Archive for the ‘ China ’ Category

11/11/11: Luck, Mysticism and Conspiracy of Rare Perfect Palindrome

By The National Post Staff

Regardless of how you keep the date — year/month/day? month/day/year? — 11/11/11 is a rare day on the Western calendar when six of the same number line up, capturing the fancy of numerologists, conspiracy theorists and textile lovers (more on this later) alike. Below, some of the ways the world is marking November 11, 2011.

Remembrance

The most solemn meaning of November 11? Remembrance, as much of the globe pauses in honour of those who fought — and those who fell — in various conflicts around the world. As most who paid attention during their school’s Remembrance Day ceremony know, the date’s origins come from signing of the armistice ending World War I on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — November 11, 1918.

Luck

In China, couples flocked to registry offices to marry on Friday in the belief that the “11/11/11” date is the most auspicious in a century. November 11 has been celebrated as an unofficial “singles’ day” in China since the 1990s — as the date is composed of the number one — and it is seen as a good day to marry and leave the single life behind. But this year is viewed as particularly special because the year also ends in the number 11. More than 200 couples packed into a marriage registration office in downtown Shanghai Friday morning, some having lined up for hours before its doors opened to ensure they were among the first to marry.

Shanghai alone had more than 3,300 couples who booked to marry on Friday, but the final tally could be higher as it does not include people who walk-in unannounced, a civil affairs bureau spokeswoman told AFP. Other Chinese cities reported a similar mania for marriage. In the eastern city of Nanjing, more than 3,000 couples planned to marry on Friday, ten times the usual daily average, the official Xinhua news agency said. More than 1,300 pairs will tie the knot in eastern Hangzhou city.

Conspiracy

Egypt will close the Great Pyramid of Giza on Friday to avoid any rituals by a group rumoured to have plans to mark the date of 11/11/11 at the site, an official said. The decision came “after much pressure” from Egyptian Internet users that strange rituals were going to be held “within the walls of the pyramid on November 11, 2011,” Atef Abu Zahab, head of the Department of Pharaonic Archaeology, told AFP.

The Supreme Council of Antiquities confirmed the closure Friday of the tourist site, in a statement that only referred to the need for maintenance following a busy period during Muslim holidays.

The Pyramid of Cheops is the biggest and most famous of the three Giza pyramids. It houses the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu, and is the only surviving one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Mysticism

Thousands of people plan to meet at the time around the world for ceremonial dances, and several pages devoted to the date have appeared on social networking website Facebook.

Some attribute the number 11 to paranormal powers that provide a channel of communication with the subconscious, others see a mystical connection between the number and disasters, like the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Corduroy

It’s not just a day for solemnity and subconscious-channeling — what about the fabric that has given so much plush joy to the world? The folks at the Corduroy Appreciation Club havedeclared November 11, 2011 The date which most closely resembles Corduroy, EVER. In honour of this extremely important occasion — the culmination of an 11-day celebration that includes protests against that sinister, smooth rival, velvet and a “mass waling” — members are assembling in New York. They will be required to don at least three (not two!) items of corduroy. Activities will include “Dark Secret Rituals,” “Presentation of Awards for Exemplary Usage of Corduroy,” “Singing, Dancing and Poetry inspired by Corduroy,” and, we suspect most crucially, an open bar.

 

Marketing

Much like 9-9-99, 01-01-01 and 09-09-09, 11-11-11 is a great date for marketers. Several companies, including Taco Bell and Energizer had huge promotions based around the easy-to-remember date. Probably the most notable North American promotion was the release of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a massive role playing video game, which switched its launch date from the traditional Tuesday to Friday to get the 11-11-11 date. The fact that the date is an American holiday, Veteran’s Day, is also fueling ad dollars. From the NYT:

Ads that hinge on a special date are an example of a marketing tactic called borrowed interest, in which advertisers try to involve themselves in big, topical events that the proverbial “everyone” is talking about. It is the hucksters’ equivalent of candidates far down on the ballot attempting to win by riding the coattails of those at the top of the ticket.

