‘Intelligence had prior information about BB murder plot’ – Letter

ISLAMABAD: Exactly four years after the brutal assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a letter of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), country’s top intelligence outfit, has revealed that the extremists groups related to al Qaeda have had their plan to assassinate Benazir Bhutto six days earlier then 27th of December 2007 the day when Miss Bhutto was assassinated, copy of the letter available to Dawn.com disclosed this here on Monday.

The five lines short letter with the subject of , “ al Qaeda Threat,” is addressed to Kamal Shah, the then Secretary of Interior Ministry by Brigadier Abdul Basit Rana.

The letter reads as, “It has reliably been reported that a few extremist groups related to al Qaeda have made some plan to assassinate Mrs. Benzir Bhutto and her adviser Mr Rehman Malik on 21 December 2007. The exact plan of execution not known.”

The letter is delivered to the Secretary Interior on December 10th, 2007, almost seventeen days before the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

The copy of the letter shows that Kamal Shah immediately wrote a short note on the letter saying, “this is a threat with specific date, we should sensitize them,” Kamal Shah had further directed Brigadier (retired) Javed Iqbal Cheema, the then Director General of Ministry’s National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) directing him to speak.

The third note which is not readable properly mentions as, “I have informed Mr Malik by fax,’ by some Joint Secretary or Brigadier (retired) Javed Iqbal Cheema.

In this letter the specific Intelligence was provided by Brigadier Abdul Basit Rana of ISI, who according to this correspondent is yet not appeared before any investigation committee including the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Joint Investigation Team (JIT) headed by a grade 20 police officer Khalid Qureshi and the UN Commission on Benazir Bhutto.

“Since this was a top secret information provided by the agency and agencies do not give the access to the origin of the information so neither Brigadier Abdul Basit Rana was interviewed by UN Commission nor by anyone else,” confirmed Ch Azhar advocate, the prosecutor of the Benazir Bhutto murder case in Rawalpindi’s Anti Terrorist Court.

It has already come on the public record that the then Security Adviser of Benazir Bhutto, Mr Rehman Malik soon after receiving the “threat information” from Brigadier (retired) Javed Iqbal Cheema, had written a three page detailed letter to Secretary Interior Syed Kamal Shah on 12th December 2007. In the said letter he had requested for enhancement of Benazir Bhutto’s security.

An expert, while speaking on the condition of anonymity said that the examination of Brigadier Abdul Basit Rana and further analysis of the information provided by him can further unfold the missing links of on going investigation of Benazir Bhutto murder case.

US Senior Officials Confirm, Taliban Deny Secret Talks

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates (Photo Credit: articlessfgates.com)

“In my opinion, any future Defense Secretary who advises the President to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.”– US Defense Secretary Robert Gates (US Military Academy, West Point, New York, Feb. 25, 2011).

Reuters, Dec 19: After 10 months of secret dialogue with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents, senior US officials say the talks have reached a critical juncture and they will soon know whether a breakthrough is possible, leading to peace talks whose ultimate goal is to end the Afghan war.

As part of the accelerating, high-stakes diplomacy, Reuters has learned, the United States is considering the transfer of an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay military prison into Afghan government custody.

It has asked representatives of the Taliban to match that confidence-building measure with some of their own. Those could include a denunciation of international terrorism and a public willingness to enter formal political talks with the government headed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The officials acknowledged that the Afghanistan diplomacy, which has reached a delicate stage in recent weeks, remains a long shot. Among the complications: US troops are drawing down and will be mostly gone by the end of 2014, potentially reducing the incentive for the Taliban to negotiate.

Still, the senior officials, all of whom insisted on anonymity to share new details of the mostly secret effort, suggested it has been a much larger piece of President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan policy than is publicly known.

US officials have held about half a dozen meetings with their insurgent contacts, mostly in Germany and Doha with representatives of Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura, the officials said.

The stakes in the diplomatic effort could not be higher. Failure would likely condemn Afghanistan to continued conflict, perhaps even civil war, after Nato troops finish turning security over to Karzai’s weak government by the end of 2014.

Success would mean a political end to the war and the possibility that parts of the Taliban — some hardliners seem likely to reject the talks — could be reconciled.

The effort is now at a pivotal point.

“We imagine that we’re on the edge of passing into the next phase. Which is actually deciding that we’ve got a viable channel and being in a position to deliver” on mutual confidence-building measures, said a senior US official.

While some US-Taliban contacts have been previously reported, the extent of the underlying diplomacy and the possible prisoner transfer have not been made public until now.

