Articles Regarding Pakistan

Vision of Iqbal for Pakistan: 09 November, 2018 "The Nation"

I feel lucky to have done my B.Sc. from the same college where our great poet and Mohsin-e-Pakistan Allama Muhammad Iqbal had studied. I also had the chance to hear about his quick and witty responses from the teachers and professors of the college while studying.

My English Professor Dr. Khair Ullah once narrated that; one day Allama Iqbal arrived late in the class and the teacher asked him “ Iqbal why are you late”? To which he responded: “Sir Iqbal hamesha late hi ata hai”.

I once went to Spain and there I visited the famous Mosque of Cordoba (Masjid E Qurtuba), which was converted to a Cathedral after the fall of Muslims in Spain in around 1246. The beauty of the place is splendid and is mentioned by Iqbal in his poetry as I was told by the priest of the Cathedral upon my visit. This eight-stanza Urdu poem by Iqbal was written in 1932 and published in his Bāl-e Jibrīl collection. It is regarded as “one of his most famous pieces” and a “masterpiece”. In the poem, he has resembled the beauty of pillars of the mosque with the line of trees in Syrian Desert.

“Your foundations are lasting, your columns countless

Like a cluster of palms in the desert of Syria”

I had similar experience at Tashkent where I found many fans of Iqbal and a singer sung his verses making us feel proud.

Since I was born in Sialkot and was brought up there, one of my class fellows used to live where Iqbal’s ancestral house was located near Mohalla Imam Sahib. I used to get a chance to see the house every now and then. The last time I had visited the place, I ordered the repair of the house through the local PWD.

My father used to narrate very interesting things about Iqbal like; he used to love travelling in a Tanga and was friendly with locals. He preferred to wear white shirt and Tehmad at home. He had very simple living as the house was small connected with other houses of the locality.

Although he led a very simple life yet he used to dream big for Muslims of the Sub–Continent. His intellect was as great and big as the meaning of his name was. He was the first to have suggested the idea of creation of separate country for the Muslims of India.

The Muslims world has not produced any thinker of Iqbal’s stature. He was a lawyer, philosopher, poet, politician and in short, the dreamer of Pakistan. He gave the idea of a separate homeland for Muslims in North-West of India in his presidential address of All India Muslim League annual meeting held at Allahabad in 1930, where they can practice their religion and live freely.

If we say that he was the conceptual founder of Pakistan it wouldn’t be wrong. He not only proposed a homeland for the Muslims of Sub-continent but also tried to wake up the whole Muslim Ummah through his visionary and philosophical ideas depicted in his poetry.

He represented his own interpretation of Islam, which is not only representation of true spirit of Islam but also at the same time synchronized with the modern age.

One of the basic ideas of Iqbal is “self-actualisation”, which means to know about the purpose of your existence in this world. He also complements this idea with the answer of this question. He says: “Truly purpose of the every Muslim’s life is to please the Allah Almighty”. Now, the way he pleases may differ for everyone.

His poetry was full of motivation that one of the Indonesian politicians says: “We lead our freedom movement through the poetry of Iqbal”.

Allama Muhammad Iqbal devoted his life to make Muslims rise above sectarian divides as he writes about it in the Jawab-e-Shikwa poem in which there is “answer to the complaint”, God addresses him with a reply to some of his own lamentations in a previous and related poem, “Shikwa”. So as such, he was ideologically above sectarian divides and sought to bring all Muslims under the banner of the Prophet (PBUH) and the earliest Companions.

He kept stressing on the spiritual and moral emptiness of Western culture and introduced a term of “Momin” - a true Muslim follower of Islam in both faith as well as practice. He compared a non-Muslim with a Muslim as under: “A non-Muslims identity is that he always runs for universe while a Muslim identification is that the whole universes run towards him”

Unfortunately we as Sub-continent Muslims have failed to pursue his vision for Muslims and despite having a separate State for our religious livelihood, no Islam is implemented in it and we have destroyed Allama Iqbal’s dream. We run after lust, wealth and worldly matters. We never try to implement his idea of unity. We assume about ourselves as a nation who leads the Muslim world but we have failed to create unity among us. We have not been able to lead Muslim Ummah.

While Allama Iqbal was processing thought of a separate country he had thought of a separate country for Muslim, which would become a great Islamic State to lead the Muslim Ummah.

Revisiting Iqbal Museum: 09 November, 2018 "The Nation"

Ever-grateful nation is celebrating 141st birth anniversary of great thinker and poet Dr Muhammad Iqbal on November 9, 2018 to pay homage to him for his great services in the creation of Pakistan. He had awakened the Muslims of the sub-continent and, more importantly and significantly, he had also presented the concept of a separate homeland for the Muslims where they could lead their lives according to their religious tenets and be socially and economically free from economic subjugation. This concept was translated into reality by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah through his inspiring leadership and statesmanship in a very short period.

As per his concept, Pakistan had come into existence on August 14, 1947 but Allama Iqbal had not lived to breathe in a free homeland and had expired about nine years earlier on April 21, 1938 and since then is lying in eternal rest in peace on the right side of the stairs of historical Badshahi Masjid in Lahore.

Dr Muhammad Iqbal had breathed his last in Javed Manzil which he had himself got constructed in the name of his younger son Javed Iqbal. Javed Manzil has since been turned into Iqbal Museum housing personal belongings and handwritten manuscripts and lot of other daily use articles.

A visit to the Iqbal Museum on the eve of birth anniversary of the great philosopher and poet turned out to be quite an educative and informative experience.

Dr Iqbal had lived in couple of other places in Lahore for varying period prior to getting Javed Manzil constructed and shifting there in May 1935. According to the information gathered from different sources, Dr Iqbal on his return from Germany had lived in upper storey of a shop of Attar Chand Kapur booksellers in Anarkali, Mcleod Road and also somewhere inside Bhatti Gate between 1906 to1916.

Construction of Javed Manzil and its ownership on road leading from Railway Station to Garhi Shahu which has since been named as Allama Iqbal Road makes quite an interesting and illuminating reading in general and particularly for the ‘Iqbaliyat’ research scholars.

While living at rented premises on Mcleod Road, Allama Iqbal had bought a piece of land in 1934 measuring seven kanals in open auction in Mauza Garhi Shahu in the name of Javed Iqbal at which the house was constructed and completed at a cost of Rs 42025 and had shifted there in May 1935. He had rented three front rooms for his living from his son on monthly rent of Rs 50 and rental document “karaya namah” so written can be seen along with several other documents in the museum now. Dr Iqbal was apparently in the habit of putting every transaction in writing and documented these for the posterity to see and learn something.

While living in Javed Manzil for couple of years, Dr Iqbal had many illustrious visitors including Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his sister Fatima Jinnah in 1936 and Hindus leader Pandit Jawahir Lal Nehru who was also a great admirer of the great poet and thinker.

Within days of shifting to newly-constructed Javed Manzil, Dr Iqbal had suffered a great personal loss when his wife Sardar Begum, mother of Javed Iqbal, expired on May 24, 1935.

Allama Iqbal was born on November 9, 1877 to Shaikh Noor Muhammad in a Kashmiri family in Kashmiri Mohallah Sialkot in a house , which is now known as Iqbal Manzil, which was purchased by Allama Iqbal’s grandfather Sheikh Muhammad Rafiq in 1861. His date of birth was confirmed officially after extensive research by the National Committee for Birth Centenary Celebrations was set up by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had also visited the mazar of great thinker and poet on January 1, 1977 to mark inauguration of yearlong centenary celebrations. This very committee had also suggested that the federal government should buy Javed Manzil and turn it into a museum where all personal belongings of Dr Muhammad Iqbal be preserved and displayed for the posterity. Allama Iqbal Museum was formally inaugurated on December 2, 1977 by COAS/President General Muhammad Ziaul Haq.