Births

Marketers aren’t the only ones looking to cash in — several Des Moines, Iowa women hope to get a refund on their obstetrician’s fee by giving birth on 11/11/11. Reports the Des Moines Register:

Dr. Ross Valone announced last February — nine months ago — that he would put the fee money into a bank account in the baby’s name, with the stipulation that the child could withdraw the money upon turning 21. His fee usually runs from $900 to $2,000, depending on the case and the insurer. Valone said Wednesday that he is scheduled to perform cesarean sections Friday on two women who delivered that way in the past. He also is scheduled that day to deliver a baby for a woman who plans to have an induced birth.

With files from Agence France-Presse

Advertisements

Pakistan is the World’s Sixth Country to Map a Human Genome

As Reported by the Pamir Times

Pakistan has become the world’s sixth country and the first Muslim state to map the genome of the first Pakistani individual. The complete genome mapping was done jointly by the Panjwani Center for Molecular Medicine & Drug Research (PCMD) at Karachi University and Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) in China.

The details were revealed to the Pakistani media by Prof. Dr. M. Iqbal Choudhary, Director International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS), Karachi University and Dr. Kamran Azim of ICCBS at a press conference at PCMD.

Highlighting the importance of the project, Dr. Choudhary said Pakistan had officially entered into the world of genome mapping and the details of the work would be published soon in a research journal. He disclosed that eminent Pakistani chemist and former chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman was the first Muslim and Pakistani whose complete genome was mapped by Dr. Kamran Azim.

“The important work will pave the way for research on heredity diseases, evolution and the over all genetic make up of Pakistanis which now hold a unique genetic pattern as a nation. In the past many people like Dr. Watson and others urged scientists not to reveal their genome publicly but Dr. Rehman has never put any restrictions for his genome draft,” Choudhary added.

The whole process cost US$ 40,000 and was equally contributed by PCMD and BGI.
The blood samples of Dr. Atta ur Rehman were sent to BGI where his genome was sequenced by state of the art gene sequencing machines, however, the technical and research work was mainly done by Dr. Azim.

Genome: The Book of Life

In his marvelous book, Genome, Matt Ridley wrote:

“Imagine that the genome is a book. There are 23 chapters, called chromosomes. Each chapter contains several thousand stories, called genes. Each story is made up of paragraphs called exons, which are interrupted by advertisements called introns. Each paragraph is made up of words called codons. Each word written in letters are called bases, which are Cytosine, Guanine, Adenine, Thiamine or shortly A,G,T,C.”

The remarkable achievement of the first genome mapping of any Pakistani is just like opening the software or book of life of a nation.

Later, in his presentation, Dr. Kamran Azim said the project would help improve the diagnosis of diseases and also help trace back mutations in genetics of the Pakistani nation. Both Dr. Azim and Dr. Choudhary emphasised to establish a national genomic center and Dr. Choudhary said that the center should be established at the PCMD premises because of the knowledge and infrastructure that exists at the center. [Originally published on DAWN in 2011]

Imran Khan Laps Up Acclaim in Pakistan

Declan Walsh for The Guardian

For a decade Imran Khan has occupied the hinterland, if not quite the wilderness, of Pakistani politics. The cricket legend has won just one seat in parliament – his own – and been scorned by critics as a celebrity windbag at best and a Taliban sympathiser at worst.

But this weekend Khan dramatically transformed his standing at a stroke, bursting onto the national stage with an impressive show of street power that jolted Pakistan’s largest parties and turned received wisdom on its head.

At least 100,000 people gathered to hear Khan issue a rousing call to political “revolution” spiced with strident denunciations of government corruption.

“Declare your assets or face the wrath of the people,” he shouted, drawing roars of approval, in the largest rally for decades in Lahore, Pakistan’s political heartland.

The crowd reflected the vein that Khan has tapped – young, urban and mostly educated Pakistanis who have grown disillusioned by the chaotic politicking and inept governance of the traditional political elite. “It’s an activation of the upper middle class – people who, over the years, haven’t had a voice in Pakistani politics,” said political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi.

In contrast Khan enjoys a reputation for being incorruptible and straight-talking, polished by a glint of fame. Also in Lahore was his ex-wife Jemima, who remains a supporter, and Jennifer Robinson, a London media lawyer whose clients include WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. “Yes we Khan,” she tweeted afterwards.

