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DAWN - Opinion; January 14, 2009

January 14, 2009


Voices of peace in din of war

By Zubeida Mustafa

INTERNATIONAL politics do not move in a straight line. There are ups and downs in how states manage their ties.

They move forward and backward in a zigzag movement of two steps forward, one step back which is very often reversed and becomes one step forward and two steps back. In this medley of relationships bilateral ties acquire a multidimensional character and are not all black or all white.

This is how India and Pakistan have been conducting their foreign policies vis-à-vis each other ever since they became independent in 1947. Only the complexities have grown. In the aftermath of Mumbai when interstate ties have plummeted to a new low and war has loomed on the horizon, the peace sentiment has paradoxically found stronger expression in unofficial circles on both sides.

Is this a struggle between the doves and the hawks? Unlike earlier years when an incident bearing the hallmarks of the Mumbai tragedy would have driven the two neighbours to war, the calamities of today do not pre-empt the positive moves on which the hope for peace is pegged. Military strategists believe that the deterrence value of their nukes keeps war at bay. But it is folly to place too much confidence in the sanity of generals and politicians whose disdain for human life and self-righteous patriotism leave little room for conflict resolution.

What has certainly emerged as a positive phenomenon in South Asia has been Track-2 diplomacy (symbolised by the Neemrana process) that was launched in the early 1990s with American backing. But more far-reaching in their impact have been the indigenously inspired people-to-people contact groups that followed. There have been a number of them.

The most prominent that come to mind are the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), one of the earlier ones launched in 1994 to bring together civil society activists from the two countries to seek a way out of the impasse. Later came the South Asia Free Media Association (Safma) and South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) comprising media practitioners and human rights activists respectively to build bridges of understanding.

Another significant, though less known, is the Gurgaon-based Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation (CDR) that has focused specifically on Kashmir and has sought to connect communities on either side through discourse and dialogue since 2000.

Such peace-building initiatives undertaken by civil society outside the structure of government have offered flexibility and informality. Manjrika Sewak, the author of Multi-Track Diplomacy between India and Pakistan, believes these initiatives “impact official policy and public discourses” while improving communication and facilitating contacts between stakeholders. They can also change the climate of opinion.

Has this happened in these testing times? The cynics might be dismissive. But look at the scenario more closely. The two governments have proceeded to put the composite dialogue process on hold — India terms it as a “pause” while Pakistan calls it a “freeze”. In practical terms it means the next round of talks at the officials’ level are off for the present, no cricketing tour of the Indian team to Pakistan in January, no scheduled talks between the commerce ministers of the two countries and a slowdown in people-to-people exchanges especially the very visible ones as the two governments discourage their citizens from undertaking journeys across the border.

Four writers from Pakistan had to cancel their travel plans to New Delhi for a literary conference when their invitation was withdrawn at the behest of the Indian government. The convention of the PIPFPD to be held in Lahore in end December also had to be deferred. Islamabad refused to provide security guarantees to the 200 or so delegates from India.

While these have attracted publicity, the small goodwill gestures have gone unnoticed in the war hysteria that has enveloped the region. In ordinary times these gestures would not have meant much. In the bleak post-Mumbai environment they should be celebrated as the antithesis of war.

Take the case of the 51 Pakistanis in Indian jails since April last year who were released and sent home in January. On new year’s day the two governments exchanged the list of their nuclear installations as they have been doing since 1992. In the din of war the two governments continue to issue visas and there are brave souls like the hundreds of Pakistanis, Samjotha passengers, or the five Montessori teachers from Karachi who undertake a journey to India that becomes a pilgrimage of peace.

The Kashmir specific confidence-building measures put together so painstakingly also seem to be holding as cross-LoC bus services continue to operate. Trade between the two sides of Kashmir that was launched in October has not been disrupted either. These are positive signs. They have come after Mumbai.

Meanwhile, the citizens’ groups persist. Less than 10 days after the Mumbai attacks three members of PIPFPD from Pakistan visited New Delhi to attend the national convention of the Indian chapter which urged the two governments “to desist from surrendering to war hysteria and the politics of hate” and to “continue with the peace process”.

This month, 17 high-profile personalities, including two from Pakistan met in the Indian capital under the aegis of the CRD to categorically declare, “War is not an option and all talk of partial or targeted action is ill-informed and dangerous given the nuclearisation of the subcontinent.” It will endanger the “precious, yet fragile web of emerging relationships” that has brought it closest to peace so far.

