Tag Archive: United States


Pakistan is on the path of international economic isolation. The serious analysts are in a state of shock with their fingers crossed. They are not ready to believe what is now unfolding before their eyes. A decision taken today in national interest is reversed the next day under pressure, again in the national interest. The ruling party of Pakistan has finally decided to sacrifice economy and the well being of the common man along with it, at the altar of power. The price for staying in power was huge but who cares as long as someone else (read: common man) is paying the price.

The government was relying on imposition of RGST for sailing through the economic problems but all the mainstream political parties have opposed it tooth and nail, for their own reasons which include safeguarding the interests of the elite and putting the government in a difficult situation. Ironically those who opposed this new levy had no alternative strategy except the vague rhetoric of minimizing the institutional corruption in the tax machinery. It seems that the government will work overtime to print notes during the remaining two years. Incidentally, governor of the central bank has already warned against the devastating implications of deficit financing.

Has the government decided to abandon the economic reforms? The instant reaction of US and IMF to reversion of increase in the petroleum prices confirms it.  The government has embarked on the path of economic isolation internationally simply to remain in power. These are short-cut methods and will badly affect the life of common man.

According to Financial Times, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, announced the deferral of an IMF-backed tax reform on Friday. The reformed general sales tax, which Pakistan has been discussing with the IMF for more than a year, was supposed to be introduced in July last year to boost tax revenues.

“We will not go forward [with the RGST] until consensus is evolved,” said Mr Gilani during a visit to the southern port city of Karachi, where he visited the headquarters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

Mr Gilani reversed a plan to increase oil prices on Thursday to win back the support of MQM, after the party withdrew from the ruling coalition in a move that denied the government parliamentary majority. MQM confirmed on Friday that it would rejoin the coalition.

Analysts warned that the decision to delay the RGST would further intensify concerns over the government’s ability to reform Pakistan’s troubled economy.

“This is a near fatal blow to the reform process,” warned Sakib Sherani, a former adviser to the finance ministry. “The RGST was meant to finally begin documenting the vast informal economy in a country with an alarmingly low tax to GDP ratio.”

Mr Gilani’s decision will only cause more problems with the IMF. Pakistan does not have much to show in the form of successful reforms being undertaken currently. The RGST is a key part of Pakistan’s agreement with the IMF and its postponement could put the $11bn loan package in jeopardy. The IMF said that raising the ratio of government revenue to national income was essential to returning Pakistan’s public finances towards sustainability and the sales tax was an indispensable component in this effort.

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Now things are becoming clearer and more understandable. We should forgive those journalists, TV anchors and political leaders who support or avoid opposing and condemning extremists. They have a very genuine reason to live in hypocrisy. Someone who dared to oppose extremism, had to pay the price with his own life; a price for being forthright, honest, bold and outspoken. In spite of his failings and weaknesses as a human, he went down fighting a menace Pakistan has created itself. Punjab’s slain governor Salman Taseer had refused to accept that Pakistani society is no more a society of rational people; it is a jungle where you have to accept the command of those capable of killing. You must bow down to them or get perished. Period. The world is in shock at the gory incident but it fails to understand the fact that the act is being glorified by those elements who claim to profess a religion of peace. This is the most disgusting thing, more than the murder itself. And look at the attitude of the lawyers, the so-called custodians of “rule of law” who kissed and garlanded the accused when he was brought to the court. These are all very disturbing signs. Even Islam would not condone this attitude of showing disrespect to the due process of law.

It is not important that Governor Taseer was a politician and that he was killed at a point in time when his party’s government at the Center was facing worst ever crisis of its survival. The most important thing is that we have come to a pass where you cannot question a menace, particularly the one which was created to please a more dangerous menace, the clergy. The world which was worried about Pakistan’s political crisis is now in shock and unable to think what will happen next. The New York Times says that the assassination of an outspoken secular politician by one of his elite police guards on Tuesday plunged the government deeper into political crisis and highlighted the threat of militant infiltration even within the nation’s security forces.

