AMERICA STRIKES BACK
Events following September 11 have dealt Pakistan a sharp economic blow
By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Oct 15 - 21, 2001
The award of Nobel Prize for peace sounds amazing in the face of unprecedented acts of terrorism in the United States, war destruction in Afghanistan, sleepless nights due to fear of terrorism in the West and bloodshed in Kashmir and Palestine. It looks funny to celebrate peace while hundred of thousands of people are running for their lives in different parts of the world.
The completion of 100 years of inception of the Nobel Prize was certainly a big occasion but its announcement should have been delayed for an opportune time.
The fall out of the current situation in the context of war in Afghanistan has bred various concerns especially for the people and the government of Pakistan. Besides adverse impact on its economy, the possible eruption of law and order situation and acts of sabotage within Pakistan certainly are the genuine concerns for Pakistan. Though the government in Pakistan taking every care for any eventuality, the people in general who live on day to day basis are the worst sufferers of the situation due to a sudden standstill of the economic activities in the country.
Responding to the need of the hour, the government has advised all the civil institutions and public sector corporations in communication, railways, oil and gas, health, food, energy and security to be on high alert to meet any eventuality arising out of the US-military attacks on Afghanistan.
The cabinet division has directed heads of ministries and attached public sector companies to maintain sufficient stocks of commodities, spares and machinery keeping in view short and long-term requirements.
A comprehensive contingency plan, based on a number of arrangements from various ministries, is expected to be presented to the federal cabinet and the National Security Council on coming Wednesday, it is learnt.
All the secretariats have been advised to go through their respective "war books" and prepare their demand and supply position to cover areas like sufficient stocks of essential commodities, machinery, equipment and spares. Pakistan's past concerns of maintaining stocks and supply channels were based on attacks from eastern side while the Western and Southern land route primarily from Iran was completely safe and secure. As the war book have been opened first time in about three decades, the officials would have to concentrate mainly on maintaining sufficient stocks primarily relating to oil supplies, spare parts and equipment for electricity and gas companies, security of railway tracks and ports. The fact that Pakistan has no direct threat of attack from any side, its south-west road and railways infrastructure in view of proximity with US-Taliban war zone, are being considered comparatively unreliable to transport oil supplies. Though most of normal transportation activities take place through air and sea routes, warlike situation has its own constraints. It is said that the government had already discussed these issues with friendly Arab countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to reassure oil supplies in any difficult situation through already existing long term agreements. The government had decided last month to increase oil supplies coverage to 45 days equivalent consumption level from current 19 days to meet any future strategic needs. The Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet had directed the petroleum ministry to remain extra vigilant on demand and supply position of oil in the country.
It is learnt that efforts were being made to increase fuel storage of all power plants of WAPDA and KESC to the maximum capacity of about 15 days, which normally stay below the capacity due to financial constraints. Security of all oil and gas installations including fields and refineries have already been handed over to armed forces to avoid any sabotage activity by the enemies taking advantage of prevailing situation.
On the law and order situation, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has ordered the national intelligence agencies to concentrate more on terrorism and sectarianism-related activities instead of gathering "political intelligence".
The presidential directives issued following preparation of a new plan of action for the intelligence agencies, which was approved at a high level meeting on law and order presided over by President Gen. Musharraf.
The intelligence agencies have been asked for reorientation of their focus towards criminal activities, sectarian violence and terrorism instead of pursuing other activities like political intelligence gathering. Sectarian violence has been on the increase at an alarming pace in the country.
Law & Order
The government has directed the law enforcement agencies to immediately launch a massive crackdown on lawbreakers, including those Afghan refugees who damaged public and private properties.
The directives were given at an inter-provincial meeting of the officials presided over by President Musharraf to review the law and order situation. The law enforcement agencies have been asked to maintain close coordination to ensure that mosques and other religious premises were not used for fanning hatred among various factions of the society. The president has sounded a strong warning to extremist religious elements and Afghan refugees and asked them to desist from creating a law and order situation or be ready to face the serious consequences.
A massive influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan is yet another issue essentially causing serious concerns for economic and social fronts in Pakistan.
