Friday, August 14, 2015

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor and the lessons from the Suez and Panama Canals

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor ("CPEC") has been generating much optimism for Pakistan for a number of years. The recent impetus has given solid grounds for this great vision for the future.

However, we must also try and place the CPEC in some conceptual framework to make the best use of it and avoid any pitfalls.

In my opinion, the Suez and Panama Canals can provide relevant examples in this regard. Both like the CPEC are main routes for international trade and provide alternates to longer ‘available’ routes.

A bird’s eye view of the history of the Suez and Panama Canals brings out the following important points which may be relevant for the CPEC:

1. Any international corridor including the CPEC must be neutral to all the trading interests so as to avoid conflicts. As long as the Canals remained partisan, the conflicts continue to erupt thus setting back the economic benefits.

In addition to lowering the resistance to the CPEC, by making the CPEC, ‘nationality neutral’ and by bringing in the other regional players, Pakistan can avoid any slumps in any one economy which can be the case if we solely rely on the pacific giant. Example of Japan suggests that the manufacturing power houses have a sell by date and there is no guarantee that in twenty years time, export direction of manufactured goods will remain the same.

Furthermore, adding the other regional powers to the CPEC, will avoid the controversy of western or eastern routes within Pakistan. By bringing the countries in the east to the party, our eastern districts will benefit greatly. Similarly the western corridor will help in developing the underdeveloped western parts.

2. It is not to be taken for granted that CPEC will transform Pakistan into a higher level of existence or development. For instance, despite having the Suez and Panama Canals for many decades Egypt and Panama largely remain underdeveloped countries.

I would venture to suggest that to have long term transforming effects of the CPEC, we will need to develop our local human resource by investing in their education and other social services and making them economically benefit from the CPEC. Again the contrast between Egypt and Panama on the one hand and Japan on the other, makes it plain. The latter invested in people and despite being overtaken by China as manufacturing hub Japan has transformed it's society into a cosmopolitan and self-sustaining one.

To emphasise at the cost of repetition, Pakistan may be better off by investing any windfalls from the CPEC on lifting its citizen to a higher civilisational state. This is a gamble worth taking as it is the only guarantee of the long term positive legacy of the CPEC.

3. There will be competition to the CPEC just as Panama canal gave competition to the Suez Canal.  The window of opportunity may not be as long as we may imagine. Therefore, it is imperative that we get it right soon and from the very beginning. Already a lot of time has been wasted, and the hurried agreements signed by the PMLN regime are not the best bargains for Pakistan. If for instance, we had signed these agreements in 2006, when Pakistani economy was peaking, we could have had better deals.

Nonetheless, having signed the first agreements of the CPEC, Pakistan needs to market the project to other interests and get the deals in its favour for a change. 

The motivation for writing this article is merely to generate a debate with historical examples on the subject and to make 'CPEC plus' a transforming phase for Pakistani people and not merely a blip in the history which comes and goes, without touching the lives of the masses and leaving them as they ever have been.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Asghar Khan Case and the Campaign Funding

The decision (the Decision) in the Asghar Khan's case is a welcome one. Without going into the moral and legal implications of the decision, I would like to consider this an opportune time to open a debate on the public and private funding to the political parties.

The Spending Limits

Presently, the legal provisions on this area are contained in section 48 of the Representation of People Act, 1976. This section limits the election spending to one million for a provincial and, one and half million for a national constituency.

For starters these limits are unrealistic and are not followed. This creates a handicap for the law abiding who wants to follow the law. But those who have no regard for the law, have no care for the limits set and openly exceeds the limits set.

Accordingly, it would be better to either remove these limits or to increase them to realistic level so that the law abiding can compete with the law breakers without the fear of attracting penal consequences.

These limits encourage corruption and the corrupt and does the opposite for the law abiding as is clear from the Decision.

Since the experience has proven that there is no way to regulate the election expense thus it makes perfect sense to create a level playing field for the corrupt and the honest.

Private Funding

Another aspect of keeping the present limits is that the parties and the candidates hide the sources of funding that they receive. This allows the hidden hands of the mighty, who can escape the law, to play their part in the electioneering but discourage those who have sympathy for one political party or the other but do not donate because of their respect for the law.

