On the US-China Summit
The presidents of China and US met informally on June 9 and 10 at a resort in southern California. The agenda for the talks included North Korea, deescalating tensions with Japan over the Senkaku Islands, climate change, and managing the evolving cyber security related risks between the two nations. However, these are hardly the only high priority issues.
The meeting of the two heads of states has occurred at a peculiar time when the US-Russia ties are tensing up further, especially over the affairs of Syria. Then, there is the stalemate of Afghan reconciliation and the connected US and NATO withdrawal.
At this juncture, the importance of China to US has increased even more. The US would not want to alienate two heavyweights of the UN Security Council at the same time, and thus create a vibe that resonates of a civilizational divide. Not only that, in this evolving atmosphere, events suggest confrontation may be creeping in on the fringes of the otherwise cooperative US-China ties. And the trade and Cyber wars are the more obvious new fronts.
While the China-US ties are moving towards cooperation in the Middle East and Africa, in the Asia Pacific and Americas matters appear to be tilting more towards rivalry, while affairs hang in the balance when it comes to South and Central Asia. And, the Summit was to take a stock of where the two powers are heading.
The path of the Xi’s trip to the US passed through Latin America. His visit included Cost Rica and Mexico. Just before Xi’s trip, Obama and Biden made their own trips to almost the same states. Most of the US and Chinese activities in Latin America have to do with trade and economics, but the experts agree that something may be fundamentally changing in the Americas.
This alteration may have to do with and connected to the American pivot to the Asia Pacific. Although American scholars are very reluctantly pointing to this, nonetheless, the suspicion is there. The Chinese may be sneaking in to the American home sphere of influence using the garb of trade. Obviously, this is not the first time this has happened in history. Does this mean US would have to take a fresh look at the Monroe Doctrine and Roosevelt Corollary is yet to be seen.
When it comes to the Middle East, it’s not clear if the US has convinced China to get more involved, or if the country is doing this on its own. China recently presented its own four-point proposal for resolving the infamous Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though immediately shrugged off by Russia. As part of Chinese Middle East peace initiative, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both visited China in May. It should be noted that on the Syrian conflict, China and Russia have pretty much upheld the same position, non-intervention and respect for state sovereignty.
However, media reports reflect a push by the US to get China more involved in the core issues of the Arab world. For this purpose, the two states may include the Middle East peace in the upcoming US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. The talks are likely to divulge into the role of Russia in Syria. When it comes to the Middle East, Chinese encroachment appears to be welcomed and influenced by the US, but resented by Russia.
On the other hand, China recently revealed its recent decision to send 500 troops to Mali. These soldiers will be under the UN security mission and in support of France. Some of these troops are meant for combat mission, which is a first for China. The country has largely stayed away from such operations in the past, as it does not want to be seen as intervening in other countries for efforts linked to the wider war on terror. However, China is clearly going beyond that hesitation now. The country wants to be seen as a responsible global player and a stabilizing force in Africa.
The US also appears unconcerned regarding the Chinese role in the AfPak region. China and India have invested heavily in Afghanistan and thus require a stable security situation there, in which Pakistan can help greatly. Using its sway over its strategic partner, China can possibly make things a lot easier for NATO withdrawal.
Pakistan usually delicately balances its ties between both the US and China. However, the nation may have settled its bets in favour of China. The country recently handed over the administration of its strategic Gwadar Port to a Chinese firm. Moreover, Pakistan has made a decision to adopt the Chinese Beidou navigation system for its critical systems, expected to be fully functional globally by 2020.
As in the Americas, Chinese and American officials are following each other in and out of South Asia. John Kerry will be visiting Pakistan and India towards the end of June. His visit will be following by that of the Chinese premier, who visited Pakistan even before the new government was installed.
China, Russia and the US, share the threat from Islamic extremists. The difference is over how far to go towards eradicating the menace, and whether the solution is a political or military one. China and Russia are concerned that states aligned to them are dissipating while fighting the war.
The approach China adopts in South Asia is derived totally from its ties with the US. This is not much different from how the US positions itself against China. While Russia may be happy to see China sneaking in America’s backyard, it does not appear pleased about its role in the Middle East. At the same time, China and Russia share worries over American presence in the Pacific.
While the US has tried to appease Russia by backing off slightly from the European missile defence system, their views are diverging over the situation of Middle East.
The unfolding events of Syria have further demonstrated the fight there may be more related to the global tussles and the reestablishment of spheres of influence. And, in this sense we are seeing history repeating itself.
