South Asian Nations Sign Free Trade Pact

In January, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka signed a free trade zone agreement that will start to bring trade barriers between those countries down beginning in 2006.

The agreement calls on the most developed of these countries — Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka — to virtually eliminate tariffs with the other countries by 2013, but gives the other countries until 2016 to lower their tariffs. There is, however, a provision that allows countries to maintain a list of “sensitive” products on which tariffs can be maintained.

Beyond advancing the cause of free trade, the real importance of this pat is the shot in the arm it could give to trade between Pakistan and India. Currently, trade between the two rivals is estimated at about $1.5 billion. That could double under the free trade regimen. And, of course, the more the two countries become economically intertwined, the higher the cost (and hence, the lower the risk) of war between them.

According to the BBC, there are now more than 200 regional free trade agreements.


South Asia ‘agrees to free trade’. The BBC, January 2, 2004.

South Asia signs free trade pact. Reuters, January 6, 2004.

Woman Drug Trafficker Sentenced to Death in Pakistan

Nigerian citizen Osfatu Bose Oweiye was sentenced to death in Pakistan in May after being convicted of heading up a heroin smuggling ring in that country.

Oweiye was arrested in 1999 in connection with a drug bust that turned up 20 kilograms of heroin in a Lahore hotel room. Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force argued that Oweiye headed up a drug-trafficking ring that included at least five other individuals.

The heroin was going to be smuggled out of Pakistan and sold in other countries. Since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, poppy production in that country has exploded, making it lucrative once again to smuggle heroin through Pakistan for distribution elsewhere in the world.


Pakistan death sentence for woman. The BBC, May 7, 2003.

Polio Cases Increase Thanks Largely to Indian Outbreak

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in April that cases of polio worldwide increased four-fold in 2002 due largely to an outbreak of the disease in India.

In 2001 there were only 483 confirmed cases of polio which shot up to 1,920 confirmed cases in polio after an outbreak in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. That was the single worst outbreak of the disease since the World Health Organization began its campaign to eradicate polio in 1988. Cases from the Indian outbreak constituted 71 percent of all polio cases in 2002.

Afghanistan, Egypt, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Somalia also reported cases of polio in 2002.


Polio cases on the increase. The BBC, April 25, 2003.

Wacky Proposal for a Rice Cartel

Sometimes there are stories which are so self-refuting that it’s hard to provide further commentary. Such is the announcement that China, India, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam are investigating ways to cartelize world rice markets. They want to do for rice what OPEC has done for oil.

Rice prices have been in free fall since 1997, losing more than a third of their value in just 5 years. World projections show rice production continuing to increase, so the price of rice is likely to fall even further over the next few years while global consumption is projected to decline.

Under those conditions a cartel is a great idea for producers, but how do they ever expect to enforce cartel agreements? OPEC has had a nightmare enforcing its cartel agreements on oil which is a relatively easy commodity to track and exclude potential competitors (not to mention monitor violators). Since rice can be grown throughout most of the world, there is almost no way cartel efforts can succeed.

Ironically, each of the governments involved has had disastrous experience with state subsidies and internal control of food markets. Apparently they believe that if they simply try the same failed policies on a bigger scale that they might finally work. Don’t bet on it.


Rice producers in ‘cartel’ talks. The BBC, October 9, 2002.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef Is Not Dead

This morning, someone pseudonymously posted a link on Seth Dillingham’s site claiming that Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef — the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan — had been tortured to death during his confinement at the Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo, Cuba.

I’d never heard this claim, before, though apparently Seth had.

The story turns out to be false. The Balochistan Post — an anti-American Pakistan-based newspaper — originally published a story in late July 2002 claiming that relatives of Zaeef said he had been tortured to death while in the custody of the Americans. This story was picked up by quite a few Middle Eastern newspapers.

But on August 5, 2002, the Balochistan Post retracted its story and admitted that Zaeef was not only alive, but had sent a letter to his family through the International Red Cross. As Seth notes, the newspapers that pick up on the Zaeef-is-dead story never bothered to pick up on the later correction, so the story has been floating around the Internet that Zaeef was tortured to death while in U.S. custody.

The Balochistan Post story should have been taken with a huge grain of salt since the BP is an extremely anti-American, pro-Islamist newspaper that doesn’t hide its agenda at all. In its Zaeef-is-dead story, this is how the PB described Zaeef’s arrest (emphasis added), “Pakistani authorities later handed him over to their masters and they bundled him to Guantanamo prison facility in Cuba along with hundreds of other Afghan, Pakistan and Arab prisoners.” Yet, this story was reported without any critical comments or analysis on a number of left wing weblogs.

World’s Outrage Directed at Pakistan Rape Case

Pakistan bore the full brunt of world outrage this month after published reports that a tribal council sentenced a 30-year-old woman to be forcibly raped by four men as punishment for her brother’s alleged affair with a woman of a higher prestige tribe.

The incident happened in the last week of June after the brother of Mukhtar Bibi was accused of carrying on an “illicit affair” with a woman of the Mastoi tribe. Bibi and her brother are from the Gujjar tribe which has a lower social standing.

A tribal court decided that as punishment, Mukhtar Bibi would be raped by four men of the Mastoi tribe. In front of hundreds of witnesses, the four men took her in to a room and raped her for more than an hour. The woman’s father tried to stop the rape, but told CNN that, “We begged for mercy in the name of God from them, but they held guns on us and so we were helpless.”

Pakistani police largely ignored the matter. Although the rape took place on June 22, it wasn’t until more than a week later that police began investigating the rape, and then only because a group of human rights lawyers all but forced them to. Pakistan’s Supreme Court was extremely critical of the local police, and promised an investigation into their inaction.

Meanwhile, two of the four men who participated in the rape have been arrested along with some members of the tribal council that passed the outrageous sentence.

Although the tribal decision was extreme even for Pakistan, women’s rights activists in Pakistan noted that such human rights violations are par for the course in a country that is often extremely hostile to women. After all, honor killing is a major problem in Pakistan and that country has sentenced more than one woman to death by stoning for adultery (although none of those sentences has been carried out yet). Human rights activist Fouizia Saeed told The BBC,

We must condemn institutional acceptance of women symbolizing honor and the routine rape and killing of women being carried out to dishonor or restore honor to families, and institutionalized violence.

This controversy is also a stark reminder of what often seems like an impassable chasm that separates Western attitudes toward women from those in countries dominated by traditionalist versions of Islam.


Police attacked in Pakistan rape case. The BBC, July 5, 2002.

Pakistan police arrest second gang rape suspect. CNN, July 6, 2002.

Protests over Pakistan gang rape. Owais Tohid, The BBC, July 3, 2002.