Posts Tagged ‘ Karachi ’

After Decades of Neglect, Pakistan Rusts in Its Tracks

By Declan Walsh for The New York Times

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Resplendent in his gleaming white uniform and peaked cap, jacket buttons tugging his plump girth, the stationmaster stood at the platform, waiting for a train that would never come. “Cutbacks,” Nisar Ahmed Abro said with a resigned shrug.

Ruk Station, in the center of Pakistan, is a dollhouse-pretty building, ringed by palm trees and rice paddies. Once, it stood at the junction of two great Pakistani rail lines: the Kandahar State Railway, which raced north through the desert to the Afghan border; and another that swept east to west, chaining cities from the Hindu Kush mountains to the Arabian Sea.

Now it was a ghost station. No train had stopped at Ruk in six months, because of cost cutting at the state-owned rail service, Pakistan Railways, and the elegant station stood lonely and deserted. Idle railway men smoked in the shadows. A water buffalo sauntered past.

Mr. Abro led the way into his office, a high-ceilinged room with a silent grandfather clock. Pouring tea, he mopped sweat from his brow. The afternoon heat was rising, and the power had been down for 16 hours — nothing unusual in Pakistan these days.

Opposite him, Faisal Imran, a visiting railway engineer, listened sympathetically to the mournful stationmaster. This was about more than just trains — more than the decrepit condition of the once-mighty state railway service, Mr. Imran said. It was about Pakistan itself.

“The railways are the true image of our country,” he said, sipping his tea in the heat. “If you want to see Pakistan, see its railways.”

For all the wonders offered by a train journey across Pakistan — a country of jaw-dropping landscapes, steeped in a rich history and filled with unexpected pleasures — it also presents some deeply troubling images.

At every major stop on the long line from Peshawar, in the northwest, to the turbulent port city of Karachi, lie reminders of why the country is a worry to its people, and to the wider world: natural disasters and entrenched insurgencies, abject poverty and feudal kleptocrats, and an economy near meltdown.

The election last weekend was a hopeful moment for a struggling democracy, with the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif winning a huge mandate amid record voter turnout of nearly 60 percent. But the voting left undecided the larger battle against popular disillusionment. In a country forged on religion, Pakistanis are losing faith. People are desperate for change — for any improvement their proudly nuclear-armed government could make, yet has not.

Chronic electricity shortages, up to 18 hours per day, have crippled industry and stoked public anger. The education and health systems are inadequate and in stark disrepair. The state airline, Pakistan International Airlines, which lost $32 million last year, is listing badly. The police are underpaid and corrupt, and militancy is spreading. There is a disturbing sense of drift.

This failure is the legacy of decades of misadventure, misrule and misfortune under both civilian and military leaders, but its price is being paid by the country’s 180 million people.

To them, the dire headlines about Taliban attacks and sterile arguments about failed states mean little. Their preoccupations are mundane, yet vitally important. They want jobs and educations for their children. They want fair treatment from their justice system and electricity that does not flicker out.

And they want trains that run on time.

Peshawar: The Scarred City

At the journey’s beginning, policemen wielding AK-47s guard the train station in Peshawar, on the cusp of craggy mountains that climb into Afghanistan — one of about 40 such checkposts in a city that has long been a hub of intrigue, but that now finds itself openly at war. Since the first Taliban attacks about six years ago, the city has faced a relentless barrage of suicide bombings. No place can claim immunity: five-star hotels and religious shrines, bustling markets and the international airport, police stations and foreign consulates. Hundreds of people have died.

The train system has been deeply affected. Until a few years ago, the tracks stretched up to the storied Khyber Pass, 30 miles to the west, where one of the last steam trains chugged through the tribal belt. Now that line is closed, its tracks washed away by floodwaters and too dangerous to run even if it were intact, given the insurgent violence.

The train system has been deeply affected. Until a few years ago, the tracks stretched up to the storied Khyber Pass, 30 miles to the west, where one of the last steam trains chugged through the tribal belt. Now that line is closed, its tracks washed away by floodwaters and too dangerous to run even if it were intact, given the insurgent violence.

Khyber also gave its name to the country’s most famous train service, the Khyber Mail, immortalized by travel writers like Paul Theroux. It recalls the heyday of Pakistan’s railway raj, when the train was an elegant, popular mode of travel used by the wealthy and working classes alike, with liveried bearers carrying trays of tea, and pressed linen sheets and showers in the first-class carriages.

But the Awami Express, which waited at the platform, had little of that old-world charm. The carriages were austere and dusty. Porters scurried about in tattered uniforms, taking modest tips from a trickle of passengers. Only one class of ticket, economy, was for sale. The train company, lacking generators, could not offer any air-conditioning.

“We are in crisis,” said Khair ul Bashar, the Peshawar stationmaster, surrounded by giant levers that switch the tracks. “We don’t have money, engineers or locomotives. That’s why there are delays.”

The decrepitude of the 152-year-old railway system has, in recent years, been attributed largely to a Peshawar native: the previous rail minister, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. A classic product of Pakistan’s patronage-driven politics, Mr. Bilour, 73, faced regular accusations of cronyism, using railway resources — money, land and jobs — to look after his own supporters. Meanwhile, service has floundered. Passenger numbers have plunged, train lines have closed and the freight business — the lifeblood of any train service — has crumbled. The last time the rail system turned a profit was in 1974.

Last year the national anticorruption agency placed Mr. Bilour under investigation; a court later jailed two of the railway’s top managers. The minister avoided prosecution, and in interviews has insisted that a lack of funding was the main problem. More recently, though, Mr. Bilour has become emblematic of another aspect of Pakistani politics: the complex relationship with violent extremism.

When Peshawar erupted in deadly riots last October over an American-made video clip that insulted the Prophet Muhammad, enraged protesters attacked the city’s movie theaters, including one belonging to Mr. Bilour’s family. A day later, the minister made a controversial offer: he would pay $100,000 to anyone, militants included, who killed the offending filmmaker. That gesture ingratiated Mr. Bilour with the Taliban, who offered to remove him from their hit list, but deeply shamed his party, which had suffered fatal militant attacks. In Peshawar, people viewed it with irony: the Bilour cinema was notorious for showing racy films that the Taliban surely would not appreciate.

But the cinemas represented more than just Western culture; they were a rare form of public entertainment in a city that is closing in on itself.

Khalid Saeed, the owner of one of the few theaters left standing in Peshawar, the Capitol, sat in the foyer of the once-grand 1930s-era building, surrounded by tatty posters advertising old action movies. Invading rioters broke his projector and set fire to the screen, he said, but mercifully the flames did not spread.

Still, he said, he understood the frustration. “This is about religion, but it’s also about poverty,” he said, sucking on a cigarette. “There’s so much unemployment here. Young people have nothing to do, nowhere to go. You can read it in their faces. They get upset.”

The rattle of Taliban violence has created a stronger curfew than the local police ever could. Mr. Saeed said his son dared not venture out after dark, fearing attack or kidnapping. And still the militants keep striking.

“Around here, nobody knows what will happen tomorrow,” he said with an air of quiet resignation. “What sort of life is that?”

In Mr. Bilour’s case, the entire episode was for naught. A few months later, in December, the Taliban assassinated his younger brother, the politician Bashir Bilour. As election campaigning got under way recently, a Taliban suicide bomber nearly killed Mr. Bilour himself at a rally in Peshawar’s old city. Then, last weekend, he lost his Parliament seat to Imran Khan — the former sports star who has said the government should negotiate with the insurgents, not fight them.

At Peshawar Station, the Awami Express slowly chugged out, brushing against the yawning canopies of gnarled trees and slicing through a crowded clothing market. The clattering grew faster, carriage doors swinging open and shut, as the train rumbled into the countryside. Its passengers — traders, government employees, large families — stretched out on aged leather seats.

Muhammad Akmal, a 20-year-old ice factory worker, was going home to Punjab for a wedding. “Hope to get married myself, soon — perhaps to one of my cousins,” he said. Hopefully, he added, the train would not be too late.

At Attock, the train crawled over a spectacular bridge spanning the Indus River, passing under an ancient hilltop fort built by a Mughal emperor in the 16th century, now occupied by the Pakistani Army.

Sepia-toned images of sweeping train journeys occupy a central place in the Western imagination of the Indian subcontinent, from movie classics like “Gandhi” to the recent “Slumdog Millionaire.” In real life, the Awami Express possessed little of that romance. The 45-year-old diesel locomotive groaned as it belched pillowy black fumes. Fine clouds of dust entered through the open windows. The carriages jerked violently on the corners.

It was not always so. Much as the American West filled out one train depot at a time, Pakistan was forged on steel rails. The state-owned train system, over 5,000 miles of track inherited from the British at independence in 1947, helped mesh a new and fractious country. Trains ferried migrants to the cities, provided a moving platform for campaigning politicians and played a role in the wars against India. It became — and remains — the country’s largest civilian employer, still with more than 80,000 employees.

Today, though, decades of neglect have taken a heavy toll. On paper, Pakistan Railways has almost 500 engines, but in reality barely 150 are in working order. Most Pakistanis prefer to take the bus. Those left on the trains are often frustrated, sometimes mutinous.

Early last year, dozens of protesting passengers laid their children across the tracks in Multan, in southern Punjab Province. They were angry because a journey that should have taken 18 hours had lasted three days — and they were still only halfway to their destination.

In the train engineer’s seat, Hameed Ahmed Rana, a taciturn man in a neat white shirt and a baseball cap, tugged gently on a brass handle and grumbled. The Japanese-built locomotive wheezed and shuddered. “There’s a problem with the oil pressure,” he said. “Not looking good.”