By removing the limits and allowing the donations to the political parties and the candidates, we can remove this distortion in our political system.

It would also make sense to treat such donations as donations to charities for the purposes of income tax. That is to say such donations should be excluded from the income chargeable to tax.

Public Funding

The third aspect of the Decision is that the state sometimes feels the need to fund the political parties in order to provide a true choice to the voters. However, because of the lack of legal cover for such funding this is done underhand and behind the closed doors.

It will be far better to introduce a system of public funding for the political parties than to find ways to break the law.

Such a system will remove and/or limit the influence of the big money on our politics. A middle class party will be able to follow its ideals without compromise.

There are many models which we can choose to follow.

However, the best approach in our current scenario for 2013 elections will be to fund all the political parties in proportion to the number of candidates that they validly field.

After the 2013 elections the system should be changed to fund the parties in proportion to the votes that each receives.

These reforms are necessary to remove the distortions from our system and will encourage the people to follow the laws.

I end by stating an ancient principle of law making: 'only such laws should be enacted which are to be followed'!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Black Men's Burden: Drone Strikes and Obama

When Barrack Obama got elected as the President of the USA, I thought that he will be dogged by a clear dilemma with no strategic solution, namely he would have to decide between saving the US economy or continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • If Obama was to continue the wars and with increased defense spending, the American economy would have been stretched to the limits and could have collapsed.
  • If Obama was to pull out of the wars and cut defense spending, he would have been labelled as unpatriotic and his African American credentials would have put a question mark over the patriotism of all African Americans in the USA. Thus weakening the US polity.

As it happened, Obama tried to save the economy and, limit the wars and curtail the defense budget to manageable limits. Obama refused to engage Iran and Syria militarily or go alone over Libya; Obama tried to invoke the Eisenhower model of military alliances thus sharing the costs with other countries. And it is no surprise that Obama is labelled as soft and apologetic in foreign policy matters by the Republicans, which are gentle words for being unpatriotic or a traitor!

However, perhaps cognizant of the aspersions on his patriotism Obama has not been able to take decisions to change the policies which are not effective and inhumane but which had lesser economical impact such as the drone strikes in Pakistan's Tribal Areas.

The drone strikes have clearly been counter productive in winning the hearts and minds battle are inhumane and ineffective but the American government has been unable to put an end to an this ineffective policy.

The explanation for this failure perhaps lies in the dilemma that Obama faced on getting elected and continues to face: he needed to save the American economy without being branded as unpatriotic or weak, especially since he is the first African American President. Only solution to this dilemma was to end the expansive wars and continue the policies with low economic impact but deemed supremely macho and which Obama could wave as the symbols of his patriotism! Drone strikes is just one such policy unfortunately for Pakistan and the children and the parents of the Tribal Areas.

The good news is that if Obama is reelected the pressure on him to be seem to be tough and patriotic may lessen along with the black man's burden that he has been carrying!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Lack or the Breakdown of the Family in Arabs and Terrorism

At the bottom of the terrorism in its suicidal form is an individual who does not value his life as much as  his cause. In other words such person's self esteem is low.

Now it is a well known fact that the children from broken families have a low estimation of their worth unless there are other factors to bolster their self image.

The prevalence of would be suicide bombers or the number of those willing to fight for a cause at great personal risk, in the Muslim and especially the Arab world makes me wonder if there is a link between the familial structure in those societies and the propensity of under valuing their lives in those populations.

It is norm in the Arab world for men to take more than one wife simultaneously and have children from them. I would suspect that the children brought up in such families would have considerably less attention from their fathers than may be necessary for the modern times.

It is also prevalent in these societies to award the women a lesser status and hence the children who are left with their mothers due to the fathers having multiple wives (or being dead) face the double jeopardy in terms of forming the image of their relationship with the outside world: fathers absent and they are left with lesser beings namely their mothers. In my opinion this should clearly leave a child brought up in such environment with a view that his life is not the foremost thing in the world and accordingly the notion that he will put his self-interest above all will be lost upon him.

Such children should be more susceptible to take grave risks for causes which they would consider more worthy than themselves.