The reconciliation effort, which has already faced setbacks including a supposed Taliban envoy who turned out to be an imposter, faces hurdles on multiple fronts, the US officials acknowledged.

They include splits within the Taliban; suspicion from Karzai and his advisers; and Pakistan’s insistence on playing a major, even dominating, role in Afghanistan’s future.

Obama will likely face criticism, including from Republican presidential candidates, for dealing with an insurgent group that has killed US soldiers and advocates a strict Islamic form of government.

But US officials say that the Afghan war, like others before it, will ultimately end in a negotiated settlement.

“The challenges are enormous,” a second senior US official acknowledged. “But if you’re where we are…you can’t not try. You have to find out what’s out there.”

Next steps?

If the effort advances, one of the next steps would be more public, unequivocal US support for establishing a Taliban office outside of Afghanistan.

US officials said they have told the Taliban they must not use that office for fundraising, propaganda or constructing a shadow government, but only to facilitate future negotiations that could eventually set the stage for the Taliban to re-enter Afghan governance.

On Sunday, a senior member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council said the Taliban had indicated it was willing to open an office in an Islamic country.

But underscoring the fragile nature of the multi-sided diplomacy, Karzai on Wednesday announced he was recalling Afghanistan’s ambassador to Qatar, after reports that nation was readying the opening of the Taliban office. Afghan officials complained they were left out of the loop.

On a possible transfer of Taliban prisoners long held at Guantanamo, US officials stressed the move would be a ‘national decision’ made in consultation with the US Congress. Obama is expected to soon sign into law the 2011 defence authorisation bill that contains new provisions on detainee policy.

There are slightly fewer that 20 Afghan citizens at Guantanamo, according to various accountings. It is not known which ones might be transferred, nor what assurances the White House has that the Karzai government would keep them in its custody.

Guantanamo detainees have been released to foreign governments — and sometimes set free by them — before. But the transfer as part of a diplomatic negotiation appears unprecedented.

Ten years after the repressive Taliban government was toppled by its Afghan opponents and their Western backers, a hoped-for political settlement has become a centrepiece of the US strategy to end a war that has killed nearly 3,000 foreign troops and cost the Pentagon alone $330 billion.

While Obama’s decision to deploy an extra 30,000 troops in 2009-10 helped push the Taliban out of much of its southern heartland, the war is far from over. Militants are said to remain able to slip in and out of parts of Pakistan, where the Taliban’s senior leadership is allegedly located.

Bold attacks from the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network have undermined the narrative of improving security and raised questions about how well an inexperienced Afghan military will be able to cope when foreign troops go home.

In that uncertain context, officials say that initial contacts with insurgent representatives since US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly embraced a diplomatic strategy in a February 18, 2011 speech have centred on establishing whether the Taliban was open to reconciliation, despite its pledge to continue its ‘sacred jihad’ against Nato and US soldiers.

“The question has been to the Taliban, ‘You have got a choice to make. Life’s moving on,” the second US official said. “There’s a substantial military campaign out there that will continue to do you substantial damage…are you prepared to go forward with some kind of reconciliation process?”

US officials have met with Tayeb Agha, who was a secretary to Mullah Omar, and they have held one meeting arranged by Pakistan with Ibrahim Haqqani, a brother of the Haqqani network’s founder. They have not shut the door to further meetings with the Haqqani group, which is blamed for a brazen attack this fall on the US embassy in Kabul and which senior US officials link closely to Pakistan’s intelligence agency.

US officials say they have kept Karzai informed of the process and have met with him before and after each encounter, but they declined to confirm whether representatives of his government are present at those meetings.

Evolving Taliban position?

Officials now see themselves on the verge of reaching a second phase in the reconciliation process that, if successful, would clinch the confidence-building measures and allow them to move to a third stage in which the Afghan government and the Taliban would sit down together in talks facilitated by the United States.

“That’s why it’s especially delicate — because if we don’t deliver the second phase, we don’t get to the pay-dirt,” the first senior US official said.

Senior administration officials say that confidence-building measures must be implemented, not merely agreed to, before full-fledged political talks can begin. The sequence of such measures has not been determined, and they will ultimately be announced by Afghans, they say.

Underlying the intensive efforts of US negotiators are fundamental questions about whether — and why — the Taliban would want to strike a peace deal with the Western-backed Karzai government.

US officials stress that the ‘end conditions’ they want the Taliban to embrace — renouncing violence, breaking with al Qaeda, and respecting the Afghan constitution — are not preconditions to starting talks.