Pakistan, already hosting over 2 million Afghan refugees, is getting prepared to receive at the equal number of uninvited refugees who are forced by the air resorts to leave their homeland to the safer zones in Pakistan. UNHCR has estimated that at least 2000 Afghan refugees are crossing over into Pakistan every day through the porous border with Afghanistan. The UNHCR officials without realizing the growing problems on account of population influx alleged that insistence of Pakistan government that any new camps be built in tribal areas alongside the Afghan border are compounding the problems. While recognizing the enormous burden that Pakistan has by hosting some 2 million Afghans over the years, UNHCR continues to press for more suitable sites for refugee camps within Pakistan borders. Initially more than 100 possible reception sites had been identified by the Pakistan authorities in the border areas which are about 100 in NWFP and six in Balochistan.
Pakistan has rejected UNHCR's claim of red tapism in preventing the field teams of the refugee agencies from getting access to border areas. Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas division Abbas Sarfraz has said Pakistan authorities are not resorting to red tapism but instead have been facilitating the UNHCR right from the beginning to prevent any obstacles in their relief work.
The UN staff itself is feeling threatened of visiting the border areas for security concerns and a number of their international staff have left the forward areas, the minister said.
In Pakistan red tape and security concerns prevent UNHCR field teams from getting access to border areas to monitor possible population movements or from offering immediate assistance to any new arrivals. The UNHCR regional public information officer for central and Southwest Asia Yousaf Hassan repeated the same accusation in a joint press conference of UN agencies.
The federal minister elaborating the Pakistan stance on relief operation of UNHCR said that the over riding concerns of Pakistan is to get the aid delivered "it is immaterial for us whether the aid is delivered by the international staff of UNHCR or the local staff."
The minister said Pakistani authorities helped UNHCR identify more than 100 sites for establishing refugee camps in the Northern Areas and Balochistan.
Interior Ministry officials said that the government assured protection to UN staff in the tribal areas and have even offered to escort them. He said it was the UN Resident Coordinator who himself directed the UN staff to stay home in view of the security situation.
In order to avoid controversy, the UN has decided to resume its activities in the tribal areas under government escort in clearly marked UN vehicles.
Under a new set of security codes issued recently way had been paved for preparatory UN humanitarian operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
According to a World Bank statement, events following September 11 have dealt Pakistan a sharp economic blow, estimated to cost the country at least one billion dollar this year alone. The estimate of losses could rise if the situation in Afghanistan is not resolved in the short term.
Pakistan's Minister for finance has been reassured US commitment to stay the course with the reform program it has put into place and to accelerate its implementation.
The assurance was extended at a meeting between Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz and World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn in Washington.
The meeting also discussed the ongoing reform programme and economic outlook for Pakistan.
Over the past two years, Pakistan has been implementing a national reform programme that has allowed increased lending from the World Bank in the fiscal year. The two discussed the continuation of this programme in the context of the current situation in Afghanistan.
At a gathering of international donors to Pakistan in March this year, World Bank officials had commended the commitment of Pakistan to address long-standing problems of poverty, education and health and in parallel to tackle corruption and other policy and institutional constraints to business activity and growth.
World Bank's president said "it is a real opportunity for all Pakistan's people to build a sustainable future and we must not lose sight of that, even at this most difficult time.
According to a report, Britain says that the war in which it is helping the United States would stretch well into next year.
Sir Michael Boyce, Chief of the British defence staff has said "we must expect at least to go through the winter to next summer at the very least".
On the other hand indications given by the US government that they are intended to prolong their stay in Afghanistan even after dislodging the Taliban government have raised many eyebrows especially in the Muslim world. Political and business circles feel that such type of statements may cause a sense of economic uncertainty and insecurity in the region.
