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UAE initiative
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06 Jul 2010
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Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Mir Jamilur Rahman

The government of the United Arab Emirates is reported to have taken the initiative to bring the Afghan government and various factions of the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. The talks will have a one-point discussion agenda: how the decades-old war can be stopped in Afghanistan. According to reports, a few meetings have already taken place in Dubai in this regard between Pakistani and UAE leaders. The United States will not be attending the proposed Afghan-Taliban talks, but Washington will be kept informed on the progress of the negotiations.

It is a welcome initiative for Pakistan. Although the war is being fought between the US-led Nato forces and the Taliban, the repercussions of the conflict are deeply felt in Pakistan. Except for the Afghan Taliban, every participant in the war is exhausted. The UAE government has chosen a suitable moment to take the initiative for ending the war through the talks. The United States and Nato should welcome the talks, because without US agreement the prospects of the war coming to an end would remain remote.

The UAE is a small country with an area of 83,600 sq. km. and a population of just about seven million. But it has a large heart. It has provided a haven to expatriates from almost every country of the world. The unrepresented nations in terms of expatriates working there are Central and South American countries. People who arrive in the UAE for jobs leave their different legacies behind when they leave.

The UAE government understands the principles of good governance, which it applies even-handedly. The UAE has negligible water resources. No rivers, no mountains, no groundwater, and hardly any rainfall. But its people never suffer water shortage. The government gets enough water to meet the country’s needs by desalinating seawater. Visitors to the United Arab Emirates are astonished that the capital Abu Dhabi is greener than Karachi.

Some cynics object that there is no democracy in the UAE. If by democracy they mean the population of a country having enough food to eat, clothes to wear and homes, these have already been provided for in the UAE. Every UAE citizen possesses these things, as do the expatriates who come to the UAE for work. There is no unemployment. The political system of the UAE is based on the 1971 Constitution which was unanimously passed by the seven federating states. The UAE is a constitutional monarchy which bases itself on a federal division of powers. The prime minister is chosen in accordance with constitutional provisions.

Illiteracy in the UAE has been almost eradicated. Now every child goes to school, and in a year or two the UAE will be 100 percent literate. The education ministry actively promotes research and technology.

The federal minister of education, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan, is himself chancellor of two of the UAE’s three institutions of higher learning: the United Arab Emirates University, established in 1976, and the Higher Colleges of Technology, established in 1988. He is president of the third, Zayed University, established in 1998.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak’s Abu Dhabi Group is a large investor in Pakistan. It owns Bank Alfalah, Warid Telecom, Wateen Telecom, Taavun and many more in this country. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak is a recipient of Pakistan’s highest civilian award, the Hilal-e-Pakistan.

The world, Pakistan particular, wants the UAE to play a more significant role in the international arena. Almost every country of the world recognises the UAE and its rulers as trustworthy friends. The UAE has no dispute with any country. Because it wants to devote all its time for the wellbeing of its people, it is too busy to have time to indulge in any dispute.

Email: mirjrahman@ hotmail.com

Political miscellany
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29 Jun 2010
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Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Mir Jamilur Rahman

Pakistan may be the only democracy in the world where the law minister doles out hefty amounts of money to bar associations to buy their loyalties. Law Minister Dr Babar Awan does it with style. He rents a PAF aircraft by the hour, takes some cronies along for the joyride, and delivers the money at the doorsteps of the bar associations. He has spent more in transporting the money than what he gave to the bar associations.

This is a country where a scam is born every day, mostly involving billions. The Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) scam involves Rs22 billion. There are numerous other scams. The money doled out to the bars so far is not even half-a-billion, including the expense of distributing it by chartered aircraft. It is only about 400 million, pittance compared to scams like Bank of Punjab, PSM, Haris Steel and a few others.

The latest scam is about graduate degrees. Many MPs are being thrown out from elected office for having declared falsely that they held degrees. This pertains to the 2002 elections when Musharraf was ruling the roost. He passed a law declaring only those eligible for contesting elections who were at least graduates. It was a bad law, made to ridicule the politicians. First, it could not stop non-graduates from entering the assemblies through submission of forged documents. Second, overabundance of graduates did not raise the intellectual capabilities of parliament and the provincial assemblies.

Soon after forming the government following the 2008 elections, the PPP had this law repealed. Now no degree is required for contesting elections, but those who made false declarations find themselves in hot water.

The graduate degree does not make its holder a better politician. No college in Pakistan offers a course on “How to Become a Successful Politician.” In which college could a politician learn doublespeak, the kind used by Prime Minister Gilani? It is a natural gift which cannot be acquired in college or university. In which college or university could a politician learn to revoke his statement, signed and witnessed, without a pang of conscience?

If there is an all-Pakistan contest in sycophancy, Dr Awan would win hands down. He forecasts that one day Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would be prime minister in accordance with custom and on merit. According to him, young Bilawal would become prime minister not because he is a Bhutto, but because of his intellect, wisdom and political sense, qualities which are found in abundance in Dr Awan himself. It would be a great arrangement: the father being president, the son prime minister, and Dr Awan their tutor.