Since then, November 9 is officially celebrated as birthday of great thinker and poet both nationally and internationally by every succeeding federal government and colourful ceremony of change of guards takes place on this at the mazar of Allama Iqbal besides host of other functions are organised officially and otherwise to pay homage and rich tributes to Dr Muhammad Iqbal. Death anniversary of Dr Iqbal is also duly observed with due respect and reverence every year on April 21 and number of functions are held to remember and pay homage to Dr Iqbal for his illustrious services towards creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims besides his literary and poetic works.

This was done accordingly and Javed Manzil possession was taken over by the federal government in December 1977 and turned into Iqbal Museum which was renovated by some Japanese engineers who had especially visited Lahore for this purpose at the invitation of the federal government and Iqbal Museum was formally inaugurated by President/Chief of Army Staff General Muhammad Ziaul Haq in December 1984. During the fag end of tenure of President/Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf, on his express directions about 50 articles on display in the newly converted Iqbal Museum were borrowed and taken to Islamabad and put on display in the newly-established National Monuments Museum there.

Curartor of Iqbal Museum Dr Rustam Khan on being contacted told this scribe that none of these items have so far been returned, there is no harm if these remain there as these have been put on proper and nice display appropriately in the National Monuments Museum. He said that these are being viewed with lot of interest by the visitors there personal belongings of Allama Muhammad Iqbal as the people from Islamabad cannot come all the way to Lahore to visit Iqbal Museum for this purpose.

He said additionally, a library and auditorium are being developed in the Iqbal Museum which is presently in final stages of their completion. He said that in the library so being developed, books on and about Allama Iqbal will be placed for the general visitors particularly the research scholars for benefitting from these books. .

To know much more than this little piece about Dr Muhammad Iqbal, research scholars should be visiting Iqbal Museum more frequently now. There is lot more to see, to know and learn. What is on display there in the museum inclusive of all personal belongings, dresses, handwritten manuscripts in Urdu, Persian and letters etc will be mentioned in another article shortly in detail, please.

Gains of China visit: 09 November, 2018 "The Nation"

The just concluded visit to China by Prime Minister Imran Khan is of immense significance as it has added new dimensions to the already existing strategic partnership and economic cooperation between the two countries, more so in the context of the present financial crisis faced by Pakistan besides quashing rumours regarding revisiting some of the agreements under CPEC. The joint statement issued at the conclusion of his visit reveals complete agreement by both sides for timely completion of the ongoing CPEC related projects to realize its full potential with a focus on socio-economic development, job creation and livelihoods, acceleration of cooperation in industrial development, industrial parks, agriculture and the long term resolve to build closer China-Pakistan community of shared future in the new era. That opens up new avenues of cooperation under CPEC and its expansion to other areas.

Earlier Chinese vice foreign minister Kong Xuanyu while briefing the media strongly ruled out any change in the number of projects under CPEC saying there had been no change in the number of projects under the framework and if there was any change it would be increase in the number of projects and going forward. In the context of helping Pakistan to cope with the current financial crunch he said “During the meeting the two sides had made it clear in principle that China government would provide necessary support and assistance to Pakistan in tiding over the current economic difficulties. As far as specific measures to be taken, the competent authorities of the two countries would have detailed discussions. Pakistan’s finance minister Asad Umar talking to a local channel confirmed that talks with government of China regarding financial package which would also include relief package were underway. After the conclusion of the visit while addressing a joint press conference with the foreign minister he said “Pakistan has come out of a balance of payment crisis after Saudi Arabia and China equally filled a gap of $12 billion in its payments. Our balance of payment crisis is over as our gap on the external front of $12 billion has been filled. Saudi Arabia has already provided $6 billion and the remaining is under discussion with China,” What he said reflects the confidence that China would be providing a package in the vicinity of $ 6 billion.

The two sides agreed to task the CPEC joint cooperation committee (JCC) with exploring new areas of cooperation and decided to hold the eighth session of the committee in Beijing before the end of the year. Accordingly a working group on socio-economic development to assist with livelihood projects in Pakistan was also formed. The PTI government led by Imran Khan has been stressing the expansion of CPEC to socio-economic sectors as well as some other areas of the country, for which it has been successful in getting a positive nod from the Chinese.

Pakistan and China also inked 15 agreements to further deepen bilateral cooperation in multiple spheres, including economy, agriculture, law enforcement and technology. The Chinese assistance will also be directed towards education, health, poverty alleviation, safe drinking water and vocational training. China has also agreed to give Pakistan anti-corruption formula to tackle burgeoning corruption, which has been the bane of her Socio-Economic development and now is the top most priority of the PTI government.

The two sides also agreed to take concrete measures to address trade imbalance. In this regard China has agreed to carry out bilateral trade with Pakistan in the Chinese Yuan instead of US dollars. This unprecedented concession in the eyes of the economists would go a long way in reducing Pakistan’s massive 87% trade deficit with Beijing and reduce pressure on her depleting foreign currency reserves. The annual trade volume between the two countries is about $15 billion of which Chinese exports to Pakistan are estimated at around $13 billion. The state bank of Pakistan has already declared Yuan as an approved foreign exchange for all purposes in the country. In the current scenario when the reserves of the country have fallen to less than $8 billion, the significance of this concession could hardly be over-emphasized. It could only be expected from a friend like China.

The foregoing gains surely indicate successful presentation of Pakistan’s case to the Chinese leaders by Prime Minister Imran Khan and his diplomatic skills that have added new warmth and depth to the everlasting strategic cooperation between two iron brothers. Prime Minister Imran Khan during his visit called on president Xi Jinping, held talks with Premier Li Keqiang, met with chairman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress Li Zhanshu and vice President of China Wang Qishan.

The CPEC has actually given eternity to the relations between the two countries. It undoubtedly represents a transformational change and a gate-way to prosperity for the entire region. Prime Minister Imran Khan was right on money when addressing the opening ceremony of China International Import Expo he remarked “CPEC will serve as a vital link for the two countries to the Middle East, Central Asian republics and open fresh avenues of investments and new markets and vistas” China and Pakistan are fully cognizant of importance of the BRI initiative and its vital component the CPEC. The joint statement issued at the end of the visit rightly dismissed the growing negative propaganda against CPEC and expressed determination to safeguard the projects under it from all threats

Pakistan is lucky to have friends like China and Saudi Arabia who have always stood by her in times of adversity. The former has played a significant role in the economic progress of Pakistan. The construction of KKH Highway, Heavy Mechanical Complex at Taxila, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and Chashma Nuclear Plants are the monuments of the ever-spiking relationship.

Pakistan and China also have very strong defence ties. It is pertinent to point out that in early March 2017 Chinese-built Low to Medium altitude Air Defence System was inducted into the air defence system of the Pakistan Army that would considerably enhance its response capability to the current and emerging threats as the Chinese Mobile Air Defence system is capable of tracking and destroying variety of aerial targets at longer ranges flying at low and medium altitudes. The co-production of JF-17 Thunder aircraft at PAC is yet another milestone in defence relations between the two countries.