Accordingly, all things being equal, societies with polygamy and lesser rights for women, are more prone to answer the call of duty through most self-endangering means than the societies in which monogamy is prevalent and women have more rights.

The evidence of this theory can also be seen in Afghanistan. 

Therefore, a long term aspect of more humane and worthy societies, should be to encourage monogamy and/or more and equal rights for women. Failing these, single mothers or fathers should be given a star status in the societies so that the children have a higher sense of their self and hence are less keen to be reckless with their lives.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A tryst with the truth!

For each moment of the existence, we try to understand the reality. We as humans keep our part of bargain; but the truth never does. The truth never comes out. It never stares straight in our eye. It evades, avoids, and then disappears, and leaves us to write our own version of it. But search for it we do; and those who decide otherwise and create their own truth, the truth bows to them, for after all its their truth!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rumsfeld was not a complete moron after all!

Having read and thought about the US military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, I am coming to the conclusion that Donald Rumsfeld was not a complete moron; he in fact had got the right thinking of how to handle these wars but was hoodwinked in to bigger military action and presence by some bad military advice.

Rumsfeld wanted a small lean military operation to get rid of Saddam Hussain and for this his estimate of forces was below twenty thousand. The US military somehow convinced the powers that be to increase this number over one hundred thousand! And the rest is history.

It seems soldiers beget more soldiers!

Americans have now come full circle to the initial assessment of Mr Donald Rumsfeld in how they are to manage Iraq and Afghanistan. A small presence with emphasis on training and enough tactical power to overcome any threat to the civilian elected regimes! It really was that simple!

Hopefully, Barrack Hussain Obama, arguably the greatest commander alive, will be more conservative in using his armies, and let discretion be the better part of valour!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Senate Elections: Almost Fictional

The recent Senate elections did not feel right for some unbeknowneth reason. I venture to speculate that the reasons these elections felt wrong were two folds:

(1) Strangely, the masses and the people over whom these Overlords are to be settled, had no role to play in their elections! It almost seemed unreal and so disconnected from reality that one's soul revolted in revulsion. How could our system be so out of touch that it is electing or selecting BIG law makers without even an iota of input from the masses! Talk about irrelevance of the present wreck of a system.

(2) The assemblies that elected the Senators Sahibs have lost their moral credibility and mandate. Four years have passed since their elections and they have delivered but an iota, lot of heart break and economic melt down. Yet they had the cheek to select so called 'public representatives' and getting paid for that as well! If it were left to me, I would delete the word honour from Pakistani dictionaries and replace it with 'shame' as the new word of honour for the present legislators.

I say gentlemen, this system is rotten to the core. Throw it in the hell, and let those be a part of it, rot in hell.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Elected Representatives: Limiting Their Role as the Electors

Our political system in prone to instability mainly because the executive needs to maintain a simple majority in the elected assemblies.

Our elected assemblies wear at least three hats: (1) legislatures; (2) electors for the offices of the president and the prime minister etc; and (3) representatives of their constituencies and their interests in the development etc.

My point of departure is that role of the representatives as 'electors'  for the office of the prime minister should end once they elect a prime minister. Thereafter, the doctrine of trichotomy of powers, the basic structure of our constitution demands that the our assemblies should become legislators alone, separate and distinct from our executive. This is how the system of check and balance can fully work.

Presently, the executive and the legislature remain interdependent and both cannot do justice to their assigned roles. If we tweak our system a little, we can have far more stable system, namely:

  • once the elected representatives have elected a prime minister, their right to change him or her should go in abeyance unless it is invoked by two thirds of their majority on some limited grounds.
  • And, if such numbers are not forthcoming a majority or some other percentage should be able to call a general election.
  • The right to call for the general elections should also be given to the masses, who should be able to petition for the general elections if they can come up with a certain number say one million signatures or supporters.
  • Furthermore, the voters in each constituency should have a right to recall their representatives and call for the elections in that constituency if they can gather certain number of signatures say five thousand!
Given that in foreseeable future, coalition governments are likely to be the norm rather than the exception, the urgency for these reforms could not be overstated.

