04
January

Written By: Dr. Ashfaque H. Khan

THE relationship between national security and economy has been examined in many countries over the last three and a half decades. Of late, Pakistan has also given importance to national security and accordingly has established a National Security Division, headed by a senior officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. National security and economy is closely linked with each other. A strong economy can ensure strong defence, which in turn, enhances a country’s power and strengthens national security. Economic backwardness, on the other hand, generates violence, social conflicts, political turmoil and hence, weakens national security. Accordingly, economic security/strength is essential for strengthening national security. As shown in Fig. 1, the chain of causation runs from strong economy to strong defence to strong national security. Strengthening of national security leads to more power, more power leads to more prosperity and more prosperity may generate more power which will further strengthen national security. Hence, the virtuous cycle continues.


natsececo.jpgNational security is essential for countries to ensure that their people reside without fear. National security has three aspects. Firstly, it deals with protection from external threat for which the countries require hard power (military hardware). Secondly, it deals with winning “hearts and minds” of the people across the globe through soft power (political and cultural diplomacy). Soft power in fact complements hard power and/or even provides substitute for it. Thirdly, it deals with economic security essential for promoting the well-being of the people and providing resources for strengthening hard power. In today’s global environment, economic security also promotes soft power, that is, it can win ‘hearts and minds’ of the people across the globe. A weak economy not only weakens the country’s hard power but also fails to strengthen soft power. For example, if a country’s economy grows at the rate of 3.0 – 3.5 percent per annum, it will be regarded as a problem/basket country for others; even ‘friendly countries’ would avoid dealing with problem/basket country. Their foreign policy stance viz the problem country would be different. But if a country’s economy is growing by 8-10 percent per annum, the country would be regarded as opportunity country, which is having opportunity to do business. Such a country would command global respect and will be invited to join the rich-men club (G-7, G-8, G-20 etc.). The foreign policy stance of rest of the world would be more accommodating and hence will win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people across the globe.


Thus, all the three aspects of national security are closely linked with each other. In other words, these three aspects of national security recognize that the long term security of nations depends greatly on having a vibrant and growing economy. These aspects of national security can best be described in a simple language as “what good is protection from a future threat when millions are unemployed? “What good is ‘economic prosperity’ if people are dead in a terrorist attack?” “What good is development of country when it is overrun by enemy?” Hence, there exists a close relationship between national security and economy. Strong defence capability, an independent foreign policy, an economically prosperous society, and a dynamic and contended democratic order, all flow from economic strength and economic management by intelligent, visionary, fiercely independent, and brutally honest leadership. Power and national security are the major by-products of the economic strength.


Having discussed the relationship between economy and national security, let me turn to the current state of Pakistan’s economy and its implication to the national security. Economic elements linked with national security are both broad and complex. For this article, I chose to concentrate on at least four economic elements, namely economic growth, budget deficit, public debt and foreign exchange reserves which have strong bearing on the general well-being of a country’s population and its national security.


Preamble on Economic Performance
Pakistan’s economy is passing through the most difficult and challenging phase of its economic history. The landscape of its economy has changed dramatically since 2007-08. Seven years of managing the economy with weak and frivolous economic team have not only damaged the economy but also weakened the key economic institutions. The current state of the economy has also emerged as a serious threat to national security.


The major economic challenges facing the country today include slow economic growth, investment and saving rates decelerating, rising unemployment and poverty, growing civil unrest and social chaos, deteriorating fiscal situation and rising public debt at a threatening pace, economy entering in a deflationary phase, private sector not borrowing to expand their businesses, government borrowing recklessly from commercial banks, faltering domestic resource mobilization effort, rapidly declining exports, foreign investors exiting Pakistan, building foreign exchange reserves through expensive borrowing, human capital deteriorating partly on account of inadequacy of funds and partly due to bad governance, physical infrastructure crumbling, rising scale of corruption and misgovernance, weakening of state institutions and most importantly dwindling writ of the state.


Though the on-going IMF Programme was a necessity for Pakistan as it had reached at the verge of default by September/October 2013, the programme has suffocated the economy because of its “stabilization first and growth later” approach. It has played an important role in further slowing the pace of economic activity. Its austerity driven policy has forced Pakistan authority to manipulate statistics and in the process the current economic team has destroyed key economic statistics (namely economic growth, tax collection, expenditure, budget deficit, unemployment etc.)


Economic Performance During 2008-15: A National Security Issue
As will be shown in the ensuing pages, the way Pakistan’s economy evolved during the last seven years created serious national security issues. The economy and its key institutions have been weakened to the core. Pakistan’s dependence on international institutions has increased considerably, thereby weakening its ability to manage its own economy prudently. The quality of Pakistan’s economic team is much desirable which itself has weakened its ability to negotiate with the IMF.
Managing Economy During 2008-13


Between 2003 and 2007, Pakistan witnessed an impressive economic turnaround and emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in the Asian region. The economy had grown at an average rate of almost 7.0 percent annum resulting in reduction in unemployment and poverty. The country’s fiscal balance improved as reflected by the sharp reduction in budget deficit, averaging less than 4.0 percent of GDP. Accordingly, the country’s public debt burden reduced from 75 percent in 2002-03 to 55.2 percent of GDP by 2006-07. The country’s external balance also witnessed considerable improvement. The current account deficit averaged 1.3 percent of GDP, the country’s foreign exchange reserves reached a comfortable position and Pakistan’s exchange rate remained stable for a fairly long time. Improvement in the country’s economic fundamentals made it a favourable destination for foreign investment and also encouraged the country to tap resources from the international debt capital market. Pakistan’s social indicators also improved during the period (See Table 1).


Then it all went wrong. The onset of global financial turmoil, the astonishing rise of oil and commodity prices and political instability sent the economy reeling. By the end of 2007-08, Pakistan was facing four major challenges: a drop in economic growth; rising inflation; widening of fiscal and current deficits; and rapidly depleting foreign exchange reserves. The worsening of fiscal and current account deficits were largely the results of external shocks of extraordinary proportions accompanied by policy inaction during most of the year 2007-08. The growing fiscal and external imbalances were financed by unprecedented borrowing from the central bank and drawing down of foreign exchange reserves from $13.2 billion to $3.4 billion – a loss of almost $10 billion in just one year.


natsececo1.jpgWhile the rest of the world was taking corrective measures and adjusting to higher food and fuel prices, Pakistan was lurching from one crisis to another. Despite peaceful election of 2008 and a smooth transition to the new government, political instability continued to persist. For protracted periods there were no finance, commerce, petroleum and natural resources and health ministers in the country. It gave the impression of having little sense of direction and purpose. A crisis of confidence intensified as investors and development partners started to walk away; capital flight set in, foreign exchange reserves plummeted and Pakistan rupee slumped in value by a third. Pakistan’s macroeconomic vulnerability had grown unbearable. It had no option but to return to the IMF for a bailout package in October/ November 2008.


