Israeli moderates’ viewpoint

By Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty


THE message of encouragement sent by US Secretary of State Colin Powell to those took part in the Geneva meeting held between Palestinian representatives and the Israeli opposition parties is meant to serve multiple ends. The so-called Geneva Agreement demonstrates the resolve of the moderate Israelis to accommodate legitimate Palestinian concerns, in return for concessions that would lay the foundation of peace and reconciliation in this tortured land.

Mr. Powell has signalled support for this move to demonstrate US even-handedness on the one hand, and to show its unhappiness with the policies of the Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon, on the other.

The US experience of pre-emption in Iraq is proving that the military victory is not enough, and that the US must go beyond talk and take meaningful action to win the “hearts and minds” of the Arab and Islamic peoples who feel threatened by the war against terror. The “roadmap” introduced by Washington with the support of Russia, the European Union and the United Nations was a key initiative designed to improve the image of the US.

Though it was less equitable than the formula that followed the Oslo Accord, the Palestinians had welcomed the roadmap, and begun implementation, by calling off their attacks on the Israeli targets and illegal settlements. In contrast, Ariel Sharon, who had openly voiced reservations on many of the stipulations of the roadmap, continued military repression of the Palestinian population. He did not release more than a token number of Palestinians in Israeli jails, nor did he take any notice of the obligations to stop the construction of new Jewish settlements on the Palestinian territory. He also refused to stop the construction of a fence that was including large areas of Palestinian land into Israel.

As Sharon’s targeted attacks on Palestinian militants, in the name of eliminating terrorists continued to take a heavy toll of civilian lives, the Palestinian militant organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, called off their ceasefire after five weeks. They announced that they felt compelled to resume operations as Israel had shown little regard for the terms of the roadmap. The violence escalated, as these organizations resumed suicide attacks, the only response they found effective against the heavily armed Israeli forces that appear to have a licence to kill.

The prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, who had been chosen to pursue the peace process because he was more acceptable to the Israelis than Yasser Arafat, resigned. Though he had been more frustrated by Israel’s reliance on superior military muscle, the Sharon government accused Arafat of not giving Abbas the control over Palestinian security forces for a decisive action against the militants.

As the Palestinians resumed resistance, with Yasser Arafat exercising greater authority, the Israelis began to talk of removing him, despite his being the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, either by driving him into exile or even murdering him. When a resolution was introduced in the UN Security Council to forbid Israel from taking such action against Arafat, the US vetoed it.

When Israel had carried out pre-emptive air attacks on a target close to Damascus, the resolution introduced by Syria in the Security Council condemning the attack was also vetoed by the US. The ground for this action was that the resolution did not condemn Palestinian terrorists who had been carrying out suicide attacks. This looked, to the Arab and Muslim world, as proof of Washington’s unqualified support to the provocative and dangerous policy being followed by Israel.

As the attacks on coalition forces in Iraq have mounted, with US casualties since the official end of the conflict exceeding those taking place during the war itself, there has apparently been a sobering realization in Washington that total support to Israeli hardline policies is going to alienate the Arab public opinion. Sharon’s approach has become progressively harsher towards the Palestinians, who are no match for Israel that is stronger militarily than virtually all the Arab states put together.

There can be no doubt that by continuing to build more Jewish settlements, and by enclosing large chunks of Palestinian land behind the security fence, he wants to reduce the area left with the Palestinians to small enclaves that cannot be the basis for a viable state. If he succeeds in this goal, there can be no return to peace in this sensitive, oil-rich region.

The Geneva agreement reflects a collective desire on the part of moderate Israelis and the Palestinians to reach a compromise that would not only end the confrontation between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine, but also lay the foundations for a peaceful and stable relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbours. It comes close to meeting the provisions of UN resolutions 242 and 338, by providing for Israeli withdrawals from the territories occupied during the six-day war in 1967. It also provides for Arab sovereignty over the part of Jerusalem known as Haram Sharif to the Muslims, that includes the Al Aqsa mosque, the first Qibla of Islam. Israeli sensitivities are catered to through the Palestinians withdrawing their demand regarding the right to return for all refugees.

Opposition to Sharon’s aggressive and brutal policies has been growing all over the world. In a recent poll in the European Union, as to which country represented the greatest threat to peace, Israel was named as the top threat. It is generally accepted that the best way to eliminate terrorism is by dealing with its root causes, both political and economic. This means that not only should disputes such as those over Palestine, Kashmir need to be addressed politically rather than through the use of force, but the growing inequalities between the rich and poor countries must also be attended to.

