EDITORIAL: Mixed signals and warnings
General Martin Dempsey has replaced Admiral Mike Mullen as the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In his farewell speech, Admiral Mullen said he continues “to believe that there is no solution in the region without Pakistan, and no stable future in the region without a partnership”. Admiral Mullen’s advice to General Dempsey was “to remember the importance of Pakistan to all of this; to try and do a better job than I [Mullen] did with that vexing, and yet vital, relationship”. Maybe Admiral Mullen was trying to take the sting out of his earlier statement linking the ISI to the Haqqani network by giving ‘friendly’ advice to his successor. With the change of command in the US military, there are mixed messages coming from the Obama administration. President Obama said US intelligence is not clear in terms of what exactly the relationship between the Haqqanis and the ISI is. A US official said that there will be no US boots on the ground in Pakistan. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton said that when she “became Secretary of State, they [Pakistanis] were trying to draw a distinction between the good terrorists and the bad terrorists, because we had funded the good terrorists together...That in no way excuses the fact that they are making a serious, grievous, strategic error supporting these groups, because you think that you can keep a wild animal in the backyard and it will only go after your neighbour?” An ambiguity has clearly been left in both President Obama’s remarks and that of Ms Clinton. The US admits it helped Pakistan in creating terrorists for the Afghan jihad but now those ties must be terminated.
While there are mixed signals emanating from the Obama administration, things in our neighbourhood are not looking good either. On the one hand Afghan President Karzai has rejected negotiations with the Taliban and asserted that Pakistan is the key to peace talks. On the other hand, the Afghan intelligence service has blamed the Quetta Shura for assassinating Burhanuddin Rabbani. “We have given the evidence to the Pakistan Embassy in Afghanistan to cooperate with us,” said Afghanistan’s intelligence service spokesman. The most significant statement, though, came from JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman who said it was possible that the US might go to the UN against Pakistan, where the Americans would raise the issue of the Quetta Shura. This would create trouble for Pakistan, especially if the US declares the Haqqani network a terrorist organisation and links between the ISI and the Haqqanis are established. Sanctions could be imposed on Pakistan in this event.
The pressure on Pakistan is building and the writing on the wall could not be clearer. Pakistan is heading towards isolationism. Even if we admit our mistakes, like the US did, it is important to correct those mistakes. If we are taken to the UN, things would get serious. When a hardliner like Maulana Fazl starts painting a gloomy picture, it means something is definitely wrong. Maulana sahib would not say anything as alarmist as this without a reason. The policy of exporting terrorism has made Pakistan a terrorist haven. We need to adopt a two-pronged policy: flush the foreign elements out of the tribal areas and talk to the local tribes to eliminate local terrorists from our soil. This would help bring peace back in the region and change our image of a breeding nursery for terrorists. *
SECOND EDITORIAL: Another petrol bomb
The government on Friday once again raised the already astronomically high prices of petroleum products by up to 5 percent. As a result of the new price levels that became effective Saturday, petrol is now dearer by Rs 4.15 per litre, and high octane blending component (HOBC) by Rs. 2.72 per litre, in line with the increase in international prices. However, it is the Rs. 1.51 per litre increase in the price of high speed diesel that takes the cake since its price has actually decreased in the international market by Rs. 0.62 per litre. Unsurprisingly, this increase has been slipped in with no explanation provided. The rationale provided for this daylight robbery, i.e. the recent increase in international petroleum prices, does not cut any ice with anyone since prices at petrol pumps already comprise approximately fifty percent in government taxes and duties. Thus even with price increases in the international market, the government had enough cushion to not increase local prices if it wanted to or at the very least to minimise the increase. Moreover, it is evident from the brazen and completely unjustified price increase of high speed diesel, that the government is simply milking the petroleum cow, as has been its wont whenever short on revenue (a perennial state). On a macroeconomic level, nothing could be more shortsighted. Any increase in oil prices has an inflationary impact across the economy, in sectors ranging from transport, power, heavy and light industry, to consumer goods. Given that inflation in Pakistan is already running in double digits and that the common man is struggling to satisfy his most basic needs, such an unfair measure to generate revenue should have been desisted from. It is a tragedy the privileged and wealthy class that runs the government will not institute direct and proportional taxation to increase desperately needed revenue, but will continue to fleece the poorest, who are already bearing the brunt of indirect taxation -- of which this price hike is a prime example.
At a time when the economy needs desperately to be boosted, the cut in spending power of the common man will inevitably not only slow down the production and services engines further, but will obviously also impact revenue generation adversely. The government needs to review such shortsighted policies, which will almost certainly prove deleterious for the public and the economy alike. *