As a result of five years of economic misgovernance, the complexion of Pakistan’s economy changed altogether. Economic growth slowed to an average of 3.0 percent per annum during 2008-13 as against an average of close to 7.0 percent per annum during the previous five years (2003-07), investment rate plummeted to 50 years low at 12.5 percent of GDP, domestic saving rate reached at 6.0 percent of GDP – the lowest in the country’s history, and industrial growth slowed to an average of less than one percent. Slower economic growth failed to create ‘enough’ jobs for the new entrants and as such the pool of unemployed kept on ballooning, creating civil unrest and social chaos in the country. In the absence of credible statistics it is presumed on the basis of economic theory that both unemployment and poverty must have risen by definition.


Fiscal indiscipline had been the hallmark of 2008-13 period with budget deficit averaging over 7.0 percent of GDP and reaching as high as 8.8 percent of GDP in 2011-12. Accordingly, public debt tripled during the period (from Rs. 5 trillion to Rs. 15 trillion in five years). During the period, Pakistan added $20 billion in external debt to $61 billion and foreign investment nosedived to just $1.6 billion in 2013 from a peak of $8.4 billion in 2007, reflecting deteriorating sentiment of foreign investors (See Table 1). Pakistani rupee lost 42 percent of its value as a result of weak economic fundamentals. Power sector mismanagement continued with government providing over Rs. 2 trillion of subsidies to this sector and most importantly, the country reached to the point of external payment default by May/June 2013. Above all, the government weakened the core economic institutions like Ministry of Finance, Planning Commission, SBP, and all the regulatory bodies (SECP, OGRA, NEPRA, PEMRA etc.)


What caused such a deterioration? There are several factors that contributed to the worsening of economy and state institutions. These include intensification of war on terror, deteriorating security environment, weak and non-serious leadership at the helm of affairs, absence of credible economic team, height of fiscal indiscipline, widespread corruption and misgovernance, economy remaining out of radar of the government and most importantly, personal prosperity overtaking national prosperity. It has also weakened national security.


Managing Economy During 2013 Onward
The present regime, prior to taking charge of the state of affairs after the May 2013 election, claimed to have a competent team of ministers fully aware of the challenges. In doing so, they raised expectations of the people who had already suffered severely from the mismanagement of the previous regime (2008-13). There is no doubt that the present regime inherited an extremely fragile economy, a nervous private sector; declining investment – both domestic and foreign; slower economic growth, rising unemployment and poverty, and growing income inequality. A large fiscal deficit owing to faltering resource mobilization effort on the one hand and reckless spending on the other with consequential rising debt-burden, a looming debt repayment crisis with country headed towards external debt default, rapidly declining foreign exchange reserves, rising circular debt and a severe energy crisis. These were indeed formidable challenges by any standard, and required extraordinary courage on the part of the leadership to take unpleasant decisions, called for a strong economic team, and demanded focused attention of the political leadership in addressing these challenges. Sadly, the leadership has disappointed the people (few opine that it has resorted to massive data manipulation) to show a false sense of economic prosperity. After completing two years at the helm of affairs, sadly enough, it appears that in reality economy has not improved much and there is less emphasis on long term sustainable measures. The government is more relying on borrowings from IMF than investing on taking genuine measures for improving country’s GDP. The key to economic security only lies in actual economic growth.


Element 1: Economic Growth
Pakistan’s economic conditions by end June/July 2013 reached to a level where it needed an IMF bailout programme. The programme, though was a necessity for Pakistan as it had reached to an almost default position, was a 1980s vintage of “Stabilization First” programme. The key elements of ‘Stabilization First’ programme were reducing fiscal deficit, controlling public debt, keeping inflation low, building foreign exchange reserves and maintaining a flexible exchange rate. Tight fiscal and tight monetary policy were the instruments of ‘Stabilization First’ programme.


Pakistan continued to pursue, by and large, the ‘stabilization first’ or ‘austerity’ programme since 2008 in one way or the other. Such a prolonged period of ‘austerity programme’ has severely constrained the country’s growth potential and has caused serious socio-economic problems in the country. Pakistan’s economy is growing in the range of 3.0 – 3.7 percent for the last seven years (2008-15), as a result of the continued pursuance of ‘austerity programme’.


Since this level of growth is considered “too little” for a country like Pakistan, it is safe to suggest that it cannot grow “more” any time soon. It appears that a growth rate in the neighbourhood of 3.0 – 4.0 percent has become a “new normal” for Pakistan. If this is the case, then the governments who ruled the country since 2008 have made the people of Pakistan permanently poor. The economy may not be seen growing back to 7-8 percent level any time soon. The slower growth syndrome of last seven years has caused deficient demand which in turn, has caused deficient supply. Why should investors or producers produce more in an environment of depressed domestic demand? The growth of large scale manufacturing has remained stagnant for quite some time despite the efforts of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics to produce idiosyncratic statistics. Since the country’s production is stagnant, its exports is facing supply side structural bottlenecks and are on the decline (exports are four year low in 2014-15). The long slump has hurt the economy’s productive capacity and hence has lowered the long-run growth path.


Slower economic growth is failing to create enough jobs. People in general and youth in particular, are finding it difficult to get jobs. People remaining unemployed for a longer duration are becoming unemployable with all its social and economic consequences. Youth (15-19 years) unemployment rate has increased from 8.7 percent in 2007-08 to 11.7 percent in 2013-14 (the latest number available from government sources). Unemployment rate for the age bracket of 20-24 years (prime age) has also increased from 6.8 percent to 9.9 percent during the same period. Rising unemployment among the youth and prime age workforce are a matter of serious concern for political stability, social harmony, and national security (See Table 2).

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Even more worrying development is that youth and prime age persons, after remaining unemployed for a long period, have become unemployable. They have stopped searching for jobs. This phenomenon is known as “discouraged worker phenomenon” where the labour force participation rate falls. The government statistics suggest that the labour force participation rate for male youth (15-19 years) has declined from 53.9 percent in 2007-08 to 49.7 percent in 2013-14 – decline of 4.2 percentage points (See Table 2). In other words, half-a-million male youth has stopped looking for a job or they are out of the job market. Similarly, the labour force participation rate for male prime age (20-24 years) has also declined from 85.1 percent in 2007-08 to 81.7 percent in 2013-14 – a decline of 3.4 percentage points. In other words, slightly over 0.5 million male prime age workforce has gone out of job market or not seeking job any more.


This is a dangerous development as the country is witnessing educated youth or prime age people turning into ruthless killers (remember! Safoora Goth Incident), taking revenge from the society. The country is also witnessing civil unrest, social chaos, and youth willing to burn everything which comes in their way. This is nothing but the social cost of ‘austerity program’ which the nation is paying. It has created a serious threat to national security as the unemployed youth and prime age people have emerged as potential targets for anti-state elements to entice them for their ulterior motives. Slower economic growth therefore, is not only failing to create ‘enough’ jobs, it is also failing to mobilize ‘enough’ resources to strengthen the country’s hard and soft powers with adverse consequences for national security.