Reportedly Global Times a tabloid associated with People’s Daily, a mouthpiece of Communist party of China revealed during the visit of COAS General Bajwa to China in last March that China planned to scale up its defence cooperation with Pakistan, including ballistic and cruise missiles besides joint mass production of multi-role combat aircraft. Though the spokesman of the Chinese foreign ministry evaded a direct answer to the media question on the subject but thought it suffice to say “Beijing stands for strategic balance in South Asia”. China is indeed a true friend and has not only played unprecedented role in the economic uplift of Pakistan but also boosted her defence capabilities to cope with the security challenges.

Pakistan: pathways to change — I: 31st October, 2018 "Business Recorder"

Pakistan’s political transition has been peaceful. The public recently voted for a new party, PTI, a departure from the hold of two-party system. The change has been invigorating and created high expectations as the deep rooted macroeconomic challenges call for a fundamental shift in economic strategy and its governance. Pathways to change call for focus on short-term stabilization but this time backed by long term structural reforms to ensure sustainability of macroeconomic stability so critical for inclusive and sustainable growth – key to poverty eradication, equality and job generation which still remains pervasive and undermines growth. 

First Message: Growth gained momentum but has been disrupted by macroeconomic instability 

In recent years, Pakistan’s economic growth has gained momentum. Both demand and supply side drivers have been strongly supported by low and conducive domestic and international, inflation and the interest rate environment. With investment picking up, Pakistan’s growth jumped to 5.8% – a record over the past decade. This is double the average growth rate of around 2.8% over FY09-FY16. Three features underpin this recent growth spurt: almost 56% of growth is driven by services sector; and on demand side 85% of growth is consumption led, and investment, as a proportion of GDP, has also been a contributing factor. However, despite the general uptick in investment levels, they remain well below those of vibrant East Asian economies enjoying political continuity and productivity steered by innovation and creativity. 

Long-term prospects of Pakistan are undoubtedly promising as policy regime is fixed for the private and corporate sector that has good potential. In the short and medium term, maintaining the FY18 growth momentum will most likely be difficult. The growth path of the economy will be disrupted partly as currently macroeconomic policy framework is unsustainable. Basic fundamental reforms are unfinished, policy distortions remain pervasive and the business environment continues to lag behind other countries at similar levels of development. Macroeconomic stability the most basic and critical factor for both investment and business growth has been illusive with incidents of policy reversals complicating business management. The government’s on and off commitments to address these lingering problems over the past ten years or so has created a policy insecure environment. Fiscal and external current account deficits often emerged simultaneously and frequently overshot their targets without any planned policy corrections. 

Second Message: Macroeconomic instability persisted over the last decade despite IMF Programs 

Fiscal deficits are recurring and intertwined with the external current account deficit. Indeed, they exhibit a degree of political, pro-cyclical behavior. The two previous governments inherited sizeable twin deficits which resulted in depletion of FX reserves and a quick recourse to the IMF was seen inevitable. The IMF Programs in the past have placed more emphasis on monetary and exchange rate management, but contained no practical advice on fiscal restructuring, barring suggestions to cut spending or ad hoc targeting of modest tax revenue increments. This weakness on the fiscal policy advice side, or lack of effective assistance for developing practical options to address longer term fiscal deficit issues, has made it very difficult for the government to break this twin deficit cycle. ‘Fund’ resources have indeed helped cushion FX reserves. The financial assistance provided relief at a time when Pakistan’s country rating was slipping and soliciting commercial financing would have been costly and challenging. 

That said, successive governments, lacking ownership of structural reforms, have often breached IMF conditionalities. For instance, the fiscal deficit averaged 7% of GDP over 2008-2013 period, even after two Stand-By Arrangements with the IMF, 2008 and 2009. This entailed cumulative borrowing of $17.7 billion. Subsequently, another EFF was negotiated in September 2014 for $6.4 billion. These are significant amounts of money being disbursed in Pakistan with little discussion (or suggestions for reform) of the budgetary framework in the country. 

A crisis started brewing in FY17 as the external current account deficit slowly reached 5.8% of GDP – almost 2.5 times above the average of FY08-FY16. With repeated recourse to IMF funds, and subsequent breaches of conditionalities, constituencies within and outside Pakistan have raised questions regarding the IMF programme efficacy, sustainability and even integrity of the IMF programmes. The stated goal of the IMF is to provide temporary balance of payment support offering an opportunity [for government] to correct maladjustments without having to remain on destructive course that would jeopardize national prosperity more substantively. Questions have been raised regarding any real discussions or serious advice on how to resolve policy mis-alignments or ‘maladjustments’ at any level. 

Third message: High aggregate demand pressures are growing and worrisome 

The country’s economic growth driven by consumption, and partly by an uptick in investment, has been accompanied by an unprecedented import surge. Imports hit $55.9 billion that led to quantum jump in the trade deficit of $31 billion. The import surge reflects the cumulative impact of a poorly managed, inflexible exchange rate management regime, rising international oil prices and strong investment demand. CPEC, particularly energy-related import of plants and machinery since 2015, as well as the high demand for automobiles, food products and other consumer goods fueled this surge. With import growth far outstripping exports, the external current account deficit was double the target levels. Basically, export earnings financed less than half of imports. 

Financing this surging external current account deficit has been challenging and depleted FX reserves from 2017 onwards. FX reserves reached crisis levels equivalent to barely two weeks of import cover ($9.5 billion) by the end June 2018. This is almost half the FX level, $18.9 billion, (or 4.5 months import coverage) in 2016. Oil and petroleum product imports alone jumped sharply in 2018, almost $7.3 billion above the 2017 level. 

The economy is overheating because of constant and growing demand pressures. Not only has the output gap grown to 0.4% of GDP (relative to negative levels over the past four years), but the fiscal deficit steadily is increasing to 6.6% of GDP (slippage of 2.5% of GDP relative to budget target). The stock of central bank financing for the budget reached Rs3.6 trillion in sharp contrast to the retirements over FY2013-15, and the current account deficit rose to 5.7% of GDP, about 3.1% above the target level. It should be no surprise that core inflation almost doubled. 

Fourth Message: Demand management is underway since December 2017 but a full strategic vision and plan for the economic stabilization package will be critical to calm nerves 

The actions of the interim and caretaker governments, along with the present government’s measures, have helped manage demand side pressures to a degree. The present government has established a range of committees, councils and task forces to launch the diagnostics and develop sector reforms, that if appropriately designed and adopted, will pave the way for clarity in pace and sequencing of the reforms, and open windows for financing the country’s requirements. 

Between the successive governments, a few critical steps are noteworthy: 

i. An Amnesty Scheme was introduced to ensure declaration of domestic and foreign assets which has helped to mobilize about Rs123 billion before the expiry of the scheme and will help extend the tax net for the future. 

ii. The change in the base year called for revision of the FY19 budget. The main adjustment revolved around tapping new revenue measures equivalent to Rs183 billion. These measures include increased rates for the upper income tax slabs, tightening administration to rope in tax evaders through better IT management systems, enhanced tax rates on luxury cars, tobacco and phones and a rise in withholding taxes on banking transactions of non-filers, etc. Regulatory duties have been retained barring a few products. To manage fiscal deficit, additionally two rounds of cuts in the public investment program are noteworthy. In FY18 the development budget was cut by Rs380 billion and in FY19 the development budget allocations were scaled down by Rs255 billion. 

iii. Upward adjustment in utility prices. In particular, gas prices were raised for low and middle end consumers by 10-15% and for high end consumers by 143%. Electricity tariffs have been raised, meanwhile an aggressive campaign is being launched to reduce the distribution and transmission losses. 

