Eye on Pakistan

AFP interviews the Curator of Taxila Museum

Posted in Culture by onpakistan on December 15, 2009

AFP have a short interview with the curator of the Taxila Museum. He complains about the lack of foreign visitors, and feels threatened.


Pakistan Remittance Initiative – terrorising the hawala system?

Posted in Political Economy by onpakistan on December 14, 2009

The Pakistani government has been for several years trying to (or at least pretending to try) to increase its influence on and supervision of money movements in and out of Pakistan. According to the National Bank of Pakistan (and the Financial Times), the Pakistan Remittance Initiative is leading to an increase of foreign remittance through government monitored sources such as banks, and a decrease in remittance through the ‘Hawala system’. From the Financial Times:

Pakistan takes grip on money transfer

By Farhan Bokhari in Karachi

Published: December 10 2009 02:00 | Last updated: December 10 2009 02:00

The events of September 9 2001 quickly made legislators and the wider public familiar with the hawala system of informal money transfer between poorer workers in Asia and the Middle East who fall outside the banking system. In March, the Pakistani government, sensitive to the accusation that it was doing too little to monitor funds that could be used to fund terrorism, launched the Pakistan remittance initiative, or PRI. The measures foreseen by the PRI range from requiring Pakistani bankers to visit prospective depositors, no matter how small, even in neighbourhoods in the Middle East, to speeding the pace of the transfers. The central bank says the initiative is beginning to work. In the first four months of the financial year, which runs to the end of June, remittances through the banking system from Pakistanis worldwide rose by nearly a third over the same period last year to $3.1bn. Officials at Pakistan’s finance ministry expect to see a record of more than $9bn in annual remittances through the banking system during the current financial year. In October, Pakistani workers in the United Arab Emirates sent home $175m via the banks – up from about $76m a year ago, according to finance ministry officials. Workers in Saudi Arabia transferred $154m, up from $127.3m. Salim Raza, Pakistan’s central bank governor, says he personally oversees measures aimed at reducing the time taken for transfers from the Middle East to reach bank accounts in Pakistan, “not in terms of days but in terms of minutes”. The speed of transfers has been at the centre of the popularity of the hawala system. Mr Raza says that regular banks’ rising foreign exchange reserves are another sign that the PRI is working. “We are working to provide the best possible environment to speed up transfers and facilitate the customers. They are obviously responding,” Mr Raza says. Syed Ali Raza, president of the government-owned National Bank of Pakistan, says that three years ago, about $4bn was transferred via banks while about $6bn was believed to be coming through hawala . “The trend is changing. Now, at least 75 per cent or even more is coming through official channels and the space taken by hawala is shrinking,” he says. This year the Pakistani authorities shut at least two prominent money changers, who were found to be under-declaring the remittances they received from abroad. While there is acknowledgement of the success of the PRI, some analysts say that the worldwide financial problems of the past year and more are causing Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis to send savings home for fear of their money being caught in a financial crisis somewhere overseas. “This is indeed an important consideration. People are sending back their savings because of such fears,” says Ishrat Hussain, a former Pakistan central bank governor. Western economists warn, however, that it is still too early to say if the trend will be sustained in the medium to long term, as Pakistan not only grapples with a moribund economy but is also gripped by fears of growing internal insecurity. A record rise in suicide and bomb attacks by Taliban militants this year has prompted many domestic and foreign businesses active in Pakistan to consider security, or the lack of it, as their primary challenge. Workers overseas may well develop the same perspective and keep their money under the mattress, says one western economist. “The sense of security in Pakistan is very fragile. If the sense of insecurity grows further, there is a chance that these remittances may begin shrinking,” the economist says.

