Friday, April 17, 2015
By JONATHAN WEISMANAs world leaders converge here for their semiannual trek to the capital of what is still the world’s most powerful economy, concern is rising in many quarters that the United States is retreating from global economic leadership just when it is needed most. The spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have filled Washington with motorcades and traffic jams and loaded the schedules of President Obama and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew. But they have also highlighted what some in Washington and around the world see as a United States government so bitterly divided that it is on the verge of ceding the global economic stage it built at the end of World War II and has largely directed ever since. “It’s almost handing over legitimacy to the rising powers,” Arvind Subramanian, the chief economic adviser to the government of India, said of the United States in an interview on Friday. “People can’t be too public about these things, but I would argue this is the single most important issue of these spring meetings.” Other officials attending the meetings this week, speaking on the condition of anonymity, agreed that the role of the United States around the world was at the top of their concerns. Washington’s retreat is not so much by intent, Mr. Subramanian said, but a result of dysfunction and a lack of resources to project economic power the way it once did. Because of tight budgets and competing financial demands, the United States is less able to maintain its economic power, and because of political infighting, it has been unable to formally share it either. Experts say that is giving rise to a more chaotic global shift, especially toward China, which even Obama administration officials worry is extending its economic influence in Asia and elsewhere without following the higher standards for environmental protection, worker rights and business transparency that have become the norms among Western institutions. President Obama, while trying to hold the stage, clearly recognizes the challenge. Pitching his efforts to secure a major trade accord with 11 other Pacific nations, he told reporters on Friday: “The fastest-growing markets, the most populous markers, are going to be in Asia, and if we do not help to shape the rules so that our businesses and our workers can compete in those markets, then China will set up the rules that advantage Chinese workers and Chinese businesses.” In an interview on Friday, Mr. Lew, while conceding the growing unease, hotly contested the notion of any diminution of the American position. “There is always a lot of noise in Washington; I’m not going to pretend this is an exception,” he said. “But the United States’ voice is heard quite clearly in gatherings like this.” Nonetheless, the challenges keep mounting. An overhaul of the I.M.F.’s governance structure, negotiated five years ago in large part by President Obama to give China and other emerging powers more authority commensurate with their growing economic strength, has languished in Congress. That, in part, propelled China to create its own multilateral lending institution in direct competition with the behemoths in Washington. The efforts to secure an ambitious 12-nation Pacific trade agreement, championed by Mr. Obama and recently backed by a handful of key lawmakers, has set off perhaps the biggest fight of his presidency within his own party, with trade unions, environmentalists and liberal activists lining up in opposition to the White House. There is a strong possibility that Mr. Obama could lose the battle. Even the United States’ Export-Import Bank, a lending agency similar to export financing arms in countries around the world, could be killed in June by conservatives in Congress, leaving would-be foreign customers in the cold and many American exporters at a disadvantage to competitors abroad. “I’ve been searching for a word to describe it, and the one I use is ‘withdrawal,’ best I can come up with,” said Edwin M. Truman, a former Obama Treasury official now with the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “We’re withdrawing from the central place we held on the international stage.” In Washington, that concern crosses party lines. “This is really about a crossroads for America and its leadership for the world,” said Representative Dave G. Reichert, Republican of Washington. “We set the tone, we set the path for the global economy by being leaders. And if we don’t, other countries step in.” The costs could be real. Failure to bolster the I.M.F. and other institutions weakens the West’s hand in confrontations like the one with Russia over Ukraine, which has begged for multilateral economic assistance. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, pointed to conflicts like the one in Syria, suggesting that fears the I.M.F. and World Bank will be unable to help rebuild the shattered country only opens the door to confrontational actors like Iran. “Sometimes we can only hope it’s China that steps in,” he said. But China’s rising sway in Africa, South Asia, and even Latin America could blunt efforts by the United States and its allies on a range of issues, from stemming violent extremism to slowing climate change. For much of Washington and the world’s economic leaders, China’s creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank crystallized the choice policy makers face. Earlier this month, Lawrence Summers, who was a top economic adviser for both President Bill Clinton and Mr. Obama, declared that China’s establishment of a new economic institution and Washington’s failure to keep its allies from joining it signaled “the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system.” For years, China had threatened to establish institutions to rival those dominated by the West, like the I.M.F., World Bank and Asian Development Bank — or even to establish its currency, the renminbi, as a reserve currency to rival the dollar. In 2010, Mr. Obama brokered a deal to raise China’s stake in the I.M.F. to 6 percent from 3.8 percent, still far below the United States’ vetoing share of 16.5 percent but enough to give Beijing a larger say. Congress has blocked the proposed adjustment.
