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DAWN - Opinion; 29 March, 2004

March 29, 2004


The new ally status

By Sardar F.S. Lodi

US secretary of state Colin L. Powell while addressing a press conference during his recent visit to Pakistan said, "I advised the foreign minister (of Pakistan) this morning that we will also be making notification to our Congress, that will designate Pakistan as a major non-Nato ally for purposes of our future military relations."

This is a quantum change in the US policy, which further recognizes Pakistan's crucial role in combating world terrorism and its essential support to US policy goals in the region. At present, three Muslim countries have this status, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan. Australia, Japan and South Korea are also major non-Nato allies.

This new status would allow Pakistan to obtain modern military arms and equipment for its essential defence needs on a priority bases. This would also include training facilities and spare parts for the US equipment at present being used in Pakistan. As a major non-Nato ally of the US the method of purchase would also be in Pakistan's favour and not restricted to purely commercial deals with the firms concerned.

It is a timely move by the United States as some people in Pakistan had started wondering why America was reluctant to enhance the country's defence capability which had somewhat diminished owing to years of sanctions and non-availability of the latest equipment. This was so particularly when Pakistan was an important ally of the United States in its war on terrorism and was making every effort to contain the menace.

The test of US sincerity, which one has no reason to doubt, would be evident when we ask for some latest fighter aircraft. The Pakistan Air Force is short on modern combat aircraft. The US refusal to deliver F-16 aircraft even those paid for by us has been a bone of contention between the two countries.

These aircraft are vital for our defence needs and their supply would go down well with the general public as well. The new version of thee aircraft, the F-161 being produced by the US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin in Texas, would be a good addition.

In must be appreciated that a viable conventional defence precludes the use of nuclear option. Also that to foster peace in the region it is essential that some form of parity or near parity in defence capability is maintained between the two major powers in South Asia.

Secretary Colin Powell was generous in his praise when he said, "Pakistan has an important role to play in this region as a peaceful, moderate, modern Muslim nation, a nation that is becoming increasingly democratic."

He went on to commit the United States when he said, "On behalf of President Bush and the American people, I came to say that the United States is committed to a long-term partnership with Pakistan.

We have been involved in a long-term partnership with Pakistan for many years and I believe that in the current environment we have every opportunity to strengthen that relationship in strategic ways as we move forward."

This forthright commitment of the United States to forge a long-term partnership with Pakistan was reassuring, as doubts had lingered in the minds of many that the United States would forsake Pakistan when its interests had been served.

This was the experience of Pakistan during the two previous occasions. It was particularly galling in the past to notice that distancing from Pakistan had meant, in the public perception, closeness to our potential adversary in South Asia.

Powell put it across very well when he said, "The United States has a good, strong relationship with Pakistan, we no longer see this relationship as was the case in years past, through this prism. We have two great friends in this part of the world."

Colin Powell was conscious of "a number of critical challenges that Pakistan is taking in fighting terrorism, countering extremism, stopping proliferation, reforming education and building stronger democratic institutions."

Referring to the military action being taken in Waziristan, without naming the area he said, "On the security front, President Bush and the American people appreciate the sacrifices that Pakistan already has made to keep us all safer from terrorism.

We share your sadness over the loss in battle in the past few days of some of your brave frontier soldiers. And we share your pride in the way that they pursued their mission to defend their nation."

The US Secretary of State was of the opinion that both the countries recognize that their alliance is crucial to winning the worldwide war on terror. He felt that we must do more if the region and indeed the whole world is to live in peace. In addition to fighting terrorism he felt Pakistan has a very important role in promoting Afghan recovery and reconstruction.

According to Mr Colin Powell the United States welcomes the steps that Pakistan government is taking to advance democracy at every level - local, provincial and national.

He said the assistance package to Pakistan constitutes one of their largest programmes in the world: $3 billion over a five-year period. That money will help with education reforms, basic health care, rural access to water and other help to the citizens. The US is also providing Pakistan with close to $1.5 billion in debt relief. The United States Ex-Im Bank is expanding its financial options in Pakistan.

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general of Pakistan Army.

Learning from China

By Muhammad Ali Siddiqi

While in a foreign country, every Pakistani thinks of his country and invariably compares the two. He is seldom happy, even if he is in a Third World setting. With the possible exception perhaps of Afghanistan and Somalia, he would tend to think that the place he was visiting was better than his in many ways.

