IN the latest of the peace moves made by both sides, Pakistan has offered to India a resumption of overflights. Together with the talks scheduled for resuming air links, Sunday’s proposal by President Pervez Musharraf constitutes a major step forward towards normalization of relations between the two countries. The talks about the air links and overflights should succeed because Pakistan has dropped a major condition. On Nov 24, Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri said that Pakistan would no more insist on a guarantee from India against a unilateral suspension of overflying rights. Twice in the past, India had suspended overflight rights for Pakistani carriers for political reasons. Islamabad naturally wanted a guarantee that New Delhi would not repeat this. Now that the government has dropped this condition, the way is clear for ending the deadlock over an issue that has been a source of considerable inconvenience to travellers from the two countries.
In his Sunday’s speech to a group of Pakistani and Indian businessmen, the president also touched on the Kashmir question and offered a four-step solution. The key step is for India to accept the “centrality” of the Kashmir issue to bilateral relations. The other steps are based on realism — that the two sides start a dialogue, that they should eschew solutions not acceptable to either side, and then they should go for a solution acceptable to all the three parties — Pakistan, India and the people of Kashmir. It does not need any extraordinary wisdom to realize that the offer has the potential to move Pakistan and India out of a debilitating impasse and towards peaceful co-existence, trade and bilateral and regional cooperation. “This is Pakistan’s approach,” said Musharraf, “and it is flexible.”
Unless something extraordinary happens and halts the process, Pakistan and India should be able to continue to move towards a normalization of their relations. All eyes are now fixed on the Saarc summit conference in Islamabad next January. Mr Vajpayee’s statement that he hoped to attend it and meet Mr Jamali and “everyone” else has completely transformed the South Asian scene. As India’s prime minister, this will be Mr Vajpayee’s second visit to Pakistan, his first being to Lahore in 1999. But this will be his first visit under the present government. The big question is whether the Vajpayee visit will be followed by the start of a meaningful and composite dialogue that should grapple with the Kashmir issue. To deny the centrality of this issue is to shy away from a stark reality. Since 1947, Kashmir has been the cause of so much misery, conflict and strife in South Asia. To leave it unresolved or to deny its very existence or to obfuscate the issue with casuistry and hair-splitting will hardly serve the cause of peace. In fact, a Kashmir engulfed in discontent and violence will always be a source of instability in South Asia. Without its solution, a durable peace between Pakistan and India will remain a forlorn prospect. So many positive developments have taken place in recent weeks, but India has not yet signalled its readiness to start a purposeful dialogue. One hopes Mr Vajpayee’s visit to Islamabad will prove to be the harbinger of a fuller and more meaningful peace process covering all aspects and dimensions of India-Pakistan relations.
IN THE death of Hamza Alavi, the country has lost an eminent intellectual. Starved of minds which think independently and rationally, our society — and establishment — has not really appreciated the men of scholarship who have refused to toe the conventional line. Hence not surprisingly, Hamza Alavi spent most of his active professional life in universities abroad, mainly Manchester and Sussex. By training an economist and sociologist, he made a profound contribution to socio-political and economic thinking by applying his deep and comprehensive knowledge of Marxian theory to contemporary developments in Pakistan. He won international recognition for his thesis on peasant revolution. In Pakistan, his ideas on feudalism, nationhood, the salariat (a term he coined), the freedom movement, the role of the bureaucracy and army in politics provided considerable food for thought to rationally-minded people.
Hamza Alavi will be remembered not just for his scholarship but also for his activism and concern for the state of Pakistani society which seems to be driven by retrograde forces. Not an arm-chair scholar, Alavi went and lived in a village in Punjab for 15 months to do field research on the biradari system. While in England, he launched the committee for the restoration of democracy (directed against Ayub Khan) and mobilized Pakistanis to create awareness against dictatorship. He edited Pakistan Today, which analyzed problems from the Left’s perspective and was distributed clandestinely in Pakistan. In England he became a founder-member of CARD (Campaign against Racial Discrimination), a multiracial organization formed to fight the rising tide of racism. Even in his retirement in Karachi he continued to be active in espousing the causes close to his heart. Ill-health and infirmity notwithstanding, he was a much sought-after speaker at seminars and for interviews because he had something meaningful to say. He would also show up at protest demonstrations to identify himself with democracy, peace and non-violence. He will be missed sorely for he was one of the few remaining voices of sanity and reason in this country.
Preventing spread of Aids
WORLD Aids day was observed in Pakistan on Monday amidst fears that the inadequate health care system would not be able to cope if an Aids epidemic were to break out here. While the 2,020 reported Aids cases in Pakistan makes it a low prevalence country, it is still considered a high-risk area for a number of reasons. For one, the awareness about Aids among the people, especially those of the younger generation, is minimal. One of the reasons for this is the reluctance of the broadcast media to broach the subject in a comprehensive and consistent manner. There are a lot of fallacies and misconceptions associated with Aids that need to be cleared. This will help minimize the risk of people indulging in practices that can be a source of HIV infection that causes the deadly disease. The message should be prevention as there is no cure for Aids once the affliction sets in. Vital information about how to prevent the spread of Aids is not trickling down to the middle and lower middle class communities, where it is needed the most. Government efforts to fight the spread of the disease needs to be all encompassing — from screening suspected cases at entry points to making sure that those people who have it do not transmit it to others.
The discovery last month of 20 Aids cases in Larkana in people who were abusers of injectable drugs has added a new dimension of danger to the situation in Pakistan. These indigenous cases are all the more worrisome as Pakistan has over four million drug addicts who may be in immediate danger of contracting Aids and transmitting it to others because they are the most vulnerable section of society. Not only do they reuse syringes for injecting drugs, a number of them are sex workers and many also sell blood when there is a cash crunch. This is a recipe for disaster. An action plan needs to be devised at the earliest to contain the spread of the disease. If this is ignored, the country may well find itself facing a major Aids problem within the next couple of years.