China mulls setting up military base in Pakistan

BEIJING: China has signaled it wants to go the US way and set up military bases in overseas locations that would possibly include Pakistan. The obvious purpose would be to exert pressure on India as well as counter US influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.


“(So) it is baseless to say that we will not set up any military bases in future because we have never sent troops abroad,” an article published on Thursday at a Chinese government website said. “It is our right,” the article said and went on to suggest that it would be done in the neighborhood, possibly Pakistan.

“As for the military aspect, we should be able to conduct the retaliatory attack within the country or at the neighboring area of our potential enemies. We should also be able to put pressure on the potential enemies’ overseas interests,” it said.


A military base in Pakistan will also help China keep a check on Muslim Uighur separatists fighting for an independent nation in its western region of Xingjian, which borders the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Beijing recently signed an agreement with the local government of NWFP in order to keep a close watch on the movement of Uighur ultras.

“I have personally felt for sometime that China might one day build a military base in India’s neighborhood. China built the Gadwar port in Pakistan and is now broadening the Karokoram highway. These facilities can always be put to military use when the need arises,” Ramesh V Phadke, former Air Commodore and advisor to the Institute of Defense Studies told TNN.

Phadke said the article in very significant. “The purpose may be to see how the international community reacts to it,” he said.

China, which has no military bases outside its territory, has often criticized the United States for operating such overseas bases. It has not just changed its standpoint but also wants to enter the lucrative protection business.

“With further development, China will be in great demand of the military protection,” the article said. Pakistan, which buys 70% of its military hardware from China, is likely to be an eager buyer for such protection. Beijing may also be able to pressurize Islamabad to accept its diktat using the threat of withholding military supplies.

A Pakistani expert on China-Pakistan relationship has a different view on the subject. “The Americans had a base in the past and it caused a political stink. I don’t think it would be politically possible for the Pakistani government to openly allow China to set up a military base,” he said while requesting anonymity. Pakistan might allow use of its military facilities without publicly announcing it, he said.

A Chinese military base can tackle several international relations issues, it said. One of them is “the relationship between the base troops and the countries neighboring to the host country.” This is another indication that Beijing is considering Pakistan as a possible base. China’s argument is that a foreign base would actually help regional stability.

“If the base troops can maintain the regional stability, it will be probably welcomed by all the countries in the region,” the article said. Beijing is conscious that the move might result in opposition from the US, UK and France which has overseas military bases.

“Thirdly, the relationship between the big countries in the world. The establishment of the troop bases is sensitive to those big countries which have already set up the bases abroad,” the article said.


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China To Build 50 MORE Like This

Unveiled: China’s 245mph train service is the world’s fastest… and it was  completed in just FOUR years

In the week that Britain’s high speed rail link closed down because the wrong sort of snow interfered with the engine’s electronics, China unveiled the world’s fastest train service on one of the coldest days of the year.

Days after thousands of passengers were left stranded when Eurostar services were cancelled, China’s new system connects the modern cities of Guangzhou and Wuhan at an average speed of 217mph – and it took just four years to build.

The super-high-speed train reduces the 664-mile journey to just a three-hour ride and cuts the previous journey time by more than seven-and-a-half hours, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Travellers board a high-speed train which heads to Guangzhou in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Boxing Day

Work on the project began in 2005 as part of plans to expand a high-speed network aimed at eventually linking Guangzhou, a business hub in southern China near Hong Kong, with the capital Beijing, Xinhua added.

‘The train can go 245mph, it’s the fastest train in operation in the world,’ said Zhang Shuguang, head of the transport bureau at the railways ministry.

Test runs for the service began earlier in December and the link officially went into service when the first scheduled train left the eastern metropolis of Wuhan on Saturday.

By comparison, the average for high-speed trains in Japan was 150mph while in France it was 172mph, said Xu Fangliang, general engineer in charge of designing the link.

Beijing has an ambitious rail development programme aimed at increasing the national network from the current 53,437 miles to 74,564 miles, making it the most extensive rail system outside the United States.

China unveiled its first high-speed line at the time of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 – a service linking the capital with the port city of Tianjin.

In September, officials said they planned to build 42 high-speed lines by 2012 in a massive system overhaul as part of efforts to spur economic growth amid the global downturn.

Tickets for the service went on sale at new stations in the three cities last weekend, with prices ranging from 780 yuan (£71) for first class to 490 yuan (£45) for second class

The link is expected to pose a real threat to airlines running flights linking the cities. High-speed rail has three advantages over air travel: it is more convenient, more punctual and has a better safety record

The network uses technology developed in co-operation with foreign firms such as Siemens, Bombardier and Alstom.