The impression is superficial and often false, because the street scene is not necessarily a correct barometer of a country's socio-economic and technological level.

From the point of view of technology, Pakistan, notwithstanding its neglect of the sciences, has achieved a certain level; it is the street scene in our cities that is shocking and gives the tourist - now a threatened species in our midst - wrong notions about our people's culture and the country's overall socio-economic level.

The street scene in Amman, for instance, is stunning, for the discipline, order and environmental standards would make a tourist feel he is in a developed country. Which unfortunately is not the case.

What about China? How does a Pakistani feel being in the world's most populous country which also happens to be Pakistan's neighbour and friend? From a country dedicated to rigid, doctrinaire communism, China's transformation to a "socialist market economy" is astounding.

The street scene is lively, and people seem to have made full use of the cultural freedom flowing from the reigning philosophy that the country must build "socialism with Chinese characteristics."

The first impression is one of a people who had been delivered on the assembly line. All are equal. They are nothing but human beings and Chinese. No one is the deputy commissioner's son, nor the corps commander's brother who has the right to break the red light or jump the queue at the airport.

I look at a young and happy couple, both clad in jeans and T-shirts. One of them is talking on a cell phone while the other is pushing the baby's pram. There are thousands of other couples like them in the Tienanmen Square and the restaurants and parks and shopping malls around it.

They look happy and contented. Do they know, I wonder, how much suffering has gone into giving them the kind of life they are having now? Do they know how much their parents and grandparents suffered in pulling China out of its stupor, and that millions - literally millions - perished in revolution and in the war against Japanese fascism?

The good life came to the Chinese people because the aim of the Communist Party leadership all along had been to build China, banish poverty and improve the quality of life of the Chinese people. This aim was not a theory confined to party documents; it found practical expressions in state policies and in the focus the party placed on economic development.

The party, of course, made mistakes, as during the Great Leap Forward (ignoring the Cultural Revolution, which was an expression of Mao's nostalgia for 'revolution'). But even if there were strategic flaws in planning and tactical mistakes in implementing them, the party's focus continued to remain on the economy.

We also have the example of many non-communist countries which have achieved economic miracles because the leaderships paid undivided attention to economic development.

The Asian "tigers" fall in this category. In contrast, Pakistan never had a single political party - it does not have one now - that sought to focus the people's attention on economic development as a national goal.

That all political parties want to achieve power goes without saying. This is the logical goal, once you are in politics. But what is shocking is that Pakistani political parties do not think a higher literacy rate, rapid technological progress, massive infrastructure development, state-of-the-art rail and road transport systems, modern standards of town planning and housing, a cleaner environment, and all-round economic development should be a if not the national priority.

There is, of course, no dearth of party manifestoes that make fantastic pledges with regard to changes in land ownership patterns and promise to revolutionize the people's life. But the voters know it as much as those who draft those manifestoes that these pledges are not worth the paper they are written on.

Often parties having radical socio-economic plans and perhaps with a certain degree of commitment came to power only to realize that the establishment was so well-entrenched in state and society that a radical change in economic priorities, planning and policies upsetting the status quo was an impossibility.

Not having a well-crafted scheme for the country's economic development is one thing; being utterly indifferent to the dictates of economic common sense quite another. We know now how violence and "wheel-jam" strikes have driven away foreign investors, crippled the industry, and on the whole militated against the economy's growth during the last one and a half decades. The cumulative effect is a frightening rise in poverty and a huge national debt.

All this finds mention in political rhetorics only by way of criticism - to show the incompetence of the government of the day; no party itself has shown us that it has the wisdom and the ability to give a lead to the others by rising above petty rhetorics and making the nation realize the damage which the deteriorating law and order situation is having on the economy.

All parties - whether religious or so-called secular - place emphasis on certain shibboleths and repeat them ad nauseum. For parties which are now grouped in the MMA or had been part of previous such alliances, speeches and manifestoes are couched in a religious idiom; for the two mainstream national parties, the emphasise depends upon the issues of the day - a constitutional scheme, restoration of democracy, or a raging controversy; for some regional parties, the emphasis varies between provincial autonomy and ethnic rights. But none of the three types seems to attach importance to economic development as a major if not the only goal of political action.

This is astonishing for a country that has an acute security problem, for a vibrant and healthy national economy goes hand in hand with military capability. Religious parties, especially those with a jihadi orientation, talk tough on issues like Kashmir and Pakistan's perceived pro-US policies after 9/11; they also emphasise the importance for Pakistan of a credible defence. Yet they are utterly indifferent to the consequences of their utterances and "marches" on the economy.