Dr Awan goes on to compare President Zardari with Z A Bhutto and discovers that Zardari is following in the footsteps of his father-in-law by keeping two posts: president of Pakistan and chairman of the PPP. Actually, Dr Awan should have pointed out that, while Asif Ali Zardari holds only two concurrent positions, Mohammad Ali Jinnah held three: head of state, president of the Muslim League and president of the Constituent Assembly.

Meanwhile, Sindh home minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza has advised the judiciary to give “benefit of the doubt” to the prosecution rather than the accused. Dr Mirza wants to remove a of Anglo-Saxon law which is in practice for centuries, that benefit of the doubt should go to the accused party. This is an open invitation to Dr Awan to undo this age-old principle.

Email:mirjrahman@hotmail.com

Good and bad
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08 Jun 2010
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Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Mir Jamilur Rahman

Our newly-appointed finance minister Dr Hafeez Sheikh has come up with a budget which has its advantages and disadvantages. The budget can be termed good as heavy taxation has been avoided despite the fact that Pakistan’s economy is in a bad shape. It can be termed bad for it has failed to reduce the massive budget deficit of Rs700 billion.

Overall, analysts and commentators could not find anything particular in the budget which could be used for the purpose of budget-bashing. At the same time, however, they could not find anything particular in the budget which could be termed as poor-friendly. The budget is not anti-poor, but it is not pro-poor either. It has taken good care of government servants but overlooked the teeming millions who are living below the poverty line.

Since the announcement of the budget, every aspect of it has been examined meticulously by financial experts and analysts. They have not left a single stone unturned in their quest of reaching the right conclusions. What is missing from their keen eyes is the defence allocation of Rs442.1 billion. Keeping alive the tradition of not commenting or asking questions about the defence budget, most of our analysts and experts have kept mum on this issue.

I have been nursing a perception since long that formulating budget is not in our government’s control anymore; it is now controlled by the IMF and World Bank. Being the major lenders, they determine the terms and conditions. Their suggestions can be applied with some delay, but the government cannot afford to ignore them. Parliament is sovereign but only to the extent of voting for the budget. Other than that, parliament plays no role in the making of the budget. All suggestions regarding the budget, from government members as well as the opposition, would be conveniently thrown in the rubbish bin.

The public representatives need not be irked by the interference of the IMF. After all, it is our biggest lender and naturally wants to ensure the economic stability of Pakistan to make sure its investments stay safe. The IMF does not dictate but suggests remedial measures for economic growth and stability. The government usually accepts the fiscal measures suggested by the IMF. To that extent our fiscal sovereignty stands compromised.

What courses of action our government take when faced with a budget deficit, which is quite often? First, it polishes the good old begging bowl and goes round the world seeking loans or aid. Our foreign friends now appear weary of donating more money to Pakistan which already has accumulated nearly $50 billion in foreign debts. Second, it tries to bridge the deficit gap by imposing new taxes and increasing the existing ones.

Unfortunately, there is not much scope left for direct taxation because of economic instability pervading in the country due to energy crisis and terrorism. It leaves the government with only one option: indirect taxation, which the government has exercised in the new budget. However, now even this step cannot narrow down the budget deficit of about Rs700 billion.

There is another option that can help greatly in reducing the deficit. That option requires slashing the unproductive expenditures. Budget deficit is not something unique to our country. Many countries are faced with it but unlike us they take immediate and strong actions to curb the deficit.

The UK budget is ten months away but the newly-elected government has cut its expenditure to curb the budget deficit and it promises more reductions by the end of the year. We can also deal with the problem by cutting down unnecessary expenditures. But we will not do it because we are extravagant by nature.

Email: mirjrahman@hotmail .com

Sarhadi Gandhi
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20 Apr 2010
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Mir Jamilur Rahman

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, leader of the Pukhtuns, was given the sobriquet of “Sarhadi Gandhi” by his followers in reference to his commitment to the freedom struggle and non-violence. Ghaffar Khan was a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi. He had built a close and spiritual friendship with Gandhi, the pioneer of the non-violent mass movement of civil disobedience. The two had a deep admiration for each other and worked together closely until 1947. In India he is still revered as “Sarhadi Gandhi.”

Realising that the British Raj could not be defeated by revolts, Ghaffar Khan founded the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) movement to create social and political awareness among the Pakhtuns. He believed that social activism and reform would be more beneficial for Pakhtuns. Unfortunately, he remained the leader of Pakhtuns and avoided mainstream politics. He remained unaware of the strength of the Pakistan movement which was gaining ground all over India. He completely misread the situation when he formed an alliance with the All-India Congress.

