Uses of ambivalence

By Anwar Syed


AMBIGUOUS are words, phrases, or statements that are open to more than one interpretation. Ambivalence is a state of mind in which a person entertains at the same time two opposite inclinations towards the same object, person or situation (as a ‘love-hate’ relationship).

A man is ambivalent when he has not yet decided on which side of the fence he wants to be.

Ambiguity is an art that diplomats and politicians cultivate and practise when they don’t want their audience to know what exactly they have done or intend to do. It leaves them the option of later denying that they had said what they were understood to have said.

I remember reading about a debate in the House of Commons during which the government was asked whether it had been negotiating with the Hamas leaders in Lebanon. Jack Straw, a master of ambiguous speech, rose to address the question and left his listeners in a state of wonder as to what might have happened.

Eventually they understood Straw to have said the following: The government was not negotiating with Hamas; British representatives had not conferred with Hamas spokesmen; there was a military wing of Hamas with which no contact had been or would be made; then there was a political wing with which contact might be considered; two junior British diplomats had met two individuals who did belong to Hamas, but they had met the latter not as Hamas leaders but as mayors of their respective towns; they had talked but not conferred or negotiated.

The United States has never subscribed to the ‘two China theory’ and has always conceded that Taiwan is a part of China. Were China to use force to bring Taiwan under its control, that would be its domestic affair. The United States accepts the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries. Yet, it has been giving Taiwan military assistance since the 1950s to enable it to resist Chinese military action on the island. At one time some American commentators even viewed Taiwan as a potential counterpoise to mainland China.

Considering that the United States and China have sought ‘normalisation’ of relations since President Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972, the American posture described above could be regarded as one of ambivalence. But note that it did not result from confusion; it was a deliberately chosen policy of keeping one’s options open. It meant that the situation was not ripe for a definitive choice. When one of the two opposite courses being pursued emerges as the more advantageous, the other would be given up. It is not uncommon even for parties at war to negotiate the terms of peace even while fighting is still going on.

Pakistan and India have been pursuing a ‘peace process’ to build a relationship of peace, amity and cooperation. Their representatives have had several rounds of a ‘composite dialogue’ with a view to resolving their various disputes, including the one relating to Kashmir. But at the same time, each side accuses the other of sending agents to sabotage its political and economic order. These allegations may be exaggerated but they are not entirely unfounded. Thus, each side has adopted an ambivalent attitude towards the other. That is the case because neither side has yet concluded that the other is not an enemy.

Pakistan is America’s foremost ally in fighting terrorism. Believing that it cannot fully eradicate the militants in its tribal areas adjoining Afghanistan, American aircraft and ground troops have been hitting suspected Taliban hideouts on Pakistani territory, Many Pakistanis see this action as a violation of their sovereignty and virtually as an American invasion of their country. It has caused them intense anger and anguish. The government of Pakistan does not have the will or the capacity to stop these American raids, but it does not want to admit this fact to its people. Its public response to the situation is understandably ambiguous.

Gen Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, rejects the American argument that the ‘rules of engagement’ allow its forces to pursue the enemy to his hiding places wherever they may be. The country’s borders, he says, will be defended “at all costs”. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has endorsed Gen Kayani’s statement, adding that Pakistan cannot allow any external force to breach its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Other Pakistani officials say also that the Taliban and their doings are this country’s domestic concern and, under international law and conventions, these are none of an external power’s business. The foreign office has repeatedly conveyed its protest against America’s incursions into Pakistan’s tribal regions to Washington.

Sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability of national frontiers, domestic jurisdiction and non-intervention are terms that may have had precise meanings at one time. But, as a result of globalisation, they have all become ambiguous. Nations are sovereign in law but not in actual fact. It is no longer conceded that what a government does to its people within its own borders does not concern outsiders. As the world becomes a ‘global village’, the distinction between external and domestic has faded to an extent. Illegal immigrants cross the borders of rich and powerful states every day and many of them get away with it. Illegal aliens abound in America and most of the other highly industrialised countries.

It is possible that Pakistan’s protests are meant more for domestic consumption than they are addressed to America. They may be intended to cause the impression that the government will not take American violations of the country’s territory lying down. But in fact that is exactly what it is doing. It does not have the capacity, and therefore the will, to use force against the American intruders. It suspended the supply of fuel and other necessities to the ‘coalition forces’ in Afghanistan but allowed them back again a day or two later. Pakistani fighters have carried out reconnaissance flights over the tribal area but it is most unlikely that they will shoot down any American planes that enter Pakistani airspace.

American officials have been intervening in Pakistan’s domestic affairs, usually at its own invitation, for more than 50 years. Their current intervention, even if it is intended to serve their own interest, is nothing new. It will go on as long as they think it is necessary. There is nothing that Gen Kayani or Prime Minister Gilani will or can do about it.

The writer is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts.

anwarsyed@cox.net

Not in the name of faith

By Kunwar Idris


LAST week three funerals took place on three successive days. The dead came from different backgrounds, belonged to different places and professions. Common to the three was their faith.

They were Ahmadis — and that was good enough reason for the unknown gunmen to kill them.

The first to be shot dead — on Sept 8 — was Dr Abdul Mannan Siddiqui at Mirpurkhas during a midday round of his hospital wards. Seth Yusuf, a Nawabshah trader, was shot dead the next day as he headed home after saying his prayers. The third funeral was Sheikh Saeed’s who was shot, like the other two during the day while at his pharmacy in a lower middle-class colony of Karachi.

Ahmadis as a community are not new to murder. It is only that more of them are now being murdered than ever before and more brazenly as the murderers enjoy a kind of impunity. None of them has ever been caught and convicted. The tragic irony of it all is that the 1974 amendment to the constitution declaring Ahmadis “not Muslims”, which was intended to settle the ‘problem’ for all times to come, (as the PPP leadership then claimed and still boasts of) had in fact exacerbated it. According to the Ahmadiyya central office since 1974, 105 Ahmadis have been murdered. Among them have been scientists, doctors and educationists. In the 26 years, before the amendment (1947 to 1973) their number was only 18. The destruction of their properties and places of worship increased in even larger proportion.

This month’s gunning spree (three wounded are still struggling for their life) followed soon after a prime-hour discussion on one of the more popular television channels commemorating the 1974 amendment. That programme ended with a verdict by a participating mufti of an extremist school that for deviating from the conventional view of the finality of the prophethood of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) the Ahmadis deserved to be murdered. A condescending compere followed it up with a lyrical oration heaping insults on the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement.

If festering prejudice needed an impetus to murder, the compere of the Sept 7 programme and his chosen scholars provided it. A measure of understanding, perhaps, can be shown to politicians and priests when they are persuaded to whip up religious emotions to the point of violence only to divert the attention of the people from other woes. But the mass media that stands for full freedom of expression with matching social responsibility should not be seen as joining them.

The union of international journalists must have studied the contents and tenor of the broadcast in question before advising its counterpart here to abide by its code of honour and isolate the odd offenders rather than invite intervention by the government. Sensibly, the freedom to project one’s own religious views does not imply the freedom to instigate violence against others. This stipulation must stand at the core of both the ethics of the media and the law of the land.

The three men murdered were peaceable, law-abiding citizens. Those who knew Seth Yusuf, as the people of Nawabshah indeed had for 50 or more years, would not have ever thought of doing him the slightest harm. He was a God-fearing man in his seventies. His murderers were obviously strangers who were either indoctrinated or paid to kill him only because he was the chief of the district’s Ahmadiyya community.

Young Sheikh Saeed’s elder brother and his uncle, a professor of medical sciences at the Jinnah Postgraduate Centre, were gunned down at the same place and for the same reason in the last two years. This is a situation in which even an indifferent investigating agency could get a clue as to the identity of the killers only if it felt concerned, if not about the dead, then about its own credibility.

Most poignant has been the death of Dr Abdul Mannan Siddiqui. Tributes to him flowed freely and generously. To the lawyers of the district he was a benefactor of mankind. The hospital staff looked up to him more as a father than as an employer. The head of the district police thought he was a great man the like of whom are not born everyday. The association of the doctors summed it all up: Mannan’s murder is the murder of humanity.

The treatment of the humblest of mankind often took the deceased doctor to the far end of the desert. Holding frequent and free medical camps at Nagarparkar, the farthest outpost on the border with India, was his wont. The ranas and waderas would swear by his professional integrity and humanitarian concerns.

It is a pity, but should cause no surprise, that no leader of the government had spoken on Mannan’s death — to condemn the killers or to commiserate with the bereaved. The lone and powerful voice has been of Altaf Hussain, the MQM chief. His instant condemnation of the killers and tribute to Dr Mannan for his selfless service to humanity came like a gust of fragrant breeze blowing through a stillness laden with the stench of prejudice.

After specialised studies in America, Mannan was planning to settle down there when his father Abdur Rehman Siddiqui (also a doctor) reminded him that his first duty was to his own people. Mannan hurried back and went on, as if in vengeance, to raise his father’s humble clinic to the standard of a modern hospital that was free for the poor. He was the only son of his late father. It hurts deep inside when the life of a man, who is the age of your son, is cut short. Mannan was just 44 as is my son. It is now up to his admirers and the patients he healed to keep alive the legend of his and his father’s service of 60 years.

As for the devout anchorman and his ponderous scholars, they may have to go to Mirpurkhas and the desert beyond to learn that the worth of a man lies not in schism but in service. After all it is a Dutch and Christian woman who takes care of the lepers here whom the faithful shun.

To kill a man for his belief is inhuman and cannot be Islamic for Islam is a religion of humanity. And it is for our leaders to realise that by employing religion in the service of politics they have made this Islamic Republic into a world metaphor for dictatorship, brutality and terror where the youth are trained to kill and women, by many accounts, are buried alive.

kunwaridris@hotmail.com

Obama on the offensive

By Michael Tomasky


THE basic identities of America’s two political parties have been in place for at least 40 years and, on core economic questions, for 70, since Franklin Roosevelt’s time. Whatever so-called “low-information voters” do or don’t know about politics, they know that the Democrats are the party of working people, and the Republicans are the party of the rich.

It doesn’t end up being as positive for the Democrats as that formulation makes it sound. Since the 1980s, Republicans have been successful in shifting public opinion among America’s middle-class more towards the view that their economic fate is tied up with rich people’s. In addition, a weak union movement means that class consciousness exists only on the margins.

But these basic identities do still mean that, when a scandal breaks out involving oblivious gluttony on the part of elements within the financial over-class, Americans will place more blame on the GOP, and the Democrats will benefit. Especially when it happened on the watch of a Republican administration that is deeply unpopular.

So, it made sense that the initial phase of public reaction to the past week’s Wall Street scandal would have worked to the political benefit of Barack Obama. The Democratic nominee would have benefited no matter who it was. A week ago today, John McCain had a small lead in the polls. Now, Obama does. The numbers are back to being essentially where they were before the conventions, with Obama sitting on a wobbly margin of three or so points.

McCain helped Obama’s position with an initial response to last week’s economic crisis that seemed to be delivered from a different planet. On Monday, with headlines blaring and the markets reeling, he insisted yet again — as he has several times in recent months — that the “fundamentals” of the economy were still “strong”. No doubt that wasn’t very reassuring to the average Ohioan or Michigander.

McCain continued to flounder for most of the week. He employed ferociously populist anti-Wall Street rhetoric, attacking the “greed” and “recklessness” of the executives who netted, in many cases, eight-figure incomes while gambling away the mortgages of $40,000-a-year earners. But — those age-old identities again — it just wasn’t persuasive coming from a multimillionaire Republican. His legislative record tilts strongly toward supporting deregulation and, over the past year, as he has kissed up to his party’s rightwing, he has sought to downplay the portions of his record that did endorse regulation.

In the face of this, Obama could have spent the week windsurfing with John Kerry and still come out fairly well. What he did instead, along with his running mate Joe Biden, is turn his campaign sharply negative against McCain — important to note: not against Sarah Palin, but against John McCain — for being out of touch and merely the newest representative of a failed governing philosophy.

“I certainly don’t fault Senator McCain for these problems,” Obama said in his initial statement on Monday, “but I do fault the economic philosophy he subscribes to.” He pressed the point much harder as the week went on.

Biden emerged from the relative shadows and gave incendiary speeches throughout the week, denouncing the Republican philosophy and McCain personally.The Democrats were responding to a rising chorus of discontent within their own ranks — which probably reached a climax midweek sometime — that they were just standing around taking punches and letting McCain and Palin set the agenda completely.

The fetid aroma of passivity that began to emanate from Obama-Biden, particularly after the Palin coronation, had partisan Democrats screaming for their candidates to do something. And speaking of McCain’s running mate, another effect of the crisis is that it seems to have ended, finally, the Palin-mania phase of the race.

So, that was phase one of the political fallout of the Wall Street scandal. But Friday marked the beginning of phase two. In this phase, the shouts and histrionics will abate somewhat. Each day gives McCain — and the Bush administration — opportunities to regain some purchase on events and appear in control. The administration and the Federal Reserve Bank were preparing a massive bailout (one in which the taxpayers would, in essence, buy billions of dollars in banks’ bad loans).

What was important politically in the first phase was demonstrating credible outrage at the fat-cats and empathy with the regular folks. In phase two, actual, clear-cut and persuasively packaged proposals will be more important.

Simply because he’s a member of George Bush’s political party, McCain clearly has the bigger challenge over the next few days. With 81 per cent of Americans believing the country is “seriously” headed on the wrong track, McCain has to explain why he’ll be so different even though he’s voted with Bush 90% of the time.

However, Obama has always had more trouble with packaging. He has, if anything, too many policy proposals. He finds it hard to pare them down to three or four compelling points and present them in crisp, short sentences. In US presidential politics, the packaging is more important than the thinking.

— The Guardian, London

Updated Sep 21, 2008 12:00am

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