The West, ofcourse, would like nothing better than to be able to monitor all cash flows in and out of not only Pakistan, but all countries around the world. For Interpol and the United States Department of the Treasury, the Hawala system is nothing more than a conduit for money laundering. The IMF argues that “more should be done to keep an eye on IFT [Informal Fund Transfer] systems to avoid their misuse by illicit groups.” Pakistani intellectual classes agree. For The News, appears to believe that eliminating the informal money transfer system stop the wealthy from taking their wealth out of the country!
For Newsline, banking through Hawala is “Banking on Terror”.
Lets be clear: destroying the Informal Fund Transfer systems that operate in the Middle East and South Asia will NOT stop the transfer of funds to Pakistani and Afghan militant groups, and it will NOT stop the withdrawal of wealth by Pakistani elites. There are deeper reasons for this funding, and for ebbs and flows of elite wealth, which need to be addressed for these things to happen. American attempts to control international monetary flows long predate post-9/11 terror rhetoric. These attempts will continue, under some other pretext, once this rhetoric abates. Bringing the Informal Fund Transfer systems under Pakistani state control will only further enrich Pakistani banks and related industrialists, and give the West more influence over the Pakistani financial system
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Blackwater in Pakistan

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on November 26, 2009

The author of the recent Nation article on Blackwater’s operations in Pakistan (see my earlier post), Jeremy Scahill, has recently given an interview to Democraacy Now! in which he talks somewhat more about his understanding of Blackwater’s operations in Pakistan. Some choice excerpts:

And the agency that Blackwater forces are supporting is a federal paramilitary force in Pakistan that’s under the Ministry of the Interior there, called the Frontier Corp. The military intelligence official confirmed the Blackwater executives account ,or at least the specific allegation that Blackwater is working with the Frontier Corps. The benefit of this is it allows the Pakistani government to say, “We’re not using any Western forces to do these things,” because the technicality is that there subcontracted by a Pakistani firm that is working with the official Pakistan forces.

Also, something more on Kestral. Scahill mentions an:

arrangement that Blackwater had made with a Pakistani company called Kestral, that is headed by a man named Ali Bagg [sic]. The Blackwater executive told me, that Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, is close with the owner of this Pakistan firm that is sort of like a Blackwater and logistical firm wrapped up into one. This is a company the works for Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and Pakistan the government and does a very robust business in war contracting and servicing the war in Afghanistan as well. And my understanding is that Blackwater is working for this company on a subcontract in a configuration that has Blackwater operatives going out technically as advisers with these paramilitary style forces from this company, and that they are doing as you said in the intro, border interdictions in the Northwest frontier province and elsewhere…

For some more comment on the original Nation article, including a picture of Ali Baig and a link to an interview for Arrehman-Arraheem, see this Teeth Maestro blog entry.

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ISI and MI investigating Oil and Gas Industry

Posted in Domestic Affairs, Political Economy by onpakistan on November 24, 2009

Why is ISI and MI doing this? I would have thought this was outside their remit. Iqbal Z Ahmed was close to Musharaf and has been harassed by the government recently.

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Blackwater in Karachi?

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on November 24, 2009

Another addition to the debate over the presence of Blackwater in Pakistan. Citing a “military intelligence source”, the American The Nation claims that Blackwater has a secret ops centre in Karachi. They stand ready to snatch and assassinate, amongst other things.

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The Rehabilitation of Najibullah

Posted in Foreign Affairs by onpakistan on November 19, 2009

A recent article by an American who worked with UNICEF in Afghanistan in the 90s writes fondly and nostalgically of Najibullah. Is this the beginning of his rehabilitation amongst Western critics of American involvement in Afghanistan?

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The UAE has deployed unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on November 17, 2009

From the Angry Arab blog, I learn that the UAE air force has quietly deployed unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan to support British operations.

From Aviation Week:

The United Arab Emirates’ air and air defense force has been quietly supporting NATO operations in Afghanistan. The UAE military has deployed tactical unmanned aircraft to Afghanistan to work with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, says Royal Air Force Air Marshal Stephen Dalton. The UAV is currently operational in Helmand Province, working with the British military, Dalton revealed at the Dubai Air Chiefs Conference today. The specific UAV type wasn’t disclosed, but Dalton says it was a ScanEagle-sized vehicle, although not the Boeing UAV specifically. Dalton heralded the deployment as a sign of what contributions even non-NATO allies can make when they ensure their systems are interoperable with allies. The deployment fits in with a broader relationship with U.K. and UAE have, with U.K. officers also in the UAE’s Air Warfare Center. Dalton says he’s keen to keep the relationship healthy through exercises. And despite the heavy tasking on British forces, he’s hoping to extend an invitation to Gulf Cooperation Council forces for training opportunities in the U.K. in the next 12-18 months.