The killing of Salman Taseer, the prominent governor of Punjab Province, was another grim reminder of the risks that Pakistani leaders take to oppose religious extremists, at a time when the United States is pushing Pakistan for greater cooperation in the war in Afghanistan by cracking down on militant groups like the Taliban.

Mr. Taseer, recently took up a campaign to repeal Pakistan’s contentious blasphemy laws, which were passed under General Zia as a way to promote Islam and unite the country. The laws have been misused to convict minority Pakistanis as the Islamic forces unleashed by the general have gathered strength. The laws prescribe a mandatory death sentence for anyone convicted of insulting Islam.

Religious parties staged vigorous demonstrations of thousands of people across the country last weekend to protest the campaign by Mr. Taseer, even burning him in effigy. Mr. Taseer countered in comments on his Twitter account and elsewhere.

“Religious right trying to pressurize from the street their support of blasphemy laws. Point is it must be decided in Parliament not on the road,” he wrote on Dec. 26 in the imperfect shorthand typical of such posts.

“I was under huge pressure to cow down before rightist’s pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing,” he posted on Dec. 31.

Mr. Taseer’s death will serve as a chilling warning to any politician who speaks out against the religious parties and their agenda and will certainly end immediate attempts to amend the blasphemy laws.

The paper also reports that Obama administration officials worry that even if Pakistan’s government survives the upheaval — which they believe it might, for a while — the turmoil could kill any chance for political and economic reforms. The assassination, one official said, leaves not only the repeal of the blasphemy laws in doubt, but also possible reforms to increase tax collection. Under pressure from Secretary of State and other American officials, the Pakistani government submitted a new tax law in Parliament. But it may abandon the push as a way to lure back coalition partners.

Pervez Musharraf boasted himself to be a tough commando who would not bend and change his decisions under pressure. He may have been right; it may not be easy to pressure him to take decisions but it now seems that it was not difficult to make him change his mind. You only needed right arguments to convince him; a respectful letter, a bottle of premium whisky and a pack of Havana cigars are convincing enough arguments to melt the “man of steel”. If it was from a tabloid, the authenticity of the story could be questioned. But this has come from a respected journal like Foreign Policy.

In their article in the latest edition of the magazine, Duane Baughman and Mark Siegel narrate that the story of Benazir‘s life includes hijackings, corruption allegations, unsolved murders, and countless conspiracies. In deciding to translate her life to film, they  came in contact with Musharraf but convincing him to appear on film was not easy. The effort took a respectful letter, followed by a bottle of Chivas Regal and Cuban cigars delivered to his hotel suite in Philadelphia, where he was speaking on a tour of the U.S. to rehabilitate his image. With much flattery and a bit of arm-twisting, he was ready for a short interview.

While narrating the film-making, they list down a series of serendipitous events which contributed to the making of Bhutto. While filming the convent where Benazir was educated, the filmmakers unexpectedly stumbled upon her teacher, an elderly nun who charmingly described Benazir’s rarely examined early years. When Karachi’s chaotic streets prevented the film crew from reaching the airport to catch the only daily flight to Benazir’s mausoleum, they were saved at the last minute by a phone call from President Zardari, who held the plane — and its agitated Sindhi passengers — on the tarmac for over an hour until the film crew was safely aboard.

One of the sponsors of the film and the co-author of the referred article is a close friend of BB. The image being projected in the film, therefore, is of Benazir who was a rare and gifted leader who bridged religions, genders, and continents. She inspired millions of women to stand up against oppression and reject illegitimate restrictions on what they could achieve and who they could become. She built the first women’s police department in Pakistan, establishing for the first time a safe space where their legal grievances would be heard. She opened up the country to the international media, empowering Pakistan’s domestic media to be more vigilant. Agree or not with her politics, her story helps us better understand her country, how we got here, and why our relationship with South Asia is inextricably tied to the future of Pakistan.

