Friday, July 13, 2012

Mammoth task awaits as US prepares to quit Afghanistan
Even with the recent re-opening of critical supply routes from Pakistan, the US military confronts a mammoth logistical challenge to wind down the war in Afghanistan, where it must withdraw nearly 90,000 troops and enormous depots of equipment accumulated over the past decade. Assuming Pakistan doesn't seal its border again, US and NATO commanders still face the prospect of pulling out at least a third of the cargo from northern Afghanistan on a winding, makeshift network of railways and roads that cross the former Soviet Union. Those routes carry strategic risks of their own. Access to transit lines depends on the whims of several authoritarian central Asian leaders as well as the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, a long-time nemesis of NATO. Moreover, the cost of shipping goods along the northern routes is about triple that of the much shorter Pakistani lines. The only other option for departing landlocked Afghanistan is by air - an even more expensive alternative, costing up to 10 times as much as the Pakistani ground routes. Advertisement US military logisticians are preparing to bring home 100,000 shipping containers stuffed with materiel and 50,000 wheeled vehicles by the end of 2014, when the United Nations and NATO combat operations are scheduled to cease. The US military has increasingly relied on the supply lines that cross the former Soviet Union to deliver cargo into Afghanistan since those routes opened in 2009. After Pakistan sealed its border in November in protest at a US airstrike that killed 24 of its soldiers, the US military shifted about 60 per cent of its supplies to the northern routes, with the remainder arriving in the war zone by air. Although delivery disruptions were largely avoided, the move cost about an extra $US100 million a month. The importance of the northern routes will become even more acute when the traffic is reversed. By the end of September, 23,000 US troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan, along with a commensurate amount of materiel. At first, Russia and several central Asian countries approved deals that let the Pentagon and NATO deliver ''non-lethal'' supplies - no ammunition or armoured vehicles - into Afghanistan, but provided no mechanism to withdraw the equipment. They also opened their airspace for planes carrying troops. The deals ''focused on the needs of entry and didn't address the needs of exiting'', a central Asia specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Martha Brill Olcott, said. ''All of this changed after Pakistan closed down.'' Over the past several months, the administration of the US President, Barack Obama, and NATO have signed two-way transit deals with many of the former Soviet republics. But negotiations continue over a host of side issues. ''These countries know it's the last chance, it's the last negotiation, so they're going to squeeze very hard,'' Alexander Cooley, a Barnard College professor and expert on US military relations in central Asia, said. ''They can escalate their demands in the confidence that this is a one-off transaction.'' Even with Pakistan re-opening its border, the northern routes are seen as a vital hedge against a change of heart. From the north, there are two primary ways out of Afghanistan: by rail into Uzbekistan or by road into Tajikistan. Both are authoritarian countries with checkered human rights records. Beyond that, shipping convoys - which are run by private companies - must cross Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, with most of the land routes then entering Russia before zig-zagging to ports in Siberia or on the Baltic Sea. Negotiating with the central Asians has often been as difficult as with Pakistan, US and NATO officials said. The countries distrust, compete with and often try to sabotage each other while seeking to exact more concessions from Washington and its allies. ''They all want to play against each other,'' a senior NATO official said. The Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said last month the alliance had forged agreements with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to allow for the withdrawal of equipment. A NATO spokeswoman declined to release details of the accords, such as transit fees, but acknowledged that weapons and ammunition were still prohibited cargo on the northern land routes. NATO remains in talks with Russia about establishing an air hub in the city of Ulyanovsk - Lenin's birthplace - that would accept rail shipments from central Asia and then load the containers onto Europe-bound cargo planes. Vice-Admiral Mark D Harnitchek, a senior US military logistician who was instrumental in setting up the northern routes, said he was confident the network would remain reliable during the withdrawal. ''If you were going to design a system to come into Afghanistan, you wouldn't do it from the north, but it's proven to be robust,'' Vice-Admiral Harnitchek, the director of the Defence Logistics Agency, said last week. ''Those countries have all been remarkably co-operative.'' But many haven't hesitated to exploit their bargaining power to make special demands. In April, for example, military officials from Kyrgyzstan asked Marine General James Mattis, the head of the US Central Command, if the Pentagon would donate drones after its departure. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan has sought to capitalise on its status as the only country with a rail link to Afghanistan by seeking a 50 per cent surcharge on shipments leaving the war zone - insisting on a premium on what its neighbours earn. ''Everybody wants to up the prices,'' Ms Olcott said. ''The Kazakhs complain that the Uzbeks get much better terms.'' She said the same rivalries have emerged when Washington has sought to pay with used military equipment instead of cash. ''The Uzbeks complain about the Tajiks, or the Kazakhs about Kyrgyzstan, that it will just give them weapons they can effectively use against their neighbours, or against trouble in their own country.'' Read more:

