DAWN - Editorial; January 15, 2009

January 15, 2009


Climate change

WHEN Dr R.K. Pachauri speaks it would be folly not to listen. The eminent scientist heads the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which proved some two years ago that climate change induced by human activity is an undeniable fact, not just a theory. The IPCC, along with former US vice-president Al Gore, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later that year. Speaking in Islamabad on Tuesday at a South Asia regional conference on climate change, Dr Pachauri warned that Pakistan will be among the countries hit hardest by global warming. If greenhouse-gas emissions are not curtailed, dwindling water supplies and higher sea temperatures will leave the agricultural and fisheries sectors reeling, while rising sea levels could flood the coastline, displacing millions of people. Other experts have predicted in recent years that an increase in glacial melt will initially produce flooding and ultimately, when the glaciers are gone, severe drought. The result: acute food and water shortages, loss of livelihood and an increased potential for conflict over shrinking resources. In short, the country, its people and its economy could be crippled.

Unfortunately there is little that Pakistan can do on its own to prevent the changes in climate that are already evident in our country and across the planet. We produce a mere 0.4 per cent or so of the greenhouse gases emitted annually worldwide and yet Pakistan ranks 12th in the list of countries that will bear the brunt of climate change. Cutting our emission levels is an admirable goal but it will be of little use unless the big polluters do likewise and in far greater measure. As such our focus has to be on mitigation measures that can help the country control to an extent the damage inflicted by global warming.

For instance, the cultivation of crops grown traditionally in a particular area may not be feasible in the future due to changing weather or soil conditions. To counter such disruptions in cropping patterns and agricultural seasons, research can be initiated to develop cultivars or to identify other crops that can cope with the altered conditions. A concerted effort must be made to conserve water, especially in agriculture which is by far the biggest consumer. Irrigation canals have to be lined — and if possible covered — water-efficient farming techniques need to be adopted and projects launched to help store rainwater. Pakistan’s healthcare services are dismal anyway but demands on the system will increase manifold as climate change brings with it greater disease and affliction. And as the weather becomes ever more erratic, increasing the frequency of cyclones and storms, the need for efficient warning and disaster-management systems will become even more urgent than it is today. Hopefully the world will mend its ways and check climate change. But we must be prepared for the worst.

US diplomacy and Pakistan

GIVEN her credentials, Senator Clinton’s confirmation hearing wasn’t going to be a baptism of fire. The hearing was more relevant from the point of view of what hints Ms Clinton would drop about how an Obama administration’s foreign policy would differ from President Bush’s. Unsurprisingly, Ms Clinton was short on specifics — those will become apparent in the weeks and months ahead. Yet, from a Pakistani perspective, there were several clues about what lies ahead. First, a healthy dose of realism: Pakistan does not lie at the centre of the American universe. The coverage of the hearing in all major American newspapers — The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor — did not lead with Afghanistan or Pakistan. Instead, Iran, Syria, North Korea and the Israel-Palestine issue dominated the news. For Pakistan it is important to remember that the country is only one, albeit an important, piece in the global jigsaw puzzle that the American diplomatic corps led by Ms Clinton will need to assess and assemble. A precondition for successful statecraft is to have the right perspective of the global pecking order.

However, the comments Ms Clinton did make on Afghanistan and Pakistan reinforced the bipartisan assessment in the US that the Pak-Afghan border is ground zero in the war against militancy. “Pakistan and Afghanistan are definitively the front line of our global counter-terrorism efforts,” Ms Clinton said. Parsing her comments on Pakistan, it is clear that at least in the short term an Obama White House and a Clinton Foggy Bottom will not be likely to deviate from the Bush administration’s recent policy. Drone attacks will likely continue in Fata, military action inside Afghanistan will step up and firefights along the Pak-Afghan border are likely to increase as America sends more troops to Afghanistan. The good news is that key players in America are not in favour of a purely military approach to Pakistan. John Kerry, the next chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will lend his name to the proposed Biden-Lugar legislation; Joseph Biden will of course be the next vice-president; and John Podesta, Obama’s transition chief, is president of the Centre for American Progress, which endorsed a broader relationship with Pakistan in a recent report. And Ms Clinton is hardly a gung-ho figure. Expect her to not take a back seat to the defence department.

The call of conscience

IN a posthumously published editorial, Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of Sri Lanka’s The Sunday Leader, who was assassinated last week, wrote, “No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism.” Mr Wickrematunge’s words proved prophetic. What is more he placed his head on the block knowing its implications in a country where forces preaching violence have gained ascendancy and a seemingly democratic government cannot tolerate criticism. It was a calculated risk he took at a time when the risks were never greater. Why? He explained, “There is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.” And unfortunately for those with a conscience that is how risky the world of journalism has now become as was demonstrated by the fate that befell the Sunday Leader’s editor, whose killers have still to be traced.