Tickets for the service – which also stops at Changsha, capital of Hunan – went on sale at new stations in the three cities last weekend, with prices ranging from 780 yuan (£71) for first class to 490 yuan (£45) for second class, said a joint document released by the National Development.

The link is expected to pose a real threat to airlines running flights linking the cities.
‘High-speed rail has three advantages over air travel: it is more convenient, more punctual and has a better safety record. This could help erode the airlines’ market shares,’ said Si Xianmin, chairman of China Southern Airlines, the largest domestic airline by fleet size.

From today’s launch, 38 out of China Southern Airlines’ 160-plus domestic flights will compete with high-speed train links, he said.

A similar service opened on April 1 between Wuhan and Hefei, Anhui province, had already grabbed half of the passengers traveling from Wuhan to Shanghai, said Si.

Hundreds of passengers on the platform pass by the China Railway High-speed (CRH) trains as they arrived at the Guangzhou

A workers walks past two front end engine sections of the China Railway High-speed train at Wuhan CRH servicing base

The Shijiazhuang to Taiyuan link, also opened on April 1, caused sales for China Eastern Airlines’ Beijing to Taiyuan flight to slump 36 percent the following day, while private Spring Airlines reduced its Shanghai to Zhengzhou flights due to competition from the Shanghai bullet trains, Beijing News reported.

To deal with this threat, China Southern Airlines last week unveiled several counter measures, including cutting ticket prices from Wuhan to Guangzhou by almost half for advanced purchases.

The company also signed a deal with airports in Wuhan and Changsha to give priority to flights to Guangzhou to ensure punctuality.

If railway chiefs over-cut the number of low-cost tickets on slower trains, as they did when the country’s first high-speed link opened between Beijing and Tianjin last year, the airlines could win more passengers with cheap offers, said Zhao Jian, professor with Beijing Jiaotong University.

‘But whichever side wins, passengers will be the ultimate winner,’ he said.
Wu Wenhua, a researcher with the National Development and Reform Commission’s comprehensive transport institute, said developing high-speed rail networks is in line with the demand for high-efficiency, low-emissions transport. ( Daily Mail)


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Nuclearisation of South Asia

Victory in East Pakistan made the Indian leaders euphoric and megalomaniac. They ventured upon an ambitious force modernization program and also conducted nuclear test in 1974 which impinged upon the security of Pakistan. It impelled Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to lay the foundations of uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta on 31 July 1976 under Dr. AQ Khan. He pursued the nuclear option despite host of barricades built around him and for this act he was made a horrible example.

Late President Ziaul Haq took full advantage of the favorable phase of Pak-US close relations because of US high stakes in Afghan war and allowed the nuclear program to develop at Kahuta with speed. He announced in December 1982 that Pakistan had achieved the capability to enrich uranium. This miracle was brought about in six years in the face of total ban imposed by the West on transfer of nuclear technology or import of any part related to it. To keep this sensitive project secret from the world was in itself a commendable effort on part of all those associated with it. By the time the western powers got the wind of it, the project had reached an advanced stage and there was no turning back. The significance of the feat becomes more distinguished and inestimable when one realises that this breakthrough was made by a third world country where even needles and ball bearings are not indigenously produced.

Zia made several proposals to make South Asia free of nuclear weapons but India spurned all his offers. No sooner the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 and the threat of communism evaporated in the thin air, it brought about fundamental change in the policies of USA in South Asia. Pakistan lost its strategic significance and its nuclear program once again became an eyesore. In order to restrain Pakistan from pursuing its peaceful nuclear program, the US Administration stopped the flow of arms supply and economic aid through infamous Pressler Amendment in 1990. The US on becoming sole super power after the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, sidelined Pakistan and took India on board. Taking advantage of growth of close ties with Washington and souring of Pak-US relations, India stepped up its propaganda campaign to convince Washington to declare Pakistan a terrorist and a nuclear proliferating state. Obsessed by its security concerns and in anticipation to the fourth round, Pakistan strove hard to keep the widening military balance within limits. It was in the context of its extreme security concerns that Pakistan was forced to make its nuclear deterrence credible by conducting six successful nuclear tests on 28 May 1998 in response to Indian five tests on 12 May. These tests were undertaken in spite of extreme pressure put by the US and other world powers.

Even the Indo-Israeli axis exerted pressure by trying to put into action its long conceived plan of a surgical air strike from Srinagar airbase against Kahuta on the night of 27 May 1998.Vested groups within Pakistan did not lag behind in trying to discourage the leadership from giving a tit for tat response to India and strained their lungs asserting that such a venture would be suicidal for Pakistan.