Element 2: Budget Deficit
A sound fiscal position is vital for achieving macroeconomic stability, which is increasingly recognized as being critical for sustained economic growth and poverty reduction. Over a period of time the governments have maintained a large budget deficit, averaging over 7.5 percent of GDP over the periods, and accordingly more than tripled the country’s public debt. Unwillingness to mobilize resources on the one hand and reckless spending with wrong spending priorities on the other together with (politically motivated) 7th NFC Award have all thoroughly damaged Pakistan’s fiscal balance. Fiscal indiscipline has been one of the principle reasons for Pakistan’s current economic ailments.


Adequate level of resource mobilization is sine qua non for public policy to meet expenditure obligations. In Pakistan, domestic resource mobilization has remained ineffective due to the inherent weaknesses in the tax system and inefficient tax administration. As a result, Pakistan’s fiscal effort has remained stagnant for a fairly long period of time. Tax-to-GDP ratio – a measure of tax effort, remained stagnant in the range of 10-11 percent of GDP over the last 8 years.


Why has Pakistan’s tax-to-GDP ratio remained stagnant over the years? Pakistan’s tax machinery has collapsed; no amount of reform would improve its functioning unless there is a strong will on the part of the political leadership to collect tax from the rich and powerful. Pakistan’s tax system suffered from several weaknesses. Firstly, the tax base is not only narrow owing to a number of exemptions/concessions but it is punctured as well and thus encourages tax evasion. Secondly, tax rates are pitched at high levels (e.g. sales tax rate ranges from 17-45 percent) which have created a vicious cycle of tax base erosion and higher tax rates. Thirdly, there is an issue of multiplicity of taxes with an individual firm facing numerous types of taxes. Fourthly, there is over dependence on indirect taxes (on average 62% of total taxes) and if withholding taxes (whose effects are indirect in nature) are included the share of indirect taxes jumps to as high as 80 percent of total taxes. Fifthly, the tax system is complex and tedious which, along with high rates, has bred corruption and encouraged evasion. Sixthly, non-availability of reliable statistics from the businesses made it difficult for tax administration to assess the potential taxes to be collected.


Seventhly, the structure of the economy itself has made it difficult to impose and collect taxes. For example, large share (22%) of agriculture in output (income originating from agriculture is exempted from income tax) and employment (42%), low share of wages in total income, large informal sector, low literacy rate and poor human capital have been the major hindrances in enhancing domestic resources through taxation. Furthermore, the structure of the economy along with low literacy, low human capital and gross mismatch of qualification (a large number of medical doctors are working in tax administration) of staff and their job requirements have made it extremely difficult to develop a good and efficient tax administration. When the staff of tax administration is not well educated and well trained; when use of modern communication network is limited; when there is no accountability in tax administration and when there is little or no political will of the leadership to collect-taxes from the rich and powerful, then it is difficult to create an efficient tax administration. In addition when economic and political powers are concentrated to those who either do not pay taxes or pay much less than what they should have been paying themselves, it makes the task of the tax administration more difficult to collect taxes.


Situation on expenditure side is not much different from revenue. Large revenue-expenditure gaps (fiscal deficits) during 2008 onward were largely a result of public expenditure growing unsustainably fast – much faster than the tax revenue. Poor governance and a lack of accountability of the public sector have contributed to inadequate control of government expenditure and failure to ensure that expenditures are allocated efficiently and equitably to serve society’s priorities. Another reason for unsustainable growth in public expenditure has been the political leadership’s love for prestige projects (e.g., metro bus), or spending that rewards politically powerful groups often to the detriment of expenditure on basic social-services. Losses of Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs) and across the board power sector subsidy have also emerged as important components of public expenditure and thus have contributed in a major way to the rise in fiscal deficit during the last seven years.


The current structure of expenditure is not at all conducive for growth and development as well as not consistent with enhancing the country’s hard and soft power. Bulk of the expenditure (80-85%) is recurring in nature and within it, interest payment accounted for over 28 percent. Defence spending exhibited a persistently declining trend at a time when the country was fighting a war against terrorism. It averaged 15.4 percent of current and 12.3 percent of total expenditures during the post 2008 period.


Apart from failure to mobilize adequate resources to meet growing expenditure requirement there is a general consensus among independent economists that the 7th NFC Award finalized in April 2010, has promoted fiscal indiscipline and thus contributed immensely in damaging Pakistan’s economy and national security. The Award was based more on political consideration and lacked economic foundation. It was finalized in haste, no proper homework was carried out, and the revenue projection for the Award was grossly unrealistic.


A broad-based orderly and well-managed fiscal decentralization is expected to improve public service delivery and hence improve the living conditions of the people. Unfortunately, fiscal decentralization implemented through the 7th NFC Award was too extensive, too fast and managed in a disorderly environment (post 2010-11 period), promoted financial corruption and fiscal indiscipline in provinces as well as at the federal level.


A massive amount of resources (Rs. 6.7 trillion in five years under the Award versus Rs. 2.6 trillion in five years prior to the Award – two and a half time more resources were transferred to provinces under the Award) were transferred to provinces in too short a period and without sufficient consideration given to their fiscal or financial discipline and capacity to spend this money prudently (See Table 3).natsececo3.jpg Accordingly, it not only aggravated Pakistan’s economic conditions and promoted corruption but also adversely affected the provision of public goods and service delivery – a key expectation from the public in the event of financial decentralization. Most of the key social indicators pertaining to education, health, safe drinking water (after 18th Amendment, these are the responsibilities of the provincial governments) have deteriorated at the national and provincial levels. Where have these monies gone?


Element 3: Public Debt
Fiscal indiscipline has been the hallmark of the successive government since 2008 onward. Their failure to mobilize adequate resources to meet the country’s growing expenditure requirements have forced them to borrow extensively from within and outside the country with pride and pleasure. Accordingly, public debt (both rupee and foreign exchange components of debt) rose astronomically from close to Rs. 5 trillion in 2007 to Rs. 17.4 trillion by 2015. Explaining in a simple language, Pakistan accumulated total debt amounting to Rs. 5 trillion in the last 60 years (1947 – 2007) but added almost Rs. 13 trillion in just 8 years to reach close to Rs. 18 trillion by 2015 – more than tripled in such a short period. This is nothing but the evidence of fiscal indiscipline of the governments since 2008 onward. In percentage of GDP, public debt rose to 64 percent in 2015 from 55 percent in 2007 – a rise of 9 percentage points of GDP (See Table 1).


As a result of the sharp increase in public debt, interest payment more than tripled in the last 8 years, rising from Rs. 387 billion in 2007 to over Rs. 1300 billion in 2015. Defence spending was almost two-third of interest payment in 2007, declined to almost one – half by 2015. In other words, budgetary spending on enhancing hard power, instead of rising, has become a victim of rising interest payment at the back of heightened fiscal indiscipline.


