Monthly Archives: June 2012

Pakistan’s climate change solution

Pakistan solar panels

Despite being a low emitter of greenhouse gases, Pakistan faces particular risk from the threat of global climate change. In a recent column for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, Michael Kugelman noted several of the devastating effects that Pakistan has suffered as the result of global climate change – historic flooding in Sindh destroyed not only thousands of lives, but is estimated to have caused $40 billion in damage to critical infrastructure; an avalanche on the Siachen glacier earlier this year took the lives of 124 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians. But Pakistanis are a resilient people who have persevered in spite of immense challenges. And though Pakistan is not responsible for global climate change, they are doing much to find a solution.

In his column, Mr. Kugelman noted a few of the steps that Pakistan has taken to address the threat of global climate change – the adoption of a National Climate Change Policy and Action Plan as well as programmes to promote tree planting and storm water harvesting. Each of these plays an important role in reducing the impact of climate change, but Pakistan is doing much more.

A feasibility study is underway for extensive rehabilitation of the Renala Hydel Power Station to improve its efficiency, and Pakistan is rehabilitating the Nara canal in Sindh. Working in partnership with USAID, Pakistan is rehabilitating the Tarbela Dam and the Jamshoro Power Station, and constructing the Satpara Dam and an adjacent canal system that will provide improved irrigation and serve as a significant source of drinking water for the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan.

In April, the government of Pakistan elevated the issue of climate change to a cabinet level portfolio by creating the Ministry of Climate Change to oversee research and implementation of projects to mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce the risks to the region, and most importantly to the Pakistani people.

The government of Pakistan also recently launched the Reducing Risks and Vulnerabilities from Glacier Lake Outburst Floods project in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme to improve both human and technical capacity to address immediate risks for those vulnerable to future flooding. In May, the government initiated the Punjab Environmental Protection Council, improving environmental oversight and increasing fines on polluters.

While Pakistan repairs and rehabilitates existing infrastructure, they are also developing the technology of tomorrow. Though some nations continue to emphasize development of fossil fuels, Pakistan is a leader in the field of developing clean and renewable alternative energy sources. In 2010, President Zardari told the Ministry of Water and Power that “The energy crisis has forced upon a vigorous search for out of box, imaginative and bold solutions.”

Since then, the Ministry’s Alternative Energy Development Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China for wind power and solar energy projects in Pakistan of worth approximately $6.5 billion. The Chief Minister of Sindh hosted representatives of China’s United Energy Group for a ceremony to commemorate a new cooperative project that will build a 150 Megawatt wind power project in Thatta and Jamshoro.

Solar power, too, is taking off in Pakistan. Thanks to the government’s Rural Electrification Programme, thousands of homes in 49 villages in Sindh are powered by solar energy, and funds have been approved to expand solar electrification projects to hundreds of villages in Balochistan. This week, the government of Punjab announced another own program to provide solar and biogas units to the poor and small farmers.

Pakistan’s work to repair and rehabilitate existing infrastructure as well as to develop innovative alternative energy projects is being carried out in every province, and in every sector of the economy. The cutting edge research and development taking place in Pakistan can help solve one of the world’s most pressing issues, and the success of joint US-Pakistan energy projects also provides a glimpse into what we can achieve when we work together.

The US isn’t going to carry out raids inside Pakistan

Haqqani militants

On the phone with a friend in Islamabad last week, I was full of questions about the Supreme Court, the election for a new Prime Minister, and her evaluation of the current political field in Pakistan. She had one question for me: “Is the US planning to launch attacks in Pakistan to take out the Haqqanis?”

I chuckled a bit when she asked the question. Just a few days earlier I had debunked another rumor about impending US military aggression, and this one seemed even more far fetched.

The next day, however, the Associated Press ran a story about just that: “US considers launching joint US-Afghan raids in Pakistan to hunt down militant groups.” So, was I wrong in dismissing this a bunch of fear-mongering? I don’t think so.

This story has, predictably, proliferated across the Pakistani media. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to be reading as far as the second paragraph of the AP report:

But the idea, which U.S. officials say comes up every couple of months, has been consistently rejected because the White House believes the chance of successfully rooting out the deadly Haqqani network would not be worth the intense diplomatic blowback from Pakistan that inevitably would ensue.

The 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden was a unique situation. As the celebrity jihadist behind the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden was the holy grail of terrorists and there was no way any US president would have let him get away. Killing bin Laden may have been more symbolic than it was blow to al Qaeda’s organizational capacity, but it was an important symbol for an American public that needed closure.

Unlike Osama bin Laden, it’s likely most Americans have never heard of the Haqqani network. They do, however, represent a strategic problem. The Afghans themselves claim to have evidence that the Pakistan-based Haqqani network is carrying out attacks in Afghanistan.

