Thursday, 31 January 2013

Iran boosts oil export despite sanctions

Economic interest remains most important for the countries around the world, irrespective of their being or not being part of any bloc or pressure group. This seems omnipresent when one looks at the developed countries buying oil from Iran, and defying economic sanctions. This leeway was initially given by the United States to a few countries but others are also joining the exempt elites.

In one of its latest reports Reuters said, “Iran's crude oil exports in December leapt to their highest level since European Union sanctions took effect last July, analysts and shipping sources said, as strong Chinese demand and tanker fleet expansion helped the OPEC member dodge sanctions.”

According to the report, oil exports from Iran rose to around 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) during December 2012. Western sanctions had halved Iran's oil exports during 2012 from 2.2 million bpd in late 2011. But continuous robust demand from top buyer China and others such as India and Japan, as well as the purchase of new tankers, allowed Iran to boost exports late last year.

According to Reuter report Iran shipped more than 1.4 million bpd of crude oil in December and there are indications that exports would remain around the same level during January-March quarter of 2013.

This represents an increase from a low-point of less than 900,000 bpd in September and suggests monthly revenues worth approximately $4.7 billion based on December Brent prices.

One of the factors helping Iran to boost its oil export was purchase of tankers from China, which enabled it to ship more oil, even if shipping companies from other countries were not willing to carry the load.

This has taken some pressure off Iran and facilitated tanker traffic and analysts foresee further increase in oil export to China.

It is also believed that the rise in oil exports from Iran to nearly 1.4 million bpd was the result of traditional buyers finding new ways to secure insurance of oil being carried by the Iranian tankers.

Israel asked to vacate Palestinian land

According to an AFP report Israel has been asked to immediately stop all settlement activity and begin withdrawal of its settlers from the Palestinian territories on Thursday.

“Israel must … cease all settlement activities without preconditions (and) must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers” from the occupied territories, a UN fact-finding mission concluded.

Because of the settlements, Palestinians’ human rights “are being violated consistently and on a daily basis,” the three independent experts said in a report commissioned by the UN’s Human Rights Council last March.

The three experts; Christine Chanet of France, Asma Jahangir of Pakistan and Unity Dow of Botswana will  present their findings to the 47-member state council on March 18. Israel has been asked Jewish to “ensure adequate, effective and prompt remedy to all Palestinian victims … of human rights violations that are a result of the settlements.”

The council’s decision to dispatch the fact-finding mission to determine what impact the settlements are having on the rights of Palestinians so enraged the Jewish state that it cut all ties with the 47-member state council in March 2012.

The experts published their findings just two days after Israel made its anger felt by becoming the first country to ever boycott a special council review of its rights situation.

Israel, as usual has termed this report bias saying it would only hamper peace efforts.

“The Human Rights Council has sadly distinguished itself by its systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel. This latest report is yet another unfortunate reminder of that,” foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

“Counterproductive measures, such as the report before us, will only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” Palmor said.

“The only way to resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including the settlements issue, is through direct negotiations without pre-conditions.”

The experts were not able to visit Israel or the Palestinian territories, after failing to secure Israeli permission, and instead met in Jordan with more than 50 people affected by the settlements or working in NGOs in a relevant field, it said.

The Jewish state is not a member of the council but like all 193 UN countries it is required to undergo Universal Periodic Reviews of its human rights situation.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Israel Attacks Syria

And finally warmonger Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tests the patience of his key rival Syria and its allies Iran and Hezbollah by attacking a caravan in Syria.

Israel is not likely to accept this, which is usual as it never admitted the 2007 air strike on a Syrian nuclear site despite US authorities confirming it.

According to a Reuters report Israeli jets bombed a convoy near Syria's border with Lebanon early on Wednesday apparently targeting weapons destined for Hezbollah. This is being termed a warning to Damascus not to arm Israel's Lebanese enemy.

Syrian state television accused Israel of bombing a military research centre, at Jamraya and even Syrian rebels disputed Israeli claim saying their forces had attacked the site. But Israel insisted on that the truck was carrying sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah.
According to Western diplomats the target was a truck loaded with weapons, heading from Syria to Lebanon and may have included anti-aircraft missiles or long-range rockets.

The overnight raid followed warnings from Israel that it was ready to act to prevent the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad leading to Syria's chemical weapons and modern rockets reaching either his Hezbollah allies or his Islamist enemies.

Syrian sources said these criminal acts would not weaken Syria's support for Palestinians and other groups engaged in resistance to Israel. Apparently the episode boils down to a warning by Israel to Syria and Hezbollah not to engage in the transfer of sensitive weapons.

Experts say Assad knows his survival depends on his military capabilities and he would not want those capabilities neutralized by Israel - so the message is this kind of transfer is simply not worth it, neither for him nor Hezbollah.

