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DAWN - Features; 09 May, 2004

May 09, 2004


Fighting the 'new enemy'

By Talat Masood

For decades the American armed forces remained poised against those of the Soviet Union. The US military strategy, tactics and training devolved round countering any Soviet threat. They made a great success of it by ensuring a strategic balance through deterrence, pursuing the doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) or flexible response at different stages of the cold war confrontation.

They also maintained, in conjunction with Nato forces, an effective conventional capability in Europe, to hold back any possible Soviet attack - nuclear or conventional. Both the Soviet Union and America knew the dangers of escalation, and an uneasy peace was maintained until the former collapsed on account of the heavy military burden and the internal contradictions of the Soviet system.

Americans, however, have little experience of the new enemy that they are now facing in Iraq and Afghanistan where they seem to be getting caught in a quagmire. Here the enemy is elusive and borderless and this asymmetric combat in an urban or rural guerilla war is placing limits on America's military prowess.

Interestingly, there are some similarities to what our army had to face recently in the tribal belt. Pakistan too has been militarily focused on India for over five decades. All its strategy, tactics and many of its policies have been oriented to face this challenge - defending its borders against an Indian assault, practising offensive defence, all in the context of India.

Now the Pakistan military has to confront an internal threat, fighting a mini-battle in South Waziristan against its own people, who are fiercely independent and opposed to any intrusion into their cherished autonomy, however misplaced the concept may appear in the context of the present-day world. The Pakistan army and the Frontier Corps soon realized the limitations of their military power when they were forced to retreat after suffering heavy casualties and had to opt for peace and compromise with those very militant leaders they were so determined to eliminate.

Ironically, the Pakistan army could transform this major tactical setback in the tribal belt into a strategic gain provided it continues to pursue the path of achieving its objectives by well-conceived and sustained political and military means. It should increase its military presence to open up the area and for facilitating development work there. Furthermore, by its increased physical presence it can improve intelligence surveillance which will put the militants - whether they be remnants of Al Qaeda or of the Taliban - on the defensive and use military force only as an instrument of last resort.

The Americans are likely to be upset with the current outcome in Wana and may keep pushing Pakistan into launching another offensive to flush out the militants. But there are many lessons that the Americans and the Coalition partners could learn from Pakistan's recent military experience in the tribal belt and from their own military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Military success does not necessarily result in a political victory. As military thinkers have repeatedly emphasized winning battles does not necessarily mean that the war has been won. America having overrun Iraq and also Afghanistan by its overwhelming military superiority in a short span of time has not won the war, notwithstanding President Bush's famous remarks on May 16, 2003, when he declared victory aboard a US carrier and that the war was over.

Wars are not won when a country is militarily defeated and the victor is euphoric about it, but only when the will of the vanquished is defeated and he accepts defeat. If military offensive fails to produce peace and generates greater hostility towards the perceived aggressor, then it becomes counter-productive and is worse than protracted confrontations.

High technology and massive military superiority seems to be turning the US into a global isolationist power. Instead, it should use its technological and military superiority to transform the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East and Central Asia by peaceful means - through cooperation and consensus-building. The neo-conservatives strategy is not working and they have to realize that obsession with the use of military power to shape the world is doing enormous damage to world stability and, in the final analysis, to America's own interests.

Regrettably, the US, which has some of the best minds working in its prestigious think-tanks and government, has failed to fully grasp what is motivating the irate people, be it in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, to fight back, and what is needed to win them over. Unless, along with the military instrument, they address the political, religious and psychological factors that motivate the insurgents, it is highly unlikely that they will prevail.

Excessive reliance on military power, without the promise of a just and equitable political solution of the problems in Palestine and Iraq, will further intensify anti-American sentiment the world over and lay the ground for a new breed of warlords, transnational terrorists and ethnic and religious zealots.

The development efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have to be seen by the people of these countries and the world not as an effort to favour neo con contractors but to reconstruct and rehabilitate these countries.