Meantime, China’s international lending has soared. Fred P. Hochberg, who heads the Export-Import Bank, said that in the last two years alone, Chinese state-run lenders have lent $670 billion. Ex-Im has lent $590 billion since it was created during the Depression of the 1930s.With nearly $4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, China has plenty of resources to project its rising economic power. For example, China’s president, Xi Jinping, plans to offer $46 billion to Pakistan for infrastructure assistance that would open new transportation routes across Asia and challenge the United States as the dominant power in the region. “The United States has lost its way and is rapidly forfeiting claims to global financial, economic, political and moral leadership,” Kevin Rafferty, a former World Bank official, wrote recently in two leading English-language newspapers in Asia. He blamed the White House: “Not for the first time, Obama has shown he can talk eloquently, but does not have a political clue how to get things done.” Other experts and historians, however, say too much can be made of the moment. Walter Russell Mead, a professor of foreign affairs at Bard College, noted that the rise of China as an economic force was inevitable, and that its establishment of a rival lending institution was far different from the international behavior of the Soviet Union and communist Chinese during the Cold War. Then, he said, America’s rivals were trying to destroy and replace the economic order established by the United States and Britain after World War II. Now, emerging powers are emulating it, however imperfectly. Whatever the ultimate consequences, there is plenty of finger-pointing going on. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a potential ally on international economics, echoed Mr. Rafferty. In an interview, he said he included the I.M.F. quota adjustment in an aid package last year to beleaguered Ukraine, but Mr. Obama, he insisted, did not personally intervene to push it through. He fretted that new legislation granting the president “fast track” trade-promotion authority to complete major trade deals with Asia and Europe would stall without enough White House attention. “I was in Southeast Asia in August, and the countries there know there’s no real capital being expended, and they’re worried,” Mr. Corker said, his voice rising in frustration. “They just cannot pull themselves together to push for something.” Administration officials disputed the charge. “I can tell you I have spent dozens if not hundreds of hours talking to central bankers and finance ministers,” Mr. Lew said. “They understand we are sparing no expense.” The leader of the opposition both to the I.M.F. reforms and the Export-Import Bank has been Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, backed by the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. The opposition to international trade alliances, on the other hand, is being led loudly by Democrats who had previously been the president’s most stalwart backers, with an assist from ardent conservatives who oppose anything Mr. Obama does. Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia and an emerging internationalist advocate, suggested that two decades of war were turning elements of both parties inward. “The network of international rules and institutions is a peculiarly U.S. creation” that has helped foster peace and prosperity for decades, he said. “The U.S. has built this up, not only for our own benefit but for the world. That we are now stepping back from a leadership role is highly, highly problematic.”
Bengali classic "Deshe Bideshe," which provides an insight into Afghanistan's history and politics has now been published in a new English translation titled "In a Land Far from Home."
First penned by Syed Mujtaba Ali in 1948, the memoir is the only published eyewitness account of that tumultuous period by a non-Afghan.
The travelogue chronicles with a keen eye and "a wicked sense of humour," Ali's eventful days in Kabul, a journey from Peshawar to the Khyber Pass, narrated through a colourful cast of characters drawn from varied socio-political backgrounds.
Ali's work provides an 'Indian perspective' brought to life by the contact he enjoyed with a colourful cast of characters-- ranging from garrulous Pathan friend Muhammed, the gentle Russian giant Bolshov, to his servant, Abdur Rahman and his tennis partner, the Crown Prince Enayatullah.
"The book can be a very good introduction to Afghanistan, its society, people and history," says Nazes Afroz, the translator.
Ali, a noted author, academician, scholar and linguist draws on his teaching stint in Kabul from 1927 to 1929 to provide an account of sociological changes taking place in Afghanistan in the 1920s.
The then reformist King Amanullah tried to steer his country towards modernity by encouraging education for girls and giving them the choice of removing the burqa. He was branded a 'kafir'.
The King was overthrown by bandit leader Bacha-e-Saqao. According to the Bengali author, the bandit was backed by the British who wanted to maintain the power play in the region.
"All the modernisation programs, if the Afghan King Amanullah could carry it forward then Afghanistan would have been a different Afghanistan," says Afroz.
The English translation published by Speaking Tiger Books, a new publishing house, was launched here late last evening in the presence of Shaida Abdali, Ambassador of Afghanistan in India, and Syed Muazzam Ali, Bangladesh High Commissioner who is also the grand nephew of the Bengali author.
"The book which has been translated has a great value for us. We are pleased that this book has been translated into English because we need to have more readers. Sayed Mujtaba Ali was a friend of King Amanullah, a cherished king of ours, who brought modernity to Afghanistan. He is so highly remembered in every household for what he did," says Abdali.
"Ali is a name to reckon with in Bengali literature. And I personally thought it would be very difficult, even impossible to translate 'Deshe Bideshe' into English. I was impressed when Nazes Afroz pleasantly surprised me with the translation. Parts of book have also been translated into Russian," says Syed Muazzam Ali.