Mr. Rana guided the train into the garrison city of Rawalpindi, headquarters to Pakistan’s military, where artillery pieces poked out from under awnings. Then it pressed south, the landscape flattening as its colors shifted from stony brown to rich green, rumbling past the rich irrigated fields and orange groves of northern Punjab, the heartland of military recruitment.

Inside the train, fans hung inertly from the ceiling as the day’s heat pressed in. The carriages, filling up, were acquiring the air of a village tea shop. Men smoked and chatted; small traders boarded carrying salty snacks and hot drinks; families with women pulled sheets across their seats for privacy.

The conversation, inevitably, turned to politics and religion. An argument about the merits of various leaders erupted between a Pashtun trader, traveling to Karachi for heart treatment, and an engineer who worked in a military tank plant. “We’ve tried them all,” the engineer said with an exasperated air. “All we get are opportunists. We need a strong leader. We need a Khomeini.”

A group of jolly Islamic missionaries, known as jamaats, squeezed into a long seat, offering a foreign visitor smiles, a snack and an invitation to convert to Islam. “We’re not on this world for long,” said Abdul Qadir, a rotund man with a gray-speckled beard, proffering a plate of sliced apple. “People have a choice: heaven or hell. So they should work toward the afterlife.”

Lahore: Class and Corruption

 

Almost on schedule, the Awami Express panted into the grand old station at Lahore. A Hollywood movie starring Ava Gardner was shot here in 1955; today the yard is cluttered with empty freight vans.

Once the seat of Mughal emperors who ruled the Indian subcontinent, Lahore is the center of gravity for Pakistan’s cultural and military elite, a city of army barracks, tree-lined boulevards, artists and chic parties. It is also the headquarters of the 152-year-old railway empire. In the 1960s, Pakistan Railways was said to own one-third of the city’s land, and today the company is still run from a towering colonial-era palace, where clerks scurry between offices down polished corridors.

Up close, however, there is evidence of decline.

At the Mughalpura rail complex — a vast yard of workshops and train sheds stretched across 360 acres with 12,000 employees — workers were operating at 40 percent capacity, managers complained. Electricity cuts bring work to a halt, while entrenched unions, a rarity in Pakistan, stridently oppose any efforts to shed jobs or cut benefits. Unions blame management for corruption; managers say the unions are inflexible. Strikes are frequent.

Outside the plant gates, Muhammad Akram, a railway blacksmith, wore a tinsel garland that showed he was on a “token hunger strike,” from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The system was on the verge of collapse, he said: “It’s like sitting on the edge of the sea, wondering when you will fall in.”

The misfortune of the railways has, however, benefited Lahore’s elite. Traditionally, the city’s wealth has stemmed from the surrounding countryside, where feudal landlords live off the rents of poor peasants. For decades, the landlords have epitomized Pakistan’s gaping divisions: paying no tax, treating seats in Parliament like family heirlooms, virtually a law unto themselves on their own lands. But things are changing. Of late, the landlords are being nudged aside by a new elite, one that has found a home in a gilded country club built on railway land.

The Royal Palm Golf and Country Club, a lavish facility with an 18-hole golf course, gyms, 3-D cinemas and cigar rooms, opened in 2002 at the height of the military rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The club, which costs $8,000 to join, has become a showcase for new money: families that made their fortunes from property and industry, contacts and corruption.

The Royal Palm’s glittering social functions, attended by men in expensive suits and women in ornate gowns, are a staple of local society magazines. The opening of a local Porsche dealership was celebrated here in 2005 with a gala dinner featuring exotic dancers flown in from Europe. Some events even offer alcohol, although guests are encouraged to drop their wine glasses when the cameras show up.

“This is a family club, and a lifestyle choice,” said the manager, an architect named Parvez Qureshi, sitting in his stained-wood office overlooking the golf links.

But the Royal Palm was also built on the bones of the railways.

The rail minister at the time was Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf Qazi, an ally of General Musharraf’s and a former spy chief who leased the railway’s land to a consortium of businessmen. Critics accused him of giving the land away at a sweetheart rate.

“It was not a clean deal. Absolutely not,” said Nasir Khalili, chairman of the Gardens Club, an officers social club with 1,400 members that had to surrender its property.

The National Accountability Bureau, which investigates official corruption, concluded last year that the Royal Palm deal had cost the government millions of dollars in lost revenue.

It was not the first time that the military had chipped at the rail system. Back in the 1980s, the military ruler Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq diverted train freight business to the National Logistics Cell, a military-run road haulage company that cornered the market for transporting wheat and other commodities. Less publicly it smuggled C.I.A.-financed weapons destined for mujahedeen rebels fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

“With freight gone, the railway was doomed,” said Salman Rashid, a travel writer who has specialized in the train network.

One evening, a raucous concert took place on the Royal Palm driving green. Thousands of teenagers crowded onto the grass to see Atif Aslam, a popular singer, in a performance sponsored by a cellphone company. Militant violence has curtailed public events in Lahore; most take place in such cloistered circumstances.

Before a crowd of about 4,000 young people, some joined by their parents, Mr. Aslam, wearing skinny jeans and a fur hat, bounded across the stage in a sea of testosterone, fluttering vocals and crashing guitars.

To a foreigner, many posed a rhetorical question that betrayed their wounded sensitivity to Pakistan’s international image. “Do we look like terrorists?” asked Zuhaib Rafaqat, a 21-year-old computer student. “The West seems to think we are. But look at us — we’re just enjoying ourselves, like anyone else.”

Sindh: Abiding Alienation

Charging across lush fields of wheat and cotton, the train crossed into Sindh Province, where it halted at Sukkur, on the Indus River. The Lansdowne Bridge, completed in 1889, spanned the water — one of several feats of engineering by the British colonialists who hacked through mountains, traversed ravines and cut across deserts to make a railroad in what has become Pakistan.

The railway project was foremost a tool of occupation: first to transport cheap cotton to English factories, later to move troops toward the northwestern frontier to guard against invasion from czarist Russia. Tens of thousands of construction workers died on the job, perishing in blistering summers and freezing winters, or from diseases like scurvy and malaria.

South of Sukkur, waterlogged fields mark a modern calamity: the 2010 floods, which inundated about one-fifth of the country, affected 20 million people and caused up to $43 billion in economic losses, according to some estimates. Topsoil and entire villages washed away in muddy waves, never to return.

In the Awami Express’s grimy dining car, a cook named Amir Khan stirred a greasy chicken broth over an open flame, then flopped onto a stack of soda crates. He gestured to the flood-scarred landscape.

“Zardari will show this to America, so that he can get some money,” Mr. Khan said with a cackling laugh, referring to President Asif Ali Zardari, who comes from Sindh. The cook wiped a mug clean, then paused reflectively. “Maybe if Benazir were alive, things would be different.”

The assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 was a traumatic event for Pakistan, but also for its railways. Enraged supporters attacked 30 train stations across her native Sindh, burning 137 coaches and 22 locomotives in a sulfurous protest at the failure of the state to protect Ms. Bhutto.

Still today, the trains present an easy target for disgruntled Pakistanis. As the Awami Express pushed south, the railway police passed through the train, brusquely searching passengers and their luggage. The police increased railway security after Baloch separatists exploded a small bomb at Lahore Station last year, killing two people. More recently, ethnic Sindhi separatists have singled out the train lines for attack.

Sindh is the hub of Pakistan’s Hindu population, which, like other minorities, has suffered from deepening intolerance in recent years. Stories of forced conversion of Hindu women at the hands of Muslim zealots have caused media scandals; last year some Hindu families, complaining of prejudice, left for India. But they were an exception: most Hindus remained behind, and some are quietly thriving.

At the southern city of Hyderabad, a train branch line jutted into the desert, toward the border with India. This was Thar, a desert region where, unusually, Hindus are predominant. A rural commuter service — a train with open doors and a handful of seats — ambled through irrigated farmland toward the desert. On board were farmers, small traders and pilgrims returning from a Hindu shrine, the bareheaded women adorned in gold and silver jewelry.

At the district’s main town, Umerkot, the local colony of snake charmers lives in the shadow of a clay-walled fort. The chief snake charmer, wearing a bright red turban and playing a flute, entranced a cobra as it curled from a wicker basket. Later, he produced a government certificate that attested to his ability to “perform a dangerous act of passing three-foot snake from nostril and mouth.”

“Half of our people are in India,” he said afterward, pointing toward the desert and the border. “But we feel ourselves 100 percent Pakistani.”

Karachi: The Slum Patriot

Land is gold in Karachi, Pakistan’s tremulous port megalopolis: a city of migrants, filled with opportunity and danger, where space is at a premium that is often paid in blood. Political parties, mullahs, criminal gangs and Taliban militants all battle for land in the city, often with weapons. The railways offer an easy target.

Slums crowd the train lines that snake through the city, pushing up against the tracks. Migrants have been coming here for decades, seeking economic opportunity or, more recently, fleeing Taliban violence.

A short walk from Karachi’s main train station lies Railway Colony Gate No. 10: a cluster of rough shacks, pressed against a slope, bordered by a stagnant pool of black, putrid sewage.

Among its residents is Nazir Ahmed Jan, a burly 30-year-old and an unlikely Pakistani patriot.

Mr. Jan, known to friends as Janu, is from the northwestern Swat Valley, where fighting erupted in 2009. After the Taliban arrived, his family fled Khwazakhela, a village “between the river and the mountain,” which he described with misty-eyed nostalgia: lush fields, soaring mountains and his family’s grocery store, later destroyed in fighting.

In contrast, Karachi is gritty and ugly, he acknowledged. He made his money selling “chola” — a cheap bean gruel — as he guided his pushcart through the railway slum. It earned him perhaps $3 a day — enough to feed his two infant children, if not much else.

