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Old Sunday, January 11, 2009
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Sunday
Muharram 13, 1430
January 11, 2009

Obama and Pakistan


SENATOR Biden came to Pakistan as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but his real significance is that he will soon be sworn in as vice president of the United States. The visit threw up the usual platitudes about democracy and development, and Pakistan reciprocated by handing out a pro forma medal. Yet, the thrust of American diplomacy is clear: the key to the stability and security of Afghanistan lies in Pakistan’s border areas, and Pakistan needs to do more to help the Americans. There are at

least three things the Obama administration will want from Pakistan: one, eliminate the sanctuaries of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Fata; two, clamp down on the cross-border movement of militants; and, three, secure the supply routes of American and international troops in Afghanistan running through Pakistan. Whatever America may offer Pakistan in terms of non-military aid, acting as an interlocutor between Pakistan and India on terrorism and Kashmir and propping up Pakistan’s battered international image, the results on the Pak-Afghan border will be the prism through which the Americans judge their relationship with Pakistan. And with Obama expected to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, the scrutiny will be intense.

However, with every new administration there is a window of opportunity to recalibrate relationships. While an Obama administration will be no less compromising in the pursuit of American interests in the region, it

may bring a more nuanced understanding to the table than the Bush administration. President-elect Obama has already connected the dots: the ‘solution’ to the Afghan ‘problem’ lies in a regional approach that incorporates Pakistan’s strategic interests. Our interests, as defined by the security establishment led by the Pakistan Army, lie in a stable, peaceful and friendly Afghanistan which will allow the army to focus on what it considers its primary task, defending the eastern border against the Indian armed forces.

There is no obvious way to square the American and Pakistani interests, which is perhaps why the Bush-Musharraf-Karzai era failed to bring peace to Afghanistan and what has led to the recent spate of drone attacks in Fata. A starting point, however, could be to go beyond the ‘transactional’ relationship between the US and Pakistan. The $1.5bn a year from the Biden-Kerry-Lugar bill; RoZ legislation that enhances Pakistan’s access to US textile and other markets; expanding USAID missions in Pakistan; focusing aid on health, education, law enforcement and justice programmes; using the Friends of Pakistan forum to coordinate international assistance — these are just a few of the many suggestions already made by think tanks and analysts. Choices exist; the next few months will make it clear if the Obama administration prefers the stick or the carrot when it comes to Pakistan.

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Terror in Lahore

FIVE blasts in quick succession in Lahore on Friday night added to the chill in the air. The first four explosions took place around the Al Falah building, formerly housing a cinema house which has been converted into a venue for holding stage plays. The fifth blast came soon afterwards and the apparent target this time was the Tamaseel Theatre at Mozang Chungi. With two of the busiest parts of the city hit, the panic spread fast. Thankfully the damage was contained since the two theatres happened to be closed at the time of the explosions because of Muharram. Nonetheless Lahore’s residents were once again reminded of the terrors that may be brewing in their midst and the damage the terrorists are capable of causing. One year ago, on Jan 10, a suicide bomber struck at the GPO square close to the Lahore High Court killing 25, mostly policemen. Even more powerful attacks followed in March in one of which the terrorists aimed to and almost succeeded in destroying the Federal Investigation Agency offices on Temple Road. In a recent incident on Dec 24, a woman was killed in a car bomb explosion in the Government Officers’ Residence-II.

Friday’s blasts were, however, readily linked to another series that has been played out at the so-called cultural venues of Lahore, with the suspicion being that these were the handiwork of a local group of prudes. In early October last year, three bombs went off in Garhi Shahu inside fruit juice corners frequented by boys and girls. In November, just when everyone was about to celebrate the peaceful holding of the World Performing Arts Festival, the show was hit by blasts on its penultimate day. Mercifully, large-scale damage was avoided and the organisers, in a show of courage, went ahead with the closing ceremony the following evening. A similarly heartening resolve has been shown by a producer scheduled to stage a play at Al Falah. But the official response leaves much to be desired. It is as if the officials are out trying to take credit for the ‘mildness’ of the terrorists’ effort. Let’s hope that this is for public consumption only and back in their thinking rooms, the officials are in receipt of the real message that these ‘trial bangs’ bring. The fear will stay unless and until, beyond the convenient catching of a suspect or two; there is a swoop on terror in earnest.

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Polio: time to begin afresh

THAT as many as 118 cases of polio virus were reported in 2008, a year in which we were supposed to qualify for a polio-free status, carries its own irony. Against this backdrop, the resolve voiced at a meeting of federal and provincial health ministers the other day in Islamabad to intensify efforts to root out the menace can only be viewed as timely. Rhetoric being the hallmark of officialdom, it is understandable that many would prefer to wait and see how much of this resolve will actually translate into action, for only action and not mere words can bring about a positive change. After all, the official oratory was not much different when the country had first missed the target in 2000. One can remind the naysayer of the fact that in the five-year period after missing the bus, there was a meaningful reduction in polio cases which recorded an all-time low in 2005. Unfortunately, complacency crept in just when the authorities needed to go for the final push to break the barrier.

Apart from an all too apparent streak of complacency, the authorities would do well to keep an eye on certain other factors in the equation. The national immunisation coverage, as one official put it recently, is not more than 40 per cent and in urgent need of expansion. A somewhat confused hierarchy in the presence of multiple stakeholders is another issue that needs to be sorted out in order to ensure a smooth and accountable campaign. The chain of transmission that begins in Afghanistan and runs across Pakistan owing in large measure to the outward migration of refugees is another major factor behind the resurgent virus. It is getting worse because of the wave of militancy in the Frontier province where it is becoming increasingly impossible for immunisation and surveillance teams to conduct meaningful activities. It is not surprising that of the 118 cases reported last year, 52 related to the NWFP. It is only by taking a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach at the policy level and sustained efforts on the ground that the country can hope to get out of the existing rut.

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OTHER VOICES - Indian Press

The Economic Times

The Shillong Times

Grim TV serials

EVER wondered why the characters in Indian TV serials have been having a tougher time than usual as they struggle from one crisis to the next? ...

The rationale for the angst on the small screen could be that if viewers feel what’s happening in reel life is much grimmer than what they have to put up with, they could even adjust to the real world. The markets may be very volatile, the GDP growth-rate projection may be periodically revised downwards….

However, that is nothing compared with the plight of a female protagonist in one of the TV serials who is told that her husband will be executed for killing a colleague unless she gets a letter granting forgiveness from the mother of the victim.

And who, after doing the needful, is separated from the spouse by a smiling villainess and who then has to admit the only child to a hospital for an emergency operation for which there is no money. Whew!

And just when you wonder whether things can get worse, they do…. All of which makes your head spin in a way the sensex can’t.… A year-end poll, conducted by TNS Gallup International, has just told us that India is among the world’s 10 most optimistic nations, with 42 per cent of its population expecting that the economy will get better in the year which has just begun.

It could be that the grimness of Indian TV serials gives viewers a feeling that real life just can’t be all that bad. — (Jan 8)

Hard talk


SINCE the terrorist attack in Mumbai … India has been talking tough…. Pakistan has understandably stood its guard denying its role in spreading terror and refusing to crack down on terrorist outfits on its soil. … Manmohan Singh has … made it clear that India is convinced of Pakistan’s complicity in exporting terror to India. He has timed his offensive well. In early December, his government had accused the ISI … of involvement…. But at that time it could not produce any evidence…. On this occasion, India is armed with solid evidence…. The sophistication and precision of the Mumbai offensive should convince Pakistan and other international powers that Islamabad’s state apparatus was engaged in the foul operations. It goes against Prime Minister Singh’s earlier statement that Pakistan is a victim of terror rather than its sponsor. … What is surprising is that there has been no reaction in Washington.

It is difficult to tell what kind of evidence can condemn Pakistan as a sponsor of global terror. Undoubtedly, the ISI and also a section of Pakistan’s army had a hand in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

The US has not deplored the act. The evidence gathered by the UN was not sufficient to force Pakistan to clamp down…. Pakistan’s strategic interests still converge with those of the US. At one time, Islamabad could get away with using terror against neighbours as a state policy because of US protection. … Delhi, however, cannot just relent in its verbal offensive. — (Jan 9)

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Darwin’s year: time to reflect

By Q. Isa Daudpota

CHARLES Darwin was kind enough to publish his great work On the Origin of Species when he was exactly 50 years old. That will allow us to celebrate his 200th birthday anniversary and the sesquicentennial of the book this year.

His work’s scientific, philosophical and social implications are revolutionary. Today all true scientists accept his theory of evolution as fundamental to the understanding of life on earth. It underpins all modern biological and medical sciences and helps view life as a unified system based on rather simple yet profound rules.

The biggest ever Charles Darwin exhibition (www.tinyurl.com/aysymz) will run until mid April in London. Not all is lost if you cannot get to it as much exists on the Internet that can help remove the misconceptions that many Pakistanis have about the theory, starting with this website and its excellent links. Several new books will appear as will documentaries and TV programmes that will reach our shores if there is enough demand.

Among the important recent audio-visual presentations worth showing in Pakistan is the seven-part TV series Evolution prepared by the US Public Broadcasting Service. The accompanying book with the same title by Carl Zimmer is also useful for a better understanding of the theory. Supplement these with a study of the PBS website on evolution (www.tinyurl.com/783wm8) which has a wealth of material, in text and video, for students and teachers.

What if one wants to visit one of our own museums to learn about evolution? One would naturally turn to our Museum of Natural History in Islamabad. I, in fact, visited it about four years ago when asked to review the design of a planned extension to the building. Sadly the building, set in the idyllic green surroundings of the Shakarparian hills, is poorly designed and constructed.

During the visit I walked to the lowest level. This is where the museum explicitly shows how the evolution of life took place on earth. You enter the moderately sized room with its four walls painted to show quite nicely the story of life. Starting on the right one sees in almost seamless progression the appearance of primitive life forms in water, moving on to fish, reptiles, amphibians, land-based animals, primates and then early humanoids, the hunter-gatherers, finally getting to modern humans. This brings one back to the door where one began the journey. If you stand in the middle and turn around you see the panorama of life before you. A good teacher of biology could keep a class occupied for several hours in this room alone.

One wonders how many teachers in Pakistan would, however, notice the white pillar from floor to roof, over one foot wide, that separates the pictures of the hordes of apes from the hunting humanoids. (Nowhere else in this room are the different life forms shown separated from other groups.) More importantly, will the teacher on noticing this anomaly, point it to the students and discuss it? A clear discussion on this issue alone could lead to a much better understanding of biology (and life generally) than a year of learning facts that fail to unify the subject.

I gathered a number of museum staff nearby to ask their opinion about why the museum chose to separate the apes from the humanoids, given that after Darwin it was generally accepted that human are primates, i.e. closely related to monkeys and apes. Most remained quiet. One said, in true bureaucratic fashion, that I would need to contact the director who designed the room. Another said that if the connection was shown the museum would be burned down by religious fanatics. The museum’s stagnant website, perhaps reflecting this attitude, has no mention of Darwin or evolution. Instead, it should be the main institute explaining and displaying artifacts of natural history on the foundations laid by scientific Darwinian ideas.

Then there are people like Harun Yahya, the prolific Turkish writer, whose slick books fill our bookshops and unambiguously oppose Darwin. I once saw a room full of talented Pakistani school students at a space camp being shown a movie about creationism produced by Yahya’s outfit. This phenomenon is not particular to Pakistan or the Muslim world. In America about 55 per cent of adults held a tentative view about evolution for the last decade. A third of adults firmly rejected the theory; only 14 per cent thought of it as ‘definitely true’. Only scientific education, formal and informal, can overcome this bias. Nature, the premier science magazine, offers 15 examples (www.tinyurl.com/a3n4nh) from over the past decade or so to illustrate the breadth, depth and power of evolutionary thinking that poses a serious challenge to ideas of people like Yahya.

For the Semitic religions to have relevance in today’s modern world, there has to be acceptance that the rules of nature apply to materials, bodies, energy and the environment, and explain the creation of the immense variety of species and their evolution. That they may arise from a single or a small number of basic primal organisms and transform due to mutations and natural selection was explained thoroughly by Darwin.

Darwin and his great work provided a revolutionary break from the past by placing humans as part of the evolving flux of life. He did what Copernicus managed in the 16th century by displacing Earth from its central position in the universe to being a mere planet moving around a rather ordinary star obeying physical laws that were formalised later by Newton. It should have taught us modesty.

Darwin is right up there with Newton in the greatness league. He, unlike his fellow Englishman, was a wise, modest gentleman. A befitting tribute to Darwin in this anniversary year would be a greater understanding of his ideas and perhaps this could lead to revolutionary changes in our own thinking.

The author is a physicist and environmentalist.

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‘Designer babies’ raise ethical questions

By Ben Quinn

THE birth of the first British baby genetically screened before conception to be free of a breast cancer gene was hailed on Thursday as a breakthrough by doctors but raised fresh questions about the ethics of creating so-called designer babies.

The baby girl grew from an embryo screened to ensure that it did not contain the faulty BRCA1 gene, which would have meant she had a 50-85 per cent of developing breast cancer. While mother and daughter were said by a spokesman at University College hospital, London, to be doing “very well” following the birth last week, medical experts and those involved in cancer research were considering the implications.

Paul Serhal, medical director of the assisted conception unit at the hospital, said: “This little girl will not face the spectre of developing this genetic form of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in her adult life.”

In June the mother, then 27, told how she decided to undergo the screening process after seeing all her husband’s female relatives suffer the disease. The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said at the time: “We felt that, if there was a possibility of eliminating this for our children, then that was a route we had to go down.”

The technique, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), has already been used in the UK to free babies of inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease. But breast cancer is different because it does not inevitably affect a child from birth.

Permission to carry out PGD for breast cancer had to be obtained from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority by the London clinic which performed the procedure.

Dr Sarah Cant, policy manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said the decision to screen embryos to see whether they have a faulty breast cancer gene was a complex and very personal issue. Kath McLachlan, a clinical nurse specialist at the charity Breast Cancer Care, said it would give those carrying the faulty BRCA1 gene “another option” to consider when starting a family.

She said: “While the selection of an embryo through PGD can reduce a person’s risk of developing breast cancer, the procedure cannot prevent a non-genetic form of the disease in later life.”

Doctors at the private clinic at University College hospital conducted tests on 11 embryos by removing just one cell from each when they were three days old. Six embryos were found to carry the defective BRCA1 gene. Two embryos which were free of the gene were implanted, resulting in a single pregnancy. Faulty genes are responsible for between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of the 44,000 cases of breast cancer that occur in the UK each year.

As the debate about the ethics involved in the procedure was renewed, the main objection from critics remains the charge that it opens the door to the creation of babies for parents who may want their offspring to be top of the class, excel in sport, and have hair, eyes and other physical characteristics that into a particular family’s wish list.

— The Guardian, London
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Old Monday, January 12, 2009
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Monday
Muharram 14, 1430
January 12, 2009

Oil policy flaws


THE new petroleum policy, as enunciated by the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet on Friday, leaves much to be desired. On the face of it, it may seem that the oil marketing companies (OMCs) and petroleum dealers have successfully held the government hostage. Artificial shortages of petroleum products ‘created’ in Punjab and the Frontier in recent weeks left consumers flabbergasted and helpless in equal measure. Much to the public’s disappointment, the government seems to have buckled under pressure now — or has it? Perhaps not, as it sheepishly admits that it has been pocketing an amount upwards of Rs50bn over the past six weeks through the petroleum development levy and sales tax on petroleum products as global oil prices tumbled, not sharing the sum thus pocketed with the OMCs and petroleum dealers. Hence, in the words of the finance ministry officials, “The government is now ethically bound to raise the [profit] margins of the OMCs and dealers after the decline in international crude oil prices.” It all sounds like a bad joke, and a cruel one at that given the spiralling inflation. One would be justified in wondering whose side the government is on.

It is equally disappointing that the Oil and Gas Development Corporation (OGDC), which is one of the few public sector entities that have not seen their accounts go in the red, should dictate a policy whereby the government is called upon to invite foreign investors on amazingly high rates of return, with tax exemptions, to undertake new explorations. The OGDC is fairly qualified; there’s no dearth of technical expertise or funds to do the needful itself, it can be argued. Why then take the more expensive option of relying on foreign expertise? If there is a technical need to do so, i.e. the OGDC does not possess the required advanced technology; this should be debated in parliament before going ahead with the luxurious proposal. Foreign investment on most favourable terms should be attracted only in areas where the country most desperately needs it; many experts believe oil and gas exploration does not qualify on that criterion.

As for petroleum prices, the government has to restrict its own profit-taking and that of the OMCs and dealers if it is to retain its credibility with the people who voted it into office, hoping for some economic relief to trickle down to them. Close to a year in office, the government still has no coherent economic policy or a recovery plan on which the people can pin their hopes. Borrowing from international monetary institutions on high commercial rates may be a short-term need; it cannot be viewed as a long-term action plan. The people deserve a break and they want it now.

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Whither dialogue?

AFTER blowing hot and cold in the weeks following the Mumbai disaster, Pakistan has expressed regret at the Indian decision to freeze the composite dialogue process. The Indian foreign minister had earlier termed the suspension of the dialogue as a “pause”. One hopes that these signify at best differences of a semantic nature and both sides understand the importance of sustaining the composite dialogue they had launched in 2004. It is, therefore, encouraging that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has now declared his government’s “unwavering commitment to the dialogue process”. But in the same breath he has resorted to finger-pointing to hold India responsible for bringing the two countries to square one in terms of confidence-building measures. Given the vitriolic exchanges between the two governments in recent weeks, the need of the hour is for them to moderate their tone to improve the political climate in South Asia if the peace process is to be revived.

