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DAWN - Letters; October 28, 2003

October 28, 2003


Israeli attack on Syria

THE matter of the recent Israeli air attack on Syria has a direct bearing on peace in the Middle East, as well as on America’s security interests, and America should not take it lightly.

By not condemning this Israeli attack, the US administration may have played to the sensitivities of the strong Israeli lobby in America, but it has denigrated its own operation in Iraq. The world opinion (yes, it matters) will now think that Israel has simply followed the example set by America and that America doesn’t really give any importance to international law. This is an impression that America needs to avoid; the lone superpower cannot afford such an image.

Syria, after the demise of Saddam regime, had sent feelers about its intention to adjust its behaviour to the needs of a transformed neighbourhood. How can Syria, now, be asked to improve its attitude towards Israel when it has become a victim of Israeli aggression? The prospects for peace have suffered a heavy blow.

At present the Iraq operation seems to have ended up in a quagmire, but sooner or later its real benefits will become evident when democracy makes its debut in Iraq, and subsequently its Arab neighbours. This will automatically result in the fortification of America’s interests in the Middle East. By creating tension at a time when America is deeply involved in this project of immense importance, Israel has threatened American interests. It could be concluded that Israel does not want the Iraqi project to succeed, as it does not want to lose its status as the only democracy in the region. It is only by the virtue of this status that Israel enjoys its strategic value to the US.

It is one thing that Israel acted the way it did, but it is completely another thing that the US administration has reacted as if nothing had happened. Close friendship does not mean that one has to indemnify even those acts that may harm one.

The big question is, why did Israel not go before the Security Council with proof of Syrian links with the suicide attack in Haifa? If the Security Council had agreed to Israel’s point of view by passing a resolution urging Syria to dismantle the so-called terrorist training camps, Israel’s position would have been strengthened while the air attack has weakened it.

Israel thinks that it owes explanation to no one; such behaviour is detrimental to the world order. America must make it clear that it will not tolerate hooliganism on the part of her strategic allies, as it tarnishes America’s image in the world.


Louisville, KY, USA

Need for a ‘left of the centre’ party

THE other day former British premier John Major stated on the BBC he thought it vital that the Conservative Party revived itself as a “right of the centre” party to maintain a political balance. The same applies to Pakistan. It needs a “left of the centre” party.

Since the days of the Awami League in the united Pakistan and the PPP in the early and mid-70s, Pakistan has been governed by politicians, generals and technocrats whose policies were and are skewed in favour of the privileged groups. Two examples of such policies may suffice:

First, the mantra of privatization has been sung since the mid-80s by all governments. None tried to protect the lower and the middle classes that as a result of the privatisation were to become unemployed. The point is that there was no dissent, no public debate against the merits of such policies.

The second example of the absence of voice of the left is in the domain of taxation. The preference of all the governments over the last one-and-a-half decades has been for indirect taxation such as sales tax, customs and excise duties, the burdens of which are eventually borne by the consumers belonging to all income groups. In contrast, income tax is more attractive for a fair and equitable distribution of income as it is linked to the levels of income of the taxpayers.

It is neither fair nor equitable that both the rich and the poor sectors of society should bear the same burden of tax in the form of indirect taxes. The problem becomes bigger when it is considered that even the revenues are spent in accordance with the needs and the aspirations of the privileged.

The low turnout in the recent elections can be explained by the absence of a political party which stands for the issues of a vast majority of the people; issues such as unemployment, health, education and so on. The voice of the left is again missing.

For parliamentary democracy to work, at least two political parties are needed which present two alternatives to the people. Socialism provides a very good prism to understand society and has much to contribute to any political debate. It is also more sympathetic to the unprivileged, thus encouraging them to take part in society and politics. The issue is really of balance in the political debate, more than anything else.

The need for a “left of the centre” party is all the more urgent now as the rich-poor gap is widening. Unfortunately, all the parties are now aligned to the right.



Medical college affiliation

AFTER doing my graduation I got admission to Bhutta Medical College, Faisalabad, in April 1998. This was a private medical college and affiliated to the University of Sindh, Jamshoro, which would also conduct our examinations. We were in the fourth year when the university withdrew the affiliation in December 2001, but this decision was not conveyed to us. The matter became public only when the college and the university decided not to hold our examinations.

We, about 40 students from the first year to the fourth year, were affected by this decision. We sought help of a court which ordered the university to accommodate the students. However, the court directive fell on deaf ears.

