IP gas pipeline and the US

Pakistan must realize now that it should reform its foreign policy by showing less dependence on the West. There must be a shift in our foreign policy towards the eastern blocs, which are emerging as potential economic alliances. Pakistan has many options of alignment available to it and being a sovereign state, it has a fundamental right to serve its national interests than foreign pragmatisms. Therefore, no country has the right to interfere into Pakistan’s internal affairs that are in the interests of the country and could mitigate economic sufferings of its people.

Despite US opposition, the 
$ 7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline or the Peace Pipeline is going ahead as planned. The Peace Pipeline initially had three players — Pakistan, Iran, and India — but the latter decided to part from the project in 2009 to avail the US nuclear deal. The Peace Pipeline will help Pakistan end its growing energy crisis that has put its economic wellbeing at stake. Pakistan’s economy is operating below par, which is affecting productivity, causing declining exports, and widening the balance of payments deficit. The Peace Pipeline is a major step forward for Pakistan at a time when its textile and fertiliser sector are showing a decline in output. With long and unexpected power outages, the industrial sector is in peril, which is why the business community has shown feelings of joy and relief over the project.

Iran will soon complete constructing its end of the pipeline; however, the construction of the 780 kilometre section of the pipeline on the Pakistani side will cost Islamabad nearly $ 1.5 billion. Washington never accepted the Peace Pipeline project and had its reservations over the initiative. Even though Pakistan will overcome its energy needs with Iran’s support, the latter’s nuclear ambition compelled the US to oppose the project.

Pakistan is eager to complete the pipeline in due time. However, the US doubts if Pakistan can finance the project. Moreover, analysts believe that the US will impose sanctions on Pakistan for defying Washington’s directives and siding with a country having a nuclear plan that worries the west. In addition, Pakistan might face US sanctions as mentioned in the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act, which allows the US government to ban imports from any non-American company that makes an investment of more than $ 20 million a year in the Iranian oil and natural gas sector.

Even though the Peace Pipeline is expected to provide benefits to Pakistan, it also has an underlining political motive. Analysts view that Pakistan’s ruling party will use the gas pipeline project to amass votes and create a positive public image in the upcoming elections. People are wondering why the government went ahead with the project with only a few days left remaining before the dissolution of the assemblies. Even with a political motive in place, the Peace Pipeline will benefit the state and the credit goes to the president and his team for sealing the deal. Construction on the $ 1.5 billion pipeline is scheduled to be completed by December 2014. If the project goes according to plan, Iran will supply 21.5 million cubic metres of gas per day from its gas field in South Pars to Nawabshah. This will solve Pakistan’s energy crisis and revive industry that fell prey to power outages.

The US not only opposed the project but also suggested Pakistan an alternative pipeline route from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and to India. Iran andPakistan never accepted the replacement route. Furthermore, India’s presence in the project would have kept both Pakistan and India on the verge of a war-like situation, which would only destabilise the South Asian region. The Peace Pipeline will begin transporting gas to Pakistan from December 2014. However, with the project already marred with delays, the final deadline is yet to be decided.

Prior to the inauguration of the Peace Pipeline project, the US State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland said, “If this deal is finalised for a proposed Iran-Pakistan pipeline, it would raise serious concerns under our Iran Sanctions Act. We’ve made that absolutely clear to our Pakistani counterparts.”

The US may impose sanctions on Pakistan for engaging in business-related activities with Iran. According to the Congressional Research Report, Iran is prohibited from selling technology or equipment that aids its energy sector. In addition, Iran lacks the authorisation to conduct business dealings that involve gas or fuels of any type with any country.

Even with the US closely monitoring the proceedings of the Peace Pipeline, President Asif Ali Zardari is hopeful for the many advantages the gas pipeline will bring to Pakistan and views it as a win-win project for Iran and Pakistan. Addressing the gathering at the inauguration ceremony, the president said, “The completion of the pipeline is in the interest of peace, security, and progress of the two countries. It will consolidate the economic, political and security ties of the two nations.” Pakistan’s Foreign Office is repeatedly asserting that Pakistan will not face any opposition from the US and believes that the US will show more understanding on this issue. Only time will tell if Washington comprehends the causes that led Pakistan to go ahead with the Peace Pipeline.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad views the Peace Pipeline as a symbol of resistance against western domination. In the post-9/11 era, Pakistan became a major ally of the US in curbing extremism. However, the Peace Pipeline could put Pakistan in a heap of trouble. Pakistan cannot afford any aggressive diplomacy from the US at a time when foreign aid is crucial for its survival.

By Muhammad Omar Iftikhar

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist who writes frequently on regional issues with focus on South Asia (Daily Times)

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The peace pipeline

While looking at the key trade and geo-political patterns in the world, it is imperative that the Pak-Iran gas pipeline is eminently sensible, should be completed and made operational at all costs. Thus, trade between Pakistan and Iran should not be a cynical exercise mired in political opportunism but should bring the two economies and people closer.

On Monday March 11, 2013, the presidents of Pakistan and Iran Mr Asif Ali Zardari and Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. The pipeline is also, sometimes, referred to as the Peace Pipeline. The idea for such a supply channel was originally suggested by Malik Aftab Ahmed Khan in his article titled “Persian Pipeline”, which was published by the Military College of Engineering in the mid-1950s. It was conceptualised by Nobel Prize-winning Indian academic Rajendra K Pachauri and Iran’s former deputy foreign minister Ali Shams Ardekani.

In 1994, negotiations for ‘Peace Pipeline’ commenced between Iran and Pakistan. India joined the talks in 1999. Initially, the plan was dubbed as Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, which was supposed to deliver Iranian gas to Pakistan and, onwards to India. However, India opted out of the project in 2009 citing dissatisfaction with the transit fee that Pakistan was demanding. There were also concerns about the security of the whole venture that traversed through hostile territory at several points. However, it is widely believed that India quit the project at the behest of the United States. Last year, a Chinese bank also abandoned the pipeline project out of fear that it might be subjected to international sanctions for dealing with Iran.

In late January, Iran and Pakistan jointly set up a company in order to build the Pakistani portion of the pipeline. Initially, the estimated time for completion of the Pakistani part was a little more than a year but according to recent Iranian media reports, it could take about two years.

The pipeline starts from Asalouyeh in Iran stretching 1,172 kilometres towards Pakistan. The 781 kms long pipeline on Pakistani side will travel through Balochistan where it will branch out towards Karachi. The main line will continue onward towards Multan and beyond. It will deliver 750 million cubic feet of gas on a daily basis. The cost of gas thus imported will be 14.53 dollars mmbtu. According to the terms of an agreement signed by Iran and Pakistan in 2010, if the latter fails to complete its side of the pipeline by 2014, it will be obligated to pay a daily penalty of a million dollars to Iran until the conduit is complete.

The Iranian side of the pipeline is almost complete. The Pakistani part of the project will cost around 1.5 billion dollars. Iran will loan one-third of this sum amounting to 500 million dollars out of which 250 million dollars will be paid directly to the construction firm responsible for laying 80 kms of pipeline inside Pakistan. The next tranche of 250 million dollars will help in laying the remaining 701 kms pipeline. This loan, alongwith a two percent interest plus LIBOR, will be repaid as a fraction of the price of gas. Pakistan will still need to raise sizeable funds in order to see the project through, a task that seems hurculean at the moment in the wake of considerably depleted foreign reserves and a hefty IMF repayment hovering over the head.

Pakistan is highly dependent on natural gas for domestic and commercial consumption as well as electricity generation. Moreover, natural gas also plays a very crucial role in transportation within the country. For years, Pakistan is desperately trying to cope with an acute energy shortage that has all but crippled the economy. Last month, the country suffered a nation-wide blackout that only served to further highlight its exponential energy woes.

The US is vehemently opposed to the project and assumes that the hasty progress of the Peace Pipeline is politically motivated since the energy issue, by all accounts, will play a pivotal role in this year’s general elections. The mandate of the present government will expire in a few days. The ruling party may be planning to use the Peace Pipeline as a gambit for securing votes since the public will perceive it as a practical step towards resolving the energy issue. Moreover, defying the US, or seeming to do so, is extremely popular in Pakistan whose overwhelming public opinion is anti-US despite being the recipient of enormous American aid.

The US has threatened Pakistan with sanctions if it builds the gas pipeline. However, it is more likely that sanctions will be imposed only after the actual delivery of gas starts. Pakistani companies buying gas from Iran may also face US restrictions. The State Department recently criticised Pakistan for wasting its limited resources on such projects. The US is concerned that the Peace Pipeline will enable Iran to evade international sanctions by selling a huge amount of its gas. This will, consequently, blunt US efforts to keep Iran under pressure over its nuclear activities.

In order to address Pakistan’s genuine energy concerns, the US has suggested the trans-Afghanistan pipeline for delivering gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan. The pipeline could be extended further to India. Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, which will effectively bypass Iran, has been on the tables in Washington for several years but could not materialize despite Asian Development Bank’s backing due to the fragile security situation in Afghanistan. The TAPI proposal is, however, still alive and may transpire in the next five years.

Pakistan’s current annual oil import bill exceeds 12 billion dollars. The bulk of the imported furnace oil is used for generating electricity. Importing gas from Iran may prove helpful not only in managing the severe energy crisis but also reducing Pakistan’s import bills to a reasonable extent. However, it is also important to carefully examine the diplomatic costs of carrying on with a geo-politically significant project that is not favoured by the international community.

By Atif Shamim Syed

The writer is an investment banker and a freelance columnist for various publications. He can be reached at syedatifshamim@hotmail.com

Daily Times

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How sectarian killers operate with ‘impunity’ in Pakistan

The innocent are falling daily, the mothers are crying, the children are weeping, the wives are suffering, the old are becoming older, the humanity is dying but no emergency is seen at top level except a few sympathetic words and condolence messages. People are losing faith in democracy, they question, why they are not being protected, why the terrorists are not being hanged, why this killing spree is not being stopped, why the killers of Benazir Bhutto have not been brought to book and why the attackers of Malala Yousafzai have not been arrested as yet? The answer may not be forth coming but now the people have become wiser and may not be mislead with hallow slogans. The youth which is more than 50 per cent had to play a decisive role in the forthcoming election. Instead of sitting idle and sleeping at homes, we need to come out in large number to elect the people who can really take the country out from these mounting crises. Until and unless the system of reward and punishment is not adopted till then we can’t sail smoothly.

Banned militant faction Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Ramzan Mengal is escorted as he walks to attend a protest rally

Hateful graffiti messages against Shiite Muslims are scrawled along main roads. The striped flags of a banned militant faction accused of hundreds of murders flutter from homes. These are the outskirts of Quetta in Pakistan, from where Shiite leaders say Sunni extremists towed a giant bomb by tractor to kill 90 Shiite Hazaras on February 16, after dispatching suicide bombers to kill 92 others at a snooker hall a month earlier.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant group officially banned by the government in 2002, claimed responsibility for both attacks. Local Shiites say they know who the organizers are, and where they live, and yet the authorities do nothing. An AFP reporter saw no sign of police or paramilitary in Akhtarabad, the run-down neighborhood from where Shiites claim the bombers drove the giant bomb.

Nor was there a security presence in Killi Kambrani and Killi Badeni, dens of suspected kidnappers and criminals, covered in slogans for jihad and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), described as the “political wing” of LeJ. Bombers determined to exterminate Shiites have slaughtered more than 250 Pakistanis since January 10 and questions are being asked about possible political and military collusion. Pakistan has an abysmal track record of convicting extremists, and there is growing alarm about perceived apathy towards attacks on Shiites, which are similar to those that fuelled civil war in Iraq. “Akhtarabad is their hub and main hideout.

Everybody knows they come from there to attack Hazaras but nothing has been done,” said Shiite community leader Syed Mussarrat Hussein in Quetta, the capital of the troubled southwestern province of Baluchistan. Daud Agha, local president of the Shiite Conference, said tip-offs about impending attacks are ignored and the ASWJ tolerated. Amnesty International has said the failure of the authorities to bring those responsible for sectarian violence to justice “sends the signal that they can continue to commit these outrageous abuses with impunity”. So how and why does LeJ operate with such apparent freedom? There are many theories.

The worst violence is concentrated in Baluchistan, fuelling accusations that the military turns a blind eye or even encourages LeJ operatives, to distract attention from a six-year separatist insurgency. “LeJ got stronger in Baluchistan after the start of the Baluch insurgency,” says Anwar Sajidi, a Baluch rights activist and chief editor of Quetta-based newspaper Intikhab. “The government is supporting LeJ as a counter-insurgency strategy to show the world that sectarian violence is also on the rise and the Baluch separatist movement is not the only reason for killings.” LeJ, which is linked to Al-Qaeda, was created in the 1990s out of the same pool of fighters trained and nurtured by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States in the 1980s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Last month the chief military spokesman categorically denied the armed forces were in contact with militants, including the LeJ. But despite Pakistan joining the US-led “war on terror” after the 9/11 attacks, the armed forces continue to be dogged by allegations of playing a double game.
LeJ founder and ASWJ vice president Malik Ishaq has been accused in more than 40 murder cases but was free until being taken into custody on February 23 for posing a risk to law and order. Others say LeJ is protected because of the electoral support it can harness in southern districts of central Punjab province, a key battleground in upcoming national elections where the Pakistan Muslim League-N is in power. “This politics of expediency may by CouponDropDown”>win the party a few more seats in the upcoming elections, but the move would provide further space to religious extremism already on the rise,” author Zahid Hussain wrote in Dawn newspaper.
There is little to distinguish the ASWJ from LeJ in public. “Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was created in reaction to injustices by the government,” says Ramzan Mengal, the Baluchistan president of the ASWJ. “We can ask the LeJ men to negotiate with the government but the authorities will have to stop being influenced by Shias.” A senior police official in Quetta told AFP his force was too weak to act, because the LeJ and ASWJ had too much financial and logistical support. Until the government develops a “multi-pronged” strategy to shut down their support networks, he warned, Shiites will continue to be slaughtered.
Many people in Baluchistan say there is an international element to the violence, believing that Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran are fighting a proxy war on Pakistani soil. Religious schools that have educated millions of Pakistanis in a hardline Sunni interpretation of Islam are also partly to blame. “There are hundreds of seminaries in the country who produce thousands of extremists every year,” the Quetta police official said. 

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US frustrated by Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline

Though Pakistan has been accounted a US ally in its war on terror, and has provided it ‘unstinted support’, it has its own compulsions which oblige it to ignore US objections. There has been the investment of time: it has been 19 years since the project was first broached, and 18 since the preliminary agreement between the two countries signed. In contrast, India was only included in the project in 2005, and promptly withdrew in 2009.

The ‘peace pipeline’, so named to denote the benefits of the gas project for Iran, Pakistan and the region, has finally seen a beginning on the Pakistan side. This pipeline, as stated by President Asif Ali Zardari and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the ground breaking ceremony at Gabd near the Iran-Pakistan border is indispensible to eradicate Pakistan’s energy deficit. Though India, by CouponDropDown”>one of the original three partners of the pipeline, has backed out of the project to gain other benefits from the US (the nuclear power cooperation agreement), the pipeline still holds promises benefits for the remaining two partners, Pakistan and Iran, with China a potential third in times to come. Pakistan has been in dire need of expanding its energy resources. The indigenous gas reservoirs have depleted over the years given our mismanagement and unplanned consumption without future considerations. The economy of the country is functioning below capacity. Industries are closing down because of insufficient and interrupted energy supply. The hardest hit sectors have been textiles and fertilizer. These sectors being the backbone of our economy, one could imagine the productive loss Pakistan had experienced because of the troubles of these industries. It is because of this that the business community has shown jubilation over the implementation of the project. They are eying a 50 percent increase in production once the gas is available to industry. For domestic cosumers too it would be a sigh of relief eventually, since the capacity of the gas received from Iran will produce 5,000 MW electricity, reducing the energy shortfall
tremendously, which has been a cause of incessant crises and disruption in daily life. The gas pipeline groundbreaking ceremony in short, has given Pakistan some reasons for optimism. 

The project however is still not devoid of uncertainties. The effort that has already taken 18 years to come this far still faces certain political and security issues which, if not handled with upfront urgency, could throw a spanner in the works. Two such security issues are the nationalist insurgency and the terrorist activities of groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Balochistan. The nationalists have expressed their reservations over the gas pipeline, terming it against the interests of the Baloch people. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s unconcealed hatred toward Shias could drive them to sabotage the pipeline that would pass through Balochistan along its route to Gwadar and on to Nawabshah in Sindh. As far as the nationalists are concerned, a political solution is the only way to address their feelings of alienation. The terrorists, unfortunately, require to be combated. The sooner the government corners them the better. There is also a serious need of overhauling the system for transmission losses, poor dues collection, leakages, pillage, and substitution of furnace oil for power generation. Finally, the ability, especially of the new government in power after the elections in May, to complete the project, in spite of opposition from the US, is critical for the success of the pipeline. Steadfastness is the key.

Just as Pakistan has followed its national interest in spite of growing US and UN sanction threats, it ability to see the pipeline project completed will depend largely on the same spirit. US proposals on energy projects to tide over Pakistan’s energy needs have been insufficient and lacked clarity in terms of tangible projects. Even otherwise, the energy requirement Pakistan faces is much greater and urgent. The US proposed projects so far extended fall short of both these requirements. However, there are many cases where sanctions have not been applied by the US that provide room for waiver Pakistan could get on transporting gas from Iran. 

The future of Pakistan largely depends on its ability to revitalize its economy. Dampened by innumerable burdens, the major being terrorism, the country could slide into irretrievable danger if the people of the country are not given the necessary means to live a decent life. Since 1994, the project has suffered innumerable delays on a number of occasions. Finance proved difficult to raise. Now that Iran and Pakistan along with China have agreed to push the project ahead, it should not become a victim of the controversy over Iran’s nuclear programme, particularly, as is hoped, that problem can yield a solution through international diplomacy. 

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Energy problem & IP gas pipeline

The stance taken by the US government vis-à-vis the project is undeniably very bold and clear. Stance of the government of Pakistan on the issue, widely projected in Pakistan’s print and electronic media lately, is equally strong and comprehensible. None less than the stature of the President of Pakistan, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari has categorically stated that no power in the world can halt the $7.5 billion project, dismissing mounting US opposition to the venture that will be formally inaugurated on March 11, 2013.

Though the ground-breaking ceremony of the Pakistan-Iran Gas Pipeline Project is about 18 years late, the national consensus is in favour of the project. The idea of the ‘Persian pipeline’ has been in circulation since the early 1950s, but the preliminary agreement was signed between Pakistan and Iran in 1995. And there onwards a criminal neglect of this crucial energy project delayed both pipeline import of gas and LNG import from Iran. Result: the country is faced with a serious energy deficiency causing economic slowdown and ‘gas riots’ by domestic consumers, who are users of this cheap source of energy.

At present almost 48 percent of the country’s energy needs are met by the indigenous natural gas resources. But years of lopsided energy policies have resulted in creating a huge demand and supply of natural gas. Pakistan’s present natural gas demand is about 7.27 bcfd, while the supply is only 4.45 bcfd, thus leaving a huge gap of around 2.8 bcfd. This gap in demand and supply is likely to further expand to around 8 bcfd by 2022, depending on the rate of GDP growth. As Pakistan has one of the largest natural gas pipeline distribution systems, there is a considerable percentage of unaccounted for gas (UFG) because of pilferage, leakages and non-payment of gas bills by the people in the remote areas.

According to the project proposal, the pipeline will begin from Iran’s Assalouyeh Energy Zone in the south and stretch over 1,100 kilometres through Iran. In Pakistan, the 785-kilometre pipeline will pass through Balochistan and Sindh, but officials now say the route may be changed if China agrees to the project. The total cost of the Pakistan section of the pipeline is $ 1.5 billion of which Iran has offered a loan of $ 500 million.

The natural question is why the project was delayed for 18 years when it was so crucial for the country. One of the major reasons for this delay was that the post-1995 governments did not want to annoy the US and Saudi governments who were against expanding relations with Iran. The project was revived in General Pervez Musharraf’s era with the assumption that the pipeline would be extended to India; it was even named by optimists as ‘the peace pipeline’. But India used it as a ploy to get a nuclear agreement with the US and backed out from the project. On the other hand, the US kept pushing Pakistan that the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline would be a better option. This project had the backing of some leading American companies too. In 1995, at the Economist Roundtable with the government of Pakistan in Islamabad, I had maintained that as Afghanistan was not going to settle, at least for the next 15 years, the Turkmenistan pipeline project would not be possible. (I had underestimated the timeframe.) My apprehensions were brushed aside by the then Interior Minister General Babar. The huge cost of indecision and delay of this project is that now it would be subjected to the UN and many bilateral economic sanctions against Iran.

The Zardari government revived the project when it became clear that shortage of gas was dragging the economy down. The political side of speeding up this project is that President Asif Zardari wants to take the credit of standing up to the US-Saudi pressure and exploit this in favour of his party, which has the image of toeing the US agenda. His critics say that he is leaving this hot potato for his successor if the PPP loses the election. The diplomatic reason is that Islamabad policymakers think as the US needs Pakistan for finding a solution to the Afghan conundrum and exit of its forces by end 2014, they will not enforce harsh sanctions on the country. On the other hand, Pakistan has managed to get a deal from Iran because they are suffering from an acute fall in revenue. Almost 70 percent of Iran’s $ 358 billion GDP is dependent on its energy exports. Because of sanctions the major importers of Iranian oil are gradually cutting down their imports from Iran. In the last couple of months Iran’s energy exports revenue has dropped by almost 42 percent. That is the reason Iran has agreed to finance the Pakistani sector of the pipeline as they know no foreign or Pakistani domestic bank will touch this project with a ten foot barge pole fearing international financial sanctions. To reassure Pakistan, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently told the visiting Pakistani delegation that the much-delayed $ 7.5 billion gas pipeline project must go ahead despite US opposition. “The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is an important example of Tehran-Islamabad cooperation, and despite hostilities towards the expansion of ties, we must overcome this opposition decisively,” Khamenei told Zardari, foreign news agencies reported. The pipeline also symbolises that Iran is not completely isolated.

Zardari is now trying to impress upon the US administration that gas is needed to overcome its energy crisis, hence they should appreciate Pakistan’s position. The new UN and bilateral sanctions against Iran broadly include: measures to impose an assets-freeze and dealings, and prohibition on 98 new entities of proliferation concern. They also prohibit the export to Iran of: different types of goods used in shipbuilding, mineral exploration, mining, metal production, and telecommunications industries; vessels designed to transport or store crude oil or its products; hard currency totalling $ 40,000 or more in value; and new goods of proliferation concern. The expanded measures also prohibit the import of natural gas, oil, and petroleum or petrochemical products from Iran; the provision of marketing and other financial or related services in respect of certain prohibited goods; the provision of flagging or classification services to Iranian oil tankers or cargo vessels; and the provision of insurance and reinsurance to Iran or any entity in Iran. It is the shipping insurance clause that is pushing traditional Iranian oil importers to back off.

A billion dollar question for Pakistan policy makers is how violation of the sanction, “the expanded measures also prohibit the import of natural gas, oil, and petroleum or petrochemical products from Iran” would be invoked against Pakistan. So far no country has been penalised for importing oil from Iran. China and India, who opposed the expansion of sanctions on Iran, continue to import Iranian oil under the exemptions that they have taken from the UN and US. However, reports are that all oil importers from Iran are gradually tapering off their imports from Iran, but the process is expected to stretch over 15-18 months. Pakistan’s agreement with Iran is to lay down the gas pipeline within 15 months, which incidentally also coincides with the timeframe of US forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan is banking on the 1980s experience when because of its strategic importance to continue insurgency in Afghanistan the US administration turned a blind eye towards Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Pakistan is also hoping that the recent Iran and big five negotiations in Almaty will bear some fruit and sanctions may be eased if some progress is made in further talks.

The good news is that in spite of their political differences and the coming elections where political parties are usually miserly in supporting the ruling party’s initiatives, the major political parties are supporting this project. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s star economist Asad Omar says, “Pakistan-Iran Gas pipeline is the best energy option for Pakistan.” He thinks that Pakistan should go ahead with the project in spite of opposition of the US administration as the gas import is critical for the economic growth of the country. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is also supporting the project, Zubair Omar, who is a member of Nawaz Sharif’s manifesto committee, told me on the phone. Who ever imagined that Zardari would stand up against US dictates; politics is indeed full of surprises!

By  Babar Ayaz

The writer can be reached at ayazbabar@gmail.com

Daily Times 

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Badami Bagh Carnage

It all started when a man accused a Christian of committing blasphemy by making offensive comments about the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and defiling pages from the Holy Quran and all of a sudden a mob comprising thousands of people attacked Joseph Colony forcing families to flee their area. It is a new attempt to further tarnish the image of Pakistan. 

Pakistani Christians protest against Saturday’s burning of their houses and belongings in Badami Bagh, Lahore March 10, 2013. Hundreds of Pakistani Christians took to the streets across the country on Sunday, demanding better protection after a Christian neighbourhood was torched in the city of Lahore a day earlier in connection with the country’s controversial anti-blasphemy law


The burning of about 125 houses of the Christian community in Lahore’s Badami Bagh area by a mob gone berserk on Saturday led to all citizens of this land of the pure hang their heads in shame on yet another occasion. Those who did the burning showed extreme intolerance against an accusation of blasphemy that was yet to be probed. The allegation was the commission of the said crime allegedly committed by a resident of the area.

The grotesque event can be mentioned as yet another incident of victimizing members of non-Muslim minorities who are fellow citizens and the country’s basic law holds them in equality with the Muslim population. The reaction to the horrendous happening was prompt and logical as members of the Christian community and those belonging to other non-Muslim minorities, together with conscientious citizens, took to streets across the country seeking justice. Protest rallies were held in many parts of the country, including Karachi, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Lahore, where protestors blocked Ferozepur Road and several other main roads. Some enraged demonstrators resorted to stone pelting and broke the windows of buses and stands of the recently-launched Metro Bus Service in Lahore. Police also fired aerial shots to disperse the mob but to no avail.

This is not the first ghastly incident of its kind that vulnerable members of Christian community have been targeted. The first attack on the Christian village Shantinagar near Khnewal took place in February 1997 during which four churches and the office of the Salvation Army was burnt along with about 800 Christian houses while about 200 members of this community were forced to leave the village. In August 2009, a similar mob attacked a village of Christians in Gojra near Faisalabad and killed nine non-Muslim residents, six of whom were burnt alive, together with burning about 200 homes and a church. In both these events also the allegation of blasphemy was provoked. 

An initial investigation report over the incident was submitted by Punjab’s Inspector General of police to Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Sunday according to which timely action by the police had prevented the loss of life. The report said that there were only a handful of people behind the incident and the policemen avoided the use of gunfire and other lethal weapons in order to minimize the loss of life. At least 131 persons were taken into custody who were suspected of involvement in Saturday’s gruesome incident whereas a letter was written to the Lahore High Court’s registrar requesting for a judicial inquiry into the incident. The chief minister was informed that those involved in the incident were being identified with the help of CCTV footage of the attack. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered for the provision complete assistance to all victims belonging to the minority community. The prime minister spoke to Minister of State for National Harmony Akram Masih and advisor Paul Bhatti and instructed them to maintain contact with the victims of the Badami Bagh incident. Construction material and other related equipment began to arrive in Badami Bagh area on Sunday for the rehabilitation of the destroyed neighbourhood.

In the instant case also, police, instead of investigating the case, arrested Christians while those who went on a rampage and could easily be identified from television footage were not taken in custody. This is sheer discrimination among sections of Pakistani citizens and must, therefore, be probed by the judiciary.


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Pakistan or ‘Takfiristan’

The so-called ‘peace negotiations’ offer led by the ANP was the most disappointing act of opportunism. The ANP has, for a long time, bravely confronted terrorists and earned the respect of the nation. This sudden U-turn could only be opportunism before elections. And who is the one receiving this offer? Who is the authorised leader of the terrorists? What authority does he have from so many independent operators? What is their relationship with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ)? 

After the assassination of its brave leader Bashir Bilour, the Awami National Party (ANP) consultative committee had released a bold statement as a roadmap to confront the Taliban terrorism. We had shared parts of that statement here. Subsequently, the ANP seems to have gotten cold feet and wavered from “the Party’s stated position that extremism and terrorist violence is a threat to the very existence of the country…If the experience of the recent past is anything to go by, the terrorists will not forgive any political or religious parties, even those who have literally acted as supporters and/or apologists of the terrorists. It will be an exercise in futility to appease the terrorists.” Apparently, the ANP got a cold shoulder/snub from the powers that be, backtracked from a firm stance and ended up producing a nebulous, and quite frankly, useless declaration listing a few generic recommendations at its All Parties Conference (ACP) last month. Nonetheless, the pronouncement still included the word terrorism in it, even if only to call for compensation for the families of the terror victims.

Another APC was called last week by Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), ostensibly to develop a consensus against terrorism. But the very word terrorism was carefully removed from its joint declaration! The ‘holy’ fathers in the gathering were of the opinion that not only should they negotiate with terrorists without any preconditions, through a so-called’

‘grand tribal jirga’, but also did not want their Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ‘darlings’ called terrorist lest they are offended. Only if such sensitivity were shown for the thousands blown to smithereens by the assorted jihadist outfits sired by the JUI-F and other Deobandi/Wahhabi/Salafi parties. The whole effort, by political parties who are actually on their way out of the government, has an eerie undertone to it: developing a consensus in support of, not against jihadist outfits that would be used in post-2014 Afghanistan.

Robert Gellately wrote in his 2001 book Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany: “Hitler was largely successful in getting the backing, one way or another, of the great majority of citizens…the Germans generally turned out to be proud and pleased that that Hitler and his henchmen were putting away certain kinds of people who did not fit in, or who were regarded as ‘outsiders’, ‘asocials’, ‘useless eaters’, or ‘criminals’.” Something along the lines of Nazi Germany seems underway in Pakistan where the consensus — the APC after all included all major political parties — is to treat the Takfiri barbarians with kid gloves as they massacre what are becoming the Jews and gypsies of Pakistan, i.e. the Barelvis, Shiites, Ahmedis, Christians and Hindus. It does not appear that the JUI-F’s APC was some slick manoeuvre to gain wiggle room around the election time and fight another day. With the major political parties capitulating to the TTP and entering into election alliances with their Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ) accomplices, the ‘Wahhabification’ of Pakistan might be reaching its culmination.

These alliances and seat adjustments with the ASWJ/Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), which for all practical purposes remains the political front for the Takfiri terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), are not covert any more. Politicians like the federal minister Qamar Zaman Kaira of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Senator Mushahidullah Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have said on record that they would court the ASWJ vote because they are ‘Pakistani voters’. Victor Klemperer writes in I Will Bear Witness that even after the rise of Hitler’s Nazism in Germany every Jew had an ‘Aryan (guardian) angel’ willing to help and socialise and even at the height of World War II he was not able to see overt, rabid anti-Semitism. But by 1941 he was forced to wear the Yellow Star of David. Shia and Barelvis — like Klemperer — might have failed to notice that the persecution is so overt that it is covert! 

Aurangzeb Faruqui, the Karachi-based leader of the terrorist outfit ASWJ that the PPP and PML-N seek the votes from, recently said, “I shall make Sunnis (read Deobandi/Wahhabi/Salafi) so strong against the Shia that no Sunni will even wish to shake hands with a Shia. They (Shia) will die their own death. We won’t even have to kill them now. We would make it hard for the Shia to even breathe and he will have to think how to survive in this city.”

Professor Gregory Stanton had described eight stages of genocide in his 1996 briefing to the US Department of State: classification, symbolisation, dehumanisation, organisation, polarisation, preparation, extermination and, eventually, denial. Hate speech like Faruqui’s, who clearly emulates the late Haq Nawaz Jhangvi in conduct and virulence, and actions by his LeJ cohorts, fall under several of these categories. In fact, Shia genocide in Pakistan had a ‘rolling start’ with several stages of killings happening simultaneously with the extermination and denial carried out at the same time as classification and dehumanisation. Faruqui was recently visited by an MQM delegation, ostensibly to talk peace. A massive bombing destroyed the Shia residential neighbourhood of Abbas Town, Karachi, killing at least 48, two days after this ‘peace process’.

Two of the most sinister aspects of genocide are ‘urbicide’ where the members of a social group, usually belonging to the middle or upper classes, living in urban areas, are target killed or even whole cities decimated; ghettoisation, i.e. confining the persecuted group into (squalid) geographical zones. Both urbicide and ghettoisation of the Shia, especially that of the Shia Hazara in Quetta, remain underway in Pakistan as the politicians smoke the peace pipe with the Taliban/LeJ/ASWJ.

Given the apathy not just of the Pakistani leaders but also large swathes of the population and the inaction and/or complicity of both the security establishment and politicians with the culprits, the Pakistani Shia — and also the Barelvi Sunnis — are left with very practical options. They must organise their vote bank and defeat the candidates linked to the banned outfits wherever possible. They ought to move the courts and the election commission against the parties and candidates with terrorist connections. But most importantly, they must now internationalise their case. Lest they forget there was no organised protest by the common Germans against the ‘Nazification’ of Germany by Hitler. Consent and coercion did work in Nazi Germany and seem to be working in what increasingly appears to be ‘Takfiristan’.

By Dr Mohammad Taqi

The writer can be reached at mazdaki@me.com and he tweets @mazdaki

( Daily Times )

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Pakistan & “Jihadist warriors”

Lashkar e jhangvi continue to terrify Pakistani civilians and are still called “Jihadist” by the so called Mullahs  . It is very important right now to call these Jihadist gunmen by their real name – terrorists. 

Pakistani children who were slightly injured in a bomb blast are brought to a hospital in Karachi Pakistan Sunday March 3 2013. Pakistani officials say a bomb blast has killed dozens of people in a neighborhood dominated by Shiite Muslims in the southern caption

The country had not quite digested the Quetta sectarian carnage incidents in January and February when we had once again to be subjected to indiscriminate terrorism against innocent citizens in Karachi on Sunday. Although the targeted area, Abbas Town, is predominantly Shia, it also has Sunnis. The result is that even if the terrorists intended only to target Shias, they ended up killing and maiming many from both denominations. The spirit of solidarity displayed by citizens in helping each other after the blasts, while the security and rescue services were nowhere in sight, gladdens the hearts of all who see the sectarian terrorists as the worst of a bad lot. Tragically, as though the loss of life, limb and property were not enough on Sunday, the following day the funeral processions of some of the dead were fired upon and more people killed, as a result of which complete mayhem and chaos broke out, with again the law enforcement agencies conspicuous by their absence. While some diehard critics were wont to blame the deployment of the security forces at the engagement ceremony of a PPP leader on Sunday, it appears more likely that the security agencies took a deliberate decision to stay out of the line of fire until things settled down. Whether this can be described as strategy, dereliction of duty, or just plain cowardice is open to conjecture. Several areas of Karachi soon came under the grip of spreading violence, with no clear idea who was attacking who and why. If this not a state of anarchy, what is?

