Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to bring Pakistan and Bangladesh closer in a confederation

I was in Dhaka the day we won the world cup in cricket. The excitement was all over the place. In the morning, I had to visit a government office to get some information, accompanied by an official guide. Office after office was closed.
“Is there a strike?” I wondered.
“No, the officers are at home watching the cricket match,” the guide explained.
Finally, he found an officer in his seat. “You have great sense of duty,” I complimented him on his presence. The officer, with a white beard, smiled. “Well, I have my son at home, calling me every hour to give the latest score.” There was widespread jubilation on the result, as if Bangladesh itself had won. Such were the emotions of the people.
After moving about for several days and meeting people, including public servants, it seemed that the people, if they could, would love to lift their country and place it next to Pakistan. Even after so many years, the separation and its aftermath had not diminished the deep Muslim brotherhood.
We can do now what we should have done back in 1971. We can create a framework that brings us closer and closer, overcoming the bitterness of the past. While retaining their separate identities, the two countries can unite in a confederation. Minimal in the beginning, the relations will grow gradually as trust and understanding increases.
How to do it? As the first step, Parliaments of the two countries should adopt the draft constitution given below to form “Pak Desh.” It provides only a framework for bringing the two countries closer in their mutual interest, without imposing any action that any side may consider undesirable, or interference in its internal affairs. It also does not propose any grandiose plan, such as a common currency or common Parliament.

The Constitution of Pak Desh

WHEREAS the people of Pakistan and Bangladesh, having won Independence in 1947 as a single country, want to have as close relations as possible, while retaining their sovereignty and independence;
WHEREAS the people of both countries, being part of the Muslim Ummah, want to cooperate and collaborate in the promotion of Islam and closer relations with Muslims everywhere;
WHEREAS the two countries have common interests and objectives and want to work together to achieve them;
NOW, THEREFORE, they hereby adopt this Constitution, through their representatives in Parliaments of Pakistan and Bangladesh, and it will take effect from _____.
1. Pakistan and Bangladesh will form a confederation, to be called “Pak Desh.”
2.  Pakistan and Bangladesh will retain their names and independence as sovereign countries.
3. Pakistan and Bangladesh will be called henceforth respectively Western and Eastern Wings of Pak Desh with regard to affairs of the Confederation.
4.     President The head of Pak Desh will be Pak Desh President.
5.     On the recommendation of Parliament of either Wing, Parliaments of both Wings will elect as the Pak Desh President a person, who qualifies to be elected the President of his Wing, with votes of more than 50 percent of the total members of each Parliament.
6.  Pak Desh President will continue in office without an limit of age until he resigns, is declared unfit mentally and physically or Parliament of either Wing shows lack of confidence in him with a vote of more than 50 percent of its total members.
7.  Pak Desh President will be provided official residence in the Wing of his domicile. When visiting the other Wing, he will stay in the President House or
8.  Council Pak Desh will have a Council, to be called Pak Desh Council, consisting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Interior of Governments of both Wings.
9.   While discussing an matter that is not under the jurisdiction of any of the Council Members, the relevant Ministers of both Wings will be invited to participate in discussion and decision.
10.  Pak Desh President will preside over the meetings of the Pak Desh Council.
11. The Council will meet at least once in every 90 days.
12.  The Council will take all decisions with consensus of its members.
13.  Every decision of the Council will take effect in both Wings after 90 days unless Parliament of either Wing overrules it or fails to pass relevant legislation within the given period.
14.  If Parliament of a Wing modifies a decision of the Council before the end of 90 days, the modification will take effect after the approval of Parliament of the other Wing.
15.  Secretariat a) The Secretariat of Pak Desh will have a setup each in Islamabad and Dhaka.
b) The Secretariat staff will consist entirely of employees provided on deputation by the Government of the relevant Wing.
c) The staff, subject to the rules of their Government, will retain lien with their parent departments to get promotion, when due, and other benefits.
16. The Governments of the two Wings will approve the budget of Pak Desh, with each Government bearing half of the total budget expenditure.
17.  The official languages of the Secretariat will be Urdu and Bangla.
18.  Every staff member of the Secretariat will be required to be very fluent in both languages, so that he can read, write and speak in either language without difficulty.
19.  Islam Both Wings will cooperate and collaborate in the promotion of Islam through all possible means and in having closer relations with Muslims everywhere.
20.   The embassies and diplomatic missions of the two Wings will collaborate to improve relations of Pak Desh with Muslim countries.
21.   Foreign policy Both Wings will consult each other regularly on foreign policy matters and their embassies and diplomatic missions will collaborate on matters of common interest.
22.   Visa Each Wing will set up visa offices in major cities of the other Wing.
23.   Visa offices will receive applications for visas directly through registered post. Interviews will not be required for tourist and business visas.
24.   The visitors from one Wing to the other Wing will not have to report their arrival and departure at a police station. On arrival and departure, a visitor will submit only a report card at immigration counter.
25.   Defense The military attack on a Wing will be considered an attack on the other Wing also and both will fight against the aggressor with all available means, including nuclear weapons.
26.  Both Wings will cooperate and collaborate in defense matters, including training, equipment supply and joint military exercises.
27.  Commerce The trade between the two Wings will be considered internal, subject only to essential regulations of the relevant Government.
28.  A private or public limited company in either Wing will be allowed to set up an office or factory in the other Wing after informing the central bank of the Wing, without requiring formal permission.
29.  There will be no duties or taxes on the items traded between the two Wings, if grown, produced or manufactured locally. 
30.  Buyers in a Wing will pay in their own currency for imports from the other Wing.
31.  The currency of a Wing will be converted into the currency of the other Wing only through scheduled banks and at a rate determined daily by the central bank of the respective Wing.
32.  Communication The Governments of the two Wings will set up jointly an undersea optic fiber link between them, share the initial cost and subsequent running expenses and offer its use free of charge to telecom companies of both Wings, provided they apply domestic rates to their customers for inter-Wing voice calls and other communications.
33.  Domestic postal rates will apply to the surface mail between the two Wings.
34.  Each Wing will subsidize by more than 50 percent the fares of the Lahore-Dhaka and Karachi-Dhaka flights of its national carrier.
35.  The two Wings will have joint regular shipping services for inter-Wing trade and passenger services.
36.   Both Wings will negotiate with India for transit of direct passenger and goods trains between them, running under Indian escorts.
37.   Education The public sector universities and other educational institutions in one Wing will admit students from the other Wing on merit, whether they get scholarships from their Government or want to study at their own expense.
38.  The Government of a Wing will promote the teaching of the national language of the other Wing in its educational institutions.
39.  Sports Both Wings will hold regular annual inter-Wing matches in cricket, hockey, football, athletics, and other sports.
40.   The best players of both Wings in a sport may form Pak Desh teams to play against teams of other countries.
41.  Culture Each Wing will set up cultural centers in the major cities of the other Wing to promote better understanding.
42.  The feature films produced in one Wing will be shown in the other Wing, whether in original language, dubbed or with subtitles, to provide larger markets to their film industries.
43.  Joint production of films will be encouraged with government subsidies.
44.  The state-owned and private television channels of both Wings will be encouraged to exchange content and to produce it jointly.
45.  The Government of both Wings will sponsor exchange visits of university teachers and students, journalists, writers, artists, etc.
46.  The newspapers and magazines of a Wing may print facsimile editions in the other Wing to promote better understanding of their Wing, provided that the facsimile editions will not include local advertisements and news to avoid conflict with local publications.
47.  Cooperation The two Wings will continue to explore possibilities of more cooperation and collaboration in all fields of common interest.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How to privatize DISCOs and reduce cost of electricity