Significantly, the Israeli armed forces are beginning to show their distaste for the task of suppressing the Palestinian movement for their rights by force. A few weeks ago, some twenty air force pilots refused to carry out attacks on the Palestinian civilian population. More recently, the Israeli army chief, Lt.Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, has voiced his concern over the continuing use of extreme force against the Palestinian population, in the name of crushing terrorism. He held that the occupation of Palestinian towns, and imposing curfews and other hardships were driving the Palestinian population to despair, and thus strengthening extremism.

General Ya’alon also criticized the building of the “security fence” in a manner that amounted to acquiring too much Palestinian land. Many Palestinian farmers were finding their lands forcibly included without any legal process, which would leave them no choice but to join the militants. He also pointed out that given the tensions created by building the fence, it would be hard for the Israeli armed forces to defend it.

The roadmap has opposed both the establishment of new settlements, as well as the building of the fence which Sharon justifies as the best way to prevent infiltration by Palestinian terrorists and suicide bombers. However, the US, while taking positions of principle, does little to enforce them, since Israel is backed by a powerful lobby that can destroy political careers of those seen to be taking hostile action against the Jewish state. One hopes that with its experience of popular Arab opposition, that is resorting to extremism in the face of injustice and exploitation, the US will return to the letter and spirit of the UN Charter in whose drafting it played a leading role. As Israeli moderates, and even the Israeli armed forces recognize, peace and stability will come to the Middle East only when Israel abandons the very path of savage repression and genocidal hatred from which the Jewish population suffered during the holocaust in Europe.

With Ariel Sharon heading a hardline Likud government, the prospects of a shift by Israel towards conciliation and peace do not appear bright. The premise that those struggling for rights upheld in UN resolutions are terrorists cannot be sustained in Palestine any more than in Kashmir. The US cannot afford to allow Israel to dictate policy in the region, which will be a recipe for the spread of extremism in the entire region. This is a moment for careful reassessment by Washington. The message sent by Mr. Powell to the moderates who negotiated the Geneva agreement needs to be followed by an effective use of the leverage the US alone has with Israel. The quagmire in Iraq does not require additional forces but a change in political direction in favour of a fair settlement in Palestine. That alone will end extremism and bring durable peace to the region.

The writer is a former ambassador of Pakistan.

Not another partition

By Kuldip Nayar


NEW DELHI should thank Islamabad for a positive response from the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) to Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s offer for talks. Had Pakistan not encouraged Syed Ali Shah Gillani, its Trojan horse, to break away from the organization, the APHC might not have agreed on the meeting. Gillani would have insisted, like in the past, on having a third chair for Pakistan at the negotiating table.

New Delhi could not have accepted such a proposition because it would have meant extending recognition to Islamabad as a partner. It is true that India has conceded in the Simla agreement (1972) that it will meet Pakistan to have “a final settlement on Jammu and Kashmir.” Off and on, New Delhi has reiterated the assurance. Even otherwise, if India had been able to find a permanent solution to the Kashmir problem without involving Pakistan, it would have done so years ago.

Where Pakistan goes wrong is in its belief that such a situation can force India to discuss the Kashmir’s accession de novo. A few Pakistani leaders took the same route in the past but realized even after hostilities that it was not possible to reopen the whole issue. No government of any party can stay in power if it ever tries to tinker with the accession. Cross-border terrorism is an irritation but it is not something with which India cannot live. It has been doing so for more than 12 years.

In any case, after the 9/11 happenings in the US, the whole scenario has changed. Terrorism of any kind at any place has come to be considered an act of violence against humanity. As President Pervez Musharraf has himself admitted, there is a perception that he and his government are supporting extremists and terrorists. Islamabad would realize, if it has not already done so, that the 85-odd camps it has established along the Line of Control (LoC) to train jihadis are counter-productive. They may be seen as an evidence of the Al Qaeda activity.

What is going to hurt Pakistan the most is the split in the APHC. Its main leaders like Mir Waiz Omar Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhatt and APHC’s new president Abbas Ansari have been looking towards Islamabad for years. They are so much cut up that they did not attend even the Iftar dinner party of the Pakistan high commissioner to India. Their decision to talk to Delhi is not at the expense of Pakistan. They say so. Policy-makers in Islamabad have turned out to be short-sighted. Fearing the talks at some time, they have cut the ground from under their own feet by playing the Islamic card through Gillani, the Jamaat-i-Islami leader. His stand for Kashmir’s merger with the Islamic state of Pakistan is not popular. It has, in fact, alienated the state’s two other regions, the Hindu-majority Jammu and the Buddhist-majority Ladakh, on the one hand, and pushed up the back of communal elements in the rest of India, on the other. New Delhi too has contributed towards communalising the situation.