Recognizing macroeconomic complications and rising inflationary expectations, between December 2017 and October 2018, the central bank raised interest rates, cumulatively, by 275 basis points. Over this period, the rupee depreciated against US$ by 18%. LC margins were raised by 100% for nonessential goods, restrictions were placed on advance payments and imports from open accounts. Regulatory and the administrative regime for currency movement (including currency smuggling) and activities of money changers was tightened. Despite currency depreciation, domestic industrial capacity constraints have limited the ability of exporters to increase output and take advantage of the weak exchange rate. In addition, imports such as oil, which accounts for 26.3% of total imports, is quite inelastic and has become an increasing burden on the economy. Phased adjustments in the currency and interest rates take time to permeate. Optimistically, a recent round of policy adjustments could help improve trade balance in the order of $2 billion. 

Unwinding this round of intricate economic crisis marked by combination of age-old economic and social vulnerabilities will be a complex endeavor, but absolutely critical. It depends on how swiftly the governance of the country is overhauled and how macroeconomic management is skillfully steered and reinforced by longer term structural reforms. Well calibrated and sequenced reforms are a prerequisite for economic and social transformation. 

Treating water: 31st October, 2018 "The News"

Waterborne diseases have been troubling Pakistan for the past many years. National drinking water statistics estimate that only 36 percent of the water is safely managed and the management of drinking water sources and supply systems in the country has been declining in the recent years.

This situation is alarming because of how it impacts human health. The whole country is being affected by marginal water availability and poor water quality. These threats lead to acute outbursts of waterborne diseases. The most vulnerable include children under the age of five and underwater life. Multiple factors have led to these issues, including the direct discharge of domestic and industrial wastewater to surface water sources and the poor state of water and wastewater infrastructure. Leakage from sewers and seepage from open wastewater drains contaminate surface water, groundwater, and soil.

Clean water is a basic human need and governments have largely failed in fulfilling this need. We have seen hundreds of research studies being conducted annually on water quality issues in Pakistan. The majority of these studies identify poor infrastructure as one of the major causes behind the lack of clean drinking water, along with direct discharge of domestic wastewater and industrial effluent into fresh water bodies.

In recent years, there has been a drought situation in the Thar region — resulting in lack of access to safe drinking water, and malnutrition among the region’s population. Back in 2015, former president Asif Ali Zardari inaugurated a reverse osmosis filter plant (described as Asia’s biggest) in an effort to improve the drinking water supply for the people of Thar. The plant was functional for not more than six months. It would have been much better if the investment had been done in managing water to ensure water availability in the region. At present, the federal government is already facing challenges due to severe financial mismanagement and debt crisis. Developing new infrastructure and improving the current one seems too distant in the future.

One of the possible ways to alleviate this situation is to rely on effective Point-of-Use (POU) treatment devices that are efficient enough to remove contaminants and provide clean drinking water to the households. There is a long list of such devices available in the market with some of these devices claiming perfect results, like 100 percent removal of microorganisms and heavy metals. It is crucial to make evidence-based choices between products since human health is at stake. It is time to educate people about the different contaminants they have been consuming along with drinking water, and the technologies that can get rid of these contaminants, and to ensure the provision of safe drinking water.

The most common of all techniques is simply boiling the water. There is a misconception among the people that boiling water will kill all of the foreign species in the water including microorganisms (viruses, bacteria, protozoa etc). This assumption, however, is far from reality. It was considered a good approach to rid water of impurities and microorganisms in the past when chemical contamination was much lower. Boiling water may result in inactivation of microbes but it may exaggerate contamination levels by acting as an energy source (catalyst) for some chemical reactions to occur. Boiling water, therefore, is not a good approach to getting safe drinking water when there is chemical contamination in the water.

The second most common approach is the use of chlorine-based products in powder, capsule, or liquid form. Using these products further increases contamination in water bodies by releasing by-products. They are effective in disinfection but need large concentrations and sufficient time to give favourable results. Using chlorination results in the discharge of by-products (that are chemical contaminants by themselves) into water bodies.

POU treatment devices are seen as an emergency approach and mostly used in the worst conditions. However, in the case of Pakistan, this is the most feasible approach to be adopted. This approach has been widely accepted with cartridge-based devices (either two-stage or three-stage) being the most commonly used POU systems throughout Pakistan. The three-stage devices are better because each stage removes a unique type of contaminant. Stage 1 is for removing dust, rust and suspended particles. Stage 2 removes turbidity, odour, and some of the organic and inorganic chemical species. Stage 3 is a disinfection unit that uses a UV lamp.

The three-stage treatment system is energy-intensive but effective. There is a need to develop energy-efficient and cost-effective three-stage POU treatment device which must be pursued by the water research community in the country. The government too must invest in such endeavours to encourage researchers to come up with innovative and cost-effective water treatment approaches.

Some steps for progress: 31st October, 2018 "The News"

Pakistan today stands at the threshold of what could be a new and glorious era of socio-economic development. This requires some key initiatives.

The first and foremost of our priorities must be to focus on education, science, technology and innovation so that Pakistan can cash in on the demographic advantage that it has today of some 100 million below the age of 20. This huge creative potential could be unleashed through massive programmes in education, science, technology and innovation.

Primary and secondary education need to be integrated and brought under one platform through the formation of a Primary & Secondary Education Commission reporting directly to the prime minister, on the pattern of the Higher Education Commission. The entire school education system will need to be revamped with one National Examination Board, one examination, and one national selection process for all teachers across Pakistan.

The multiplicity of standards by so many different educational systems prevailing across the country has been one key reason for the fragmentation of our society. The provincial HECs should be converted into Higher Education Councils with focus on college education which has been in pathetic shape for decades. Higher education can be brought back on track by restarting the programs initiated by me as chairman HEC that were abandoned during the last decade, including the establishment of a number of foreign engineering universities and law universities.

The second major national initiative needs to be in the field of information technology. With relative little inputs, it can have a huge impact on the country’s socio-economic development. The quality of our IT education needs to be improved and young persons with bright ideas provided business incubation facilities with access to office space, mentoring, legal and financial services so that their talent can be allowed to bloom.

The advantage of investing in the fast developing field is that, in contrast to other industries where huge investments in infrastructure and machinery are needed, the IT industry can be developed through education and training. With such fields as robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, big data, quantum computing etc developing rapidly, and with more and more services becoming available online, Pakistan should prepare itself for the 4th industrial revolution that is now upon us. By linking Nadra to the FBR database, a huge increase in the tax net could be immediately achieved by identifying rich tax dodgers.

The third major initiative that we need to take is the production of low cost energy, and supply of such electricity at a rate of no more than Rs6 / kWh to industry so that we can sharply decrease our price of manufacture and thereby make our exports more competitive than those from India, Bangladesh or other countries. This is now very possible as solar power plants can now produce electricity at Rs3 /kWh and an over 1000 MW plant is being installed in the UAE at a rate of about $0.029 (2.9 cents) /kwh. Hydroelectric power as well as wind power and power from indigenous coal can be produced and supplied to industry economically.

The fourth major initiative could be in the linked fields of agriculture and water where huge potential exists for increasing productivity through building dams and using modern techniques for increasing agricultural output and exports. The maximum impact on rural poverty alleviation comes from increased agricultural productivity. A clear strategic plan of what needs to be done to boost agricultural productivity is given in the 320-page roadmap for Pakistan produced under my leadership, ‘Technology Based Industrial Vision and Strategy for Pakistan’s Socio-economic Development, which was approved by the cabinet in August 2010.