The writer is chief analyst at PoliTact, a Washington based futurist advisory firm (www.PoliTact.com and twitter.com/politact) and can be reached at email@example.com
Egyptians organising for June 30th
June 30th marks Mohamed Morsi’s first anniversary as President of Egypt. It is also the date set for nationwide demonstrations protesting Morsi’s increasingly authoritarian leadership and the role his Muslim Brotherhood is playing in post-Tahrir Egypt.
The organizing effort for June 30th is called “Tamarrod” (rebel). They have, at last report, collected over 15 million signatures on petitions endorsing their protest movement and are convening nationwide organizing meetings in preparation for the big day. Expectations are running high that Tamarrod may replicate the government-changing events of January/February 2011.
It remains to be seen whether this movement succeeds or fizzles out, but what its early successes reflect is the fact that the Morsi government is in deep trouble. A recently completed poll of 5,029 Egyptians adults, conducted by Zogby Research Services (ZRS) found that Morsi, his government, and party have, in fact, suffered a dramatic loss of support and legitimacy.
One year ago, despite having been elected by a minority of eligible voters, Mohamed Morsi was being given the benefit of the doubt by a majority of all Egyptians—with 57 per cent saying his victory was either “a positive development” or “the result of a democratic election and the results need to be respected.”
Today, that support has dropped to only 28 per cent, with almost all of it coming from those who identify with his Muslim Brotherhood party. And yet despite this narrow base of support, the president and his party now hold most of the levers of executive and legislative decision-making authority and are using them to crack down on the press, civil society, and most forms of dissent. In addition, there are worrisome signs of still more over-reach by the presidency. As a result, over 70 per cent of the electorate now expresses concern that “the Muslim Brotherhood intends to Islamise the state and control its executive powers.”
What emerges from the ZRS findings is a portrait of a post-Tahrir Egypt in crisis with a deeply divided electorate. The poll shows that the major opposition groups (the National Salvation Front and the April 6th Movement) combined have a somewhat larger potential support base than the governing parties. The opposition, though repeatedly out-organised in elections by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Nour Party, can claim the confidence of almost 35 per cent of the adult population. The remaining almost 40 per cent of the population, while holding political views identical to those of the opposition, appear to have no confidence in either the government or any of Egypt’s opposition parties. They are a “disaffected plurality.”
This loss of confidence in the government can be seen in the responses to every question asked in the ZRS survey, with an overwhelming majority of Egyptians expressing disapproval of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and dissatisfaction with their policies and performance in: drafting and embracing what is seen as a flawed constitution-writing process; and failing to provide economic opportunity, needed services, guaranteeing personal freedoms, and keeping the country safe. In each of these areas, only about one-quarter of the electorate expresses some degree of approval with the actions of the government, while almost three-quarters disapprove. In each instance, the support for the government comes almost exclusively from those who identify with the Muslim Brotherhood, while the rest of the population is nearly unanimous in their disapproval.
What also comes through quite clearly is that the opposition to Morsi suffers from a crisis in leadership and organisetion. Of the nine living Egyptian figures covered in the ZRS poll (including all those who ran for president and/or who lead opposition political parties), none are viewed as credible by more than a third of the electorate, with most seen as credible by only a quarter. Only Bassem Yousef, a popular TV satirist who has been indicted by the government and charged with insulting the “presidency” and Islam, is viewed as credible by a majority of Egyptians.
While division defines much of the poll’s findings, there were a few areas where consensus could be found. Interestingly, the late president Anwar Sadat won extremely high ratings from all groups – Islamists, secular oppositionists, and the “disaffected”. More significantly, the army also receives strong approval ratings from all sectors and parties – an overall 94 per cent positive rating – with the judiciary following closely behind. These two institutions have, at times, acted as buffers muting the presidency’s tendency to over-reach. But while a majority of supporters of the opposition parties and the “disaffected” would like the army to play a larger role, there is not strong overall support for military intervention in civil affairs.
What to do next? Immediate elections for a new parliament are supported by the Islamic parties. But this idea is rejected by most other Egyptians, with a substantial majority saying that they do not believe that new elections would be fair or transparent. The opposition, and a majority of the electorate, strongly favours scrapping the constitution. But this is rejected by supporters of the main Islamic parties.
The only proposal that receives near unanimous support from all groups is the convening of “a real national dialogue” – though it remains to be seen what such a dialogue might accomplish given the polarisetion that currently exists.