Irrespective of the colossal internal and external pressures, Pakistani nation stood like a rock and urged the government to go ahead with nuclear blasts whatever be the cost. Pakistan under Nawaz Sharif rose to the occasion and lived up to the expectations and aspirations of the nation.

Nuclearisation of Pakistan poured cold water on the aggressive designs of India. The US started to vainly exert pressure on Pakistan to sign CTBT unilaterally since India refused to do so. Pakistan also kept up with its missile development program which was initiated by Benazir Bhutto and produced series of short and medium range guided missiles much superior to Indian missiles. Once Pakistan got caught on the wrong foot due to AQ Khan’s confession obtained under duress in 2004, the Americans started exerting greater pressure and succeeded in not only penetrating into our sensitive areas but also collecting sensitive data like number of warheads and triggers and storage through aerial photography, infra red snaps and satellite triangulation. They succeeded in making our managers separate warheads from delivery means and from triggers and storing the three components separately, all under the pretext of safety and security. Realising that it can no more blackmail Pakistan or wage an open war, India in connivance with USA, UK and Israel is now trying to achieve its sinister objectives through sabotage and subversion as well as psychological and cultural onslaughts. A vile Indo-US-Israeli campaign has been mounted expressing serious concerns about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear program. Irrespective of assurances given by Pakistani leaders, they keep stressing that nukes would be stolen by extremists or by officials working inside nuclear installations. In actuality, the trio is striving hard to steal Pak nukes through Blackwater.

The US is least concerned about Indian nuclear program which has worst safe keeping record in the world because of numerous incidents of pilferage and smuggling of fissile material as well as accidents.

Consequent to Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, output of India’s 22 nuclear power reactors would jump to 10,000 megawatts by 2012 and manufacturing rate of nuclear bombs would leap to 40 per year. India has also inked nuclear deal with Russia, which has promised to set up 4 new reactors. India’s agreement to place only 4 nuclear reactors under safeguards of IAEA by 2014 is inconsequential. In next five year time, it would be able to manufacture 200 additional nuclear bombs thereby doubling existing stock level. It is a purposeful move to pressurize Pakistan to do the same well knowing that US influenced IAEA has double standards when dealing with Muslim and non-Muslim countries. Indian lobby in USA succeeded in making Kerry Lugar aid bill for Pakistan harmful. Apart from other insulting conditions, the bill seeks freeze of Pak nuclear program. Despite achieving quantum jump in nuclear field, Indian leadership remains worried over Pakistan’s nuclear capability. While Indian Army Chief Kapoor is threatening to wage war against Pakistan and China, on the other he and naval chief are fretting and sweating that Pakistan has exceeded minimum nuclear deterrence level and improved its nuclear capability. Blackwater outsourced by CIA and RAW is being used to create anarchy in major cities and to gain access to nukes. Reportedly, Blackwater has begun to make diagrammatical drawings and video films of nuclear installations as well as available routes.

Pentagon had conducted a war game in 2000 in which it was brainstormed that whenever Indo-Pakistan war takes place and Pakistan Army is on the verge of throwing up its cards and is preparing its nukes, US Special Forces would swoop in to destroy them during the assembly of warheads and triggers or while on the move. Currently, the US is busy giving final touches to its sinister plan how to quietly extract Pakistan’s nuclear teeth after giving heavy dozes of anesthesia.

It is desperate to gain access to our nuclear arsenal under the garb of making it safe and secure from accidents, proliferation and theft. It wants its special marine force to create secure parameter around each site, or evolve a joint control system. Notwithstanding that acquisition of nuclear and missile capability by Pakistan has greatly minimised the risk of war with India, however, it has earned Pakistan the perpetual hostility of India, Israel and USA in particular and western world in general since possession of nukes with a Muslim country is unacceptable to them. New ways are now being devised by our adversaries to denuclearise Pakistan without having to wage a war.by Asif Haroon Raja

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Lecturing Pak to accept Indian domination

Dr Raja Muhammad Khan | Following the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the people of Pakistan remained apprehensive about its role and future designs in South and Southwest Asia. Majority of analysts believe that the US has a long-term broad based agenda of regional domination with the intent to contain the rising Chinese influence and a resurgent Russia. Besides, it intends to dominate the natural resources of Central Asia and Caspian region to either deny the region to China and Russia or establish its own subsequent control there.Apart from these bigger agendas, the bulk of the Pakistani masses have been concerned about three legitimate consternations, which seriously threaten the safety and security of Pakistan. The first is the threat to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal from none other than the United States. The second concern is about the growing US interest in procuring land in Pakistan and use of Pakistani air bases for the drone attacks in FATA. The third issue, which even gravely bothers Pakistan’s security, is the unprecedented Indian involvement in Afghanistan, which also is likely to have a direct linkage with United States.

