Monday, May 18, 2020

Video Report - Barack Obama urged US high school seniors graduating this year to "do what you think is right"

Video Report - #coronaviruscrisis - Toxic reaction? #Coronavirus and medical nationalism

Video Report - Promising early results from #coronavirus vaccine trial

Video Report - Dr. Gupta explains his "treatment" if the US were his patient

Video Report - #Trump says he's taking #hydroxychloroquine. Dr. Gupta says he shouldn't

Video Report - #Coronavirus and the Indian subcontinent: A living nightmare

#Pakistan- Schools closure not a new phenomenon for #Waziristan students

Khalida Niaz

Schools used to remain closed in Waziristan due to law and order issues, military operations, displacement of people and destruction of educational institutions during militancy and several precious years of students were lost in the process, and now coronavirus has added to the already miserable situation.
A local resident, Wajid, said while talking to TNN that several academic years of students in Waziristan were wasted due to militancy and military operations, and the pandemic has further deteriorated the situation of the education sector. He said the education of children remained disturbed during the life of displacement as the displaced families could not stay in any area for longer due to financial and other constraints.
Wajid said the situation did not improve much after the displaced persons returned to North Waziristan as most of the schools were already destroyed and the remaining schools were in poor condition with no facilities and absent teachers.
Aamir Khan, a student from Miranshah, told TNN that most of the students of the tribal district had to leave education due to the closure of schools and colleges.
Wajid said students in North Waziristan have no internet facility or any other facility to continue their education during the lockdown. He demanded the government pay special attention to the improvement of the education sector in North Waziristan as future prospects of the local people will remain grim without the promotion of education.
Kamran, a teacher from Miranshah, said the studies of almost 90 percent of students were impacted due to law and order issues. He said most of the population in the area is poor which cannot afford to send their children to expensive private educational institutions.
Kamran said the education sector started a little improvement after the return of displaced persons and mergers with KP, but coronavirus has again stopped the academic activities and now the students are sitting at homes and their precious time is being wasted.
Assistant Education Officer Fida Wazir said arranging online classes for local students is impossible due to lack of internet facility. He said 54 schools were completely destroyed and 147 partially damaged during militancy in North Waziristan and most of them were reconstructed after the improvement of law and order. He said the remaining schools will also be reconstructed in the next budget. He said displaced persons have still not returned to some areas of North Waziristan and education for children of these areas has been arranged at their camps.

#Balochistan: #Pakistan forces whisk away four including two brothers, four released

Pakistan FC and intelligence agencies have carried out offensives in different areas of Balochistan and abducted at least four persons in the past two days. Whereas, four previously abducted men have been released.
According to details, a contingent of Pakistan army last night raided the house of Mohammed Karim and abducted his two young sons, Meraj and Imran without any legal procedure.
Sources told Balochwarna News that the forces raided the house on 17th May 2020 late night terrifying the family members of Mahommed Karim and they took away two brothers to Turbat FC camp which is under the command of Colonel Shahid who is reportedly notorious for abducting and ordering abductions of Baloch political activists.
It is worth mentioning that at the beginning of Ramadan two young Baloch, Shahdad and Ehsan Baloch who were murdered in Parod area of Kalat by Pakistan army’s death squads. They were said to be relatives of Mohammad Karim an employee of WAPDA (Water & Power Development Authority).
Two days earlier on 15 May 2020, Pakistani forces abducted Samiullah son of Sanaullah Kubdani has also been detained in the Gwash (Bedi) area of district Kharan Balochistan and transferred to an unknown location.
Samiullah was a labourer by profession who used to go to Taftan and Iran to work, he has come back to his home due to lockdown after the Coronavirus pandemic.
On May 14, Pakistan FC abducted another Baloch student named Parvez Baloch so of Sadiq district Kech Balochistan.
Sources reported that Pakistan intelligence agencies raided a house in Jusak area of Turbat at midnight on Thursday and forcefully disappeared Pervez who originally hails from Haroon-Dan area of district Awaran Balochistan.
It may be recalled that on the second day of Ramadan, Shah Dad and Ehsan Baloch two student-turned-militants were killed in a clash with the death squad formed by the Pakistani army in Parod area between Kalat, Kharan and Noshki.
Now it is being reported that Pakistani forces offensives against their relatives. The abductions Mehraj and Imran is an act of avenge against Baloch people on the part of the unbridled army of Pakistan.
Meanwhile, four previously abducted Baloch youth have been released and reached to their homes. The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, on their Facebook Page, has confirmed their release as ‘good news’.
The released youth have been identified as Behroz son of Master Samad, Ali Haider son of Dil Jan, Muslim son of Ghulam Jan and Shahdost son of Rahim Bakhsh. They were abducted during a military offensive on 14 May from Tump Sarnakan area of Kech district in Balochistan.