Reckless borrowing with pride and pleasure continued in external sector as well. Pakistan accumulated additional $25 billion debt during the last 8 years – rising from $40 billion in 2007 to $65 billion by 2015. Extensive borrowing from external sources the country to compromise on soft power (diplomacy) as well as on hard power. No nation can build hard power on borrowed resources.
Pakistan has been in the midst of longest unconventional war that it has fought since its inception in 1947. A war that began in 2001 is still continuing with greater pace and intensity. Pakistan’s security environment along its eastern and western borders has deteriorated in recent years. These developments require relatively larger budgetary share to shore up both soft and hard power. Slower economic growth, fiscal indiscipline, wrong spending priorities, the on-going NFC Award, and weak economic team and institutions are not at all consistent with the country’s requirement for shoring up soft and hard power. Developments on economic front over the last 8 years have in fact weakened the country’s soft and hard power and as such has emerged as the national security issues for the country.


Element 4: Foreign Exchange Reserves
Foreign exchange reserves reflect the overall developments taking place in external balance of payment of any country. In addition, the country borrows externally to build foreign exchange reserves. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves (the SBPs reserves) stood at $13.2 billion by end-June 2007, it declined to $6.0 billion by end-May 2013 – a loss of over $7.0 billion in six years. By September/October 2013, forex reserves declined to a dangerously low level at $3.0 billion. Imagine a country with nuclear and missile power having forex reserves as low as $3.0 billion – sufficient to finance three/four weeks of imports. Can a country strengthen its soft and hard power with such meagre forex reserves? This answer is no.


Injection of external resources from the IMF, the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, the debt capital market (floatation of Euro bond, Sukuk etc.), selling the country’s assets (through privatization), grants from friendly countries and generous releases of Coalition Support Fund from the United States contributed to the building of forex reserves to $13.5 billion today. Bulk of these inflows are borrowed resources which will have to be repaid by the government in few years’ time. Exports – one of the critical sources of foreign exchange earnings is in shamble for the last four years. Foreign Direct Investment – yet another source of foreign exchange earnings is on the decline from over $5.5 billion in 2007 to $0.7 billion in 2015. Accordingly, our reliance on borrowed resources has increased to build forex reserves. Borrowing from external sources to build forex reserves is nothing but postponing the current balance of payment crisis to future dates as these debts will have to be repaid by someone.


Notwithstanding the claims of economic success, the fact is that our economy is growing at an average rate of 3.2 percent per annum for the last seven years, industrial growth is stagnant at 1.1 percent, agriculture is growing at 2.5 percent, private sector is not borrowing to expand their businesses, exports are falling, foreign direct investment is declining rapidly, foreign investors are leaving the country, tax collection performance is dismal, unemployment, particularly youth unemployment is rising, people are getting out of the job market (not looking for jobs), corruption is all time high in the country, the country is witnessing civil unrest, social chaos, the breakdown of law and order, and absolute failure of governance.


These developments have emerged as national security issue and demand urgent attention from all concerned. Sooner we realize the gravity of challenges the better it is for the country and its security.


What Needs to be Done?
Firstly, the leadership will have to change its style of governance. Managing economy should be at the forefront of the leadership. The present trend of managing economy through media management and data management is not a solution to our deep rooted problems. Pakistan has far more talent and expertise to compose a successful economic advisory and leadership team.


Secondly, Pakistan has pursued austerity programme for the last seven/eight years which has severely damaged the economy. A change in fiscal policy stance is needed. Pakistan needs more investment in physical infrastructure and human capital (education, health, vocational training etc.) and less tut-tutting about fiscal deficit. The time has come to move out from “Stabilization First” policy to strike a balance between growth and stabilization. Prolonged period of ‘austerity’ has caused human sufferings in Greece. Do we want to become another Greece? We Should act before it is too late.


Thirdly, Pakistan urgently needs wide-ranging structural reforms in tax system and tax administration, power sector, industries, agriculture, exports, financial sector, and overall governance. We have simply talked about reforms thus far without undertaking any credible reforms. The IMF for its political motive, has always stated that Pakistan’s reforms programme is ‘broadly on track’. In so doing, it has bred complacency on the part of the government.


Fourthly, the key economic institutions like Ministry of Finance, Planning Commission, the Central Bank, the Federal Board of Revenue, Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and all the regulatory bodies have been weakened to the core. Accordingly, the economic policy making has been shifted to the IMF and other IFIs as well as to domestically powerful vested interest group. The government needs to drastically overhaul some institutions and strengthen the others by inducting high calibre professionals as well as empowering them to undertake decisions.


Fifthly, the current NFC Award has been disastrous for the financial stability of the country. Without making corrections it will continue to damage Pakistan’s fiscal stability. How to correct the weaknesses of the current NFC Award is well documented in Ashfaque H. Khan, “7th NFC Award: Has it Worked?”, Development Advocate Pakistan, Vol. 2, Issue 2, June 2015 (a publication of the UNDP Pakistan.


Conclusion
The time is not on our side. The sooner we realize the gravity of challenges the better. The ongoing military operations in Waziristan and the Rangers’ Operation in Karachi have considerably improved the country’s security environment. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has improved the country’s perception abroad and low international price of oil has reduced pressure on the balance of payments. The government should consider these developments as a window of opportunity, bring good economic team, pursue good policies, introduce wide-ranging structural reforms and improve governance to capitalize on these positive developments. This will be good for the economy and national security.

 

The author is Principal & Dean at School of Social Sciences & Humanities, National University   of Sciences & Technology, Islamabad. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
04
January

Written By: Amir Zia

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flashy vision of “digital India” tangos with the ancient ghost of religious bigotry that grips the Hindu mind and imaginations even in the 21st Century. The two may appear an incompatible couple, but this very combination dominates and defines today’s India. The rising tide of Hindutva politics has brought issues such as “sacredness” of cows and the demand to impose a blanket ban on beef at the centre-stage of discourse in a country that portrays itself as the world’s largest democracy and a bastion of cultural pluralism and secular values.


But New Delhi’s carefully crafted perceptions and propaganda do not reflect the dark Indian reality. The collective Indian mind wasn’t “shinning” as once the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee wanted to brand India. And the same fanatic Hindu mindset remains light years away from being transformed into “digital India” as Modi desires to brand it now.


brandindia.jpgA 50-year-old Muslim, Mohammad Akhlaq, gets beaten to death and his 22-year-old son critically injured on September 28, 2015 by a Hindu mob in Bisara village, barely 40 km, from New Delhi on false rumours that his family killed and ate a cow.


On October 14, a mob of fanatic Hindus beat another Muslim man to death and injured four others who were accused of smuggling cows. The barbaric incident occurred in Sarahan, a village in Himachal Pradesh located roughly 260 km north of New Delhi. Ironically, the four survivors of the attack were arrested for the alleged animal cruelty, according to the Indian press.