PPP not to go for caretaker set-up if Pak PM is removed by SC

The ruling Pakistan People's Party will not go in for a caretaker set-up if the Supreme Court removes Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, like his predecessor Yousuf Raza Gilani, for not reopening graft cases against the President, a media report today said. set-up for the next general elections even if Prime Minister Ashraf is removed by the apex court," a senior unnamed PPP leader was quoted as saying by the Dawn. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said the situation was vague at the moment and it was not easy to comment on "ifs and buts". He ruled out the possibility of early elections and a caretaker set-up. "We have so far not even thought about a caretaker set-up," Kaira said. Yesterday, the apex court gave the premier time till July 25 to approach Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also the chief of the PPP. The court had earlier convicted former premier Gilani of contempt and disqualified him after he refused to revive the corruption cases. Sources in the PPP told the Dawn that President Zardari and heads of parties in the ruling coalition discussed the situation after the Supreme Court's decision setting July 25 as the deadline for the Prime Minister to reopen the graft cases. Information Minister Kaira said the PPP is holding consultations with parties in the ruling coalition to frame a line of action in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision. The Prime Minister's spokesman, Fawad Chaudhry, said the government would appeal against the apex court's order. The ruling coalition had also decided that the government will not write to Swiss authorities even if Prime Minister Ashraf is removed like Gilani. A source quoted Zardari as saying: "I have three more candidates for the Prime Minister's office if Raja Pervez Ashraf is removed". The PPP-led coalition is hopeful that Ashraf will continue to serve as head of the government for three or four months even if the contempt of court law is revoked. The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to reopen the cases since December 2009, when it annulled a graft amnesty issued by former President Pervez Musharraf that benefited Zardari and over 8,000 others. The government has refused to act, saying the President enjoys immunity within Pakistan and abroad. The President yesterday signed into law the Contempt of Court Bill of 2012 after it was adopted by both houses of Parliament. The law is aimed at protecting top government functionaries from contempt proceedings and countering the Supreme Court's efforts to pressure the premier to reopen the graft cases in Switzerland. PML-Q spokesman Kamil Ali Agha said his party believed both the judiciary and the government should exercise restraint. Otherwise, the whole system will be derailed, he said. Agha too said the government did not intend to go in for a caretaker set-up even if the current premier had to leave his office. Legal experts believe the new contempt of court law cannot be revoked before July 25, when the apex court can take action against the premier. "I think it will not be so easy for the court to revoke the new law in 13 days," Justice (retired) Tariq Mehmood said. He said the law is likely to continue to exist till July 25 and it would be difficult for the apex court to remove Prime Minister Ashraf.

