DAWN - Editorial; January 15, 2002

Published January 15, 2002

The speech & response

WHILE President Pervez Musharraf was making the most crucial speech of his career on Saturday, the entire world seemed to be holding its collective breath. However, within hours of the hard-hitting address, accolades began to pour in from important capitals across the globe. While the president was expected to announce measures to curb religious extremism in his speech, the uncompromising tone and content of his address took the world by surprise. Hours later, US Secretary of State Colin Powell was hailing the speech, stating that it could form the basis for a peaceful resolution of the tense standoff between India and Pakistan. This positive response was subsequently echoed by US President George Bush, who praised Musharraf for taking the decision to act against terrorism and extremism. The US welcomed Musharraf’s categorical condemnation of the attacks on the parliament building in New Delhi and the assembly building in Srinagar and lauded Musharraf’s “vision of Pakistan as a progressive and modern state”. President Bush later spoke to President Musharraf and thanked him for his courageous stand on the issue. He also spoke to the Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to solicit his views on the speech. The response in many other important capitals was no less warm.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised Musharraf’s outright condemnation and rejection of terrorism as well as his pledge to deal firmly with those committing terrorist acts from inside Pakistan. Mr Blair also applauded Musharraf for his “forceful defence of a tolerant and moderate Islam”. Echoing the US secretary of state, the British prime minister hoped that the Indians would respond positively to the message, especially the banning of the two extremist groups India accuses of carrying out the December 13 attack in New Delhi. Meanwhile, China also responded positively to the address, terming it as a step in the right direction. Within the next 24 hours a number of other countries, including Russia, the EU and France joined in this chorus of praise. The Indians, quite predictably, were less effusive. After mulling over the contents of the address, Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh addressed a press conference in which he offered a grudging appreciation of some of the measures announced. The Indians claimed that they wanted to see some action and not just words before they could positively reciprocate. They were particularly pleased with certain measures, especially the decision not to allow any part of Pakistan to be used to commit acts of terrorism. However, Jaswant Singh added that, “We would assess the effectiveness of this commitment only by the concrete action taken”. As for the dialogue, Jaswant Singh stated that such a process could only be initiated if Pakistan “operationalized its intentions and moved purposefully towards eradicating cross-border terrorism”. Clearly, India seems to have been put on the defensive by Musharraf’s address and will now need a face-saving breathing space before it can begin to react positively. There is also hope that the positive response to the address may help dissipate the ominous war clouds that have gathered over the subcontinent. With the world community giving Musharraf’s speech a thumbs-up, the next challenge for Pakistan will be to carry through, with the same courageous determination, the radical measures unveiled in the address.

‘Unlawful’ combatants?

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld may well have betrayed the flip side of the American approach to the whole issue of dealing with alleged Al Qaeda prisoners when he said that these people had no rights under the Geneva Convention since they were not prisoners of war but “unlawful combatants”. Washington has been saying all along that it is fighting a war against terrorism in Afghanistan. Hence, all prisoners detained as a consequence of its actions in that country should qualify as prisoners of war and hence must be accorded the rights bestowed on them by the Convention. Mr Rumsfeld does not seem to agree with this view. In his imperious way of thinking, those captured in Afghanistan are already guilty, that they are lesser human beings, perhaps even animals, and consequently are not fit to be treated according to the laws, conventions and norms that are applicable in such cases.

After all, what else can one gauge from the way 50 of them were treated when flown in a military transport plane from Kandahar to a US base in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Bound with iron chains, some were sedated, with no one allowed to answer the call of nature during the flight — bed-pans were placed instead. Even if it is assumed that some of these men had knowledge of the September 11 attacks, or even played a role in them, does that mean that their right to be treated as humans should be taken away? In any case, these prisoners are likely to be tried before military courts which have the authority to pass a death sentence, a decision against which the accused have no right of appeal. One wonders if Irish or Basque terrorists would ever be treated this way. In fact, the due process of law was not withheld even from Nazi war criminals or villains like Slobodan Milosevic whose trial is currently underway at The Hague before an international civilian court. Perhaps, the Al Qaeda accused have their faith and skin colour working against them.

Innocent women in lock-up

IT IS most unfortunate that two women who left their husbands because they used to physically abuse them have, instead, been put in jail under the Zina Ordinance. Both cases are from Buner in the NWFP’s conservative Malakand division, one involving a 21-year-old woman and the other a 14-year-old. The two have been in the local jail for quite some time, and their plight only became known when activists of a local rights group visited the prison. As usual, instead of acting to defend the victims of violence, the police have chosen to side with the perpetrators of violence. One fails to understand the logic or justice behind keeping the two young women in jail after they had left their husbands of their own will, and for good reason. Would it be too much to expect the police, or even the families of these women, to take their accusations against their husbands a bit more seriously?

Unfortunately, we have to say with much regret that such incidents reflect the markedly disadvantaged place women have in our society. Marriage does not give a licence to a husband to physically assault his wife, and if that is the case then some corrective action must be taken by the state to right the wrong done to the victim. Over the years, countless such cases have come up where the Zina Ordinance has been used as a tool to persecute desperate women who leave homes to escape a particularly unbearable situation. Enacted during Ziaul Haq’s oppressive rule for political purposes, the Hudood Ordinances have become instruments of oppression in the hands of the police and unscrupulous elements in our male-dominated society. It is time the government considered abolishing all such laws whose sole purpose seems to be the subjugation of women. The only way to prevent their misuse would be to erase them from the statute books.

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