These are small measures but will go a long way in stabilizing our polity and making it more democratic! This will also reduce the risk in making a wrong decision at the elections!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

US-PAK relations: Dec 2011

Anti-Americanism was high in the mid nineties among the Pakistanis. I was a student of economics and politics at Leeds. The university was awash with young Islamists who saw the Western civilization as an imperialistic exploiter and conspirator against the Muslim countries. USA was specially singled out as the arch enemy having installed puppet governments in Muslim countries and suppressing the Muslims masses through them.

I decided to investigate. Luckily, I was offered a one year module "US in the World" under Dr Christine Margerum Harlen, and I chose the USA-Pakistan relationship from 1947 to 1997 as my assessment essay. I did not disgrace myself, or so it seemed at the time. 

I could not find any conspiracy in the conduct of US foreign policy towards Pakistan and concluded that in 1997 the US policy had the following major aims in Pakistan, namely:
  • Countering terrorism
  • Stopping narcotics trade
  • Controlling immigration
  • Expanding democracy
  • Countering nuclear proliferation
  • Promoting regional peace and trade (i.e. to keep India and Pakistan away from war) 
I have lost the manuscript of the essay but its structure was to divide the US foreign policies towards Pakistan under each President and to find out the reasons for such policies in the international context, leadership preferences and biases, domestic compulsions in both countries and fate!

Pakistan, at its inception, did not get good press and was seen as an anachronistic state and the preference in the USA was for relations with India. It was the Eisenhower policy of building alliances to share the economic cost of the cold war that saw Pakistan's importance rise in the USA as the Indians had taken a non-aligned stance. The Kennedy years were marked by Kennedy's bias towards India and that had the pivotal effect of Pakistan looking towards China! Lyndon Johnson remained preoccupied with Vietnam and that combined with the civil rights movement in the USA etc meant an off and on relationship with Pakistan then under a military ruler. This frustrated both Pakistan and the USA! USA had given the weaponry to Pakistan for use against the communist enemy but Pakistan had taken it for use against India! USA law prohibited supplies to the countries engaged in wars, but the1965 war happened! Pakistanis got bitter as US stopped supplies. Nixon and Kissinger did not quite like Indira Gandhi and admired Bhutto more, and used  Pakistan's closeness with China to their advantage. This could have been a golden period for both countries but Mr Bhutto could not take advantage presumably because of his socialistic credentials.Pakistan's nuclear initiative triggered American sanctions and a further deterioration of relations resulted. Reagan and Zia era was saw a resurgence of warmth in relations thanks mainly to the hot conflict in Afghanistan in the Cold War to mutual benefit of both countries. The collapse of the USSR and the fall of Berlin Wall pushed US to follow more mundane goals in foreign policy as identified above.

That, it seems, remained the case until nine eleven. The need to invade and occupy Afghanistan brought US close to Pakistan again.

The USA policy makers maintain that they do not have any realpolitik aims in Afghanistan and that they want to help Afghanistan become a stable country presumably through the proven formula of democracy and free markets and by limiting the role of the Taliban and al Qaeeda.

If that be so, the question arises does the US still need Pakistan the same way as it did immediately after nine  eleven? Probably not.

USA should be keen to pull out of Afghanistan as the ostensible US goals in Afghanistan 'now' are rather altruistic. And, it may be that given the weakening economy USA is seeking to share and/or lower the cost/price either through exit or bringing in more partners. Such partners, it seems, are not forthcoming, thus exit seems a plausible option.

Throw in the 2012 re-election bid of Barrack Obama and the complexity of the issue increases even more.

To summarize US policy makers do not have any strategic goals in Afghanistan, their economy is down, and the president faces re-election. The ideal policy would be get out of Afghanistan. That would salvage the economy; a feel good factor for the domestic electors; and USA could hope to pay Afghanistan enough in the hope of achieving its objectives.

All else being equal, what does the USA policy constraints mean for the policy towards Pakistan?

It would be fair to say that since USA needs to exit therefore its policy towards Pakistan would either revert back to pre-nine eleven days if Pakistan does not factor in the exit strategy or may become more entrenched if Pakistan becomes a part of the exit plan.

The events of Memogate and the NATO attack killing Pakistani soldiers on 26 November 2011, may point that Pakistan is not part of the exit plan and hence USA and Pakistan will revert to pre-nine eleven relationship status, all else being equal.