Basically, this boils down to the under- or perhaps non-development of Pakistan's political culture. Politicians - in uniform or without it - have generally seldom looked beyond their noses and have concentrated on immediate gains.

For the political parties, the immediate gain may be the removal of a given government; for the generals it may be the perpetuation of military rule or the elimination, political and/or physical, of a given leader or family.

No wonder, the country's economy and politics are what they are. Perhaps, besides pledging friendship with China, our politicians and generals could learn from the Chinese people and leaders, and focus our people's - and their own - attention on economic development and on giving the people a better life.

Pakistan's economic potential is enormous, but its natural resources and the energies of its people have remained unutilized, because the leadership has failed to accord rapid economic development the priority it deserves in a country caught in a perpetual maelstrom.

Iraq: signs of collapse

By Robert Fisk

Exactly a year after the Anglo-American armies invaded Iraq, I found five young men some days ago busy smashing up what was left of a Saddam statue in this little dusty border village. The torso and head of the dictator had long disappeared from his plinth at the frontier station but his legs and one arm and a battery of monumental missiles still lay on the ground in gleaming steel.

Two American attack helicopters were racing up the border - still trying to find Donald Rumsfeld's Al Qaeda hordes as they supposedly swarm into Iraq - but what caught my eye were the heads of the five young men so assiduously hammering and sawing and hacking at the remains of Saddam's statue. Four of them were wearing black face masks, the fifth had a black hood over his head.

A year after we overthrew Saddam, Iraqis now have to hide their identity when they attack his image. What does that tell us about "new Iraq"?

If you are in Iraq, in Baghdad, driving its dangerous roads, the evidence of collapse and failure is everywhere. The few unarmed Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are marooned in the cities, unable to travel on the highways, which have become the domain of assassins and bandits. Now even the road south of Karbala is the haunt of armed gangs.

When I drive these highways I now wear a "kuffiah" and "thobe" on my head. My driver wears Western trousers and shirt but I am in Arab clothes to avoid being attacked. Other Westerners are doing the same thing. What does that tell us about Iraq a year after its "liberation"?

Many drivers now refuse to work for western reporters - and who can blame them? Recently, another journalist from the "Arabia" television died of wounds after being shot by US troops - no wonder his colleagues walked out of Colin Powell's boastful Baghdad press conference. Three journalists working for the American-funded television station have been killed by insurgents.

An old Iraqi friend of mine - one of Saddam's most trenchant critics - approached me this week. He had wanted to work for a "democratic" Iraq. Now he wanted my help in obtaining a second passport. Could I speak to the Australian embassy, he asked? He no longer believed that he would live in a stable country. What does this also tell us about "new Iraq"?

For those who spend time in Iraq, it is difficult to know whether to laugh or to cry when the pro-war chorus bangs its drums again. Richard Perle, one of the war's American neo-conservative Vulcans who did more than most to push the Bush administration into this invasion, was arguing with me on a radio show, praising the resumption of 24-hour electrical power in the Iraqi capital.

Alas, I could hear little of what he was saying because of the roar of emergency generators around me in night-time Baghdad. How do we explain now the armies of truculent, often ill-disciplined mercenaries now roaming Iraq on behalf of the Anglo-American occupation authorities? Many thousands of them British, some are well-trained, many are not.

In my own hotel, dozens of them swagger through the lobby with rifles and pistols, all talking "security", all working for private security firms hired by the occupation power or by private companies. They have no rules of engagement and many of them drink too much.

When I pleaded with one British gunman in sunglasses last week to at least put a shirt over his gun to conceal it when walking in and out of our hotel, he pointed a finger at me.

"Listen mate," he shouted. "If I see someone with a gun come to shoot you, I am going to walk right past and do nothing." But HE is the risk to our security. The Iraqis, of course, watch the coming and going of these young men and draw their own conclusions. I fear I know what they are.

Attacks against US troops and western civilians are increasing daily in Mosul. Some days ago, three Iraqis were killed in Basra by a car bomb intended for a British military patrol.

Western troops will now only drive at night north of Najaf in companies 200 strong. What happened to that nice little neatly defined "Sunni triangle"? No wonder Spanish troops are so keen to go home.