The privatization of electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) involves some basic questions. The answers to these questions will lead to an alternative proposal that will be quite innovative, will expedite the process of privatization and start bringing in proceeds immediately.
Some basic questions are:
a)     Why does the Government want to privatize DISCOs in the first place?
b)    Why should a foreign or local "strategic investor" be sought, and that too for not more than 26%? Some related questions are:
i)                   What will be the buyer’s interest and objective?
ii)                What will be the likely consequences of the take-over by him?
iii)              What will be its impact on the electricity users?)
Let us take up the questions one by one and try to find their answers.
The objectives of privatization There are two main reasons why the Government wants to privatize DISCOs. One objective is to make the DISCOs efficient companies so that they can not only meet the electricity needs of the country but also make the required investment on their own. Autonomy to the managers of DISCOs under the present system cannot solve the problems because a bureaucratic set-up cannot be turned into an efficient organization simply by giving it autonomy. Habits and culture of bureaucrats may not change even after they are told that they are now "autonomous" in their working, just as an elephant in the zoo will not walk away as a free animal even after its shackles are removed,.
The second objective of the Government is to get substantial funds through privatization. The Government expects to get tens of billions of rupees with the sale of the shares of DISCOs. Since such a huge amount may not be possible to get from our own businessmen or even through the domestic stock exchanges, the Government believes that it can do it only if some foreign investors offer to buy the DISCOs (even if only a portion). 
The consequences of hand-over to a foreigner buyer What will be the consequences if 26 percent shares are sold to foreign strategic buyers and, at the same time, management is handed over to them? Obviously, the strategic investors will be primarily interested in making as much money as they can and in as short a period as possible. It is as simple as that. The interests of the customers will not be their primary concern. As a case in point, the privatization of Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESCO) was a disaster that caused great hardship to customers and highlighted the harm that foreign investors may cause.
Savings not to be passed on to users Foreign buyers will make strenuous efforts to improve operational efficiency. They will not hesitate even in downsizing the present personnel as much as they can to get maximum output per employee. They will also reduce expenses to the barest minimum level.
The improvements, however, will be entirely in their own interest. They will be extremely reluctant to pass on the benefits of efficiency and savings to consumers. The Government will be hardly able to force them to reduce rates and charges in the interest of consumers.
Higher rates for electricity Foreign buyers will do their best to charge as much as possible in order to maximize profit. If a buyer is from a country, which is a big world power, he will not hesitate in using his government’s influence. (What the international investors in independent power projects have been doing indicates what may well happen.) Our Government will not be able to resist the pressures. The increases in electricity rates in recent years provide a good example of the shape of things to come.
No new assets Foreign buyers will not be interested in making any investment that is not recovered with maximum profit. (The present management of KESCO failed to honor its commitments regarding investment.) It takes years to expand infrastructure, such as construction of new transmission lines and replacement of present ones. It will not be in a foreign buyer’s interest to make long-term investments if returns are not to come soon. If he finds that he can no longer make as much money as he did in the beginning, he will look for more profitable opportunities elsewhere in the world. All that he will have to do will be to sell his shares to some interested party or unload them at the domestic stock exchanges. In other words, he will take his money and run.
Little interest The reasons are not hard to find why foreign strategic investors may not be coming forth soon.
a)     A proper and comprehensive evaluation of the assets and liabilities of DISCOSs is not available.
b)    There are huge liabilities in the form of outstanding dues that DISCOs have been unable to recover from influential defaulters.
c)     There are far too many employees to run the operations efficiently and economically.
d)    The prospects for profitability are not rosy at present due to high cost of electricity.
The needs of the people The consumers want basic improvements immediately:
a)     They expect better efficiency and service after the DISCOS are in private hands. And they want the savings in costs (most, if not all) to be passed on to them in the form of lower rates and charges.
b)    They want increase in electric supply to meet fully present and future needs.
c)     They want improvement and expansion in the network so that connections are available also in all villages, even if service in some areas has to be subsidized.
A foreign buyer will be hardly inclined to "waste" his money on doing any of these things, if he does not himself get the major benefit. Nor will he feel any compulsion to do so.
Local buyers as an alternative Local strategic buyers, if available, may have the same thinking as foreigners and try to make as much money as they can. However, they live in this country and cannot afford to annoy the people and the Government beyond a certain limit. They may also be expected to have some consideration of national interest. Therefore, they would be preferable to foreigners. However, the purchase of even the specified minimum ratio (26%) of shares of a DISCO, not to speak of all, will require a sum that a local investor may not have.
The local investors can, however, do it collectively if they agree to join hands in taking over DISCOs, hire professional management, and do not allow any one of them to dominate, if not oust, the others. This will be a tall order.
The third alternative When selling to foreign buyers is not in the national interest and local counterparts are not available, what should be the way out? Go to the people, as wise men say.
At present, the DISCOs have over 20 million customers in total. Why not offer the shares to all of them? Collectively, they may have enough purchasing power to buy all shares, in quarterly installments, if necessary. Of course, not all will get the same number of shares. Some of them may be able to buy just one share each, while others may be able to get big lots.