Pakistan: Coal reserves

An Asian Development Bank report titled Climate Risk and Adaptation in the Electric Power sector concluded that climate change and modification of rainfall and temperature patterns can and does affect hydropower output through (i) surface water evaporation, (ii) reduced runoff due to drought, (iii) increased runoff due to flooding, and (iv)silting. A look at how climate change has impacted on Pakistan's hydroelectricity generation reveals the truth behind the study. There has been much mention in Pakistan that hydropower is the cheapest form of electricity generation. There is no doubt that this is a truism. However, two facts as they relate to Pakistan's energy sector need to be acknowledged. First and foremost, construction of mega dams has been subjected to considerable political controversy over time which partly explains why there have been no mega dam projects for decades. The controversy cannot be dismissed as political posturing for the simple reason that most dams are now accepted to have inbuilt negative ecological features as well as in terms of displacement of indigenous communities that account for multilaterals as well as several bilateral donors refusing to extend credit for their construction. Thus only those countries that have sufficient capital have been tempted to build mega dams and China's Three Gorges dam as well as Narmada Dam India's most controversial dam project, are an example. Pakistan as a case in point does not have the financial resources to build a large dam independent of foreign investment - investment that is not forthcoming at present also because of the state of the economy and the ongoing law and order problems. And secondly, the energy mix in Pakistan has dramatically changed from heavy reliance on indigenous sources of fuel, mainly water, to importing fuel for electricity generation. At present, generation of each fuel is as follows: (i) installed hydel capacity is 6463 MW (with Tarbela the largest contributor with 3478 MW) or 33 percent of total generation. However, supply fluctuates quite dramatically because of climate change notably due to floods or drought or, indeed, due to the annual closure of canals for maintenance; (ii) thermal accounts in Wapda system for 4811 MW, KESC thermal accounts for 1260 MW and IPPs 7070 MW, giving a total of 63 percent of total generation. The fuel used, furnace oil, has been witnessing a steady increase in its international price which accounts for electricity getting more expensive each quarter. There are, of course, other reasons as well including failure to implement reforms in the power sector targeted to contain the circular debt to sustainable levels as well as transmission and distribution losses but the cost of fuel is a major reason for rising cost of electricity in Pakistan; and (iii) nuclear energy accounts for 812 MW. The foregoing reveals that there is a need to support indigenous fuel sources to ensure that electricity price remains competitive in the region that would allow our manufacturing sector to compete internationally and provide the needed support to our balance of payment position (BoP). Thar coal reserves, as is well known, have the potential to meet not only our energy shortfall in the short term but also in the long term as well as ensure that the generation cost is much lower than what the country pays for thermal generation. Additionally, Thar coal is not politically controversial though it has become controversial amongst technical experts. Samar Mubarakmand has proposed underground coal gasification (UCG) which some other experts who challenge his credentials as a coal expert maintain that this process will contaminate ground water thereby negatively impacting on the people living in the area as well as have security implications given that Thar coal was an important area during the wars with India. The result has been a stalemate which one would hope the government does focus on with the objective of speedily resolving it given the continuing energy crisis in the country.

Malala Yousafzai:‘Gulmakai’ the future of Pakistan

“The only way to power is politics, and the only way to politics is education,” repeated the girl from Mingora, Swat who was among thousands of others whose lives were threatened by the Taliban in 2009, merely for seeking education. Today, Malala Yousafzai
is a beacon of hope for thousands of other girls who dare to dream of education and ambition. At the 8th International Conference on Women Leadership held in Islamabad last week, Yousafzai was given the excellence award in the category of “The Future of Pakistan”. “I could not believe when I heard them calling me the future of Pakistan. I am highly encouraged by this award. I need appreciation and encouragement to complete a long and tough journey that is ahead,” she said upon receiving the award. The world looked at the miseries of Swat through this beautiful pair of eyes, and realised the pain through the words that came out of her which she penned under the name of ‘Gulmakai’. The innocence in her writing represented those bereavements which many adults were unable to describe. Gulmakai’s diary was first published on BBC Urdu’s website in 2009. Aged 15, Malala is now studying in the 9th grade. “Swat is peaceful now. But I don’t understand the fact that why the government is not showing any interest in rehabilitating the people who suffered the displacement. They are not even building the schools for us. It’s just the Pakistan Army with the cooperation of UAE government, which is helping recover Swat from the horrific aftermath of Talibanisation,” she exclaims with a mix of sorrow and anger. Accompanying Yousafzai at the conference, her parents believe that their daughter has a long way to go. “Death is inevitable. Every person has to die at some point, whether there is terrorism or not. This does not mean that we should stop walking on the path of truth. My husband and my daughter both have proven that no terror can hinder the way of truth. She is making us proud since the day she was born,” her mother states. Forty-three year old Ziauddin is the proud father of Yousafzai, who heads the Khushal Khan School and College in Swat (for boys and girls). He was the spokesman of the National Jirga in Swat at the time of Talibanisation when Abdul Hai Kakar, then a correspondent of BBC, reached out to him and asked him to find a female teacher in Swat who could write about the cruelties of Taliban. To his disappointment no one agreed to do so. “My only daughter, Malala was just 11 years of age when I first asked her to write about Swat and the Talibanisation in 2008. She did it. Not for the sake of her father’s wish, but for the sake of the safety and peace of her land. No one was willing to write the inside stories, the cruelty, the terror and the sufferings of the people of Swat because of the life threats by Taliban. She used the pseudonym, and I remember the first time I saw someone print the diary, I could not tell them that it’s my daughter who has written this. Today, I am happy that the world knows who Gulmakai is!” Yousafzai’s ambition doesn’t end with obtaining education. She wants to be a politician when she grows up. “Democracy is the best rule. This country needs new leaders. I want to study the law and I dream of a country in which education prevails and no one sleeps hungry. That would be my kind of country.” The conviction in her voice, truly matches the title awarded to her. One can see her sparkling eyes witnessing the bright future of Pakistan.