“Afghan national security forces and coalition military sources acknowledge that this attack bears the signature of the Haqqani network, which continues to target and kill innocent Afghans,” [General John] Allen said.

But any strategic gains from taking out the Haqqani network through cross-border strikes would be more than negated by the costs. US military raids into Pakistan would not only enflame existing anti-American sentiments, they would serve as a recruiting call for jihadist organizations throughout the world. While the Haqqani network presents a nuisance as it exists, an American attack in Pakistan would result in a tsunami of new jihadists crossing the border to carry out attacks against American targets.

And forget any chance of re-opening transit lines through Pakistan, or the type of counterterrorism cooperation that resulted in a key al Qaeda operative being captured by Pakistani security forces earlier this week.

The political costs, too, make any such military action unlikely. To say the American people are war weary would be an understatement. According to Pew’s latest research, 60 percent of Americans favor removing troops as soon as possible. Expanding an unpopular war into a nuclear armed country of 180 million is simply not going to happen in an election year, or any time soon.

The US military – like all militaries – includes unrealistic scenarios in debates about strategies and possible outcomes. Somewhere in the basement of the Pentagon is probably a detailed strategy for taking out France’s nuclear capability. That doesn’t mean it’s ever going to happen.

Leaks about strategic discussions by anonymous American officials are far more likely intended to put pressure on Pakistan’s military leadership than to warn of any impending attack. If there’s one thing that the 2011 raid on bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound taught us, it’s that when the US is going to launch unilateral raids, they’re not going to announce them beforehand.  The fact that anonymous reports are appearing all over the media suggests that the US isn’t going to carry out raids inside Pakistan anytime soon.

Pakistan’s Institutional Battles: Coups and Continuity

Raja Pervaiz Ashraf

Pakistan’s Prime Minister-elect, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf

The past few weeks have been been a tumultuous time for Pakistani democracy. Even Deputy US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Hoagland Tweeted last week that, “it’s getting confusing”. But as people try to make sense of rapidly changing events, it’s important not to miss the forest for the trees. Despite what seem like inscrutable events taking place, it’s what isn’t happening that points to democratic progress in Pakistan.

After convicting the Prime Minister of contempt for “ridiculing the judiciary” (a claim that did not appear in the charge sheet against the Prime Minister) and allowing the Speaker of the National Assembly to rule the Prime Minister eligible to continue in office, Pakistan’s Supreme Court made an about face and ordered the Prime Minister be retroactively disqualified from office.

The Wall Street Journal called the decision, “Islamabad’s Judicial Coup,”, but Pakistan’s governing party took the announcement in stride, quickly announcing the nomination of Makhdoom Shahabuddin, a former minister, to replace Yousaf Raza Gilani as Prime Minister. The judiciary respond by issuing an arrest warrant for Mr. Shahabuddin and the former Prime Minister’s son at the request of a military-run anti-narcotics agency, further enflaming fears that the military is using the courts to wage a proxy war against the democratically-elected government.

Unlike his predecessor, however, President Zardari has not responded by attempting to remake with more pliant justices. Instead, new names were floated and, at the time of writing, Pakistan’s parliament assembled on Friday to choose a new Prime Minister from five candidates representing both coalition and opposition parties. While the political drama is likely to continue even after the new Prime Minster is sworn in, it appears that some of the worst fears are unlikely to come true.

After decades of interruption by military coups, Pakistan’s democracy finds its institutions struggling to assert themselves in a power framework that is still being defined. What is extraordinary is not that institutions are vying for power, but that the democratically elected government has remained more or less intact during the process. Rather than being a sign of a failing democracy, this should be seen as a sign of a maturing one.

We in the US are no strangers to institutional power struggles – even messy ones. President Bill Clinton was convicted of contempt of court charges in 1999 and faced impeachment proceedings in Congress. He was ultimately acquitted by the Senate and served out the remained of his term. Congress has been known to engage in the practice of “jurisdiction stripping” – inserting language into bills that limits the judiciary’s power to hear certain cases or review certain actions by other branches. And just this week, a House committee recommended that Attorney General Eric Holder be held in contempt for failing to turn over documents after President Obama asserted executive privilege in the matter.

Americans find such power struggles frustrating, but we don’t expect them to topple the entire system. Pakistan, of course, does not have over 200 years of democratic wrangling behind it to ensure a similar sense of comfort with political squabbles – more often, institutional battles are solved at gunpoint. Today, though, the level of military involvement in events appears to be subdued, and despite several false alarms, the government elected by the people in 2008 remains in place, even holding scheduled Senate elections earlier this year without major incident. Pakistan’s ability to weather the current political storm without sinking will be an important sign of democratic maturation. The government’s responses to institutional pressure so far give ample reason to believe democracy in Pakistan is here to stay.

