A historical view of terrorism

By Mubarak Ali


A STUDY of terrorism from a historical perspective would shed light on the origin of this phenomenon and the motivation behind it. It has manifested itself in different hues and colours.

Terrorism has emerged in different circumstances with different aims and objectives. One of its earliest forms was directed against individuals when political or religious groups resorted to violence against people who posed a threat to their existence. Monarchies and dictatorial regimes were especially vulnerable as all power was concentrated in one individual. Those who suffered attempted to assassinate the ruler with the aim of changing the situation in their favour. By their act the terrorists also conveyed a message to those at the helm that they should not adopt a policy of exploitation or hostility.

In Islamic history we find such an example in the case of the followers of Hassan bin Sabah who assassinated their rivals. The order was known as the hashishiya, the root of the word ‘assassins’. The same pattern was followed in Italy and Germany in the 18th century where secret societies were formed by young people to adopt terrorism as a tool to fight foreign occupying powers and those who collaborated with them.

Such societies were formed by youths with deep nationalist sentiments and acted as terrorists for a nationalist cause. Members of these secret societies attempted to kill those who were involved against the nationalist cause or implemented policies perceived to be against the public interest. In Russia before the 1917 revolution members of such societies tried to kill the czar and high officials, thus hoping to change the structure of government.

During the British Raj in India at the time of the partition of Bengal in 1905 Bengali nationalists adopted terrorism when all peaceful and democratic means failed to achieve their objectives. They were well organised and made a number of attempts to assassinate the governor general and high colonial officials. The governor general on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding received a bouquet of flowers which contained a bomb. As a result of the explosion many people were killed, though the governor and his daughter escaped death.

After the First World War, Bhagat Singh and his friends resorted to terrorism because they felt there was no other way to force the colonial government to change its oppressive anti-people policy. He and his friends were hanged in 1931 on the charge of killing a British police officer. Their acts of terrorism served to help people shed the feeling of fear and awe they felt for the colonial authority. That’s why Frantz Fanon approved such violence which was found necessary to embolden people and to create a new spirit of resistance among them to fight the colonisers.

Keeping in view this historical perspective, it is clear that there are two causes for the origin of terrorism: the state and imperialism. Whenever the state blocks all avenues of expression and adopts terror to control its own people the result will be violence and terror as a reaction. Hitler and his fascist government terrorised people by using the Gestapo and the police. The response was that his enemies hatched conspiracies to remove him by an act of terror.

The Shah of Iran escaped assassination attempts a number of times which clearly reflected popular hatred for his rule. Israel practises the worst form of state terrorism against the Palestinians. They respond to it by adopting terrorism as a mode of vendetta as well as to fight for their freedom. Russian state terrorism destroyed Chechnya but its victims also responded by challenging Russian authority by using terrorism.

The American policy of terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan that results in the death of civilians including women and children has provoked reactive terrorism. Thus we know that terrorism begets terror. It becomes a vicious cycle which devours thousands and thousands of innocent people.

In Pakistan we have two types of terrorism: one is sectarian and the other is a reaction to the actions of the American and Pakistani states. The sectarian terrorism is the result of religious extremism when every sect believes in its own absolute truth and regards all others as misguided. Such extremists target religious places and kill the opposite sect’s followers to create in them a sense of insecurity. Sometimes there are targeted killings of professionals who belong to particular sects. The purpose is to weaken the professional base of the victimised sects. However, sectarian terrorism is not a permanent feature. It is used by vested interest groups politically.

The recent wave of global terrorism is the result of the US occupation of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s willingness to take action against the Taliban. In reaction the terrorists have attempted suicide bombings on government buildings, police checkposts and public monuments to demonstrate the government’s inability to protect its buildings or officials. Thus these acts are designed to discredit the government and its agencies in the public eye.

The key question to be asked is whether state terrorism or violence by groups is a solution to the problems? The answer is no. Terrorism or violence is the result of weakness and not of power. States or parties who adopt these methods have no intellectual creativity and instead of convincing their opponents by intellectual arguments they resort to violence to force the other side to cow down and accept defeat. It always causes chaos and disorder. That’s why most of the terrorist organisations in the end give up this method and adopt peaceful and non-violent means for achieving their objects such as the IRA and the ANC of South Africa, which abandoned violence to struggle on moral grounds and ultimately overthrew the apartheid regime.

However, it is important that the state should also refrain from acting violently and provide an opportunity to negotiate and understand the point of view of others. The same holds true of the occupying powers. If they continue their occupation and kill those who are fighting for freedom, terrorism will remain the only weapon available to fight against them.

Parliament’s supremacy

By I.A. Rehman


PRIME Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s oft-repeated pledge that his government will uphold the parliament’s supremacy in all matters could, if earnestly honoured, solve a host of the problems of governance in Pakistan.

A cursory look at Pakistan’s history is sufficient to establish the huge harm caused by repeated denial of the parliament’s sovereign authority. Apart from the bar to its supremacy created by mixing belief with statecraft, the parliament has more often than not existed and worked subject to the will and whim of the executive. Beginning with Ghulam Mohammad’s repudiation of the parliament’s sovereign status, no executive has shown it the respect it deserves. While all institutions of responsible government have declined none has suffered a worse fate than the parliament.

In addition, the executive’s arbitrary dismissals of elected legislatures, disregard for its constitutional obligations to them and a routine of bypassing them — for instance, by issuing ordinances hours before the parliament is due to begin a new session — have grossly devalued the very concept of the parliament’s supremacy. Not only the people but parliamentarians too seem to have forgotten that the parliament is much more than a debating forum, and that it is responsible not only for the executive’s accountability but also for checking its actions before they are taken.

It will thus not be easy for the government to abandon the legacy of absolute rulers and learn to respect the parliament’s authority. The task will require consolidation of the principle of responsible government through its consistent practice. A major step in the desired direction will be to increase the parliament’s working days per year.

The constitution requires the parliament to meet thrice a year, with the interval between any two sessions not exceeding four months. The National Assembly is required to meet for at least 130 days in a year of its life and the Senate for 90 days. Unfortunately these minimum scales of the parliamentary calendar have usually been treated in the past as optimum requirements. The provision that in the event of a two-day adjournment of a house the days off are counted as working days is generously exploited to meet the quota of sittings. As a result the citizens get the impression that attendance in the parliament has become a part-time diversion for their representatives who quite happily trade their power for privilege.

The present government also has failed to realise the need to ensure that the parliament meets for most of the days in a year and that recesses are brief and come after long periods of serious parliamentary work. The National Assembly’s parliamentary year began in March (after a unconscionable delay caused by the Musharraf regime) and over the intervening eight months it has met less often and for smaller periods than required. This means that over the next four months it should follow a heavy schedule in order to meet the constitution’s lowest ceiling. However, the parliament should meet for a longer period and found a tradition of its membership being accepted as a whole-time commitment.

Some time ago a government spokesman tried to reject demands for convening the parliament with the excuse of lack of business before it. Most probably he was referring to a lack of fresh legislative proposals in his own bag. Also he took a narrow view of the role of the legislature in a democratic polity. A review of the bills that were pending in the previous National Assembly and which lapsed on its dissolution is obviously called for. The list includes bills aimed at setting up a national human rights commission and protecting women against domestic violence. Further, the need to subject the large number of ordinances issued in periods of authoritarian rule to parliament’s scrutiny is manifest as no democratic polity can forever bear the burden of laws made without due sanction.

Above all, legislation is only a part of a parliament’s responsibilities, though it may be the most important part. Its other major functions include discussing national policies before they are adopted, providing the legislators opportunities to discuss the executive’s day-to-day conduct and other problems faced by the people, and offering the citizen’s information on all matters of concern to them.

The gains to the nation from keeping the parliament permanently in session will be enormous.

To begin with, public faith in democratic governance will be strengthened if they find their representatives at their posts most of the time and the system of parliamentary oversight of the executive’s performance is in place. When the parliament is not only supreme but is also seen to be supreme the people’s link with politics will be revived. Their due involvement with politics is the first requisite of a democratic dispensation.

Extended parliamentary sessions will make for detailed discussions on bills, especially constitution amendment and finance bills. It may be possible to implement the proposal to provide for more time for a review of revenue expenditures and development works prior to the tabling of the next year’s budget. A substantial increase in the parliament’s working days should create possibilities for fuller debates on the reports the executive has to make to the parliament — such as the report on the principles of policy and reports of the Finance Commission and other statutory bodies.

It will also be possible to pay prompt attention to unforeseen developments — public hardships, disasters, the executive’s excesses, failures of law enforcing agencies, et al. — through adjournment motions, official statements, or call attention notices.

The question hour will be rehabilitated as the pressure to dispense with it will decrease. The provision of more time for questions per year will raise the volume of information made available to the people. It will be possible to answer questions sooner than now, and the element of transparency in governance will increase.

Another significant gain should be the much-needed strengthening of the system of private members’ bills as more days will be available for this activity. The spirit of democracy, especially of the participatory form, demands the largest possible space for private members’ legislative initiatives. Unfortunately this part of parliamentary activity seems to have been deliberately undermined in Pakistan for many long years. Quite often the establishment has displayed inexplicable hostility to private members’ bills. A greater respect for proposals from non-official quarters will help the growth of democratic norms.

That more parliamentary activity will increase the ministers’ workload, that the government will be obliged to remain on its toes and that the ministers will have to spend more time in the parliament than in gallivanting around family estates cannot be denied. But then those who stand for the supremacy of the parliament cannot at the same time expect it to curtail its watchdog role.

Noise pollution

By Dr Mohammad Ali Shaikh


IT was not very long ago when discussion about noise pollution was confined to only a few fashionable drawing rooms or academic circles in Pakistan.

The reasons for this attitude were twofold: firstly, most of the cities were still serene; and, secondly, unlike other forms of pollution like that of air, water, marine or land, noise did not persist in the environment for long.

However, with the passage of time the urban centres in Pakistan have become some of the noisiest places on earth. Apart from big cities like Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Hyderabad, Faisalabad, Peshawar and Quetta, even a traditionally quiet city like Islamabad is facing alarmingly high levels of noise, giving birth to ailments ranging from hearing loss to cardiovascular diseases, to disorders like aggression, stress, irritability, sleep loss, ulcers and high blood pressure.

Noise pollution is not peculiar to Pakistan. It is an international phenomenon emerging as a consequence of urbanisation. What is peculiar to Pakistan is the response, or lack thereof, to this problem. Historically speaking the Romans were the first nation who realised the adverse effects of noise pollution and prohibited the movement of chariots in the streets at night.

The rest of the civilised countries also realised the menace of noise pollution long ago and devised ways to combat it and thus safeguard the physical as well as mental health of their citizens. Pakistan also initiated legislation in this direction way back in the 1960s, when laws like the Motor Vehicles Rules, 1969 and Regulation and Control of Loudspeakers and Sound Amplifiers Ordinance, 1965 were enacted.

The motor rules forbade the use of horns that produce a harsh, shrill or alarming noise and also placed restrictions on the level of noise generated by the motor engine, while the loudspeaker rules forbade its use near hospitals, courts, offices and other such areas. But, as in most other areas, the steam was lost soon and the laws remained unimplemented.

Two of the most important sources of noise pollution acknowledged universally are industry and transport systems, particularly vehicular traffic. To this list one may add the widespread use of loudspeakers and sound amplifiers in mosques and at marriage ceremonies. In the case of industry, as it is usually located in certain specified industrial areas, the harm is limited to a segment of the population. However, in the case of noise emanating from vehicular traffic as well as loudspeakers the entire urban population is at the receiving end.

The intensity of noise is measured in decibel units (dB). The human hearing range is from zero to 140 dB. While I was serving as head of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency, we conducted a survey on noise pollution in Karachi. We found that the area surrounding the historic Merewether Tower was the noisiest place in the city with the noise level at 93.67 dB. Closely following the peak noise level were areas like Shershah (93.43 dB), Liaquatabad No. 10 (91.9 dB), Empress Market (90.17 dB) and Numaish Chowrangi at M.A. Jinnah Road (90.07 dB). To our surprise none of the 30 points selected for this survey showed noise levels of less than 80 dB.

In the case of vehicular traffic, the major sources of noise were fire-engine sirens, which generated a noise of 130 dB at source, ambulance sirens, generating a noise of 113 dB, and pressure horns installed in minibuses, trailers, oil tankers, etc. generating noise between 98-103 dB. In addition, about 60,000 two-stroke rickshaws with normal silencers generated around 85 dB each, while those without silencers went up to about 100 dB.

These are alarming results. The fact that the situation in the other cities of Pakistan is not very different from Karachi, as far as noise pollution is concerned, makes it a national issue. And at stake is the physical and mental health of our urban population.

A beginning could be made with the strict enforcement of existing laws relating to vehicular terrific as well as the use of loudspeakers. This could be followed by further legislation specifying the permissible noise levels for various locations and activities, as is the case in the rest of the world. Only then we can provide our citizens a serene and peaceful environment to live in.

The author is a former director-general of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency.

drmalishaikh@hotmail.com

Updated Nov 20, 2008 12:00am

More From This Section

A state of anarchy

THE deaths of innocent people in terrorist attacks are not mourned anymore. Growing fatalities are mere statistics....

Rape and restitution

THE attacks took place approximately a week ago. Two Indian soldiers, Sachin Gupta and Saurab Chopra, both in their...

Comments (0) (Closed)