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Old Saturday, September 06, 2008
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Saturday
Ramazan 05, 1429
September 06, 2008

Zardari’s pledge


MORE than six months have passed since the general election but no headway has been made towards restoring the 1973 Constitution to its original form. All parties are united on the need for doing away with the 17th amendment and stripping the president of the draconian powers he enjoys at the moment, including Article 58-2(b). One reason why, in spite of the consensus, this task has not been taken up in earnest is the unresolved judges issue. While the two major parties showed unity in managing to get rid of Pervez Musharraf, the continued split on the restoration of the judges seems to have distracted attention from the need for grappling with the question of presidential powers. In an article in an American newspaper Asif Ali Zardari pledged that as head of state he would support the prime minister and parliament in their efforts to trim the president’s powers. Coming from a man whose election as Pakistan’s next president is a certainty, his resolve deserves to be welcomed.

Article 58-2(b) has done enormous harm to Pakistan. First inserted into the Constitution by Ziaul Haq the clause helped the general sack Mohammad Khan Junejo, his own protégé, within three years of Junejo’s election as prime minister. Ghulam Ishaq Khan used the powers under this article twice to dismiss Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Benazir thought she was safe from the mischief of this article when she had a PPP man, Farooq Leghari, as president. But that did not prevent Leghari from dismissing a prime minister who enjoyed a majority in the national assembly. Nawaz Sharif did away with 58-2(b), but Musharraf had it restored. The clause lays down the caveat that the president will use it only when he is certain that the government is no longer functioning in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. But Zia, Ishaq and Leghari used it for political reasons. The misuse of 58-2(b) led to four general elections in nine years, without giving the country political stability. There are other powers which also rightfully belong to the prime minister but which are now vested in the president. These powers include the appointment of Supreme and High Court judges and service chiefs. Once elected president Zardari must quit the party but it goes without saying that he will continue to influence the levers of the PPP’s policy-making apparatus. One hopes that once he is firmly in the saddle at the President House and his party overcomes the crisis in its relationship with the PML-N his commitment to make himself a titular head of state will not waver.

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Right plans, wrong priorities


THE government has constituted two committees to recommend measures to cope with economic challenges under the five-year development plan and prepare a roadmap for human development. Earlier, in May, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani constituted an economic advisory council to formulate a reforms agenda and recommend policies to steer the country out of the current crisis. So now we have in all three committees, comprising a total of 39 members, mostly well-known economists, sociologists, businessmen, bankers, administrators, researchers, politicians and civil servants of proven ability. These committees between them comprise the best brains in the country in their respective fields. But if one went back to the inaugural days of every incoming government in this country over the last six decades one would find that without fail every one of them resorted to this practice only to consign these committees to inaction quickly and file their reports unseen. There must be hundreds of such reports gathering dust in government warehouses.

So, lest these new committees try to reinvent the wheel or waste time and the taxpayers’ money in repeating an exercise already done, it is important that they are first asked to go over the old reports, which contain significant contributions by many members of the three new committees. It is also important for these committees to keep in mind that we are past masters in preparing excellent socio-economic plans but utter failures when it comes to implementing these plans. Remember our second five-year plan that the South Koreans adopted and quickly left us at least three decades behind? The wide gap between the promises made in our plans and the reality on the ground actually reflects the divergence between the social premise on which the plans are built and the increasing demand on resources by a state obsessed with security. In order to escape this unfortunate legacy we must decide without further loss of time what we are: a security state or a social welfare state? Did Pakistan come into being to remain perpetually in a state of war or to better the socio-economic lot of Muslims of South Asia? If we continue to plan for a social welfare state but spend most of our resources in purchasing ever more sophisticated weapons we will for ever remain dependent on dole.

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Academic year complexities

THE academic year of first-year students at Karachi’s government colleges has been shortened by no fault of the students. This is in contrast to not only the rest of Pakistan but the world where classes are held, on average, for over 200 days in an academic year. Even if the placement of students in the city’s 123 government colleges under the Centralised Admission Policy (CAP) is finalised by September 15, classes will not start before October 6. It takes a number of days after placement lists are issued for colleges to complete the admission process. Given the starting date and public holidays, the academic year is expected to be compressed to 130 days as against the desired 210 days. Why should the Karachi students suffer?

The slow, cumbersome process has been the undoing of the Karachi first-year students. Though the process began on Aug 5, submission of forms was delayed because most of the admission seekers received their matriculation transcripts late and could not submit their applications. How can the selection process begin in a timely manner when the results were not available on time? Furthermore, forms for the placement of candidates in government colleges were in short supply. Many citizens contacted newspaper offices to complain that several designated bank branches in various localities of the city were running short of forms. With the entire system marred by structural weaknesses delays have become inevitable. The slow-paced procedures need to be rectified if students are not to suffer because of inefficiency. As far as the admission procedure is concerned students generally rank their choice institutions in order of preference and submit their transcript to the government for evaluation. What should have been a fairly simple procedure has become the bane of the system. The lesson? If results are not issued promptly and forms are not made available in time, the process cannot be completed in a timely manner. A shortened academic year will leave students struggling to complete coursework, affecting the quality of education in the business hub of Pakistan. With the large number of holidays — scheduled and unscheduled — affecting the span of the academic year, one cannot take this matter lightly. Holidays must now be slashed to salvage the academic year.

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Deciding for others

By Najma Sadeque

URBANITES owe much to independent television. It has played a key role in informing and aiding political mobilisation. For those with little or no education, it has been a crash course in democracy.

Yet television pulls its punches over grassroots issues similar to the government’s ‘hands-off policy’ where feudal politicians rule the roost and where independent channels are still not allowed to penetrate. So all we’re left with is an attempted urban democracy, where the media gives labour some voice and visibility, but doesn’t quite advocate equal rights and representation.

The enforced silence of entire communities, villages and tribes on exploitation, inhumanity and violence — notwithstanding the independent media cacophony that does not reach the countryside — is shocking. It amounts to being the chilling silence of the lambs which constitutes the real picture of Pakistan’s society and polity. For the masses, little has changed. Pakistan has never been a democracy even in its several short-lived democratic experiments. In our context, democracy can only be defined as being exclusive to men and male priorities, with focus on the interests of the middle and upper classes.

In some societies, one of the unwritten qualifications of a worthy male political representative is both the status of the womenfolk in his family, and that of his employees, whether peasants, factory workers or household servants. It can be very revealing where double standards are the norms. A man may be publicly pious, even good to his wife and daughters, yet viciously maintain bonded labour in chains.

Rights are not confined to basic wages and utilities. They also demand just redistribution and allocation of resources so that everyone can have a minimum acceptable start in life, since a just society is not possible under local or national monopolies and cartels. The obvious now needs to be spelt out explicitly in the constitution. Too many politicians separate political rights from human rights as if the latter were optional luxuries under lofty UN conventions only to be given lip service.

Giving people a once-in-a-while chance to cast a vote does not in itself constitute democracy. It merely offers them a narrow, pre-selected choice over leadership. But they cannot determine how and to what degree that leadership will deliver equal rights to citizens. A problematic matter indeed given that absolute power corrupts absolutely!

The road for suffering citizens to their parliamentarians in search of relief is long and convoluted. Real priorities tend to get skewed or suppressed. People do not even get heard. The irony is that a feudal is assigned the task of representing the interests of landless peasants and smallholders; that major business or industrial interests claim to speak for labour which doesn’t even receive minimum wages and facilities to give him dignity; and that an over-generalised GDP and export earnings are made the criteria of a country’s ‘success’ rather than health, livelihood, education, nutrition and comfort of the masses.

The presence of women in parliament is often flaunted as major ‘progress’. It may be so for them personally, but what has it gained for women at large? Domestic violence is accepted as a norm, and women continue to be murdered to assuage dubious male ‘honour’, while politically-connected culprits manage to go scot-free even if some lesser mortals do not. Action is seen to be taken only when an incident gets inadvertently exposed. There are no pre-emptive steps. The police serve the powerful, not the people.

The Balochistan incident of shooting, then burying the victims alive (although refuted by the police) wasn’t the first case of extreme violence against women in this country. Violence against women could fill a gruesome bestseller on Pakistan’s shameful track record, including that of presenting scapegoats as culprits to face the death penalty or the hapless hit-man forced to kill under orders. Laws are subject to interpretations of convenience. Economic exploitation is not even questioned as undemocratic. Justice has to be purchased through the courts and lawyers through a process that dooms the poor who mostly are deemed guilty unless they can prove their innocence.

Any government, even the most inept, can make laws. But the best of paper laws are of no use to people without implementation in a timely manner, not after the victims have died.

The prime minister may have been chosen by the leading political party under the rules, but ultimately he has to be the prime minister of all citizens, not just of his party members and followers. He should therefore be non-partisan in the public interest. Mr Gilani has been as admirable as he has been likeable in that respect until recently when he undertook the unbecoming duty of canvassing for a presidential candidate. That compromised his neutrality as a prime minister of the people.

Even otherwise, long before the prime minister’s independence was nipped in the bud and reduced to a token, the party appeared to be reduced to a civilian dictatorship, already being reflected in governance. The takeover by a single person who has never been known to be a party man or even seen by the side of the late chairperson over the past seven years, and who as a consequence of his past opportunistic stint in government, creates only doubts about his credibility and reliability as president, raising serious misgivings for the future. There are means to unilaterally dump a prime minister but none to dispense with an unsatisfactory president.

By marginalising party members respected for their integrity and contribution, competition has been forcibly done away with — with, shockingly, no protest from fellow members. It begs the question: what was the price paid? This party badly needs to hold up a mirror and see itself the way the people view it — with disapproval. For the moment, the cat seems to have got the members’ tongues, as they echo everything sounded from the empty drum of the head honcho.

Again and again, Ms Bhutto’s history and role is held up as reason for immediate family members to take up the reins. But second-generation life-chairmanship and arbitrary co-chairmanship until an imposed head is of the required age and maturity, is not democratic; it is carefully crafted cultism. As such, expectations are nil from an expected-to-be president who avoids public debate on people’s issues, knowing he cannot knowledgeably or competently engage in public debate, and relying on a not-so-representative numbers’ game instead.

If all this spells little hope for the ordinary male citizen, there is none whatsoever for the women. Until civil society creates parties that represent the majority and exclude entrenched interests, nothing will change.

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IRA is dissolving

By Henry McDonald

THE IRA’s ruling body, the army council, no longer has an army to command and control. British Northern Ireland secretary, Shaun Woodward, says that the IRA was dissolving after a politically sensitive report by the International Monitoring Commission, the organisation charged with overseeing the Provisionals’ (IRA) ceasefire.

The commission reported on Thursday that the IRA’s seven-man army council had fallen into “disuse,” but there would be no formal announcement of its being disbanded. Responding to the IMC’s 19th report, Woodward said: “I would go further and say this: is there an army for the army council to direct? It now seems according to this report there is not.”

Privately, the British and Irish governments accept the IRA cannot publicly announce its ruling body has been dissolved because it fears that its base would feel humiliated. Such a move would also leave it open to charges of selling out to unionists by dissident republicans.

In its latest report, the IMC said: “The mechanism which they [the IRA] have chosen to bring the armed conflict to a complete end has been the standing down of the structures which engaged in the armed campaign, and the conscious decision to fall into disuse.”

It added: “Now that that campaign is well and truly over, the army council by deliberate choice is no longer operational or functional.” The report’s authors also exonerated the IRA as an organisation from involvement in non-terrorist crimes, although it accepted some of its individual members or ex-members may be engaged in “ordinary” criminal activity.

Overall, the ceasefire monitoring commission said the IRA posed no threat to peace or the democratic process. It said it saw “no grounds” for believing that the IRA and its membership could return to “war”.

The Irish government emphasised the significance of the IMC’s conclusion that the IRA not only did not intend to return to war, but was also now incapable of doing so.

“This report demonstrates not only that PIRA (Provisional IRA)has gone away, but that it won’t be coming back. The IMC could not have been more unequivocal in its conclusion that the Provisional movement is now irreversibly locked into following the political path,” Dermot Ahern, Ireland’s justice minister, said.

The latest report is crucial, given the current pressures on the Northern Ireland power-sharing government.

— The Guardian, London

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OTHER VOICES - Sri Lankan Press

Intra-party squabbles

Daily Mirror

PARTY politics in this country has entered such an interesting phase that these parties have begun to pay greater attention to the squabbles in rival parties than to the rifts plaguing their own parties. The fact remains that almost all our political parties are afflicted with internal strife. It is, however, the UNP’s domestic friction that has currently attracted much public and media attention.

The rival parties and their media (appendages) while making all efforts to exaggerate the conflicts look for opportunities of enticing disgruntled members to their parties…. Although some parties attempt to hide their internal conflicts, it is not easy in the present context of advanced information technology that provides the country’s vibrant media with eyes and ears to pry into what goes on in any sphere of activity, periodic and cowardly attacks on them notwithstanding. Yet some parties with strict discipline succeed in preventing their conflicts [from] reaching the public glare.

The JVP, for instance, managed to project a façade of absolute unity for a long time until the departure of its propaganda secretary…. The JVP’s latest demonstration of its disciplinary control over its members also merits attention and commendation…. This indeed is a good example to be followed by all parties that expect good political conduct from members.The current UNP squabble … the much needed grist for the pro-government media mill … is often given full coverage.... Wednesday’s party deliberations were also given the usual treatment causing maximum damage to the party and its leader. However, this media treatment cannot be objected to when such deliberations are conducted in public with the media allowed to cover the event. As [the] media minister … pointed out … the media should be permitted to carry out its function of informing the public unhindered…. [T]he minister also stressed that nobody has the right to take the law into his or her hands even if media personnel act in violation of the law. The correct action … he pointed out, should be to seek the assistance of law enforcement authorities….

Comments being made on … conflicts by party activists show their impatience in placing their party in the seats of power. This impatience is understandable if the parties opposing the government have clear-cut alternative policies for solving the burning problems and taking the country forward to progress…. On the contrary there appears to be no major differences in party policies. Both sides, for instance, are for eliminating terrorism as a priority need and solving the national problem through a political formula.

The UNP now agitates for a general election. Are they really ready for such an election? What they must do first is to put their house in order and put their heads together in formulating a clear plan for resolving the national conflict if they are not prepared to go along with the APRC process. The urgent need today is for all parties to place the country above partisan interests as they often vow to do. — (Sept 5)
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Old Sunday, September 07, 2008
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Sunday
Ramazan 06, 1429
September 07, 2008

President Zardari


IT’S official: Asif Ali Zardari will be the new president of Pakistan. The result of the indirect election was never in doubt given the majority that the PPP and its allies have in the presidential electoral college. However, other doubts do hang over the next president. On Election Day, everyone had at least one eye on the Punjab Assembly, where the votes for Mr Zardari were billed by many analysts as a de facto vote of no-confidence in the PML-N government. For now a fresh political crisis appears to have been averted as the PML-N candidate, Justice (Retd) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, earned 201 votes — comfortably above the 186 required to secure a majority in the Punjab Assembly.

The second doubt concerns Mr Zardari himself. There have been more controversial presidents in the past — indeed, the last occupant of the presidency, Gen Musharraf, was almost universally unpopular — but none has been as controversial as Mr Zardari at the time of assuming office. The catalogue of allegations against him is well-known and every sordid detail has been raked up since his bid for the presidency was announced. While the past cannot be erased — NROs notwithstanding — what Mr Zardari needs to do is to dispel the impression that he is a political wheeler-dealer who is adept at making backroom deals but unable to rise to the requirements of statesmanship. The president-elect’s performance since Feb 18 has highlighted precisely this deficiency. Mr Zardari was able to ease President Musharraf out of office but at the cost of trust in his public commitments.

That trust deficit is significant because Mr Zardari has renewed his pledge to pare down the extraordinary, anti-parliament powers of the president. If Mr Zardari fails to keep his word again his credibility and democratic credentials will be in tatters. It is in any case questionable how much Mr Zardari can now do to make parliament supreme. As president, with a PPP-led government in parliament, Mr Zardari, regardless of his legal powers, will be the de facto centre of politics — rendering real parliamentary supremacy unattainable. But this is only another reason for Mr Zardari to give up 58-2(b) and the right to appoint service chiefs, governors and judges of the superior judiciary — it’s the absolute minimum he can do to correct the structural imbalance amongst the institutions of the state.

The third question mark over Mr Zardari is his ability to steer the country out of the economic and militancy crises. On the economic front, it is a fact that the PPP-led coalition government in Islamabad inherited a wobbling economy; however, it is also a fact that the PPP-led government, now in the sixth month of its existence, has not arranged any significant amount of money to prop up the economy. As president, Mr Zardari must urgently lobby friendly governments and international agencies for quick money on comfortable terms. The militancy crisis too has worsened. Most dangerously, the Americans appear to have lost patience with Pakistan and are launching regular strikes in the tribal areas. With fuel supplies to Isaf forces in Afghanistan now suspended, relations between the US and Pakistan are at their lowest ebb since 9/11. Mr Zardari must use his new office to immediately defuse this crisis — bravado aside, it is simply too dangerous to have the Americans breaking down the door to Pakistan. It was Mr Zardari’s right to become president; it is the people’s right to expect leadership from him now.