Such a strike or strikes would fit Israel's policy of preemptive covert and overt action to curb Hezbollah and does not necessarily indicate a major escalation of the war in Syria.
It is on record that Israel has recently raised its concerns about Syrian chemical weapons, but its officials say a more immediate worry is that the civil war could see weapons that are capable of denting its massive superiority in air power and tanks reaching Hezbollah; the group fought Israel in 2006 and remains a more pressing threat than its Syrian and Iranian sponsors.

Israel’s problem is even bigger because rebel groups of Syria are hostile to Jewish state because of its atrocities  An attack inside Syria could be diplomatically provocative, especially because Iran views any strike on Syria as an attack on itself.

Israeli apprehends that Syria's advanced conventional weapons, much of it Russian-built hardware has the capacity to destroy Israeli planes and tanks.

Hezbollah fighters and the Syrian army have close relations. While Damascus may have been reluctant to hand over key parts of its own arsenal to its Lebanese allies, some analysts suggest that if Syrian or Hezbollah commanders fear hardware is about to fall into rebel hands they might try to move it across the border - possibly even without formal government approval.

During the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israel's air forced faced little threat, though its navy was taken aback when a missile hit a ship. Israeli tanks suffered losses to rockets, and commanders are concerned Hezbollah may get better weaponry.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Pakistan: Armed encounters or open war

Experts have been saying for a long time that various groups getting funds and arms from outside have developed safe heavens in Balochistan and federally administered tribal area (Fata) of Pakistan.

In Balochistan they claim to be fighting for the rights of Balochs and in Fata for the imposition of Sharia. However, the sole objective of these insurgents is to create discontent by weakening Pakistan for the ultimate creation of independent Balochistan and Pushtunistan.

Experts have the consensus that since both the areas, though located at some distance, are rich in oil, gas and minerals are the focus of promoters of the new global order.

These forces are trying to get control over Pakistan’s energy reserves by fragmenting the country. In different areas miscreants wear different caps but the objective is common.

Pakistan’s security forces have repeatedly come under attack in Balochistan. This could be termed ‘challenging writ of the government’. In the latest incident dozens of armed men raided a pro-government tribal militia post, killing one man and abducting five.

The early morning raid took place in Dera Bugti district, about 400 kilometers southeast of provincial capital Quetta. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Armed men attacked the post and whisked away five members of the tribal force in their vehicles after forcing them to surrender. One man who resisted was shot dead by the assailants.
Local administration confirmed the raid and informed security forces had been rushed to the area and a search operation had been launched.

It is often said that Balochistan is home to a local insurgency. The insurgents demand political autonomy and a greater share of profits from the province’s oil and gas resources.
The province has become a flashpoint for sectarian violence. Lately, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf sacked the provincial government in Balochistan after a sit in by the relatives of nearly 100 people killed in twin blasts in Quetta.

After that a serious constitutional crisis brewed in when the Speaker of the provincial assembly summoned a session. The immediate response was that the Speaker had disregarded the fact that the province was under Governor’s Rule.

Perplexed constitutional and legal experts wondered did the assembly want to play the role of a parallel government against the one headed by Governor Zulfiqar Ali Magsi?

According to another report the death toll in a gun-battle that erupted between the banned outfit Teheek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its rival group Ansar-ul-Islam (AI) in the Khyber tribal region has crossed 60.

The gun-fight had started late on Thursday in Maidan village in Khyber’s Tirah Valley. Most of the dead were militants but some local tribesmen were also killed.

Khyber is among Pakistan’s seven semi-autonomous tribal districts near the Afghan border that has been made home by local insurgents and religious extremist organizations including the TTP. Khyber also links several agencies to each other, serving as a north-south route within Fata.

The remote Tirah valley holds strategic significance for militant groups. On one side, it shares a border with Afghanistan and on the other it leads to the plains of Bara, which connect the agency to the outskirts of Peshawar.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

China defying sanctions imposed on Iran

The recently released data shows Iran’s crude oil exports to China soared to the second highest level in December 2012, despite US-led sanctions against the Islamic Republic’s energy sector.

According to Reuters report China imported nearly 593,390 barrels per day (bpd) of crude from Iran in December last year, up 3.6 per cent from the preceding year and up 39 per cent from November. For the full year 2012, the highest level of China's crude imports from Iran stood at 633,000 bpd.

Industry officials in China attributed the enhancement in Iran’s crude oil exports to improvement in shipment. The problems that used to cause delays have been overcome recently. The period of delay has become shorter and overall, less frequent.

Iran is currently China's third largest supplier of crude, providing Beijing with roughly 12 percent of its total annual oil consumption.

 At the beginning of 2012, the United States and the European Union had imposed new sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors with the goal of preventing other countries from purchasing Iranian oil and conducting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran.

On October 15, 2012, the EU foreign ministers reached an agreement on another round of sanctions against Iran.

Iran terms these impositions illegal and insists that US-engineered sanctions were imposed based on the unfounded accusation that Iran is pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear energy program.