USS Enterprise Never Entered Pakistani Waters

USS Enterprise

Reports that the USS Enterprise, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, had entered Pakistan’s territorial waters began proliferating online a few days ago, seeping into mainstream Pakistani media. These reports are not true.

Responding to a request for a statement regarding the positioning of the USS Enterprise relative to Pakistan, CENTCOM spokesman Lt. Col. T.G. Taylor emailed the following statement:

“I can confirm for you that those reports in Pakistani media are indeed false. The Enterprise got no closer than about 150 miles from the coast of Pakistan.”

For future reference, the Department of Defense News office is surprisingly accessible and helpful. News media representatives with questions for the Department of Defense may reach the DOD Press Office by calling +1 (703) 697-5131 or by sending e-mail to A duty press officer is available by phone 24 hours a day, and I received a statement in less than a day.

Questions Surround New Supreme Court Order Disqualifying Prime Minister

Yousuf Raza Gilani

The Supreme Court of Pakistan removed the Prime Minister in what is known as a “short order” – essentially a court order lacking a full explanation. These orders often begin, “For reasons to be recorded later…” – a practice that seems the beg for abuse and controversy – and then proceed directly to ordering some specific action on the part of an individual or institution. In this case, though, the specific action was not given until almost two months later – and made retroactive.

On April 26, the Supreme Court issued an order “for the reasons to be recorded later” that found then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani “guilty of and convicted for contempt of court.” The Supreme Court did not declare the Prime Minister disqualified from office and sentenced him to a symbolic detention of about 30 seconds.

The Supreme Court having chosen not to disqualify the Prime Minister, the issue was then taken up by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Fehmida Mirza, who ruled that Mr. Gilani was not disqualified. That was last month.

Today, nearly two months after the Supreme Court issued its controversial conviction, a new short order, “for reasons to be recorded later,” was issued by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry – this time declaring that “Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani has become disqualified from being a Member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)…on and from the date and time of pronouncement of the judgement of this Court dated 26.4.2012…”

This raises several very interesting questions. If the Prime Minister was disqualified pursuant to the Supreme Court’s order on April 26, why did they wait until June 19 to say so? Some have suggested that the Supreme Court was giving the Prime Minister the opportunity for appeal, but this is doubtful for a number of reasons: One, the Supreme Court could have declared the Prime Minister disqualified and then stayed the order pending appeal. But more to the point, to whom would the Prime Minister have appealed? The original order was given by a 7 member bench of the Supreme Court – there was no higher authority to appeal to.

Then there is the matter of the ruling by the Speaker of the National Assembly. If the Supreme Court had determined that Mr. Gilani was disqualified as of April 26, why did they allow Dr. Mirza to proceed with deliberations and a ruling on Mr. Gilani’s status as parliamentarian? If the Supreme Court believed that Dr. Mirza did not have the authority as Speaker of the National Assembly to issue such a ruling, why did they not issue an injunction stopping the Speaker from carrying out the act?

While these questions remain unanswered, at least until the Supreme Court delivers more than the two pages made available today, they suggest very troubling possibilities. By allowing Mr. Gilani to continue serving as Prime Minister for months, the Supreme Court has created a policy nightmare for Pakistan. Making the disqualification retroactive to April 26 means that any decisions made by the government since are effectively nullified. Pakistan has, essentially, been operating without a government for over 8 weeks.

Moreover, by allowing the Speaker of the National Assembly to deliberate and issue a ruling without comment, only to nullify that decision weeks later, the Supreme Court has undermined the authority of parliament and created confusion about fundamental issues of separation of powers and constitutional authority. What government official can now carry out their duties without the fear of Supreme Court action if the Chief Justice does not like the outcome.

This gets to what is perhaps the most troubling question of all – would the Supreme have issued this new order had the Speaker of the National Assembly herself disqualified Mr. Gilani? In other words, is Pakistan’s Supreme Court acting pursuant to due process or desired outcomes?

The courageous, inspirational work of Samar Minallah Khan

Samar Minallah Khan is the recipient of the Fern Holland Award at the 2012 Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards. The Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards honor and celebrate women leaders who are working to strengthen democracy, increase economic opportunity and protect human rights around the world. Samar is a Pakistani Pashtun filmmaker and Cambridge-trained anthropologist who created a documentary on swara, a feudal justice system practice where young girls are made into child brides. Thanks in part to Samar’s campaign, swara was made illegal in Pakistan in 2004. Through her media initiative, Ethnomedia, she has produced documentaries on human trafficking, dowry and acid crimes, child domestic labor, and, most recently, forced marriage.