NINE years ago I wrote an afterword for Orientalism which, in trying to clarify what I believed I had and had not said, stressed not only the many discussions that had opened up since my book appeared in 1978, but the ways in which a work about representations of “the Orient” lent itself to increasing misinterpretation. That I find myself feeling more ironic than irritated about that very same thing today is a sign of how much my age has crept up on me. The recent deaths of my two main intellectual, political and personal mentors, Eqbal Ahmad and Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, has brought sadness and loss, as well as resignation and a certain stubborn will to go on.
In my memoir Out of Place (1999) I described the strange and contradictory worlds in which I grew up, providing for myself and my readers a detailed account of the settings that I think formed me in Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon. But that was a very personal account that stopped short of all the years of my own political engagement that started after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Orientalism is very much a book tied to the tumultuous dynamics of contemporary history. Its first page opens with a 1975 description of the Lebanese civil war that ended in 1990, but the violence and the ugly shedding of human blood continues up to this minute. We have had the failure of the Oslo peace process, the outbreak of the second intifada, and the awful suffering of the Palestinians on the reinvaded West Bank and Gaza.
The suicide bombing phenomenon has appeared with all its hideous damage, none more lurid and apocalyptic of course than the events of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath in the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. As I write these lines, the illegal imperial occupation of Iraq by the United States and Britain proceeds. Its aftermath is truly awful to contemplate. This is all part of what is supposed to be a clash of civilizations, unending, implacable, irremediable. Nevertheless, I think not.
I wish I could say that general understanding of the Middle East, the Arabs and Islam in the United States has improved somewhat, but alas, it really hasn’t. For all kinds of reasons, the situation in Europe seems to be considerably better. In the US, the hardening of attitudes, the tightening of the grip of demeaning generalization and triumphalist cliche, the dominance of crude power allied with simplistic contempt for dissenters and “others” has found a fitting correlative in the looting and destruction of Iraq’s libraries and museums.
What our leaders and their intellectual lackeys seem incapable of understanding is that history cannot be swept clean like a blackboard, clean so that “we” might inscribe our own future there and impose our own forms of life for these lesser people to follow.
It is quite common to hear high officials in Washington and elsewhere speak of changing the map of the Middle East, as if ancient societies and myriad peoples can be shaken up like so many peanuts in a jar. But this has often happened with the “Orient,” that semi-mythical construct which since Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in the late eighteenth century has been made and re-made countless times. In the process the uncountable sediments of history, that include innumerable histories and a dizzying variety of peoples, languages, experiences, and cultures, all these are swept aside or ignored, relegated to the sand heap along with the treasures ground into meaningless fragments that were taken out of Baghdad.
My argument is that history is made by men and women, just as it can also be unmade and re-written, so that “our” East, “our” Orient becomes “ours” to possess and direct. And I have a very high regard for the powers and gifts of the peoples of that region to struggle on for their vision of what they are and want to be. There’s been so massive and calculatedly aggressive an attack on the contemporary societies of the Arab and Muslim for their backwardness, lack of democracy, and abrogation of women’s rights that we simply forget that such notions as modernity, enlightenment, and democracy are by no means simple, and agreed-upon concepts that one either does or does not find like Easter eggs in the living-room.
The breathtaking insouciance of jejune publicists who speak in the name of foreign policy and who have no knowledge at all of the language real people actually speak, has fabricated an arid landscape ready for American power to construct there an ersatz model of free market “democracy”. You don’t need Arabic or Persian or even French to pontificate about how the democracy domino effect is just what the Arab world needs.
But there is a difference between knowledge of other peoples and other times that is the result of understanding, compassion, careful study and analysis for their own sakes, and on the other hand, knowledge that is part of an overall campaign of self-affirmation. There is, after all, a profound difference between the will to understand for purposes of co-existence and enlargement of horizons, and the will to dominate for the purposes of control.
It is surely one of the intellectual catastrophes of history that an imperialist war confected by a small group of unelected US officials was waged against a devastated Third World dictatorship on thoroughly ideological grounds having to do with world dominance, security control, and scarce resources, but disguised for its true intent, hastened, and reasoned for by Orientalists who betrayed their calling as scholars.
The major influences on George W. Bush’s Pentagon and National Security Council were men such as Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, experts on the Arab and Islamic world who helped the American hawks to think about such preposterous phenomena as the Arab mind and centuries-old Islamic decline which only American power could reverse.