However, the most important of the steps needed would be an overall clear vision and strategy to transition from the present low-value agricultural economy to a strong knowledge economy. This requires the prime minister himself to lead from the front. Such a transition can be achieved by an across-the-board change of national policies on the pattern of that done by China, Korea and Singapore. It could be given a jump start by linking it to CPEC, where high-technology industrial states could be established with support from China so that Pakistan can start to manufacture and export computers, electronics, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology products, minerals, engineering goods, automobiles, aircraft, ships, IT products and other high-value items.

Some Asian countries have made remarkable progress in the last three decades due to a strong, visionary and honest leadership. The leaderships of Deng in China, Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, General Park in Korea and Mahathir Mohammed in Malaysia were responsible for these transformations in their respective countries.

The pathetic state of science in Pakistan is reflected in the fact that the Ministry of Science & Technology was released less than Rs0.9 billion in the last financial year to promote science and technology but some Rs.60 billion were spent on a 27 km strip of track in Lahore for the Orange line. If this is not criminal waste of national funds, what is? The expenditure on the Orange Line was 300 times higher than that on the entire science and technology development budget of Pakistan. It was also about 30 times higher than the total development budget for higher education, for which only Rs15 billion were released. The enemies of Pakistan are not just some foreign nations; they are among us, and it is they who are responsible for the economic disaster that we face today.

Alas, the constitution of Pakistan has failed us and provided space to these political criminals who have looted the country at will. The 18th Amendment played a major role by allowing huge funds to be transferred to the provinces, thereby weakening the federal government; these funds then ended up as foreign assets of the corrupt. We need to understand that the constitution must serve the people of Pakistan, and if this is not achieved, then it needs to be amended. If there ever was a case for the chief justice of the Supreme Court to take suo-motu notice, it is to examine the amendments to the constitution and to revoke those that are not in the public interest.

History has presented a challenging opportunity to Pakistan with the advent of Imran Khan, committed to root out corruption. Unless exemplary punishment is awarded to those responsible for the loot and plunder of tens of billions of dollars in the last three decades, this vicious circle will not break. The PM must also make education, science, technology and innovation top national priorities to build Pakistan into a strong knowledge economy. In this task he needs to be guided by a strong team of technocrat ministers and secretaries.

PML-N’s foreign policy achievement: 31st October, 2018 "The Nation"

Pakistan was faced during 2013-18 with a difficult strategic environment, an unremittingly hostile larger neighbour, and renewed flux in geopolitics due to waning of the uni-polar world.

Led by Nawaz Sharif, PMLN Government achieved significant success through regional recalibration of our foreign policy; underpinned by the nation’s victory against terrorism and a low-inflation, vigorously growing economy.

Inspired by the resilience demonstrated by the people of Pakistan against terrorism, PMLN promoted economic connectivity, strengthened partnerships, expanded Pakistan’s diplomatic space, served Pakistani diasporas diligently, and revitalised trade diplomacy. Mirroring PMLN Government’s intense global engagement, we re-tooled Foreign Office infrastructure with a new Facilitation Hall for the public and a state-of-the-art office block. Pakistan stood steadfastly by the side of the Kashmiri people in their just quest for freedom from unlawful Indian occupation

At every international forum, on every global platform, PMLN Government advocated forcefully the case for self-determination of the Kashmiri people. At the UN General Assembly, PMLN Prime Ministers stridently and repeatedly highlighted Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir, including the horrendous use of pellet guns and the martyrdom of Burhan Wani.

India externalised its catastrophic failings in occupied Jammu & Kashmir by raising the false bogey of terrorism, unleashed wave after wave of state sponsored repression, disrupted the Indus Water Treaty, and escalated perilously the violations of ceasefire at the Line of Control and Working Boundary. India also undermined prospects for regional peace by sabotaging the 2016 SAARC Summit due to be held in Pakistan.

The arrest and confession of Commander Khulbhushan Yadav have exposed India’s reprehensible designs to subvert Pakistan. Our eastern neighbor must abandon its xenophobic warmongering and concede the logic of dialogue towards lasting regional peace and prosperity.

For 17 years, Afghanistan and Pakistan have suffered together due to an overtly militaristic approach to tackle terrorism and violent extremism. Pakistan is part of the international consensus that there is no road to peace except through reconciliation.

PMLN Government supported consistently an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation, facilitated talks, and hosted Hearts of Asia-Istanbul Process Ministerial. With Afghan Government as partner, PMLN Government formed and began implementing Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS). We urged Afghanistan repeatedly to take reciprocal, complementary measures to secure and manage the border; meanwhile, we initiated fencing of the border on Pakistan’s side.

As Robert Frost once wrote, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Besides hosting millions of Afghan refugees, PMLN government facilitated Afghan capacity building and awarded an additional 6000 educational scholarships. No other country comes close to matching these numbers. After implementing substantive facilitation for Afghan transit trade, PMLN Government waived off additional regulatory duties on Afghan exports to Pakistan. Under the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Practical Dialogue, Pakistan and China devised an elaborate program for technical assistance and capacity building of Afghans in diverse fields.

The legacy of mutual distrust in Pak-US relations was one of PMLN’s major foreign-policy challenges.

Despite having a decades-old partnership that spans education, trade, science and technology, defence and security, Pak-US relations festered in the vice-like grip of Afghanistan and terrorism.

Former PM Nawaz Sharif maintained that the ultimate goal of a safe and secure Afghanistan should take priority over any differences regarding ways and manner to achieve the end-state.

The 2017 US policy on Afghanistan and South Asia has created an unnecessary divergence, as it is based largely on false perceptions rather than facts.

We remained actively engaged with the United States, but were impeded by the current US Administration’s decision to suspend Pak-US strategic dialogue. PMLN Government worked nonetheless to improve mutual trade and investment framework, and held multiple Pak-US Business Opportunities Conferences bringing together the private sectors of both countries.

Principal achievements of PMLN foreign policy are:

1.   Gave twenty-first century economic depth to the historic Pak-China friendship through launch of and rapid progress on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

       CPEC has attracted investments of $46.6 billion and has put Pakistan squarely at the centre of President Xi’s Belt-and-Road Initiative and a prosperous connected future for the region and the world.

2.   Focused outreach to Central Asian republics produced a marked upswing in our relations.

       Pakistan successfully hosted the 13th ECO Summit in Islamabad in March 2017 after a gap of nearly 22 years.

       The Summit brought together regional leaders, and underscored Pakistan’s stewardship of the regional connectivity agenda.

3.   Formal accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was a diplomatic breakthrough Pakistan achieved 12 years after assuming Observer status and 18 years after SCO’s founding.

       SCO is likely to increase in global importance as it now contains four of the world’s seven declared nuclear powers and three of the world’s most populous countries.

4.   PMLN Government created and reinforced a historically unprecedented opening in relations with the Russian Federation.

       During 2014-18, Pakistan and Russia developed mutual understanding on a wide spectrum of issues and held three consecutive annual joint military exercises.

       We have laid the foundation for Pak-Russia relations to rise into a multifaceted partnership.

5.   Despite turmoil in the Middle East, PMLN Government strengthened relations with traditional partners and allies.

       Rising tensions necessitated delicate balancing measures, while remaining true to our conviction in solidarity of the Ummah and our abiding commitment to the security of our partners.

       Our relations with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran, among others, remained robust and continue to evolve positively.

       Our partnerships with the Gulf States remain vibrant and mutually rewarding.