These killings and other acts of violence and hate-speech targeting Muslims are not fringe occurrences. They are part and parcel of the organized drive to push the agenda of Hindutva by the hard-line Hindus organized under the banner of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its political arm, the ruling BJP and allied Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Chief Minister of Haryana State Manohar Lal Khattar — a senior BJP leader — reflected this fanatic mindset when he said that “cow is an article of faith” in India and Muslims living here should give up consuming beef.


In an ominous reminder to this warning, members of Hindu Sena attacked Engineer Rashid, an independent Muslim lawmaker of the occupied Jammu & Kashmir Assembly, at the New Delhi Press Club on October 19, smearing black ink and engine oil all over his face. Rashid’s crime was that he hosted a “beef” party at his home in the Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir, which is a Muslim-majority state. Indian press reported that while thrashing Rashid, his Hindu tormentors shouted “Gau Mata Ki Jai” (Long Live Mother Cow). The Muslim lawmaker was holding a press conference highlighting the death of one of the three persons attacked over “beef” rumours earlier in October.


Such incidents – targeting Muslims, other religious and nationalist minorities and people belonging to the oppressed castes and classes, labelled as “lower” by Hindu fanatics – are frequent occurrences and a rising trend in India. The politics of Hindutva has been decisively dominating India for the last three decades or so. And it was a factor to reckon with even during the British-rule, torpedoing the much-propagated politics of non-violence of M.K Gandhi, who himself got murdered by a Hindu zealot barely five-and-a-half months after India’s independence. The subsequent years saw the rise of Hindutva politics – sometimes sugar-coated in the slogans of secularism and pluralism and at others in the naked victimization of religious minorities, smaller nationalities and the downtrodden castes and classes.


The festering wound of Kashmir and its struggle for freedom, the secessionist movements in Assam, Nagalim, Tripura and the Punjab portray the broader unresolved conflicts of Indian state stem from the Hindu nationalists’ historically flawed and incorrect slogan of “Akhand Bharat” or Undivided India. The other complex unresolved issues of the rights of the oppressed castes and classes within the social order of Hindus are equally grave. They all divide the Indian state and society horizontally and vertically.


Pakistan’s founding father Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his associates had the foresight to read and anticipate this fanatic Hindu mindset even in the garb of apparently secular politics of Indian National Congress. That’s why there came the rational and justified demand for the creation of Muslim-majority Pakistan by dividing India.


The colonial India, which Congress Hindu leaders were desperate to inherit, itself was the unnatural creation of the imperial British power that forcibly brought many historically autonomous regions and diverse people under its rule. The Hindu Congress partially succeeded in inheriting the geographical boundaries of the colonial India – minus areas comprising Pakistan. But the unnaturalness of India in its current boundaries has remained the cause of constant friction, conflict and hostilities, underling the illegitimacy of the demand and dream of “Akhand Bharat.”


It is a pertinent point that not just the Hindu nationalists, but the apparently modern-looking Congress leaders wanted to inherit India with its colonial frontiers. In their own ways, they each wanted to promote a common Hindu or Indian identity. The flawed historical understanding and interpretation of both these groups only added more to the complexity and contradiction of Indian politics.


Hindu nationalists – who consider both Islam and Christianity as alien faiths in “Bharat” — have long been striving for the dominance of Hindutva in every sphere of the society. They promote this agenda through organized acts of violence and terror as well as propaganda campaigns. This narrow-minded and fanatic politics was in vogue during the British rule and it continues to haunt, divide, polarize and dominate India now. Similarly, the desire of Congress to find a common nationalist ground was as flawed as that of the fanatic Hindu nationalists.


Quaid-i-Azam rightly challenged both, providing the correct historical context when he said in a Presidential address at the annual session of Muslim League at Lahore in 1940, that “India is not a nation, nor a country. It is a Sub-Continent of nationalities…The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religions, philosophies, social customs…They neither intermarry nor interdine and they belong to two different civilizations, which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions….”

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Has the discourse of Hindutva followers or the apparently modern nationalist Indians changed since the times of freedom struggle for a Muslim homeland? Certainly not as behind every attractive slogan, be it of “shinning India”, “digital India” or “brand India,” there lies the deep-rooted desire of the collective Hindu mindset to oppress, subjugate, exploit Muslims, Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities and oppressed classes and castes. However, their real target remains Muslim and Christians – people of the book – whom the Hindu fanatics see as foreign religions brought here by conquerors and want to drive them out.


The handful of those pseudo intellectuals in Pakistan who claim about the commonness of people, culture and values of Pakistanis and Indians are basically paddling the incorrect and distorted historical narrative. Their attempts to brush aside the growing threat of Hindu extremism also rest on the wrong premise that Modi’s Hindutva politics is just a passing phase, which can be countered by the so-called secular or moderate forces in India. But the Modi phenomenon is not a mere slip of history. It is an articulation of the ancient biases, irrationality and fanaticism of the extremist Hindu-mindset.


The way beef politics and other similar issues assumed centrality in the Indian discourse and incidents of religious intolerance, persecution and religiously-motivated violence increased is a clear indication of tougher times ahead for not just Muslims but all the other minorities. The BJP and allies attempts to introduce a blanket ban on the sale and consumption of beef is only a small step to achieve the goal of Hindutva – a dominance of Hindu way of thinking and way of life in every sphere of the society.


There has been a resistance to these attempts from a tiny section of Indian intellectuals and the civil society, but if the past mob-mentality – which articulated itself in the 1992 demolition of Babari Masjid, series of brutal oppression of Muslims and other minorities including the 2002 Gujarat’s bloody anti-Muslim riots – and dominance of Hindu nationalists in the electoral politics is any guide, then India is moving fast towards further Hindu radicalization and militancy. This indeed is a threat for Indian minorities as well as regional peace and stability.


Paul Marshall, a senior fellow of Center for Religious Freedom in the United States, in his 2004 paper “Hinduism and Terror” highlights this threat in the very opening lines. “Since September 11, 2001, the world’s attention has properly been focused on the violence of Islamic extremism, but there are also major violent trends in Hindu extremism that have largely been ignored in the United States. In India, this violence is supported by Hindu extremists and their allies in the Indian government, which is currently led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.”


“In the past decade, extremist Hindus have increased their attacks on Christians, until there are now several hundred per year. But this did not make news in the U.S. until a foreigner was attacked. In 1999, Graham Staines, an Australian missionary who had worked with leprosy patients for three decades, was burned alive in Odisha (formally known as Orissa) along with his two young sons. The brutal violence visited on Muslims in Gujarat in February 2002 also brought the dangers of Hindu extremism to world attention. Between one and two thousand Muslims were massacred after Muslims reportedly set fire to a train carrying Hindu nationalists, killing several dozen people,” Paul Marshall writes in his paper adding, “These attacks were not inchoate mob violence, triggered by real or rumoured insult; rather, they involved careful planning by organized Hindu extremists with an explicit programme and a developed religious-nationalist ideology. Like the ideology of al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists, this ideology began to take shape in the 1920s as a response to European colonialism. It rejected the usually secular outlook of other independence movements; in place of secularism, it synthesized a reactionary form of religion with elements of European millenarian political thought, especially fascism.”