Conditions in Pakistan are no better. The country stands at a woeful ranking of 152nd (out of 173) in the 2008 index prepared by Reporters Without Frontiers and was dubbed a “highly dangerous black zone”. According to the International Federation of Journalists, 12 media persons died in the line of duty in Pakistan in the year preceding World Press Freedom Day in May 2008. But as Mr Wickrematunge observed, the call of conscience can be a powerful force in guiding journalists. The latter owe it to their readers to expose vested interests which use all the force and terrorism at their command, even state machinery, to achieve selfish and narrow gains. Thus alone can journalists ensure that the truth is not subverted. In an age when, thanks to advanced communication technologies, the forces of democratic freedom have emerged as a strong deterrent to autocratic and unaccountable governments, the brunt of the risk has been borne by media practitioners who have become personally vulnerable. Isn’t it easier to eliminate individuals than institutions? That holds particularly true for societies that have been brutalised by conflict — be they in Sri Lanka (since 1983) or Pakistan (since 1979).

OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press

The Egyptian Gazette

Gulf News

Cotton growers’ woes

FOR many years, Egypt occupied a prestigious position in the world cotton market, because of the unique quality of its long staple cotton, known as ‘King Cotton’. Egypt’s production of cotton and related products ... has suffered dreadfully because of the terrible negligence of the different concerned bodies.

The Ministry of Agriculture has been discouraging cotton farmers by refraining from purchasing their crops for long weeks every season and not agreeing on a purchasing price before the cultivation season starts. The result is that fewer and fewer feddans are being cultivated with cotton. Meanwhile, the Egyptian trade offices abroad don’t seem to be working hard to promote Egyptian cotton.... Another problem is that the goods produced by these factories are not of a high enough quality ... while the huge customs duties being imposed on imported cotton make these goods very expensive for local consumers. ...The government should either encourage the cultivation of long staple cotton for export …or encourage farmers to cultivate the lower quality short staple cotton for the local factories, so they can manufacture their goods at reasonable prices.…— (Jan 12)

Israel’s war crimes

SHORTLY after the United Nations Security Council passed its resolution to end the war on Gaza, Israel attacked a house in the ravaged city, killing a family of six. And despite the resolution’s call to resume aid to the Strip, relief agencies are yet to be allowed to do their job by the Israeli army. ...So who would hold Israel accountable? Who could force the Olmert government to stop the massacres? Obviously nobody. Finally, the UN agencies working in Gaza and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told us what we knew all along. Israel is violating international law and “deliberately” obstructing relief efforts.

It is a good step to start to tell the truth, even after more than 770 people were killed —half of them women and children massacred in their homes or in UN shelters. But again, are the UN and the ICRC willing to hold Israel accountable for such war crimes?

For two weeks, international politics have failed the innocents in Gaza and inter-Arab disputes left Gazans alone in the face of the state-of-the-art US-made Israeli mass killing machine.

…The UN … and the ICRC have a moral responsibility to at least try to bring the Israeli war criminals to justice. — (Jan 9)

A way out of the crisis: The energy crunch — II

By Sartaj Aziz

THE first part of the article published yesterday examined the causes of Pakistan’s energy crunch and indicated the need for short- and medium-term measures to overcome the crisis. What these would entail is discussed in detail below. We first focus on the short-term measures:

1) The quickest, though fiscally difficult, way to reduce load-shedding is to resolve the “circular debt problem” on a priority basis. With the decline in oil prices, this drain on budget has declined but the past amounts payable to oil companies, Pepco, gas companies and Wapda, should be settled as early as possible to clean the books. The payments should also be linked to higher capacity utilisation to ensure that Wapda and private thermal stations increase their generation to at least 10,000 MW, which together with 2,500 MW from hydel generation should be adequate to meet the projected winter demand of about 12,500 MW in 2008-09.

2) Many new power generation and power conservation projects have been identified but their implementation is behind schedule and costs relatively high. These include a) additions of rented and barge mounted power plants (950 MW); b) new IPP’s thermal plants under installation (375 MW); c) quick rehabilitation of Wapda’s power plants (200 MW); and energy conservation and loss reduction measures (980 MW)

The capital cost of about 1,500 MW of new plants is reported to be $3bn. That means about $2,000 per MW, which is twice as large as the cost of IPP projects in the 1990s and three times the cost of many Wapda power plants. By adding such expensive electricity to the system at Rs12-14 per unit, more electricity will be added but will not be affordable.

3) Similarly, the agreement to import 1,000 MW electricity from Iran has been discussed for some time, but it is difficult to determine its implementation deadline.

4) The manner in which the burden of load-shedding has been spread between different categories of users leaves much to be desired. As additional electricity becomes available, the load-shedding schedule should reflect very clear and transparent priorities, in consultation with all the stakeholders.

5) As long as electricity shortage continues, further increments in tariff should be avoided. GST should not be re-imposed and a cap on withholding tax on electricity maintained. With reduction in oil prices and proposed conservation measures, the unit cost of electricity generation should come down.