The rally set the political scene abuzz with speculation; “Imran’s Lahore rally stuns opponents” read the headline in Dawn. But large questions loom about whether he can transform his acclaim into power.

Despite his claims of a “revolution” against President Asif Ali Zardari, Khan is more likely to hurt Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader who considers Lahore his political base. Sunday’s rally crowned a wave of smaller yet well-attended rallies across the surrounding Punjab province over the past three months.

“It’s been slowly taking root. People are getting disillusioned, they saw Imran as more dynamic and focused,” said Najam Sethi, a veteran journalist and analyst.

National elections are not scheduled until 2013, although a midterm Senate election next March – which is likely to see the Pakistan People’s party led by Zardari seize control of the upper house of parliament – has caused the political temperature to soar.

Electoral success for Khan would likely fracture politics further – a prospect that would please Pakistan’s spymasters and generals, who have traditionally liked their civilian leaders both shaken and stirred. Khan has faced accusations that his new-found popularity is being quietly boosted by the military, and his Lahore speech was notable for his lack of criticism of the army. Khan denies any link. “I think Imran and the army will get along very well – if he ever comes to power,” said Sethi. He entered politics in 1996 as one of the most loved public figures in a cricket-crazy nation, and the founder of a cancer hospital that remains one of Pakistan’s most respected charities.

But his politics have been more controversial. He supported Pervez Musharraf’s coup in 1999, sided with Islamist mullahs and, in 2009, opposed an army operation against the Taliban in the Swat valley, arguing it was better to talk than fight. He boycotted the 2008 election, a move that relegated him to the chat show fringe of politics.

But in recent years he has steadily built his popularity among young Pakistanis, capitalising on disillusionment with political corruption and anger at US drone strikes in the tribal belt.

His Lahore rally echoed many of those themes. Pakistan wanted “independence, not slavery” in its relations with the US, he said, before announcing that he would be leaving for China hours later. “I am leaving at the invitation of the Chinese government. Friendship with them will be pursued to the fullest,” he said.

But critics said that while his speech was high on inflammatory rhetoric – including gratuitous attacks at some rivals and one diplomat – it was lacking in concrete prescriptions. “His next challenge is to show that he understands Pakistan’s problems – and can formulate policy to deal with them” said Zaidi.

China Seeks Military Bases in Pakistan

By Amir Mir for Asia Times

While Pakistan wants China to build a naval base at its southwestern seaport of Gwadar in Balochistan province, Beijing is more interested in setting up military bases either in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan or in the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA) that border Xinjiang province.

The Chinese desire is meant to contain growing terrorist activities of Chinese rebels belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) that is also described as the Turkistani Islamic Party (TIP).

The Chinese Muslim rebels want the creation of an independent Islamic state and are allegedly being trained in the tribal areas of Pakistan. According to well-placed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, Beijing’s wish for a military presence in Pakistan was discussed at length by the political and military leadership of both countries in recent months as China (which views the Uyghur separatist sentiment as a dire threat) has become ever-more concerned about Pakistan’s tribal areas as a haven for radicals.

Beijing believes that similar to the United States military presence in Pakistan, a Chinese attendance would enable its military to effectively counter the Muslim separatists who have been operating from the tribal areas of Pakistan for almost a decade, carrying out cross-border terrorist activities in trouble-stricken Xinjiang province.

There have been three high-profile visits from Pakistan to China in recent months; the first by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar; the second by President Asif Ali Zardari and the third by the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

The Pakistani visits were reciprocated by the September 28 visits to Islamabad by Chinese Vice Premier Meng Jianzhu and Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu. This was prompted by two bomb blasts in Kashgar city of Xinjiang province on July 30 and 31 in which 18 people were killed.

The explosions provoked senior government officials in Xinjiang to publicly claim for the first time in recent years that the attackers had been trained in explosives in ETIM/TIP camps run by Chinese separatists in the Waziristan tribal regions of Pakistan.

The Chinese allegation was described by many in the diplomatic circles of Islamabad as a clear sign of the growing impatience of Beijing with Islamabad’s failure to control radical groups operating within its borders.

