Posts Tagged ‘ Faisalabad ’

Pakistan Power Shortages Keep Growth Prospects Dim

By Alex Rodriguez The Los Angeles Times

The machine operators lean back lazily on rolls of cotton fabric, shooing flies from their sweat-soaked tunics as their boss, Abdul Latif, paces between rows of silent electric looms covered in lint.

The textile plant owner knows it’s just one of several rolling blackouts that will darken his plant today, as they have every day for four years. Along his street, other textile plants have either closed or begun selling their looms for scrap. Latif scrapes by, but the outages have cut his plant’s output in half.

“The situation is very bad,” Latif says. “We’re losing contracts because of these outages. We can’t deliver on time. If it continues like this, we may have to shut down.”

One of Pakistan’s biggest scourges has nothing to do with suicide bombers or militants wielding Kalashnikov assault rifles. Because the country cannot produce the electricity needed to support a population of 177 million, the government intentionally shuts down power in staggered intervals, often for hours at a time.

The rolling blackouts are most frequent during the summer, when the whir of air conditioners in 100-plus-degree heat boosts demand for power. Apart from districts with top government and military offices, virtually every neighborhood and village suffers.

The stopgap policy prevents the country’s moribund economy from getting off the ground. And as long as the economy sputters, millions of Pakistanis remain mired in poverty and joblessness, leaving the country’s disaffected youth vulnerable to recruitment by Islamist militant groups.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s government has given Pakistanis little reason to hope for a solution anytime soon. This summer, government officials said that it would take at least seven years to build up the electricity generation capacity needed to eliminate the blackouts.

Various factors explain Pakistan’s power woes. During Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s rule from 1999 to 2008, strong economic growth fueled an upsurge in consumer spending that had Pakistanis flocking to stores to buy air conditioners, refrigerators and other appliances. But Musharraf failed to pump money into boosting generation capacity to keep up with demand and the country’s booming population.

Zardari inherited the massive gap between supply and demand, but his cash-strapped administration hasn’t moved fast enough on hydroelectric dam projects and has yet to shore up the country’s aging distribution network.

Other factors make the situation even worse. About 15% of the electricity generated is lost to theft, says Ejaz Qureshi, a spokesman for the state-owned Pakistan Electric Power Co. In addition, the government often fails to pay its bills to private power producers, which means those companies can’t buy sufficient fuel for their plants. At times, they cut off electricity to the offices of government agencies that owe them money.

The havoc wrought by the shortfall is particularly acute in the country’s textile industry, a pillar of Pakistan’s fragile economy.

Faisalabad, Pakistan’s third-largest city and home to its textile sector, has seen 200 of its 4,000 textile plants close in the last three years because of the blackouts, says Wahid Raamay, chairman of the city’s Council of Loom Owners and a plant owner.

During that period, 100,000 workers have been laid off, about 10% of the city’s textile work force, Raamay says.

Plant owners forced out of business face a grim future. In a country where many people distrust banks, many plant owners sell their personal property — gold, jewelry, cars — to buy the machinery needed to start the business. If their plants close, they may find themselves at rock bottom.

“They all used to have good cars, good homes, and now everything has disappeared,” Raamay says. “Now they ride motorcycles to get around.”

Five months ago, Malik Mohammed Kashif was forced to shut down his plant, lay off 80 workers and sell his 66 looms to scrap dealers.

On a sun-baked afternoon, Kashif strolls through his darkened, empty building and winces as he speaks of the future.

“As for me, I’m finished,” says Kashif, a 30-year-old father of four. “With the shutdown, we lost $350,000, nearly everything we had. We’re at the bottom now because of this.”

This summer, public anger over ceaseless power outages boiled over. In Mianwali, in Punjab province, throngs of demonstrators calling for a stop to the outages clashed with baton-wielding police in early July. Two people were killed and 22 were injured. In Karachi, four people were killed during protests and work stoppages in early June that brought sections of Pakistan’s largest city to a standstill.

In Faisalabad, the extent of blackout-induced layoffs in the textile industry has reached the point that plant owners often work the looms alongside their laborers.