Given below are measures to be taken in the medium term:

i) In the next three to five years, all gas-based and inefficient Wapda plants should be replaced by new and more efficient combined cycle plants. Many of the old plants are running on gas but since they are inefficient, they produce only 60 to 70 per cent as much electricity as a new and more efficient plant will produce with the same quantity of gas. This will not only reduce the cost per unit but also be more cost-effective than setting up a new power plant at a new location in the public or private sector.

ii) The distribution companies should also be provided adequate resources to modernise the overloaded transmission and distribution system. The required investment can be recovered in less than three years through savings in transmission losses.

iii) The longer term solution of the energy crisis will be to restore the hydro-thermal mix to 60:40 or at least 50:50 in the next five years. The Water Accord of 1991 had opened the way for constructing many dams to store water and generate electricity. But the continuing controversy over the Kalabagh Dam became a major obstacle. Surprisingly, even many smaller and non-controversial hydroelectric projects have been delayed without any justification. The hydel projects in the pipeline include the following: Neelum Jhelum (969 MW), Tarbela Fourth Extension (960 MW), Suki Kinari (840 MW), Munda Dam (700 MW), Khan Dubar (130 MW), Allai (126 MW) and Jinnah Hydro (96 MW).

Some of these were recently presented to the World Bank for technical and financial support, but to fast-track these projects it will be necessary to announce a fixed tariff at which any private power producer can sell hydroelectricity to the system. Urgent negotiations are also needed with experienced Chinese authorities to finance and implement some of these hydroelectric projects.

iv) The programmes and initiatives listed above would be difficult to plan and implement, without major institutional and administrative improvement in the energy sector to upgrade implementation capacity. Wapda and its thermal arm, the Gencos, Pepco and KESC must be given full autonomy to prepare, market and construct new projects, as it did in the 1960s and 1970s when it undertook the massive Indus Basin Works, under the supervision of its own autonomous governing bodies. These organisations also need the best available technical expertise and competence to meet the energy challenge of the future. Drastic reduction in Wapda’s capacity due to micro management by the ministries concerned is one of the main reasons why its proposals made in 2003-2006 to expand the generating capacity could not be implemented.

v) The natural resources of Pakistan are not just limited to water and gas. Coal is also available. Thar has one of the largest deposits of coal in the world. The coal at Thar is not of high quality but it is locally and abundantly available. Tapping of this resource would greatly reduce the dependence on imported energy. The Thar coal can be cleaned and the sulphur reduced so that it can be burnt in conventional coal power plants and also converted into gas. Coal gasification is a slightly more expensive process, but the gas from coal is a proven and cleaner technology. The Chinese had prepared a feasibility report in 2005 to produce 3,000 MW at 5.8 cents per unit, but the project could not move forward because they were offered only 5.3 cents.

vi) There are also many possibilities of regional cooperation in building gas and oil pipelines. These include the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline; the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline; an oil, gas and electricity corridor from Gwadar to Western China, the import of 1,000 MW electricity from Ragun hydro station in Tajikistan for which an agreement was signed by me in March 1992 at the rate of 3.3 cents per unit.

Regional energy cooperation can greatly facilitate the objective of national energy security, because it will not only reduce the cost of energy, but also attract international financing.

vii) Internationally, much greater attention is being paid to new and renewable sources of energy such as wind power and solar energy. Pakistan should enhance its capacity to follow research in these fields and promote much greater use of renewable energy for light, heating, agriculture and small scale enterprises.


The writer is a former finance minister.

Guantanamo challenge

By Suzanne Goldenberg

BARACK Obama has seven days after he enters the White House before the looming war crimes trial of a former child soldier will force the new president to demonstrate his resolve to swiftly shut the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Omar Khadr is among the handful of 240 or so detainees whose face and story are widely known. The Canadian was 15 when he was held in Afghanistan. Footage of Khadr weeping under interrogation and calling for his mother emerged last summer. To allow his trial to go ahead on Jan 26 would be seen as endorsing the prosecution of a child soldier and the Bush administration’s discredited system of military tribunals, human rights organisations said.

“I cannot believe that the Obama administration really wants its legacy to be that the first thing it did was put on trial a child soldier,” said Lieutenant-Commander Bill Kuebler, Khadr’s military lawyer.

Halting the military tribunals would be the first concrete action dismantling the legal regime put in place by President Bush that allowed the rendition, torture and indefinite detention of Al Qaeda suspects.

Obama aides said on Monday that he intends to issue an executive order closing the camp, possibly on his first day as president. But the aides gave no timeline and Obama has ruled out a closure in his first 100 days.

A number of lawyers for detainees believe closing Guantanamo could take up to a year.

The Obama camp’s hopes of making headway on case reviews before Jan 20 were frustrated by the failure of the Bush administration and the Pentagon to turn over detainee records. Obama’s relatively late selection of his intelligence team, which he wanted involved in the reviews, meant further delays.

— The Guardian, London