Encouraging trends on the Afghan battlefield — declining militant attacks, a thinning of the Taliban’s mid-level leadership, the emergence of insurgent-on-insurgent violence — is one reason why US officials believe the Taliban may be more likely to engage in substantive talks than in the past.

They also cite what they see as an overlooked, subtle shift in the Taliban’s position on reconciliation over the past year, based in part by statements from Mullah Omar marking Muslim holidays this year.

In July, the Taliban reiterated its long-standing position of rejecting any peace talks as long as foreign troops remain in Afghanistan. In October, a senior Haqqani commander said the United States was insincere about peace in Afghanistan.

But US officials say the Taliban no longer want to be the global pariah it was in the 1990s. Some elements have suggested flexibility on issues of priority for the West, such as protecting rights for women and girls.

“That’s one of the reasons why we think this is serious,” a third senior US official said.

Risky strategy

Yet as the process moves ahead, the idea of seeking a peace deal with an extremist movement is fraught with challenge.

At least one purported insurgent representative has turned out to be a fraud, highlighting the difficulty of vetting potential brokers in the shadowy world of the militants.

And the initiative was dealt a major blow in September when former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who headed peace efforts for Karzai, was assassinated in an attack Afghanistan said originated in neighbouring Pakistan.

Since then, Karzai has been more ambivalent about talks. He ruled out an early resumption in negotiations and said Afghanistan would talk only to Pakistan ‘until we have an address for the Taliban.’

The dust-up over the unofficial Taliban office in Qatar, with a spokesman for Karzai stressing that Afghanistan must lead peace negotiations to end the war, suggests tensions in the US and Afghan approaches to the peace process.

Speaking in an interview with CNN aired on Sunday, Karzai counselled caution in making sure that Taliban interlocutors are authentic — and authentically seeking peace. The Rabbani killing, he said, was a demonstration of such difficulties and “brought us in a shock to the recognition that we were actually talking to nobody.”

Critics of Obama’s peace initiative are deeply skeptical of the Taliban’s willingness to negotiate given that the West’s intent to pull out most troops after 2014 would give insurgents a chance to reclaim lost territory or nudge the weak Kabul government toward collapse.

While the United States is expected to keep a modest military presence in Afghanistan beyond then, all of Obama’s ‘surge’ troops will be home by next fall and the administration — looking to refocus on domestic priorities — is already exploring further reductions.

Another reason to be circumspect is the potential spoiler role of Pakistan, which has so far resisted US pressure to crack down on militants fuelling violence in Afghanistan and to cooperate more closely with the US military and diplomatic campaign there.

Such considerations make reconciliation a divisive initiative even within the Obama administration. Few officials describe themselves as optimists about the peace initiative; at the State Department, which is formally leading the talks, senior officials see the odds of brokering a successful agreement at only around 30 per cent.

“There’s a very real likelihood that these guys aren’t serious…which is why are continuing to prosecute all of the lines of effort here,” the third senior US official said.

While Nato commanders promise they will keep up pressure on militants as the troop force shrinks, they are facing a tenacious insurgency in eastern Afghanistan that may prove even more challenging than the south.

Still, with Obama committed to withdrawing from Afghanistan, as the United States did last week from Iraq, the administration has few alternatives but to pursue what may well prove to be a quixotic quest for a deal.

“Wars end, and the ends of wars have political consequences,” the second official said. “You can either try to shape those, or someone does it to you.”

Pakistan Slips Further in Human Development Index – UNDP

PAKISTAN has slipped 20 rungs on the ladder of human development this year. Last year, Pakistan was ranked 125th on the Human Development Index (HDI) and was in the category of ‘medium human development’.

This year Pakistan has been ranked 145 and thus falls in the category of ‘low human development’ countries. The latest annual Human Development Report of UNDP has ranked 187 countries on the HDI. Among the Saarc countries, Pakistan has performed better than Bangladesh (146), Afghanistan (172) and Nepal (157), whereas India (134), Sri Lanka (97), Bhutan (141) and the Maldives (109) have outshone Pakistan. No South Asian country is ranked in the ‘very high human development’ category though nearby Iran ranking at 88 falls in the category of ‘high human development’. Sri Lanka and the Maldives are the only two Saarc countries ranked among the countries in the ‘medium human development’ category.
HDI is a composite index made up of an assortment of indicators including gender inequality, poverty, environmental sustainability, impact of natural disasters, education, health, population and the economy. Each country is ranked on these indicators. A cursory look at a few indicators and comparison with closely ranked Asian countries would help in understanding Pakistan’s overall performance.