How to do it? The chief executive of every DISCO will issue a share to every connection holder in his area (for Rs 10 or 100) and include the amount in the next month’s electricity bill. There will be no need for a share certificate. The DISCO records will show that every consumer is a shareholder and a customer will have the electricity bill as proof.
To sell more shares, a DISCO will send a letter to all of its customers, offering its shares to them. The letter, in Urdu, may explain the benefits of buying DISCO shares and the procedure for purchase. It will bear the customer’s name, address and other identifying information as it appears on the monthly bill and will be attached with the bill. Thus, the offer letter will be delivered to every customer along with the bill.
At the bottom of the offer letter will be a form in which the subscriber will fill in the number of shares (in figures as well as words) that he wants to buy and enter the amount that he will pay. Then he will fold the self-addressed, postage paid letter and mail it. The DISCO will enter the payment in the next month’s bill. It may also confirm the sale of shares through a letter to the customer.
The DISCO will deposit the total amount collected through the sale of shares in the Government account with the State Bank towards the retirement of public debts because that is the primary objectives of the privatization.
Offer to be repeated The DISCOs will repeat the offer of shares to customers once every quarter or once every six months. This will facilitate purchases by small customers, who can buy shares from their savings only at intervals. A DISCO will also offer its shares to every new customer on approval of his new connection. As a result, the paid-up capital of every DISCO will continue to grow while simultaneously it will get additional interest-free funds to finance expansion and modernization.
No premium on shares The shares will be sold at face value and no premium will be charged. The reasoning is simple. The people own DISCOs, while the Government is only a representative of the people, or an attorney, so to speak, not the real owner. Therefore, the Government, being only a manager of DISCOs, cannot ask the people – the real owners – to pay any premium on shares.
Direct sale and purchase The sale and purchase of shares will be directly between a DISCO and its customers. If a customer wants to sell his shares, he will surrender his allotment letter against a receipt at the nearest DISCO revenue office or service center. The revenue office of the area, which issues monthly bills to the customers, will immediately give credit to the subscriber’s account for the value of the surrendered shares, while sending the allotment letter to the DISCO head office for cancellation of shares. The credit amount will then be adjusted in the monthly bill of the customer.
This arrangement will have a great benefit. The customer will get his payment for the shares while the DISCO will not have to strain its cash reserves.
Payment of dividends The payment of dividends will also be through credit in the monthly bill of the customer-shareholder. As soon as dividend is declared, whether interim or final, the amount will be credited directly to the bills of all customers-shareholders. The great advantage of this arrangement will be that the DISCO will not have to spend a huge amount on the preparation, issue and safe delivery of dividend vouchers to the customers. It will also save a similar amount on the payment of dividends through banks. The DISCO will have to neither deduct this extra expenditure from the total dividend amount nor add to the company’s normal expenses. In either case, the customers will be the beneficiaries.
Management The Chief Executive of a DISCO will be elected directly by the majority of total shareholders. Before election, every candidate will be required to submit to the shareholders his plan for improvement in operations and services. Every shareholder will have a single vote, irrespective of the number of shares held by him, to avoid dominance of the rich shareholders.
At the end of every quarter, the Chief Executive will submit his progress report, comparing achievements with his target, in a letter that will be attached with the next month’s bill of every customer. At the end of every 12 months, the Chief Executive will seek a vote of confidence from at least two-thirds of the shareholders. He may continue in office as long as he gets a vote of confidence. It will always keep him on his toes.
There will be no need for a Board of Directors as they turn out to be mostly parasites. (The Boards of Directors did little to stop the rot in PIA, Pakistan Steel and other public sector organizations.) However, the powers of the Chief Executive will be defined precisely. In all major matters, he will seek approval of customers through a referendum.
Benefits of being a customer as well as a shareholder A DISCO’s customers will benefit in several ways as its shareholders:
a) They will get the entire profit that accrues to their DISCO. After all, the profit will come from what they themselves pay to the DISCO through their monthly bills.
b) They will get the benefit in both ways: (i) higher dividends in case of profit due to efficiency in operations and reduction in expenditure and (ii) better services due to investment in infrastructure. 
c) The ordinary operations and services will improve tremendously as the Chief Executive will keep the employees on their toes in removing complaints and problems. (Poor service will not get him vote of confidence next year.)
Main benefits The implementation of this proposal will have the following main benefits:
a)     The process of privatization can be started immediately. There will be no need to spend time in making any preparations.
b)    The privatization will be done on "as is" basis, without any need for any detailed studies or restructure.
c)     In a unique situation, the shareholders will also be the customers of the DISCOs and will be the direct beneficiaries of both lower costs and higher profits.
d)    Every DISCO will have the widest possible ownership base. No individual or group will become the majority shareholder. (In case of KESCO, we know what may happen if it occurs.) As a result, there will be no pressures to increase profits at the cost of the customers.
e)     The capital base of the DISCO will continue to expand, allowing it to have interest-free funds to invest in the expansion of its infrastructure. In other words, the expansion and its financing will occur simultaneously.
f)      The middle class investors will get an opportunity for a very safe and profitable investment.
g)     Despite the huge volume of the DISCO shares, there will be no volatile effect on the stock exchanges because the shares will be sold and purchased directly by the DISCOs.
h)    With the entire management being Pakistani, the security and protection of national interests will be ensured.