Excessive reliance on military power has falsified many of the great values and principles of American life that many once admired and respected. "Shock and awe" has to be a small part of the overall military strategy and not the central one if the US is to counter violence. A strong military impulse in the aftermath of 9/11 is understandable, but now political considerations have to guide American thinking and approach so that the US retracts from its course of a dangerous imperial overstretch.

Brutal military action against people who have already suffered at the hands of dictators and the oppressive regimes of Saddam and the Taliban is unjustified. Securing the support of the local people and countries of the region is the best way of combating terrorism.

Often the US military objectives and professed political goals are at variance. For achieving quick military victory, they pitched one group against the other. The Northern Alliance in Afghanistan was beefed up to fight the Taliban and the Pashtuns. From a purely military perspective, it may be expedient, but it creates problems of conflict and disharmony in a country where two successive generations saw nothing but war, devastation and endless civil strife.

Similarly, the US looks at Iraq through the prism of the Kurds, Shias and the Sunnis. Not that these ethnic and sectarian differences did not exist prior to the US invasion of Iraq, but accentuating ethnic and sectarian rivalries to facilitate military victory has turned out to be a nightmarish experience as recent events have shown.

Even after the military occupation of Iraq, the US continues to rely on playing on these differences, thereby losing a valuable opportunity to unite the nation. Whatever goodwill for the US that existed among the Shias for delivering them from Saddam's tyranny has since been squandered. Prudence demands that they stop their assault on Najaf.

That would be their Achilles heel, as the US desperately needs the goodwill of the Shias. Sadr may have a small following compared to the more elderly and sober Sistani, but his followers are young and armed and ready to die. By defying America, Sadr also strikes a chord that resonates far beyond his group.

As the situation stands it is hard to visualize that sovereignty will revert to the Iraqis on July 1. The likely scenario is that an unrepresentative civilian administration will be thrust on Iraq and made to coexist with the US occupation force of nearly 150,000 strong over which it has no control. All this will lead to greater alienation among the people and bring about a rapid erosion of the US-backed Iraqi regime.

The best course for the Americans would be to withdraw from the cities and hand over the reins of administration to the Iraqis, similar to what they have done in Fallujah, and then finally to transfer the role of peace-keeping to the UN - not cosmetically but substantially.

The great danger is that the situation in Iraq, if not handled wisely, will spill over into the whole of the Middle East, signs of which are already showing. Similarly, the instability in Afghanistan may engulf Pakistan and the Central Asian states. For this reason, apart from that of the US, the role of the governments and civil societies of the Muslim countries of the region becomes critical in countering this growing threat.

The question arises how can unrepresentative, corrupt and autocratic regimes fight violence and terror when they are as much a cause of it. Their ineffectual governments, feudal and tribal societies that are unable or unwilling to confront the demands of 21st century are a primary source of violence.

How can the Islamic world lay claim to modernity, moderation and justice when the armed forces along with a network of intelligence services hold the state together. Instead of drawing strength from the people most Muslim rulers rely on coercion and, in some cases, also support from the US to stay in power and therefore remain vulnerable to Washington's dictates.

Religious demagogues exploit the frustrations of the Muslim masses against their inefficient and oppressive governments and whip up anti-US sentiment in response to Washington's heavy tilt towards Israel and its occupation of Iraq.

These two factors are giving rise to a growing number of militants or "warriors" in many Muslim countries and communities. Unless the individual countries and the US are willing to address these issues seriously, the spectre of chaos and conflict will remain to haunt the region.

The writer is a retired Lt-General of the Pakistan Army.

Press Freedom Day and Punjabi dailies

"More journalists were killed in 2003 than in any year since 1995... A black year if ever there was one," Reporters Sans Frontiers said in its annual report released to coincide with the World Press Freedom Day (which fell on May 3 last).

Forty-two journalists were killed "while doing their job or for their opinions, mainly in Asia and the Middle East (the Iraq War) .... As many as 766 were arrested, at least 1,460 physically attacked or threatened and 501 media censored, the Paris-based organisation said. "Nearly a third of the world's people live in countries without press freedom."

No such details have been collected or documented by the organizations of newspaper owners or journalists' bodies in Pakistan about those who suffered for the freedom of press which faces many obstacles, including the denial of official advertisements.