While an analysis of HDI rankings since 1990 shows that Pakistan has steadily improved on its scale, its annual average HDI growth is marginal at 1.12 per cent. Bangladesh, India and even Afghanistan have marked faster strides on this with annual average HDI growth rates of 1.69, 1.38 and 2.32 per cent respectively. This clearly shows that successive governments in Pakistan have not accorded due importance to human development; certainly not in comparison with regional countries.

On the ‘gender inequality index’, female participation in secondary education and the labour force is lower in Pakistan compared to India and Bangladesh. In fact, the latter country has higher female participation in secondary education i.e. 30.8 compared to Pakistan’s 23.5 and India’s 26.6 per cent. Female participation in the labour force is also higher in Bangladesh with 58.7 compared to India’s 32.8 and Pakistan’s dismally low 23.5 per cent. Even Afghanistan with all its socio-political odds demonstrated an impressive 33.1 per cent female participation in the labour force.

Iran, which is often derided as a conservative society, has a 39 per cent female population that has benefited from secondary education and 31.9 per cent female participation in the labour force. This indicates the gravity of gender discrimination in Pakistan. Both education and participation in the labour force are key indicators of women’s empowerment, social emancipation and political contribution.

On the ‘poverty index’, Pakistan has a smaller percentage of people living in severe poverty (27.4 per cent) compared to India (28.6 per cent) but Bangladesh fares slightly better at 26.2 per cent. Given that Bangladesh is a relatively younger economy and a chronic victim of disasters, its performance on this account is appreciable.

Environmental sustainability is another indicator of Pakistan’s dreary performance. Pakistan’s land under forest cover is a mere 2.3 per cent against Bangladesh’s 11.1 and India’s 22.9 per cent. The rate of deforestation in Pakistan is alarming.

According to some estimates, the country loses some 66,718 acres of forest cover annually.In the areas of core human development i.e. water quality, education and health, Pakistan’s performance is a major reason behind its overall dismal ranking. On all three counts, Pakistan’s performance on several key sub indicators is the lowest in the region.

For example, only 55 per cent of population in the country is satisfied with the quality of water. In Bangladesh, the percentage is 69.5, in Afghanistan 60.7 and in India 62.7. In the Saarc region, the mortality rate of under-five years children at 87 per 1,000 live births is the highest in Pakistan compared to India’s 66, Nepal’s 48, Sri Lanka’s 15, the Maldives’ 13, Bhutan’s 79 and Bangladesh’s 52. The only exception is Afghanistan where this figure is 199 for understandable reasons.

Resource allocation on health and education is a signature indicator to fathom the state’s commitment to human development. On these, Pakistan fares preposterously low, in fact the lowest in the Saarc countries.

Public expenditure on education and health as percentage of GDP in Pakistan is 2.6 per cent. India (4.2 per cent), Sri Lanka (four per cent), Bangladesh (3.4 per cent), Bhutan (5.5 per cent), Nepal (5.8 per cent), Afghanistan (7.4 per cent) and the Maldives (eight per cent) are spending higher on education and health as a percentage of their GDPs. As a result of this, Pakistan today has the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world and the infant mortality rate as indicated earlier is also deplorable.

The 2011 HDI shows that South Asia continues to be the cradle of human deprivation. Chronic conflicts, egregious governance, unstable democracies, malevolent natural disasters, rampant corruption, large population and a fast-depleting natural resource base are some of the maladies that preclude South Asia’s growth on the human development indicators.
Pakistan with perpetuating dictatorial regimes, punctuated by impressive spells of economic growth has yet to show its citizens political commitment. The country with its enormous human and natural capital possesses great potential for human development. However, misplaced priorities and weak political institutions have deprived the people of opportunities of growth and well-being. The country needs to veer its focus from illusive border security to the greater objective of human security by investing in its people.

The writer is chief executive of the Strengthening Participatory Organisation. nmemon@spopk.org

‘Memo gate’ Smoking Gun in Pak Show Down against US

'Memo gate' nation.com.jpg

The vitriolic exchanges between a US businessman of Pakistan origin, Mansoor Ijaz and Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani – which have played out as infotainment in Pakistan’s lively television channels – are tell-tale signs of a civilian government in trouble.

The incident known as `memo gate’ unfolded when a secret American mission killed Al Qaeda’s most wanted leader Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan in May 2011. Six months later, ambassador Haqqani resigned – in what can only be described as  collateral damage from the covert mission.