The Chinese charge was made on the basis of a confession by a Uyghur militant arrested by the Chinese authorities. Pakistan swiftly extended all possible cooperation to Beijing against the ETIM/TIP network. “Terrorists, extremists and separatists in Xinjiang province constitute an evil force,” said an August 1 statement issued by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry after Chinese President Hu Jintao rang Zardari to express his grave concern over the growing activities of “terrorists” belonging to the Pakistan-based ETIM/TIP network.

In a subsequent video released on September 7, ETIM/TIP corroborated earlier Chinese claims that it was involved in attacks in Xinjiang in July.

The ETIM/TIP, run by natives of Xinjiang province, a Muslim-dominated region three times the size of France, is fighting against the settlement of China’s majority Han ethnic group in the western province, describing its struggle as a freedom movement.

The ETIM/TIP maintains that the Chinese are a colonial force in Xinjiang province – which it refers to as Turkistan – and emphasizes Islam over ethnicity. Though the ETIM/TIP network on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has been much weakened in recent years in the wake of the killing of many of its top leaders in US drone attacks, hardcore Uyghur militants are still shuttling between China and Pakistan, mainly because Xinjiang province shares a border with Pakistan.

The ETIM/TIP presence in Pakistan was first confirmed when one of its founding leaders, Hasan Mahsum alias Abu Muhammad al-Turkistan, was killed by Pakistani security forces in South Waziristan in October 2003.

The next one to be killed by the Americans in a drone attack was Memetiming Memeti alias Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, the ETIM/TIP chief, who was targeted in North Waziristan on February 15, 2010. Abdul Haq was succeeded by Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, a Chinese Uyghur, who is well known for his friendly terms with major Taliban groups in Waziristan.

He has taken control of overall command of Chinese and Uzbek militants in North Waziristan, due to his past association with the late Abdul Haq and late Tahir Yuldashev of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Beijing believes that the Chinese rebels operating from the Pakistani tribal areas are well-connected to al-Qaeda, which not only trains them but also provides funding.

Thus, Pakistan and China, which have cooperated for a long time in the field of counter-terrorism, have intensified their efforts to nip the terrorism in the bud, especially after the Kashgar blasts.

In fact, it was in the aftermath of the May 2 US raid which killed al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout that Islamabad started playing its China card aggressively, perhaps to caution Washington against pushing it too hard. Shortly after the Abbottabad raid, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani traveled to Beijing.

Accompanying Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar had stated on May 21 that whatever requests for assistance the Pakistani side made, the Chinese government was more than happy to oblige, including agreeing to take over operations of the strategically positioned but underused port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea on expiry of a contract with a Singaporean government company.

He disclosed that Pakistan had asked China to begin building a naval base at Gwadar, where Beijing funded and built the port. “We would be grateful to the Chinese government if a naval base is constructed at the site of Gwadar for Pakistan,” he said in a statement. Mukhtar later told a British newspaper in an interview: “We have asked our Chinese brothers to please build a naval base at Gwadar port.”

Knowledgeable Defense Ministry sources in Islamabad say that by having a Chinese naval base in the Gwadar area, Pakistan intends to counter-balance Indian naval forces.

However, diplomatic circles in Islamabad say Beijing, which has no military bases outside its territory and has often been vocal in criticizing American moves for operating such bases, first wants to establish military bases in Pakistan, which could be followed by the setting up of the naval base.

Therefore, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie promptly dismissed (on June 6) suggestions that Beijing was carving out a permanent naval presence in India’s neighborhood.

Answering questions at the 10th Asia Security Summit, organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, Liang disclaimed moves to build naval bases at Gwadar and at a Sri Lankan port. Emphasizing his credentials as a member of the Chinese State Council and Central Military Commission, he said:
We will have a very serious and careful study of an issue of such importance to the government and the military like the reported move for establishing naval bases in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Indeed, we will have exact plans and set up a panel to discuss it if the move were for real. However, I haven’t heard of it.