Imagine Madhuri Dixit and Shahrukh Khan making an appearance in one of the Kabul theatres or the Tora Bora Mountains preaching enlightenment, moderation, non-violence and tolerance and the Taliban suddenly start feeling their hearts melt for American soldiers and Indian road contractors.  Don’t throw it away or laugh it off as a weird thought but it did exist at one point in time. The USA seems to have been under the impression that Bollywood heart throbs are so much worshipped in Afghanistan that their presence could make a lot of difference.   US diplomats suggested stars of India’s film industry could be sent to Afghanistan to help stabilize the troubled country, according to a leaked cable published Friday. The Express Tribune has reported that the confidential US document from March 2007, released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, said that high-profile Bollywood actors could play a key role in India’s “soft power” assistance in Afghanistan.

“We understand Bollywood movies are wildly popular in Afghanistan, so willing Indian celebrities could be asked to travel to Afghanistan to help bring attention to social issues there,” it said.

Bollywood, based in the western city of Mumbai, is a two-billion-dollar industry which has become increasingly popular abroad, not just among the Indian Diaspora but in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Gulf states. In Afghanistan, Bollywood films are regularly shown on television, though with the bare midriffs and plunging necklines of its sari-wearing actresses pixellated for a largely conservative Muslim audience. Movie soundtracks are also popular.

The suggestion, which did not come to fruition, was part of a role envisaged for India in what US diplomats called “people-to-people” assistance. Others included “symbolic” exchange programs in areas like sports or business. US diplomats in New Delhi described India as Afghanistan’s “natural ally” and advocated using its vast wealth of well-trained, and cheaper, expertise to build capacity in areas including the civil service and electoral bodies.

But it warned that a key obstacle to increasing Indian influence would be Pakistan, which fears being encircled by its larger, powerful neighbor and traditional rival. India has committed $1.3 billion to Afghanistan since the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001. Thousands of Indians are building roads, sanitation projects and power lines, while India is also building the new Afghan parliament. But India’s involvement has come at a cost, with a number of deadly attacks on its interests in the country, including at its embassy in Kabul.

Also read:

WikiLeaks: India systematically torturing civilians in Kashmir (Telegraph)

WikiLeaks cables: US diplomats suggested Bollywood stars should tour Afghanistan (Guardian)

If this had not come from a reliable source, the readers would treat it as a joke of the century. It sounds incredible that an ambassador of a country being ruled by the world’s shrewdest president was fooled; and that too by a Neocon think tank for their fund-raising. According to the Middle East Channel, the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. hosted a fundraiser at his residence for a neoconservative D.C. think-tank, which solicited donations of $5,000 for invitations to the event. But the think-tank, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), didn’t bother to tell the Pakistani embassy that the event was a fundraiser or that it was sandwiched in the middle of a two-and-a-half day conference on “Countering the Iranian Threat” put on by the group.

“We didn’t know at all that they have done this fund-raising,” a spokesperson for the Pakistani embassy, told the Middle East Channel. “And neither did they share with us that they would be doing this conference. Very frankly, we didn’t know about this conference.”

Though the dinner appeared in the paper and online conference programs, FDD president Cliff May insisted that the two were unrelated: “The dinner was separate from the conference but it coincided with the conference. Why? Because many friends of FDD were in town for the conference,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Middle East Channel. May conceded that his staff may have failed to notify the Pakistani embassy that the group was in the middle of hosting the conference.

At the “Washington Forum, “as the conference was called, fellows and scholars from FDD advocated for escalating measures against the Islamic Republic of Iran, ranging from “ratcheting up” sanctions and pressure to U.S. support for regime change and even military strikes against Iran.  The location of the fundraiser — billed on the program as only “dinner at the residence of one of Washington‘s noteworthy Ambassadors” — was a closely guarded secret on the first full day of the event. FDD’s communications director, Judy Mayka, told the Middle East Channel on Wednesday night before the dinner that even she didn’t know where it would be held.

As the conference’s second full day drew to a close, Middle East Channel reports, May confirmed that the dinner had been at the Pakistani ambassador’s residence and said that between forty and fifty people were at the dinner. But the embassy spokesperson, emphasized that Iran was not an issue during the dinner. May disputed that the event was a fundraiser, telling the Middle East Channel that “friends and supporters” were invited, and that there was no “quid-pro-quo” relationship between a $5,000 donation and an invitation. “I invited FDD donors at or above the $5,000 level to the event,” May wrote in a follow-up interview by e-mail. “Others friends of FDD were invited — at my discretion. Several FDD staff members were invited as well.”