This is a part of the British military’s drive to sell its services abroad, to save costs in Afghanistan (in this case by relying on allies,) and to further bind various Arab armed forces into its own military orbit. How long before these UAE UAVs conduct operations in Pakistan?

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MQM success at the national level

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on November 15, 2009

It would appear that MQM has taken a small but important step in its attempts to transform itself into a viable nationwide party: the gain of a seat in the recent Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly. From The News:

But the biggest surprise package of the 2009 GBLA election is the grand entry of the MQM. Out of nowhere, the MQM has become a major political force in Gilgit-Baltistan. The MQM is showing the hallmark of a party hungry for success outside its traditional hub of Karachi and Hyderabad. The MQM’s entry, first in the AJK legislature through two reserved seats for migrant Kashmiris and now in Gilgit-Baltistan, which is more of a mainstream arena as for the election is concerned, could be a sign of the party’s budding ambitions. Locally, the MQM gains are welcomed as a good antidote to the zero sum sectarian politics. The party has fielded 19 candidates compared to the PPP’s 23, the PML-N’s 15 and the PML-Q’s 14. Regardless of the number of seats the MQM would garner, which by the way is 2 to 4 seats at best and none at worst, the party is poised to become a major political actor in the long run.

The author concludes:

“Here, the MQM’s messages are striking the chord. They are talking about the constitutional rights of the people, the neglect, the denials, the right of representation in parliament, right to access Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Gilgit-Baltistan’s right to become Pakistan’s fifth province, seeking truth and equality — elements that are beyond the standard promises of development funds and politics of packages — hence it is evident that in the future the party which gets clear message across reflecting true feelings of the majority of constituents will eventually command majority in electoral politics of Gilgit-Baltistan as well. Hard sell, but that’s how politics works or does not work.”

Hyperbole, perhaps, given the MQM’s imminent entry into a coalition with the PPP in the GBLA (see this). Note that this article implies that MQM may have captured two seats, whereas other reports say one.

The following writer notes two possible explanations for the rise of MQM in Gilgit-Baltistan: migratory movement to and from Karachi, and federal government backing. The first is a possibility (though what he means, exactly, is unclear), the second also (though perhaps less so). Other socio-economic factors, including Shia-Sunni dynamics, could also plausibly have played a role.

There is some useful background information on Gilgit and Baltistan here.

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Movie: ‘Son of a Lion’

Posted in Culture, Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on November 15, 2009

A recent movie based in Pakistan’s tribal weapon-making village of Darra Adam Khel.

For a Berlin Film Festival review see this.

For the official site see this.

For a youtube promotional trailer see this.

I have not seen this movie, but I am concerned somewhat by the juxtapositioning or placing in opposition arms manufacture and education. In fact, in reality, the relationship is opposite: the most ‘educated’ are the biggest lovers of arms and armament manufacture – the United State, Russia, Germany, France, Ukraine, Netherlands, UK. See this.


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Maps of Pakistan…1

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on November 15, 2009

There are many maps of Pakistan on the web. Here are a few of the more interesting one:

1. This map from the Columbia University website depicts ethnicities in a misleadingly simplified manner. Mohajirs are just some of the ethnicities completely missing! This is a much more sophisticated attempt, including some (perhaps misleading) sense of population density.

2. This map, also from a Columbia University website, gives a wonderfully clear depiction of administrative districts, but it may be out of date.

3. This important map from the Dawn newspaper website shows political party capture of National Assembly seats in the February 2008 election.

4. This is an unusually detailed relief map scanned from an atlas. Unfortunately it does not cover all of Pakistan nor Afghanistan.

5. This is an immensely detailed map which attempts to depict linguistic variations across Pakistan, and combine them with population density.

6. This shows religious variations across Pakistan, combined once again with population density.

7. This rather usefully depicts dams and other irrigation works in Pakistan. Unfortunately there is no sense of which features have been picked for depiction, and not all are labelled. A depiction of works in India would also have been useful.

8. This is a ‘gridded population cartogram’ from a British cartography project. Provincial land area is distorted to reflected relative population/population density.

Edit 22 December 2009:

9. This map shows Pakistan’s ‘National Highways’ and ‘Strategic Roads’ in excellent detail. It is well annotated. An alternative less detailed map can be found here.

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