Some 13 years ago, it appointed Jagmohan, now a union minister, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir to fight against militancy. He made deep furrows in the muddy road to parochialism and encouraged the Kashmiri pandits to migrate to Jammu, Delhi or some other places. The day they left the valley — nearly three lakh of them — the demand for self-determination or independence assumed a communal tone and pro-Pakistan tenor. The APHC, then influenced by Gillani, did not stop the exodus of Kashmiri pandits.

Since then the whole question has got mired in communalism. Jammu and Ladakh have drifted away from the valley, both emotionally and otherwise. They have begun to assert their own identity, regional and religious. The APHC has been forced to admit that its sway is confined to the precincts of the valley.

Yasin Malik of JKLF has fired the imagination of Kashmiris by raising the slogan of independence. The situation today is such that the majority of the population that was once pro-Pakistan is now pro-Azadi. But it is increasingly realizing that independence is a pipedream.

The biggest loss of the APHC has been at the hands of the Pakistan-sponsored jihadis. One, they have damaged the cause of the Kashmiri youth who had raised the standard of revolt against New Delhi. Two, they have given a religious colour to the movement which was purely national in character. The movement became suspect. Thousands who sacrificed their lives did not make the kind of impact they would have made if there had been no outsider.

Gillani sabotaged the movement in another way: he argued that the Kashmiris would join Pakistan after they had “freed” themselves from India. Even the question of pandits’ return to the valley, he said, would be decided after Kashmir dispute was settled. Some APHC leaders were unhappy with the approach. But they felt helpless because there were too many Pakistani guns in their midst. Too many foreign diplomats visiting them had spoken in different voices and given them an exaggerated notion of the world’s support to their cause.

When the 9/11 happenings jolted the APHC’s thinking, it did not want to be seen linked with terrorism in any way. Their fear was that they might one day be dubbed partners of the Al Qaeda which mentioned Kashmir as one of the territories they would free for Muslims. However, it must be said to the credit of the Kashmiris that not a single person from among them participated in the Taliban’s jihad in Afghanistan. There were Muslims from every part of the world but not from India.

Gillani and Pakistan have miscalculated their support. The Kashmiris are not fundamentalists. Nor are they willing to launch another liberation struggle. They are too tired and too sick of violence. They want peace with honour. New Delhi’s attitude towards the APHC underwent a change when Abbas, a liberal, came to head the organization. Gillani’s exit and Shabbir Shah’s entry had already made the APHC acceptable. The rest is too familiar to be repeated.

The question that arises is whether the talks would be on the lines that Sheikh Abdullah had with the government under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. There was an agreement as well in 1975. Gillani is already pooh-poohing the talks by saying that they would be another Sheikh-type exercise without purpose.

New Delhi should be prudent in its approach. The APHC has come to the negotiating table for the first time and it has put no prior conditions. That it has dissociated itself from Gillani’s support for accession to Pakistan and Yasin Malik’s demand for independence is an indication that the APHC wants to avoid the two extremes. Can some formula be worked out to give the valley an autonomous status?

A map showing the division of Jammu and Kashmir has been attributed to the APHC. Jammu and Ladakh are shown under India and the valley and most of Kashmir now with Pakistan under the dual control of New Delhi and Islamabad. Some features are similar to the trifurcation, a formula that the RSS had adumbrated.

Before discussing anything concrete, it would be better if New Delhi and APHC were to agree on some principles which would govern the settlement. And one of them should be not to entertain any arrangement on the basis of religion. The subcontinent has gone through the traumatic experience of partition. It killed 10 lakh people and uprooted 20 lakh of families. India cannot afford to have another situation like that.

The writer is a leading columnist based in New Delhi.

Pace of Iraq change is key

SUICIDE attacks. The destruction of homes of the families of suspected terrorists. A frustrated military leadership, filling the void left by a stalled political process. This portrait of the Israeli army’s escalating conflict with Palestinians also comes too close to describing the United States’ growing predicament in Iraq.

The White House summoned civilian Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer III for high-level meetings last week. Almost on cue, two vehicles crashed into Italian military police headquarters in Nasiriya, killing at least 26 people and further illustrating the vulnerability of the coalition forces. The new dose of bad news certainly kept Bremer’s meeting focused.