We requested the Sindh governor for action in this regard. He referred the matter to the Punjab governor, considering the fact that we are residents of Punjab. The Punjab governor, however, redirected our case to the Sindh governor on the premise that the University of Sindh had enrolled the students and, therefore, we must be accommodated in a medical college of Sindh. Our college did nothing for us in this regard.

It seems the private sector does not follow any rules to set up a medical college. Our college is once again inviting students to seek admission to it. This shows that classes are once again going to start there without little thought to the fate of the old students.

Let me caution that if nothing is done about such institutions, many students like us stand to lose both their precious time and careers.



PTCL’s wake-up service

A PTCL advertisement, which appeared recently in the national press, offering a wake-up call service for Sehri shows that the organization does not consider its subscribers cost-conscious.

According to the ad, the PTCL is going to charge a local call for each wake up call. The company must know that cellular phones, which are in common use these days, have an alarm facility free of cost. Besides, market is saturated with alarm clocks, particularly China-made, at a cost as low as Rs50 per clock.

It is time the PTCL offered innovative services at affordable cost. The wake up call service even free of cost is not going to attract many subscribers.



Senior citizens’ hardship

INSTEAD of making things look up for senior citizens, we are put to immense hassles and hardship. The few privileges we once enjoyed have been withdrawn. For instance, the sale of government securities at commercial banks has been abruptly discontinued, leaving no option but to get them from a National Savings Centre or one of the few selected post offices.

Similarly, the Pensioner’s Benefit Account is the sole monopoly of the national savings centres. How can frail and wobbly senior citizens go to these distant and overcrowded NSCs or post offices? There’s a potential risk in carrying money to and from these centres, around which undesirable people hover.

Also with crowds of customers to cater to, an inordinate delay is natural. But who really cares?



Education and youth

IN his latest address, President Pervez Musharraf encouraged the youth to make use of education at all levels. The question is, what exactly does he mean by education?

Does he define education as sitting in classrooms and waiting for teachers who do not often turn up or who come late? Or is he suggesting us to aqcuire education by learning everything by rote, without understanding what we are memorizing?

The president must ensure a better education system before he calls upon the youth to make use of education at all levels to make Pakistan a prosperous country.



Private resources for public good

FOR doing any social work it is not necessary that one must be associated with the government in one way or the other. A worthwhile social work can be done by mobilizing private resources and without seeking assistance from the government. This is exactly what Mr Imran Khan is doing these days. For instance, for the development of the Mianwali district, he has set up a Mianwali Development Trust, which has undertaken a host of projects, aimed at the development of the backward areas of that district.

The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf chief has always emphasized the point that we should invest as much as we can in the education sector. That is why just a few days back he laid the foundationstone of the Namal Degree College at the Namal Valley in the Mianwali district. The area of the college is spread well over 400 kanals, donated by philanthropists who responded to the call of Mr Khan and offered generous donations. He has also announced that he will shortly open a college in Kalabagh.

Moreover, he launched a sort of mini-dam which will make drinking water available to at least 210 households. His other welfare schemes include an adult literacy centre, a basic health unit and a mobile dispensary for the poor people of the Mianwali district.

It is commendable that Mr Khan has launched these projects at his own and has vowed to complete them with the help of private donors only.



Farmers’ problems

I AM a small grower of the Ghotki taluka. On Oct 10 I read a news report in Dawn about the sundi attack on the cotton crop in Mirpur Mathelo, Daharki, as well as in other talukas of some districts.

This is to bring to the notice of the higher authorities the fact that the officials of the agricultural department have not paid any attention to the complaints of cotton growers yet.

Genuine pesticides are not supplied to us. Moreover, we need relief in abiyana but there is no one to guide and help us.



Unjustified parking fee

I ENDORSE the views of Mr Meraj Kidwai in his letter “Unjustified parking fee” (Oct 15). The situation is the same at the Rawalpindi Railway Station.

The contractor at the station charges an entry fee and not a parking fee. The local authorities have allowed only one point of entry into the parking lot of the station and one exit point. These points are controlled by the contractor’s men sitting away from the parking lot. The contractor allows entry only to those vehicles which pay the fee.

It is painful to witness tired passengers of all ages and all vehicles passing through one exit, particularly when incoming trains end their journey at Rawalpindi. The Pakistan Railways minister is requested to look into the matter.



Tribute to Mitty Masud

This is apropos of Air Chief Marshal Jamal A. Khan’s article on Air Commodore Masud’s life, PAF career and his outstanding feats in the 1965 war.