But Mr. Jan was an irrepressible optimist. At least Karachi was safe, relatively speaking, he said. And it had other attractions.

In the corner of his home was a battered computer, hooked up to the Internet via a stolen phone line. He used it to write poetry, mostly about his love for Pakistan, he said, pulling out a sample. One couplet read:

“If you divide my body into 100 parts /a voice will cry from each one: Pakistan! Pakistan!”Mr. Jan’s face clouded. He had contacted national television stations, and even the army press service, trying to get his work published, he said, folding a page of verse slowly. But nobody was interested; for now the poetry was confined to his Facebook page.

“I just want to express my love for my country,” he said.

Distrusting politicians, he harbored a halcyon vision of what Pakistan could become: a country that offered justice, free education and health care, where leaders made the people wealthy, and not the other way round. “That would be the Islamic way of serving the people,” he said.

Mr. Jan smiled and, clasping his hands across his chest, excused himself. He had to work. The mountain migrant vanished down the street behind his pushcart, children scurrying around him. He whistled a Pashto folk tune, his soup jostling in the cart.

From the distance came the sound of a hooting train, pulling into the station. It was surely late.

This article was reported and written before Declan Walsh’s expulsion from Pakistan by the Interior Ministry on May 10.

Police: Principal killed in grenade, gun attack on Pakistani school

As Reported by Aliza Kassim and Laura Smith-Spark for CNN

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A principal was killed and eight other people were injured in a grenade and gun attack on a school in the Pakistani city of Karachi, a police spokesman said Saturday.

An unidentified motorcyclist hurled the hand grenade at the private middle school in the Baldia Town area of Karachi before letting off a volley of shots, police spokesman Asif Nawaz Sheikh told CNN.

The school principal, named as Abdul Rasheed, was badly hurt and later died of his injuries in the hospital, the spokesman said.

The eight others injured included a teacher and students at the school, he said. They were transferred to the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center and the Civil Hospital.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso condemned what he called a cowardly attack on innocent children, the official Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) news agency reported.

The targeting of school children, including girls, reflected the brutality of the terrorists, he said, according to APP.

Khoso, the former chief justice who was sworn in as interim prime minister less than a week ago, directed the local administration to give all the help needed to the families affected.

The attack is only the latest to target educators in Pakistan.

Another teacher, Shahnaz Nazli, recently died in the country’s northwestern Khyber tribal district in recent days after she was shot by two men on a motorcycle as she made her way to the girls’ school where she taught

In January, five teachers were killed near the town of Swabi in the volatile northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the United Nations says.

In the wake of Nazli’s death, an online petition has been set up calling for Pakistan’s government to take a greater role in protecting girls and teachers to safely attend school.

First to sign it was Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who was herself the subject of a vicious attack last October.

The 14-year-old was riding home in a school van in the Swat Valley, a Taliban stronghold, when masked men stopped the vehicle and shot her in the head and neck.

Malala, whose campaigning for girls’ education in Pakistan gained international attention in 2009, has made a good recovery since but is still receiving treatment for her injuries in Britain.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement Thursday through his spokesman condemning the recent attacks on teachers in Pakistan.

“In addition to the tragic loss of life, violence against teachers undermines confidence in education systems, traumatizes students, and discourages parents from sending children to school,” the statement said.

“Attacks on women teachers are particularly heinous because they disproportionately affect the girl students for whom they serve as role models.”

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who serves as the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, has championed education issues in Pakistan, especially after the shooting of Malala.

In a piece written for CNN, he asked, “Can the world agree that 2013 will be the year when a girl’s right to education will finally be won — even in the most remote and once lawless corners of the globe?”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Girls and women are under attack in Pakistan where they can not get an education for fear of their lives in large parts of the country. When educators and teachers have to fear for their lives for teaching the next generation of young girls and those very same girls also have to fear for their lives for simply going to school, then what does that say about the present and future of this country?

We think that one thing is certain and that is for many Pakistanis, their nation has become a real life hell hole that is easily the most disturbing and dangerous country in the world, no offense to both North Korea and Iran but neither of you are even in Pakistan’s class. Not with its mixture of being a fractious and populous nation that is behest with religious and ethnic animosity while being embroiled in poverty and extremism which is topped off by militancy and nuclear weaponry. Add to this chaotic mix numerous attacks on women and girls for pursuing education, then you simply must conclude that what you have is a nation with a horrendous present and a dreadful future.

The Massacre of Shias in Shia founder Jinnah’s Pakistan

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

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Another day brings news of a yet a new massacre on the Shia community in Pakistan. By last count, at least 47 people have been killed in a bomb attack in the Shia enclave inKarachi Pakistan by the name of Abbas Town with many other injured.

I’m ashamed of this brutality and for the 3rd consecutive large scale attack on the Shia people in Pakistan. The founder of the nation, Jinnah and his sister Fatima Jinnah were Shia Pakistanis. My wife’s family is Shia. Now for the first time, today I am also a Shia Pakistani.

I feel for the fear that this Shia community across Pakistan must be feeling for the last several weeks. Earlier this year, nearly 200 people had been killed in two separate attacks targeting the Shia community in the south-western city of Quetta in January and February. And for what? For having a different view on certain events in Islam’s history? For that these murderous theologically ‘purists’ would want us to believe? Are they not Muslim? And if you answered no to that, then are they not at least human?

These are your fellow Pakistani who cheer for the same cricket team, sing the same anthem, love the same green and white crescent star flag, they read the same history books, and eat the samechaat. Do they not also face Mecca when praying? Did Allah not also create them? Stop killing everyone that does not see the Qu’ran with your Salafist and Wahaabi eyes. No matter what Islamic school of thought you may follow, one thing is certain, bombing and killing scores of innocent women and children is not something God, any God would ever condone, certainly not in his name. Certainly, this is not Prophet Muhammad’s Islam.

I wish the people of Pakistan somehow would put a stop to this weekly targeting of this community throughout Pakistan. Obviously this is the job of a competent government to arrest and dismantle the network throughout the country so that there are no more perpetrator left. This is not the job of the populace. Sadly, the most inept administration in Pakistan’s history is still in power. Zardari’s government is highly incompetent in running a country effectively. With elections a few weeks away, the desperate general population of the country is hopeful for a good change.

The current sad and alarming nation in the country is not what the father of the nation, Mohammed Ali Jinnah envisioned. Jinnah was a “was an Ismaili by birth and according to Vali Nasr, a noted expert on Shia Islam, he believed that Jinnah was a Twelver Shia by confession, although not a religiously observant man. He wanted a tolerant and secular Pakistan, a nation of majority Muslims, but one that also respected all religions and their right to exist freely within its borders. What we have is the opposite of that and not the Islam nor the country that neither the prophet nor the leader had preached about. Pakistan needs to stop this insanity. Stop killing Shias, stop imprisoning Christians for allegedly ‘blaspheming’, stop desecrating the graves of Ismailis and most of all I want these criminals to stop destroying this already fractured country by carrying attacks on helpless citizens.

A nation unable to protect its minorities is not in the end much different than Germany during the Holocaust. The standing by of the majority Sunni population will mean that they have blood on their hands also. This time its Shia blood. Tomorrow it will be Christian or Sufi blood, or perhaps that of a soldier or policeman targeted by these militants and terror outfits. Arrest and grant death penalty to those who are responsible.

Pakistan needs to get rid of all the militant groups for the safety of the common citizen and make peace with its neighbor India instead of cultivating many of these terror groups for proxy wars in Kashmir. The same dog bites you back and is not controllable. It should have never been raised for attacking. Best to put it to sleep, make peace with India, solve the problems of its own people and develop the economy and provide safety and security for a hungry population.

Of course for this to all happen, Pakistan needs to have a fair and free election later this year where the best person should win, one who is a patriot and wants to better the nation and not enrich their pockets from it. I am not sure there is anyone in the bunch running that qualifies.Imran Khan comes pretty close, although not a candidate without his own fallacies. All I can say week after week after hearing the news that comes from Pakistan is that may God help this nation, the most precarious country in the world.

Car bomb kills 37 in Pakistan

As Reported By Adil Jawad for The Associated Pres

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A car bomb exploded outside a mosque on Sunday, killing 37 people and wounding another 141 in a Shiite Muslim dominated neighborhood in the southern Pakistan city of Karachi — the third mass casualty attack on the minority sect in the country this year.

No one has taken responsibility for the bombing, but Shiite Muslims have been increasingly targeted by Sunni militant groups in Karachi, Pakistan’s economic hub and site of years of political, sectarian and ethnic violence, as well as other parts of the country.

The bomb exploded outside a Shiite mosque as people were leaving evening prayers in Pakistan’s largest city. Initial reports suggested the bomb was rigged to a motorcycle, but a top police official, Shabbir Sheikh, said later that an estimated 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosives was planted in a car.

Col. Pervez Ahmad, an official with a Pakistani paramilitary force called the Rangers, said a chemical used in the blast caught fire and spread the destruction beyond the blast site. Several buildings nearby were engulfed in flames.

Men and women wailed and ambulances rushed to the scene where residents tried to find victims buried in the rubble of collapsed buildings. The blast left a crater that was 2 meters (yards) wide and more than 1 meter (4 feet) deep.

“I was at home when I heard a huge blast. When I came out, I saw there was dust all around in the streets. Then I saw flames,” said Syed Irfat Ali, a resident who described how people were crying and trying to run to safety.

A top government official, Taha Farooqi, said at least 37 people were confirmed dead and 141 more were wounded.

Sunni militant groups have stepped up attacks in the past year against Shiite Muslims who make up about 20 percent of Pakistan’s population of 180 million people. Sunni militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban view Shiites as heretics.