Pakistan: Contempt of court bill

The government appears to be gearing up for a political response to the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) insistence on the letter to be written to the Swiss authorities regarding reopening the case against President Asif Ali Zardari. That is why the Contempt of Court Bill 2012 has been passed post haste by the National Assembly on July 9, the Senate just two days after, and signed into law by the president the same evening, in anticipation of the NRO case hearing on July 12. The PML-N expectedly registered its protest and eventually walked out of the Senate against the bill. The PPP’s legal stalwarts, Raza Rabbani and Aitzaz Ahsan, as in the case of the Dual Nationality bill, have expressed reservations about the contempt bill too. Aitzaz felt that at least two sections of the bill need correction, otherwise there is a likelihood that it would be struck down by the SC. He did state on the floor of the house that the contempt law had been misused against Yousaf Raza Gilani. He also argued that the contempt law contradicted the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Raza Rabbani pleaded for harmony and maturity, given the internal and external challenges facing the country. In that spirit, he said, the government and judiciary must avoid a tussle. Senator Haji Adeel of the ANP criticised the judiciary, saying only time would tell which of the courts’ decisions were correct and which were wrong. Wise words and passionate, but developments in the court seem destined to overtake the efforts of the government. In its hearing of the NRO implementation case on Thursday, the SC rejected the Attorney General’s (AG) reply that the SC’s notice/letter had been brought to the attention of the new prime minister, who had asked the Law Ministry to advise him on the matter, which could take some time. The AG’s plea for the case to be postponed until after the court’s vacations was rejected in favour of an order that the prime minister must write the letter if he wished to avoid Gilani’s fate. It instructed the AG to have the order to write the letter implemented and a written report to that effect presented to the SC by July 25. After the proceedings, the AG stated that if the court’s order were constitutional, it would be implemented. That suggests another impasse, since he left unsaid what would happen if the order were considered by the government to be unconstitutional, as in Gilani’s case. The SC once again reiterated its view that if someone claimed immunity under the provisions of the constitution (Article 248 in the context of the president), he/she would have to apply to the court for it. That may open another Pandora’s box if the court finds differently from a plain reading of Article 248. The government’s response to the insistence of the SC that the letter be written has now taken on political dimensions, not purely legal. It seems government circles are quite prepared for the eventuality that the court may strike down the contempt law just passed, which provided immunity from contempt to the president, prime minister, ministers and chief ministers, on the ground of being discriminatory. They may see this as helpful in focusing public attention on the court’s consistent attempts to show through its orders that it sees parliament as subject to the provisions of the constitution, with the SC the only forum to decide on interpretation of those provisions. Political observers see in this continuing executive and parliament versus judiciary clash all the necessary conditions for a derailment of the democratic dispensation once again. Certainly, going by the country’s history, that is not a thought beyond the bounds of possibility. However, as each truncation of democracy has by now amply demonstrated, such abortion of the democratic process has brought nothing but grief to the country in the past, and is unlikely to bring anything else but more grief in the future, should such an eventuality come to pass. The watchword should have been restraint on all sides and by all institutions of state, but that seems like a lost, forlorn plea under the obtaining circumstances.

Blast near ANP rally venue in Quetta kills 4, injures 10

The Express Tribune News
Four people were killed and 10 others were injured when a blast took place outside the venue for the Awami National Party (ANP) rally in Kuchlak, Express News reported on Friday. The rally, set to begin after Friday prayers, was being attended by the by the party’s provincial president. Cars standing nearby were also destroyed. According to reports, the bomb was planted in a cycle that was standing a few feet away from the stage. “At least four people, including a young girl, were killed and eight others wounded when the bomb planted on a bicycle went off,” local police official Wazir Khan Nasir told AFP. Police personnel confirmed the death and injuries and began efforts to cordon off the area. Eyewitnesses said there was one little girl among those injured. No rescue teams were able to reach the scene due to the location and people began rescue efforts on their own. The injured were shifted to the Civil Hospital.