Both sides, one can presume, understand the importance of negotiating their disputes. But it is a pity that leaders on both sides have allowed political expediencies to determine the course of events. Mr Gilani has identified the factors that have led to the impasse as “Indian blame game, media vilification campaign and warmongering”. Incidentally, Pakistan has not been lagging behind in reciprocating with an eye for an eye in this unfortunate exercise. If the prime minister means business and wants to pave the way to revive the peace process, he should first work earnestly to put an end to the war of words that has devastated the atmospherics in the region. This would call for a tacit understanding with India requiring both governments to stop playing to the gallery and refraining from negotiating in the glare of media publicity.

There is no doubt that confidence-building measures are fundamental to a stable relationship between India and Pakistan. In the cacophony of the war hysteria that came in the wake of Mumbai many events of a significant nature — that can, in fact, be described as confidence-building — have been overshadowed. On new year’s day, Islamabad and New Delhi exchanged their lists of nuclear installations and facilities as has been the practice for the last many years. The two sides have been issuing visas — though the number of travellers has declined given the tension, the bus service between them continues and trade across the LoC has not been halted. Shouldn’t we be focusing on this?

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Police encounters in Punjab

THERE is sibling rivalry between crime and punishment where both continuously try to outsmart the other. Crime thrives on cracks in the system of punishments while, frustrated by their own failure, punitive mechanisms sometimes jump the gun. In Punjab, such readiness to skip legal and judicial procedures and to inflict a deadly lesson on the law-breakers appears to be normal. Only recently, three robbers were killed in a police encounter in a Lahore locality; just before that three others were gunned down by the police in Sialkot. According to the provincial police’s own figures, 66 alleged criminals were killed in 2008 in 42 police encounters in Lahore alone. Almost 75 per cent of these killings took place while the province was under the current administration’s watchful rule.

In fact, one hopes that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s administration is not attempting to match previous ‘achievements’ on this score. During his party’s previous stint in power between 1997 and 1999 more than 850 suspected criminals were killed in what human rights activists then called extra-judicial killings. Between then and now, the law and order situation may have deteriorated so much and our trust in the justice system eroded so completely that voices against encounter killings are still feeble, and few and far between. In fact, there seems to be a certain acceptance of the practice in society as a quick-fix to many a social evil. Official endorsement, like the one that came some days ago from a senior police official in Punjab, only boosts such acts. The press quoted the official as saying that the government would give ‘shields’ to citizens who ‘kill’ criminals. That such incitements can lead to mob violence, translated as proxy encounters, appears an insignificant aspect to the proponents of this type of raw and ready justice. The government can do better by removing gaping holes in the system of punishments instead of jumping over them and encouraging others to do the same. Encounters will fail to deter crime. What we need are sweeping police and judicial reforms in the province to do the job.

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OTHER VOICES - North American Press
Mental illness and the public

The Toronto Star

THE Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) will be in the news later this week in a court case involving violence in the workplace. But behind that there’s a much larger — and more positive — story. The hospital is modernising medical treatment for psychiatric patients and… trying to transform how we all treat them as human beings. That means patients will be involved in decisions about their treatment, there will be fewer locked doors, and restraints (physical or chemical) will… be a last resort.

Any incidents of violence against a patient, nurse or other staff member — such as the cases where nurses were injured, resulting in charges against CAMH under Ontario’s occupational safety law — are deplorable and ought to be preventable. But those incidents shouldn’t derail Canada’s largest psychiatric facility from the right course. CAMH must do what it can to prevent violence, but locking people up isn’t the way. It is welcome, then, that hospital staff unions say they agree on that point. But they also say not enough is being done to train workers, provide safety devices …or conduct serious reviews….

In an environment where restraints have been standard practice, it is understandable that staff would be nervous about reducing them. But CAMH says it has reduced the use of restraints by 67 per cent over the last three years without an increase in violence. And research from jurisdictions that have gone even further shows an actual reduction in staff injuries. Yet recent statements and ad campaigns by CAMH workers and their unions have hyped “escalating violence” at the hospital. Unions take such steps to gain public attention and more leverage in their internal discussions with management over working conditions…. That’s why it’s so important that this week’s court case be kept in context. CAMH treats 22,000 patients a year. Only about 3,600 require a stay in the hospital, and fewer than three per cent of them display any aggression to others.

For its part, the hospital should do more to explain the changes to its staff…. It isn’t just staff who need to embrace the new methods. Better treatment for people with mental illness requires a cultural shift in the general public. ….Right now, most psychiatric patients at the hospital must use communal showers. Their rooms don’t even have cupboards for clothes. Society wouldn’t tolerate such facilities for patients with any other type of disease. Someone going for psychiatric treatment ought to be afforded the same respect and care…other illnesses have long received. Happily, CAMH is in the midst of revitalising…. …Doors open to the surrounding community will replace a troubling history of isolation. But it’s one thing to say: “Let them out.” Then what? Will businesses hire psychiatric patients? Will residents welcome them to the neighbourhood? ….The stigma of mental illness can be as debilitating as the disease itself. ….”We’re trying to open the door,” physician-in-chief… says about CAMH’s transformative agenda. That will require us all to think differently. — (Jan 6)

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Teachers as intellectuals

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui

‘THERE have been no major revolutions in modern history without intellectuals; conversely there has been no major counterrevolutionary movement without intellectuals.’ —Edward Said

What makes an intellectual? Can teachers be considered as intellectuals? What role can they play to bring a change in society?

These are some relevant questions to be discussed in the fast-changing national and international scenarios. A number of scholars, including Antonio Gramsci, Julien Benda, Edward Said and Ali Shariati, have tried to define the nature, status and role of intellectuals in society.

It was Gramsci who first focused on the significant role of intellectuals and devoted a chapter for this discussion in his book The Prison Notebooks which is an early critique of the notion of hegemony. Gramsci considers everybody an intellectual but there is a section of people who, because of their social status, are able to perform their role. He divides intellectuals into two groups: the traditional intellectuals and the organic intellectuals.

Teachers, like priests, are included in the group of traditional intellectuals. Contrary to traditional intellectuals are organic intellectuals who work for the interests of different classes and enterprises. Gramsci considers social space as an important factor for intellectuals. This social status gives them an opportunity to bring a change in society by improving the existing social conditions.Ali Shariati defines an intellectual as one “who is conscious of his ‘humanistic status’ in a specific social and historical time and space”. This notion of an intellectual is closer to that of Gramsci who suggests that anybody has the potential to become an intellectual. Ali Shariati, who himself was a university teacher, believes that a teacher is potentially an intellectual who can have an impact on the thought patterns of the young generation and contribute towards social improvement. Edward Said in his book Representations of the Intellectuals refers to Julien Benda, widely known for his book The Betrayal of the Intellectuals, “who believes in a tiny band of super-gifted and morally endowed philosopher-kings who constitute the human conscience”. This view of intellectuals is narrow and skewed towards morality. In his definition, the role of intellectuals appears to be more abstract and idealistic. This notion of intellectuals entails a readiness for all kinds of sacrifices including crucifixion.

A point common to these scholars is their own practice as intellectuals. Gramsci, whose brilliance could have qualified him for any lucrative job, opted to be a journalist simply because working as one would give him more space to work and have an impact on minds. Because of his provocative political writings, he was sent to jail for 10 years where he breathed his last.Edward Said, a university professor, led a very active life as a teacher and intellectual, challenging a number of prevailing stereotypes and inviting scathing criticism in return. His book Orientalism critically analyses and challenges the artificially created basis of ‘positional superiority’. His allegiance to the Palestinian cause brought him criticism from different quarters but he paid the price for the sake of his ideals.

Ali Shariati, who hailed from Iran, influenced a large number of students. He was such a popular teacher that his classes ran into hundreds of students. His popularity was a source of disturbance for Iran’s dictatorial forces under the Shah. Finally prevented from teaching, he left for London where he was found dead in his flat in mysterious circumstances.

Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educationist and activist, considered teaching a political act. He challenged the ‘banking concept of knowledge’ and advocated the need of critical pedagogy. He not only professed the ideas of critical pedagogy but in fact practised critical literacy with the aim of improving the fate of the masses. Freire was also imprisoned by the government for his ideas. These are some contemporary examples of intellectuals who had an interest in education and who sought to practise their ideas and paid a price for them.

Is teaching a political act as claimed by Freire? Should teachers be striving for a change in society? There has been a growing realisation that education, like knowledge, is directly linked to power, and teachers, as central actors in the process of education, are involved in a political act. Education cannot be confined to neutral and objective conditions. Edward Said rightly suggests that, “Politics is everywhere; there can be no escape into the realms of pure art and thought or, for that matter, into the realms of disinterested objectivity or transcendental theory.”

The contemporary scenario of education, largely controlled by corporate organisations, in a direct or indirect manner, would promote a neutral, value-free, and apolitical version of education where the teachers’ role is reduced to that of a mechanical worker’s. Ironically, intellect and intellectuals, by default, are associated with the dominant paradigm of the West. The need for local intellectuals is to understand their own people, milieu, and culture, and to be seen to practise what they profess. Importing foreign educational theories and trying to implant them in local conditions without any sensitivity towards the indigenous environment cannot improve social conditions.

Ali Shariati emphasises this indigenous perspective by suggesting, “A real intellectual is one who knows his society, is aware of its problems, can determine its fate, is knowledgeable about its past and who can decide about himself.” To bring a qualitative social change into our society we need teachers who can think out of the box, believe in education as a transforming force, and, again, practise what they profess. Given the neo-liberal version of education this role is becoming extremely challenging.

The writer is director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and the author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

Email: shahidksiddiqui@yahoo.com

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‘We are all Hamas now’

By Ben Lynfield

EVEN if Israel wins on the battlefield or in the diplomatic corridors it is already paying the price of its Gaza onslaught in intensified hatred in the hearts of its Palestinian neighbours in the West Bank. The campaign also appears to be increasing public scepticism about the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s chosen path of negotiations as the way to establish an independent state alongside Israel.

The diplomacy championed by Mr Abbas has for years been difficult to sell to Palestinians because it has brought little or no relief from occupation or improvement in their daily lives, only the expansion of Israeli settlements. This existing frustration — which helped Hamas defeat Mr Abbas’s Fatah movement in the 2006 elections — is now combined with popular anger and dismay at the carnage among fellow Palestinians in Gaza.

Palestinian Authority security forces are keeping a tight lid on protests, preventing confrontations with Israeli troops and arresting anyone raising Hamas banners at rallies. But displays of identification with the beleaguered Gazans are everywhere. Nine-year-old green-kerchiefed Girl Scouts, their foreheads marked with the word Gaza in red ink, were among those who marched through the main al-Manara square in a protest. They held up pictures of bandaged toddlers, and dozens of demonstrators chanted, “With blood and spirit, we will redeem you, O Gaza”.

Leaders of Fatah, which lost control of Gaza to Hamas fighters in June 2007, are torn between their own hopes that Hamas, which they view as a usurper and agent of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, is defeated, and the people’s anger over the Israeli campaign. There is a great deal at stake for them. “If Hamas is victorious and the Israelis raise the white flag there will be a problem in the West Bank, more people will support Hamas, and the Arab regimes will have problems too,” said Ziad Abu Ein, the deputy minister of prisoner affairs and a veteran of 13 years in Israeli prisons.

Bassem Khoury, the president of the Palestinian Federation of Industries, launched the PA-supported National Palestinian Campaign to Relieve Gaza by holding up a picture from the al-Ayyam daily newspaper showing the head of a Palestinian girl buried in the rubble of an Israeli attack. “This is unbelievable,” he said. “How will this help the Israelis? It only generates more recruits for Hamas.”

Unlike the people, who seem less concerned as yet with apportioning Palestinian blame, some Fatah leaders are calling for national unity with accusing Hamas of causing the suffering in Gaza. Tawfik al-Tirawi, an adviser to Mr Abbas and a former security chief, said: “The political leadership that miscalculated has brought catastrophe on itself and its people.”

Palestinians in the West Bank have their own long-standing grievances against Israel: the ongoing occupation, checkpoints Israel says are needed for security but that hamper their movement, often humiliate them and paralyse economic life, the expropriation of Palestinian land, and the threat of Israeli army incursion or arrest. The images from Gaza are being layered onto a collective memory of being expelled at Israel’s creation in 1948.

— © The Independent
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Tuesday
Muharram 15, 1430
January 13, 2009

Deadly artillery


IT is not a propaganda stunt; it is not coming from Hamas or an anti-Semitic group: it has come from a respected human rights body. On Sunday, the Human Rights Watch said the Israeli war machine was using artillery shells containing the incendiary white phosphorus agent on population centres in Gaza. The white phosphorus agent causes the skin to burn and sets off fire. The HRW said its workers “witnessed hours of artillery bombardment” containing white phosphorus on the Jabaliya refugee centre in northern Gaza. Already the overwhelming majority of the nearly 900 Palestinians killed during the current Israeli offensive consists of women and children and only adds to the series of war crimes the Israelis have committed over decades of conflict with the Palestinian people. Yet, as ever, Israel is likely to go scot-free. More menacingly, since neither Israel nor Hamas has accepted the UN ceasefire resolution, Israel will probably continue the massacre, with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert having the audacity to impart a moral tone to the butchery by speaking of “patience, determination and effort” to finish the job.

According to observers of the Middle Eastern scene, the Olmert government is likely to end the slaughter before Barack Obama takes office on Jan 20. It now remains to be seen whether America’s charismatic president-elect lives up to the hopes pinned on him. So far his utterances on the Palestinian question have not inspired much confidence, for he has refrained from censuring Israel and constantly spoken of ‘violence’ in Gaza. It has not occurred to him that the cause of the unending bloodshed in the holy land is Israel’s refusal to vacate the occupied territories so that the Palestinian people could have a state of their own on their ancestral soil. In fact, his interview with an American channel the other day puts paid to hopes for a serious effort on the part of the Democratic administration to break the deadlock. Even though he promised swift action on the Middle East conflict, he said, disappointingly, that the policies pursued by the Clinton and Bush administrations constituted the “general approach” of American policy to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This in effect means the two-state solution will remain a theory.What the president-elect should note is the rising wave of anger against America’s pro-Israel policies in the Islamic world and in America’s own Muslim community. By and large American Muslims had kept away from anti-government rallies, focusing on their business and professional interests. But the Gaza terror has led to their massive participation in rallies against their government’s silence on Israel’s war crimes. Worldwide, it is the Taliban who will get more converts to their extremist philosophy.

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Rampaging militants

ONE look at the weekend’s headlines from Fata and northern Pakistan is enough to dissolve any lingering new year cheer. In Mohmand Agency, several check posts and a fort were attacked; in Hangu, sectarian warfare in the wake of Ashura claimed the lives of dozens; in South Waziristan, an additional political agent was kidnapped; in Bajaur Agency, militants severed the ears of five members of the Khar peace committee; and in Swat, an ANP leader’s home was attacked, yet another girls’ school was torched and a Sharia court ordered the lashing of two alleged drug addicts. While the signs of the state’s disappearing sovereignty are ubiquitous, those of a concerted state fight-back are harder to discern. In fact, at every level of the state’s response there is cause for concern. Zoom out to the macro level: eight months since civilian dispensations assumed power in Islamabad and the NWFP their anti-militancy policy is still unclear. The ANP-led government in the NWFP has flip-flopped, first calling for a peace dialogue, then calling in the armed forces, and then calling for a dialogue again. In Islamabad, the PPP-led government chalked out a three-pronged approach that emphasised development and peace talks with reconcilable militants and military action against irreconcilable elements. However, the government has yet to clarify which militants fall in which category and where the policy has been implemented.

For its part, the Pakistan Army has thus far escaped serious scrutiny of its tactics in Fata and northern Pakistan. Media centres set up by PR departments paint a picture of slow and steady progress but independent reports suggest otherwise. For example, in Swat the lack of a tribal structure and the sheer brutality of the militants has terrorised the local population and denied the state a local partner in its counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism actions, whereas in Bajaur local help has been more forthcoming. Such differences on the ground, and the different origins of the fighting in places like Hangu (sectarian), require different anti-militancy strategies. Worse, the Pakistan Army’s whack-a-mole strategy of fighting the militants in only certain areas at any given time may actually be playing into the enemy’s hands. While the militants have access to an array of weapons and communication systems, their resources cannot match the Pakistan state’s. Were the militants to be engaged across the region simultaneously, they could quickly find themselves stretched thin and unable to mount a serious response. The militancy problem is undoubtedly complex, but without fresh political and military thinking it will only grow worse.

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A sense of relief

THOSE who still cherish ethical values in medical practice will receive with relief the report that a bill seeking crucial changes in the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Ordinance has been withdrawn from the National Assembly’s standing committee. The fact is that had the amendments been introduced they would have nullified the ethos of the law on transplantation. The underlying idea of the ordinance was to ban the trafficking in human organs and commercialisation of transplantation surgery that was bringing Pakistan such a bad name. The proposed amendments sought seemingly technical changes in definitions, allowed donation by non-blood relatives in case of an emergency on payment of compensation and provided for 10 per cent transplantation surgery in a hospital to be earmarked for foreigners. These changes would have opened the floodgates of the unbridled sale of human organs that had attracted foreigners with end-stage kidney failure to Pakistan to purchase organs from impoverished people. The doctors and vendors who supported this unethical practice in the pre-ordinance days on so-called humanitarian grounds deliberately chose to turn a blind eye to its profiteering, exploitative and anti-social aspects.

The ordinance, that was promulgated in September 2007 after a vigorous campaign spearheaded by the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, did produce a beneficial impact in several ways. According to the administrator of the Human Organ Transplantation Authority, the new law helped check kidney tourism considerably and the number of foreign recipients came down from 1,500 a year in 2007 to a negligible number in 2008. At least Pakistan now does not have to suffer the ignominy of being branded a centre of organ trade in international circles. Moreover, it is time society learnt to uphold the worth and esteem of a person without making monetary gain the key equation in every human relationship. This especially holds true for the health sector as medical professionals deal with issues of life and death which present them with the opportunity of exploiting an ill person’s desperation. But accessible healthcare is also the birthright of every citizen which a physician worth his salt should strive to provide.

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OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press

Kawish

North Karachi disaster

… KARACHIITES have witnessed many fire incidents … but the havoc created by the fire that broke out on Thursday night and that claimed over 42 lives made … history. The causes of the fire could not be ascertained…. [A]nd it has left a number of unanswered questions….