In their zeal of doing business with India, successive US-governments and other western nations are ignoring the ticking time-bomb of Hindu fanaticism, which is a far deadly threat for the regional and world peace, compared to the ragtag groups of Islamic extremists.


Leading Indian journalist, Aakar Patel, in an article written in April 2015 highlights the fact that most extremists in India are not Muslim, but Hindu. “The media has misleadingly conflated terrorism with Islam. But don't expect Narendra Modi or his ministers to clear up such misconceptions,” Patel writes.


“In 2014, there were 976 deaths from terrorism…in India. Of these, the most (465) came in the North East. The second most (314) came from Left-wing extremism, by a group of people called Maoists. Deaths in Jammu & Kashmir, assuming we want to attribute the whole lot to terrorism, stood at 193. Outside of these conflict theatres, Islamist extremism claimed four lives.”


“In 2013, the figure was most for Maoists (421), the second most for the North East (252), and the Kashmir plus Islamist violence outside the state again came third (206). In 2012, we had a similar situation: Maoists (367), followed by the North East (326), followed by Kashmir (117). The total number of victims of Islamist terrorism outside these three areas, across India, was 1. In 2011, Maoist violence claimed 602 lives, the North East 246, and Kashmir plus Islamist violence outside the state toll stood at 225…”


Patel adds that “most terrorists in India are Hindus, the ones whom we have conveniently labelled "Maoist" instead of "Hindu". The second largest group of terrorists… (is) the tribals, Hindus, animists and perhaps some Christians of the North East. Muslims are third. If one looks outside the separatism of Kashmir, their violence and terrorism levels are among the lowest in the world and they appear to be less susceptible to terrorism not just by the standards of the world’s Muslims but also India’s Hindus.”


The real brand India flaunts nothing but of religious intolerance and extremism. Yet, to their credit, the successive Indian governments managed to carve a false perception of a glittering and digital India. However, the ugly reality of extremist-Hindu mindset and its hegemonic designs – both for their diverse society and the region — cannot be concealed behind fake brands. The world needs to see, probe and analyze the real brand India rather than misled by illusions.

 

The writer is an eminent journalist who regularly contributes for print and electronic media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Twitter: @AmirZia1
04
January

Written By: Jennifer McKay

The annual session of UN General Assembly held in New York in late September each year, is a major ‘talk fest’ for world leaders. It’s an opportunity for leaders to meet and greet, and network with big business and the UN ‘family’, sign on to any new global agendas, and to make ‘the big speech’ to the Assembly.

 

This year on the 70th birthday of the UN, many leaders focused on the new buzz at UNGA 2015 – the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their speeches. The SDGs (and please do get used to this acronym because you’re going to hear it a lot in coming years) includes a set of 17 goals (each with specific targets for countries to aim for) to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.

 

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The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif, mentioned the SDGs in his speech to the Assembly, as did most leaders. But the most important highlights of his speech were on the sensitive topics of terrorism, Afghanistan, and most importantly, Kashmir. In his speech, he reached out to India with an olive branch to resolve the Kashmir situation and bring peace. He proposed four key initiatives:

 

One: We propose that Pakistan and India formalize and respect the 2003 understanding for a complete ceasefire on the Line of Control in Kashmir. For this purpose, we call for UNMOGIP’s expansion to monitor the observance of the ceasefire. Two: We propose that Pakistan and India reaffirm that they will not resort to the use or the threat of use of force under any circumstances. This is a central element of the UN Charter.

Three: Steps to be taken to demilitarize Kashmir.

 

Four: Agree to an unconditional mutual withdrawal from Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battleground. So what was India’s response? A very aggressive statement from the First Secretary from India’s Permanent Mission to the UN, attacking Pakistan and stating that any talks with Pakistan will be only about terrorism. This is not acceptable to Pakistan and India knows it. Unless all issues, especially Kashmir, are on the table, nothing will move forward. Even the SDGs which the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, highlighted in his speech, will not be achievable in India or this region, without peace.

 

It remains obvious that India has no interest in talks with Pakistan about resolving Kashmir issue. For years, India has refused to honour previous agreements and ceasefires. In the past couple of years, ceasefire breaches have escalated. Each country blames the other but the military records reveal otherwise. India has been the aggressor.

 

But how do we prove that? While Nawaz Sharif asked for a bigger role for UNMOGIP, it would be a good start if they were allowed to do their work under the existing arrangement. UNMOGIP is tasked to be the neutral observer group to investigate and report their findings on ceasefire breaches to the UN in New York. UNMOGIP does not report to the parties involved. Yet for years, India has prevented UNMOGIP from fully investigating each ceasefire breach because they do not accept the role of the UN to do this. Pakistan has no problem in providing UNMOGIP with full access to make investigations and report their findings to the UN in New York. During my own visits to the Working Boundary, I have encountered them at work out there following cross-border incidents. So why does India refrain from granting UNMOGIP access to investigate on their side if they want to prove their case as they continue to claim that they are the innocent party on every occasion? Unfortunately for India, investigations would prove the opposite.

 

If India would like to discuss only terrorism as a pre-condition for talks, they should look into their own backyard first. A growing culture of intolerance and violence against Muslims and other minorities in India by extremist Hindu groups seems to have official patronage, and at the highest level. ‘Unfortunate’ was the word Prime Minister Modi used when a Muslim man was beaten to death by a marauding horde for supposedly eating beef. Forensic tests proved it was lamb. In another incident, a Muslim truck driver was lynched by another mob for allegedly transporting smuggled beef. And in yet another recent incident, an Indian Muslim youth was severely beaten by a policeman in Mumbai and told to “go back to Pakistan”. A family visiting Mumbai was refused accommodation in hotels because they were from Pakistan and ended up having to sleep on the railway station.

 

When former Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri recently visited Mumbai for the launch of his book “Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove”, his publisher was attacked by a gang of far-right Shiv Sena party workers who doused him in black ink. The Shiv Sena group is part of the BJP coalition government and is rabidly anti-Muslim and particularly anti-Pakistan. It is worth noting that Mumbai is a Shiv Sena stronghold and they want a ‘Hindu-only’ state. The inking attack, and yet another one a couple of weeks later on a Muslim lawyer, did little for India’s carefully crafted international image as a tolerant society when the rather startling photographs went viral, highlighting the ugly side of extremism in the country.