Today bookstores in the US are filled with shabby screeds bearing screaming headlines about Islam and terror, Islam exposed, the Arab threat and the Muslim menace, all of them written by political polemicists pretending to possess knowledge imparted to them and others by experts who have supposedly penetrated to the heart of these strange Oriental peoples. Accompanying such war-mongering expertise have been CNN and Fox, plus myriad evangelical and right-wing radio hosts, innumerable tabloids and even middle-brow journals, all of them re-cycling the same unverifiable fictions and vast generalizations so as to stir up “America” against the foreign devil.
Without a well-organized sense that these people over there were not like “us” and didn’t appreciate “our” values — the very core of traditional Orientalist dogma — there would have been no war. So from the very same directorate of paid professional scholars enlisted by the Dutch conquerors of Malaysia and Indonesia, the British armies of India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, West Africa, the French armies of Indochina and North Africa, came the American advisers to the Pentagon and the White House, using the same cliches, the same demeaning stereotypes, the same justifications for power and violence (after all, runs the chorus, power is the only language they understand) in this case as in the earlier ones. These people have now been joined in Iraq by a whole army of private contractors and eager entrepreneurs to whom shall be confided every thing from the writing of textbooks and the constitution to the refashioning of Iraqi political life and its oil industry.
Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires.
Twenty-five years after my book’s publication Orientalism once again raises the question of whether modern imperialism ever ended, or whether it has continued in the Orient since Napoleon’s entry into Egypt two centuries ago. Arabs and Muslims have been told that victimology and dwelling on the depredations of empire is only a way of evading responsibility in the present. You have failed, you have gone wrong, says the modern Orientalist.
This of course is also V.S. Naipaul’s contribution to literature, that the victims of empire wail on while their country goes to the dogs. But what a shallow calculation of the imperial intrusion that is, how little it wishes to face the long succession of years through which empire continues to work its way in the lives say of Palestinians or Congolese or Algerians or Iraqis.
Think of the line that starts with Napoleon, continues with the rise of Oriental studies and the takeover of North Africa, and goes on in similar undertakings in Vietnam, in Egypt, in Palestine and, during the entire twentieth century in the struggle over oil and strategic control in the Gulf, in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Afghanistan. Then think of the rise of anti-colonial nationalism, through the short period of liberal independence, the era of military coups, of insurgency, civil war, religious fanaticism, irrational struggle and uncompromising brutality against the latest bunch of “natives.” Each of these phases and eras produces its own distorted knowledge of the other, each its own reductive images, its own disputatious polemics.
My idea in Orientalism is to use humanistic critique to open up the fields of struggle, to introduce a longer sequence of thought and analysis to replace the short bursts of polemical, thought-stopping fury that so imprison us. I have called what I try to do “humanism,” a word I continue to use stubbornly despite the scornful dismissal of the term by sophisticated post-modern critics. By humanism I mean first of all attempting to dissolve Blake’s mind-forged manacles so as to be able to use one’s mind historically and rationally for the purposes of reflective understanding. Moreover humanism is sustained by a sense of community with other interpreters and other societies and periods: strictly speaking therefore, there is no such thing as an isolated humanist.
This it is to say that every domain is linked to every other one, and that nothing that goes on in our world has ever been isolated and pure of any outside influence. We need to speak about issues of injustice and suffering within a context that is amply situated in history, culture, and socio-economic reality. Our role is to widen the field of discussion. I have spent a great deal of my life during the past 35 years advocating the rights of the Palestinian people to national self-determination, but I have always tried to do that with full attention paid to the reality of the Jewish people and what they suffered by way of persecution and genocide. The paramount thing is that the struggle for equality in Palestine/Israel should be directed toward a humane goal, that is, co-existence, and not further suppression and denial. — Copyright Edward W. Said.
To be concluded
Slow pace of peace efforts
ALTHOUGH it has been four months since Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made a peace overture to Pakistan, calling for resumption of efforts by the two countries to resolve all disputes, it cannot be said that there has been a tangible progress in this direction. This is a matter of great concern.
The bus service between Delhi and Lahore has resumed, and dates for the resumption of talks on air links have been fixed. There have also been a non-official exchange of visits between parliamentarians and media persons from the two sides. A broadbased conference of opinion leaders, prominent public figures and newspaper editors of the two countries is scheduled to be held early next week. But that is about all.
Even a tentative agenda for possible bilateral official-level meetings has yet to be worked out. The possibility of a summit meeting, on the lines of the one held in Agra two years ago, at the moment seems only a remote possibility. Mr Vajpayee is expected to visit Pakistan for the overdue Saarc summit in January and before that the prime ministers of the two countries are scheduled to be in New York together for the UN general assembly meeting. Whether any working session of the two on a bilateral basis will be held is, however, anybody’s guess.
