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DAWN - Editorial; February 03, 2009

February 03, 2009

Will it be any different?

THE third phase of Operation Rah-i-Haq underway in Swat has been talked up by the government and the Pakistan Army on the grounds of a ‘new strategy’. While we must wait to see the results, past experience suggests that strategies are deemed successful until it becomes impossible to deny their failure. Will phase three of the operation be any different? For several reasons it must; failure at this stage would be catastrophic. The army-run Swat Media Centre tends to portray the battle as one in which slow but determined progress is being made, but the reality is that the Pakistan Army’s reputation has suffered a severe blow in the area.

Two key questions remain unanswered. One, does the Pakistan Army have the will to crush the militants? Two, does it have the capability to do so? The will has been questioned on the grounds that the militants have suffered less as compared to the collateral damage caused in Swat. This fact has created an extremely negative perception of the armed forces among the Swatis and led to unfortunate questions about whose side the armed forces are on. However, if the will is in fact present, then the capabilities of the armed forces have certainly come under question in the various phases of Operation Rah-i-Haq since October 2007. If the Pakistan Army fails the Swat litmus test, any notion of the sovereignty of the state will be destroyed. Maulana Fazlullah will not stop at conquering Swat; logically, he will move on to other parts of the Malakand division and soon arrive at the doorstep of Peshawar. Moreover, if the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan continues to defy the Pakistan Army in Swat, the international ‘do more’ brigade urging Pakistan to fight the militants may reconsider its options on the pretext that we cannot win the battle on our own. From there the unravelling of the state as we know it may be a rapid affair.

Yet, while the military component of the battle for Swat needs a thorough revision, the political component has been far from helpful. Time and again the politicians have flip-flopped on their support for the military operation in Swat while at the same time declining to show any real leadership there. On Sunday, Federal Minister for Narcotics Control Nawabzada Muhammad Khan Hoti resigned from the cabinet and, among other grievances, took aim at the military operation in the NWFP. In Swat, a few politicians do show up in public to express their solidarity with the people and listen to their grievances, but the top political leadership has stayed away. Admittedly, there are serious security concerns for politicians but no less so for a frightened population that has nowhere to hide.

In cricketing exile

IT was inevitable and it happened. Already in disarray if not in a shambles, Pakistan cricket was dealt another body blow on Sunday when the ICC decided that this year’s Champions Trophy will not be held here after all. Rubbing salt into the wound, the ICC also reverted the result of the 2006 Oval Test to its original status as a victory for England as opposed to ‘match abandoned’. The technicality invoked is obvious. Going strictly by the rule book, Pakistan did forfeit the match when they refused to take the field. But the mitigating factors ought to have been taken into account, as they were earlier. The ICC’s own inquiry had proved that umpire Darrell Hair’s charge of ball tampering — the root cause of the stand-off — was completely baseless. That said, an umpire’s decision is supposed to be final. This is an area of passionate dispute and it is easy to see Inzamamul Haq’s side of the story. But it can also be argued that the Pakistan team could have continued with the match and lodged a protest later. The subsequent inquiry may well have dismissed the ball-tampering charge and put Hair’s head on the block anyway. The flip side is that the issue could have fizzled out, tarnishing our reputation yet again, if Pakistan had not taken a defiant stand in the heat of the moment.

The Champions Trophy controversy is even more complicated. The news from Pakistan these days is disturbing to say the least, and the concerns of teams due for a visit are understandable. It can also be asked if visiting sides can give of their best when forced to travel and play under conditions of uber-security that many could find stifling. But it is this same intense level of security provided by the Pakistan Cricket Board that should put concerns of personal safety to rest. Terrorists can strike anywhere in the cricket-playing world. It is ironic that Sri Lanka, a country that is no stranger to terrorism, has been named as a possible alternate venue for the Champions Trophy. Australia did not leave England when the London underground was attacked. Teams still visit Sri Lanka and the England side returned to India following the Mumbai massacre — to show solidarity, among other reasons of a more material nature. It is time to show solidarity with Pakistan as well. Leaving us in the wilderness could sound the death knell for top-flight cricket in this country.

Blocked relief goods

NOT content with massacring 1,300 Palestinians, 412 of them children, Israel is now blocking the delivery of relief goods for the victims of its 22-day blitz on Gaza. Land crossings are the only access for relief goods for Gaza’s traumatised population. But Israel has cut back on relief supplies by closing the crossings frequently. According to John Ging, chief of the UN’s relief agency for Palestine, Israel is letting only 100 trucks enter Gaza daily. This is 30 trucks less than the number of trailers going into Gaza daily before the three-week war. The war has devastated the Mediterranean strip and increased the quantum of supplies needed. No less than 20,000 buildings stand destroyed or damaged, and there are 5,450 wounded, including 1,855 children, besides the hundreds of thousands of homeless to be cared for. Gaza needs food and medical supplies and shelter in quantities and space larger than what it needed during ‘normal’ times. The international community’s response has been generous and quick, but according to Mr Ging thousands of tons of relief goods are blocked at the various crossing points. It is apparent that Israel does not want the supplies to reach the victims of its firepower that included phosphorus and depleted uranium. What Gaza needs, according to Mr Ging, are 600 trucks a day.