Reducing cost of electricity
The DISCOs, as buyers, will decide how much to pay for electricity, not the producers determining its price. In other words, DISCOs will decide what price to pay for electricity and to get supplies from which producers.
On the purchase side will be DISCOs: (Hyderabad, Quetta, Multan, Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Islamabad, and Peshawar.) Add to them Karachi Electricity Supply Company, which may be asked to sell all its shares to its customers.
On the supply side will be: hydel power producer (WAPDA), thermal power producers, independent power producers, rental power plants, nuclear power plants, others. New power producers will emerge, with their own financial resources. The government will no longer have to allocate its limited resources for power generation, including large dams.
PEPCO will be disbanded because central control of purchase and distribution of electricity will no longer be required. (It is already on its way to abolition.) As a result, its agreements with power producers will be cancelled. (It will not be legally possible to impose present agreements on privatized DISCOs, which will now be public limited companies, owned by its customers.) NEPRA will also be abolished because it will no longer be able to impose its prices on DISCOs.
Consequently, power producers, both public and private, will have to negotiate directly with DISCOs and offer lowest possible prices. DISCOs will not sign long-term agreements because they will always switch to new producers that offer lower prices. Thus, the present producers will have to decrease their costs all the time so that they remain competitive. As lower prices become available, the expensive power producers will go out of business. National Transmission Dispatch Company will continue to get power from producers and transmit to DISCOs, in accordance with the agreements between the sellers and buyers.
Not subject to NEPRA decisions, new power producers will offer lowest prices to DISCOs. Hydel, wind, solar, coal and other alternative energy sources will flourish. The power plants running on very expensive furnace oil and scarce natural gas will seek cheaper energy or will have to be shut down. Chief executives of DISCOs, being answerable to customers-shareholders, will dare not accept higher prices from any supplier at the cost of lower prices available from others.
The suppliers will offer electricity to buyers at their lowest prices. The buyers will select suppliers and place orders with them, depending on price, convenience and other factors. A DISCO may persuade power producers to set up generation plants in its areas on mutually agreed terms.
Line losses A major cause of financial difficulties of DISCOs is line losses. The Chief Executive, under our plan, will formulate targets for reducing line losses to the absolute minimum. He will ensure that his field staff meets the quarterly targets, as he will face a vote of confidence after 12 months.
Power theft through various means will become impossible. If it occurs, the field staff will face the wrath of the bosses as well as the customers. Default in payments of bills, even by the powerful and government departments will also not be tolerated. A DISCO will not have any reason not to recover payments, as it will not be under political pressure. It will be answerable to its customers, not any government authority.
Conclusion The privatization in the past has been more beneficial to investors than the people, who are the real owners. The proposed method will give all benefits to the people, who will be consumers as well as shareholders. The same method may be adopted of Pakistan Telecom Company (PTC), whose customers can be made also shareholders for the shares still owned by the Government. The method of privatization will be a new model for other industries as well as for other countries. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Questions about Usama that have no valid answers so far

The media have not raised so far several important questions about Usama bin Ladin, nor have Americans provided any evidence to give answers.
Let us take them up.

Did the American helicopters really come from Afghanistan?
Not at all. If they did, they would have been exposed within minutes. It never occurred to the great investigative minds in the media, here and abroad, that another radar system is also in place that covers every square kilometer of the country and never sleeps. (Air Force radars are fully active only when a war starts or a war-like situation arises. When Indians intended to raid Hafiz Saeed’s complex near Muridke in the aftermath of the Bombay attacks, they had to change their mind when they found that our planes were ready to hit back the moment Indians crossed the border.)
The air control system of civil aviation monitors all aircraft. Any plane or helicopter entering our territory has to submit its flight plan to get permission. Any intruder, such as a hijacked plane, is reported and air force jets scramble immediately. If American helicopters tried to go ahead without permission, our fighter planes would have forced them down to ground or back to their Bagram base.
The claim that the helicopters were not visible to radars is false. Even if the two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters were supposedly invisible Stealth type, what about the two CH-47 Chinooks that are always very much visible? (They helped in relief work after the earthquake in Azad Kashmir.)
The helicopters actually flew from the NATO base near Tarbela. From there, the distance to Abbottabad was less than 10 kms, only a few minutes away. After returning from Abbottabad, the helicopters flew to Bagram, as normal flights from NATO base to Bagram.
Najam Sethi, of Geo, reported the same night that helicopters flew from Tarbela. (If he cannot get facts from the Americans, nobody else can.) Sethi contradicted himself the next night, not because he was wrong but presumably, because the admission would have led to a shrill demand that NATO must be asked to leave Tarbela.)

Did the helicopters remain unnoticed during the operation?
No. It was just not possible. There were four helicopters, one pair for operation and another for backup. Their rotors were running all the time during the 40-minute operation. They made a lot of noise, even the Stealth type. Their lights were also shining in the moonless, pitch-dark night. The neighbors did notice them. So did the authorities, who are reported to have placed a security cordon immediately around the Usama house and asked people to stay away.