Asked by Manish Tewari, the Indian Congress party’s spokesman, to spell out China’s core interests in South Asia and the Indian Ocean area, Liang said:
The core interests include anything related to sovereignty, stability and form of government. China is now pursuing socialism. If there is any attempt to reject this path, it will touch upon China’s core interests. Or, if there is any attempt to encourage any part of China to secede, that also touches upon China’s core interests related to our land, sea or air. Then, anything that is related to China’s national economic and social development also touches upon China’s core interests.
The Chinese desire to have military bases in Pakistan is not a new one and has been discussed in the past.

An article published on the official website of the Chinese central government (www.gov.cn) on January 28, 2010, signaled that Beijing wanted to go the US way and set up military bases in overseas locations that would possibly include Pakistan. The obvious purpose would be to exert pressure on India as well as counter American influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The article stated:
Setting up overseas military bases is not an idea we have to shun; on the contrary, it is our right. It is baseless to say that we will not set up any military bases in future because we have never sent troops abroad. As for the military aspect, we should be able to conduct a retaliatory attack within the country or at the neighboring area of our potential enemies. We should also be able to put pressure on the overseas interests of potential enemies. With further development, China will be in great demand of military protection.
Analysts say although it might not be politically feasible for the Pakistani government to openly allow China to set up military bases on its soil, Islamabad might allow Beijing the use of its military facilities without any public announcement as a first step.

The Chinese demand to set up military bases in Pakistan has gained momentum at a time when the Indian military leadership is already raising a hue and cry over the alleged presence of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops in the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir as well as in the FANA, which was earlier called Gilgit and Baltistan.

In August 2009, the Pakistan government passed the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order to grant self-rule to the people of the area and create an elected legislative assembly. Gilgit-Baltistan thus gained de facto province-like status without doing so constitutionally.

Gilgit Baltistan province borders Pakistan’s Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province to the west, Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor to the north, China to the east and northeast, Pakistan-administered Kashmir to the southwest, and Jammu Kashmir to the southeast.

Although the supposed Chinese military presence in Pakistan’s northern areas of Gilgit Baltistan has been a matter of intense speculation in India, it was on October 5 that Indian army chief General V K Singh went public for the first time with the Indian establishment’s assessment of the kind of Chinese presence in the northern areas of Pakistan. “Around 4,000 Chinese including troops of the People’s Liberation Army are present in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,” Singh told journalists in New Delhi.

However, senior Foreign Office officials of Xinjiang told this writer during a briefing in Urumqi, the capital of the province, that the Indian army chief’s claim was fallacious and must be based on some misunderstanding.

Despite the fact that diplomatic ties between China and India have improved in recent years, they are still at odds over territorial claims from both countries dating back to the India-China border war in 1962.

While India and Pakistan control Pakistan-administered Kashmir (Azad) and Jammu Kashmir states respectively, China claims part of northeastern Kashmir that it says is a part of Tibet. Therefore, Beijing is highly critical of India’s support for the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 and set up a government in exile in the northern Indian hill town of Dharmsala.

The Indian army chief was not the first senior military official to have talked about the alleged Chinese presence in the northern areas of Pakistan.

In April this year, Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General K T Parnaik, while addressing a seminar in Jammu and Kashmir, said that the Chinese footprint in Pakistan-administered Kashmir was increasing steadily and its troops were actually present along the line of control (LoC) that divides the disputed Kashmir area.

“The Chinese presence in Gilgit-Baltistan and the northern areas of Pakistan is increasing steadily. There are many who are concerned about the fact that if there was to be hostility between India and Pakistan, what would be the complicity of the Chinese. Not only are they in the neighborhood, but the fact is that they are actually present and stationed along the LoC,” Parnaik said.

Zhang Xiaodi, the director general of the foreign affairs office in Urumqi, told this writer in a meeting on October 10 that there is no truth in the allegations leveled by Indian military officials. “There are only Chinese construction teams working in the northern areas of Pakistan on certain development projects being carried out by Pakistan and China jointly. The presence of People’s Liberation Army troops there is out of question.”