6.   We deepened engagement with our partners in Europe, Americas, and the Far East.

       Our trade diplomacy chalked a notable success when European Union accorded GSP Plus for ten years to Pakistan in 2014, the widest and longest trade facilitation in Pakistan’s history.

       We sustained GSP Plus successfully between 2014-18. Pakistan’s exports to the EU increased nearly 40% in this period.

7.   Pakistan maintained a lead role in international and multilateral forums.

       PMLN Government raised Pakistan’s profile at the World Trade Organization and UNCTAD, and assumed leadership of vital 21st century trade issues such as investment facilitation and e-commerce for development.

       We remained a lead contributor to UN’s global peacekeeping and peace building missions.

       Out of 30 elections to international bodies that Pakistan contested during PMLN Government, we won 27.

Invigorated by aspirations of 207 million Pakistanis and Nawaz Sharif’s vision of a pluralist, tolerant democracy, PMLN Government ushered Pakistan from the dark period of terrorism, crippling energy shortages, and a regressing economy into a peaceful, economically vibrant, energy-sufficient, and globally-connected nation.

Yet challenges remain, both global and internal. Finding Pakistan’s place in the emerging blocks—one led by the US, the other by China and Russia—will engage Pakistani policy makers. Regional tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran will also command attention, as will the hostile posture of India as it manifests itself in Afghanistan and on our borders under the Cold Start Doctrine.

Internal challenges are no less severe: crafting a foreign policy mindful of but unshackled from security and from our perennial balance of payment crises; a foreign policy that with an open mind engages the world economically; ultimately, a foreign policy for a democratic Pakistan.

National Aviation Policy 2015: 31st October, 2018 "The Nation"

IA continues to suffer losses because it is a Government-owned airline and not because of National Aviation Policy, may it be 1992, 1998, 2000 or 2015 policy. Besides no significant bilateral Air Services Agreement has been negotiated after the approval of National Aviation Policy 2015.

There is a grave misconception that a National Aviation Policy approved by the government of the day automatically authorises foreign airlines to start operations into another country at their will. Foreign airlines’ operations (traffic rights) are governed by Air Services Agreements (ASAs), which are negotiated bilaterally with each country on the principle of reciprocity as well as national/public interest. Therefore, no two bilateral air services agreements (ASAs) would be exactly the same. Some are open-skies, some are limited open-skies, and a large majority of them are restricted in terms of weekly flights, a number of airports allowed, and the number of airlines entitled to operate the agreed services. Bilateral ASAs that Pakistan has signed with over 90 countries differ from each other in the following ways:

Open-Skies Type ASAs: “Pakistan-USA”, “Pakistan-UK”, Pakistan-Switzerland”, “Pakistan-Norway”, “Pakistan-Sweden”, “Pakistan-Denmark”, “Pakistan-Spain”, and “Pakistan-Saudi Arabia”. An open-skies agreement would have no restriction on the number of weekly frequencies to be operated, no restriction on the number of airports to be operated in another country, and no restriction on the number of airlines designated by each country to operate the agreed services. All of these agreements were signed between 1998 and 2012.

Limited Open-Skies Type ASAs: “Pakistan-UAE” and “Pakistan-Singapore”. In case of “Karachi-Dubai Route”; an unlimited number of weekly flights are allowed to the designated airlines of UAE as well as Pakistan. Accordingly, airlines of Singapore and Pakistan are entitled to operate an unlimited number of flights on “Karachi-Singapore Route”. Both of these bilateral agreements were signed between 1998 and 2000.

Restricted but Somewhat Liberal Type ASAs: “Pakistan-Greece”, “Pakistan-Italy”, “Pakistan-Qatar”, “Pakistan-Oman”, “Pakistan-Kuwait”, “Pakistan-Iran”, “Pakistan-Turkey”, “Pakistan-India”, “Pakistan-China”, “Pakistan-Thailand”, “Pakistan-Malaysia”, “Pakistan-Bangladesh”, and “Pakistan-Sri Lanka”. Almost all of the ASAs were signed or enhanced before 2015.

Restricted Type ASAs: A large majority of bilateral Air Services Agreements (ASAs) that Pakistan has signed with other countries remain restricted in terms of flights, number of airports, and number of airlines entitled to operate. These countries include Central Asian Republics, African countries, some South East Asian countries, Far Eastern Countries, some European countries like France, and Canada.

The above examples prove that National Aviation Policies (NAP-1998, NAP-2000 & NAP-2015) did not have a uniform impact on the outcome of bilateral Air Services Agreement negotiations with each and every country. On the contrary, political and economic relations between two countries usually determine the outcome of a bilateral Air Services Agreement negotiations and not the stated National Aviation Policy. Other factors include the interests of traveling public, trade, and tourism between two countries.

It is a paradox that PIA never criticised open-skies bilateral Air Services Agreements that Pakistan has signed before 2002, with USA, UK, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Spain, and Switzerland. The airlines of these countries are entitled to operate to all airports in Pakistan an unlimited number of weekly flights. They used to do so until our country became a security threat for their operations. Hopefully, as the situation improves some of these airlines like British Airways and Lufthansa would return. At present, PIA is the only beneficiary of open-skies agreements with European countries.

Bilateral open-skies agreement with Saudi Arabia signed in 2012 allowed Pakistani private airlines to compete PIA and Saudia on their most protected and therefore profitable route. Our private airlines are making windfall profits from Saudi Arabian routes in comparison to other international or domestic routes.

Bilateral Air Services Agreements with UAE and Qatar are not as liberal as are with Saudi Arabia, USA, UK, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. The only exception is Karachi – Dubai route where airlines both countries UAE and Pakistan are entitled to an unlimited number of weekly frequencies. All other Pakistani routes have restricted access allowing an only limited number of weekly frequencies to the airlines of UAE (Emirates, Etihad, Flydubai and Air Arabia).

For Pakistani designated airlines the relevant clause in the MoU stipulates that “The designated airlines of Pakistan are entitled to operate an unlimited number of frequencies between points in Pakistan and points in UAE, with unrestricted 5th freedom traffic rights through any intermediate points and to any beyond points.” This means that Pakistani airlines are entitled to operate an unlimited number of weekly flights to all six airports of UAE (Abu-Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al Khaymah, Al Ain, and Fujairah) from all Pakistani airports. Not only that Pakistani airlines are also entitled to pick up traffic from UAE airports and carry them over to other countries like the UK, Greece, Switzerland, and USA etc. Hence, the traffic rights granted to Pakistani airlines in the bilateral air services agreement with UAE are far more favourable than UAE airlines. That Pakistani airlines are not interested or unable to exploit these traffic rights is another story.

Historically airline industry remained highly regulated between 1944 and 1978. Bilateral air services agreements known as ‘Bermuda type’ were very restrictive. These agreements protected national airlines from competition, allowing only one airline from each country to only one airport and a very limited number of weekly flights. The ticket prices were also fixed by both airlines in a manner that there was no question of any airline running into loss despite all its inefficiencies. The prices used to be so high that only elites of the society could afford to travel even on domestic routes. This however changed in 1978 when USA Congress deregulated airline industry in 1978 not only on international routes but on domestic routes as well. Until then airlines in the USA enjoyed a monopoly on domestic routes—one route one airline. The USA has since then signed over 100 bilateral open-skies agreements with other countries. So have European and Far Eastern countries.