But the online conference schedule, which didn’t name the ambassador in question, left little room for equivocation:

7:00 pm

Dinner at the residence of one

of Washington’s noteworthy Ambassadors

(Closed to Media)

(Minimum $5,000 gift required. Contribute here, or for more information on becoming a donor, please contact [e-mail of FDD staffer removed])

The paper version of the schedule handed out to conference participants only said: “Dinner at the residence of one of Washington’s ambassadors — Will leave from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. See staff for more details.”

The Pakistani press attache, Nadeem Hotiana, said the dinner “was in honor of (FDD), but the participants were donors.” He added that no donations were collected on the premises.

May described Haqqani as an “old personal friend,” a relationship corroborated by Shuja Nawaz, the director of the Atlantic Council‘s South Asia Center. “I think the ambassador had a personal relationship with this group for quite some time,” Nawaz said, “but I don’t know if this would reflect official policy. It could well be that this is an unofficial action on his part.”

Indeed, while Iran and Pakistan more or less waged a proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1990s — when Iran supported the Northern Alliance until the Pakistani-supported Taliban took power nationally — the countries enjoy good relations. “I would characterize their relations as cordial — not warm at all times, but for the most part cooperative on issues like building a pipeline through Pakistan,” said Alireza Nader of the RAND Corporation.

Nawaz of the Atlantic council said the issues between the countries revolve around Jundullah, a Baluchi rebel group on the border that says it fights for Iran’s Sunni minority that Iran alleges seeks refuge in Pakistan, and Iran’s collaboration with Pakistan’s archrival India to build a road from Afghanistan to a port town in Iran that bypasses Pakistan.

“But they’ve always maintained good relations on the surface,” said Columbia University professor and Iran expert Gary Sick. “They try to maintain good, business like relations. Each side will allow a certain amount of trouble from the other because they know they need each other.”

Which makes it curious that a group hosting a conference very much focused on isolating Iran and pushing escalating measures against the Islamic Republic would take refuge in an embassy of a country — Pakistan — so opposed to such policies. Perhaps that’s why both May and the embassy spokesperson, tried to explain away the events. May said the funding links on the conference program — listed under the dinner, with a minimum to attend — was merely a “reminder” for donors to give more, “routine among think tanks.”

For his part, the spokesperson chalked up the mix-up to chance: “We Pakistanis and we Muslims are very courteous people,” he said, explaining why so few questions were asked. “It was just a coincidence that this happened like this because the Ambassador has his personal friends.”

The first sermon that Pakistanis received from the new US ambassador, as expected, was about the implications of rampant corruption in the country. It was immediately not made clear as to who was the possible audience of this sermon but it made one thing amply clear; uncle Sam’s envoy are bold (read: un-diplomatic) in and well-versed about the country of their posting, particularly when it comes to Pakistan. According to a report in the Sify News, the new US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, said Monday the country will not be able to attract foreign investment unless and until it is able to check corruption.

While addressing industry representatives at Karachi Stock Exchange, he said: ‘Corruption in government sector can deter foreign investors and their confidence should be restored to attract maximum investment in Pakistan. Corruption in public institutions has caused a loss of over $300 billion and these institutions suffering from bad financial health need to be privatized,’ he suggested.

‘The rich and the privileged will also have to pay taxes if the financial constraints need to be overcome,’ Munter remarked adding that the ‘levying of the proposed reformed general sales tax (GST) will also broaden the tax net and increase revenue collection’. The US envoy also pointed out that several joint initiatives for energy production with the help of US firms were awaiting Pakistan government’s approval. ‘These include a project worth $375 million for producing 150 MW of electricity,’ he said.

Pakistan is facing economic problem after devastation caused by floods and terrorism across the country. The US administration is one of the major foreign donors working with the Pakistani government to avert this crisis in energy, trade and other sectors. The relationship between the United States and Pakistan is “spicy”, US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter has said.