Replying to a question at a Press Conference Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that after the Pentagon memorial service, the US did not target civilians but there was no question that when "one is engaged militarily, there will be unintentional loss of life" which was to be regretted. He admitted that the Taliban's air defence capability, which was earlier claimed to have been liquidated, still posed a threat to US aircraft. There was no confirmation from Rumsfeld or other officials of reports that Pakistan had permitted use of airfields by American forces and that hundreds of US troops had already moved in. Rumsfeld said it was for the countries concerned to characterize the support they were extending to the US and the ways in which they were doing so and America's only interest was to get the maximum possible help.
Pakistan has promised logistics support to the US and says airports in the country will be used only for rescue and relief purposes. It was not clear whether a possible ground offensive would come from Uzbekistan or Pakistan. Some Special Forces were already said to have undertaken reconnaissance missions inside Afghanistan. Daylight raids were carried out on Kabul airport and around Kandhar, which has been a special target because it is the seat of Taliban leader Mulla Omar and also a haunt of Al-Qaeda fighters.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is scheduled to arrive Pakistan in a day or two will be holding an important meeting with Pakistan leaders to take stock of the enormous problems being faced by Pakistan as a result of US-led campaign against Taliban government in Afghanistan.
In a televised interview, Powell has said that the important question was not the duration of the current campaign but its outcome. He also echoed President Bush's earlier remarks that there was no commitment to Gen. Pervez Musharraf that the campaign would be a short one. Power said no promises were made to President Musharraf and added, "I am sure Pervez Musharraf hopes that the campaign has a limited timeframe, everybody does. But its not how long it is in time but whether it accomplishes the mission we have for it" he remarked.
He said that he looked forward to discussing the issue with Gen. Musharraf who is in a firm political position" Powell said.
The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) has opposed the spread of the US-led onslaught on the Taliban in Afghanistan to any other Muslim country.
The foreign ministers of the 57-member organization said in a joint statement at the end of an emergency meeting held in Doha last week. The statement says that ministers have rejected that any Islamic or Arab country is attacked under the pretext of the fight against terrorism.
The OIC did not condemn the US-led strikes on Afghanistan, but instead expressed "concern that they could cause victims among innocent civilians."
It also demanded that the territorial integrity and Islamic identity of Afghanistan be guaranteed.
Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri predicted that his country could be next to face attack.
"We think that the United States may use the opportunity to take vengeance against the Iraqi people because Iraq is not ready to surrender its territory to become a colony for the US, Britain and Israel".
Qatar's Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani called for a united stance on terrorism.
Speaking on behalf of the ministers present Sheikh Hamad also stressed the need to provide concrete proof, other blame of presumed perpetrators of that month's attacks in the United States.
Russian Defence Minister Serget Ivanov echoed the OIC appeal, telling a special meeting of Russia's upper house of Parliament in Moscow "the strikes against the territory of Afghanistan must be surgical. They must target specific individuals and not the Afghan people."
At an earlier meeting in Doha Arab League foreign ministers voiced support for the international fight against terrorism but could not agree on a common position on the US-led military attacks on Afghanistan. "We are all against international terrorism and we will not tolerate this phenomenon being linked to Islam" Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa said.
President George Bush on Thursday last had offered that US would be prepared to give the Taliban a second chance to hand over Osama bin Laden. However in the absence of any response of that offer it looks that Taliban has ignored the offer. Instead the Afghan ambassador Mulla Abdul Saleem Zaeef has said that real war with the Americans and their allied forces would be fought on ground as Afghan fighters were determined not to let a single enemy soldier return alive. He said that America was deceiving the international community by claiming that the US-led forces were hitting only fixed targets while they were actually attacking and killing civilians including women and children and destroying houses. Zaeef said hundreds of houses had been destroyed by bombings in Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad and other areas of the country. He said that Afghans had not only become war hardened in the last 20 years but had also become accustomed to all sorts of hardships. He also urged the world community and media to understand the ground realities of Afghanistan.
"The only negotiable route to global peace and cooperation goes by way of the United Nations". The Norwegian Nobel committee observed this on the historic occasion of its centenary year.
Pakistan has always been demanding for implementation of the UN resolutions to address the global issues including of Kashmir issue and terrorist attacks on the US. Situation demands that the rule of law and sense of reasoning be allowed to prevail to make our world a peaceful place for the generations to come.