Considering the divergent opinions of officials and elected representatives … a multidimensional probe is in order. The statement of a Sindh government official that some inmates gathered around the fire due to the extreme cold, and one’s shawl caught fire which then proceeded to engulf the entire shanty settlement is odd. How could this burn to the ground within hours the entire settlement leaving no escape route?

Another official believes that the fire was sparked by a power wire that fell on the huts. This version also seems lame as this would still leave options for escape and not result in the high number of deaths. Some circles are discovering similarities with the fire incident at Tahir Plaza, where chemical was used.

The possibility of a deliberate attempt to set the settlement on fire cannot be ruled out as the land on which the squatters lived was valuable and might have been under the watch of the city’s powerful land mafia. There was a dispute and the mafia wanted to get it vacated. This should also be investigated. Lands and plots are vacated at the behest of the land mafia. Such a gang could have been operating here.

Probes of earlier incidents were closed with the traditional ‘findings” and excuses that the fire was the result of the falling of electrical wiring or was accidental. There seems little hope that this incident will be thoroughly probed and go beyond the traditional findings of short circuit or accident.

Providing compensation and alternate plots to the victims is laudable, as announced by the government. But there is a dire need to find the real causes which resulted in the death of 42 people and that cannot be compensated. Further, if there is a mafia behind it, it will continue to work and we will witness more such incidents. Therefore a multidimensional probe must be undertaken to expose and punish the culprits. — (Jan 10)

— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi

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The quest for recognition

By Jehanzeb Raja

IN close proximity to two emerging global powers Pakistan’s location has made its role important to the geopolitics of the region. Post 9/11 and during the Cold War, Pakistan chose to side with the US-led strategic vision, irrespective of the changing dynamics of the region.

The question is: did Pakistan’s quest for recognition bear fruit or did it damage its image and prestige as a nation? The answer is plain for all to see.

Emerging powers seek to attain recognition through economic strength, democratic values, equitable business practices and justice. Negative asymmetries to gain temporary influence and control may beckon in the short term but their use over the long term causes untold miseries. Pakistan’s (twice-failed) experiment in Afghanistan to win strategic depth may have resulted in short-term economic respite. But its actions here were myopic when considered in the light of national unity and cohesion as a federation. Siachen and Pakistan’s Kashmir policy to enervate Indian military strength and economy may have been the only option in the balance of power game. But when viewed in the light of our own attrition and economic collapse, most apparent now in the Fata operations and the Baloch unrest, these appear to have been disastrous to say the least.

The formulation of military strategy has to be in sync with the geopolitical and strategic environment and should take in all aspects of economic, diplomatic and internal factors to maximise potential. The military has always dominated other state organs to enforce its strategic vision on vacillating civilian governments, who took more of an interest in internal power struggles rather than concentrate on external factors. This has proved to be to the detriment of the country’s interests.

The military strategy in Indian-administered Kashmir was to sustain the insurgency at a low boil to keep Indian forces committed there. The logic of bleeding the Indian Army and the results of this effort have been flawed. India’s economy is booming and its budget many times our own. The might of the USSR collapsed when its military expenditures could not keep pace with relentless US military innovations and technology, resulting in the loss of power and prestige.In the 1990s, the country was again fed with exaggerated threats from India, in retaliation for Pakistan’s support to the Kashmir insurgency. The Kargil adventure was engineered to reverse our failing policy, to regenerate our clout and to influence outside players. The political leaders at the time lacked a true understanding of the repercussions of our failure to achieve objectives, even if there were any. To this day we do not know what our objectives were in Kargil and what we achieved as a consequence of this misadventure.

The environment was never conducive to such military action. We were in a precarious state of economic default, our support to the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan faced reverses as the West wanted its ouster. Post 9/11, what were seen as freedom struggles have been labelled as terrorist movements. Dr Qadeer Khan and his network have been exposed for indulging in nuclear technology proliferation involving rogue states accused of sponsoring terrorism. All this including the lack of coordination within the government apparatus and ostensibly the military has resulted in a state of affairs that has not only isolated Pakistan internationally, but propelled it to join the ranks of those believed to be sponsoring terrorism.

With the world seeing Pakistan as an irresponsible, failing state, one which could also flaunt its nuclear capability in a reckless manner to pursue the goals of influence and power, is it surprising that our international image should have suffered so much?

The sudden U-turn on the policy of support for the Taliban was the result of the dire economic crisis and the fallout of Kargil and other misadventures rather than a pragmatic, well-thought-out strategy by the last military-led government. The fact that Pakistan was yet again being bailed out by the US, despite its irresponsible nature, was more out of consideration for its use as a staging ground for the assault on Afghanistan, than its worth as a military partner. No doubt, Pakistan saw this as another opportunity to control and influence the Pakhtuns in Afghanistan, in order to regain its political clout and bargain for a share in the Karzai-led government. However, our so-called strategists had not bargained for the influence of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Fata and the NWFP, where the government lost authority as it accepted the growing Islamic influence. The negative fallout was the rise of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and homegrown insurgency.

It is tragic that the priority given to Pakistan’s defence needs has been at the cost of ignoring other organs of the state that could have been strengthened to achieve a more balanced and pragmatic vision, especially with regard to dispute resolution. The US has chalked out its own strategic vision with regard to the world in general and South Asia in particular. Pakistan needs to identify its core interests in its quest for survival vis-à-vis India in this unipolar world. It is about time that we reappraised our foreign and defence policy in more realistic terms to come closer to the objective of cohesion in national objectives.
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Wednesday
Muharram 16, 1430
January 14, 2009

Provincial rights


THE MQM’s constitution amendment bill filed with the National Assembly Secretariat on Monday has zeroed in on a critical area of the constitution: the balance of power between the centre and the provinces. If there is agreement among politicians of all stripes on anything, it is that the centre controls too much and the provinces too little, but 36 years since the constitution was enacted in April 1973 the issue has yet to be resolved to the satisfaction of the provinces. Most contentious is the Concurrent Legislative List in the Fourth Schedule of the constitution which detractors claim was meant to be abolished 10 years after the constitution was enacted and the legislative powers contained therein handed over exclusively to the provinces. The Zia coup ended any hope of that happening, given the preference of dictators to bypass the provinces, but neither were the civilian governments of the ’90s able to move forward on the issue. At present, every major party in parliament — the PPP, PML-N, PML-Q, MQM and ANP — has promised in its election manifesto to enhance provincial rights. In his very first speech from the floor of the National Assembly Prime Minister Gilani announced his government’s intention to abolish the Concurrent List.

Yet, the abolition of a list alone will not end the provinces’ unhappiness with the status quo. Some parties, such as the MQM and ANP, appear to want a bare-bones centre, while others, such as the PML-Q, would want the centre to retain more than defence, foreign affairs and currency. Meanwhile, Sindh may emphasise provincial control over revenue generated in each province while Balochistan may emphasise control over mineral reserves and land. Squaring all these party and provincial differences will not be easy, and will require more than depositing rival bills in parliament. A meaningful way forward would be to convene a broad-based inter-provincial committee that could thoroughly debate the issue and make recommendations to parliament. And it must be acknowledged that it is not the constitution that is deficient in every way, but its implementation in certain aspects. The Council of Common Interests, a constitutional body, has the potential to address some centre-province issues but it is dormant body that governments vow to activate but somehow never do.

To belabour a point frequently made in these columns, many of Pakistan’s problems stem from a lack of an institutional approach to governance. Setting the rules and then ensuring that the organs of the state comply with them is a two-stage process. First, the rules themselves must be thoroughly debated, an agreement developed and then framed clearly and coherently. Second, the implementation of the rules must be pursued vigorously and uniformly. Constitutional arrangements throw up vexing problems the world over, but an unsystematic approach to them guarantees never-ending unhappiness.

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Banning Indian channels

EMOTIONS are running high but irrational acts need not be countered by gestures of the same ilk. The rabidly right-wing Maharashtra Navnirman Sena led by Raj Thackeray may have imposed a ‘ban’ in Mumbai on books written by Pakistani authors. It may have burnt CDs featuring Pakistani musicians and warned film producers to not cast actors from the other side of Wagah. The administration of Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace and Trident hotels may have announced to the world that their establishments will no longer accommodate Pakistani guests. The Indian home minister, P. Chidambaram, may have threatened to isolate us globally by snapping business, transport and tourism links with Pakistan. The good cop, bad cop game being played out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the conciliatory end of things and the likes of Chidambaram and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the other may also be in poor taste. Be that as it may, there is no reason for Pakistan to react in like manner for it can serve no constructive purpose.

A case in point is Monday’s proposal by the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting that Indian television channels be banned in Pakistan. To what end? Citizens of Pakistan don’t buy into the Indian propaganda anyway, so how will such a ban check the spread of misinformation? Then there are other factors to be considered. Indian channels that are geared towards entertainment generally provide just that — entertainment — and are watched by people here who find that sort of fare enjoyable. The Indian news channels may be biased in their presentation of the facts but what is wrong about us being able to access substandard reporting? There is no harm in a quarrel, however serious, to lend an ear to the other side’s point of view, however flawed it might be. And for those who take a hard-line view on relations with India, a case can be made that knowing your ‘enemy’ can only be beneficial.

Media-related, cultural, sporting and other people-to-people contacts must not be sacrificed at the altar of nationalistic fervour. True, the blame for the rapid deterioration of relations on the apolitical level rests largely with India. But the people of the subcontinent have everything to lose if they stop speaking to and listening to each other and travelling across the border. Only with regular people-to-people contact will Pakistanis and Indians come to appreciate once again that they have much in common, including the shared enemy that is terrorism.

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Neglect of historical relics

THE fate of Thatta’s historical Makli necropolis, a World Heritage Site as listed by Unesco, reportedly hangs in the balance once again as the high and mighty of the neighbourhood stand accused of digging through its precincts. The alleged violation came to light three months ago, and the archaeology department was able to persuade the Thatta district authorities to conduct a new demarcation survey to delineate the necropolis protected under the Antiquities Act, 1975. A fresh media report now indicates that strings may have been pulled and the survey thwarted. As irony would have it, the alleged violator is none other than the family of the Sindh culture and tourism minister, Ms Sassui Palijo. While the minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, the claim has yet to be vindicated by a government survey.

The state of neglect of tourism and of the so-called protected historical sites across the country does not paint a flattering picture. Even the ace monuments not located in the backwaters, for instance those that give the city of Lahore its historical charm, are not much in a shape to write home about. The Buddhist remains at Taxila are badly off in terms of their upkeep; those in the Swat Valley are faring far worse. The local Taliban engaged in militancy in the valley blew up a historical Buddha statue carved out of a rock by the scenic roadside along the river to all but oblivion two years ago. The fate of the remains at Butkarra near Mingora, dating back to the 2nd century BC and the two rather well-stocked museums with Buddhist-era relics at Saidu Sharif and Chakdara is unknown. Back in Sindh, Moenjodaro, too, is a victim of complete apathy on the part of the authorities concerned. Given the state of affairs, if it were not for the faithful many historical mosques might have also met with similar official disregard. While many other Muslim countries embrace and jealously guard the relics of their past, Islamic or pre-Islamic, Pakistan unfortunately lags far behind in this respect.

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OTHER VOICES - European Press

Economic naivety

Cyprus Mail

BICKERING about the economy has resumed, with opposition party DISY accusing the government of doing very little to tackle the looming crisis and making a mess of its forecasts. The government’s response was that it had contingency plans … if and when the need arose.

Finance Minister Charilos Stavrakis on Friday said scare-mongering was making the situation worse at a time when business confidence was low. He said we need positive talk that will boost confidence and encourage businesses to invest in new enterprises. Under the circumstances it was incredibly naïve to claim that Cyprus would not be affected by the global crisis…. Late last year, Stavrakis boasted that our economy was going against the tide…. He modified this view a few weeks later, conceding that it could be mildly affected by the economic downturn, but this did not stop him from preparing a 2009 budget based on the assumption that the economy would perform as well as the previous year and that the rate of growth would be 3.5 per cent.

It is just not enough for the finance minister to declare that he is optimistic about this year’s prospects…. As the world financial system was on the verge of total collapse, Stavrakis was declaring that Cyprus could emerge unscathed, only later admitting the blatantly obvious. His budget for 2009 indicated that he was in denial about the looming recession…. When he was challenged about his ultra-optimistic approach, he responded that ways would be found to finance the ‘social welfare’ spending…. As nothing has changed drastically since September, how did the government get its figures so wrong? Was it cooking the figures in order to justify President Christofias’ increased welfare spending which under the circumstances was abjectly irresponsible? How would this largesse be funded when … all tax revenues will be down this year — tourism arrivals will be significantly down, consumption will drop (lower VAT receipts) and property sales are set to stagnate. Add to this the exorbitant interest rates being charged by the banks….

All this suggests that the government is at a loss…. Every few weeks it seems to be changing its plans and forecasts…. At a time of economic uncertainty and looming recession, it is not ministerial wishful thinking that will reassure the business community, but the belief that the government is in control of things…. The government has failed conclusively in this respect.… it is not learning from its mistakes, as the decision to spend more than 100 million euros on army tanks this year shows.... — (Jan 11)

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A connection with the past

By Niilofur Farrukh

AT a time when we pursue ‘connectivity’ with vigour and single-mindedness, it is amazing to see how grandparents live almost beyond the range of communication in most nuclear families.

The few short hours spent with them as a Sunday ritual or even an odd annual Eid for those who live in different towns or countries has transformed this link between generations into a mere exchange of pleasantries. Within just a few decades Pakistan’s rapidly urbanising society has begun to lose the vital threads that bind generations, dialogue and family memories being among them.

The term ‘generation gap’ that explains the chasms created by time and the identity of family members with different educational and social experiences in the 21st century has to take into account the physical distance between family members located in cities in several continents. This distance that is exacerbated by the priorities of other cultures stretches beyond the miles of separation. It has left us poorer in many ways.

As a teenager in the late 1960s I once read a story that caused surprise and dismay among those my age and older. It was about how old people’s homes were gaining popularity among couples in the UK as they were no longer able to accommodate or support their elderly parents. Living separately, the grandparents often needed permission to visit grandchildren and their presents and affection were indulgences not readily permitted in a society undergoing a generational disconnect.

Almost five decades later, Pakistan too has its version of the nuclear family in which grandchildren are often deprived of a feeling of emotional and familial connectedness that only grandparents have the capacity and patience to impart. Many grandparents feel this rupture is widened by the technology-driven change that divides the 21st century human race between users of computer/cell-phone/ipod and ‘the rest’.

The 80-plus generation is often bewildered by the speed of technological change while the computer kids have no time to reflect on how ‘the rest’ have contributed to the history of inventions leading up to this digital age. So for this ‘gap’ to disappear we must wait for technology to be viewed for what it really is, a mere tool to access knowledge, before the focus can shift to the generators of knowledge, whose unfamiliarity with the digital means of knowledge-dissemination has not in any way hampered their intellectual robustness.

Ageism too has bred attitudes leading to social exclusion. While senior citizens may be given retirement privileges in developed countries they also tend to get ghettoised in special homes and geriatric wards. An obsession with de-aging drugs and surgical procedures has created a society that perceives old age as a disease to be cured and not a stage of life that should be allowed to come full circle with dignity.

The recognition of contribution and continuity lies at the centre of vitalising multiple generations within a society. Starting from the smallest social unit of a community — the family — grandparents can be valued for their unique position as the keepers of family culture and civilisational wisdom.

Ali Shariati, the Iranian thinker/scholar, in an article on the Martyrs of Karbala explains how ‘martyrdom’ leaves behind two vital legacies, blood and message. Both the symbolic and factual message and sacrifice that created Pakistan has been lost in the agenda of political compromise for six decades. This makes the personal experiences and motivation of the ‘independence’ generation even more critical. Needless to say this should go beyond the token coverage on television and the print media of national events.

In Pakistan, a country born out of resistance to oppressive colonialism and violent partition, these largely unheard narratives of the life-changing trauma of displacement and the generosity of those who received the newcomers in their new homeland were incorporated in textbooks and archives. The truth of this enriched collective memory can be a catalyst for understanding why millions of people from villagers to nawabs, intellectuals to artisans were so committed to freedom and historical change at the risk of losing material wealth and ancestral links.

While watching Obama’s victory speech and the spark of hope it lit in a nation’s eyes, one thought of the fervor that Jinnah’s words inspired. Surely the people must have felt the same palpable optimism in their future as a free people.

The texturally rich diversity of Pakistan’s culture faces the danger of conforming to urbanisation, although grandmothers as the cultural activists of every family have traditionally shouldered the responsibility of keeping knowledge alive in the consciousness of every generation. Reinforced through language, rituals and cuisine, continuity had been zealously maintained by them.

A part of this cultural memory are the writings of dissident women icons of previous generations like Ismat Chughtai and Quratulain Hyder who introduced their own brand of indigenous literature that critiqued retrogressive tradition while strengthening the essence of civilisation. Iqbal’s cathartic Shikwa and Jawab-i-Shikwa, too, need the closer attention of the generation of this new century that seeks social and religious direction. These creative interventions are important to emphasise the non-linearity of history which is not enslaved by tradition but can respond freely to issues.

For as long as we seek wisdom, which is defined as the combination of experience and knowledge with the power to apply it critically and with sagacity, it can never be ‘the end of history’ for us in Pakistan. The strands of the past continue to touch our lives through their potency and relevance. Every civilisation articulates itself through a partnership of generations committed to recognising the best in humanity and nurturing it with renewed energy.

asnaclay06@yahoo.com

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UK’s disappointing role

By Simon Tisdall

CRITICISM that Britain is not doing enough to halt the violence in Gaza grows in volume the longer that the fighting continues. Anti-war activists and others demand “unequivocal condemnation” of Israel, an arms embargo and swingeing sanctions. British Jews demonstrate for and against Israel’s actions. And British Muslims warn that the government’s perceived insouciance over Palestinian deaths is enabling extremists “to spread their message”.