White House officials hoping to speed up the transfer of political power to Iraqis worry that Iraqis are falling behind on writing their interim constitution that would lead to local and national elections. The Iraqi Governing Council of Kurdish, Shia and Sunni representatives is moving at a glacial pace. Sen. Richard G. Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, complains that a monthly rotation of the Governing Council’s presidency has prompted Iraqi leaders to go abroad and enjoy being treated as celebrities while neglecting the tough task of getting their country on its feet. Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, correctly observed, “What also needs to come along is to give Iraqis a sense that, hey, they’re in charge of their country.”

Bremer said that he has “made proposals to transfer more power” to the Governing Council. The return of sovereignty, while necessary, should not serve as a smokescreen for pulling out U.S. troops before an internally divided Iraqi leadership can stand on its own.

Sen. John McCain noted in a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations last week that quicker training of Iraqis may fall short of what’s needed: “When the United States announces a schedule for training and deploying Iraqi security officers, then announces the acceleration of that schedule, then accelerates it again, it sends a signal of desperation, not certitude,” McCain said. In mid-October, the number of Iraqis listed as being in security jobs was 85,000. As of Monday, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice put the number at 118,000, and Myers said it was 131,000 last week.

No matter what the real number, putting guns in the hands of teenagers after a few weeks of training is a poor substitute for seasoned soldiers. More effort needs to go into luring back former Iraqi troops who were not key parts of Saddam Hussein’s brutal repression. Having brought war to Iraq, Bush has no alternative but to leave U.S. soldiers in harm’s way until it can be honestly ended, or at least until more nations can be persuaded to help bring peace. —Los Angeles Times

No adequate relief to power consumers

By Sultan Ahmed


WHAT has been offered to the electricity consumers as a relief by WAPDA or the federal cabinet after a great deal of waiting is a damp squib. Far more was expected from the Jamali government as it was making the announcement after the completion of its first politically contentious year in office.

The Parliament which more than doubled or even tripled the pay and allowances of its members, often found absent, could have afforded to be less stingy with the low income groups in the country.

Domestic power rates for WAPDA’s consumers have been reduced by 4.42 paisa per unit but such a cut has been denied to the commercial and industrial consumers, who have been clamouring for relief since long and even when the NEPRA had recommended that. The relief is to begin from November 1 and not from October 1, as suggested by NEPRA. The consumers of KESC have been denied this relief. They have been promised some relief in the next quarter.

Clearly the WAPDA is trying to cut the corners and make the relief as minimal as possible.

WAPDA has promised a larger relief later. It has now a new non-military chief whose abilities are much vaunted. Will he come up with substantial relief later and make the harried KESC consumers, too, a part of the relief package. He can bring down the rates if he cuts down the massive theft of power and waste in WAPDA and KESC which his predecessors could not do. With 40 to 50 per cent loss and theft rates there is nothing much that can be done to improve the WAPDA and KESC administrations.

The opposition has rightly dubbed the token relief as a drop in the ocean, which it is. And as long as the industrial investors do not get cheap and dependable power, the country cannot be industrialised quick nor our products made more competitive in the international markets. Cheap power is a key element in accelerating industrialization of the country.

As the world prices of oil rise, the government takes care of its own interest by adjusting the fuel surcharge and the oil companies in the oil Marketing Committee take care of their interests by adjusting their rates. The oil transporters take care of their interests and leave the consumers to fend for themselves. During the preceding four fortnights the local oil prices have been only going up and up.

Normally as the world prices of oil go up the government is expected to reduce its surcharge and when the prices go down raise the surcharge. That is what the government has not been doing. It charges over Rs 16 per litre as surcharge plus 15 per cent as sales tax which inflates the price of oil unduly when the world prices of oil go up.

On the other side the support prices of wheat has been raised by Rs. 5O for 40 KG from Rs 3,000. It is true the support price had not been raised for the last three or four years despite the clamour of the growers. In fact, a feeble attempt was made to raise the price but public would not pay and wheat was selling between Rs 250 and Rs 260 in the Punjab. Hence there has been no real agitation for increasing the support price of wheat, in depressed market conditions.

But what that in effect means is the price of wheat has gone up by Rs 1.25 per kilo and that is quite a rise compared to the 4.42 paisa relief for WAPDA’s domestic power users. It will certainly add to the food budget of large families with too many dependents in a grossly undernourished country.

If that is how we go about if the UN Millennium target of reducing poverty by a half by 2015 or abolishing hunger by a half would not be a success. Let us not forget food is being made more costly in a country in which 40 per cent of the people are living below the poverty line. At the same time agricultural production has to be encouraged and rewarded so that the farmers produce more at a time when the country faces a food shortage of a million tonnes by next spring.

