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Whatever little movement we seemed to be making towards strengthening of democracy, improving the national economy and, beefing up internal and external security systems all of it gets outfocused instantly when we come across weirdly myriad accounts like the one that took place in Multan the other day. Twenty-year-old Zeeshan died as the 40-foot deep narrow well he had dug in search of treasure caved in burying him under tons of loose earth. A fake spiritual fortune-teller had told his family that under their house there was a huge treasure trove of gold and jewels. The next day, in Lahore, a young girl was raped by a fake 'pir' and his accomplice invited by her mother to dispossess her of evil spirits. The same day, a man slit throats of his three nephews - Qadir Ali, 4; Zain Ali, 9 and Mahir Ali, 11 - in a forest near Abbottabad in compliance with the advice of his spiritual guide. This is only a sampling of what havoc the fake spiritual healers are wreaking on simple folks. And theirs is not a surreptitious, underworld business; they do their business in the open - even advertise their 'expertise' by word of mouth and through mass media. There is absolutely no check on their proliferation. Then there is this whole host of quacks brandishing titles like 'hakeem' and 'tabeeb' who proclaim, mainly through mass media, their specializations to cure all sorts of human ailments. As this laissez-faire obtains in Pakistan, manufacturing of spurious medicines is rampant, often patronised by those who are supposed to be checking it. In rural Pakistan it is a matter of sheer luck if one gets genuine medicine. So is the case with soft drinks, bottled drinking water, foreign currency notes and college/university degrees. There are also cases of selling meat of dead animals. It's no wonder then we have amongst us a flourishing class of hoodwinks, cheats, and pseudo doctors. Among the international community we as Pakistanis must be a class by itself.

ImageThe TTP has announced its decision not to extend the ceasefire, saying it would keep the dialogue option open provided the government took steps indicating "clear progress" on its two key demands. The demands, described as "reasonable and concrete suggestions" by the Taliban spokesman to which, he said, the government had not bothered to respond, are creating a 'peace zone' and release of non-combatant prisoners. He also alleged that the government response to "a gift of 40-day ceasefire by the TTP" was to launch "operation root out" in which more than 50 Taliban fighters were killed. And that over 200 people were arrested for alleged links with the TTP, more than 25 search operations carried out against his side, and prisoners tortured.
The Chinese government has pledged a $ 35 billion investment in Pakistan mainly in the deficient power sector and strengthening the road network linking Pakistani ports with China and Central Asian Republics (CARs). The net impact on the country's economy if this investment materializes would be extremely positive and, according to some analysts, a game changer for two broad reasons: Pakistan would not only be able to meet its energy shortfall through increasing generation capacity that would have obvious salutary impact on our productivity and therefore the growth rate but would also receive a boost in trade with Central Asian region through the transport corridor that would link land-locked CARs by road to our warm water ports.
The National Security Committee has done the much needful - it has dispelled rumours of tensions between the government and the army and also NSC thought through a line of action to deal with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the wake of its refusal to extend the ceasefire. Of late the air had been thick with speculation-based gossip of perceptional mismatches differences between the two sides, particularly on the issues of former army chief Pervez Musharraf's trial and the course of peace parleys with the Taliban. The atmospherics of the NSC meeting as reported were quite upbeat and the content of the interlocution presided over by the Prime Minister was fairly comprehensive suggesting in essence 'all is well'. Perhaps, timely clarifications of some of the misinterpreted comments and remarks by the concerned officials could have put the rumours factories out of action. According to a PM House press release, the prime minister emphasized that the NSC should be put to use by "every state institution to provide inputs so that national security issues are taken through collective thinking". The national security, he said, is essential "for consolidating the economic gains that the government has achieved". Given that national security has both internal and external dimensions Pakistan's relations with neighbouring states also came under purview and it was decided that it would be in Pakistan's national interest to pursue a policy of peace with them. The committee was also briefed on the prime minister's recent visit to China, especially about the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor and $35 billion worth of early harvest projects in energy and road and rail infrastructure. His next month visit to Tehran was also discussed. Not that the committee members were not in the know of these developments, but the narrative did help them as they sought, and were provided with clarifications and elucidation on some of these subjects. There were no fireworks at the NSC conclave as some had wished; on the other hand to their disappointment the prime minister could make a convincing case for putting Pakistan "on crossroads of opportunities to spur growth for prosperity of people".
Federal Minister for Water and Power Khwaja Asif acknowledged that his government has been unable to deal with massive power sector challenges that include power theft addiction, shortfall in collections and the circular debt. This admission as the summer inexorably grips the country foretells of heavy loadshedding that may be a few hours less than when the PPP-led coalition was in power but with electricity rates a lot higher there are few who consider they are better off than before. The textile industry has given the figure of 80 billion rupees per annum additional energy costs and street protests have begun in parts of the country where temperatures have risen.
According to a press report, destruction of mangrove forest in the Port Qasim area is under way for the construction of a coal-based power project. This is going on despite the fact that mangroves are protected under the provincial law. The report quotes the chief conservative of forests as saying the project people had started tearing down the trees without waiting for the forest department's approval. Apparently, a federal/provincial jurisdictional overlap has been misused. The mangroves covering some 64,400 hectares of land owned by the provincial government are under the control of the Port Qasim Authority (PQA). The provincial forest department gave the land to PQA setting the condition that it would not allow anyone to damage the mangroves.
ImagePakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) received four bids for spectrum auction for the next generation of mobile services by the 14th April deadline. The contenders include China Mobile, PTCL (Ufone), Mobilink and Telenor. Turkcell did not participate reportedly because it did not find the prospects attractive enough as a new entrant in the Pakistani market with five existing telecom operators already engaged in tough competition. This implies that the inclusion of spectrum 850 MHz with the specific objective of attracting new entrants was simply not a sufficient incentive.


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