Shortly after the incident in which US Navy seals had intruded into Pakistan’s air space without clearance, Ijaz reported that Haqqani funneled a memo through him to the Pentagon. In it, the journalist turned ambassador – negotiating between warring intelligence agencies – allegedly solicited US assistance in preempting a coup against the Zardari government.

The confirmation by the former US national security adviser Gen. James Jones that Ijaz did pass on the memo through him to then serving Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has deepened suspicions within Pakistan’s army about the role played by its government in Washington.

The Pakistani media has delved deep into why Haqqani – a well-connected emissary with good communication skills – needed a crutch to get his memo across to the Pentagon. The picture they draw is of an ambassador who relied on verbal messages to cover his tracks… leading back to his fragile government.

In Pakistan, shooting the messenger has had the intended effect of getting President Asif Zardari and prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani to distance themselves from their ambassador and deny that they solicited any help from Washington.

But the petition filed in the Supreme Court by Pakistan’s chief opposition politician, Nawaz Sharif for an investigation into `memo gate,’ and court orders to Haqqani to remain in the country till the matter is resolved,  has implications for the PPP government.

Sharif’s petition not only names Zardari but also the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani and the ISI chief Shuja Pasha. The  basic question raised by the opposition leader is  how the US flew over Pakistan air space to nab Bin Laden, without the knowledge of its government.

In Pakistan, `memo gate’ has struck at a time when President Zardari’s ill-health and sudden flight to Dubai has ignited rumors of an `in-house change.’ The PPP government’s  flat denials have done little to assuage the uncertainty.

Separately, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US has been asked to appear in a parliamentary approved commission set up to investigate the Abbotabad incident. That commission is scheduled to release its findings at the end of December.

The `memo gate’ scandal is only one more example of ebbing Pakistan US relations. These relations reached a critical point after last month’s incident in which NATO troops killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers at a border post of Afghanistan.

Since then,  Pakistan’s evacuation of US troops from Shamsi air base, its blockade of NATO supplies, boycott of the Bonn conference and refusal to participate in the NATO investigation that killed its soldiers, signifies a shift in its strategy in the region.

Quite tellingly, Pakistan’s envoys  were recently summoned from overseas to  review the nation’s agreements with the US and its allies.

With Haqqani’s departure, President Zardari has nominated another former journalist and Benazir loyalist, Sherry Rehman as his successor. Rehman’s appointment has taken onlookers by surprise because of the differences she has had in the past with the Zardari government, and which had led to her resignation as federal information minister.

However, before Pakistan’s new ambassador can come to Washington, questions remain on how it will respond to gestures by the Obama administration for damage control on the NATO bombings – which have stopped short of a formal apology. The US reportedly awaits  the results of the NATO investigation  before making any further moves toward Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s investigation into the `memo gate’ scandal has the potential to further impact Pakistan’s ties with the US.  More importantly, it holds the key for the PPP and future elected governments.

Engage with Pakistan at Harvard University this Summer

This is the only ‘live’ U.S.-based video con course linking students
with Pakistani leaders and change-makers

Harvard Summer School registration opens in mid-January
Sign up for an email reminder at www.summer.harvard.edu
Traditional and non-traditional students are welcome

South Asian Studies SAST S-140
Cross-listed in Anthropology and Government
June 25 to August 10, 2012

Prominent on everyone’s radar screen, Pakistan is a land of profound paradoxes. It is a nuclear nation whose development indicators are much lower than those of countries with similar income levels. It elected the Muslim world’s first woman head of state, but still suffers from extraordinary gender inequality. It offers a few youth unimaginable opportunities, yet confines many more to grinding poverty. It is home to Sufism, a religion of restraint, tolerance, and compassion, but plagued by horrific violence that seems to stall and, at times, to derail development.

Pakistan’s most tragic paradox may well be the dominance of a development narrative that overstates instability and underestimates the ways in which participation, cooperation, and civil discourse shape the landscape. As evidence, although Pakistan recently suffered a natural disaster greater than two earthquakes and a tsunami combined, international aid appeals met mute indifference. In this course, we aim to counter monologues on terrorism, corruption, inefficiency, and hopelessness by sampling indigenous voices of persistence, enterprise, innovation, and criticism.

