Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Two blasts in Peshawar, no casualties reported

Two blasts ripped through Bacha Khan Chowk in Peshawar on Tuesday, however, no loss of life was reported. The blasts only caused damage to the nearby shops of CDs, sources said.

Saudi Women Protesters Arrested, Spark Arab Spring II?

A group of protesting Saudi Arabian women were arrested earlier this month, prompting a groundswell of outrage that may ultimately result in a sequel to the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. In what is seen as a new phenomenon in the kingdom, a ripple of outrage has begun following the arrests that came in response to demonstrations protesting the detention of male family members. The incident, which took place in the town of Buraida, was reported by CNN, which quoted Saudi activists who said the kingdom has been trying to silence the women. Buraida is the provincial capital of Qassim Province, a conservative area of the country in which the detention of women is seen as a red line not to be crossed. Mothers, daughters, sisters and wives had gathered to demand rights denied to their male relatives by the Board of Grievances. A female Saudi journalist covering the story, Iman Al Qahtani, told CNN that she was stopped by Saudi secret police – the Mubahith – when she tried to gain access to those who had been arrested, and was warned to leave town. The Amnesty International human rights organization documented the incident, calling in a statement for the release of the 18 women and 10 children who were arrested and detained. “There is no way the Saudi Arabian authorities can justify detaining people if they have simply peacefully exercised their rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” said Phillip Luther, Middle East and North Africa AI program director. Thus far, just seven women have been released. But the incident may have finally brought a new ‘Arab Spring’ to the kingdom, having also inspired a groundswell of demonstrations in support for the women from protesters as far away as Riyadh, the capital, and even in Mecca, the religious center of the country. Such protesters have included men, many of whom are related to thousands of inmates being held with no access to lawyers and without trials in connection with ‘counter terrorism’ sweeps throughout the kingdom. They are beginning to chant a new slogan around the country: “The people call for the liberation of the prisons.”

Rallies ahead of Bahrain revolution anniversary

Anti-regime protesters in Bahrain hold overnight rallies in defiance of a standing government ban on such protests as the second anniversary of the anti-government uprising in the country draws closer.
Rallies were staged in several towns and villages across the tiny Persian Gulf sheikdom on Monday. The demonstrators chanted slogans, calling for the downfall of the Al Khalifa regime. In the village of Malikiyah, located some 18 kilometers (11 miles) southwest of Manama, Saudi-backed Bahraini forces fired tear gas and used shotguns to disperse the anti-regime protesters. The revolution began in mid-February 2011 when people, inspired by the popular revolutions that toppled the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, started holding massive demonstrations. The Bahraini government promptly launched a brutal crackdown on the peaceful protests and called in Saudi-led Arab forces from neighboring states to assist the suppressive campaign. Dozens of people have been killed in the crackdown, and the security forces have arrested hundreds, including doctors and nurses accused of treating injured revolutionaries. A report, published by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in November 2011, found that the Al Khalifa regime had used excessive force in the crackdown and accused Manama of torturing political activists, politicians, and protesters. The protesters say they will continue holding anti-regime demonstrations until their demand for the establishment of a democratically-elected government is met.

Cricket : ''Afghanistan look to Pakistan for growth''

Afghanistan will attend a four-week conditioning camp in Pakistan ahead of their international fixtures against Scotland in March. The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) is also contemplating a long-term plan to make Pakistan the national team's base for the next five years. During their camp at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore, Afghanistan will train under the supervision of the PCB's coaches besides their own head coach Kabir Khan. Their preparations include a series of 12 matches against various regional teams and Pakistan A. Afghanistan have ODI status till 2015 and have been using Sharjah Cricket Stadium as their home ground since 2010 due to a lack of cricketing infrastructure in the country. They are now looking to shift base to Pakistan. "The idea is play and train with the quality cricketing structure in Pakistan," Kabir Khan, the Afghanistan coach, told a press conference at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. "Sharjah gave us basic facilities but unfortunately we didn't find quality cricket to develop with. We need quality programmes and Pakistan, with a rich cricketing background, can help us. Apart from the cricketing aspect, the cost of being in Sharjah is a lot more than here in Pakistan. "We are in process of building our infrastructure (in Afghanistan) and have two stadiums as well. But we don't have academies, if we have academies then we don't have specialised coaches. In Pakistan we can find the quality coaches and quality teams to play with. We are here with the top 22 cricketers from Afghanistan including the budding talent from the Under-19 circuit. Only three of our top cricketers - Shapoor Zadran, Mohammad Nabi and Samiullah Shenwari - (are not here) have gone to play in Bangladesh Premier League." Afghanistan will be making their third trip to Pakistan in the last two years, having lost a one-day series 3-0 to a second-string Pakistan side in May 2011 followed by their participation in a domestic Twenty20 competition in Karachi. The talks between the PCB and the ACB about a comprehensive development programme for Afghanistan cricketers in Pakistan are currently at a preliminary stage but both boards have 'verbally' agreed to a long-term deal. "We are working out a deal that will help Afghanistan's cricketers in their development," said Intikhab Alam, the PCB director for game development. "Another idea in the pipeline is to induct their team in our domestic one-day and Twenty20 tournaments, as that would be a good opportunity for their development process." Afghanistan last competed in the Asian Cricket Council Elite Trophy in October, finishing in third place. Their next international fixture is against Scotland, a two-ODI series at Sharjah Stadium, before taking them on in the ICC World Cricket League Championship.