 

Shiv Sena workers have threatened other cultural events and recently forced the cancellation of a visit by Pakistani singer, Ghulam Ali, who was scheduled to perform in Pune and Mumbai. And yet another rabid mob stormed the offices of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) shouting anti-Pakistan slogans in an attempt to force a cancellation of not only the meeting, but the upcoming Pakistan-India series as well. As a result of this incident, the ICC withdrew world-class Pakistani umpire, Aleem Dar, from the current India-South Africa series. Obviously, these extremist thugs are becoming very scary indeed when they can influence international sport, which is usually considered to be an instrument of peace, through creating a climate of fear. Is Modi’s government doing anything about Shiv Sena’s increasingly aggressive anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan behaviour? No. Nothing! There are just a few of the recent events involving Hindu extremists but there have been many more. The risk of this Hindu extremism spiralling out of control is something Prime Minister Modi should consider. Perhaps he should remember the Gujarat riots in 2002 when he did nothing to stop the slaughter of up to 2,000 Muslims. His lack of action then, saw him labelled as supporting terrorism and for over ten years, he was denied a visa to the United States, lifted only when he became Prime Minister in 2014.

 

An escalation of unfettered extremism will harm India’s international image considerably. The international media has been picking up this growing trend in India with many stories lately on the BBC and in other international media. India has for some years, carefully built an image of being a magical country to visit through their global “Incredible India” tourism campaigns. It is far from magical. Poverty levels are profound as is food insecurity. Some 600 million people are believed to be food insecure there. That the impacts of poverty and food insecurity can cause conflict in any society cannot be overlooked.

 

So let’s talk about the issue of Indian terrorism in Kashmir. An entire population has been terrorized and brutalized by the occupying Indian troops. The Indian Army has killed over 95,000 civilians. Mass graves have been found and no doubt, there are many more. Amnesty International continues to report the atrocities inflicted on the population. Amnesty has also highlighted cases of fake encounters that have seen innocent civilians labelled as ‘infiltrators’ and targeted by rogue officers, leading to riots and the deaths of many. Many other such events have gone uninvestigated.

 

But Indian brutalities don’t stop in Kashmir. While considering their own role in spreading terrorism, perhaps India could stop shooting at villagers along the Pakistani side of the Line of Control and Working Boundary. I’ve seen what happens when they fire their mortars and other weapons directly at the civilian population there. It’s simply horrifying. The attacks have resulted in substantial loss of life, property and livestock. What wrong these simple farmers and villagers do to deserve that? India knows that it is against the rules of International Humanitarian Law to attack innocent civilians who are not involved in a conflict whether they be their own citizens or in another country.

 

I’ve written several times about the heavily fortified fence just inside the Zero Line which stretches from one end of the Working Boundary to the far end of the Line of Control, but let me mention this again. It’s visible from outer space at night (do check out the spectacular NASA photographs taken from the International Space Station over Pakistan and India). It is impossible to infiltrate from the Pakistani side into the Indian-occupied side and when you see the fence, you understand just why that is. It is quite scary to visit there to search for stories, and view the fence in sight of snipers in towers on the other side. Random attacks can happen at any time.

 

However, the impenetrability of the fence does not work both ways. There are gates in the fence. And the only people who control those gates – the only ones who have the keys – are the Indian Army and Border Security Force. Indian infiltrators have been caught on the Pakistan side of the border many times. So how did they get there? It is obvious and simple. Someone on the Indian side unlocked the gate in the fence and out they came, usually under the cover of darkness, but occasionally in the guise of farmers who are sometimes allowed out to graze their animals on the land on the strips of that stretch between the fence and the actual zero line. They also let smugglers through that gate, some of whom have been captured on the Pakistan side. India has already built many structures that are in violation of the rules and now they are apparently building a wall as well, again, forbidden by previous agreements. Flouting the rules of the game doesn’t seem to be a problem for India.

 

And what about Indian interference in Balochistan? And Karachi? Please add that to the list for discussion. Then there are the games that India plays in Afghanistan that are increasing instability there and causing trouble on Pakistan’s western boundary. Stopping that would be helpful for regional peace. Pakistan would surely be happy to put that on the table for talks since India wants to focus only on terrorism issues.

 

Pakistan has done much in recent years to destroy the militant operations in Pakistan. Under the current Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan Army launched the massive Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014, to destroy them in the tribal areas. Pakistan Air Force has also played a critical role, launching many air strikes on militant hideouts in the mountains of FATA. The assault on the terrorists in the tribal areas has been effective and previously terror infested areas are now being rehabilitated so that displaced families can return home and live in peace. But Indian interference next door in Afghanistan can unsettle the situation and Pakistan must be vigilant against this. Again we must ask, ‘when will this stop?’

 

General Raheel Sharif has firmly stated on a number of occasions that there will be no differentiation between terrorist groups, and actions have been taken against groups formerly believed to be able to move freely in some parts of Pakistan. This has clearly been paying dividends and the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has dropped significantly in the past year. The Army has the support of the population at levels not seen previously. Confidence has grown that the country can be at peace but there have been numerous sacrifices along the way. Too many people have died, both military and civilians and their sacrifices must be honoured through ultimate peace and resulting prosperity for the country.

 

The aggressive response from India to Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the UN General Assembly is unsurprising really. In the past year there have been numerous aggressive statements towards Pakistan from a parade of Indian top-level government and military officials. Never once do they show any inclination towards peace, but more towards an escalation in tensions and have even hinted at limited strikes in Pakistan. This is hardly indicative of a willingness to achieve peace. For now, it seems Pakistan may be wasting its time talking to India if all they want to do is ‘stonewall’. India’s answer to everything is to shout loudly and shout often, rather like the neighbour bully. You know, the type that we encountered back in our school days – the one beating up the other kids and then lying to the teacher about who started the fight saying “It wasn’t me”. Rhetoric, no matter how untruthful, if repeated often enough, has a tendency towards becoming accepted as fact, especially in these days of social media. Often it is designed for the home audience where revving up hatred of Pakistan and a tough stance is to divert attention from other domestic issues where things are not going as well as promised by the government of the day. Good media strategies can make a difference and India has been far more effective in getting its voice heard over that of Pakistan. Perhaps it is due to the very strong Indian lobby in Washington, or that there is greater international familiarity with India than with Pakistan possibly due to history and tourism, so it’s easier for people to side with them, at least until undeniable truths appear.

 

The four-point agenda that the Pakistan Prime Minister put forward at the UN General Assembly was fair and reasonable. So why is it so hard for India to sit down and discuss Kashmir. Perhaps their long-held desire for seat as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council has something to do with it. Security analysts vary in their opinions but this would certainly be a factor. Their image, built lately on promoting India as the key player in regional peace could be harmed should the facts on their role in regional instability are laid bare. There are, no doubt, many reasons, but whatever they are, any solution for Kashmir will take time – perhaps years ¬– but why not start discussing it like ‘grown-ups’?

 

Peace is something to be prized by all people everywhere including the citizens of both Pakistan and India. But every country has problems they have to deal with. As nations – and human beings – we need to find ways to resolve these peacefully when opportunities are presented. Pakistan offered an olive branch but India tossed it into the fire. We can only hope that one day soon, they will take a step forward towards peace instead of many steps in the other direction.