A Lahore-based group of newspapers was all of a sudden denied this right because it was more vocal in the Qadeer Khan affair. The denial of advertisement to the press has especially been note-worthy in respect of Punjabi newspapers.

It certainly is not a new story. It happened in 1988 when the first Punjabi daily Sajjan appeared from Lahore when Nawaz Sharif was the Punjab chief minister while Benazir Bhutto ruled the centre. It was the time when so-called Pakistani-nationalists from the Punjab were crudely using the Punjab card against the Sindhi prime minister. Their popular slogan was Jaag Punjabi Jaag, Teri Pagg Noon Lag gia Dagh.

They demanded separate bank, television, radio authorities for the Punjab. All that was done in the name of the Punjab but no official advertisements for the maiden Punjabi daily were released by the Punjab government because, in its opinion, Sajjan was siding with the anti-fundamentalists PPP policies.

The PPP government in the centre also extended no helping hand to the first-ever daily in Punjabi after independence which was welcomed even by the Sindhi press... the only well-established regional press. Till that time no daily was published in the other two regional languages, Balochi and Pushto.

Meanwhile, a daily in Seraiki was also published from Rahim Yar Khan which was cold-shouldered by the Punjab government, and ultimately it disappeared from the scene. That was also the fait accompli of Sajjan which was a very good exercise in Punjabi daily journalism.

Another such attempt was made by Mudassir Iqbal Butt who launched daily Bhulekha, which was in much better shape than Sajjan. But it had no policy which could attract the Punjabi reader, who was essentially anti-establishment. This was clearly manifested in the general historical elections of 1970. But it is quite strange that the Punjab government did not give the due share to Bhulekha which it deserved per tradition. The paper still appears regularly, but the Punjabi administration is still allergic to the mother tongue of the province. - STM

The age of mega ads

By Faryal Shahzad

The garish image screams at the susceptible, dwarfing them not only by its massiveness, but also by the thrust of its communique, as it focuses its paranormal stimulation on its target audience from aloft a sky-high pole. One of the myriad examples of corporate or capitalistic imperialism, outdoor advertising seems to be the big sell and the big seller these days, where 'sales, support, and sponsorship' are sought by combining slogans with size and sizzle.

Enjoying multiple advantages over its mini-screen and print media counterparts, advertising through billboards, neon signs, and hoardings, has inundated our thoroughfares, turning them into a lucrative channel for marketing communication. Of late, their numbers on the roads in Lahore have gone up drastically, concealing skyline and obstructing view, and making most to believe that a fewer number of outdoor advertisements around us may actually help us get to know our city a little better! As billboards are, perhaps, noticed more than the landscape, they have become more of landmarks for us than any real landmarks. So, if the present trend of advertising clutter on the avenues maintains its pace, it may be time to unclutter our roads a bit.

Since the purpose of these advertisements is obviously to attract attention, they become distracting and, at times, quite a driving hazard, especially the jumbo-sized billboards, some of which cause visual disturbances if placed against traffic lights. Others may not be so well-secured, and may become safety hazard of another type, especially in the face of harsh winds that thrash the city usually this time of the year or during monsoons, and have become quite a predictable feature of the weather.

A rickshaw driver was killed a few days ago when a billboard, unable to sustain a mild duststorm, landed on the rickshaw in the Civil Lines area. Two years ago, another billboard accident killed four people in Samanabad. A few accidents were reported last year, and in one case, a powerful storm ripped down a billboard, injuring a motorcyclist and a few pedestrians on the DHA main boulevard, which is dotted with billboards of all sizes and types. According to traffic police, there are several jumbo-sized billboards in the city that may plummet any time in case of heavy storms.

In the absence of rules and regulations ensuring human safety, such accidents are bound to happen. Because of similar and growing environmental concerns, many countries have either eliminated, or limited the volume and placement of outdoor advertising.