Pakistan Discovers the High Cost of Chinese Investment

By Hussain Haqqani
A new report sheds light on the true costs of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor for Pakistan.
Pakistan’s desire to maintain strategic relations with China has resulted in the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a set of infrastructure projects, being mired in insufficient transparency.
But a Committee formed by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to examine the causes for the high cost of electricity to Pakistani consumers has lifted the lid on corruption involving Chinese private power producers in Pakistan.
The report reveals that the Huaneng Shandong Ruyi (Pak) Energy (HSR) or the Sahiwal and the Port Qasim Electric Power Company Limited (PQEPCL) coal plants under CPEC inflated their set-up costs.
For Pakistan’s citizens, who are always told how China is their most reliable friend in the world, it was a shock to discover that China does business mercilessly and unscrupulously.
Successive civilian governments and Pakistan’s military have looked upon China as their principal backer against India.
China’s consistent strategic support, including help with Pakistan’s nuclear program, is often held out by Pakistan’s military establishment favorably in contrast with the more conditional Pakistani alliance with the United States.
But it seems now that China is not in Pakistan to help its people but rather as a predatory economic actor.
The 278-page report by the “Committee for Power Sector Audit, Circular Debt Reservation, and Future RoadMap” listed malpractices to the tune of 100 billion Pakistani rupees ($625 million) in the independent power generating sector, with at least a third of it relating to Chinese projects.
Given the close ties between CPEC and the all-powerful Pakistan military — the CPEC Authority is currently chaired by Lt. General Asim Saleem Bajwa, who is also the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Information and Broadcasting — the Committee treaded softly in relation to the Chinese projects.
According to the committee’s report, “excess set-up costs of Rs. 32.46 billion (approximately $204 million) was allowed to the two coal-based [Chinese] plants due to misrepresentation by sponsors regarding [deductions for] the ‘Interest During Construction’ (IDC) as well as non-consideration of earlier completion of plants.”
The interest deduction was apparently allowed for 48 months whereas the plants were actually completed within 27-29 months leading to entitlement of an excess Return on Equity (RoE) of $27.4 million annually over the entire project life of 30 years in the case of the Sahiwal plant.
The estimated excess payment, keeping in mind the 6 percent annual rupee depreciation against the dollar, works out to a whopping Rs. 291.04 billion (approximately $1.8 billion).
The Chinese company HSR claimed IDC based on a long-term loan at the rate of LIBOR +4.5 percent for the length of the entire construction period, even though it borrowed no money during the first year of construction and used only short-term loans at substantially lower interest rates during the second year.
The magnitude of profiteering by the Chinese companies is incomprehensible. The two projects examined by the Pakistani experts’ Committee were worth $3.8 billion at the time of their launch. The Committee found over­payments of Rs. 483.64 billion, which amounts to $3 billion at current rates of exchange.
This includes overpayment of Rs. 376.71 billion (approximately $2.3 billion) to HSR and Rs. 106.93 billion (approximately $672 million) to PQEPCL on account of excess set-up cost, excess return due to excess set-up cost in 30 years, and excess return due to miscalculation in Internal Rate of Return (IRR).
In its report, the Committee recommended that Rs. 32.46 billion (approximately $204 million) be deducted from the project cost of PQEPCL and HSR; the return payment formula be corrected to reflect actual construction time; and Tariff of PQEPCL and HSR be adjusted accordingly.
Under the current formula, in two years of operation, HSR has already recovered 71.18 percent of its original equity invested whereas PQEPCL has recovered 32.46 percent of its original equity in the first year of operation.
This is over and above the profits that the companies would have made without subterfuge. Imagine the return the Chinese will generate on the $62 billion CPEC projects. These numbers are way too large to have been missed as oversight or malfeasance of individuals within the companies and their Pakistani counterparts.
The experience of the Sri Lankan and Maldives governments suggests that these overpayments are generated with the complicity of leaders in the Pakistan government and the loot shared by all parties.
Pakistan’s economy has been teetering on the verge of bankruptcy for some time and the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation even worse.
Instead of reforming their country’s policies, Pakistan’s leaders, once again, sought debt restructuring and waivers on account of the pandemic, just as they previously sought international assistance  as a reward for fighting terrorism.
But expecting the international community to repeatedly bail Pakistan out from one economic crisis after the other is unrealistic. Massive military expenditure, deep rooted corruption, and lack of accountability are at the heart of Pakistan’s perennial and ever widening gulf between revenue and expenditure.
Now, it seems, Chinese investments have become a new liability. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been pushing Pakistan’s officials to raise taxes and power tariffs, effectively asking the Pakistani public to foot the bill for China’s rapacious practices.
The United States and Western financial institutions should not help Pakistan’s ruling elites in their own and China’s predatory behavior. The people of Pakistan deserve better.