Now that Poland's prime minister says he was "deceived" about weapons of mass destruction, how soon before the Polish contingent follow the Spanish?

Never is it reported that Polish troops are attacked almost every night around the city of Hilla. David Kay's astonishing interview in "Le Figaro" - "We must recognise our mistakes in order to restore our credibility" - is being widely broadcast in Baghdad.

"I don't think there was any serious chance of proving the existence of weapons of mass destruction," he said. "because the best evidence suggests they did not exist."

Still, the occupying power, the "Coalition Provisional Authority", refuses to keep statistics on the dozens of innocent Iraqis dying each week under their mandate, in massive car bombs and in roadside killings.

The US military searches of Iraqi Sunni villages, the Israeli-style battering down of doors and houses, the constant American killing of innocents is embittering a new generation of Iraqis. And soon we will have "democracy" in Iraq. -(c) The Independent

Rethinking immigration

By Jonathan Power

Immigration, we are belatedly beginning to realize, has enabled western industrial societies to put on hold problems it should have been forced to confront earlier.

In particular it has postponed the re-organization of economic life in the most humdrum parts of the economy, putting off the day when menial jobs would have to be reshaped to attract unemployed locals.

It has also delayed the day when a lot of businesses should have packed up thirty years ago and relocated in lower cost, emigrant-producing countries. And it has postponed a re-think of our antiquated attitudes to older workers.

Even in America, which now accepts, if not always as uniformly as it once used to, that it will continue to be a country whose vitality partly comes from immigration and where the process of social adopting and adapting is more smooth than in Europe and Japan, economists find it hard to prove that latter day immigration has been a significant economic plus.

One could say the present consensus among many American economists is that immigration is good for certain industries, a useful anti-inflation tool in the short run, usually good for the majority of first generation immigrants themselves, but not for low paid natives. (In California American-born workers have left the state as fast as immigrants have moved in, so extreme has been the impact of immigrants in keeping wages down.)

It actually doesn't matter if the U.S. population is growing faster and is younger. The critical issue for Europe and Japan is how they use their work force - can they use their older people effectively and productively?

Can they avoid throwing people on the scrap heap in their 50s, as is common in such jobs as banking and train driving, in marked contrast to say judges who often go on until they are 75 which, unless you believe the law is an easy profession, goes to show how much it is all simply a question of attitude?

Konrad Schuller, writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine, has made the point that an older population is wiser and less violent. Older people score highest in solving society's problems, whether it be related to jobs, marriage or teenage growing pains.

In Holland recruiting the older workers into new jobs has become a growth industry. In Rotterdam "55+", an employment agency, has seen demand soar for health-care workers, teachers and librarians. And who these days at 70 or even 75 cannot drive a bus or sell tickets in a railroad station?

Old categories no longer hold good when longevity is expanding by 1% annually, not by 0.75% as forecast only two years ago (this is from a recent report by the UK's government's actuary) and a French child born today has a 50% chance of reaching 100, and in far, far, better health than the centenarians of today. Governments need to give society some fiscal shock treatment, like sharply cutting taxes for the working elderly or doubling the normal state pension if one waits to retire until the age of 70 or 75.

Sweden - the country with highest longevity in the European Union - has been the first to reform its state pension system to reflect these trends. Now employees have a right to remain in work until 67, two years longer than before and it has become almost impossible with a state pension to support oneself if one retires at 61.

Still, a government investigator shocked many when he said that due to demographic changes it is probable that before long Swedish employees will have to work until they are 79.

This is to exaggerate. Whilst it is true that birth rates have fallen all over Europe and Japan, there is evidence accumulating that this is bottoming out. In Sweden, the mother of not only the sexual revolution but of the working mother, there are signs already of a reverse (and in Denmark and Finland too).

In Britain and France the decline in population is happening more slowly. Moreover, there is evidence that as the divorce rate continues to climb, still fertile women who take another partner sometimes start a second family.

Again, reducing the tax burden on young couples who have bigger families, making up the lost revenue with the tax from people who remain in the work force for much longer, could give the birthrate a useful boost.

On present trends, unless nothing is done a country like Germany would need to take in 3.4 million immigrants annually for the next 50 years. The sooner governments wake up to the impossibility of this, given the understandable reticence of their peoples not to loose their cultural identity and their clear inability to deal positively with the alienation of many second generation immigrants, the more likely that reforms can take hold. The great immigration debate has to become the great re-structuring debate. -Copyright