Could the U.S. stop the destruction of its helicopters by our air farce?
It is difficult to believe Obama’s claim that he had given "instructions to engage” PAF fighters, if attacked. It just seems to be an afterthought to shore up people's morale.
Usually two fighter planes scramble to engage intruders. Suppose our planes engaged the helicopters when they were close to Abbottabad and destroyed them. What could the 20 aircraft, including F-18 Hornets, supposed to be flying in Afghan space, do to stop our fighter planes? Even if they were able to destroy the two PAF fighters, the mission against Usama would have failed and Pakistan would have found it impossible to cooperate further with the U.S. in Afghanistan. The cost would have been too high for the U.S.

Were the U.S. helicopters really invisible to our radars?
If U.S. claims that its planes were ready in Afghanistan to engage our fighters, it proves that the helicopters were not invisible to radars and thus were vulnerable to attack.
In any case, American helicopters were not very invisible. According to Aviation Week, an authoritative publication on such matters,"… it is believed that a helicopter cannot yet be made as radar-stealthy as a fixed-wing airplane, as helicopters generally operate at low altitude and against ground clutter." (See
Moreover, the claims of defense contractors (in this case of helicopter makers) are not always accurate. The manufacturer of Patriot missiles made a lot of propaganda about their effectiveness during the first invasion of Iraq in 1990. The reality later turned out to be quite different.
Meanwhile, is it not ironical that the country that could build a $60-million Stealth helicopter, did not find a pilot to operate it properly?

How long did Usama stay in Abbottabad?
There is no proof, no evidence whatsoever that the stay was for six years. The house was built six years ago but that does not mean Usama was the only occupant since then. Amal, Usama’s third wife, is reported to have said that the family lived there all those six years. CIA does not have even common sense, not to speak of intelligence, if it believes that she was telling the truth. (Incidentally, to cover the earlier period, she also said that the family stayed for over 2½ years in a village near Haripur, when no villager saw any stranger living there during that period.)
CIA has no idea how shrewd women are in this part of the world. A police party raided the home of a wanted criminal in a remote village. To get him time to escape, his wife took off her clothes, sat under a hand pump in the courtyard and shouted, “Don’t enter the door. I am taking a bath.” By the time her “bath” was over, the husband had run away from the back of the house.
If Usama’s wife had said that the family had been there only for a few months, there would have been incessant questions about all of earlier stays. Giving the details of all previous stays truthfully would have exposed al-Qaida supporters all the way. Does it make sense that she would betray her husband’s faithful followers?
It is also inconceivable that Usama could depend entirely on a single courier to run his organization for so many years. Suppose he was killed in an accident, was abducted or was arrested for some reason. How could Usama find someone to replace him? Advertise in newspapers? (Incidentally, CIA now recruits agents through newspaper advertisements.)
CIA is quite dumb to insist that Usama stayed so long in Abbottabad without providing any supporting evidence. Blaming us for his “long stay” is sheer bullying.

Was it not possible for Usama to have Internet and mobile phone?
Singapore Computer Bureau prepared a database for motor vehicles about 20 years ago. The bureau head explained proudly to a visitor that the entire data was now available to investigate theft and other crimes. “How do you access the data?” the visitor asked. “By entering the license plate number,” he replied. “What if the plate had a fake number?” The head was speechless. It had never occurred to him that fake plates were quite common and data should be accessible also by entering chassis number, engine number, etc.
CIA experts are no better. If somebody bought a laptop, got a wireless Internet connection and, after passing through several hands, the computer ended up with Usama, how could they find out the ultimate user? Similarly, somebody in a faraway place could buy mobile SIMs, which are dime a dozen, activate them and pass on to Usama. Usama could use a SIM just once and then destroy it. How could CIA locate him?
The story about Usama’s courier having been traced through a mobile phone does not make sense. He could not be stupid enough to use a SIM more than once and that too in Abbottabad.
Even if Arabic phone calls were recorded, CIA could not have made much use of them. The U.S. agencies already have phone call recordings of hundreds of thousands of hours in the languages of our region, waiting to be transcribed (to be done only by U.S. citizens for security reasons). By the time, their transcription is completed, all al-Qaida agents would have died natural death.
It is also astonishing that Americans could not locate a satellite dish receiver in the Usama house that was getting Arabic channels most of the time. There could not be many such dishes in Abbottabad, or even the entire country. When the U.S. National Security Agency claims to tap even a landline phone anywhere in the world, what was so difficult in following a digital signal from a satellite to a receiver? Even the satellite with most Arabic channels, Arabsat, was quite well-known.

