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  #521  
Old Tuesday, May 22, 2012
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Chicago hiccups

May 22nd, 2012


As one would have expected, the Nato summit in Chicago seems to have run into quite a few hiccups, especially as far as Pakistan and America are concerned. Their bilateral relationship has, of late, been clouded by the Nato supply routes closure issue and it seems that leaving it unresolved was perhaps not such a good idea for Islamabad. President Asif Ali Zardari met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the body language that could be seen in the photographs of the meeting was one that showed the Pakistani side playing on a relatively weak wicket. The message sent to Pakistan is clear: either open the Nato supply routes immediately or prepare to face the consequences. More than a billion dollars in coalition support fund rest on our playing ball with the US, while reopening the supply routes will allow us to earn around one million dollars a day in tolls and fees.

For now, the main sticking point appears to be an apology for the Salala attacks. At this point, Pakistan should try and understand that it is unlikely to receive any apology. This is a presidential year in the US and Obama has already been slammed by his opponent Mitt Romney for always apologising for America. An apology for Salala will only make Obama seem weaker and unfortunately Pakistan will have to bear the brunt of this reality. The other outstanding issue is drone attacks. The Parliamentary Committee on National Security demanded an end to drone attacks as a precondition for reopening Nato supply routes. This, too, is an exercise in futility, not least because several drone strikes have taken place in recent weeks following the committee declaring its demands. Drones, America says, are a key feature of its war on the militants, and are feared as such by the latter. So perhaps, what Pakistan can demand is joint ownership or a joint monitoring mechanism. Besides, had we not allowed the sanctuaries to exist in parts of Fata and had shown the will to take them out, perhaps we wouldn’t have had to deal with the drones issue in the first place. We should realise that time is running out and that the rest of the world will move on, without us if it needs to. The endgame in Afghanistan has already been set into motion and Pakistan will find itself cut off and isolated should it not be open to compromise.


When to close schools

May 22nd, 2012


The Sindh government’s notification that the summer holidays for schools will start in July and last till the end of August makes sense since it will coincide with the particularly long summer fasts during the month of Ramazan. However, the decision does not take into account the needs of the hundreds of schools in the province that follow the Cambridge system, as their school year ends a month earlier. This has been an issue on previous occasion and one would have thought that by now various stakeholders would have resolved this problem. To announce the decision towards the end of May, when parents have already scheduled vacations and school terms are winding down, shows a complete lack of foresight on the part of the Sindh government.

By taking the decision so late in the school year, the Sindh government has essentially rammed through a choice they knew would be controversial. The issue of the end of the school term arises every year and every year authorities hold off on resolving it once and for all. Ideally, we should have a system of education in the entire country with all schools having the same school year in terms of duration. Pakistan’s education system, however, is far from ideal and the bulk of the problems extend well beyond this issue. Until then, it is incumbent on the provincial government to make such decisions only after consulting all the different schools.

It would be unrealistic to expect the Cambridge-system schools to follow the Sindh government’s last-minute decision. Academic calendars are planned well in advance and to change them right now would lead to a disruption in the school year. Such a decision could only have been implemented had it been taken before the academic year began. Rather than trying to ram through this decision, the government would be well served to quickly make a decision for the next school year after discussing the matter with everyone who is affected by it. Education is not like other matters where the government can force everyone to follow along with its whimsical dictates.


Assault on temple

May 22nd, 2012


The state of madness we have slipped into as a society is rather deplorable and the descent has taken a toll on ethical and moral values. The degree of hatred directed towards minority communities demonstrates just how depraved we have become and the extent to which we have alienated ourselves from all sense of rationality and logical reasoning.

The latest of many incidents of persecution against minority communities came in the Gorgathri district of Peshawar, where the 160-year-old Goraknath Hindu temple was vandalised when unknown individuals entered it in the early hours of morning, on May 20. When it was opened for prayer in the evening, the place had been ransacked. Sacred statues, Holy Scriptures and pictures placed inside had been destroyed, while the perpetrators were able to escape undetected. The police have lodged an FIR on the basis of complaints by the Hindu community. The historic temple, which had remained closed for 60 years, had opened only recently in October last year, following a ruling by a two-member Peshawar High Court bench arguing that despite the existing dispute over ownership, people could not be denied the right to worship at the temple.

But this basic right to practise one’s religion has now been snatched away by men who took matters into their own hands. It is not known who they are, but one can only assume they most likely had extremist links. It is difficult to fathom what they hold against a miniscule religious minority which presents no apparent threat to them and had been engaged with the temple, quietly and peacefully over time. The degree of intolerance we have built within our society is frightening and the incident in Peshawar is the latest manifestation of this. The demonstrations of hatred we see every now and then, at increasingly regular intervals, are still growing and will not end until the culprits in this case — and others like it — are apprehended and penalised under the relevant laws in order to deter others from taking similar action.

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Pakistan’s ‘restraint’ at Chicago
May 23rd, 2012


Pakistan has decided not to show its real hand at the Chicago Nato summit and has recoiled to the position taken earlier that the Nato supply route will reopen only after the US has apologised and retreated from its position of using drones inside Pakistani territory. The dramatic scene that some observers (worried about its increasing isolation) had hoped for — of Pakistan returning to the international fold by announcing the reopening — has not taken place.

President Asif Ali Zardari did not make a speech that could have earned him a standing ovation from the 60 heads of state. He was, perhaps, partially looking over his shoulder to Pakistan where the establishment is scared of the reaction that such a ‘capitulation’ will bring in its wake. Contrary to his endlessly supple approach to crises, he made reference to ‘respect’ as a sop to the rough public opinion inside Pakistan. But his real message was packed in what he said next: “The cabinet’s Defence Committee has decided to direct the relevant officials to conclude negotiations for resumption of the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCS) needed to supply foreign troops in Afghanistan”.

The media back home has focused on the ‘snub’ that President Zardari received from US President Barack Obama for not giving in, ignoring that both presidents were going through a pantomime dictated by domestic politics. When the GLOCS are discussed in the coming days, Pakistan will apply all kinds of formulas to address its real concerns: reformulate the modalities of ‘apology’ and ‘drones’ and get a better deal from the Nato route which may have become a ‘once only’ option to counter the more expensive alternative ‘northern route’ that will isolate Pakistan even more.