According to another news report China will soon start importing polyethylene made in Iran, which became possible after the Islamic Republic partially lifted a ban on the export of petrochemicals late last year.

Lately, China-based market sources said that an estimated 100,000-150,000 metric tons of high density polyethylene (HDPE) and low density polyethylene (LDPE) from Iran is expected to arrive in China within a month aboard five vessels. The sources added that the Iranian tanker Touska will shortly discharge HDPE and LDPE at Shanghai port. 

On November 6, 2012, Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Abdolhossein Bayat announced that the Oil Ministry had lifted the ban on the export of seven petrochemicals; benzene, styrene monomer, caustic soda, linear alkyl benzene (LAB), melamine crystal, premature ventricular contraction (PVC), and polyethylene.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Netanyahu’s victory bad omen for global peace

Benjamin Netanyahu has once again won sufficient number of seats to qualify him to be the next Prime Minister of Israel. Netanyahu sounded warmonger when he told cheering supporters that the first challenge was and remains preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. He also expressed hoped to usher in the kind of change the Israeli people are waiting for with the broadest government possible.

However, media is describing the results as a setback for Netanyahu and his hardliner allies and say the vote could force him to consider alliances with moderate rivals who have made significant gains in the polls. According to initial reports Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu got 31 seats – 11 fewer than its 42 seats in the previous parliament. The centrist secular Yesh Atid won 19 seats, followed by the Labor Party with 17 seats and the far-right religious nationalist Jewish Home with 12 seats.

Israel’s elections results have apparently weakened Netanyahu and raised the prospect of a more centrist government that could ease strained relations with Washington and signal more flexibility in peace efforts with the Palestinians. Netanyahu will face a potentially difficult balancing act, trying to accommodate the rising hawkish wing of his Likud party and other rightist and religious parties that will remain influential in parliament.

Yesh Atid has emerged as a key contender in the formation of an inevitable coalition. Netanyahu would almost certainly have to join forces with Yesh Atid, now second in size. The centrist party’s demands include resuming negotiations with the Palestinians and an alliance that could result in a government less tilted to the right than Netanyahu’s outgoing administration.

It is expected that a moderate Israeli government with a large centrist component could improve Netanyahu’s tense ties with the US administration and ease Israel’s international isolation, which has been deepened by the impasse in peace talks and by Netanyahu’s recent announcements of stepped-up settlement building in the West Bank.

Netanyahu said he had begun contacts to form the broadest government possible, which would address a range of issues, including Iran’s nuclear program, peace efforts and domestic reforms demanded by Yesh Atid and other centrist parties.
Netanyahu will be more dependent on smaller coalition partners to cobble together a governing majority. Coalition talks are likely to take weeks, with hard bargaining expected before a new government can be sworn in.

The surprise result was the surge by Yesh Atid, which won 19 seats. Its leader, Yair Lapid, a former television news anchor and a political novice, based his campaign on a demand to end preferential treatment for tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews who are exempted from compulsory military service to pursue religious studies with government stipends.

Lapid’s campaign for equal service and easing the burden on a struggling middle class resonated with many secular Israelis, who pay high taxes and serve in the military. He says that the ultra-Orthodox should join the workforce and do a stint of national service, either in the military or in a civilian capacity, such as working in hospitals or helping the elderly.

Netanyahu's personal character has the potential to not only inflame the region and may also severely impact the United States. Painting his country into a corner with red lines and lobbying America politicians to do the same is both a military and economic danger to the entire world.

Israel needs a world class leader, one that can change world opinion, provide a conscience and add some moral direction. Obviously it needs something completely different than it has now. If the next government is feckless and stupid, the Israel economy and people will be sunk and the supposed peace process also doomed.

The ultimate question on the peace process is whether the slow motion Israel thievery and torture will be the same as a fast-paced thievery and torture of the Palestinian people and also the war mania to wipeout Iran. A point has been established beyond doubt that over three decades of economic sanctions has made Iranian stronger and an important regional power.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

US Drone attacks on the rise in Pakistan

The first gift of the US President Barak Obama to Pakistan, after assuming the charge for the second term, is giving CIA a free hand to undertake drone attacks in its territory. While the government, through foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar intends to further discuss the issue, a person of average wit now openly opposes these attacks.

There is a growing perception that such attacks can't be executed without the active support of ground staff.  Many Pakistani now strongly believe that these attacks are undertaken with the consent of the Government of Pakistan (GoP).

Very precise information is required about the target, a hideout of militants and till last minute coordination with the ground support. The precision is enviable because in each attack some key members of the militant groups are blown up, though a large number of women and children also die. It is said that these women and children are used as human shield.
The first question arises, from where these drones takeoff? Previously Jacobabad base of Pakistan Air Force was used and the general perception is that now these drones come from Afghanistan. This statement still carries low validity.

