Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pakistan needs to get the terror monkey off its back

Posted:Jul 9, 2013
By Monish Gulati

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited China early this month - his first foreign trip since returning to power. After a meeting between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Nawaz Sharif in Beijing on July 5, eight pacts were signed between the two countries including a broad agreement on the construction of an "economic corridor”. The economic corridor comprising a 2,000 km road and rail transport link has been proposed as a "long-term plan" to connect Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province to the Pakistani port of Gwadar in Balochistan.

 Pleased with the outcome of his visit, an ecstatic Nawaz Sharif felt that the ‘all-weather’ Sino-Pak relations had hit a sweet spot. However, the bonhomie for Sharif came with a caveat. China wants Pakistan to crack down on the Muslim Uyghur insurgents from its Xinjiang province who have taken refuge in Pakistan's northwest, and now train and fight alongside Al Qaida-linked extremists. Uyghurs are ethnically Turkic Muslims. Pakistan acknowledges that some Uyghur militants remain on its territory despite its counter terror efforts. However, the message was clear; the long term plan of the economic corridor will come to fruition once Pakistan demonstrates its intent to stop militants from using its territory to foment trouble in China.

 Incidentally, July 5 was also the fourth anniversary of Xinjiang’s worst inter-ethnic violence in years which took place in 2009, when around 200 people were killed in clashes between Uyghurs and China's Han majority. This year, days prior to Sharif’s visit, there was unrest in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, marking the anniversary of the July 2009 riots. The Global Times estimates that 24 people were killed in the clashes on June 28 when police cars were set on fire and 21 police officers injured. The incident follows clashes on June 26 elsewhere in Xinjiang, in which 35 people were killed.

 China's Communist Party has blamed terrorists from "outside the country" for the rise in violence in Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan. The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua said that "separatists in and outside the country have been escalating their efforts" to cause disturbances. A senior Chinese Communist Party official said China “would strike hard on violent terrorist attacks”. Xinjiang's local leaders have blamed Pakistan as the source of weapons and training for terrorists operating in the region.

 China, in fact, had indicated prior to Sharif’s visit that a discussion on Pakistani support to or lack of action against Uyghur militants based in Pakistan was on the agenda during the visit. Both countries have had a tacit understanding on this issue - where China provides Pakistan with aid and foreign investment and in turn Pakistan provides Beijing diplomatic support when Muslim-majority nations criticize the brutal suppression of Uyghur aspirations in Xinjiang.

 Another challenge Pakistan’s new government faces, is energy. Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Pakistan’s new Minister for Water and Power, told TIME magazine that “It’s a bigger challenge than even terrorism”. A situation brought about by Pakistan’s reliance on costly oil imports instead of building hydroelectric or coal-based generating capacity.

 Pakistan’s power outages that can last up to 22 hours a day directly affect over 180 million people. The economic cost of these outages each year has been estimated to be over $10 billion, lopping off almost a third off the country’s growth rate. In the last general elections, electricity was the top voting issue. Without cash to pay the debt of $5 billion on account of fuel costs and under recoveries, Pakistan's energy production operates at about 50 percent capacity during the hot summer months.

India has offered to help Pakistan alleviate its energy crisis. During a three-day visit by officials from the ministry of power that began on June 10 it was  decided bilaterally that a 45 km-long, 220 KV line is required to be constructed within six months of a formal agreement on the project. The agreement will be valid for five years, and will be negotiable for another five years or more. Pakistan's water and power minister will soon visit India to explore potential areas of cooperation between the two countries.

Also, within a few days of Nawaz Sharif being sworn in as prime minister an Indian delegation consisting of officials from the ministry of petroleum and GAIL India) Ltd visited Pakistan to explore the feasibility of supplying about five million cubic metres of gas per day to Pakistan. Subsequently, GAIL is reported to have submitted a report on the possibility of supplying liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Pakistan, which India is importing from Qatar, on actual cost basis.

 However, it was reported that a strong section of the Pakistan Army, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the powerful Maulana lobby are dead against the import of gas from India. "Bharat ki gas haram hai”, a Lahore-based cleric had declared a few weeks ago. The electricity proposal too evinced a similar response from the hardliners. Jamat ud Da’wah chief Hafiz Saeed has told the Pakistani government that it should not buy electricity from India. While addressing an 'Ummat Conference' at Sheikhupura, near Lahore, he said: "India is producing electricity on Pakistani rivers and offering the same to us to buy. Don't our rulers understand this basic point?"

 The Indian offer of assistance requires to be put in perspective. Firstly, the Indian proposal to supply LNG is reported to have been made to Pakistan about a year ago while the proposal to export electricity was made by the A.B. Vajpayee government. These were never actively followed up by Pakistan, most likely due to pressure from the hardliners. Two, these projects bring no gain to India. North India is short of electricity, and India is a net importer of natural gas for domestic use. Three, they are pure CBMs, which have been revived after the election of the Nawaz Sharif government.

 Also, languishing for largely the same reasons, is the proposal for grant of Most Favoured Nation status to India for trade and according permission for India- Afghanistan transit trade.

 Nawaz Sharif may have experienced the sweetness of honey on his recent trip to China, but Pakistan will taste the fruit of development and economic growth only once it clamps down on its hardline elements and gets the terror monkey off its back. Welfare of its people and not a mullah’s rant has to be the key determinant of its economic and foreign policies.

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