No one should ignore that President Zardari also said “the foreign fighters and non-state actors seeking to destabilise Afghanistan and the region, if found on our soil, must be expelled”. He was recalling words used by Pakistan’s parliament while laying down the ground rules for the country’s foreign policy. What is remarkable is that he also explained in his speech why Pakistan was unable to remove the safe havens in North Waziristan which the world has been perceiving as Pakistan military’s plot to cause discomfiture to Nato in Afghanistan: “[Pakistan] would require the support of the international community, both in terms of resources and capacity-building. It will also require measures aimed at the economic well-being of the people of the areas affected by the military action”.

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was clearly understanding when he said: “We did not anticipate an agreement on the Pakistan transit routes to be reached at this summit. That was not planned”. The summit declaration pointed to future progress on the matter of routes. It said: “The alliance expressed appreciation to Russia and Central Asian governments for allowing supply convoys through their territory while Nato continues to work with Pakistan to reopen the ground lines of communication as soon as possible.”

There are many reasons why Pakistan has been restrained at the Chicago Nato summit about the reopening of the Nato supply route but one powerful reason is the Defence of Pakistan Council (DPC) led by religious leaders and elements known as non-state actors. What is more dangerous is that the political parties opposed to the ruling coalition have lined up behind the DPC and are threatening their own protests, perhaps secretly appreciating the possibility that al Qaeda and the Taliban will oblige by attacking the supply route with suicide bombers.

Pakistan must come out of its internal contradictions perpetuated by terrorism and the compulsion of the national media of presenting a one-sided xenophobic picture for fear of getting their reporters killed. The world is puzzled by the behaviour of the government and military of Pakistan, falsely bitter towards the world and pusillanimous towards the elements that rob the state of its internal sovereignty.


Advice from Mr Erdogan

May 23rd, 2012


In becoming the first foreign leader to address a joint sitting of parliament twice, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered a bromide-ridden speech to his Pakistani counterparts. According to Erdogan, the democratic process is vital to a country’s economy and can help strengthen it. No one will disagree with this, though there may be some who will say that the opposite may also be true: that before one can have democracy, one needs to have a sound economy. Unfortunately, in Pakistan neither seems possible because what we really have is a kleptocracy, and so a speech discussing corruption would have been more relevant. Kleptocracy is a form of political and government corruption where the government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class (military, feudal, businessmen) at the expense of the wider population, often without even the pretense of honest service, such as now. This type of government corruption is often achieved by the embezzlement of state funds. Therefore, we can only agree with the Turkish prime minister on this in a hypothetical way — and perhaps some time in the future we can hope that our existing kleptocracy will morph into a genuine democracy of sorts.

It would also be pertinent to mention that the Turkish prime minister needs to put into action the good advice he has proffered Pakistan in his own country. His government has used Turkey’s strong economy to carry out a series of anti-democratic attacks on the opposition. In some cases, the actions can be justified as rectifying the balance of power in favour of civilians. But opposition civilian politicians, members of academia and many journalists have been arrested. Further, the government continues to behave brutally towards its Kurdish minority and still refuses to accept the Armenian genocide.

As such, a strong economic base in itself will not necessarily strengthen democracy – China is a good example of this although we do believe that China’s growth will eventually stall until it also begins to give its citizens more political freedom. Turkey is not yet a shining example of the country we need to emulate and we think there’s little to be learned in either case from their example because Turkey has not been, and is not, a kleptocracy.
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  #523  
Old Thursday, May 24, 2012
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Karachi’s killing fields

May 24th, 2012


The various kinds of violence that confront Karachi form a puzzle that seems to be becoming increasingly difficult to understand, let alone unravel or solve. The situation is further complicated because the precise contours of the violence keep changing. Sometimes, it assumes sectarian dimensions, while at other times it takes on an ethnic or social shape. This multi-dimensional picture makes matters very difficult to comprehend and even more difficult to tackle with any degree of lasting success. Certainly, so far, the authorities have failed in all endeavours to either identify or resolve the source of this violence and mayhem.

However, the latest episode of blood-letting to shatter Karachi was relatively easier to comprehend since it was quite evidently political in nature. The Awami Tehrik, which faced the brunt of the attack in which at least 12 people died and another 35 were injured, had been staging a rally to protest recent demands, by hitherto unknown quarters, for a Mohajir province in Sindh, while also protesting the operation in Lyari. The president of the party, Ayaz Latif Palijo, had announced some days ago that his party would hold the rally following which he said he had been receiving threatening phone calls. The banned Peoples Amn Committee, the PML-N and other groups had joined the protest, as had other smaller forces to support the cause. Even though the situation turned brutal, the threat of greater violence lies ahead. Perhaps not entirely unnaturally, the Awami Tehrik has vowed to avenge every drop of blood that was shed. The last thing we need in Karachi, or any other city for that matter, is of course, yet another bloodbath.

The question, of course, is how to stop it. Hatred and anger flows in streams through the streets of Karachi. In fact, it appears as though this terrible tide is spreading. We have seen Pathans pitched against other groups, Sunni extremists targeting Shias and now we have Sindhi nationalists entering the fray in a deeply divided province. No one seems to hold the ends of the rope that can tie it back together and this is, perhaps the most dangerous reality of all given the growing volatility of the situation.



Kidnap ordeal

May 24th, 2012


After a two-week kidnapping ordeal, the owner of the popular Mr Books bookstore in Islamabad was finally freed by the police in a raid near Rawalpindi. Although now free, his kidnapping was facilitated by a young woman, who drew him out of his bookshop thereby delivering him straight into the hands of his captors. It would not be wise to extrapolate too much from one incident, but the use of a girl in a crime is very troubling and should it be repeated, it will only lead to a society where no one trusts each other despite age and gender.