All parties conference: ANP undeterred by lukewarm response

The Express Tribune
Although two major political parties have refused to attend the Awami National Party’s (ANP) all-parties conference (APC), the ANP stands undeterred to form a joint counterterrorism policy. Awami National Party (ANP) chief Asfandyar Wali Khan on Monday said his party will continue to extend invitations to major political parties in the country to help create a joint strategy to tackle terrorism. “We will keep asking political parties to come forward and formulate a joint anti-terrorism strategy, till they agree. We have to end militancy on Pushtun soil,” Khan said. Khan’s announcement came a day after the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and Jamaat-e-Islami refused to participate in the ANP’s proposed APC, which aims to formulate a unilateral anti-terrorism policy. He was speaking on the 25th death anniversary of Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan (popularly known as Bacha Khan) and the seventh death anniversary of Khan Abdul Wali Khan, which was commemorated at Nishtar Hall on Monday. “It is the traditional Pushtun way, when someone disagrees we send a jirga to convince them. If they do not agree we send it again and again until they agree,” he said hoping that soon other parties will agree to come on board. “If someone thinks this is only the ANP’s war, let me remind them that they are mistaken.” While referring to the killings of Hazaras in Quetta and violence in Karachi, he said: “Extremism is a national issue. The ANP has invited all political parties several times to come forward and find a solution to end this menace, which has sabotaged peace in the country.” In his address, Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti said Peshawar is the strongest fort of the ANP. He added the party is now a strong political force in many districts of the province including Peshawar, Swabi, Charsadda and Mardan. Hoti further commented that the five year performance of the present Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government is far better than any other government’s performance in the past 60 years. He also paid tribute to the sacrifices of slain party leaders Bashir Ahmad Bilour, Alamzeb Khan, Dr Shamsher Ali Khan, Mian Rashid Hussain among other party workers. The CM announced that a children’s hospital named after Bashir Ahmad Bilour will be established in Peshawar. The cost of the hospital is estimated at Rs2.2 billion. Strict security measures were taken at the premises and Sher Shah Suri Road was blocked with barbed wire for all kinds of traffic.