So one year after Mohamed Morsi’s victory, Egypt is in crisis. The economy is in shambles, rights are being eroded, and a minority-supported party controls the power over a deeply fractured polity. Into this arena comes the Tamarrod movement and its attempt to unite the opposition and organise the disaffected in a last ditch effort to force needed change. It remains to be seen what June 30th will bring, but regardless of the outcome, it will be a momentous day in Egypt’s contemporary political development.
The writer is President, Arab American Institute
Putting up with parasitism
Why does Pakistan routinely consider IMF-style austerity which decision-makers and well-off don’t suffer? Because, as well known, those with ulterior motives don’t have to repay. Mostly the hapless taxpayers do. Every time another loan is taken, it never eases economic problems. In fact, money doesn’t even change hands. It’s just a ledger entry in Washington of what’s lent by the IMF and immediately ‘returned’ to pay the current year’s usury.
What we should say instead is: “Sorry guys, our people are suffering unbearably. We’ll pay you later when we can.” We’ve paid off the principal anyway, as have dozens of countries, some several times over. If Argentina, Ecuador, even Dubai, can default, why can’t we? A moratorium would be a much-needed, learning exercise.
Why is it, the more our governments borrow on our behalf, the more indebted we get? When leading financial experts including those who’ve worked within the World Bank-IMF system have denounced crippling terms as dubious and unnecessary, why can’t we extricate ourselves? Hundreds of reports documenting IMF methods and consequences over the past four decades are readily available: on structural adjustment hacking social spending – health, education, water, sanitation, literally snatching food from children’s mouths.
A question never asked of our governments or lenders – why are objectives and terms of loans taken in the name of the people, not debated with the people, and so secretive? Even the pro-market Economist of London called it an international loan shark – because the system is rigged to scuttle repayment. Like any money-lender, they just want to collect interest forever.
In 1988, economist Davison Budhoo revealed in his 22-page resignation letter – more of an expose of IMF ‘expertise’ – after his 11 years with it: “When we went on a mission, we did not even have the scope to innovate, to look at the country and make projections, that you thought were reasonable… there was already a briefing paper before we entered the country. We were told what we were expected to do, and give conditionality in terms of what the fiscal deficit was and how much it should be reduced; even before we entered the mission… we were expected to structure our findings in relation to the figures in the briefing paper, which were put there without any research, and were predetermined. So the conditionality was also predetermined… In this sense, every IMF mission is fraudulent even today…”
Usurious earnings also support ostentatious lifestyles. As Budhoo described: “…The salary/allowances package of a median missionary staffer would be in the region of five to ten times the budgeted salary of almost every Third World head of state, and some one thousand times the per capita income of that of two-thirds of mankind that he is paid so handsomely to crush down into further destitution.” It’s easier to be conscience-free yes-men than to resign over principles.
Christine Lagarde, the current head of IMF, draws $400,000 annually, excluding perks. Third World people lose their livelihoods, go hungry, just to shoulder the lifestyles of 9,000 World Bank and 2,500 IMF personnel. As economist Jeffrey Sachs once said: “the Fund’s usual prescription is budgetary belt tightening to countries that are much too poor to own belts”.
Usury was forbidden by all major religions until some invented ways around it. The Muslim governments ignore it for supposed “lack of choice”. If countries can’t pay up, public assets are often sold to do so. Nor do IMF ethics see privatization of natural resources or essential services as human rights violations.
Even investor Warren Buffet calls them “the financial weapons of mass destruction”. So why do we put up with parasitism – or ‘Odious Debt’ as it’s aptly known? Unfortunately, few who understood the system blow the whistle – they were too comfortable in their overpaid lifestyle.
Governments inheriting past debts, when occasionally trying to frame the right policies, find their hands tied because IMF takes first priority before spending for food, jobs, poverty alleviation, and maybe some development. Even 40 years ago, total Third World debt was $135 billion; it quadrupled in 6 years. In another 12 years, debtors paid $1.6 trillion, and still left with almost as much in new interest-debt! Borrowing repeatedly to pay off interest ensures permanent debt-slavery.
Reduced to penury and fed up, the Latin American countries launched BANCOSUR (Bank of the South), their own development bank, sans dollars and outside interference. Initiated by Hugo Chavez in 2007 after Venezuela fully paid off the WB/IMF debt – thanks to nationalizing and retaking their oil – it will be fully operational this year. Is that possible here regionally? Will the new government focus on strictly enforcing transparency and accountability, without which corruption can’t be eliminated? Or are we doomed by our own leaders collaborating with post-independence colonizers?
