DAWN - Editorial; April 15, 2003

April 15, 2003

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Sinha’s raving & ranting

YASHWANT SINHA is at it again. On Saturday, the Indian foreign minister once again drew a fancy parallel between Iraq and Pakistan and repeated his nostrum that Pakistan was a fit case for pre-emptive action. Earlier this month, he had stunned the world by stating that a better case could be made for a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan than against Iraq. In his tinted view, Pakistan fulfilled all the conditions that had led the US to invade Iraq. In his way of thinking, Pakistan is not much of a democracy, it possesses a large and growing stock of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, and happens to be the “epicentre and exporter of terrorism”. Mr Sinha’s latest outburst was met with an angry response from Pakistan, which vehemently denied all its insinuations. Washington too was clearly not amused. It was alarmed by New Delhi’s propensity to exploit the precedent of pre-emptive action set by the attack on Iraq, and felt impelled to issue a couple of sharp rebuttals. In an interview with Pakistan Television, US Secretary of State Colin Powell denied that any parallel existed between the situations in Iraq and Pakistan. Echoing his views, a State Department spokesperson stated that any parallel between the two countries are “overwhelmed by the differences between them.” However, the rap on the knuckles from Washington does not seem to have had the intended effect on Mr Sinha, who called the US snub “unacceptable.”

Relations between India and Pakistan have been extremely frosty in recent months, particularly since the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001. New Delhi accused Pakistan of being behind the attack, a charge strongly denied by Islamabad. Since then India has taken a series of provocative steps and spurned all offers of a dialogue until Pakistan stopped what New Delhi calls “cross border terrorism”. India massed some half a million troops on the common border, forcing Pakistan to follow suit. The dangerous stand-off eventually ended after Washington put pressure on India to back down. For its part, Pakistan has been taking a number of constructive steps to lower the temperature. It has pledged to take firm steps to curb infiltration across the Line of Control and suggested that UN or third party monitors could be posted on the LoC to keep an eye on infiltration. Pakistan has also repeatedly offered unconditional talks to India but all such conciliatory moves have been spurned.

Meanwhile, New Delhi continues to project even the smallest incident of violence in Kashmir as an act of cross-border terrorism instigated by Pakistan. India’s current belligerent stance could well be motivated by domestic concerns. Elections to a number of state assemblies are due soon and New Delhi has learnt that anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim rhetoric can pay handsome dividends at the polls. The cynical use of anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim slogans won the ruling BJP a landslide in Gujarat, the scene of communal carnage before the polls. Whipping up anti-Pakistan hysteria may win some votes for the ruling party but it could also have dangerous repercussions. The world is deeply concerned that the current war of words could spin out of control and lead to a deadly confrontation between the two nuclear powers. It is important that the two countries stop breathing fire at each other and urgently initiate a dialogue on all outstanding issues between them. Irresponsible talk of pre-emptive strikes can only aggravate matters further in what is regarded to be the most dangerous place in the world.

Warning to Syria

ONE never thought America would turn its attention on its next Arab target so soon. The situation in Iraq is still fluid. But the heat is already being turned on Syria. So far, American leaders who have directly threatened Syria have included Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and Karl Rove, a very important member of the neo-conservative group that serves as the Pentagon’s think tank. This time, however, the warning has come from President George Bush himself. Speaking to reporters on Sunday, he not only accused Damascus of having chemical weapons, his words implied a threat of military action. Asking Damascus to “cooperate” with the US, Bush said the action against Iraq showed Washington was “serious” about stopping the proliferation of WMDs.

At times, Bush administration officials have denied that they had a list which they would pursue after the Saddam regime was toppled. Secretary of State Colin Powell was among those who recently denied that the US had any such plans. Yet, the recent spate of threats to Damascus suggests that the hawks once again are trying to sideline the moderates led by Powell. Bush has also previously alleged that Syrian volunteers had fought alongside the Iraqis in the war. He coupled this allegation with another warning — that Syria should not provide refuge to Iraqis close to Saddam Hussein. These charges are in addition to the allegation of Syrian support to “terrorists”. Which is the Israeli-American euphemism for those fighting for Palestine’s freedom. Is the stage now being set for another drama of death and destruction in another Arab country? This time the “coalition” could even include Israel, which already is there — though behind the scenes — in the Iraqi war. Even those Arab states which cooperated with the US in the Iraqi war will now find it impossible to sit on the sidelines, much less collaborate with the US. One only hopes the Bush administration is aware of what the outcome for America’s relations with the Arab-Islamic world will be if the Zionist lobby succeeds in prodding the US-led coalition to attack Syria.

Protecting the culprits

THE way the Sindh police have mishandled the case of a 12-year-old boy, who burnt himself to death after allegedly being sodomized by two constables, is shocking. According to a report, the investigating officer (IO) of the case showed up at the hospital much after the boy had died. This meant that a crucial piece of evidence — the dying victim’s testimony — could not be obtained. In explanation the officer told the boy’s brothers that he was delayed because he had first gone to the city’s other two government hospitals. This is unconvincing because the Civil Hospital, where the boy was, is the only place in Karachi where burns patients are treated. It is inconceivable that the IO did not know this.

Even after the boy’s death, the routine medical procedure that would have established that he had been sexually assaulted was not performed. The dead boy’s family has also said on record that it had never objected to an autopsy, which too for some reason was never carried out. All these lapses and omissions make it quite clear that the case against the two constables allegedly involved in the crime is being deliberately weakened by the police investigators. The police department already has a very negative image in the public eye, and this will be further tarnished if the perpetrators of this heinous crime manage to go scot-free. The Sindh home department as well as the Inspector-General of Police must at once take note of what is going on, remove the erring investigators, have the case fully and properly investigated and prosecute the two policemen guilty of the horrible crime.