In order to address the Pakistani concerns, US high officials have made extraordinarily visits to Pakistan in last few months. These visitors include; Richard Hallbrook, Admiral Michael Mullen, General David Howell Petraeus, and the US secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The last and very infrequent visitor was the Secretary of Defence, Robert M. Gates. Prior to his visit of Pakistan, Mr. Gates had visited India. In New Delhi, the Secretary audaciously supported the Indian viewpoint in regional politics and tried to convey to Pakistan that India is regional power and other states including Pakistan will have to accept its hegemony. While replying to a question regarding the possibility of future terrorist attacks in Indian soil and its likely response, Mr. Gates categorically said, “It is not unreasonable to assume that Indian patience will be limited, were there to be further attacks”. The statement harked back the memories of the period of President George W. Bush, whose only pictogram is present in the Obama’s cabinet in the form of Robert Gates, the former Director of CIA.

Secretary Gates’ statement has three undertones; first; Pakistan is responsible for terrorist attacks. Second; the US will support India to launch an offensive against Pakistan in case of any terrorist act, which even may be India’s own stage-managed drama like; an attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001, Samjhauta Express bombings of Feburary-2007 and Mumbai attack of November 2008. Third; any act of none-state actors, who may be from any country, religion or ideology can trigger war between India and Pakistan.

In his meetings with the civilian and military leadership, which also include off the record lecture cum debates and later during a selective media interaction, the visiting US Secretary of Defence tried to elucidate the U.S stance on Pakistani concerns. The Defence Secretary made it clear that, “The United States does not covet a single inch of Pakistani soil. We seek no military bases here and we have no desire to control Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.” Mr. Gates also declared these concerns as tainted perceptions and nothing more than cynicism, spread by “same enemies threatening both Pakistan and the US within the context of terrorism” and are creating dissection in the Pak-US relationship.

Regarding the Indian involvement in Afghanistan and its covert activities for the promotion of terrorism in Pakistan, the visiting dignitary expressed the view that, since either country has its concern about the other’s involvement in Afghanistan, therefore, back channel discussion should act as a forum. Debate during these meets should be transparent, while taking into account each other’s concerns. We regard the Secretary Gates commitments, but how can we ignore the ground realities. On more than one occasion, the US officials have confirmed that they have been using some of Pakistani air bases for air attacks on Afghanistan and are still using at least two of them for drone attacks in Pakistan. The US State Department also proclaims a tacit approval of drone attack against terrorists from the Government of Pakistan. Surely, this is an overt use of Pakistani soil rather a covert one.

The US may have no intention to establish military bases in Pakistan, but the people of Pakistan would like to know about the likely uses of hundreds of acres of land, purchased by the United States in Islamabad, Dera Ghazi Khan, and Karachi. This is coupled with enhanced strength of US nationals in Islamabad, Lahore, and elsewhere in Pakistan in the guise of diplomats. More so, U.S nationals have been permitted to hire hundreds of houses and were issued licences of prohibited bore weapons. Police and intelligence agencies have tried to arrest quite a few of them in Islamabad and Lahore, while carrying such weapons, but the authorities had to set them free on the orders of Interior Ministry. Does the US really need such an armed diplomatic corps in Pakistan, or else, another East India Company is in the making? Acquiring land on three strategic locations by the US gives out many speculations about its future designs. Veiled in the guise of security staff to the US embassy, there is presence of hundreds of the Blackwater personnel in Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore and may be elsewhere in Pakistan. Amazingly, our Interior Minister is constantly denying the presence of Blackwater in Pakistan, a truth accepted by the US Defence Secretary during his recent tour. What is not understood is why we try to be more loyal to the US than its own nationals are. Being a Pakistani national, Mr. Malik could have the courage to accept their presence as Ex, if not Blackwater. The masses would also like to know why their heavy luggage, either sealed in wooden or tin boxes, were allowed to pass through the airports without legal formalities of screening during immigration.Concerning Pakistan’s nuclear programme, how we can believe the wordings of Robert Gates, when on a fortnightly basis we receive a new version of threat and US contingency to control it, about our nuclear programme. Apart from its think tanks, and powerful media, US officials have expressed their reservations regarding the safety and security of Pakistani nukes. After having known the effective command and control system, being exercised through National Command Authority (NCA) and Strategic Plans Division (SPD), should the US and others not trust once for all that Pakistani nukes are as safe and secure as the ones with the P-5 countries. Had there been any nuclear theft case in Pakistan like India, where three such cases took place in 2009 only? Besides U.S itself being the first nuclear proliferator, India has been involved in the proliferation of nuclear material and technology to and from many countries. Nevertheless, the international community and the U.S have never pointed a finger towards it. They mistakenly expect that Pakistan would give them access to its nuclear weapons. It is indeed a hard-earned capability by the Pakistani nation, never to be compromised at any cost.

