DAWN - Editorial; June 30, 2003

June 30, 2003

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A positive development

AFTER a long time, there is some good news from Palestine. Israel has decided to withdraw troops from the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem (in the West Bank), while Hamas has announced a suspension of attacks on Israel and Jewish settlements. The withdrawal from Bethlehem has been agreed upon only in principle, but the pullout from Gaza is to begin today. The agreement comes on the eve of US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the region and goes to show the difference it makes when America insists on compliance on a certain issue. In the past, many peace initiatives foundered on the rocks of Israeli obduracy because America let it get away with it. Nothing illustrates this point more than the fate of the Oslo accords. The path-breaking “peace of the brave” accord was signed in Washington in September 1993 amidst great hopes that it would finally bring peace to the Middle East and lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. However, once Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a Jewish fanatic, subsequent Israeli prime ministers did everything in their power to obstruct the implementation of the peace process. Both Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak derailed the process by hedging on the withdrawal schedule.

While Netanyahu from the very start was opposed to the Oslo accords, Barak had won election on a peace plank. However, once in power, he behaved no differently, and the peace process came to a grinding halt. Then there followed what looked like an unending series of summit conferences — at Wye, Camp David, Sharm al-Sheikh and Cairo — and the treaties were virtually renegotiated. Still, no progress was made and things dragged on. Whatever chances of the establishment of a Palestinian state were there vanished when the second intifada broke out after Ariel Sharon visited the Islamic holy places in September 2000 despite being advised against it. Things worsened when he became prime minister in March 2001. Since then, the holy land has known only bloodshed, violence and pillaging, mostly affecting the Palestinians.

In the wake of the Iraq war, President George Bush has shown some serious interest in the Palestinian crisis. The roadmap unveiled by him on April 30 provides for the establishment of a Palestinian state in 2005. The Palestinian Authority was the first to accept it; Israel did this much later — and with 14 reservations. There were doubts even in the liberal sections of the Israeli opinion that Sharon would faithfully follow the roadmap. However, the US now seems keen to see it through to the end. The key issue now is whether Sharon will raise any new hurdles. The decision to withdraw from Gaza is a welcome development and so is the pledge by Hamas to suspend attacks on Israel. If any problems develop, once again both sides will blame each other and resume violence. To avert such a possibility, it would be desirable to set up a monitoring mechanism. Drawn from the Quartet — the US, the European Union, Russia and the UN — officials manning this monitoring cell could keep a close watch on the implementation of the roadmap. In the event of any foot-dragging by either side, the Quartet should not hesitate to put pressure on the recalcitrant party. The roadmap is heavily tilted in Israel’s favour. But even this can bring peace to the troubled land if both sides follow it sincerely and do not raise new obstacles.

Violence against women

A RAWALPINDI-BASED NGO’s revelations about women victims of violence are horrifying. According to the data collected by it, some 5,000 women were burnt to death in the last five years by their husbands or in-laws in Rawalpindi-Islamabad and the adjoining areas alone. Revealing the gory details, the rights group’s spokeswoman noted with shock and horror the latest method of torturing women to death by electrocution. The situation in many other parts of the country is no better either. Considering the alarming number of women becoming victims of violence — harassment, physical abuse, selling of girls in marriages or offering them to adversaries as compensation to settle tribal disputes, rape, imprisonment under false charges of fornication, mutilation, acid throwing, burning, electrocution, honour killing — not enough is being done at any level — legal, social or political — to fight these evils and to safeguard women’s rights, interests and, above all, their physical safety and well-being. The fact that their tormentors are seldom, if ever, brought to justice, makes it only more alarming.

Regressive social practices, rooted in tribal and feudal customs and traditions, coupled with an obscurantist interpretation of religious edicts, are the main hurdles in way of according women their due rights, status and protection. Changing social attitudes towards women in a society in transition such as ours requires sustained legal and social efforts and nation-wide legal aid services for women. The discriminatory Hudood, Qisas and Diyat Ordinances and the Law of Evidence are repressive in spirit and application and deserve to be repealed or suitably modified. Increased representation of women in our legislatures now provides the right conditions and opportunity to get things moving on this very important front. Pakistan cannot become a moderate, progressive and a prosperous Muslim country without strengthening civil society and abiding by its norms. This requires, first and foremost, giving men and women equal access to opportunities in life, with particular emphasis on the protection of the rights, interests, safety and well-being of women.

A sensible move

THE directive to the Karachi traffic police that they should immediately stop lifting wrongly parked motorcycles and instead impose a nominal fine is a sensible decision. Implemented properly, it could make life easier for thousands of motorcyclists in the city. The traffic police, especially in the city’s business and commercial districts, have made it a habit to lift wrongly parked motorcycles. The directive to stop doing this is a somewhat belated acknowledgment of the fact such actions by men under his command are highly questionable, especially because those who pick up the motorcycles are never in uniform and the van used to transport them is privately-owned. The torment, agony and inconvenience thus caused is perhaps known only to those who have gone through the ordeal. Motorcycles are picked up without warning and without issuing a receipt — which means that the owner is not even sure whether the police have picked up his vehicle or it has been stolen.

Hopefully, the new mode of action that has been prescribed will be faithfully observed and any policeman found indulging in the previous practice will be taken to task. There are other traffic police proclivities and practices that too must be tackled. One glaring example is the practice of signalling a motorist or motorcyclist at the tail-end of a traffic flow crossing an intersection as the traffic light turns from green to ember or red, and then to insist that he jumped the red light. In most cases, however, the driver gets away after paying a bribe to the policeman. Apart from causing harassment and annoyance to the victims, such practices reinforce the public perception that the traffic police’s main job is to harass motorists and to extort money from them by any means possible. The DIG, Traffic, would do well to give attention to such irregularities and take appropriate preventive and punitive action to eliminate these sources of harassment and exploitation for the motorists and vehicle drivers.