I first met Mitty Masud aboard a BOAC plane on Aug 16, 1952, flying to the UK where he attended Fighter Leader Course at the RAF and returned with a bright feather in his cap and later became the architect of the PAF’s prestigious flying institution Combat Commanders School, the cradle of the PAF ace fighter pilots.

I feel proud to mention that Mitty Masud with his piercing eyes, determined face with an aggressive dynamic spirit depicted a profile of an ideal fighter pilot of our Air Force. His power to assess and analyze a precipitous situation was remarkable which demonstrated in his presentation to Yahya Khan in March 1971 at Dhaka to which the bright brass buttons did not agree and tried to resolve through a bullet and, consequently, the scenario developed by the end of 1971 was exactly the same which was predicted by Mitty Masud but by then he was relieved.

He was a PAF legend and would remain so in times to come. May Allah rest his soul in peace. Keeping in view the meritorious services of Air Cdre. Mitty Masud I would request the chief of the air staff to name a PAF base/institution after him.



A lost Afghan city

I HAVE read the news that French journalist Oliver Weber has rediscovered the lost city of Siruzkoh, the mythical Atlantis-like former capital of Afghanistan that was destroyed in 1222 by Genghis Khan.

I wonder how many cities will be rediscovered in Afghanistan a few centuries later, which have been destroyed this time not by Genghis Khan but some so-called most civilized nations which are always looking for ancient lost cities and dinosaurs.



Hudood laws

IT is good to read that the MQM has finally seen the light and is openly calling for repealing the Hudood ordinances.
These laws have been a blight and embarrassment for Pakistan. The sooner we get rid of them, the better.


Mississauga, Ontario,


Capable versus eminent

MANY suggestions such as formation of commissions of eminent persons were made at the 10th OIC summit by the heads of Muslim states to infuse the Muslim world with dynamism etc. But when we look at the conditions in these countries, we find that the people are getting poorer, jobs getting scarer and education going beyond their reach.

Inflation and the law and order situation are going from bad to worse, deterring investment. All these ills have been due to one reason and that is selection of eminent people to head key government institutions like those handling economic (specially banks), public utility, infrastructure and law and order sectors.

Nobody knows as to how long beautiful words and high-sounding ideas will be fed into the media to deceive a common and poverty-stricken Muslim of such poorly governed Islamic countries. Why don’t they set right their own homes by selecting capable people instead of eminent people to look after key government institutions through a transparent expert mechanism to achieve good results and then speak to other Islamic countries in terms of simple words?



The policy of divide & rule

IN the 19th century the most disastrous event that happened to us was the British conquest of the subcontinent. This was achieved with the help of Indian soldiers. However, the main reason was that the people would fight among themselves while their leaders worked for self-aggrandizement. The result was: 150 years of slavery.

In the 20th century the biggest tragedy was the partition of the subcontinent. Again, there was disharmony among the people, and lack of foresight among the leaders who could not foresee the possible consequences of the partition. What happened was nothing short of a holocaust; 30 million people were affected by migration on each side.

However, as years rolled on, the rulers of the two countries did not try to find the root causes of this disaster. Instead, they used the technique of ‘divide and rule’ they had learnt from the British. They exploited the religious prejudices to create hatred and enmity between the people of the two countries. All this was done to win power, as they were not interested in improving the lot of their poverty-stricken people.

So, the money needed to develop the economic condition of the country was spent on buying arms. On this destructive venture $300 billion was spent by Pakistan and $600 billion by India. Had even half of this money been spent on the economic development, we would be prosperous nations today. Three wars have been fought that have killed and maimed hundreds of people on both sides and consumed money meant for development.

Will our leaders learn from the mistakes of the past — mistakes made by themselves and other nations? Will they try to understand what caused the tragedies of the wars in Afghanistan, Serbia, Japan and Germany and how they could have been avoided? The answer is, ‘no.’

The introduction of nuclear programmes in the two countries bodes ill for us all. We know India and Pakistan have a long-lasting and the complex bone of contention, Kashmir. The rhetoric has been heating up recently. India and Pakistan must resolve this issue through negotiations rather than by war, because in the latter case the option of using nuclear weapons cannot be ruled out. To remove the threat of such a disaster, the Kashmir issue must be settled amicably. For India to assert that Kashmir is an integral part of it is untrue. Mr Nehru signed the UN resolution calling for a free and independent plebiscite under UN supervision. Mr Nehru, no doubt, had the consent of the members of parliament.

If the two nations want to survive and prosper, they must resolve the Kashmir dispute. And this solution should allow the Kashmiris to decide their own future.