Then there is the fact that the kidnappers demanded anywhere from Rs25-100 million in ransom, according to different media reports. Since he was freed without his family having to drum up a ransom they couldn’t afford, the shopkeeper is one of the more fortunate victims of the kidnapping epidemic that seems to have hit the country. In most cases, families either have to come up with the ransom amount or face the loss of their loved ones. The success rate of the police in apprehending kidnappers and freeing their victims is also abysmally low.

The wave of kidnappings that has hit the country is not confined to a particular area and is spread all over. One of the biggest worries is that the Taliban are employing kidnappings for ransom as a fundraising tool. This has especially been the case in Karachi and Peshawar, where wealthy families have been targeted. In Balochistan, kidnappings for ransom are targeting the vulnerable Hindu community, whose members tend to be well-off because they are traditionally traders and businessmen but whose plight rarely catches the attention of the authorities. In a way, though, it doesn’t matter if those behind the kidnappings are hardened militants or just criminal gangs. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the state to secure the well-being of its citizens, no matter who is threatening them.



Help for Alamgir

May 24th, 2012


Ailing singer Alamgir, who needs a kidney transplant to survive, received surprising good news in the form of Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad’s decision to give him a donation of $50,000 for his treatment. While the governor is to be congratulated for doing the right thing and we should be thankful, Alamgir will be getting the treatment he so urgently needs, there ought to be a better process in place to provide funds to ailing artistes. Rather than force artistes to go through a dog-and-pony show of press conferences and public appeals, it would be better if a fund was set up to provide financial assistance to artistes. A committee could be put in place to determine whether the case is genuine and then the artiste could get the help he or she needs quietly without the need for a public fuss.

The problem in Pakistan is that it is not enough for our politicians to do the right thing; they must also be seen doing the right thing by the voting public. So artistes are forced to go through this humiliating ritual before the politician swoops in as a saviour at the last minute and can congratulate himself on his humanitarianism. Of course, this also leads to the cases of many artistes slipping through the cracks. Artistes in this country receive almost no government support in the form of funding and patronage.

The role artistes play in our country cannot be understated. Apart from the entertainment they provide, they hold a mirror to society and reflect on its problems. One reason governments in this country have not been supportive of the arts is precisely because they feel threatened by artistes. Instead of congratulations, artistes have to face censorship. And when nearing death, the government finally offers them sympathy. It is time for government help to be made available with no strings attached, no publicity surrounding it and an absolute end to politicians using such grants for self-promotion. Alamgir and thousands like him deserve better.
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  #524  
Old Friday, May 25, 2012
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Dr Afridi’s conviction: Some questions
May 25th, 2012


Osama bin Laden lived peacefully and safely in this country for many years and yet, the only person to have been punished for that so far is the man who helped locate him. Other than that no action has been taken against anybody in the government’s intelligence or law-enforcement apparatus, either on account of how American helicopters intruded so deep inside Pakistani territory or on account of how Osama bin Laden managed to live in Pakistan, apparently undetected for so many years. Dr Shakil Afridi, who ran a vaccination programme to collect DNA samples of Osama bin Laden’s family at the behest of the US, was given a 33 year sentence by a tribal court under the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). Why he was tried and sentenced in Khyber Agency when the crime took place in Abbottabad, which is in the settled areas and thereby under the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court remains to be answered. By trying him under the FCR — notwithstanding an unnamed government official telling news wires that he has the right of appeal — Article 247 of the Constitution effectively bars the high court or the Supreme Court from jurisdiction on this matter. And, to make the whole ‘trial’ even more controversial, as perhaps is the norm in such matters under the FCR, the doctor did not have a lawyer.

No wonder then that this verdict is bound to be questioned by many. For starters, there is the argument — with some justification — that helping locate the world’s most wanted man should not warrant 33 years in jail, even if it meant helping a foreign government in the process. Of course, this is not to say that Dr Afridi did not violate the laws of the land — he did, but did he deserve such a stiff prison term? Furthermore, two of the three charges that he was convicted of are, “waging war against Pakistan”, and “concealing a plan to wage war against Pakistan” should be seen in the context of the eventual outcome, which was that the country was rid of perhaps the world’s most dangerous terrorist; a man whose organisation and its affiliates have the blood of thousands of Pakistanis on their hands. Moreover, the previous government of General Pervez Musharraf handed to the US dozens of al Qaeda leaders and not a single case of violation of sovereignty or of ‘waging war against Pakistan’ was filed against anyone.

The sorry fact is that Dr Afridi’s treatment tells us — and the outside world — a lot about our priorities. We are still fixated with the US violation of our sovereignty on May 2, but choose to ignore that militants have been freely using our territory for years. This has also been the great failing of the commission tasked to investigate the circumstances around the May 2 raid. Instead of focusing on how Osama was able to freely live in Abbottabad and instead of determining if he was doing so with the support of anyone in the government or the military, the commission, too, has been preoccupied with the sovereignty question. There is another aspect to this as well. Ordinary Pakistanis have seen, how in recent months, dreaded killers and those who spew sectarian hatred and incite others to murder and cause mayhem have been let off by courts on account of “lack of evidence”. In fact, this doesn’t apply only to those who kill in the name of religion but even, say, to Karachi, where dozens of target killers have held the city practically hostage, killing hundreds in the process. However, one has yet to see a single one of these criminals being convicted and given a lengthy prison sentence. Juxtapose this with the case of Dr Shakil Afridi, who helped in the capture and removal from Pakistan of Bin Laden and who was given a swift ‘trial’, with no lawyer, and handed down a prison term of over 30 years! No wonder the only message the rest of the world, and many within this country, will get from this is that we are not serious about fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban and that the anti-Americanism within us is now so virulent, it prevents us from seeing and doing things that are otherwise in our own interest.


The problem of Balochistan
May 25th, 2012


The Supreme Court’s warnings regarding Balochistan are no doubt apt. That the province is indeed sliding into anarchy right before our very eyes and that the Court has noted the apathy on the part of both the central and provincial governments in this deteriorating situation is a step in the right direction. Certainly, measures should have been taken a long time ago to restore order, but what is crucial now is to address the root causes of the persisting problems in the province. How did we reach this state? Why has Balochistan crumbled into anarchy and is the government simply to blame? Such questions need to be taken up urgently.

