Pakistan transfers strategic Gwadar port to China

Sampath Perera

On February 18, the Pakistani government transferred operational control of its strategically-located deep-sea port at Gwadar, Balochistan province to China. India, a rival of Pakistan and of China, has expressed concerns over the deal—highlighting the increasingly complex geo-political rivalries stoked by the Obama administration’s policy of “pivot” to Asia.

Gwadar is situated on the Arabian Sea, just 180 nautical miles (330 kilometres) from the Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of the world’s oil supply passes. It offers a prime location to monitor shipping passing through the Strait of Hormuz from the Persian Gulf, as well as access to cheap land routes or Middle East trade through Pakistan into western China and Central Asia.

The agreement to transfer the port to the state-owned China Overseas Port Holding Company was signed in a ceremony attended by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, several ministers, and Chinese Ambassador Liu Jian. The previous operator, the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), withdrew after Islamabad refused to provide large land allotments the PSA wanted for development work around the port.

Seven million without shelter months after Pakistan floods

Sampath Perera

"With much fanfare, the Obama administration has pledged several hundreds of millions of dollars in flood aid to Pakistan."

Seven of the 21 million Pakistanis affected by this summer’s floods are still without shelter, the United Nation’s Pakistan Office reported this week. And an estimated 14 million continue to need urgent humanitarian assistance.

These figures are an indictment of the Pakistan ruling elite’s incompetently organized and poorly funded flood relief effort.

They also are an indictment of the imperialist powers. Under conditions where Pakistan has faced what the UN has repeatedly described as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in decades, the agency has repeatedly had to plead for the “international community” to come to assist Pakistan.

The western-dominated IMF and World Bank have tied flood aid to their demand for Pakistan to implement market reforms. Washington, meanwhile, has intensified its pressure on Pakistan to expand its counter-insurgency war against Taliban-aligned groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Pakistan’s floods began with heavy rains in the country’s north-east in late July and continued as the water travelled the length of the Indus Valley over the next two months. More people were displaced in Sindh, the country’s southern-most province, than anywhere else, although authorities had weeks of warning about the impending floods. The vast majority of those now lacking shelter are from Sindh.

According to the Government of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority the floods killed 1,961 people. But these figures could still rise sharply due to the spread of disease in relief camps, inadequate food aid, and the disruption of the country’s food supply.

IMF demands blood from flood-ravaged Pakistan

Sampath Perera

"The floodwaters that are ravaging the lives of millions of Pakistanis have also provided a searing exposure of the incompetence, indifference and corruption of the government and of the ruling elite as a whole, further stoking elite apprehension of a social upheaval. But just as the Pakistani elite, in pursuit of its mercenary alliance with US imperialism, has been ready to plunge much of the country into civil war, so it will buckle under to the pressure of the IMF and World Bank and implement socially incendiary economic reforms in the months ahead."

Callously exploiting the humanitarian disaster caused by six weeks of flooding, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is spurning Pakistan’s pleas for the release of funds under a 2008 loan agreement until Islamabad implements wrenching policy changes—changes that will further squeeze the incomes of the country’s impoverished toilers.

Earlier this summer Pakistan was due to receive a $1.3 billion tranche from an IMF loan of $11.3 billion. But the IMF delayed release of the funds after Islamabad failed to meet various IMF performance targets.

Since then, more than 20 million people and 79 of Pakistan’s 124 administrative districts have been affected by the Indus Valley floods.

The current government death toll of around 1,700 is low in comparison with the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and last January’s Haitian earthquake. But millions of hungry, homeless people remain at risk from disease and in many other respects the catastrophe in Pakistan dwarfs these tragedies.

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