Tahira Begum, a relative of a blast victim, demanded the government take strict action against the attackers.

“Where is the government?” she asked during an interview with local Aaj News TV. “Terrorists roam free. No one dares to catch them.”

It was the third large-scale attack against members of the minority sect so far this year. Two brazen attacks against a Shiite Hazara community in southwestern city of Quetta killed nearly 200 people since Jan 10.

Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the bombings, which ripped through a billiard club and a market in areas populated by Hazaras, an ethnic group that migrated from Afghanistan more than a century ago. Most Hazaras are Shiites.

Pakistan’s intelligence agencies helped nurture Sunni militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the 1980s and 1990s to counter a perceived threat from neighboring Iran, which is mostly Shiite. Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 2001, but the group continues to attack Shiites.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 Shiites were killed last year in targeted attacks across the country, the worst year on record for anti-Shiite violence in Pakistan. The human rights group said more than 125 were killed in Baluchistan province. Most of them belonged to the Hazara community.

Human rights groups have accused the government of not doing enough to protect Shiites, and many Pakistanis question how these attacks can happen with such regularity.

A resident who lived in the area where the bomb went off Sunday said there had been another blast nearby just a few months ago.

“The government has totally failed to provide security to common people in this country,” Hyder Zaidi said.

After the Jan. 10 bombing in Quetta, the Hazara community held protests, which spread to other parts of the country. The protesters refused to bury their dead for several days while demanding a military-led crackdown against the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group. Pakistan’s president dismissed the provincial government and assigned a governor to run Baluchistan province.

No operation was launched against the militant group until another bombing in February killed 89 people.

The government then ordered a police operation and has said some members of the group have been arrested. One of the founders of the group, Malik Ishaq, was among those detained and officials said he could be questioned to determine if his group is linked to the latest violence against Shiites.

The repeated attacks have left many Shiites outraged at the government. After the last blast in Quetta, Shiites in Karachi and other cities also demonstrated in support for their brethren in Quetta. Shiites in Karachi set fire to tires and blocked off streets leading to the airport. Many Karachi residents planned to strike on Monday as a form of protest following Sunday’s attack in their city.

In Sign of Normalization, Pentagon to Reimburse Pakistan $688 Million

By ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID E. SANGER for The New York Times

Kerry Panetta

The Pentagon quietly notified Congress this month that it would reimburse Pakistan nearly $700 million for the cost of stationing 140,000 troops on the border with Afghanistan, an effort to normalize support for the Pakistani military after nearly two years of crises and mutual retaliation.

The biggest proponent of putting foreign aid and military reimbursements to Pakistan on a steady footing is the man President Barack Obama is leaning toward naming as secretary of state: Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts. Mr. Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has frequently served as an envoy to Pakistan, including after the killing of Osama bin Laden, and was a co-author of a law that authorized five years and about $7.5 billion of nonmilitary assistance to Pakistan.

The United States also provides about $2 billion in annual security assistance, roughly half of which goes to reimburse Pakistan for conducting military operations to fight terrorism.

Until now, many of these reimbursements, called coalition support funds, have been held up, in part because of disputes with Pakistan over the Bin Laden raid, the operations of the C.I.A., and its decision to block supply lines into Afghanistan last year.

The $688 million payment — the first since this summer, covering food, ammunition and other expenses from June through November 2011 — has caused barely a ripple of protest since it was sent to Capitol Hill on Dec. 7.

The absence of a reaction, American and Pakistani officials say, underscores how relations between the two countries have been gradually thawing since Pakistan reopened the NATO supply routes in July after an apology from the Obama administration for an errant American airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011.

Mr. Kerry’s nomination would be welcomed in Pakistan, where he is seen as perhaps the most sympathetic to Pakistani concerns of any senior lawmaker. He has nurtured relationships with top civilian and military officials, as well as the I.S.I., Pakistan’s most powerful intelligence agency.

But if he becomes secretary of state, Mr. Kerry will inherit one of the hardest diplomatic tasks in South Asia: helping Pakistan find a role in steering Afghanistan toward a political agreement with the Taliban. As the United States, which tried and failed to broker such an agreement, begins to step back, Pakistan’s role is increasing.

For a relationship rocked in the past two years by a C.I.A. contractor’s shooting of two Pakistanis, the Navy SEAL raid that killed Bin Laden and the accidental airstrike, perhaps the most remarkable event in recent months has been relative calm. A senior American official dealing with Pakistan said recently that “this is the longest we’ve gone in a while without a crisis.”

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said, “Pakistan-United States relations are settling down to a more stable trajectory.”

The interlude has allowed the United States to reduce the huge backlog of NATO supplies at the border — down to about 3,000 containers from 7,000 when the border crossings reopened — and to conduct dry runs for the tons of equipment that will flow out of Afghanistan to Pakistani ports when the American drawdown steps up early next year.

Moreover, the two sides have resumed a series of high-level meetings — capped by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meeting this month with top Pakistani officials in Brussels — on a range of topics including counterterrorism, economic cooperation, energy and the security of Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal.

Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, concurred. “There’s greater convergence between the two countries than there has been in eight years,” she said. “It’s been a fairly quick kiss and make up, but it’s been driven by the approaching urgency of 2014, and by their shared desire for a stable outcome in the region.”

The one exception to the state of calm has been a tense set of discussions about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. United States officials have told their Pakistani colleagues that Islamabad’s move to smaller, more portable weapons creates a greater risk that one could be stolen or diverted. A delegation of American nuclear experts was in Pakistan last week, but found that the two countries had fundamentally divergent views about whether Pakistan’s changes to its arsenal pose a danger.

The greatest progress, officials say, has been in the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, after years of mutual recrimination. A high-level Afghan delegation visited Pakistan in November, resulting in the release of several midlevel Taliban commanders from Pakistani jails as a sign of good will in restarting the peace process.

The United States, which was quietly in the background of those meetings, approved of the release of the prisoners, but has still held back on releasing five militants from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a key Taliban demand.

One American official said there was a “big push” to move the talks process forward during the current winter lull in fighting. The United States is quietly seeking to revive a peace channel in Qatar, which was frozen earlier this year after the Taliban refused to participate.

Despite the easing of tensions in recent months, there are still plenty of sore spots in the relationship.

Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, who heads the Pentagon agency responsible for combating roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, told a Senate hearing last week that Pakistan’s efforts to stem the flow of a common agricultural fertilizer, calcium ammonium nitrate, that Taliban insurgents use to make roadside bombs had fallen woefully short.

“Our Pakistani partners can and must do more,” General Barbero told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing.

American officials have also all but given up on Pakistan’s carrying out a clearing operation in North Waziristan, a major militant safe haven.

“Pakistan’s continued acceptance of sanctuaries for Afghan-focused insurgents and failure to interdict I.E.D. materials and components continue to undermine the security of Afghanistan and pose an enduring threat to U.S., coalition and Afghan forces,” a Pentagon report, mandated by Congress, concluded last week.

Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Kerry for Secretary is a great choice now that Susan Rice did not work out. We love Hillary Clinton and as a Democrat and Liberal through and through, as much as we wish Secretary Clinton a speedy recovery and look forward to voting for her as the first woman President of the United States, it is high time to have a man in there as a Secretary working together with Secretary Panetta. John Kerry is a good and honorable soldier who is a patriot and will uphold American interests but will be a person who is very familiar with Pakistan and the need to have a dialogue with the men who man the barracks in Rawalpindi, regardless who happens to be the Prime Minister in Islamabad. We hope he has a speedy confirmation and no obstructionism by the Do Nothing GOP~

Pakistan leader’s mangrove-to-metropolis dream

By Alex Rodriguez for The LA Times

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SHAH BANDAR, Pakistan — In his dreams, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari sees a spectacular metropolis rising up from the vast stretches of mangrove swamp and sea-salted wasteland along the mighty Indus River Delta.

High-speed rail zips people from place to place. Vacationers soak up the South Asian sun at seaside resorts. Universities, factories and a new seaport pump vitality into the region. Miles of bike lanes crisscross the city, whose population would eventually reach 10 million.

Zardari wants to call his jewel Zulfikarabad, after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the country’s ruling party, a prime minister and president, and the father of Zardari’s slain wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto.

That’s a lot of dreaming for a country struggling with a dizzying array of afflictions: Millions of Pakistanis are dirt poor, struggling to find clean water, contending with unreliable electricity and living in fear of violent extremists. In addition, the president has continued jousting with Pakistan’s Supreme Court over long-standing graft allegations lodged years ago by Swiss authorities.

Such realities have put Zardari’s popularity in a tailspin.

Many observers suspect that the president’s enthusiasm for Zulfikarabad may be rooted in a burning desire to leave a legacy for this country of 180 million people. He’s seeking an enduring achievement, they say, by an administration widely viewed as rife with failure.

Government officials won’t place a price tag on the president’s lofty vision, which is bound to cost tens of millions of dollars. They say only that the government’s share would be limited to the construction of roads, bridges and other infrastructure, with the rest shouldered by investors.

Officials also say they consider the proposed city a desperately needed engine for jobs and economic growth.

Karachi, the country’s largest city with a population of 18 million, is bloated with overcrowding and traffic jams, and needs a nearby city that can serve as a relief valve, they say.

“Karachi is getting choked,” said Iftikhar Hussain Shah, managing director of the Zulfikarabad Development Authority. “It’s going to suffer paralysis because there’s no more room. So the people who are trying to look for setting up industries, they are looking for space.

“You give opportunity to entrepreneurs, you lay down the infrastructure, you have a good clean administration and clear-cut laws, and people will come,” Shah said. “People will come if they see there is a good opportunity to make money.”

Officials said building on tidal flats along the Arabian Sea coastline would also help combat a burgeoning problem: the encroachment of the sea at a rate of 18 acres a day.

