The right response to Mumbai
Beyond the anguish of the present tragedy and beyond the shared humanitarian grief is the undiminished responsibility to address the tangled problems. Hard as it may sound the process has to be sustained despite the occa- sional setback of the kind that we have just witnessed in Mumbai. The moral of the grisly tale is to redouble the effort to make the cur- rent dialogue more productive.
By Tanvir Ahmad Khan
AS the death toll in the latest terrorist atrocity in Mumbai rises to almost equal the number of victims in an earlier terrorist attack on the city in March 1993, speculation about the identity and motives of the perpetrators of the outrage also multiplies. In the absence of a definitive opinion from the investigating and law enforcement agencies (other than the names of two suspects), initial comments reveal a tendency to use a great human tragedy to reinforce existing biases.
While it is entirely possible that this preconceived global explanation of violence gets substantiated by subsequent findings in Mumbai’s case, there is also a clear danger that it would blur an equally important focus on specific factors that are increasingly threatening the states and societies of South Asia, factors that urgently demand a collective approach by them.
The generalisation that clouds the horizon most is that of a global war on terrorism which in practice closely follows the contours of the construct known as the clash of civilisations. The enemy is the shadowy jihadist drawing inspiration and resources from an elusive organisation called Al Qaeda. In a media driven world, he provides the instant focus for every act of wanton terror anywhere in the world. He is the perfect reason to see a Manichean divide across the entire globe. He is also the alibi for an honest and intensive analysis of a particular situation.
Trying to cope with a heart-rending event that has taken more than 200 innocent lives in Mumbai, India showed restraint in attributing it to any specific organisation without further proof. But within minutes of the deadly explosions, major international media outlets were trying to link them to global Islamic militancy and, in particular, to Lashkar-i-Taiba which in turn was traced to Pakistan. When the Lashkar and Hizbul Mujahideen issued a firm denial, the allegation was implicitly sustained by pointing out that they never accept responsibility for terrorist acts. It was repeatedly argued that the bombing was carried out with an efficiency that could come only from a well established network of terror or a foreign intelligence service.
The royalist Iranian emigre, Amir Taheri, who is part of a prolific group engaged by the pro-conservative Benador Associates to conduct polemics against what he calls “the Islamist international of terror” rushed to the press to surmise amongst other things that the Mumbai mayhem might have been timed to coincide with this weekend’s G-8 summit in St. Petersburg where India would be a guest. A particularly wild stream-of-consciousness kind of analysis that washes away all canons of rigorous intellect is often used in the hope that it would help President Bush maintain his crusade in the midst of plummeting approval rates in the United States and justify the staggering simplicities of the terror war.
Notwithstanding the categorical condemnation by the highest leaders of Pakistan of the murderous assault on Mumbai, a major theme has been whether the Indian government would be able to continue the ongoing dialogue with Pakistan. At a time when the so called composite dialogue is already losing momentum, it is being suggested that the meeting of the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan scheduled for July 22 may be a casualty of the Mumbai tragedy.
That this meeting becomes all the more necessary if there are any misgivings about the international links of the Mumbai miscreants is hardly being mentioned. If there are rogue elements out to wreck the IndiaPakistan peace process, the two governments clearly need to identify them for a well-coordinated response. There would not be a better gift for these elements than putting bilateral consultations on hold.
It is as difficult to rule out an “Islamist” connection at the moment as it is to assume it uncritically and with nothing better than vague circumstantial evidence. Dragging the Indian Muslims, who would be taking the same trains of Mumbai’s western line as the followers of other faiths, into the fray was particularly sinister as the communal situation in this part of India has not exactly returned to normal after the Gujrat killings. The allegations in the past against the Students Islamic Movement have been intangible and inconclusive and a knee jerk effort to weave a story that knits it, the Lashkar and Pakistan together is a cause of concern.
Not very long ago I wrote about the growing incidence of political violence in South Asia in this column. Islam certainly did not provide a common matrix for this disturbing trend noticeable in virtually every regional state. Sri Lanka, India, Nepal and Pakistan were the obvious cases where one would have to go far beyond America’s war on terrorism to understand the stresses and strains exploding into insurgencies of one kind or another.
Obviously, the nation-building processes of the last 60 years have had some inherent flaws that fuel these fires. Then there is the inevitable cost of opening up to the global economy to achieve and sustain high growth rates — the infamous downside of globalisation; all over South Asia an under class is seething with anger at the widening social disparities. The situation demands honest introspection as well as a closer democratic interaction between the people and the ruling elites.