In the meantime, the various statements from the two sides cannot all be called positive. Islamabad has expressed its deep concern about the subversive and anti-Pakistan activities of the consulates set up by India in Afghanistan. It has also asked India to shut down the “camps” established by it for the training of “terrorists.” New Delhi has kept up its refrain about Pakistan encouraging cross-border terrorism. The US has offered once again to help restore “normality” between the two countries. However, India continues to be firmly opposed to any third-party mediation.
Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha’s interview to a Dubai daily the other day gave an impression that Pakistan has not ended its links with “terrorists” and in the circumstances no “meaningful talks” between New Delhi and Islamabad seemed possible. The US state department spokesman’s statement offering Washington’s good offices may have been intended to soften India’s mood.
But one hopes that the window of opportunity for defusing tensions between India and Pakistan will remain open. It is difficult to conjecture nevertheless how the situation will evolve in the coming weeks. Mr Vajpayee’s statement that the present one is the last attempt on his part to establish peace with Pakistan seems to have put the Pakistani leadership on notice, and one would not want the opportunity to be lost. All the same, any undue optimism in the present circumstances would seem to be out of the question.
Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali in his address at the inauguration of the Pakistan envoys’ conference in Islamabad clearly suggested that the “thaw” in India-Pakistan relations should not be allowed to dissipate. In an interview with the BBC earlier this week, he categorically declared that the “era of wars” is over, and called for a proactive policy in all areas of bilateral relations with India. He also hinted that there was a chance of his meeting the Indian prime minister “even before the start of the Saarc summit.” However, he did not elaborate.
While India has its problems, particularly because of the growing extremism of the fundamentalist section of the majority community, peace and stability are a dire need of Pakistan. If the tensions between Pakistan and its neighbours, both on the right and left flanks are allowed to prolong, it would not be able to fully capitalize on the comparative economic stability which it has been able to achieve in the recent past.
Outlining his vision of a modern, progressive and democratic Islamic state for Pakistan, while addressing the Pakistani envoys’ conference the other day, President Gen Pervez Musharraf specially cited what he called the “recent positive macroeconomic indicators of Pakistan” as a result of which the country was fast becoming economically “a success story.” This offers “new opportunities” which would be encashable only in the event of Pakistan and India being able to achieve peace and stability in the region.
While the continuing conflict with India remains a threat to Pakistan’s stability, the trouble with Afghanistan in recent weeks has considerably complicated the country’s security situation. Pakistan officials who attended a tripartite meeting with officials of the US and Afghanistan the other day acknowledged that Pakistan and Afghan forces have been involved in “small border skirmishes” in the recent weeks.
Kabul accused Pakistan of letting its troops intrude into Afghan territory, and this triggered countrywide demonstrations in Afghanistan. A specially violent demonstration resulted in the Pakistan embassy in the Afghan capital being raided and ransacked.
If the tension with Afghanistan becomes any worse, Pakistan will suffer on two counts: its western border will be destabilized and it will additionally run the risk of India exploiting the situation to its own advantage. Although the mood of the Afghan leadership looks nasty, it is hoped that the Karzai government in Kabul will realize the benefits of maintaining close ties with Pakistan. In its bid for reconstruction, Afghanistan will find Pakistan’s help and cooperation indispensable. However, Pakistan must also attempt to neutralize the two-front situation which it is at present facing.
It is the view of many eminent strategists that as a result of its economic and technological advancement, there has been a noticeable rise in India’s militarism. In the words of a leading Pakistani physicist, Dr Zia Mian, formerly of Islamabad’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Indian militarism is being fuelled by the emergence of a new political culture in Delhi “based on an alliance between the politicians, the bureaucracy, the military establishment and a rising national bourgeoisie.” India looks to nuclear weapons for projecting its military might beyond its borders.
An Indian scholar, regarded as an expert on strategic matters Ravi Rikhye, has in his book Militarization of mother India echoed similar feelings. He says: “Today the military-industrial complex (in India), about to be joined by the industrial, has become a powerful force to expand armaments and defence spending without any corresponding benefits; this is very dangerous.”
Pakistan should give India no chance to delay negotiation and opt for continuing along this path. At the same time, a sustained effort has to be made to ensure that the fundamentalists and hawks at home do not get the chance to hold people hostage to their cliches and slogans.
