India’s ‘pre-emption’ fantasy

MIAN Khursheed Mahmood Kasuri has done well to counsel restraint for his Indian counterpart, asking him to avoid the language of threats and blackmail against this country. Speaking to Reuters, the foreign minister used the occasion to express serious reservations about “pre-emption” and said he did not believe in any such doctrine. He was reacting to a series of bellicose statements by Yashwant Sinha, who has said several times that Pakistan was “a fit case” for a pre-emptive strike by India. This prompted Pakistan’s Foreign Office to say that it was India that was a more appropriate case for pre-emptive action for its consistent violation of UN resolutions on Kashmir. “Pre-emption” is a controversial doctrine. It has been evolved by America’s neo-conservative hawks who over the last many years have been pressing for more aggressive foreign and military policies to turn the world into something of an American empire. In the Middle East, their focus has been on monopolization of Arab oil and unstinted support for Tel Aviv to help it achieve its dream of Greater Israel. The attack on Iraq has been just one instance of that expansionist policy. In pursuing these objectives and this unilateralist philosophy, the US-Zionist superhawks would not mind isolating America from the rest of the world, including some of its most trusted allies. However, for a Third World country to talk of pre-emption is utterly ludicrous. Besides, does Sinha really think any sane mind believes that the equation between Pakistan and India is the same as that between Iraq and the US?

Relations between Pakistan and India have not been normalized yet. Even though a destructive war was averted last summer, and the two countries withdrew their armies to peacetime locations, the situation is still far from normal. Rail, road and air links remain suspended, and full diplomatic representation is still not there. The need of the hour, therefore, is to reduce tension and not to say or do anything that would exacerbate matters. Against this background, the “fit case” mantra hardly serves to lower tension or help normalization. It is true, Sinha’s sabre-rattling is meant primarily for domestic consumption, for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party needs to appeal to the communal elements to stay in power. But he seems to forget that a foreign minister’s words do not remain confined to domestic politics and that they have wider implications. Pakistan’s counter-threats, thus, were by way of a retort, requiring Mian Kasuri to say such things as Islamabad’s missile programme being more advanced than New Delhi’s. The two governments would earn the gratitude of their people if they could keep their rhetoric in check. As a rule they should convey their viewpoints in a manner and tone consistent with civilized norms. To talk about pre-emption is utter nonsense. India started it, and it is in the fitness of things that it should stop harping on it. For its part, Pakistan should ignore these threats; instead, it should try to improve the geopolitical atmosphere in South Asia by observing a unilateral diplomatic ceasefire. India may not reciprocate, but sooner or later the world will appreciate Pakistan’s restraint, and even sane minds in India may see the wisdom of it and ask New Delhi to do likewise.

The LFO logjam

THE scene was depressingly familiar. Another session of the National Assembly began yesterday only to end in uproar, with the opposition benches shouting slogans of “no LFO no” and “go Musharraf go.” The pandemonium continued until the speaker, unable to maintain order, adjourned the session until Friday. The controversy over the Legal Framework Order has brought the lower house to a virtual standstill, with every session marred by rowdy protests from the strong opposition led by the PPP, MMA, and PML-N. Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali warned that this mode of protests could ultimately recoil on the system itself. The constant disruption of sessions, he said, could lead to the dissolution of the assembly, sending all its members back to political limbo. The opposition, for its part, says that it is waging this campaign to protect, not to hinder, democracy. While many of the provisions of the LFO are not particularly contentious, there are three that the opposition considers unacceptable.

Accepting the LFO in its entirety would mean legitimizing President Musharraf’s elevation to the presidency for five years; the formation of a National Security Council, with the president as its head, would badly undermine the sovereignty of parliament; the revival of Article 58 (2)b, would allow the president to dismiss the elected assemblies at his discretion. A related issue is President Musharraf retaining his post of army chief — which too is highly controversial. The deadlock over the LFO has now assumed alarming proportions and must be broken at all costs — and soon. The government was believed to have initiated a dialogue with the MMA over the issue but the full-throated participation of its members in yesterday’s protest suggests that no real headway has been made on this front. It is vital that the government reopens a dialogue with the opposition on at least the contentious part of the LFO and try to find some meeting point. Given the deep polarization over the issue, the need is urgent for flexibility and compromise on both sides. The system must be saved at all costs because the stakes are extremely high. The last thing the country needs is another failed experiment in democracy and a return to authoritarian rule.

Soiled bank notes

IT is a cause of great public inconvenience that bank notes of Rs 50 and Rs 100 denomination continue to be in short supply. In addition to that, a sizable stock of the money in circulation consists of soiled or defaced notes, which most commercial establishments and shops are not willing to accept. The biggest sufferers are of course common citizens who have to put up with great inconvenience when shopkeepers refuse to accept such notes. The irony is that they get these defaced or soiled notes from commercial banks or as change from shops or service operators. To make matters worse, commercial banks, even the government-owned ones, refuse to change these soiled notes for new ones. As for the shortage of fresh notes, there are allegations that part of the stock of newly-printed notes is taken to Afghanistan where they are in great demand and that this happens with the connivance of officials.

The State Bank must urgently look into this matter. First, it should ensure that commercial banks have enough stocks of Rs 50 and Rs 100 notes. Any illegal transfer of currency notes out of Pakistan to any neighbouring country must be stopped immediately. Then, the printing corporation should be required to expedite the print run for notes currently in short supply and arrangements made for these to be available at commercial banks and in the market within a reasonable period of time.

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