Pakistan: US Participation a Must in Russia-initiated Afghan Talks

As Reported by Ayaz Gul for The Voice of America

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN —
Pakistan says that Russia-sponsored international talks on Afghanistan must involve the United States for bringing peace to the war-riven country, because Washington is the “biggest stakeholder” there.

Moscow plans to host this week (April 14) a new expanded round of multi-nation “consultations” it has recently launched with the stated goals of developing a “regional approach” for promoting Afghan security and a government-led national reconciliation with the Taliban.

But the U.S. administration has already refused to take part in the conference, questioning Russian intentions and motives.

Speaking to a local television station before the Moscow talks, the Pakistani prime minister’s foreign policy aide, Tariq Fatemi, stopped short of admitting the absence of Washington will not allow the multi-nation process to achieve its mission.

“They [U.S] have their troops present [in Afghanistan], they have invested one trillion dollars there, they are the biggest stakeholder, they have lost hundreds of their soldiers, so they have their interests there,” Fatemi explained.

While Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, China, India were represented in the last round of talks in Moscow earlier this year, former Soviet Central Asian states have been invited for the first time to attend the April 14 conference.

“We hope and desire that when any such peace initiative will enter into a next stage, America will have to be made part of it,” Fatemi told Aaj TV when asked whether the Russian-initiated process could bring peace to Afghanistan without Washington.

Pakistan believes Russia is “positively” using its influence with the Taliban to encourage them to join peace talks and Islamabad is supportive of any such efforts, Fatemi insisted.

“Russia has told us its major concerns are that if civil war conditions are there in Afghanistan, it can become a center for terrorist organizations like Islamic State, or Daesh, who will then try to infiltrate into bordering Central Asian states,” the Pakistani official explained.

The Taliban’s attacks on rival IS fighters in a bid to prevent them from establishing a foothold in the country apparently encouraged Russia to support the insurgent group. But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday again warned Moscow against maintaining contacts with the Taliban.

“Anyone who thinks they can help themselves by helping the enemy of their enemy is mistaken. Anyone who thinks that they can differentiate between good and bad terrorism is mistaken,” Ghani said.

Speaking at a news conference in Kabul, Ghani acknowledged Russia is also threatened by terrorism and sympathized with victims of recent terrorist attack in that country.

“We have an intense dialogue with all our interlocutors because a stable Afghanistan is to everybody’s benefit and unstable Afghanistan hurts everyone,” Ghani said when asked whether Kabul plans to attend Moscow talks on Friday. He added he wants Afghanistan “as a center of cooperation” in all efforts aimed at stabilizing his country.

The Russian foreign ministry, while regretting Washington’s refusal to attend the coming talks, had also underscored the United States is an “important player” in settling the Afghan conflict.

“So [the United States] joining the peacekeeping efforts of the countries of the region would help to reinforce the message to the Afghan armed opposition regarding the need to stop armed resistance and to start talks,” it maintained.

Meanwhile, Fatemi said Pakistan has also stepped up diplomatic efforts to ease tensions with Afghanistan and is seeking implementation of a proposed mechanism the two sides agreed to in talks last months that were mediated by Britain.

The mechanism, he explained, would allow establishment of a “channel of communication at different levels” between Islamabad and Kabul to help remove “any misunderstanding” and deal with any terrorist incident on either side of their shared border.

“Talks [between the two countries] at the Army level and at different other levels are currently underway, and at a final stage, if needed, foreign ministers of the two countries will also engage in frequent meetings,” Fatemi said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan each deny allegations they harbor and support anti-state militants engaged in terrorist attacks on their respective soils. Tensions have lately risen because of Islamabad’s unilateral border security measures to prevent terrorist infiltration.

Kabul disputes portions of the 2,600-kilometer border between the two countries and is opposed to fencing them, saying it will further add to problems facing divided families.

Why I believe Pakistanis are the most gracious people in the world

By Harsh Mander for Scroll.In and Dawn.com

Pakistan Generosity

My mother was forced to leave behind the city of her birth, Rawalpindi, when she was just 18 because of the tumultuous ruptures of Partition. She had never returned. When she was to turn 75, I thought the best gift I could give her was to take her, if it was at all possible, to the city and to the home in which she was born.

I emailed my friends in Pakistan tentatively with my plan. They were immediately very welcoming.

“Just get her a visa, leave the rest to us,” they said. I applied for visas for my parents and the rest of my family. It seemed then a small miracle that we got these easily. I booked our flight tickets, and before long we were on our way.

A warm welcome

Our flight landed in Lahore, and our friends drove us from the airport to their home in Islamabad. I noticed that my mother was initially a little tense. Maybe it was memories of the violence of her exile; maybe it was just the idea that this was now a foreign land, and for many in India the enemy land.

I watched my mother gradually relax on the road journey to Islamabad, as she delighted in hearing my friends and the car driver speak the Punjabi of her childhood, and as she watched the altered landscape of her journey. Islamabad, of course, did not exist when she lived in the Punjab of her days.

In Islamabad, my friends invited to their homes many of their associates with their parents. They organised evenings of Punjabi poetry and music, which my parents relished. Our friends drove us to Murree, the hill-station in which my mother spent many pleasant summers as a child.

My mother had just one more request. Could she go to see the colony in Rawalpindi where she was born and spent her childhood in? My father also wanted to visit his college, the famous Gordon College in Rawalpindi.

A homecoming

My mother recalled that the name of the residential colony in which she lived as a child was called Gawal Mandi. My friends knew it well; it was now an upmarket upper middle-class enclave.

When we reached there, my mother tried to locate the house of her childhood. It seemed impossible. Everything was new: most of the old houses had been rebuilt and opulent new structures had come up in their place.

She located the building that had housed their gurudwara. It had now been converted into a health centre. But we had almost despaired of actually finding her childhood house. We doubted if it was even standing all these years later.

We were leaving when suddenly my mother pointed to the filigree work on the balconies of one of the old houses. My mother said: “I remember it because my father was very proud of the designs. He said there was none like it in the neighbourhood.”

Taking a chance, we knocked tentatively on the door of the house. A middle-aged man opened it, and asked us who we wanted to meet.

My mother said apologetically, “We are so sorry to trouble you, and intrude suddenly in this way. But I lived as a child in Gawal Mandi, before Partition, when we had to leave for India. I think this maybe was our home.”

The house owner’s response was spontaneous and immediate.

Mataji, why do you say that this was your home? It continues to be your home even today. You are most welcome.”

And he led us all in.

Before long, my mother confirmed that this was indeed her childhood home. She went from room to room, and then to the terrace, almost in a trance, recalling all the while fragments of her childhood memories in various corners of this house.

For months after we returned to Delhi, she would tell me that recollections of the house returned to her in her dreams.

Take a look: Why my heart said Pakistan Zindabad!

Half an hour later, we thanked the house-owners and said that we would be on our way. But they would not hear of it.

We were told: “You have come to your childhood home, then how can we let you go without you having a meal with us here?”

They overruled all our protestations, and lunch was prepared for around eight members of our party, including not just my family but also our Pakistani hosts. Only when they were sure that we had eaten our fill, and more, did they allow us to leave.

Caravan to Pakistan

After we returned to India, news of our adventure spread quickly among family and friends. The next year, my mother-in-law — a wheel-chair user — requested that we take her to Pakistan to visit her childhood home, this time in Gujranwala.