At Latif’s plant, workers paid by the hour say the outages cut their already meager wages in half. Machine operator Mehmood Hussain makes $4.65 a day when the blackouts don’t occur and $2.32 when they do. For a family of seven reliant on his income, the difference is huge.

“It’s a critical situation now,” Hussain says. “We can’t buy decent food or buy clothes for ourselves. And there’s no way out. Looms are all we know.”

One group, however, prospers from the textile industry’s misery: the scrap dealers. Their stalls on the edge of the city are filled with grease-covered gears and flywheels stacked next to piles of wooden rollers and spool holders.

Dealer Mohammed Sharif says he sometimes buys up to 100 looms a day, paying just $290 for machines that cost plant owners $1,500.

“When the textile plants suffer, our business booms,” Sharif says. At the same time, he knows the scavenging can’t last indefinitely.

“If looms continue to shut down at this rate, a day will come when we won’t have any business at all. What will we do then?”

Noting that three in four terror suspects are acquitted in Pakistan, the United States has doubts its key ally would make any headway in prosecuting key plotters of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

“The accused in numerous high-profile terrorism incidents involving US victims had all been acquitted by the Pakistani legal system,” US State Department noted in its 2010 Country Reports on Terrorism, published last week.

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation has assisted with the respective prosecutions,” the report said. FBI had assisted India in the investigation of the Mumbai terrorist attack as six Americans were among the 166 victims.

The report found that while Pakistan maintained it was committed to prosecuting those accused of terrorism, a study of its Anti-Terrorism Court’s rulings last year disclosed “that Pakistan remained plagued by an acquittal rate of approximately 75 per cent”, and a legal system “almost incapable of prosecuting suspected terrorists”.

It complained that a new anti-terror bill, which would allow its security agencies to hold suspects for 90 days before bringing them to court and give them a freer hand to use electronic surveillance had not progressed in the country’s National Assembly.

Although Islamabad had increased pressure on money-launders and unofficial ‘hawala’ money transfer agents, “deficiencies remained,” the report found.

“Notably, the criminalisation of the financing of terrorist acts committed against foreign governments and international organisations was ambiguous, as was the criminalisation of financing groups that have not been explicitly banned by the government or designated by the UN,” it stated.

Pakistan’s “weak implementation” of a UN Security Council resolution which lists banned terrorist organisations remained a concern.

The report also criticises Islamabad’s failure to outlaw militant Islamic terror groups which escape bans by changing their names.

Advertisements

Bombing kills 25 Near Intelligence Office in Eastern Pakistan

By Karen Brulliard for The Washington Post

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – A car bomb exploded near an office of Pakistan’s main intelligence agency in the eastern city of Faisalabad on Tuesday, killing 25 people in the type of militant attack that is growing more common in the country’s populous heartland.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack and said it was aimed at the intelligence office, the Associated Press reported.

Police said the bomb, which was detonated at a gas station, sparked additional explosions of natural gas cylinders, compounding the damage. The blast destroyed parts of several businesses, including an office of the national airline, and wounded at least 100 people.

Sectarian violence is common in Faisalabad, Pakistan’s third-largest city and a textile-producing hub, but Tuesday’s blast was the first major militant attack there. Militants have often carried out bombings in other large cities, including Lahore, about 80 miles to the east. The attacks regularly target Pakistan’s security forces, who in recent years have mounted counterterrorism offensives against insurgent hideouts in the mountainous northwest.

Now, Pakistani authorities and analysts say, violent extremist organizations are spreading across Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital.

Southern Punjab is home to militant groups that traditionally focused attacks on Indian targets but are now thought to be deepening ties to Taliban factions in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The car bombing occurred nearly a week after the assassination of federal cabinet minister Shahbaz Bhatti, which a group calling itself the Punjabi Taliban said it had carried out.

Bhatti, a Christian, had spoken out against Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws, which are enforced most stringently in Punjab. The laws are defended by religious groups, which say that violators of the statutes – and supporters of the violators – deserve death.

Pakistanis, Indians want peace, friendship, says poll

As Reported by SANA (South Asian News Agency)

Despite a history of conflicts, mistrust and estranged relationship, an overwhelming number of Pakistanis and Indians want peace and friendship between the nuclear-armed South Asian nations, a survey conducted on both sides of the border has revealed.