Insofar as the infrastructure of violence seems to acquire a general trans-national South Asian operational capability, the states of the region will have to develop a much higher degree of mutual trust and cooperation than available at the moment.
The Indian foreign office reacted sharply to Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s first comment on the Mumbai tragedy. Some outside commentators also found the reference to a settlement of the Kashmir dispute “distasteful”. Perhaps Mr Kasuri should have shown greater tact. He might have forgotten for a moment that it is an unwritten convention of the present war on terror that the barbarity of the day be detached from its historical context.
The images of horror that go round the globe in real time are supposed to align public outrage with purely militaristic solutions now underway and not invite attention to a chain of causes and effects. The militants in Palestine or Iraq attack “liberty” and “our way of life” as President Bush would immediately proclaim; they blow themselves and others up as they are driven by primeval evil and not by the desire to shake off foreign occupation. For once the very fashionable Mr Kasuri was being unfashionable; he referred to the underlying causes of the malaise in our region.
The sanctity and sensitivity of the occasion apart, India like neighbouring states has serious problems to resolve. Though more successful than in other South Asian states, federalism in India has yet to find a satisfactory solution of the northeastern provinces. Significantly, different rates of growth between clusters of states and growing inequalities even within the same state enable Indian Maoists to commit acts of lawlessness in more than one hundred districts of India.
Despite noticeable improvement on yesteryear, communalism still ranks among the causes of violence and discrimination in Indian society. When it comes to Kashmir, the Indian state is no more imaginative today than it was a decade ago. None of this should bring any joy to a Pakistani or a Bangladeshi. For their future progress and prosperity, the states of South Asia are more interdependent than they care to admit.
Not all of Pakistan’s current troubles are the consequence of exposure to Al Qaeda though there is little doubt that an excessive use of force to satisfy the insatiable demand from Washington to produce better statistics has exacerbated the situation. Be that as it may, there are explo sive ethnic and tribal issues that get aggravated because of an imbalance between the military policy and corrective action in the political and economic domain. There is also widespread fear in Pakistan that India is creating an infrastructure of terror in Afghanistan to squeeze Pakistan in the transIndus provinces. Sri Lanka went through a period of negative attention from Tamil Nadu and New Delhi.
The effects were so devastating that long after that interventionist policy was replaced with a more benign interest in the island, there is no clear roadmap to stability. Nepal has gone through a revolutionary shift of power but it still faces the daunting task of writing a constitution that would bring the youthful Maoists into mainstream politics for all times to come.
Pakistan wants to be a frontline state in the war against terrorism. India is keen to be a partner of the United States in managing the world. Part of the price the two countries pay is to accept a facile explanation of our time of troubles against our better knowledge of the real dynamics at work. India and Pakistan must act as the vanguard of a South Asian march to genuine regionalism. There has to be a consensus on the causes of instability, be it religious bigotry, ethnicity or the hitherto intractable issues left behind by the withdrawal of paramount alien powers nearly six decades ago.
Beyond the anguish of the present tragedy and beyond the shared humanitarian grief is the undiminished responsibility to address these tangled problems. Hard as it may sound the process has to be sustained despite the occasional setback of the kind that we have just witnessed in Mumbai. The moral of the grisly tale is to redouble the effort to make the current dialogue more productive. The modest gains made so far should not be lost in mutual recriminations but should become the cornerstone of an imposing edifice of regional cooperation. The writer is a former foreign secretary.
Effects of 9/11 on Pakistan
By Javed Rana
ALMOST five years after 9/11, the scars of the American-led war on terror are fast becoming visible in Pakistan. Backlash from Pakistan’s over-generous support to the US has radicalised society and placed the nation on an uncharted political course.
With damage control measures yet to be implemented, the prospect of unifying the different factions of society remains dim. International and regional events have been shaped by a strong reaction to the so-called war on terror which is now driving Pakistani youth to give up their lives for the “greater cause of jihad”.
Contrary to western reports, most militants are not madressah students. Unfortunately, the western media has as usual resorted to stereotyping nations and individuals, giving rise to the misleading belief that every act of terror is masterminded by a Taliban or mullah. But the reality is quite different.