The Outdoor Advertising Association of America conducted a study in 1999, which stated that people glance at 70 per cent of the billboard they pass and read 63 per cent. Far from a tightly targeted medium, outdoor advertising is positioned as a way to reach large, undifferentiated audiences. Unlike other advertising media, though, outdoor advertising has no truly reliable method to measure its effectiveness, but informal studies show that it is usually considered to be a nuisance by most people, and is dubbed, 'graffiti' or 'litter on sticks' by many.

Billboard advertising is the cheapest form of advertising, reaching more people than any other form, and it is for this reason that it is resorted to so often and without any caution or concern. Commuters at the wheels and other potential customers are exposed briefly to outdoor messages. Adverse traffic conditions or bad weather can also limit message impact and recall, or sometimes, the message or the visual itself can become a cause of traffic pile-ups.

Brand rivalry and aggressive marketing tactics practised through billboards make for street encounters of yet another type. Recently advertising on the sides of buses has become a common sight, too. The trend has caught up in Lahore after Karachi where advertising on buses started about three years ago, when Metro buses were first used for this purpose.

Gender portrayal in outdoor advertisings raises another much ignored issue. Women are portrayed almost the same way in all media, but outdoor advertising, especially billboards, have one more important aspect. Outdoor advertising is static and cannot be 'turned off' or folded away, and hence, there is no filtering of those who see the advertisements. Besides, the enhanced proportion of visuals caries an impact of its own.

Some consumers feel very strongly about this and wish there was a restraining order on billboards. Besides, there is no opportunity for not seeing the advertisements because the public doesn't have to take the trouble of buying a newspaper or paying for a television set to see an advertisement. It is all permanently there, for free.

With the kind of wide-ranging reach that outdoor advertising enjoys it is best used for social, rather than commercial, marketing in a lot of countries around the world. Regrettably though, this practice is almost non-existent in our country, and except for a few population planning messages splashed across buses or billboards, or some traffic management signs, we hardly witness the use of outdoor advertising for marketing social ideals or for awareness-raising among the masses.

Messages for poverty alleviation or anti-smoking drive, those aimed at eradicating illiteracy and child labour, or messages inundated in environmental concerns are a rare sight. Not only should outdoor advertising be used to diffuse anti-smoking and similar welfare-directed concerns, it should also not be used to display cigarette ads, against which there are regulations in most countries.

Many developing countries have successfully harnessed the power of street advertising to introduce new concepts and practices to their people. Outdoor messages can be used most effectively to educate the public on various issues blighting the developing world. Even in the developed countries outdoor advertising bolsters anti-smoking and anti-alcohol drives, and raises awareness about cancer, AIDS and prevention of other diseases.

A tragic departure

By Saira Dar

I find it hard to believe that my friend and former colleague Asfeea Amer has actually lost her life in the recent Daewoo bus accident on the motorway. For many, the accident will probably end up as another statistic - as it does for most of us until, God forbid, we lose a dear one in such a tragedy.

It took special courage for me to attend Asfeea's funeral, because I wanted to remember her as I always knew her; good looking, pleasant and almost always willing to burst into laughter. I dreaded having to see her in such unpleasant circumstances, and indeed, it was heartbreaking to witness her as the victim of a fatal accident.

The workings of fate or destiny do seem tantalizing and at times are beyond ones comprehension. As I try to figure out the 'why?' of Asfeea's seemingly untimely demise, it crosses my mid that perhaps she was destined to unite with her beloved husband Amer, whom she had suddenly lost barely two years ago. It had been a devastating loss for her, and being a young widow with two small children was no doubt an uphill journey besot with myriad tribulations.

Indeed, she had, nonetheless made tremendous effort to carry on her life with grace and dignity. A smart, well educated and intelligent young woman, she had been teaching at the College of Home Economic's housing and interior design department for almost two decades now, and after her husband's passing away she had acquired a residence on the college premises, where she lived with her young daughter and son.

Just recently I had met her at a college function and felt happy to see her looking well and more in control of her circumstances. A devoted mother and dedicated teacher, she did in many ways epitomise wisdom and decency which carried the flavour of traditional eastern values. And whatever pain she may have borne in her heart, she had the grace to be pleasant and good humoured, ready to share laughter and warm feelings.