How terror exporter Pakistan has ducked sanctions. Something North Korea, Iran couldn’t do


Pakistan has staved-off the threat of being tagged as a terrorist state by a careful calculation of the threshold that is tolerated by the US, India and others.

Pakistan is on a roll. Over a span of 10 days, terrorists trained on its soil have managed to attack and kill India’s hardened counter-terrorism soldiers in Kashmir at Handwara. The country has also managed to cause the assassination of Sardar Muhammed Arif Wazir, leader of an entirely peaceful group demanding Pashtun rights. Even more recently, its murderous protèges were accused of a heinous attack at a maternity ward in Afghanistan, killing newborns. Few other countries can aspire to touch such heights of brazen sub-conventional war, without having a tonne of sanctions thrust on them.

Iran, North Korea are lesser mortals

Now, consider this. Iran has been described as the “world’s worst sponsor of terrorism”, with US President Donald Trump designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity in April 2019. That’s the first time that a government body has been designated a terrorist entity. Yet, as analysts point out, Shia terrorism has never found a place in the Annual Reports on Terrorism issued by the State Department in the last 20 years. Iran is certainly prone to go out and kill its adversaries, but its operations are a pale shadow of what Islamabad can achieve on a reasonable day.
Then there is the perpetual bad boy, North Korea, which was re-designated as a terrorist sponsor in 2017. That was more to do with the politics of the Trump administration. Though the North Korean regime does prefer to wipe out dissidents, it is incapable of sustaining a virtual army in one country and 20 years of terrorist activities in another, the way Pakistan has.
The Taliban is an army that depends on Pakistan for shelter, banking, medical care and money, among other things. In the Afghan conflict, 20,260 civilians have been killed or injured between 2009 and March 2020, according to UNAMA‘s conservative estimates. That doesn’t take into account the preceding ten years of war, which may be assumed to have killed a similar number of civilians. Total casualties (both civilian and military) in Kashmir have been estimated to be around 41,000 till 2017. Add to that about another 855 killed since then. In total, Pakistan has been directly or indirectly responsible for more than one lakh deaths since 1990. Yet, Iran remains at the top of the charts for spreading terror.