It is very unfair to believe that, America, being an occupying power in Afghanistan, is unaware of Indian activities against Pakistan, while making use of that soil. In most of the cases, the militants use Indian and even Western origin weapons against Pakistani security forces in FATA as well as in Balochistan. At the official level, Pakistan has provided evidence of Indian involvement in these terrorist activities to the US as well as to India. Therefore, Roberts Gates’ over-generalization cannot absolve him from the reality. As the sole super power, US should adopt an unbiased approach while dealing with the nuclear-armed neighbours of South Asia. Moreover, the US needs to be more judicious, while matching its deeds with its words and commitments.

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THE SALE OF PAKISTAN

Only the Air-Condition Pakistani class could think of such a wheeze and get away with it. Who says our leaders are brain dead? May Allah continue to shower His blessings upon the Zardari/Bhuttos, the Sharifs and all their hanger ons! Amen.

“Islamabad has established an extraordinarily welcoming investment environment that financiers will find hard to resist. The government’s Corporate Agriculture Farming (CAF) policy — spelled out on the Board of Investment’s website — effectively legalises foreign land acquisitions. It permits state land to be purchased outright or leased for 50 years, and allows investors to determine the size of their acquisitions (with no upper ceiling). These features apply to a broad range of agriculture from crops, fruits and vegetables to forestry and livestock farming.”

What a brilliant idea! Sell the most fertile parcels of state land to the oil saturated Arabs [the Saudis, the Emiratis and the assorted dung heads of Arabia] pocket your commission and live happily ever after in the Disney world of Dubai and the fleshpots of London’s Edgeware Road/Park Lane. As to the landless, sweating masses – turn them into Talibans, a la Swat style and get the Americans to keep them in their place by ‘droning’ them.

Only the Air-Condition Pakistani class could think of such a wheeze and get away with it. Who says our leaders are brain dead?  May Allah continue to shower His blessings upon the Zardari/Bhuttos, the Sharifs and all their hanger ons! Amen.


Putting the country on sale

The Nation, Jan. 31, 2010.

For those of us who had thought that the scheme of leasing out a million acres of agricultural land to foreign investors had been shelved by the government, the statement of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi last week served as a rude awakening. Shamelessly reaffirming his government’s commitment to go ahead with the sinister plan, he gave odd justifications for going ahead with it. He was in Dubai for a meeting of Frie-nds of Pakistan who are supposed to help us in this time of need. The Arab countries that have expressed interest in this unethical land grab, obviously have a poor sense of friendship. The message they, as well as the other so-called friends, are sending out is that when a friend is in need, exploit the friend and get a good price for his family silver.


One has yet to see anything worthwhile coming out of this motley group of countries that have created yet another club for the avowed purpose of helping out Pakistan in consideration of the price it has paid for fighting terrorism and to strengthen the now not-so-new democracy. Going by the Foreign Minister’s recent statement, it seems that the club serves the interests of the generous prosperous friends more than those of the one going around the globe with a begging bowl. Knowing the desperation of the beggar friend whose functionaries do not miss an occasion to register their economic helplessness and to plead with servile eyes and tones for some charity, these so-called affluent friends seem to be finding good bargains for whatever is to be grabbed in the state of Pakistan. All in the name of friendship of course.

It is surprising that after the treatment meted out to us by our best friend and ally, we still have a stomach for these so-called friendships, and as if one were not enough, we are willing to follow the tunes of this assortment of pied
pipers.


The government, instead of relying on such fickle friends, should be focusing on the wealth of resources at its disposal waiting to be managed properly.
After all, that is what it is there for. Or does the democratic government
believe that its sole purpose is to stay afloat in the short term, even if it means auctioning the country’s vital resources in a grand loot sale? Certainly, something better is expected of a democratic government.

In a ridiculous attempt at justifying the scheme, the Foreign Minister has now informed us that the land that the government intends to lease out is not owned by anyone. By that he means that the land is not owned by any private
individual. But does that mean that these precious acres are lawaris? Does he not know that land not owned by any private individual is owned by the state of Pakistan and is therefore collectively owned by the people of Pakistan?
Does he not know that the government is entrusted with looking after this land and not to sell it off to greedy friends mouthing sincerity? Does the government have no obligation to find ways of util-ising the invaluable resource for the betterment of the people it claims to represent?