The real point to ponder is if these drones come from Afghanistan, why can't Pakistan Air Force intercept these? There are two options; either the Air Force is not allowed to intercept these killer aero planes or Pakistan doesn't have the technology to intercept.

The overwhelming perception is that Pakistan Air Force is not allowed to intercept the drones because the enemy is common, militants targeting the US as well as Pakistani interest. 

Lately, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said the issue of drone attacks would be taken up with US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson.

Delivering a policy statement in the Senate, Khar said drone attacks were a violation of Pakistan's territorial integrity, adding that the government was not oblivious to the challenges confronting the country.
Khar's statement on US drones came in the wake of the Obama administration's finalizing of a rule book for targeted killings which would not apply to Pakistan, enabling the CIA to freely conduct direct drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

Critical of the US policy, Imran Khan Chief of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) has expressed concerns on the reports that the GoP has given a free hand to CIA to undertake drone attacks in Pakistan. He expressed his dismay at the continuing drone strikes and the contemplated increase in them. "These strikes have not reduced militancy; in fact are a major stimulant to terrorism," said PTI Chairman Imran Khan. According to Khan during last eight years nearly 360 strikes were carried out with over 300 during the first tenure of the Obama.
According to some conservative estimates nearly 4,000 people have died in these attacks, with a large percentage of non-combatants, women and over 200 children. These statistics tell a story not only of tragedies for the people of FATA but why there has been a huge increase in militancy.

Many senators have also deplored the US bill allowing more drone strikes inside Pakistan. The matter was raised by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senator Syed Zafar Ali Shah and was duly supported by members of other political parties.

Speaking on a point of order, Shah said the US Congress had passed a bill allowing the CIA to carry out more drone strikes inside Pakistan "at will" which was a violation of the UN laws and sovereignty of Pakistan.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Pakistan: Baloch Dissent or Revolt

A serious constitutional crisis seems to be brewing in Pakistan’s troubled Balochistan province with the speaker summoning a session of the provincial assembly on a requisition signed by 19 legislators.

The immediate response is that Speaker Syed Matiullah Agha has summoned the session disregarding the fact that the province is under Governor’s Rule.

Some constitutional and legal experts are perplexed and are exploring, does the assembly want to play the role of a parallel government against the one headed by Governor Zulfiqar Ali Magsi?

Reportedly former speaker Aslam Bhootani and some experts are of the view that when the president imposes Governor’s Rule under Article 234 any required legislation may be done by parliament.

However, Baz Mohammad Kakar, former chief of the Baloch Bar Association said that requisitioning the session under the current circumstances was unlawful.

To understand the potential confrontation in Balochistan, it is necessary to peep into the history. In a nut shell neither the elected nor the dictatorial rule in Pakistan has enjoyed cordial relationship with the Baloch tribal chiefs.

Some of the basic point of confrontation include from too much interference from federation to usurping rights of Balochs and from too little developmental funds to federation taking over key mineral assets.

This sense of deprivation is deep rooted and the first resentment emerged because for decades residents of Balochistan didn’t get access to natural gas produced in the province.

Over the years many of the tribal chiefs have been living in self exile for and asking their tribes to fight with the law enforcing agencies, including Pakistan Army.  Having been frustrated with the regimes in Pakistan, they even started demanding for an independent Balochistan.

It becomes egg or chicken first situation as Baloch tribal chiefs are demanding removal of cantonments but Army is not willing to do this without restoration of complete law and order situation.

One of the allegations is that tribal chiefs got billions of rupees from the federal government, which they pocketed mostly and hardly bothered to spend it on the welfare of their own people.

However, to save themselves from any potential fallout they kept on playing the mantra that federal government was not giving enough funds and asking tribesmen to opt for armed confrontation.

It is on record that no major industries could be established in the province and its sole source of income remained royalty received on oil and gas produced in the province, bulk of which was pocketed by tribal chiefs.

Over the years at least three industrial estates were established in the province to lure investment, which also came but soon sponsors were forced to close down enterprises, even at Hub in close proximity with Karachi.

The biggest allegation was that representatives of tribal chiefs demanded booty and insisted on employing locals. Hiring locals was not a big issue as long as they were willing to work according to their qualification and experience.

However, a serious problem emerged when local chiefs started demanding very high wages for these workers and insisted on receiving the payment and paying paltry amounts to workers.

It is on record that Gaddani ship breaking yard was at one time the largest in the world but now it has been reduced to a junkyard.

It is also on record that once Balochistan has the largest share in gas production but now Sindh has nearly 75% share in total gas produced in the country.

All this is the outcome of precarious law and order situation for which no one except Baloch tribal chiefs can be held responsible. One of their favorite pastime is blowing up electricity and gas transmission lines.

Baloch tribal chiefs are demanding handing over Gwadar deep sea port to the provincial government but just don’t understand the point that they don’t have the expertise.