Given the joys of my parents’ successful visit, I was more confident. Many elderly aunts and an elderly uncle joined the trip, and in the end my wife and I accompanied six older people to Pakistan.

Our experience was very similar to that of the previous year. The owner of their old ancestral haveli in Gujranwala village took my mother-in-law around the sprawling property on her wheel-chair, and after we had eaten with them asked her: “Would you not like to check out your farm-lands?”

On both visits, wherever my wife visited shops for clothes, footwear or handicrafts, if the shopkeepers recognised her to be Indian, they would invariably insist on a hefty concession on the price. “You are our guests,” they would say. “How can we make a profit from our guests?”

As news of these visits travelled further, my associates from an NGO Ashagram working in the small town of Barwani in Madhya Pradesh for the care and rights of persons living with leprosy — with which I have had a long association — demanded that I organise a visit to Pakistan for them too.

See: Pakistanis seem to love Indians. Do Indians feel the same way?

Once again, the Pakistan High Commission granted them visas. There was only one catch this time: all of them were vegetarian. They enjoyed greatly the week they spent in Pakistan, except for the food.

Every night they would set out looking for a wayside shop to buy fruit juice. Each night they found a new shop, and each night without exception, the shopkeeper refused to accept any money for the fruit juice. “We will not charge money from our guests from India,” they would say each time.

This happened for a full week.

I have travelled to many countries around the world in the 60 years of my life. I have never encountered a people as gracious as those in Pakistan.

This declaration is my latest act of sedition.


Getting To Serenity: 10 Daily Habits For Inner Peace

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By Meerabelle Dey for The Huffington Post

We all want serenity, that elusive state of calm that seems to belong solely to Tibetan monks and yoga instructors. People with serenity are better equipped to enjoy life. Their small problems remain small and don’t become magnified into huge catastrophes. And when real crises arise, they react with steady, clear thinking.

However, serenity isn’t achieved without effort. Just as we need proper exercise habits to have healthy bodies, we need good mental habits to have peaceful minds. To that end, here are some daily habits to get you on your own path to serenity.

1. Give Thanks Continually. When your alarm goes off, before you even get out of bed, close your eyes and think about the ways in which you’ve been blessed. Consider the most basic gifts that you have: a job, good relationships, your home, your clothing, your health. Then continue to give thanks throughout the day. If someone lets you in their lane when you are driving, give thanks. When your paycheck is deposited into your account, give thanks. When your child comes home from school safely, give thanks. Make a point of acknowledging every good thing that happens to you.

2. As Soon As Your Mind Wanders Off in The Wrong Direction, Get It Back on Course. We know when we are getting mentally off course. We get irritated over minor things. We decide it’s our job to correct other people’s bad behavior. We obsess over past slights. These are all symptoms of the mind going down a path toward wrong thinking. Like a car that has shifted into a lane with on-coming traffic, our minds also can shift into the wrong lane. As soon as that happens, stop what you are doing. Walk away from the person who isn’t acting properly. Then do whatever it is that helps you get your mind back on track. For me, it’s reading something spiritual. For others, it may be listening to inspiring music or talking to a good friend. By re-directing your mind, you can more easily return to clear thinking.

3. Practice Acceptance. Practicing acceptance doesn’t mean that you allow yourself to be treated poorly by others. It means that you accept others for who they are. If someone is a jerk or manipulative, that is who they are. It’s your choice whether or not to spend time with them, but accept that you can’t change them. Likewise, practicing acceptance doesn’t mean that you don’t try to improve your life. For instance, you may not like your current job or home. Accept your situation for what it is today. Do your best at your job, and make your home as beautiful as possible. Appreciate that you have work and a place to live. Then do what you can each day to get your dream job or home in the future. Acceptance isn’t stagnation. Acceptance is understanding what you can and cannot change.

4. Be Kind To Others. There is no scenario in which being unkind to others will benefit you. So be careful how you operate. The ugly things that you say and do to other people may affect them, but those actions will poison you. If you are unhappy, take a long, hard look at your behavior. If you spew mean comments or take advantage of people, you will be miserable. I can’t sugarcoat that. Instead, be consistently kind. Build others up. Be helpful. You will find that by doing those three things, you’ll be at peace with yourself because you will actually like yourself.

5. Be Careful What You Drink. Some things we drink can affect our minds. Coffee, tea and some soft drinks have caffeine. Caffeine affects each person differently. Evaluate how it affects you. If it makes you jumpy or irritable, then either reduce your consumption or eliminate it altogether. Alcohol affects people differently as well. If drinking wine, beer or hard liquor makes you anxious or depressed, again, limit your drinking or cut alcohol out of your life altogether. Being happy is more important than your Starbucks or your nightly glass of wine.

6. Get Enough Sleep. Our minds cannot think clearly if they aren’t rested. Small children need copious amounts of sleep in order to be happy. Adults are no different. While we may not throw ourselves on the floor and scream if we haven’t had a nap, we function only slightly better without sleep. Develop good sleep habits. Go to bed early. There is nothing wrong with going to bed at 9 p.m. The television shows you are missing aren’t nearly as important as your serenity.

7. Watch and Read the Right Kind of Books, Movies and Television. What we watch and read affects how we think. Choose your entertainment carefully. There is a lot of violent, pointless junk out there which is deemed to be “avant-garde” or “creative.” If you want to have a relaxed mind, spend your time watching and reading things that have a positive message or that educate. Don’t spend your valuable free time filling your mind with garbage just because it’s popular.

8. Keep a Clean, Uncluttered Home. There is a reason why spas don’t have dirty towels on the floors and shelves covered with knickknacks. You can’t relax in a place that is messy. A cluttered home or room is a sign of a cluttered or unstable mind. Make your home a place that is tidy and beautiful. You should breathe a sigh of relief when you enter your home. It should be a refuge for both your mind and your senses.

9. Spend Some Parts of the Day without Noise. There is nothing wrong with television per se, but there is something wrong with the television being on all the time. People tend to turn on the television to avoid being uncomfortable. We are either uncomfortable with our families, or we are uncomfortable with ourselves. So we distract ourselves from that discomfort with a lot of racket. The problem is that noise impedes you from truly relaxing. Make the choice to give your ears and mind a break, and enjoy the silence.

10. Spend Time with the Right Kind of People. There are people who can’t help but be a problem. Everywhere they go, they create drama. Someone has always done them wrong, or they are continually upset about something. Or they just can’t say anything nice. Give those people wide berth. You can’t necessarily eliminate those people from your life, but you can limit your contact with them. It is a matter of self-preservation. When you allow people into your life who bring chaos, it is very hard to maintain your serenity. It isn’t your job to make their lives better. It is their job to not spread their brand of drama.

The Rights of non-Muslims in Islam

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Intelligent people understand this.

Prophet Muhammad(sa) gave zero permission to curtail the rights of non-Muslims.

Stand with Ahmed against Islamophobia

By Haroon Moghul for CNN

(CNN)The last time I wrote about events in Texas, it was so ridiculous it almost seemed funny. This time, though, I confess my reservoir of sympathy has run nearly dry. Fourteen-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, who attends Texas’ MacArthur High School, was arrested for bring a bomb to school.

Except it was a clock.

Ahmed had actually told his teacher that he’d made the clock at home and brought it in to show what he was capable of. Well, one teacher showed us what this country is capable of, too. The police were called, arrested Ahmed on suspicion of building a bomb and the snap of a shocked young teenager in a NASA T-shirt has gone global.