Like his chief Ban Ki-moon, Mr Ging, too, refused to criticise Israel, for instead of condemning the state for its sadism, he circumvented Israel’s criticism at his press conference by saying that it had to find “operational solutions to get the crossing points open”. What the world should note is Mr Ging’s warning that the non-availability of relief is causing anger among the Gazans and strengthening extremism. “I am not saying that the entire population has turned over to extremism,” he said. “I’m saying that there’s more of it than there was before” because “a fertile ground for extremism is this misery and despair”. President Barack Obama, who told the Muslim world the other day that “America is not your enemy”, should have the courage to defy the powerful pro-Israel lobby in his country and act to lessen human misery in Gaza.

OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press

Awami Awaz

Need for reconciliation

THE law minister, Farooq H. Naek, has categorically said that for the reinstatement of the judges a constitutional amendment is required as any other option would lead to a constitutional crisis. None of the judges deposed by former President Pervez Musharraf would be restored unless they took a fresh oath of office. The government’s stand is that 90 per cent of the judges have been restored and they have taken oath while the remaining can follow. Mr Naek says there is no provision of restoration in the constitution; instead it stresses that the appointments and the independence of the judiciary should not be tied to individuals.

In fact non-political forces which have violated the constitution to achieve their vested interests are responsible for the constitutional, political and governance crises. The present constitutional crisis too is a gift from Gen Musharraf. However, the opposition is insisting that the present government put an end to it. The government is of the view that it has reinstated the judges in a befitting manner and the remaining judges can follow suit.

All the three parties i.e. the government, PML-N and the lawyers’ community want to resolve this constitutional crisis but they do not agree on the method. The government is of the view that it has nearly completed this process as the majority of judges have been restored. But the lawyers’ community and the opposition disagree.

The opposition should realise the fact that there is a difference between the present government and that of Gen Musharraf. The opposition should adapt and change its strategy accordingly. As far as the method is concerned, it can be negotiated. The transition to democracy is still at a delicate stage while the country is facing many challenges — from militancy to economic and political instability. This situation does not demand a long march.

History is witness to the fact that confrontation between political forces has benefited undemocratic and non-political forces. Hence in the present scenario political parties should devise a strategy for reconciliation. They should avoid a situation which may benefit these undemocratic and non-political forces.

Today, Pakistan is under pressure from the international community, in addition to the fact that the government faces many challenges. In this scenario any ugly confrontation and tension could weaken the country. Instead of a long march, they should debate the matter in parliament. In fact the opposition is equally responsible for ensuring political stability in the country.The government should not become a tool in the hands of non-democratic forces. It should shun the unwise recommendations of these forces which will only invite trouble for the government as well as for democracy. It is the need of the hour that the government take the opposition into confidence. It should continue with the reconciliation policy which it had adopted during its ascent to power. The country still needs this policy…. We believe that the government will take all the parties into confidence and that this will solve the political crisis. — (Feb 1)

Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi.

Political monetary policy

By Dr Pervez Tahir

FISCAL policy is by definition political; it is made by politicians. In contrast, monetary policy is kept away from political rulers in all functioning democracies.

Generally a non-political professional is appointed, not elected, as the head of the central bank and left alone to take an independent view of the economic and financial data to announce a monetary policy in the best interest of the economy. It is hard to apply this description to the monetary policy just announced by the State Bank of Pakistan.

The monetary stance seems to have been decided in the cabinet meeting held in early January and announced as such by the information minister at a press briefing that usually follows. The industries minister has been telling all and sundry in business that the government will not allow an increase in the interest rate. The adviser on finance too did not leave any doubt that the State Bank had to be a team player. What was left for the State Bank was to make a detailed justificatory statement, which has been done in the form of the latest monetary statement.

Both the government and the State Bank face a public relations dilemma. They are unable to explain in common parlance why the interest rate in Pakistan is following a different trajectory from that in every other country of the world. Rising inflation was easy to blame on the global hike in food and energy prices, but persistent core inflation is not. While the State Bank governor was at a loss to interpret the usual divergence between the wholesale price index and the consumer price index, the real issue for him was the core inflation. The fact is that core inflation is not moving at all. It was 18.9 per cent in November and 18.8 per cent in December. Variation of a few points at these high levels is of no significance at all.

If the State Bank had followed the principles of monetary economics, and its own researched position that financial charges are not a major component of the cost of doing business, then the discount rate should have been increased, not necessarily to the full extent of 150 basis points to please the IMF but by 50 basis points to make an unambiguous statement of intent. By following the government lead to keep the rate unchanged, the market expectation cannot but be of a cut the next time. By changing the frequency of monetary policy statements from half-yearly to quarterly, such expectations would be reinforced. The situation will not be helped by the fact that Pakistan does not have quarterly GDP data, making an assessment of nominal GDP that much difficult.