The goal makes sense, but the strategy remains a bit fuzzy. A splashy brochure touting the project suggests that a sea wall 100 feet high could keep Zulfikarabad dry. Even Shah, however, wonders whether building a sea wall in an area routinely flooded by monsoons will work.

“If you build a wall, what will happen to all that [flood] water?” Shah said. “Maybe we’ll go to [other] countries for that expertise.”

For inspiration, Zulfikarabad proponents look to Shenzhen, a city of 10 million in China’s Pearl River Delta region. Once a small fishing village, Shenzhen’s transformation began in the early 1980s after Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping designated it as one of that country’s special economic zones, a status that seeded growth through tax exemptions and other measures aimed at attracting foreign investors.

Today, Shenzhen is hailed as one of the world’s fastest growing cities, an economic powerhouse with its own stock exchange, a bustling port, and a gleaming glass-and-steel skyline.

“Within a span of four years, it went from a fishermen’s town to earning $2 billion a year,” said Shah, who along with other Pakistani officials has toured Shenzhen. “In another 10 years, they were earning $150 billion a year.”

Critics say Pakistan’s reliance on Shenzhen as a template is misguided because China is an economic juggernaut with a gross domestic product 23 times the size of Pakistan’s. The impoverished Indus Delta isn’t likely to have the same pull as Shenzhen, and, sure enough, no Pakistani magnate has committed to making the Zulfikarabad dream a reality.

Officials expect Chinese companies to play a crucial, if not dominant, role in Zulfikarabad. They said one Chinese firm, Sichuan Huantong Holding Investment, signed a nonbinding memorandum of understanding with Pakistan this summer to help develop the city. Investors from the Czech Republic, Turkey and even Pakistan’s nuclear-armed archrival, India, also showed preliminary interest by talking with Pakistani officials about the possibility of building wind-power farms in Zulfikarabad, said Mumtaz Ali, planning director at the Zulfikarabad Development Authority.

Skeptics who doubt Zulfikarabad’s prospects cite Pakistan’s troubled record with another urban planning mega-project, the port city of Gwadar in the volatile province of Baluchistan.

Nearly a decade ago, Pakistan enlisted China’s help in transforming Gwadar into a major deep sea port on the Arabian Sea. Since then, Gwadar has been largely dormant, with cranes along piers rusting from inactivity. Opposition by Baluch nationalists, who worry that the Baluch people would be marginalized by Gwadar’s evolution into a modern city, has played a role in the project’s stagnancy, as has the dearth of roads and rail lines connecting the port to the rest of Pakistan.

Nusrat Javed, a columnist and talk show host for Pakistan’s Aaj TV, said the Zulfikarabad project “reminds all of us of Gwadar.”

“When Gwadar was being developed, the Baloch nationalists and the local population thought that, even though Pakistan and China were investing $248 million there was no possibility or promise of any kind of economic uplift for the Baluch community,” Javed said.

“Our president is extremely excited about [Zulfikarabad]. But to my mind, it seems more like a pipe dream.”

Many of those opposing the Zulfikarabad idea are nationalist parties and movements championing the cause of Sindhis, the indigenous population of Sindh province. Sindhi nationalist leaders acknowledge that if Zulfikarabad produces what it promises many local Sindhis will prosper. But they worry that a healthy, vibrant Zulfikarabad would attract hundreds of thousands of migrants from other parts of Pakistan, turning Sindhis into a distinct minority in their own land.

“After Pakistan came into being, the population of Karachi was 400,000,” said Jalal Mehmood Shah, leader of the Sindh United Party, a Sindhi political movement. “Then migrants came into Karachi and we, local Sindhis, became the minority. So we don’t want another place where we will become a minority. And we don’t want another situation where we aren’t allowed to take part in the development.”

On a recent afternoon in Shah Bandar, a fishing village not far from where ground was broken this summer for a $39-million Zulfikarabad bridge, a group of sweat-soaked fishermen thumbed through a brochure promoting the city. They weren’t too ruffled because they remembered a similar idea laid out by Bhutto’s administration years ago to turn a nearby fishing hamlet, Keti Bandar, into a major sea port.

“Bhutto said it would happen,” said Wali Mohammed, a 30-year-old Shah Bandar fisherman, “but years passed and nothing was built.”

Pakistan Minister Puts Bounty on Filmmaker

As Reported by Agence France-Presse

Pakistan’s railways minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour has offered a $100,000 reward for killing the maker of the US film mocking prophet Mohammed. His comments came a day after 21 people died in violent protests against the “Innocence of Muslims” film.

A Pakistani government minister Saturday offered a $100,000 reward for the death of the maker of the anti-Islam film produced in the US that sparked violent protests across the Muslim world.

Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour invited members of the Talban and Al-Qaeda to take part in the “noble deed”, and said given the chance he would kill the film-maker with his own hands.

Bilour was speaking to reporters in the northwestern city of Peshawar a day after violent nationwide protests against the “Innocence of Muslims” film left 21 people dead and more than 200 injured.

“I announce today that this blasphemer who has abused the holy prophet, if somebody will kill him, I will give that person a prize of $100,000,” Bilour said, urging others to shower the killer with cash and gold.

“I also invite Taliban and Al-Qaeda brothers to be partners in this noble deed,” he said.

“I also announce that if the government hands this person over to me, my heart says I will finish him with my own hands and then they can hang me.”

Protests against the film, which mocks Islam and was made by extremist Christians, have erupted across the Muslim world, leading to more than 50 deaths since the first demonstrations on September 11.

The publication this week of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed in a French satirical magazine has further stoked anger.

The producer of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is reportedly a 55-year-old Egyptian Copt and convicted fraudster — out on parole — who lives in Los Angeles.

US media say Nakoula wrote and produced the film, using the pseudonym Sam Bacile before being identified. He was questioned overnight Friday by police before going into hiding with his family.

Thousands of Islamist activists in Pakistan staged demonstrations again Saturday but there was no repeat of the previous day’s widespread violence.

More than 5,000 protesters marched towards the parliament in Islamabad, including hundreds of women, chanting “We love our Holy Prophet” and “Punishment for those who humiliated our Prophet”.

Some 1,500 people from the hardline Islamist Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Sunni religious groups rallied in front of the US consulate in the eastern city of Lahore, chanting “The US deserves only one remedy — jihad, jihad”.

Hundreds gathered in the southwestern city of Quetta, calling for the makers of the film to be killed while scores in Peshawar, where six people died in Friday’s protests, chanted anti-US slogans.

Religious groups rallied in the southern port city of Karachi, where 15 people were killed Friday, after the funerals of the demonstrators took place.

Witnesses estimated that nationwide rallies on Friday mobilised more than 45,000, mainly members of right-wing religious parties and supporters of banned terror groups, although the numbers were still small in a country of 180 million.

Police fought back with gunshots and tear gas as arsonists and looters attacked cinemas, banks, shops and restaurants in Karachi, where outbreaks of political and ethnically linked violence have killed hundreds this year.

Four more people died overnight from wounds they received during the protests, taking the number killed across Pakistan on Friday to 21, health department officials said.

The combined total of wounded in Karachi, Peshawar and in the capital Islamabad was 229. Overall, 23 people have been killed in Pakistan during protests over the past week.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– After a bone headed government declared a public holiday allowing the people to go and protest and then watched helplessly as private property got destroyed, with billions of rupees lost in revenue form business closure and or destruction, not to mention the loss of 23 Pakistani lives and countless others injured, along comes a Pakistani Minister of Railways who publicly puts a bounty on a person’s head! Oh Pakistan, you are the gift that keeps on giving! 😦

More Than 300 Killed in Pakistani Factory Fires

By Zia ur-Rehman and Salman Masood for The New York Times

Fire ravaged a textile factory complex in the commercial hub of Karachi early Wednesday, killing almost 300 workers trapped behind locked doors and raising questions about the woeful lack of regulation in a vital sector of Pakistan’s faltering economy.

It was Pakistan’s worst industrial accident, officials said, and it came just hours after another fire, at a shoe factory in the eastern city of Lahore, had killed at least 25.

Flames and smoke swept the cramped textile factory in Baldia Town, a northwestern industrial suburb, creating panic among the hundreds of poorly paid workers who had been making undergarments and plastic tools.

They had few options of escape — every exit but one had been locked, officials said, and the windows were mostly barred. In desperation, some flung themselves from the top floors of the four-story building, sustaining serious injuries or worse, witnesses said. But many others failed to make it that far, trapped by an inferno that advanced mercilessly through a building that officials later described as a death trap.

Rescue workers said most of the victims died of smoke inhalation, and many of the survivors sustained third-degree burns. As firefighters advanced into the wreckage during the day, battling back flames, they found dozens of bodies clumped together on the lower floors.

One survivor, Muhammad Aslam, said he heard two loud blasts before the factory filled first with smoke, then with the desperate screams of his fellow workers. “Only one entrance was open. All the others were closed,” he said at a hospital, describing scenes of panic and chaos.

Mr. Aslam, who was being treated for a broken leg, said he saved himself by leaping from a third-floor window.

Hundreds of anguished relatives gathered at the site, many of them sobbing as they sought news. Some impeded the rescue operation, and baton-wielding police officers tried to disperse the crowd but failed.

“If my son does not return, I will commit suicide in front of the factory,” one woman shouted before news cameras as relatives tried to console her.

The death toll rose quickly. By evening, the Karachi commissioner, Roshan Ali Sheikh, said that 289 people had died, most of them men. The provincial health minister, Sagheer Ahmed, put the toll at 248, which he said was the number of bodies accounted for at major hospitals. The number was expected to rise further.