America’s ‘rogue’ state
FORGET terrorism and Iraq. It’s frighteningly clear the greatest threat now facing the United States is coming from that most roguish of rogue states — California.
Over the past few months, America’s most important state, the world’s fifth largest economy and 13 per cent of the US economy, has plunged into West African-style politico-financial chaos.
If ever there was a case for President George ‘bring’em on’ Bush’s new doctrine of pre-emptive attacks on dangerous malefactors that threaten US security, this is it.
US troops should immediately liberate California from the evil Democrats and Hollywood lefties who turned this once great state into a huge mess. Too bad half the US army is tied down in Iraq. There may not be enough troops available to liberate San Francisco and Fresno. Maybe Bush’s best pal Tony Blair can send some of his Gurkhas, or perhaps accommodating Pakistan will dispatch some crack troops to Malibu.
Then California must be re-constructed by Republican firms, like Halliburton and Bechtel, as in Iraq, then guided to true democracy by the same American proconsular team that is currently doing such a great job in Baghdad.
As of this writing, California’s finances are in a tailspin. The Democratic Governor, Gray Davis, who saddled the state with a US $38 billion deficit, faces a recall vote enraged Californians and looks likely to be dumped. Only in California can voters vote in a referendum to recall their governor.
Governor Davis has the personality and charisma of a frozen leg of mutton. Gray is even greyer than his name implies, a lugubrious creature who looks more like an undertaker than a governor, and is widely detested.
After Gray, the deluge. A bizarre collection of 500 gubernatorial candidates straight out of Hollywood central casting are seeking to replace Gray. To run for governor, all you need is 65 signatures and a $3,500 deposit. Welcome to politics on LSD.
California’s respected senator, Diane Feinstein, won’t run. That leaves the field to an African-American child actor, a buxom stripper, and a former auto-robber turned millionaire — but after spending over $1 million of his own money on the race, he just quit in tears. Plus an assortment of shopworn politicians and crazies, none of whom command any political support.
On Wednesday, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced on the Jay Leno TV Show that he, too, would run for governor. If anyone could save Californians from themselves, it’s Arnie, better known as Conan the Barbarian and Terminator. Since all politicians are actors, why not elect a star?
I usually rate actors even below lawyers and Christian evangelical revivalists, but I’ve met Schwarzenegger and found him to be a true gentleman, civilized, intelligent, quietly forceful. Arnie is the man to rescue California — just like in the movies.
Right after Schwarzenegger’s bombshell, columnist and self-proclaimed Christian moralist Ariana Huffington, threw her broomstock into the ring, offering to save California from decadence and corruption. The Greek-born self-promoter knows these evils first hand: her millionaire ex-husband, after blowing some $32 million of his personal money on a farcical, failed political race, escaped the shrill Ariana by running off with another man.
Crazy as the California race is, I say hats off to the USA for having a key political race that includes Americans born in Austria and Greece. Truly, the land of opportunity.
As California’s dementia continues, financial collapse nears. If California does a meltdown, America could be infected with California syndrome. The collapse of California’s municipal bonds could trigger a worldwide financial panic. That’s why US, and maybe UN troops, are urgently needed. While the US troops swat irksome Muslims half way around the globe, a crumbling California could even be re-occupied by Mexico, from whom it was ‘liberated’ in the 19th century.
Officials in front of San Francisco’s fabled Golden Gate Bridge have been begging motorists for money to help repair the rusting edifice. This, while George Bush spends US $ 4.5 billion per month in Iraq and Afghanistan and just gave his mentor, Israel’s Ariel Sharon, another billion dollars to combat ‘terrorism’ — meaning Palestinians. Billions for Israel, but not a dime for California.
First the Clinton sex scandal. Then the Bush-Gore election mess. Then Bush’s fake wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now chaos in California. Is America cursed? Did the fall of the Roman Empire begin this way?
There was a time when nasty people used to say that Pakistan had the craziest politics in the world. No more. Compared to nutty California, Pakistan looks like sleepy, well-behaved Switzerland. n — Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2003
Here’s a riddle for our times: When is a scientific fact not a scientific fact? Answer: When the fact in question concerns climate change. Over the past decade, an enormous number of scientists, ranging from those who study wildlife migration to those who measure polar ice caps, have found evidence that Earth’s climate is changing.
Few now doubt either that Earth’s temperature is rising or that greenhouse gases, produced when human beings burn fossil fuel, are at least partly responsible.
While many different political, economic and indeed scientific conclusions can be drawn from these data, the fundamental principle — that the climate is changing _ is not in question.