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Time to act


THE Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Ordinance, 2007 which became law last year is now under threat. It has been reported that a bill to introduce amendments in the ordinance has been sent for consideration to the National Assembly’s standing committee on health. According to reports some of the changes envisaged will, if adopted, nullify all that was achieved last year after a concerted struggle by transplantation experts and civil society. Just before the ordinance was promulgated, Pakistan had emerged as a flourishing haven for organ tourism. In the absence of any legal checks, unethical medical professionals and unscrupulous middlemen were running a Rs1.5bn trade exploiting the poverty of the indigent who were persuaded by circumstances to sell their organs for a pittance. The exorbitant amounts obtained from the wealthy, but desperately ill, went into lining the pockets of some doctors and their agents. This shocking commercialisation of health brought disgrace to the country in international medical circles.

The ordinance was a move in the right direction. It won international approval because it categorically banned the sale of human organs, forbade financial compensation and adopted a stringent definition of “blood relatives” while laying down the regulatory framework for deceased organ donation to promote the concept of cadaveric transplantations. True, there have been teething troubles in plenty especially with the registration of transplantation centres. But by and large the ordinance did succeed in discouraging organ trade while cases of legalised organ transplantation showed a remarkable increase. SIUT, the largest transplantation centre in Pakistan, registered an increase of 166 per cent within a year in the organs transplanted — free of cost. Reports of the changes being sought are stunning. They have broadened the definition of “blood relatives” to include virtually anyone. Compensation will be allowed if sanctioned by the evaluation committee — in effect it means there will be no bar. Worst of all, foreigners will be allowed “in limited numbers” to visit Pakistan for organ transplantation. If the amendments are carried through, we shall be back to square one as far as organ transplantation is concerned. The time to act is now if the health sector is to be spared the evil of commercialisation.

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Much to answer for


THE mystery surrounding Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist who went missing five years ago from Karachi, has been partially resolved. She has been indicted by a US attorney in New York on charges of attempted murder and assault on US officials. She has not been formally charged as she refused to appear in court. Although Dr Siddiqui’s present whereabouts are now known — saving her family the agony of hunting for a missing member — this does not reveal much of what befell her in the intervening years. She surfaced in July 2008 when she was taken into custody by the Americans in Afghanistan. It is still a mystery how she landed in Afghanistan and whether she was picked up by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. Was she a victim of the ‘extraordinary rendition’ the US has been resorting to? No charges of terrorism have been brought against her, though we were being told all along that Dr Siddiqui was an Al Qaeda operative.

What is one to make of all this? The Pakistan government has much to answer for. Under law no one can be taken into custody and be handed over to another government without proper extradition proceedings. No charges were proved against Dr Siddiqui. Mr Musharraf himself admitted in his memoirs that Pakistan earned millions by handing over ‘terrorists’ to the Americans. The fact is that what happened to Dr Siddiqui is apparently what is termed as ‘involuntary’ or ‘forced’ disappearance under international law. Doesn’t the government know that the UN has adopted a convention to protect people from enforced disappearance which is recognised as one of the most heinous crimes against huma-nity? It makes it obligatory on governments to disclose to the families the whereabouts of persons they detain only after observing proper legal processes. Their guilt or innocence is another matter.

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New trends in global politics

By Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

RUSSIA’S recent move to send its troops into Georgia in support of the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia has given rise to a new debate at the international level about the Russian role.

Should this be treated as a neighbourhood-specific effort to punish the defiant pro-West Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili? Is this the beginning of a new Russian global profile of challenging American bids to establish pre-eminence in almost all regions of the world, especially in Russia’s neighbourhood?

Russia may have both objectives in mind, with a greater focus on destabilising the defiant Georgian government that is working incessantly to cultivate the West, especially the United States, giving them a foothold on Russia’s borders. However, if the objective was to dislodge Saakashvili, this has not so far been achieved and he appears determined to cultivate the West.

Russia wants to maintain a strong military pressure on Georgia despite strong protests by the US, the UK and other leading western countries. It has not only refused to withdraw its troops from Georgian territory but has also created security rings around South Ossetia and Abkhazia to protect them from Georgia’s military attack. Russia went one step further by formally recognising these territories as independent entities. It has also promised them military assistance to deter the US from supporting Georgia’s possible military action against them.

Georgia severed diplomatic relations with Russia on Aug 29, 2008. Russia responded by doing the same. This is the first instance of a formal break-up of diplomatic relations between Russia and its former republic.

The present crisis began in early August when Russia dispatched its troops to Georgia, declaring that Georgia had violated ceasefire arrangements with South Ossetia. It pushed back Georgian troops from the vicinity of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, thereby neutralising whatever control the Georgian government had over these regions.

The people in South Ossetia and Abkhazia have strong ethnic linkages with their counterparts living in Russia. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 they expressed solidarity with Russia in order to maintain close links with their co-ethnic people living in Russia. As these territories border Russia, it encouraged separatist tendencies. Russia may like the breakaway regions to join it. They would have to depend heavily on Russia for their survival.

Problems between Russia and Georgia arose because of the divergent disposition of the two governments about regional and global issues. Russia continues to view its former republics as its domain of interest, especially those sharing a border with it. It does not want the West, especially the US, to establish its military presence or strong economic influence in the Russian ‘sphere of interest’.On the other hand, Georgia’s current president, Mikheil Saakashvili, is known for his pro-West leanings and he plans to join Nato. The United States encourages Georgia to distance itself from Russian influence and is attempting to establish its foothold in Georgia and other states in the vicinity of Russia.

Another development that perturbed Russia is the US and Nato decision to install missiles in Poland and a radar facility in the Czech Republic between 2011 and 2013, ostensibly to defend Europe from the long-range missiles of ‘rogue states’ like Iran and North Korea. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Poland on Aug 19, 2008 to sign an agreement with the Polish government on the installation of missiles.

The US and other western states demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgian territory. The American secretary of state and the British foreign secretary visited Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, to assure their support to Georgia. They have taken a strong exception to Russia’s recognition of Georgia’s separatist regions because it amounted to negating the territorial integrity of Georgia. Neighbouring Ukraine also expressed concern at the Russian action.

Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, are convinced that all these moves — plans to establish a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic and efforts to win over Georgia’s president — are aimed at restricting Russia’s foreign policy options and building security pressure.Therefore, Russian leadership intends to apply strong military pressure on Georgia to force its government to give up the idea of cultivating the West as well as warn the US to stop penetrating its neighbourhood. It also wants to discourage the US from extending military support to Georgia for launching military action against the separatist regions.

Russia is also expected to increase its opposition to American policies elsewhere. It will oppose American bids to apply more economic and military pressures on Iran. It may also take exception to the Nato and American military presence in Afghanistan. However, Russia’s choices are quite limited in Afghanistan. It does not view Islamic militants as its friends.

Georgia has got entangled in the high-stakes politics of the US and Russia. The US and the European states want to encircle Russia by developing economic and security ties with its former republics and thus contain its bid to return to an active global role. Russia has somewhat recovered from the economic and political setback of the 1990s and wants to retrieve its influence at the global level. It is slowly emerging on the regional and global scene to challenge America’s pre-eminent role.

The Georgia episode has another implication for global politics. It has caused insecurity among the smaller states situated in the vicinity of big powers. It is clear from this incident that the major states do not want the smaller states in their immediate neighbourhood to engage in autonomous decision-making on domestic and foreign policy affairs. These smaller states are expected to accommodate the security sensitivities of the powerful states. The latter can apply military, economic and diplomatic pressures to change the disposition and policy options of such states. If the Russian-backed secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia materialises, this will be a matter of concern for smaller and weaker states that face dissident movements and internal strife.

The US and the EU will support Georgia to the extent it serves their global agenda of containing the rise of Russia as a countervailing force. They will rely mainly on diplomatic and economic strategies to push out Russia from Georgia. Russia may be inclined to do so if its concerns in the neighbourhood are respected. The US will avoid any direct military confrontation with Russia and will not favour a return to the old-style Cold War.

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Fight for female votes

By Ewen MacAskill

JOHN McCain shrugged off a poor prime time speech to the Republican convention on Thursday night to begin an aggressive play for the votes of the working class and women, heading off on Friday on the campaign trail with his running mate, Sarah Palin, for the first time.

The Road to Victory tour sets the stage for an epic battle for a newly identified swing constituency of working mothers — the hockey moms. Next week the Republicans and Democrats will go head to head for women’s votes in Florida, a potentially decisive state. McCain and Palin hope to peel away Democratic and independent women voters impressed by the Alaska governor’s unusual resume and her electrifying performance at the Republican convention on Wednesday.

Barack Obama will counter by sending Hillary Clinton to Florida on Monday, her third visit in two weeks, to try to shore up support among Democratic women. He will send Democratic women governors and senators, such as the Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, to other battleground states.

The fight for women’s votes, coming after the party conventions, marks the start of the final phase of the two-year election campaign — the 60-day sprint to November 4.

McCain and Obama are battling for women disenchanted with the Democrats’ failure to nominate Clinton and for blue-collar votes in battleground states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, where McCain and Palin campaigned on Friday, and Pennsylvania, where Obama and his running mate Joe Biden spent the day.

Palin remains a controversial choice. The McCain team, nervous about an unguarded remark by her, appear intent on minimising her contact with the media, insisting she would give few interviews during the campaign.

The McCain camp is working hard to get a sympathy vote for Palin as a victim of sexism. McCain sent an email to supporters in which he lashed out at Democratic operatives who have “stooped lower than anyone could have imagined” in questioning Palin’s experience and discussing her pregnant teenage daughter.

McCain failed to rise to the occasion on Thursday night when he delivered his acceptance speech. He did not match Obama’s soaring rhetoric the previous week or even Palin’s feisty, sarcastic delivery on Wednesday night.

While he won several standing ovations as he related his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, the overall reaction was muted with long passages of his speech listened to in near silence.

— The Guardian, London

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OTHER VOICES - Indian Press

Burden of being a civilian

The Sangai Express


...IN Manipur the most dangerous thing to be is a civilian.... For any act of commission or omission by government agencies or non-state actors, the ugly fallout has to be borne by civilians and nothing illustrates this better than the latest ... decision taken by the government to keep all routes leading to the official residence of the chief minister and VIP areas out of bounds for civilians everyday from 6 pm till 7 am the next day.

The decision comes in the backdrop of the audacious attack launched by the proscribed PREPAK on the residence of the chief minister.... In the face of such an attack, it is natural that security be beefed up for the chief minister as well as other VIPs but the manner in which the government has decided to go about it is disgusting and an insult....

If all routes [to] the CM’s residence are to be blocked ... then may we suggest that the CM’s bungalow be moved to Leimakhong...? ...[T]he bomb attack ... was a clear case of security lapses. It was a case of the failure of the intelligence agencies to gather information. It was a failure of the state agencies to keep alert. ...

Instead of studying how the loopholes can be plugged the government has come out with the grand idea of shunting out all civilians from the roads leading to the CM’s residence and VIP areas.... — (Sept 3)

Killing the deal

The New Indian Express


...[T]HE nuclear deal has encountered a near-fatal obstruction because of the US State Department’s ‘secret’ letter on the damaging consequences of a Pokhran-type test by India. Yet, there is nothing surprising about the assertion that the deal will be off if there is a test as this restriction is an integral feature of US policy. ...If complications have ... arisen, the reason is that the Indo-US agreement tried to fudge the issue by spelling out an elaborate consultative process in the event of a test. ...

That there are influential lobbies eager to kill the deal is evident from the revelation of the ‘secret’ missive on the eve of the second round of the [Nuclear Suppliers Group] meeting. As it is, a ‘clean’ waiver from the objectors — Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and New Zealand — was going to be difficult to obtain. Now, they will be justified in saying that the State Department’s points should be incorporated in the final draft.

Although ... an underground ‘implosion’ is no longer essential since technological upgrades can be carried out via laboratory simulation, the political imperatives make it difficult for any government to accept restrictions imposed by others.

A voluntary moratorium ... is alright. But it would be politically suicidal for the ... government to bow to dictates from abroad. ... — (Sept 5)
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Ramazan 07, 1429
September 08, 2008

Deteriorating ties

IS America a friend or foe? If that is ambiguous today, there is no doubt the coming days will settle the issue one way or the other. Distrust has been building up between the leader of the war on terror and the “frontline state” for years. It centres on America’s belief that Pakistan is not doing enough and that elements in the ISI are helping the Taliban. Consequently, American leaders, including President Bush, threatened to act unilaterally in Fata if “actionable intelligence” were available. The threat was translated into action in full force in South Waziristan last week. The strong reaction in Pakistan and the condemnatory resolution passed by parliament seem not to have mattered with Washington, for it has launched more attacks since then. The future is even murkier, since the US and its allies are likely to react angrily to Pakistan’s decision to suspend fuel supply to the coalition forces in Afghanistan. These developments need to be studied against the barrage of anti-Pakistan statements in Washington, especially the venom exhibited by a man who could be America’s next president.

In a TV interview Barack Obama complained that the Bush administration had “wasted” the $10bn it gave in aid to Pakistan. He said that aid should not have been given without strings attached, and that Islamabad was receiving American military aid to prepare for war with India. Irrespective of the absurdity of the last charge, Pakistan has to wake up to the danger to its security if Obama makes it to the White House. His statement coincides with US press reports which quote Pentagon officials as saying that cross-border raids are not only necessary, more such raids could follow. Talking to German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung, Gen Tariq Majid, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, said Pakistan reserved the right to “appropriately retaliate” against such raids. While one can understand his anger, it is very obvious that Pakistan can do very little by way of retaliation.

The truth is we are in a foreign policy mess. Worse still, there is hardly a government which could adequately articulate Pakistan’s position on the issue and steer the ship of the state out of stormy waters. The protracted constitutional/political crisis is taking its toll, and there is no doubt governments hostile to this country have taken into account Pakistan’s political instability while drawing up their schemes. It is time Islamabad sorted out its relationship with Washington. Unfortunately, America too will be unable to take major foreign policy decisions until the next administration takes over. The least the Pakistani leadership can do in the meantime is to set its house in order.

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In need of energy policy

CIRCULAR debt is the latest stranglehold that has gripped the national energy sector. At first glance Islamabad’s plan to deduct unpaid electricity bills at source in its dealings with the defaulting provincial governments as well as federal and provincial agencies may look like a practical resolution of the crisis. A deeper look into the mechanics of the proposed arrangement, however, makes it look otherwise. With most of the defaulting agencies already facing a cash crunch, the deduction will have the potential to cause serious aggravation on several counts while resolving a single issue. Expecting public-sector organisations to be astute in their monetary conduct to manage the deductions will only be unwise. The federal government itself has too poor a record in terms of fiscal responsibility and debt limitation to ensure responsible behaviour at the provincial and local tiers. To manage automatic deductions at source, the affected entities will most likely do what they are best known for doing: approach the banks. Years of this vicious cycle has taken us nowhere except where we are. Continuing with that will only take us further in that direction, with the common man suffering the most on account of the inflationary trends that government malpractices trigger.

Ever since the new government took over, it has been trying one fancy way after another of passing the burden to the consumers. From extended load-shedding and inflated bills to ambiguous GST adjustments, the dice is loaded against the masses. Adding to their misery are streetlights that no one bothers to switch off even during daytime. Such blatant displays of official slackness only cause loss of hope in those running the system. The impending raise in power tariff will expedite that process.

On a broader scale, the government has also disappointed many by not coming out strongly about the need to redesign the country’s energy mix. The only alternative energy plan has so far related to coal and that too has more political connotations than actual intent. In any case, talking of coal-based energy from Thar, while refusing to optimise the already functional Lakhra mine is hardly the stuff of visionaries. According to targets set by the Alternative Energy Development Board, the country will have around 300-350MW on the national grid by 2011, which is less than 10 per cent of the current shortfall. What the country needs immediately is a well-defined energy policy that sets priorities in line with global trends. As things stand today, the government pledge to eliminate load-shedding by the next year is nothing more than a self-deluding fantasy.

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Class consciousness


PUBLIC welfare is far from the militants’ agenda and their brand of faith. From denying polio vaccination to young children to depriving girls of their right to education, they do soldier on but certainly not in the name of humanity. Reports say that school-going children have been jammed between the militants and security forces for a year as scores of schools have either been razed to the ground or occupied by radicals or security forces to take positions against each other. Shockingly, students and school owners claim that the past 10 months have seen the destruction of over 125 girls’ schools, robbing more than 14,000 girls of education, and perhaps a self-reliant future. On the other end, Swat’s district education department officials maintain that 99 schools have turned to rubble, affecting 25,000 students. Meanwhile, schools that are operative have poor attendance as unannounced curfews threaten the lives of children and tutors. Reports also point to the still dormant dangers of out-of-school adolescents for whom the emptiness of their days, created by the absence of extracurricular activities and an academic routine, is causing them to be propelled towards militancy.

Unicef has pledged to rebuild 95 schools after Ramazan. But the question, however, is an old one: can the government not make alternative arrangements for these children so that their academic years are not squandered? NGOs and government departments would do well to depute personnel who are able to conduct classes in makeshift set-ups that are provided with ample security — a crucial prerequisite for Unicef endeavours as well. So far, very little has addressed the issue of subsidised materials for reconstruction and compensation for school administrations which will enable them to distribute textbooks, stationery, uniforms as well as equip their own premises. Undeniably, the turmoil is setting countless students back by years therefore continuation of syllabi must become a priority for officials and human rights groups. It has to be remembered that this is a scarred generation fraught with the collapse of social security and mental agony. Hence, new educational environments have to focus on their mental rehabilitation with in-house counsellors.

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OTHER VOICES - North American Press

The real John McCain

The New York Times

BY the time John McCain took the stage on Thursday night, we wondered if there would be any sign of the senator we long respected — the conservative who fought fair and sometimes bucked party orthodoxy.