Irving, Texas, is not far from Dallas, the same part of the country that was making a bid for the 2024 Olympics. Before you welcome the world, might I suggest you welcome your own citizens?

On Tuesday, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz wrote an op-ed for The Daily Beast asking us to pay attention to Islam’s “jihadism problem.” (A few decades off, but hey, better late than never, guys.) Today, however, America woke up to its Islamophobia problem. It’s a reality American Muslims have endured for years.

Because let’s be real. The clock didn’t look like a bomb. Ahmed just looked to some like someone who might want to make bombs. He’s that very menacing brownish color that racists and bigots associate with either everything south of Texas or some country they probably think is called Terroristan. As it happens, he’s of African, specifically Sudanese, descent. He’s got a doubly Muslim name.

Are you surprised he was arrested?

It’s been 14 years since September 11, and some Americans still cannot believe Muslims are human beings, or American Muslims are Americans or that no people shouldn’t be judged by the actions of people they are completely unrelated to.

And why? Let’s not beat around the bush. We have a whole class of professional bigots — I’ve called them “Islamsplainers” — whose very purpose in the world is to tell us what Islam really is. Except their explanations are based on no evidence, little argument and zero interaction with actual Muslims. They make broad, sweeping, ridiculous generalizations, which would be wholly and completely unacceptable if directed at any other people. Yet America takes them seriously.

It’s trickle-down Islamophobia, the opportunistic and grimy peddling of misinformation, making money and accumulating airtime by alarming Americans with exaggerated fears and wholly decontextualized theses.

Glenn Beck. Bill Maher. Robert Spencer. Pamela Geller. Sam Harris. Maajid Nawaz. Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Their views are vile, hateful, ignorant and, frankly, scary. Yet instead of being called out, they continue to receive mainstream endorsement. In fact, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a fellow at Harvard, while Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz’s terrible new book was also published by Harvard Press. Is this what passes for intelligent conversation in supposedly sophisticated circles?

Our professional Islamophobes say the same things, over and over again. They publish the same arguments, over and over again. Glenn Beck’s new book, cleverly titled “It IS About Islam,” is pretty much a rehash of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s latest book, “Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now.” (Probably none of them could invent a clock. Probably they’re just jealous.)

And people who don’t know any better eat it up. They think it’s the truth. They believe Muslim extremism is somehow different from other kinds of extremism. That radicalism is pervasive in Muslim communities. That American Muslims are terrorists. That our cemeteries are secret jihadist training grounds. (Really, we couldn’t think of a better cover story for jihad camp than “Muslim burial ground?”) That all Muslims are either jihadist apologists or jihadist denialists. That the dangerous nature of Muslims requires persistent surveillance.

As Daily Beast columnist and CNN contributor Dean Obeidallah has shown, Irving has proved especially receptive to these arguments, and its mayor has partaken in the demonization of Islam. People like her are part of the Islamophobia problem and why a 14-year-old kid got arrested for doing the most American of things: Tinkering. Inventing. Creating. For heaven’s sake, he’s got a NASA T-shirt on. He’s looking to the future, the place we used to think we owned. And do you know why we feel like we don’t? It’s not because of people like me, or kids like Ahmed. We believe in America. It’s the racists and bigots that don’t.

When I was 14, I loved “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” I watched each episode religiously. I had and still have a man crush on Capt. Jean-Luc Picard. I wanted to marry Counselor Troi in a Sharia-compliant ceremony. I screamed out in agony at the third season finale. I believed I’d become a theoretical physicist. But I didn’t.

Fast forward to today, and instead of being able to focus on what I want, studying what I want, contributing what I feel most able to, I have to talk about my identity 24/7, because who else is going to respond to the racists, the bigots, the misinformants? Who’s going to read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s next book, or Sam Harris’ subsequent screed and tell you, once again, that despite all their advantages, they still know next to nothing about Islam, about Muslims, about America’s Muslims?

So yes, I and countless other Muslims will keep fighting the good fight, joining hands with people of conscience and conviction to oppose injustices, inequalities and racism of all kinds. Why? So that the real next generation — Ahmed’s generation — can follow their dreams. Not suffer for some people’s nightmares.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note: Haroon Moghul is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He is an author, essayist and public speaker. Follow him @hsmoghul. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

#IStandwithAhmed, #AhmedMohamed, #Texas, #Irving, #Islam, #Islamophobia, #Mulims, #Clock, #IT, #SiliconValley, #Tech

Why Don’t Men Cover Their Faces?

By Hind Aleryani for Your Middle East
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Yemeni blogger and journalist @HindAleryani tells her intimate story about what’s feminine and masculine in the Middle East.

 

We used to play at my aunt’s garden when we were younger…girls and boys, there was no difference… we grew up together… we used to race, play, laugh… sometimes we would fight playfully… we used to watch TV together… cry at the end of sad cartoons together… we grew a bit older… we began to study for our classes together… whenever we’d fight we used to threaten the other that we’d tell on them to the teacher… we used to play practical jokes on one another… we’d laugh with all our hearts…

And so the days went by…

My cousin and I are staring outside the window… we are looking at the garden where my male cousin and his friends are playing… this is the garden where we used to play together… they used to be our friends once upon a time… these are the boys we used to play with… what happened? Why are we prisoners at home, while they play ball outside with all freedom… what did we do? Did we grow older? Did our bodies change? Did we become an object of temptation that needs to be covered from people’s eyes? Aren’t those the boys we knew since we were children? What changed? Why are we strangers? Why do I run and hide whenever I hear one of their voices? Is it just because the pitch of his voice changed? Is that why we aren’t friends anymore? Are we supposed to act differently towards one another? Different to how we acted just yesterday? We started to act shy and anxious whenever we’d speak… we stopped playing with one another… My cousin and I began spending our spare time watching Mexican soap operas, as if we were in our 50s…

And so the days went by…

I am at school…we are learning about what a woman should cover… her hair is temptation… her eyebrows are temptation… I remembered my favorite male singer… his eyes were beautiful too… his hair is beautiful… why doesn’t he veil? I asked myself this question, however, I couldn’t find the answer… I remembered that I was banned from playing in the garden because I hit puberty… however, my male friends weren’t… didn’t they hit puberty too? Why weren’t they imprisoned at home? I also couldn’t find the answer…

And so the days went by…

I hear it all the time… “A woman is a jewel that needs to be protected (i.e. covered)”… and sometimes it is even said that a woman is like candy “if you remove the wrapper (i.e. the cover) the flies will swarm around her”… I turn on the TV and find that favorite male singer that I am so fond of brushing his soft silky hair and flaunting his handsomeness… his arms are bare… his chest is bare… why isn’t this object of temptation covered? Why isn’t he imprisoned at home? Why aren’t women tempted by him? Some might claim that a woman shouldn’t look at this… then shouldn’t men shield their gaze when looking at a tempting female “object”? I couldn’t find the answer…