To further expose his poverty of vision, the Foreign Minister said that the land to be leased out is not under cultivation and therefore we should not object to handing it over to the foreign investors who will pump in the
resources to cultivate it. Is it the best our democratic government has to offer us? If investors from distant lands with no tradition of agriculture can come and cultivate it, it should not be difficult for Pakistanis to do it, what with an agricultural heritage and knowledge going back to pre-historic times. Instead of wasting government funds on retrogressive schemes like the Benazir Income Support Programme that make beggars of able-bodied citizens rather than helping them stand on their feet, couldn’t the government spend them on helping landless farmers cultivate the land that it wants to throw away to foreign investors?

It is very unfortunate indeed that the government would insist on pushing such a hare-brained and patently nefarious scheme down our throats at the insistence of its dubious friends. But then, it is not just one nut in the
machine that the government is mowing down Pakistan and its citizens with. Whether it is for loans taken from the foul international financial institutions or for aid that it hopes to get from its best friend under the Kerry-Lugar Act,
or for crumbs it hopes to collect from the so-called Friends of Pakistan, the government is willing to compromise the well-being of the people in whose name it governs the country.

To be fair, the present government is only partially responsible for this state of affairs. In recent times, all successive governments have followed the same path. Whether it was the ‘Islamic’ dictatorship of Ziaul Haq or the quasi-democratic governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif that followed, or the moderate-dictatorship of Musharraf or the Q-government that he gave birth to, those at the helm of affairs have shown a similar poverty of
vision when it comes to managing the country’s economy and the abundant resources at their disposal. They come with new mantras and programmes, but beneath the shallow surface, nothing changes on this count. Those in charge of the future of the Paki-stani people have shown a propensity to become willing partners in their exploitation at the hands of investors, states and multilateral financial institutions. Together, this evil partnership has made a rich land poor, turning its gold to dust.

Granted that the present government has inherited much of this legacy from its predecessors, there is still no excuse for continuing with it, especially when the cost has become too high for the people of Pakistan to bear. More
than millions and billions of dollars that the government is breathlessly running after, what is actually required is a political vision that appreciates the true worth of this land and its people.



Going gaga over grain


By Michael Kugelman
Dawn News, Sep. 17, 2009.


Last May, while Pakistan’s military was waging its offensive in Swat, Islamabad officials were simultaneously launching another offensive in the Gulf: a charm offensive to secure investment in Pakistani farmland.

Appearing at ‘farmland road shows’ across the region, the investment ministry representatives depicted Pakistan’s soil as the perfect solution to the Gulf nations’ food insecurity.

Such efforts have paid off for Islamabad (and according to media reports, more shows have been staged in recent days). Pakistan’s farmland is an increasingly popular target for wealthy, food-importing nations who, because of the volatility of world food markets, are taking food security matters into their own hands. These states (and also private investors) aim to buy or lease farmland overseas, grow their own crops and export them back home.

Given their lack of transparency, the details surrounding these investments are sketchy and the facts elusive. In Pakistan, uncertainty reigns over the exact amount of land made available to investors, the quantum of land sold or leased so far, and who is in fact doing the investing.

Still, even without these details, there is strong evidence to suggest that the race for Pakistan’s farmland — if not halted prematurely by farmers’ opposition or investor change-of-hearts — could trigger droves of land deals, acute resource shortages and even political strife.

Islamabad has established an extraordinarily welcoming investment environment that financiers will find hard to resist. The government’s Corporate Agriculture Farming (CAF) policy — spelled out on the Board of Investment’s website — effectively legalises foreign land acquisitions. It permits state land to be purchased outright or leased for 50 years, and allows investors to determine the size of their acquisitions (with no upper ceiling). These features apply to a broad range of agriculture from crops, fruits and vegetables to forestry and livestock farming.

Land investors flock to countries with strong legal protections. Cambodia’s government has reportedly established a national land concession authorising public land to be allocated to foreigners — and the country is now experiencing what the BBC describes as an ‘epidemic of land-grabbing’. Conversely, in India, foreign companies are banned from owning farmland — and considerably fewer investors have come calling.

Pakistan, like Cambodia, provides the legal cover farmland investors look for. However, the CAF goes beyond legal protections. It also offers generous financial incentives such as 100 per cent foreign equity; exemptions on land transfer duties; and customs-duty-free, sales-tax-free agricultural machinery imports.

Legal protection and financial incentives — what more could a foreign land investor in Pakistan want? Security, of course, and Islamabad purports to have this covered as well, through the formation of a 100,000-strong security unit. Pakistan’s government is so serious about concluding land deals that it has offered to deploy a force almost a fifth the size of the army to protect investors’ new holdings.

