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Archive for March, 2005

Beware The Ides Of March

The Ides of March saw the index of the Stock Market cross 10000 briefly. Let’s be frank about this, what relevance did the inordinate rise in share prices in the past few weeks have with the prevailing economic conditions? The Pakistani stock exchanges are at the moment no better than gambling dens. Can any economist point to anything spectacular that caused the market to rise as much as 400 points day after day? While both the macro and micro economic indicators are looking good, one would expect the common man to get benefit of the much-touted “trickle-down” economics in due course but the share prices (the increases led almost solely by three public sector entities OGDC, PTCL and PSO) were far divorced from reality, at that rate it rose the bubble had to give.

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Staying The Course

US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s trip to Islamabad soon after 9/11 was a defining moment, it cemented Pakistan’s U-turn from its mind-boggling decade-old support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and set us on a direct course to confront terrorism, some of which we had been accused of spawning. It has taken more than three and a half years of hard grind, mostly by Gen Pervez Musharraf alone, to contain the immense damage to our image, if not entirely reverse world perceptions. Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Pakistan may neither be a defining moment or even a watershed in our on-off relationship with the US, it consolidates the maturity that the relationship has achieved.

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India’s Rising Defence Budget

Proposing a 7.8% increase in defence expenditure for 2005-06, India’s Finance Minister P Chidambaram pegged it at India Rs 830 billion against last year’s allocation of Rs 770 billion. Of concern to Pakistan was the steep allocation of Indian Rs 344.72 billion in the capital outlay, the funding constituting 41.4% of the total defence budget. The Indians claim that the absence of prioritization and failure to utilize funds in time over the years has led to the need for such huge allocations this time. The Indian Finance Minister said that the Defence Ministry had for the first time in five years spent the amount allocated for weapons and equipment purchases the previous year. India seems to be set to go ahead with acquisition of vital state-of-the-art hi-tech weapons systems, major arms purchase, including hunter-killer “Scorpene” submarines from France, the long range “Smerch” rocket system from Russia, self-propelled artillery guns and low-level transportable radars, etc. Other than the general threat for the region posed by these acquisitions, Pakistan-specific allocations include money already utilized for Phalcon radar system from Israel and earmarked for the PAC-2 version of Patriot missiles, P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft as well as possibly the latest version of the US F-16.

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Playing Cricket?

According to Anurag Thakur of the Hamachal Pradesh Cricket Association, exiled spiritual leader Dalai Lama, who made Dharmsala his home after fleeing China’s Tibetan Province a failed in an uprising against the Chinese, was to inaugurate Pakistani’s first three-day cricket match against the Indian Board President’s team. All very innocent on the surface but given that the Chinese consider Dalai Lama a rebel, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) President (and former diplomat) Shaheryar Khan did well to put an immediate stop to this nonsense. The question arises, knowing Chinese sensitivities, what were the Indians upto? Manipulating the Pakistanis into a serious faux pas with China is certainly not cricket. The next minefield, during the replacement (of the Test) one-day match at Ahmedbabad will Pakistan cricketers have to shake hands with the Gujerat’s Chief Minister (CM) Narendra Modi, given his orchestrating of the massacre of Gujerat muslims only a couple of years earlier? The cause for concern is if this is not Indian State policy, who is trying to queer the diplomatic pitch? And why?

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