KP, Punjab focus on development, Sindh on patronage
Three provincial governments announced their budgets on Monday. Provincial governments run by Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakthunkhwa (KP) governments, each run by a different political party were announced. Some would suggest that it was the first time that the difference in mandate and manifesto came out strongly: the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) with its governance and social service focused manifesto in KP, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in Punjab with its focus on grand projects and austerity, and the Pakistan People Pakistan’s (PPP) in Sindh with more patronage projects on offer. The difference between the total budgets in each province is stark and dependent upon the economic strength of them. Punjab announced the largest provincial budget of Rs871 billion. Sindh’s provincial budget laid out an outlay of Rs 617 billion while KP’s budget was Rs344 billion.
A lot of eyes and ears were focusing on the PTI, which is in government the first time, and according to some observers the budget is the first “KP budget with a clear economic programme.” In comparison to the KP Finance Minister Sirajul Haq’s budget speech, the Awami National Party used the budget speech to blame the province’s problems on Islamabad and then merely recited the budget numbers. Haq, however, set out the PTI’s policy priorities, connected them to the budget number and spoke of how these policies would bear fruit. Apart from imposing a one percent tax on Afghan transit trade, no new tax was announced. The formation of a tax authority, already in place in Sindh and Punjab, was announced while a Rescue 1122 service would also be established. Rs22billion and Rs67billion were allocated for health and education respectively, while an education emergency was announced with the formation of an Education Advisory Commission is on the cards. How this would work out with the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) in coalition and most of the province’s education shifted to madrassas is a question that will need answering.
Punjab’s Rs26 billion deficit budget imposes taxes on the rich, especially on the luxury immoveable property (houses) in urban areas, fashion and music shows, horse racing and circus. Allocating eight per cent apiece to agriculture and infrastructure respectively, the Punjab government has chosen to let the federal government handle the electricity crisis. In Sindh, however, around 40 per cent of the development budget was taken up by discretionary grants. That is sticking to the trodden path of doling out patronage to the select few. Some new taxes have however been imposed as well as practices to make the Sindh Taxation Authority more effective, however, the GST rate was kept at 16 percent. The common features amongst the budgets were that minimum pay was increased from Rs9,000 to Rs10,000 per month. However, implementation will remain a key concern. With Punjab not following KP and Sindh’s 15 per cent increase in government salaries, some protests have been seen in the province. Three different forms of governance have emerged. It remains to be seen which will succeed.
On the issue of peace in the country
The two terrorist attacks in Balochistan were not the first of their kind in the province. There was however a new government in the province led by a nationalist leader and another one at the centre under the PML-N. Both were committed to put an end to extremism and militancy. Their claims had inspired hopes that henceforth serious and meaningful steps would be taken to bring peace to Balochistan and the rest of the country. The matter this time has therefore gone beyond routine condemnation. Questions have been raised in both the houses of parliament about the apparent civil military disconnect, and government control, or rather lack of it, over intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Speaking at the floor of the house in the National Assembly, Mahmood Khan Achakzai underlined in strong words the need to rein in the establishment, which he held responsible for patronizing the militants. In the Senate, members of the house both from the treasury and opposition benches unanimously demanded parliamentary control over agencies without which, they maintained, peace could not be restored in the country.
In his briefing to the Senate, federal interior minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan told the house that Saturday’s terrorist attacks on the Ziarat Residency and Bolan Medical Complex were the result of “serious security lapses” and “lack of coordination” between security and law enforcement agencies. He admitted that terrorists had managed to transport a huge quantity of explosives and arms in vehicles passing through a number of check-posts manned by the police, FC and even army personnel both in Ziarat and Quetta. That despite such deployments the terrorists managed to carry out attacks raises serious questions.
The security establishment needs to pay heed to the speeches in the Senate where speaker after speaker demanded an end to the prevailing civil military disconnect over extremism and militancy. It was maintained by the senators irrespective of their political affiliations that there was a need to bring the operation of the agencies under the ambit of legislation to be able to address the issue of terrorism, forced disappearances, weak response and lack of coordination between different organs of the setup. Unless the security establishment puts its act together it would be under increasing pressure in the days to come. While in democracies, civilian control over the security network is established through proper legislation and better working of the parliamentary committees, the interior ministry too needs to improve its functioning to be able to rein in the law enforcement agencies.