A rash of foreign land acquisitions in Pakistan would deepen the country’s resource crisis. Pakistan already suffers widespread water shortages, and could be water-scarce by 2020. However, supplies could dry up much sooner if enormous quantities of water are siphoned off to support large-scale, water-intensive agricultural production schemes.

To understand the scale of Pakistan’s water shortages, take a look at Aquastat, the FAO’s water statistics database. Of all the nations most often associated with relinquishing farmland, only one — Kenya — has less water availability per capita than Pakistan’s 1400 cubic metres. In fact, of the nearly 200 countries listed in the database, only 35 have less water than Pakistan — many of them the parched countries of the Gulf that are seeking the water-laden farmland they lack at home.

Indeed, quests for overseas farmland are water hunts as much as they are land hunts. Yet investors are seemingly so seduced by Islamabad’s legal and financial inducements that they disregard the fact that Pakistan’s water supply can barely sustain its own farming, much less that of immense foreign agribusiness projects.

Pakistan’s water and energy shortages could also limit the possible benefits accruing from the deals, including better technology, more employment and higher crop yields. With limited energy to operate upgraded farm machinery, and limited water to irrigate cropland, farming job prospects could suffer and talk of increased yields could become irrelevant.

Land deals could mean not just compromised small-holder livelihoods but also widespread displacement. Not surprisingly, critics argue that big land acquisitions could spark violent responses and mass political unrest. Such predictions may be premature — other than in Madagascar, opposition has been relatively localised — but they are not far-fetched in Pakistan.

Here’s why. According to the World Food Programme, 77 million Pakistanis are already food-insecure, and many of them live in the country’s most volatile areas. Foreign land holdings could cause a flare-up of this food vulnerability powder keg at the worst possible time. During the height of last year’s global food crisis, Pakistan imposed export bans to keep domestic food prices down.

According to a report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the UAE — which hopes to grow rice and wheat in Pakistan — then requested blanket exemptions from these bans.

Islamabad eventually relaxed export restrictions on Basmati rice. So a politically explosive scenario — such as the UAE trucking rice out of a drought-stricken or war-ravaged Pakistan and exporting it back to the Gulf while hungry locals look on — is not at all unrealistic. Throw that investment-protecting security force into the mix, and things could get really ugly.

Furthermore, there are long-standing rifts between Pakistan’s rural poor and its wealthy, landholding elite. Scores of huge land acquisitions — particularly if they displace poor labourers — would exacerbate these class-based cleavages.

Ominously, the Taliban’s actions in Swat reveal a new ability to exploit class divisions by pitting landless farmers against their landlords. Militants may well use farmland acquisitions as a pretext for fomenting a fresh class revolt in Punjab, the fertile, populous province coveted by the Taliban and reportedly ground zero for the farms race in Pakistan. Such a thought is enough to make one wonder if those farmland road shows are really worth the effort.

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LIFE MAGAZINE, 1948: PAKISTAN STRUGGLES FOR SURVIVAL

62 years ago the Life magazine did a cover story on the then 5 month old Pakistan. There are some interesting photographs and the text speaks for itself. The struggle then was not so surreal as it is now.

Control of Jerusalem

Last November, Prof Waleed Khalidi addressed the UN in New York on Jerusalem. Here is the recording of his address in 5 parts. To know about the background of what Jerusalem stands for today, do have a look. And circulate widely.

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Biggest and Brightest Full Moon of 2010 Tonight

ISLAMABAD : Saturday’s full moon was the biggest and brightest full moon of the year. It offered anyone with clear skies an opportunity to identify easy-to-see features on the moon.

This being the first full moon of 2010, it is also known as the wolf moon, a moniker dating back to Native American culture and the notion that hungry wolves howled at the full moon on cold winter nights. Each month brings another full moon name.

The moon is, on average, 238,855 miles (384,400 km) from Earth. The moon’s orbit around Earth – which causes it to go through all its phases once every 29.5 days – is not a perfect circle, but rather an ellipse. One side of the orbit is 31,070 miles (50,000 km) closer than the other.

So in each orbit, the moon reaches this closest point to us, called perigee. Once or twice a year, perigee coincides with a full moon, as it was Saturday night, making the moon bigger and brighter than any other full moons during the year.

Saturday night it was about 14 percent wider and 30 percent brighter than lesser full Moons of the year and Mars was just left of the moon. app

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China freezes US military ties, sanctions arms firms

BEIJING : China said Saturday it was suspending military exchanges and security talks with Washington and would impose sanctions on US firms involved in a deal to sell arms to Taiwan.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that in protest at the US decision on weapons sales to Taiwan it was suspending military exchanges, along with scheduled high-level talk on strategic security, arms control and non-proliferation.