Was Usama really killed in Abbottabad?
It was quite possible to immobilize Usama with a stun gun or something else, arrest him and take him away. It may well have happened, at least for some time, though he would have to be killed quite soon, as nothing remains secret in the U.S. for long.. (Iranian President says that Usama was alive “for some time.”) Americans certainly needed Usama to know all about his organization and plans. (That was why they left his wives and children behind, who were the next best source of information.)
So far, the U.S. has not provided incontrovertible evidence to prove his death. It was not difficult to get a lookalike, kill him and disfigure his face to make it difficult to identify him clearly.
Secrecy leads to doubts and suspicions. Questions about the final hour of Usama will always remain there. The live video feed from the Abbottabad operation to CIA headquarters and then to the White House could also be given to CNN for the whole world to watch. There would have been still many ifs and buts but most people would have been satisfied about the authenticity of the operation.
There is, however, no doubt that Usama was very much there with his family because it is inconceivable that he would leave them unprotected, without his own reliable guards being present. He would have allowed his wives and children to go to his home country if he believed they were not safe with him. Most probably, he believed he would be soon on his way to Yemen along with his family (as I suggested in my earlier article, “Usama’s plan that went awry” (see below). 

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Usama’s plan that went awry -- A scenario

Time had come for Usama bin Ladin to decide his future course. The Taliban were no longer likely to return to power, nor were Americans able to have a military victory. If they failed, the Americans could go for Plan B: withdraw combat troops but leave substantial force (as in Germany, Japan and Korea) in the newly built bases around Afghanistan. He could no longer remain safe in Afghanistan, nor could he move to Pakistan because he did not foresee a sympathetic government there in near future.
Where could then he go to live? Chechnya was no longer a choice because the Russians had overwhelmed the liberation movement. Moreover, the land journey would be hazardous, with Russian informers crawling all over the land and Americans watching from the sky. Somalia had his followers but there was no government with effective control to protect him. Sudan would be better but it might ask him to leave any time under the U.S. and Saudi pressure, as it did in 1996.
Yemen was the best bet. As it was the country of his father, he could expect full loyalty and protection from his tribe. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was an American stooge but not strong enough to make life difficult for him. His departure could make things better. Al-Qaeda was already quite active there.
Moreover, he could operate through his followers in Saudi Arabia, where his war against the Americans started in the first place. He could also get financial support from sympathizers in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf. Communication with his men would be quite easy, even if through couriers.  
How could he get to Yemen? He could not charter a plane on his own, as he did while coming to Afghanistan, and the sea route would be quite visible to American satellites. He needed help and he could get it only from Pakistan, where Islamic brotherhood was very strong. He decided to approach Inter Service Intelligence.
The process took quite some time. In intelligence operations, nobody takes anything on its face value and suspicion prevails for long before some trust can develop. It would take time and verification at every step before trusting couriers and middlemen. Then there were various levels on both sides. After months of negotiations, with couriers and cut-off contacts taking messages back and forth, the ISI finally agreed to bring Usama from his hideout in Afghanistan to a safe place.
Elaborate logistical arrangements had to be made. Usama’s large entourage, including bodyguards, just could not accompany him, to avoid exposure. Nor could he take any arms with him, as ISI was going to protect him. There was a secluded and secure house in Bilal Town, Abbottabad, where al-Qaeda people would stay for some time before moving on, under watchful eyes of ISI. The house was vacated and Usama, along with his closest family members, was brought in complete secrecy early this year.
The promise to Usama was to help him in going to Yemen. It was easier said than done. Then there were other issues. All possibilities and options were discussed in detail at the highest level:
a)     Keep Usama alive, hidden somewhere. Why? We shall have to protect him all the time. If exposed, as it would happen inevitably, how could we explain to the world that we harbored him? Americans would be very furious. We would end up losing a lot but gaining nothing.
b)    Send him off in a chartered plane. Taking him through the Islamabad airport would be very hazardous, even if a foreign carrier was used. In July 1970, Henry Kissinger flew to Beijing from there. Despite strict secrecy, the Pakistani stringer for The Daily Telegraph, London, while strolling at the airport, found out about it and immediately filed a report. (It was another story that his editors, too incredulous to believe him, spiked the biggest scoop of the decade.) Anybody could alert Americans to get the reward. Moreover, a chartered plane flying to Yemen will raise eyebrows: what would it be carrying as cargo or passengers? (We do not have much trade or relations with that country.)
c)     How about using a military plane? It may be easier at this end but anything could happen at Sana’a. After recognizing him, the security personnel there would be keen to hand him over to Americans.
d)    Why not announce his capture? We may get praise worldwide but Americans would be very unhappy. Denying them something to gloat about would mean trouble.
e)     Why not just kill him? It would enrage most Muslims worldwide, especially in our own country. Wherever we buried him would become a holy shrine. The result will be much more violence and hatred against us for a long time. Call of revenge from his supporters here and abroad will mean unending trouble.
None of the options turned out to be attractive. Then, why not bargain with the Americans? (Usama was, after all, not a friend of Pakistan. In fact, we would have been much better off if he had left Afghanistan immediately after 9/11.) They would be ecstatic. In return, we could gain a lot.
The final decision was to offer him to Americans. They were told, “We have got him. How do you want him, dead or alive?” They jumped with joy.
“What will be in it for us?” we asked.
“Anything you want,” they assured.
A deal was struck. The U.S. agreed to most of our terms. The agreement is secret for the time being but developments in near future would be in accordance with it. Some of our major problems will be solved with American help, such as political and economic chaos, internal terrorism, Indian role in Kashmir and Afghanistan. If Americans do not betray us, that is.
Americans asked only for the glory of getting Usama in their own way. That would be fine with us because it would allow us to deny any involvement in the operation and avoid backlash from our own people and Muslims elsewhere. (If the operation were to be in an army town deep in the country, every sensible person would understand that it would have been impossible without our full support.) There would be sharp criticism against us in the U.S. and elsewhere, and doubts would be raised here and abroad about our capability. We can live with it. In such situations, silence is golden.
A unit of Navy SEAL practiced a raid on a house built in the U.S., similar to one in which Usama was living. SEAL (SEa, Air, Land) is a force of the U.S. Navy for special missions. It was chosen for a special reason. President Obama did not want to involve any army unit in Afghanistan because that would have allowed Gen. David Petraeus to take credit. (Petraeus has ambition to become the Republican candidate against Obama in presidential election next year.)
Despite much preparation, Americans lost a helicopter due to mechanical failure. If they had somehow lost the other one too, they would have asked us to rescue them and take them back to their base. So much for the capability of the biggest military machine in the world.
Finally, the U.S. had its day. It did what it does best: defeating a defenseless enemy. (America has never attacked any country that had even a minimal ability to hit back. It invaded Iraq and Afghanistan but will never attack Iran or North Korea.)
Usama’s time was over. After some daring acts in the early days, his people, after 9/11, only provided excuses to Americans to cause immense harm to Muslims, especially us, while, under an unholy understanding, not exploding even a cracker in the U.S. itself so that it does not hunt him vigorously. Usama is a hero to the enemies of America but a villain to those who suffered because of him.
Rather than facing death as a valiant mujahid, Usama decided to run away from it. Instead of a final open clash with Americans at a place of his choice, with world cameras recording his last glorious moments, he wanted to leave secretly for Yemen. He wanted to go across the Arabian Sea to save his life but, as the luck would have it, ended up at its bottom.