Following deregulation in 1978 average ticket prices fell by about 50% (adjusted for inflation), because of cut-throat competition, making it possible for the middle class also to travel by air. Governments in Europe and elsewhere in developed countries quickly privatised their airlines. Third world countries like Pakistan, India and some African countries did not choose to do so. Consequently, all government-owned airlines are making huge losses everywhere in the world. The cases of Air India and PIA are in point. The accumulated losses of Air India (US$ 8 billion) and PIA (3 billion US$) are so colossal that their respective governments would never be able to privatise them without taking losses onto themselves. And we should not forget the government’s money is taxpayer’s money. The less damaging course of action would be to declare PIA bankrupt and raise it again in the private sector under the different brand name.

It may be interesting to note that our airlines are not alone in protesting against these Middle Eastern Carriers. In our neighbourhood India has signed almost as liberal bilateral air services agreement with UAE and Qatar as us. Indian airlines (eight of them including Air India) have similar grievances against UAE & Qatar airlines as do Pakistani airlines. In fact, all Indian airlines have suffered the accumulated loss of US$ 10 billion over a period of last 10 years, of which Air India alone has suffered US$ 8 billion, which it blames to the liberal traffic rights granted to the airlines of UAE and Qatar. Emirates Airlines alone operates 210 weekly flights (65,000 seats) to 11 airports in India. Other UAE airlines like Etihad Airways, Flydubai, Air Arabia, Ras al Khaimah Airlines also enjoy similar traffic rights in India albeit on the principle of reciprocity. Qatar Airways also enjoys similar liberal traffic rights in India.

Cost of six billion dollars: 30 October, 2018 "The Nation"

The $6 billion bailout package that Saudi Arabia gave Pakistan last week is a masterful oddball. This isn’t only because it isn’t every day that a state gets to financially benefit from a journalist’s murder that someone else has committed. And persecuting journalists is one thing Pakistan is completely self-sufficient in, and would not require any foreign aid for.

If you had to come up with six billion American dollars, with as little as what six billion US dollars would usually represent, there wouldn’t be too better manifestations than the $6 billion that Pakistan has managed to get. For instance, average Joe six billion dollars would have the purchasing power of $6 billion; the ones that Pakistan has brought back home have a collective purchasing power of zero dollars.

The bailout is a unique combination of financial décor and delay, which serves Pakistan on such a temporary basis that it could henceforth be used as the smallest spacetime unit in quantum mechanics. And if the Saudi bailout was the geopolitical manifestation of one Planck length, Islamabad is looking for a few more of those, especially in the UAE and China.

Even so, for such an eccentric payment mechanism that traverses all kinds of dimensions in our multiverse, the cost of these six billion dollars appears to be customary – almost mundane, if not dogmatic. For, if the six billion dollars aren’t actually six billion dollars, the bailout package really isn’t just a bailout package.

So how much do these $6 billion cost for Pakistan, and what exactly is the payment mode?

First and foremost should be the continuation of what Pakistan is already paying. That is religiously standing with Saudi Arabia, while Riyadh continues to exhibit paranoia with regards to the Shia Crescent that could engulf it from all sides. For instance, previous ‘gifts’, ‘aids’, ‘loans’, ‘bailouts’ and other such misnomers have required Pakistan to fight proxy wars around the kingdom, most notably in Syria and Bahrain.

Pakistan’s spearheading of the Islamic Military Coalition is of course a part of the many loans that Islamabad has mustered over the years. And despite Parliamentary resolutions against involvement in Yemen, Pakistan’s military presence along the Saudi-Yemen border – even if it’s as part of the agreement to safeguard Saudi territory – means that Islamabad is complicit in whatever Riyadh is doing in the region, from the good to the bad and the very ugly.

Furthermore, what appears to be the case is the fact that the payment mode and instalments consist almost entirely of diplomatic transactions. After all, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s presence – and address – in the Future Investment Initiative, with loud proclamations on how ‘desperate’ he is for Saudi money, carried diplomatic currency following Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

While Pakistan has historically had to alienate Iran in a bit to appease Saudi Arabia – and indeed, the US – the latest cost that Pakistan might have to pay is a standoff with Turkey.

The PTI led government does not seem to be particularly interested in maintaining the strength in ties with Turkey that were bolstered under the previous government. And if they feel alienation of Turkey is perfectly fine because it is a ‘PML-N ally’ then they would take political pettiness to a level that even they are yet to touch.

Geostrategic payments could come in the shape of proximity to Balochistan, where China already has a commanding presence owing to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Of course, if Saudi Arabia gets access to Balochistan, it would be right next door to Iran, encircling a crescent of its own around its arch-rival.

Also, the Saudis have already told Prime Minister Imran Khan that they want vocal support for the Islamic Military Coalition, which quite clearly has more than just a sectarian tinge. So if we see Islamabad backing off from its repeated – albeit artificial – stance of neutrality in the Middle East and desire to play mediators, we should also hear the ka-ching sound that it accompanies.


An end to a mad race: 30 October, 2018 "The News"

The worst humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, the wretched faces of the hapless people of Syria and the maimed masses in Afghanistan remind one about the horrors of war.

Such heart- wrenching scenes would disturb anyone with a humane heart but it is incomprehensible why such death and destruction does not affect the conscience of the international community which makes tall claims about working for peace and fighting wars and conflicts. Why does it not prompt the UN to spring into action and put an end to this business of massacre and slaughter? Why do the merchants of arms not stop pumping lethal annihilating machines into conflict zones?

The recent announcement by the US to abandon the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty will further militarise a world that is already laden with more than 12,000 nuclear arsenals and millions of non-conventional and small arms. The treaty, signed in 1987 between the USSR and the US, stops the two superpowers from having mid-range, ground-launched nuclear missiles. Many fear that, with two of four major arms control treaties already collapsed and a third up for renewal in 2021, killing the INF agreement could throw European security back to the pre-detente years of the cold war.

The INF treaty is unique among arms control deals in several ways. It was the first to eliminate an entire class of weapons and to establish intrusive verification procedures. But equally unusual was that those most impacted by its adoption and potential loss – the countries that sit between the then-Soviet Union’s border and the Atlantic Ocean – were not signatories. As a result, they have little say in its fate.

It may be mentioned that in 1983 a military exercise by Nato in Western Europe triggered concerns in Moscow which misinterpreted the exercise, raising the spectre of a nuclear conflict. However, the situation eased when the exercise ended.

The US asserts that it is Moscow that is violating the treaty, forcing Washington to consider its annulment. But critics believe it is war-mongers sitting in the power corridors of the White House, and their belligerent approach, that is pushing the world towards a precarious stage. They cite the past statements of US National Security Adviser John Bolton, urging Washington to scrap this and other nuclear arms control treaties. Bolton has been calling for US withdrawal since 2011, before the US made public its allegations against Moscow in 2014.

The US accuses Russia of violating the treaty since 2007, by deploying ground-launched cruise missiles within the banned ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometres. Denying the charges, Russia says the treaty was agreed by a “naive” Soviet leadership, forcing the Soviets to eliminate their stock of intermediate-range missiles, while the US was allowed to keep sea and air-launched equivalents the Soviet Union hadn’t developed. Russian President Vladimir Putin believes this created “a clear imbalance.”

Since the treaty prevents only Russia and US from developing intermediate range missile, other states feel free to possess these lethal arms. Many politicians, including President Putin, fear that other nuclear arms limitations treaties may also be threatened. Hardliners in the US administration also want to put an end to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, also known New START, which was signed between Moscow and Washington in April 2010. The treaty, which is to last till 2021, aims at reducing the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers by half. Putin has warned that if INF and New START are scrapped, then nothing will be left except an arms race.