“Cooperation between China and the US on key international and regional issue will also inevitably be affected,” the ministry said.

In addition, China will introduce sanctions specifically targeting the US manufacturers who are part of the deal, the statement said.

“China will also implement relevant sanctions on US companies involved in the arms sales to Taiwan,” the ministry said.

Washington on Friday approved the sale of an arms package that includes Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters, and communications equipment for Taiwan’s F-16 fleet.

The last US arms package for Taiwan, announced under previous president George W. Bush in October 2008, led China to cut off military relations with the United States temporarily. AFP

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Pentagon Confronts Russia In The Baltic Sea

Rick Rozoff | Twelve months ago a new U.S. administration entered the White House as the world entered a new year.

Two and a half weeks later the nation’s new vice president, Joseph Biden, spoke at the annual Munich Security Conference and said “it’s time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should be working together with Russia.”

Incongruously to any who expected a change in tact if not substance regarding strained U.S.-Russian relations, in the same speech Biden emphasized that, using the “New World Order” shibboleth of the past generation at the end, “Two months from now, the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will gather to celebrate the 60th year of this Alliance. This Alliance has been the cornerstone of our common security since the end of World War II. It has anchored the United States in Europe and helped forge a Europe whole and free.” [1]

Six months before, while Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he rushed to the nation of Georgia five days after the end of the country’s five-day war with Russia as an emissary for the George W. Bush administration, and pledged $1 billion in assistance to the beleaguered regime of former U.S. resident Mikheil Saakashvili.

To demonstrate how serious Biden and the government he represented were about rhetorical gimmicks like reset buttons, four months after his Munich address Biden visited Ukraine and Georgia to shore up their “color revolution”-bred heads of state (outgoing Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is married to a Chicagoan and former Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush official) in their anti-Russian and pro-NATO stances.

While back in Georgia he insisted “We understand that Georgia aspires to join NATO. We fully support that aspiration.”

In Ukraine he said “As we reset the relationship with Russia, we reaffirm our commitment to an independent Ukraine, and we recognize no sphere of influence or no ability of any other nation to veto the choices an independent nation makes,” [2] also in reference to joining the U.S.-dominated military bloc. Biden’s grammar may have been murky, but his message was unmistakeably clear.

Upon his return home Biden gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal, the contents of which were indicated by the title the newspaper gave its account of them – “Biden Says Weakened Russia Will Bend to U.S.” – and which were characterized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies as “the most critical statements from a senior administration official to date vis-a-vis Russia.” [3]

It took the Barack Obama government eight months to make its first friendly gesture to Russia. In September of last year the American president and Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that they were abandoning the Bush administration’s plan to station ten ground-based midcourse interceptor missiles in Poland in favor of a “stronger, smarter, and swifter” alternative.

The new system would rely on the deployment of Aegis class warships equipped with SM-3 (Standard Missile-3) missiles – with a range of at least 500 kilometers (310 miles) – which “provide the flexibility to move interceptors from one region to another if needed,” [4] in Gates’ words.

The first location for their deployment will be the Baltic Sea according to all indications.

The proximity of Russia’s two largest cities, St. Petersburg and Moscow, especially the first, to the Baltic coast makes the basing of American warships with interceptor missiles in that sea the equivalent of Russia stationing comparable vessels with the same capability in the Atlantic Ocean near Delaware Bay, within easy striking distance of New York City and Washington, D.C.

Although Washington canceled the earlier interceptor missile plans for Poland, on January 20 the defense ministry of that country announced that not only would the Pentagon go ahead with the deployment of a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 anti-ballistic missile battery in the country, but that it would be based on the Baltic Sea coast 35 miles from Russia’s Kaliningrad district. [5]

The previous month Viktor Zavarzin, the head of the Defense Committee of the Russian State Duma (the lower house of parliament), said “Russia is concerned with how rapidly new NATO members are upgrading their military infrastructure” and “that Russia was especially concerned with the reconstruction of air bases in the Baltic countries for NATO’s purposes which include signal and air intelligence radio of Russian territory.” [6]

As it should be.

Since the Baltic Sea nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were ushered into NATO as full members in 2004, warplanes from Alliance member states have shared four-month rotations in patrolling the region, with two U.S. deployments to date.

Shortly before the patrols began almost six years ago the Russian media reported that “Relations between Russia and Estonia have been tense ever since NATO built a radar station on the Russian-Estonian border last year. On March 23, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko warned Russia would retaliate ‘if NATO planes fly over Russian borders after the Baltic nations join the alliance.'” [7] Read more of this post

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