Certainly, the convention that nominated him bore no resemblance to that John McCain. Rather than remaking George W. Bush’s Republican Party in his own image, Mr McCain allowed the practitioners of the politics of fear and division to run the show.Thursday night, Americans mainly saw the old John McCain. He spoke in a moving way about the horrors he endured in Vietnam. He talked with quiet civility about fighting corruption. He said the Republicans “had lost the trust” of the American people and promised to regain it. He decried “the constant partisan rancour that stops us from solving” problems.

But there were also chilling glimpses of the new John McCain, who questioned the patriotism of his opponents as the “me first, country second” crowd and threw out a list of false claims about Barack Obama’s record, saying, for example, that Mr Obama opposed nuclear power. There was no mention of immigration reform or global warming, Mr McCain’s signature issues before he decided to veer right to win the nomination.

In the end, we couldn’t explain the huge difference between the John McCain of Thursday night and the one who ran such an angry and derisive campaign and convention — other than to conclude that he has decided he can have it both ways. He can talk loftily of bipartisanship and allow his team to savage his opponent.

What makes that so vexing — and so cynical — is that this is precisely how Mr Bush destroyed Mr McCain’s candidacy in the 2000 primaries, with the help of the Karl Rovian team that now runs Mr McCain’s campaign….

On Wednesday, the nastiest night of the week, Mr McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, and other speakers offered punch lines, rather than solutions for this country’s many problems — ridiculing the Washington elite (of which most were solid members) and Barack Obama.

“Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America, and he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights,” Ms Palin said.

Mr Obama, in reality, wants to give basic human rights to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, only a handful of whom are Qaeda members, and shield them from torture. So, once upon a time, did Mr McCain, but there was no mention of that in St Paul, or of the bill he wrote protecting those prisoners….

At the same time, the Republicans tried to co-opt Mr Obama’s talk of change and paint themselves as the real Americans. It is an ill-fitting suit for the least diverse, most conservative and richest Republican delegates since the Times started tracking such data in 1996….

Americans have a right to ask which John McCain would be president. We hope Mr McCain starts to answer that by halting the attacks on Mr Obama’s patriotism and beginning a serious, civil debate. — (Sept 5)

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Is anyone listening?

By Dr Tariq Rahman

WAS anyone listening to the horrified cries of the three women buried alive — although the police denies this — in Balochistan?

Can anyone imagine what those women must have felt when they were dragged by brute force to the place where they would see the light of day for the last time of their sojourn on this planet? Can anyone imagine the horror of feeling the earth being piled upon them as they lay bleeding and in pain? They endured this and their voices were muffled by the earth. Will they remain muffled forever?

Nor was this the only time that such a callous deed took place. It is the experience of many other women whose voices from the grave cannot reach us. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan publishes lists of women killed in the name of honour; sold in the name of honour; enslaved in the name of honour; maimed in the name of honour; and locked up in houses in the name of honour. And each time the voices are raised to abolish these customs — abolition cannot occur without widespread condemnation first — someone stands up to defend it.

It has happened in the NWFP, in Sindh and now in Balochistan. The defence comes in the name of custom, tradition and indigenous culture. Those calling for the abolition of these barbaric practices are condemned as stooges of the West.

The same thing happened when the Mughal emperors tried to ban satti. They did not succeed but the British did. And who was the beneficiary? Not the British but the people of South Asia — especially Hindu women. So, no matter who does it, weeding out customs which make the lives of women a living hell is to be welcomed. And if the upholders of human rights are inspired by western concepts of human rights they are to be welcomed because they are trying to prevent murder and torture.

One can think of other people, inspired by narrow and selfish western interests, who sell their own people to secret western prisons without a fair trial. So, it is not a question of western or eastern inspiration, it is a question of people’s lives. Human rights are for all and if we preach them and practise them our people will benefit from them, not westerners.

Civilisation may be defined as the rise of compassion. And the indicators of this are that a society has a fair and easily accessible judicial system; the poor and the weak are protected by legal and administrative institutions and there is equality amongst creeds, classes and genders. As we can see, since the Enlightenment Europe moved away from its medieval cruelty to a concept of equality under law, fair trials and the abolition of cruel and degrading punishments.

Even war became humanised as the Geneva Conventions made rules for prisoners of war which gave them both security and dignity. Since 9/11 this is being reversed as Aafia Siddiqui’s case demonstrates. She has been in prison without trial and even her children are not traceable. This is against the norms of justice in both war and peace in terms of civilisation. We should condemn this rolling back of compassionate institutions and the inevitable erosion of the humanitarian values upon which they are based.

We should oppose them and condemn them whether they are perpetrated by a western country or by our own rulers in the name of national interest or by our tribal and feudal chiefs in the name of their honour or tradition. We should not join the anti-humanist forces of the world in perpetuating inhumanity in the name of our indigenous culture.

Sadly enough, our religious leaders never condemn violence against women. This is probably because they too feel it is a western agenda to promote women’s rights, whereas this is a human agenda not a western one. What happens in Pakistan in the name of Islam and tradition is not Islamic by any means. In the case of the Baloch women it was apparently a case of women having chosen their husbands which is permitted both by religion and the laws of Pakistan.

But let us take the case of fornication by way of example. Even in genuine cases of pre- or extra-marital sex there is no provision in Islam for cutting down a woman as if she were an animal by a male relative acting as prosecutor and judge. What one would have expected religious leaders to emphasise is that individuals cannot take these matters into their own hands.

If there is reasonable doubt that such a thing has occurred even then no law allows husbands and brothers to chase the victim with a hatchet. At the most a trial may be held at the end of which the judge cannot give the extreme (hadd) punishment to the woman and her partner unless the actual act of penetration has been witnessed by four pious adult Muslims. As this is an almost impossible condition to meet, the death penalty is actually ruled out.

This is not what our ulema preach. Instead, they remain silent even over the most brutal murders of women. The police treat such matters as if they were not murders at all and the sessions judges are apt to release prisoners even if there is evidence against them. Moreover, if the woman had been falsely accused there is no punishment for the accusers which is in direct contradiction to Islamic law. So, what is essentially a matter of humanity and compassion has been lost sight of in this spurious western-indigenous debate.

The values which have made women live under a perpetual reign of terror in our rural areas belong to a worldview much older than Islam. It is the ideology of male domination. Honour is the cover-up word for this domination. In this worldview women are the property of men. If they exercise their right of choice — even if it is allowed by religion and the law of the land — they are punished because by doing so they do not act as ‘property’.

If we want to present a better image of Pakistan abroad or make the claims of democracy credible at home, we should condemn such acts and call for the punishment of those responsible for them. It is up to civil society to make rulers listen to the voices of those women who reach out from their graves asking for justice. We cannot fill our voices with the pain of the sufferers but can we not aspire to their anger? Is anyone listening?

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Capital flight

By Luke Harding

FOR Russia’s leadership, it seemed everything had gone right. In three weeks, the country had invaded Georgia, crushed its military and defied international opinion by recognising the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Western threats came to nothing. Russia’s attack on Georgia went unpunished.

But victory has been undermined by an alarming flight of capital. Analysts estimate that, since the war began on August 8, $19bn has been withdrawn from the country.

The Kremlin is also facing other economic problems. They include a rapid drop in the oil price, which has fallen almost 30 per cent from peaks close to $150 a barrel, and a 9.7 per cent increase in inflation since the start of the year.

Analysts believe the war could become the catalyst for a more profound slowdown following at least seven years of unprecedented economic growth.

So far the Kremlin has managed to unite Russians in support for the invasion of Georgia. But as the economy cools, the euphoria is wearing off.

“The war in Georgia has been the major driver of the whole thing. Officially capital flight has been $19bn. We estimate it could be $20bn-$25bn,” said Vladimir Osakovsky, a Moscow-based analyst at UniCredit. “For most of this year we were viewed as a safe haven. Capital was flowing into Russian markets and into Russian funds. We have lost this safe-haven sense.”

According to Osakovsky, the decline began not with the war in Georgia but in late July, when the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, launched an extraordinary attack on the mining and metals company Mechel. Mechel’s share value plunged 38 per cent on the New York stock exchange after Putin threatened to “send doctors” to examine its owner. Mechel shares lost $6bn in one day.

Meanwhile, there is lively debate behind closed doors in the Kremlin. According to Andrei Piontkovsky, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, writing in the Moscow Times, Russia’s political elite is split between the national and global kleptocrats.

The global kleptocrats have invested most of their assets in the West, and are fearful that Russia’s confrontation with Nato could escalate into a full-blown conflict. The national kleptocrats, by contrast, have stashed their billions inside Russia. They have less to lose should Russia try to repeat its military success in Georgia in other post-Soviet states such as Estonia or Ukraine.

It is no secret that Russia’s elite send their children to English private schools, have houses in London’s Mayfair and South Kensington, and enjoy skiing holidays in the French Alps. The EU has failed to find effective ways to persuade Russia to end its occupation of Georgia, but few doubt that the most devastating tactic would be to refuse Kremlin officials Schengen visas.

— The Guardian, London
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Tuesday
Ramazan 8, 1429
September 09, 2008

Kashmir warning


THE warning by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq that the Muslim youth of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir could be “forced to resort again to arms” should be heeded by New Delhi. Mr Farooq is a top separatist leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and is the spiritual leader of Muslims in Kashmir — as such his words carry much weight in the context of peaceful mass agitation in the state. Mr Farooq was not advocating violence — indeed, he vowed that Muslim protesters will “continue to fight peacefully and politically” — but simply expressing the widely-held opinion that Kashmir is on a knife-edge. Since June at least 40 Muslims and three Hindus have died in police shootings. More than 1,000 are believed to have been injured in clashes with security forces. The violence was sparked by the state government’s decision to hand over 100 acres of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. The early protests have since morphed into a full-throated cry for azadi in the Kashmir Valley.

The Indian government’s response has been predictable: repression, arrests and curfews. It is clear, however, that this time it will not be business as usual — the Kashmir issue is alive and burning more fiercely than ever. Mr Farooq rightly claimed that until the basic issue of Kashmir’s future is addressed the past will not be forgotten. In the past five years there was some progress in the Indian-administered state: tourists had returned, the economy grew, militancy slowed and the composite dialogue with Pakistan brought limited change to the lives of ordinary Kashmiris. Yet nothing was done to reduce the alienation of Kashmiris and the feeling that they did not ‘belong’ inside the Indian federation. Instead, New Delhi clung to the belief that Kashmiri resistance to ‘becoming Indian’ could be smothered by stationing 700,000 security forces in the state and pouring money into the region. The contemptuous attitude towards new ideas was on full display when New Delhi dismissed Gen Musharraf’s four-point solution to the Kashmir issue, which involved a gradual withdrawal of troops, self-governance, no changes to the region’s borders and a joint supervision mechanism.

What can be done now to avert a second violent uprising in Jammu and Kashmir? New Delhi has recourse to at least two safety valves. First, the troops in Kashmir — the visible arm of Indian repression — must be reduced. Second, cross-LoC trade and the movement of people must be rapidly increased. The cooler political temperature must then be used to address the call for azadi. It is not clear what the call means at the moment: complete independence, maximum autonomy from India or becoming a part of Pakistan? What is clear though is that things must change — and change soon.

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More Lal Masjids?

IT appears that the authorities have learnt nothing from last year’s Lal Masjid episode. It was a trauma caused as much by misplaced — even ridiculous — concepts of Sharia enforcement as by sheer paralysis on the part of the authorities. We are forced to refer to the Lal Masjid affair because, as a Dawn report informs us, 70 new illegal mosques have come up in Islamabad, and the local administration and the Capital Development Authority have done nothing about it. Lal Masjid did not turn into a bastion for militants overnight. The Ghazi brothers gradually expanded the mosque under their control and built new structures, including living quarters for their families. The CDA, to be fair to it, pointed out the illegal activity to the government, but certain ministers and powerful sections of the bureaucracy looked the other way. Thus the mosque’s transformation into a centre for militants was encouraged. From here activists were sent into commercial areas to terrorise CD shop owners. Many other violations of the law took place. Finally, the government acted on July 3 last year leading to dozens of deaths.

Unless the government wants more Lal Masjids, it must act now. Evidently, the CDA and the local administration seem once again overawed by the power of those who exploit religion for their own narrow ends. More regretfully, the religious parties tend to keep quiet on such shenanigans and, thus, indirectly encourage illegal activity of this sort. The government would be failing in its duty if it does not act to uphold the law and to reclaim state land that has been misappropriated in the name of religion. The last elections have clearly proved that the overwhelming majority of the people reject Talibanism and stand for the rule of law, moderation and tolerance. The PPP itself is a party wedded to the ideals of liberalism, and it must not let corrupt elements masquerading as religious divines spread chaos in society. In the case of Lal Masjid, the Musharraf government had acted very late. Let not the present government repeat that mistake and thus allow criminal elements to defy the state’s writ in the federal capital.

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A dismal literacy rate

YESTERDAY was International Literacy Day, and the good news is that out of a global population of 6.7bn people four billion are literate. However, while this fact may be cause for cheer, it also offers a chance to assess how heavily skewed the figures are in favour of the developed world. In many developing countries like ours, literacy rates are abysmal. Pakistan has an overall literacy rate of 55 per cent. On closer scrutiny, it becomes apparent that the statistics vary considerably when seen in the context of gender parity or the urban-rural divide. In any case, they reflect poorly on the government’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goal in education which aims to ensure that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

If universal primary education is to be achieved, the government’s policy needs to be tailored to achieve this goal. The problem, however, has been the lack of implementation of reforms. What lies at the core of the problem is missing political will as amply demonstrated by our meagre education budget which is less than three per cent of GDP, whereas many other countries allocate four to five per cent of their respective budgets for educational needs. The government’s lackadaisical attitude towards education is compounded by socio-economic factors such as poverty, gender discrimination, child labour, poor educational infrastructure and militancy.

The onus is on the government to carry out the reforms it often promises in order to ameliorate the situation. Poverty is one of the primary reasons why children are unable to attend school. The opportunity cost of sending children to school, rather than to work, is too high and thus poverty alleviation measures are needed to address this problem. Moreover, greater efforts to spread awareness about the importance of education through the media are needed for the message to have a far-reaching impact on society. This will also help tackle the problem of militancy which is the newest threat to education. Militants incite people through radio transmissions not to send their children to school, and they resort to the bombing of girls’ schools. The government must ensure the damage is minimal especially in the northern areas which have been affected most by such militancy. Finally, the education sector itself is in dire need of reform. Widespread corruption in the education department has become the bane of the system and needs to be strictly dealt with before we can be sure that money for education is being properly used.

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Theatre of the absurd

By Irshad Abdul Kadir

SINCE the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto last December, there has been a surreal quality to politics in Pakistan. But as a result of a bizarre series of events during the last few weeks the political landscape has become more akin to the theatre of the absurd.

The democratic order which was restored after a credible election has been run by the unelected heads of at least three political parties. Consequently, matters of state have progressed or regressed in accordance with the weight of countervailing influence brought to bear in each case.

The speed with which the move to impeach ex-President Musharraf became a national clarion call, indicates what can be done if one has the clout. Likewise, the foot-dragging witnessed on the other popular cause of the restitution of the Justice Chaudhry-led judiciary, is also attributable to a powerful impeding element.

The dichotomy in the power structure resulted in a paralysis of executive initiative signified by the bureaucracy’s reluctance to proceed with the business of state ‘without further orders’. A secondary cause for the inactivity is the civil servant’s customary reserve to commit himself to any course of action, lest, in the event of the government falling, he is left to justify his moves to the succeeding government.

Instances of unfettered power exercised by the controllers of the government’s destiny led to ill-conceived policy statements that have in certain instances been recalled, resulting in the kind of loss of face occasioned by the hasty withdrawal of the takeover of the ISI by the Ministry of Interior. There are also charges of reneging on commitments — as in the case of the Murree Declaration — levelled against the PPP. Consternation too has been caused by the growing list of novitiate appointees to public offices.

Such extraordinary events were made possible by the herd instinct of elected members who consider themselves duty bound to follow without question the lead given by the individual, the name or the family, even in situations compromising vital national interests. Such sadly, is the nature of the Pakistani democrat today.

Arbitrariness in high places seems to have infected the media also. Several Urdu and local language newspapers and TV channels have forsaken their traditional neutralism for partisanship. Their commentaries on the latest developments are tinged by a carte blanche approach towards rightist causes — political or militant — irrespective of the legality of or justification for the issues involved. Individual preferences dominate the requirement for professionally conducted analyses.

Confusion in public spaces is rampant, with everyone voicing half-baked opinions. No one is fully aware of the truth concerning any of the prevailing issues even though the economy is nose-diving into the clutches of the World Bank and the Taliban are at the door. Decisions taken in earlier times are retroactively declared illegal and ultra vires and yesterday’s villains are celebrated as today’s heroes.

The charged atmosphere was further exacerbated by PPP’s nomination of Asif Zardari for the office of the president to which he was subsequently elected. Much of the outcry focused on the missing prerequisites: education, experience, image and perception.

The presidential choice calls for a five-year stint (with possible renewals). During the tenure he will have recourse to protocol, presidential perks (including blanket immunity from all charges) and a ceremonial lifestyle suitable for an elder statesman. If he falls in line with democratic norms, he would have to resign from the co-chairmanship of the PPP, adopt a neutral stance, oversee the stripping of the extraordinary powers adopted by Gen Musharraf and fade away when the bugle blows as figureheads do.

