-40bn over the next 25 years.

The energy policy should lay stress on two essential requirements: energy conservation and reliance on indigenous resources.The energy shortage in the country has grown beyond any quick-fix solution. The only relief that can be offered immediately is through an effective energy conservation programme. A substantial proportion of our gross national energy stock is being wasted through inefficient consumption. Similarly a considerable chunk of energy goes into non-productive usage. All sectors — industrial, domestic, commercial, transport — rate poorly in terms of energy efficiency.

Leaving lights, TVs and computers on even when there is no one in the room is a common practice. Similarly, industrial furnaces and boilers and domestic geysers can be cited as critical examples of operational inefficiency. In recent years, air-conditioners and other energy-intensive appliances such as microwave ovens have burdened the national grid more than anything else. Here it is worth noting the example of Denmark that is among the most highly rated welfare states in the world and which also enjoys energy prosperity. Amazingly, over the last 35 years Denmark has seen its gross national energy consumption come down despite the economy growing by over 100 per cent.

The secret to this remarkable success is the right attitude adopted by the entire nation. For example, although they are financially sound enough, there are very few households in the country that use a microwave oven, an unnecessary luxury gadget in the eyes of most Danes. In Pakistan on the other hand, despite much poorer economic conditions across the board, electricity-guzzling luxury items are common and hamper energy supplies to more productive purposes. Another common phenomenon is the abuse of official transport. The trend is widespread, ranging from the lowest to the highest possible levels. A collective national effort is thus required to see the energy conservation programme yield tangible results. In doing so, the greatest responsibility rests with the country’s policy-makers and decision-makers. It is they who will have to lead by example.

Another dimension of the energy conservation and management programme is the pragmatic use of available resources. The hallmark issue here is that of natural gas that has been extensively used in power generation since the 1990s and of late in CNG vehicles. The supply end (composed of gas resources and infrastructure) is simply unable to cope with such high demand. Consequently, over the last few years gas has become a scarce commodity. Planned as well as unplanned supply disruptions have jeopardised the sustainability of the industrial sector. Regular breakdowns are driving households crazy. With other fuel sources at our disposal, opting for gas is a policy hard to justify.

Reliance on indigenous energy resources must be at the heart of the national energy policy. Depleting fossil fuel reserves (which cater to roughly 81 per cent of total energy requirements) and their steadily rising demand is bound to usher in a new energy era across the world. Given the colossal increment in oil prices and fierce competition for access to deposits, global geopolitics is set to be ever more driven by the energy factor. Even the likelihood of all-out wars over energy resources can not be ruled out.

In such a scenario, it is critical for countries like Pakistan to be only marginally dependant on energy imports. Also, bearing in mind the steep rise in annual average crude oil prices in the international market, it is crucial to cut down petroleum imports in order to ensure the economic viability of energy.

The ideal matrix of indigenous resources would constitute coal, hydropower and renewable energy. Immediate exploitation of virtually untapped coal reserves can substantially help the country overcome its electricity deficit in a cost-effective and secure manner. Hydropower has traditionally been a significant contributor to the national electricity supply mix and is still by far the most cost-effective option. Only a small fraction of the total available potential has been capitalised as yet. Taking into account the water scarcity issue, which is a global phenomenon now — emphasis should be placed on making the most of available resources. Apart from run-of-river and small-scale projects that offer least disruption to downstream water supplies, all viable large-scale projects should also be initiated.

It is also crucial to meaningfully harness indigenous renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and biomass power. Renewable energy is rapidly coming of age and energy markets are not far from seeing it overcome its techno-economical barriers.

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

2008’s ‘tipping point’

By Simon Tisdall

IN election races, pollsters look for a tipping point: the moment a contest shifts decisively in favour of one of the contestants. Such moments are elusive; sometimes they never happen.

But four weeks before the US elections, a consensus is emerging among analysts in both main parties that 2008’s tipping point was last week, and the Republicans were left up in the air with their legs dangling.

Daily tracking and nationally averaged polls, surveys in the 10 or so “battleground” states, and internal party polling broadly point the same way. On these projections, and barring major surprises, the Democrats will sweep the board in congressional races, gaining six to eight Senate seats and a dozen or more in the House of Representatives.

More importantly perhaps for a watching world, on these trends Barack Obama will be elected president on November 4 with a clear mandate for change. If John McCain cannot quickly regain control of the agenda, the outcome may not be even close.

McCain’s decision to halt campaigning in Michigan, a state he had targeted as a possible “flip” [the state voted Democrat in 2004 and 2000], followed internal polls placing him a full 10 points behind, a Republican analyst said.

Obama is currently an average three points ahead in the Sunshine State. A similar picture obtains in traditionally conservative Virginia, Ohio, and Nevada. The Democrat has even edged ahead in stereotypically redneck North Carolina.

The principal reason for the Obama breakout after months of running neck-and-neck is voter anger with Bush and by association, McCain’s Republicans, over last week’s initially bungled financial bailout.

If the exact moment when the election “tipped” can be guessed, it was last Monday when House Republicans defied McCain and defeated the $700bn package. The financial crisis and rising unemployment all played a part in last month’s mood swing, as did last week’s vice-presidential debate, watched by up to 100 million people on television and internet.

— The Guardian, London

OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press

Illegal immigrants


SINDH Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah has approved a summary to amend the Katchi Abadis Act which aims to regularise Sindh’s katchi abadis that are on record until December 2006. Contrary to tradition, the minister for katchi abadis, Rafiq Engineer performed rather efficiently in this regard. He got the Act approved and then forwarded it to the chief secretary and it will now be put before the Sindh cabinet for final approval. If approved, it will result in the regularisation of 450 katchi abadis in Karachi and the major beneficiaries will be scores of Bengali, Burmese, Afghan, Bihari and Iranian nationals who are illegal immigrants and have settled in the metropolis. They will not only get land and property rights but will also become citizens of Pakistan.

Some vested interests have long tried for the permanent settlement of these illegal settlers but their efforts have not been free of ulterior motives. These elements have been attempting to convert the Sindhi population into a minority in order to alter the demographics of the province; and given the influx of illegal refugees and the impending approval of this law, this may not be such a distant dream.

Undoubtedly, the unnatural inflow of alien and illegal immigrants had changed the ethnic demography of the province to a great extent. Thousands of Bengali, Burmese, Afghan, Bihari and Iranian nationals came to settle in Karachi and set up houses in katchi abadis. Now, through this new law, all these illegitimate migrants will be made Pakistani nationals…. However, it is ironic that indigenous residents of this land have been experiencing a number of hardships in obtaining national identity cards (NIC), enrolment in electoral lists, etc. On the other hand, illegal immigrants are able to acquire NICs, domicile certificates and other legal documents with ease. Despite all this, the government is regularising them and their settlements. There is, in fact, a need to repatriate these illegal immigrants to their respective countries to reduce the burden on Pakistan. The rulers must be aware that an imbalance between resources and urgent needs leads to anarchy.

The fact that terrorist attacks are on the rise and some groups are using katchi abadis as hideouts has to be taken into consideration. Illegal immigrants should be expelled as it has been proved that many of them are involved in terrorist acts. It is unclear why the Sindh government made this decision. If a political partner is involved then it should be made public. This amendment will not benefit the people of Sindh in any way. Rather, it will create an imbalance in the ethnic equilibrium of the province and will also benefit the land mafia. The government should respect the mandate of the people and should not take decisions which may prove harmful to the Sindhi people. — (Oct 5)

— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi