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DAWN Editorials – 19th May 2016

N-weapons build-up in South Asia

NEW submarines, missile defence and now a missile test — India’s breakneck acquisition and development of nuclear weapons systems and platforms are thoroughly alarming and wholly unwelcome.

Already Pakistani officials have warned that the Indian moves are threatening to change the military balance of power regionally and implied that a Pakistani response is all but inevitable.

Good sense and a more comprehensive understanding of national security appear to be falling victim to narrow, militaristic views of security once again, on both sides of the border.

With Pakistan having officially adopted so-called full-spectrum deterrence — itself a reaction to India’s Cold Start doctrine and long-range missile threat — the response to missile defence and nuclear submarines is likely to further complicate the nuclear equation in South Asia.

For India, which is using its strong economic growth as a springboard for massive military outlays, the fiscal logic to avoid an arms race may not be as compelling as it is for Pakistan.

But nuclear strategies need to remain rational, especially if the purported enemy sits right on a lengthy shared border.

Consider the case against missile defence, a fanciful, wildly expensive project that is of dubious deterrent value.

If India does somehow manage to develop and deploy a working missile defence model, Pakistan will have the option of trying to overwhelm the missile defence system with many more nuclear-armed missiles of its own.

That would mean a significantly more nuclearised South Asia.

Adding to the danger is the short flight time between India and Pakistan for missiles — an accidental or mistaken launch of the missile defence system by India could be misunderstood by Pakistani officials as a nuclear attack, and South Asia could in an instant be on the verge of the unthinkable.

Not every military or nuclear development is worth the price — even if India believes it can afford the price tag.

For Pakistan, the ever more exotic realm of nuclear strategy that the country is finding itself pulled into poses real questions about sustainability and desirability.

Second-strike capabilities such as nuclear-armed submarines are prohibitively expensive and pose a host of new challenges.

On submarines, separating warheads from missiles — as Pakistan is believed to do with its nuclear arsenal — becomes more problematic.

Furthermore, new safety, security and chain-of-command issues would come into play.

As for missile defence or missiles with multiple warheads to confuse or overwhelm missile defence systems, they are simply not in the realm of contemplation given the size of GDP and the resource crunch.

Meanwhile, an ever-closer military relationship with China, for example, could have all manner of unforeseen consequences for regional and global stability.

Pakistan is right when it insists that all disputes and issues with India should be resolved through dialogue.

Perhaps now is the time for India to demonstrate a real commitment to dialogue and help prevent South Asia from hurtling over the precipice.

CPEC coal project

THE decision by a Chinese sponsor to withdraw from a coal-based power project in Punjab reminds us of two crucial facts. First, the investments arriving in Pakistan under the CPEC bouquet are entirely commercial; they come on a profit basis and are not exactly the ‘gift horse’ they are sometimes referred to as. Second, at least in some respects, the government’s much-vaunted push towards coal as the fuel of choice for Pakistan’s power generation could have been conceived in haste. The sponsor in this case is the China Machinery Engineering Corporation, and the project is a 330MW coal-mining and power-generation venture near Pind Dadan Khan in the Salt Range, Punjab. When CMEC applied for a tariff determination back in January of 2015, the total project outlay was $589m, translating into per megawatt CAPEX cost almost 15pc higher than that of Thar coal, even though this project is nowhere near as remotely located. CMEC claimed that the coal in the Salt Range had higher ash and sulphur content, the seam was far thinner, and its transport from the various locations where it would be mined added to the cost.

The Planning Commission and Nepra both opposed the higher project cost, and rightly so. CMEC asked for a levelised tariff of 11.67 US cents (brought down from 12.4 due to an error in calculation spotted by Nepra), compared with 8.5 cents for Thar projects in the 330MW range. The difference is wide and if it cannot be bridged it is better to let the sponsor walk. Locating a coal-mining and power-generation project in the Salt Range, given the peculiarities of the coal and issues with water availability, appears to be a problematic proposition to begin with. In fact, one wonders how much thought went into the decision to include this initiative on the list of ‘actively promoted’ ventures under the CPEC umbrella in November 2014. This is also a good time to remind ourselves that these Chinese power-sector projects carry lucrative commercial terms for the sponsors with an equity IRR of 20pc built into the tariff structure. Loans are to be taken from Chinese banks, serviced at 4.5pc above six-month LIBOR, with Sinosure fee of 7pc on top, and the funds used to purchase Chinese technology to be installed by Chinese labour. With these terms, the projects deserve careful vetting before they are approved.

Protecting women

PUNJAB appears to be leading the way in putting concepts of women’s protection into actual practice. In February, its provincial assembly had passed the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act, 2015. In many ways, this is perhaps the most comprehensive legislation on the subject because it also takes into account cultural realities that make women doubly vulnerable in this society and stipulates measures to address them. Then, on Tuesday, the Punjab chief minister directed the province’s top police official to create the post of DIG women protection — to which a woman will be appointed and which will be under the IGP’s direct command — and depute women superintendents at the Violence Against Women Centres in order to implement the aforementioned legislation.

It is encouraging that not only has the Punjab government resisted the pressure from religious parties to roll back or modify the Women’s Protection Act, but has seen fit to take follow-up steps fairly quickly. Many a good law on our statute books has been unable to make any impact because of lack of implementation. The domestic violence legislation in Sindh and Balochistan, passed in 2013 and 2014 respectively, is a case in point. In fact, where setting up implementing mechanisms is concerned, laws pertaining to violence against women or to cultural practices that violate women’s rights are particularly prone to foot-dragging. There is simply not enough enthusiasm within the relevant political circles or the bureaucracy — both of them overwhelmingly male — to change a status quo so skewed in their favour. The VAWCs are the linchpin of the Women’s Protection Act, containing under one roof all the facilities required to deal with cases of gender-based violence from initial reporting all the way up to post-trauma rehabilitation. Appointing a senior woman police officer specifically to head them, and giving her the requisite powers to do so effectively, makes eminent sense. Care must be taken, however, that these centres retain their specialised purpose and do not become an extension of women’s police stations.

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