At the same time, there are those in the Pakistani Embassy in Beijing who view the Indian army chief’s allegation against the backdrop of the Pakistan army’s recent decision to include for the first time Chinese troops in military exercises along the border with the Indian states of Punjab and Rajasthan; the 101 Engineering Regiment of the PLA took part in exercises with their Pakistani counterparts in August this year.

Analysts say China’s deepening strategic penetration of Pakistan and the joint plans to set up not only new oil pipelines and railroads but also naval and military bases, are enough to set alarm bells ringing in New Delhi and Washington. The repercussions are particularly stark for India because both Beijing and Islamabad refuse to accept the territorial status quo and lay claim to large tracts of Indian land that could come under Chinese sway once Beijing is allowed to establish military bases in Pakistan.

The fact that Gilgit and Baltistan is located in the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir presents India with a two-front theater in the event of a war with either country. By deploying troops near the LoC and playing the Kashmir card against New Delhi, Beijing is clearly signaling that Kashmir is where the Sino-Pakistan nexus can squeeze India.

Amir Mir is a senior Pakistani journalist and the author of several books on the subject of militant Islam and terrorism, the latest being The Bhutto murder trail: From Waziristan to GHQ.

Pakistan Takes Giant Step With Trade Move

By James Lamont for The Financial Times

The move to grant Most Favoured Nation status to India by Pakistan marks a small step for the world trading system. But it is a giant step for Pakistan.

For decades, these two nuclear-armed rivals have strangled trade along what in centuries past was a commercial highway between the subcontinent and central Asia. Today bilateral trade totals a paltry $2.7bn – a fraction of its potential.

The obstacle is ideology. Pakistan’s leadership insisted that trade ties were conditional on progress in resolving a bitter dispute over the territory of Kashmir, a Muslim majority region claimed by both countries after the end of British rule in 1947.

India’s leadership was obligingly intransigent.

The “in principle” granting of MFN and easing of business visas, responding to Indian signals of goodwill, are courageous moves by Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders.

They have immediately attracted criticism from domestic industrial sectors which fear greater competition. Executives in Pakistan’s pharmaceuticals industry were quick to warn that their companies would be hurt by market access for India’s generic drugs companies.

Other sceptics hold up the example of India’s Bollywood film industry, already swamping the Pakistani entertainment market, as a sign of worse to come.

More menacingly, Kashmiri groups have condemned the decision as a betrayal. The United Jihad Council called trade liberalisation a “direct contravention” of Islamabad’s fight for Kashmir. It threatened “grave consequences” of going soft on Hindu-majority India.

Many fear that militant attacks on India will ensue in a bid to sap Delhi’s confidence in peace with Pakistan, and derail negotiations. Such attacks already rain down almost daily across Pakistan.

Most of all, the move reflects a mighty shift in opinion in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the powerful Pakistani army, at a time when the local economy is weakening.

A section of the army’s leadership is deeply worried about a mismanaged economy and anxious to put Pakistan, growing at 3 per cent, on a higher trajectory similar to the economies of India and China. With good reason. Railway workers go unpaid, industrialists are starved of power for their factories, and foreign investors, alongside Pakistani talent, are being frightened away by security risks.

More long term, some generals view the hostile position against India as unsustainable, and see incentives to normalise ties. They also say that Pakistan’s long-term military expenditure, supported by assistance from the US, cannot be borne by a broken economy.

Many of Pakistan’s most powerful industrialists are encouraging this change of heart. They see opportunity for cement, agriculture, banking and engineering in more access to the Indian market. More broadly, they say that the benefits of opening up more to China will only bear fruit when India too can compete in the local market.

From their offices in Karachi and Lahore, they dream of Pakistan forming a regional trade grouping with fast-growing China and India akin to that formed between Canada, Mexico and the US by the North American Free Trade Agreement.

That is of course a long way off thanks to one of the most intractable of world conflicts.

Some diplomats in Islamabad are highly sceptical of regional integration so long as the disputes fester over Kashmir and a security menace pours out of the border regions with Afghanistan.

They say that security still dominates the strategic debate in Pakistan. Any bilateral relationship is hamstrung by failure to find agreement on Kashmir.

Earthmovers are already busy at the Wagha border, the principal land crossing between the two countries, preparing a new freight handling facility for rising commerce.