Earlier this week, the chairperson of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, Asma Jehangir, crossed the border at Wagah with Safma’s secretary general to attend a peace conference and declared, “People on both sides of the border are against war.” Next week, a 25-member delegation will go to New Delhi to attend a Safma and SAHR conference to demand the resumption of the composite dialogue.

These gestures are widely appreciated. But what we need badly is the presence of our Indian friends in Pakistan in this hour of crisis. Award-winning author and peace activist Arundhati Roy once promised to be the first to reach Pakistan were India to threaten war. Where are you Ms Roy?

The energy crunch

By Sartaj Aziz

THE growing menace of load-shedding, combined with constantly rising electricity tariffs is mushrooming into a grave national crisis. Unless immediate remedial measures and initiatives are launched on a war footing, the crisis already leading to widespread street agitation, could virtually destabilise the government.

The finance minister, Naveed Qamar, in his budget speech on June 11, 2008, said: “Conservation in electricity use, revamping and efficient use of installed capacity, will make available 1500 MW of additional electricity. We assure the nation that by taking these measures, load-shedding will be substantially reduced. While textile industry will have continuous round the clock supply, flour and ghee mills will have 18 hours of supply. Agricultural tube-wells will have continuous power supply for 10 hours at a stretch every night to avail reduced tariff.”

The actual situation on the ground instead of improving has become much worse in the past four months. The electricity demand-supply gap has gone up from 3,500 MW in March 2008 to 5,000 MW in October 2008. Load-shedding has increased from six to eight hours in a day to 12 to 18 hours, and 20 hours in rural areas. The ordinary consumers have been suffering and the economy is affected badly.

Industrial units which do not have their own generating capacity are closing down by the thousands. In fact most of the enterprises cannot operate economically when power is available for only a few hours in a day. Thousands of workers have been laid off in the face of high food prices, unprecedented inflation and growing unemployment. This will also have a very negative impact on the country’s exports which are needed desperately to overcome the financial crisis.

Electricity constitutes one of the most important components of infrastructure and plays a vital role in national progress and economic development. Still, today in this most modern and developed age, per capita energy consumption in Pakistan is only 15 MBTU compared to 54 in China, 104 in Malaysia and 106 in Iran.

Pakistan had a trade deficit roughly equivalent to 9.34 per cent of its GDP in 2007-08. Most troublesome among its imports are oil and food, whose prices soared in 2008 and only recently began to come down. The country’s oil import jumped by about 56 per cent in fiscal 2008, and the food import bill rose by about 46 per cent. It cannot therefore meet its future electricity demand by increasing its dependence on imported furnace oil.

The causes of the energy crisis are listed below.

a) The basic cause is the utter failure of the Musharraf government to increase the supply of electricity to keep pace with the growing demand. While the installed generation capacity had increased by 53 per cent between 1994 and 1999 (from 11,320 MW to 17,400 MW), it increased by only 12 per cent between 1999 and 2007, to 19,420 MW. Even that marginal increase was due to the completion of Ghazi Barotha Project started in the 1990s, before Gen Musharraf took over.

b) While the failure to increase the generating capacity is a major cause, an equally serious factor is the under-utilisation of existing generating capacity. The availability of hydel electricity naturally goes down in winter months by 60 per cent from 6,400 MW to about 2,500 MW, but unfortunately, the actual generation of electricity from thermal plants has also declined by 4,000 MW against the installed capacity of 13,000 MW, thus raising the demand — supply gap to 5000 MW:

c) One of the main reasons for the serious shortfall in the generation of thermal electricity is the problem of the “circular debt” which the present government inherited from the previous regime. In 2007, the government did not compensate the power companies for the subsidy that was being provided to consumers. The power companies in turn could not pay the oil and gas companies, reducing their liquidity to import the furnace oil that was needed to generate electricity.

The interim government, before the elections, in fact, forced the commercial banks to lend Rs34bn to the oil companies whose credit limits were already exhausted. This problem of “circular debt” became more serious in the summer of 2008, as petroleum prices jumped from $100 to $147 a barrel. It is really surprising that this problem has become the main cause of increasing load-shedding but has not so far been addressed on a priority basis.

d) In addition to these factors, there are other more chronic factors that have been contributing to the energy crisis. These include:

— Very heavy line losses in transmission and distribution because of old and poorly maintained transmission systems, estimated at over 20 per cent compared to eight to 10 per cent in other countries.

— Large scale theft of electricity as clearly revealed by the growing difference between units generated or purchased and those paid for.

