Tackling fanaticism

For quite some time President Pervez Musharraf has been talking about the threat that the state and society in Pakistan face from religious bigotry and fanaticism. He repeated this theme in his speech to a students' convention in Islamabad on Monday.

Regrettably, there is no evidence that the threat has subsided or will do so in the near future. The evidence of the existence of extremist forces is everywhere: it is to be found in bomb blasts in mosques, in attacks on foreign missions, and in the kidnapping and killing of foreign guests.

Those who are committing these crimes are well-armed and well-funded. Not only that, they appear to enjoy influence in society and command the loyalty of a large number of otherwise well-meaning, peace-loving citizens.

This way, they are able to pass on their distorted, parochial view of Islam to young minds susceptible to raw emotions. This invariably brings us to the institution called madressahs.

Madressahs have existed in South Asia for centuries. They were never a source of violence and discord in society. Their basic function was to produce men well-versed in Islamic law whose duty it was to preach the word of God in a manner that could appeal to all people living in a multi-religious region that the subcontinent has been for over 10 centuries.

They preached the values of love and tolerance and spread the message of Islam by personal examples of piety, humility and selflessness. The one thing farthest from their methodology was militancy.

What gave the madressah a militant outlook was the US-sponsored 'jihad' against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The madressahs then became training and recruiting centres for mujahideen fighting America's war in Afghanistan.

Such was the copious supply of arms and money that even after the Soviets pulled out, some religious parties developed a vested interest in holding on to the jihadi approach.

During the post-Zia period, they profited from the weakness of the elected governments to penetrate some of Pakistan's sensitive institutions. Sections of the establishment began encouraging religious militancy. The Taliban were one of the offshoots of that phenomenon.

Today most madressahs are still performing their traditional role, but many are still sticking to the jihadi approach. If a dent is to be made in fanaticism, then the madressah system will have to be reformed in cooperation with the moderates among those who run them.

What the madressahs need is a new curriculum that combines the traditional Islamic syllabi with modern disciplines. Boys coming out of such madressahs will then have wider avenues of employment and will not have to remain confined to a parochial world.

This alone can end the supply of robotized humans spitting venom and hatred against those they consider infidels and programmed to resort to violence and terror in the name of religion.

As for the president's resolve not to allow fanatics to rule Pakistan, one wishes he took a wider view of the situation. Ultimately, what can restore sanity in national life is a long and uninterrupted democratic process.

Fanatics grew and spread their tentacles under a military dictatorship. But military methods cannot root out this menace. It is only through a free interplay of democratic forces that intolerance can be marginalized.

This nation, on the whole, has managed to retain its rationality. As all election results have shown, the people have rejected extremism. It is only by strengthening democracy - and not relying merely on talk - that we can marginalize such de-stabilizing elements.

Draft resolution on Iraq

President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair were seemingly at odds with each other on Tuesday when the former said that the occupation forces would stay in Iraq for as long as "it was necessary" while the latter said that the new Iraqi government would have a veto power over the troops' stay in that country.

The statements have come after the US and UK moved a draft resolution in the Security Council seeking UN's approval for the occupation powers' action plan following the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30.

The resolution calls on the UN envoy on Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, to identify individuals to be inducted in the interim government. The latter, it says, will organize a national conference to select a consultative council which would advise on holding elections no later than January 31, 2005, to a transitional assembly entrusted with the task of drafting Iraq's future constitution.

The plan also calls for setting up a US-led multinational force to keep the peace. The Iraqi government could review the multinational force's terms of engagement after one year but it would not be empowered to terminate these.

The draft resolution also provides for handing over Iraq's oil revenue fund to the interim government, with an international advisory board to monitor the management of the fund.

Because the resolution requires the UN's multinational force to be placed under American, and not UN, command, in all practical terms, this amounts to seeking international legitimacy for the US-UK occupation of Iraq.

Also, it is hard to see how elections could be held in a country that has been plunged into anarchy by the very same occupying powers. Iraq is in a state of full-blown insurgency, with the occupying forces' handpicked governing council operating under American tutelage and inspiring no confidence in the Iraqi people.

The perpetuation of a similar order beyond June 30, even if under a UN mandate, is likely to meet the same fate. Unless the resolution is modified to commit to the withdrawal of the occupation forces and to vest real powers in the UN itself, the world body should not endorse it. More so because the dispensation proposed under the resolution will not carry any credibility with the Iraqi people.

More water deaths

The death toll in the contaminated water crisis in Hyderabad has gone up to 10, and all that the Sindh government officials have done is to pass around the blame or to announce compensation for the lives lost.

Contaminated water from Manchhar Lake was released by the irrigation department into the Indus river as part of an annual procedure to increase the flow in the river during the summer.

That water it seems was badly contaminated, something that the authorities must have known in advance but decided to release it anyway. In any civilized country, the death of even a single person by drinking polluted water would be enough to make heads roll and for governments to order thorough inquiries.

In our case, unfortunately, ten dead and yet not a single official or government agency has been held accountable so far. All we see is officialdom making tall claims, hiding behind one excuse or another and passing the buck.

The other source of the contamination is said to be industrial effluent, released by factories situated close to the river. The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency has taken samples of the water.

But what good is that going to be now? It is not as if the EPA did not know that these factories were freely polluting the drinking water source. The government must act immediately and direct the irrigation department to stop releasing any more of the lake's water into the river.

Officials who authorized the release of the lake water in the first place, knowing that it was contaminated and could cause a public health catastrophe, must be held accountable. As for the toothless Sindh EPA, it should be given the authority to take legal action against the owners of the factories in question.

Updated May 26, 2004 12:00am

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