In late 2005, the interior ministry compiled an investigative report on the identity of suicide bombers in Pakistan. The report reveals that 9/11 produced 22 suicide bombers. Of these, only three were madressah students. The rest were ordinary youngsters who had joined militant outfits, and who subsequently went on to target western interests and mosques of rival minorities including the Shia community. Unofficial figures of homegrown suicide bombers have now risen to as many as 30.
The pre-9/11 era spanning more than 50 years in Pakistan saw hardly any suicide bombers. But in a matter of just five years, 30 cases of suicide attacks were recorded in Pakistan. One of the reasons for this is that the government has opted for a secretive modus operandi instead of pursuing a genuine and transparent long-term strategy with regard to the US-led anti-terror campaign that is undermining the country’s sovereignty.
There has been a 10 per cent increase in the enrolment of welloff educated students in madressahs. Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who heads the second largest madressah network in Pakistan, says that highly qualified youngsters are approaching the religious scholars to know more about jihad.
Hundreds of suspected militants have been detained without any charge. Their families have not been informed about their whereabouts. Many Pakistanis were handed over to the US clandestinely on unproven charges of connections with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This has generated a wave of public sympathy for them. This means that there are more minds that accept suicide bombings. Many young men who are no strangers to images of destruction and who have been brushed aside by their own undemocratic regime are willing to become suicide bombers.
Internet and the comprehensive coverage of world events by the international media have raised the level of political awareness. The media provides youngsters with graphic text, videos and images of US carpet bombings and air raids in Afghanistan and Iraq. They see the devastation and humiliation wreaked on ordinary Muslims including those who have suffered physical and mental agony at the hands of US forces in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay. These images are not easily forgotten and remain etched on the minds of hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world silently watching the rape of Muslim nations by the world’s lone superpower.
The question is where these frustrated youngsters will end up in their effort to participate in what they view as a jihad. Obviously, their prime targets are western interests to which the general public in Pakistan may not object given the growing anti-American wave in the country and elsewhere in the Muslim world. But at the same time, this unbridled lot is vulnerable to misuse by powerful unscrupulous elements for suicide targets against different Islamic sects. These targets are no longer restricted to the Shia community. The recent bombing in Nishtar Park in Karachi has sowed sufficient seeds of enmity within major schools of thoughts among Sunnis.
Another part of the problem is the frequent compromises the government makes with regard to Pakistan’s sovereignty. There have been incidents of direct commando operations by the FBI that has whisked away citizens in league with Pakistani security agencies. Similarly, repeated incursions of US forces in the bordering northwestern region with Afghanistan have incensed tribesmen who see the Pakistan army as an extension of US forces on the other side of the border.
So far, armed militants have ambushed and killed over 650 Pakistani soldiers in North and South Waziristan region since 9/11. Within the last two months, over a dozen security officials have been killed in suicide attacks, a level of violence never witnessed in the tribal belt before.
Lack of democracy, institutional instability and the resultant breach of sovereignty have compounded the problem.
While our rulers may finally be trying to navigate a new course and exploring strategic options including looking for more reliable allies, tackling domestic problems might prove a far more difficult exercise.
The government lacks a political and democratic face to effectively achieve its long-term vital geo-strategic interest. Strategic goals might turn out to be shortterm tactical policy arrangements if the people continue to feel insecure over the infringement of their rights as citizens of a sovereign state. firstname.lastname@example.org
If exports must increase
EXPORTS for the last financial year are now estimated at $16.4 billion against a $17 billion target. Normally, such a shortfall should not be a cause for concern. But given the unsustainable trend in foreign trade, with exports outpaced by a massive rise in imports, the issue has become worrisome. Two areas of major concern surfaced last year. Growth slowed down from 20.9 per cent during July 2005-January 2006 to an average monthly rate of 10.5 per cent in February-May 2006.This sharp decline has also caused the trade deficit to surge to about $11 billion. Despite the doubling of export earnings over the past seven years, the export-GDP ratio is at a low 13 per cent and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz wants it to be raised to 15 per cent. All this requires the policymakers to reappraise their strategy for exports whose growth is also subject to structural and cyclical factors. The withdrawal of the textile quota from January 1, 2005, has turned Europe and the United States into a saturated buyers’ market. Although textiles contributed over 61.4 per cent of the increase in exports last year, nearly 90 per cent of it was on account of the higher quantity of products. Exports have been hit by a falling unit value of key commodities.
Affected by the rising production costs and falling prices in western markets, the textile industry is seeking tax cuts, reduction in interest rates, subsidised gas and devaluation of the rupee to help exporters compete with India, China and Bangladesh. While the government has set up a task force to look into these issues, the State Bank has responded by cutting export finance from nine to 7.5 per cent. Pledging a fresh investment of some $7.75 billion over the next five years, the industry is looking forward to a relief package of some Rs50 billion. While the legitimacy of the source of the demands of the export-oriented industries cannot be denied, the government is not in a position to take on a substantial burden at this point in time. The long-term solution lies in improving entrepreneurial and workers’ skills to manufacture more value-added and quality products at competitive prices. Of course, the government also needs to try harder to provide them better access to foreign markets which are often restricted by anti-dumping duties or such developments as the loss of GSP benefits for textile exports to the EU. But experience shows that a stable exchange rate has helped boost exports more effectively than the heavy doses of devaluation which made the cost of investment in modernising the economy prohibitive.
As the prime minister has pointed out, there is a strong need to diversify exports. About 75 per cent of earnings come from five items: cotton and synthetic textiles, rice, leather and sports goods and 50 per cent of the export are accounted for by seven countries. The key issue facing exports is the production of export surpluses by diversifying the production base and improving industrial efficiency to manufacture valueadded and quality goods at competitive prices for traditional and new markets. It is the job of the government to provide access to world markets, but it is for the industry to evolve effective market strategies and adopt aggressive salesmanship to boost exports. One hopes that the trade policy to be announced today will be part of a longterm strategy to make the economy more competitive so that it can face global challenges.
Pakistan’s politics: need for balance
By Shahid M. Amin
IT seems that a culture of cynicism and disenchantment has developed in Pakistan over a period of time. One finds a great many people who are highly critical of practically everything they see around them. They believe that the Pakistani leaders are despotic and corrupt; our body politic is highly defective; all elections are fraudulent; the army, feudal families and the civil bureaucracy dominate public life; our economy is in a shambles; nothing works the way it should; and the country is going down in every possible way.
They also allege that political changes in the country are manipulated by the US; and our rulers take orders from Washington. Adverse compar isons are drawn with India and other countries. All of this inevitably creates a feeling of despondency and frustration that can only have long-term, deleterious effects for the country’s future.
Much of this criticism is politically motivated. Those out of power feel frustrated at their loss of perks and privileges. They seek to build up public discontent against the rulers by painting a totally negative picture of all developments. Their purpose is to stir up a countrywide agitation and secure a change of regime. These tactics did succeed in bringing down Ayub Khan and Bhutto.
Similarly, when Benazir was in power, Nawaz Sharif and others in opposition resorted to such tactics, and when Nawaz was in power, Benazir carried out a similar campaign. Ironically enough, even when such tactics succeeded, the new rulers soon found out that their opponents were resorting to the very same campaign of denigration and disinformation against them.
The present situation in Pakistan is no different. The opposition parties have been carrying on an intense negative campaign against President Pervez Musharraf. However, it is almost certain that if he goes and is replaced by either Nawaz or Benazir, or anyone else, the same vicious cycle will continue.
Apart from those who have political axes of their own to grind, such negative criticism also comes from some intellectuals who evidently think that taking pride in the country and its achievements is a sign of naivete and narrowmindedness. While they may be right in rejecting blind patriotism, which is the other side of the pendulum, the running down of the country merely to prove one’s objectivity of approach, is no less unfortunate. Then, there are some in our news media who think that the function of journalism is only to highlight the bad points of the government and society. There is the story of a journalist who came back to Pakistan after working abroad. He wrote several good stories but the editor kept rejecting them. On enquiry, he was told that in Pakistan only negative stories sell in the newspapers as the public is much more interested to read about wrongdoings, scams and scandals. Articles that give a positive account of events attract little public interest.
No doubt, there is much that is wrong with our society and with our governments. In particular, the cancer of corruption has grown over the years. Despite periodic purges, which are more often politically motivated, no government has been able to curb this menace. The law and order situation has also deteriorated over the years. The problems of unemployment and inflation badly hurt the poor. Illiteracy and social evils add to our woes. There are so may other problems as well.
However, while pointing out the defects in our society is a public service, an obsessive concentration on the bad points alone creates a distorted picture and leads to national demoralisation and despair. Clearly, there is need for a balanced and realistic approach but, hopefully, one with a soft corner for the country that has given us our national identity and so much else.
One way to judge matters in perspective is to evaluate the overall situation in Pakistan as compared to other countries in similar circumstances. Having spent nearly forty years in the foreign service and seen conditions in many parts of the world, one is perhaps in a position to make some comparisons. In all fairness, it must be said that Pakistan is a much more developed and far-better governed country than so many others around the world. In many Third World countries that gained freedom in the last 50 years or so, things have gone backward rather than forward since independence from colonial rule. For instance, in Zaire, there were 6,000 kilometres of metalled road at the time of independence that was down to 500 km, thirty years later.
Most of the Third World countries lack the basic infrastructure: roads, hospitals, schools, and amenities. Their shops are empty and hardly anything is available. Their system of government is despotic or dynastic, with scant regard for human rights.
In Pakistan, we have our problems and limitations, but we are still much better off than many comparable countries. Living standards in Pakistan today are definitely better than what they were in 1947 and this applies to the poorer sections of society as well. At the time of independence, the typical poor family had neither electricity nor running water, whereas these facilities are taken for granted today. Even the poorest people in Pakistan wear shoes and clothes and many possess watches, radios and even cell phones.
On the other hand, when I was posted in India in the late 1970s, I saw thousands of semi-naked, skeleton-like, poor people sleeping daily on footpaths. The conditions in Africa below the Sahara are far worse. That kind of abject poverty has never been seen in Pakistan.
From being a producer of raw materials at the time of independence, we are a mediumsized industrial power today. We have always had a higher per capita income than in India and most other countries in our region. In the 1960s, Pakistan was being cited as a model for development in the Third World. In the 1980s, the growth rate was well over six per cent, and it has been even higher in the last four years. In fact, it was India that took a cue from Pakistan in the 1990s and liberalised its economy and, since, then, its economic growth has picked up.
Our agriculture has done well. The main crops (wheat, rice, cot ton, sugarcane) have more than quadrupled their production since independence. Our textile industry occupies a leading place in the world. Pakistani exports have gone up from less than one billion dollars in 1971 to nearly 17 billion dollars today.
Availability of goods, even in the remotest parts of Pakistan, is quite remarkable. The number of universities in Pakistan today and the annual output of scientists, engineers and doctors is many times more than in 1947. Pakistan is the only Islamic state to have become a nuclear power.
In fact, it is the unchecked growth of population that has eaten up much of our progress. The population was around 35 million in 1947 and is about 160 million today. Unless this fundamental problem is tackled, our woes will continue. Unfortunately, some of our religious leaders and parties seem totally blind to the compelling need to tackle this problem.
Many critics lament the imposition of dictatorship in Pakistan under one regime or another. Of course, oppressive rule in any form must be condemned. But dictators come in different hues. No dictatorial regime in Pakistan has ever killed thousands of people, like what happened in so many other countries. In the Soviet Union, millions were killed, tortured and sent into exile by Stalin. Even as late as the 1980s, when I served as Ambassador in Moscow, there was total censorship and a Soviet citizen needed a visa to travel from one city to another. Owning a cyclostyling machine was a punishable offence. There could be no expression of dissent.
Strikes were not allowed in the country that was supposed to be ruled by the workers. ‘Big brother’ was always watching. Once, my young children missed their transport from school and started to walk home and were thought to be lost. While efforts were being made to locate them, my Russian driver assured me, “Do not worry, no one ever goes missing in our country, as our authorities keep a watch over everybody!” In Pakistan, we have never had this kind of dictatorial rule.
The brutalities of Pol Pot in Kampuchea and Saddam Hussein in Iraq have been well documented. They killed and tortured thousands of their countrymen. In Iraq, it was not uncommon to punish a critic of the regime by cutting off his tongue and tying him to a lamppost in the street where he would bleed to death.
Along with these brutalities, there was the cult of personality. From the kindergarten onwards, children were taught to love Saddam who was considered infallible.
This kind of personality cult has also been seen in several other countries including Libya where Qadhafi has ruled with an iron hand for over three decades. No Pakistani dictator ever built any such cult of personality and our school children have never sung praises for the ruler.
President Musharraf is the fourth military chief to rule Pakistan. Though he seized power through a coup d’etat, and ruled with dictatorial powers till 2002, it is noteworthy that the amount of freedom enjoyed by the Pakistani news media during his rule has never before been seen in this country. The opposition political parties have functioned freely. Pakistani women have had far greater participation in public life than ever before. The local self-government institutions are also much more vibrant today than in the past.
(To be concluded) The writer is a former ambassador.