And so the days went by…

I am at university… I see some people distributing a small religious book… “Temptations of a Woman”…Her hair… her feet… her eyes, and “thus, a woman must cover one of her eyes as both of them together are tempting”…I swear this is what I read in this book!… it’s as if there is nothing left in this world to talk about and scrutinize other than a woman and how she is a temptation…I decided to observe men’s looks…I wanted to know which women would attract men with her temptation… in front of me walks a woman wearing a tight Abaya (long black cover)… aha!.. I found her… she is an object of temptation… I continue watching… in front of me walks a woman with a baggy Abaya, however, with an uncovered face…the man stares at her… aha! So her face is also a temptation… a third woman walks in front of me… her face is covered and she is wearing a baggy Abaya from top to toe… the man is staring at her! Huh? I don’t understand… what is so tempting about a black Abaya? No eyes, no feet… What is this man staring at? At that moment I realized that clothing has nothing to do with it… men would stare on all occasions… however, he, with his broad shoulders and his hair, eyes and lips isn’t considered an object of temptation, even if all the women in the world started at him… he is a man…he shouldn’t hide in his home… no one calls him a jewel… at that moment I wished I wasn’t a jewel. I wished to be a free man…

And so the days went by…

I am in a Western country… women are walking around me…one is wearing pants… the other is wearing a short skirt…another wears shorts…men and women are walking side by side… it is strange… no one is staring… why don’t I see the looks of men I saw in my country? Those looks that made a woman feel naked… those looks that I hated… the ones that made me hate being on this earth, and hate being born a woman… those looks that deny me my humanity…why don’t I see those looks here? All the women are dressed up… why don’t I see those looks even though all the women are attractive here? I saw one women run and laugh… I remembered that I wasn’t allowed to run once I hit puberty… I remembered my aunt’s window… I remembered I was an object of temptation that must be covered… I remembered that a man in my country wears white, while I am covered in black… I asked myself, why don’t men wear black? Why don’t men cover their faces? And I couldn’t find the answer…

And so the days go by…

 

Pakistan No Country for Foreign Journalists

As reported by A REPORTER for DAWN

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His sin – he was an Indian and a journalist reporting on Pakistan. And one hot day in the middle of June he was informed that his presence was no longer acceptable to someone, somewhere – through a phone call and a letter.

But despite the unceremonious departure, his one regret – at least in recent days – is that he will not be able to get “some nihari from Kale Khan in Pindi before [he] leave[s].”

Perhaps he has more regrets too – about friends he could not say goodbye too or places he was not allowed to visit but such are the state of affairs between his country and Pakistan that he refuses to talk about the issue at all. The longing for nihari too was gleaned from his twitter account.

And this silence says far more than any lengthy interview he may have given. The few details that are available came from someone close to him who spoke on the basis of anonymity.

Hasan – as always – was waiting for a renewal of his visa when on June 13 he got a letter informing him that he should leave by June 23.

The journalist panicked as he had no valid visa by then, without which he could not even leave. Much effort, phone calls and visits later, he was given a ‘generous’ extension till June 29.

The valid visa came on June 25 – finally making him eligible to leave.

“Two thirds of his time in Pakistan was spent waiting for an extension of his lapsed visa,” says the someone.

So much so that twice at least when his wife’s father had a heart attack, her family kept the news from her – because neither she nor Hasan could visit India and the ailing father.

Nothing of Hasan’s stay is unusual for an Indian journalist in Pakistan but his departure surely is.

The tradition is that “the journalist is allowed a short overlap with his successor for a smooth transition”. But both Hasan and Anita Joshua, the second Indian journalist in Pakistan, who were scheduled to leave in any case and were only waiting for their successors to show up, were denied this in recent months.

Indeed, Hasan’s abrupt departure came hot on the heels of the return of his counterpart – Anita Joshua of The Hindu – who was asked to leave shortly after the elections (but before the new government took charge) while New York Times’ Declan Walsh was bundled out a day after May 11, his notice period even shorter than the Indians.

The story of these three proves that Pakistan is fast turning into not just one of the most dangerous countries for journalists but also one of the most inhospitable.

“What else would you call a place that so abruptly orders out those who have been living here for years on such a short notice,” says a senior journalist.

When Walsh was thrown out, Pakistani journalists whispered that it happened because there was no empowered political government in place and the spooks got a chance to avenge past grievances.

But Joshua and Hasan were told to leave after Nawaz Sharif – the statesman who wanted and wants peace with India – has taken over. Yet there is not a peep out of the new government.

As Mariana Babar, a senior journalist, puts it, “These cases show how powerful the security establishment is. Indian journalists were reluctantly issued visas for a few days on eve of elections. The process started during the caretaker government and continued as Sharif government was in the process of settling. Now as The Hindu and Press Trust of India (PTI) have requested visas for new representatives, we will wait and see how much authority Sharif asserts.”

Admittedly, the India-Pakistan journalist exchange is notoriously reflective of the poor bilateral relations – the feel-good rhetoric of the politicians notwithstanding.

Both countries only allow two journalists from the other side to be stationed in the host country – but while the Indians use these positions, the Pakistanis are so uninterested in understanding our ‘worst enemy’ that no Pakistani reporter is based in India.

The PTI and the Hindu have a correspondent each based in Islamabad and what a welcome they are extended.

They are not allowed to move outside of Islamabad without permission (even Rawalpindi is out of bounds) and they are constantly shadowed by those who cannot prevent terrorist attacks but are aware of every nook and corner visited by the two Indian hacks in the soap dish sized Islamabad.

Yet these two people never forget to remind the one billion people living next doors that there is more than Taliban and extremism to Pakistan. And for those who want proof of this, they need not google the stories that Hasan and Joshua did – they should read the blog, “the Life and Times of Two Indians in Pakistan”.

Written mostly by Hasan’s wife, the posts paint a warm and engaging picture of her former host country (by the time this story appears in print, the couple will be on their way back to Delhi). Beyond the suo motu notices and the Taliban, these posts are about the more colourful characters that inhabit Islamabad; Mehmal the Lahori journalist; Pakistani music (“Still, give me Pakistani music any day” she writes) and the not to be missed post – about the testosterone filled spooks who follow her around.

“Bhai, I feel so special and so cared for each time I step out of the house and you try and match footsteps with me. The other day when you followed me into the superstore and kept me company when I was shopping for groceries, I was so moved.

“… And you looked so cute making a mental note of which pulses I eat and which brand of flour I buy. Ah! I so wish I could tell you so.”

There has rarely been such a wry account of what the spooks’ victims suffer. And one that even the non-Indian victims/residents of Islamabad can connect with.

Such posts and the memories of those who met and laughed with these two Indians will do far more for Indo-Pak relations than all the track two meetings.

Anita Joshua was no different. Less intense than Hasan (who reminded one of Amitabh Bachchan in his heyday, minus the height), her cheerful presence was a constant in the small social circle that the capital city offers to its inhabitants.

She was also generous enough to speak of the pain of living and working as a single woman in a small and conservative city such as Islamabad – with rare references to what it meant to be an Indian woman living alone here.

She was a mandatory participant of all the civil society gatherings in town provided the cause was a worthy one – trotting off to the Super Market sit-in more than once after the Hazara killings in Quetta.

And lest someone accuse her of being a ‘civil society type’, she was the only Indian ever invited to visit the Pakistani side of the Siachen Glacier by the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

It wasn’t because she had some special access – it was because she could get the message across to the Indian people and their government. She did.

Those who are continuously throwing journalists out of the country because they don’t approve of the stories should start seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full.

Each one of these journalists provided a glimpse of the Pakistan that many of us believe exists – where people struggle to make a living, where there are not just suicide bombers and militants but also their victims.

It is said that this is what got Walsh thrown out.

But does anyone remember Walsh’s human interest reporting?