If he chooses instead to adopt a political stance, he would for a period of time become the most powerful man in Pakistan in the Musharraf tradition, but in accordance with historical experience, he would ultimately meet a similar end to his predecessor.

Had he steered clear of the presidency, he would have avoided the controversy and doubt stirred by the thought of a PPP head of state operating in tandem with a PPP prime minister. As party co-chairman, he would have continued to exercise power as before. He would have had the opportunity to become an eminence grise of the Pakistan political scene casting his influence on national politics in the manner of Sonia Gandhi or Altaf Hussain, unfazed by the rise and fall of PPP or other governments or by charges of pelf and power bedevilling political dispensations.

The restitution of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is another problem that requires urgent attention. The legal issues involved are not conducive to ready resolution. The need of the hour is for a solution that operates in the best interests of the state untrammelled by the hype, hysteria and heroics that have queered a perfectly justifiable movement. The question of the restoration of the dismissed judges and the restoration of the chief justice should be addressed separately.

The latter calls for a quid pro quo arrangement restoring the chief justice and precluding him (and all other judges) from entertaining challenges to the NRO. The restoration should also be conditioned on the understanding that the chief justice would retire after being restored, in deference to the judicial tradition of retirement of controversial judges.

From a constitutional perspective, Justice Chaudhry’s presence on the Bench would be highly controversial. In all probability, he would be perceived as a champion of democracy, unassailable by any contrary force. Such a view would give rise to a sense of inequality among the pillars of the state with the judiciary dominating the executive and the legislature.

From a judicial perspective, Justice Chaudhry’s compliance with the rules of national justice would preclude him from appearing on any Bench likely to be addressed by any lawyer who had supported his cause. He would also be precluded from any Bench dealing with issues concerning individuals or causes having a nexus with the restoration campaign.

It seems though that so long as personal agendas take precedence over national causes, the balance of the state is unlikely to be restored.

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Ditching Mugabe

By Tracy McVeigh

SOME of President Robert Mugabe’s senior aides have had secret negotiations with South African mediators in an effort to secure amnesties from any future prosecution in return for supporting regime change in Zimbabwe.

Army, police and secret service chiefs have repeatedly pledged loyalty to Mugabe in public and insisted that they would never ‘salute’ or support a government led by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the head of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who secured most votes in the presidential election that took place in March this year.

But government sources in both Zimbabwe and South Africa have told The Observer that a senior army general and a Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) chief visited Pretoria last weekend to seek assurances from South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki that they would not be prosecuted in the event of Tsvangirai taking over.

Mbeki is mediating in the power-sharing talks between Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party and the MDC, negotiations which appeared to be hanging by a thread last week with the MDC threatening to pull out and accusing Zanu-PF of a lack of commitment to dialogue.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said his party’s patience was being stretched to the limit after Mugabe told journalists in Zambia on Wednesday at the funeral of President Levy Mwanawasa that he would form a new government of national unity if Tsvangirai did not sign the document already agreed to during the talks.

‘We feel frozen at the moment and if the MDC does not want to see the country move, then we will be left with no choice than to form a new government without them,’ said Mugabe. On Saturday, however, the MDC backed away from its threat, insisting that it was still fully committed to dialogue.

Robert Mugabe relies heavily on Zimbabwe’s defence force chiefs, most of whom have been supporters of the ageing dictator since the 1970s war of independence and were heavily involved in conducting the murderous campaign of violence against MDC supporters and activists that erupted after the March election results were announced.

Mbeki’s spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said he knew nothing of any secret meetings and insisted power-sharing talks were continuing.

Sources close to the talks said the Zimbabwe defence forces’ Lieutenant-General Constantine Chiwenga, police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri, and CIO director-general Happyton Bonyongwe were at a private meeting in Pretoria. Behind the scenes, Zanu-PF’S politburo, including Mugabe, is said to be distancing itself from the violence that killed more than 120 people between the first round of voting and June’s one-man presidential run-off poll, laying the blame on the army and the CIO.

— The Guardian, London

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OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press

A victory with challenges

Kawish

PPP CO-CHAIRMAN Asif Ali Zardari got a two-thirds majority … in the presidential electoral college.… His induction will mark the country’s transition to full civilian democracy after nine years of military rule. Pro-dictatorship forces … were still in shock as one last blow struck them in the form of the election of Mr Zardari. These anti-democratic and anti-people forces had also tried to subvert the mandate of the general elections to create differences among political forces and had also resorted to the postponement or boycott of elections. They succeeded partially in this bid. However, they failed to distract the political forces.

Benazir Bhutto may not be amongst us but her party is in power through the vote of the people. It is time to take revenge on anti-democratic forces. Benazir Bhutto strongly believed that democracy is the best revenge; hence the PPP government should follow her dictum and strengthen democracy.

The PPP has guidelines provided by Benazir Bhutto. The Charter of Democracy is there and by implementing it, democracy can be strengthened. The democratic forces that had elected the prime minister unanimously and later voted for Mr Zardari in the presidential elections can also stand with the PPP on this point.

Some clear indications of reconciliation are there. With the start of the presidential elections, the political forces played a laudable role. Also worth appreciating is the statement of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif who said that Mr Zardari’s election spelt the defeat of dictatorship. …Asif Zardari’s election … is not only a victory for democratic forces, it is also a challenge for the party’s resolve.

According to the 1973 Constitution, the country has parliamentary democracy. But time and again it was … tailored to suit the needs of dictators. An imbalance of power was created turning it into a presidential system of government. There is a dire need to restore the parliamentary system in its original form. The PPP has got a golden opportunity. It is up to Mr Zardari to keep his promise and repeal the Seventeenth Amendment and Article 58-2(b) in the interest of democracy.

The PPP … should realise that it faces myriad challenges. The PPP must work responsibly to demonstrate its democratic spirit. — (Sept 7)

— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi
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Ramazan 09, 1429
September 10, 2008

The president’s plans


TO cheers from PPP supporters, Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar swore in his second president in 10 months, elevating Asif Ali Zardari to the presidency. The ceremony was in sharp contrast to the grim one last November when President Musharraf took the same oath in controversial circumstances. The PPP is the largest national party and it deserved to momentarily bask in its success. Now comes the hard part. The joint press conference held with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan highlighted some of the problems that confront Pakistan. With President Karzai at his side, President Zardari was lobbed some heavy questions on foreign policy. First, the positives. President Zardari promised “good news” on relations with India before the term of the Congress-led government expires in May 2009. Given that the soon-to-be leader of the opposition, the PML-N, also supports improved ties with India, now is the time to push for real progress in the long-running but wobbly peace process. The hurdles are clear: mass unrest in Jammu and Kashmir and accusations and counter-accusations by India and Pakistan of fomenting violence against each other. However, in President Zardari the Indians have a potential peace partner with real civilian power and at least the tacit support of the armed forces. It is time to bury the myth that peace with India can only be achieved by a military interlocutor.

President Zardari also indicated his commitment to sustaining the “great bond” with China, to the relief of anxious officials of the foreign service who have viewed the Indo-US nuclear deal and the closer Pakistan-US military ties as distressing signs of impending regional isolation. No doubt Pakistan cannot be hostage to the past in striking new arrangements in the region, but the Sino-Pakistan relationship is extraordinarily important. China showed its commitment to Pakistan by kicking up a fuss at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting that was deciding on a key waiver to enable the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. Now talk is centred on a similar Sino-Pakistan nuclear cooperation deal, which if struck will go some way towards easing fears of Pakistan falling behind India in the nuclear stakes. The bad news is on the war on terror. President Zardari was asked repeatedly about the writ of the state in the tribal areas, the frequent civilian deaths in US missile strikes and Afghan complaints of Pakistani complicity in the Taliban fight-back. President Zardari parried the questions with platitudes that “not an inch of land will be lost” and that Pakistan is committed to the war against terror. Tellingly, he appealed for the establishment of an international fund for victims of war against terrorism — thereby indicating that Pakistan will have to tolerate more US strikes in the weeks ahead.

On the domestic front, President Zardari parried direct questions on the fate of his co-chairmanship of the PPP and the anti-parliamentary presidential powers, including Article 58-2(b). The weeks ahead will no doubt reveal the president’s thinking on how to reconfigure the balance of power between the president and the prime minister.

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Guarding power?


THE relationship between the citizenry and its law enforcers is not at odds for nothing. Given that the former has to grapple with routine police negligence and resort to private security options, there is much to fuel apathy amongst our custodians. Other than burdensome additions such as Karachi’s 600-strong Muhafiz force, primarily drawn from the infamous Sindh Reserve Force, the number of police officers on guard duty also runs into thousands — official statistics show as many as 482 personnel deputed on security duty for Sindh cabinet ministers and advisers; approximately 1,700 officers at embassies and government offices as well as guarding judicial and government officials; while over 1,000 watch over police top brass. Needless to say, these alarming figures have come to light amid the elected government’s tall claims of abandoning VIP culture. Sindh’s home minister enjoys an astounding 43 guards and the Sindh ombudsman has 40 police personnel. The provincial information minister, who recently lashed out at the ‘mindset’ of the local police and the ‘ineptitude’ of a particular police station, has as many as 11 police guards. Such deployments point to a heightened sense of self-importance as these hardly make for ‘life-threatening’ offices.

Second, these are trying times where a poverty-stricken populace is turning to rampant crime — the first half of this year witnessed a dramatic rise in kidnappings for ransom with over 38 cases while a whopping 64 incidents took place in 2007. The fact that the beleaguered force is already in the grip of a manpower crisis — one officer for every 545 citizens — prompts the question: should the blame for apathy be laid at the police’s door or on the conscience of our bigwigs?

There is no better time than now for the home ministry to address the woes of such an indigent force, particularly of the mid-level police corps. The most recent travesty came in the form of nepotism — from September 1995 to November 2007, 52 out-of-turn-promotions have taken place. Reforms must begin with empowering the Police Superintendents Association of Pakistan and the Public Safety and Police Complaints Commission. This is aside from alleviating long-festering issues — lack of pay raises, decent living quarters, training and upgrades that are on merit. Also, political patronage has to be rooted out to encourage neutrality. On the other end, an indigenous police force is crucial to Karachi as only a sense of belonging can curb detachment as well as police excesses. Funds saved on additions such as the Muhafiz force and related expenditures can be funnelled to assuage the plight of our law enforcers and to revive women’s police stations. After all, a homegrown, reliable force, and not private security, is the right of the public.

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Patients in the crossfire


PROTESTING doctors and a government indifferent to their demands are a dangerous mix for patients. This is more than apparent in the ongoing protests launched early last month by junior and mid-career doctors working in government hospitals in Lahore. Almost daily these doctors either gather at a protest camp in front of the Punjab Assembly or take to the streets blocking traffic and inconveniencing the man on the street. Although no government can afford to allow its medical practitioners a long absence from duty in view of its responsibility towards the sick, the authorities in this case have done little to bring the doctors back into hospital wards and operation theatres. In fact, they have responded to the protests with force and taken punitive action. At least one protesting doctor is facing the sack and police are not averse to using batons against the demonstrators when they feel the need to do so. With both sides sticking to their proverbial guns, the patients can only pray that at least one of them stands down.

The doctors are asking for an increase in their salaries, a better service structure and job security. Indeed, with spiralling inflation and the rising demand for medical care, better working conditions and better wages are something that these doctors should be getting without having to stage protests to press their demands. The government, on the other hand, may be constrained by financial limitations. The two sides should understand that their intransigence can continue only at the patients’ peril. Continuing protests and official apathy to the doctors’ demands are putting lives at risk. This is unacceptable and should not be allowed to go on indefinitely. For the general good of the patients, the two sides should try to find some middle ground to resolve the impasse. They should do so as soon as possible.

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OTHER VOICES - European Press

The unshattered glass ceiling

The Independent

THE decline in the number of women in top jobs in Britain is alarming. Last year, slow progress on equality in the workplace actually went into reverse in half of the sectors surveyed. Today we have fewer female MPs, cabinet ministers, senior police officers, judges and NHS executives than we did even a year ago.

The standard explanation for this is that women have babies and that this arrests their career development. Improvements in maternity provisions seem to have exacerbated this trend. Paid maternity leave has now been extended to a full year, but it is available to the mother only. This has, perversely, entrenched women in the traditional role of wife and mother because the man is unable to take the same parental leave to share the child care. The government should change the law to allow couples to choose which of them wants to take the year off.

But there is more to the problem than that, which is why women who do not have children — a quarter of the female workforce at age 40 — suffer from the same discrimination and disadvantage. The trouble is that the attitudes and habits of the British workplace were forged in an era when breadwinner dads and stay-at-home mums were the norm. That mindset persists. It is a macho culture of long working hours where, even if the old boys’ network is not what it was, the boys go out for a beer with the boss after work. And — despite the fact that girls now outperform boys at school and at university — there continues to be a subliminal consensus that women are less capable or strategically able than men.

All that needs to change. More flexible working patterns, the choice to work from home and job shares need to become the norm. Workers also need access to more high-quality, affordable child care. Attitudes need to change in politics too. It is shameful that fewer than one in five British MPs is a woman and that countries like Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq and China beat the UK on women’s representation in parliament. Nor can there be any excuse for the decline in the proportion of women in top jobs in the public sector. The shattering of the glass ceiling can no longer be left to gradual social change. It is time for changes in government policy. — (Sept 5)

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Eating out cheaper in London


By Alexandra Topping

HOUSE prices are dropping, the economic forecast is dreary and the rain has not let up for months in London. All the more reason to find comfort in the good things in life, it would seem. According to the new Zagat guide, London restaurant lovers are paying little heed to the credit crunch, with more people than ever eating out regularly in the capital.

With the average cost of a meal with three courses and a glass of wine in London increasing by about 3.7 per cent to $71.77 since last year’s survey, it is hardly surprising that 76 per cent of Londoners say they are spending more eating out than ever before. Yet 82 per cent of the survey respondents said they are going out just as much, if not more, than they did two years ago.

Tim Zagat, co-founder of Zagat Survey, said: “Although the average cost of a meal in London is up, that hasn’t stopped diners from eating out on the town. Thanks to an influx of less expensive eateries 43 per cent say they are going out more and only 18 per cent say less.”

The deepening economic cloud may have a silver lining for London’s restaurant scene — thanks to a declining Pound Sterling, London is no longer the most costly city for dining out in the world. “London is no longer quite so daunting for tourists from a price perspective,” said Zagat. “There is also lot of choice at the budget end of the scale in London. The famous restaurants may get all the publicity, but there are also a lot of wonderful inexpensive ethnic restaurants.”

Thanks in part to the relative strength of the euro, Paris now tops the list of the world’s most expensive places to eat out. And according to the 2009 guide, the food that is in London is now not only cheaper, but better than the average fare found in the French capital.

In a scale up to 30, Zagat reviewers gave London an average food rating of 20.52 compared with Paris’s 19.40. For anyone who has experienced the studied surliness of that city’s waiters it will come as little surprise that it is much the same story with service — overall London restaurants average 18.39 for service compared with 17.88 in Paris.

— The Guardian, London
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Ramazan 10, 1429
September 11, 2008

Pricey electricity


ELECTRICITY has become more expensive. The ministry of water and power has issued a notification to retrospectively increase the electricity tariff by an average of 31 per cent for all consumers of the eight distribution companies of the Pakistan Electric Power Company. This means that domestic, agricultural, commercial and industrial consumers — in short, everybody — in Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Islamabad, Multan, Peshawar, Hyderabad and Quetta will receive substantially higher electricity bills. The tariff increase, although necessary, has been met with dismay across the board. The All Pakistan Organisation of Small Traders and Cottage Industries has demanded the withdrawal of the notification, claiming that over 4,000 businesses have already closed down.

Electricity pricing is a complex issue but several simple observations can be made. First, why did the government need to issue the notification so surreptitiously late into the night? Governance by stealth appears still to be the modus operandi in Islamabad. There is simply no excuse for news reports having to rely on ‘sources’ to inform the public of a matter as basic and important as their electricity bill. Even until Wednesday evening, officials at the ministry of water and power were unavailable to advise the public on what to expect in their bills next month. Then there is the issue of the methodology used to calculate the new price of electricity. The prevailing method is for the distribution companies (DISCOs) to petition Nepra, the national electricity regulator, for a tariff increase. Nepra considers the DISCO’s petition and then issues a recommendation to the government. The ministry of water and power can accept, decline or modify Nepra’s recommendation before issuing a final notification. In the current cycle, individual DISCOs petitioned Nepra in May and June requesting an increase of between 10 and 20 per cent in tariffs. However, Nepra advised the government at the end of August to raise tariffs of the DISCOs by up to 76 per cent, with different rates of increase for individual DISCOs. Those recommendations have now been converted by the ministry of water and power into a uniform tariff increase across the DISCOs for different categories of consumers. The only thing that is clear in this whole process is that the public has been kept in the dark about the government’s thinking and plans for future tariff increases.

Finally, there is the issue of winners and losers in the tariff stakes. So-called ‘lifeline’ consumers have been given a reprieve by increasing the base from which the increases are applicable to 100 units from 50 units. However, consumers using 700 units and above will effectively be billed 50 per cent more. Depending on consumption, the middle-class is set to take an enormous hit of either 26 or 50 per cent.