Pakistani experts, advocates, and change-makers will share their strategies for countering inequality and injustice in real-time video conferences. Through conversations with these guests, students will gain grounded insights on culturally attuned and sustainable practices of poverty alleviation and, broadly, on a dynamic human-centered development story. Three-hour modules will focus on education, health care, rural and urban development, microfinance and rehabilitation, media activism, politics and human rights, religious expression, and art as social critique.

The course format will emphasize active learning organized around core readings, informed presentations and discussions, reflective blogging, and individual or team projects.

Pakistan business hits at Barriers to Indian trade

LAHORE: Cosmetics are smuggled by donkey through Afghanistan, chemicals and medicines track through Dubai. But only a fraction of legal trade travels directly from India to Pakistan.

A baffling array of legal and practical barriers to exports between the neighbours has spurned unofficial trade worth up to $10 billion, dwarfing official exchanges of $2.7 billion.

But a recent rapprochement that looks to normalise trading relations between India and Pakistan could end a decades-old system that stifles business and saps profits through networks of middlemen, money changers and smugglers.

A booklet of 1,945 items lists trade allowed to run from India to Pakistan – but only 108 can be trafficked directly by road through the border post at Wagah, near the eastern border city of Lahore.

At old markets in Lahore, traders peddle whitening creams and hair dyes that have journeyed from India to Karachi by sea bound for Afghanistan, before being reloaded and smuggled along the Taliban-hit Hindu Kush to re-enter Pakistan.

Along the way a simple anti-wrinkle cream rises from 75 rupees (85 cents) to 160 rupees ($1.82), while black hair dye doubles from five to 10 rupees.

Tonnes of industrial chemicals and drugs travel into Dubai, where their port of origin is relabelled to hide their Indian provenance before being sent on to Pakistan. The process entails a mark-up of 15-20 percent, say importers.

But 15 years after India granted Pakistan “Most Favoured Nation” status in line with World Trade Organisation rules, Pakistan this month finally agreed to return suit, paving the way for a radical reorganisation of bilateral trade.

Pakistan has pledged to open its market to over 7,000 products from India over the next three months and says India should have MFN status by the end of 2012, a step to removing discriminatory higher pricing and duty tariffs.

The list of nearly 2,000 items allowed for trade is to be replaced by a list of disallowed items, and a second trading post has been opened at Wagah.

Observers say the rapprochement signals a seismic shift from Pakistan’s traditional and strategic antipathy to India, and a deeper economic engagement between the countries that is crucial for lasting peace in the region.

“People who are pro-trade have prevailed. For the first time our strategists are viewing economic security as a significant element of national security,” said Abid Hussein, who teaches trade policy at Lahore University of Management Science.

The IMF, which failed to agree a loan package for Pakistan this year amid stalemate on economic reforms, says that GDP growth for the current fiscal year is unlikely to top 3.5 per cent, compared with more than double that for regional superpower India.

But the Pakistan Business Council estimates that enhanced bilateral trade could bump its growth rate by 1-2 per cent. Experts predict $1.5-2 billion could be saved by routing imports directly into India and its 1.2 billion consumers.

Barriers remain, however. Businessmen want to see more land access open up along the 1,800-mile (2,880-kilometre) border, along with more options for air.

On the Indian side of Wagah, only two trucks can be loaded and unloaded at a time, hampering a burgeoning export trade in gypsum and dried dates.

Official figures show that while 4,000 metric tonnes of goods can come into Pakistan on up to 200 trucks per day, only 500 tonnes can leave in 70 trucks.

Overall land trade last year totalled 21 billion rupees in exports compared to 1.33 billion rupees in imports.

For businessmen, their biggest problem is not being able to travel freely.

“I want to export this item to India but I cannot go and cannot market my product. Visa is the main hurdle,” said Aftab Ahmed Vohna, who sits on the Pakistan-India standing committee for the Lahore Chamber of Commerce.

But powerful lobbies remain unconvinced that the hostilities that have led to three wars since independence can melt away.

Hundreds of activists in Pakistani-administered Kashmir on Friday demonstrated against improving trade, and leaders in industries likely to lose out to open competition with India are loudly demanding an opt-out.

They point to India’s protectionist policies in sectors such as agriculture, where exporters pay a 37 per cent tariff instead of the standard 13 per cent.

They fear that Pakistan will be flooded with cheaper Indian goods, strangling domestic business, although Vohna points out that free trade with India’s big rival and Pakistan’s close ally China has failed to do so.

“The main difference between India and China is confidence,” said Vohna.

“Every person argues with me that Indian goods will close our factories. I tell them if Chinese cheap goods cannot close our factories, India’s will not.”