The current limitations are plain to see. A delegation of Pakistani traders crossed the post on Tuesday on their way to a fair in Chandigarh, the capital of India’s Punjab state. The existing facilities, usually catering to about 20 foot passengers a day, were entirely overwhelmed.

Both sides need to capitalise on what are baby steps towards more open markets. The first thing they can do is improve the infrastructure linking the two countries. The second is to ease other obstacles like quantitative restrictions, customs procedures and formidable non-tariff barriers.

The far bigger task is to resist efforts to blow up reconciliation through commercial ties, and to proceed equally purposefully on some of the thornier issues that make the region one of the world’s most dangerous.

Have We Hit Rock Bottom Yet?

By Shahzad Chaudhry for The Express Tribune

Attending conferences and travelling to them are the two most testing tasks these days for most Pakistanis. The airports tend to give you a full low-down as soon as the ‘green’ passport is presented: I am told by authentic sources that in as friendly country as China it takes twice the time to clear immigration for a Pakistani traveller than for someone with any other passport.

Just so that we may place our ‘higher than the Himalayas’ relationship in perspective, I was also informed that there was a daily flight between Delhi and Beijing compared to only two a week between Islamabad and Beijing. The disparity in trade figures between Beijing and Delhi, and Beijing and Islamabad, respectively, are already well-known. Call it anything, size of the economies or economic pragmatism, or whatever, the fact is China and India are unlikely to go to war with a $100 billion stake, keeping the two tied in an interdependent embrace; wish what you may, Pakistan, bosom love ain’t coming to the rescue. That is the new world ‘geconomics’.

One thing that always strengthened my hand as an ambassador for Pakistan during the Shaukat Aziz years was the perpetual good news that came out on the economic front from Pakistan. Now there may be more than one opinion about Musharrafian economy, but I have always held, and with some conviction I might add, that economies work on few sound fundamentals and a lot of good sentiment. This last word is key. So if the services sector — telecom, construction, finance — all seemed to be galloping under Shaukat Aziz’s mantra of economic progress, he perhaps understood well the significance of looking dapper and sounding happy. He held the dollar pegged and the stock market boomed: the first was clever policy, the latter sentiment. After all what is in the story of an ‘Incredible’ India — the incredibility indeed of a well-manufactured fable and from there on the critical mass of success takes on.

It was famously reported that a particular British chancellor of the Exchequer was singing in the bathroom: the veil of pessimism lifted and the economic sentiment began its own hum. But when you sit on a dredged economy and scooped-out resources there is little that you can offer to the world as hope. Words remain just that, words. Give Hafeez Shaikh something to hum about, and he will hum. The difficulty is he himself remains incapable of carving one.

I haven’t heard a sicker pronouncement of Pakistan’s economic predicament than someone quoting to me the likely $12-16 billion flowing in remittances, as the ultimate trigger for turning around our fortunes. There cannot be a darker indictment of our lows. Incapable of generating revenues inside, we hope like hell for the world and the people to resuscitate us from the outside. Even in that, though, madness must have a method. Investments, portfolio or otherwise, flow into congenial environs; some, Hafeez Shaikh will have to conjure, some we, as partners in crime, will have to relent and enable.

I am not an economist, and certainly never pretended to be one, but I have been subjected enough to the pains of a few that even I could venture to suggest a course to the hapless finance minister. For instance, capital flight is a growing reality and industry needs an injection of support and sustenance under a dwindling availability of energy. The approaching winter months may just provide some respite from domestic energy consumption, enabling diversion to the industry sector. Where possible, policy measures can enable relief and sectoral benefits to industries that wish to work through the difficult times. That might just sustain the benefits emerging from an export boost last year.

Many have tended to qualify the boost in different ways and perhaps each has a point but then how long can you keep a merchant down; there is something called “recess fatigue”, and he must break from it to keep the wheels going. One hopes that a finance minister may recognise such trends and then have the wits to turn them into triggers of rebound. If not, paralysis may just be a more enveloping reality in Islamabad.