Back in 2006, he reported on the media revolution in Pakistan by profiling Begum Nawazish Ali when Pakistanis were still far from aware of the change that television was about to bring to their lives.

And he reported on the missing people in 2007 before the superior judiciary became truly independent to discover the plight of the disappeared.

He endeared himself to many because long before the foreign corps discovered the “anti-Taliban fashion shows” in Pakistan, he had already found the Begum and written about her.

As a fellow journalist wrote in the New Yorker recently about Walsh, “The best Pakistani nonfiction writer was an Irishman”.

Such stories still need to be told – even if Walsh continues to also write on the drones and other ‘secrets’ that irritate some people. And Pakistan also needs the two lines of communications with the people of India.

Over a year ago when the military took Anita Joshua to Siachen, the former DG ISPR Athar Abbas said that it was “part of the Army’s campaign to open up,” adding that “May be we are more confident than the Indians about our case.”

Should one now assume that the Pakistanis are no longer confident about “their case”?

A Global Snapshot of Same-Sex Marriage

By  for The Pew Research Center

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Around the world and in the United States, the pace of same-sex marriage legalization has picked up in recent years. Of the 15 countries worldwide to permit gay men and lesbians to marry, eight have done so since 2010. In addition, same-sex marriage is legal in some parts of the United States and Mexico but not others; of the 12 U.S. states (plus the District of Columbia) where same-sex marriage is or soon will be permitted, nine have legalized it since 2010.

In the United States, the spread of same-sex marriage laws has coincided with rapidly shifting public attitudes toward homosexuality. Six-in-ten Americans now say homosexuality should be accepted by society, up from 49% in 2007; 33% say it should not be accepted, down from 41% six years ago. (Look here for details on Americans’ changing attitudes toward same-sex marriage itself.)

In most other countries, attitudes toward homosexuality have been fairly stable in recent years. Not surprisingly, same-sex marriage has advanced the most in countries and regions where acceptance of homosexuality is highest.

We’ve surveyed eight of the 17 nations that have legalized same-sex marriage in all or part of their territory; in all but one of them at least 60% of people say homosexuality should be accepted. (The exception is South Africa, where only 32% say it should be accepted versus 61% saying it should not be; still, that was the highest acceptance level among the six African countries surveyed.)

On the other hand, among all but one (Jordan) of the 13 countries in our survey where 80% or more of people said homosexuality should not be accepted by society, same-sex relations are illegal in all or part of their territory, according to a report from the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association.

 is a Senior Writer at the Pew Research Center.

 

Militants Kill Nine Foreign Climbers in Pakistan

By Haq Nawaz Khan and Tim Craig for The Boston Globe

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Gunmen stormed a camp on Pakistan’s second-largest mountain Sunday, killing nine foreign climbers, including a US citizen, in a brazen assault that could deal a blow to the country’s efforts to jump-start its tourism industry.

The Pakistani Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack, calling it retribution for a suspected US drone strike last month that killed Wali ur-Rehman, the second in command of the terrorist group.

‘‘Through this killing we gave a message to the international community to ask US to stop drone strikes,’’ said Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Taliban spokesman.

The attack in northern Pakistan at Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth-tallest mountain, occurred around 1 a.m. as the climbers and their guides were at a camp about 4,000 feet above sea level. According to local and regional officials, about a dozen gunmen tied up the climbers’ Pakistani guides before shooting the climbers as they slept in tents.

The attackers reportedly wore police uniforms, an increasingly common tactic that Taliban militants have used to evade scrutiny.

In all, 10 people were killed, including five from Ukraine, two from China, and one from Russia, according to preliminary information from Pakistani authorities. At least one Pakistani guide also was killed. At least one Chinese tourist survived and was rescued from the area, known as Fairy Meadows, officials said.

Pakistan’s interior minister said a US citizen was killed in the assault. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said four bodies have been identified, including those of a Chinese-American, two Chinese, and one local guide who is thought to be a Nepali national.

Matthew Boland, acting spokesman for the US Embassy in Islamabad, said authorities were withholding the identification of the American until relatives could be notified.

‘‘The United States government strongly condemns the terrorist attack on tourists in the northern areas of Pakistan in which nine innocent tourists and a Pakistani guide were murdered,’’ Boland said. ‘‘The US Embassy Islamabad expresses its deepest condolences to the family and friends of the US citizen and the other innocent tourists who were killed.’’

Boland said the FBI was working closely with Pakistani authorities to gather more information on the attack.

The assault occurred in the picturesque Gilgit-Baltistan area, a popular tourist area in the Himalayas near the country’s border with China. Nanga Parbat rises to 26,660 feet. The world’s second-largest mountain, K2, with an elevation of 28,251 feet, straddles Gilgit-Baltistan’s border with China.

The slayings come as Pakistan’s military and government have been trying to combat a wave of terrorist bombings and sectarian attacks, including some aimed at Shi’ites in the northern part of the country.

Attacks on foreigners have been rare, and Sunday’s killings rattled Pakistan’s government.

Khan, the interior minister, spent part of Sunday fielding calls from worried ambassadors, including Chinese envoy Xu Feihong.

‘‘He asked whether Chinese tourists were the target, and I said Pakistan was the target,’’ he said. ‘‘The terrorists want to give a message to the world that Pakistan is an insecure place and insecure country.’’

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed to rebuild Pakistan’s economy. He said such acts of ‘‘cruelty and inhumanity’’ wouldn’t deter the state from efforts ‘‘to make Pakistan a safe place for tourists.’’

But Syed Mehdi Shah, the chief minister in Gilgit-Baltistan, said he worries that the incident will hurt the local economy, which relies heavily on the summer climbing season.

‘‘It will have negative effects on tourism in the scenic northern areas, which is the sole source of revenue of the government as well [as] of the local population,’’ he said.

Shahjahan Khetran, managing director of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, said the ‘‘government tries its best to provide security cover to tourists’’ in that area, including making hikers and climbers register their whereabouts.

But until now, Khetran noted, the biggest threats for tourists in that remote area were not man-made.

‘‘I personally see the involvement of some foreign hand, some foreign agency in this incident as local people could not think of carrying out such a heinous crime,’’ Khetran said. ‘‘Some foreign element could have carried out this attack to destroy Pakistani tourism.’’

For weeks, Pakistan’s Taliban has been vowing that it would avenge the death of Rehman, who was killed May 29 when a suspected CIA-operated drone fired two missiles into a house in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region.

US officials have not confirmed that they carried out that strike, but they had issued a $5 million reward for Rehman’s capture after he was linked to a 2009 assault that killed seven Americans at a CIA training facility in Afghanistan.

At the time, the Pakistani Taliban partly blamed the Islamabad government for not doing more to stop suspected US drone strikes on Pakistani soil.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The tragic killing of these innocent foreign mountaineers in Pakistan goes to show that the Taliban one again can not be trusted and it is foolish to negotiate with them or even try. Pakistan must eradicate this menace from wiithin and only then will the citizens of Pakistan and other nations ever be safe.

Pakistan, Afghanistan trade accusations at U.N. over extremist havens

By Michelle Nichols for Reuters

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Afghanistan and Pakistan traded accusations in the U.N. Security Council on Thursday over the whereabouts of Islamist extremists on their porous border as the United Nations described increased tensions between the neighbors as “unfortunate and dangerous.”

Afghanistan’s U.N. envoy, Zahir Tanin, told a council debate on the situation in Afghanistan that “terrorist sanctuaries continue to exist on Pakistan’s soil and some elements continue to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy.”

Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador, Masood Khan, said “terrorists operate on both sides of the porous border” and many attacks against Pakistan were planned on Afghan soil. He said aggressive policing and border surveillance were needed.

“I reject most emphatically Ambassador Tanin’s argument – root, trunk and branch – that terrorist sanctuaries exist in Pakistan and some elements continue to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy,” Khan told the council.

He told Reuters in an interview afterward that Tanin had been “ill-advised” to raise the border issues at the Security Council as Kabul and Islamabad were already talking through other channels. Khan blamed Afghan President Hamid Karzai for stoking tensions.

“When President Karzai meets our leadership, he’s most gracious, engaging, he’s a statesman. But when he talks to the media, he says things which inflame sentiment and that’s most unhelpful and destabilizing,” Khan said. “We have given very restrained responses.”

Pakistan’s role in the 12-year-old war in Afghanistan has been ambiguous – it is a U.S. ally but has a long history of supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan in a bid to counter the influence of its regional rival India.

Pakistan’s military played a key role in convincing Afghan Taliban leaders to hold talks with the United States, U.S. and Pakistani officials said, but Afghan anger at fanfare over the opening of the Taliban’s Qatar office this week has since delayed preliminary discussions.

“We were talking to multiple interlocutors behind the scenes and we have been asking them to participate in these talks, (telling them) that we think the war should come to an end,” Khan told Reuters.

‘SUCCEED OR FAIL TOGETHER’

U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Pakistan helped the Taliban take power in Afghanistan in the 1990s and is facing a Taliban insurgency itself. The Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban, is a separate entity from the Afghan Taliban, though allied with them.

“Stability and sanctity of Pakistan-Afghanistan border is a shared responsibility. Robust deployment of Pakistani troops on our side is meant to interdict terrorists and criminals,” Khan told the council. “This must be matched from the other side.”

A spate of cross-border shelling incidents by the Pakistani military, who said they were targeting Taliban insurgents, has killed dozens of Afghan civilians in the past couple of years.

“We are very concerned with ongoing border shelling,” Tanin told the council. “This constitutes a serious threat to Afghan sovereignty and the prospect of friendly relations between the two countries.”

U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, told the Security Council that the heightened tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan were a serious concern, especially at this stage of Afghanistan’s development.

“Such tensions are unfortunate and dangerous,” he said.

The NATO command in Kabul on Tuesday handed over lead security responsibility to Afghan government forces across the country and most foreign troops are due to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014.

“It is for the two countries to address these concerns and problems and their underlying reasons, to build trust and to refrain from any step that could contribute to an escalation of tensions and inflamed public sentiments,” Kubis said.

“They share common concerns and interests in fighting terrorism. They can succeed or fail together,” he said.

Militants blow up historic Pakistan building linked to Mohammad Ali Jinnah : officials

As Reported by The AP

Jinnah

Separatist militants blew up a historic building linked to Pakistan’s founding father in the country’s violence-plagued southwest after shooting dead a guard in a predawn attack on Saturday, officials said.

The attackers, armed with automatic weapons entered the 19th century wooden Ziarat Residency after midnight and planted several bombs, senior administration official Nadeem Tahir told AFP.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the driving force behind the creation of the Pakistan, spent his last days in the building which was declared a national monument following his death, one year after the country’s independence in 1947.

The building is in Ziarat town, 80 kilometres southeast of Quetta, the capital of insurgency-hit Balochistan province. “They shot dead the guard who resisted the intruders,” Tahir said. Police official Asghar Ali said militants planted several bombs and detonated them by remote control. “The Ziarat Residency, which had its balcony, floor and front made of wood, has been totally gutted,” he said.

At least four blasts were heard in the town, he said. The building caught fire and it took five hours to bring the blaze under control as Ziarat, a small hill station, has no fire brigade. A separatist-group later claimed responsibility for the attack.

“We blew up the Ziarat Residency,” Meerak Baluch, a spokesman for the Balochistan Liberation Army said from undisclosed location. “We dont recognise any Pakistani monument.” No one has been arrested, officials said.

Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest but most undeveloped province on the Iranian and Afghan border, is racked by Islamist and sectarian violence as well as a long-running separatist insurgency, and attacks on official buildings and security forces are common. The attack came after the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party of prime minister Nawaz Sharif won the May 11 elections in the country.

Sharif appointed Baloch nationalist leaders as governor and chief minister, raising hopes that a coalition between PML-N and nationalist parties could address some of the long-held grievances in the province about its treatment by the federal government.

Prime Minister Sharif and several political leaders strongly condemned the attack while Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar promised arrest of the attackers. Hundreds of people including, some party leaders and students staged a protest rally in the town demanding “exemplary punishment of culprits involved in the attack,” witnesses said.

Provincial Chief Secretary Babar Yaqoob told reporters that “people involved in the colossal destruction of our national monument will not be spared”. “The government has ordered immediate steps to rebuild the Ziarat Residency in its original form,” he said.

“It was an undisputed structure, it had never received any threat in the past. Local people had special love for this site because it had been attracting local and foreign tourists,” he said. Ziarat, located at more than 2,500 metres above sea level and surrounded by Juniper trees is a popular tourist site.

The two-storey structure was built in 1892 and was formerly used by officials from the British Colonial rule in India. The furniture used by Jinnah and kept at its original place as national heritage since his death in September 1948, has also been destroyed, officials said.

Pakistan _ Nuclear-Armed but Short of Electricity

By Gujar Khan for The Associated Press

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A woman named Rehana Yasmin struggles to keep her sick 2-year-old granddaughter cool in a sweltering hospital where working air conditioners are rare and electric fans are idle for much of the day.

Elsewhere, households can’t rely on their refrigerators, and at textile factories, factory workers say they can’t operate their machines for enough hours to earn their daily bread.

All are victims of Pakistan’s biggest problem, one that recently brought down a government — not the U.S. drone war in its backyard, not its permanent confrontation with India, but its inability to generate enough electricity. Pakistan, nuclear-armed, can’t deliver a reliable power supply to its 180 million citizens.

“Power, power, power is the problem. It’s power at home, in the workplace, on the streets,” said Rizwana Kauser, head nurse at the hospital in the city of Gujar Khan, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad.

Power can be out for up to 20 hours a day in the summer. TV coverage may be lost in the middle of a cliffhanger cricket match. Office meetings are scheduled around anticipated power cuts. Without electric fans, mosquitoes proliferate. People get stuck in elevators. Meat rots in refrigerators.

The shortfalls that became the top issue in the recent election are estimated at 3,500 to 6,000 megawatts — up to a third of total demand.

The problems result in part from bad bill-collecting, which leaves utility companies short of funds to pay for the oil that powers much of the production, which in turn means the state oil company can’t buy enough oil on international markets.

Power theft is rampant, often consisting of simply slinging a hook over a conveniently placed electricity wire. The infrastructure of the state-controlled utility companies around the country is outdated, the companies are inefficient, and power plants are heavily dependent on oil despite Pakistan’s abundant coal resources, experts say.

Fixing the problems is likely to take years, leaving Nawaz Sharif, the new prime minister, with a gargantuan task. But with Pakistanis impatient for action, the government has announced plans to pay off about $5 billion owed to companies throughout the supply chain within 60 days. It’s not a long-term solution but it would at least offer the government some breathing room.