In the shoe factory fire in Lahore, 25 people were reported killed and dozens wounded. Officials said that blaze had been set off by a generator that caught fire and ignited chemicals stored nearby in the factory, illegally located in a residential neighborhood. Most of the victims were men under 25.

The fires immediately revived long-running questions about the regulation of Pakistan’s manufacturing sector, centered in Karachi, and of the vital textiles industry in particular.

Textiles are a major source of foreign currency for Pakistan, accounting for 7.4 percent of its gross domestic product in 2011 and employing 38 percent of the manufacturing work force. Pakistani cotton products are highly sought in neighboring India and form the backbone of a burgeoning fashion industry that caters to the elite. President Asif Ali Zardari’s government has often called on the United States to drop tariff barriers to Pakistani textile imports, which it says would be preferable to traditional aid.

But the industry suffers from weak regulation, characterized by lax oversight and corruption. Business owners often put profits over safety, workers’ rights advocates say.

On Wednesday evening the police raided the home of the owner of the Karachi factory, Abdul Aziz, who appeared to have gone into hiding. According to an online business information service, his company, Ali Enterprises, manufactured denim, knitted garments and hosiery and had capital of between $10 million and $50 million.

His nephew, Shahid Bhaila, the chief executive officer of the company, was also being sought for questioning. The police said both men had been placed on the exit control list, barring them from leaving the country.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the most powerful political party in Karachi, announced three days of mourning. The city electricity company said it would cancel all outstanding bills for the families of those affected as a good will gesture.

The cause of the fire remained unclear. Geo News, the largest news channel, speculated that it had been started by extortionists, reporting that Mr. Aziz had previously faced a demand for a shakedown payment of more than $100,000, which he refused.

But others said an electrical fire was more likely. Wali Muhammad, a former electrical inspector, said that most accidental fires are caused by short circuits in equipment. But since 2003, he said, inspectors had been forbidden by law from visiting factories in Karachi and Punjab; it was not immediately clear why.

“This is criminal negligence,” he told Geo News, referring to the ban.

Another mystery surrounded the locked factory doors. Some survivors said the exits had been shuttered to prevent workers from slipping out early; others said it was the consequence of a recent break-in.

A majority of the garment workers came from Orangi Town, a poor working-class neighborhood in Karachi. Seventeen of the victims came from the same street, local news media reported.

The factory building suffered severe structural damage in the blaze, and officials feared it would collapse on rescue workers during the day.

While many distraught family members set up camp near the factory, others moved between city hospitals, seeking news of loved ones. One man said he was looking for his cousin, who earned $70 a month as a cashier. “He’s still missing. I’m afraid he may have been working in the basement,” the man said.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called on the government to mount an immediate investigation. “The head of the firefighting operations in Karachi has noted that the factory was dangerous, flimsily built and had no emergency exits,” said Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the rights group. “Why did all of that escape official attention earlier?”

Workplace safety is guaranteed under Pakistan’s Constitution, but labor leaders say that government oversight has crumbled rapidly in recent years, along with a general decline in governance.

Sharafat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research, a labor rights group, said that 151 workers died in accidents in 2011. The state was partly responsible for the deaths, he said, because its civil servants “silently and criminally allow violation of laws and regulations established to ensure health and safety provisions at work.”

Pakistan Should Open Itself Up to India

By Aakar Patel for Firstpost

India and Pakistan have a reciprocal relationship. If one does something to the other, send back a spying diplomat for instance, the other imitates this and also sends one back. One country’s visa regime mirrors the other’s. We would rather harm ourselves by an act that is imitative than let the other side get away.

The world sees this behaviour as childish, perhaps rightly.

India acted maturely in opening up trade unilaterally a few years ago. This is why the shelves of Thom’s Cafe and Bakery, where I shop for groceries in Bangalore, are filled with Shan Masala boxes.

Now an opportunity exists for Pakistan to take the lead.

Islamabad should open up its borders and give Indian tourists visas on arrival. The same conditions under which Indians are allowed into Sri Lanka and Nepal and Bhutan. A quick stamp on the passport and that’s it.

Vast crowds of Indians will come to Pakistan.

Sikhs on pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib and to see Ranjit Singh’s masoleum (totally empty when I went there 10 years ago) next to Lahore fort.

Hindus who want to see the Indus, after which their country is named, and their faith. Muslims and Hindus who want to visit Pak Pattan, Data Saheb, and the shrines of Rukn-e-Alam and Bahauddin Zakariya.

Pakistanis will be amazed by how many Hindus worship at Muslim shrines. Punjabis will come and see the cities of Lahore and Pindi, of which they have only heard about from their grandparents. India’s wealthy Sindhi community will come to Sukkur, Hyderabad and Karachi.

Three Muslim communities – Memons, Bohras and Khojas – have their headquarters in India. They have family ties to Karachi and also business interests that will benefit from regular visits.

Deoband and Nadwa scholars can exchange views with Pakistan’s ulema.

The package tour business, which is big in India, will bring in large numbers who might see a Pakistan different from the one in their imagination. College and school excursions, which are also big in India, will find new venues to take their students to.

Bollywood will be interested in new settings to shoot, and access to the cities will open up plot-lines.

As an intelligent piece in The Friday Times a few years ago noted, Indian tourists will blend in, dress modestly, not expect too much, be at home with the food and do shopping on a healthy scale.

The exchange rate of the Pakistani Rupee, whose value is a little over half that of the Indian Rupee, will give them a bigger budget than they have at home.

The Hindu middle class, especially Bengali and Gujarati, are adventurous travellers and will not be easily put off by a couple of bomb blasts as westerners will. Because Indian women are not secluded, whole families will come, especially if non-airplane routes such as road and rail are opened. Pakistanis will not be threatened by middle aged Indian men and women with squealing kids about them.

It will not be possible, given the mischief in Mumbai and in Parliament, for India to freely let Pakistanis enter. So reciprocality must not be expected immediately. But that shouldn’t be seen as a problem.

Pakistan has already accepted a break in the tit-for-tat relationship. Pakistan’s cricket team is likely to play in India while there’s no chance that India’s players will come to Pakistan. No other cricketing nation is willing either and so it’s not about Indian obstinacy in this case. Just the circumstances, which can be altered by a little wisdom.

It’s a profitable opportunity for Pakistan to benefit economically, improve its image as a safe place and normalise relations with India. Three things gained while nothing is lost.

Pakistan should open itself up to Indians without waiting for reciprocity. And it should do this in self interest.

Political Instability Rises as Pakistani Court Ousts Premier

As Reported by Delcan Welsh for The New York Times

The Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Tuesday, drastically escalating a confrontation between the government and the judiciary and plunging the political system into turmoil.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry declared that Mr. Gilani’s office had been effectively vacant since April 26 when the court convicted him on contempt charges because he refused to pursue a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, his superior.

Although the decision is unlikely to topple the government, many viewed it as the product of a grudge-driven tussle between Mr. Zardari and Justice Chaudhry, with the prime minister caught in the middle.

“The court has been gunning for the prime minister for a long time,” said Najam Sethi, a veteran political analyst. “Clearly there is a lot of politics in this.”

The order left Pakistan in a state of constitutional uncertainty, with the cabinet effectively dismissed. The court instructed Mr. Zardari to “ensure continuation of the democratic process” — words widely interpreted as an order to arrange the election of a new prime minister.

Legal experts said Mr. Gilani could not appeal the decision but that he may continue in an interim role until a successor is chosen. It was unclear what impact the decision would have on troubled negotiations with the United States to reopen NATO supply lines through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

As word of the ruling spread, Pakistanis held their breath for reaction from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, whose top leaders held an emergency session at Mr. Zardari’s house. Television stations reported that the party had agreed in principle to accept the court’s ruling, but a final decision was not expected until later Tuesday.

Shahbaz Sharif, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N Party, which instigated the court action, hailed the decision. “It upholds the supremacy of the law and the Constitution,” Mr. Sharif said.

But it calls into question the validity of all executive decisions made since April 26, including the passing of the federal budget. One commentator said it “opened a massive legal can of worms.”

Speculation swirled about the identity of a replacement prime minister; among the names circulating were those of the foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and various stalwarts from the party’s electoral heartland in Sindh Province and southern Punjab.

Any candidate, however, will need the approval of the P.P.P.’s coalition partners — smaller, ethnically centered parties based in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, who are likely to seek fresh concessions from Mr. Zardari in exchange for their votes in Parliament.

The court decision advanced the likelihood that general elections, scheduled to take place by next spring, could be brought forward.

Equally, however, Mr. Zardari may wish to first resolve some of the governance failures that have marred his government’s reputation, notably widespread power outages and system failures that have continued for years. The court decision coincided with street agitation in Punjab, the country’s most populous province, where rioters burned buildings and clashed with police in several cities on Monday and Tuesday to protest power outages.

“Law has become subservient to politics, but this government had it coming. It has been singularly inept,” said Mr. Sethi, the analyst. “They had six months to anticipate the power crisis, and now it is upon them.”

In dismissing Mr. Gilani, the court chose the strongest option. It could have referred Mr. Gilani’s case to the Election Commission of Pakistan, which could have taken up to three months to adjudicate the case.

It comes at the end of a tumultuous week for the court itself. Last week, a billionaire businessman made explosive accusations in court and in the media that he had given $3.7 million in kickbacks to Justice Chaudhry’s son in order to swing several cases his way. The furor over those accusations, centered on the judge’s son, Arsalan Iftikhar, is now likely to fade as the country grapples with its latest political crisis.

Mr. Gilani’s dismissal stems from longstanding demands by the court that Mr. Gilani write a letter to the authorities in Switzerland to seek to reopen a dormant corruption investigation into Mr. Zardari’s finances that started in the 1990s.