Since President Bush’s election, his administration has nevertheless been engaged in a strange, Kafkaesque game in which it tries to deny that Earth’s climate is changing, while simultaneously pretending that even if it is changing, it doesn’t matter. References to climate change have been excised from Environmental Protection Agency reports.
Carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas and the most expensive to control — has been left out of air pollution legislation. On one occasion, the EPA actually produced a climate change report, and Mr. Bush dismissed it as the work of “the bureaucracy” — never mind that it was the work of his own government.
For that reason, the administration’s announcement of yet another vast “climate change” study has to be greeted with a large dollop of skepticism. If the goal is merely to combine the expertise of the many government departments and scientific bodies that study this issue, that’s a fine idea: Climate change is still poorly understood, and the impact of global warming on international weather patterns, ecosystems and water and land use is still unclear.
But if the goal is to pretend, for another decade or so, that global warming isn’t happening, or that the impact of greenhouse gases is still in doubt, then the study will simply generate more paper (and needlessly kill trees that could mitigate the problem).
The timing of this announcement — during the week in which the Senate began discussion of an energy bill, is also suspicious, because the Senate is expected specifically to discuss the climate-change legislation proposed by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., which would introduce a cap-and-trade method of controlling carbon emissions. Love it or hate it, it is time carbon emissions control received serious treatment. Bogus mumblings about science “not having proved anything” can no longer be taken seriously.
—The Washington Post
Is it time for a new water accord?
ONE of the things that Indus River System Authority (IRSA) was designed to do was to determine the quantity of water that would not be used but allowed to flow into the sea. Eleven years later the determination is nowhere in sight.
Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology organized a seminar in Lahore last month to take stock of the developments. Almost all the stakeholders including irrigation secretaries of Punjab and Sindh were invited. They reiterated their points of view without conceding ground. The former stated and with ample justification that there is no water left to share and whatever Sindh wants to flow downstream has to come from its own share. The latter countered by saying that mangroves and the ecology were national concerns and could not be characterized as provincial issues.
The crucial element of the agreement that formed the basis for distribution was clause 14(b). It was rather based on dishonesty because to make it acceptable to all the four provinces the quantity of water had been exaggerated at 117 MAF, 9 per cent higher than available. Occasions have been rare when water availability has touched that optimistic mark envisaged by the signatories of the accord. There was euphoria at the agreement having been reached although the distribution of Indus waters was as satisfactory or unsatisfactory as before.
The other two acts of dishonesty were inherent in clauses 6 and 7. Punjab thought that clause 6 meant an agreement from Sindh, Balochistan and the NWFP to the construction of Kalabagh and other mega dams. Similarly clause 7 was intended to provide comfort to Sindh for greater share of water for flows downstream of Kotri Barrage so as to check sea intrusion. Ten MAF as an optimum level was discussed and it was decided that further studies would be undertaken to establish the minimum needs. Both assumptions have proved wrong.
The IRSA has not produced any worthwhile agreement and certainly not on the level of escapages required for downstream of Kotri. The studies required before this determination have not been undertaken for want of agreement on the TORs. Sindh and Punjab have locked horns on their respective TORs. A basis of compromise to have two separate studies could not pass muster of the IRSA. Whether the deadlock is inherent in the composition of IRSA or is a question of attitudes, is a moot point.
The latest is, that the government has taken a decision in a meeting of October 21, 2002 chaired by secretary, ministry of water and power to have the following two studies funded under the national drainage programme:
i) Study on sea intrusion,
ii) Study on the other issues like environment, fisheries, mangroves, coastal zone, etc., for which the TORs already prepared by Sindh, should be reviewed and finalized by CEA/CFFC and Chairman IRSA.
A steering committee headed by chief engineering adviser and comprising 11 members has been constituted “in order to maintain transparency and good governance and to oversee the process of evaluation, award of two studies and to monitor their implementation”. The first meeting of the steering committee proved a non-starter. Instead of considering the sealed bids received in response to expression of interest (EoI) with the concurrence of the World Bank, the steering committee got bogged down in the usual controversy.
Sindh insisted on adherence to the decision of October 21, 2002 whereas Punjab objected for not having been involved in the finalization of the TORs for the two studies. It further objected to the environmental concerns not necessary to be studies. Punjab proposed that the issue of EOIs should be kept pending till its objections were met. It perhaps was trying to make up for the inattention of its representative in the crucial meeting of Oct. 21, 2002.