The increase in the price of oil every fortnight comes as a rude shock to the people. It raises the transportation cost of food, fruits and vegetables. And fertiliser price has been going up following the price of oil, although far more fertiliser companies are now using gas.

The petroleum minister says that gas prices would go up in March as we are committed to raise gas prices to international levels or the level of oil. Meanwhile too many homes in the city, including those in posh areas, are running on very low gas and feeling greatly hampered. We are committed to pay for our own products international prices, while the Saudis and UAE citizens do not pay international tariff for their oil.

The only relief we have got is in telephone charges because of real international competition. We have four mobile phone companies cutting their rates all the time. So even PTCL is forced to reduce its international and cross-country call rates. Within the cities the line rent has been reduced by Rs 100 per line and the duration of a call has been made ten minutes off the peak hours. The bandwidth rates for internet have also been reduced. So Bill Gates of Microsoft rang up President Musharraf calling for enlarged new collaboration between Pakistan and his company.

Finance minister Shaukat Aziz concedes while he has been able to achieve spectacular success in the areas of macro-economic development three of the major targets have not been achieved. They are poverty reduction, increase in investment and creation of enough employment avenues. He does not have specific figures for such critical areas, except investment. He has done well to order a new survey to ascertain the extant of poverty in the county in the face of the outcry that it is in fact increasing. He is right in saying that poverty could not be reduced immediately, but positive and sustained steps have to be taken in that direction resolutely.

If he promotes investment at one end and comes up with safety nets for the poor at the other end, while accelerating the rate of growth, poverty can be reduced. In addition he has to target the poor specifically and come up with relief for distress cases. So he has done well to revamp the zakat distribution system and release an additional one billion rupees under the Food Stamp Scheme.

He says an economic growth of 5.3 per cent is still possible. And yet he has to target the poor so that the more vulnerable people gain by that. Zakat distribution and food stamps are useful to a limited extent. But when as many 40 per cent of the people live below the poverty line they only touch the fringe of the problem.

And that is all the more so when unemployment is widespread and wages are low. In addition, the real inflation is higher than the official claim of three to four per cent. If the Sensitive Price index can rise by 1.64 per cent within a week ending November 20 the dimension of the problem is understandable. Such developments cannot be dismissed as seasonal factors as they have become too frequent in our disturbed society.

The reality of the inflation should be probed into in greater detail and not to conform to official targets or goals held as too good. If the meat prices in the city can rise by 33 per cent to Rs. 200 a kilo and the officials had to wrestle with the butchers furiously to bring that down the trend in the market is understandable.

If Shaukat Aziz has not been able to achieve success in the areas identified, it is not primarily his own fault. Investment is not coming because of the law and order problem on which he has no control. Political instability, too, is another deterrent. Regional tension as the tussle between India and Pakistan shows is not of his making. Now can he do much to control corruption. And the problems of bureaucratic footdragging or red-tape cannot be eliminated by him either as he is a part of the overall military-dominated set-up.

And poverty reduction is a task in which not only the government has to participate but also society as a whole because of the large dimension of the problem. Organised philanthropy in the private sector which is increasing is a welcome development and should be assisted in every possible way instead of simple charity giving.

As we come to need less and less foreign aid with harsh conditionalities, as from the IMF, the world is willing to offer more aid. The World Bank has indicated it can offer 10 billion dollars over a period of ten years for water development, particularly to build large dams and for poverty reduction. Large aid is available as we are supposed to have used that better than before, and poverty has proved to be an endemic problem that defies easy solutions or simple cures because of its very large dimension.

The real issue is how to use the aid well and achieve results. The aid should not be used in such a way that external debt increases while poverty does not reduce and some rich people become richer. Hence larger aid will be accompanied by larger monitoring of its use more so because we have an excessive reputation for corruption and the newspapers have plenty of headlines talking of the extent of corruption.

Tinkering with poverty is not enough. In fact, instead of the poor becoming less poor, the lower middle class is joining the ranks of the very poor because of unemployment and real inflation. It is acknowledged that growth of the middle class is imperative for the development of modern democracy. It is because of absence of that development and very low national savings rate that the feudal class and the tribal chiefs are ruling the country. And even the upper middle class is trying to ape the feudals in respect of lavish spending, particularly during the marriages.

Hence, it is not the poor alone who have to be made less poor and self-reliant but the middle class as well which has to be enabled to develop a culture of its own. All this requires tremendous effort and effective organizations with good NGOs to back them.

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