Pakistan: The Reko Diq saga

THE Supreme Court recently declared void and illegal a mining deal for the Reko Diq copper project signed 20 years ago between the Balochistan government and international mining companies. The apex court in its ruling said that the agreement reached on July 23, 1993 was in conflict with the laws of the country. In 2011, Tethyan Copper Company (TCC), a joint venture between Antofagasta of Chile and Canada’s Barrick Gold Corporation, approached the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes’ Tribunal in Washington D.C. and claimed damages after the Balochistan government refused to give the go-ahead for extracting copper and gold from the project site. The TCC alleged that the provincial government had violated the company’s rights under the 1993 Chagai Hills Exploration Joint Venture Agreement (CHEJVA). The court’s decision has weakened the TCC’s case in the international tribunal as CHEJVA has been declared void, which means that TCC has no rights to claim under the 1993 agreement in the international court. The Balochistan government had first signed the contract for the exploration area with international mining company BHP Billiton in 1993 and established a joint venture with the respective interests of the province at 25 per cent and BHP at 75 per cent by virtue of a deed of waiver and consent signed in June 2000. The Australian Mincor Resources bought out BHP stakes in 2000. The TCC, a subsidiary of Mincor Resources, has an alliance with BHP Billiton. In April 2006, it assumed all rights and obligations of BHP under the CHEJVA by means of a novation agreement. Hence Reko Diq was now jointly owned by Antofagasta with 37.5 per cent, Barrick Gold with 37.5 per cent, and Balochistan with 25 per cent stake. The two foreign firms purchased these interests from the Australian TCC which holds 75 per cent interest in the exploration licence encompassing the Reko Diq region. The latter is said to hold the world’s fifth largest deposits of gold and copper. Initially, the deal was done with BHP, but the problem started when BHP sold its interests to TCC and the latter sold it to Barrick Gold and Antofagasta. It must be asked why the Pakistani authorities did not refuse the transfer of the Reko Diq project from the internationally reputed BHP Billiton to TCC. It was due to the incompetence and inefficiency of the then government in 2000 that it could not exploit the opportunity to seek fresh offers for exploitation of Reko Diq’s reserves after BHP had failed to make significant progress on the project. Balochistan’s mishandling has thrown the project into a prolonged and complicated litigation process in the international tribunal. This has further delayed the development of the gold mine. The TCC spent $400 million on exploration and technical studies since 2006, the year that Barrick bought a stake in the project for a reported $130m. TCC — which was willing to invest $3.3 billion — offered the Balochistan government a 25 per cent equity stake in the company in addition to a royalty fee on its revenues. In 2011, the Balochistan government rejected TCC’s mining lease application because it was said to be incomplete and the company violated the agreement. After failing to secure meetings with the Balochistan government, the company took the matter to the international tribunal to seek compensation for the money invested in the project. Balochistan has to pay a heavy price for mishandling the Reko Diq project. The cash-strapped province has been deprived of the economic bonanza associated with the development of a world-class copper and gold mine in Chagai district. The province was deprived of the much-needed multi-billion-dollar foreign investment at a time when foreign investors have lost interest in the insurgency-hit province. The province was even unable to bear the cost of the legal battle in the international tribunal against the foreign mining firms. The federal government refused to pay Balochistan the Rs450m fee for legal experts to plead the international case filed by the TCC. It was the government’s inefficiency that made it a disputed project in which no third party will be able to invest till the tribunal completes its proceedings. The Balochistan government could have negotiated with TCC for a better deal addressing the province’s genuine reservations about the project rather than closing all doors of communication with the company and even refusing to meet its executives. The stand-off between a foreign mining company and provincial government sends a negative signal to prospective foreign firms eying to invest in the country. Can the next Balochistan government run the project on its own? Can it afford the financial and operating costs of mine development? Reko Diq can be indigenously developed without discouraging foreign investors by dividing the 400-square-kilometre area into various zones, leasing out land to foreign firms and also keeping major portions for indigenous development. The funds from leasing out land to foreign firms would enable the country to bear the investment, financial and operating costs for developing the project indigenously. Also, it must be asked that if Balochistan is serious about developing Chagai’s copper deposits indigenously, why has it agreed to the five-year extension in the lease period of Saindak copper and gold project acquired by the state-owned Metallurgical Corporation of China in 2002 on lease, which expired in October last year? Why has it not decided to take over the Saindak mine from the Chinese, who have reportedly been involved in excessive mining that has reduced the lifespan of the mine and brought no economic benefit to the area?