— Wastage of energy by the industry which consumes 30 per cent of total electricity due to less efficient systems and other practices. For example, the Chinese consume 30 per cent less electricity in textile mills because they use water partially heated by solar panels in their boilers.

— Overuse of energy by the transport sector (consuming 28 per cent of total energy) due to old and poorly tuned engines.

— Domestic and household consumption which uses 45 per cent of total electricity also depicts wasteful and unnecessary uses of lights, air-conditioners and large-scale illuminations on different occasions.

The problems outlined above reveal many structural flaws in our energy system. These include over-dependence on imported energy, inadequate political will, limited financial support and very weak implementation capacity.

Any short-term or medium-term plans to achieve energy will have to address them in a holistic manner, keeping in view the following specific objectives: a) urgent measures to utilise existing generation capacity to overcome the menace of load-shedding; b) modernise Wapda and Gencos’ power plants on a fast track basis to augment supplies and reduce the cost of generation; c) upgrade and modernise the transmission system to reduce losses; d) restore the hydel thermal mix in electricity generation from 30:70 to at least 50:50 in the next five years; e) take all possible conservation and other measures to expand renewable energy and bring down the price of electricity; f) greatly improve the implementation capacity of all the concerned organisations as early as possible. A fuller discussion of these will appear tomorrow.

To be concluded

The writer is a former finance minister.

No special relationship now

By Tristram Hunt

WHAT to give the man who has it all? That is the question for the British prime minister’s office on Downing Street, London as president-elect Obama’s inauguration draws near. When it came to George W Bush, the answer was obvious: Britain humoured his Churchill complex with the gift of a Jacob Epstein bust for the Oval office. But now Gordon Brown has the chance to go one better and provide the very artefact that inspired the incoming president’s political philosophy.

The Victorian artist George Frederick Watts’s depiction of Hope looks like anything but. It is an image of a woman sitting on the world, bent over, blindfolded, holding up a harp — “bruised and bloodied, dressed in tattered rags, the harp reduced to a single frayed string ... and yet consider once again the painting before us. Hope! That harpist is looking upwards, a few faint notes floating towards the heavens. She dares to hope. She has the audacity ... to make music ... and praise God ... on the one string ... she has left!”

So the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s description of Watts’s haunting picture, a copy of which provided solace for Nelson Mandela in his cell on Robben Island. Listening to Rev Wright’s sermon some 20 years ago was a young community organiser named Barack Obama. This notion of the “audacity of hope” would go on to inspire his breakthrough speech at the 2004 Democratic convention as well as the title of his presidential bid book. The inspiring refrain of his election night rally — “Yes we can!” — is Watts’s Hope made flesh.

And if we’re lucky, Watts might even help the UK back into Washington’s favour. For despite London’s glutinous admiration for the new administration, there are signs the Obama White House is not that interested in the UK. This week’s British Ministry of Defence report pointing to serious doubts in Washington as to the effectiveness of Britain’s armed forces is only the latest sign of a cooling in the “special relationship” between the two countries.

Aside from the personal friendship the increasingly influential education minister David Lammy enjoys with the president-elect, there has been a notable lack of government engagement with the transition team. Indeed, Downing Street officials came away from last summer’s Obama talks with little sense of the future president’s commitment to the UK’s broader, global concerns outside of strategic US priorities. And it was not without note that Obama chose to give his signal address in Berlin, not London.

None of which should have come as a surprise. Given that Dreams From My Father has topped the bestseller list since November, Obama’s ambiguous regard for the British is well known. Of course, there is an abiding suspicion of Britain as the former imperial power in Kenya, with allegations that Obama’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was tortured by British forces during the struggle for independence. Equally painful no doubt are Obama’s memories of attending a stag do in Wokingham in 1997 involving a St Trinian’s strippergram.

But whenever the British appear in Obama’s autobiography, they play the caricature of reactionary old-world fogeys. On his flight to Kenya, Obama sits next to “a pale, gangly youth” in an ill-fitting blazer who condones apartheid South Africa. On safari, he meets the Wilkersons —British doctors working in Malawi who found England “terribly cramped” but could never really call Africa home: “Sins of the father, you know.”

And as Obama boards the train out of Nairobi, he thinks of his grandfather’s struggle and conjures up “some nameless British officer” surveying the imperial landscape: “Would he have felt a sense of triumph, a confidence that the guiding light of western civilisation had finally penetrated the African darkness?”

Clearly, Britain needs a charm offensive. And it is equally apparent that its man in Washington, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, is not best suited for the task. Now is just the moment for Watts to return to Washington.

— The Guardian, London