The writer is Australian Disaster Management and Civil-Military Relations Consultant, based in Islamabad where she consults for Government and UN agencies. She has also worked with ERRA and NDMA. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
If India would like to discuss only terrorism as a pre-condition for talks, they should look into their own backyard first. A growing culture of intolerance and violence against Muslims and other minorities in India by extremist Hindu groups seems to have official patronage, and at the highest level. ‘Unfortunate’ was the word Prime Minister Modi used when a Muslim man was beaten to death by a marauding horde for supposedly eating beef. Forensic tests proved it was lamb.

*****

India’s answer to everything is to shout loudly and shout often, rather like the neighbour bully. You know, the type that we encountered back in our school days – the one beating up the other kids and then lying to the teacher about who started the fight saying “It wasn’t me”. Rhetoric, no matter how untruthful, if repeated often enough, has a tendency towards becoming accepted as fact, especially in these days of social media. Often it is designed for the home audience where revving up hatred of Pakistan and a tough stance is to divert attention from other domestic issues where things are not going as well as promised by the government of the day.

*****

 
16
September

Written By: Maria Khalid

An American mountaineer’s expedition of the mountain that defeats one out of every 4 climbers is cut short by high altitude sickness as Pakistan Army aviation airlifts him to Skardu for medical treatment.

Frothy sputum tinged with blood dropped on the clean untouched snow of the savage mountain in Northern Pakistan as Robert Jackson, 38, hiked up to camp IV. His lungs had begun gurgling and rattling, his throat felt small, smaller and smallest. He had come too close to his limits. Setting up higher and higher camps and moving up the route was becoming increasingly difficult. He scanned the frozen slope above him and thought of how the last 22 marathon days had taken its toll. He remembered how so many bodies and bones were buried in this nightmarishly steep of a black stone covered with heaps of snow. Descent was the only treatment to cure High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) which was now taking over his lungs at 7500 metres atop the second highest mountain of the world.

He got down to Camp II with his porter and then he couldn’t move anymore. He called down the base camp. “Take some dexamethasone but you need an evacuation”, came the doctor’s reply. He was able to spend a sleepless night with the help of the drug. The next day he made painfully slow progress down to the base camp. “The Army is very professional and they are very good at rescues. They will be down here today”, said the doctor and Jackson broke up in tears.

Climbing season in Karakorum is short and stretches from only mid-June into the early days of September. All the major climbing routes are accessed through Pakistan, as access through the Chinese side is a huge logistical challenge. The 27 member expedition began ascending K2 in the middle of June with the hope of conquering the snowy rocks of the cliff plunging 10,000 feet into the surrounding glaciers. Before setting off for K2 expedition, Jackson carried out acclimatization as he went to Astore, Paiju and a couple of more towns to Concordia and then the base camp of K2. It took them a week to march up the mountain trails to K2 base camp at Baltoro, a black rock and grey moraine contrast on top of the crevasse-riven glacier. There it was – the mighty K2. The archetypal image of the summit is defined by the sharp triangle of its silhouette which forms the perfect image of a peak on a painter’s canvas.

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At the base camp the doctor warned him of the crackling in his lungs. Soon that crackling developed into a bacterial infection for which the doctor prescribed antibiotics. He sat at the base camp for 5 days until he felt better and climbed up to camp IV with a high altitude porter from Pakistan, carrying a barrel of gear and provisions for the climb up the steep chute of ice. The extremely high altitude and resulting lack of oxygen caused HAPE and chilly winds raking through the mountains made every step difficult. “Then that was too much for me and I started to throw up blood. It was very hard to get down, very very hard to get down.”

At the base camp, Jackson was told how the Pakistani soldiers regularly risk their lives to rescue climbers on this peak. He was later assured of that as he was struggling to get into the helicopter, the pilot grabbed his hand and helped him get into the back. They welcomed him into the helicopter and said, “Hey! Put these headsets and seatbelt on. You are going to be okay.”

With only a third of oxygen at sea level, snow up to his chest in places, he staggered off the peak in the final stages of exhaustion, his movement restricted to inch by inch steps. His pulse was racing, his temperature rising. He got down to Camp II with his porter and then he couldn’t move anymore. He called the base camp. “Take some dexamethasone but you need an evacuation”, came the doctor’s reply. He was able to spend a sleepless night with the help of the drug. The next day he made painfully slow progress down to the base camp. “The Army is very professional and they are very good at rescues. They will be down here today”, said the doctor and Jackson broke up in tears. As soon as the Army learnt of Jackson's ailment, phones buzzed and a rescue operation was immediately directed. General Officer Commanding (GOC) Aviation, Major General Muhammad Khalil Dar; being himself a veteran high altitude pilot, sensed urgency of the matter and immediately passed instructions to Lt. Col Umair Khan Niazi, the Commanding Officer of 5 Army Aviation High Altitude Squadron. There was not even the slightest delay as a person was suffering and a life was at risk.

Temperature at base camp was unexpectedly exceeding 9˚C when the pilots landed to rescue Jackson, which left little margin for both the pilots and the machine in terms of their weight lifting efficiency, making the landing and take off more critical. Soon, Jackson saw two Écureuil AS350 helicopters flying in pair towards the camp in thin air, coping with the vicious up-and-downdrafts. “When I first saw the helicopter, I got so happy, I started to cry and I knew I would make it to home. The sound of helicopters was an assurance that I was going to live.”

The first helicopter was piloted by Major Sheraz Khurrum and Major Rehman, the second helicopter followed with Major Zulqarnain and Major Ali Awais onboard. “The point of rescue was at an altitude of 16500 feet. Difficulty of landing was further compounded by high temperature at K2 base camp. The more the temperature rises, the thinner the air becomes”, said Major Sheraz. Reduced performance of the helicopters at these altitudes is compensated by the pilots through meticulous fuel calculation whereby the pilots take minimum fuel along and the subtraction in fuel weight gives them margin to pick some extra kilograms of weight. Helicopter instruments were displaying exceeding normal limits when they were about to land. “This was a critical decision to make, thinking whether the helicopter would be able to take off with a passenger on-board.”

At the base camp, Jackson was told how the Pakistani soldiers regularly risk their lives to rescue climbers on this peak. He was later assured of that as he was struggling to get into the helicopter, the pilot grabbed his hand and helped him get into the back. They welcomed him into the helicopter and said, “Hey! Put these headsets and seatbelt on. You are going to be okay.” They were now taking off and the pilots eased Jackson into a conversation to take his mind off the situation. “I felt safe, I felt like a part of the team. They pointed out the shapes on the landscape below, this is a glacier, this is a mountain and these are the pure white ice pinnacles.” The helicopter was touching its red limits when Jackson had boarded and they were about to take off, there was no margin of error left yet this critical situation was converted into a successful evacuation mission with meticulous care and a high degree of skills. “This country deserves my eternal admiration. Back in Colorado, United States of America I told my wife that of all the countries I have travelled to, Pakistan is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It has that snowy mountain with a caressing mist I fell in love with and the soldiers who saved my life.”

Jackson, in fact loved the whole of this country which he had warmed to, during the month he spent here.

 
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