On the face of it, all this is a bit over-cooked. Britain no longer holds a mandate to govern the historical territory of Palestine. It cannot enforce a ceasefire or impose a settlement. If any single country now wields that sort of power, it is the US.

Defenders of Britain’s approach claim the government is doing all it can. It backed an immediate ceasefire on the day Operation Cast Lead was launched in December, they say, and has regularly repeated that demand. Through the EU, Britain also condemned Israel’s “disproportionate” use of force. Britain has been engaged throughout, at the UN and elsewhere. What is more, its clear and consistent position has been recognised as such by the Palestinian leadership and by Arab states.

There are two problems with this defence. One is that the spectre of a cornered civilian population torn to bits by modern army ordnance constitutes a deep assault on people’s moral senses, whatever the stated reason for it. From this viewpoint, government has an overriding moral duty to intercede to stop the daily slaughter.

The second is more political. A series of apparently tough, resolute statements by the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, his foreign secretary, David Miliband, and others has given the impression, perhaps accidently, that Britain has more leverage than is actually the case.

On December 29, two days into the Israeli assault, Brown said he was “deeply concerned”, told Hamas to stop firing rockets, and urged Israel to meet its “humanitarian obligations”. His exhortations were totally ignored.

On January 4, Brown said the crisis had reached a “dangerous moment” and for the first time personally called for an “immediate ceasefire”. On January 6, Brown’s dangerous moment became the “darkest moment”; Gaza was facing a “humanitarian crisis”, he said. On January 9, he urged the world to build on the UN’s ceasefire resolution. But each intervention was greeted with more gunfire and rockets — the Gaza equivalent of a giant raspberry.

In a speech last year, seen as defining his tenure, Miliband warned Britain must be cautious about its capacity to change the world. “But while we have less influence than we might hope, we have more than we might fear,” he said.

As the blood flows and the outrage grows, critics say Britain is not only not doing enough — but has failed to use the not inconsiderable levers of powers that, by its own estimation, it still retains. Post-imperial decline does not fully explain this omission. And nor is it all the government’s fault. It may have more to do with a collective failure of national confidence to act.

— The Guardian, London
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Thursday
Muharram 17, 1430
January 15, 2009

Climate change


WHEN Dr R.K. Pachauri speaks it would be folly not to listen. The eminent scientist heads the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which proved some two years ago that climate change induced by human activity is an undeniable fact, not just a theory. The IPCC, along with former US vice-president Al Gore, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later that year. Speaking in Islamabad on Tuesday at a South Asia regional conference on climate change, Dr Pachauri warned that Pakistan will be among the countries hit hardest by global warming. If greenhouse-gas emissions are not curtailed, dwindling water supplies and higher sea temperatures will leave the agricultural and fisheries sectors reeling, while rising sea levels could flood the coastline, displacing millions of people. Other experts have predicted in recent years that an increase in glacial melt will initially produce flooding and ultimately, when the glaciers are gone, severe drought. The result: acute food and water shortages, loss of livelihood and an increased potential for conflict over shrinking resources. In short, the country, its people and its economy could be crippled.

Unfortunately there is little that Pakistan can do on its own to prevent the changes in climate that are already evident in our country and across the planet. We produce a mere 0.4 per cent or so of the greenhouse gases emitted annually worldwide and yet Pakistan ranks 12th in the list of countries that will bear the brunt of climate change. Cutting our emission levels is an admirable goal but it will be of little use unless the big polluters do likewise and in far greater measure. As such our focus has to be on mitigation measures that can help the country control to an extent the damage inflicted by global warming.

For instance, the cultivation of crops grown traditionally in a particular area may not be feasible in the future due to changing weather or soil conditions. To counter such disruptions in cropping patterns and agricultural seasons, research can be initiated to develop cultivars or to identify other crops that can cope with the altered conditions. A concerted effort must be made to conserve water, especially in agriculture which is by far the biggest consumer. Irrigation canals have to be lined — and if possible covered — water-efficient farming techniques need to be adopted and projects launched to help store rainwater. Pakistan’s healthcare services are dismal anyway but demands on the system will increase manifold as climate change brings with it greater disease and affliction. And as the weather becomes ever more erratic, increasing the frequency of cyclones and storms, the need for efficient warning and disaster-management systems will become even more urgent than it is today. Hopefully the world will mend its ways and check climate change. But we must be prepared for the worst.

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US diplomacy and Pakistan

GIVEN her credentials, Senator Clinton’s confirmation hearing wasn’t going to be a baptism of fire. The hearing was more relevant from the point of view of what hints Ms Clinton would drop about how an Obama administration’s foreign policy would differ from President Bush’s. Unsurprisingly, Ms Clinton was short on specifics — those will become apparent in the weeks and months ahead. Yet, from a Pakistani perspective, there were several clues about what lies ahead. First, a healthy dose of realism: Pakistan does not lie at the centre of the American universe. The coverage of the hearing in all major American newspapers — The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor — did not lead with Afghanistan or Pakistan. Instead, Iran, Syria, North Korea and the Israel-Palestine issue dominated the news. For Pakistan it is important to remember that the country is only one, albeit an important, piece in the global jigsaw puzzle that the American diplomatic corps led by Ms Clinton will need to assess and assemble. A precondition for successful statecraft is to have the right perspective of the global pecking order.

However, the comments Ms Clinton did make on Afghanistan and Pakistan reinforced the bipartisan assessment in the US that the Pak-Afghan border is ground zero in the war against militancy. “Pakistan and Afghanistan are definitively the front line of our global counter-terrorism efforts,” Ms Clinton said. Parsing her comments on Pakistan, it is clear that at least in the short term an Obama White House and a Clinton Foggy Bottom will not be likely to deviate from the Bush administration’s recent policy. Drone attacks will likely continue in Fata, military action inside Afghanistan will step up and firefights along the Pak-Afghan border are likely to increase as America sends more troops to Afghanistan. The good news is that key players in America are not in favour of a purely military approach to Pakistan. John Kerry, the next chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will lend his name to the proposed Biden-Lugar legislation; Joseph Biden will of course be the next vice-president; and John Podesta, Obama’s transition chief, is president of the Centre for American Progress, which endorsed a broader relationship with Pakistan in a recent report. And Ms Clinton is hardly a gung-ho figure. Expect her to not take a back seat to the defence department.

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The call of conscience

IN a posthumously published editorial, Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of Sri Lanka’s The Sunday Leader, who was assassinated last week, wrote, “No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism.” Mr Wickrematunge’s words proved prophetic. What is more he placed his head on the block knowing its implications in a country where forces preaching violence have gained ascendancy and a seemingly democratic government cannot tolerate criticism. It was a calculated risk he took at a time when the risks were never greater. Why? He explained, “There is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.” And unfortunately for those with a conscience that is how risky the world of journalism has now become as was demonstrated by the fate that befell the Sunday Leader’s editor, whose killers have still to be traced.

Conditions in Pakistan are no better. The country stands at a woeful ranking of 152nd (out of 173) in the 2008 index prepared by Reporters Without Frontiers and was dubbed a “highly dangerous black zone”. According to the International Federation of Journalists, 12 media persons died in the line of duty in Pakistan in the year preceding World Press Freedom Day in May 2008. But as Mr Wickrematunge observed, the call of conscience can be a powerful force in guiding journalists. The latter owe it to their readers to expose vested interests which use all the force and terrorism at their command, even state machinery, to achieve selfish and narrow gains. Thus alone can journalists ensure that the truth is not subverted. In an age when, thanks to advanced communication technologies, the forces of democratic freedom have emerged as a strong deterrent to autocratic and unaccountable governments, the brunt of the risk has been borne by media practitioners who have become personally vulnerable. Isn’t it easier to eliminate individuals than institutions? That holds particularly true for societies that have been brutalised by conflict — be they in Sri Lanka (since 1983) or Pakistan (since 1979).

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OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press

The Egyptian Gazette

Gulf News

Cotton growers’ woes

FOR many years, Egypt occupied a prestigious position in the world cotton market, because of the unique quality of its long staple cotton, known as ‘King Cotton’. Egypt’s production of cotton and related products ... has suffered dreadfully because of the terrible negligence of the different concerned bodies.

The Ministry of Agriculture has been discouraging cotton farmers by refraining from purchasing their crops for long weeks every season and not agreeing on a purchasing price before the cultivation season starts. The result is that fewer and fewer feddans are being cultivated with cotton. Meanwhile, the Egyptian trade offices abroad don’t seem to be working hard to promote Egyptian cotton.... Another problem is that the goods produced by these factories are not of a high enough quality ... while the huge customs duties being imposed on imported cotton make these goods very expensive for local consumers. ...The government should either encourage the cultivation of long staple cotton for export …or encourage farmers to cultivate the lower quality short staple cotton for the local factories, so they can manufacture their goods at reasonable prices.…— (Jan 12)

Israel’s war crimes


SHORTLY after the United Nations Security Council passed its resolution to end the war on Gaza, Israel attacked a house in the ravaged city, killing a family of six. And despite the resolution’s call to resume aid to the Strip, relief agencies are yet to be allowed to do their job by the Israeli army. ...So who would hold Israel accountable? Who could force the Olmert government to stop the massacres? Obviously nobody. Finally, the UN agencies working in Gaza and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told us what we knew all along. Israel is violating international law and “deliberately” obstructing relief efforts.

It is a good step to start to tell the truth, even after more than 770 people were killed —half of them women and children massacred in their homes or in UN shelters. But again, are the UN and the ICRC willing to hold Israel accountable for such war crimes?

For two weeks, international politics have failed the innocents in Gaza and inter-Arab disputes left Gazans alone in the face of the state-of-the-art US-made Israeli mass killing machine.

…The UN … and the ICRC have a moral responsibility to at least try to bring the Israeli war criminals to justice. — (Jan 9)

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A way out of the crisis: The energy crunch — II

By Sartaj Aziz

THE first part of the article published yesterday examined the causes of Pakistan’s energy crunch and indicated the need for short- and medium-term measures to overcome the crisis. What these would entail is discussed in detail below. We first focus on the short-term measures:

1) The quickest, though fiscally difficult, way to reduce load-shedding is to resolve the “circular debt problem” on a priority basis. With the decline in oil prices, this drain on budget has declined but the past amounts payable to oil companies, Pepco, gas companies and Wapda, should be settled as early as possible to clean the books. The payments should also be linked to higher capacity utilisation to ensure that Wapda and private thermal stations increase their generation to at least 10,000 MW, which together with 2,500 MW from hydel generation should be adequate to meet the projected winter demand of about 12,500 MW in 2008-09.

2) Many new power generation and power conservation projects have been identified but their implementation is behind schedule and costs relatively high. These include a) additions of rented and barge mounted power plants (950 MW); b) new IPP’s thermal plants under installation (375 MW); c) quick rehabilitation of Wapda’s power plants (200 MW); and energy conservation and loss reduction measures (980 MW)

The capital cost of about 1,500 MW of new plants is reported to be $3bn. That means about $2,000 per MW, which is twice as large as the cost of IPP projects in the 1990s and three times the cost of many Wapda power plants. By adding such expensive electricity to the system at Rs12-14 per unit, more electricity will be added but will not be affordable.

3) Similarly, the agreement to import 1,000 MW electricity from Iran has been discussed for some time, but it is difficult to determine its implementation deadline.

4) The manner in which the burden of load-shedding has been spread between different categories of users leaves much to be desired. As additional electricity becomes available, the load-shedding schedule should reflect very clear and transparent priorities, in consultation with all the stakeholders.

5) As long as electricity shortage continues, further increments in tariff should be avoided. GST should not be re-imposed and a cap on withholding tax on electricity maintained. With reduction in oil prices and proposed conservation measures, the unit cost of electricity generation should come down.

Given below are measures to be taken in the medium term:

i) In the next three to five years, all gas-based and inefficient Wapda plants should be replaced by new and more efficient combined cycle plants. Many of the old plants are running on gas but since they are inefficient, they produce only 60 to 70 per cent as much electricity as a new and more efficient plant will produce with the same quantity of gas. This will not only reduce the cost per unit but also be more cost-effective than setting up a new power plant at a new location in the public or private sector.

ii) The distribution companies should also be provided adequate resources to modernise the overloaded transmission and distribution system. The required investment can be recovered in less than three years through savings in transmission losses.

iii) The longer term solution of the energy crisis will be to restore the hydro-thermal mix to 60:40 or at least 50:50 in the next five years. The Water Accord of 1991 had opened the way for constructing many dams to store water and generate electricity. But the continuing controversy over the Kalabagh Dam became a major obstacle. Surprisingly, even many smaller and non-controversial hydroelectric projects have been delayed without any justification. The hydel projects in the pipeline include the following: Neelum Jhelum (969 MW), Tarbela Fourth Extension (960 MW), Suki Kinari (840 MW), Munda Dam (700 MW), Khan Dubar (130 MW), Allai (126 MW) and Jinnah Hydro (96 MW).

Some of these were recently presented to the World Bank for technical and financial support, but to fast-track these projects it will be necessary to announce a fixed tariff at which any private power producer can sell hydroelectricity to the system. Urgent negotiations are also needed with experienced Chinese authorities to finance and implement some of these hydroelectric projects.

iv) The programmes and initiatives listed above would be difficult to plan and implement, without major institutional and administrative improvement in the energy sector to upgrade implementation capacity. Wapda and its thermal arm, the Gencos, Pepco and KESC must be given full autonomy to prepare, market and construct new projects, as it did in the 1960s and 1970s when it undertook the massive Indus Basin Works, under the supervision of its own autonomous governing bodies. These organisations also need the best available technical expertise and competence to meet the energy challenge of the future. Drastic reduction in Wapda’s capacity due to micro management by the ministries concerned is one of the main reasons why its proposals made in 2003-2006 to expand the generating capacity could not be implemented.

v) The natural resources of Pakistan are not just limited to water and gas. Coal is also available. Thar has one of the largest deposits of coal in the world. The coal at Thar is not of high quality but it is locally and abundantly available. Tapping of this resource would greatly reduce the dependence on imported energy. The Thar coal can be cleaned and the sulphur reduced so that it can be burnt in conventional coal power plants and also converted into gas. Coal gasification is a slightly more expensive process, but the gas from coal is a proven and cleaner technology. The Chinese had prepared a feasibility report in 2005 to produce 3,000 MW at 5.8 cents per unit, but the project could not move forward because they were offered only 5.3 cents.

vi) There are also many possibilities of regional cooperation in building gas and oil pipelines. These include the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline; the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline; an oil, gas and electricity corridor from Gwadar to Western China, the import of 1,000 MW electricity from Ragun hydro station in Tajikistan for which an agreement was signed by me in March 1992 at the rate of 3.3 cents per unit.

Regional energy cooperation can greatly facilitate the objective of national energy security, because it will not only reduce the cost of energy, but also attract international financing.

vii) Internationally, much greater attention is being paid to new and renewable sources of energy such as wind power and solar energy. Pakistan should enhance its capacity to follow research in these fields and promote much greater use of renewable energy for light, heating, agriculture and small scale enterprises.

Concluded

The writer is a former finance minister.

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Guantanamo challenge

By Suzanne Goldenberg

BARACK Obama has seven days after he enters the White House before the looming war crimes trial of a former child soldier will force the new president to demonstrate his resolve to swiftly shut the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Omar Khadr is among the handful of 240 or so detainees whose face and story are widely known. The Canadian was 15 when he was held in Afghanistan. Footage of Khadr weeping under interrogation and calling for his mother emerged last summer. To allow his trial to go ahead on Jan 26 would be seen as endorsing the prosecution of a child soldier and the Bush administration’s discredited system of military tribunals, human rights organisations said.

“I cannot believe that the Obama administration really wants its legacy to be that the first thing it did was put on trial a child soldier,” said Lieutenant-Commander Bill Kuebler, Khadr’s military lawyer.

Halting the military tribunals would be the first concrete action dismantling the legal regime put in place by President Bush that allowed the rendition, torture and indefinite detention of Al Qaeda suspects.

Obama aides said on Monday that he intends to issue an executive order closing the camp, possibly on his first day as president. But the aides gave no timeline and Obama has ruled out a closure in his first 100 days.

A number of lawyers for detainees believe closing Guantanamo could take up to a year.

The Obama camp’s hopes of making headway on case reviews before Jan 20 were frustrated by the failure of the Bush administration and the Pentagon to turn over detainee records. Obama’s relatively late selection of his intelligence team, which he wanted involved in the reviews, meant further delays.

— The Guardian, London
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Friday
Muharram 18, 1430
January 16, 2009

Denial of human rights


IT was a year that can be neither condemned wholesale nor praised outright where human rights were concerned. While some improvement was seen in 2008, the balance tilted largely in favour of the unacceptable. True, some progress was made year-on-year, but it should be considered that a military dictator called the shots in 2007. It stood to reason that the outlook of elected politicians would be less draconian than that of a general who usurped power through a military coup. But what was actually achieved in 2008 fell far short of the enviable. One possible reason was that the new government fell victim to stasis early on in its tenure. It remained locked in political intrigue and failed to address the concerns of the people. Then there were the problems it inherited: rampant militancy, worsening law and order, economic instability, soaring inflation and growing underemployment. In short, the government couldn’t cope and the need to uphold human rights fell by the wayside for the most part.

First the positives, for the list is short. Protest was permitted, as one would expect in a democracy. There were no direct attempts to silence the media and freedom of expression, which had been muffled by the 2007 emergency, was allowed freer rein. Yet the government could not protect journalists from murderous non-state actors, and there were accusations too of officials harassing media persons. In a welcome move, the government admitted that the list of the ‘disappeared’ still ran to more than 1,000 persons. But as the latest World Report published by Human Rights Watch points out, “negligible progress [was made] in resolving cases and recovering victims”.

Human Rights Watch also questions the independence of the judiciary in Pakistan, which by extension has a bearing on access to justice, a basic right. There was no let-up in 2008 in violence against women and young girls. In a shameful move, a senator who had justified honour killings and a legislator who stood accused of presiding over a jirga that ordered the handing over of five girls to settle a dispute “were elevated to Pakistan’s cabinet by President Zardari”. Meanwhile, the state stood helpless as militants in

Swat and the tribal areas stripped women of fundamental rights, and denied both boys and girls the right to an education of their own choice. Military operations and US strikes in the tribal belt claimed civilian lives and resulted in the mass displacement of residents. Discriminatory laws remained on the books and religious minorities continued to be targeted with impunity. Reports of torture by security agencies remained all too routine. Promises were made that death sentences would be commuted to life imprisonment but nothing came of that pledge. Clearly, 2008 was not a banner year for human rights in Pakistan.

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The misbegotten war

AS the clock winds down on the Bush administration, allies have begun to publicly speak about deficiencies in the US campaign to fight the rise of terrorism and militancy. The latest critique has come from David Miliband, the UK foreign secretary, who has written in the Guardian that, “The idea of a ‘war on terror’ gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate.” But not only has the West wrongly identified the enemy, it has also got the strategy to fight it wrong so far. Quoting Gen Petraeus, Mr Miliband argues that those fighting terror cannot “kill their way out of the problems”. We could not agree more. Nowhere is the failure more evident than in this part of the world. Whatever the deficiencies of the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan, the country is on the edge of a precipice because of the failure of the promised nation-building process. Blaming Pakistan for not doing more to help cannot hide the fact that the original error was not of our making.

Yet, we must be careful to not sound like apologists when reviewing the Pakistani state’s response to the terrorism threat, be it on the Pak-Afghan border, within Pakistan or even India. Consider the Mumbai attacks and Ajmal Kasab. No state can be expected to guarantee that some of its citizens won’t go astray — that would make redundant law enforcement and the judicial process — but can any honest assessment of Pakistan’s attempts to shut down terrorism networks claim we have done anything more than the bare minimum? We have not. Yet, as Mr Miliband has pointed out, the issue today is to understand how terrorism and militancy can be fought most effectively. This clearly requires some pragmatism, something the UK foreign secretary has spelled out in the case of Pakistan: “Resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders.” Old rivalries, be they between Pakistan and India or Afghanistan and Pakistan, are being fought with new forms of terrorism and militancy in the region. Ignoring the cause of violence will ensure no one wins in the long term.

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Power of proof

IN an age where a nation stands besieged by human bombs, street crimes, fanaticism, to name just a few of its myriad hazards, it is indeed abominable that victims fall by the wayside as mere statistics. The primary reason appears to be that the evidence and the crime scene remain perishable. As pointed out in a report carried by this newspaper, the country’s police have a pathetic record of managing crime scenes — the foundation of any investigation. The report maintains that the pattern is unaffected by the fact that numerous police officers have undergone foreign training for crime scene supervision. National crime annals are replete with countless, and historic, incidents which prove that a country gripped by bloodshed and mayhem continues to flounder in the first step towards not only accountability and justice but also deterrence. Take the case of the Liaquat Bagh crime scene — where Benazir Bhutto was killed along with numerous others — that was hosed down shortly after the catastrophe.

Given the fraught times we live in, it is tragic that not a single university in the country offers a degree in forensics studies. Also, there is an absence of an inventory of evidence. Meanwhile, evidence itself is not the property of a particular authority and is randomly taken away by the agencies. We can hardly wait for more bloodbaths to teach us lessons that should have been long learnt. Other than revamping the police training curriculum, it is imperative that immediate steps are taken to strengthen the presently inadequate apparatus. For instance, the Sindh Forensics Science Laboratory is the sole facility with one chemical laboratory for medico-legal investigations in the entire province and not a single forensics service exists in Balochistan. Not only are these home to antiquated machinery, there are few to man them and their inquiries are often mired in controversy — underpaid personnel are bribed to produce tampered results. The need for airtight investigation is the greatest call of our times and the home department must implement instant measures to monitor corruption and overhaul present institutions whereby sanctity of evidence becomes intrinsic to our police culture.

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OTHER VOICES - Bangladesh Press

The Bangladesh Today

Uplift programmes

THE last six months of the emergency regime had been a disaster as far as the economy of the country is concerned. One sign of the economy coming to a near standstill is the extremely poor implementation of the Annual

Development Programme which stands at a mere 18 per cent halfway through the financial year, as revealed by the finance minister of the newly formed Awami League government.

Non-performing and non-implementable ADPs are nothing new for Bangladesh. Every government, each year unveils a massive ADP, most of which never see the light of day and remain what they are — basically pieces of paper bound up in files of the finance and planning ministry. This year things are even worse because the emergency had made the entire government machinery and bureaucracy far too cumbersome and unresponsive to be anything other than ‘worst’. So, the AL government has to firstly sort out the entire ‘machinery’ before even thinking about the ADPs and their implementation.

There is no gainsaying the fact that government spending in the form of ADPs has a considerable impact on the economy because they generate a huge number of economic activities…. These large numbers of people then spend the money they earn in ‘consumption’ of goods and services and they also save some of their earnings. The entire process of government spending thus ‘fuels’ the economy. If that process is disrupted, the economy is too and this is particularly applicable to countries … like Bangladesh.

Typically, governments in developing economics increase their spending through systems such as ADPs and ensure that such programmes are implemented particularly during ‘times of trouble’ such as we are facing now because of various reasons. This is to ensure that the engine of economy keeps functioning, that people find employment and that people have money to spend on goods and services which many other people provide. The prime minister has, therefore, appropriately zoomed in on the ADP and has demanded maximum implementation, that is, as far as possible within the remaining six months or so of the current financial year.

In implementing the ADPs, the government however, has to decide on the priorities correctly. Obviously, infrastructure development is important but equally important is the development of all those things which go to support agriculture…. So, a balance between agricultural development and infrastructural development has to be made. — (Jan 15)

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The right to freedom

By Dr Riffat Hassan

THE Quran is deeply concerned about liberating human beings from every kind of bondage.

Recognising the human tendency toward dictatorship and despotism, the Quran says with clarity and emphasis in Surah 3: 79: “It is not conceivable that a human being unto whom God had granted revelation, and a sound judgment, and prophethood, should thereafter have said unto people, ‘Worship me beside God’; but rather (did he exhort them), ‘Become men of God by spreading the knowledge of the divine writ, and by your own deep study (thereof).’”

The institution of human slavery is, of course, extremely important in the context of human freedom. Slavery was widely prevalent in the Arab world at the time of the advent of Islam and the Arab economy was based on it. Not only did the Quran insist that slaves be treated in a just and humane way, it continually urged the freeing of slaves. By laying down, in Surah 47:4 that prisoners of war were to be set free, “either by an act of grace or against ransom,” the Quran virtually abolished slavery since the majority of slaves — both men and women — were prisoners of war. Because the Quran does not state explicitly that slavery is abolished, it does not follow that it is to be continued, particularly in view of the numerous ways in which the Quran seeks to eliminate this absolute evil. A book which does not give a king or a prophet the right to command absolute obedience from other human beings could not possibly sanction slavery in any sense of the word. The greatest guarantee of personal freedom for a Muslim lies in the Quranic decree that no one other than God can limit human freedom and in the statement that “Judgment (as to what is right and what is wrong) rests with God alone” (12: 40) . As pointed out by an eminent Pakistani jurist, Khalid Ishaque, “The Quran gives to responsible dissent the status of a fundamental right. In exercise of their powers, therefore, neither the legislature nor the executive can demand unquestioning obedience... The Prophet (PBUH), even though he was the recipient of divine revelation, was required to consult Muslims in public affairs. Allah addressing the Prophet says: “...and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs. And... when thou art resolved, then put thy trust in Allah.”

Since the principle of mutual consultation, shura, is binding, it is a Muslim’s fundamental right, as well as responsibility, to participate in as many aspects of community life as possible. The Quranic proclamation in Surah 2:256, “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith”, guarantees freedom of religion and worship. This means that, according to the Quran, non-Muslims living in Muslim territories have the freedom to follow their own faith and traditions without fear or harassment.

A number of Quranic passages state clearly that the responsibility of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is to communicate the message of God and not to compel anyone to believe. The right to exercise free choice in matters of belief is unambiguously endorsed by the Quran, which also states clearly that God will judge human beings not on the basis of what they profess but on the basis of their belief and righteous conduct, as indicated in Surah 2:62 which states: “Verily, those who have attained faith (in this divine writ) as well as those who follow the Jewish faith and the Christian, and the Sabian — all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds — shall have their reward with their Sustainer: and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.”

The Quran recognises the right to religious freedom not only in the case of other believers in God, but also in the case of non-believers in God (if they are not aggressing against Muslims). The right to freedom includes the right to be free to tell the truth. The Quranic term for truth is “Haq” which is also one of God’s most important attributes.

Standing up for the truth is a right and a responsibility which a Muslim may not disclaim even in the face of the greatest danger or difficulty (Surah 4:135). While the Quran commands the believers to testify to the truth, it also instructs society not to harm persons so testifying (Surah 2:282).

The writer is a scholar of Islam and Iqbal, teaching at the University of Louisville, US.

rshass01@gwise.louisville.edu

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Current rescues not enough

By Patrick Wintour & Heather Stewar

FRESH efforts to stave off recession were unveiled this week when the UK cabinet agreed to release £20bn to ease Britain’s frozen credit lines. At the same time, Ben Bernanke, the US Federal Reserve chairman, used a speech in London to warn that not enough was being done to ease global problems.

The two moves underline the extent to which policy makers on either side of the Atlantic recognise that banks have been saved from collapse but have not been restored to proper functioning.

Bernanke, in London for talks with UK premier Gordon Brown, said American banks may need a further injection of capital. The fiscal package planned by incoming president Barack Obama would provide a “significant boost” to the US economy but the government had to do more to stabilise the financial system. “Fiscal actions are unlikely to promote a lasting recovery unless they are accompanied by strong measures to further stabilise and strengthen the financial system.”

In an important moment for Brown on the world stage, the German cabinet has backed a £50bn fiscal expansion package, weeks after the British prime minister urged a united effort across major economies. The German move deprives UK Opposition Conservative leader David Cameron of a potential ally in his argument that the solution to the crisis lies in monetary rather than fiscal solutions.

Cameron is preparing to denounce the Brown administration’s latest move, the credit guarantee scheme. Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, is proposing £10bn of government guarantees for viable small and medium-sized enterprises, and has reached an agreement with the banks that the £10bn — mainly to provide working capital — will unlock another £10bn of bank credit for larger and riskier businesses. The government credit will be available to firms with up to £500m in annual turnover.

Officials said the banks have given undertakings that they will be able to expand credit as a result of the government’s intervention. Typically defaults can run at 5-10 per cent, so the scheme could cost government up to £1bn. The scheme has been under negotiation for weeks with Lady Vadera, the business minister, leading talks with the banks. The main extra element of the scheme will focus on providing working capital, but there will also be an expansion of the loan guarantee scheme, export credit guarantees and announcements on credit insurance.

A further announcement, possibly next week, will be made by the Treasury on expanding the mortgage markets and providing loans to large businesses.

Mandelson said the plans would be “really effective” and target “genuine business needs”.The Conservatives want a “bigger, bolder, simpler” £50bn scheme to get credit flowing to all businesses. They insist their scheme would be self-financing, and claim ministers have exaggerated the cost of it for political reasons.

Bernanke, speaking at the London School of Economics, painted a gloomy picture for 2009, admitting that even with concerted action from the White House and the Fed, there would be little improvement in the economy until later this year. Asked when he expected to see an end to the spate of job losses in the US, with more than 500,000 workers laid off in December, he said he hoped that by “late in 2009” it would be possible to put “a stop to the bleeding”.

Hank Paulson, the outgoing US treasury secretary, has already injected around $250bn into America’s financial institutions, but the Fed chairman said with asset prices still falling and billions of dollars of toxic securities stuck on banks’ balance sheets, “more capital injections and guarantees may become necessary”.

Options included the US treasury buying toxic assets, or separating them off into a “bad bank”.

Bernanke may be seeking to influence Obama’s economic advisers about how to deploy the next $350bn of the rescue fund approved in October. Democrats have advocated aid to homeowners, but the Fed chief’s comments suggest he is more concerned about the supply of credit to companies and households.

He said the Fed still had plenty of ammunition available and would act “aggressively” to promote a recovery.

Bernanke’s call for more support for the banks came as the World Economic Forum singled out the impact of bailouts on governments’ deteriorating finances as the biggest risk to the world economy in 2009.

— The Guardian, London
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Saturday
Muharram 19, 1430
January 17, 2009

Crackdown on militancy


THERE are several ways to interpret the latest actions against the Jamaatud Dawa. A sceptical interpretation would emphasise the severe diplomatic pressure Pakistan has been under in recent days and take note of the fact that the Saudi intelligence chief was in Pakistan the day before the details of the post-Mumbai crackdown were made public. From this point of view, the pressure on the Jamaatud Dawa is not serious or long-term and will abate once the world’s attention is diverted. The more positive interpretation would be that forging a consensus in the Pakistani state apparatus to go after militant networks is a delicate process and that now, finally, some eight weeks since the Mumbai attacks, everyone is on the same page and the mission is to shut down militant networks in Pakistan once and for all. The events of the days ahead will make it clear whether it is the former or the latter interpretation which is true — or, indeed, if the truth is somewhere in between. In the best-case scenario, Pakistan will shut down all visible signs of militant networks; cut off their sources of funding; and arrest and prosecute militant leaders.

More difficult, especially for India, will be to exercise the patience to wait and see if Pakistan is sincere in its fight against terrorists operating from its soil. In recent days there has been a concerted campaign across the border to step up the rhetoric against Pakistan. This is unfortunate, though perhaps not hard to explain. No doubt some in New Delhi, and in other capitals, will look at Thursday’s announcement of the sweep against the Jamaatud Dawa and wonder why those actions were not announced immediately after the UN added the organisation and some of its leaders to a terrorist watch list. Yet, New Delhi’s sometimes harsh tone has been part of the problem. It is very difficult for a government on either side of the border to appear to be caving in to pressure from the other, so whenever inflammatory rhetoric emanates from India, Pakistan is likely to baulk at doing what is in the interest of everyone in the region.

By the same token, the Pakistan state must understand that going soft on terror, the perceived status quo, is no longer acceptable. It need look no further than Saudi Arabia to know in which direction the wind is blowing internationally. The Saudi government is believed to have sent a clear message to Pakistan: Mumbai-style attacks are unacceptable and Pakistan needs to move firmly against militant groups. The folly of a Faustian bargain with militants — whereby they are left alone if they do not attack the state in which they reside — is now clear to everyone. Pakistan has never benefited from the jihadi groups and never will. It is time the state accepts that reality.

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Fiddling as Gaza burns

AS though slaughtering scores of men, women and children on a daily basis were not enough, Israeli forces are now ruthlessly directing their offensive at Gaza’s future as well. Nearly 1,100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombing in the three weeks since the present round of conflict began. Now the invading Israeli army is targeting infrastructure and facilities that have provided some relief to Gaza’s besieged people. On Thursday Israel shelled the UN headquarters supplying thousands of pounds of food and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. This is a crime that has evoked a hail of condemnation from international quarters because the world body has become a victim. Its implications are grave. It demonstrates Israel’s contempt for the international organisation that alone holds some hope for the traumatised population of Gaza. While world leaders fiddle as Gaza burns, more attention needs to be paid to what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has termed a “dire humanitarian crisis” that has reached an “unbearable point”.

The world has still to focus on the people — especially the children — of Gaza. Israel’s ever-tightening 18-month blockade on what it declared as “hostile territory” had already been taking a heavy toll when the shelling began on Dec 27. Now hospitals and schools are being hit. Power transmission has been interrupted and water is in short supply. With food stocks being decimated, hunger and starvation appear to be round the corner. How will all this affect the psyche of the Palestinian children trapped in this besieged area? If their future is at stake, also at risk is the future of peace in the Middle East. Can children who have witnessed the trauma of the last three weeks in Gaza ever grow up to be peace-loving citizens and strive for a tolerant, conflict-free society?

It is time for the peace brokers to respond immediately to Gaza’s tragedy. The need of the hour is for western powers perceived as friends of Israel to get the latter to rein in its bellicosity and to exercise restraint. Israel’s strategy of excessive retaliation to Hamas’s pinpricks — 1,100 Palestinian deaths as against 13 Israelis at the last count — has not helped it achieve its war goals. It has only worsened the crisis. The Arab world’s reaction, while vociferous, has not been adequate in practical terms either. Should not Cairo, that plays the interlocutor seeking for a way out of the impasse, also consider opening the Rafah crossing to allow relief to flow to the Gazans?

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All hands on deck?


ARRIVING at a consensus will be critical if the 17th Amendment is to be repealed. The changes sought by the major parties may differ but the bottom line is that the constitution cannot be amended without a two-thirds majority. As such it is necessary not to quibble and to instead focus on the one provision of the 17th Amendment that poses the greatest danger to the parliamentary form of government: to wit, Gen Musharraf’s resurrection of Article 58-2(b). True, some other provisions of the 17th Amendment are less than savoury, such as the legal cover given to Musharraf’s actions since 1999. But to become obsessed with the sins of a man who is no longer relevant, or to seek redress for the personal grievances of those he overthrew, is tantamount to missing the point altogether. Then there is the fact that there are certain positive aspects of the 17th Amendment, such as the restoration of the joint electorate and a significant increase in reserved seats for women, that ought not to be discarded in the housekeeping exercise. This is the time to look forward, not ponder on the past. All those who want democracy to prosper need to zero in on relegating Article 58-2(b) to the dustbin of history. The power to appoint the services chiefs must also revert to the prime minister.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani rightly stressed the need for a consensus bill vis-à-vis the 17th Amendment. His party will have a hard time, however, convincing other players that the PPP is genuinely on board. For one thing, why hasn’t the ruling party taken the lead in repealing the 17th Amendment since it came to power? If the PPP believes in the supremacy of parliament, why does the presidency call the shots? What we have now, for all intents and purposes, is a presidential form of government. Consider too that the PPP has reneged on a number of promises since it came to power. The chief justice deposed by Gen Musharraf was not restored, the concurrent list has not been abolished and the death penalty is still on the books. The nation expects honesty of purpose.