The survey – conducted by independent research agencies and sponsored by the Jang Group of Pakistan and The Times of India on the first anniversary of their joint peace initiative ‘Aman Ki Asha’ – showed that 70 per cent of Pakistanis and 74 per cent of Indians want peaceful relations.

Although, the process of composite dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi remains stalled since the 2008 Mumbai carnage, 72 per cent Pakistanis and 66 per cent Indians hope to see ’sustainable friendly relations’ in their lifetime. Compared with last year, the number of Indians hoping to see peace in their lifetime has surged by 17 per cent.

The optimism at the people’s level appears in a stark contrast to the current bitter official positions. The Indian government accuses Pakistan of harbouring terrorists and not doing enough against the alleged sponsors of the Mumbai attack, while Islamabad says that New Delhi has been using this incident as a ‘propaganda’ tool to avoid talks on the core issue of Kashmir. Islamabad also blames India for instigating violence in Balochistan.

According to the survey, awareness of the Kashmir problem as being central to the state of relations between the two countries, particularly in India, has increased. The survey results show that 77 per cent Pakistanis and 87 per cent of Indians feel that peace can be achieved by settling the protracted Kashmir dispute.

The scientific survey covered 10 Pakistani cities and 42 villages, covering a cross-section of people from rural and urban areas. Pakistani cities where the survey was carried out were: Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Multan, Faisalabad, Hyderabad and Sukkur. In India, the survey was conducted in six cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad (Deccan) and Chennai. Adult population, both male and female, were represented in the survey.

This was the second survey on Pakistan-India relations. The first survey was conducted in December 2009; just before the Aman Ki Asha peace campaign was launched. Survey results show a consistent and marked improvement in perceptions about each other by people in both countries.

The survey showed that the issue of Pakistan-India relations featured in the thoughts of 73 per cent Pakistanis and 68 per cent Indians. The survey results said apart from settling the Kashmir dispute, 80 per cent Pakistanis and 91 per cent Indians think ’stronger relations and better defence’ would also contribute in achieving the goal of peace.

The survey tracked the impact of the Aman Ki Asha campaign in India by asking a similar set of questions to two groups of people – one aware of this peace campaign and the other not aware of it. On all four questions asked – perceiving Pakistan as a high threat to India, as a sponsor of terror, desire for peace and being hopeful for achieving sustainable peace – there was a marked difference in the responses of the two groups. The group that was aware of the Aman Ki Asha initiative had a much better perception of Pakistan.

Around 77 per cent of Pakistanis and 87 per cent Indians consider that international pressure may help in bringing peace, while 71 per cent Pakistanis and 72 per cent Indians pin hopes on greater people-to-people contact to pave the way for friendly relations. Eighty-one per cent Pakistanis and Indians see people-to-people contact as an effective ‘instrument of peace’.

An increase in business has also been tipped as a vehicle of peace by 67 per cent Pakistanis and 69 per cent Indians, the survey said. Among other steps needed to promote peace, 32 per cent Pakistanis pinned hopes on sports, 28 per cent on business, 22 per cent on tourism, 20 per cent on travel for health treatment and 13 per cent each on culture and higher education. The data from the Indian side regarding this questionnaire was not available.

For 51 per cent of Pakistanis, business can help bring peace, while 46 and 45 per cent of respondents said that it can also be done through sports and tourism respectively.

AMAN KI ASHA: The first of its kind peace drive ‘Aman Ki Asha’ was seen by a vast majority as articulating the aspirations of the people. Around 87 per cent Pakistanis and 74 per cent Indians were of the view that this sustained campaign ‘developed tremendous awareness about the Indo-Pak relationship’. Around 85 per cent Pakistanis and 61 per cent Indians said Aman Ki Asha communicated ‘peoples’ desire for peace to their governments, while 80 per cent Pakistanis and 86 per cent Indians said it ‘helped bring the people of the two countries together’.

The Jang Group and The Times of India have held a series of events over the last 12 months that involved a broad section of people, including students, intellectuals, artists, businessmen, doctors, information technology experts and ordinary citizens in an attempt to boost people-to-people ties.