Ghaffar Khan was not alone in opposing the idea of Pakistan. There were many Muslim leaders who had opposed the creation of a separate homeland for Indian Muslims. However, most of them reconciled with Pakistan and stopped opposing the new country. It should be conceded that the Muslims opposing Pakistan were neither traitors nor anti-Islam. They held an opinion against Pakistan but changed it when Pakistan came into existence. Ghaffar Khan and his followers, however, gave the impression that they still held anti-Pakistan feelings. Radio Kabul created this impression by advocating Pakhtunistan, a separate state.

Isfandyar Wali Khan, head of the Awami National Party and grandson of Ghaffar Khan, has a problem on his hands. Would he modify the “Sarhadi” or leave it as it is. “Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Gandhi” would sound inappropriate. The fact remains that the ANP has moved in haste to rename NWFP without taking other linguistic groups into confidence and rejecting a referendum that could have given credibility and authenticity to the new name. Name-changing is neither a big political feat ensuring an enhanced popularity of the ANP, nor will the new name Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa give economic relief to the people of the province. However, it is the first province in Pakistan which has been named on linguistic grounds. That is dangerous!

No other province of Pakistan is named linguistically. The Punjab is named after its five rivers – punj (five) and ab (water). Sindh gets its name from the River Indus and not because the people of Sindh speak Sindhi. Balochistan is a multi-linguistic province. The origins of its names are buried in ancient history.

The renaming of NWFP without following constitutional and consensual path has encouraged the people of the Saraiki belt and Bahawalpur to press their demand for separation from Punjab. The strongest encouragement has come from federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, who has invited all and sundry to have a province of their own choice, provided they remained within the bounds of the Constitution. This open invitation offering a province or name-change will have serious consequences. Instantly, Jinnahpur comes to mind.

The change of NWFP’s name so far has taken a toll of ten dead and over one hundred injured. This is the first time since the restoration of democracy that the police has fired upon and killed innocent and unarmed people who were demonstrating against the new name. The most unfortunate part of the killings is that they were carried out with the ANP ruling the province. It is unbelievable that the descendants of Ghaffar Khan, the most non-violent leader of all and a strong believer in secular politics, could have let this carnage happen.

Email: mirjrahman@hotmail.com

23 Mar 2010
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Mir Jamilur Rahman

The violent riots in Bara Kahu and Faizabab in the outskirts of Islamabad are a strong warning that prices of necessities, which include transport fares, are getting out of reach for the middle and lower-middle classes. Bara Kahu is a part of the Islamabad Capital Territory and Faizabad situated at the other end is a part of Rawalpindi. It serves as the main entry-exit point for the commuters of the Twin Cities and also as a bus station for intercity travel. All traffic from Islamabad to the airport goes through Faizabad Bridge. The rioters succeeded in blocking the airport highway and Murree Road, bringing traffic to a standstill. Islamabad remained cut off for many hours from Rawalpindi, the airport and Murree.

The Islamabad administration was caught sleeping. The major road links between Islamabad-airport and Pindi remained suspended until restored in the late afternoon by security forces. It appears that Islamabad road and air links with rest of the country could easily be cut off or disrupted by a few hundred rioters burning tyres on the roads. Islamabad is a federally administered district. It outweighs the security resources of any other city in the country. Heavy contingents of police and paramilitary forces guard the capital round the clock.

Yet, the Islamabad administration had no idea or a plan on how to control the students clad in white shirts and khaki trousers who were protesting against the hike in transport fares.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has accused people from “outside” Islamabad for creating the mayhem. Does this mean it is illegal for a citizen of Rawalpindi joining a protest march in Islamabad? Had the interior minister stayed a few more minutes on the site, he certainly would have discovered a foreign hand or two behind these riots.

The Bara Kahu and Faizabad violent protests were spearheaded by students. This is ominous. Some other cities have also rioted but their protest was against long periods of load shedding which had forced the closure of factories, rendering many people jobless. In the near future, the rising number of jobless people, students and industrial workers will join hands against the rising prices.

Currently, Pakistan is going through a painful cycle of sharp price hikes. The prices of utility services, petrol and diesel have more than doubled in the last few months. The rise in prices has not been matched by rise in salaries and wages. The middle and lower-middle classes are being pushed below the poverty line. The value of the rupee is consistently shrinking, and falling by the hour. When the price level rises, the purchasing power of the rupee erodes. We are faced with a high rate of inflation. Forget about mutton, poultry and fruit, even vegetables and lentils are now beyond the reach of majority of people.

Owners of public-transport vehicles in Islamabad have gone on strike, demanding that any reduction in fares must be matched by equal relief to the transporters. It is a tricky situation. When the fares are raised students and other commuters get angry, when they are reduced the transporters get angry. The question of transport fares cannot be solved piecemeal.

The federal government, which fixes fuel prices, will have to play a major role in finding a formula for transport fares acceptable to all. The government should also consider involving the local governments in owning and running public transport. Even in the most developed and rich countries like the USA it is the municipalities which operate the commuter transport, because it is a public service. Moreover, the administration should encourage buses over the 12-seater wagons, which are a most undignified mode of commuting.

Email: mirjrahman@hotmail .com

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