Mr. Gilani refused, arguing that he was unable to do so because the president enjoyed immunity from prosecution. And the prime minister signaled long ago that he was ready to be dismissed or face prison in the case.

After Mr. Gilani was convicted on contempt charges on April 26, the speaker of Parliament examined calls for his dismissal from public office. The court intervened after the speaker, who is a member of the ruling party, ruled that Mr. Gilani should not be dismissed.

“What will happen to independence of judiciary if speaker or Parliament tries to scrutinize judicial rulings?” Justice Chaudhry said on Tuesday. “No one can undo a court verdict except a court of appeals.”

Edhi Faces Abduction Threat, Authorities Reveal

As Reported By Salman Siddiqui for The Express Tribune

Leading humanitarian worker Abdul Sattar Edhi is in danger of being taken hostage by a militant group in exchange for prisoners that it wants sprung free, authorities have revealed.
Edhi, while talking to The Express Tribune, stated that he was informed by the authorities a few weeks back that his life was in danger. “I was told that the ‘fauj’ (Pakistan Army) had intercepted a conversation of militants where it was being discussed that I may come to be harmed,” he said.
Edhi Foundation spokesperson Anwar Kazmi elaborated that the nation’s most recognisable charity worker was warned that he could be taken hostage in exchange for some prisoners that the ‘Taliban’ wanted to get released —

an allegation the militant group has denied.

Crime Investigation Department (CID) Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Chaudhry Aslam confirmed that the intelligence reports they had received sometime back indicated that Edhi may be kidnapped by militants in exchange for either “some of their men in custody” or a “large ransom amount”.

“There was a letter in which there were three names, which included my name, Malir SSP Rao Anwar’s and Edhi’s,” he said.

This is the first time that Edhi’s name has been mentioned in a militant group’s hit list. After SSP Anwar was attacked in a suicide bomb in April, it was decided that Edhi’s security would be beefed up as a precautionary measure.

Security provisions

Despite the threat to his life, Edhi remains unfazed and calm in light of this development. “Only God knows what the truth is,” he says. “I don’t have enmity with anyone or any group. I do humanitarian work for everybody without any prejudice.”

Since the threats surfaced, Edhi is being provided with round-the-clock police security — with two official guards escorting him everywhere he goes. “Never before in his life had Edhi ever asked or given security by the state,” the spokesperson said.

Currently, two policemen from the Kharadar police station have been deployed for his security who work in two shifts of 12-hours each, according to Station House Officer (SHO) Agha Asadullah. “We can increase the number of policemen, if need be,” he said.

Edhi himself appears irritated by the presence of policemen near him at all times — especially given that he has to keep the Kharadar police station informed about his movements constantly. “I don’t want any of this security. I really feel there’s no need for it,” he said modestly. Although he is being asked to restrict his movements as a precaution, Edhi said he won’t allow anything to stop him. “I am going to Hyderabad next to do some relief work there,” he said.

TTP reaction

His son Faisal revealed that a three-member delegation of the local chapter of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) recently came to the Edhi office to clarify their position about the alleged threats.

“They said to us that this is all government propaganda to malign the Taliban movement,” he said. “They also added that they respected Edhi for his humanitarian work and could not even think of doing him any harm.”

SSP Aslam said that the good news was that according to recent reports, Edhi’s name had not been mentioned again. “We receive a number of intelligence reports which mention a lot of famous personalities on the hit list on a weekly basis. So hopefully all will remain well.”

Reacting to the development, Edhi said: “I don’t know who [wants to harm me] or why. “I only know that I have to continue to do my work — no matter what.”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The Taliban have once again showed their true colors by threatening a man of Mr Edhi’s caliber. To threaten a person who is akin to Mother Teresa for Pakistan, a living saint, shows us how far off the cuckoo’s nest they really are. Just another reason for us here at Pakistanis for Peace to have great disdain for this group of people.

Legendary Ghazal Singing Legend Mehdi Hassan Dies

As Reported by Maimoona Shoaib and Mohammad Ashraf for The Gulf News

He worked in a bicycle shop. He repaired cars. And when he would sing a ghazal, he would mesmerise a continent.

Pakistani ghazal legend Mehdi Hassan, who suffered from lung, chest and urinary tract ailments for ten years, died of breathing complications at a Karachi hospital on Wednesday at the age of 84.

His famous ghazals (ballads) include “Patta patta boota boota,” “Abke bicchde khwaabon mein mile”, “Zindagi mein sabhi pyar kiya kartein hain,” “Dekh tu dil ki jaan se uthta hai,” and “Ranjish hi Sahi”.

“My father’s funeral will take place Friday in Karachi,” son Arif Mehdi said, adding that the family was yet to finalise the burial location. “We have asked for the permission from the government to bury him at Quaid-e-Azam mazar [near the mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan] in Karachi, but we are waiting for approval,” he said.

Born into a family of musicians in Loona village in undivided India (now in the Indian state of Rajasthan) in July 1927, Hassan had a modest beginning, mirroring the situation of the new country he migrated to at age 20 after the partition of India in 1947.

The family sank into penury after moving to Pakistan, and eking out a living was difficult. Young Hassan worked in a bicycle shop and later became a car mechanic, even as he was initiated into music by father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Esmail Khan, who were dhrupad (Indian classical) musicians.

In his book “Mehdi Hasan: The Man & his Music”, Pakistani author Asif Noorani writes that his humility during this phase stood tall against the fame and greatness he had achieved later.

“He had earned his living by repairing automobiles during his younger days. During his years of stardom, his harmonium broke and he started repairing it himself, wittingly replying to the people surrounding him that this was a piece of cake compared to the number of engines that he had repaired in the past,” Noorani writes.

Eventually, Hassan found his real vocation in the ghazal.

Mehdi is said to have given his first performance when he was eight, in sync with tradition where musicians started early and were paced through various levels of public performance before they graduated as accomplished vocalists.

The hardships of life notwithstanding, Hassan stuck to his music and continued with his rigorous practice, relying on the extreme discipline he lent to his style of constricted-throat singing as opposed to the full-throated version.

He was well into his twenties when he was first noticed as a singer of some merit. The break came when he was invited to sing for Radio Pakistan in Karachi in 1957 — first as a thumri singer and then as a ghazal exponent.

Hassan had to work harder than many of his younger colleagues but his innovative approach earned him fame.

Traditionally, ghazals were sung in a thumri-like manner. They were set to Indian classical ragas such as Khamaj, Piloo and Desh. The classical format stymied the scope of the compositions — preventing it from innovating. However, Hassan pioneered a ghazal “gayaki” (manner of singing) that played upon the mood of the music rather than on the classical nuances. A composer of rare brilliance, his style combined classical and Rajasthani folk music to create a new realm of ghazals whose magic spread beyond Pakistan to India and the rest of the world.

He was one of the first Pakistani ghazal singers who charmed Indian audiences and won impressive fan followings — former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee invited him for a private performance at his residence.

But many more years were to pass after 1957 for Hassan to get his opportunity to sing for films.

As Hassan arrived, the ghazal stage was dominated by greats as Khan Sahib Barkat Ali Khan, Mukhtar Begum and Begum Akhtar. Among Hassan’s contemporaries were Farida Khanum, Iqbal Bano and Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, with Gulam Ali and Jagjit Singh followed not too far behind.

According to an estimate by Arif, Hassan sang more than 20,000 songs and apart from Urdu, also sang in Bengali, Punjabi and Pashto.

It’s not uncommon for a singer whose career spanned over 50 years to churn up 20,000 songs. But given the quality and the unfailing discipline which were the hallmarks of Hassan’s songs, it will go down in the history of music as a gigantic superhuman effort. And the way Hassan sustained himself until health issues made it impossible for him to carry on, is a remarkable story that parallels the struggles of his homeland.

After shining on the musical firmament from the 1960s to 1980s, Hassan’s career started fading as frequent illnesses took their toll. The death of his first wife in 1998 followed by an attack of paralysis restricted Hassan to bed and he lost the power of speech. His health deteriorated further over the past 12 years.

His home country honoured Hassan with several awards and honours — from Tamgha-e-Imtiaz to Pride of Performance and Hilal-e-Imtiaz — while India honoured him with the Sehgal Award in 1979. The Nepal government too honoured him with the Gorkha Dakshina Bahu.

Hassan, who married twice, is survived by 14 children — nine sons and five daughters. His second wife also died before him.

His death brings the curtains down on a journey in music that lasted more than 50 years and crafted a new era of lyricism, melody and poetry in ghazals.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Pakistan has had a few stars that transform their industry across all borders. One of them was surely Mehdi Hassan, a supernova so bright that he was considered living legend for the last several decades. His passing has dimmed the night sky over Pakistan and indeed over the entire Indian subcontinent as many in the neighboring country are mourning his loss as of one of their own. RIP Hassan sahib, thank you for all your songs and ghazals, through which you will live on forver.

India, Pakistan Ties Hinge on Hope

By Mir Ayoob Ali Khan for The Times of India

When hope is lost, everything seems to be lost. But when we hear the adage, Ummid pe dunya khayam hai (the world stands on hope), we visualize a ray of light at the end of a tunnel.

The rollercoaster ties between India and Pakistan are an unending reading in despair. It is hope that makes people believe that one day, some day, we will live like good neighbours. That someday becomes believably close when we hear that Indian and Pakistani politicians, officials and members of the civil society are ‘seriously’ talking about the benefits of developing stronger economic and commercial links between the two nations. Or, when the Supreme Court of India allows aging Pakistani virologist Mohammed Khalil Chishti, a murder convict, to visit his hometown Karachi.