The ambassador was in Pakistan’s cultural capital a day before where he after a hearty spicy breakfast he said: “Pakistan-US relations are spicy. No doubt traditional Pakistani food is world famous.” Talking to the media on Sunday after enjoying a traditional Lahori breakfast at a local restaurant along with his wife Dr Merilyn Wyatt and US Consul-General in Lahore Carmila Conroy, Munter said: “Pakistani people are spicy as well as sweet, very much like the Lahori food.”

The US envoy, who also relished ‘halwa-puri’ and ‘lassi’, said Lahori food was among the best food items across the world. “Being a Californian, I prefer spicy food and I have great relish for Pakistani spicy food,” he added. Talking about the recent WikiLeaks releases, Munter said they would not affect the strong Pakistan-US ties. “The United States-Pakistan relationship is strong. Pakistan’s government leaders talk to me openly and honestly and I speak with them in the same manner,” said Ambassador Munter, adding, “We continue to work very closely with the Pakistani Government.”

Remember that old fellow from the US State Department hired by Obama Administration for  matters relating to Pakistan, that unwelcome guest and a frequent Pakistan visitor who irritates and annoys every time he opens his mouth, that Richard Holbrooke who, in the most difficult hour of Pakistani people made most insensitive remarks about Pakistan and its friends? An average American understands and respects the sensitivities of other people but this special representative of the representatives of Americans only added insult to injury of the hapless Pakistanis whose leaders have sold them so cheap that their very mention in the WikiLeaks produces nothing but a foul stink and stench.

It has now been revealed by Sify News that he has been sharing information he possesses on Pakistan in his official capacity with India. According to the agency, US special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke told Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari‘s government was weakening. This again was revealed by whistle blowing website WikiLeaks. In a meeting with Rao Jan 18, 2010 in New Delhi, Holbrooke spoke about the evolving political landscape in Pakistan with a ‘weakening’ President Zardari and the relationship between chief of army staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, The News International reported.

This man is the most serious security threat to Pakistan and should be banned from entering the country if he is not fired by Obama Administration.

During the meeting, Rao described the Indian effort in Afghanistan, saying it was focused on strengthening governance by building Afghan capacities and that the Indian engagement is transparent and should not be threatening to Pakistan. She said India needs some deliverables on terrorism before it can engage in bilateral talks with Pakistan. Holbrooke also pledged transparency with India on America’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

 

 

Does the British royalty have some fixation with Adolf Hitler? If there was any, it is not publically known except for the younger prince’s special attachment with the Swastika sign which he was found fondly displaying in a party a few years ago. Was it by a mere coincidence that the heir apparent to the British throne decided to remember the 66th wedding anniversary of Hitler in his special way? The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton has been fixed to take place on April 29, 2011. The couple and their entourage spent weeks deciding on a wedding date, repeatedly liaising with officials at Buckingham Palace, No. 10 Downing Street and Westminster Abbey. But amid all the chatter, no one had the sense to look up “April 29” on Wikipedia. On that morning in 1945, Hitler married his long-time companion Eva Braun in Berlin. They killed themselves less than 40 hours later inside der Führerbunker.

According to an article in Time, Kate’s special day is associated with death and destruction in other ways, too. In 1970, the United States invaded Cambodia seeking to stop the flow of arms from North Vietnam to Viet Cong insurgents. The multi-prong offensive ultimately led to as many as 500,000 deaths. And in 1992, race riots broke out in Los Angeles following the acquittal of four white police officers seen beating motorist Rodney King on videotape. Widespread assaults, looting, murders and robbery resulted in 53 deaths, thousands of injuries, and an estimated $1 billion in property damage.

For Kate—a commoner marrying into royalty—April 29 has other associations closer to home that may stir discomfort (or at least snickers from her detractors). On that day in 1986, the royal family buried Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor and the wife of King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in order to marry her.  Edward’s relatives and his inner circle deemed Simpson, a twice-divorced American socialite, as wholly unsuitable for the King.