And that’s just to keep the electricity flowing. Pakistan also has a problem with delivering natural gas to households and companies, and that too will need solving if the new government hopes to last.

For Rehana Yasmin, relief can’t come too soon. She has been at the public hospital in Gujar Khan for a week, tending to her granddaughter who has dysentery. She brings her own water because there’s no electricity to run the pump of the hospital well. She buys homemade straw fans hawked in the hospital’s hallways.

For the past week, Yasmin said, “during the night we hardly have two hours of electricity and during the day, it’s minimal. This lack of electricity is making children sick and making the elders sick as well.”

Public hospitals like the one in Gujar Khan, which care for the majority who can’t afford private hospitals, generally draw power from two grids, but nowadays, especially in the hot months, there’s sometimes no electricity coming from either grid.

The hospital uses a generator during operations, but sometimes has to resort to ice to keep medicines cool.

 

It is a struggle simply to maintain basic sanitation, said Kauser, the head nurse. Wounds take longer to heal. And “When there is no water, there is no cleaning,” she said. “How can you wash the sheets?”

In the past, power cuts (“load-shedding” in Pakistani bureaucratese) used to be much shorter and followed patterns that allowed people to plan such routine activities as scheduling an office meeting or taking a shower. But it was the newer phenomenon of “unscheduled load-shedding” and the much longer outages that raised tempers to the level of an election issue.

Dr. Ashraf Nizami of the Pakistan Medical Association said that doctors are seeing more psychological effects of load-shedding, such as stress and depression.

“It is a torture for the medical community and the patients,” he said.

It’s also bad for business.

The looms in one of Waheed Raamay’s workshops are silent and soon to be sold as scrap metal. This workshop, a graveyard as Raamay calls it, is a sign of how the electricity crisis hurts Pakistan’s economy.

“This is not just the story of this single factory. There are dozens of factories in this particular area, and there are hundreds of factories in this city that have closed down due to this power crisis,” said Raamay.

Faisalabad, the third-largest city in Pakistan with a population of about 2.6 million inhabitants, is known for its textiles. But from the low-end workshops that produce for the domestic market to the warehouse-sized factories that export sheets and pillowcases to international chains, that industry is hurting — badly — as a result of the electricity crisis, say workers and factory owners.

Analysts and government officials estimate that Pakistan loses about two percent of its GDP every year due to the electricity crisis. The Pakistan Textile Exporters Association estimates about 150,000 jobs lost in Faisalabad and surrounding Punjab province over the last five years.

In the part of the city where fabric is made for local consumption, the clicking and clacking of the machines rises and falls with the load-shedding.

Workers show up hoping for a day’s work, knowing they are hostages to power cuts. A show of hands indicates all the workers are deeply in debt to their grocery stores or the factory owners. Angry job-seekers have taken to the streets in protest.

“We don’t have money to bury our dead,” said Mohammed Haneef, who was missing part of one finger from a loom accident. “My mother died and I had no money so I had to borrow money from the owners. A year later my father died, and I had to borrow money. … The situation is bad.”

Kurram Mukhtar, head of Sadaqat Limited, one of Pakistan’s leading textile manufacturers, said that from 2006 to 2010 many companies in the city and surrounding area were bankrupted by the power crisis. Owners who survived decided they needed energy independence. Now, at Mukhtar’s factory, piles of coal sit next to a massive generator that keeps the workers stitching, cutting and dying fabrics through the load-shedding.

But Mukhtar said that the cost has cut deeply into his profits, leaving no money to invest in new technologies.

He doesn’t have the option chosen by Aurangzeb Khan in the northwestern town of Mathra when his power was cut off last year over unpaid bills: Khan resorted to the tactic Pakistanis call “kunda,” the hook slung over a convenient electricity pole.

He said he did it because it pained him to see his kids suffering through the August heat. “I am not stealing electricity just for fun or pleasure but I don’t have any other option,” he said.

Such non-payment is rampant. Even government agencies are known to default on bills. And customers can always go to court to obtain a “stay-order” that forces the power company to keep supplying electricity.

“There is no concept of paying the bill,” said Ashfaque Khan, the dean of the business school at the Islamabad-based National University of Sciences and Technology.

A report in March commissioned by the Planning Commission of Pakistan estimated that the delinquencies added up to about 86 billion rupees (about $870 million) in lost revenues.

The Peshawar Electric Supply Company, whose coverage area includes Khan’s home, was said to be one of the worst at bill-collecting, though it suffers the added problem of being a target for violence. In April, militants attacked a grid station outside of Peshawar, killing eight policemen and electric company officials.

The new government says it wants to increase bill collection but has given few specifics about how they’ll go about it. People like Aurangzeb Khan say they want to see improved service before they pay up.

“I know stealing is not good,” he said, “but if we get uninterrupted supply of electricity at a reasonable price we shall pay the bills.”

Priority in Pakistan: Turn On Lights

By Saeed Shah for The Wall Street Journal

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When Nawaz Sharif starts his new term as Pakistan’s prime minister on Wednesday, 14 years after he was ousted in a military coup, he will focus on turning on the lights in a nuclear-armed nation that has been increasingly starved of electricity.

Power outages of 12 to 20 hours a day have crippled industry and made life miserable for households, a problem that worsened under the previous government of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Electricity shortages cost Pakistan some $13.5 billion a year, equivalent to knocking 1.5 percentage points off the economic-growth rate, Lahore’s Beaconhouse National University said in a report this year.

After Mr. Sharif is sworn in, he will deliver a speech outlining his strategy for solving the electricity emergency through wide-ranging intervention, bond sales and privatizations, aides said. The financing of the electricity rescue plan would be laid out in the budget to be announced next week by incoming Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, they said.

The new administration plans to pay off what it says is $5 billion in debt that has paralyzed the industry, build new power plants and privatize the sector in a multibillion-dollar overhaul that could attract foreign investor interest, the aides said.

The challenges are great. The previous government poured billions into the sector without eliminating the debt or significantly increasing the supply of electricity. The industry is riddled with corruption and depends on expensive oil for power generation, instead of cheaper gas or coal.

The most pressing issue is the chain of so-called circular debt that runs through the sector: The government keeps the price of electricity to the consumer below the cost of production, but can’t afford to make up the shortfall. It means that oil importers are owed money by power plants, which are owed money by distribution companies, which in turn are owed money by consumers.

“First, we need to write a check,” said Miftah Ismail, an energy adviser to Mr. Sharif, who drew up the energy policy in the party’s election manifesto. “We will pay off the stock of circular debt. It is choking the system. No fresh investment will come into Pakistan unless you get rid of circular debt.”

Although the incoming government has given the level of this debt at $5 billion, a government think tank, the Planning Commission, issued a report in March this year placing it at $9 billion at the end of 2012.

The new administration would borrow the money from banks and also take on the debts owed to the banks by various energy companies and government-owned entities, Mr. Ismail said. Then the government would plan to tap domestic and international bond markets.

A domestic bond issue picked up by local banks would be the most likely scenario, said Ashraf Bava, chief executive of Nael Capital, a brokerage in Karachi. Pakistan would need to improve its credit rating and balance of payments before approaching international capital markets, he said.

“The local banks will have no choice. They’ll have to do it,” said Mr. Bava. “Obviously they’ll be offered a decent return.”

Pakistan, a country of 180 million people, is currently producing some 11,000 megawatts of power, though that dropped last month to less than 9,000 megawatts, compared with demand of at least 17,000 megawatts.