It is an unprecedented move by the Supreme Court which took a humane approach in a murder case. The apex court spoke of Chishti’s age (82), his global reputation as an accomplished microbiologist and his previous clean record to say that he is free to go to his country but on certain conditions. He should be back in India in November to face trial in court. Though the Supreme Court’s order is solely based on the prudence of the judges, there is hope that Islamabad would show some reciprocation with regard to Indians stranded in Pakistan prisons. For instance, many are waiting to see if they would free Sarabjit Singh, an Indian convicted of life imprisonment in a case of mistaken identity.

Chishti and Singh have been in the public eye owing to the extensive coverage of their plight in the media. However, there are numerous Indians languishing in Pakistani prisons and vice versa who have hardly been covered by any media agency or their cases taken up by any human rights organization seriously. They too deserve attention as their loved ones are waiting to see them. In the meantime, the air over India and Pakistan is thick with hope that the two countries are about to enter into a new era of trade and commercial cooperation. Activity in this direction gained momentum ever since Pakistan decided to give the MFN-the Most Favoured Nation-status to India last year.

The two sides have realised that the trade volume was a paltry $2.6 billion in the year ending 2011. Officials and members of the trading community believe that this could be taken to $10 billion to $12 billion in the next three to five years. In the forefront of trade with Pakistan which is expected to grow in the coming weeks, not years, are tomatoes from Maharashtra. About 4,000 trucks carrying tomatoes have crossed over to Pakistan in the past three months. Lorries containing soya beans followed. Not to lag behind, Pakistan has started exporting cement and other construction material to India. Talks are on to allow 8,000 items from Pakistan to enter India in the next couple of years.

Hope is now fuelled by the foundation laying of an oil refinery in Bathinda, a town in Punjab which is160 km from Lahore, by billionaire Lakshmi Mittal and Indian Oil Company Ltd costing $4 billion. Pakistan that is already importing kerosene and diesel from India is hungry for petroleum products. The refinery in Punjab and another one owned by the Reliance Group in Gujarat which is close to Karachi could meet the fuel needs of Pakistan, at least to some extent. There are also talks to dismantle hurdles in matters pertaining to education and IT sectors, visa regimes, especially for the business community and tourists, opening of more land and air trade routes.

In India-Pakistan relations, hope is the key word. Let’s hope that it becomes a reality extending benefits to the people of the two neighbouring nations.

India, Pakistan Try ‘Trade Diplomacy’

As Reported by AFP

India and Pakistan, still at loggerheads on Kashmir and no closer to a full peace deal, are channeling their efforts into increasing trade in the hope that business can bring them together.

31-year-old Karachi food trader Kashif Gul Memom is among those eager to seize the opportunities offered by easier links between the estranged neighbours, which have fought three wars since independence in 1947.

“This is a change for the good. It’s an exciting time,” said Memom, one of the generation born after the painful partition of the subcontinent that gave birth to India and the Islamic republic of Pakistan.

“My generation of business people is putting the past behind us. We’re looking to the future, India is such a huge market for us,” Memom told AFP while at the largest ever Pakistani trade fair held in India.

The improved relations between the nuclear-armed rivals stem from Pakistan’s decision to grant India “Most Favoured Nation (MFN)” status by year end, meaning Indian exports will be treated the same as those from other nations.

In further progress, the neighbours opened a second trading gate in April along their heavily militarised border, boosting the number of trucks able to cross daily to 600 from 150.

India now also says it is ready to end a ban on investment from Pakistan and the countries are planning to allow multiple-entry business visas to spur exchanges — a key demand by company executives.

The warming commercial ties underline the new relevance of the private sector in the peace process, with prospects still low for any swift settlement of the “core issue” of the nations’ competing claims to Kashmir. The divided Himalayan territory has been the trigger of two of their three wars since independence.

Indian and Pakistani officials have been looking at the so-called “China option” as a model, with deepening economic engagement seen by experts as crucial to establishing lasting peace in the troubled region.

Beijing and New Delhi have been pursuing stronger economic ties while resolving outstanding political issues, such as a festering border dispute that erupted into a brief, bloody war in the 1960s.

“There is no other option but economic partnership between India and Pakistan — this leads on to other partnerships,” Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said at the April trade fair in Delhi, a follow-on to a similar venture in Lahore earlier in the year.

“We have to recognise our true trade potential and leave our children with a legacy that ensures prosperity, harmony and peace.”
Some Pakistani businesses have protested against the trade opening, fearing they may be swamped by cheaper Indian goods, especially in drugs, auto parts and consumer goods. But others eye the possibilities India’s market offers.

“India with 1.2 billion people gives us great potential,” Mian Ahad, one of Pakistan’s leading furniture designers, told AFP.
Indian businessmen are equally enthusiastic, saying there is an opportunity for trade in areas from agriculture, information technology, pharmaceuticals, and engineering to chemicals.

Official bilateral trade between India and Pakistan is just $2.7 billion and heavily tilted in New Delhi’s favour.
But Indian business chamber Assocham estimates up to $10 billion worth of goods are routed illicitly — carried by donkeys through Afghanistan or shipped by container from Singapore and the Gulf.

Indian commerce secretary Rahul Khullar told AFP that Pakistan’s decision to grant India MFN status by the end of the year was “the game-changer.”
MFN status will mean India can export 6,800 items to Pakistan, up from around 2,000 at present, and the countries aim to boost bilateral trade to $6 billion within three years.

“I’m cautiously optimistic. Commerce is an excellent way to bring countries together,” Indian strategic analyst Uday Bhaskar told AFP.
“Once you institutionalise trade, it becomes hard to slow the momentum for cross-border exchanges. People say if there are onions or cement or sugar available next door, why can’t I have them? And why can’t I travel there too?”

Pakistan Offers Mega Projects

By Muzaffar Rizvi for Khaleej Times

Pakistan is confident to secure UAE and Gulf investments in mega projects especially in the energy- and agro-based industries, its delegates at the Annual Investment Meeting, or AIM, said.

Top officials from the Trade Development and Authority of Pakistan, or TDAP, Abu Dhabi Group and Sindh Board of Investment on Wednesday gave presentations on key investment projects in renewable energy, power generation, agriculture, coal mining and infrastructure developments.

“Pakistan offers various investment opportunities in energy and power sectors as well as in agro-based industries to international and Gulf investors at AIM,” Tariq Puri, chief executive of TDAP, told on the sidelines of the conference.

He said discussions and meetings with government and private levels are being held on the sidelines of AIM and the Pakistan delegation is expected positive results in coming days.

Pakistan’s 80-member trade delegation, led by Federal Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim, participated in the second-day activities of investment forum and gave presentations on various key projects especially in Sindh province.

Amin Fahim said Pakistan has huge potential for investment in key sectors and the government will go all-out to facilitate the foreign investors especially from the Gulf countries.

Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah said the agricultural economy of Sindh province contributes about 23 per cent to Pakistan’s gross domestic production.

“Keeping in view global food security concerns, the province vast agriculture expanse has capacity to become region’s food basket,” he said.

Shah said agro-related investment projects are ready for investment and introduction to value-addition through use of technology, efficient irrigation system and modern implements can help attain true potential of province agriculture. The Sindh Board of Investment, the primary investment promotion agency of the province, invited Gulf investors and UAE companies in particular to avail the benefits of conducive-investment policies.

“We are offering investment opportunities in agriculture farming, livestock, grain-storage project as well as in infrastructure development projects,” Muhammed Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Sindh Board of Investment, told

Elaborating, he said the government of Sindh is looking to offer land for establishment of Meat Park in Sukkur and Thatta near Karachi. He said the Rs500 million project will pay back the cost in three to five years and offers a 20-22 per cent IRR to investors.

Motiwala said the provincial government has strived to facilitate and create investor-friendly environment to attract more investment especially in Thar Coalfield, which is declared as a special economic zone. Investors can avail 30-year tax holiday, zero per cent customs duties on import of coal mining equipment and machinery. “We are offering up to 22 per cent IRR to investors on the their investment in Sindh along with other benefits which include repatriation of 100 per cent capital, profits, royalty and zero import duties on capital goods, plant and machinery and equipment not manufactured locally,” he said.

He said that the province has also an estimated hydropower potential of 153 megawatts based on various sites identified along the Sindh canal network.

He said the UAE has showed interest in Thar coal mining and power plant projects. “Al Manhal has shown interest in developing block 2 of the Thar Coalfield. We may discuss the project this weekend and if talks go positively, the UAE firm may invest up to $6 billion in the Thar coal project,” he said.

Motiwala said Thar coal reserves have an estimated potential of generating 100,000 megawatts of electricity for a period of 300 years. “It provides an opportunity for large-scale mining and power-generation over a longer period of time,” he said.

He said Pakistan has been facing an acute shortage of electricity and direly need investments in power-generation projects. According to a delegate, about 700 main industries in Punjab and Sindh are directly affected by electricity shortages in the country.

“About 400 industries in Punjab and 300 factories in Sindh have shut down their operations due to load-shedding and shortage of electricity,” he said.

Motiwala further said Sindh government also offers investment opportunities in renewable energy like solar street light initiative and wind power projects worth around $5.3 billion.

“International investors are in queue to invest in wind power projects because the province has potential to generate 50,000 megawatts electricity through wind turbines across its coastal belt,” he said.

To a question about potential investors in wind energy, he said Hydro China, China Three and NBT/Malakoff, among others, showed interest in 26 projects in the province with installed capacity of 1,800 megawatts.

“We also have offered some renewable energy projects to Masdar. We will discuss some investment opportunities with Masdar officials in Abu Dhabi and expect positive results,” he said.

“The annual radiation of 3,000 hours in Sindh has an endless potential for solar energy,” he said adding that the government is keen to encourage public-private partnerships in energy, power, agriculture and infrastructure development projects.”

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