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OTHER VOICES - Sri Lankan Press

Low level of election violence

Daily Mirror

AMID disconcerting news that the people of this country are constantly treated to these days comes the encouraging report of the leading election monitoring organisation PAFFREL that election violence in ... two provinces remains at an all-time low. Presenting its first interim report on the ongoing Central and North Western provinces’ election campaign conducted by political parties in the fray, its head Kingsley Rodrigo says that only five instances of election-related violence have been reported within the two weeks following the closing of nominations.

PAFFREL executive director cites the voters’ lack of interest in these prematurely declared elections as one of the reasons for reduced instances of violence. He nevertheless anticipates a change in the situation as the day of elections draws closer. It is indeed the wish of all peace-loving people of this country that the present state of peace and tranquillity will be maintained throughout enabling the conduct of a free and fair election. It is the duty of all concerned to lend their maximum support and cooperation in achieving this objective.

The major part of the responsibility rests on the politicians and political parties. All political parties, of course, declare their commitment to conducting a free and fair election devoid of violence and malpractices. But their actions, more often than not, run counter to these commitments. The acrimonious comments they make and unfounded personal and political accusations they level against one another from political platforms cause anger, hatred and resentment. They often seem to get overwhelmed by their own verbal exuberance when they address their ardent and cheering party supporters. They throw to the winds the advice given even by Ven Mahanayake Theras to guard their tongues as they speak from political platforms.

Another feature that causes much conflict among parties is the political conversions that are regularly reported in the media. Most of these conversions seem to be unethical like much maligned religious conversions. Most of these party somersaults are the result of various inducements offered to the converted. Jobs, positions and other favours are freely offered to desert their parties. Among the converted are also persons sidelined by their original parties for their wrongdoing.

There are, of course, some who change parties through genuine political convictions. People have every right to shift their affiliations from one party to another and this right should not be interfered with. There could well be a fair percentage of genuine party deserters among the 5,000 UNP members in the Kandy District who, according to Minister Dallas Alahapperuma, are to join the UPFA on Sunday. This group, he says, includes 25 Pradeshiya Sabha members. It is hoped that this expected mass defection will not give rise to conflicts or clashes.

Obviously, the police in these provinces will have to play their role impartially and effectively in maintaining the present level of peace. It is their responsibility to enforce the law in close collaboration with the election commissioner who has issued instructions to ensure a free and fair election. — (Jan 16)

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Europe divided over Gaza

By Shada Islam

THE European Union’s failure to mediate a Middle East truce or clinch a long-term settlement of the energy dispute between Russia and Ukraine have meant a difficult and embarrassing start to the new year for the 27-nation bloc.

While Europe’s foreign policy shortcomings are not new, the disarray in European ranks as regards the Middle East is particularly galling at a time when the new US administration is expected to demand a stronger EU role in the region.

Policymakers in Brussels insist that the EU’s impotence as regards ending the Israel-Arab conflict or securing a long-term solution to chronic Russia-Ukraine tensions will be corrected once the bloc’s new treaty, which foresees the appointment of a first-ever foreign minister, is in force. But others argue that while the new treaty will help clear up some confusion on how the EU deals with the rest of the world — and the rest of the world deals with Europe — much will depend on the personality of the future foreign minister and the back-up he receives from European capitals and his own staff. The picture is not rosy for the moment. Disarray in EU ranks meant that as Israel multiplied its attacks on Gaza last week, the EU was struggling unsuccessfully to forge a united front on the issue. In the end, it was a question of too many cooks spoiling the broth, with several European ministers and parliamentarians vying for the spotlight as they arrived in the Middle East to lobby for peace.

At one stage, Israeli President Shimon Peres had an array of European interlocutors, including three EU foreign ministers, the EU external relations commissioner and the EU’s foreign policy chief. In addition, French President Nicolas Sarkozy — whose country handed over the EU presidency to the Czech Republic on Jan 1 — was in the area working on a high-profile solution to the conflict.

As the crisis continues, with over 1,000 Palestinians already dead, the often confused EU response has exposed the bloc’s difficulty in being taken seriously as a political heavyweight. This is especially true in the Middle East which many EU policymakers see as Europe’s backyard and where the Union has spent millions of euros over the years in development and humanitarian aid. Most Arab countries and Israel also have special trade relations with the EU, allowing their products tariff-free or reduced-duty entry into European markets. But try as they might, Europe has failed to make a serious political impact in the region.

One key reason is that Israel has consistently criticised Europe’s Middle East policy as being too pro-Palestinian. Seeking to improve relations with Israel, EU governments agreed last year to upgrade relations with the country. But those moves have now been put on ice because of EU anger at Israel’s breach of international humanitarian law in Gaza.

EU policymakers say they are hopeful that the expected entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty later this year will help salvage Europe’s credibility in foreign policy. The new set of rules foresees a permanent president of the European Council, instead of the current six-monthly rotation between the 27-member states ranging from tiny Malta and Luxembourg to heavyweights Germany, France and the UK. It also introduces an EU foreign minister, which supporters of the treaty say will put an end to the merry-go-round in foreign policy. However, the new treaty will only be an improvement. The job description of both the foreign minister and the EU president are clear-cut to avoid bickering between the two. Much will also depend on the personality of the top EU officials.

Many EU observers point out the discrepancy between the high-profile Sarkozy-led French presidency and the current Czech one and say it is imperative that the EU is led by politicians from big countries in order to be effective. This, in turn, has prompted suggestions that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair should be given the job of EU president and that the future foreign minister should also be a powerful and high-profile personality from a bigger EU state

EU policymakers are also watching carefully as thousands of Europeans — including Muslims — take to the streets daily to protest against the Israeli offensive in Gaza. In Spain, much to Israel’s anger, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero participated in one of the demonstrations and called for an immediate ceasefire.

French President Sarkozy has warned that his country would not tolerate violence between Muslim and Jewish communities because of the ongoing conflict. The admonition came after a burning car was rammed into the gates of a synagogue in Toulouse late Monday evening. France has the EU’s largest Muslim and its largest Jewish communities, and tensions have risen since Israel’s military reaction to Hamas-sponsored rocket attacks began.

There is concern not only about the increase in violence between European Muslims and Jews but also fears that the war could further radicalise Muslims in Europe. “There is a feeling of helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness among Britain’s Muslims in the context of Gaza, British Justice Minister Shahid Malik told Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “The sense of grievance and injustice is both profoundly acute and obviously profoundly unhealthy,” he added.

Meanwhile, EU relations with both Russia and Ukraine have taken a battering as the two countries lock horns over the delivery of gas to eastern and western Europe. The EU imports a fifth of its gas from Russia via Ukraine. The crisis has highlighted its vulnerability to disruption and sparked renewed debate about diversifying supplies.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso has called the situation “unacceptable and incredible” and said the EU executive would advise the bloc’s firms to sue Russian and Ukrainian energy companies unless gas supplies were restored quickly. Both Moscow and Kiev seem to be betting, however, that at least for the moment, Europe’s bark is stronger than its bite.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.

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Future of web news

By Peter Preston

IT must be the future — the most feted, most dynamically charged news website of the lot. Eight million unique users, a 448 per cent annual growth rate and awards showering down. Want to raise another $25m, even in these straitened times? Certainly, madam. Venture capitalists duly oblige.

Your Huffington Post, just four years old, is already worth $100m. Here’s one sort of journalism that can shrug off recession, surely? Tina Brown with her ultra-competitive, somewhat derivative, Daily Beast is already turning a wheeze into a formula.

And that formula — from Arianna Huffington to Lady Harry Evans (aka Tina Brown) — seems suitably promising. No more tonnes of paper newspapers and heavy lorries; no more futile costs. Here’s the web standing proud and unencumbered, giving you the basic news you need in a neat, edited package that moves swiftly into blogged opinion. Huffington calls this her search for truth. Jaundiced readers of American newspapers would call it a long overdue reaction to too many po-faced balancing acts in monopoly papers afraid to express any opinion.

A TNS Media Intelligence analysis quoted in Advertising Age last week puts Huffington Post revenue between January and August last year at a mere $302,000 or so. It’s no secret that, at best, Huffington’s enterprise was only occasionally profitable, in an election year during which US liberals flocked to the site. The web news wunderkinds have just the same difficulty as boring old print: they can’t turn what they have into worthwhile money. And the deeper the recession goes, the worse their predicament will become.

Take a closer look at where the lifeblood news on which they comment comes from. Huffington Post provides a long source list, including an impressive roll call of bloggers, but the basic facts and developments come from 40-plus newspapers and broadcasting station newsrooms catalogued as providers (including the Guardian, Times and Independent in the UK). And there’s the rub.

The Huffington Post has about 50 staff, most of them technical and production hands. It would like more reporters of its own, of course, but (unlike Brown’s Beast) doesn’t attempt to pay its big bloggers a cent. Honour and glory stand in for a cheque. As the founder of the Guardian C.P. Scott never said (in schoolboy parody): Comment is free, but facts are expensive.

The medium-term weakness of all the bright new websites, in short, is that they need grist as well as glitz. But that basic commodity has to be jackdawed together day by day. They can’t afford to uncover it for themselves. They have to skate over the surface of commenting on other people’s work.

The death of the newspaper, as tremulously foretold? OK then, so where’s the beef? There ought to be plenty of room for accommodation along Huffington’s golden road into the future but she also needs to make money first. And the curse of the new is much like the curse of the old: have bright, fashionable product and huge audience. Now, will somebody please pay me a living wage?

— The Guardian, London
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Sunday
Muharram 20, 1430
January 18, 2009

A legacy of disaster


IT is perhaps unfair to rail against George W. Bush for he was merely a pawn in the hands of the neocon establishment that has ruled America since 2000. It was the likes of Dick Cheney, Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, all leading lights of The Project for the New American Century which promotes US imperialism and total control of the world’s energy resources, who called the shots in those bleak years. Some years ago, before 9/11, the manifesto of the Project for the New American Century even justified the deliberate creation of circumstances that would allow America to attack worldwide. But still, if only in name, George Bush was the president of the United States at a time when that country embarked on a global offensive against an amorphous enemy called terrorism. It was none other than George Bush who authorised the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians in a war based on lies. It was George Bush who justified torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. It was George Bush who felt it was kosher to bomb an ally such as Pakistan. Like other gung-ho Republicans before him, it was George Bush who mollycoddled a military dictator who drove Pakistan into the ground while under the influence of a toxic cocktail in which ego and ignorance were mixed in equal parts.

America will see the formal authorisation of a revolution on Tuesday, when a black man will become president of the United States of America. Yet, despite all the idealism and multiculturism at his disposal, Barack Obama will not change the world. His colour in itself means that he must tread softly, as if walking on eggshells, careful not to offend. The liberals who voted for him include millions of American Jews, and as such Obama cannot be expected to open America’s eyes to the reality of Palestine. It has often been said that great statesmen don’t just respond to public opinion, they change it. There is no indication yet that Barack Obama will reshape America’s distorted view of the world. Going by his statements so far, it seems his administration will continue to justify the status quo. He either believes the untruths or is apprehensive about taking a strong line on the historical injustice that is Israel.

A black man at the helm will not change America. Barack Obama will not disown his country’s imperialist designs, for to do that would damage his patriotic credentials in a country as insular as the US. America imposes itself on the world, it is not part of it. This is so because it sees itself as a superior entity in any given situation. Obama can’t change that perception. And we certainly cannot.

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Indifference of legislators

MUST the prime minister have to remind the legislators of their duty? Not all of them are new to the job; several MNAs have been elected many times and must know their responsibility. As a sovereign body the National Assembly not only enacts laws, it serves as a watchdog on government functioning. These tasks must be performed with the seriousness and sanctity they deserve — which unfortunately does not seem to be the case. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has started attending the question hour regularly, but his presence has not served to persuade the ruling party MNAs and others to be a little less trivial. As a report in this paper revealed the other day, MNAs during an Assembly session talked among themselves, paying scant attention to the question-answer session even though the prime minister was present. In fact, on Friday the deputy speaker had to snub an MNA by asking him to keep the pitch of his voice low. Even though he was sitting on a back bench, his constant talk disturbed the others and was symptomatic of the legislators’ nonchalance. All this in addition to the low attendance that characterises Assembly sessions, leading to frequent adjournments because of lack of quorum.

The MNAs’ attitude betrays a shocking indifference to the overriding need for building democratic institutions and strengthening parliament. Since independence, heads of state and army chiefs have sacked democratic governments and dismissed elected parliaments. Between 1977 and 1999, five national assemblies were dissolved, and if we add to this the number of provincial assemblies, then the number of houses that fell victim to military takeovers or Article 58-2(b) goes up to 25 or so. The dissolution was followed in each case by the trial and conviction of a large number of legislators for political reasons. The task before the MNAs now is to build the edifice of democracy brick by brick so that non-democratic forces do not get another chance to sabotage democracy. All parties agree that the 17th Amendment should be done away with so that the constitution’s parliamentary character is restored. But that would mean only half the job, for the real challenge is to consolidate democratic values in and outside the Assembly and make parliament a policymaking body that, besides being the sole determinant of national interests, represents the people’s sovereignty. However, the conduct of most of our legislators in this regard does not inspire much hope.

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Punjab’s urea crisis

A CROP of anger is being sown in Punjab’s fields of despair. Wheat farmers across the province are flustered and frustrated over their failure to get as much urea fertiliser as their crop requires. Reports of angry protests over the shortage of the fertiliser as well as photographs showing farmers standing in long queues to get it refuse to go away from the inside pages of newspapers. If, in the coming days and weeks, the supply and distribution of urea remain as bad as now, protests can turn ugly and the queues give way to major quarrels.

The Punjab government seems to be aware of the dangers, although the response it has come up with to ward them off is certainly inadequate. On Thursday, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif set up a committee to monitor and report on the supply and delivery of fertiliser. For desperate farmers who need five million bags of urea as quickly as possible, this is like telling a hungry child that a suitable diet for him is being mulled over. The urgency of the situation should not be lost on the government, and a handful of over-occupied politicians and bureaucrats meeting and issuing memos can hardly resolve the problem. Mr Sharif would do well to take some concrete steps like cutting the red tape and removing administrative and logistic bottlenecks to expedite the inland arrival and distribution of urea that has already landed in enough quantity at the country’s ports to fulfil local needs. He can certainly arrange the emergency transportation of the fertiliser if he is serious about tackling the problem which otherwise runs the risk of becoming a crisis that Mr Sharif himself acknowledges can reduce Punjab’s wheat output by as much as 30 per cent.

Such a drastic decrease in wheat yield will drag down the whole economy with it and will require huge and costly imports. But, as seen in previous years, imports do not ease supply constraints after local wheat production falls short of the target. That wheat shortages have had dangerous political fallouts goes without saying. Anyone mindful of such fallouts should know better than writing memos and holding meetings.

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OTHER VOICES - Indian Press

The Times of India

Star of Mysore

Don’t gag the media

…THE amendments to the Cable Television Network (Regulations) Act proposed by the I&B ministry in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks aims to put in place extensive restrictions on live coverage of crisis situations. This would prevent news broadcasters from showing any live telecast during emergency situations other than a government-authorised feed.

There were undoubtedly mistakes made during the coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks. The transcripts of calls made by the terrorists have revealed that their handlers in Pakistan, who were watching Indian news channels, kept them informed…. There is an urgent need to work out regulations for live coverage, especially of terror incidents…. But the government is also to blame for the chaos during the coverage of 26/11. There were no clear guidelines issued either by the defence forces or local authorities to television channels. Basic rules like keeping away journalists and the public from the site of action were not enforced….

… Following 26/11, the news broadcasters association has come up with its own ‘emergency protocol’. Now it should sit down with government representatives to draft an acceptable code of conduct for coverage of emergency situations…. (Jan 16)

The protection bill


THE Karnataka Legislative Assembly and Council are taking up … [the] Karnataka Prohibition of Violence Against and Damage to Property in Medicare Service Institutions Bill. … But … what about medicare personnel when they step out of hospital? Who or what will protect them there?

The bill is indeed important keeping in mind that it will curtail the violent behaviour of patients’ relatives or of a mob that causes inconvenience to other patients in the hospital....

Now if the bill states that the same protective laws be applied to a doctor who is off-duty then it is going to lead to misuse. … [W]hat if a doctor has a small argument with a non-medicare personnel which leads to a scuffle? Does that mean that the other person can be … jail[ed] … and fined … while the doctor gets away with a minor charge? This is not fair….

… [N]o person or property can be protected by merely enacting laws. Effective implementation is required. So [the matter] is finally in the hands of a strong and committed police and an efficient judicial system. If these two bodies are not robust, then culprits will always find ways to bypass the law and wreak havoc on other people’s lives. — (Jan 15)

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Safety of nuclear assets

By Anwar Syed

COMMENTATORS in Pakistan refer to its nuclear assets much too often and needlessly. They speak of Pakistan and India as “nuclear armed” neighbours or rivals.

This they do in spite of the fact that the entire world is aware not only of the hostility between these two countries but also that both of them possess nuclear weapons and a nuclear war in this region is not beyond the realm of possibility. Pakistani officials have felt it necessary to assure visiting foreign dignitaries that these weapons are in safe hands beyond the reach of militants and terrorists.

It may be said that these assurances are needless, for no major power has called upon Pakistan to prove to the world’s satisfaction that its nuclear assets are secure. But it is a fact also that governments and think tanks in North America and Europe have periodically expressed concern that these assets might not be secure.

Some Pakistani observers are inclined to interpret this concern as an indication of the western powers’ unwillingness to countenance a Muslim nation’s possession of nuclear weapons, emanating from their generalised disapproval of Islam both as a doctrine and a guide to conduct. This interpretation may have an element of truth, but it cannot be the main explanation of the western powers’ reservations in this regard.

The apprehension that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons might fall into the wrong hands is based on the hard fact that the ‘wrong hands’ — fanatics, militants, terrorists — do exist in this country in substantial numbers and they are doing their work. It may not be likely that they will come to power through the electoral process or otherwise seize the government. But sceptics worry also that an anti-western coalition of forces — not only the Taliban and the likes of them but also those who are sympathetic to their ideological persuasion and mission — may come to power and feel free to use the weapons under its control to the western powers’ detriment.

According to some reports, there have been indications on the part of an Islamic party that the Islamic parties in the country could be considered trustworthy guardians of its nuclear weapons if they came to power. These assurances may not be entirely credible in view of the fact that these parties have never condemned the death and destruction that the Taliban and other Islamic militants have been visiting upon this country.In my reckoning, however, it is most improbable that any radical group, Islamic or other, will take control of the government in Pakistan in the foreseeable future. Western worries concerning the security of its nuclear assets are therefore misplaced. They are based upon hypothetical calculations of that which is conceivable, not that which is probable.

It may be true that officials concerned in the American administration prepare contingency plans for immobilising, or taking control of, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the event that anti-western radicals do take power in that country. That does not mean that the occasion for these plans to be implemented will ever arise. It should be noted also that the disposition of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and their security are related to their location and the identity of those who know it.

Pakistan embarked upon a nuclear programme around 1973 and openly became a maker of nuclear weapons in May 1998. It may already have built a small number of warheads by this time. Their production is believed to have been an ongoing operation since then.The places where the US and Russia have stored their nuclear weapons are known and their security is ensured by the erection of insurmountable physical barriers and by controlling access to the sites. In Pakistan these weapons are made secure by the maintenance of strict secrecy regarding their locations. It was said at the time that President Ghulam Ishaq Khan personally supervised and directed the country’s nuclear programme. But one cannot say how much of the specifics of production and storage of weapons he knew.

Gen Pervez Musharraf established a National Command and Control Authority, consisting of some 10 members with the president and the prime minister as chairman and vice-chairman respectively, to supervise Pakistan’s nuclear programme in its various facets. But it is unlikely that all of its members know where the weapons are stored.

It is to be noted that the bombs are not stacked anywhere as completed units, their components are assembled and placed in their casings, with coded switches installed, ready to be mounted on delivery vehicles and fired. The production of a bomb consists of several different processes, each of them housed in a location (usually an army unit) known only to those responsible for carrying it out.

Those who manage one of these processes do not know where and how the other processes are going on. The components produced at these various stations are transported to a central place where they are put together. Each bomb has to have a fissile core and non-nuclear materials. The fissile core is stored in a vault by itself, apart from the other materials. This core is to be placed at the bottom of the heap in the bomb, and a coded off-on switch is installed. The weapon is then ready to be placed on a delivery vehicle and sent away. No one other than the army chief and a couple of others knows the changing location of either the components or the finished product.

It follows that a nuclear weapon is not something that a thief can put in his pocket and walk away with, or even load it on a truck and drive off. The weapons cannot really go into the wrong hands unless their custodians, the army chief and some of his top deputies, are willing to let this happen, I cannot think of any reason why the head of the Pakistan Army and his associates would be willing to transfer nuclear weapons to any outsiders. The greater likelihood is that they would want to be the ones who decide when, where and against whom these weapons are to be deployed. In the making of these choices even the president and the prime minister may have to take the back seat.

The writer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, is a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics.

anwars@lahoreschool.edu.pk

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War on plastic bags

By Randeep Ramesh

THE global battle against plastic took a draconian turn on Friday when officials in Delhi announced that the penalty for carrying a polythene shopping bag would be five years in prison.

Officials in India’s capital have decided that the only way to stem the rising tide of rubbish is to completely outlaw the plastic shopping bag. According to the official note, the “use, storage and sale” of plastic bags of any kind or thickness will be banned.

The new guideline means that customers, shopkeepers, hoteliers and hospital staff face a 100,000 rupee fine and possible jail time for using non-biodegradable bags. Delhi has been steadily filling up with plastic bags in recent years as the economy has boomed and western-style shopping malls have sprung up in the city.

There are no reliable figures on bag use, but environmentalists say more than 10 million are used in the capital every day. To begin with the ban will be lightly enforced, giving people time to switch to jute, cotton, recycled-paper and compostable bags.

Officials said that it would be up to the court to decide on how harsh a sentence an offender might face. “Delhi has a population of 16 million which means we cannot enforce [the new law] overnight,” said JK Dadoo, Delhi’s top environment official.

“But we want people to understand that they will not get away with [using plastic bags]. If they choose to defy the law repeatedly then the court has the measures necessary to fit.”

Civil servants said that punitive measures were needed after a law prohibiting all but the thinnest plastic bags — with sides no thicker than 0.04mm — was ignored. Environmentalists said these bags were too expensive as they were not made in India, and called for an injunction against all polythene.

Green groups welcomed the tough new measures . Shop-owners had long complained that no viable alternatives exist in India for plastic bags. However the authorities appeared to have been swayed by green groups, who pointed out used plastic bags were clogging drains, creating breeding grounds for malaria and dengue fever.

There is ample evidence that prohibition can work: poor countries such as Rwanda, Bhutan, Bangladesh all have bans.

The first targets in Delhi will be the industrial units that manufacture the plastic bags in the capital, which officials say will be closed down.

Bangladesh was the first country to ban plastic bags in 2002 amid worries that they were blocking drains during the monsoon. Taiwan, Australia, Rwanda and Singapore have since moved to ban, discourage or promote reuse of plastic bags, hundreds of billions of which are handed out free each year.

Towns and cities in India, the US and UK have followed. Denmark and Ireland have both experimented with taxing plastic bags. Dublin said the tax, imposed in 2002, had reduced usage by more than 95 per cent.

— The Guardian, London
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Monday
Muharram 21, 1430
January 19, 2009

Education policy


THE Pakistan Coalition for Education and Action Aid have done well to draw the government’s attention to the need for prompt action to finalise the education policy it has been working on since 2005. The problems that beset the education sector have been discussed ad nauseam. It is therefore strange that the education ministry has yet to finalise a new policy. The 2008 draft was presented in February and one of the reasons given for initiating the reform process in 2005 was that “new international challenges like Millennium Development Goals and Dakar Education For All principles as well as globalisation have gained greater momentum” and are compelling reasons for revision in policy. With the ministry dragging its feet on input from other stakeholders — especially civil society — it will not be surprising if, by the time the final draft is announced, the authorities are overtaken by many events again. One cannot question the importance of a participatory process which in the final analysis is as important as the policy itself, as pointed out by the author of the 2006 White Paper. An inclusive approach is essential to ensure the cooperation of all stakeholders on whom depends the successful implementation of any policy. But the process cannot go on endlessly as that would prove to be unproductive too. The need is to strike a balance between the time given to the dialogue and the finalisation of the policy. Failure to do so implies a lack of commitment on the part of policymakers.

The 2009 draft drawn up with the help of a Canadian consultant sponsored by Unesco gives an excellent assessment of the flaws in Pakistan’s education system. It starts with the problems of inaccessibility, inequity, gender challenge, rural-urban divide, poor quality and resource constraints, and goes on to groan about the contradictions between the private and public sectors in education. It calls for a paradigm shift in the approach to education — a move from the policy objective of serving the interests of policymakers to one benefiting the students. All this is commendable but without spelling out what the interests of the students are perceived to be, one can only expect a confusing document to emerge with every stakeholder giving his/her own interpretation of what the education goals are. Similarly, the policy speaks in sweeping terms of the ‘implementation gap’, that has been the bane of every programme conceived in this country. One cannot be certain that it will be overcome in this case either. One reason why the best of policies have run aground when it comes to implementation is pervasive corruption. Yet the policy puts emphasis on resource mobilisation without addressing adequately the problem of corruption. Will it prove to be successful?

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Well below average

A UN report has projected that Pakistan’s economic growth will fall to 3.8 per cent during the calendar year 2009 due to political uncertainties, poor law and order conditions and persisting energy shortages. The UN growth projection for Pakistan, as it appears in the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2009 report, remains well below the average growth forecast of 6.4 per cent for the South Asian region — down from last year’s robust average of seven per cent in spite of a slowdown in many regional economies. But even the measly increase in Pakistan’s domestic gross product over the next 12 months looks enviable in view of the contraction in the domestic and global demand in spite of a substantial reduction in international commodity prices over the past few months.

Global demand is suffering because of the widespread and massive financial crisis followed by economic recession in the rich countries that bought the bulk of the world’s exports. The economy in Pakistan, on the other hand, is being allowed to ‘cool down’ deliberately by raising the cost of bank credit to fight runaway inflation — a consequence of the loose monetary policy pursued by the previous government to push consumption-led growth, as well as the rise in the global food and energy prices over the last couple of years.While it is necessary to slow down domestic demand to maintain price stability and ease pressures on the country’s foreign-currency reserves and its currency, it is equally important to protect existing jobs and create new ones to prevent further increase in poverty and head off mass social unrest. But that requires the Pakistan economy to grow at a sustainable rate of at least eight per cent a year, something that appears near impossible over the next several years given the difficult economic conditions as well as infrastructure constraints, including energy and water shortages affecting industrial and farm productivity. If we don’t invest in power generation, water storages, soil fertility, rail and road communications and so on now, tomorrow’s generations will suffer for years to come — in much the same way as we are suffering as a result of the lack of adequate investment in infrastructure in the 1990s and early 2000s. The government’s economic managers perhaps don’t realise the importance and urgency of investing in the development of infrastructure. Otherwise they might have cut the government’s current expenditure, already up by above eight per cent, to bridge the fiscal deficit rather than axing development spending by a hefty 65 per cent at the cost of the people and their economy.

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Where quacks flourish

EFFECTUAL governance is essential to providing an adequate healthcare system in any country — management is key. It is the responsibility of the Pakistani government to scale up the quantity and quality of its health services for the population. However, it is distressful to note that cases of negligence abound. One such case that was brought to attention recently pertained to a female health worker who posed as a gynaecologist. Her handling of an emergency caesarean section case resulted in the death of a patient in 2006. The health worker has been convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison. This raises questions about the abundance of unqualified doctors in Pakistan which exacerbates the problem of an already abysmal state of affairs in the health sector. It would be impossible to isolate factors such as lower fees, lack of knowledge and easier access for the poor from the answer to why the business of quacks is flourishing.

Training constitutes a significant factor in what kind of doctors the country will produce. The Pakistan Medical and Dental Council has a vital role to play in this. Its goal is to lay down the minimum standards for the basic qualifications and post-graduation for doctors. The Council also lays down the necessary qualifications and experience for the appointment of the various categories of teachers in the medical/dental colleges in Pakistan. The question that must be addressed is why so many quacks are able to operate all over the country especially in areas where there is widespread poverty and illiteracy. This calls for a crackdown on such ‘medical practitioners’. The government needs to have a monitoring mechanism. It should act as a watchdog and set up regulatory bodies in every district to ensure that the population has access to qualified doctors and medical personnel. Along with monetary issues, a lack of awareness is a major cause why people are compelled to visit unqualified doctors. The onus is on the government to have health workers spread awareness and to establish proper health facilities in all rural and urban areas at subsidised rates. The health ministry should make it a top priority to save the lives of many who are vulnerable and unaware.

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OTHER VOICES - North American Press

But who will drive them?

The New York Times

THE cornucopia of hybrid and electric vehicles showcased at the North American International Auto Show this week suggests that the nation’s automakers — domestic and transplanted — have finally acknowledged the need to deliver the fuel-efficient cars and trucks for a future of expensive gas and increasing environmental pressures.

But a big obstacle remains to the greening of American drivers: the price tag. With gas prices likely to remain low as consumers grapple with recession, drivers are going to need extra motivation to swap their gas gluttons for the novel, environmentally friendly cars and trucks.

If the incoming Obama administration is serious about its commitment to boost the fuel efficiency of the American fleet, it must put in place a mix of policies, beyond tightening fuel-economy standards for carmakers, to steer drivers to the new cars.

The price of Ford’s new hybrid Fusion sedan, estimated to travel a whopping 41 miles per gallon in the city, is expected to start at more than $27,000. The Volt, General Motors’s high-profile plug-in car, could cost as much as $40,000. There are cheaper paths to environmental virtue: the Toyota Prius starts at only $22,000. And Honda’s Insight hybrid — to go on sale later this year — is expected to cost less.

Still, with gas below $2 a gallon and recession-ravaged consumers hanging tight to their wallets, even the cheaper hybrids have to compete with cars that run on boring old internal combustion engines. The Prius was the flavour of the month when gas prices soared to $4. But in December, Prius sales plummeted 45 per cent compared with the same month a year earlier — more than the 36 per cent drop in all car sales.

Do the math. At $1.66 a gallon, the average gas price assumed in the government’s 2009 energy guide, a hybrid Toyota Camry would only save the average driver about $250 a year in gas, compared with the regular Camry. But the hybrid costs $7,000 more.

A hefty gas tax would, of course, produce a strong incentive for drivers to switch to more fuel-efficient cars. But confronting a staggering economy, the Obama administration would be right to look for other options in the immediate future. The modest tax rebates offered to jump-start sales of hybrids and plug-ins starting in 2005 already have been phased out for the more popular models made by Honda and Toyota — and are slated to disappear entirely at the end of next year.

These rebates could be extended and increased. Ideally, they would be available to buyers of any car that achieved big improvements in energy efficiency, not just hi-tech vehicles. Another, more aggressive option floated last year by Alan Blinder, an economist at Princeton, would be for the government to buy up the most polluting and gas-hogging clunkers from American drivers and scrap them. That is an idea that has been tested in several states.

These ideas would fit neatly into an economic stimulus strategy, the Obama administration’s effort to save Detroit’s carmakers and its stated environmental objectives. Just hoping that American drivers will buy the fuel-efficient cars that the government wants Detroit to make is likely to achieve little. — (Jan 17)

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The South Asian stand

By Rakesh Mani

WE are now gripped by a solemn fear that the terrorist atrocity on India’s financial capital can trigger new furies across the arc of the subcontinent.

If the terrorists wanted a mobilisation of troops to the India-Pakistan border and a diversion from the pressure applied on them in Pakistan’s northwest areas, they will soon have their way if the region allows itself to be taken over by nationalist fervour.

Across the world, Indians are outraged by what they see as Pakistan’s alleged complicity. But it might well be that the terrorists, though Pakistanis, were not state-sponsored. It is a difficult fact for many Indians to accept, but the Pakistani state seems to have largely exited this ‘business’.

The fact that India held peaceful elections in Jammu & Kashmir with massive voter turnout points to this. The electoral success would not have been possible if Islamabad had sent in extremists and militants, as New Delhi believes it is wont to do.

Yes, Mumbai’s terrorists may not be state-sponsored agents but, as with other terrorists, they are indeed society-sponsored. For various reasons, Pakistan has become the global epicentre of Islamic terrorism — a problem that has serious security implications for not just India, but for Pakistan itself.

Still, we cannot afford war. It will be political and financial suicide.

Politically, launching targeted strikes against the militants’ facilities will give rise to increased public support for Pakistan’s fiery mullahs and pose a dangerous threat to the country’s stability. Economically, the prohibitive price of battle will hit hard at India’s booming economy and Pakistan’s crumbling one.

Escalating tensions need to be defused swiftly. Now more than ever, we need real statesmen to step up to the plate and act with maturity, restraint and vision. We need a realisation that India and Pakistan are in this together, one cannot succeed while the other falters. Along with a shared history and culture, we now have a shared enemy.

The only real beneficiaries of this are the right-wing religious parties. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accuses the ruling Congress party of being soft on terror. “Fight Terror. Vote BJP,” they say. Can we feign shock if an embittered India votes to sacrifice its pluralism for the sake of its security in the coming elections?

And who benefits the most from Hindu nationalists sweeping to power in India but the Islamists in Pakistan? It gives them justification as the defenders of faith. The two complete each other’s constituencies, they thrive on each other. But if we can knock them out on one side of the Wagah border, we can take the ground out from beneath their feet on the other.

But here it is the failure of Pakistan’s intellectual and social elites. Sipping cocktails comfortably in New York and London, they bemoan the government and old mindsets. But in Karachi, they won’t ever set a bold example. Back home, it’s easier to follow the rigidly conservative social diktats. Social freedoms are better exercised abroad.

They’re educated and modernised, but won’t speak out against anti-Indian rants and hard-line religious doctrine. So from the pluralist, tolerant Islam that was once the case, the country is now held captive to a puritanical version of the faith that is constantly policed by those who believe themselves to be rightly guided. Growing up with this rigid doctrine, young, ordinary Pakistanis are readily subordinating the love of the state to religiously inspired visions.

A crisis is the perfect opportunity for solutions; even radical solutions. So we cannot let this crisis go to waste. It must be used to curb a dangerous national obsession with faith, and to arrange an economic marriage in South Asia. Ultimately, this economic marriage is what will bring long-term peace and prosperity in the region. Businesses must open up across the border. When times are less tense, permits must flow for industries and investments. The impacts on the economy and on the people’s psyches will be huge.

Soon, South Asia’s businessmen will become the region’s most ardent diplomats. They will exert every pressure on their governments to avoid conflict, because conflict will hurt their commercial interests. Perhaps in the long term, the region will become one economic bloc, and share a common market and currency, along with a common culture. Divisions can break down in the face of economic cooperation.

The world has woken up to India’s economic potential. India is being courted as never before. Why should Pakistan, whose people have so much in common with Indians, not do the same? Getting riled up by old prejudices arrests us — Pakistan can only gain from an economic marriage of convenience with India. For Pakistan’s sake, and the world’s, let’s hope that wedding bells are round the corner.

The writer is a New York-based writer.

rakesh.mani@gmail.com

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Israel’s war refuseniks

By Chris McGreal

THE Israeli military has told the press there is so much support for the assault on Gaza that more soldiers have turned up to fight than have been called up for what the local media is characterising as a “righteous war”. But the fact remains that an increasing number of Israeli men of fighting age, almost all of whom are military reservists, are refusing to serve the occupation.

One resisters’ organisation, Courage to Refuse, published a newspaper advert condemning the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians and calling on soldiers to refuse to fight in Gaza. “The brutal, unprecedented violence in Gaza is shocking. The false hope that this kind of violence will bring security to Israelis is all the more dangerous. We cannot stand aside while hundreds of civilians are being butchered by the IDF [Israel Defence Force],” it said.

But it is not clear how many have refused to go to Gaza, because the army is sending people home, quietly. So far, only one reservist has been jailed for refusing to fight. No’em Levna, a first lieutenant in the Israeli army, was sent to a military prison for 14 days. “Killing innocent civilians cannot be justified,” he said. “Nothing justifies this kind of killing. It is Israeli arrogance based on logic. It’s saying, ‘if we hit more, everything will be okay’. But the hatred and anger we are planting in Gaza will rebound on us.”

Ben Mocha, who refused to go to Gaza, is hardly a pacifist or anti-Israeli. He grew up in a Jewish orthodox family, attended a religious school, and served full-time in one of Israel’s elite combat parachute units.

He says he joined the Israeli army believing he would be fighting “terror organisations”. He found himself suppressing Palestinian aspirations for freedom and putting down protests of Palestinian farmers “against the incontinent theft of their lands”. He also saw abuses, such as Israeli troops sending Palestinian women and children into houses to ensure they were not booby-trapped, and using civilians as human shields.

“I am not a pacifist. I recognise the necessity of Israel to have a strong defensive army but I’m no longer going to play a part in 40 years of occupation. I told the army I will report for training so that I can always be ready to defend Israel, but attacking Gaza and perpetuating occupation is not defending Israel.”

That is not a popular view in a country where worship of the military begins in school and many political leaders are former generals. But the war is likely to strengthen the resisters once Israelis can reflect on the scale of the killing.

In 2003, the army sent Yoni Ben Artzi to prison for 18 months for declaring himself a conscientious objector. Ben Artzi, the nephew of Binyamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister expected to return to power in the next general election, was called before a “conscience committee”, made up just of military officers. It said he was not a pacifist — on the remarkable grounds that his persistent resistance to the army was evidence of the qualities of a soldier.

He spent longer in jail than any other refusenik, but recently the military has preferred to pretend simply that dissenters don’t exist — as hundreds of soldiers and reservists signed petitions refusing to enforce the occupation.

The government was particularly embarrassed when 27 pilots said they would no longer carry out killings of Palestinian leaders in Gaza, and when a group of elite commandos refused to serve in the occupied territories.

Still that remains a minority view. “Some of my comrades from the army don’t like what I’m thinking. Some said they don’t agree but they support my right to say it. But now, with the war, they say I’m giving my unit a bad reputation,” said Ben Mocha.

He is disturbed that most of the Israeli public and much of the media is blind to the fact that hundreds of Palestinians have been cut to pieces by Israeli fire power. “In the long run, it’s not a war of defence. We are creating a thousand suicide bombers for the future from the brothers of the dead, the sons of the dead ... in the long term, we are creating more terror.”

— The Guardian, London
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Tuesday
Muharram 29, 1430
January 27, 2009

No easy solution


THE news from Swat and Muridke is the latest evidence that militancy and terrorism are a hydra that defies an easy solution. Begin with Swat. Both the armed forces and the militants are changing tactics as fighting escalates. At the moment, the militants are in the ascendant and pressing ahead with the enforcement of their version of the Sharia. The Tehrik-i-Taliban have now demanded that some 50 prominent local political figures appear before a ‘court’ to answer what will presumably be ‘charges’ of ‘opposing’ Islam, i.e. the Swati Taliban. The charade is of course little more than a thinly veiled death threat. Given the disastrous security situation in the area, the Pakistan Army claims it has developed a “new strategy” to fight the militants which involves beefing up the troops in Swat and going after militants hiding among the locals and using them as human shields. Meanwhile, in Muridke the Punjab government has taken over the Jamaatud Dawa’s headquarters and appointed an administrator to oversee the welfare operations run by the group, including schools and hospitals.

Muridke, with its pro-poor face, and Swat, with its uninhibited, brutal militants, represent the two ends of the militancy spectrum in Pakistan. The tactics for uprooting the Jamaatud Dawa/Lashkar-i-Taiba in Punjab and the TTP in Swat must therefore necessarily be different. However, there are at least two commonalities between the two very different battles.

First, no military or law enforcement action will be successful without full political support. In Swat, the TTP has successfully cowed the politicians and across the political divide there are voices questioning whether the state should use force to reassert its writ. While there can be no purely military solution to militancy, the politicians must not be bullied into appeasement. Today the TTP has a hit list of prominent Swatis; what’s to stop them from issuing another list of politicians from Peshawar or the NWFP or even Islamabad? In fact, appeasing the TTP in Swat today virtually guarantees the militants will spread their tentacles further afield in Pakistan. The same goes for the Jamaatud Dawa. If the provincial and federal governments do not work together to ensure the group is shut down for good, in all likelihood it will re-emerge later in a new form, and perhaps with an even more virulent ideology. Second, a winning counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strategy has to focus on the welfare of local populations. The Jamaatud Dawa’s welfare network must be absorbed by the state and its beneficiaries continue to get the services. Similarly, in Swat the terrorised locals must be looked after and shielded from attack. Militancy will only be defeated when the population sees the state as a protector and ally, and not as part of the problem.

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As the economy worsens


FOR the first time since 1991, Britain is “officially” in recession. It joins other major European economies on this side of the Atlantic and the United States on the other, as well as Asian economic giants like China and Japan. Everybody, save Prime Minister Gordon Brown, saw it coming. As a modern economy integrated so deeply with the global economy, Britain could not remain insulated from whatever was going on just across its borders. Even the most protected countries have started feeling the pressure. The country’s gross domestic product contracted by 1.5 per cent in the final quarter of 2008 to December, the biggest fall in GDP since 1980, compared with the previous three-month period when it contracted by 0.6 per cent. The slowdown has forced Mr Brown to plead for “renewed international help”. The opposition Conservative Party feels the nation is “running the risk” of being forced to go to the International Monetary Fund to prop up the economy, a comment the ruling Labour rejects as “‘irresponsible”.

While Mr Brown might be using “every weapon at our disposal” to fight the economic crisis, the global economic meltdown triggered by financial crisis in the United States is not going to go away before putting hundreds of thousands of people out of job worldwide and thousands of companies out of business. The repercussions of the global crisis for Pakistan could be far more serious than anticipated by our finance managers, who had until recently been insisting that we remain unexposed to the impact of this recession.

As much as our economy depends on foreign inflows in the form of investment and assistance, remittances and exports revenues to support our balance-of-payments account, the situation in Pakistan is likely to worsen — sooner than later. Foreign capital inflows have almost dried up in spite of the IMF’s approval of our macroeconomic policies, exports are sluggish and factories closing down, people are losing jobs, and workers from the Middle East and elsewhere are returning home causing fears of substantial reduction in remittances in the next six months. The recession in Britain, which is home to around 800,000 Pakistanis, can exacerbate our deteriorating economic conditions. But some expect the recessionary pressures in Britain to also force the richer Pakistani expatriates living there to invest in Pakistan’s economy. It is a reflection of our times that we are reduced to searching for such silver linings in the dark clouds.

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BBC and Gaza appeal

THE BBC argues that it cannot compromise on its commitment to impartiality. Its director general has voiced the concern that the corporation cannot be seen “as taking a political stance on an ongoing story”. But this is precisely what the BBC has done, unwittingly or otherwise, with its refusal to air an emergency appeal to raise funds for the war-ravaged residents of the Gaza Strip. Compassion in the face of acute distress is grounded not in political considerations but the morality of what it is to be human. The logic behind the ill-advised move — described variously as “weak-minded”, “feeble” or “untenable” — has rightly been slated in the British media and roundly criticised by members of the UK government. The Independent went so far as to accuse the BBC of spinelessness, of moral cowardice perhaps, implying that the broadcaster’s actions were rooted not so much in journalistic ethics but a fear of offending the Israeli government.

The BBC’s argument that it is unsure whether the funds raised will reach civilians has also been dismissed with contempt for the most part. The Disasters Emergency Committee, which issued the appeal, is an umbrella group of 13 reputable charitable organisations with proven track records of delivering aid to those who need it most sorely. As for the BBC’s claim that the corporation had previously refused to air aid appeals for Lebanon and Afghanistan, The Independent pointed out the DEC was not involved in those campaigns. The paper adds: “the fact that a committee of 13 aid agencies is able to agree [on] an appeal ought to be testimony to the degree of consensus that the humanitarian crisis is above politics.”

It remains to be seen if the BBC will change its stance. But distasteful as it is, the decision not to air the appeal might have generated more publicity — and much-needed funds for Gaza — than what might have been possible had the BBC done the right thing at the outset. The corporation’s deeply flawed reasoning has unleashed a storm of protest which will, hopefully, translate into increased contributions to a cause that is more than just.

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OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press

Kawish

War of words

THERE are hopes that a war of words between the PPP and PML-N which has been going on for the past few months will come to an end following a meeting between Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari. Though the meeting is reported to have failed to yield a positive result, progress has been reported. At this … meeting at President House, both the leading political parties which have been issuing fiery statements on … the implementation of the Charter of Democracy and the Murree Declaration … agreed to continue the political dialogue. War does not start with arms but with words. …Therefore, politicians who know the art of using words properly emerge victorious…. It is unfortunate that in our country there has been much … misuse of words…. After the installation of the present democratic government, a confrontation between the two major parties led to a new polarisation.

In this war of words, first the lower cadre and later the top leadership was involved and the situation became tense and serious. It is important that both parties check their rank and file where some unwise elements are engaged to heat up the atmosphere and push it to a point of no-return.

History is witness to this. …Before time runs out … they should be united and stand up against the undemocratic forces so that these may not harm … democracy. Both parties, in the race to gain political mileage, forgot that democracy is more important than any other issue. After … years of dictatorship when an elected government has the opportunity, why have they pushed the situation towards confrontation, proving the allegation of non-political forces that politicians are ineligible to run the affairs of the country?

The PPP and PML-N have agreed not to issue controversial statements. This should also be implemented. Whoever violates this … would be counted on the side of anti-democratic forces. In fact, this ‘ceasefire’ between the two sides is a big achievement because it will open many avenues for reconciliation.

The PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif was on record that he would not be party to efforts to destabilise the PPP government. Likewise President Asif Ali Zardari had reiterated [his willingness] to cooperate for the stability of the PML-N government in Punjab. Practically speaking, they failed to act on their words.

Now these leaders along with their political ‘army’ should go back to the position where they were before the beginning of the confrontation. This is in the best interest of democracy. — (Jan 25)

Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi.

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The threat to ME peace

By Mustafa Malik

THE Obama administration should build on the Israeli and Hamas ceasefires to promote a durable truce between them but realise that Hamas’s survival in the Gaza war has unravelled the basis of the current peace process.

Of the nearly 1,200 Palestinians killed in the war, only about 300 were Hamas fighters. And despite the havoc the Israelis wreaked on Gaza’s infrastructure and economy, they have failed to achieve their main goals: to “topple Hamas” and stop its missiles. Meanwhile, Arab states invited Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal to a summit in Qatar to discuss the Israeli invasion. Responding to Meshaal’s call for a boycott of Israel, Qatar and Mauritania have suspended trade relations with the Jewish state.

The Israeli invasion has sidelined Fatah, the secular Palestinian organisation that the Islamist Hamas has expelled from Gaza and now rules the West Bank. “This is the first time in its history that [Fatah] is neither leading nor participating in the conflict against Israel,” Qadourah Fares, a former member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told England’s Guardian newspaper.

“The Palestinian people are fighting the occupation, while Fatah is playing the role of the spectator.” Given the growing Palestinian antipathy for Fatah, it may well be that Hamas will replace it as the vanguard of the Palestinian independence movement.Hamas wouldn’t settle for a disarmed Palestine within its pre-1967 borders or renounce the Palestinian refugees’ demand for their return to Israel from where they were driven out in 1948, as Fatah would. Someday somebody will have to work out a peace model that would enable the Palestinians and Jews to share the holy land as they had for centuries before the establishment of the ethnically cleansed Israel. One doesn’t know when and at what cost in terms of the blood spilled.

As an Islamist movement, Hamas is also part of the regional struggle against foreign domination. The Gaza war has bolstered that struggle, which was galvanised by the Afghan-Soviet war of the 1980s. The Soviets’ defeat at the hands of Afghan Mujahideen was “a Eureka moment” for the Islamists, Khurshid Ahmed, a Pakistani Islamic intellectual and politician, told me in Islamabad in October 1989. If Muslim militants could roll back the world’s largest conventional military power, he said, they could one day end the American-Israeli hegemony in West Asia. During research trips in 1991, 1995 and 2007 some of my Islamist interviewees in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates echoed his assessment.

The Arab and Muslim quest for a strategy to challenge Israeli and American domination of the Middle East began right after the Six-Day War of 1967. Israel had defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. That drove home to Arabs and Muslims that their postcolonial states could not free Palestine from Israeli occupation or throw off American tutelage over other Muslim societies. A clue to effective “anti-hegemonic” struggle was revealed by the 1983 suicide attack on US military barracks in Lebanon. A single blast by an Islamist militant, which killed 241 American troops, forced the Reagan administration to call off its military intervention in that country.

A string of subsequent Muslim guerrilla successes seemed to confirm the belief that Islamist militants could overcome non-Muslim domination. Among those successes: the expulsion of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon by Hezbollah in 2000, abandonment of US bases in Saudi Arabia in the wake of 9/11, Israel’s retreat from Gaza under Hamas fire in 2005 and Israel’s failure to defeat Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War of 2006.

People don’t have organic ties to artificially created postcolonial states, which make up most of the Middle East. They have a deeper sense of belonging to their religious and ethnic communities and the urge to fight and die defending them. The Iraqi state’s army of 400,000 crumbled within days of the 2003 US invasion, but Shia and Sunni Islamic guerrillas have forced the world’s only superpower to plan for a retreat from Iraq.

Lebanon has a 61,000-strong army, 60 per cent of it Shia. And the Lebanese state lost all its many military encounters with Israel and no longer has the will to engage the Jewish state militarily. Yet, as mentioned, a couple of thousands of Shia Islamic militants under the Hezbollah banner rolled back the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and faced down the invading Israeli force in the Second Lebanon War.

The Palestinians’ is the mother of all Muslim anti-hegemonic movements. The passing of the leadership of that struggle to the Islamist Hamas will not only change the goals of the Palestinian struggle but also reinforce Islamist domination of the Muslim anti-hegemonic movements elsewhere.

Successful anti-hegemonic movements have often been propelled by religious upsurge. The American Revolution was spurred by the First Great Awakening (1730-1770). In my native Indian subcontinent, the epic struggle for independent from British colonial rule followed the Khilafat-Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1924), fuelled by Islamic and Hindu religious fervour. I suspect that US-Israeli hegemony in the Middle East will eventually be eroded by Islamist movements. Among them Hamas which has been chastened by the Gaza war.

The writer is a Washington-based columnist.

------------

New way of protest

By Jason Burke

IN one week’s time, in a supermarket somewhere in or around Paris, a couple of dozen young French activists are going to choose an aisle, unfold tables, put on some music and, taking what they want from the shelves, start a little picnic.

The group “L’Appel et la Pioche” (The call and the pick axe) will have struck again — fruit and veg, dairy or the fish counter will have been transformed into a flash protest against global capitalism, rampant consumerism, bank bail-outs, poor housing, expensive food, profit margins and pretty much everything else that is wrong in the world.

The “supermarket picnic” will go on for as long as it can — before the security guards throw the activists out or the police arrive. Shoppers will be invited to join in, either bringing what they want from the shelves or just taking something lifted lightly from among the crisps, sweets or quality fruit already on the tables.

“L’Appel et la Pioche” have struck four times so far and have no intention of stopping what they claim is a highly effective new way of protesting. “Everyone is bored with demonstrations. And handing out tracts at 6am at a market is neither effective nor fun,” said Leila Chaibi, 26, the leader of the group.

Linked to a new left-wing political party committed to a renewal of politics and activism, Chaibi’s group represents more than just a radical fringe and has been gaining nationwide attention.

A veteran of fights to get pay and better conditions for young people doing work experience, Chaibi claims to represent millions of young Frenchmen and women who feel betrayed by the system.

“We played the game and worked hard and got a good education because we were told we would get a flat and a job at the end of it. But it wasn’t true,” said Victor, 34, another member of the group. “We have huge difficulty getting a proper job and a decent apartment.”

Chaibi, who works on short-term contracts in public relations and is currently looking for work, told the Observer that the group’s aspirations were limited. “I am not asking for thousands and thousands of euros a month as a salary or a vast five-room apartment. Just something decent.”

In recent years, the problems of France’s “Generation Y” or “babylosers” have made headlines. As with many other European societies, after decades of growth, this is the first set of young people for centuries who are likely to have standards of living lower than their parents.

According to recent research, in 1973, only six per cent of recent university leavers were unemployed, currently the rate is 25-30 per cent; salaries have stagnated for 20 years while property prices have doubled or trebled; in 1970, salaries for 50-year-olds were only 15 per cent higher than those for workers aged 30, the gap now is 40 per cent. The young are also likely to be hard hit by the economic crisis.

New ways of working mean new ways of demonstrating, too. So far reactions have been good, the group claims. In one supermarket in a suburb of Paris, the activists say they got a spontaneous round of applause from the checkout workers. Elsewhere, security guards have been “friendly”. Everywhere in France, the problem of a weakening “pouvoir d’achat” — the buying power of static wages — is a cause for resentment.

With the French Socialist party in disarray, alternative forms of political protest on the left, particularly a breakaway communist faction led by charismatic postman Olivier Besancenot, have made inroads.

— The Guardian, London
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