The law and order situation in Balochistan is, as we all know, linked to a multitude of factors. How much of it the government is directly responsible for, remains somewhat ambiguous. The problems of Balochistan range from people going missing, tortured bodies being discovered in streets and the anger this creates to the prevailing sense of rage which in turn leads to targeted killings, kidnappings and acts of vendetta against a state which the Baloch people widely believe has treated them unfairly. We also know that the acts of illegal disappearances, which in many aspects are at the core of the problem, are the work of agencies. More than one report by human rights monitoring groups has pin-pointed this and the apex court, too, has reached a similar conclusion. Given the history of Balochistan, and the military’s involvement in it, it is also not difficult to say which forces truly determine events in the province.

The old paradigm of national security interests has been used repeatedly to justify this and it is far from clear if the government has any say at all in the matter. It is because of these paradoxes that our state operates with and runs affairs that need to be sorted out in order to regain the trust of the people of Balochistan. Simply blaming the government alone is pointless given the nature of the problem. A more holistic view is required to put things into perspective and decide on a way forward for the mutual benefit of the nation and the province.
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Politicised justice

May 26th, 2012


It seems as though politics in Pakistan has a natural attachment to controversy and realising this it, too, has anchored itself upon the national stage in which we function. We now see the swirling of a new storm, in which National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza has declined to send a reference against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). The issue, as is well established, arose following the conviction, on April 26, of the prime minister on contempt charges, leading to opinions being voiced that he stood disqualified. The views of other legal experts varied markedly, as is in fact inevitable in a situation where justice becomes so closely linked to politics and doubts creep in over institutional jurisdiction. Just the fact that a whole host of legal experts have been unable to sort out the matter is evidence of the degree of confusion that exists over it.

With matters left up to the Speaker, on the basis that she alone could, under the law of the land decide the fate of the prime minister, Dr Mirza made her stance quite clear. She held that there were no grounds under Article 63 of the Constitution for Mr Gilani to be removed from his seat in the National Assembly and that she would, as such, not be passing the matter to the ECP. Dr Mirza also objected to the Supreme Court’s decision to pass on the matter to her through a deputy registrar, stating that this seemed to be in bad taste. While this may seem petty, dignity and mutual respect are vital in handling issues of national importance between the various institutions.

What we have seen unfold before us is a question of ranking, or supremacy between institutions. The prime minister and his team, indeed from the start of his tenure in 2008, have emphasised the need for parliament’s supremacy. Certainly, the institutions need to work within the framework of the Constitution. Perhaps, the events we have witnessed in the recent months can at least help establish just what the lines of division are and why it is crucial to prevent intrusion into one another’s territory, so that the judiciary may stand beyond politics.


Visa matters

May 26th, 2012

There are some who may complain that the process of normalising relations with India has been virtually inanimate because both countries are still fixated on Kashmir and terrorism, and hence will never be able to find a solution to these problems. There may be some grounds for pessimism, but to completely dismiss the entire peace process would be a folly. The two countries took their latest — hesitant — steps towards peace when the interior secretaries of Pakistan and India sought to reach an agreement to ease their harsh visa regimes allowing businessmen, pilgrims and groups to visit either country on more flexible visas. Tourist visas are also planned; a first by either country. The negotiations have taken over a year to materialise but it has been worth it. There is no better way to foster healthier relations between people on both sides than to make it easier for them to travel to each other’s countries.

This planned visa agreement also shows that both governments are committed to the peace process. They are smart enough to realise that hawks on both sides have the ability to destroy any attempts at peace. Hence, the initial relatively small, non-controversial steps; once these lead to greater tolerance and understanding, Pakistan and India can move towards thornier issues.

Next, the two neighbours may want to consider demilitarising Siachen. In Pakistan, the idea has been proposed by surprising figures like opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. India, too, could take some unilateral steps like allowing Pakistani cricketers to play in the IPL and making it easier for artists to visit either country. As much as people may scoff at this step-by-step approach, in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks it is the only way to repair relations. India still places great priority on arresting and jailing Jamaatud Daawa chief Hafiz Saeed. We, however, have preferred to treat Saeed as an asset rather than an enemy of the state. It now may be time to ask ourselves if we would prefer to side with an unreformed jihadist or a neighbour which is the biggest economic power in the region.


Elections in Egypt

May 26th, 2012

In Egypt, the transition from revolution to governance has been particularly painful. The fall of Hosni Mubarak did nothing to improve the economy and the military remained as influential as ever. But Egypt just received its first opportunity towards becoming a stable democracy. By voting in a presidential election which was historic not just because it was the first post-Mubarak election but also because the outcome was in doubt — a rare occurrence in the Arab world. Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, got the most votes in the first round of the election and he will now face former general Ahmed Shafik who, through his opposition to both the Islamists and the protesters, is seen as a representative of the old guard. As seems likely, if Morsi prevails in the second round of voting, his election is likely to be denounced by the West as a symbol of the Islamisation of the Arab world.

Among the gaggle of candidates, whose support turned to be less strong than anticipated, is the experienced diplomat Amr Mussa, who is both a former foreign minister and ex-head of the Arab League. The consensus candidate of the protestors who sparked this democratic experiment was Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh. Both candidates would likely have been acceptable to the West and would have ensured that the aid spigots kept flowing. The Egyptian people, however, seem to have decided on the oldest and most organised political party in the country in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood. Whatever reservations one may have about its ideology and leanings, it is incumbent on the rest of the world to respect the results of the polls.

Ultimately, though, it could be argued that the identity of the victor is hardly the most important outcome of the election. Instead of nitpicking over the merits and demerits of the various candidates we should be celebrating the fact that Egypt has a real choice to make which was not predetermined. For all the sheen that has worn off the Arab Spring, we should celebrate these elections as one of its greatest achievements.
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Sindhi sub-nationalism goes violent?
May 27th, 2012


No one missed the similarity between the bus massacre on May 25 in Benazirabad and the one that took place in Kohistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa some months earlier. Five gunmen got into the bus and opened indiscriminate fire on the passengers before fleeing. According to one witness, the gunmen said that they were taking revenge for the murder of Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz leader Muzaffar Bhutto, whose body was found in Hyderabad on May 22, 15 months after he had gone missing. Another witness said that the gunmen “chanted slogans that they had avenged the May 22 attack on the Awami Tehreek rally in Karachi”. No group has claimed responsibility for the carnage but the police say that the Sindhudesh Liberation Army, an insurgent group, had scattered their handbills on the spot where the killings took place.

The Sindhi nationalist groups have denied their involvement. The firebrand leader of the Awami Tehreek, Ayaz Palijo, who had led the Mohabbat-e-Sindh rally in Karachi, said at a news conference that “This [killing] has been carried out by local agents of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the CIA and RAW”, the last two names clearly a sarcastic reference to well-known police ‘diagnosis’ of violence they cannot figure out.

Another Sindhi nationalist leader, Dr Qadir Magsi of the Sindh Taraqqi Pasand Party, said that the killers were the same “who had orchestrated the recent killings in Karachi and dumped Muzaffar Bhutto’s body in Hyderabad”. The Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz leader said that “the killings were a conspiracy to undermine our peaceful political struggle” and demanded a commission of Supreme Court judges to probe the incident and the attack on the Mohabbat-e-Sindh rally in Karachi.

Sindhi nationalists have been seen as pacifists but the latest incident of violence might have opened a new phase, which may be an emulation of the overall level of violence found across the entire length and breadth of Pakistan in general, and Karachi in particular. The MQM has always been the target of nationalist opprobrium but the ongoing ‘collaboration’ of the PPP — the popular party that steals the nationalist thunder among voters — and the MQM could have triggered it.

Sindhi sub-nationalist demands have ranged from greater cultural, economic and political rights to political autonomy, to outright secession from Pakistan and the creation of an independent state. It has clashed with another sub-nationalism centred on “Muhajir Suba”, which the Sindhi nationalists claim has been instigated by the MQM.

The nationalists have reacted to two recent murders of their leaders. This could be quietened down through negotiations or it could be the beginning of a violent change in the Sindhi nationalist movement. It is a grassroots movement with classical local charisma against the ingress of alien populations into the region. Its primordial appeal affects all parties in Sindh: both the PPP and the MQM have a stance on the Kalabagh Dam that measures the depth of the nationalist appeal.

Democracy takes care of these anthropologically-oriented movements through participation and representation. The movement of alienation in interior Sindh was fostered by long periods of undemocratic military rule and its accompanying policies, and today the passions have been fanned again by the breakdown of the state through terrorism and the rising level of violence. The national economy has broken down under unrealistic policies adopted in Islamabad and Rawalpindi in two respects: the internal politics of party conflict at times referred to as ‘long march’, and the regional honour-based policy defying the international community which could have helped in Pakistan’s economic bailout at this delicate juncture. By doing this, the ruling elite has tilted in favour of the terrorist groups that have made governance nearly impossible in Pakistan and threatens its neighbours as well as the world at large.


Suspension of MNA

May 27th, 2012


The reaction to the suspension of PPP MNA Farahnaz Ispahani’s National Assembly membership by the Supreme Court for holding dual nationality is predictably split along partisan lines. Supporters of the PPP are blasting the Supreme Court for once again trying to undermine the government while opponents are stressing the importance of having parliamentarians whose loyalties cannot be called into question. The truth lies somewhere in between. The law clearly states that a person cannot hold dual nationality and serve in parliament so Ms Ispahani’s foreign citizenship — if indeed she holds an American passport — should disqualify her from being an MNA. She will also have to explain why she did not declare her US citizenship to the Election Commission of Pakistan, as she is required to do so.

However, just because this law is in place does not automatically make it a good law. Pakistanis holding dual nationality are allowed to vote. If there is no problem with them voting then no one should have issues with them representing their country in parliament. This law may reflect an ideal of citizenship but it ignores reality. Most Pakistanis who have the opportunity to acquire a second citizenship end up doing so because the citizenship of another country is used by many as an escape route should the country continue to go down its current ruinous path. Rather than punishing parliamentarians for holding a second passport, we should be trying to build a country that people are not eager to run away from.

Then there is the perception that the honourable apex court is, perhaps, showing a keen interest in a case that involves the ruling PPP. Proponents of this view cite the memogate, the NRO and the contempt case. But the Supreme Court has also showed an appetite for taking on sacred cows in the Asghar Khan petition and the missing persons case. The Court can now prove its fairness by taking similar punitive measures against parliamentarians from opposition parties who also hold dual nationality. Justice is only served if it is seen to be done across the board. That could, perhaps, help shed the perception that right now Ms Ispahani is perhaps being singled out.
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Investigating intelligence failures
May 28th, 2012


A little over a year ago, the Pakistan Navy aviation base Mehran was attacked by the Taliban minions of al Qaeda to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad on May 2, 2011. The attackers killed 10 people and destroyed two expensive P3C Orion reconnaissance aircraft. The event, a 17-hour siege of the base, shocked the entire nation and sapped the confidence of those willing to fight terrorism in Pakistan. Aware of the gravity of the attack, the Pakistan Navy formed a Board of Investigation to probe the siege at PNS Mehran on May 22, 2011. It announced its findings and has court-martialled three naval officers and sentenced them for “negligence of duty”.

Objectivity and balance was lost in Pakistan over the death of Osama bin Laden. By becoming offended over ‘why’ and ‘how’ Osama was killed, we lost sight of what his death meant in terms of internal peace. The smoke that arose from that bout of irrelevant fury obscured the fact that the only immediate enemy of Pakistan were the affiliates of al Qaeda. In fact, we switched the enemies label after May 2, perhaps, hoping that the ‘terrorists’ fighting a war ‘which is not ours’ will look at this switch with favour. Then journalist Saleem Shahzad reporting on al Qaeda from the inside was murdered, a few days after he had written an article claiming that al Qaeda had managed to find sympathisers inside the navy and that some of these were under investigation.

Before his death, Mr Shahzad had disclosed to human rights organisations that he feared that the state’s intelligence agencies, and the ISI in particular, were after him and that they were to be held responsible if any harm came to him. His body was found with torture marks on it but, with the passage of time, his death more and more looks like a ‘mistake’ on the part of his tormentors who probably had orders only to ‘teach him a lesson’, and not to kill him. Since then, a judicial commission has delivered its verdict on his death and has made far-reaching recommendations about the reorganisation of the country’s intelligence institutions. This was, of course, in recognition by the honourable commission of the circumstantial evidence placed before it. The recommendations would make these organisations more answerable to the government, and therefore, more responsible in their conduct. Above all, a proper follow-up reform of such organisations would have scotched the rumours that proliferate about the activity of these important national security watchdogs.

Unfortunately, one year on, no steps have been taken to reform the security institutions on the lines recommended by the judicial commission. In fact, the non-action over the Mehran base attack, with three senior officers let off with what seems nothing more than a slap on the wrist, has been overtaken by another scandal also somewhat similarly named: Mehrangate. This scandal of money-gouging by intelligence agencies has not only shaken them to their foundations but also brought a bad name to the army. A retired ISI chief says he did bribe politicians with money thus grabbed and that he did so with the approval and oversight of the then army chief, who for his part has denied any role in the matter. Had the reforms of the ISI and other intelligence agencies been carried out in light of the Saleem Shahzad judicial commission’s recommendations, some of the complications that have occurred since then could have been avoided.

The PNS Mehran attack has hardly been resolved in the minds of the people, which is unfortunate. The terrorists are winning the publicity battle, as was evidenced by the most shameful jailbreak at Bannu. The jail contained dangerous criminals. After the jailbreak, the Taliban proudly claimed that they had spent Rs20 million in bribes alone. CDs of the attack are being sold openly in markets in the area. Clearly, no lessons have been learnt by the establishment following even an attack as brazen as the one on PNS Mehran. That is not a good sign because it serves to only embolden the militants and the terrorists and tells ordinary peace-loving Pakistanis that the state is not serious about fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban.


Kidnapped children

May 28th, 2012


Cases of infants being taken away from hospitals — in some cases by persons seeking to adopt a child — have occurred before. Such cases have taken place in Rawalpindi, Multan, Lahore and in other cities. What is disturbing, however, is that no effort has been made to get to the bottom of these cases and pin down the culprits — who in some cases are members of hospital staff. This is one of the factors that has led to the continuation of such incidents, which leave distraught families — and often when the victims are not found — with a sense of uncertainty that could last a lifetime.

The latest abduction has taken place at the federally-run National Institute for Child Health (NICH) in Karachi, where an eight-month-old baby girl was taken away from her nine-year old brother by a woman who offered to hold her while the boy fetched her a drink. The traumatised family has lodged an FIR. It remains to be seen how the police handle the case and if the child can be recovered. What is frightening is that this is the second incident of the same nature to take place at the NICH within a few months. In November last year, a newborn baby boy, being treated at the facility, had also been kidnapped. It is hard to believe that such events can take place without inside connivance. But certainly, along with an investigation, we also need better security measures at all hospitals and families need to be warned about the risks of leaving their babies unguarded. It also needs to be ensured that security guards do not allow infants to leave the premises without a proper proof of identity of the parents.

We can only hope that the NICH management will take the matter seriously. Had it done so in November, this latest tragedy may not have occurred. Perhaps, we also need to look at the desperate need people feel to ‘obtain’ children, possibly for adoption. A better mechanism to do so through legal means is required. But ensuring better security, of course, is the key measure. Abductions at hospitals must be stopped and every child taken to them must be kept safe so that these crimes can be controlled and punishments meted out.
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The farce of tribal jirgas

May 29th, 2012


A tribal jirga in Kohistan in the Hazara division of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has done something that reminds us of the days of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan and gives us a glimpse of a future Pakistan impacted by growing intolerance and bigotry. A tribal council of elders has condemned four women and two men to death for “staining the honour” of their families. A video presented to the jirga purported to show the alleged crime of ‘mixing’ of the sexes in violation of the law of ‘gender segregation’ during a wedding party while the accused allegedly dancing together.

After this shameful episode of ‘rough justice’, the convicted men fled the scene while the women were caught and locked up in a room in preparation for their execution. The Hazara administration is shocked by the ‘trial’ by jirga and the indifferent nature of the evidence presented for conviction: the video coverage actually shows the ‘convicts’ singing and dancing separately but they are shown in a single sequence. The reason behind this farce was not difficult to locate. It was a rival’s scheme to destroy a stronger and more affluent family. A member of one of the victim’s family stated: “Since our family is affluent and owns vast acres of forestland, orchards and agriculture farms in the village, our rivals hatched a plot to deprive us of them”.

Since Kohistan of Hazara is a tribal area, ostensibly there is nothing one can do about what has happened. There was no defence for the poor women who could not run away like the men, which reminds us that even the trial conducted by an official of the Khyber Agency recently condemned Dr Shakil Afridi for treason without giving him the right to defend himself. The cruel fact in Hazara is that a jirga, not an officer, has delivered the verdict and the victims are lucky that the sentence was not summarily executed. The jirga, however, has provided for that: It has tasked 40 young men to kill “the fornicators” and the tribe has raised a fund of Rs400,000 for litigation that may ensue once the local administration has taken cognisance of the shameful matter.

Tribal law is traditionally without ‘due process’. It is called ‘quick justice’, often condoned with the adage ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ and wrongly equated with Islamic sharia. What jirga means in essence is a kangaroo court, in which the local influentials satisfy their instinct of vengeance and avarice. Pakistan has kept its tribal areas under a special dispensation where justice through jirga is legally recognised. In the settled areas also, there is a tendency to bypass the legal system under the Constitution through the panchayat. The panchayat is illegally functioning in Punjab and one cannot forget what happened to Mukhatran Mai when a powerful tribe got her gang-raped through an illegal council of elders some years ago; even the Supreme Court could do nothing to undo the horrible bestiality visited on her.

The Taliban unleashed what they said was Islamic justice on Afghanistan, for nearly a decade, with the help of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which recognised the Taliban government while the world shrank in horror. After the Taliban were gone, the Afghans expressed hatred of them by up to 85 per cent in an opinion survey. In Swat, the people were uninstructed in the requirements of justice and favoured the ‘quick justice’ they equated with Islam till they were brutalised by the warlord Mullah Fazlullah who was imposed on them by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan that was established by the al Qaeda. When Fazlullah was finally ousted by the army, the people of Swat realised their error and repented. The Hazara-Kohistan jirga has used the jargon of na-mehram from Islamic jurisprudence to shield itself.

The truth is that Pakistan is being ‘re-tribalised’ under the influence of growing Talibanisation. Kangaroo courts are functioning in Pakistan’s vast ungoverned spaces where the state once nurtured its deniable jihadis. They are also raising their ugly heads in Punjab and Sindh because of the retreat of the state from its constitutional jurisdiction.


Sorting out the mess in Balochistan
May 29th, 2012


At last, some effort has been put together to sort out the affairs of Balochistan. Following an initiative by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) in calling a conference on the province, all major parties of Balochistan assembled on May 26, in an attempt to tackle the matter and find some solutions. The gravity of the situation appears to have been understood at last and alongside the usual rhetoric, we seem to finally have witnessed some real thinking. This is encouraging given that there has been a dearth in the need to find some sort of lasting resolution to the problems of Balochistan, which has consequently resulted in a failure to move forward in any direction.

The SCBA needs to be congratulated for its role, with mainstream parties from Balochistan also joining other groups present for the historic occasion. What was most crucial of all was the 15-point declaration agreed on at the end of the discussion. In the first place, it emphasised that the solution to Balochistan’s multi-faceted problems must be a political and not a military one. This is an argument the Baloch themselves have been purporting for years. In order to see lasting peace in Balochistan, it is essential that first the province must be demilitarised. The damaging role the military has played there is known to all who have studied the troubled history of that territory and the many tragedies that have unfolded there over the decades, especially in the recent past.

These tragedies were also referred to in the declaration. The issue of missing persons — which in so many ways lies at the heart of the matter; the continued mysteries surrounding the deaths of Nawab Akbar Bugti and Balach Marri, the threats to the women of the Bugti family and other matters were all raised. It is important that these be discussed and the veil of secrecy surrounding them be lifted. Now that matters have been laid out on the table, it is more likely that the major political parties will look at them more earnestly. The fact that Balochistan lies at the heart of our federation was also acknowledged during the conference. This is encouraging and perhaps, the first much-needed step that can genuinely lead to solutions and an end to the crisis in the province.
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Opposing the prime minister
May 30th, 2012


It was, perhaps, inevitable that the repercussions of the Supreme Court’s guilty verdict on Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s contempt case would continue to reverberate throughout the current government’s remaining term. The verdict and the slim prospect it brought of cutting short the government’s rule, was far too tempting for the opposition parties. And so, to no one’s surprise, the PML-N and the PTI have filed petitions in the Supreme Court challenging National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza’s decision not to send a reference against the prime minister to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Just because this move was expected, however, does not make it correct. The Supreme Court verdict against the prime minister did not explicitly remove him from power and it did not order the speaker to file a reference against him; it merely suggested those actions as possibilities. Mirza’s actions were entirely in accordance with both the law and the verdict which is why, in the interests of democracy, the matter should now be left alone.

The biggest problem with the PML-N and the PTI’s petitions is that they are seeking to have a purely legislative matter settled by the courts. The question of whether the speaker made the correct decision should be decided by parliament and not through litigation. The precedent set by these petitions is likely to set back the cause of civilian supremacy since every decision and action of parliament will now likely be dragged through the courts. There are only two ways that Gilani can be legally disqualified: either through a no-confidence motion or by a ruling of the ECP. Since both these options are no longer open to them, the opposition parties have taken the unprecedented move of having the Supreme Court act as the final arbiter on the actions of the speaker.

The Supreme Court itself has now become such an important political player that there is no way of knowing if it will accept the petition. However, the prudent move would be to reject it under Article 69 of the Constitution, which states that no outside institution can guide the speaker in his or her role as the custodian of the National Assembly. By ignoring that clause of the Constitution, the opposition parties have made clear that they are putting their own narrow interests ahead of the law of the land.


Showing mercy for Sarabjit Singh
May 30th, 2012


The counsel for jailed Indian national, Sarabjit Singh, says some light has shone in through the bars of his death row cell at Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore, following the release of Dr Khalil Chishty, the virologist held in India for almost two decades. Sarabjit, who filed his fifth mercy petition to the President of Pakistan, is hoping that this time around it will be accepted. The petition is backed by the signatures of over 100,000 Indian citizens. It also contains letters written to President Asif Ali Zardari by the chief cleric of Delhi’s Jamia Masjid and the caretaker of the shrine of the revered sufi saint Moinuddin Chishty.

Certainly, mercy needs to be shown and Sarabjit — who has already served 22 years in Pakistani jails — should be permitted to return home. Singh was arrested in 1990 in connection with a series of bomb blasts that went off in various cities in Punjab, following which he was convicted and condemned to the gallows. He was supposed to be hanged on April 1, 2008, but the decision was stayed following an outcry in India, appeals from the Indian government and orders from Islamabad to put off the sentence. Sarabjit has served a period longer than a life term in jail. In the wake of Dr Chishty’s release following a request by President Zardari, reciprocal action needs to be taken by Pakistan. The move can help bring people of both countries closer.

There are also other reasons why Sarabjit should be released. A question over identity has surfaced previously in the case, with Indian activists stating that the unfortunate Sarabjit was actually mistaken for a man called Manjeet Singh, who actually carried out the bombings. Sarabjit’s counsel insists that there is irrefutable proof that he was in India when the bombings occurred, while the prisoner’s sister, Dalbir Kaur, is also stated to have produced evidence of his innocence. Given the evidence and on the simple basis of humanity, Sarabjit must be freed. Let us hope this happens as soon as possible.


Language of hate

May 30th, 2012


Due to the tense relations between India and Pakistan, peace is still relatively elusive in South Asia. It is not a mean feat to put a complete end to more than six decades of territorial disputes, arms race, cross-border terrorism and proxy wars but fortunately it is not entirely impossible either.

A Pakistani media delegation recently visited Mumbai and asked for an end to the ‘language of hate’ used by the media on both sides of the border. If the media in Pakistan and India indeed follows through with this policy, it would go a long way in changing perceptions amongst the people about each other’s countries. At a time when both the governments are trying to liberalise the visa regimes and are opening trade, it is good to see that the media is also playing its part in facilitating the peace process. Using the right discourse, recontextualising the issues and creating awareness through campaigns, joint productions and people-to-people contact, is making it possible to spread the message of peace and tolerance. While the media devises a strategy to stop using the language of hate, our curriculum needs to change as well. The kind of abhorrent language used to describe India and its people in our textbooks must be reformed. Distortion of historical facts is something we can do without. Our children should be taught the truth.

Pakistan’s obsession with India is tearing apart the basic fabric of the former’s society, leading to a self-destructive phase. The enmity between the two neighbours still battling demons from their past, is hurting the people of both nations. Both countries are wasting resources in their arms race at the cost of their impoverished millions. It would not be wrong to say that with the exception of the right wing media and some hawkish elements, most people in the region would like to see a normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan. The people of both countries ought to be allowed to live in peace.
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The future of Pak-US relations
May 31st, 2012


The visit of ISI Director-General Zaheerul Islam to the US may or may not have been postponed due to “pressing commitments” at home, as claimed by a military spokesman, but there is no doubt that the delay will be seen as a snub by the Americans. Specifically, the postponement sends the signal that the military is yet to forgive the US for the Salala raid. As important as the issue may be, it should not hold the far larger matter of the Pakistan-US alliance hostage. We have already protested the Salala raid by blocking Nato supplies for six months. Further antagonising the US will not make the point any more forcefully and will only defer vital cooperation on fighting militants.

But if the ISI is to make the first conciliatory step in the form of its chief agreeing to go to Washington, then the US will also have to reciprocate. It is unfortunate that the US did not apologise for the Salala raid, since it was at fault there. The US should also immediately release the over $1 billion in Coalition Support Funds it is withholding from Pakistan. As the junior member of this fractious relationship, the ISI may have to make the first move, but it should at least be confident that the US will meet it halfway. Repairing the trust between the two sides will take both time and patience.

Meanwhile, the government, which technically should be making all the decisions, should be allowed to take the lead for now. It has repeatedly signalled its willingness to work with and compromise with the US. Pakistan’s attendance at the Nato Chicago conference and negotiations over reopening Nato’s supply routes went a long way towards normalising relations. The ISI chief’s refusal to meet with his American counterparts may halt that progress. That would neither be beneficial for a military that is reliant on the US for its financing nor for the Americans who need an ally in the region, no matter how shaky the relations. The time for posturing on both sides is over. Only through constant meetings and dialogue will trust between them increase.


Change in Balochistan?

May 31st, 2012


Suddenly, there seems to be some wind of change blowing in the otherwise morbid and strife-ridden province of Balochistan. The sense of awareness that the crisis there can no longer be ignored is a welcome change on the part of the establishment. The 15-point declaration following a conference convened by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and also remarks by the Supreme Court on events in Balochistan seems to have jolted politicians into a new sense of awakening. Perhaps, it is the regular references to the events of 1971 and those that preceded the break-up of the country that scared them into action and ended the state of inertia. Whatever the reasons though, the realisation has come as a positive development.

At a meeting chaired by the prime minister and attended by top military and civil officials — including General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief Minister Balochistan Nawab Aslam Raisani and other key players in the affairs of the province — it was decided that the Frontier Corps (FC) would be placed directly under the control of the chief minister of Balochistan, allowing the provincial government to best use it to maintain law and order. The FC, so far falling under military control, has been repeatedly held responsible for the ‘picking up’ of people in the province. We will need to see if the measures taken now can rein it in. In addition, following the SCBA Conference declaration which strongly emphasised a need for a political and not a military solution in Balochistan, a six-member committee comprising three representatives each from the centre and the province is to be set up to initiate a process of dialogue with Baloch dissidents. Funds for Balochistan, the rights package announced for the province and other issues including jobs for Baloch youth were also discussed.

This is an important step forward. But we will still need to see what follows next and how many of the measures discussed will be implemented; most crucially, it remains to be seen if the mistrust in the province can be broken down. If this is to happen, patience and caution will be required. The anger and the perceptions of injustice in Balochistan have festered for a long time. Such sentiments will take time and trust to heal.


Massacre in Syria

May 31st, 2012


Difficult though it may be to figure out exactly what should be done in Syria, it is clear that whatever has been done until now has failed. In the worst massacre of the 14-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the government militias were accused of killing over 100 people in the town of Houla, one-third of whom were children. The world at large is ready to take action against Assad, since claims of sovereignty do not give him carte blanche to kill his own citizens. The main sticking point so far has been Russia, which is allied to Assad and has been one of Syria’s biggest arms suppliers. Russia, through its use of the veto power, has stymied any chances of the United Nations sending in a multinational force to oust Assad.

But now there are signs of a shift. In its first condemnation of Assad’s massacre of civilians, Russia joined the rest of the UN Security Council to denounce the carnage in Houla. The Russian foreign minister contradicted Assad’s claim that “terrorists” were behind the attack and said that there was no doubt that the regime’s militia was responsible. So far, the only credible peace plan has come from former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. It calls on Syrian forces to observe a ceasefire, release political prisoners and allow freedom of movement and association.

It has not taken long for Assad to disregard Annan’s peace plan and it is hardly pessimistic to say that he never intended on following it anyway. Assad is lashing out against his own citizens because they no longer see him as their legitimate ruler. The world is duty-bound to ensure that the wishes of the Syrian people translate into reality. A military solution to Assad’s tyranny is not the ideal scenario but if it comes to that then the world has to be ready. There is a need to cobble together as broad an alliance as possible so that any action against Syria is not discredited as an American or Western plot.
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