Pakistan’s covers

How Pakistan has gotten away with this for decades is a question that has puzzled even the best of security experts. Barring the single threat post 9/11 to ‘bomb Pakistan back into the stone age’ the US seems to have shied away from even limited air attacks on Taliban camps in Pakistan. When questioned on this diffidence, many in Washington scornfully dismissed the possibility of attacking a nuclear weapon state, forgetting that Pakistan was already a nuclear state when Richard Armitage, then US assistant secretary of state, made his historic threat.
However, the US has arm-twisted Pakistan on other occasions: when it used drones to attack deep into Pakistani territory, when US Aircraft crossed Pakistani air space to bomb Osama bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan, and when it went into Pakistan itself to get Bin Laden. So, whether Pakistani nuclear weapons deter the US or not seems to depend heavily on its own interests, political context and the extent of punishment that it calculates Pakistan can bear.
The second view is that the US is much too dependent on Pakistan for anything operational in Afghanistan. That this is true is apparent from US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s counsel following the most recent attacks in Afghanistan, when he recommended that Kabul “cooperate” with the Taliban to bring peace to the country.
It is also true that Islamabad is adept at turning bad cards into a winning hand. So, it milked US operations for all it was worth, moving from $177 million before 9/11 to reach $2.7 billion in 2010.

Pakistan’s intelligence trade

Pakistan managed to cash in other ways as well. As analysis notes, 3 out of 4 terrorist attacks in the UK, for instance, had Pakistani roots. An earlier paper by the Heritage Foundation warns of a UK-Pakistan “terror connection” that poses a serious threat. The paper recommends a “coordinated” UK-US policy on Pakistan. Clearly, the UK follows its own path in ‘assisting’ Pakistan in return for intelligence about terrorist movement. So do other countries, including Russia, Uzbekistan and China.
Cooperation with the Pakistani army and its intelligence services arehighly prized by governments as well as academics looking for sources. Few are deceived by Pakistan’s duplicity, but go along for the sake of a good paper and contacts they can tout back home. Hence, the criticism is subdued in international journals. In other words, terrorism keeps Pakistan in business and also lets it influence the narrative.
There is a third view. Diplomats quietly admit that as an Islamic state, Pakistan has an ‘in’ to troublesome countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia, and uses its access to assist Western friends. Then, there are suspicions that the US operates into Iran through Pakistani groups to access intelligence from a country it cannot hope to access itself. In 2008, then Pakistan President Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf was flown to China’s restive Xinjiang region to preach peace to Chinese Muslims. Pakistan is no leader of the Islamic world, but it certainly is a useful pawn.

Careful calculations

Pakistan has staved-off the threat of being tagged as a terrorist state primarily by a careful calculation of the threshold that is tolerated by the US, India and others. This was upset by the Balakot strikes, leading it to rely on other levers, including a dire American need to end a debilitating war in Afghanistan and offering information on terrorists it spawns.
Meanwhile, Chinese aircraft carrying medicines and military doctors are being welcomed in Pakistan, at a time when Beijing faces opprobrium everywhere else due to its failure to handle the coronavirus spread. For Rawalpindi, Chinese physical presence is additional insurance.
None of this has hindered India in the past, and it should not now. As India considers an appropriate response to the Handwara attack, there will be consideration of another air strike, despite the fact that Beijing has chosen to heat up the border in Ladakh rather conveniently for Islamabad.
While the air option must be kept open, an aggressive call for sanctions on Pakistan as a terrorist state must be considered, rather than the tedious demand for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. This may receive support at a time when there is global tiredness of Pakistan’s endless wars, and more importantly, the costs it imposes on budgets stressed by a pandemic far more deadly than anything Pakistan can come up with. This time round, Islamabad’s levers may lose their edge.