While all friendly countries have condemned the latest incident of sectarian terrorism, the Supreme Court has once again felt constrained to take suo motu notice of the incident and will be hearing the matter at its Karachi Registry today. Ominously, just as in the case of the former Balochistan government, there is more than a hint in the Supreme Court’s formulation that it may examine whether the Sindh government has lost its constitutional validity for being unable to protect the lives and properties of citizens. A heated debate in the Senate has blamed both the government and the intelligence agencies for a manifest failure. Irrepressible Interior Minister Rehman Malik has once again tried to twist the knife in the PML-N’s back by calling the perpetrators ‘Punjabi Taliban’, implying the Punjab government’s ‘soft’ attitude to groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which claimed the Quetta bombings, is to blame. He also wondered aloud whether these activities so close to the elections were meant to sabotage the polls. In the same breath, he also made the laughable claim that the backbone of the terrorists has been broken, citing the arrest of 30 LeJ activists as proof! With due respect Mr Minister, the terrorists are neither Punjabi nor any other nationality, as we have learnt over the last four decades. They are simply terrorists. Admittedly the Punjab government’s equivocation on the LeJ and similar groups has led to a lot of unease, but no one can be absolved of the blame for the situation having reached this pass. The ‘benign neglect’ of sectarian terrorist groups by all governments, federal and provincial, while ostensibly focusing on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan-type activist, is now coming home to roost with a vengeance.

Karachi is once again emerging as a sectarian flashpoint after Quetta. Last year, sectarian, terror, bhatta (extortion) and other criminal targeting killed 2,200 people in Karachi. Of these, 400 were Shia. In the first two months of the current year, 450 have already died. This seems to suggest an incremental escalation of terror, sectarian and other. We now have the unenviable situation of an incumbent elected government in its last days (i.e. virtually a lame duck), while the caretaker government to replace it is still not decided, making it difficult to hazard a guess what, if anything, it might intend to do about the spreading terror threat, which can not only cause the elections to be sabotaged, even if they are held to deny the terrorists that satisfaction, they could easily turn out to be very bloody. It is time for all the stakeholders to put their heads together on an emergency basis to put in place a centralized, coordinated anti-terror mechanism before the rivers of blood that have started to flow sweep everything good and positive along with them. 

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Failure of agencies in Karachi

The twin blast at residential building in Abbass Town killed more than 46 people and also wounded around 140 people. Many children were also killed in the tragic incident. According to media reports police and law enforcement agencies reached the incident after one hour and this delay was because hundreds of police was present at engagement ceremony of PPP leader Sharmila Farooqi at Mohatta Palace.

The day we think that we have had enough of killing, another bomb blast kills more people. There is no guarantee of peace or harmony, not now when the country is witnessing genocide of Shias across its length and breadth. Since January, this blast in Karachi was the third attack on Shias. The pattern has been identical, bombing a market or a residential area to ensure indiscriminate bloodshed. The Alamdar Road, Kinari Road and now the Abbas Town bomb blast killed women, children and men of every age. So far 65 people have been reported killed and many more injured. There were two remote detonated blasts, using improvised explosive devices. The entire neighborhood of Abbas Town was reduced to rubble. Some buildings caught fire because of short circuiting. The police and Rangers arrived late, compelling the residents to shift the injured and the dead to the hospitals themselves. Almost immediately, as the terrorists were done with their dirty work, the government announced compensation to the tune of Rs 1.5 million for each bereaved family and Rs 1 million for the injured. Though money could not make up for the loss of life and limb, especially in the absence of any rehabilitation programme for the seriously injured, it could at least reduce the misery of the surviving disabled to some extent. An inquiry report has been hurriedly put together by the law enforcement agencies and the day ended with a promise to bring the culprits to justice. An identical pattern of addressing terrorists’ attacks, without leaving any hope for the survivors or the rest of us to at least believe that tomorrow will be a better day. How long are we going to continue with this cold, indifferent attitude? When would it dawn on us that our security is under threat and that we need a comprehensive, all-encompassing and collective effort to remove the threat? When would we stop evading the reality that we are under siege from the terrorists? The United Nation’s anti-genocide envoy has listed Pakistan among the countries with a ‘dangerous escalation in ethnic and religious tension’. 

To the utmost surprise, none of the terrorist organizations has accepted the responsibility of the attack so far. Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik, however, sees the Punjabi Taliban behind the attack in Abbas Town. The vocal minister minced no words in saying that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) had its headquarters in Punjab and the provincial rulers are in an electoral alliance with the banned organization—a charge that PML-N denies. Rehman Malik claims terrorism in the country can be eliminated only if action was taken against terrorists in Punjab. Regardless he is right or wrong; the people of Pakistan know nothing but deserve security to their lives and property should that come from the PPP or PML-N. The useless rhetoric of Rehman Malik doesn’t sooth the injured souls of the people. 

On the other hand, Afghan President Hamid Karzai says Afghanistan wants the Pakistani government to realize that both our nations are burning in the same fire and adds that the Pakistani government has an essential and important role in putting out this fire but practical steps are not being taken to fight terrorism. Is not it a slap on the face of the Interior Ministry? The man responsible for security of the country—the interior minister—does not agree or deliberately ignoring the notion that Pakistan is falling into serious chaos, he is recklessly pursuing a rat-race of point-scoring over the bodies by shifting the responsibility to PML-N that strengthens suspicion that the government is either unable or unwilling to go after the militants. After years of unabated terrorism, the mourners are losing patience over the repeated killings they mean action no matter whether it comes from the PML-N or the PPP. Pakistan has to do something more serious to rein in the extremist militants to ensure much-needed long-term peace in the country and in Karachi particularly. Bomb blasts and incidents of firing on mourners and funerals heading for burial is an eye-opener for the rulers who are still not willing to call in army, by invoking the Article 245 of the Constitution, to stem the tide of ruthless killings. Rehman Malik must not forget— be it a failure of police, Rangers or the intelligence agencies—the federal government is solely responsible for the security of the people across Pakistan and if the government is banking on the worsening law and order situation to prolong its rule after March 16. This is not going to work. It is grossly mistaken. Today, the innocent people are dying and buried under the rain of bullets. Even if the rulers survive the onslaught of terrorists, tomorrow, they would not be able to escape wrath of the people.  