They also don’t understand the strategic importance of this port, managing a modern sea port is not like managing a fish harbor. This port has been constructed to handle transit trade of Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The fight between Balochistan provincial and federal government has provided India an opportunity to construct Chabahar port in Iran. Once fully functional will severely undermine Pakistan’s importance.

However, the entire world knows that Pakistan offers the shortest and most efficient route to Central Asia via Afghanistan and wish they could use Gwadar port. Now it is the choice Baloch tribal chiefs to exploit this opportunity or let Chabahar become the next maritime hub.

Strangulated Pak India diplomatic relations

One often has to believe the conspiracy theories, though hate it the most. One such theory is that whenever it seems that the two countries are about to achieve a major breakthrough on the diplomatic front, suddenly tension starts developing on borders. Personnel of border forces from both the sides are killed and the entire efforts flop. 

This has happened again lately when it looked almost certain that new visa policy will be introduced by India. There is also pressure on Pakistan to grant India MFN status but certain elements even don’t approve this.

Historically, India has been saying that extremist groups of Pakistan are the stumbling block, but ignoring the extremist groups present within. If Pakistani’s demand giving right of self determination to Kashmiris, the immediate response of Hindu extremists is, “We will not allow another division of Hindustan on the basis of religion.” 

Neither of the sides knows nor even wishes to know how Kashmir issue could be resolved. A question arises; it is an issue being faced by the two neighbors or a geopolitical confrontation in which regional and global powers are involved?

If one looks at the history it becomes evident that the British Raj left a few thorns to ensure that animosity between India and Pakistan remains. They knew that these two countries (now three, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) had the potential to become one of the strongest economic blocs of the world. 

These countries put together enjoy enormous economic potential, offer a market comprising of millions of people and above all most dedicated workers. These three countries are part of SAARC and should have ideally signed free trade agreements, which also bodes well for smaller countries of the region.

Fallout of this ongoing animosity is that Pakistan and India have been spending billions of dollars annually on the procurement of conventional and non-conventional arms. Both the countries have attained the status of nuclear power and have been living in a state of war from the day they got independence from the colonial rule.

 Experts are of the view that had the two countries spent this money on the welfare of their people, most probably these would have been the richest and most developed countries of the world. The reason for making subcontinent a colony was that it was called ‘golden sparrow’ even at that time.

Some of the western experts may not agree with the above assertion but this can be best understood by looking at the creation of Israel and encroachment of areas of neighboring Arab countries. Israel has grown only because of the support of United States and Bangladesh could have not been created without the active support of India and United States. 

The story has not ended and the efforts have continued to further fragment the country into Greater Pakhtunistan, independent Balochistan and Sindhudesh as well as Jinnahpur.

Historically, Pakistan has been providing transit trade facility to landlocked Afghanistan. Pakistan’s importance was realized when the United States decided to help Afghanistan in averting USSR attack. Pakistan’s importance has been further highlighted over the last ten-years due to ongoing war on terror in Afghanistan. 

To undermine Pakistan’s importance India has been fully supported by the United States to construct Chabahar port in Iran and also rail and road link up to Central Asia passing through Afghanistan.

Not only Pakistan but some of the other SAARC member countries feel that Indian high headedness has not allowed functioning of this forum as planned. The common complaint is that India wants to take advantage of its enormous size and keep all other countries, including Pakistan its periphery. 

At times it is realized that India wants to create its hegemony in the region. In this endeavor, India is fully supported by the United States.

There is a growing realization that the United States considers Pakistan ‘mercenary’ and India a business partner. India has been rewarded with nuclear technology for not joining Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline but Pakistan was not being treated at par.

A lot of the US companies have outsourced their business to Indian enterprises but Pakistan remains a victim of ‘travel advise’ issued by Washington. While Pakistan’s demand of ‘trade not aid’ has not been accepted, disbursements under coalition support funds have been delayed on one or the other pretext.

A question arises; is all this humbug there to undermine Pakistan’s importance or to create Indian hegemony in the region? While it is the easiest for the United States and India to undermine Pakistan’s importance, it may not be wrong to say Pakistan’s faulty foreign policy has often annoyed other major super powers, particularly USSR of the past and Russia of today. 

At times even Pakistan’s time test friend China is unable to understand some of the decisions made in Islamabad. Foreign policy gurus often say that being a periphery to United States has caused enormous losses to Pakistan.

One can recall Army chief had lately said Pakistan faces enormous internal threats but many failed to understand the threat. However, it became evident lately when the country was witnessing political volatility, India resorted to unprovoked firing and its Army chief threatened to unilaterally initiate attack Pakistan blaming it of cross border terrorism.

Intellectuals from both the sides have been involved in confidence building measures but process is derailed on one of the other pretext. The new visa policy has been invoked on the pretext that Pakistan was involved in killing of Indian border forces, Pakistan also raises similar allegation against Indian troops.

The recent Indian aggression had refreshed the memories of fall of Dakha  when India supported the rebel groups and the fight ended at the surrender of more than 90 Pakistani soldiers and officers. Fears are being expressed that United States and India are supporting Baloch insurgent groups. 

Though, India has been denying its involvement the question remains, who is proving arms and funds to Baloch insurgents?

Friday, 18 January 2013

Tapping Pakistan’s massive oil and gas reserves

According to an Energy Intelligence Report Pakistan’s tribal areas are believed to have massive reserves of oil and natural gas—which Pakistani officials have suddenly become very keen to demonstrate. But this is a highly restive, war-torn area where one right move could make all the difference, and one wrong move could ignite a conflict with irreversible consequences.

For now, the area remains unexplored and it was only in 2008 when Pakistani geologists began to study the area in earnest, with the support of the local authorities. The results of this research were collected, processed and digitized in June 2012. The geologists discovered seven new oil and gas seepages during the mapping. The geologists also claim that 11 oil and gas exploration companies have already reserved 16 blocks in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (Fata).

Geologists say the area, bursting at the seams with gas, is poised to become a ‘new oil state’ whose production could rival Dubai’s in only five years.

The interest is evident from: 1) seventeen (17) companies have initiated operations in Khyber, Orakzai, North and South Waziristan, Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan), 2) Tullow has been active in Pakistan since 1991, but since 2008 it has sought to transfer its Asian licenses to focus on Africa and the Atlantic Margin, 3) other players include Mari Gas Company (Pakistan), HYCARBEX (part of American Energy Group ), Saif Energy (Pakistan), MOL Pakistan Oil and Gas, Orient Petroleum International (Ocean Pakistan/Cayman Islands), ZHEN (China), and others and 4) Oil and Gas Development Company (OGDC) of Pakistan is set to begin exploratory drilling in the area soon.

The report has also talked about Gwadar port. In terms of infrastructure, China has been the chief architect, and investor. China has already invested around $300 million in the deep water Gwadar Port close to Gulf of Oman.

Construction began in 2002 and the goal was to make this port a transit hub for landlocked countries (Afghanistan and Central Asia) and to boost transit from the Persian Gulf to East Africa. China plans to invest a total of $1.6 billion in the port—so far it’s cost $200 million to build the first three berths, which can handle $2 billion in cargo annually.

Despite its capacity, cargo has been slow to move through this port, largely because it’s not connected to the rest of the country.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

TTP claims responsibility of killing MQM legislator

While media in Pakistan remained engrossed in covering Islamabad sit in by Dr Thair-ul-Qadri on Thursday assassination of a MQM leader Manzar Imam, member Sindh provincial assembly brought Karachi to grinding halt.

Qadri is often termed religious cleric but his sit in was joined by all and sundry. However, those bent upon creating Shia Sunni divide not only killed a political leader but also accepted responsibility of his killing. Manzars’ killers believed he was a Shia, which was not correct.

Reportedly, Therik-e-Taliban of Pakistan (TTP) immediately announced that they have killed Manzar. It was also pointed out by the mainstream media that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) was their accomplice in this killing.  While it is understandable that MQM activist are at the hit list of TTP, involvement of LeJ demands deeper probe.
There is growing perception that TTP is a gang of mercenaries, with a sole objective of killing and sabotaging in the name of Islam. The LeJ is often accused for killing Shias only, termed Kafir. If Hazaras are the target of TTP, Lej was also alleged for killing Shias, which they often claim and take pride in doing that.

In the past Raza Haider, another member legislative belonging to MQM was killed, for being Shia but assassination of Manzar shocked the entire civil society because he was not a Shia, the killers were misled by his name, which is rather common in Shia community.

Ironically this is not the first time that a Sunni has been killed because he was mistaken as Shia. In the past killers of a doctor later regretted that their target perceived to be Shia was a Sunni, media reports are once again highlighting that Manza was not Shia.

For years analysts have been saying that Pakistan does not face Shia Sunni rift, though some quarters are adamant at proving that. Analysts fear that some of the groups are getting funds and arms from outside to kill Shias.

It is also alleged by these mercenaries that Shia are getting funds and arms to kill Sunnis. Irony of the fate is that members of different Sunni factions are also being killed by the rival groups.

However, the reality is that the two sects have been living in complete harmony in sub-continent for centuries. Experts say that after having exploited Sunni Shia rift in Iraq that is aimed at fragmenting the country, the strategy is also being followed in Pakistan for its ultimate fragmentation.

Over the years Jundullah (having safe heavens in Balochistan) has been found to be the most notorious outfit. It has been wearing two different caps, in Pakistan it is said to be a group fighting for the rights of Balochs (working for an independent Balochistan) and in Iran fighting for the rights of Sunnis.

One can recall hanging of Jundullah chief by Iran and also hanging of its activist found guilty of undertaking sabotage and killing high ranking Iranian officials.

Foreseeing the grave implications of Manzar’s assassination, all the political parties have condemned his killing. Leaders of PPP, PML-N and ANP have not only condemned this killing but also cautioned to be watchful of those who are trying to plunge the country deep into anarchy.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Pakistan: Situation far from satisfactory

The recent unfolding of events in Pakistan seems far from satisfactory. Tackling external threats, especially the recent firing by India at borders demanded consensus among the political parties and all the organs of the state. 

The future of incumbent government looks uncertain after the apex court ordered arrest of Prime Minister Raja Perveiz Ashraf and demands that President Asif Ali Zardari should resign. The sit in by the followers and sympathizers of Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri in Islamabad demanding dissolution of assemblies is fueling constitutional crisis.

Islamabad has been missing President Zardari for some time and there are allegations that his trusted Interior Minister Rehman Malik has also joined Islamabad protestors. This point gets credence due to entry of swarms of protestors in highly sensitive D-Square of the federal capital.

While Imran Khan has demanded president to submit his resignation, the real cause of concern is presentation of a resolution in Balochistan Assembly condemning imposition of Governor Rule in the province.

Situation is changing so fast that apprehensions are growing that the country may plunge into serious constitutional crisis, similar to that of 1977, if some crucial steps are not taken immediately. At that time Army was prompted to intervene but now handing over Quetta under Army control was not considered feasible.

While many of the critics attribute the present crisis to incompetence of the present ruling junta, a few conspiracy theories are also getting credence. It is being said that the process of fragmentation of Pakistan has started and probability of foreign intervention is high. The only problem is that rulers instead of reading writing on the wall are asking where the wall is.

Self centeredness of political leaders forces the critics to say that they are responsible for the prevailing mess. PPP and PML-N kept on following ‘you scratch my back and I scratch your back’ policy but also kept on denying this.

Over the years PML-N kept on accusing PPP of the worst corruption but never had the courage to move non-confidence resolution against the prime minister, fearing it would be accused of derailing democratic process. Some say it was not any sympathy with the democracy but to its rule in the largest province, where 65 per cent of total population of the country lives.

In the aftermath of war going on in Afghanistan for more than four decades various extremists groups, many supported by outsiders have continued their activities throughout Pakistan. The Government failed in weeding out the criminals.

If Balochistan was under the grip of infiltrators, the situation was not very different in other three provinces. Often Punjab government was accused of enjoying highly cordial relationships with many of the banned outfits

Lately, Chief Minister of Balochistan was dismissed and Governor Rule was imposed in the province. This was because the provincial government failed in stopping killing of an ethnic group, Hazaras. The apathy was at its height when Hazaras staged a sit in along with nearly 90 dead bodies but no one paid any heed. When prime minister reached Quetta emphasis was on bringing an in-house change and dismissal of the chief minister was resisted.

Now the government faces precarious position because a resolution condemning imposition of Governor Rule has been present in the Balochistan assembly. The response on issue of arrest warrants of prime minister has been more or less the same.

An Advisor to the prime minister, Fawad Chaudhry while talking to a foreign news agency after the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Ashraf said there was no doubt the country’s military and Supreme Court were working together to topple the government. Following this instance caused problems in areas where PPP enjoys strong vote bank as the activists resorted to killing of people and putting on fire private and public properties.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Pakistan: Can Qadri hasten Zardari’s exit

The building tempo in Pakistan’s federal capital hints towards change in the rulers, sooner than later. The choice is with ruling junta to announce the interim set up at the earliest or be ready to face a situation that could turn real nasty.

Whether the ruling junta likes it or not an interim set up has to be put in place at the earliest to ensure that general elections are held in time for the continuity of democratic process in the country.

In the recent past mainstream political parties PML-N and PTI has been showing their street power but the latest entrant, Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri, leader of Tehrik Minhaj-ul-Quran has changed the entire landscape.

While talking to television channel, Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Tuesday that the long march led by Qadri, would not be interrupted as long as the participants remained peaceful. He also said Qadri was a guest and participants could stay in Islamabad as long as they wish but they would not be allowed to cross the Red Zone. He added that President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf would consider the demands made by Qadri.

Qadi has invited all the politicians including President Asif Ali Zardari, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Mian Shahbaz Sharif and Asfandyar Wali to his rally and see with their own eyes who this sea of bobbing heads was out here for and hear with their own ears for whom the bell was tolling for.

 His opponents are trying to undermine his importance by saying that he wants to occupy the top slot, which he can’t due to holding dual nationality. Some others are busy in his character assassination but the fact is, he has led a successful march and addressing public meeting in the federal capital.

This can be termed good for the country because the incumbent government realized that any attempt to stop this march or denying him the right to address public meeting in the capital can prove counterproductive.  Qadri has become a major threat for PML-N as well as PPP, the two signatories of ‘Charter of Democracy’.

Since it has been decided to set up an interim government for holding fair and transparent election, the real point of concern is composition and size of this set up. Ideally, it must have representation of from major political parties but who will decide the names of interim prime minister, governors/chief ministers and ministers?

Traditionally in Pakistan, any and every set up has to be created in consultation with Pakistan’s armed forces and judiciary keeping in view the ground realities. Therefore, the stakeholders will have to take into account aspirations of general public and inadequacies of mainstream political parties and also those which may be too small but enjoy a lot of nuisance power.

Lately, Qadri has been alleged for disrupting election process by Qamar Zaman Kaira, Federal Information Mister. May be the statement reflects loyalty to his party but it is true that Qadri is attaining power due to massive support by general public. It is often said that masses are annoyed by PPP and PML-N, who may have supported democracy but only to ensure they remain in power.

A question is often raised who is providing funds to him? In fact this question should have not been asked because it is the most necked truth that external power having keen in any country play a key role in the installation and dismissal of governments.

Pakistan would be lucky if change can be ushered through a democratic process, else it is feared that rebel groups would be formed, given funds and even arms to ensure change of regime, this has happened in many countries lately.

The United States has specific interest in Pakistan and its political and administrative set up due to its presence in Afghanistan. Its best efforts will be to avoid formation of anti-US set up simply to avoid any disruption in Nato supplies passing through Pakistan.

United States has already expressed its apprehensions on mounting hostility between Pakistan and India and has advised the two atomic powers of the region to apply restraints.

By this time United States knows the incumbent government very well and any radical change may not be endorsed. This endorsement will become evident from Pakistan entering into another Standby agreement with the IMF and release of funds by multilateral donors.

It is also believed that India, China and Russia will also be very closely monitoring the unfolding of events in Pakistan. India has repeatedly expressed its apprehensions on militants hibernating in Pakistan. These militants are not only a headache for India, Afghanistan and Iran but are destroying the social and economic fabric of the country.

The recent peaceful sits in staged throughout Pakistan in support of Hazaras prove beyond doubt that people strongly believe in peaceful transition, it may be another thing that at some stage the peaceful initiates turn violent because extremists wish to sabotage these to achieve their vested interest.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Governor Rule Imposed in Balochistan

And finally President, Asif Ali Zardari has signed the summary regarding imposition of Governor's rule in Balochistan that would make Governor, Zulfiqar Ali Magsi the chief executive of the province. 

Earlier, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf had announced that Governor's rule in Balochistan would be imposed for two months starting January 14, 2013.

Former minister Jan Ali Changezi, on behalf of Hazara community announced to end sit-in at 10.00am on Monday as President Asif Ali Zardari has signed the summary regarding imposition of Governor's rule in Balochistan.

Hazara sit in Quetta had started in Quetta, provincial capital of Balochistan after Juma prayers. The protestors have already spent three nights in open as the temperature dropped to minus 10 degrees. While Chief Minister Aslam Raisani remained an absconder during this period, demonstrations engulfed the entire Pakistan.

It no longer remained a sit in by Hazaras or Shias as the entire civil society joined them, irrespective of cast and creed, including minorities. In many countries demonstrations were also staged in front of Pakistani missions. The chief minister didn’t show his face and was reportedly staying in UK. Raisani, a PPP member, is probably the most criticized and alleged corrupt politician in the country.

Imposition of Governor's rule in Balochistan has been termed ‘too little too late’. One of the demands of the protestors was handing over control of Quetta city to Pakistan Army. For the reasons best know to the constitutional experts this has not been done. Governor,  Zulfiqar Ali Magsi has been appointed chief executive of the province. It is on record that earlier Magsi had expressed his ‘complete helplessness’ in resolving this issue.

It was feared that if control of Quetta was transferred to Pakistan Army, it would bring bad name to the civil and military bureaucracy. Many of the Baoch tribal chiefs who have taken asylum in other countries would start chanting slogans ‘usurp of rights of Balochs’.

This is the most disgusting argument because none came to condone with Hazaras, including leaders of mainstream political parties. President Asif Ali Zardari has confined himself to Biwal House in Karachi and prime minister and interior minister were bogged down by Qadri obsession. Strangely, Army Chief also preferred to keep quiet, except issuing a warning that the country faces serious internal threat.

One of the conspiracy theories is that some of the external forces are adamant at axing Balochistan from Pakistan. Over the years they have been hosting fugitive tribal chiefs and also pleading that an independent Balochistan should be created. It is often alleged that the much talked about Baloch insurgents are nothing but the ‘local operators’ of some foreign intelligence agencies, also getting funds and arms.

At the time of announcing imposition of Governor's rule in Balochistan, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had to say that he had taken other coalition partners into consideration over the issue. He specifically mentioned names of MQM chief Altaf Hussain, ANP chief Asfandyar Wali and PML-Q leader Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain, who had all urged him to impose governor rule in the province.

While Irman Khan reached Quetta to sympathize with Hazaras, Mian bothers neither came nor even bothered to send their nominees to Quetta. They also abstained from demanding removal of Raisani, may be because PML-N has lately emerged the biggest champion of the rights of Balochs.