Experts believe that since other countries like China and India are not part of the treaty, they are developing intermediate range missiles. European states find it hard to save the treaty because they have no say in the matter. It seems the belligerent approach of President Trump and his tedious acolytes will scupper any chance of retaining the treaty that had triggered a ripple of excitement among pacifists when it was signed in 1980s. The deployment of such missiles will fuel tension in Europe besides triggering protests in a region that was badly affected during the cold war. Some European analysts feel that the US is jeopardising the security of Europe to counter China.

It is very unfortunate that, on the one hand war-mongers in America are lambasting Obama for carrying out some pro-people reforms in health and other sectors, accusing the ex-president of squandering public money but on the other they want to pump billions of dollars into this senseless arms race. President Trump has made it clear that the US has lots of money and can spend it on arms.

The question is: if Washington is really brimming with wealth then why does it not direct it towards the homelessness of Americans or for those who are living on the bottom layer of social stratification? Why should it not be utilised to provide employment to more than 95 million jobless Americans? Should such wealth not be employed to lift over 40 million Americans out of poverty and extend help and succour to 45 million citizens who cannot afford expensive medical treatment?

If China and other countries are developing intermediate range missiles, that is no excuse to scrap the treaty. Instead of pulling out of the treaty, the US should lobby for a comprehensive treaty obliging all states not to develop such lethal arms. A number of European states appear to be amenable to the idea of further reducing nuclear arms. Washington just needs to take the initiative. After all, in the past, it resolved so many intricate issues with the help of its Western allies. Countries like Canada and Japan should also push the US for such an initiative.

China, whose One Belt One Road policy needs long-term peace and stability, should make hectic efforts aimed at convincing Moscow that no country will benefit from this insane arms race. The world should move from possessing less nuclear arms to zero nuclear arsenal. It should not further burden earth with these tools of death and destruction. Lavish spending on these machines of massacre should not be allowed in a civilised age.

It is surprising to see why the incumbent of the Oval Office is advocating the annulment of such a treaty. President Trump himself is said to have commented that the US spent around six trillion dollars on the Middle East and got nothing. Three trillion dollars on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars also brought no blessings for the citizens of the only superpower. Therefore, it is important that the saner elements in the Trump administration should sideline the hawks that seem to be pushing the world towards a conflagration. Those in the power corridors of Washington should remember that the unilateral decision of President Trump against the Iranian nuclear deal, his treatment of European allies and decision to abandon the Paris Climate agreement have already dented America’s position as a global leader.

Since the possible scrapping of this treaty amounts to sending alarm bells to Western capitals, triggering a wave of concerns, it must be retained and more efforts be made to seek the complete denuclearisation of the world. This is the only way to save a world that is already inching towards destruction and possible annihilation because of wars, conflicts and environmental disasters.

Ultracrepidarian: 30 October, 2018 "The News"

I have been searching for a word that describes one who offers advice or opinion beyond his/her sphere of knowledge. I believe I have discovered the perfect term – ‘Ultracrepidarian’.

The etymology of this word is elucidating. In Ancient Greece, there was a great painter, Apelles. Experts and art critics agree that “Apelles surpassed all the painters that preceded him and all who were to come after him. His art was unrivaled for grace and charm.” His paintings were much sought-after and adorned the houses of rich and famous.

Apelles had a habit of placing his work in the market place in full view of the public, and while standing out of sight, listen to what was said by people about it. By chance, a shoemaker, Simon, happened to be passing by and looking at the painting, criticised Apelles for not drawing the latch of the sandal correctly. Apelles deferred to the shoemakers legitimate criticism and resolved mentally to correct the drawing. However the shoemaker did not stop at the sandals, and instead began then to finding faults with the way the artist had drawn the legs. At this point Apelles got furious, came out of his hiding and shouted at the shoemaker “Ne sutor ultra crepidam judicaret” (don’t let the cobbler criticise anything above the sandal).

The phrase uttered by Apelles evolved with time into what we now know as “ultracrepidarian”, which is defined as a habit of giving views on matters outside of one’s competence.

The ancient story finds relevance in today’s society, particularly in present-day Pakistan. We encounter people such as Simon the cobbler in all walks of life, who act as if they know everything without being able to distinguish between possessing knowledge and merely expressing and/or voicing opinions. This concept has become even more impaired with the umpteen sources of information which are just a tap away in the shape of Google.

While there is not much harm to society in having ‘Uncle Google’, or ultimately an ultracripidarian, in their midst (such people can never be avoided), this becomes an important and sensitive issue when it comes to running the affairs of a country.

Pakistan’s constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government in which, unlike a presidential form, where the president is directly of the choice of people, the prime minister is elected by a political party that can get the highest votes in parliament irrespective of whether it has the majority of overall votes in the country. The prime minister may then select his ministers but his choice is restricted in that he must choose the ministers only from the pool of parliamentarians.

This restriction can and has proved to be a problem for any prime minister who wants to make a positive change. For one, in a state like Pakistan where illiteracy is prevalent, the pool is limited because many politicians win on the basis of their careers as politicians and may not necessarily have great educational qualifications or expertise.

More often than not, even out of the limited number of appropriate candidates, the prime minister is forced to choose people who have shown loyalty to him, irrespective of their merits. This is why, in the past, in the majority of cases we have seen that neither experience nor credentialism was the basis for ministerial appointments, and this is so even in those circumstances where the ministry begs for a competent minister with the requisite technical knowledge to manage its affairs. The incompetence of one ministry affects the progress of the entire nation.

It should certainly be a matter of great concern to the public if a minister is governing a ministry which is beyond his or her skill set and expert knowledge of governance. For instance, can there be a law minister who is unaware of the laws in the country or the ministries of finance or water be run by people who are unaware of the expert knowledge required to govern that sector. Confusion is compounded into madness if everyone in government then starts airing their views on every issue beyond their competence and jurisdiction. This gives rise to speculations that the leadership of the government has no direction, and affects everyone’s spirit negatively.

The issue of professionalism – or lack of it – cannot just be restricted to cabinet members. Under the rules of business, the ministries are run by the hierarchy of secretaries. In technical ministries, the federal secretaries are not always appointed for their expertise and experience. Imagine then a ministry being run by a minister who doesn’t know and a secretary who cannot guide him/her. No country can be allowed to be run by practical ultracrepidarians.

What then is the solution? There has been much discussion that Pakistan should shift from the parliamentary to the presidential form of government so that the people can directly elect a president, and, as in the US, the president can then appoint technocrats from anywhere as ministers.

The presidential form of government – in which the president is directly elected and can then choose anyone to be members of his cabinet – is in my opinion neither the answer nor possible given the circumstances of Pakistan. One of the main reasons for this is that the president would then most likely be elected every time by the people of Punjab, leaving all other smaller provinces hurt, resentful and agitated. Secondly, parliamentarians too must continue to have the right to head ministries and sit in the cabinet and not be excluded.

The answer instead lies in a hybrid solution, which is to empower the prime minister to choose his cabinet members from amongst any expert, who would be accountable to the public as any other minister, at least in certain key technical ministries, when and wherever necessary, in addition to, and not in exclusion of, the elected representatives. History tells us that if this option is not given to the prime minister then – notwithstanding the best of intentions – this vicious cycle of bad policies and faulty management of ministries will continue.

To stop Simon-like cobblers from “criticising anything above the sandals” it will be necessary to amend the constitution. This public interest measure will require the collective will of all political parties.

The writer is a Supreme Courtadvocate, former caretaker federal minister, and former president of the SCBA.