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Predator Wednesday, May 13, 2009 03:13 PM

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkGreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Signs of consensus[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Wednesday, 13 May, 2009[/B]

A BROAD consensus seems to be evolving though slight differences remain. The government and its security apparatus are acting decisively and appear at long last to be on the same page as to how militancy must be fought. Some reservations aside, the parliamentary opposition too has thrown its weight behind the ongoing operation. Even more importantly, it seems that those who have suffered militancy first-hand as well as the state’s response to it also want to see the Taliban defeated. The IDPs who have spoken to the media want decisive action, not half measures. As the latter is not an option, the operation must proceed until militancy is stamped out in Malakand. Once that objective is achieved — and this will take time, courage and honesty of purpose — the state’s fire-power must be directed with matching force against Taliban fighters in the tribal belt. Once peace is achieved in a particular area, rehabilitation and reconstruction work must commence forthwith.

Dissent, however, can still be heard. To its dubious credit, the Jamaat-i-Islami has made its position clear and openly opposes any military action against the Taliban. But then the Jamaat, which chose to boycott last year’s election, has no stake in the parliamentary process today. Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F is another story altogether. He is part of the ruling coalition and has a history of influencing make-or-break situations. A veteran politician, the maulana wields considerable clout in both political and religious circles. A long-time supporter of the Taliban, he recently distanced himself from the TNSM’s Sufi Mohammad when the latter announced that democracy and the higher judiciary were un-Islamic. The question now is this: where does Fazlur Rehman stand vis-à-vis the spread of militancy in Pakistan?

The maulana needs to make it clear whether he is opposed only to a military response or actually approves of the Taliban’s tactics. Before staging a walkout from the National Assembly’s special session on Monday, he stated that the current operation was “neither timely nor right”, a view not shared by the majority of parliamentarians. Even the opposition stood by the government, asking only that it be taken into greater confidence regarding the fight against militancy. And that too may have been for public consumption alone, for it is said that top opposition leaders were privately informed of the change in policy. The government, for its part, has accepted the opposition’s call for an all-parties conference to discuss the emerging situation. For the first time, it is clear that the treasury and the opposition alike believe the militants have gone too far and that our way of life is in imminent danger. The time has come for all politicians of any standing to state their case: do they support Talibanisation or wish to halt it in its tracks?

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]The national mood[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Wednesday, 13 May, 2009[/B]

PUBLIC surveys are complex instruments that need to be read carefully and interpreted cautiously. Nevertheless, they do tend to provide some useful data to assess the public mood and such is the case with the latest survey conducted by the International Republican Institute, a US-government-funded organisation committed to helping countries build the “infrastructure of democracy”. At first blush, the results suggest that the stock of President Zardari and the PPP-led government is very low, that Nawaz Sharif’s and the PML-N’s is very high, and that the people of Pakistan are committed to protecting the transition to democracy from army intervention.

However, probing deeper into the results reveals a more complex reality. Start with the civilians versus army debate. Seventy-three per cent of respondents agreed that the army should have no role in civilian government. Even more emphatic was the response to the question, “If you had a choice between a stable and prosperous Pakistan that was ruled by a military dictatorship or a democratic government that led to an unstable and insecure Pakistan, which would you choose?” Seventy-seven per cent chose a democratic government. But when asked how much control a civilian government should have over the army, only 19 per cent suggested ‘total control’; 53 per cent wanted ‘some’ civilian control. And nearly two-thirds of the respondents believed that the military should take over in an ‘emergency’ if the civilians prove too corrupt or unable to govern. Taken together, the results suggest a deep desire for the democratic project to succeed, but the army is still regarded as an institution that ought to be above civilian ‘interference’ and is in fact the defender of last resort against civilian waywardness. The framework of old is very much in place then.

Next, President Zardari and the PPP-led government. The survey was conducted from March 7-30 which coincided with the height of the political turmoil in Punjab and the judges issue. Unsurprisingly, the PPP was given very low marks (nine per cent believed President Zardari was the person to address Pakistan’s problems most effectively; and a mere 17 per cent said they would vote for the PPP in a national election). Nawaz Sharif’s and the PML-N’s ratings were stratospheric. But more than politics or terrorism, it was the handling of economic issues that concerned people (44 per cent claimed they would vote for the PPP if it reduced inflation and unemployment). The message to the government: it’s the economy, stupid.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]How can the show go on?[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Wednesday, 13 May, 2009[/B]

THERE was a time when those oppressed by the summer heat would find ready refuge in the air-conditioned cinema halls. We are long past that era of languid pleasure-seeking. First the cinema houses gave way to commercial plazas as well as to commercial theatre in places, and now we learn that even these stage plays are finding it difficult to sustain themselves. Yesterday’s report in Dawn about stage plays in Lahore indicates just how difficult it has become for those associated with theatre to keep the show going. Quality is said to be an issue. Quantity, where half-a-dozen plays compete for audiences everyday in Lahore alone, could also be a problem. The report points out just how repetitive theatre performances can be. But quality, quantity and repetition have never deterred performers of a particular brand of theatre that has been going in the city for long. For the last many decades, all the audiences have been expecting from stage actors is a mix of tickling stand-up jokes and, perhaps, a revealing peep. It could be that they are fed up and want the performers to do ‘better’ instead of being content with ‘more’ of the same. While they are fully justified in asking for improved security at the venue of stage plays given the circumstances, theatre producers need to do some introspection, and fast. The uneasy feeling is that popular theatre may be treading the same course as that taken earlier by the local film industry and that leads to oblivion.

Two standard explanations for the dearth of audiences are that either the enthusiasts are not earning as much as they were before or that they feel insecure inside a theatre hall. A seat which would previously fetch Rs2000 is going these days for as little as Rs300. The producers of stage plays have asked the Punjab government to take steps to ensure the safety of audiences. Their case is lost under a pile of other urgent matters. At present, the government is, as always, occupied with ‘bigger’ issues to give side shows like the show business the attention they deserve.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]OTHER VOICES -Eurapean Press MPs’ expenses[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Wednesday, 13 May, 2009[/B]


WHEN The Daily Telegraph began its series of revelations about MPs’ scandalous expenses claims, we promised that our investigation would extend to the opposition as well as to ministers and Labour back-benchers. We have been as good as our word. Leading Conservatives are today revealed to have mounted highly questionable raids on the public purse, “flipping” their properties to claim more than one second home allowance….

If MPs think that the nation’s anger will be calmed by plans for an independent audit of expenses, then that is further evidence of how detached from reality they are. An independent auditing body is expected to be approved by MPs today…. We hope readers will forgive the clichés, but this is too little, too late….

Popular indignation has been further stoked by the excuses politicians have offered for their greed. First, there are the notes they submitted to the fees office when asking the taxpayer to pay for home improvements that met their fussy standards….One would have thought that a couple, one of whom earns £64,700 as a politician, should be able to afford to protect themselves against dry rot. But let us suppose that many MPs are telling the truth, and that they really cannot…. If that is really the case, then we have a simple suggestion: don’t run for parliament….

That sense of vocation must be recovered. On the Labour benches, the omens are not good: ministers and MPs are scrambling desperately to escape from, rather than face up to, allegations of near-fraudulent behaviour. The slippery evasions keep coming, making matters worse. And in recent days it seems not to have occurred to a single MP involved to even consider [saying] sorry.

Now the spotlight falls on the Tories, and everyone will now understand why they have been quiet over the past few days…. The British people are waiting to see whether he goes down the same route as the prime minister and the cabinet, blaming a “system” rather than individual greed. Or will he capture the national mood, apologise and act? Unedifying as these details are, they represent an opportunity for the Tory leader to restore to parliament a more honourable ethos of public service. But he must move quickly, because public indignation is growing, not dying down. — (May 11)

Predator Thursday, May 14, 2009 08:48 AM

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkGreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]A ‘57–state solution’[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Thursday, 14 May, 2009[/B]

IN what has been one of the strongest statements by an Arab head of state in years, King Abdullah of Jordan has said a war can break out in the Middle East in 12 to 18 months if peace negotiations are delayed. In an interview with a British newspaper, the king rejected the two-state solution and, instead, spoke of a “57-state solution”. By this he meant that an Israeli pullout and a final peace agreement would lead to the recognition of the Israeli state by all Arab and Muslim states. The Jordanian monarch’s frustration with the moribund peace process is understandable. The greatest tragedy for peace was the sabotage of the Declaration of Principles signed in Washington, with US and Russia as co-sponsors, in September 1993 by Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. Hailed as the “peace of the brave” by President Bill Clinton, the accord was wrecked by subsequent Israeli prime ministers — Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon.

The Republican administration (2000-08) turned the word ‘peace’ into a joke and set new records of kowtowing to Israel. The April 2003 roadmap unveiled by George Bush was torpedoed by himself when he said a Palestinian state by 2005 was an unrealistic date. Then in November 2007, Bush organised a conference at Annapolis, where a declaration signed by him, Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert visualised the emergence of a Palestinian state by the end of 2008. Bush kept quiet when on his return home Mr Olmert said he was not bound by the Annapolis declaration. Now the world’s eyes are focused on America’s new president. Islamic countries will especially wonder whether Barack Obama will stand up to the strong Israel lobby in America and fulfil the promise he made in his inaugural address to reach out to the Muslim world. The king is himself reported to have prepared the plan which Mr Obama is to announce in his June 4 address to the Muslim world from Cairo. It remains to be seen whether the US president will be able to achieve a breakthrough and ensure an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Police under fire[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Thursday, 14 May, 2009[/B]

IT is hardly surprising that of the 532 complaints received by the Sindh Chief Minister’s Public Complaint Cell in five weeks (March to April 2009), 291 were against the police. The trust deficit between the guardians of the law and the public is quite well-known. The statistics confirm in quantitative terms how bad the situation is. The idea of having a complaint cell is a good one, since the gap between the public and its elected representatives is now so wide that extraordinary measures have to be devised to allow people an opportunity to air their grievances and get them across to a minister at the other end, who can give them a patient hearing. It is, however, equally important for this exercise to result in the creation of a fruitful mechanism to address the complaints in a satisfactory manner. Otherwise there will be more frustration.

If the police are the cause of so much public discontent it is time to focus on police reforms and analyse the factors that have led to their failure. The main complaint that has come up repeatedly is the failure of the force to register the FIR which is essential to getting the investigation and court proceedings started. There are two reasons for this flaw. The first is a dearth of men — and women — in the force for the task at hand. The fact is that given the current security concerns in the province, a sizable chunk of the police force has to be deployed to provide protection to ministers and their families, high-ups in the government and other public figures threatened by criminal elements. As a result the police force available for duties such as manning the thanas and responding to cries of help from the site of crime is not enough. Hence the delay in registering FIRs.

But that is not the only problem. The police are also not as efficient and committed to their duty as they should be because there is too much political interference in their working. This destroys whatever professionalism there is in the force or that the police are required to display. Sometimes FIRs are not registered because some political bigwig or his minion is being affected by it and does his best to prevent a case from being lodged. Add to this the element of corruption — why should one expect a lowly paid constable not to accept a bribe when corruption has infiltrated all levels of society? Only far-reaching reforms can rectify these problems.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]As the battle heats up[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Thursday, 14 May, 2009[/B]

THE battle for the Taliban heartland in Swat moved up a gear on Tuesday as crack commando units were airlifted to mountains ringing Peochar, the district headquarters of militant chief Fazlullah and his band of fighters. It is much too early to predict the outcome but the result will have a huge bearing on the wider fight against militancy. A rout here of the Taliban — and, ideally, the capture or surrender of Fazlullah — may demoralise the militants who still control Mingora, Swat’s largest city, and lead to desertions in other areas as well. If the military is to be believed, this is already happening in Malakand Division as a whole, where new recruits and ‘criminal elements’ who had sided with the Taliban are said to have lost their appetite for battle. The military also maintains that nearly 750 militants have been killed so far in the ongoing operation. Unfortunately, there is no way of independently verifying these claims or, in some cases, distinguishing between dead fighters and civilians caught in the crossfire.

That said, it is clear that significant advances have been made in recent days and the Taliban are now on the defensive. Given the appeasement policies of successive governments, perhaps they never expected so ferocious a response. A rout of the Fazlullah-led Taliban may also destabilise their counterparts in the tribal belt, which must become the focus of counter-insurgency efforts once peace is achieved in Swat. A Taliban setback in Swat could, however, also produce the reverse effect in the tribal areas. It may serve as a catalyst for binding together the loose confederation of militants operating there and ultimately produce a more united fighting force. Needless to say, a Taliban victory in Swat — or even a stalemate — will be an unmitigated disaster. It will further embolden an already audacious enemy and spell ruin for the country.

The current crackdown has naturally gone down well with the US which had long been pushing, to put it mildly, for decisive action against the Taliban. Washington’s routine public criticism of Islamabad’s capitulation as well as aspersions cast on Pakistan’s security apparatus served no constructive purpose whatsoever. Any such complaints ought to have been discussed solely on a government-to-government level but were instead broadcast through the media as well. Now that a military operation is in full swing, US criticism has tapered off for the time being. If we are in this together for the long haul, Washington would do well to show patience and hold its verbal fire.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]OTHER VOICES - Middle east Press Interfaith dialogue[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Thursday, 14 May, 2009[/B]

IN a changing and volatile world, any talk of interfaith dialogue becomes an important exercise. This is being said given that many groups are resorting to extremism and using violence as their only means of communication…. The pope has called for an end to tensions between Muslims and Christians, warning that religion should not be used for a political end….

There is no doubt that building bridges between two of the most important faiths is important. As a matter of fact, in recent times some activists from both sides have adopted a proactive role with regard to the issue of interfaith dialogue. Perhaps one of the first steps that the pope could adopt is to push for a revival of the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The pope has stated that although he does not represent a political institution, there could be a contribution to be made towards the progress of the process…. —(May 10)

[B][I]A missed opportunity[/I][/B]

ONE word unsaid can sometimes be more damaging than thousands of words uttered. This is what happened two days ago during Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at Yad Vashem. The thorough preparations for his visit to Israel, the complex traffic and security arrangements, and the millions of shekels that were earmarked for his hospitality evaporated as if they did not exist, thanks to a speech that was missing one word — “sorry”.

From the church’s standpoint, the pilgrimage to the Holy Land could have buttressed the Vatican’s position in the diplomatic process while minimising the damage caused by some of the pope’s decisions…. The pope’s visit shows that there is no real dialogue between Israel and the Vatican…. It is clear that logistical preparations for such a visit are not sufficient, and that it is vital to conduct diplomatic dialogue over the content of the public aspects of the visit, so as to prevent mishaps. — (May 13)

Predator Monday, May 18, 2009 09:29 AM

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkGreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]French nuclear ‘offer’[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Monday, 18 May, 2009[/B]

ACCORDING to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, France has offered a civilian nuclear technology deal to Pakistan on the same lines as the US-India agreement signed earlier. This announcement is bound to create a lot of excitement not just in Pakistan but also in countries that have strong reservations about Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Before discussing the implications of the deal, it is important to point out that there has been no announcement from the French government’s side on this issue so far. Exactly what has been offered and on what terms, is not known. However, there are reports that an official from Mr Nicolas Sarkozy’s office observed that the French president had confirmed his willingness to “cooperate with Pakistan in the area of nuclear safety”. In the light of this, it appears that the Pakistan government is counting its chickens before they’ve hatched. The major concern of the nuclear powers at the moment is the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and how it can be safeguarded from falling into the hands of militants. This contingency has been debated in strategic circles and evidently came up in Paris as well prompting Mr Qureshi to assure the world that Pakistan is a “responsible nuclear power” that can handle the safety of its nuclear arsenal and proliferation concerns.

Be that as it may, an agreement with France has very far-reaching implications for Pakistan’s relations with Paris as well as a number of other countries. Before India tested its nuclear capability in 1974 and Pakistan embarked on its quest for the bomb, Islamabad’s nuclear programme enjoyed the support of many foreign powers. In 1976, France had even signed a deal to supply a reprocessing plant to Pakistan, which was subsequently torpedoed when then American national security adviser Henry Kissinger entered the scene threatening to make a “horrible example” out of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Thereafter nothing has been the same again. Pakistan turned to clandestine sources and allies like China for nuclear supplies until it managed to develop nuclear capability indigenously and detonate a bomb in 1998 following in India’s footsteps.

If France has now agreed on a deal as the one the US has entered into with India, this amounts to a radical change in the international politics of nuclear proliferation that has a direct bearing on Pakistan. It will be a diplomatic coup of sorts on Mr Zardari’s part if France as well as the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group that has imposed an embargo on Islamabad actually agree to reverse their stance. This will enhance Pakistan’s nuclear credibility by indicating that it can be trusted. A key element in the Indo-American deal is the provision for monitoring 14 civilian reactors by IAEA inspectors, a moratorium on nuclear testing and safeguards to ensure the security of nuclear arms. Would Pakistan agree to these terms?

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Balochistan and the centre[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Monday, 18 May, 2009[/B]

TRUE, the government has much on its plate but that cannot be an excuse for ignoring issues that need to be addressed urgently. The past week has seen at least four statements by senior politicians regarding the situation that has been festering in Balochistan for decades. Last Monday, the Balochistan Assembly speaker spoke of a “trust deficit” between the provincial leadership and the government in Islamabad. This lack of faith, he said, was a major impediment in the way of restoring peace in Balochistan and normalising province-centre relations. He added that many among the Baloch are of the view that the Frontier Corps is running a “parallel government” in the province. The same day, an influential Baloch nationalist leader accused Islamabad of hypocrisy and failing to honour its commitments. On Tuesday, the chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security urged the prime minister to hold talks with Baloch leaders without further delay. The veteran PPP politician from Karachi also shared 15 recommendations which he felt made “a good basis for initiating a dialogue with angry Baloch leaders”. And on Friday, a key senator from Balochistan again brought up the trust-deficit issue, asking the centre to hold talks with both Baloch nationalists and separatists.

Islamabad does indeed have a lot to answer for. The sense of alienation and deprivation that is part and parcel of the Baloch psyche took root soon after the creation of Pakistan. Since then Balochistan has seen its natural resources stripped by the centre without a hint of shame. What could arguably have been the most prosperous province in the country is today its most backward. It has suffered ruthless military operations and seen its people tortured, killed or ‘disappeared’. In recent years, successive governments found it fit to negotiate with Taliban barbarians but did little to bring the Baloch nationalists on board and address their genuine grievances. Apologies for past atrocities committed against the Baloch ring hollow when words are not matched by actions. Development packages become meaningless if they are not delivered forthwith. Promises of provincial autonomy find few takers when months go by without even a hint of their implementation. It was in March 2008 that the prime minister pledged that the concurrent legislative list would be scrapped within a year, thereby giving the provinces greater control over their own resources. Nearly 14 months later there has been no real movement on this count. When will the centre wake up?

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Capital rent law[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Monday, 18 May, 2009[/B]

THE recent detention of 42 traders in Islamabad on anti-terrorism charges and the consequent traders’ strike in the city underscores the necessity of rent law reform in the federal capital to provide a level playing field to trader tenants and landlords. The punishment was deemed too harsh by traders who had been protesting against the 30-day jail sentence of a fellow trader. The latter had filed a case against what he saw as an unrealistic rent increase by the owner of his shop. An eviction noticed was served which he refused to obey. The underlying tensions, however, are a result of opposition to the existing rent laws, in particular the Islamabad Rent Restriction Ordinance 2001. At a 2006 forum, participants had unanimously condemned the IRRO — with one high court advocate terming it a black law for tenants — and called for its repeal or amendment. Since last year, there have been reports about a ‘soon-to-be-promulgated’ new rent law for Islamabad. Last month, fed up apparently with the non-materialisation of the new rent law, traders started to take a stance against forced evictions by going on strike: traders in two major markets observed shutter-down strikes against forced evictions in April.

The apparent delay in the promulgation of a new rent law is not surprising. There are difficulties in ensuring that a new law will protect and enforce the rights of both tenant and landlord. While it is the right of the tenant to be protected from inflated rents and summary evictions, it is also the right of the landlord to be provided a fair rent and to be compensated for damage to property, illegal subletting, default in consecutive rents or for other reasons. In addition to the views of trader tenants in shops and commercial buildings, the voice of tenants in houses and other residential buildings has also to be taken into consideration in preparing the new rent law. To discourage abuse, corruption and complicated litigation, any new rent law should provide for a transparent rent-control scheme or formula that is clear and easy to implement and enforce.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]OTHER VOICES - North American Press New commander for Afghanistan[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Monday, 18 May, 2009[/B]

THE war in Afghanistan is not going well. And President Obama has the right to choose his own top commander. We hope that his decision … to fire Gen David McKiernan and replace him with Lt Gen Stanley McChrystal means that the president and his team have come up with a strategy that will combine aggressive counter-insurgency tactics with economic development.

… We also hope that Gen McChrystal … will do a better job at limiting the number of civilian casualties that are helping to drive more Afghans into the Taliban camp.

[B][I]The New Times[/I][/B]

… Gen McChrystal, a hard-driving and talented officer, impressed his superiors during his five years running Special Operations commando missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s a strong résumé. But other qualities are needed as well.

Success in Afghanistan will also require effective training for the Afghan Army and police forces so they can stand on their own, strengthened local institutions and an effort to rein in the officially condoned corruption and drug trafficking that have turned so many Afghans against their own national and local governments. And it will require skilful diplomacy with other Nato generals to ensure the best use of tens of thousands of allied troops in Afghanistan and with Pakistani military leaders who must do a lot more to deny cross-border sanctuaries and infiltration routes to Taliban fighters.

Gen McKiernan does not deserve the blame for the dismal military situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban had been gaining ground long before he took charge, in large measure because the Bush administration — focused on its misguided war in Iraq — failed for so many years to invest adequate troops, resources or attention [in] the Afghan fight. … — (May 14)

Predator Tuesday, May 19, 2009 02:03 PM

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkGreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Ulema against Taliban[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Tuesday, 19 May, 2009[/B]

FOR the ulema to say that suicide bombings are un-Islamic is nothing new. Last October, a Muttahida Ulema Council meeting in Lahore denounced suicide bombing in unequivocal terms and called it haram. However, the tone and tenor of the conference of ulema and mashaikh in Islamabad on Sunday went beyond the merely technical denunciation of suicide bombings and beheadings and appeared to represent the anti-Taliban wave now sweeping across the nation. Attended by ulema belonging mostly to the Sunni fiqh, the conference condemned the “assassination of ulema”, denounced the destruction of “sacred places” and demanded that shrines should be cleared of extremists. The resolution passed by the conference denounced US drone attacks but at the same time upheld the army action against the militants, whom it termed the country’s enemy. According to the resolution, the army action was for “Pakistan’s integrity and sovereignty”.

The conference’s most outspoken critic of the militants was, perhaps, Mufti Muneebur Rahman who pointed out that the Taliban were slaughtering even children and said those who wanted the Sharia must uphold Islamic values themselves. The outcome of the conference is positive, for the Taliban should note that they cannot fool the people any more in the name of the Sharia and that their barbarism and bloodletting in the name of religion have forced large sections of society to unite against them. Mufti Muneeb blamed “the agencies” for patronising the militants for three decades, and demanded that this time the war on the militants should be taken to its logical conclusion. We hope the government will build on the consensus that now seems to be developing in the country and act with resolve to crush the insurgency. The Taliban are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistani civilians and soldiers; they have used civilians as a shield, and they have brought misery to more than a million people by making them flee their homes. The Taliban’s violation of the Nizam-e-Adl accord makes it clear that they cannot be trusted and that the government should step up the military offensive to give peace and security to the people of Malakand.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Tamil Tigers’ surrender[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Tuesday, 19 May, 2009[/B]

IT would be premature to assert that the final chapter has been written in a conflict that has claimed over 70,000 lives in nearly three decades of resistance and all-out war. Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers surrendered on Sunday and their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has apparently been killed along with other commanders. Yet, the Sri Lankans who are celebrating these days must be aware that a rout of the LTTE fighters does not necessarily signal the end of Tamil resistance. There is every possibility that remnants of the Tigers or their sympathisers, now deprived of an army, will shift their focus to more terrorist attacks and perhaps even sporadic guerrilla combat. The grudge, to put it mildly, runs deep and only the brazenly partisan can deny the institutional discrimination that Sri Lanka’s Tamils have faced for decades. Their rights have been denied and it must be recognised that the LTTE, for all its atrocities, was a reaction to the politics of ethnicity — if not outright racism — practised by many Sinhalese and their leaders. Sri Lanka will have to come to terms with itself to achieve genuine and lasting peace. Crimes have been committed by both sides and this must be acknowledged. Portraying one side as the vanquished villain and the other the moral champion would be paltering with the truth. Such good-and-evil distinctions can only breed more resentment, for the grievances felt by the Tamils are real.

A military victory against the LTTE will remain incomplete without a political solution to the ethnic divide in Sri Lanka. But first things first. Once the mop-up operation is over, providing immediate relief to thousands of displaced Tamils must top Colombo’s agenda. After that the government ought to focus on rehabilitating those whose lives have been torn apart in the all-out assault unleashed in recent weeks. Then comes the political solution, which could do with a measure of truth and reconciliation. Awarding some form of autonomy to Tamil-dominated areas may be one option. Strong affirmative action aimed at the economic and social uplift of disadvantaged Tamils is another course Colombo could pursue. The biggest mistake from this point on would be to equate Tamil civilians with the defeated armed foe or to somehow suggest that the Sinhalese are the victors and entitled to the spoils of victory. If someone has indeed won, the victory should be that of the people of Sri Lanka, not just one community.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Indian elections[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Tuesday, 19 May, 2009[/B]

THE Indian election results have taken political pundits by surprise. Predictions of a fragmented Lok Sabha with a fragile coalition forming the government have been proved wrong. The Indian electorate opted firmly for the middle road — the Congress. The broad picture that has emerged is that of a Congress-led alliance in full control which spells political stability for the country for the next five years. The 201 seats won by the Congress is the largest number to be taken by any party and it will not be required to dilute its approach on key issues to please disparate coalition partners whose cooperation it previously needed for its political survival.

More than anything else, the promise of economic recovery and growth has won the Congress many votes especially from the downtrodden masses living below the poverty line. Under Manmohan Singh the Indian economy grew at an impressive nine per cent. The country has managed to face the global recession by riding on the crest of the boom wave of earlier years. The future may be tough though for Manmohan Singh’s reformist agenda. Freed from the stranglehold of its leftist allies, the prime minister is expected to move without hindrance on the road to restructuring. But without the revenue windfalls it earlier gathered, the Congress may this time encounter problems from its own constituents. Already India’s fiscal debt has ballooned to 10 per cent of GDP and the government lacks the funds to increase social spending on the poor and adopt populist welfare programmes as it had done before.

The Indian elections have been significant because the results show a reversal of conventional trends. Previously the votes followed an anti-incumbency, pro-casteism and regionalist pattern. Mr Manmohan Singh’s election as the first incumbent prime minister to be returned to office after completing a five-year term since 1961 is a feat. Two factors helped the Congress. The extremist and rigid approach of the right and left drove away the voters. This is evident from the losses suffered by the BJP and the communists. The second factor was the election strategy spearheaded by Rahul Gandhi, the rising star of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Already billed as India’s future prime minister, Rahul took key decisions and is regarded as the architect of the Congress victory in Uttar Pradesh. His success confirms the mass appeal of the Nehru dynasty which in its heyday helped bridge the fissures that castes, ethnicities and regional diversities had created in a country as massive as India. Whether Rahul Gandhi will bow to public pressure to take the reins of leadership remains to be seen. Groomed by his politically astute mother, Sonia Gandhi, who has guided the Congress without opting for the limelight and who can be credited for its gains, Rahul Gandhi may not be in a hurry.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press Refugees head towards Karachi[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Tuesday, 19 May, 2009[/B]

AS the operation in Swat and Malakand continues thousands of people are fleeing from the troubled areas. The government is trying to shift these internally displaced people (IDPs) to safer places. While the exodus continues, some 1.3 million people have so far migrated from these areas. Reports suggest that around 15 per cent IDPs go to camps set up for their accommodation and others are in fact moving to different cities like Karachi. If this is not stopped in a timely and effective manner, it will become a burden on the city and create an imbalance in its demography.

Karachi has been experiencing a high influx of people from other provinces, the majority of which consists of people affected by natural disasters and conflicts. Once people settle here they are not ready to return to their homes. Sindh is still bearing the unjustified burden of hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees and the 2005 earthquake victims. Now it is the refugees from Swat and Malakand. Buses are carrying hundreds of people to Karachi and other cities and towns of Sindh on a daily basis.

[B][SIZE="3"]Kawish[/SIZE][/B]

Undoubtedly there is a humanitarian crisis in areas in the north and the government should provide accommodation to the refugees. To cope with the situation the government should set up more camps with adequate facilities. Equally important is registering and maintaining the record of the refugees so that they can be looked after properly and whenever the situation improves they can be repatriated. It is due to the lack of facilities that refugees are moving to other cities and towns even where they have no relatives….

Since the start of the operation refugees have been attracted to Sindh. It is strange that there is no monitoring and registration on their way to Karachi. Hence it is easy for them to reach the city. However, Sindh does not have enough resources to accommodate them and thus they are becoming a burden. The job opportunities are already scarce and this influx may lead to a rise in unemployment. Some suspected militants in the guise of IDPs may have arrived in Sindh which would be a threat to the law and order in the province and could worsen the security situation.

Can the Sindh government stop this influx? If it is not going to do so, then it is failing to fulfil its responsibilities. The government should ensure registration and checking of IDPs and monitor their movement. They should be confined to the camps and proper records should be maintained…. — (May 16)

[B][I]— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi [/I][/B]

Predator Wednesday, May 20, 2009 09:16 AM

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkGreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]The IDP challenge[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Wednesday, 20 May, 2009[/B]

WITH the government still grappling to meet the needs of those displaced by the conflict between the Taliban and the military, it is encouraging that some families have begun to return to their hometowns. The gains made so far by the military appear of sufficient magnitude to lend these citizens the courage to brave the possibility of further strife and reclaim their homes, properties and livelihoods. There is little doubt about the devastation they will find; but fortitude, coupled with support from the state and citizenry, should help them take the first step towards resuming normal lives. Yet it would be dangerous to read too much into this development. Firstly, the sluggish response to the crisis has left many IDPs disillusioned. It is not inconceivable that returning to a recently secured area appears the better option for people forced to queue up for hours on end for food and water or left entirely destitute. Many displaced families earned from the agricultural sector and the wheat harvest is just being brought in, after all.

Secondly, the number of returning families is a mere drop in the ocean. The scale of displacement is massive: over 2.1 million people, according to the UN, and probably more. The immense challenge of rescuing the bulk of these people from poverty and facilitating their return still lies ahead. That will be possible only when the militancy problem has been resolved once and for all. The IDPs choosing to return home must be offered whatever material or financial help can be given. Yet security remains the most important factor: the government and military’s assurance that parts of Buner district and Swat are safe must hold true. Furthermore, in addition to the need to rehabilitate the IDPs, any possibility in the long term of an insurgency like the one fomented by the Taliban must be prevented. For this, it is vital that the constitutional, political and administrative structures in place across most of the country be extended to Fata, Pata and the Northern Areas, which have for years been differently administered from the rest of the country.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Curriculum of hatred[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Wednesday, 20 May, 2009[/B]

AN article in The Guardian focuses on a matter that our academics have been trying to highlight for at least a decade. It has been observed that the texts used in state-run schools foster religious extremism in a less blatant but more ubiquitous way than the infamous madressahs. By propagating concepts such as jihad, the inferiority of non-Muslims, India’s ingrained enmity with Pakistan, etc., the textbook board publications used by all government schools promote a mindset that is bigoted and obscurantist. Since there are more children studying in these schools than in madressahs the damage done is greater. A lot of research has been conducted on the contents of textbooks by teachers and sociologists who have compiled voluminous reports to persuade the education authorities to take corrective measures. Thanks to their efforts the dangerous implications of having such books in the school curricula are now being recognised.

But the process of change is not easy to initiate and implement when obscurantist forces are so firmly entrenched in every walk of life, especially in the education sector. In 2004 when an attempt was made to slightly modify a biology textbook that contained a Quranic verse on jihad, it backfired leading to the resignation of the education minister Zubeida Jalal. Once again, the government has announced that all textbooks are being revised to purge them of inflammatory material. When the changes will be made is anyone’s guess. The education policy, which should normally set the guidelines on curricula development and textbook policy, has been put on the back burner.

The fact is that the minds of generations of schoolchildren are being perverted by our public school system. It is not just the textbooks that are preaching hatred, violence and intolerance. The teachers who are the products of this system can teach no better. With a few noble exceptions, they make their students swallow hook, line and sinker what the books say without even attempting to moderate the ideas conveyed. Being disinterested in their work, most teachers do not inspire their students with knowledge acquired from other sources. That makes the textbooks all-important especially when the pedagogy in our schools does not seek to inculcate creativity and curiosity in the child or to encourage him to ask questions and do some research in the quest of knowledge. One can only hope that the exercise to revise textbooks is expedited and private textbook publishers are allowed to enter the field if they can deliver.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]A united front[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Wednesday, 20 May, 2009[/B]

THE all-parties conference was meant to sound out the political spectrum on the necessity of the battle underway in Malakand division, but, in truth, all eyes were on one man and his party: Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N. With the PPP, MQM and ANP fully behind the military operation and even the PML-Q appearing supportive in public, the only real question was whether the PML-N would join in accepting the necessity of the operation. And to Mr Sharif’s credit he has done just that, accepting that the state was left with no choice but to fight after the militants in Malakand division had effectively closed the door on the policy of dialogue. So, with the overwhelming majority of parliament now behind the government’s policy, the Pakistan Army now has a clear mandate to fight and defeat the militants. Pakistan, it seems, may have finally turned the page on the militancy issue and at long last may have begun to present a unified national front against the militants. If that is indeed the case, then it has been achieved not a moment too soon given the alarming rise of militancy in recent years.

The PML-N’s support for a national policy against militancy is important for two reasons. First, militancy will not be defeated today, tomorrow or even a year from now. A tough, drawn-out fight should be expected, and it will involve many different areas of Pakistan. Second, the PML-N is the only real political rival to the PPP, with all other parties ranking a distant third among the electorate. Given Pakistan’s unstable political culture and unpredictability of events here, a situation in which both the two major parties in the country accept and understand the need for the military option in certain circumstances bodes well for Pakistan’s fight against terrorism, extremism and militancy.

The emphatic verdict of the APC — the resolution issued afterwards was airy and soft, but in Pakistan the wording of such resolutions is rarely of major importance — may also have a positive effect on the thinking of the Pakistan Army. Until now, the army has appeared reluctant to take on the militants on multiple fronts simultaneously, perhaps because it has been worried about the lack of popular support for such large-scale operations on Pakistani territory. But now the army may be encouraged to go beyond firefighting and think bigger — there is little doubt that at some point the focus must turn to the Waziristan agencies in Fata, where the threat that lurks may be larger than that in Swat by an order of magnitude. Be that as it may, the military option must always be weighed carefully. Fighting is serious business with serious consequences for the population, the army and the government — it should only be resorted to with a clearly defined objective and well-thought-out strategy in place.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkGreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]OTHER VOICES - European Press Women in society[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Wednesday, 20 May, 2009[/B]

THAT fewer than one-in-four — 12 out of 44 — of the Irish candidates standing for election to the European Parliament is a woman is a very poor reflection on how women have advanced in this society. Amongst European parliaments, the Dáil has one of the lowest percentages of women members at about 13 per cent. The EU average is 24 per cent with the highest, Sweden, at 47 per cent.

In Ireland, the country of the sophisticated and advanced electorate, we elect fewer women than Bolivia, Sudan, Cambodia or Kazakhstan. Irish women are amongst least successful — or the most effectively excluded — Europeans at getting elected to political office or even being nominated to stand for office. This is unlikely to change quickly either as, at the present rate of change, nearly four centuries will pass before women make up 50 per cent of Dáil membership.

Of course, about half the electorate are women, so it seems some think that policy or tribe is at least as important as gender when deciding who to support. However, far too few women get even as far as standing for office, much less getting elected. In many European countries … it is mandatory for political parties to nominate a percentage of women as candidates…. Last March Labour launched proposals to introduce such legislation in Ireland.

Outside of politics the changing economic situation is having an impact on women too. Funding for schemes designed to promote women’s interests is in jeopardy…. This is a small country with a limited pool of talent and we cannot afford to exclude anyone … purely because of their gender. Though the political classes will deny it vehemently, our political system has yet to prove that it is capable of solving the great challenges facing the country. It is not hard to believe that our political system would be much stronger if it was more open and welcoming, less in thrall to a few dynasties and so utterly self-serving.

The impact of nepotism in some parties, where surnames seem as least as important as ability, has discouraged many…. If encouraging more women to participate would change this country for the better, we would be fools not to do so. Any barriers that prevent anyone, no matter their gender, from making a positive contribution must be removed. — (May 19)

Predator Thursday, May 21, 2009 09:25 AM

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkGreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Wheat export barred[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Thursday, 21 May, 2009[/B]

IN a positive move, the Economic Coordination Committee has rejected the food ministry’s request to allow the export of wheat. For its part, the food ministry has argued that initial surveys have indicated a bumper wheat crop this year and that given the lack of storage facilities in the country it makes sense to export the surplus and earn some foreign exchange rather than see a part of the crop go to waste. There is also the suspicion that in a year when the GDP growth rate is expected to barely cross two per cent and with the next budget around the corner, the possibility of wheat export could bump up preliminary GDP estimates. If farmers fear that there is a significant wheat surplus, they may rush their crop to the market earlier than usual and thus allow the government to claim a higher crop estimate and hence higher GDP growth at the time of the budget.

Thankfully though the ECC has resisted the food ministry’s demand. Past experience suggests that the decision to allow the export of wheat on the basis of estimates has proved disastrous for the country’s food security. There are two problems here. The first is the estimate of how much wheat is needed for domestic consumption. Placed at between 22 and 24 million tonnes, the measure does not take into account wheat smuggling out of Pakistan. Depending on the price of wheat elsewhere, relatively cheaper Pakistani wheat is smuggled across the porous border with Afghanistan and Iran and even to Central Asia and Dubai. Since the practice has proved difficult to stop, the estimate of how much wheat is needed domestically must incorporate the smuggling factor. The second problem is the estimate of wheat output: history suggests it is more an art than a science. This year the signs are all positive and a bumper crop is expected — upwards of 24 million tonnes versus last year’s dismal 21.8 million tonnes — but they are still only estimates. So to allow the export of wheat on the basis of estimates that historically have pegged local requirements at lower than actual and production at higher than actual would be irresponsible.

Besides, it is necessary to point out who will be the only guaranteed winners if wheat exports were allowed at this point in time: the small group of wheat exporters. The government may benefit in the short run from an unexpected inflow of foreign revenue, but it would do so at the risk of having to import wheat later, and possibly at a higher price, if the estimates do not pan out. And with food inflation still hovering near historic highs, consumers could face the double whammy of having good quality local wheat sent abroad now and then later having to buy lower quality imported wheat at a higher price.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]‘Incoherent’ US policy[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Thursday, 21 May, 2009[/B]

ACKNOWLEDGING mistakes is a prerequisite to building a healthy, honest relationship. Only then can a mutual vision be defined and pursued in the search of a better tomorrow. Pakistan and the United States have ostensibly been allies since the early days of the Cold War. America has pumped billions into this country in the form of cash and weapons and we, in turn, have readily done its bidding, most notably during the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The US also bankrolled the Musharraf regime in the years following 9/11, a time marked by impressive economic ‘growth’ and a skin-deep sense of prosperity. Yet relations between the two have often been strained. Anti-American sentiment runs high among the general public and recent months also saw a marked souring of relations on the government-to-government level. Washington’s public criticism of Islamabad’s inaction in the fight against the Taliban did not go down well with Pakistan’s power brokers. Such censure, it was felt, would have been better voiced privately. The army brass was particularly irked by the repeated slurs cast on the ISI. Questioning not just the capacity but also the motives of the Pakistan military vis-à-vis the battle against militancy certainly did not help.

Things are different now, and for good reason. Pressure from America to do more may be a factor, but mostly it is the visible shift in public opinion that has allowed the government and its security apparatus to crack down hard on the Taliban. The much-needed Malakand operation clearly enjoys broad public and political support within the country. America’s tone too has softened visibly and there has been no shortage of praise for the ongoing operation. On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again lamented America’s “incoherent” dealings with Pakistan over the last 30 years. She made it clear that Washington had abandoned Islamabad once the Soviets were forced to withdraw from Afghanistan. It was also implied that the US had supported military dictators instead of the people of Pakistan. Now, according to Ms Clinton, the US is busy building a “clear, honest” relationship with the popularly elected government in Pakistan. Also on Tuesday, she announced an additional $110m in emergency relief for persons displaced by the fighting in Malakand. The suffering in the region is acute and America has done well to extend a timely helping hand. Food from the US will win more friends among the people than the delivery of weapons to the army.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Obstinacy wins[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Thursday, 21 May, 2009[/B]

IF it was a test of nerves and diplomatic skills, then clearly it is Benjamin Netanyahu’s intransigence which has won the first round of the “summit” talks with President Barack Obama. Notwithstanding all the power that America commands, neither Mr Obama nor the US officials the Israeli prime minister later met succeeded in making him give up his maximal position and work sincerely for peace. Even at the joint press conference with the American president at the White House, Mr Netanyahu made his obstinacy clear on the two issues that appeared vital to his American host — a two-state solution and a halt to the settlements. A two-state solution, Mr Obama said, was not only in the interest of the Palestinians but in the interest “of the United States, the Israelis and the international community”, and he demanded that further settlements be “stopped”. The American president must surely have felt embarrassed in front of the cameras when the Israeli leader did not have the courtesy to use the word “state” even once. He remained non-committal on the settlements. His obstinacy seemed well rewarded when Mr Obama praised Mr Netanyahu’s “historic” vision. In his subsequent meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, Israel’s super hawk prime minister succeeded in sidetracking the two issues and, instead, focused his American interlocutors’ attention on Iran.

It is not clear what “vision” Mr Obama was talking about. During his first term as prime minister, Mr Netanyahu sabotaged the good work done by one of his predecessors, Yitzhak Rabin, and made a mess of the Oslo process. Now in his second term he is following a more vicious policy and has brazenly abandoned the two-state solution to which previous Israeli governments have been a party. His government has continued with the settlements and he insists that the Palestinian Authority recognise Israel as a “Jewish state” before talks with President Mahmoud Abbas can begin. One wonders what Mr Obama will tell the Muslim world when he makes his historic broadcast from Cairo on June 4. Mr Netanyahu has virtually torpedoed it.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press Resolution 1325[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Thursday, 21 May, 2009[/B]

AFTER years and years of conflict and since its establishment decades ago, the United Nations Security Council realised that in order to achieve peace it needs to involve women in conflict resolution, and hence came UN resolution 1325 of year 2000…. Yet how much more time must we wait until such a resolution becomes known, popular and binding, especially among decision-makers who are mostly men?

Women are excellent peace makers because they … can see issues more objectively and are able to come up with decisions that really aim for peace and reconciliation…. But why aren’t there many women working in this field around the world, especially in the Middle East where conflict has become the norm? …. [L]adies from 12 countries [at a recent conference] spoke of a need for reconciliation to reach peace in the Middle East. Led by the Women Federation for World Peace, the 45 women have decided they want to bury the hatchet and become friends, because whatever differences they have are not going to stop them from working together. —(May 18)

[B][I]Political shade[/I][/B]

THE pilgrimage of Pope Benedict XVI, which he wished to stamp with a purely religious purpose, went off track after all. This happened because at some point the blend of religion and politics becomes inevitable, especially when such an esteemed figure as the head of the Catholic Church is involved.

The pontiff did visit the Dome of the Rock and took part in a religious dialogue attended by Muslim, Jewish and Christian clerics. But he also visited the memorial of the Holocaust. However, the pope did not visit Gaza, nor did he utter one single word about the Israeli ‘Holocaust’ in the besieged enclave….

The pope’s spiritual trip might well be understood, but the Israeli political agenda was quite evident. He could have struck a balance by referring one way or another to the suffering of the people of Palestine…. And yet despite this, the Israelis were not satisfied…. They wished for an apology…. The pope chose to ignore a living situation in the very land he was visiting…. —(May 16)

Predator Friday, May 22, 2009 09:23 AM

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkGreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Help for the IDPs[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Friday, 22 May, 2009[/B]

BELATEDLY, the federal government has woken up to the needs of the civilian population in northern Pakistan that has been displaced by the fight against the militants. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced the government’s ‘3R’ approach — relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction — and committed Rs8bn to the effort to help the IDPs. And yesterday the prime minister chaired an international donors conference in Islamabad at which $224m, including $110m committed earlier by the US, of emergency aid for the IDPs was announced. Even more money may be committed soon, as Minister of State for Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar has announced that the UN will launch an appeal for aid today that may net hundreds of millions of dollars more. It is clear that winning the military battle in Malakand division may translate into a strategic loss if the state does not protect the population, so it is a welcome sign that the government is awakening to its crucial responsibility and that the international community is pledging to help the cash-strapped government. With the estimates of the displaced people already topping two million, the task ahead is indeed enormous.

Positively, the government is not just talking about relief operations. It is already looking at the rehabilitation and reconstruction phases, and has sought the help of international and local organisations to draw up plans to help the IDPs rebuild their lives, both in the camps and once they return to their homes. None of this was visible in the case of earlier IDPs from places like Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber and Darra Adamkhel. Fighting a counter-insurgency is a long-term process, one which continues long after the guns have fallen silent and the last IDP has returned home, and by planning for the future the government should be able to more effectively to deal with the nuts and bolts of helping people rebuild their lives when that time comes.

However, a word of caution: the government must ensure maximum transparency in the utilisation of funds for the IDPs. Unscrupulous elements will eye the enormous sums of money that are to be funnelled towards the various programmes and projects and the possibility of mismanagement and corruption are high. Money should only be spent on genuine victims of the fighting in Malakand division and it should be utilised quickly but effectively. As far as food aid goes, it should be procured and disbursed transparently to the real victims. And as far as spending on rehabilitation and reconstruction projects goes, a list of priorities must be established that takes into account the basic needs of the population. With expert advice readily available given Pakistan’s experience of handling refugees from Afghanistan and the October 2005 earthquake, a transparent but efficient effort should not be very difficult to achieve.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Pakistan-India relations[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Friday, 22 May, 2009 [/B]

THE signs appear to be healthy and it can only be hoped that the spirit of rapprochement will help lay the foundation for meaningful dialogue between Pakistan and India. Pakistan’s President Asif Zardari was among the first few leaders to congratulate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the Congress party’s recent landslide election victory. And on Wednesday, as the Indian prime minister and the Congress chief met their president and presented a list of MPs whose support they enjoy, New Delhi gave Islamabad some additional information the latter had requested regarding the Mumbai attacks. With New Delhi in a cooperative mood, Islamabad will be expected to speed up its end of investigations and bring the masterminds to book. Some of the alleged ringleaders based in this country were rounded up quite some time ago. There is much on the Pakistan government’s plate these days, but it is nonetheless imperative that the case against the accused is finalised and presented in a court of law as soon as possible.

A hostile reaction from India was inevitable given the scale and audacity of the Mumbai attacks. The shock, horror and grief felt by our neighbours — and many Pakistanis for that matter — was genuine and easily understood. But then New Delhi started upping the ante and war clouds gathered over the subcontinent. The crisis, however, was averted and the region spared of unimaginable horrors. That didn’t stop the war of words though. The government in Islamabad was under pressure on several fronts and an element of bravado was only to be expected in its dealings with the old ‘enemy’. India, meanwhile, was gearing up for elections. Though not as vitriolic as the Hindu nationalists, even the secular Congress felt it necessary to firm up its credentials and indulge in some Pakistan-bashing to win votes. The Mumbai massacre did, after all, take place on its watch and attention had to be diverted from the security lapses that facilitated the terrorists’ rampage in the city.

With a massive mandate under its belt, the Congress no longer has cause to be on the defensive. It is in a position to take a more authoritative stand when it comes to relations with Pakistan and regional security as a whole. Not too long ago, Pakistan made a major concession when it agreed to open up a transit trade route between India and Afghanistan. Increased cooperation is of the essence at this stage to resolve outstanding issues and defeat the forces of militancy.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Myanmar’s sham trial[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Friday, 22 May, 2009[/B]

IT is intriguing why military regimes, that are inherently dictatorial, wish to claim political and legal legitimacy for themselves. Who doesn’t know that their main goal is to grab power and rule without let or hindrance? That is what the junta in Myanmar has been doing for the last four decades. Each time it has sought to establish its ‘democratic’ credentials it has slipped badly, causing it to assert its power even more in a bid not to lose control.

The latest drama of a farce trial being enacted in Yangon is directed at Aung San Suu Kyi, the charismatic opposition leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD). She has been the military regime’s nemesis since 1990 when she won a landslide victory in the general elections but was not allowed to take office. Kept under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years, Ms Suu Kyi continues to pose a threat to Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein’s government which faces an election next year. Since her house arrest is to end later this month one can see why the generals are nervous. The uninvited intruder who swam across the lake to enter Ms Suu Kyi’s house has provided the military a weak pretext to haul her to court on trumped-up charges. Accusing her of violating the terms of her house arrest, the junta hopes to throw her into prison for five years or so. That would leave the ground clear for the army to consolidate its control over the country under a nominal civilian government.

Myanmar’s neighbours that have been soft on it and have turned a blind eye to its shenanigans are now tiring of its undemocratic ways. They see the trial as a sham even though the regime has tried to give it a fair image by inviting 30 diplomats to attend the hearing in prison. But all this will not mitigate the concerns that are generally felt. There is talk of more international sanctions and Myanmar’s attempts to establish its democratic credentials will not convince any-one if the democratic leadership keeps resorting to autocratic methods.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]OTHER VOICES - Bangladesh Press Grisly road accidents[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Friday, 22 May, 2009[/B]

THE death of a police sergeant, and a female university student sustaining multiple injuries that might cripple her permanently, are the latest reminders of how dangerously exposed citizens are to grisly road accidents in this city of traffic chaos and peril.

The police sergeant was trying to chase an errant driver when he was overrun, and the girl student was knocked by a bus when she was returning home after attending her classes. So, it is evident that they had little control over the situation and were victims of reckless … driving that has become so common in the city….

[B]The Daily Star[/B]

The tragedies that we have just witnessed are clearly the results of traffic rules being flouted with impunity. It is really disturbing that buses and minibuses [pose] a grave danger to both … passengers and pedestrians. Even at crowded intersections, the minibuses seldom bother to slow down, and pedestrians are often seen hurrying across the roads and avoiding, very luckily, fatal accidents by a fraction of a second or so…. The commuters … set their feet somehow on any space near the door of a bus and keep themselves hanging as the bus moves at a high speed. A moment’s loss of concentration … can lead to instant death in all such cases. But who is there to caution these people and ensure their safety?

Now, let’s have a look at the worn-out vehicles and … untrained … drivers. The buses and minibuses, in particular, often look like contraptions that should have been scrapped long ago. And drivers are always a source of worry as they have no regard for traffic rules or human lives.

The BRTA which issues fitness certificates to all these vehicles should explain to citizens how the buses and minibuses having no road-worthiness could make their way to the streets. How did the untrained drivers manage to get licences, and if they do not have it, whose responsibility was it to stop them from driving in busy Dhaka streets? These questions need to be answered to prevent accidents that account for such a large number of casualties. — (May 21)

Surmount Saturday, May 23, 2009 12:27 PM

[CENTER] [B][SIZE=5]Balochistan APC

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Dawn Editorial
Saturday, 23 May, 2009 | 08:15 AM PST |

[FONT=Verdana]PROMISES abound when it comes to addressing the problems faced by Balochistan. This time round we have been told that an all-parties conference will be called ‘within days.’ At least that is what the Prime Minister promised on Wednesday, adding that his administration has not forgotten the Balochistan issue. The public perception in this regard, he stressed, is incorrect. Doubting Mr Gilani’s intentions is not the point here, for he is widely seen as a sincere man even if lacking the authority a Prime Minister ought to wield in a parliamentary system. But words alone cannot dispel the impression that Balochistan, for whatever reason, does not rank high on the government’s agenda. Preoccupation with the Malakand operation cannot be an excuse because that battle is only a few weeks old while the government has been in office for well over a year. In a welcome move in February last year, the PPP leadership offered a public apology for atrocities committed against the people of Balochistan. It was also stated — in March 2008 — that the concurrent legislative list would be abolished within a year to give the provinces greater control over their resources. Massive uplift ‘packages’ were announced for Balochistan, the most underdeveloped province in the country. All these pledges, however, have resulted in little movement on the ground.[/FONT]

[FONT=Verdana]It is hoped that the APC promised by the prime minister will yield more than just more talk. To be at all meaningful it must include representatives of the Baloch nationalist parties who boycotted last year’s elections, for a congregation of the like-minded rarely serves any constructive purpose. Voices of dissent need to be heard and accommodated if the desired goal is a lasting solution to Balochistan’s backwardness. In keeping with the norms of parliamentary democracy, the APC’s recommendations should then be taken up in the provincial and national legislatures. Only consensus, not diktat, can deliver results. Only then will any ‘Balochistan package’ be truly legitimate.[/FONT]

[FONT=Verdana]Balochistan is poor when it should be rich. It has a relatively small population and vast reserves of fossil fuels and precious metals such as gold and copper. The province has been exploited ruthlessly, if not pillaged, by the centre. It has been on the receiving end of brutal military crackdowns, torture and forced ‘disappearances.’ The anger felt by the Baloch is understandable, as is their sense of alienation from the centre. Those who take up arms in the fight against injustice, or seek a separate homeland, will continue to find adherents to their cause if the centre fails to invest in Balochistan and award it control over its riches. Conversely, the insurgents will find few takers when there are enough schools, hospitals and job opportunities in the province.[/FONT]

Predator Monday, May 25, 2009 09:34 AM

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkGreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]No consensus[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Monday, 25 May, 2009[/B]

ON Friday, Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of Pakistan, told the media in Islamabad that the controversial Kalabagh dam remained on the list of key water and power projects. The dam had been announced as scrapped by the water and power minister shortly after the inauguration of the new government last year because of the opposition to the project by the smaller provinces. Now we are told that the dam would be built but only after the removal of objections. There appears to be little likelihood of consensus on this issue in the foreseeable future. The Musharraf government’s effort to build consensus on the project boomeranged and the three small provinces passed resolutions against it in their assemblies. In Sindh, for the past 16 years, the Thar coal project has also been subjected to delays. But here, the delay has been caused by a dispute between Islamabad and Karachi over the managing rights. The good news is that the president is trying to find a middle way to kick off work on the project that promises the country pure gold: 10,000 megawatts of electricity.

The dispute over the two projects considered crucial for cheap energy production and water storage for agriculture is indicative of the deeper, long-standing issue of provincial autonomy. The 1973 Constitution, and other previous documents for that matter, allow free inter-provincial movement of labour, goods and services — although Punjab sometimes tends to curb wheat movement out of its territory — which have largely fostered a ‘common economic market’ in the country. This generally free movement is a remarkable achievement given the tensions such an issue can generate and has done so all over the world. On the other hand, the centre seeks to maintain its control on many subjects that should have long been transferred to the provinces. Besides, the smaller provinces suspect the centre is tilted towards protecting the rights of Punjab. Working against the federation as these suspicions do, they also jeopardise collective economic interests. The controversy over Kalabagh dam and the dispute over the Thar coal project are just two examples.

Inter-provincial disputes are hurting the country’s economic interests. The situation demands that the centre scrap the concurrent list as promised by the prime minister soon after he took oath. Punjab could also contribute to inter-provincial harmony by supporting the smaller provinces’ demand to change the formula for inter-provincial distribution of funds under the National Finance Commission. It could make up for its loss on account of the changed formula by convincing Islamabad to substantially increase the provincial share from the divisible tax pool and hand over revenue-generating provincial sales tax on services to the provinces. If it does so, Punjab will find the smaller provinces supporting it.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]A devastated economy[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Monday, 25 May, 2009[/B]

NECESSARY as it had become to fight the militants in Malakand division, the military option was always going to have severe consequences on the civilian population of the area. At the moment, the immediate plight of the IDPs and the need for relief operations has preoccupied the state and its international allies. However, already there are disturbing signs of the tough road ahead for the IDPs even if they can return to their homes sooner rather than later. AFP has reported that the IDPs “fear hardship and hunger as crops spoil in untended fields, with aid agencies warning that it could take years for farmers to recover”. Wheat, maize and vegetables — subsistence crops for Malakand’s poor farmers — are all set to rot and deal another devastating blow to the region’s economy. The problem is that the inability to harvest the crop will not only leave the people wholly reliant on food aid, but they will also be unable to earn any money to pay for the resources needed to sow the next crop. This means that even if the military operation could be wrapped up in the next few weeks or months, the people of Malakand will still need a great deal of help from the state for the foreseeable future. The fact is, after the implosion of the tourism economy in the country’s northwest, the latest blow to the other main source of subsistence for the region’s population has for all intents and purposes created an economic void — a dangerous situation in an area where a counter-insurgency is being fought.

State planners will have to address the economic plight of the people in the northwest or else risk the population embracing the militants in order to survive. If the choice is between survival and starvation, the people will make the rational choice and turn to cash-rich militants, who may seek to hide among the population and drag the state into a drawn-out guerrilla war. Of course, none of this is unexpected — the military operation was always going to severely impact the local economy — but it does highlight the fact that a successful counter-insurgency campaign continues long after the guns have fallen silent. In this regard, it is good that the government is at least thinking along the right lines; the ‘3R’ approach — relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction — is a sensible one. However, there’s many a slip ’twixt cup and lip; having a plan is very different from implementing it. The IDPs should not be left to fend for themselves when they return home.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]People take on Taliban[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Monday, 25 May, 2009[/B]

EVEN the worm turns. For long left at the mercy of the Taliban, the people of the Swat valley now seem to be mustering the courage to stand up to the rebels and fight back. As reported in this newspaper on Saturday, the effectiveness of the army’s operations against the Taliban has encouraged the non-combatants to organise their own defence to foil the Taliban’s attempt to re-enter the villages from where they had been dislodged by the army. Last Thursday non-combatants in Kalam beat back attempts by the rebels to get a foothold in the area to resume their activities. Even though a minority, the Taliban have shown ruthlessness in their attempt to impose their version of religion on the people of Swat, who traditionally have been cosmopolitan in outlook because of the valley’s tourism economy. The most barbaric aspect of the Taliban philosophy revealed itself in their attitude towards women: they beat up even those who had the ‘audacity’ to go to bazaars for essential shopping wearing a burka. They also brazenly advertised their anti-modernity ideology by blowing up schools and colleges. Devoid of the rudimentary concepts of compassion and mercy, the Taliban have slaughtered people and shown off their acts of barbarism on video.

Having destroyed the once-flourishing tourist trade, the Taliban further hurt the people’s livelihood by threatening tailors and barbers and blowing up CD shops. No wonder the people of Swat have realised that it is their own survival that is at stake and that they have no choice but to help the army crush the rebels. What the government should note is that this change in attitude has occurred because the army has finally decided to do its job to destroy the enemy. If they have confidence that the government will not once again make a ‘deal’ with the Taliban, and the army will not abandon them, the people may be more encouraged to fight the Taliban and be an asset in a conflict that has countrywide ramifications.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]OTHER VOICES - North American Press Get moving on worker mobility[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Monday, 25 May, 2009[/B]

MANY countries, especially the US under Barack Obama, are using the global recession to reform their societies, such as changing the rules on credit. They want to be more competitive when their economy revives. Many, however, overlook one idea that provides a strong edge: making it easier for workers to move to new jobs. For decades, the US has had such an edge with its high rate of labour mobility….

[B][I]The Christian Science Monitor[/I][/B]

But the Census Bureau reports that the nation’s “mobility rate” in 2008 set a post-World War II record low. Also last year, the smallest number of residents moved since 1962…. This stay-put trend began before the current recession, which suggests its causes are diverse and difficult to reverse. But more recently, the housing crisis has left a rising number of Americans trapped with mortgages worth more than their home — about a one-fifth of all mortgage holders. This makes it difficult to sell a house in order to move … or to train elsewhere for new skills.

Washington may be on track in considering such mobility-enhancing ideas as allowing workers to keep healthcare insurance if they move to a new job or making it easier to obtain job training anywhere while on unemployment benefits. But it must be bolder to restore America’s mobility. The housing market, for example, needs reforms that help people find renting as financially advantageous as owning a home…. Companies, too, must provide better incentives for current or prospective workers to move…. Despite an unemployment rate of more than eight per cent in the US, more than three million jobs are still available…. The American dream of upward mobility for all has faded with this latest trend against moving. Both government and business can do more to keep the dream alive. — (May 21)

Predator Tuesday, May 26, 2009 08:22 AM

[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="DarkGreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]NFC and beyond[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Tuesday, 26 May, 2009[/B]

ARE we to assume that the issue of omissions in the National Finance Commission is as good as settled? PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif on Sunday said his party was ready to accept a new NFC formula that would guarantee the equitable division of resources between the centre and the four federating units. In the light of what the PML-N chief is believed to have said to Mahmood Achakzai, who leads the Pakhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party, it can be surmised that Punjab is ready to agree to an NFC formula that takes into account other factors such as the ratio of revenue generation, area span and the backwardness of a province instead of the award being based solely on population numbers. Mr Sharif reposed his trust in the 1973 constitution and in return for his assurances elicited from Mr Achakzai an invitation to tour Balochistan.

The Sharif statement is consistent with recent PML-N overtures after the party was criticised for ignoring the smaller provinces and concentrating on what it perceived as Punjab’s problems. It would be advisable for Mr Sharif to acquaint himself with the strong feeling of alienation and deprivation present in Balochistan. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif visited the province in February this year and he was sufficiently moved by the situation to loudly call for a new social contract. Long before his visit, a number of politicians and political commentators had talked about the need for a fresh social contract in Pakistan, perhaps the most prominent among them being Benazir Bhutto.

As this refrain vended its way from one newspaper column to another, conditions in Balochistan as well as many other areas in the country went from bad to worse. It is about time that the ‘new social contract’ is defined in precise terms and backed by a constitutional amendment package that would give the sacred document clauses to satisfy all parties. In fact, what we are looking for is provincial autonomy. It is doubtful that anything less than this will be acceptable to those who have been deprived for long. The Sharifs should take their campaign to the National Assembly, and it would not be out of place for the Punjab Assembly to come out with a resolution demanding an NFC award that is favourable to all the provinces. Time is precious. They should not waste it waiting for the moment when they are in power in Islamabad.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Book clubs in villages[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Tuesday, 26 May, 2009[/B]

THE National Book Foundation plans to set up book clubs across the country, focusing particularly on remote villages. This praiseworthy initiative can potentially be achieved with relative ease since — as the NBF notes — all that is required is to supplement the collections already owned by people such as schoolmasters, and then to set up systems allowing access to the community. Writers and literary scholars are also to be invited to hold readings at these village book clubs. The planned initiative is important since reading for either pleasure or information is a dying habit. Rapid advances in digital technology have led people towards other means of diversion, particularly in Pakistan where a poor literacy rate exists alongside a deteriorating state education system and a boom in the electronic media. In this situation, creating forums that allow people access to books on a range of subjects will help the literate to educate themselves — the two terms are not synonymous. Meanwhile, there is an urgent need to set up more libraries and facilitate the general public’s access to the few that do exist.

Most importantly, however, such efforts to raise the general intellectual bar of the country must be underpinned by an effective and efficient educational system to which every citizen has equal access. Unesco’s latest Global Monitoring Report estimates that the country’s literacy rate currently hovers around 50 per cent, a figure supported by last year’s National Economic Survey. However, the latter also noted significant disparities in the comparative literacy rates for not only men and women, but also in the four provinces, with the literacy rate in Balochistan averaging at about 33 per cent. In the interests of harnessing the human potential of the country, it is incumbent upon the state to increase investment in educational infrastructure, syllabus improvement, teacher-training and related issues. Girls’ schools in particular have become targets of terrorism in some parts. This trend must be stamped out, for until the overwhelming majority of Pakistan’s children go to school without fear or discrimination, efforts such as that of the National Book Foundation will remain a drop in the ocean.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]Peace pipeline at last[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Tuesday, 26 May, 2009[/B]

THERE is little good news these days, but perhaps we should not despair. Iran and Pakistan have signed a deal to construct a gas pipeline that had been on the cards since 1995, notwithstanding the numerous turns and twists in negotiations. The gas sales agreement should also be signed shortly. We can then hope for work on the project to begin. This is a major breakthrough for Pakistan which will gain tremendously in the energy sector. When completed the 2100-kilometre pipeline will carry 750 million cubic feet of gas per day from Iran’s South Pars fields to Nawabshah in Sindh. This gas will be used only for energy generation and help produce 5000MW of electricity for this power-starved country. The price agreed upon for the moment i.e. 80 percent of the oil price, may not be as low as initially bargained for. But in the absence of alternatives this appears to be the most feasible offer. With oil prices falling as they are these days, Pakistan should benefit.

There are, however, two aspects of this project that must be kept in mind. One is directly linked to Pakistan’s security concerns in Balochistan. Fears have been expressed that the turmoil in Balochistan will threaten the security of the pipeline since a great length of the 1,000 kilometres inside Pakistan passes through that province which borders Iran. Islamabad could convert this factor to its advantage if it can ensure that in the construction of the pipeline indigenous labour is hired and the gains of the economic activity inevitably generated by projects of such magnitude are focused on Balochistan for the benefit of its poverty-stricken people. The peace pipeline will begin functioning in another five years. This period should be used by Islamabad to address the Balochistan problem in earnest to find a just solution that redresses the grievances of the province’s citizens.

The international implications of the Iran-Pakistan pipeline accord also have great significance. At one stage India had expressed serious interest in the project as it also stood to benefit from it. Had India not dropped out — as it did last year — the pipeline would have emerged as a powerful focal point in a region that is emerging as an important site on the world energy map. The two signatories have kept the door open for New Delhi that can still join the arrangement at some point. Plans to reduce the circumference of the pipeline should keep the prospects of India’s entry in view. Very importantly, Pakistan has displayed a measure of independence vis-à-vis Washington which has been a persistent opponent of the pipeline deal. With changes in the global equations in the offing and there being a possibility of a US-Iran dialogue, one can only say that Pakistan stands vindicated.

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[B][U][CENTER][COLOR="darkgreen"][SIZE="5"][FONT="Georgia"]OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press The government should stand with the people[/FONT][/SIZE][/COLOR][/CENTER][/U][/B]

[B]Tuesday, 26 May, 2009[/B]

PPP ministers and MPAs from Karachi have expressed their reservations about the influx of internally displaced persons into Sindh and have demanded that Punjab and the NWFP set up camps at Attock Bridge, which connects the two provinces, to provide shelter to the IDPs.

They suggested that Sindh and Balochistan should shoulder the responsibility to provide maximum relief to the IDPs. Earlier, President Asif Ali Zardari had assured the Sindh chief minister that the entry of IDPs into Sindh would be allowed after registration.

According to Sindh’s chief minister, the provincial government is setting up camps at the Sindh-Punjab border — Obauro, Kashmore and Kandhkot — while camps are being set up near the toll plaza in Karachi. After registration, IDPs will be provided with the required facilities. Reports suggest that some 50,000 IDPs have come down to Karachi.

The Sindh government’s decision to welcome IDPs despite strong opposition from different political and social circles has created a tense situation. The Sindh government did not even take into confidence the cabinet members and MPAs. If it had, they would have not supported this policy. Sindh already has a large number of immigrants which has led to numerous problems in the province. This influx will add to the miseries of the locals with the potential to upset the province’s ethnic balance. The stance of the government should be clear: Karachi belongs to the people of Sindh. There are fears that migrants want to turn the Sindhis into a minority. The government’s decisions should be in line with the aspirations of the people.

This does not mean that the people of Sindh do not want to help the IDPs. They also think it is a humanitarian issue which should be dealt with immediately but not at the cost of the future of Sindh and its people. The registration would prove ineffective if the migrants don’t return. There have been protests against allowing the IDPs from entering the province by various circles. The province is incapable of bearing the burden of a growing refugee population. We think the concerns of the people of Sindh are justifiable and the provincial government should pay heed to them. The government should respect the mandate of the people of Sindh. — (May 23)

— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi


05:20 PM (GMT +5)

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