Pakistan: Let's do it with or without IMF

We have been stressing in these columns for the last one year or so that Pakistani authorities would be obliged to negotiate another programme with the IMF with strict upfront conditionalities to deal with the crisis developing in the external sector. It seems that we were not very much wide off the mark while pointing out such a possibility. Talking to the media after the conclusion of negotiations with Pakistan on 18th January, 2013, Jeffery Franks, the regional advisor to the Fund on Pakistan did not mince words about the state of economy. According to him, future funding to Pakistan will be linked to "broadest and deepest" political support for upfront economic reforms and policy changes to prove the government's seriousness. It was also made abundantly clear that so far Pakistan had not requested for a new programme, but if such a request was made, the disbursements would follow prior policy actions for macroeconomic stabilisation. To emphasise his point further, the Advisor stressed that the IMF mission could only support a new programme before the Fund's management and its Executive Board when right policies were there to prove that authorities had taken steps towards achieving macroeconomic stability. Another important point that appeared to have emerged during the interaction with journalists was that a new loan programme could most probably materialise during the tenure of the interim government to be put in place with consensus among major political parties. The economic situation of the country, according to the IMF assessment, is dire at present. Budget deficit during FY13 has been projected at 7.5 percent of GDP or Rs 1.624 trillion, growth rate at 3.5 percent and current account deficit at 0.7 percent of GDP. The real issue in the external sector is that there are not sufficient resources even to finance this small deficit. Pakistan needs to take a combination of steps in the power sector and fair enforcement of taxation measures to bring down fiscal deficit to 3.0-3.5 percent of GDP in two to three years. Inflation also needs to be brought down on a sustainable basis while foreign exchange reserves must rise to $15 billion mark. This would require a lot of macroeconomic adjustments through removal of bottlenecks including reforming the energy sector, restructuring of PSEs, improving business climate and strengthening and simplifying tax system. The energy sector could be the starting point for upfront policy adjustments through a combination of technical efficiency, controlling theft and improving generation mix. For a fair and transparent tax system, agriculture, services, and retail business needed to be brought into the tax net while exceptions allowed through different SROs and other legal or illegal instruments are needed to be withdrawn. The size of the new programme could range between $4 and $5 billion and this has to be complemented by boosting capital inflows from other sources. The briefing by the IMF Advisor about the current status and progress of negotiations with Pakistan tells a lot about the Fund's strategy to deal with the country when a request is made for another programme, which may not be far off due to relatively low level of foreign exchange reserves available with the State Bank at this point in time. The general impression in this connection that the visiting IMF team was in Pakistan only for post-monitoring of the earlier SBA does not appear to be correct because a lot of ground seems to have already been covered in relation to a new programme as revealed by the mission chief. Also, contrary to the belief in certain circles, it needs to be remembered that under the IMF rules, the repayment instalments due on the SBA availed earlier can neither be restructured nor postponed and the country has to honour its payment obligations in time (however, funds received under a fresh programme can be used for existing loan repayments). Coming to the analysis of the current situation by the IMF mission chief, it is difficult to deny the veracity of his observations. The country definitely faces a lot of problems in almost every field. For instance, Pakistan needs to accelerate its GDP growth rate by removing energy shortages, improving law and order situation etc to a respectable level of around 6 percent, reduce its budget deficit to a figure between 3 and 4 percent of GDP, make its monetary policy forward looking to bring down inflation rate to 5 percent or so, and balance its current account in a way so that the deficit, if any, could be filled through autonomous inflows. The reforms suggested in each area are also quite relevant to the situation and need to be undertaken for ensuring macroeconomic stability. Those who think that the IMF always prescribes harsh measures and makes the lives of ordinary people more difficult are wrong. The fact of the matter is that countries like Pakistan approach the IMF when risks to the economy have grown to an extent that extraordinary measures are needed to avoid the impending crisis. The mission chief has alluded to upfront conditionalities a number of time in his remarks due to the seriousness of the situation and low credibility of the country in pursuing agreed reforms earnestly in the past. However, authorities of the country need to evaluate the current overall economic situation independently before entering into serious negotiations with the Fund about a new programme. In our view, the unfolding external account situation of the country, which is generally the reason to seek a bailout package from the IMF, though not satisfactory, is not alarming either, at least as yet. In fact, current account of the country has posted a surplus of dollar 250 million during the first half of FY13 on the back of receiving much-needed foreign inflows under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) and record growth in overseas workers' remittances in sharp contrast to a dollar 2.43 billion deficit in the corresponding period of last year. Yes, we need to have foreign exchange reserves equivalent to three months of imports (between dollar 14 billion and dollar 15 billion) but looking at our past record, dollar 9 billion presently held by the State is not such a low level as it could keep us afloat for another year or so. As such, the real focus of the new arrangement should be a reduction in budget deficit to a sustainable level and the country urgently needs a very bold stabilisation programme in this particular area with or without the support of the Fund. For this, the country has to own the next programme and not behave as it has been forced by a hostile institution with some ulterior motives. If this was the approach, it would become immaterial if the new programme was signed by an interim set-up or a political government formed as a result of vote. At present, there clearly appears to be divide between the fiscal and monetary authorities in the country. Ministry of Finance appears to favour a programme now - while the Governor SBP sees no imminent crisis and feels the situation is manageable until June of this year. This newspaper would have liked to see a stabilisation programme in place as of November. The reason is simply the unpredictability of international oil prices. Further, even if the import price of crude oil and deficit POL products fall, the quantum of country's energy needs will go up with import of LNG and LPG. Therefore, there will be pressure on BoP which is not there at present. The present energy deficit is stifling growth. It needs to be doubled to take care of armies of unemployed youth. We are also required to take certain administrative steps to curtail line losses and force consumers to continue paying for the theft plaguing the system. The present government will be replaced by a caretaker set-up and a new government will be there post-election. It is extremely important for this 'transition' to be managed properly. The last caretaker set-up, which was headed by Mohammadmian Soomro, earned scathing criticism for its failure to act as an interim government better co-ordinated to serve country's economic interests. Therefore, political parties at the centre and in the provinces need to reach consensus on a three-year macroeconomic stabilisation programme now - with or without the Fund - for a country where people were and still are generally uninformed, disorganised and disconnected.