By comparison, installed generation capacity in Indonesia, a country of 240 million people, is 41,000 megawatts, according to a 2012 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Pakistan’s supply shortfall results in power being switched off to households and industry for part of each day on a rotating basis across the country—outages known as “load shedding.”

After paying off the debt, the new government plans to pursue a three-pronged strategy, the aides say. The government would aim to cut line losses and electricity theft, shift power plants from oil to coal, and eliminate subsidies to consumers. Pakistan currently charges consumers around 9 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity that costs 12 to 14 cents to produce.

Those who use minimal amounts of electricity would continue to get power cheaply, a cost that would be borne by the full fare paid by heavier users—including the middle classes, who form Mr. Sharif’s core constituency, as well as Pakistan’s elite. But if the plan works, Mr. Sharif’s aides said, the cost of power production and prices would come down again.

“There’s no reason why we should be subsidizing those who can afford to run air conditioners,” said Mr. Ismail.

Mr. Sharif’s plan envisages converting three or four of the biggest power plants, which currently burn oil, to coal. Experts estimate such a plan would cost about $2 billion but would pay for itself in savings in about a year.

New coal-burning power stations would also be commissioned, which the incoming government says would take around three years to come onstream. Government-owned generation plants and the grid companies would be put under new management and privatized.

“We will nibble at this problem from many angles as we go along,” said Sartaj Aziz, an adviser to Mr. Sharif on finance and a former finance minister.

Foreign companies rushed into Pakistan’s electricity sector in the 1990s, when new private generation plants were allowed, on lucrative terms. Oil prices were low at the time, so oil-burning plants were built.

However, frequent changes in governments and policies that followed, together with the circular debt issue, chased away most of the foreign interest. The last major American investor, AES Corp.,sold out in 2009.

GDF Suez of France and Malaysia’s Tenaga Nasional Berhad are the remaining foreign firms active in Pakistan’s energy sector.

Naveed Ismail, an independent energy-sector expert who previously worked with the government, said that 48% of Pakistan’s thermal generation came from burning furnace oil, the highest such proportion among any major countries, while contribution from much cheaper coal, the main source of generation in India or China, was close to zero.

“Pakistan just has to learn from the rest of the world. It doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “The issue is producing affordable electricity. No new capacity should be added unless it brings down the average cost of power.”

Helping Pakistan with its electricity crisis has been a major focus of American aid in recent years. Since October 2009, the U.S. has spent $225 million on energy projects in Pakistan, according to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, adding more than 900 megawatts to the country’s generation, with schemes for upgrading power plants and dams.

Reflections On Pakistan From A Recent Visitor

By Alan Jones for The Huffington Post

Pakistan is in the news – not least because of the violence leading up to the elections. H.L Mencken told us that “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” Sometimes something happens and we’re hit between the eyes not only with complexity but with a sense of both urgency and humility. Last month I traveled to Pakistan as part of a UPIC (US-Pakistan Interreligious Consortium) delegation led by the Reverend Robert Chase who runs a remarkable project — Intersections International – which is part of the Collegiate Church of New York.

My involvement came through a sponsoring organization called Convergence, a bi-partisan group centered in Washington DC. Before I went to Pakistan, I thought I was reasonably informed. Now that I’ve had an absurdly short but intense five days there, I find that I know even less, except for two things: one, how intensely tribal human beings are, not least those who wouldn’t admit to belonging to a tribe at all; and two, there is no substitute for personal contact and one-on-one relationships.

Not very profound insights in themselves but significant nevertheless, because my sense of tribe was greatly extended through finding new friends. The intense tribalism on the planet is fed by the lust for power by means of violence and death. But there’s a countervailing “tribalism” which is convinced that if we are to survive and flourish we’d better realize that there really is only one tribe, one ethnic group and that’s all of us. That surviving and flourishing will involve more and more of us in the pursuit of justice and peace.

I found myself in Islamabad sitting next to the scariest looking Muslim in the room (given my prejudices and assumptions – surely modeled on Osama Bin Laden – white turban and dress — suitable for hiding a weapon?). He had a large beard and an intense presence. I found out he was born in Bolton in the UK and now lives in Maryland where he has a farm, a body shop and an Islamic center. We hit is off right away and have become good friends. He is spiritually grounded and intellectually critical and we found that our approach to the great mystery of our different (but not so different) traditions were, in crucial respects, not so much sympathetic as identical.

I came away with two basic insights – one discouraging, the other bright with promise. First, the discouraging part. In some ways Pakistan is a basket-case of a nation. Public opinion polls reveal much that is neurotic and paranoid (not unlike other nations we might mention nearer home). One of our hosts – a distinguished academic – outlined for us the perceptions many Pakistanis have of us. There is overwhelming anti-American feeling revealed in the polls in Pakistan (it wasn’t always so) Why? There are deep problems of perception that have been internalized.

Many are convinced that the War on Terror is really a War on Islam. Moreover this war is being encouraged by a deep conspiracy of Jews and Christians. The US government is not to be trusted because the US wants to break up Pakistan and take control of Pakistan’s assets (the nuclear issue). Finally, the US wants to impose India’s hegemony over Pakistanis. All of the Pakistani delegates agreed with the analysis but also insisted that the perception was distorted – a caricature.

The encouraging insight was our interaction with Pakistani university students and faculty both in Islamabad and Lahore – particularly the women, who were passionate, critical, articulate and energized. What was particularly striking was their clear and biting honesty both about their own country and their severe critique of the appalling ignorance of what is going on in the world and in our name on the part of the US populace.

Alasdair McIntyre some years ago in an essay “How to be a North American” wrote: “We become people one of whose aims is to make sure that we please others, so that they are pleased at being pleased by us. And this wanting to be liked is one of the great American vices that emerges from this refusal of particularity and conflict. Americans tend under the influence of this vice to turn into parodies of themselves – smiling, earnest, very kind, generous, nice people, who do terrible things quite inexplicably. We become people with no depth, no depth of understanding, masters of technique and technology, but not of ourselves.” Colonel Tuan of the Republic of Vietnam once called Americans well-disciplined and generous but a people without a culture. He was not referring to high culture McIntyre commented,, “He meant that he could not recognize what it was about them that made them Americans in the way that he was Vietnamese. And I think that is what happens to people with no story to tell themselves, people who do not confront their future as a narrative future. They, or rather we, become superficial people, people with surfaces, public relations people.”

It struck me that these young Pakistanis were speaking from the point of view of a culture – a culture to be sure that was being challenged by change but a culture nevertheless. Where to begin? It might seem rather thin simply to affirm that there are now strong ties and friendships between members of the two delegations. But these relationships are strengthened by a deep commitment to go on meeting both here and in Pakistan; and not only to meet but to work on projects which will build bridges between our two countries.

It isn’t as if we have to start from scratch. There is already a strong corps of Pakistani-Americans who are dedicated bridge-builders. What comes through when I reflect on my trip to Pakistan is my conviction of the urgency of a new vision for humanity. How can the best of religion be galvanized for the common good? One of my colleagues at the seminary where I taught for many years, often used this aphorism: “Don’t let the demons set the agenda.” It seems to me that this is a good injunction for our age both in our country and in our relations with others. It’s time to jump into the complexity of things with a sense of urgency, humility and humor and realize that there is, in the end, only one ethnic group, only one human race.

Coca-Cola Vending Machines Bringing India & Pakistan Together

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