There is, however, more to the shift to quarterly announcements than meets the eye. In case the assessment in the forthcoming IMF review goes the other way, ignoring the democracy dividend plea put forth to the IMF first deputy managing director John Lipsky in Davos by the prime minister, the State Bank will have to suffer the ignominy of having to announce an interim monetary policy.

A quarterly statement will come in handy here. Let it be understood though that unfulfilled business expectations of a cut in a quarter from now will have a more devastating effect than their present disappointment over no change in the rate. And let it be also understood that the IMF is likely to be guided more by the commitment to achieve a June-on-June inflation rate of 12 per cent than anything else. The time was thus not yet to relax.

In a word, the do-nothing policy aimed to please the government, appease business and confuse the public is likely to add to the prevailing uncertainty. Projecting a GDP growth of 3.7 per cent in the current year against the earlier IMF projection of 3.5 per cent and the latest World Bank projection of three per cent makes the confusion worse confounded.

I have written earlier in these columns that we would be lucky if the GDP growth rate this year stays slightly above the population growth, unless the witch doctors of the Shaukat Aziz era, who continue to be in the employ of the government, are called upon to regroup their dirty-tricks squad to spike the growth rate. This will be the last nail in the coffin of the integrity of our statistical system.

The writer holds the Mahbub ul Haq Chair in Economics at the GC University, Lahore.

Aviation emissions

By Gwynne Dyer

The biggest “environmental” issue in Britain for the past year has been the plan to build a third runway at London’s Heathrow airport. The growth of air travel, the protesters claim, is a major cause of global warming, and John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK, predicted that Heathrow would become “the battlefield of our generation.”

So the protesters contacted Jim Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, to back their campaign.

They assumed that Hansen, the director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, would back their campaign, for last year he helped to defend six British protesters charged with criminal damage after occupying a coal-fired power station in Kent. To the obvious astonishment of the Heathrow protesters, he refused.

Hansen resisted several attempts by President Bush to silence him during the Great Darkness, and recently wrote an open letter to Barack Obama warning him that he must act decisively on climate change in his first term. Nor does he deny that planes flying through the stratosphere contribute to global warming.

He just insists on a sense of proportion — and he does not think that devoting the energies of the entire British environmental movement to preventing a third runway at Heathrow is a productive use of its time. “Coal is 80 per cent of the planet’s problems,” he said in an interview with The Observer. “You have to keep your eye on the ball and not waste your efforts. The number one enemy is coal and we should not forget that.”

All fossil fuels are a problem, for they all release carbon dioxide that was buried underground long ago back into the atmosphere, but coal is by far the worst. A coal-fired generating plant emits twice as much carbon dioxide as a gas-fired plant that produces the same amount of electricity. That is where the big cuts must be made soon if we are to escape grave consequences, and going after aviation emissions now is only a fashionable distraction.

But after we have stopped burning coal and gas to generate electricity, and after we have even replaced oil for most purposes, we will eventually have to deal with aviation’s contribution to global warming, for by then it will constitute a significant part of the remaining problem. Happily, there is a solution.

The major problem with airliners is not the carbon dioxide they produce as they fly — and in any case, that can be solved just by substituting some bio-fuel with a high enough energy content. Several such fuels are being experimented with now, and will almost certainly be commercially available in 10 or 15 years.

The real issue — three or four times bigger than the CO2 problem, by most estimates — is the water vapour that high-flying airliners dump into the stratosphere, which turns into persistent high-altitude clouds that reflect heat back to the surface and contribute to global warming.

The solution to that, obviously, is to fly lower than 27,000 feet down in the weather, where the water vapour turns harmlessly into rain. But that means smaller wings, because the air is denser down there, and smaller wings mean longer take-off and landing runs. Flying in the troposphere also means constant turbulence and a lot of air-sickness bags.

But there is a single technology that would solve all of these problems at once. “If you go to something called circulation control,” explains Dennis Bushnell, the chief scientist at Nasa’s Langley Research Centre, “which is to bleed the engines and inject air backwards at the upper trailing edge of the wing, you can produce lift coefficients which are easily three or four times what we can get out of conventional wings.”

That means very short take-offs and landings, so short that existing runways could accommodate several aircraft at once. And the same circulation control system, used in flight, has “such tremendous control authority” that it can counter the bumps that are normally part of flying down in the weather and produce a smooth ride.

Problem solved — in 15 or 20 years, when that technology is incorporated into the civil airliner fleet and aviation-grade biofuels are available. Even Heathrow’s third-runway problem would be solved at that point, since far more aircraft could use the existing two.

Climate change is a problem caused by technology, and most of the potential solutions are also technological. Aviation is a small part of the problem, and the solutions will be along in a while. Concentrate on closing down the coal-fired power stations, and we may get through this without too many casualties.