Peshawar: Private universities should promote higher education in Fata

The Frontir Post
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor, Barrister Masood Kausar has asked the private sector educational institutions to actively share the responsibilities with the government in promoting higher educational facilities in Fata besides providing education to youth of KP. The present government is committed to provide maximum possible facilities of quality higher education to our youth. However, he added, like everywhere else in the world, it need help of the society to develop educational institutions and the well-to-do, the philanthropists and the missionaries should come forward and augment government's efforts for establishment of institutions of higher learning and research facilities in the private sector. Only then can we bridge the gap between the educated and uneducated youth of the country swiftly, he remarked. He was addressing as the chief guest at the 9th Convocation of the Sarhad University of Science and Information Technology; a private concern here on Monday morning. The Governor who is also the patron of the university further realized the audience; present in large number that the problems from law and order point of views, which we have been confronting also require special efforts for promotion of educational facilities. In all 18 graduates got gold medals for achieving distinctive positions from amongst the graduating students who were awarded Ph,D, M.S., leading M.Phil,, masters and bachelors degrees. Besides parents of the graduating students, the ceremony was also attended by educationists, senior government officials and elites of the city. Barrister Masood Kausar further pointed out that the teachers of educational institutions also have a special responsibility of educating their students in a befitting manner as the students, who shine in their careers in practical life, are a source of pride and happiness for them as well. Advising the graduating students that the Governor said, the completion of their studies is an important phase in their lives and their institution has equipped them with the required knowledge and expertise. "It is now for you to apply these assets in your respective professions in the practical life and remember that no nation can change its destiny without the conscious and sincere endeavours of its youth to bring about a revolutionary change in the socio-economic conditions of the people", he said. There is no short-cut to progress and prosperity of a country and this can be achieved only through sustained efforts of every citizen, he added. Prof. Dr. Salim-ur-Rehman, vice chancellor earlier presenting the annual report of the university welcomed the Governor and the guests and said that the university with two campuses and 250 faculty members offers state of the art academic and research facilities and half of its teaching staff is either M.Phil or PhD qualified. The university, he added, is also offering distanced educational facilities across the province. In the recent categorization process of the Higher Education Commission, the vice chancellor said, the university has been placed at 53rd position at the national level and 9th amongst 25 general universities. Earlier the Governor gave away medals and degrees to the graduating students and amongst the gold medalists were Muhammad Muzzamil, Tariq Mahmood, Muhammad Arif, Akhtarullah, Syed Abdul Razzaq, Muhammad Danish Qureshi, Anwarullah, Safiullah, Sajidullah, Salman Khan, Saima Bibi, Mian Waqar, Ambrina Shahzad, Noora Akhtar and Khushnood Ali. Governor condoles death of ex-MPA: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Barrister Masood Kausar has expressed his heartfelt condolence on the sad demise of a former Member of Provincial Assembly from District Shangla, Haji Sargand Khan, who was laid to rest yesterday. In a condolence message on Monday the Governor while expressing his deep sympathies with members of the bereaved family has also prayed for eternal peace of the departed soul and courage to them to bear the irreparable loss with patience. Later while talking with media Governor Masood Kausar disagreed with news stories that appeared about his health by saying "who was the doctor made rumor about my health, I am physically ok" but it worth mentioning that Governor delivered his speech while sitting on chair.

Zardari: All political parties will be consulted for interim govt

President Asif Ali Zardari has vowed to hold the most transparent elections of the history in the country on time. Talking to PPP leaders in Karachi‚ he said all attempts to derail democracy have been frustrated with the help of the masses. He said the government is completing its constitutional tenure and general elections will be held in accordance with the constitution. The President said Caretaker government will be formed in consultation with all allies and opposition parties. He formed a three member committee headed by Khursheed Shah to devise a future strategy of the PPP in Balochistan.