Agriculture is half policy, half divine. The policy side has seen some attention while divinity is mostly earned. Our erstwhile brothers in East Punjab seem to have hit a good combination and are worth a reflection. So if there is a formula for our finance gurus to follow in the short-term, it must reside around energy, industry and agriculture. Once out of the hole, we can then begin to embellish our societal existence.

What will bring back a smile on the finance minister’s face? An enabling environment? A country in war, and a 10-year-old war at that, cannot be given to economic congeniality. We need to wean this country away from war. Seriously taken, the All Parties Conference urgings to ‘give peace a chance’ is a worthy, if catchy slogan, and must find the necessary politico-military resolve. The difficulty in our prevailing discourse is that few are willing to find solace in a political effort alone. As the refrain is that military runs the policy, perhaps that is where one may head. So then, over to General Kayani.

With two years to go in his tenure, here are a few things that General Kayani must do: get us out of this war — the lesser the pain the better; shun militancy in all its manifestations — and here the word manifestation to my mind carries all its consequences; and cleanse the military system of this ill-advised and ill-conceived baggage of the yore. We need not depend on the augmenting effect of an irregular effort in enhancing our national agenda. For some time let us simply look inside and avoid external diversions. With General Kayani convinced of such disposition, no arm whatever can practice any part of our rather sad legacy in regional ambitions.

I do not know who killed Rabbani and why; I also don’t know if the Pakistani military alone supports the Haqqani network and to what extent, but I do know that defending accusations of Pakistani culpability is becoming a harder task. The time when any such insinuation will stick is when we will have hit rock bottom.

I wish we were out of this predicament. I wish to see my country relevant and respected; and, I wish to see a smile on a humming Hafeez Shaikh.

Polio in Pakistan: One more Way in Which Pakistan Fails its People

As Reported by The Economist

For a symptom of Pakistan’s problems, consider the spread of poliomyelitis. This week brought the 115th confirmed case of polio, a crippling and at times fatal disease passed on virally, mainly through bad hygiene. The tally is well up on last year.

In most countries polio is barely a memory. Rich countries had largely eliminated it by the 1970s, and many poor countries soon followed suit. Three decades ago the world saw an estimated 400,000 polio cases a year. Thanks to a cheap and effective vaccine, administered by two drops into a child’s mouth and washed down with dollops of public and private money, the annual global number is now roughly 1,000.

Only in South Asia and Nigeria is it still endemic, though it occasionally flares elsewhere. Since even wretched countries such as Sudan and Myanmar are rid of polio, doctors dream it could follow smallpox and rinderpest to become the third disease wiped from the planet. For hope, look at India. Last year it had just 44 cases of polio, down from an estimated 250,000 three decades ago. Sarah Crowe, of UNICEF in Delhi, credits “one of the biggest mass mobilisations ever for public health”. This year teams of workers headed to train stations, schools and villages, mostly in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, dosing children with vaccines and promoting habits like soapy hand-washing. Pitiful levels of sanitation persist: fewer Indians (about 50%) have toilets than have mobile phones. But this health campaign is working.

By contrast Pakistan flounders, even though the president, Asif Zardari, declared a national polio emergency in January and received help from the United Nations and the Gates Foundation. “Definitely the cases are on the rise”, says a glum Dr Altaf Bosan, who heads the government campaign.

Blame insecurity most. Three-quarters of last year’s cases were in conflict-ridden areas. The ignorance of religious leaders does not help, with their suspicion of foreign ways. Nor does poor government management. The World Health Organisation thinks that over 200,000 Pakistani children missed their polio vaccinations in the past couple of years. The worst-affected spots are Baluchistan, beset by sectarian massacres and police killings, and the unstable Federally Administered Tribal Areas near the Afghan border. Southern Sindh, deluged by two years of floods, has also been hit.

As more people migrate—because of violence, floods or economic need—the virus has travelled north, to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and beyond. Ten polio cases reported last month in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan, were the first in China since 1999. Eastern Afghanistan also struggles with eradication, given insecurity and its porous borders. But the heart of the problem is Pakistan. Officials conceded in January that the country could be “the last remaining reservoir of endemic poliovirus transmission in the world, and the only remaining threat to achieving global polio eradication.” That is no distinction to savour.

%d bloggers like this: