Mumbai blasts

WEDNESDAY’S terrorist attacks in Mumbai should be condemned in the strongest terms. The loss of more than a hundred lives and injuries to many more is as despicable an act as is humanly conceivable in any circumstances. The dare-devil approach and the literal capture of city landmarks also indicate how well entrenched the militants have got over the years. It is ironical that the attacks came in the wake of the two-day talks between the home secretaries of Pakistan and India in Islamabad earlier in the week where cooperation in fighting terrorism came under discussion. Détente between the two neighbours does have the potential to curb the menace because militancy does not recognise borders and it is only logical to challenge it through a joint endeavour.

At another level, the latest serial blasts in the Indian financial capital also represent an immediate test for the resolve of the two sides not to indulge in a blame game every time something goes wrong on either side. It helps no one except the terrorists and it is time everyone realised this simple fact of life. Unfortunately, the burden of a hostile past often seems too big for the protagonists to shed in a hurry. The Joint Anti-Terrorism Mechanism (JATM) that was set up in September 2006, for instance, did not bear the desired fruit. It was supposed to meet on a quarterly basis, but that has often not been the case. It was also agreed at the time that there will be no baseless tit-for-tat accusations without proper evidence. The Indian stance in the wake of the suicide attack on its embassy in Kabul in July this year clearly violated that understanding and poured cold water on the scheduled meeting between the two foreign secretaries. It is, therefore, a move in the right direction that within hours of the incident on Wednesday evening, President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani condemned the attacks in no uncertain words.

Although one can understand the anger and concern which is widely felt, one would still advise the exercise of constraint in this hour of crisis. There is need for confidence building between the two countries. Other than terrorism, talks have also focused on a host of issues such as disarmament but they sound too optimistic in the current environment. But even a symbolic cut in defence spending on both sides of the border would be a welcome step for it will herald a move towards addressing the major underlying causes of terrorism: poverty and illiteracy. But for the moment the focus will obviously be on how the two countries manage the fallout of the Mumbai blasts. Without apportioning blame on each other they should cooperate in the investigations to make them productive and facilitate effective measures for domestic security in the two countries while promoting bilateral understanding between them.

Karzai’s frustration

THE statement is ludicrous — President Karzai threatening to shoot down American planes bombing Afghan villages. An expression of his frustration over the way the US-led war on terror has been going on in Afghanistan, the statement nevertheless gives an indication of Karzai’s predicament. After seven years of war led by an international force which has the world’s best weapons systems, the Taliban have not been defeated. Helmand in the south-east continues to remain a Taliban stronghold, and the militants have managed to get a foothold even in other provinces, like Ghazni, Nuristan and Wardak. During a meeting with a UN Security Council delegation, Karzai accused the foreign governments and private security agencies of running a parallel government and employing Afghans with a criminal record. On Tuesday, a spokesman for Karzai said the president wanted the International Security Assistance Force to give him a “timeline” for ending the war on terror; otherwise he would go ahead and talk to the Taliban.

There are many reasons why the war on terror hasn’t been a success. The corruption-ridden Karzai regime is unable to stamp out poppy cultivation. The result is that Afghanistan has re-emerged as the world’s biggest drug producer. As pointed out by an Isaf spokesman at a press briefing in London sometime back, the drug trade is a major source of funding for the Taliban. The Isaf forces themselves do not have their hearts in the fighting. They think their job is to provide security to development projects, and they rely on air power to crush the militants. This results, as pointed out by the Karzai spokesman, in heavy civilian casualties. More regretfully, the Isaf does not seem interested in checking the two-way infiltration across the Durand Line and blames Pakistan for its own apathy.

The Karzai government has already entered into talks with the Taliban through Saudi mediation, and the Bush administration too has indicated that the Taliban who distance themselves from Al Qaeda are acceptable to it. Pakistan has deployed over 100,000 troops in the area, and thousands of its soldiers and civilians have been killed by the Taliban. The solution to the insurgency lies in Afghanistan. The Isaf should know it is there to fight the Taliban and take them head on. Pakistan is doing all it can to crush the terrorists; it is those on the other side of the Durand Line who should make up their minds.

Disconnecting phone thefts

ALARMINGLY, Karachi tops the list in Pakistan as the venue for the highest number of mobile phone thefts and snatchings in 2008. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) annual report for this year cites rampant handset thefts primarily in urban quarters. However, the telecom watchdog’s statistics reveal that the crime has reached astounding figures — till 2008, 47.53 per cent of all theft complaints are from the metropolis — an aspect that requires relevant departments to take immediate measures to curb the menace. This is despite the introduction of International Mobile Equipment Identity System by the PTA in October 2006. The system, which blocks and unblocks handsets, was made accessible with the cooperation of the CPLC and the telecom industry and acts on a complaint once verification procedures have been completed.

The telecom authorities lay the blame for the rise in street crimes, mobile thefts included, at the door of law enforcement agencies. However, there may be numerous catches within its own system. First and foremost, the IMEI was put in place with the primary goal of eliminating the threat of phone thefts. But it is becoming increasingly clear that, two years later, it has neither managed to wield much influence over phone companies to follow rules while devising distribution plans, nor has it inspired confidence amongst subscribers and affectees alike. Aside from adopting more aggressive measures such as publicising its function as well as stringent implementation of regulations, authorities need to realise that the realities of our times stand drastically altered from the days when the IMEI came into being. Harsh economic conditions have exacerbated petty crimes and made them life-threatening. Therefore, the need of the hour is an enhanced IMEI — more qualified personnel, improved equipment and most importantly, the time that it takes to block a handset, which means reworking verification procedures as it is this mechanism that can play a pivotal role in eradicating phone theft. Rapid disabling that makes handsets immediately ineffective translates into fewer thefts as it clamps down on the resale of stolen phone sets. Perhaps, the nuisance of ‘ghost’ connections can also be brought under IMEI’s purview to reign in errant retailers and services.

Two great modern thinkers

By Dr Asghar Ali Engineer


THE subcontinent produced many great Islamic thinkers throughout the medieval period and even during the decline of the Mughals when Shah Waliullah stands out.

During the British rule two great thinkers came to prominence: Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Sir Syed belonged to the 19th century. Maulana Azad, on other hand, lived and worked during the 20th century (died 1958). Both were great Islamic thinkers. Sir Syed though known more for his establishment of the modern educational institution, the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College (MAO), which became Aligarh Muslim University in 1920, was also an Islamic thinker in his own right. Sir Syed’s services to the community in the field of education perhaps overshadowed his Islamic scholarship.

His scholarship was original. He wrote books in defence of Islam when some British and western orientalists found faults with it. His book, Essays on the Life of Muhammad, is an important work from the modernist point of view. More than that, his commentary of the Quran, which he could not complete because he was forced by orthodox ulema to abandon it, is quite significant.

Sir Syed was earlier influenced by the puritan Wahabi ideology; he later changed track and came under the influence of the Muttazila school of thought, arguing that it was closer to the rationalist point of view. His commentary on the Quran, published under the title of Tafsir al-Quran wa huwa al-huda wa al-Furqan is, to my mind, a milestone in the 19th century commentary literature which came into existence as a result of countering western, rational challenges.

Sir Syed’s commentary and scholarship could be compared with his Egyptian contemporary, Muhammad Abduh. Abduh was also influenced by western rationalism and adopted a modernist view on many aspects. He, like Sir Syed, devoted himself to spreading education among his people and shunned politics in his later years.

Under pressure from traditional ulema, Sir Syed gave up writing the commentary and began to spread modern education among Muslims, which he thought was more important than insisting on writing the commentary. He argued that if modern education took hold, Muslim could understand the Quran in a rational way. Unfortunately, that did not happen and the orthodox ulema continued to have sway over the Muslim mind.

Sir Syed’s commentary went out of print and no one was interested in reprinting it. Thanks to Khudabakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, it became available in India again about a decade ago.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s commentary on the Qur’an is equally significant. Azad was greatly influenced by Sir Syed in his earlier days though later he charted his own course. He too could not complete his commentary though for a different reason. He had written his commentary during his internment at Ranchi in the 1920s. Unlike Sir Syed, Azad was a freedom fighter and his political activities kept him so busy that he could not complete the commentary.

Azad’s commentary is somewhat different from Sir Syed’s, though similar in spirit. He tends to be more traditional. Unlike Sir Syed, he does not write under the influence of the Muttazila school, though his approach, too, is not orthodox. He claims in the introductory part that he went through all the available tafsir literature before writing his commentary. Thus, Azad was fully conscious of what was written in the past and without significant departure from the traditional line, he made his commentary much more relevant to modern times. Also, his prose style is much simpler than Sir Syed’s.

Azad’s commentary on Surah Fatihah, the very first chapter of the Quran, is unique and remains unbeatable by other commentators. Also, he devotes one volume of his tafsir to what he calls wahdat-i-deen (unity of religion), basing his view on the Quranic text. This is his unique contribution, and leaves one wondering at his knowledge of other religions and philosophies, like Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, etc.

Azad maintains that deen is one, though laws (sharia) differ from religion to religion. Differences in these laws are because of culture, customs and traditions, not because of principles and values. He supports his thesis by quoting extensively from the Quran and other religious texts. Though one finds the doctrine of wahdat-i-deen in tafsir literature before Azad also, like in Shah Waliyullah’s Hujjatillah al-Baligha, but one does not find here a scholarship of other religious texts. Maulana Azad’s tafsir is thus much more inclusive.

Both Sir Syed and Maulana Azad have made rich contributions to the tafsir literature in modern times which needs to be popularised.

The writer is an Islamic scholar and heads the Centre for Study Society and Secularism, Mumbai.

Pirates of the Horn

By Gwynne Dyer


ON one side are eight navies, the world’s largest shipping companies, the rich Gulf states that need to get their oil to market, and the great powers whose commerce depends heavily on the shipping lanes around the Horn of Africa. On the other side are a few thousand Somali pirates in small boats with light weapons. So why are the pirates winning?

Not only are they winning, but the forces of law and order are almost completely paralysed. The pirates have seized dozen of ships, extracting ransoms that total about $30 million this year alone. Fourteen ships, including a Saudi Arabian super-tanker carrying two million barrels of oil, are still anchored off the Somali coast awaiting ransom.

Yet with the honourable exception of the Indians and the French, nobody has used force against the pirates of the Horn. The Danish navy arrested ten of them in September, but turned them loose again because the government believed that it did not have jurisdiction to prosecute them. The British Foreign Office has advised the Royal Navy not to detain pirates of certain nationalities (including Somali) as they might claim asylum in Britain under human rights laws.

As the boldness of the pirate attacks increases, the international response is to retreat. Major shipping companies that transport oil out of the Gulf have ordered their tankers to stop using the Suez Canal route, which takes them past the northern Somali coast. Instead, they are going all the way around southern Africa, adding two weeks to the voyage at a cost of $20,000-30,000 a day.

What to do? Most pundits declare that this problem cannot be solved at sea. Instead, it will only end when order has been restored in Somalia, the pirates’s base. Since Somalia is currently divided between three different governments, only one of which (Somaliland) exercises even a modest degree of control over its territory, that seems a tall order.

If we must wait for a central government with real authority to take charge in Somalia before the pirate threat in the seas around the Horn of Africa is brought under control, that happy event is unlikely to arrive before the 2020s. Why not solve the problem at sea, where clan militias and suicide bombers are not a problem? Why not just capture or kill enough of the pirates to persuade the others to choose a different career?

The problem is not the reluctance or incompetence of the navies. It is the whole body of international law and human rights legislation that has emerged in recent decades, which has made the traditional remedies for piracy very hard to apply. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, for example, requires a warship to send a boarding party led by an officer onto any suspected pirate vessel to confirm its criminal intent. Until that has been done, the warship may not open fire.

The colloquial term for the members of any such boarding party is “hostages.” Back in the early 18th century, when the pirates of the Caribbean — the real pirates of the Caribbean, not Johnny Depp and Keith Richards — were finally being eliminated by the navies of the major European powers, there was no such foolishness. Pirates were defined as “enemies of all mankind,” and there was a right of “universal jurisdiction” against them.

Any country could arrest pirates from any other country or countries and try them for their crimes. If they were captured in battle, they were even liable to summary execution. And while it is not the 18th century any more, a UN Security Council resolution decreeing universal jurisdiction would certainly transform the situation.

Suppose that such a declaration was made, and it was then announced that any non-military vessels carrying armed men within 500 kilometres (300 miles) of the Somali coast would be subject to arrest. If they did not submit when challenged, they would be sunk without further discussion. Do that a couple of times (as the Indian warship INS Tabar did last week), and the pirate threat drops away very fast.

— Copyright Gwynne Dyer

OTHER VOICES - Pushto Press

Where is the situation leading us?

Hewad, Peshawar

THE heart of every conscientious citizen of this county would bleed at the incidents in Dera Ismail Khan and Quetta the other day. The suicide bombing during the funeral of Iqbal Shah left ten people dead and more than a dozen wounded in D.I. Khan while Allam Shaikh Hasa Zakiri was shot dead along with his bodyguard after the Juma prayers on his way from Mach to Quetta. While observing these deaths and destruction one is forced to ask a number of questions, especially, who is doing all this? Why are they doing it and what objective do the perpetrators want to achieve with this death and destruction? The unknown perpetrators behead Muslims, close down markets, deprive the poor of their livelihood and destroy homes of Muslims. Why are they after all this? There’s not just one Muslim country in the world, namely Pakistan. There are almost 46 Muslim countries in the world. Egypt, Turkey and Malaysia all are Muslim countries where the people live a peaceful life and terror is not spread among the Muslim population there. Why is it that this only happens in Pakistan?

Nobody has the answer to the question as to why there are so many sects in Pakistan. Is it not true that Allah Almighty has instructed in the Holy Quran to desist from sectarianism? Doesn’t the government have the responsibility to keep sectarianism under check? Don’t the religious political parties have the responsibility to do away with sectarianism with the help of the government? Who is responsible for the creation and perpetuation of sectarianism in Pakistan? What are the reasons behind the incidents in D.I. Khan and Quetta? Those who were killed were neither infidels nor were they Americans? Then why were they killed? Why are these two sects shedding each other’s blood? Nobody can claim that this one sect is Muslim and the other one is not.

It is high time that those who are involved in political sloganeering come forward and take concrete steps to curb the sectarian monster with the help of local, provincial and federal governments. For this to happen it is of prime importance that the rule of law is firmly established in the country. Nobody has to be given the right to impose his/her version of religion on others. All sects must be given the right to adopt religious rituals according to their own interpretation but have to be stopped if they intend to impose their version of religion on others. — (Nov 23)

— Selected and translated by Khadim Hussain.

Updated Nov 28, 2008 12:00am

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