Pilgrims descended from all over the world on a small town in Pakistan that is home to one of Sikhism's holiest sites this week, dipping into holy spring water and solemnly offering prayers.
They have come from India, Britain and the Middle East to the Panja Sahib Gurdwara in Hasan Abdal, 55 kilometres (35 miles) from Islamabad, where Guru Nanak, the founder of the religion, is said to have imprinted his hand.
But for Pakistani Sikhs, who mainly live in the country's restive northwest, this year's celebrations are also a time of healing after six murders during August and September that have left their community in fear.
The 500-year-old religion was founded in what is now part of Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country of nearly 200 million people. Most Sikhs left Pakistan for India after both countries gained independence from Britain in 1947.
Around 20,000 Sikhs remain in Pakistan today, most in the country's restive northwest, which has been rocked by an Islamist insurgency for more than a decade, forcing many to leave their homes in the tribal areas on the Afghan border for the city of Peshawar.
There, they have set up businesses and often work as traders, their men instantly recognisable by the distinctive untrimmed beards and high turbans that distinguish them from their Muslim counterparts.
They have earned a reputation for uprightness and have many loyal customers who praise their honesty. But their peace was broken in the second half of last year with a spate of killings targeting Sikh traders and many are now considering leaving.
From his spice and groceries shop in Peshawar, Harcharan Singh, 22, witnessed one of the killings last September that of his friend Harjeet.
"It happened in front of me. The man came, shot him and left quickly (on a motorbike) before anyone knew what was going on," he said.
"Nobody knows who it was. Nobody knows who did it. Forget that we have had around six attacks on us. Still nobody knows who did what."
Harjeet's family fled a military operation in restive Tirah Valley in Khyber tribal agency around eight years ago, later setting up shop in Peshawar.
His father, Harbhan Singh, a mountain of a man with a majestic red turban, recalled peaceful times in his beloved home where he says Sikhs were well respected and unmolested.
"We have been here long before the creation of Pakistan, before the British period. Since then, we had no worries," he said from the small living room at his home in Peshawar, flanked by Harjeet's two red-headed daughters.
Singh, who speaks only the Pashto language of the region and not the Punjabi that Sikh holy texts are written in, said his family was struggling to make sense of what happened.
They had no enemies, he said, and were now relying on their savings to get by because they had closed the shop out of fear.
"You can't predict about the customer whether he is a friend or enemy. You could be an enemy for all I know," he said.
Back at one of the city's two remaining Sikh temples still in use, high fencing, CCTV cameras and two policemen have been deputed to protect the place of worship for the first time in its history.
The killings have left police clueless and officially there are no leads in any of the cases.
Rabia Mehmood, a researcher on minorities at the Jinnah Institute in Islamabad, said military operations against the Taliban that displaced millions of Pakistanis in the past decade have clustered Sikhs in major cities, increasing their visibility and making them more vulnerable.
"It's actually a reflection of what has been happening to other minorities Sikhs have become part of that group in the way that they are targeted," she said.
"Their concern is that the security situation is bad, they are visible and (certain groups) do not want to see minority groups flourishing at all."
Those fears were evident at the Panja Sahib gurdwara in Hasan Abdal, where more than 1,000 police were deployed to protect 5,000 worshippers who had come to offer prayers over the course of this week's three-day Vaisakhi festival marking the Sikh new year.
For some such as Bhagwant Singh, a 77-year-old shopkeeper from the Indian city of Amritsar who had made the pilgrimage along with his wife for the first time in their lives, the journey has been peaceful.
"I wanted to see this place in my lifetime and now I feel at peace," he said, adding that he was very happy with the hospitality shown by local authorities.
But many of his Pakistani counterparts do not feel the same way. "We want the government to either improve security for us or else shift us elsewhere, this is our appeal," said Harcharan Singh, the Peshawar trader.
He said he had even considered leaving the country. "But if we do, who will look after the business? How will me make ends meet and feed our children? We work, but we are very afraid. We feel fear in our hearts," he said.
By MADIHA LATIF
“Power to issue directions for removal or blocking of access of any intelligence through any information system…if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offence.”
How does a website on the freedom of speech upset the “glory of Islam” or “security, integrity or defence” or effect Pakistan negatively in any way? It doesn’t; it just irks the government, that's all.
By Tim Craig
Pakistan’s army is finally making significant gains in its campaign against Islamist militants, and some of the success can be traced back to unlikely sources: paintballs and bird calls.
Here, tucked in a forest, Pakistan’s military has built a sprawling base to train soldiers in how to fight small groups of terrorists. The National Counterterrorism Center Pabbi is one of a half-dozen training sites in Pakistan, but military leaders say 65 percent of the troops fighting militants in the northwest have been trained at this facility in Punjab province.