In Pakistan, the recall of the ‘Aman Ki Asha’ campaign has been around an impressive 92 per cent. Shahrukh Hasan, Group Managing Director of the Jang Group, said this media-led civil society movement had made a huge contribution for peace at a time when tensions remained high between the two countries.

“The survey results should lay to rest any misgivings or apprehensions people may have had about the objectives or chances of success of the campaign,” he said. “The survey results show that Aman Ki Asha has brought about a sea change in perceptions in India about Pakistan. Every negative perception has decreased and every positive perception has improved. The Jang Group feels vindicated and is delighted that we have helped put across Pakistan’s point of view through honest dialogue, seminars, people-to-people contacts and cultural events.”

According to the survey, the terror perception in India about Pakistan is down to 42 per cent from 75 a year ago, of bomb threats to 29 per cent from 54 and awareness about the Kashmir dispute rising to 17 per cent from a mere four per cent. Hasan hoped that the Pakistani and Indian governments would continue to facilitate the Aman Ki Asha peace campaign and take advantage of the access to the hearts and minds of the people of the two countries that the Jang Group and the Times of India provided.

Christian Woman Sentenced to Death in Pakistan Not Yet Pardoned

By Reza Sayah for CNN

A Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy has not yet been pardoned by Pakistan’s president, representatives for the president said Wednesday, a day after a provincial governor told CNN that the president is expected to pardon the woman.

Asia Bibi, who has been jailed for nearly 15 months, was convicted in a Pakistani court earlier this month of breaking the country’s controversial blasphemy law by insulting Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment, according to Pakistan’s penal code. She was sentenced to death.

Two representatives of President Asif Ali Zardari said Wednesday that no action has been taken, but the president will pardon if necessary.

“No decision has been taken,” spokesman Farhatullah Babar said. “Under the constitution, the president has to act under the advise of the prime minister. He will advise the president to take whatever action he proposes.”

On Tuesday, the governor of Punjab province said Zardari will pardon Bibi.

“What basically he’s made it clear is that she’s not going to be a victim of this law,” Gov. Salman Taseer told CNN International’s “Connect the World” program.

“I mean, he’s a liberal, modern-minded president and he’s not going to see a poor woman like this targeted and executed. … It’s just not going to happen,” Taseer said.

She has filed a petition for mercy with the high court, Taseer said.

“If the high court suspends the sentence and gives her bail then that is fine. We’ll see that, and if that doesn’t happen, then the president will pardon her,” he said.

Babar said jurists and legal experts have debated about whether the president has absolute power under the constitution to grant a pardon.

But he said Bibi is not in danger of being executed.

“Asia cannot be executed now,” Babar said. “Under the law, a death sentenced issued by a session court can not be carried out until it has been endorsed by the high court.”

Farahnaz Ispahani, a spokeswoman for the president, said Pakistan remains committed to protecting religious minorities.

“Pakistan is a nation of many faiths and religions, and all Pakistanis, no matter what their religion, are equal under the law,” Ispahani said in a written statement. “President Zardari has followed the case of Asia Bibi closely and will take appropriate action, if necessary, to issue a pardon or grant clemency to insure that Asia Bibi is neither incarcerated or harmed.”

A preliminary investigation showed Bibi was falsely accused, a government official said Monday.

“The president asked me to investigate her case, and my preliminary findings show she is innocent and the charges against her are baseless,” Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti told CNN.

Bhatti has said he will submit a final report Wednesday to Zardari’s office.

Prosecutors say Bibi, a 45-year-old field worker, insulted the Prophet Mohammed after she got into a heated argument with Muslim co-workers who refused to drink from a bucket of water she had touched.

In a brief news conference at the prison where she’s being held, Bibi said last weekend that the allegations against her are lies fabricated by a group of women who don’t like her.

“We had some differences and this was their way of taking revenge,” she said.

Bibi’s death sentence sparked outrage among human rights groups, who condemned Pakistan’s blasphemy law as a source of violence and persecution against religious minorities.

But Babar said the president’s party lacks the power in parliament to repeal Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

“The manifesto of the Pakistan Peoples Party calls for the law to be repealed, but the party has not been able to repeal it because we lack the majority in parliament,” Babar said. “We don’t have the numbers to do it.”

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: