Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Democracy in Pakistan: A Rough Road

Among the South Asian countries, Pakistan has the second largest population after India. Both the countries got independence from the British Raj with a difference of one day in August 1947. While India has earned the distinction of becoming a secular state and one of the largest democracies of the world, Pakistan has spent most of its time under autocratic rule, both military and civilian. Despite being a frontline partner in the war against terrorism, it has been the worst victim of extremism as well as terrorism itself and this has ruined the social fabric and kept economic development at the lowest ebb.
The younger generation often wants to know the reasons for the continuity of democratic rule in India and Pakistan staying under military rule for a very long time. They also wish to understand the logic behind the ‘Charter of Democracy’ that was signed between two of Pakistan’s largest political parties, PPP and PML-N. There exist two opposite opinions about the CoD: one, it is an understanding reached between two political parties to avoid yet another military rule and, two, under the prevailing geo-political situation, the superpowers wish to keep the reins in the hands of elected representatives rather than supporting any military rule.
Some cynics say that political parties have learnt a lesson assassination of three elected Prime Ministers i.e. Liaquat Ali Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (his followers prefer to call it a murder) and Benazir Bhutto. They also believe that PPP and PML-N now regret lack of understanding among themselves which led to dismissal of the governments of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto twice. Nawaz Sharif has earned the distinction of being elected prime minister for the third time after the assassination of the charismatic leader, Benazir Bhutto.
Analysts watching geopolitics of the region closely believe that superpowers install and topple regimes around the world to pursue their foreign policy agenda and Pakistan is no exception. The most talked about personalities are Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Benigno Aquino of the Philippines, Saddam Hussain of Iraq and General Zia ul Haq of Pakistan. All these political leaders were assassinated once the missions assigned to them were accomplished. To this list, names of Indra Gandhi, prime minister of India and two Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman and Zia ur Rehman could also be added. Sri Lanka has also been a victim of this tyranny.
While it is almost impossible to analyze Pakistan’s history spread over six and a half decades here, one point is very clear – that the three military rulers were installed by the superpowers to maintain their hegemony in the region. The rule of General Mohammad Ayub Khan (1958 to 1969) was facilitated because of the cold war. At that time Pakistan was made part of the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), US-led defense pacts against communism. After the fall of Dacca, Pakistan had no option but to pull itself out of SEATO during the regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and CENTO died its natural death in 1979. At one time, the USSR was highly annoyed and wanted to attack Pakistan because US spy planes were using an airbase located near Peshawar to snoop over the Soviet Union.
The second military regime of Zia ul Haq (1977 to 1988) was support by the US in the name of averting a Soviet attack on Afghanistan, termed an attempt by the USSR to get access to warm waters. The Afghan war, spread over nearly a decade, was fought from Pakistan’s GHQ and religious parties were given money to prepare the breed of Mujahedeen, now often referred to as the Taliban.
Once the decision was made to pull out the US-led troops in the belief that the USSR had been defeated, the entire military junta of the time became redundant. Zia ul Haq and his close generals died when their plane was blown up. The killers were so desperate that one of the youngest and most outstanding ambassadors of the US and a Brigadier General also died as they were travelling with Zia ul Haq and other generals on the plane.
It is often said that General Pervez Musharraf took over after a failed attempt of the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif to get rid of him by not allowing his plane to land in Pakistan. But some cynics say Nawaz Sharif provided an opportunity to the military to topple his government. The superpowers may not have liked Pervez Musharraf initially but he became their darling after he decided to become a partner in the US war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Pervez Musharraf got ‘red carpet’ receptions in the US and other western capitals for being their frontline partner in ‘war against terrorism’. He was kept in power till the decision was made to withdraw the majority of NATO troops from Afghanistan by 2014. To give legitimacy to his rule, general elections were held in Pakistan. His exit from power looked a little strange to those who are not familiar with ‘conspiracy theories’. Some critics say he had also become redundant like Zia ul Haq.
The formation of an elected government under Pervez Musharraf was a replica of the elected government led by Mohammad Khan Junejo, which was termed a ‘legitimization of the Zia regime’ but an unceremonious dismissal of the Junejo government opened the Pandora’s Box.
Pakistan’s joining hands with the US during the Zia era to repel the USSR and fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan gave various ‘gifts’ to the country. These included – religious extremism, drugs and arms. The presently prevailing precarious law and order situation in Pakistan can be termed as a combination of these stated elements. The democracy as prevalent today is also a hostage of these elements.
Some political analysts say that during the latter part of his regime and prior to the general elections, Pervez Musharraf was advised by the superpowers to join hands with Benazir Bhutto to ensure continuity of democratic rule in the country as this would also prolong his rule. Prior to her landing in Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto was told to join hands with Pervez Musharraf.
But there were serious differences between Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf. She was later assassinated and her widower Asif Ali Zardari replaced Pervez Musharraf as the President of Pakistan. It looked like a reenactment of the assassination of Benigno Aquino in the Philippines and his widow Cory Aquino becoming president of the country.
Though, the inference is highly sordid but the fact is that politicians in Pakistan know it very well that if they wish to come to power, they have to pursue the agenda of superpowers and their local supporters. It is often an elected or autocratic government but it remains in power due to the external support that includes financial assistance from multilateral donors like IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank or arms supplied in the name of ‘maintaining minimum deterrence level’ against Pakistan’s enemies.
Pakistan has survived many odds but the recent phenomenon of growing extremism, sectarian killing, elimination of political opponents and even the killing of doctors and academicians seems part of the grand agenda to plunge the country deep into anarchy. If the road to democracy leads from here, then it is quite a rough trail.
The Article was originally published in South Asia

Monday, 6 April 2015

Iranian annual trade hits US$150 billion despite sanctions

Despite sanctions imposed by UN, EU and U.S. on Iran over its nuclear program, the country’s annual trade amounted to US$150 billion for the recently concluded Iranian calendar year on March 20.
Iranian Deputy Industry, Mining, and Trade Minister Mojtaba Khosrotaj said that although official data on Iran’s annual trade has not been published, but non-oil trade is estimated to hit US$105 billion in the past year.
Taking oil and service sectors into account, the country’s foreign trade will exceed $150 billion, he added.
This performance shows significant abilities of the Iranian nation that managed to achieve US$150 billion business with the world despite sanctions.
The official said there are concerted efforts to increase the country’s value of annual non-oil exports by 20 percent to US$60 billion during the ongoing Iranian calendar year.
In December 2014, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the government aimed at increasing non-oil exports to US$50 billion by the next calendar year.
Traditionally, Iran relies heavily on oil for revenue. With sanctions restricting oil exports, the government is working to improve other parts of the economy.
Iran’s non-oil exports witnessed nearly half-a-percent growth while the country’s non-oil imports dropped around five percent in the previous Iranian calendar year. 
Another remarkable feat is that over 12.3 million tons of goods were transited via Iran in the previous Iranian calendar year, which ended on March 20, 2015.
Transit of goods via the country rose by 6.5 percent in Iranian calendar year (March 2014 to March 2015) compared to the year before quoted Iranian Roads Maintenance Organization official Mohammad Javad Atrchian.
The transited consignments mostly consisted of fuel, construction materials, home appliances, cotton and vehicles. Shahriyar Afandizadeh, the Iranian deputy transport and urban development minister has said that Iran has the capacity to transit 40 million tons of goods annually.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

US economy in shambles

Lately, Iran’s negotiations with super powers at one stage looked like standoff between the US and Iran. While other countries looked ready to walk away, John Kerry, US Secretary of State tried his best to convince others to arrive at a framework that lead to easing sanctions on the country Saudi Arabia considers its worst foe.
It looked that only the US was desperate in normalizing relationship with Iran. Many of the readers may not by aware of the fact that Iran buys the largest value of goods from the US despite all the stringent sanction being in place for more than three and half decades.

A question arises, why the US should be ready to relinquish its ‘global policeman, role? The reply is simple that the largest super power is sinking deeper into economic crisis. Worst of all country is inching towards the worst drought; many states are imposing water rationing as the food security program is at colossal risk.

According to a report more rigs are drilling water wells in the US than oil. Farmers have the strongest lobby in the US and they want the government to protect their interest rather than venturing into any enemy country to keep the arsenal factories running at full capacity.

There is growing realization in the US citizens that Israel has been blackmailing the US government by promoting Iran as the biggest threat for the world. Zionists have inculcated a feeling among the Saudis that Iran is their worst energy as compared to Israel.

The incumbent prime minster made last ditched effort by adding members of the US congress but his mantra failed in attracting attention of masses. Now many of the US citizens are openly asking the question, is the US foreign policy dictated by Israel?

The US has attained the status of the largest oil producing country and got free from the clutches of some of the largest oil producing country i.e. Saudi Arabia. Despite nearly 50 percent decline in WTI prices and extreme glut of oil in the country it has not allowed export, just to keep energy prices low to accelerate economic activities.

Within the super powers, China remains one of the biggest buyers of Iranian crude oil and must be the happiest one if economic sanctions facing Iran over the last three and half decades are removed. Not only buying oil will become easier for it but it would also be able to invest huge in Iranian oil and gas up stream industries.

The US has huge investment in China and at no stage it would like to offend one of the largest economic superpower, despite it replacing the US in Asia and attaining huge naval presence in the Indian Ocean. The US is trying to establish Indian hegemony in the Indian Ocean region but China is moving at a much faster pace.

Growing Chinese interest, through investment in infrastructure projects is also aimed at developing Pakistan as ‘trade and energy corridor’. If Iran can move its oil only through Pakistan, it would not only save billions of dollars spent on freight but also curtail transit time.

Russia, directly in confrontation with the US and other European countries wants to take a revenge for the US for its defeat in Afghanistan and also imposing sanctions on it after the repossession parts of Ukraine.

One may recall that when the US led group wanted to assault Syria, Putin emerged the biggest opponent and went to the extent of threatening attacks on Saudi Arabian oil installations if any such adventure was made.

Britain has already taken over the command from the US in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), after the defeat of ISIS a phantom created and supported by the US. Britain has a long history of managing colonies following ‘divide and rule policy’. While the US believes in military assaults Britain overpowers countries by creating internal conflicts and weakening the countries, to make them subservient to its might.

If Lawrence of Arabia was a phantom used to demolish Ottoman Empire, Abubakar Baghdadi is also a product of Britain being used for fragmenting and weakening many countries of MENA.

The US could not create justification for attaching Syria and Iraq, but inroad made by ISIS paved way for airstrikes in the name of weeding out ISIS, in either case strategic installations of Syria and Iraq were destroyed. The same strategy is being followed in Yemen to ignite direct confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

Germans and French governments want cheap oil to boost their economies and the only solution is to allow Iran to export more oil. They are keen in seeing export of gas from Iran to bring its price down; the way crude oil prices plunged. The two countries are also eyeing huge investment potential in Iran.

Therefore, it be right to say that reaching an agreement to remove sanctions on Iran is the most urgent desire of super powers rather the country that has withstood worst sanctions for more than three and half decades.

Top signs that the U.S. economy is experiencing recession:

The number of new mortgage applications in the US had fallen to the lowest level in nearly 20 years.
Radio Shack has announced that it is going to close more than 1,000 stores just another sign that we are in the midst of a "retail apocalypse".
The ISM Services Employment just experienced its largest decline since the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
Obama care is really starting to hammer the U.S. health care industry.
Trading revenue at the "too big to fail" banks on Wall Street is way down.
One of the "too big to fail" banks, JPMorgan fired thousands of workers.
At one time Moody's downgraded the credit rating of the city of Chicago to just three notches above junk status.
The U.S. economy actually lost millions jobs. The only time the U.S. economy has lost such a number of jobs was in 2009 at the peak of the recession.
Real disposable income in the U.S. experienced the largest year over year decline that was seen since 1974.
Only 35 percent of all Americans say that they are better off financially than they were a year ago.
Global retail sales for machinery giant Caterpillar fallen for 14 months in a row.
The economic data show that virtually all of the largest economies on the planet are slowing down right now.
Meanwhile, things in Ukraine continue to become even tenser, and the Russian government continues to debate how it will respond if the U.S. does end up deciding to hit Russia with economic sanctions.
At one stage the Russian parliament was actually considering the confiscation of the property and assets of U.S. businesses in Russia if the U.S. decides to go ahead with economic sanctions against Russia.
The upper house of Russia’s parliament is mulling measures allowing property and assets of European and US companies to be confiscated in the event of sanctions being adopted against Russia over its threatened military intervention in Ukraine.
We are talking about banks, retail chains, mining operations, etc.
U.S. companies have billions invested in Russia, and all of that could be gone in an instant.
Many US citizens wish that economic war between their country and Russia is averted as it is has hurt substantially.
But no matter how things with this crisis in Ukraine play out, it looks like hard times are ahead for the U.S. economy.
Unfortunately, most Americans never learned the lessons that they should have learned back in 2008.
They just assume that the federal government and the Federal Reserve have fixed our problems and have everything under control, so they are not preparing for the next great crisis.
In the end, tens of millions of Americans will be absolutely devastated when they get absolutely blindsided by what is coming.