Sindh not to be left behind suggested its own improvements to the TORs, to which it had worked whole-heartedly. Punjab alone can’t be singled out for the blame for suggesting its own objections long after the time for such antics is past.
It would be perfectly logical to suggest that the respective TORs of the two provinces should be studied through independent consultants chosen in a transparent manner by the ministry of water and power. Only after the studies have been made, could there be a basis for discussion. In case of deadlock, the results of the two studies could be taken to the CCI for resolution, and the government must show the resolve to enforce the decision.
Lack of agreement presages a disaster. There are reports that two million acres of Indus delta have dried up causing enormous economic hardship to the population living there. Mangroves have been lost and so has been the fish. Sea has intruded deep inside causing environmental havoc. According to a survey conducted in July 2002, fertile agricultural lands on riverbanks had become barren owing to salinity. It has to be understood that the ecology of the area and well being of the people of Sindh is not the exclusive preserve or the responsibility of Sindh. It is a national problem and all the four provinces have to own up to it.
For resolution of disputes that the IRSA finds itself unable to resolve, the Act provides for a reference to the council of common interest. To quote “a provincial government or WAPDA, may, aggrieved by any decision of the authority, make a reference to the council of common interest (CII)”. Between 1975 and 1998, there have been only nine meetings of the CCI and only once did this matter of flows below Kotri was discussed on Sep 16, 1991.
There it was decided that ‘the study to establish minimal escapages needs downstream Kotri should be completed within one year of signing of the agreement’. How many years have passed? Twelve, no less. And so we are still at discussion stage of the TORs only. Real issues will arise if and when the results of these studies are before us. Law provides no sanction against the recalcitrant province for defying the orders of this constitutional body.
Even if an aggrieved party goes to the CCI, there is no guarantee that the issue would be resolved. There is no guarantee either that a decision of the CCI will be implemented. There may not be any CCI to go to. It has not been in existence for long since the military take over. So it is not the Accord or the Act, which can provide for a settlement. The CCI has no powers to enforce its decisions. In a different case WAPDA continues to defy the CCI on a decision to charge lower tariff to local councils, which was a quid pro quo for the four provinces foregoing huge taxes required to be paid to them by Wapda for corporatization of DISCOs and GENCOs.
What is missing is a spirit of compromise. It arises in one’s mind. When we are busy scoring points we become totally oblivious to the costs we impose on the people by failing to grapple with issues. It is a subcontinental dilemma that we lack the art of negotiations or a will to compromise. Even Indus water treaty was an imposition and a result of enormous outside pressure on these two countries. There came a point when it seemed that there won’t be a treaty after all. Ayub Khan is reported to have said when he reluctantly agreed to some clause that appeared unfavourable that he had no choice, as there was nothing better on offer.
Even in 1971 we refused to settle our differences with our own people belonging to East Pakistan, but bowed before the military might of India to accept an undignified surrender. Even 56 years after independence, there is a disconnect between the people and the rulers and between one province and another. We are poles apart and refuse to talk to each other. Is that a basis for an optimistic future? Certainly not.
The March 1991Accord has not served us well. Balochistan and NWFP are in a state of perpetual suffering as a consequence of Sindh-Punjab deadlock. Balochistan does not get water according to the capacity of its canals, which is much less than the accord allows. It is not allowed to remodel its canals as well. Last Kharif it got disproportionately less water. Time has come for its revision. After all the US too had to give up its Colorado compact of 1922, which too had overestimated water availability based on unusually wet years and had allocated its entire annual flow on the basis of the prevailing principle of not ‘wasting’ any water.
Unlike in the past when the four chief ministers could meet and agree on such a tricky problem, this time it may not be possible to find politicians willing to make necessary compromises. We may have to look for people of vision and integrity. A judge of impeccable integrity and competence as one man Commission may perhaps be the best bet to give an award. Fresh consideration should be given to the entire gamut of issues.
Even without a revision, IRSA as constituted is incapable of reaching an agreement. Its inherent defect includes appointment of a federal nominee, which, as a matter of fact was intended solely to provide a berth to a well-connected retiring joint secretary in the ministry of water and power. No qualifications were prescribed for the nominees except to be eminent engineers. This was interpreted to mean anything to accord with the personal preferences of the rulers. The provincial governments therefore nominated retired engineers with a vested interest in perpetuating themselves.
This was a recipe for deadlock because the representatives of provincial governments did not want to take decisions, having forfeited their independence by virtue of their implied agreement to serve during the pleasure of their governments. Instead of assuring perennial flow of water in the canals, they were in perennial discord.