Earlier this month, the Pakistani military took The Washington Post on a rare public tour of the 2,500-acre facility, which opened in 2009 and resembles a hunting ranch on the scrublands of Texas.
The training, which includes some unorthodox methods, is designed to make Pakistani troops more proficient in face-to-face combat. Although the troops have gained experience fighting in harsh terrain over the past few decades, they are still largely geared toward a tank-on-tank war with arch rival India.
“After 9/11, it’s now a new world, and with this new world we are gearing up for our responsibility,” said Brig. Abrar Ali, commander of the center. “In our experience, this is not a battle with large forces. We have to learn how to fight in very small teams.”
For years, U.S. lawmakers and generals have tried to get Pakistan’s military to shift its security posture to prioritize operations against Islamist militants sheltering in the country. To nudge it along, the Pentagon has given the Pakistani military $13 billion in reimbursements over the past 13 years for its counterterrorism efforts, according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service. The State Department recently approved a $950 million arms sale to Pakistan, including 15 Viper helicopters, 1,000 Hellfire missiles and new radios.
But Pakistani commanders and troops say the training conducted at the National Counterterrorism Center Pabbi is what is really allowing them to gain the upper hand against Islamist militants. Since the army launched a major operation in June, soldiers have cleared most of North Waziristan. They are now trying to drive the extremists from their final hiding places in the Tirah Valley, in adjoining Khyber Agency, commanders say.
“These Taliban are dug in the caves, so you can’t do it by aerial bombardment,” said Javed Ashraf Qazi, a retired general and former head of Pakistan’s intelligence service. “You have to go in there and physically dislodge them.”
As many as 3,000 soldiers arrive each month for two dozen training scenarios, some of which are staged in a set made to look like a typical village in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The mock village includes nearly a dozen one- and two-story stone and mud structures, as well as a network of underground tunnels.
“This is a complete architectural rendition, from the interior to the exterior to the foxholes, of what you would see in FATA,” Maj. Nauman Mushtaq said as he led a reporter through a muddy tunnel that started in one house and ended in another.
Although the training includes some live-fire exercises, the army relies heavily on paintballs for its simulated war games.
On one part of the base, soldiers armed with paintball guns face off in a field about the size of a volleyball court. A unit in training will go through at least 2,000 paintballs.
During exercises, a soldier shot above the chest with a paintball is considered killed. Three or more hits below the waist mean ejection from the drill.
Maj. Khalid Waleed, who was overseeing the course, said Pakistani soldiers trained for battles in open farmlands along the border with India must now also become more comfortable with “close-quarters battles close to the ground.”
Another part of the base includes a mock two-story cave. A second-story window allows trainers and commanders to look into the cave. They use a computerized camera system and mannequins to fire paintballs at soldiers inside.
During a recent demonstration, three soldiers threw flash bangs before storming a cave. They took cover behind rocks as they spent several minutes battling their computer-aided opponent. By the time it was over, two soldiers had escaped unscathed; a third was scraping paint off his neck.
In another exercise, soldiers are taught how to fire from a moving truck. (Shoot the assailant closest to the vehicle first; it could be a suicide bomber.) Soldiers also practice how to rescue someone while still using both hands to fire their weapons. (Shoulders can carry a tremendous amount of weight.)
After years of casualties from insurgent ambushes, the military now sees the need for unconventional battle tactics. So soldiers also are learning how to conduct surprise offensive attacks.
In one exercise, a soldier hides in a tree in what looks like a large nest. He has been taught a variety of bird calls, one of which he calls out when he sees a potential target. Then, under the tree, soldiers concealed in a small pit covered with sticks and grass climb out and begin shooting.
“The terrorists don’t suspect us to use these tactics, so when we do, they are really badly trapped,” Ali said.
Lt. Col. Kashif Amin, who leads a cavalry regiment of 44 tanks based in the eastern city of Lahore, brought 400 soldiers for the training because their tanks are of little operational use in rugged North Waziristan.
“Especially for the younger soldiers, this is more challenging because they were trained for armored operations but will now be doing infantry,” Amin said.
The key to surviving as an infantry soldier in a place such as North Waziristan is knowing where to step.
Fake explosive devices are planted around the base, and they detonate when a soldier steps on them. One section of woodlands is littered with booby traps, including tripwires that if tugged cause wooden spears to swing out of trees. Soldiers also have to watch out for death traps, such as sharpened sticks at the bottom of a hole.
Still, Ali concedes that the military is battling an enemy who will probably always have some advantage when fighting in Pakistan’s tribal areas. He notes that many militants use the same stealth tactics that they or their fathers perfected as mujahideen fighters who resisted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“The only specialized training they need is how to make [bombs],” Ali said.