PML-N government’s promise of rebuilding economy is linked with tackling terrorism
Terrorism has played havoc with business and industry during the last few years. Businessmen have either been forced to pay protection money or kidnapped for ransom. Bank heists have been committed by militants to raise funds for their activities. They have bombed business centers, mosques, shrines and schools, targeted law enforcement personnel and security installations, crating a perception that Pakistan was a soft state. This has led a number of countries and international bodies to discourage foreign nationals from traveling to Pakistan. The feeling of uncertainty created by terrorist attacks has led a number of Pakistani entrepreneurs to shift their businesses abroad. Meanwhile the rate of foreign direct investments has shrunk over the years. From the 20007-08 peak of RS 5,409m the FDI has come down year after year to reach a nadir of Rs853.5 million in 2012-13 (July-April). Unending acts of terrorism, rise in crime and shutter down cum wheel jam strikes in response to terrorist attacks have led to flight of capital from Karachi to Dubai, Bangladesh, Malaysia and some western countries.
Hopes that there would be a respite to terrorist attacks after the new elections have turned out to be unfounded. Since take over by the new government a number of terrorist attacks have rocked KP, Balochistan and Karachi. In KP at least two policemen have been killed and a High School blown up. In Swabi, two volunteers in the anti polio campaign were shot. In Miranshah, militants killed three security personnel. Meanwhile troops fighting insurgency in Tirah valley lost a Lt Colonel. In Balochistan, LeJ claimed bombing a bus carrying girl students and teachers and later attacking the hospital where the wounded were taken, raising the toll of those killed to 25. Earlier, the BLA had claimed destroying the historic Ziarat Regency. A day later armed militants killed three soldiers in Killa Saifullah area. In Mastung, gunmen kidnapped 3 more. In Karachi, three security guards were wounded in an attack by unknown motorcyclists.
The PML-N government is concentrated on turning round the economy. While these efforts are commendable the government has to realize that eliminating militancy is as important, if not more so, to resuscitate the economy. It is disconcerting to note that the government has not yet devised any policy to eradicate terrorism beyond a vague reiteration of desire for talks with the militants. The spokesman of the TTP on the other hand has clarified that there is no possibility of talks for the time being. This reduces the government’s space to maneouvre. Meanwhile, a newspaper report tells of several businessmen in and around Islamabad having been issued notices by the TTP to pay millions of dollars worth of protection money or face consequences. There is a dire need on the part of the PML-N government to move apace to resolve the issue of extremism and militancy.
Mr Khurshid Shah of Pakistan People’s Party has proudly announced that Kalabagh dam is buried for good. In fact what he has announced is burial of Pakistan People’s Party. History has proved that whoever opposed Kalabagh dam that was a lifeline to Pakistan met a disastrous end. As such Mr. Khurshid Shah ought to beware the terrible end of all leaders who buried Kalabagh dam. Pakistan People’s Party leaders should have some sense not to repeatedly bury the Kalabagh dam which like cream in the milk always comes at the top the more you blow. The 12-16 hours of load shedding gifted to people by Pakistan People’s Party in its last stint of five years would be enough to doom the hackneyed slogans of Pakistan People’s Party in the face of darkness engulfing the nation due to lack of hydel power thanks to obstinate opposition to Kalabagh dam by Pakistan People’s Party.
DR M YAQOOB BHATTI
I vividly remember that every city, town and village in my home province Sindh was covered in fascinating and ancient trees and plants that added to the mystery and appeal of the province.
Unfortunately, nowadays those trees have either been cut by the timber mafia in connivance with the corrupt to the core forest, revenue, irrigation, police department officers or those have died up. Since the lakes, springs and streams have already dried up across the province, thus, there is no water to save these plants and tress in the province. However, the concerned departments are requested to take pragmatic steps including proper water arrangement for plants and trees, to save plant, flora and fauna in the province.
According to the recent news reports, Pepco officials run the grid station feeders according to the publicly declared load-shedding schedules, but further down the line its subdivisions carry out massive additional closures of lines at will which constitutes unscheduled load shedding. This is done to save electricity in order to meet the line losses targets set by the Pepco headquarters. The result is that in some areas of Muzaffargarh electricity is made available only for 6 hours a day. For example on Alipur Road Muzaffargarh there is an officers’ colony where all the powerful government officers reside but hardly pay any bills. So a terrible amount of unscheduled closures is carried out here. This does not affect those high officials because they have alternative generators, but the poor people of the area suffer heavily.
Now this really proves that might is always right.