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Coping with trauma

A REPORT about the plight of the family of a young man, who died in the recent twin suicide blasts at the Pakistan Ordnance Factories, has highlighted the emotional and psychological fallout that such traumatic events can have on affected families. The victim’s mother, who also has four daughters, was so traumatised by the loss of her only son that she had to be hospitalised. It is not only the family members of those who have died but also the survivors of suicide attacks who may suffer from severe emotional reaction to such horrendous events — a condition which is clinically termed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Although the term PTSD was originally coined in 1980 with reference to the readjustment difficulties experienced by Vietnam veterans on their return to the US, it has since then been increasingly extrapolated to civilian populations who are traumatised by shocking events. We as a society have been pretty resilient and resourceful, and have shown a remarkable ability to rebound and cope with one traumatic incident after the other, whether it is a suicide blast, a natural disaster, a major accident or war. Nevertheless, there has been growing awareness that the increasing number of people affected in one way or another by such mass-based distressful events, as well as by other more individual-based traumatic experiences like torture, assault, domestic violence etc., need help in dealing with and recovering from their emotional shock and returning to their daily life and routine.

In this respect, the First International Conference on Psychotrauma held recently at the Jinnah Convention Centre in Islamabad represents an important step in building our capacity for preventing and mitigating stress caused by traumatic events. Organised by the National University of Science and Technology’s Centre for Trauma Research and Psychosocial Interventions, the conference discussed ways to deal with the growing phenomenon of pyschotrauma in our society. As many countries have already done, we too need to establish more specialised psychotrauma centres, not only for psychological therapy and counselling but also to provide education and training in emergency mental health services to all emergency service professionals including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and counsellors. As was aptly pointed out at the conference, while it may be impossible to prevent natural disasters and difficult to stem acts of violence in society, the psychological and social effects of these on our people can be minimised by building our capacity to put up a fight against them.

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A rare honour

SPECIAL athlete Haider Ali’s silver medal in the long jump final of the Beijing Paralympic Games on Tuesday has done Pakistan proud. In his first Paralympic Games, 23-year-old Haider, who has cerebral palsy, took the lead over favourites China and Poland, and ended up sharing the world record with Farhat Chida, the gold medallist from Tunisia. Coincidently, this was also Pakistan’s first-ever medal at the Special Olympics since the country’s debut in the competition in 1992 at Barcelona. This achievement will go a long way in propping up Pakistan’s fast-eroding sporting image in a year marred by shameful debacles in cricket, hockey, squash and, of course, the recently-concluded Olympic Games in Beijing from where the 37-member Pakistani contingent returned empty-handed. Indeed, Haider’s feat is a rare honour especially in view of the severe embarrassment endured by the national hockey team that finished eighth — an all-time low for a once winning team — at the Games. What is equally shameful is that none among the shooting, swimming or athletic contestants made any kind of attempt to reach the medal podium. In such a bleak scenario, Haider’s effort, fortitude and sense of sporting spirit at the Paralympic Games, despite his handicap, is deserving of unqualified praise and not one bit blighted by fellow athlete Naveed Butt’s doping saga the same day.

Haider’s achievement makes it all the more difficult for our so-called sporting superstars to save themselves from the wave of national antipathy that has arisen in the wake of their abject performance at the Olympic Games. It is not as if the athletes and sports administrators woke up to the Olympic challenge one fine morning. They had four years to prepare for the Beijing Games and yet turned in an abysmal performance when they got there. This is hardly surprising when the quick-fix solution to sporting woes and the lethargy of years comprised energy-sapping camps — instead of efforts to put together winning combinations, work out strategies, eliminate deficiencies and throw up new ideas on the tactical side. It is no shock then if they returned from the Olympics with nothing to show for their efforts.

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OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press

Yet another try at peacemaking

Arab News

THE Israeli response to the Syrian peace proposal will have to wait. No reply will be [given] until the results of elections in Israel and the US are in. But President Bashar Assad’s assurance that when there is a peace accord there will be reciprocal recognition should make Israel’s eventual response a positive one. The logical next step would be for Syria and Israel to engage in face-to-face negotiations.…[E]ven though the Syrian proposal has not been made public, it revolves mainly around the Golan Heights captured by Israel in 1967…

…Israel has demanded that Damascus end its support for the groups in battle with Israel, namely Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Hamas. There is nothing surprising in this. This is the usual Israeli tactic to avoid making any commitments … to Arabs. With an injured innocence, Israel can say it can’t make any concessions as long as Damascus associates with or helps its enemies. Again it will be Israel or its friends who will decide whether the association has ended or not.

In 2003 President Bush announced that Syria just had to wait until all pending issues in the Middle East were settled before the US turned to the Syrian-Israeli track. Ariel Sharon helped convince President George W. Bush to keep the Syrians on the backburner for years.… [R]eal peace can only be achieved with full and active Syrian participation and cooperation. — (Sept 8)

Don’t push Pakistan around

Khaleej Times

WITH the third possible unilateral US strike inside Pakistan in as many days, the outrage in Pakistan is only understandable.

There can be no denying that Islamabad has been at the forefront of the so-called war on terror ever since General Musharraf effected the u-turn on the Taliban and hopped on to Bush’s ‘with us or against us’ bandwagon in the aftermath of 9/11.

Those accusing Pakistan of not doing ‘enough’ betray a gross misunderstanding of ground realities. Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan remains one of the most difficult to monitor anywhere in the world. For the US to strike from the outside not only adds to domestic resentment that has festered over long years of war, but also severely compromises the Pak military’s operations....

It is not surprising that a number of very strong trends have emerged inside Pakistan. One, the tribals that sided with the insurgents have grown in number and strength, using the hate-America card chiefly because of such outside strikes that ridicule locals on the ground as well as the government in Islamabad. Two, the more moderate group too now advocates ditching the US alliance as it has brought unprecedented losses for their country. Three, with a democratic government in Islamabad that is struggling practically on all fronts, America is making it increasingly difficult for Pakistan to remain part of the US coalition.… — (Sept 6)

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Democracy’s best revenge

By Shamshad Ahmad

AFTER the Oct 6 burlesque enacted in Pakistan last year in which a military dictator unconstitutionally proclaimed himself re-elected we finally had on Sept 6 this year a real presidential election in which the PPP’s co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari, was constitutionally elected as the first democratically-chosen president of Pakistan in a decade. This was the best revenge that democracy could have taken on dictatorship.

Gen Musharraf was ‘re-elected’ for five years by his handmade ‘Queue-lined’ assemblies despite serious questions over his eligibility in the circumvention of Articles 41 and 63 of the constitution. Asif Zardari has been elected president in a constitutionally legal election for five years, but in his case too, there were questions over his eligibility raised both within and outside the country. The only difference was that in the case of Musharraf, the latter’s illegality under Article 41was real, whereas in Zardari’s case, questions related only to alleged perceptions of his past.

Democracy is not about perceptions or reputation. Democracy is about people who are the final arbiters, no matter how poor a reputation a politician might have. They choose their leaders. History then gives its verdict on whether or not they made the right choice. In Gen Musharraf’s case, the new democratically elected assemblies have spoken loudly and clearly against him. History didn’t let him complete his five years. It was quick in giving its verdict. He was forced to quit. He stands discredited and doomed to ignominy.

Zardari has a chance to prove that perceptions regarding his reputation are ill-founded. History is already registering its accounts and will soon start judging him. It is between history and Zardari now. What about the people? They would like to believe that real democracy has finally returned to their country. And in politics, as in every other aspect of life, what people know and understand or what they believe largely depends on what they see, hear and feel and how they think and act.

But in looking at the unfolding events in our country and the acts of our newly elected rulers, we see what is not, and see not what is because we have chosen to be prisoners of an exploitative system based on elitist, feudal and tribal structures. There are no angels in politics. Even in the world’s major democracies, heads of state and government and eminent politicians have been implicated in assorted scandals. Big names come to mind in no time. Hypocrisy and vacillation are the hallmarks of success in politics.

If Plato was sometimes cynical about politics, he had reason to be. As he wrote in his Apology, “a man who really fights for what is right must lead a private, not a public life, if he hopes to survive, even for a short time.” Politics knows no morality, no ethics. Plato was raised by a distinguished Athenian family for a political career but was disillusioned with politicians. He saw his city-state being torn apart by a power conflict among the politicians themselves.

Disheartened by the oligarchs’ attempt to discredit Socrates, his teacher and friend, Plato refused their offer of a political niche although some of the oligarchs were his close relatives and friends. He was even more profoundly disillusioned by the democrats who, when restored to power, condemned and executed Socrates. So he fled both country and politics for a self-imposed exile with Euclid in Megura.

For Plato, the prisoners are we who are “dwelling in the cave of concrete experience until the philosopher-king brings enlightenment to our shadowy reality”. He acknowledged that the philosopher would be reluctant to descend to the shadowy world of reality once he glimpsed the sun but he still remained uniquely qualified for leadership because in his view, his eyes would be on the principle of good, not on political ambition and personal power.

Plato devoted almost all his thinking to reuniting the public and the private, the political and personal realms of existence, so that the “virtues of the individual soul” would lead to the virtues of the national soul. Soul-tending, he called it, and it is what we in Pakistan today need more than ever before. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had inherited a physically truncated country. Asif Ali Zardari’s challenge is much bigger and perhaps more tortuous. He inherits a Bhuttoless truncated party and an emotionally disintegrated country. Both need soul-tending.

We as a nation have suffered the politics of power and blood for too long. It has been a constant struggle and a long tragedy of errors since the very beginning. The script is the same. Only the faces have been changing. We have seen prime ministers assassinated, removed in military take-overs, executed through judicial murder and in some cases even exiled. Benazir Bhutto gave her life for democracy and fell tragically at the altar of our politics of power and blood.

Pakistan has been the scene of pitiable tragedy for too long now. We have had coups, both military and civilian, and in every instance, there has been someone from the judiciary to provide ‘legal’ cover to the illegality. The present set-up is no different. It is rooted in the Nov 3 illegality.

Benazir Bhutto must be turning restlessly in her grave over what her party is doing to the pledges she had made to the nation during the last days of her life. She had pledged a genuine democracy rooted in the will of the people and had promised to reinstate the real judges. She had told the chief justice that he would soon be back in his chamber. She must be witnessing with horror and anguish that her own commitment to the chief justice and the one to the people’s Feb 18 verdict remain unfulfilled.

We may not have a philosopher-king but we now do have a democratically elected president who has the authority to do justice that his party’s immortal leader and his own better half had pledged. The nation awaits soul-tending from him. Plato’s central question in his Republic was ‘what is justice?’. Mr President, let us hear from you: ‘Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry is justice’. This would complete democracy’s revenge. Let history judge you differently from the baseless perceptions of your past. Prove your detractors wrong. You have a chance to be a different ruler in Pakistan and make history.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

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White women’s choice

By Ewen MacAskill

WHITE women voters are deserting the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama because of the sudden emergence on the Republican ticket of Sarah Palin, according to a poll on Tuesday.

An ABC/Washington Post survey recorded that an eight-point lead Obama held over his Republican rival John McCain before the arrival of Palin had turned into a 12 per cent lead for McCain.

The trend is in line with other polls since Palin, McCain’s vice-presidential running mate, ignited the Republican convention with a speech last week espousing social conservative values and presenting herself as a small-town mother taking on the cosmopolitan media.

McCain, who was behind Obama in most polls before last month’s Democratic and Republican conventions, has taken a three per cent lead in a tracking poll by the RealClearPolitics website.

Although the momentum has shifted to McCain and Palin, the election will be decided by independents and moderates, where Obama’s domestic and foreign programme should have the greater appeal.

However, the loss of support among white women could be fatal for his chances of winning the presidency if it was to be sustained. Obama had upset this constituency before the conventions, with many Democratic women unhappy that he had dumped their champion, Hillary Clinton, out of the nomination race.

McCain received another boost when Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post backed him in a front-page editorial. Earlier this year, Murdoch, who has extensive media outlets across the US, had hinted of support for Obama.

Palin campaigned with McCain again on Tuesday, before taking off on her own for what is likely to be a tumultuous return to her home state, Alaska. She is not only bringing in the crowds but also the funding. McCain said a single fundraising event in Chicago had brought in $4m.

The Democrats were initially uncertain about how to respond to Palin, but Obama, in recognition of her impact, now devotes almost as much time to attacking her as he does McCain. At a rally on Monday, he ran through her CV: “Mother, governor, moose shooter. That’s cool,” he said. But he went on to say that voters had to look beyond and study her record as a Republican to see that she would amount to a continuation of the policies pursued by President George Bush over the past eight years.

Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, acknowledged she had energised the Republican base but said the crux question was whether she would succeed in reaching out to independents in the run-up to the election on November 4.

— The Guardian, London
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Friday
Ramazan 11, 1429
September 12, 2008

Unwise US policy

THERE has been a regime change in Islamabad, but the basic misunderstanding between Pakistan and the United States on how to conduct the war on terror seems not only to persist but grow. This is evident from the utterances in Islamabad and Washington by authorities both political and military. On Wednesday, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani rejected the American claim that the rules of engagement gave the American forces the right to take military action inside Pakistan. In a statement, the chief of the army staff said the rules of engagement among the allied forces were “well defined” and that military operations against the militants in a given area were the responsibility of the armed forces of that country. The statement is significant because it comes in the wake of his mid-sea meeting with US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen on an aircraft carrier where the two reportedly reached an understanding on some of the irritants that characterise their relationship. But on Wednesday, Mullen told a congressional hearing that his country would adopt “a new, more comprehensive strategy” that would cover areas on both sides of the border.

The same day, while the State Department and the White House merely spoke of the need for greater cooperation with Islamabad, the American press said the US forces would not seek permission from the Pakistani military about an attack in Fata but would merely “inform” it. The press reports claimed that in July President Bush approved orders authorising the American Special Operations forces to carry ground assaults inside Pakistan. The report quoted an American official as saying that the situation in Fata was “intolerable” and that the US military had to be “more assertive. Orders have been issued”. It is astonishing that America should fail to grasp what France has the good sense to appreciate. On Tuesday the French Foreign Office said attacks like the one by a drone in Fata on Monday caused human tragedies and undermined international efforts to fight terror.

The Taliban are a problem for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, but as Gen Kayani said a successful war on terror required an indepth understanding because it was a complex issue. While force had to be used where necessary, he said, political, reconciliatory efforts could not be ignored. What the American strategists do not realise is that by flaunting their power to attack in Fata they are undermining Pakistan’s democratic government. Pakistan considers the war on terror its own war, because the Taliban are waging a rebellion against the state and have killed, mutilated and injured thousands of Pakistani men, women and children. Regrettably, Pakistan notes to its dismay that the coalition forces do not have their heart in the fight against the Taliban and are casualty-conscious. The truth about the mess across the Durand Line was highlighted by an Isaf spokesman at a presentation in London last July. He conceded that unless the present number of coalition troops was trebled, it would be impossible to stop infiltration. It is quite clear that Pakistan would not be required to ‘do more’ if both the level of commitment and the number of troops in Afghanistan were increased.

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Whither woman power?

IT may be some time before the three brutalised women of Balochistan are cold in their graves and the uproar dies out. But neither the despicable brutality nor the resultant outrage, seems to have delivered the message of tolerance and sensitivity. This week in Islamabad, yet another woman’s face was doused in acid by a man, who was also her teacher, after she turned down his proposal of marriage. Small wonder then, that the results of a research conducted by the Asian Human Rights Commission cannot be refuted. It clearly states that there has been negligible change in the incidents of violence against women after the Women Protection Act 2006 came into force. This is further supported by a report issued by a local NGO which has brought staggering figures of violence against women to light — as many as 1,321 were recorded in the first quarter of 2008 with 44 in Islamabad. Another document reveals nearly 328 cases in Sindh alone. Perhaps the fault lies in isolating and highlighting a particular atrocity as opposed to pursuing a consistent collective movement — the only way to achieve the ultimate goal of a sensitised environment.

Experts and activists have long insisted that the National Commission on the Status of Women be made more independent and relevant in both urban and rural areas, and undeniably this has to be one of the most urgent and foremost priorities of the elected government. In the past, the Ministry of Women Development and an NGO had joined forces to support survivors of violence and facilitate their reinstatement in society with a joint venture that focussed on capacity-building for state-run women centres. It is hoped that the government will allow similar endeavours to flourish and not thwart them as residues of an old regime. After all, survivors of brutalities are often the most neglected aspect of a crime and their rehabilitation must be held supreme.

Second, before these atrocities begin to question the validity of the Women Protection Act, lawmakers need to ensure its large-scale implementation with stringent penalties for the perpetrators. It is also imperative that families are encouraged to register complaints and this is only possible if women police stations are operative and police stations in general are sensitised towards the treatment of women with an understanding of the excesses carried out against them.

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No let-up in price increase


THE price-checking campaign initiated over a week ago by the Karachi city government has not led to a cessation of profiteering. Notwithstanding the price-control mechanisms put in place prior to Ramazan, prices are rising unabated. Since price lists continue to be ignored, the latest measure by the city government to check profiteers has been to set up 54 complaint centres in the city. These may have worked insofar as prices have come down in certain areas with a fine of Rs3.27m being collected from over 2,000 profiteers and some unscrupulous retailers being put behind bars since the beginning of the month. But this small difference in the state of affairs is not enough and much more needs to be done to bring down prices across the city.

The rising rates of essentials can be attributed to inadequate resources for implementing the price-control mechanisms. For a city divided into 18 towns with an overall population of 14 million, there are only two to four complaint centres per town. Also there are insufficient price checks as there are only 50 price magistrates in the city. However, more than that it is sad to note that the response of the consumers to these centres has been lukewarm at best. According to official estimates, on average a town receives 12 to 15 complaints of overcharging by retailers each day. The public needs to overcome its reticence to report instances of overcharging and make full use of the complaint centres in this respect. Prices have come down in some areas where complaints have been lodged. The government, on the other hand, needs to install more such centres and increase the number of price magistrates in the city. A combined effort by the people and the authorities will alleviate the problems associated with the current price hike.

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OTHER VOICES - Pushto Press

Afghan genocide must be stopped

Tolafghan

AFTER the fall of the Taliban … the allies started focusing on reconstruction in Afghanistan and the people there thought they would be able to build a place for themselves in the international community.

Unfortunately … the suffering of the people increased and their hopes were thwarted. …The Afghans experienced bombings by the allied forces on their wedding ceremonies, cultural gatherings and places of social festivities. The frequency of such attacks has increased in the last seven years. Even the reports of the UN, usually controlled by the allies and Nato, state that the number of Afghan casualties is more than 8,000.

The indiscriminate deaths of women, children, the elderly and the unarmed illustrate the fact that the foreign troops are not here only for Al Qaeda — the enemy of the foreign troops. Many people are of the opinion that the foreign forces want their stay to be as extended as possible and so they intentionally commit genocide. Several questions have been raised about the activities of the allied forces. Why can’t they discriminate between the civilians and those involved in armed resistance against the allied forces? Why do the allied forces always target wedding ceremonies and social festivities? The Afghan people have yet to get answers to these questions.

If the allied forces are convinced that the Taliban are not in majority among the Afghans … why do they look for them amongst the common people? The Afghans are caught between the ferocity of the Taliban and the ruthlessness of the allied forces. If the latter continue in this manner, the Afghans might be forced to take the path of a popular uprising. …The genocide of the Afghans should be stopped immediately. — (Sep 6)

— Selected and translated by Khadim Hussain.

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No room for fanaticism

By Dr Mahnaz Fatima

Fanaticism has grown in the country to the extent that settled areas in the NWFP and even in Sindh are facing a threat of take-over by obscurantist forces.

When we call these forces “religious extremists” or “religious fundamentalists” we tend to confer a kind of legitimacy on them by associating these trends with some form of religion when the reality is to the contrary.

Islam does not allow indiscriminate killing of innocent people no matter what the reason. Means are important and ends do not justify the means. God allows us to fight against only those who fight us and does not expect us to commit excesses as Allah loves not the ones who commit excesses. Killing one innocent person is like killing entire humanity. God also says that there is no compulsion in religion. And, God allows a great deal of freedom of expression and individual action.

He could have decreed and all would have fallen in line. But, this is not the route He adopted. God Himself appealed to human reason, and sent His message through thousands of messengers for the people to understand, own, believe, and then follow His creed. The fact that a whole lot of sinners thrive on earth shows that God gives people ample time, space and opportunity to rectify their behaviour before they are judged by Him. And, no one is allowed to take one’s own life no matter what. Life is a gift from God to whom the soul is destined to return only at a time of His choosing. No freedom of choice is allowed to human beings in this respect by the Creator.

These are some of the religious guidelines regarding human life and respect for it. Religious teachings must be followed, and we must be tolerant and wise instead of attempting to enforce our own worldview through brute force at the expense of innocent lives. According to the fundamentals of the faith, no physical offence should be done, no one should be harmed indiscriminately, and certainly no suicides.

An Islamic society is based on honesty, integrity, justice, equity, fair play and equal opportunity for all. Thus applied, Islam calls for an earnest effort made in the way of God to establish a benevolent society for His people to benefit from. Emphasis is required on good, polite behaviour, codes of public conduct and community, and national decision-making that would steer society in the desirable direction instead of expanding one’s own zone of influence through sheer terror.

Islam places great emphasis on knowledge acquisition and its valuable dissemination for a favourable impact on society. The first word of the first revelation sent to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was Iqra, that is, ‘read’. Nowhere did God ever enjoin only the men to read and not the women. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in his famous saying, “Acquire knowledge even if you have to travel to China,” does not discriminate between men and women. An unquenchable thirst for knowledge would then be the pursuit of the religious.

Burning down girls’ schools and depriving half the population of the opportunity to gain knowledge is not only extremism but irreligious conduct. It is fanaticism of the kind of shab-khoon, called terror in modern parlance.

In olden days, shab-khoon was a way to get people unawares while they slept at night, and shed their blood. The practice was considered highly reprehensible even in times when the world had not developed much scientifically and technologically, because it was unjust terror unleashed on a people who could not defend themselves.

Like all monopolies, any effort to establish a monopoly of a certain shade of religion over the people is equally bad. It generates negative spillovers. There is a need to dissociate oneself from practices based on brute force so that there is a clearer understanding of the tenets of Islam. This is necessary to deny any implicit sympathy that some, who call themselves religious-minded, may have for terror. The erroneous worldview must lose support amongst pockets of the population, poorest of the poor, as we see today.

Due emphasis should be laid on the economic prosperity of the community and on poverty alleviation that Islam so stresses. This can be done through better understanding of the principles of economic justice and equity enshrined in the faith which aim at ensuring a life of dignity for all. The uplifting principles of Islam need wider dissemination through the education system so that we attain the twin goals of ridding society of violence as well as poverty.

Income poverty stems from a poverty of knowledge, poverty of a mistaken belief system, poverty of values and poverty of intellect. All this requires a holistic knowledge-based view of what life is, what its purpose is, and how it should be lived.

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Investment in water

By Juliette Jowit

COUNTRIES across the world will have to dramatically increase investment in dams, pipes and other water infrastructure to avoid widespread flooding, drought and disease even before climate change accelerates these problems, experts have warned.

Investment needs to be at least doubled from the current level of $80bn a year, an international congress was told this week, and one leading authority said spending needed to rise to 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product just “to be able to cope with the current climate” — one thousand times the current level.

The warnings follow a summer of dramatic events, from hurricane flooding in the Caribbean and the east coast of America to desperate measures in drought-stricken Mediterranean countries, including importing water by ship.

Rich nations suffer huge under-investment, but the threat of poor infrastructure to populations in developing countries is even greater, said Dr Olcay Unver, director of the United Nations’ Global Water Assessment Unit.

So serious is the problem that next year the UN’s World Water Assessment Report will make one of its main messages the need for investment to “accelerate substantially”, said Unver.

“You can’t justify the deaths of so many children because of lack of infrastructure or lost productive time of people [who are] intellectually or physically incapacitated because of simple lack of access to safe water or sanitation,” he added. Dr Glen Daigger, senior vice-president of the International Water Association, said there was growing evidence that spending on clean water and sanitation was the single greatest contribution to reducing disease and death.

The UN has identified dams for hydropower and irrigation as leading drivers of sustainable economic growth in developing countries. “Water and sanitation is clearly a better investment than medical intervention, but it’s not sexy,” added Daigger.

Last year the World Bank called for investment in water infrastructure to more than double from $80bn to $180bn over the next 20-25 years to cope with population growth and climate change, which are expected to leave about four billion people living in “water stress” areas —deemed to have insufficient water to meet daily needs. Conditions would be particularly severe in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, said the bank. Water pollution and the threat to coastal areas of erosion, sea level rise and storm surges are also growing concerns.

However, experts meeting at the IWA conference of 2,700 water professionals in Vienna suggested the true scale of the problem could be much higher.

Prof Pavel Kabat, one of the lead authors of the water chapter in last year’s report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said investment needed to rise to 1.5 per cent of GDP for 20 years, just to cope with existing population demand and climate variability. Africa, the region with the greatest lack of infrastructure, would have to spend its entire forecast GDP growth for more than half a century even to reach relatively modest levels of water storage and supply; and even Europe would have to triple spending.

Failure to invest would mean “we’d have more recurrent floods and droughts because our systems are not able to take the magnitude and frequency of water we’re witnessing,” he said. It would also undermine other development spending in poorer nations, said Kabat, citing the example of Kenya, where he said two extreme years of wet and dry in the 1990s destroyed 40 per cent of the country’s wealth.

“If these things are not in place we can keep on building schools but we’re not doing the right thing,” he added.

Earlier this year the American Society of Civil Engineers said the US needed to spend $1.6tn over five years to repair all its crumbling infrastructure, and gave the worst assessment of all to the water sector.

—The Guardian, London
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Saturday
September 13, 2008
Ramazan 12, 1429



Civilians must lead

WHO in Pakistan is in charge of the war against terrorism? On Wednesday, COAS Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani issued a statement condemning recent violations of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty by US forces and missiles and vowed to defend Pakistan “at all costs”. Gen Kayani was categorical: “There is no question of any agreement or understanding with the coalition forces whereby they are allowed to conduct operations on our side of the border.” On Thursday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters that Gen Kayani’s statement “reflected the government policy”. Is the country to infer then that the civilians are taking their cue from the military top brass? Why must the army chief enunciate government policy rather than the prime minister — or the president?

Few would have failed to note that Gen Kayani’s statement came a day after President Zardari’s first press conference in which the president was repeatedly pressed on Pakistan’s position on the war against militancy. Two things stand out from that press conference. One, President Zardari chose to make his presidential debut whilst seated next to President Karzai. This was a strange decision as the Afghan president’s harsh and long-running attacks against the Pakistan Army, and particularly the ISI, have made him radioactive in the eyes of the Pakistani establishment. Second, President Zardari refused to take the many opportunities offered during the press conference to categorically condemn US attacks in Fata, particularly the raid by US Special Operations Forces in a village in South Waziristan on Sept 3. Indeed, at one point in the press conference President Zardari renewed his call for setting up an international fund for victims of the war against terrorism. Some will interpret this to mean that his government has accepted that more raids inside Pakistan’s tribal areas were inevitable. Given the jarring difference between the tone of President Zardari on Tuesday and that of Gen Kayani on Wednesday, one is led to question Prime Minister Gilani’s statement on Thursday that there is no disconnect between the civilians and the army.

Moreover, in these dangerous times, a further twist has been added: the Americans are lashing out at Gen Kayani. The New York Times article disclosing that last July President Bush had authorised US strikes inside Pakistan also contained an extraordinary direct allegation against Gen Kayani. Speaking anonymously a “senior American official” told the NYT that it was “difficult to imagine that [Gen Kayani] was not aware” of the plot to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul in July. Against this American onslaught, the Pakistani leadership — civilian and military — must speak with one voice. What that voice says must be determined by the Pakistani leadership. But what is clear is that it must be a civilian voice.


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No end to Israel’s land grab

GIVEN Israel’s hunger for land, one should not be surprised by the disclosure by an Israeli rights group that the Jewish settlers on the West Bank have usurped thousands of acres of Palestinian land in continued violation of international law. The rights group — B’Tselem — gives us two methods used by the Israeli settlers to steal Arab land: they have widened their settlements’ perimeter fences and scared the Arabs off. Actually there are many more — and barbaric and subtle — tactics which the Israeli government and settlers deploy to keep nibbling at Palestinian lands. These tactics, often monstrous, include building highways and roads that destroy Arab villages and orchards, declaring areas off-limits to Palestinians for declared reasons of security, and diverting water from Arab villages to the Jewish settlements. No wonder, the area under the settlements is now 40 per cent of the West Bank, even though in 1948, when the UN partition plan was adopted, the European settlers possessed only six per cent of Palestine’s land.

All settlement activity is in violation of international law. As the UN Security Council Resolution 446 says the “... policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East”. Similarly, the International Court of Justice declared the Wall which Israel was then building as illegal. But the Jewish state flaunted its hubris by going ahead with the construction of what Yasser Arafat called “the Middle East’s Berlin Wall” and so aligned it that it gobbled up more Palestinian land.

Evidently, there is no check or pressure on the Israeli leadership because the US and to a certain extent the European Union have extended it their unqualified support. All peace plans have fizzled out because Tel Aviv never had any intention of quitting even an inch of Palestinian land. In November last, Israel signed the Annapolis document, which pledged it and the US to a two-state solution by the end of this year. However, within a week of the signing, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that his government was not bound by the Annapolis timetable. The future, too, holds no hope for the Palestinians because both Barack Obama and John McCain, especially the former, have pledged America’s continued support to Israel in spite of its morally bankrupt position in the world.

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School wall collapse

THE death of four youngsters who were crushed under the weight of a 100-year-old wall which collapsed in a school on Manora Island on Thursday, speaks volumes for the kind of priority the educational authorities attach to safety at school. Although the school in question had been abandoned for a newer building nearby, the question rankles as to why it wasn’t demolished or fenced off. The old building had apparently been vacated six years ago as it had become a looming threat to the students and teachers. However, even after the students were shifted to a new school the concerned authorities continued to ignore demands to demolish the old structure. Pakistani schools face severe problems of infrastructure, such as the absence of boundary walls, dilapidated buildings, unusable furniture and so on. The statistics issued in 2007 are telling: 52 per cent of government schools in the country have no boundary wall while 15 per cent are without a proper building, placing the students at great risk, especially in light of the frequency with which school collapses are reported.

Last year when a school collapsed in Jacobabad, there were nine injuries but luckily no fatalities. However, Kashmiri children in 2005 were less fortunate when a massive earthquake caused schools, many of them poorly constructed, to collapse like a pack of dominoes. This is one problem facing the education sector to which there is a simple solution — money. The government can give a boost to existing infrastructure by allocating more funds to improve the condition of school buildings. Not only will this provide a more nurturing learning environment for children, it will also counter potentially life-threatening circumstances. The government needs to learn a lesson from the latest tragedy and direct all its attention to the renovation of such buildings so that they conform to safety norms. In this regard, a focus on quality is imperative. It is evident that the material used in the construction of schools is of poor quality. Moreover, inspection should take place at the time of building to ensure the safety of design and structure, while regular checks should be carried out once the school is operational. Meanwhile, the authorities in this case should be brought to book.

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OTHER VOICES - Sri Lankan Press


Concern over refugees
Daily Mirror


IT is not a matter of surprise that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed deep concern over escalating violence in northern Sri Lanka and the humanitarian impact of the clashes on civilians. As suggested by Secretary of the Peace Secretariat Prof Rajiva Wijesinha it is possible that the UN secretary-general had been prompted by reports about the large numbers of civilian casualties in other theatres of war making him conclude that the situation here is similar.

The UN secretary-general’s appeal … is not directed only at the government. He reminds all concerned … of their responsibility “to take active steps to ensure the safety and freedom of movement of civilians, allowing humanitarian organisations to do their work in safety.” Reports say that the fighting … uprooted 12,000 families in July alone.

The UN High Commissioner Pillay with her wealth of experience … will undoubtedly be able to understand the particular situation here…. Ms Pillay, who herself was a victim of both racial and gender discrimination in Apartheid South Africa, said that “if discrimination and inequality were allowed to fester, it would poison harmonious coexistence.”

While being responsive to concerns expressed by various countries and organisations over the situation prevailing in the country, it is Sri Lanka’s responsibility to take special care to alleviate the suffering that the hapless victims caught up in the armed conflict undergo today. The tribulations they undergo should receive the attention of the authorities as well as the rest of the country’s population not in response to appeals and concerns expressed by outsiders but because of the feelings of compassion that spring in human hearts….

The initiative taken by the National Freedom Front … to supply the requirements of the displaced people needs commendation. The party has decided to open a relief service centre to collect essential items of food, clothes and other materials for dispatch to the troubled areas. The main organiser of this move, NFF Chairman Wimal Weerawansa, in fact, is under obligation to extend the same consideration he extends to the security forces on the battlefront, to these victims of the war as well. Other parties that are genuinely concerned about the people’s suffering … should extend their cooperation in this humanitarian undertaking. — (Sept 12)

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EU’s tense ties with Russia
By Shadaba Islam

RELATIONS with Russia continue to dominate the European Union’s autumn foreign policy agenda, with the 27-nation bloc struggling to ease tensions with Moscow over its recent military action in Georgia while simultaneously seeking to convince worried former Soviet states that a resurgent Russia will not be allowed to become the dominant force in the region.

It is a difficult, if not an impossible, task. Most EU nations, heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas resources, are clearly determined to keep relations with Russia on an even keel. But they want to balance this with efforts to increase aid and trade with former Soviet states, especially Ukraine and Georgia, which feel threatened by Moscow.

The EU’s dual track approach was in evidence last week as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, acting as current EU president, flew to Moscow to convince Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to withdraw Russian troops from Georgia and then immediately held talks with Ukrainian leaders to draw the country closer into the European embrace.

Mr Sarkozy’s visit to Moscow was a partial success: the Russian leader promised to pull back soldiers from Georgia by the second week of October but insisted this was conditional on the deployment of 200 EU monitors to the region. In return, Mr Sarkozy said if Russia implemented its promise there would be no reason for EU-Russia talks not to go ahead in October, adding: “Things are perfectly clear: we want partnership and we want peace.”

The French leader’s visit to Moscow came only a week after the EU froze partnership talks with Moscow over its action in Georgia. EU members remain divided over how best to deal with Russia, with so-called ‘new’ EU states from former eastern Europe — joined by Britain and Sweden — demanding tougher action against Moscow but Germany and France lobbying for a more conciliatory approach.

A day later, the French president was back in Paris, promising closer cooperation with Ukraine which, with its large Russian minority, is increasingly worried about a possible Russian threat to its sovereignty. Kiev, which is demanding an EU membership promise, was told that it was “a European country that shares a common history and common values with the countries of the European Union”.

Officials said this was the first time that the Union had stated so clearly that Ukraine was on the path to EU entry. But, not surprisingly, Ukrainian officials expressed palpable dismay that the EU did not go further. Many Ukrainians had hoped that Russia’s military assault on Georgia, and its subsequent attempt to partition the former Soviet republic, might prompt the EU to go the extra mile for Ukraine which wants to join the EU by 2020.

Now, however, pro-West reformers in Kiev are concerned that many EU states, including heavyweights France and Germany, which remain lukewarm about offering EU membership to Ukraine, will become even more reluctant to do so because of fears this will further antagonise Russia.

The collapse last week of Kiev’s ruling coalition when opposition parties loyal to Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called for a law to weaken presidential powers while strengthening those of the prime minister, adds to concerns that faced with an unstable Ukraine, the EU will opt for keeping Kiev at arm’s length.

The EU was careful at the summit with Ukraine to affirm its commitment to the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to hold out the prospect of agreements on free trade and easier travel for Ukrainians to EU countries. Crucially, however, there was no promise of EU accession.

“Be clear that this agreement shuts no door, and maybe it opens some doors. This is the most we could offer, but I believe it to be a substantial step,” the French president insisted. But diplomats said Germany and the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent Belgium, were the most reluctant to state clearly that Ukraine could one day join the EU.

The three Baltic states, the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and the UK, while recognising that Ukrainian accession was not an immediate possibility, all sympathised with its aspirations.

As a result, for the moment, Ukraine will have to make do with an ‘association agreement’ with the EU, a pact that for Balkan countries such as Albania, Macedonia and Serbia represents the first step on the path to membership. In Ukraine’s case, however, EU officials insist that entry into the bloc is not on the cards in the immediate future.

The association deal is expected to be ready in about a year. At the same time, negotiations on an EU-Ukraine free-trade pact, underway since February, will only be wrapped up by the middle of 2009 at the earliest.

Unfortunately for Ukraine, Georgia and others, their calls for stronger ties to the EU, including demands that they be allowed to join the club, coincide with an EU-wide debate over the bloc’s institutional structures and future borders.

The ill-fated EU constitution designed to streamline European institutions to cope with enlargement, has still not been ratified after it was defeated in a referendum in Ireland earlier this year. In parallel, many EU states, including France and Germany, are demanding that the bloc put all plans for further expansion — including the possible inclusion of Turkey — on ice pending a decision on the treaty.

Ukraine’s Nato hopes have also run into objections from Germany and France, which in April blocked a US bid to put it on the fast track to membership. Nato foreign ministers will reconsider Ukraine and Georgia in December.

Moscow has watched warily in recent years as Ukraine and other former Soviet republics have pressed for closer ties with Nato and the EU. Seeking to ease such concerns, the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso insists that closer ties between Europe and Ukraine should not upset Russia. “We don’t need a Cold War in Europe, we need cool heads,” he said recently.

EU officials admit that given EU enlargement fatigue, Ukraine’s sheer size puts it far beyond the kind of expansion that the EU could begin to consider at the moment. With a population of 46 million, integrating Ukraine into the EU would be as problematic as Turkish entry.

Gaining membership of Nato is relatively easier than joining the EU which requires a large-scale adoption of EU economic, social and political rules and regulations. Nato’s focus is on comparatively simple questions of whether the newcomer could bring useful military forces or territory, and of whether existing members would be prepared to defend it.

The only problem is that if Ukraine and Georgia were to join Nato, the western military alliance could one day come into direct confrontation with Moscow.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.

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Arab takeover’s fallout
By Ian Herbert

Mark Hughes, the Manchester City manager, acknowledged on Wednesday that Abu Dhabi does not recognise Israel but insisted that the club’s new Arab owners would not present a problem to his defender Tal Ben Haim, the Israel captain.

There is a feeling among some who are close to Ben Haim, however, that the sale of the club to Arab owners — four weeks after the player signed from Chelsea — could present an impediment to the 26-year-old’s career at Eastlands. Ben Haim would certainly be unable to play in any exhibition matches or attend training sessions organised by the new owners in Abu Dhabi, owing to the United Arab Emirates’ policy of not allowing Israelis to enter the country.

The UAE embassy in London reiterated this week that “an Israeli citizen would not be allowed into the United Arab Emirates because there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries.”

Ben Haim, who has featured in each of City’s three Premier League matches this season, is familiar with such difficulties.

Though Abu Dhabi prides itself on being relatively religiously liberal, there are instances of intolerance. One of the half-brothers of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the man behind the (pounds sterling) 210m takeover of City, was responsible for setting up and running the Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up a few years ago, which sanctioned the publication of anti-semitic material.

Sheikh Sultan, the member of the Al Nahyan royal family who secured funding for the centre is understood to have been upbraided by his family. The embarrassed emiracy eventually closed down the centre in 2002.

Hughes also said the Al Nahyan takeover at City has lifted him back into a world he has missed since his playing days were concluded. “One of the main reasons I came here was the anticipation of going into these games with top, top quality players.” n

— © The Independent
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Sunday
Ramazan 13, 1429
September 14, 2008

Raids every other day


IT should now be clear to all and sundry that the US has decided to continue attacking targets inside Pakistan no matter what Islamabad’s sensitivities may be on the matter. This is evident from the increase in the frequency of raids by American forces and attacks by drones inside Fata. On Friday an American drone attacked a non-functional school building, killing 12 people. This was their fifth attack in 10 days, making it an average of one raid every second day. The reason for the impunity with which the Americans are operating inside Pakistan territory is obvious: the leadership chaos. The question of Pakistan’s military prowess and its ability to hit back is of secondary importance. In any case, we have no choice but to tackle the issue diplomatically. As Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Friday, Pakistan would like to settle the issue through diplomatic means because Islamabad enjoyed cordial relations with the countries concerned. This policy is obviously based on common sense. Pakistan has to act cool-headedly, because the situation is grave, and the allies tend to give an impression as if they are enemies. The glee with which President Hamid Karzai has endorsed America’s new ‘forward policy’ shows Afghan national interests getting mixed up with America’s war on terror. No Afghan leader would like to miss this opportunity. More menacingly, having received a snub from Nato, the Bush administration is now trying to rope in Britain. Even without Tony Blair one could be reasonably sure the British would be only too happy to be on board in raiding across the Durand Line as apparently Gordon Brown is no different inasmuch as poodle-like tendencies are concerned.

The issue for Pakistan is the need for putting its own house in order. One does not know who is minding the store. In fact, it appears the process of foreign policy formulation and its articulation has been forgotten and those at the helm are trying to learn it, for one cannot but note the gaucherie about it. Incidentally, do we have a foreign minister? It is indeed astonishing that everybody is doing the talking except Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Those who have spoken on the American raids are army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, President Asif Ali Zardari and the prime minister; the foreign minister, until yesterday, had been conspicuous by his silence. Also, the high-level contacts that have been a feature of our close relationship with China have declined. Since assuming office, the prime minister has visited Sri Lanka, America, Malaysia and Egypt, but, ignoring the Olympic formality, he has not paid an official visit to Beijing to know what our north-eastern neighbour thinks about the situation Pakistan is trapped in.

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Power play?

PAKISTAN is a long way from accepting a woman’s right to free speech. Shocking reports state that the PML-Q’s Senator Yasmeen Shah — who had earlier raised the issue of the women allegedly buried alive in Balochistan — has claimed that Senator Israrullah Zehri threatened her with dire consequences for highlighting the matter in the Senate. Mr Zehri had earlier stunned the nation by indicating that the killing and burying alive of women were part of Baloch tribal traditions. According to some reports, Senator Yasmeen Shah also claimed that Senator Zehri maintained that ‘a death squad comprising 12 tribesmen had been dispatched to assassinate her’. Clearly, the issue is not only about the burying alive of the ‘errant’ women of tribal terrains; it is also apparent that there is an attempt to dissuade those voices that are raised in condemnation. Although the Senate committee on human rights has condemned the Balochistan senator for his remarks to a fellow legislator, a deeper malaise is at play. Pakistan is one of the few places in the world where public figures not only get away with defending murder in the name of age-old customs and accusing the media of giving these atrocities undue coverage, they are also not prevented from uttering words that smack of a medieval mindset. It will certainly be a while before our women can be protected from brutal social mores that demand abject submission.

The plot has often been sidelined in the case of the murdered Balochistan women. First, all official emphasis centred on the ‘idea’ of the victims being ‘buried alive’ rather than the fact that the acts were crimes against the state. Second, the senator who deserved all-round censure for defending what is tantamount to plain murder was not pulled up by government high-ups as he deserved. Perhaps, it is not much more than a stunt to divert attention from the barbarism that plagues his province, however if a political personality — and Senator Zehri is not the only one to have done so — upholds such brutalities, why do we lay the blame at the door of jirgas that comprise orthodox elements who, unlike presumably educated legislators, can hardly envision a different world than the one they inhabit? Does no law prescribe any admonishment for those who condone such brutalities? After all, they are not much more than instigators of mass injustices against women. It is time that we woke up to the fact that it is those who promote inhumane customs, as much as the criminals themselves, that need to be deterred, irrespective of their political standing.

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Water crisis

AN acute shortage of water is set to play havoc with Pakistan’s crops. According to the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) the country will face a shortage of 35-40 per cent in the upcoming rabi (winter) season, threatening the wheat crop, which is critical to the country’s food security. To stave off a food crisis next year, Irsa has demanded that the two largest consumers of irrigation water — Sindh and Punjab — reduce their indents in the current last days of the kharif (summer) season. The provinces have been reluctant to accede to Irsa’s demand because reducing the water supplied to the rice and cotton crops in the crucial last watering period will dent the output of those crops, which are critical to Pakistan’s economy. Sindh and Punjab argue that nature may yet intervene to supply more water for the wheat crop this winter. Irsa has prevailed over Sindh but Punjab is resisting. The Punjab resistance is based on a shrewd calculation. Irsa wants Punjab to reduce its current indent from Tarbela dam and take extra water from Mangla; however, the canal system is such that a higher water level in Mangla will benefit Punjab more this winter than a higher level in Tarbela.

The current crisis, while grave, is only a symptom of a deeper malaise: the lack of water planning in the country. The current water crisis has been triggered by unusually low temperatures in the Northern Areas which has reduced the flow in rivers. However, that is precisely what long-term water planning accommodates for: seasonal fluctuations and a buffer for unexpected dry spells. As far back as 1976, when Tarbela was completed, it was estimated that Pakistan needed a new dam of Tarbela’s size — the world’s largest earth- and rock-filled dam — every seven years to meet its water requirements. Thirty-two years on, not a single comparable dam has been built. The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Pakistan’s ruling elite. Water is quite literally the lifeblood of Pakistan. Agriculture accounts for 20 per cent of the country’s GDP and employs 40 per cent of Pakistan’s labour force. What Pakistan desperately needs are two things: a national water policy and immediate implementation of that policy.

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Who owns Karachi?

By Bina Shah

I LIKE our city nazim Mr Mustafa Kamal’s ‘can do’ spirit with regard to his belief that it’s up to the citizens of Karachi to take responsibility for the upkeep and civic health of this city. Forward-thinking and progressive, the nazim has created a website for the project which boasts the tagline ‘My City — My Responsibility’.

The programme was started on Aug 14 this year, and the idea is simple: anyone can come forward and register himself or herself as a ‘city owner’. All you have to do is volunteer two hours of your time per week doing something “in the interest of the city”.

According to the website, on Independence Day, labourers, students, artists, members of the business community, government officers, elected representatives, taxi drivers, and even the pesh imams of mosques came and put their names down to become city owners. Although it’s still far too early to judge the success of the programme, the nazim has big dreams for Karachi, and envisions a whole cadre of city owners who will do things like plant trees, clear rubbish, inspect schools and hospitals, help with traffic (students of Karachi University and Sir Syed University did this in Clifton and Defence in the second week of September) and other civic duties of this nature.

All this got me thinking about the question: who owns Karachi? Is it the people? Is it the mafia? Is it the army? Is it the members of one ethnic group or another? The original inhabitants of the province? Immigrants of the old guard from India, or the new wave from the NWFP or Afghanistan? Is it the much-maligned ‘foreign hand’? Do I own Karachi? Do you?

Recently, I got a beautiful letter from a Mr Yusuf Dadabhoy, and many of the things he describes in it make this question even more complex. He defined old Karachi of the forties, fifties and sixties (the golden years, according to most people of my parents’ generation) as “the prestigious locality of Karachi: Garden East, bordering between Chowk Gurumandir on the south, Lasbella intersection on the north, [and] Soldier Bazaar on the west side”.

He went on to reminisce with great fondness how this area was considered the “gem of Karachi”, in which newly designed bungalows competed for grandeur with old mahals and havelis built by Hindu Sindhis in the thirties and forties, bringing to life with his vivid words a Karachi that most people in my generation and younger can’t even imagine in today’s Karachi of guns, drugs, crime and filth.

Mr Dadabhoy talked about the old Muslim Sindhi settlements around Lasbella Chowk, known as goths, and described a cheerful scene on Eid day as “little Sindhi children dressed in shining red, orange and yellow shalwar kameez with matching glittering gold and silver dupattas, golden and silver sandals with little heels and bands packed our houses in good cheer”.

In true Gujarati style, the grand houses of this neighbourhood would open their doors to the Sindhis and treat them to morning Eid feasts of Indian-spiced whole chickens, tomato-flavoured red mutton ‘champ’ qorma, Gujarati kofta with fresh baked naan, meethi roti, meetha paratha, coconut-filled samosas, and Gujarati mithai.

I learned more about Karachi from Mr Dadabhoy’s letter than I have from all my years living in this city, to be honest. He told me about the newly built universities in the Garden East area, the engineering schools, science colleges, the hospitals, the primary and secondary schools. I could close my eyes and envision wide boulevards lined with cherry trees that bloomed with hibiscus and gulhmohar in springtime. I could smell the chicken tikka as it was being grilled on the hot coals at Bundu Khan’s; I could hear the shouts of excited children as they stood in line at the Bambino, Lyric, Naz and Nishaat cinemas. And if I concentrated hard, I could hear the lions roaring from Karachi Zoo in the early mornings….

And that’s not all. Karachi at one point was considered to be one of the most exciting centres of industrial activity: crossing the Lasbella Bridge, you’d get to the Site Industrial Area, where large cotton mills, factories that produced ceramics, aluminum, plastics, cast iron foundries, cement plants, pipe-making plants, soap and detergent plants, all bore testament to the remarkable ‘can-do’ spirit that Karachi has always been known for.

At five o’clock, the bells and whistles would pierce the air, and Mr Dadabhoy told me that you’d see lines of disciplined workers changing shifts from their homes in Pak Colony, Nazimabad, Golimar and Lasbella. “We invested in businesses, industries, primary schools, hospitals, charities, banking and insurance … the urban Sindhi contributed greatly to making Pakistan a sustainable country.”

But as Mr Dadabhoy rightly points out in his letter, things are different today. “The plight of the urban Sindhi living in scattered goths around the old areas of Karachi is now [moving] towards despondency, helplessness, and misery…. What went wrong with the Sindh provincial urban planning commission?... why were they not given land to build new settlements closer to their goths, competitive primary schools, institutes to learn basic trade or the healthcare profession, Sindh government scholarships for the bright and able, community centres or government-funded programmes to uplift their goths?”

Some provincial planners, well aware of the plight of the urban Sindhi population, have decided to focus on Thatta as an option for a growing young population, and with development of both Thatta and the Keti Bandar area, the women legislators of Sindh are working on creating modern settlements with sound infrastructure to house the disenfranchised populations of the old goths of Karachi, as well as a restive interior youth who want to move from the rural to the urban areas of Sindh, but find it hard to succeed in Karachi.

Yes, I can’t help but wonder, does the urban Sindhi today feel that he or she owns Karachi? And if the new generations do find Thatta a viable alternative to the economic opportunities that once attracted people from all over Pakistan to Karachi, the gem of Pakistan, will they feel cheated of their inheritance?

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A football ballet

By Helen Pidd

WHEN the English National Ballet (ENB) announced a new work which interpreted 10 great footballing moments through the medium of dance, there was much to look forward to — not least in the hairdressing department.

Would the company don Charles II-style wigs of tightly permed curls to play Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita? Are there any dancers bald enough to make a convincing Archie Gemmill, the Scotsman who scored a wondrous goal against the Netherlands in the 1978 World Cup (“Scotland are in dreamland!” blared TV commentator David Coleman)? Can a dancer still look elegant en pointe in a Maradona mullet?

Alas, these important questions must remain unanswered. The Beautiful Game — A Football Ballet, which previewed on Friday in London ahead of its premiere proper in Liverpool next Tuesday, does not take its mission literally. Its nine-strong cast wear their own, tasteful hair throughout.

And while they do incorporate elements of each of the ten pieces of footballing history voted for by more than 20,000 fans as being the best ever, they do so in a rather loose manner.

It opens with five buff boys in football kits jogging out of an imaginary tunnel, followed by four dainty ballerinas in sporty, tight white tops and red, white and blue tutus.

Another highlight of The Beautiful Game comes when one of the ballerinas is hoisted into the sky, her fingertips clearly tapping an imaginary ball, which will invoke painful memories for those still bitter about Diego Maradona and the Hand of God in the 1986 World Cup.

Other footballing memories recreated with arabesques and battements include Gordon Banks’s World Cup save against Brazil in 1970, David Beckham’s free kick against Greece in 2001, Johan Cruyff’s nifty turn, which he debuted in 1974, and, of course, England’s Geoff Hurst’s “They think it’s all over” World Cup goal from 1966.

At the launch, former soccer star John Barnes — a guest of the New Football Pools, which commissioned the ballet to celebrate its 85th anniversary — admitted that professional ballet dancers train far harder than their footballing counterparts.

“For most footballers, they just have to give their all for 90 minutes two times a week, and apart from a few training sessions spend the rest of the time resting. They only train intensively for six weeks before the new season,” said Barnes, who in the 1980s was sent, with his team mates at the southern English club Watford, to learn ballet by the club’s then manager, Graham Taylor, who believed it would improve their footwork, coordination and balance.

— The Guardian, London

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OTHER VOICES - Indian Press

On to a new era of discovery

The Hindu

FOURTEEN years, thousands of physicists and $8bn in the making, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s most powerful particle accelerator built at the European Centre for Nuclear Research in Geneva, crossed a major milestone on Wednesday. The first proton beam was successfully switched on and steered around the full 27-kilometre circumference of the underground ringed machine, marking the beginning of a new era of discovery in physics. The world particle physics community today is perhaps in the midst of a revolution in its understanding of what the universe is made of and how it works. Even as physicists have successfully described the fundamental constituents of matter that make up the universe with increasing detail based on what is called the Standard Model, over the last 15 years they have realised that they know much less than they thought they did. For instance, the Model cannot describe the universe in the first moments after the Big Bang. Today physicists believe that visible matter — the stars and the galaxies — makes up only five per cent of the energy density of the universe. The rest is believed to be some mysterious dark matter and dark energy. A crucial missing link in the Standard Model is the Higgs boson, the elusive particle that is believed to endow mass to all the particles. Tevatron, the most powerful accelerator of today at Fermilab in the United States, fell short of the energy required to produce Higgs.

The LHC is designed to bring together counter-rotating beams of protons to collide head-on with seven times Tevatron’s energy and create temperatures and energy densities prevalent at a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. This will produce a host of particles — known, expected and totally unexpected. These may answer some outstanding questions. Is Higgs for real? What is dark matter made of? What is driving the accelerated expansion of the universe? What lies beyond the Standard Model? Is it supersymmetry? Are there higher dimensions that string theories require? Is there new physics lurking at these energies and beyond? They may also raise new ones. All these will slowly unravel as results begin to emerge from the LHC a year from now. About 600 million collisions per second will spew out 15 million gigabytes of data annually that physicists around the world will analyse. In this exciting development, there is some creditable contribution from Indian physicists, who are participating in two of the six experiments to be performed using the LHC. It is, however, unfortunate that at this time of great scientific excitement over the prospect of new discoveries, there should be irrational voices predicting an apocalypse. — (Sept 12)
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Tuesday
Ramazan 15, 1429
September 16, 2008

As the Chenab dries up


THE last days of the kharif (summer) agricultural season are proving to be a nail-biter for farmers. In recent weeks, the rice, cotton and sugarcane crops have been threatened by a shortage of irrigation water. Now it appears that India may be adding to the water woes by reducing the flow of water in the Chenab river. Directly threatened are the fields of basmati rice on either side of the Chenab, dealing a potentially heavy blow to the economy. The Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan has predicted that Pakistan could earn up to $3bn from the export of rice — a crucial fillip for an economy struggling with a record current account deficit. However, a shortfall of water in the crucial last two weeks of the kharif season is sure to adversely affect the output of the rice, cotton and sugarcane crops.

It is not clear what precisely is causing the drop in the Chenab river. On the one hand, the Indus river system is generally facing a shortage of water this year and the drop in the Chenab river could be a part of this general picture. On the other hand, Pakistan’s suspicions of the Baglihar hydroelectric dam project, built on the Chenab river in the Indian-administered Jammu region, have resurfaced. Last month, the Pakistan Indus Water Commissioner Jamaat Ali Shah warned that India was violating the Indus Waters Treaty, signed in 1960 and brokered by the World Bank, on two counts by filling the Baglihar dam. According to Mr Shah, India may only fill the Baglihar dam up to Aug 31 and that too only if 55,000 cusecs of water is released downstream. Today, the water flow is approximately 20,000 cusecs, significantly less than the average low of 35,000 cusecs. So is India filling Baglihar beyond the period it is allowed to and over and above what is permissible?

There can be no immediate answer. Commissioner Shah will write to his Indian counterpart, G. Aranganathan, who will then write to the Jammu and Kashmir Indus water commissioner before writing back to Mr Shah — by which time the kharif season will have ended. There is, however, a long-term issue at stake. Pakistan’s concerns over the Baglihar dam, the construction of which began in 1999, led to the appointment of a neutral expert, Raymond Lafitte, who delivered a binding verdict in Feb 2007 which suggested some changes to the design of the dam but also overruled some of Pakistan’s objections. In late July, Commissioner Shah inspected the dam and declared that it conformed to Professor Lafitte’s recommendations. However, the underlying issue — that India can and is manipulating the flow of water in the Chenab through the Baglihar dam — is clearly not settled. For this, Pakistan must study the relevant data and present proof of foul play, if any, to the World Bank for resolution.

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Delhi bomb blasts

PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani did well to condemn without reservations the bomb blasts that spilled innocent blood in New Delhi on Saturday. These synchronised blasts created havoc in some of the Indian capital’s busiest shopping districts, killing at least 20 people and injuring over 100, besides causing widespread panic. With the Indian Mujahideen — as yet a shadowy group — having claimed the responsibility for the slaughter, at least at the initial stage of investigation there is little room for Indian officials or the press to blame Pakistan or Pakistan-based groups, as has been the practice in the past. In recent months, the Indian Mujahideen have claimed responsibility for a number of similar blasts in other Indian cities including Ahmedabad and Jaipur, but it is far from clear what precisely they intend to achieve by these acts of brutal madness that kill innocent people and fan existing communal tensions.

The explosions have coincided with demonstrations in Indian-administered Kashmir, where a new wave of protests against New Delhi’s rule has been raging since the controversial June transfer of 100 acres of land to a Hindu trust — although it is not clear whether the explosions have any link to the Kashmir unrest. But bombing shopping centres and killing innocent men, women and children are hardly the way to ventilate one’s grievances and seek their redressal. On the contrary, such barbaric deeds are counterproductive and serve only to strengthen the hands of other communal organisations. Hopefully, investigations into the blasts will lead to the arrest of those responsible for the crime.

The Indian press is calling for tougher anti-terror laws and is blaming the security agencies for intelligence failure. However, this can only be part of the solution to a menace that is rooted in communal and socio-economic grievances. It would also be in keeping with India’s secular credentials if laws to curtail terror were applied to all groups guilty of inciting communal hatred. This will help ensure that the Indian government keeps its focus on combating the activities of all extremist elements seen as much in the New Delhi explosions as in the recent attacks on India’s Christian minority and churches. Failure to do so will cause further resentment against the state and fuel militancy.

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For the sake of children

CHILD mortality rates are a good indication of the priority a country attaches to the health of its children. In this regard, there is optimism that governments are paying closer attention to the issue. According to Unicef, child mortality rates have fallen by 27 per cent since 1990. On the grimmer side, however, the figure is in favour of the developed world while insufficient progress has been made in Africa and Asia on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds. The under-five mortality rate in Pakistan was recorded at 99 per 1,000 live births in 2005, well above the average of 68 per 1,000 live births around the world. While progress has been made to some extent in comparison to past figures, the country needs to do much more to achieve the MDG in child mortality. The pursuit of this goal implores the question: what determines the child mortality rate in Pakistan? It would be impossible to isolate factors such as education, income, maternal care practices, basic sanitation, lack of infrastructure and healthcare facilities, under-nutrition and the urban-rural divide from child mortality.

The causes of child mortality provide the key to its solution. The overall lack of infrastructure and facilities has a devastating impact on child mortality rates. The government needs to put in place such infrastructure so that poverty-stricken families in both urban and rural areas have access to healthcare facilities. Given the far-reaching impact of skyrocketing food prices, targeted subsidies should be given to deal with the problems of hunger and undernourishment. Programmes aimed at lowering the child mortality rate should target low-income, illiterate families whose children have all the cumulative risks associated with malnourishment, poor access to healthcare and economic barriers. Education and awareness are equally important for teaching families about the basics of child healthcare such as essential vaccinations. There is a dearth of female teachers and health workers in the country which exacerbates the problem. Meanwhile, the advances made by countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal in this respect should serve as an eye-opener for Pakistan and propel it to act with speed.

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How not to fight the US

By Shahab Usto

DEVIATING somewhat from his usual mantra — that fighting terrorism is in Pakistan’s own interest — President Bush recently laid the ‘responsibility’ of fighting terrorism at Pakistan’s doorstep. This raises questions about the terms on which Pakistan joined the war.

In democracies, such questions are decided in parliament. But unfortunately, in Pakistan, most wars have been fought under one or the other military ruler. The decision to join the current war was also taken by Gen Musharraf on the spur of moment. Since then a pall of secrecy has surrounded the terms of engagement. The official line is that Pakistan joined the war in its own interest. In reality, the war was godsend for Gen Musharraf especially when Pakistan was dubbed as America’s ‘non-Nato ally’ in the war.

But the country paid a heavy price for Gen Musharraf’s political indebtedness to the West. The Americans, it seems, were given a free hand in running the war, using our facilities, intruding our territory, killing our civilians, destroying the tribal and administrative structure of Fata, and thus fanning fury against the state. Yes, in return Pakistan did receive millions of dollars a month, but to what end?

Apparently, the war on terror was the outcome of the events of 9/11, but analysts hold that such a war exemplifies one long conceived by the neo-con votaries of the Bush doctrine. Its purpose was to achieve political objectives using awesome US military power and violating human rights and international laws including the Geneva Conventions.

Therefore, instead of using ground forces to mop up Al Qaeda – Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan, the tactics used were to inspire awe and terror through massive aerial bombing, killing thousands of innocent civilians and destroying their homes and hamlets. It is no surprise that the hostility towards the Americans arising from such attacks allowed the Taliban to continue their sway over large swathes of territory running from southeastern Afghanistan to Pakistan’s tribal regions in the northwest.

On the civilian front, President Karzai has utterly failed to develop the civil and political institutions of his own country in order to build a viable state. He has ruled with the support of warlords. Therefore, instead of political parties, it is powerful groups based on tribal, sectarian or ethnic lines that dominate.

The so-called provincial reconstruction teams installed by the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan to run developmental projects have also proved ineffectual. Finally, the eradication of poppy production in Afghanistan that fetches billions of dollars per annum and thus feeds much of the Al Qaeda–Taliban insurgency is far from being accomplished.

No wonder that after having fought a seven-year futile war, killing thousands of innocent people and squandering billions of dollars, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen has admitted that America is “not winning” the war in Afghanistan.

But he has not owned US military and political failures in Afghanistan, and has instead concentrated on terrorist attacks on Nato, launched from safe havens in Fata. Therefore, pursuing a new military strategy the US has initiated ground and aerial attacks in Fata, ignoring the reservations of its Nato allies.

Although Gen Kayani and Prime Minister Gilani have stood up against this violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, a difficult question has arisen for the fledgling government: how does one resist US aggression?

Predictably, some leaders are expounding a quid pro quo approach, and have suggested a blockade on US transit cargo to Afghanistan and retaliating militarily. Such bravado may earn them public support, but will prove detrimental if not suicidal for the country. Even if Pakistan succeeded in resisting US military attacks, it could not withstand the economic and political fallout of such a confrontation, especially in view of its floundering economy and worsening law and order situation.

Moreover, we may all share anti-US sentiments, but we do not share a national outlook on the war, as did the Vietnamese in their fight against the US. The conduct of our politics has divided us into disparate political, sectarian and ethnic groups. We cannot confront a superpower on the issue of terrorism that has all but ruined our polity.

Therefore, prudence is needed to steer the country out of its predicament. We should use our being a front-line state in this war to our own advantage and engage the US-led West in a long-term constructive partnership on the lines of what once front-line states like Germany and Japan did after the Second World War.

Luckily, the Americans also seem to think along these lines. Already, the administration has come up with a large aid package over the next decade. The Saudis have also pledged funds to ease Pakistan’s oil burden. Given that the war on terror is a global menace, the Europeans and powers like Russia should also be convinced of the need to share the financial burden in this region.

A national consensus must also be forged through parliament on renegotiating the terms of engagement with the US. The consensus would enable the government to negotiate from a position of strength. The new terms should clearly define operational areas and objectives.

Each party should restrict its operations to the Durand Line; sharing resources and intelligence, the objective should be not only to destroy terrorist infrastructure, but also to reconstruct the social and political infrastructure of Fata — a place where most are out of a job, illiteracy prevails and where there are no modern political institutions.

There is little doubt that development in Fata and the defeat of terrorism there holds the key to at least temporary success. If Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are at stake in Fata, then the future of the war on terror and the credibility of the Bush doctrine are also at stake.

A point to remember is that even if the war is won along the Afghan and Pakistan frontier, terrorism will still not be defeated as long as injustices continue in Kashmir, Palestine and the Arab countries — just as it will not as long as the US continues with its hostilities towards Iran and supports dictators the world over.

shahabusto@hotmail.com

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

Russia’s Opec bear hug

By Richard Wachman

AS if the prospect of a global recession isn’t enough, consider the latest threat to world economic stability: an alliance between Russia and Opec, the oil-producing cartel dominated by Saudi Arabia.

That’s a scary possibility, as Russia supplies one third of Europe’s energy needs, while Opec accounts for nearly 40 per cent of global oil production. Together they produce half the world’s oil, so any pact that paves the way for Russia to become a full member of the cartel would present a threat to many countries, which are becoming increasingly dependent on their energy imports.

But is such a merger really on the cards? The Russians would clearly like one: last week, it sent its energy minister Igor Sechin to attend Opec’s meeting in Vienna and proposed ‘extensive co-operation’ with the cartel. A memorandum of understanding is being prepared for signature in the coming months.

Oil is Russia’s biggest bargaining chip, as the soaraway price has done more than anything else to give it the confidence and clout to re-assert itself on the world stage. A pact with Opec would strengthen Moscow at a time when it has lost friends in the West following its invasion of Georgia and its harassment of foreign companies, such as BP, which have business interests in Russia.

An extension of the oil cartel to include Russia, however, will be hard to pull off. Saudi Arabia, by far the most important Opec member, is a conservative state supposedly aligned with the United States, and may be reluctant to alienate such a powerful ally. But it is not impossible: Opec already comprises countries hostile to the US, notably Iran and Venezuela. So why not add Russia?

Hidden from the debate, however, is the fact that Saudi Arabia is a cartel within a cartel. With 21 per cent of all Middle Eastern proven oil reserves, it is the only country with significant surplus capacity. That means it can cushion itself from price falls by bumping up volume in a way that other countries can’t. No doubt that was one reason why Russia has been frantically lobbying behind the scenes for Opec to cut production to keep prices high, as it faces capacity restraints and stands to lose billions in foreign reserves.

Last week, the cartel said it would cut production by around 500,000 barrels, bringing a rebuke from the International Energy Agency, which claimed the move would undermine the price relief that consumers have enjoyed in the last month.

But Opec may have overreached itself: by trying keep the price of oil at around $100 a barrel, it has stoked fears that a recession will be deeper than anticipated and will lead to a slump in demand. As a consequence, oil closed on Friday at just under $100 a barrel and could slide further.

— The Guardian, London

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

OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press

We must speak with one voice

Ibrat

THE fact that … Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has said that under the new democratic leadership all elements of national power will defend the country’s territorial integrity with full support of the people is quite encouraging. Speaking at the corps commanders’ conference he talked about the unanimity of opinion between the government and the army. This explanation has come when the transition to democracy has hardly reached completion. At this juncture, an explanation about the unanimity of views raises eyebrows and concerns. But the incumbent army chief is a professional soldier and not in favour of indulging in politics. As soon as he took over command from Gen Musharraf, he called back … army officers from civilian institutions. This is only one example.

While taking notice of US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen’s statement in which he had said that the US would cover areas on both sides of the border, Gen Kayani vowed to defend Pakistan at all cost. Gen Kayani asserted that there was no agreement with the US forces in which they were allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistani territory.

It would have been better if this statement had come from the president or prime minister. However, there are reports that before issuing this statement the president was consulted. The very next day Prime Minister Gilani endorsed Gen Kayani’s statement and said it “reflected the government’s policy”. In a democratic set-up, the civilian administration is the competent authority to make decisions like what action should be taken on the borders and when and under what strategy should troops be called out from the barracks. Gen Kayani followed the principle that the new democratic leadership will defend the country’s territorial integrity. Hence he rejected the impression created by certain quarters that there were differences between the government and the army.

However, there is a dire need that the Pakistani leadership — civilian and military — speak with one voice and … this must come from the civilian leadership. Prime Minister Gilani’s statement that Pakistan will deal with the situation through a diplomatic approach … is very moderate. This may be a pragmatic approach because war is not the solution to any problem. Although the Pakistani Army has the capability to deal with aggression, diplomatic channels should first be fully utilised.

President Asif Ali Zardari during his visit will meet the British prime minister and raise issues such as the war on terror, the ongoing operation against extremists in Fata and US air raids in Pakistan’s territory. President Zardari will also address the UN Assembly where he is expected to hold meetings with President Bush and Indian Premier Manmohan Singh.

This illustrates that wide-ranging diplomatic efforts are being made. First the diplomatic option should be exercised. In case of war even the Americans will not be winners as they will not get the required results. They would leave huge conflicts … and have a negative impact on the region. Our political leadership is well aware of this situation. Therefore diplomatic sources should be used skillfully as we already have witnessed a misadventure in Kargil. Not falling prey to any haste, we should enter the process of dialogue. — (Sept 14)

— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi
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