After all, the history repeats itself. Police and Rangers failing to rescue Abbas Town victims for hours on the flimsy excuse of extending security to the special guests, including the premier, the CM and other government functionaries and the political leadership, gathered there in the neighborhood of the blast site to attend the engagement of Sharmila Farooqi deserves worst condemnation, and demands immediate removal of all those who are responsible for the negligence—be he is DG Rangers, IG police or political heads of the Sindh Government. After each terrorist strike, Rehman Malik, who starts reading news like news caster, also needs to be careful. He is the worst Interior Minister that this country has in the living memory. His fouled-mouth revelations rub salt on the wounds of bereaved families and the victims alike. He must stop his ‘prophecies’ based on blame-game especially if he cannot offer any solution. Come March 16, the life will not remain the same. The nation has put up a brave face to all tragedies it had faced during last five years. It should expect any good from the rulers. The people have to bear with the apathy of the state machinery for another 12 days, and those dreaming about seeking the extension to their misrule are living in fools’ paradise.

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Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Project: “Destroying Pakistan”

The terrorist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group was in fact created, according to the BBC, to counter Iran’s Islamic Revolution in the 1980’s, and is still active today. Considering the openly admitted US-Israeli-Saudi plot to use Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups across the Middle East to counter Iran’s influence, it begs the question whether these same interests are funding terrorism in Pakistan to not only counter Iranian-sympathetic Pakistani communities, but to undermine and destabilize Pakistan itself.

Pakistan may be facing the most decisive moment of its survival. The persecution and killing of Muslims by other Muslims on supposed religious grounds has reached horrifying levels. Terrorist and sectarian violence, targeting both the powerful and the powerless, spearheaded by groups such as the Tehrik–e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), has created havoc. Both groups are part of an even larger network that includes the Islamist sectarian militias in the country, hard-line activists in Pakistan’s mainstream Islamist political parties and organisations, and sympathisers in government institutions and across social classes. Sufi Islam has given way to Wahabi bigotry as the country has become increasingly intolerant and de-secularised, allowing obscurantism to prosper.

The culture of militancy in Pakistan largely stems from the extreme hard-line Islamic ideologies practised in Pakistan for decades, with full acceptance and participation of Pakistani civil society in general. Extremism has been boosted by the ever-present religious hysteria nurtured by the largely Punjabi feudal-military-bureaucratic oligarchy, from the country’s very inception. Punjab ‘the sword arm of Pakistan’ and ‘the bastion of Pakistan ideology’ (Stephen Cohen) has become the epicenter of regional extremism. Pakistan’s present state is a warning and example for any nation that fails in the separation of religion and state. Throw intolerant Islam into the mix, and you have a sociological challenge: illiterate masses, like putty in the hands of mullahs, being used by a military to justify its primacy.

For Islamists or fundamentalists, the failures and shortcomings that afflict the Pakistani state and society is due to imported secular notions and practices. They regularly trumpet that Pakistan has fallen away from the authentic Islam and thus lost its direction. Their aim is to create a uniquely repressive society where regular citizens have few rights, speech and thoughts is restricted by both government and the Sunni Deobandi religious order, and repression against women. The views of the few modernists or reformers in society, who see the inflexibility and ubiquity of the Islamic clergy, as the main cause of the country’s backwardness, are easily drowned out.

What has also not helped is the country’s dismal record in three main areas: military, economic, and political, which has been, to say the least, disappointing. The quest for victory by the military has brought a series of humiliating defeats. The quest for prosperity through development brought in an impoverished and corrupt economy in recurring need of external aid. For the mostly oppressive but ineffectual governments and dictatorships that have ruled Pakistan, finding targets to blame serves a useful, indeed an essential, purpose, to explain the poverty that they have failed to alleviate and to justify the tyranny that they have introduced. They have chosen to deflect the mounting anger of the unhappy populace toward other, outside targets such as the country being a victim of the regional-global power politics since its creation.

If Pakistan continues on its present suicidal path, there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression, culminating sooner or later in the country’s disintegration. But even today, despite the murder and mayhem, not all in Pakistan seem convinced that confronting the jihadist movement is an urgent need for Pakistan’s survival as a democratic country. For some hard-line nationalists, and even some progressives defying the US imperialist agenda in the region takes precedence, and the external pressure to defeat the Islamists is to be resisted. Among the more pragmatic, the view is that Pakistan should accommodate the world, but without directly confronting the jihadist groups. It seems as if society is fine being permanently hijacked by forces of obscurantism.

It will be very difficult if not impossible to reverse the national downslide that Pakistan seems to have chosen for itself. To truly confront the extremist threat, the first challenge is for Pakistanis to agree that they want to live in a modern, democratic and plural society. To achieve this goal, the jihadi movement will have to be faced and overcome, by overwhelming force if necessary. It will also require a carefully planned and methodically executed programme of reform aimed at removing the root causes of the proliferation of violence in society, and improvement in the investigative, preventive, and prosecution capabilities of security and intelligence agencies, and the administration of justice. 

In addition, the state will have to re-tool its policies towards representing all the people who live in the country, and, not identify itself with any particular section of the population. Finally, the democratic political process has acted as a bulwark against the spread of militant fundamentalism among the populace, despite their increasing alienation from state system. The populace must be encouraged to articulate their demands through the major mainstream political parties. Put simply, to effectively meet the Islamist challenge, the Pakistani state and society must finally accept and fully exercise its responsibility to maintain peace, provide justice, foster democracy and participation, and make available in an equitable manner the resources necessary for economic and social development. Pakistan’s neighbours and the world will need to help.

 By Saad Hafiz

The writer can be reached at shgcci@gmail.com

Daily Times

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