And while Kate’s accent may sound posh to Americans, Britain’s upper crust know all too well that she doesn’t come from royal—or even aristocratic—lineage. That her parents—a former pilot and flight attendant—had to earn their money reportedly made Kate and her family the butt of jokes among William’s friends. So it’s a striking coincidence that My Fair Lady—the Broadway musical about a Cockney girl who strives to transform into a lady—premiered in London on this day in 1958. On a practical note, Kate should invest in solid footwear for the big day. In 1872, Queen Victoria, the great-great-great-great grandmother of the groom, broke her toe while fly-fishing at Balmoral Castle. Few things are less dignified than walking down the aisle in crutches.

One of the major reasons for imminent collapse of Pakistan’s economy is senseless injection of liquidity into public sector corporations who suddenly started posting huge losses after the installation of the present government. This remarkable “turnaround” is rather mysterious. It is not so mysterious if a dispassionate analysis is undertaken with a non-political angle. These corporations including PIA, PSM etc have suffered due to the “doctrine of cronyism”, a hallmark of the governance of ruling party. This doctrine affected the economy every time the party came to power. According to a conservative estimate, the government in one year alone has injected liquidity close of half of its revenue receipts to keep these corporations afloat, and cronies happy.

In order to overcome its economic problems, the government was forced the other day to impose RGST and flood tax which can have severe political consequences for the ruling party. But oblivious to the ramification of its style of economic management, it is still considering injecting liquidity into the loss making corporations. It is like putting the blood of poor taxpayers into the veins of these corporations. Express Tribune has reported that the ailing state carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is asking the government, saddled with its own mounting debt, to write off losses of 1.7 billion dollars to save it from looming bankruptcy.

In a five-year survival plan submitted to the government, PIA has promised to make cutbacks and better its fleet in a bid to improve its fortunes, if the treasury agrees to cancel its debt and pay off other creditors. Blaming “bad policies of the past” for accumulated losses of 80 billion rupees (936 million dollars) and liabilities of 144 billion rupees, PIA insisted the airline is capable of future success.

The burden would be a massive undertaking for a government dependent on US aid to survive. A economic financial adviser to the government, Ashfaq Hassan Khan, said privatization was the only long term solution for the airline, which has failed to turn a net profit since 2004 according to its last annual report.

PIA was created out of private airline Orient Airways in 1955, just eight years after Pakistan came into existence, and today has a fleet of 40 planes, a combination of Boeing 747s, 777s, 737s, Airbuses and ATR aircraft. Performing well until the 1970s when corruption and overstaffing hit company fortunes, PIA’s reputation was further battered in the 1980s as it failed to maintain its fleet, said economic expert Shahidur Rehman.

He said 1990 signaled further defeat for PIA, when legislation liberalized to allow more competition in the flight market. The state carrier remains the largest operator on Pakistan’s international and domestic routes. But union officials say years of corruption, nepotism, bad management and poor planning have pushed the corporation to its lowest ebb.

President Obama has spent three days in India and has, along with the first lady, been dancing to the tune of Bollywood songs. He must have learnt so many things about Indian customs, traditions and superstitions.  One of this is about the shuguns or omens. The rule of these shuguns dictate that he should immediately call of his visit to south Korea because the Indonesian volcano is a bad shugun. It has already made him think about shortening his visit durations.

Los Angeles Times has reported that President Obama will probably cut short his one-day Indonesia visit because volcanic ash is complicating air travel in the region, aides said as Air Force One arrived here Tuesday. The change would be just the latest of several disruptions in the president’s trip to the country where he lived for a while as a child.

The Tuesday arrival comes after two cancellations earlier in the year, first because of a congressional vote on the president’s healthcare plan and then because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Originally, Obama had hoped to bring his daughters and stay for a few days. When the Indonesia visit became part of an economics-focused tour of Asia this month, the stop here was shortened to just a day. First Lady Michelle Obama is the only member of the family accompanying him.

The president still plans to deliver an address to university students and visit a mosque, but aides may change other parts of his schedule, press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.

President Obama spent a considerable part of his boyhood in Indonesia with his mom and step dad.