Wilson Center Recommends Sweeping Changes in Troubled Pakistan Aid Program

WASHINGTON: The Wilson Center today released a major new report on the controversial U.S. civilian assistance program to Pakistan, known as Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB). The report warns that substantial mid-course changes are necessary if KLB is to fulfill its goals for both the United States and Pakistan, and provides nearly 30 recommendations for guiding KLB forward.

“We have to get Pakistan right,” said Jane Harman, president and CEO of the Wilson Center. “This report represents an important step in that direction.”

Aiding Without Abetting: Making U.S. Civilian Assistance to Pakistan Work for Both Sides concludes that a robust program of U.S. civilian assistance to Pakistan serves important American interests. It urges Congress not to confuse security aid to the Pakistani military with economic assistance designed to shore up civilian government, address food, health, and energy shortfalls in Pakistan, and lay the groundwork for a successful Pakistan and a long-term U.S.-Pakistani partnership.

“Writing Pakistan out of the American foreign policy script is simply not an option,” President Harman said. “We should not penalize Pakistan’s civilian sector because of our serious differences with its military and should live up to our pledge to provide Pakistan with economic assistance through 2014. ”

“U.S. assistance is not a Pakistani entitlement, however. American aid should augment, not replace, Pakistani funding. We must reenergize and reform the manner in which we deliver civilian aid to Pakistan, with each U.S. aid project including a roadmap and timetable for becoming self-sustaining.”

For more information or for copies of this report, call (202) 691-4020, or email asia@wilsoncenter.org. Click here to read the full report online, in pdf format.

Clash Between NATO and Pakistani Troops Defused

KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 30 — A cross-border incident involving NATO and Pakistani forces was quickly defused early on Wednesday with no loss of life, according to Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, the spokesman for the American-led international coalition here.

Few details of the incident were immediately available but it apparently involved heavy artillery fire across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Afghanistan’s Paktika province.

The firing broke out at a time of Pakistani anger over the killing of 24 of its soldiers in a United States air strike on Saturday. Pakistan closed its border to NATO supply convoys and pulled out of an international conference on Afghanistan next week in Bonn in protest at the killings.

Separately, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed regret at Pakistan’s decision to stay away from the Bonn conference.

“Frankly, it is regrettable that Pakistan has decided not to attend the conference in Bonn, because this conference has been long in the planning,” Mrs. Clinton said in Busan, South Korea before flying to Myanmar on Wednesday.

“Pakistan, like the United States, has a profound interest in a secure, stable, increasingly democratic Afghanistan. Our gathering in Bonn this coming Monday is intended to further that goal.”

In the latest border incident, General Jacobson said it was reassuring that normal channels of cooperation and communication had been opened to resolve the issue.

“We haven’t got the details yet but the most important thing is the normal methods of cooperation worked and there were no casualties, no damage despite heavy firing,” he said.

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Nay Pyi Daw, Myanmar.

Pakistan Extends Business Handshake to Neighboring Iran

Isfahan (Photo Credit: irangashttour.com)

PESHAWAR, Nov 6: The governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Isfahan, a central Iranian province, have signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) to establish a joint chamber of commerce and promote cultural relations, according to an official handout.

As per MOU, the two sides will jointly implement a strategy to promote economic ties, strengthen industrial relationship, encourage investment, and improve services through mutual cooperation and sharing of knowledge, according to the handout.

The document was signed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti and Governor of Isfahan Dr Zakir Isfahani at the latter’s official residence at Isfahan on Friday night.

The KP chief minister is on an official visit to Isfahan. The other members of his delegation include Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour, Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain and additional chief secretary Attaullah Khan. The visit is meant to strengthen mutual ties between the two provinces, explore economic and business opportunities, and enhance cultural and social relations between the peoples of the two sides.

An official handout said the MOU would help facilitate the public and private sectors of the two provinces by strengthening bilateral cooperation. KP would work to receive Iranian cooperation in the field of hydel and thermal power generation.

The two sides would also conduct training courses and workshops to raise workforce skill levels in the fields of textile, food production and wood manufacturing, carpet manufacturing, fruit processing, chemicals and petro-chemicals, steel rolling and production of PVC/HTP pipes used for supplying gas.

The MOU would seek to arrange trade exhibitions and industrial shows as part of their strategy to promote economic cooperation and create opportunities for private investment. Similarly, in the mineral sector, exchange of information and technical know-how gained through research would be shared by holding training courses.

The two sides agreed to facilitate machinery and technology exchange for research in the fields of granite, marble, and precious stones. They agreed to strengthen trade and business between the two provinces by encouraging private sectors.

