Yet another act of terror

IT IS difficult to find words to condemn the abhorrent grenade attack on the Protestant International Church in Islamabad on Sunday. Coming at a time when terrorism in Pakistan is again on the rise after having been dampened somewhat by the post-9/11 crackdown, the latest incident has gruesome implications. Five people, including an American diplomat’s wife and daughter, have been killed and several other foreign diplomats injured. Since the church was located in the diplomatic enclave, where one can presume that security must have been tight, this act of terrorism is quite mystifying. Apart from this aspect of a serious lapse of security, the act of terrorism has another dimension. One cannot overlook the fact that this was an attack on a Christian place of worship (the second in five months) and failure to protect it amounts to an implicit display of animosity towards a non-Muslim faith.

Many conjectures have been made about the affiliations of the perpetrators of this heinous crime and their motives. It is generally believed that the Islamic militants who feel under attack on account of the US war on terror are retaliating against America in this fashion. President Musharraf has also invited the ire of the Islamic extremists because of his positive response to and cooperation with President George Bush’s offensive against the Al Qaeda. Seen in this context, Sunday’s attack is believed to be an attack against the US in the on-going confrontation between the jihadis and the West. The incident is also being linked to the Daniel Pearl case and Washington’s demand for extradition of Shaikh Omar, one of the key suspects.

Whether this speculation has any basis to it or not, the government cannot be absolved of its responsibility in the matter. At a time when there is growing insecurity in the country, one cannot explain the state’s failure in providing security to its own citizens and the foreign nationals residing here. Equally unforgivable is its inability to investigate the various acts of terror which have occurred recently and to catch the killers. Be that as it may, it is plain that the abject failure of the security and investigation agencies belie President Musharraf’s own credibility in the matter. He should not be seen to be running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. While he has assured the United States of his government’s full support in its war on terror, he should not go soft on the various militant groups operating from Pakistan’s soil and must force the hand of the security agencies to act tough against them.

The time has come for the president to adopt an unequivocal stand on this issue. There is a clear-cut need for him to change his strategy. Obviously the government’s policy vis-a-vis the agencies and their hidden agendas must change beyond merely shuffling the top leadership of the ISI. This ambivalent approach will not help the country since the escalating violence and terrorism will not be checked. Apart from the damage it is doing to the country’s stability and image, the repercussions on national security will be grave. If the government wants to establish its good faith in the matter, it must ensure that the attack on the church is investigated thoroughly and speedily and that the perpetrators of this crime are caught, tried and punished without delay.

Education for all

THE presidential ordinance making primary education compulsory is a welcome move, even though it is for the Islamabad Capital Territory only. The ordinance provides for punishment for parents who do not send their children to school as well as for people who employ children of primary school-going age. The minimum fine for parents is Rs 500 and that for employers Rs 1,000. Since most families in the capital would already have their primary school aged children enrolled, it is clear that the ordinance would affect mainly those living in the katchi abadis and the suburbs. One hopes that before promulgating the ordinance, the government has made an appropriate survey of the availability of schools nearby to serve these communities. In addition to easy access, the government ought also to ensure that these schools are adequately staffed and equipped and function effectively. It is only when schools are accessible and impart meaningful education that the government can hope to successfully implement any ordinance on compulsory education.

There is definitely a need to adopt a similar strategy for the entire country. Although there are laws in Sindh, Punjab and the Frontier Province that make primary education obligatory, it is obvious that mere laws are not enough to make parents send their children to school. As it is, a dismal 55 per cent of girls and 37 per cent of boys aged between five and nine years are not enrolled at all. If the problem is one of sufficient resources, a feasible approach would be to introduce compulsory primary education in stages in the provinces by, for example, making it applicable in only some better-equipped districts first. Compulsory primary education will not only improve the literacy rate but will also have the effect of reducing child labour and begging. But all this calls for a network of good schools all over the country. Simply promulgating an ordinance is not sufficient by itself.

Drug abuse on the rise

PAKISTAN’S status as a country with one of the highest rates of opiate addiction in the world should be a matter of deep shame as well as concern for us all. According to a senior official of the UN Drug Control Programme, there are half a million hardcore and chronic addicts in the country, an alarming figure by any standard. Even more alarming is the changing pattern of drug abuse. Increasingly, addicts are shifting from the earlier practice of smoking or inhaling hard drugs, such as heroin, to injecting the substance intravenously. More and more drug users are also resorting to the communal sharing of needles, a practice fraught with grave health risks. Thankfully, no case of HIV/ AIDS among this extremely high risk group has come to light during a survey recently conducted by two UN agencies. However, the risk of this deadly disease spreading through shared needles remains very real. One alarming finding of the survey was the high prevalence of Hepatitis C among those addicts who used syringes: as many as 180 out of the 200 drug users surveyed had contracted the disease.

For a poor country like Pakistan, the growing trend of drug use is becoming an unbearable burden. Not only does addiction remove a potentially productive member of society from the workforce, it also creates a whole range of social problems and increases the load on the already overstretched social services. Without adequate facilities and lacking trained manpower, the country has, by and large, been unsuccesful in rehabilitating drug addicts and bringing them back into the mainstream. Most addicts treated at detoxification centres soon return to their old habits. Aggressive preventive programmes warning young people about the terrible consequences of drug use and sharing syringes have been launched abroad with considerable success. While the task of setting up more effective rehabilitation centres should be a priority, other innovative approaches must also be adopted to tackle this terrible malaise.

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