Monday, October 31, 2005

DEATH: Of death and its celebration

Once again we have to celebrate death. And because of its massive scale, it has to be a big celebration, as a Farsi phrase says. (“Marg-i anboh jashn darad.”)
When our greatest leader died in 1948, we started celebrating his anniversary on September 11. Ten years earlier, we started it on April 21 when our national poet died in 1938. In fact, we have always been celebrating death. Take our saints, who are closest to our people. The annual urs (anniversary) is always on the date of death. Our history books give dates of death for everybody but often put a question mark after the date of birth.
The reason is not our fascination with death. Actually, we know only dates of death for sure. We seldom know the accurate date of birth because, until a century or so ago, there was never any legal requirement to register a birth and parents did not care. (They had no reason to believe that their child would become somebody important some day.) So, the day of leaving this world was known with more certainty than the day of coming into it.
Some years ago, we decided that celebrating the birth of our heroes was more important than their death. So, the celebration (and the holidays) on the death anniversaries of Jinnah and Iqbal were shifted to their birth anniversaries.
After having stopped celebrating the death anniversary of our Quaid, September 11 gradually faded in our minds. Then the Americans hammered it into our brains. They also forced on us the way they write dates, at least in this case.
The British, our colonial masters, taught us to write the day and then the month, such as 11 September or 11/9. We obeyed but their rebel cousins across the Atlantic did not. They also added a knack for abbreviations. So, they had “September 11, 2001” and then turned it to just “9/11.”
Now, if we follow the American practice, we should remember not the “Earthquake of 2005” but simply the “Kashmir Quake 10/08.” Unfortunately, most of our people are not Americanized enough and will end up believing that the date was “10 August.” So, we shall have to make it “8/10.” That will also link it with “9/11” by deducting 1 from 9 and 1 from 11. “8/10” is also already familiar for us because it is a common way to indicate a quantity that is more or less 10.
But we shall not be able to keep up with the perennial American mourning. Death is a fact of life for us, simply the end of our journey that began with birth. Once we have buried the dead, treated the injured and provided shelter to the homeless, we shall return to normal life. Then “Kashmir Quake 8/10” will be only for the history books. We celebrate death as a change of phase, not as the end of the world.