In this respect, international exhibitions would be arranged and the practice of international tenders and auctions would be pursued.


Pak Businessmen Welcome Trade Concessions for India

Karachi and Mumbai Ports

The recent trip made by a large 80 plus delegation of Pakistani businessmen and government officials led by Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Faheem to India, the Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s visit to New Delhi to hold wide-ranging talks with her Indian counterpart, the upcoming second round of negotiations between the two Commerce Secretaries, and the unequivocal announcement by the Foreign Minister on the floor of the National Assembly, all combined to bring up for intense debate the  issue of granting of Most Favored Nation status to India.

It should be noted that India unilaterally granted MFN to Pakistan over 15 years ago.

Pak Business Delegation in Mumbai

What is this sacrosanct clause that is really not being accepted nor understood by hawks and naysayers in Pakistan. The Most Favored Nation Clause stipulates that “with respect to custom duties and charges of any kind imposed on, or in connection with, importation or exportation, or imposed on the international transfer of payments for import or exports, and with respect to the method of levying such duties and charges, and with respect to all rules and formalities in connection with the importation and exportation, any advantage, favor, privilege or immunity granted by any contracting party to any product originating in, or destined for, any other country shall be accorded immediately and conditionally to the like product originating in, or destined for, the territories for all contracting parties.”


Indo-Pak business council's meeting

It may sound mumbo-jumbo or confusing to read this but all it says is equal treatment for all countries.

I was a member of the Pakistan delegation to India, and at the meeting with CEOs in Mumbai, I posed a direct question to them. I asked them what do the Indian CEOs want from Pakistan and one gentleman straightaway remarked “MFN”! The Pakistani delegation did not respond to this immediately but during the tea break, I nonchalantly mentioned to Ms Meera Sanyal, Country Head of Royal Bank of Scotland and the leader of the Indian side, that Pakistan has already accorded MFN to Indians decades ago.

I stated that over $ 2.50 to $ 3.00 billion worth of Indian goods make their way into Pakistan through undocumented sources.

It is safe to assume that there is a distinctive bias against Pakistani products in Indian officialdom. Moreover, the advantage of economies of scale that Indian manufacturers have due to a burgeoning and vibrant middle class assures them of a strong market and enables them to produce more at a comfortable price.

Indo-Pak moot in progress

Of course, whenever Pakistani businessmen or even government officials attempt to promote trade concessions to India, the vocal anti-business elements loudly proclaim that it would seriously affect Pakistan’s avowed position on Kashmir and that all this talk about cordial and bilateral relations between the two SAARC nations is directly aimed at diluting the intensity of the Kashmir cause.

The anti-MFN lobby counter with the argument that since India has formidable engineering, computers, petrochemicals, and heavy metal industries, etc, it would be difficult for the Pakistani enterprises to compete on an equal footing.

The concept of two religions also is a motivating force for the anti-MFN lobby. They also refer to the concentrated campaign on Kashmir by the government, not only within the country but also among the Islamic nations. They state that on the one hand, the government is highlighting the Kashmir cause and on the other hand, there are no qualms about granting preferential trade privileges. They do not appreciate the idea of a negative trade balance as they feel that the Indian importers will not reciprocate in the same spirit.

Meeting of Business heads in Mumbai

One must then also acknowledge that even though Pakistan does not recognize Taiwan, yet there is a beeline of Pakistani traders conducting business with Taiwanese businessmen. This is one solid case of doing business with those whom Pakistan’s “all-weather” friend does not recognize or accept. Here, trade took precedence over political compulsions. Then why not unshackle the Indo-Pak trade regime?

Pakistan must at all costs talk about regional peace, regional trade, and regional interaction. The country must take the lead to bring about an enabling environment to achieve these objectives. All efforts must be made to increase economic activities because deliverance only lies through massive industrialization and commercial activities.

The policy to club all polemical issues between Pakistan and India and demanding their resolution first has not worked but, in the process, has resulted in sacrificing profitable economic contacts and damaging the one chance to stimulate economic activity in the present recessionary scene.

Pakistani and Indian leadership must stop this ego-trip and blatant propaganda. The leaders must put the welfare of people paramount. Efforts such as Amn ki Asha are commendable initiatives. The political hierarchy must work for the prosperity of the region. Only through trade and industry could this roadmap be achieved. The destiny of millions depends on how the national leaders in India and Pakistan weave their decisions and actions.

The writer is the former president of Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry