September 18, 2008
Ramazan 17, 1429
Soft on America?
STRANGE things are happening on the war against terrorism front. While President Zardari, Pakistan’s most powerful civilian leader, was shaking UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s hand outside No 10 Downing Street, Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was flying to Pakistan to hold emergency, unscheduled talks with the top brass of the Pakistan military. Adm Mullen also met Prime Minister Gilani on Wednesday, but the meeting with civilian leaders were clearly a sideshow. Chief of Army Staff Gen Kayani’s recent vow to defend Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty “at all costs” from foreign forces and subsequent noises from the military hierarchy all point to one fact: the military is angry — the word ‘enraged’ is being bandied about — by US attacks in Waziristan. Adm Mullen came to address that anger.
While President Zardari and his civilian cohorts have all rejected American military intervention inside Pakistan, the general tenor of their remarks has been restrained and suggests everyone — inside and outside Pakistan — needs to work to reduce the tension in the Pakistan-US relationship. President Zardari’s remarks to reporters after his meeting with Prime Minister Brown epitomise his government’s soft stance. The president “hoped” that there will be no more US attacks inside Pakistan and said that the UK “understands Pakistan’s position” on those attacks. Intriguingly, the president said that the UK had a better understanding of the subcontinent than any other country and was therefore ideally positioned to present Pakistan’s point of view to the world. President Zardari’s comments on British influence were an unfortunate contrast to those of former Indian prime minister, I.K. Gujral, who contemptuously dismissed Britain as a “third-rate power poking its nose in” when then-UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook dared to offer his country act as a mediator on the Kashmir issue. President Zardari’s comments were also strange given that the UK is furious about its troops losses in Afghanistan — over 30 have been killed this year in Helmand province, where most of the UK’s 8,000 troops are based — and has often blamed militants crossing over from Pakistan for those deaths. Significantly, Mr Zardari was unable to tell reporters that Prime Minister Brown agreed that US attacks in Pakistan were a bad idea.
The fact is American strikes inside Pakistan are a terrible idea. US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher has said the whole Pakistani state apparatus must line up behind the goal of beating the terrorists and stabilising Pakistan. Unfortunately, the Americans giving the terrorists a beating on Pakistani soil will do anything but stabilise Pakistan — and all but guarantees that even fewer Pakistanis will accept that our own army beating the terrorists is a good idea either. No doubt President Zardari and everyone down the de facto hierarchy of civilian power are new in office and faced with an extraordinary crisis. However, the president appears to have frozen in the face of an American onslaught. Mr Zardari must now use his speech before a joint sitting of parliament to explain his plan for defeating militancy — and keeping the Americans at bay.
Political antics in Punjab
REPORTS of efforts to unsettle the Shahbaz Sharif government in Punjab do not inspire hope of a lasting order based on the principles of democracy and tolerance. The PML-N, which heads the now uneasy coalition in Lahore, is justified in objecting to any moves to destabilise its government. The PPP maintains that it is not planning to stage a coup against Mr Sharif, yet overtures made by PPP men such as Governor Salman Taseer defy the assurances held out by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his party colleagues.
The PPP did allow the PML-N to not only take control of Punjab but also consolidate its hold on power. With help from the PML-Q, the PPP could muster the number required to form a government in Punjab after the Feb 18 election. The PPP could in fact have managed to secure for itself the slot of chief minister of Punjab — a title that has eluded the party for more than three decades now. That opportunity was not taken, we were proudly told, in the interest of democracy and national reconciliation. Theoretically, the PPP has no case now for mounting a challenge to the Sharif government in the province since PML-N is by far the biggest party in the Punjab Assembly. Practically, Taseer & Co may have a numerical chance of taking power in Lahore but given the acrimony the act will surely lead to, the party which is in power at the centre may be well advised to refrain from any such adventure.
This is one side of the story and it will be impossible to absolve the PML-N of all blame should it lose its grip on power in Punjab. It is difficult to say which came first — the PPP’s effort to seize the biggest and most powerful province or the PML-N’s attempt to force the PPP to sit on the opposition benches. The PML-N had to leave the federal cabinet after its partner broke a pledge. The PPP’s support for Mian Shahbaz Sharif was not conditional on the fulfilment of any promise. Consequently, it can be argued that the PPP has no moral compulsion to leave the Punjab cabinet. If any party has that compulsion, it is the PML-N which continues in power while judges continue to be re-sworn at the Lahore High Court barely a kilometre away from the Punjab Assembly.
Time for the kill
MONSOONS always herald the dreaded return of the deadly dengue mosquito, yet authorities have never failed to deliver an unapologetic repeat performance — a failure to advocate timely precaution that can prevent a yearly epidemic. Reports claim that on Tuesday, as many as 16 new suspected patients of dengue were admitted to various hospitals in Karachi. Unsurprisingly, this year too the figures for dengue victims remain alarming. According to the Sindh health minister, 598 people have been brought to health facilities across the province and 172 have tested positive for the vector-borne virus. Karachi is home to over 60 victims out of which, claims the minister, some 24 have been discharged. Dismal statistics persist despite last year’s 25 dengue deaths with an astounding 3,000 reported incidents of infection. Earlier this year, relevant authorities had expressed fears that the virus may acquire a year-round presence if apt and immediate preventive measures are not adopted. Needless to say, these steps become all the more imperative given that only 20 per cent of the population has access to malarial treatment; the same for dengue.
This week, the Sindh health minister announced that his government intends to embark on a public awareness campaign against Aids, Hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, polio, pneumonia and dengue. The department has prepared a documentary for the electronic media which will be supported by radio and print campaigns. However, where the move is well-founded, it can quite literally be saved for a rainy day. The monsoons have left us with many victims — a situation that was perfectly avoidable had the same initiative been generated earlier in the year. It seems that once again health officials have failed to value time. Regrettably, the poor timing of elaborate health initiatives renders them irrelevant, especially in a country where the absence of new mosquito control technology makes a well-timed approach the only remedy to such outbreaks.
OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press
Another ‘Black Monday’The Peninsula, Qatar
THE US Federal Reserve has allocated $70bn in an effort to bail out the country’s fragile financial system through open operations after stock markets in New York and across the world suffered a severe blow on Monday.
The world had not recovered from the shock of subprime meltdown when two of Wall Street’s major banking and finance firms, Lehman Brothers, America’s fourth largest investment company, filed for bankruptcy protection while Merrill Lynch, which was worth $100bn last year, sold out to Bank of America for a ‘paltry’ $50bn…. Unfortunately, Lehman Brothers could not find a buyer for saving investors and to redeem its reputation. It was yet another ‘Black Monday’ in the history of Wall Street, which nose-dived 500 points, after the 1987 debacle in America’s financial hub. Financial markets crashed 21 years ago also on a Monday. The heat is being felt in almost all the stock markets, including Qatar, with losses amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars due to poor mortgage finance and unproductive real estate investments besides leaving the fate of some 85,000 staff of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch uncertain.
The Doha Securities Market (DSM) fell sharply by 7.06 per cent while the Gulf Arab stocks recorded the lowest in 14 months. It has been reported that foreign investors have been taking profits in DSM, causing a heavy dent in the securities market….
Now, the million-dollar question before the financial pundits … is, will Uncle Sam step in with effective pragmatic measures to stem the rot? — (Sept 16)
Cowardly acts of terror
THE series of explosions that rocked Delhi on Saturday was claimed to have been instigated by a group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen. Quite what their objectives are, they have not disclosed. But it must be assumed that they are trying to create divisions between Hindus and Muslims, with the attacks being undertaken not only during Ramazan, but also close to some important Hindu festivals.
What is particularly alarming is that these despicable and cowardly acts against innocent people are aimed at weakening the communal harmony in the country. This wouldn’t be the first time such attempts have been made in India. In the latest case, five bombs were set off in random fashion around New Delhi. This shows complete disregard for human life. Bombs are not target specific; to the contrary they will destroy anyone and anything in their reach. The people calling themselves Indian Mujahideen have demonstrated contempt for human life. Ramazan, when these explosions took place, is not a time for violence against one’s fellow beings. It is a time for prayer, fasting and contemplation.
Yet it is glaringly apparent that the so-called Indian Mujahideen prefer to create violence and havoc in busy marketplaces, and that also at times when the markets will be most crowded. The penchant for violence in India is increasing as both Hindus and Muslims resort to the wanton form of destruction that we saw on Saturday. It is a fruitless exercise to resort to death and injury to prove a point.… — (Sept 15)
By Jehanzeb Raja
THE world in general and Pakistan in particular have witnessed cataclysmic events which have had a profound impact on their psyche, behaviour and conduct. These events are interrelated in one way or another.
Would it be prudent to state that 9/11 shaped not only US behaviour and attitude towards others but also confined the regional ambitions of emerging powers to ‘preferred policy goals’? While India emerged as the preferred power to deal with in South Asia, Pakistan, despite its honeymoon with the coalition forces in Afghanistan, did not find long-term favour.
In the new world order, Washington’s priorities were to commit US forces to two potential conflict zones simultaneously in order to be able to regulate their final outcome. While Iraq and Afghanistan emerged as ‘near threats’, North Korea and Iran were long-term threats which could wait. Resultantly, Pakistan was marginalised in its quest for recognition as a self-professed regional power.
Pakistan’s Kashmir policy took a direct hit because of its alleged military support to ‘freedom fighters’ in Kashmir, and seen as terrorists trying to destabilise a democratic India. Kargil and its fallout were symptoms of a larger malaise which we failed to recognise: our attempts to find strategic depth in Afghanistan and the consequent rebound on the intervention of US forces, much to the detriment of the state’s long-term strategic goals vis-à-vis India.
Intelligence-gathering during peacetime negates or confirms the ‘hypotheses’ wargamed for a potential conflict, both external and internal. While our conclusions over the post-Kargil standoff with India with respect to avoiding an all-out war may be correct, the exploitation of the environment went in India’s favour, with the knowledge that the US would not allow an all-out war between two nuclear powers, especially when its game plan was unfolding in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Consequently, we lost face both on the political and military fronts because of India’s superior exterior and internal manoeuvres. A poor understanding of the international political environment led to faulty conclusions being drawn which included the assumption that Kargil would ultimately result in a stalemate, with India accepting the intrusion as a consequence of its Siachen adventure. Nothing could have been more out of sync with US interests in the region. We faced a humiliating retreat once India was given the ‘go ahead’ by the US leadership.
The insurgency pattern in Balochistan can be seen in its revival after 1974 and subsequently as it gathered momentum in 2000, especially in relation to the US interest of isolating an increasingly dominating Iran in the region. The IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline was planned under an adverse international environment, where the long-term ambitions of the US in the region were ignored. Meanwhile, the alternative energy options from Turkmenistan and Qatar, widely supported by the US, were ignored to our own detriment especially in view of the lack of control over the security situation in Balochistan. The pattern is reversed in Afghanistan’s north where relative peace prevails and where the Northern Alliance guarantees security for alternative power transmission lines through Wakhan and the Kunduz province.
What does this mean to our strategic analysts? Considering the expected acute shortage of energy in the coming years, we will perforce gravitate towards these ‘preferred options’. Why then must we squander millions of dollars in feasibility studies and waste precious time in the process?
In a post-9/11 world, notions of sovereignty, independent foreign policy and ‘first-strike capability’ in a conventional conflict have to be seriously reviewed. During Kargil, preparations to arm strike aircraft with nuclear warheads and the movement of strategic launchers to forward launch sites were picked up by US surveillance immediately, with warnings being issued to both antagonists to scale down this alert. The launching of Tomahawk cruise missiles over Pakistan’s sovereign airspace and meant for Al Qaeda/Taliban targets in Afghanistan in 2001 is a case in point where information was shared at the last moment with Pakistan, and that too to avoid a misunderstanding concerning a possible Indian strike. Again, during Operation Enduring Freedom, US strategic over-flights in Pakistan’s airspace were forced upon a vacillating government, which had not fully comprehended the dynamics of the unfolding US strategy in the region. Not only were over-flight rights given, certain PAF airfields were also handed over (officially for logistic support) to US ground forces for the conduct of Afghan-based operations. Why did we fail to adapt to the changing military strategy in our region?
First and foremost, the fixed mindset of our strategic analysts, and the notion that Pakistan was militarily weaker than India led to a strategy of pre-emption, or choosing the time and place to strike first to neutralise enemy war plans in a reactive mode. Also the idea of capturing strategic depth or the centre of gravity to quickly bring about a reversal in strategic operations has to be seen in the early arrival of military thresholds.
Is the conventional wisdom of using direct military force preferred over the weakening of the state from within by means of insurgency and insurrection? Is this the preferred model post 9/11?
A reappraisal of Pakistan’s threat assessment will point towards greater emphasis on internal threat especially in view of the Taliban and Baloch insurgencies in two provinces. While the conventional military threat has receded where Pakistan’s traditional enemy is concerned, the preferred model is the attrition-based one that advocates prolonged internal operations leading to the erosion of will and an economic meltdown.
The ultimate aim of weakening the state from within is to erode the capacity to launch military operations and the logistic sustainability for future military endeavours in Kashmir and Afghanistan — in other words to make it a pliant state to allow the ambitions of outside state actors to unfold; and so that minimal resistance is offered. There seems to be a paralysis in the minds of our policymakers on what to do in the given scenario.
The writer is a retired brigadier.
By Audrey Gillan
THEY clutched union flags and held pictures of the Queen, and some wore rows of medals across their breasts. But the words on the banners that they unfurled spelled out their protest: “Gurkhas Won 13 VCs But Still Unwanted By UK.”
On Tuesday, hundreds of Gurkha veterans gathered outside the high court in London to mark the beginning of a battle against the British government’s refusal to grant settlement in the United Kingdom to those who retired from the regiment before 1997.
The actor Joanna Lumley told the gathering: “My father served alongside the Gurkhas for 30 years. I am a daughter of the regiment. He would be absolutely overwhelmed with shame and fury that we have behaved this way to the Gurkhas, our most loyal and constant friends..”
Lumley rallied them with the words “ayo Gurkhali”, the traditional battle cry meaning “Gurkhas go forward”. Many veterans see this as their final fight: five have died in the time that it has taken for their appeals to be heard.
The UK government argues that since the Gurkhas’ regimental headquarters were in Hong Kong until 1997, those who retired before then would not have developed significant ties to the UK. Five Gurkhas who have been refused visas on this basis are spearheading what will be a test case for almost 2,000 other similar refusals.
The Gurkhas, who have fought and died for the British for almost two centuries, insist that their ties are strong. Arguing their case, Edward Fitzgerald QC told the court that the Home Office’s claim that those who retired before 1997 could not have built up close ties to the UK was not rational. “To say this is to ignore the history of the Gurkhas. And it is to ignore the special debt this country owes to all Gurkhas, past and present,” he said. “What matters is the fact of service, not the location of service.”
Soldiers recruited from the Commonwealth to the British army have a right to settle in Britain after four years of service anywhere in the world, under a policy known as the Armed Forces Concession (AFC). Fitzgerald said the AFC “elevates three years in UK barracks beyond the defence of Britain abroad”.
Present in court, in their wheelchairs, were two Gurkha soldiers who were awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. Tulbahadur Pun, 85, was decorated for charging the enemy alone and enabling his platoon to move forward. Lachiman Gurung lost a hand when, after lobbing back a number of enemy grenades, the third one he threw exploded in his hand — he continued to fire at the enemy for four hours. Pun was awarded a settlement visa only after a special concession followed a high-profile campaign; Gurung does not have one.
— The Guardian, London
Ramazan 20, 1429
September 21, 2008
The president’s speech
GOVERNORS, chief ministers, parliamentarians, advisors, services chiefs, diplomats and unelected politicians — all converged on parliament yesterday to watch President Asif Ali Zardari deliver his inaugural speech to a joint session of parliament. The full pageantry of democracy was on display and it was reassuring to see, for once, politicians, opposition and treasury members alike, adhere to more elevated norms of civility. The main show, however, was the president’s speech — which left one feeling short-changed. While the nation looked towards the president for policy, the president provided rhetoric instead. Only a few hours later, the bombing in Islamabad was a macabre reminder — if one was needed — of the high stakes involved.
The bombing also provided a gory backdrop to President Zardari’s remarks on the war against terrorism. The president’s voice rose when — in a clear allusion to recent US strikes inside Fata — he said that Pakistan will “not tolerate any violation” of its sovereignty. However, no explanation was given of how the government will go about fulfilling its vow. The president rightly pointed out that Pakistan must understand the “limits of confrontation” — an armed confrontation between Pakistan and the US or Afghanistan would be disastrous and must be avoided at all costs. However, Pakistanis are confused by the do-nothing policy of its leaders. One clear, positive measure announced by the president was the holding of an in-camera joint session of parliament to brief MPs on the militancy threat. Yet the president did not take the nation into confidence on the situation in Bajaur, Swat, Khyber, Kurram, Mohmand, Waziristan, Dir — which inevitably will be linked to yesterday’s bombing.
About the constitution and the much-maligned, anti-parliament Seventeenth Amendment and Article 58-2(b), the president boasted: “Never before has a president stood here and given away his powers.” But the president only invited an “all-party committee” to “revisit” the constitutional amendments. No timeline and no specifics of what will be changed were given. The PPP’s law minister, Farooq H. Naek, has already mooted an 80-point constitutional amendment package that covers the anti-parliament amendments and much more. Pakistanis are rightly suspicious of open-ended committees charged with vague responsibilities.
Similarly, the president’s comments on Balochistan were disappointing. It clearly goes to the credit of the government that violence in Balochistan has come to a virtual halt in recent weeks. However, the president gave no next-steps or roadmap on how his government hopes to achieve permanent peace in the restive province. The only sign of acknowledgment of issues in the smaller provinces was his call to the government to “restore” provincial autonomy and rename the NWFP Pakhtunkhwa.
The economy too got the glib treatment. President Zardari promised to take Pakistan out of the artificial darkness caused by the electricity shortage; to position the country as a hub of regional commerce and trade; and to revive sustainable growth. How all this will be achieved was left unsaid.
FORMER mayor of Bogotá Enrique Penalosa had a point when he said at a seminar in Karachi the other day that high-speed signal-free highways would not necessarily rid the city of its mounting traffic woes. The number of vehicles, he warned, would rise in time to fill — in fact clog — the expanded roads, leaving the environment even more polluted and causing the government to run up a more massive fuel import bill. Clearly, a long-term solution is needed. Times without number this newspaper has made an impassioned plea for the revival of the city’s circular railway, which in the mid-1980s operated over 100 trains and was used by around six million passengers every year. Neglected by successive governments pursuing skewed urban transport priorities, the rail-based mass transit system collapsed in the late 1990s when the number of trains dropped to a disappointing two.
However, the hope that the Karachi circular railway might be up and running were rekindled recently when the Central Development Working Party, which has the authority of approving projects submitted by various ministries, decided that the Rs52.3bn KCR project would be executed within three years. The government is expecting the foreign component of the investment — raised by a key Japanese government agency — to be Rs39.2bn. The circular railway would have the capacity for carrying 700,000 passengers daily using over 240 eight-coach electric trains. The 50-kilometre dual-track railway project would have 23 underpasses and overhead bridges — bypassing the current 18 level crossings — and 23 stations in the city. The Karachi Urban Transport Corporation, which is the executing agency of the KCR, is said to be currently in the process of undertaking an environment impact assessment of the project.
It has been argued that one of the reasons why the circular railway fell by the wayside in the past was that it gradually became inaccessible to commuters who took up residence in newly established localities not linked by the rail loop. This problem is being overcome by laying a six-kilometre-long track to the existing circular railway infrastructure connecting the Jinnah Terminal with the Drigh Road station and running buses to the rail stations. Like most mega-cities, Karachi needs and deserves a rail-based mass transit system. It is about time the city took a first step in this direction.
Children for sale
IT is tragic that incidents of parents selling their children are increasingly in the news these days. One such case is that of Aisha Malik who offered her two children for sale in Hyderabad’s main bazaar some time back. What was the government’s response? The prime minister sought a report on the incident and sent some compensation money to the woman who was given shelter by a charity organisation. This may have been a heartwarming deed, but one ought to be looking at the entire picture of internal trafficking in the country. It is no secret that thousands of vulnerable women and children are trafficked to settle debts and disputes or forced into sexual exploitation or involuntary servitude.
Internal trafficking is a manifestation of extreme poverty and it is mainly poverty alleviation programmes that will help mitigate the problem. In these perilous times of high inflation, subsidies for health and education are essential for low-income and destitute families to ease the burden of supporting children. However, other aspects of the problem also need to be dealt with, one of which is bringing down the population rate. Regular family planning campaigns in all parts of the country will go a long way in dispelling impracticable notions and ensure that there are smaller families with fewer needs. Unfortunately, little progress has been made on this score and much remains to be done to bring down the fertility rate.
Deterrence is of equal importance. Selling children should be treated as a crime. As advised by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, those parents selling their children in the name of ‘unemployment and poverty’ should be arrested, and it is the government’s responsibility to take action against those who are involved in selling minors. Undoubtedly, along with the other measures proposed, this will discourage such actions in the future.
Who needs the NFC?
By Dr Pervez Tahir
THE constitution of a National Finance Commission (NFC) has been among the early decisions taken by the democratic regime. The only two consensual awards emerged during democratic regimes in the past, one under Mr Bhutto and the other during the first tenure of Nawaz Sharif. That might happen yet again. So, at least, all well-meaning souls wish. But will it, with positions and even postures set in stone?
Each province now has its well-known position, with a Kalabagh-like regime-neutral provincial consensus. Territorially the largest province, Balochistan wants territory to be the basis of distribution. The NWFP is the poorest; it insists on poverty and backwardness as the criteria for horizontal distribution. Sindh believes it collects the most taxes and would like it to be the basis. Punjab is the most populated and has had the muscle to keep population as the sole criterion in the apportionment of resources. If the presidential election is any guide, this time round the power has tilted in the other direction.
One shudders to think how this new matrix will play up in the deliberations of the recently constituted NFC, the conciliatory gestures of Mian Shahbaz Sharif towards the smaller provinces notwithstanding.
Resource distribution had haunted the unitary federation inherited in 1947 from its very inception and was finally its undoing in the smog of 1971. Reading the proceedings of the Pakistan Economic Association in the 1950s and the 1960s, one comes across a recurrent view of the Bengali economists about the unfair centre-province resource distribution. At play had been the logic of power.
East Pakistan was the condemned, over-breeding province; so population could not be the criterion of resource distribution. ‘National interest’ demanded parity. Once that unfortunate province was seen off by the forces that be, population was unashamedly enforced as the sole criterion of federal-provincial apportionment.
The Panel of Economists set up by the Planning Commission in 1969-70 on the Fourth Plan came out with two separate reports, a Bengali report and another by Punjab- and Karachi-based economists representing West Pakistan. The plan never took off. The Panel of Economists recently set up by the Planning Commission to prepare the next five-year plan is drawn almost entirely from what President Zardari described in his recent Washington Post article as “an elite oligarchy, located exclusively in a region stretching between Lahore and Rawalpindi-Islamabad” and Karachi, with an IFI nexus as the most common denominator.
Nominal representation of economists from Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and none from rural Sindh, the Seraiki belt of our amiable prime minister, Fata, AJK, and Northern Areas gives little hope for inclusive development or the ‘Pakistan Khappey’ project.
Arrogance like this has sown the seeds of a deep mistrust in the federating units. Resources are generated in provinces, not Islamabad Capital Territory. Should the provinces trust the federal government with the major chunk of their resources? The last NFC was subverted by the Musharraf government by shifting the focus from the vertical distribution on which there was a consensus to horizontal distribution between the provinces.
All provinces were agreed that the federal share be reduced to 50 per cent from the hefty 62.5 per cent fixed by the NFC 1997 on the advice of the current chairman of the Panel of Economists. Instead of acting on this united stand, the Musharraf-Aziz government challenged the provinces to come out with a new formula for distribution among them. The inevitable result was a deadlock, giving Musharraf the chance to impose an interim award to protect the federal share.
The success of the new NFC hinges on two actions by the federal government and an act of entente by the Punjab. The former has to implement this year, not over the years, the provincial consensus that already exists on a 50:50 vertical distribution with no deduction of collection charges, and the latter has to accept population as just one of the criteria. If the unlikely happens, and the NFC moves on rather than witnesses walkouts and boycotts in the very first session, then a possible consensus formula may be à la the Senate elections: equal weightage to population, territory, poverty and revenue collection.
Roughly, the resulting weighted average will give Punjab 36.42 per cent compared to 57.36 per cent at present, Sindh will improve to 29.34 per cent against the existing 23.71 per cent, the NWFP’s gain will be 15.19 per cent compared to 13.82 per cent at present and Balochistan will claim 19.05 per cent against the existing share of 5.11 per cent. The fact of Balochistan being the only significant gainer, and the estimates of tax collection and poverty, will raise the temperature of the discussion at the NFC. What is acceptable for the Senate may not be acceptable for resource distribution.
If inter-provincial disharmony is what NFCs promote, who needs them? My reading of the positions taken by the smaller provinces is that the issue is not more resources but control over their resources. That understood the response has to be to allow each tier of government a major elastic tax of its own. The federal government can live perfectly well within its constitutional limits on taxes on incomes including agricultural incomes, and customs. Sales tax should return to the provinces. Local government qualifies for the third tier; it must be allowed all property-related taxation. Further, provinces should have full control over their natural resources.In case of need, any tier should be able to approach the Council of Common Interests (CCI) and negotiate assistance from other tiers. In the interest of efficiency, the Federal Board of Revenue may continue to collect all taxes but it should be placed under the CCI and be funded by fixed collection charges.
The writer teaches at the GC University, Lahore.
Mbeki in trouble
By Chris McGreal
PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki’s political future hung in the balance on Friday as South Africa’s ruling party debated whether to force him from office and a leading former judge said he should be put on trial for allegedly misusing his power to try to imprison the man likely to succeed him, Jacob Zuma.
The African National Congress national executive began a three-day meeting at which Mbeki’s future will be decided after a high court judge accused the president and senior justice officials of being part of an illegal conspiracy to charge Zuma, the ANC’s president, with corruption for political ends.
Mbeki’s critics were lobbying hard for his removal, although earlier in the week Zuma was more cautious. South Africa’s influential council of churches warned that ousting Mbeki could create chaos.
Before the meeting, Mbeki launched a robust defence of his actions saying in a statement that the “insults” hurled at him were not based on facts. He denied any involvement in the decision to prosecute Zuma and said “no evidence has been provided by those making the claim”.
But the president received another blow before the meeting began when one of the country’s most respected former judges, Willem Heath, called for the president, his former justice minister, Penuell Maduna, and the former chief prosecutor, Bulelani Ngcuka, to be charged with crimes for pursuing a political prosecution. His call followed a ruling last week by a high court judge, Chris Nicholson, against the prosecution of Zuma, which he said was the result of “baleful political influence”.
Heath told a Johannesburg newspaper, the Mail and Guardian, that South Africans needed protection from the “systematic abuse, detailed in the judgment, of organs of state by the president and his purported henchmen.
“If the behaviour found by Nicholson is not addressed, the application of the principle of the separation of powers will remain at the whim of those who have seemingly been using it most effectively for personal gain.”
Some senior party officials said they would not support ousting Mbeki because of the damage it would do to the party.
Mbhazima Shilowa, the premier of Gauteng province, with Johannesburg and Pretoria at its heart, said that a no-confidence vote would divide the ANC. “I think members of the executive will not vote for that motion,” he said. “I personally don’t think the judgment provides any basis to say the president must go.” But some ANC factions, including the party’s youth league, Communists and trade unionists have lobbied hard to oust Mbeki.
The council of churches said that removing Mbeki could plunge the country into a crisis. “In our view, the recalling or impeachment of the president will lead to the collapse of the current executive and would plunge the country into an unnecessary crisis.”
— The Guardian, London
OTHER VOICES - Indian Press
THE warning given to the Orissa and Karnataka governments under Article 355 of the constitution is the minimum the centre could have done in the given situation. By their failure to protect the life and property of the minorities, the two governments have invited the wrath of the central government.
The article empowers the centre to issue a warning if the constitutional obligations are not met by the state concerned. If the warning is not heeded, it can dismiss the state governments and impose president’s rule. The centre has taken this step only after agencies like the National Minorities Commission and the National Human Rights Commission have sent their representatives to these states to study the situation. They have come across mounting evidence of the complicity of the states concerned in the perpetration of atrocities on the Christian community.
In Orissa, the dastardly murder of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader — Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati — by the Naxalites has been used as a ruse to attack the Christians in Kandhamal district. The state clearly failed in protecting the life of the swami, who faced a threat to his life, and, later, the life and property of the Christians. A large number of them have been pauperised by the orgy of violence let loose by the Sangh Parivar cadres. The state police could do precious little to save them from persecution. The hoodlums could not have dared to behave in this manner except in the blissful knowledge that the government led by the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal would not challenge them.
Perhaps, taking a cue from their compatriots in Orissa, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal unleashed violence against the Christians in several districts in southern Karnataka. Many old churches in Mangalore and other places were vandalised, ostensibly in protest against a booklet alleged to have been published by a neo-Christian. Instead of taking action against the author and the publisher for the sacrilegious book, the state allowed the Hindutva goons to take the law into their own hands. Television clippings showed the police attacking convents and manhandling nuns and other inmates in the name of controlling the situation. We hope the two state governments will heed the warning and protect the minorities which is their constitutional obligation. Failure to do so can expose them to more drastic remedies under the constitutional scheme of things. — (Sept 20)
Ramazan 21, 1429
September 22, 2008
Tough but essential
THE government has ignored the country’s sliding economy for far too long. Until a few days back, it appeared to have totally lost its focus on the economy. It seemed as if the entire federal cabinet was preoccupied with politics, and the government couldn’t spare even a single minister to attend to the worsening economic and financial imbalances in spite of clarion calls from the central bank and others. The announcement, however, of what the finance minister termed on Friday as a ‘crucial’ macroeconomic stabilisation programme is expected to renew official focus on the sliding economy.
The stabilisation package, which seeks to discourage luxury imports, put an end to government borrowings from the central bank and cut subsidies and other government expenditure in the short term, is likely to bring about the much needed macroeconomic stability, narrow fiscal and current account deficits, tame inflation and preserve foreign exchange reserves. According to the minister the strategy put together to cope with the macroeconomic challenges was ‘homegrown’. He, however, acknowledged that the government had ‘consulted’ multilateral lenders like the IMF and the World Bank before finalising the stabilisation programme.
Apart from other measures, the government’s firefighting effort primarily focuses on complete elimination of energy subsidies by the end of the current fiscal to cut expenditure for reducing budgetary deficit down to 4.7 per cent of the GDP. The oil subsidy has already been eliminated with the recent domestic price adjustments, and gas is expected to become more expensive over the next few weeks. The price of electricity has already been raised by 47 per cent, including 16 per cent general sales tax, in two months and whatever remains of subsidy on it will be gone by June 30, if not before. That will save the government several billions of rupees it has to pay out of the budget.
There is little room for disputing the principle behind the elimination of subsidies. But the fact remains that the poor- to lower-income segment of the population suffer the most whenever government support on basic necessities like energy and food are withdrawn. A big majority of the population will be forced to slash essential expenditure on education and healthcare to cope with the higher food, transport and energy costs if their income does not keep pace with higher costs. It is where the government needs to intervene and protect the poor and the fixed income groups. But the government, it seems, is more likely to focus only on the macroeconomic stability at least for the time being and not on the hardships the people are going to face owing to the elimination of subsidies. And that will be tragic for the poor of the country.
THE carnage at Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel has shocked Pakistan and has been rightly condemned. The target may have been ‘western’ but the timing — soon after iftar — ensured that the majority of victims were Pakistani. In the days ahead, the bombing will take to a fever pitch the debate about whether Pakistan is fighting its own war against terrorism or America’s. The debate will miss the point: it is an internal war, and it goes to the heart of what we want Pakistan to be. Do we want a country that provides a decent standard of living in a safe environment for its citizens? Or do we want to fight ideological wars that will condemn us to a vicious cycle of death and destruction? For the terrorism apologists, a strange distinction holds: that those opposing the Americans or Indians or the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan are not our concern because they do not want to harm us. This is not true. They do harm us because they retard our future and, as the Marriott bombing so viciously demonstrated, they destroy our present.
More urgently than ever, the defence establishment needs to get its act together. The civilian leaders and their uniformed counterparts must draw up a clear policy to fight terrorism. Pakistan is not faced with an ordinary law and order situation and the terrorist violence is not confined to a few areas. A counter-insurgency strategy is needed for all parts of Pakistan and the defence establishment must quickly pull together every strand of available resources. No doubt even the most efficient administrations in the world would be taxed by such a task. But what is truly distressing about Pakistan is the utter lack of any visible direction. Since Aug 6, Pakistan has been fighting militants in Bajaur. Yet virtually no one in the country is aware of who we are fighting and why. Worse yet, it’s not clear who is responsible for the operation: the political government, the military or both? Is it any surprise that the people are confused and split when they do not know who we are fighting, why we are fighting and even who ‘we’ is?
AS we near the third anniversary of the Oct 8, 2005 earthquake, which this year will coincide with the International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction, it is heartening to note that some form of a permanent disaster management infrastructure, which did not exist on the day the quake struck, is finally emerging. The National Disaster Management Authority, established in Dec 2006 for implementing the disaster management policies of the National Disaster Management Commission, recently signed a memorandum of understanding with a leading European rescue service to establish three specialised urban search and rescue teams in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.
The NDMA is also organising the first national disaster risk management conference-cum-exhibition in Islamabad to impress the need for full activation of provincial as well as district-level disaster management authorities, including one in the federal capital. Meanwhile, the recent modernisation of Islamabad’s fire-fighting service and the expansion in the Punjab cities of the emergency service, Rescue 1122, first established in 2004, are other positive additions to our disaster management infrastructure. Then there is also the National Volunteer Movement formed about a month after the Oct 8 earthquake to coordinate the relief activities of individual volunteers and several private organisations. This continues to encourage public volunteerism by recruiting, training and maintaining a pool of young people ready to be mobilised and deployed to help in disaster relief and rehabilitative operations.
However, one important aspect of disaster preparedness that we need to focus greater attention on is public awareness through education and community participation, an aspect which international agencies concerned with disaster reduction have been promoting since the post-tsunami 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters. One of HFA’s priorities emphasises the use of knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels. Children in schools are not only vulnerable to threats posed by natural disasters; aided by teachers and administrators, they can be powerful agents of change as well, provided they are armed with the knowledge of how to prepare in advance, how to act on warning and how to reduce risks at home and in their communities. It is therefore essential to make disaster-risk education a component of the national school curricula. As with various other aspects of life including career, health and civic consciousness, building a culture of disaster prevention, preparedness and resilience also begins at school.
OTHER VOICES - North American Press
The New York Times
YES, immigration is a complicated and combustible issue for political candidates — and the economic meltdown is everyone’s top priority. No, that is no excuse for ignoring immigration or lying about it to voters, as John McCain and Barack Obama have been doing.
Mr McCain lied first, in a Spanish-language ad that accused Mr Obama of helping to kill immigration reform last year, by voting for amendments that supposedly doomed a bipartisan bill. The ad lamented the result: “No guest worker programme. No path to citizenship. No secure borders. No reform. Is that being on our side?”
For Mr McCain to suggest that Mr Obama opposes the “path to citizenship” and “guest worker programme” compounds his dishonesty. Mr Obama supports the three pillars of comprehensive reform — tougher enforcement, expanded legal immigration and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here.
Mr McCain was an architect of just such a comprehensive bill. But he is also leading a party whose members rabidly oppose the path to citizenship. So, in deference to them, Mr McCain now emphasises border security as the utmost priority. Except when he’s pandering in Spanish.
Mr Obama’s retaliatory ad, also in Spanish, was just as fraudulent. It slimed Mr McCain as a friend and full-bore ally of restrictionists like Rush Limbaugh, even though Mr Limbaugh has long attacked Mr McCain’s immigration moderation. It quotes Mr Limbaugh as calling all Mexicans stupid and ordering them to “shut your mouth or get out”, which he never did….
Meanwhile, the Bush administration keeps raiding factories and farms, terrorising immigrant families while exposing horrific accounts of workplace abuses. Children toil in slaughterhouses; detainees languish in federal lock-ups, dying without decent medical care.
Both candidates once espoused smart, thoughtful positions for fixing the problem. But Mr McCain is shuffling in step with his restrictionist party. Mr Obama gave immigration one brief mention at the Democratic convention, in a litany of big-trouble issues, like abortion, guns and same-sex marriage, on which he seemed to say that the best Americans could hope for are small compromises and to agree to disagree.
They’re both wrong. The country needs to hear better answers, stated clearly and forthrightly over the shouting. The answer to immigration is what it was last year: comprehensive reform that extends order and the rule of law to a system that is broken in a million complex ways. Mr McCain and Mr Obama both know this. They should get back to telling the truth about it, in English and in Spanish. — (Sept 19)
Being lost in passion
By Zafar Masud
A FEW weeks back we had discussed the yearly gastronomy festival of Paris. Let us revisit that delicious domain, but this time to discover the fabulous odyssey of a young Swiss national who was in the habit of citing the fifth-century French thinker St Augustine to elucidate his philosophy of life: “The one who is lost in his passion is not as lost as the one who has lost his passion.” But before we pursue the hot trail of Pascal Henry, a few words about the little red book of gastronomy with a name that is already familiar to most readers as that of a famous manufacturer of automobile tyres. Michelin is also known for its prestigious restaurant guide, a bible of sorts to gourmets all over the world. As any dedicated restaurant owner will confirm, being cited in the Michelin guide is an honour, being awarded one star in it is a lifetime’s crowning glory for a chef and being consecrated with two stars is tantamount to entering the realm of what can safely be described as a culinary Vatican. With three stars, a chef has the right to claim the status of a Greek god. They invariably do.
Time to return to our story. Pascal Henry had quietly followed, albeit astride a hotrod motorcycle, the modest career of a dispatch letters and packages deliveryman in the beautiful city of Geneva in his native Switzerland. His salary was modest but at age 46 he was free of any family constraints, so to speak of. This had meant some savings in the bank and a comfortable retirement to look forward to.
The wise have, through the beginning of time, agreed satiety incontrovertibly leads to tedium; and our hero was no exception. Besides, Pascal Henry had a passion: eating in good restaurants. So he decided early this summer to take a long leave from work and embark on a fantastic voyage round the globe that was to take him to the restaurants which boast of three Michelin stars in the little red book. Twenty-six of these are based in France, seven in Spain, five in Italy, nine in Germany, three in England, two each in Switzerland, Belgium and Holland, eight in Japan and four in the United States. Henry’s plan was to visit the above nine countries and grace the tables of all the 68 fabled temples of gastronomy.
There, however, was a snag. Though his lifetime’s savings were enough and some, to kick-start the mind-boggling, and stomach-churning one might add, wanderlust around the globe, travelling to nine countries, staying at hotels and dining at top-class restaurants could cost a fortune, to say the least.
So Pascal Henry struck upon a strategy that he made sure to discuss with Paul Bocuse, the dean of the French chefs from whose restaurant in Collonge in France he began his adventure on the fifth of May this year.
Following a hearty meal and a heated conversation, Bocuse was impressed enough by the young man’s gastronomic passion to have himself photographed in his company and to write a few words about him and his unusual voyage in the blank pages of an elaborate album that Henry had been careful to carry with him.
This, the young adventurer had correctly surmised, would be useful recommendation to the chefs whose establishments he would be visiting in future and the snowballing of similar tributary notes and photographs would help him, who knew, cut corners here and there on a multitude of expenses.
The strategy worked! Pascal Henry successfully savoured his way through great restaurants run by such legendary chefs as Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy, Bernard Loiseau, and many more, his collection of autographs and photographs growing rapidly in size by the day.
Needless to say repetitive consumption of good food and fine wines contributed to the gourmet adventurer’s own size as well and by the time he entered the door of El Bulli, the celebrated three-star restaurant in Cala Monjoi, Spain, on the 12th of June, according to his own admission Pascal Henry was eight kilos heavier than when he had begun his journey some five weeks earlier.
Ell Bulli was the 40th restaurant Pascal Henry was eating at and there had remained 28 more to go to. As he finished his meals that fateful evening he was approached by a group of journalists who had wanted to interview him. A brief conversation followed and Pascal Henry suddenly dug into his pocket for his visiting cards.
“Oh, I left them in the car. Hang on, I’ll be back in a minute.”
He never came back. He left on the table the unpaid bill and his famous album with signed notes and recommendations and his photographs with the great chefs. Today Interpol is looking for him in all the countries he had been to and rumours are rife he might have returned to Switzerland where he could be hiding under a false identity.
Pascal Henry’s disappearance remains as mysterious, and totally as illogical, as his adventure was fantastic.
The writer is a journalist based in Paris.
Blair faces grilling
By Ed Pilkington
TONY Blair opened a new chapter of his public life Friday night when the man who honed his debating skills in the rowdy context of the Westminster parliament applied them to the far more sedate setting of a lecture hall at Yale.
The former prime minister began a term-long series of seminars on faith and globalisation at the Ivy League university, in his first experience of teaching. With his new title as Howland Distinguished Fellow he has followed in the footsteps of his son Euan, who graduated from Yale with a master’s degree in international relations earlier this year.
Blair told the college paper, the Yale Daily News, last week that he was “a bit nervous”. “I was never a star student, and I’m coming along mixing with a whole lot of people who I’m sure are a whole lot more clever and smarter than I am.”
A touch of nerves was evident too on Thursday when Blair broke other new ground — appearing on the satirical current affairs show presented by Jon Stewart. Blair came across as tense and a smidgeon tetchy in front of cameras in New York as he was hit by a stream of barbed comments from Stewart on his friendship with George Bush and the Iraq war.
Stewart, who enjoys a devoted television following as one of the sharpest political observers in the US, began by reflecting on the coincidence of the Yale posting with the economic meltdown on Wall Street. “You’ve picked the perfect time to come and work in America. Did you get your money up front?”
“Yes,” Blair replied.
When the interview turned to the subject of the US president Blair was unable to disguise his discomfort. “Your relationship with George Bush seems — what’s the word I’m looking for? — inexplicable,” Stewart said, prompting a roar from the live audience.
Blair winced and said: “Here’s something I find always goes down well, particularly back home: I like him.”
“I would probably like him too if he wasn’t in charge of me,” Stewart fired back. Then he added: “It’s like we’re talking about the bad boy at school, and you’re saying, ‘You don’t know him like I know him’.”
Blair replied: “I’m not a fairweather friend. We’ve been through a lot together.” Blair faced a similar barrage of cutting quips on his decision to back Bush over the invasion of Iraq. Asked whether he still felt it was a smart strategic move to topple Saddam, Blair conceded that he had not anticipated the maelstrom to come.
“If you look at the bloodshed there’s been, and the difficulty, I would have been shocked but I would have asked why has this come about? There’s a fundamental struggle going on I’m afraid, and there are two sides.”
He insisted he had come to the view that the Iraq war was necessary “of my own accord and from my own conviction”. But he added it was not a decision he took lightly. “None of this is easy,” he said.
Since he departed Downing Street last year Blair has looked to the international stage in his search for a new role. He has taken on responsibilities as an envoy to the Middle East and as a participant in negotiations over climate change.
Blair, 55, has also modelled his activities on the post-presidential activities of his friend Bill Clinton, whose global foundation bears a close resemblance to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation that was set up in May.
Blair’s lecture series will explore several of the themes that lie at the core of his foundation. The course is focused on the public roles of religious faiths in the context of globalisation.
Students will be encouraged to think about the resurgence of religious belief and how some faiths serve as oppressive or violent forces while others make positive contributions to society.
Hundreds of Yale students applied for the course. As part of their coursework they will be asked to develop ideas about how religions can be encouraged to take a constructive part in pluralistic societies.
— The Guardian, London
Ramazan 22, 1429
September 23, 2008
Zardari’s US visit
ASIF Ali Zardari’s first visit to America as president comes against a national background characterised by uncertainty and a fear of the unknown. While the attacks by the American military in Fata served to embitter relations between the two countries, the bombing of Islamabad Marriott Hotel shook the country to the core, demonstrated the terrorists’ power to strike in the heart of the capital and exposed the limitations of the nation’s security apparatus. US reaction to the bombing has been positive, and President George Bush and the two presidential candidates have pledged support to Pakistan. However, this support must be categorical, devoid of mistrust and include more than its military component. Here President Zardari has to be clear in his mind about how he presents Pakistan’s viewpoint to the American leadership.
Unlike the general impression, not all Taliban supporters are motivated by ideological considerations. A number of suicide bombers, as investigations showed, agreed to collaborate in return for the Taliban’s pledge to take care of their families. Fata is a poverty-stricken area and there is no possibility of a turn for the better so long as fighting continues. That is where the Americans have to realise that periodic forays into the tribal belt and the transfer of military hardware to Islamabad alone cannot turn the tide. Most tribesmen are fed up with the Taliban for having destroyed their environs, and both Islamabad and Washington would be missing the point if they did not adopt a welfare-oriented strategy pledging massive funding for Fata’s economic development. Besides being Pakistan’s own war, the war on terror is a global effort to be won or lost in the treacherous terrain straddling the Durand Line. Washington should realise Pakistan’s strategic importance, its sensitivities to the violation of its sovereignty and Islamabad’s justified anger at the hollow ‘do more’ shibboleth. Pakistan needs solid diplomatic and material support from the international community. Its economy is in dire straits and must be bolstered with an injection of funds.
Also on the agenda is the president’s meeting with Mr Manmohan Singh. The Indian prime minister has, no doubt, written to his Pakistani counterpart expressing his condolences over the Islamabad bombing, but the allegations against Pakistan by Indian officials, dragging this country into the New Delhi bombings, have vitiated the atmosphere. President Zardari has to do some plain speaking and give Mr Singh the Pakistan government’s perception of the Indian intelligence’s perverse role in fomenting trouble in Fata and supplying money and arms to militants for terrorist activity in Pakistan. Islamabad believes that with the Afghan authorities fully in the picture, the Indian consulates in Jalalabad, Kandahar and Kunar have become an operational centre for anti-Pakistan activity. It is New Delhi’s responsibility to remove Pakistan’s misgivings.
IN the aftermath of the devastating bombing in Islamabad, serious questions are being raised about the level of preparedness of the emergency and security services. Depressingly, they are the same ones that are raised after each terrorist strike — and go unanswered each time. In the case of the Marriott bombing, two sets of questions arise: those concerning the events before the explosives-laden truck struck the security barrier of the hotel and those concerning the hours after the truck burst into flames. Consider the second set of questions first. It took more than 10 hours for Islamabad’s fire department to extinguish the blaze at the Marriott. We know that people died in the period between the initial explosion and the time by which the site was brought under control — the Czech envoy who died inside the hotel made a call to his embassy and asked to be rescued. Clearly, potentially life-saving time was lost by a fire department that does not have enough of the right equipment and does not know how to best use the equipment it does have. A report in this paper has claimed that 30 high-level posts in Islamabad’s fire department are vacant. Given the threats that Islamabad faces, negligence of this kind rises to a criminal level. The speed of the response of the gas and electricity utilities was also said to be sluggish though a spokesman for the gas company disputed this assertion.
The second set of questions concerns the performance of Pakistan’s security apparatus. Failures are apparent at every stage leading up to Saturday’s attack. How did such large quantities of lethal explosives make it into the hands of terrorists? How were the terrorists able to commandeer the truck and drive it into Islamabad? And what was that truck doing unchecked in the heart of Islamabad on an evening that every major leader of Pakistan — civilian and uniformed — had gathered there? In the aftermath of terrorist attacks, we learn of intelligence teams with obscure names — Special Investigation Authority, Special Investigation Group, Joint Investigation Teams. However, the public knows little of their record of failure or success. No doubt fully securing cities from suicide bombers is an all but impossible task. But equally obvious are the gaping holes in our security apparatus. We need help and we need it now. Misplaced nationalism argues that foreign help — especially from the Americans — is unwelcome and an intrusion in our ‘domestic’ affairs. Yet anything that helps saves Pakistani lives must be welcomed. From our emergency services to our intelligence apparatus, the international community can do much to raise our level of preparedness in the face of an unprecedented terrorist threat. The US must lead the way in providing such support. It has spent an extraordinary amount — several hundred billion dollars — in Iraq; investing a mere fraction of that sum in Pakistan’s anti-terrorism infrastructure would go a long way to defeating a common enemy.
THE city government has vowed to plant more than a million trees in Karachi by December this year, however conspicuous by its absence is legislation to protect these trees. It is was therefore heartening to hear city nazim Mustafa Kamal’s call for the formulation of laws to protect trees in the city. Nature conservation is an integral part of city planning. Not only is it an effective measure for pollution control, it also adds to the aesthetic value of cities. The city government in Karachi should be lauded for its drive to establish parks and tree plantation. However, if these trees and green area development are to be maintained then legislation is the first step in that direction. Legal development in the care and management of trees in the urban setting of Karachi will ensure that these trees become a permanent feature of the city.
Tree protection in the urban centres of the West is commonplace. Laws are in place to prevent the destruction of trees. According to one report, in most western cities it is “prohibited to cut down, to remove, to fell, to damage, to destroy, to modify and to prune protected trees, and to enhance their decay”. Laws in Pakistan should be formulated on these lines. This is an imperative measure along with the constant monitoring of trees if tree plantation is to be sustained. Successful implementation of these laws is what will achieve the purpose. Thus these laws should be structured in a simple way so that the implementation is practicable and efficient. Implementation should not be marred by bureaucratic red tape as action will only yield positive results if taken in a speedy manner.
Settling down to rule
By Mohammad Waseem
THE Zardari-Gilani government is settling down for what is a five-year term of rule by public representatives. The detractors are many and scepticism is legion. Doomsday scenarios regularly appear in the press, especially concerning civil-military relations.
But, all indicators are that the original constitutional nature of the state is destined to bounce back after the adventurism and dictatorial and arbitrary rule of Musharraf for nearly a decade.
More than anything else, the transition from Musharraf to Zardari is symptomatic of the transition from military to civilian rule. Does it mean that the dark shadows of Bonapartism have disappeared from the horizon? One can hope that what often turns out to be an unpalatable reality for the state elite becomes a permanent feature in Pakistan, in the form of democracy.
It is fashionable among the articulate sections of the population to project that the failures of governance are failures of democracy. The deficit of performance, which the present ruling set-up inherited from its predecessor, is a big challenge. Musharraf simply waited too long to resign and allowed public life to sink beyond reasonable limits.
For long, international diplomacy was hooked on to a profile of Pakistan which was unenviable. The world is accustomed to looking at this country in dichotomous terms vis-à-vis its eastern neighbour — a military state in Pakistan versus democracy in India. What happened in 2008 in Pakistan in the context of parliamentary elections soon followed by presidential elections represents a shift in the political initiative from non-representative to representative institutions, and hopefully leading to a change of profile.
The middle class, which traditionally served as the support base for non-representative rule both military and civilian, is gradually moving away from political conservatism to democratic goals and means. Civil society, in line with the media, has contributed to the cause of democracy in a qualitative sense. The classical mould of the state of mind in the middle class is changing thanks to the media explosion and emergence of a network society.
There was all the likelihood that the new set-up would have remained vulnerable to the vicissitudes of an adventurist presidency. However, potential for conflict between the two highest positions in the politico-administrative hierarchy represented by the president and the prime minister has been removed after the presidential election. Political stability, which shunned Pakistan from March 2007 onwards for more than a year, is expected to return.
Is Bonapartism down and out? Musharraf put or kept in jail President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani among others for years on end in the tradition of medieval kings. He turned the law into a petty instrument of personal rule. All this led to a playing field that was not level for electoral and constitutional purposes. And yet one hears the call for indemnity for his misrule spread over nine years.
How can the nation safeguard democracy in the face of the challenges emanating from powerful elements in society? What is needed is to cultivate the constitutional source of legitimacy in the form of mass mandate over and above all other forms of legitimacy. The message needs to be internalised by all those who operate from outside parliamentary politics. A move backwards to the age of non-representative rule cannot and should not be allowed ever again.
The progressive character of the present dispensation will come out fully only when the erstwhile concentration of power in the hands of the state elite moves away from it in favour of the smaller provinces. President Zardari’s elections was indeed a projection of the project of setting the disproportionate distribution of power right by Balochistan, the NWFP and Sindh reflecting their position as equal federating units of Pakistan. One hopes that their representation in the corridors of power will increase incrementally and reasonably, if not radically and massively.
Can Pakistan move away from state-centred policy frameworks and ideological trends in the direction of society-oriented means and goals under the present ruling set-up? Can the government address the issues close to the heart of the public in various parts of the country? These issues range from gas and electricity revenues for Balochistan and the NWFP respectively and the allocation of resources to various provinces taking into account factors other than mere demography.The PPP-led government at the centre has now consolidated itself and thus established ‘entrance legitimacy’. It faces the next challenge in the form of ‘performance legitimacy’. Never before has the public been so aware of political, economic and security issues as now, thanks to the activism of the print and electronic media for half a decade. The PPP government faces an uphill task in terms of addressing issues relating to the inflationary spiral and the much-feared economic meltdown.What is required is the qualitative input of the best available talent in the country in the formulation of policy and the allocation of resources. The ruling set-up very much needs to cultivate its profile as a government by policy not patronage. It needs to develop the potential to swim through contradictory currents of agenda in the war against terror on the one hand and the political and religious sensitivities of the public on the other. While the formal transition from military to civilian rule is complete, the government needs to address substantive issues relating to the bar and the bench and the Seventeenth Amendment.
The election of the leader of opposition in the National Assembly as chairman of the public accounts committee is a strong indicator that the mainstream players on the political stage are laying out the ground rules of the game in a spirit of commitment to make democracy work. One can hope that given a solid parliamentary support base, the backing of smaller provinces and non-hostile relations with its erstwhile ally the PML-N, the PPP government will be able to fulfill its mandate.
By Toby Helm
ROMANIA is to launch a campaign to lure tens of thousands of its key workers and students back from Britain by telling them their long-term economic and professional prospects could be brighter in their homeland.
The action by the Romanian government — which is emphasising the high cost of living in the UK and the falling value of the pound — is the opening shot in a ‘competition for labour’ that could see UK companies and the tax-funded National Health Service (NHS) suffer a serious loss of manpower to former communist states over coming months.
Poland — with more than one million citizens in the UK — has drawn up similar plans to encourage so-called ‘reverse migration’, advertising the attractions of its own economy in English and Polish newspapers in this country and offering special loans to help those who return.
Ion Jinga, the Romanian ambassador in London, said that he wanted to encourage Romanians to take a pride in helping their own country to develop, rather than see them move permanently to the UK.
Romania, which enjoyed eight per cent economic growth in the first half of this year, is suffering from acute labour shortages caused by an exodus of workers following its accession to the European Union in 2007.
Next month the Romanian embassy will stage a conference for Romanian students in London at which it will promote the benefits of returning home after their studies. It has 50,000 workers in Britain, among them many doctors, nurses and construction workers whose skills are now in high demand at home.
Jinga said a number of factors including the high cost of renting homes in the UK and the falling value of the pound had to be weighed against the benefits of higher salaries in the UK. ‘Salaries are not everything,’ he said. ‘It is brilliant to work and live in England, but there are important incentives for returning.’ He added: ‘We cannot afford to lose our best brains.’
Although Jinga insists he is working closely with the British government, the Romanians’ action will be seen by many as a counter-attack against the UK in response to special ‘transition’ rules that London imposed on Romania and Bulgaria when the countries joined the EU in January 2007.
Because of concerns about the level of immigration at the time, Tony Blair’s government imposed a seven-year programme of restrictions under which Romanian and Bulgarian citizens had to apply for jobs in specific sectors in order to work in this country. Previously people from new EU entrant countries had been allowed in without any restrictions.
Romania and Bulgaria felt victimised. Their main thrust is now to make sure as many skilled people as possible remain in their homeland.
—The Guardian, London
OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press
Lack of trust
DESPITE the fact that the PPP and PML-N have vowed not to create problems for each other in the centre and Punjab, political wrangling continues in Punjab. The PML-N is accusing Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Manzoor Wattoo of polarisation whereas the PML-N is averse to tolerating PPP members in the cabinet. Manoeuvring is also going on in the ranks of the PML-Q where some members have changed loyalties. New tactics are being adopted to win the numbers game. Owing to the fact that the PPP showed that it was pleased with the PML-Q, the PML-N launched a crackdown against the PML-Q. The PPP says that in case it is pushed out of the Punjab cabinet, the PML-N-led provincial government would not last. However, the PML-N is satisfied and sees no threat to its government. All claims of the two major parties depend on the support of some independents and PML-Q members because none have a simple majority in the Punjab Assembly.
The people’s mandate notwithstanding, politicians continue to indulge in political altercation. Today, Punjab is far ahead in political conflict than the other three provinces as the two major parties continue to work against each other. Constitutionally, there is ban on floor-crossing, but these two parties are busy trying to win the numbers’ game. The PML-Q and independent members are the targets of both parties. In this bid they are not paying heed to the constitution or to political ethics.
Hardly six months have elapsed since the present government came to power but political wrangling has resulted in destabilisation and political uncertainty. Both parties are responsible for creating this situation as they failed to show political acumen and tolerance. Lack of trust is the root cause of the issue. The PML-N had remained a political rival of the PPP in Punjab. Amidst fears that the PPP might take revenge, the PML-N has won over the support of some PML-Q members to reduce its dependence on the PPP…. If this political conflict continues, how will the mandate be honoured and how will people get relief?
We would like to recommend to the PML-N leadership to serve the people in alliance with the PPP. At the same time, we would like to suggest to the PPP not to be part of any agenda which may destabilise the Punjab government. — (Sept 19)
Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi
September 24, 2008
Ramazan 23, 1429
A national threat
THE warning by NWFP Governor Owais Ghani that militant groups operating in his province have established firm links with similar groups operating in Punjab is indicative of the national-level threat of militancy. The NWFP governor was not pointing a finger at Punjab or starting a blame game — he was simply pointing out the truth about Pakistan’s militant network. Southern Punjab has been host to some of Pakistan’s most radical militant Islamist groups for many years. The groups are familiar and the names endless: Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Sipah-i-Sahaba, Lashkar-i-Taiba, Harkatul Ansar, Hizbul Tahrir, Harkatul Muhahideen, Jaish-i-Mohammad, Tehrik-i-Jafria and Sipah-i-Mohammad. They have brought with them new forms of terror to Pakistan, especially suicide attacks. In March 2002, two operatives of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi bombed the International Protestant Church in Islamabad — believed to be the first suicide attack by a jihadi outfit. Two months later, Harkatul Jihad-al-Islami killed 11 French engineers outside the Sheraton hotel in Karachi. Today, such bombings have become depressingly familiar — and occur across the length and breadth of Pakistan. No one familiar with these groups doubts that they are operating in the NWFP and fighting the state.
Eliminating such groups ought to be the top priority of the state. Unfortunately, it is not at all clear if that is the goal of the state. There are some positives in the current situation. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif took a tough, uncompromising line against Punjabi militants during his last tenure in the late 1990s. Violence by such groups came down dramatically on his watch — though allegations of extra-judicial killings and heavy-handedness by his government shot up. Chief Minister Sharif is then familiar with these groups and may well be able to rein them in again today — but the provincial administration must be careful to not overstep the boundaries of the law.
In the NWFP, it is reassuring to see Governor Ghani and Chief Minister Amir Hoti on the same page in the fight against terrorism. The ANP-led provincial government in the NWFP appears to have woken up to the dangers the province faces from militancy. The negatives become apparent once we zoom out to the national level. Islamabad appears lacklustre in its attempts to shut down homegrown militant groups. Be it the vigorous pursuit of cases against militants in the judicial system, shutting down the supply lines and recruitment channels or re-evaluating the intelligence agencies’ relationship with militant groups, the federal government has not provided a clear lead for the provinces to follow. This is tragic and is costing lives daily in militancy hotspots. Pakistan can only win its war against the terrorists if it pursues them with vigour, whoever they are and wherever they are. And if Islamabad provides direction. At the moment neither appears to be happening.
Afghan envoy’s abduction
THE kidnapping of the Afghan consul-general in Peshawar on Monday brings to mind the abduction of Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, last February. Both envoys are said to have violated security norms and paid for this lapse. Azizuddin drove through the Khyber Agency on the way to the Afghan capital without informing the local authorities of his journey. In this case, too, Abdul Khaliq Farahi was guilty of breach of security. Here the similarities end, for Azizuddin was kidnapped in the tribal areas, while the Afghan envoy, who was going to become his country’s ambassador to Islamabad, was kidnapped in the provincial capital. In Azizuddin’s case, there was no resistance, but in Farahi’s case the faithful driver paid with his life. Azizuddin was reunited with his family after 97 days, and it remains to be seen whether the Afghan diplomat will suffer a similar and agonising period in captivity before being freed.
The Afghan envoy’s kidnapping once again shows the terrorists’ subterranean organisation, the efficacy of their intelligence system, and their ability to strike — whether at the Islamabad Marriott or in Peshawar’s posh Hayatabad area. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Initially, that was the case with Azizuddin too. Later, it was revealed that the government had to release a number of Taliban to secure the diplomat’s freedom. What was praiseworthy in Azizuddin’s case was the secrecy with which the government followed the case and finally managed to secure his freedom. In this case, too, one hopes the government will pursue investigations away from the media’s prying eyes.
Regrettably, the Afghan government has acted with hurtful impetuosity and been quick to blame Pakistan for “unsatisfactory security cover” for the envoy. The Pakistan government says that there were guards at Farahi’s residence, but he chose to discard security precautions. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has condemned the kidnapping and directed the security agencies to do their utmost to recover Farahi. But the Afghan government, instead of lending cooperation to Pakistan and showing some understanding of the gravity of the situation this country faces, has once again proved it misses no opportunity to score a propaganda point off Pakistan. Against the harsh reality of this deep mistrust between Kabul and Islamabad, Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak’s proposal for a joint border force looks impractical. The two governments should first try to build bridges, develop mutual confidence and shed suspicions before a proposal of that nature can be considered.
THE term ‘torture’ has come to be closely identified with police workings in the country. It is not surprising, therefore, that recently an eight-year-old boy died and a woman sustained injuries in Sanghar as a result of alleged torture by police officials. This is a blatant violation of the law by the very authority that is meant to enforce it. Police often place extracting confessions ahead of the rules that govern such practices. Pakistan has all the necessary laws in place to prevent torture; however, these are not implemented in letter and spirit. It is also a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which is an international human rights instrument. Under the Convention it is mandatory for signatories to take effective measures to prevent torture within their borders.
This begs the question: how effective has the government been in dealing with erring police officials? The Police Order 2002 outlines offences by police officials which merit punishment, and the inflicting of torture or violence is punishable with imprisonment of up to five years along with a fine. However, this is not being implemented. The failure to carry out reforms has led people to regard the police with mistrust; the police have become a symbol of terror and incompetence.
After the incident in Sanghar, the villagers expressed their outrage by blocking the road and placing the dead body on it along with burning tyres. Such incidents indicate disillusionment with the police force and accentuate the failure of the authorities to mete out punishment to guilty police officials. The government should now act swiftly to ensure that justice is done. Very often police officials are able to cover up their crime through false reports and evidence. In this case, as in others, one hopes an investigation is carried out and the culprits brought to book.
OTHER VOICES - European Press
The pantheon of misplaced trust
The Slovak Spectator
WHAT to do about those pesky opinion polls that frustrate half of the nation about the choices of the other half? There is a specific type of poll that’s especially guilty of causing a large portion of the population to roll their eyes and hang their heads: the kind that measures which politicians the public trusts most. If the polls are right, then the country’s most trusted politician is the prime minister, since 32.4 per cent of those polled named him in mid-September when the Slovak Statistics Office asked random respondents to list the three politicians they trusted the most. President Ivan Gašparoviè came in second with 15.6 per cent.
The third most trusted is Interior Minister Robert Kaliòák with 10.8 per cent…. Fico, Slota, and Meèiar. These three have been topping different opinion polls long enough to understand by now that their popularity is not just a summer fling with almost half the nation, but an expression of the public’s happiness to be ruled by them…. “People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get,” English novelist Aldous Huxley wrote in his novel Brave New World.
Over 30 per cent of the nation is happy with a prime minister who tolerates a justice minister suspected of ties to Baki Sadiki, the alleged boss of a drug gang. This is the same prime minister who not so long ago heralded a new era … by declaring that it is not unacceptable to award public funds to supporters … of the governing coalition parties if their projects conform to the law and the rules.
If we talk about the trust that people put in politicians, perhaps it is worth mentioning … a story about Slota’s signature on parliament’s attendance sheets, which mysteriously appeared even when Slota was not around…. Slota earned several ‘badges of honour’ for missing the highest number of parliamentary sessions, but he is still paid from our taxes for being there…. But Slota’s presence in the pantheon of most trusted politicians is no less disturbing than having Meèiar there…. Perhaps it’s justified because it is highly probable that if parliamentary elections were held tomorrow, Slovaks would see these same faces marching into government, despite all the controversial statements … and all the failed ministers they’ve had to fire.…Yet politicians worthy of the public’s trust do not work their way up the ladder or burst onto the political scene overnight…. — (Sept 22)
Palin swots up on diplomacy
By Ed Pilkington
SARAH Palin has thrown herself into a 36-hour crash course in foreign diplomacy as she makes a highly publicised visit to the UN in New York this week in an attempt to shrug off the perception that she is an international affairs ingenue.
The Republican vice-presidential candidate, who obtained a passport to travel outside North America for the first time only last year, is meeting a raft of leaders from several of the world’s current hotspots. But her cramming timetable fails to include any scheduled encounter with a major European leader.
Her induction begins Tuesday night with attendance at a cocktail party held by President George Bush at the city’s Waldorf-Astoria. The Lebanese president, Michel Suleiman, and other leaders, carefully selected for their goodwill towards America, were on the guest list.
Even before Palin takes her first steps into the UN’s international territory on the East Side of Manhattan, she has walked into controversy. She had been billed to appear at a rally outside the UN building organised by New York Jewish groups protesting at the arrival of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at the annual UN general assembly.
But Palin’s invitation was withdrawn by organisers following a public spat with Hillary Clinton.
Since her appointment as John McCain’s running mate last month Palin has faced stiff criticism, and even ridicule, for her lack of international experience. The McCain campaign unwittingly fanned the flames by emphasising that as governor of Alaska she was knowledgeable about neighbouring Russia. The theme was picked up in a Saturday Night Live spoof in which Tina Fey has Palin say: “I can see Russia from my house.”
In meetings at the UN she will meet leaders from many of the world’s most sensitive regions. She will meet the presidents of Afghanistan and Iraq, Hamid Karzai and Jalal Talabani, as well as the leader of the main US ally in Latin America, Alvaro Uribe of Colombia. The new Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, is on the list, as is Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh.
— The Guardian, London
"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."
Ramazan 24, 1429
September 25, 2008
“HELP” to Pakistan’s sovereignty was all that President George Bush could promise when he met President Asif Ali Zardari at the Waldorf Astoria in New York on Tuesday. Missing altogether at his first-ever meeting with President Zardari was a categorical commitment to avoid violating Pakistan’s territorial integrity. The key sentence uttered by him carefully avoided the word ‘sovereignty’. It was left to Information Minister Sherry Rehman to cheer us up by claiming that the American president had assured his interlocutor that he respected Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Noting that President Zardari’s words “have been very strong about Pakistan’s sovereign right and sovereign duty to protect” his country, he said “the United States wants to help”. Period. Shorn of diplomatese, his remarks convey one obvious message to Pakistan: America makes no promise that attacks on Fata of the kind seen recently at Angoor Adda and elsewhere will not be repeated. He did say, however, that Pakistan was an ally, and that “we’ll be talking about security”. He also looked forward to “deepening our relationship”.
Some hopeful material was available in these Bush remarks, for he seemed to be conscious of the need for focussing on the economic aspects of their bilateral relationship when he spoke of “prosperity” repeatedly and said America’s “friends around the world” needed a better life. Coming at a time when Pakistan’s economy is in a mess, with little or no possibility of a surge in the near future, these words are perhaps the only source of solace for President Zardari. Even this bit of comfort must be overshadowed by the realisation that President Bush has only a few weeks left in the White House, and the next incumbent would have his own set of priorities.
Hit by the volatility shown by oil prices, Pakistan has to fight an economic battle in which the removal of subsidies has served to pauperise a people already squeezed by food inflation and tormented by rising electricity rates. What the PPP-led government needs desperately is a massive economic bailout, and one hopes that the Friends of Pakistan group, to be inaugurated by President Zardari in New York tomorrow, will be able to come up with measures not only to help this country overcome the current crisis but also to draw up a strategy for long-term financial assistance. The group includes, besides G-7, such friends as China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The meeting will be followed by a separate US-Pakistan strategic dialogue focussing on the economy. The friends are there. But the big issue is how we are able to set our own house in order and utilise foreign assistance in a manner that enables us to stand on our own feet. Unknown to many, Fata had quite a few industries. They fell victim to the war, robbing the tribesmen of yet another source of livelihood, thus aggravating economic woes and fuelling militancy.
Mired in graft
CORRUPTION along with profligate defence spending, backward capitalism and a feudal system that breeds cyclical poverty has hampered development in Pakistan as long as anyone can remember. We seem to be degenerating instead of evolving, and nothing will improve until the law is applied equally to all and unless those in leadership roles develop a moral conscience. People connected to the civilian and military establishments have pillaged this country and lined their pockets almost from day one, to the huge detriment of everyone except themselves. Highlighting “the fatal link between poverty, failed institutions and graft”, Transparency International reminded us on Tuesday of the inverse relationship between corruption and economic growth: in developing countries, the more there is of the first the direr will be the lot of the majority.
This is hardly rocket science. When a cash-strapped country’s resources are pocketed by corrupt officials, the social sectors suffer grievously. Education and healthcare go into decline, development projects are put on hold or shoddily executed, and basic needs like affordable housing and clean drinking water come to be denied to an increasing number of citizens. Besides fattening the bank accounts of the powerful, such misuse of authority keeps the masses in poverty and servitude, allowing for cheap labour in factories and generations of enslaved peasants tilling the fields of feudal lords. As for an oversight mechanism, we have the National Accountability Bureau, a remarkable organisation whose résumé includes blackmail and political victimisation. Little wonder then that TI ranks Pakistan as the 46th most corrupt country in the world, a distinction we share with the likes of the Comoros islands.
Graft is bad for business too, at least in terms of foreign investment. A maze of official bureaucracy where backhanders are expected at every turn tends to deter investors interested in the long haul. It invites, instead, fly-by-night operators looking to make a quick buck. Even if ‘respectable’ investors come to the fore, the bribes they must pay are naturally included in overheads and as such the products they produce cost local consumers more than they should. In Pakistan’s case, corruption imperils democracy as well, for that is the charge that military rulers and autocratic presidents lay against politicians. Disillusioned with the system and the perceived hedonism of elected officials, many in the public start espousing the ‘merits’ of military rule. Ultimately, some also become pawns in the hands of militants and religio-political parties that wish to herd us to an even more malignant medieval age. We must mend our ways, now.
Hands off Makli
THE controversy emanating from the historical Makli graveyard in Thatta is outrageous and sad in equal measure. On either side of the fence are politicians playing the blame game, with one party accusing the other of vandalising historical graves and the other insisting it has done nothing wrong by the dead or the alive. Since the Sindh minister for culture and tourism, Ms Sassui Palijo, is directly linked with the controversy — her father is accused of vandalism — at a time when she happens to be the custodian of the historical site by virtue of her portfolio, it is only fair that her ministry come forth and explain the matter. By extension, the Sindh government, too, must be called upon to investigate the allegations of vandalism without prejudice to either side. Once the truth is ascertained, the guilty should be brought to book without any political allowances being made.
The Makli necropolis is one of the few national heritage sites which also happen to be on Unesco’s World Heritage list. The tombs built there of carved sandstone and belonging to Sindh’s medieval ruling dynasties deserve better upkeep and vigilance, both of which have been found woefully lacking on the part of the authorities concerned. An ordinary citizen is stopped from indulging in harmless activity at the site, such as taking photographs, while the influential and the mighty have tombstones taken from the graveyard to adorn their living rooms and landscaped gardens. That this cannot be done without someone responsible for the monuments’ security looking the other way is clear. In the case of Makli, not only should the dead be left alone in their final resting places, without being disturbed by the digging of water channels across their graves, their tombstones, too, should be left alone to stand as silent sentinels of the much wronged and vandalised land of Sindh.
A harvest stained with blood
By Feryal Ali Gauhar
IT is early. A light drizzle dampens the still smouldering ashes from which dark clouds arose the night before, obliterating the evening sky, obscuring the horizon of Islamabad the Beautiful. Some 12 hours after the inferno which took more than 50 lives, rescue workers sift through tons of mangled steel and charred wood.
The hopelessly disfigured bodies of those who could not get away were removed the night before. But a search is still on for those who may have survived the terrifying flames which engulfed the Marriott Hotel, just a stone’s throw away from the Parliament House, the Prime Minister’s House, the Presidency, the Federal Sharia Court, the Secretariat, the Foreign Office, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, Pakistan Television, the National Library, The National Art Gallery, the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, the Supreme Court, the Federal Bureau of Revenue, and numerous foreign missions.
Except for the recently appointed Czech ambassador, no ‘dignitaries’ died in this terrorist attack. The bodies of the injured and the dead were the bodies of ordinary citizens, some wealthy enough to afford a five-star end to the day long fast marking the month of Ramazan. Many of the dead were there to earn a living, to support large families living in small, unknown settlements and hamlets dotting the map of this, my beloved, beleaguered country.
These are the bodies of the unsung, the guards at the entrance gate of the Marriott Hotel who tried their best to extinguish the fire which the suicide bomber had set off by detonating a grenade or perhaps the explosives strapped to his chest.
These are the bodies of the handsome, liveried men, tall and dignified, who stood at attention besides the main door of the hotel, welcoming all guests, holding the door open to visitors, standing on their feet for 12 hours a shift in order to feed families living on the edge in some neglected neighbourhood.
These were the bodies of the women who cleaned the rooms occupied by those who could afford to spend more than a worker’s monthly salary on one night’s comfort. These were the waiters and the chambermaids and the drivers who sat outside in the luxury vehicles of those who had come to feast at iftar, a time when Muslim men and women are to recognise hunger, to acknowledge the gnawing of the gut, to express gratitude for the meal before them, however humble it may be.
But the meal that was served in the lawns of the Prime Minister House the same evening was not humble in the least. For many who partook of it, the message may have been lost entirely, reducing the ritual of fasting to just that.
For many who lost their lives at the Marriott, the evening meal was yet to come; in a corner of the kitchen, they were more concerned about the appetites of the guests. And that seems to have been the primary concern at the Prime Minister House dinner as well. Apparently, it was only after guests were fed and seen off that the political leadership made itself present at the site of devastation.
It is distressing that a national security official actually admitted this at a press conference the next day. The entire cabinet, the military’s top brass, the prime minister himself, the newly elected president, almost all members of parliament, the chief ministers of the four provinces, the president and prime minister of Azad Kashmir and other guests who were present at the dinner heard the blast at 7:49 pm and continued to enjoy their meal, and only after ushering out the last guest did the said official leave for the hospital where the injured and the dead had been transferred.
It appears that for these VIPs finishing dinner was of paramount importance in an emergency. Declaring that no VIP died in the inferno due to the “president’s prescient vision” was as tasteless as it was heartless, as if the deaths of those who expect to be led by competent and sincere leaders is inconsequential.
The greatest irony of all is that the young men who are willing to be recruited into the ranks of countless suicide bombers blow themselves up for the mere fact that perhaps that is a death preferable to the one brought on by hunger.
In a country where hunger has mounted, where the granary of the land of five rivers does not yield enough to feed its citizens, where the water in its rivers has been replaced by effluents, where able-bodied men and women seek meaningful work in vain, trudging the streets on empty stomachs, there cannot be a deadlier harvest than the one we are now reaping.
Decades after we were allied to the United States in its hegemonic struggle against the Soviet “infidel”, we are still harvesting the fruit of that war. The difference this time is that the graves being dug are for our own people, caught between the greatest contradictions of an unjust world, that of hunger stalking a land of plenty. Certainly the harvest this autumn is one stained with blood, surely those we bury next to the gnarled roots which clutch this earth shall remind us that we are the enemy of those we do not know, and those we do not know are amongst us, ploughing our land, ripping up the soil which barely conceals the scars of our lost kingdom.
The writer is the author of No Space for Further Burials.
By David Adam
PEOPLE who believe they have the greenest lifestyles can be seen as some of the main culprits behind global warming, says a team of researchers, who claim that many ideas about sustainable living are a myth.
According to the researchers, people who regularly recycle rubbish and save energy at home are also the most likely to take frequent long-haul flights abroad. The carbon emissions from such flights can swamp the green savings made at home, the researchers claim.
Stewart Barr, of Exeter University, England, who led the research, said: “green living is largely something of a myth. There is this middle class environmentalism where being green is part of the desired image.
But another part of the desired image is to fly off skiing twice a year. And the carbon savings they make by not driving their kids to school will be obliterated by the pollution from their flights.”
Some people even said they deserved such flights as a reward for their green efforts, he added.
Only a very small number of citizens matched their eco-friendly behaviour at home by refusing to fly abroad, Barr told a climate change conference at Exeter University Tuesday.
The research team questioned 200 people on their environmental attitudes and split them into three groups, based on a commitment to green living.
They found the longest and the most frequent flights were taken by those who were most aware of environmental issues, including the threat posed by climate change.
Questioned on their heavy use of flying, one respondent said: “I recycle 100 per cent of what I can, there’s not one piece of paper goes in my bin, so that makes me feel less guilty about flying as much as I do.”
Barr said “green” lifestyles at home and frequent flying were linked to income, with wealthier people more likely to be engaged in both activities.
He said: “The findings indicate that even those people who appear to be very committed to environmental action find it difficult to transfer these behaviours into more problematic contexts.”
The team says the research is one of the first attempts to analyse how green intentions alter depending on context. It says the results reveal the scale of the challenge faced by policymakers who are trying to alter public behaviour to help tackle global warming.
The study concludes: “The notion that we can treat what we do in the home differently from what we do on holiday denies the existence of clearly related and complex lifestyle choices and practices.
Yet even a focus on lifestyle groups who may be most likely to change their views will require both time and political will. The addiction to cheap flights and holidays will be very difficult to break.”
The frequent flyers said they expected new technology to make aviation greener, echoing comments made by Tony Blair last year, who said it was “impractical” to expect people to take holidays closer to home. He said the solution was “to look at how you make air travel more energy-efficient, how you develop the new fuels that will allow us to burn less energy and emit less.”
— The Guardian, London
OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press
The right to survive
The Egyptian Gazette
THOUGH we keep calling for the right of repatriation for Palestinian refugees, Arabs and Muslims seem to forget that many of these refugees are living miserably in their camps in neighbouring countries, as well as in the Palestinian territories. Apparently this is because of the simmering conflict between the two Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, which has recently resulted in the death of 11 persons, nine of whom were from a single Fatah family.…
Though Egypt has been sparing no effort to reconcile the fighting factions, two caravans of aid were recently stopped on their way to … Gaza. The purpose of the caravans was to break the siege of Gaza. However the caravans were stopped by security officials in Sinai, though the blockade of Gaza was last month busted by a foreign ship. Before continuing to advocate the Palestinians’ right of return to the homeland, we must espouse their right to survive. — (Sept 21)
First test of leadership
TZIPI Livni’s victory over Shaul Mofaz in the race to become Kadima’s leader seems narrow because it did not match the pollsters’ forecasts…. If there is a moment when a person can achieve fame or infamy, it is when that person loses an election with dignity. Mofaz did this when he quickly accepted the outcome. Since Mofaz decided not to appeal the results and took “time-out” to consider his next steps, he should not appeal the election’s legitimacy….
The way Livni tries to form a government will be the first test of her leadership. Being clean means more than not accepting envelopes filled with money. Livni has to prove that in contrast to her predecessor, she chooses [people] best suited to the job to be her cabinet ministers…. The selection of Amir Peretz as defence minister because he wanted a job for which he was unsuited.
If Livni wants to lead and not to be led, she must build a government that reflects her agenda. — (Sept 19)
Ramazan 25, 1429
September 26, 2008
IT is widely held that a suicide bomber can’t be stopped from carrying out the carnage he has planned. While this argument is not without merit, it is not entirely true either. Yes, there is little the security agencies or hapless private guards can do once a fanatic with explosives on hand and mayhem on his mind reaches the venue of the crime. True, it is impossible to thoroughly check every truck or trailer entering or leaving major cities and, come to that, to know what sort of vehicle the terrorists will use at any given time. So here’s the point: we need better intelligence so that potential attackers can be checked in their tracks. Granted there may be slip-ups even with the strictest of vigilance but the threat of suicide attacks can at least be downgraded from the ever-present danger it is today to the occasional tragedy from which, sadly, no major country in the world is now immune.
This is precisely the theatre of war where Pakistan’s vast and lavishly funded network of intelligence agencies must engage the enemy within and deliver telling results sooner than later. What we have seen in recent years is an intelligence failure of catastrophic proportions. Cabinet members minced no words on Wednesday when they stated that the intelligence apparatus had “miserably failed” in pre-empting Saturday’s attack on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad as well as other acts of terrorism. The prime minister and his cabinet are right in asking the security agencies to get their act together. But why this should be so difficult is a troubling proposition. It is no secret that the intelligence agencies, and the ISI in particular, possess a unique insight into the workings of organisations that once came in handy in the misguided pursuit of ‘strategic depth’ and have now turned on the state of Pakistan. True, the tactics of the militants have changed over the years, as has their leadership. Still, it should not be beyond the capabilities of the agencies to better infiltrate the insurgents with vastly improved results.
Perhaps, embroiled as they have been in politics over the years, the intelligence agencies have lost sight of the real problem. Now, without delay, they must refocus their energies. There is no want of expertise but the priorities are skewed — though understandably so given the direction in which the intelligence network has been pushed by a succession of politically vindictive rulers. More troubling is the lingering fear that decades of ideological indoctrination may have left their mark, that there may be ‘renegade’ elements within the agencies that not only sympathise with the Taliban and their ilk but actively further their murderous cause. Even if this is untrue, a thorough rethink is in order. We are not fighting someone else’s battle.
Turmoil in Afghanistan
AS the clock winds down on the Bush administration, an eleventh hour review of the Afghan war strategy and overall mission is underway. The news from Afghanistan is grim: violence is up, the economy is down, and the local population is disillusioned with the Karzai government and its foreign backers. A further deterioration is expected this winter. A drought has endangered the food security of nearly a quarter of the population and fighting between the Taliban and Isaf and US forces is expected to increase dramatically in the normally quiet winter months. Almost everyone with knowledge of the Afghan situation is downbeat about the immediate prospects for the country. It is little wonder then that Americans are reviewing their mission only nine months after the last review was undertaken. President Bush will not want to leave office with Afghanistan on the brink of collapse.
The problem is that the Americans appear to view Afghanistan through the prism of a military strategy. The tens of billions of dollars that the West has poured into the country in development aid are virtually nullified by the ever-increasing civilian casualties of war. As the Taliban have grown bolder in their attacks on Isaf and US forces, the military response has been increasingly indiscriminate — further alienating the local population. This is the same pattern that is being played out in Waziristan, from where the Americans insist cross-border attacks are being launched inside Afghanistan. The only strategy that can be successful is one that empowers and enables local forces to take on the Taliban.
In Fata, this would mean the local tribes marshalled by the Pakistani state. In Afghanistan, this would mean the Afghan government, which must take the lead in securing the country and winning the trust of its people. However, the Afghan government led by President Karzai is widely discredited and alleged to be thoroughly corrupt and incompetent. This is another problem: Afghanistan will only be stabilised when the Afghan people have a political system and government they are comfortable with. Inevitably, this will differ from US perceptions of what a democracy ought to be. Perhaps the basic problem in Afghanistan these past seven years is a contradiction that originates in the White House. An administration chock-full of policymakers who loathe the idea of nation-building has been forced by its president to remake parts of the world in America’s likeness. Unfortunately, it is the Afghans who are paying the price for this contradiction.
The curse of polio
POLIO continues to be a nightmare for the country and its health corps. Yet another incident of a five-year-old girl from Jamrud tehsil was reported last week. Although the victim had received several drops of the polio vaccine, doctors confirmed that she had contracted the P1 virus. Sadly, this year’s figures for NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas alone are close to 25. An anti-polio campaign was announced last week by the district coordination officer in Timergara to target 200,000 children. The announcement came soon after cases were detected in neighbouring Swat and the Bajaur tribal region. It came with a plea to religious and tribal leaders and social welfare organisations to cooperate with vaccinators so that no under-fives were left out — a possibility in view of the Taliban promise in Afghanistan to medics administering polio drops that they would not be deterred in their mission.
However, the fact that the most recent victim had already received polio drops is deeply disconcerting. Aside from a definite need for a committee to manage the Expanded Programme for Immunisation, assess its activities, introduce accountability for the security of funds, there are technicalities such as delicate dispensation methods where even a minor slip can render a vaccine ineffective. One such procedure involves the cold chain which requires storage in ice boxes with strictly prescribed temperatures. Also, the problem of health personnel and immunisation material reaching extraordinarily remote crevices of the tribal belt is a challenge that demands vigilant monitoring.
Experts also believe that before polio vaccines are administered, it must be ascertained that the child in question is not suffering from another infection, be it minor or major, as any illness can cause the shots to lose their efficacy. Another area of focus is an extensive survey to determine how many ‘immunised’ children have fallen prey to the debilitating disease, along with a follow-up programme on the inoculated to monitor the health of the children and the maintenance of the booster. In the end, it is hard to forget that the battle against polio is in its 14th year. Should such basic concerns not be in the past by now?
Ijtihad in our times
By Dr Asghar Ali Engineer
OURS is one of the most progressive religions. The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) was surprisingly open and modern in his concepts. He not only accepted validity of other religions before him through divine word but emphasised peaceful coexistence with all, if others do not take up arms against Muslims.
He drew up the Covenant of Madina to promote harmonious co-existence between all faiths and called it one community. The Quran emphasised the doctrine of freedom of conscience (la ikrah fi’deen – 2:256) which was no less than a revolutionary concept in those days. It is also a harbinger of human rights as it declares, “We have given equal honour to children of Adam” (17:70).
The Quran also declared gender equality when it says, “And women have rights similar to those against them in a just manner.” (2:228). These are revolutionary declarations. The world realised equal dignity of human beings, gender equality and freedom of conscience only in the 20th century whereas Islam had declared this more than 1,400 years ago.
But today we see very different practices in the Muslim world. Many even accuse Islam of not permitting human freedom and deny human rights; women enjoy few rights in the Muslim world. Partly it is due to misconceptions and partly the Muslim world is responsible for all this. The conservatism which we see in the Muslim world today is more cultural and due to social structures, as it developed through centuries of monarchical or colonial rule which strengthened feudal values.
What developed by way of jurisprudence during these centuries was taken as authentic teachings of Islam representing its values. However, fact was that Quranic teachings were too revolutionary for the early medieval society to be accepted and hence the then social values became predominant and the dream of a Quranic society remained unfulfilled. Time has now come to realise this dream in more concrete terms.
The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) with his vision had realised that the Quranic teachings may not be easily accepted as prevalent social structures would try to overwhelm the Quranic values. Also, he wanted society to move ahead and not remain stagnant. He thus left room in the Sharia for the doctrine of ijtihad i.e. maximum assertion of human intellect to resolve new problems arising in society.
We find this doctrine enunciated in the hadith pertaining to his companion Ma’az bin Jabal who was appointed by the Prophet as governor of Yemen. The Prophet advised him to resolve problems through ijtihad if he did not find their solution in the Quran and the Sunnah. He also said that if one commits a mistake in doing ijtihad, one would be rewarded for the sincere effort; if one finds the correct solution then the reward would be twice as much.
One will hardly find such parallels in history of other religions where intellectual freedom to solve problems is promoted instead of falling back on conservatism. There is complete consensus among ulema on the concept of ijtihad as the way forward, yet the tragedy is that none encourages its application. This is not because of Islam but because of social conservatism pervading the Muslim world.
It is not only a necessary exercise today, it is, I believe, obligatory on scholars committed to the Quranic values to attempt ijtihad in order to rediscover the spirit of the faith. Many extremist and militant Islamic groups have promoted serious misunderstandings about the values and teachings of Islam and have thus hijacked it for their own political agenda.
Also, unlike during the Muslim rule in the first few centuries, a vast number of Muslims live as minorities in various non-Muslim-majority countries. There is a great need to develop a new code to serve the needs of these substantial Muslim minorities so that they could live with a good Islamic conscience.
Only ijtihad can make that a reality.
The writer is an Islamic scholar and heads the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai.
By Razi Ahmed
CITIES in Pakistan have expanded but without much imagination for sustainable development which, in some global cities, is premised on the green ideology.
The cities of Karachi, Peshawar, Faisalabad and even Lahore and Islamabad are coping with mounting urbanisation at the expense of the little greenery left in these cities. Green surroundings have more than ornamental value; they are critical to sustaining the ecosystem which is now becoming increasingly compromised in many industrial cities.
Unless we don’t think and act green, we will not be able to effectively counter the steel and concrete ambitions of estate moguls; nothing will transform current attitudes that accept the development which is turning our cities into places of municipal chaos and harming the natural environment. An enabling role by the state is necessary to mitigate the effects of the crass commercial exploitation of city limits propagated by biased developers. This can be done as demonstrated by Lee Kwan Yew’s experiments at greening Singapore in the 1960s, where stakeholders were passionately beckoned to plant a sapling or two. The results of the eventual implantation of the green idea in Singapore show that development is possible without impinging on natural surroundings.
Haphazard expansion and urbanisation have denuded Karachi of its fabled green streets and parks in the old colonial, multi-ethnic quarters of Saddar. Its favourite, sometimes bloody, political playground, Patel Bagh —now Nishtar Park — was once home to sprawling trees that made the adjacent Soldier Bazaar and Parsi Colony idyllic to live in. On the other end, Mumbai, despite its many post-independence teething troubles, has guarded the beautiful green rows of trees that line its streets. The neighbourhoods of Malabar Hill and Colaba, and in between, belie the city’s density of population largely because of the shade of sprawling trees in ample number.
The benefits of greening cities are abundant but developers, government and other parties interested in governing cities often relegate greenery to the realm of insignificance. At the most, they pay lip service to it. A strong agent of change needs to emerge as has happened in many other cities that, although plagued by similar problems, have demonstrated that an inclusive and integrated action plan, can actually work to promote development that is sustainable and in keeping with the natural environment.
From Bogotá to Barcelona, powerful, elected mayors have reversed the results of the urban malaise to rejuvenate their cities in green ways. These agents of change have galvanised public opinion and supported plans for a better environment — for instance, those that seek to cut down on traffic congestion and vehicular emissions. Models in Barcelona and Bogotá demonstrate how right policies with correct palliative mantras can bring about a sea change in urban architecture. Barcelona’s Avinguda Diagonal bifurcates the northern and southern stretches, has bike tracks under azure skies lined with bursting citruses.
Likewise, Bogotá’s many worlds — the rich and slum dwellers — have access to bike routes made possible by its former mayor, Enrique Peñalosa. The results may not be phenomenal but the schemes to cycle along green thoroughfares are playing a part in neutralising the carcinogenic city air.
Misplaced means adopted to achieve a green end have to be redressed as ad hocism prevails in the face of political flights. The current Punjab chief minister’s masterly transformation of Lahore during his last term entailed foreign trappings in the form of date palms imported at exorbitant prices to mirror the look of the Middle East. As was to be expected, these palms, climatically (also culturally) unsuitable to Lahore, have stood frozen in time serving only as relics of the broader Sharifian lust for the all-encompassing badge of amir-ul-momineen.
Development and environmentalism are not mutually exclusive. Eco-friendly ideas, anchored in a given local context and culture, have proven just that. Cities such as Singapore and Barcelona, despite being crucial nodes in the global economy, place emphasis on the sanctity of the environment and illustrate how development and the environment can be compatible.
The UN should annually assemble global city authorities and highlight the importance of greening cities in keeping with the Millennium Development Goal for environmental sustainability. The Clinton Foundation has, to its credit, initiated programmes in cities such as Karachi to work on greening public sector buildings to alleviate emissions. The forum ought to be broadened to disseminate ideas and information to approximately three billion people that populate cities around the world.
OTHER VOICES - Sri Lankan Press
Coexistence of poverty with prosperity
It is not surprising that incidences of theft, robbery, house-breaking, financial racketeering and plunder of state funds have shown an increasing trend. When people find it difficult to live with the steady rise in the cost of living, they resort to various methods of coping with the problem…. According to police records, robbery related crimes have shown a marked increase.
On Tuesday, Governor of the Central Bank Ajith Nivard Cabraal informed the people through the media about the significant progress the economy has made. The overall economic picture he created was indeed bright…. In the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2008, compiled by Transparency International (TI), the country’s position has deteriorated to the 94th… on the basis of corruption perceived to exist among public officers and politicians….
The prevalence of this… corruption is well-known and the plague persists unabated while measures and institutions … remain atrophied. The absence of checks and balances and non-imposition of appropriate punishment to culprits provide encouragement to venal sections in society….Unfortunately, it is the law-abiding citizens of this country who have to bear the brunt…. While the vast majority of officers in the police department do their duty well …a small percentage … brings discredit to the department. IGP Jayantha Wickremaratne’s concern about this situation is evident from the comments he has recently made on allegations against the police force. It is hoped that the IGP will make every effort to restore the lost prestige of the police force… thus ensuring … efficient protection. — (Sept 25)
Why raise private armies?
Sunday, 02 Nov, 2008
By Tasneem Noorani
IT seems that we have failed to learn anything from our past which includes botched strategies of helping the Taliban conquer Afghanistan and our ‘slow boil’ strategy in Kashmir.
According to a report in this newspaper filed from Washington: “Pakistan plans to arm tens of thousand of tribals in Fata, to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants”. It further states that “the US military, which used Iraqi tribesmen to fight Al Qaeda, supports this plan, hoping to replicate its success in Iraq”.
To me this is almost a conspiracy to kill the spontaneous uprisings of the tribals against foreigners and the misguided locals. The welcome movement of locals raising lashkars against the Taliban and foreigners started this summer. It indicated the end of the patience of the vast majority of tribals, who did not agree with what was happening. The consistent policy of the armed forces, where they have taken on the miscreants firmly, must have encouraged the silent majority to stand up and be counted. But it was obviously a spontaneous movement in line with the tradition of collective responsibility, a part of their riwaj.
Why are we trying to give it the look of a foreign-sponsored move? This will surely make it suspect in the eyes of the locals and make them look like the agents of the US, a perception which can make anyone the No 1 target in the tribal areas. The US military was not even aware of the existence of the tribal areas of Pakistan when the tradition of raising a lashkar to fight a common cause of a tribe became part of local custom. How could it have followed the policy in Iraq, which it was supposed to be replicating in Pakistan’s tribal areas?
Assuming the news report from Washington is correct, there will be two serious consequences. First, as mentioned above, the identification of a perfectly indigenous move, as per local traditions, with the US will make it highly suspect in the eyes of the locals and all those associated with it will be branded American agents, which will immediately kill the movement and make the task of the Taliban easier.
Secondly, there will be repercussions of officially arming a civil population. Have we not seen the effects of our past strategies of arming and training a civilian population, both on our eastern as well as western borders? According to the news report, we are going to supply the tribesmen with arms again, reportedly purchased from China, even though that is a commodity which is not in short supply in the area.
Supply of arms will be followed by weapons and some tactical training. We will perhaps even concede to the tribals’ request for more lethal weapons. After all, the idea is to make these people match the enemy they are trying to defeat.
In the process we will have a few scores of tribal armies, who will be battle hardened at the end of this phase. Assuming that the current enemy is annihilated, the battle-hardened tribals will turn in unpredictable ways on new ‘enemies’.
A majority of the tribals are caught in the crossfire of a war that has been thrust upon them. They are poor people, living in primitive conditions, trying to eke out a living. Because of lack of economic opportunities of any kind, including agriculture, they have traditionally indulged in trade which is perceived to be illegal by usually accepted norms. Their business is to smuggle luxury goods into the country.
Growing poppy and extracting heroin is the most financially rewarding occupation for some, considering the limitations of land, but it means being involved in the drug business. Kidnapping for ransom (they usually do not kill) is another ‘business’ they find profitable for their financial survival. All this cannot be condoned by a civilised society; then again society should reflect on what it has done for the tribesmen to enable them make an honest living.
Even in this conflict, while the US is willing to send arms and experts for capacity building, can we think of a scheme to help put money in the pockets of these people? Infrastructure is fine, but the economic impact of that takes time to trickle down. We have been hearing of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) for the last two years and will probably continue to only hear about them for the next few years.
Even if 10 per cent of the money spent by the US in the tribal areas was put into schemes which would have directly benefited the tribals, we would have had the Taliban on the run much earlier.
Arming lashkars with US money will enable some general in the US to claim credit for his innovative policy, but will discredit and kill the only hope that the area has to fight Talibanisation.
The local political administration system, which may be weakened because of the blun
ders of the Musharraf era, still exists. I understand that the current government is trying to reinforce the old system. These are the right people to interact with the lashkars. They have their own riwaj and locally accepted ways of helping anyone they choose to. The political agent and his team are the most appropriate people to be strengthened and provided resources to nurture and support the popular uprising.
The tribals are risking their lives confronting the extremists because they are aware that their riwaj is under threat. Let them do it their way. Let us keep our smart alec strategies to ourselves.
A difficult period
Sunday, 02 Nov, 2008
THE Foreign Office broke no new ground when it said on Friday that Pakistan’s relations with the United States were passing through “a difficult period”. The FO’s recognition of the strained relationship between the two came the day America launched two more attacks in Waziristan, killing at least 21 people, including an Al Qaeda operative. The raids will continue — let us accept it. The outgoing American president signed a secret order in July authorising attacks in Fata. Until there is a change of policy, Pakistan should be prepared for this frequency and scope of American attacks. On Thursday, the American Homeland Security chief said that a country should have the right to attack another if it harboured potential terrorists. He thus reaffirmed what President George Bush and other Republican administration officials have said several times in the wake of 9/11, namely the US had the right to make ‘pre-emptive’ strikes in such cases. The most ‘original’ piece of foreign policy declaration came from Paul Wolfowitz, a former deputy defence secretary, when he talked of ‘ending states’ to ensure America’s security.
While the drone attacks and the often negative statements coming from America constitute a serious commentary on our diplomatic endeavours — for we have failed to convey our viewpoint adequately to the US and the world — they also betray a lack of America’s trust in Pakistan. Although the war on terror is supposed to be a joint US-Pakistan endeavour — both regard the terrorists to be their enemy — the two sides have failed to coordinate their strategy. Pakistan has mobilised over 100,000 soldiers and suffered countless casualties but the coalition forces across the border are not certain if their war aims are being achieved. They suspect the ISI of continuing to follow a “strategy of double-think”, so to say, that is fight the militants at home and use them abroad. This lack of confidence between the two sides has created bad blood between them.
Friday’s attacks come at a time when peace moves are afoot, and American officials too have been speaking of negotiating with the Taliban if they distance themselves from Al Qaeda. The foreign office statement reiterated what the prime minister had declared some time back — that Pakistan would tackle America’s violations of its sovereignty by diplomatic means. There is no other choice. With our growing dependence on American military power and the government’s desire to seek economic support from the IMF that looks for the proverbial nod from Washington to release funds to Islamabad, it would be counter-productive to overreact and succumb to pro-Taliban lobbies to challenge the US. In the long run, however, Pakis- tan must reduce its dependence on America and learn to stand on its own feet economically if it wants to conduct an independent foreign policy.
Time is the longest distance between two places.
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Princess Royal (Monday, November 03, 2008)
Ziqa'ad 4, 1429
November 03, 2008
Where are their rights?
IT is a sign of how callous we have become as a society when hardly any hue and cry is raised over the abusive and often unnatural treatment meted out to our children. The latter, because they are without a voice, cannot even seek redress. Our children are exposed to paedophiles (and consequently to a host of diseases including Aids) with poverty forcing many to accept money in return for sexual services. They are also victims of despicable social practices such as child marriage, an instance of which was reported in our paper on Saturday. During times of natural calamity, too, they are among the worst hit as evident in the case of Balochistan where an earthquake last week left 30,000 children homeless and exposed to dangerous illnesses such as pneumonia.
However, while it is amply clear that society has failed to protect its children, one must blame the government even more for not even attending to whatever legal obligations it has regarding its young citizens, let alone enacting a comprehensive law that would seek to shield them from all manner of social ills. As we pointed out in a recent editorial, the state is not even sure of the age at which a child ceases to be one. On the one hand, it has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child according to which adulthood begins at 18. On the other, the Employment of Children Act states that a child is under 14 years. Meanwhile, national identity cards are issued at the age of 18.
It is time to give children a clearer status in society and to ask ourselves some tough questions. Do we bring them — and so many of them — into the world as a future safeguard against a poverty-stricken old age? Or do we look upon them as individual personalities whose need for love, care, shelter, etc goes beyond being a mere responsibility for parents, elders and the state? Indeed, together we should be cherishing this responsibility and ensuring that our children are given all their rights and more, and that they grow up into happy, well-adjusted, thinking adults who believe in giving their best to those around them. By not doing so, we are violating all laws and norms of human rights. Besides implementing existing laws and enacting new ones, there is also a need to sensitise institutions like the police and the judiciary to the vulnerability of children and to the state’s duty to provide them with relief in times of distress. Such measures would shake society out of its current stupor and contribute significantly to the welfare of children.
Ban on illiterate workers
WHILE it is not clear to what extent the Saudi ban on issuing visas to illiterate Pakistani workers will affect remittances, it is evident that the blow will be a considerable one to our economy. Remittances from Saudi Arabia amounted to over a billion dollars in the last financial year with the Saudi embassy issuing a maximum of 1,200 work visas per day. According to reports, only a quarter of those granted visas were able to read and write. With the money — totalling billions of dollars — from expatriate labour in various countries crucial to sustaining our economy, it is evident that the labour ministry will have to reassess its performance. The ministry may pride itself on making a significant contribution to national finances through the export of Pakistani labour. But surely greater attention should be paid to basic requirements, like education, that would enhance the value of our workers in countries where there is a market for their services. After all, we have the example of other developing countries like Sri Lanka whose women are in great demand in the Gulf and other Arab countries for domestic duties. Trained by government-run centres in household duties and made aware of cultural sensitivities, they have so far proved to be assets abroad, and contribute significantly to the Sri Lankan economy — although several cases of maid abuse are now forcing Colombo to review its overseas employment policy.
No doubt our workers too toil diligently abroad. But illiteracy is the source of many ills, and according to the Saudi embassy is causing difficulties for its government. The removal of this hurdle is essential and a workforce with at least basic education requirements should be applying for overseas jobs, and not specifically in Saudi Arabia. Asking Riyadh to delay the implementation of the new rules is of little use. This hardly serves Saudi Arabia’s interests and would do little for ours in the long run. What we need are literacy programmes and better government policies and infrastructure for training that would facilitate our expatriate workers during their stint abroad. This would also encourage them to rely on government institutions and thus escape the trap that dubious recruiting agents lay for them with promises of greener pastures in foreign lands. At the same time it is necessary to strengthen forums for registering and acting on the complaints of expatriate workers, many of whom are treated shabbily in the Arab countries. Only a government that is sensitive to its workers’ needs can expect maximum output from them.
The missing bus
ISLAMABAD must be one of the few capital cities in the world that still lacks a basic bus system. Despite recent improvements in the city’s road network, it does not have a public transport service to match. The existing transport system comprising fragmented services provided by a medley of individually operated vans and mini-buses is inadequate. Not that there has been a dearth of apparent attempts to rehabilitate this system. The Islamabad Transport Authority, the Capital Development Authority and even the Islamabad Traffic Police have all separately tried in recent years to launch new bus services, but the disappointing results are clearly visible on the roads of Islamabad where students, office workers and the public in general continue to suffer every day. The root of Islamabad’s public transport malaise appears to lie in the absence of a single agency with comprehensive powers to deal with a wide range of transport problems and coordinate overall solutions. Jurisdiction on transport issues is divided among several agencies resulting in duplication of responsibility, undermining of accountability and resistance to change. The situation has been made worse by the lack of sufficient resources. Also complicating the situation is the lack of local regulatory frameworks in urban transport.
The recent re-introduction of the private Varan buses on the roads of the twin cities is a positive move, but this is basically a service between Islamabad and Rawalpindi. What is needed is a successful public bus system within Islamabad itself which calls for institutional reorganisation, planning and training. This is essential to meet the needs of those who do not have access to private transport. While the plan for a rail-based transit system in the twin cities, announced last year, is welcome, this is likely to take years to materialise. Without an accessible and efficient bus system, poor mobility within Islamabad will continue to hamper economic growth and improvement in the quality of life, restricting accessibility — especially of women — to jobs, education, health services and recreation.
OTHER VOICES - North American Press
Oh, Washington? While you’re bailing ...
The New York Times
AT a Congressional hearing this week, the mayor of Trenton cut through the weighty economic theories concerning this latest downturn and borrowed a simple message from the Beatles. “Help!” Mayor Douglas Palmer pleaded. Like mayors and governors across the country, Mr Palmer asked Congress to funnel money to city and state governments where tax revenues are plummeting and requests for aid are soaring.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has begun appealing for Congressional help with the ‘precarious’ financial status of many states. Unlike the federal government, most states and cities require balanced budgets, and the conference has estimated a $26bn shortfall for 27 states so far this year. If the economy continues its slide, that figure is surely to grow, with some estimates rising to $100bn by the next fiscal year.
If Congress and the White House can bail out bankers and insurance companies and possibly the auto industry, they should be able to help state and local governments, too. The aid could be temporary, the way it has been during past recessions.
In addition to extending unemployment benefits and food stamp programmes, which provide the biggest immediate boosts to states’ economies, one promising idea being pushed by governors is to put more federal money into projects like roads, subways, bridges, tunnels, schools and sewage plants….
Many states also need added support for Medicaid…. Investing in highways and health care is a far more effective way of stimulating the economy. With their record profits, the oil companies are the last ones the government should be helping at this point. And states won’t use federal funds for executive bonuses or corporate junkets, the way some financial firms have.
Giving money to state and local governments has its hazards, of course. Congress must resist making this next stimulus into an ugly porkfest, with money for everybody’s favourite waterworks. And it cannot become an excuse for governors and mayors to avoid making hard decisions about how to cut their own budgets.
But it is time for Congress and the White House to recognize how crucial it is to help local governments who provide services like schools and health care and police protection that cannot fall victim to this latest recession. — (Nov 1)
Change of colours in Washington
By S.M. Naseem
FALL is typically a season of changing colours on the US East Coast. As winter approaches, shiny green leaves gradually turn into an arresting array of rust, brown, red, yellow and other colours, making the landscape breathtakingly beautiful.
This year, however, a much more radical change of colour is likely to take place inside the most coveted residence of the nation, the White House, where until half a century ago the only black inmates were the maids and bartenders of the presidential household.
The likelihood of Senator Barack Obama becoming the first non-white occupant of the White House has become almost a certainty after his spectacular success against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and Senator John McCain in the race for the presidency. Arguably, he faced far greater challenges in defeating Hillary Clinton in the primaries than in his yet undecided contest against Senator McCain.
At the start of the primary campaign, Mr Obama was an underdog and the victory of Senator Clinton was being taken for granted. She enjoyed almost unequivocal support of the Democratic establishment by virtue of being the first lady for eight years and having served two terms as a senator and she was also the icon of a vibrant feminist movement in the country. The gruelling primary contest which ended in April after Hillary — with unconcealed reluctance — conceded the nomination. It left Obama a little over six months to launch his presidential campaign, while his Republican rival, McCain, had sewed up his party’s nomination much earlier.
However, it was the primaries which helped shape Obama’s campaign for the presidency. He did not allow the wounds of the long and protracted primary campaign, with the often unsubtle use of race and gender as a weapon by partisans on both sides, to fester and made strenuous, if sometimes unrewarding, efforts to win over Hillary’s committed fans.
Mr McCain, however, was no walkover either. While his age and his close association with the Bush White House and its neocon policies had largely faded his maverick image and his Vietnam heroics, he retained the advantage of his prolonged experience invoking not only his own service to the military but also of “a long line of McCains who have served the country in war and in peace”.
In spite of these odds Obama has reached so close to the White House doors. It is because of his personal charisma and compelling biography of mixed ancestry and diverse cultures. The latter has, in fact, been an impediment in getting the support of American blacks, whose traditional leaders such as Rev Jesse Jackson felt alienated from him.
But Barack Obama, who entered active politics only a little over a decade ago, showed exemplary savvy by keeping the political and demographic arithmetic in mind to reach his political goal. His historic speech in Philadelphia in March splendidly finessed the issues of race, religion and colour raised in connection with his firebrand pastor Rev Wright and succeeded in linking the race issue with that of economic deprivation.
Fortunately for Obama, the tailwinds of economic and financial crises, stemming from the bursting of the housing bubble, which affected both the whites and blacks — perhaps more of the latter — helped to give the Obama campaign a windfall which McCain had not anticipated. Less than a week before the global financial crisis unravelled and Wall Street’s invincible icons started falling like dominos, Mr McCain was continuing to parrot that the ‘fundamentals’ of the economy were strong.
Suddenly, it dawned on him that the Bush administration, whose economic policies he had consistently supported but wanted to distance himself from, was launching a mammoth bailout plan to rescue the financial markets with the economy on the verge of a meltdown.
The strategy devised by McCain’s advisers to ignore the economy and focus on other issues such as Obama’s lack of experience, his questionable patriotism and ability to defend the country against a future 9/11, and innumerable other vulnerabilities, which Fox News and Rush Limbaugh incessantly regurgitated, had to be put on the back burner.
In a sudden U-turn, Mr McCain decided to become a populist and announced the suspension of his campaign. He went back to Washington to help solve the unfolding crisis, though ended up contributing nothing to the crisis or his campaign, except a lot of embarrassment, especially at the David Letterman show.
This was Mr McCain’s second gamble. Naming Sarah Palin as his running mate had already become grist for the comedy mill given Ms Palin’s inept handling of serious questions about the economy or foreign policy. Although Palin has been a larger crowd-puller than McCain, her crowds have not been dominated by Hillary supporters.
Despite his blundering campaign, it would be premature to say that Mr McCain’s electoral goose is cooked, much less to write his political obituary. Sarah Palin has resorted to the crudest tactics that a losing campaign can undertake, including smears. Besides spreading false rumours about Obama’s birth, nationality, patriotism and political associates, the McCain campaign is using incendiary ‘robocalls’ — phone calls where a machine delivers a message — linking Obama to terrorism, infanticide, and other charges.
Obama is now being described as a socialist, rather than a liberal, who believes in big government. It is ironic that it was the Bush administration — supported both by Obama and McCain — who ‘socialised’ many of the leading banks and financial institutions during the ongoing financial crisis. The McCain campaign is also launching an intimidating counter-campaign to discourage the recently registered black and young voters from exercising their franchise, as well as attempting to exclude those whose houses have been foreclosed.
If in spite of these heavy odds, Senator Obama does make it to the White House it will indeed mean crossing a historic rubicon. Changing the colour of the president will of course not change the colour of the country. Neither will it transform the US, as McCain is wont to warn, into a socialist republic. Nor will the wars started by Bush come to an end soon.
But there is certainly a hope shared by all that the US will learn from the political and economic fiascos it has landed the world in during the last decade and will turn a new leaf in its relations with both the developed and developing world.
As president Obama will hopefully be able to correct the flagrant policy mistakes of the Bush era and may be able to address the global issues whose urgent solution demands proactive and wise statesmanship, which his predecessor woefully lacked. n
Chinese in Guantanamo
By Duncan Campbell and Richard Norton-Taylor
SEVENTEEN Chinese prisoners who have been held for nearly seven years in Guantanamo Bay will be informed on Monday (Nov 3) that they could spend the rest of their lives behind bars, even though they face no charges and have been told by a judge they should be freed.
No country is willing to accept them and the US justice department has now blocked moves for them to be allowed to go to the US mainland, where they had been offered a home by refugee and Christian organisations.
The men’s lawyer, Sabin Willett, wass flying to Guantanamo Bay last weekend to break the news to the men, who are members of the Uighur ethnic group seeking autonomy from China. In a blunt and angry letter to justice department lawyers, Willett spelled out what he thought of the way the men had been treated.
“After years of stalling and staying and appellate gamesmanship, you pleaded no contest — they are not enemy combatants,” Willett has written. “You have never charged them with any crime.”
Last month a federal judge ruled that the men should be freed. “They were on freedom’s doorstep,” said Willett. “The plane was at Gitmo. The stateside Lutheran refugee services and the Uighur families and Tallahassee clergy were ready to receive them.” However, the justice department appealed against the ruling and Willett claims this will put the men into a potentially endless limbo.
On Friday Willett said his clients were “saddened” by the latest events. The men, who are Muslims, were in Afghanistan in 2001 and were captured by Pakistani troops and handed over to the US. So far, more than 100 countries have been asked to take them as refugees but none have agreed. Willett blamed US authorities for incorrectly describing them as terrorists.
According to the US justice department, the men “are linked to an organisation that the state department has labelled to be a terrorist entity, and it is beside the point that the organisation is not ‘a threat to us’ because the law excluding members of such groups does not require such proof.”
Willett is also angry the defence department will not agree to let him meet his clients unless they are chained to the floor.
— The Guardian, London
Zilhaj 30, 1429
December 29, 2008
ACCIDENTS will happen but we as a nation have consistently failed to learn from past mistakes. More than five years ago the oil tanker Tasman Spirit ran aground as it tried to enter the Karachi harbour and eventually split apart, releasing vast quantities of its toxic cargo into the Arabian Sea. The result was the worst environmental disaster in the history of Pakistan. With no contingency plan in place, the shipping, port and government authorities either watched, ran around like headless chickens or opted for denial mode. The leakage was minor, according to a Karachi Port Trust official, and that there was nothing to worry about. The communications minister — and this was a classic — reportedly said that the beaches weren’t that clean to begin with. Meanwhile, with no master plan of action and an inexcusable lack of coordination between the relevant agencies, almost 20 days passed between the time the Tasman Spirit ran aground, started leaking and finally broke up, wreaking havoc.
The Tasman Spirit disaster was huge, but to this day we are unequipped to deal with even relatively minor accidents that can damage the environment. Take the puncturing earlier this month in Karachi of a pipeline which drenched an entire neighbourhood in oil. Faced with an emergency situation, the relevant authorities responded in an ad hoc fashion, for the simple reason that no mechanism is followed for the environmentally safe disposal of hazardous materials. Oil was pumped into drains that discharge into the sea. Truckloads after truckloads of sand were brought in to stanch the flow but as yet no official has satisfactorily explained how and where the oil-drenched detritus was disposed of after being hauled away. On Friday, a truck-tanker overturned in the streets of Karachi and spilled some 44,000 litres of petrol. What did the rescue workers do? They diverted the petrol to a stormwater drain that leads to the nearby Arabian Sea. But they were not at fault, really. The problem lies elsewhere.
There are few laws and no clear-cut contingency plans to follow. The Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997 calls for the “preparation of emergency contingency plans for coping with environmental hazards and pollution caused by accidents, natural disasters and calamities”. This is yet to happen. According to the website of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA), new ‘Hazardous Substances Rules’, which cover the kind of accidents under discussion, were drafted in 2003. Going by the information on the Pak-EPA’s own website, these rules still remain in draft form. The result: there is no central plan or policy to tackle such accidents in a coordinated fashion. That said, laws or policies alone cannot achieve much. Implementation is the key, and in this context what is required is a coordinated system of accident management that includes the training of those involved in rescue operations and the rapid mobilisation of the concerned provincial environmental protection agency. It may sound like a tall order but it can be done.
TO educate or not to educate — girls in particular — seems to be the question the Taliban are agonising over. They have yet to make up their mind and demonstrate their honesty in the matter. On Thursday it was reported by a section of the media that militants in Swat have announced a total ban on female education in the district from Jan 15. Such a move, if it is actually implemented, would keep an estimated 40,000 girls out of school. But a day later the leadership of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan sought to distance itself from the ban that smacked of anti-social obscurantism. Mercifully, the TTP chief has now proclaimed that he was not opposed to female education, so long as the girls are properly veiled. He has promised to probe the issue and get the Taliban in Swat to rescind their decision about which they are now being equivocal.
All’s well that ends well, it is said. But can we be certain girls’ schools will not be bombed? Even when no formal ban had been announced, the Taliban proceeded to bomb girls’ educational institutions as a matter of routine. The worst affected were the regions where their writ runs since the war on terror intensified. In the last 14 months they have destroyed over 100 schools in Swat and this has been done even when they have entered into accords with the Pakistan authorities not to do so.
Although strategically speaking, bombing girls’ schools may not create such a critical impact on the course of the war, it certainly has profound implications in terms of the political and social message it sends. In a society where women are an underclass by virtue of their gender and are denied equal advantages of education — only 36 per cent of women over 15 years of age are literate compared to 63 per cent men — bombing of girls’ schools comes as a warning to parents to desist from changing this pattern. In a wider sense it also means that no change in the status of women will be brooked. Since the education of girls poses a threat to the ideological beliefs of the Taliban they want to resist it. This should also come as a wake-up call to the policymakers in Pakistan. The emergence of the Taliban reflects, amongst others, our failure to make education accessible to all and inculcate tolerance, compassion and humanism in the population.
Christmas Eve slaughter
BESTIALITY is not confined to animals alone as the callous behaviour of man often shows. On Christmas Eve in Los Angeles on Friday, an armed Santa Claus left nine people dead in a murder and arson spree. Then he shot himself. A jobless aerospace worker, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo organised his massacre with scientific precision. Carrying four guns, Pardo took with him a device, wrapped like a Christmas gift that contained a mechanism for spraying fuel. Dressed as jovial Santa Claus, he rang the bell of a home and fired on the eight-year-old girl who opened the door. He then fired at random at a party of 25 people and went looking for his former in-laws, shooting them in what the police said looked like execution-style killings. He then sprayed the party room with fuel, lit it and fled, but not before he himself got burnt.
In Pakistan, men have blown themselves up in mosques and churches, bombed Eid congregations and funerals and destroyed schools, ironically enough all in the name of religion. Just as Pardo performed his fiendish deed on the sacred and joyous Christmas Eve, so also in September fanatics bombed Islamabad Marriott during Ramazan. The deed would have been dastardly at any time, but the occasion underlines the cold-bloodedness of those with a ‘mission’ regardless of their ideological leanings . Last month, we saw in Mumbai innocent men, women and children belonging to various nationalities and different faiths die in a criminal act by men whose identity has yet to be confirmed. Pardo had no criminal record, and his neighbours remember him as a nice man who walked his dog and attended church regularly. Yet, cold-blooded murder was his intention. Whether it is perceived injustices by society or noble political causes, nothing justifies mass murder. In more pragmatic terms, as recent history shows, acts of terror whose victims are innocent people have hurt rather than advanced ideological movements.
OTHER VOICES - North American Press
WHY does a child’s plastic doll come covered in plastic, inside a cardboard box, protected by yet more plastic?
Ontario’s living rooms, recycling bins and garbage cans will be overflowing this morning with the leftovers from over-packaged presents.
We can easily do something about wrapping paper if we want to celebrate a greener Christmas. (Reusable gift bags, or using old newspapers and magazines for wrapping are simple options.) But what about all the manufacturers’ packaging that the gifts come in?
Yes, consumer choice is always an option. But how do you tell a four-year-old that Santa Claus couldn’t bring her the toy she really, really wanted because it came with too much packaging?
If Ontario’s Environment Minister John Gerretsen has his way, there’s a chance that next year’s post-Christmas garbage cans won’t be quite as full of seemingly unnecessary packaging....
Gerretsen vows that the provincial ministers will raise “in a stronger way than we have in the past” the need for Ottawa to introduce nationwide packaging standards that would restrict material that is difficult to recycle.
This is by no means the first time a provincial environment minister has promised action on packaging, but Queen’s Park does seem to be more serious about it this time.
In a review underway of Ontario’s own waste diversion act … reduction plays a much more prominent role than it has in the past.
The discussion paper goes so far as to talk about a “zero waste” future. Given Ontario’s dismal failure to achieve any of its waste reduction targets to date, this must be taken with not just a grain of salt, but the entire shaker.
Yet the vision is the right one and the first of the 3Rs — reduction — is the key to reaching this lofty goal. That means less packaging to begin with and making producers of products responsible for disposal of their packaging. “You make it, you take it back,” says Gerretsen.
This extended producer responsibility model has been used in Europe to prod companies to improve the design of their products so they can be reused or recycled more easily.
We’re recycling more — that’s good — but we’re consuming more too. That’s not so good. In the coming year, we’re all going to hear more about how to boost the 3Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle — to help limit our footprint on the planet. ... — (Dec 26)
Language and politics
By Dr Shahid Siddiqui
THE significance of language in individual and societal lives is vital. It’s one of the important cultural expressions that act as an identity marker. With the passage of time the socio-political aspects of language were brought to light by linguists, anthropologists and social thinkers.
Now language is considered a linguistics phenomenon and a highly socio-political concept that is linked to power.
Language is no more viewed as merely a neutral and passive tool of communication but a powerful constituent of social reality. In a number of imperialist adventures language was used as a weapon to gain and sustain control over the colonised nations. The cultural hegemony is generally facilitated and made possible with the help of language. Power groups consider their language and culture as supreme and take on the job of civilising others by imposing their language and culture on them.
No language is inherently superior or inferior but its speakers’ status lends to social prestige to the language. Powerful groups consider their language supreme and view others’ as substandard. Terms such as ‘dialect’ and ‘vernacular’ were used to downgrade a language. The contemporary view, however, suggests that all languages are equally respectable. That is why the term ‘dialect’ that had a negative connotation, is no more in vogue and linguists prefer the term ‘variety’ instead.
During the imperial rule in pre-independence India, English was used as a tool to create a class of people who could act as a liaison between the colonisers and the Indian masses. Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education was a typical example of the imperialistic technique of glorifying one’s own language and culture and stigmatising others’. Comparing the superiority of English over Sanskrit and Arabic, the two languages so dear to Hindus and Muslim, Macaulay’s view was sweeping and judgmental, “A single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature in India and Arabia.”
The imposition of English was made possible in a strategic manner by attaching benefits and perks to it which included government jobs in the British Empire and a relatively elevated social status. These pragmatic benefits persuaded people to learn English.
Some religious groups in India opposed English as a symbol of imperial rule but very soon Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and his colleagues realised that closing the doors to English would simply mean giving up opportunities for an improved life during British rule. During the Pakistan Movement language emerged as an important factor to fight the case of an independent country on the basis of the two-nation theory. Urdu was adopted by Muslims as their language as compared to Hindi associated with the Hindus.
In 1947 when India was divided and Pakistan came into being, Urdu was declared the national language of the new state. We see three major trends in deciding the national language of a country. The first is that the mother tongue of the majority is given the status of national language as in the case of the US and UK where English is the mother tongue of the majority of people and thus the national language. The second trend is that liberated colonies decided to keep the language of their masters as the national language as happened in Africa. The third is that instead of one language certain countries declared more than one language as their national languages as in Canada where they have English and French.
In Pakistan we see that none of these trends were kept in view while deciding about the national language. Urdu was not the mother tongue of the majority. The majority comprised Bengalis followed by Punjabis, Sindhis, etc. There was not much resistance against Urdu from Punjab on two major counts: First because of the close affinity between Urdu and Punjabi at the grammar and lexicon levels; second, because Punjabis were in the army and in the bureaucracy and thus were close to the centres of power. This was not the case with the Bengalis as there was no affinity between the two languages and Bengalis, having minimum representation in the army and bureaucracy, were not present in the centres of power.
This sense of deprivation coupled with the centre’s insistence on having one national language led to historical protests. The demand was to declare Bangla, besides Urdu, as a national language. By the time centre was forced to declare Bangla as the second national language it was already too late. The death of Bengali students at Dhaka University gave impetus to the movement of freedom that culminated in the shape of Bangladesh.
In the recent past a group of scholars raised the issue of replacing English with Urdu. But this proposal is abstract in nature and not practicable in the absence of political will at the state level. The use of the mother tongue at an early level, however, needs serious consideration as there is ample research to suggest the usefulness of the mother tongue during the early phase of education for concept formation among children.Language choice should not be an either/or question. We need to expose our children to different languages, including English. But learning English should not mean sidelining our mother tongue and indigenous languages.
The writer is director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.
Tigers in trouble
By Justin McCurry
ASIAN economies on Friday showed more signs that recession is deepening with Japan’s industrial output falling at a record pace and South Korea warning it faces an “unprecedented crisis”.
The once unstoppable Chinese economy is also feeling the strain, with companies recording a sharp slowdown in profit growth in the first 11 months of the year. Japan’s industrial output marked a record fall last month, raising fears that the world’s second-biggest economy is sliding towards deflation.Output sank by 8.1 per cent in November, the biggest drop since records began in 1953. The ministry of economy, trade and industry estimates output will decline by a similar amount this month and by more than two per cent in January. If the forecasts are right, output for the three months to December will shrink by a record 11 per cent.
Unemployment rose to 3.9 per cent, up 0.2 per cent from the previous month, with the overall jobless rate reaching more than 2.5 million, an increase of 100,000 from last year, the health and welfare ministry said.
Japan’s exporters have seen their profits quickly eroded by the soaring yen — now hovering around a 13-year high against the dollar — and a decline in sales in the US and Europe. The downturn has forced the country’s powerhouse car and electronics makers to slash production and cut work forces, with Toyota announcing its first ever loss this week.
The government has unveiled financial stimulus packages that include 12 trillion yen in extra spending. Having taken interest rates to almost zero recently Japan’s financial authorities appear to be running out of options.
The Bank of Japan recently cut interest rates by 0.2 per cent to 0.1 per cent. The BoJ also increased its outright purchases of government bonds and, for the first time, said it would buy commercial paper outright in an attempt to ease the pressure on cash-strapped firms.
“We need to take unprecedented measures when in an extraordinary economic situation,” said the prime minister, Taro Aso. “Japan cannot evade this tsunami of world recession, but by taking bold measures we hope to be the first in the world to come out of recession.”
Analysts said production had “fallen off a cliff” and were pessimistic about the prospects for an early recovery. “What’s going on is beyond what Toyota and Sony ever imagined,” said Mitsuru Saito, chief economist at Tokai Tokyo Securities.
The mood was similarly grim in South Korea. “The Korean economy is faced with an unprecedented crisis with exports and domestic demand, the two pillars of economic growth, falling at the same time,” the ministry of knowledge economy said in a new year policy report.
The ministry said it would aim to boost 2009 exports to $450bn from about $430bn projected for this year.
Faced with slowing demand from export markets, China needed to take more steps to stimulate domestic consumption, central bank officials there said. China’s over-reliance on investment and exports has been exposed by the global financial crisis.
Profit growth at Chinese industrial firms rose 4.9 per cent in January-November from a year earlier, down sharply from annual growth of 19.4 per cent in the first eight months of the year, data showed on Friday.
— The Guardian, London
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