Now that Asfeea's life in this world has come to an end, I can only console myself with the thought that she is in a better place than where we are, for that is where she belonged. It does make one immensely sad to think of her 10-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter who will have to brave the world without father and mother. I hope that there will be caring relatives to shelter them and that those of us who knew Asfeea, will be able to do something to make their lives happier.

The College of Home Economics, Lahore, has also lost an intelligent and dedicated faculty member. I hope this esteemed institution will keep her memory alive in some befitting way.

Asfeea's charming presence will be sorely missed by her family, friends, colleagues and students. May her soul rest in eternal peace. Amen.

Talking loud on women's insecurity

By Nusrat Nasarullah

With the way power failures have made life in Karachi still more frustrating and challenging, one would have wanted to begin with that, but a story in May 7 issue of Metropolitan, which highlights the shameful and rather painful details of how "women feel insecure at workplace," made me change my mind. Power failures will continue, and we may return to these another week.

But so will the insecurity of women at workplace? Is that the kind of bleak vision and context that is offered in Pakistani society as more and more women come out of their homes to work, and more and more girls go to schools and colleges? Now having introduced these two weighty questions, let me focus on the story mentioned above, which also carried a photograph of a woman in hijab.

This woman, Rubina Shaheen, comes through as a tough person, an individual with a strong determination to fight and win, ostensibly because she seems to believe that she is right. And let us also bear in mind that she has been a sportswoman of proven distinction, as her record shows.

Suffice it to say that I am somewhat struck by the fact that no women's organization has yet taken up the issue, and neither her own sufferings, nor her family's embarrassment has invoked any public interest.

One would like to assume there has been a silent condemnation, and indignation, that while women have once again been made to realize that how unsafe, insecure and uneasy it can be, once they step out of their homes, the men have in some cases, at least, also realized that how disgracefully most of them have begun behaving. As one working woman, when asked, replied in a kind of helpless anger: "How careful can a woman be in a context where often the insecurity can begin even in the very neighbourhood, where we live. Now women work in most cases for genuine economic reasons."

The story said, "Rubina Shaheen's black veil hides her black-belt prowess in javelin throw. But neither saved the 28-year-old policewoman from the unwanted advances of her male colleagues." Stop and contemplate at the emphasis on "unwanted advances of her male colleagues." Those concerned, explain, with a certain bitterness, that this is on the increase, with men often considering it their right, their privilege, their power to treat women at the workplace in the most objectionable (often concealed) manner possible.

But one woman, who has been working for almost three decades, says that the insecurity of women, young and old, is evident in all aspects of Pakistani society, not just the workplace. That vulnerability of women is found growing steadily, regrets a male colleague of mine, who says that over the years he has realized that men have become daring, and unashamed about the way they treat women. Even the way they constantly stare or seek eye-contact, is so disgusting, and the worst part is that evidently there is little that can be done about it. He cites numerous examples from our lives to prove his point. At all public places, women suffer.

They look for public transport and they experience at least the humiliation of men staring at them. If women drive themselves they are exposed to the mischief and misbehaviour of male drivers, who can conveniently either make their life difficult on the roads, or even chase them up to a point they feel safe to do so. Ask women drivers and they will tell you shocking stories on this count.

But honestly speaking, talk to women who step out of the house, and there are all sorts of stories that they have to tell, reflecting the inconsiderate manner in which men behave, especially with the younger ones. Even women in Hijab and varying degrees of purdah, have to face these intimidating, staring men, observed one such woman who wears a hijab, carefully and happily. Which made one ask whether it was worse for those women who don't wear one? The answer to this generally has been in the affirmative.

Young women, who look trendy and daring in their apparel, are often regarded by the male folks as more comfortable options, making one wonder where all the ethics they are taught at different stages goes. What has happened to all that morality? says one keen observer of the way men stare at women in the bazaars of the city.

This problem of insecurity is not confined to Karachi alone, or to the urban areas. It is there all over the country, and only recently there was a letter to the editor of an English daily of Peshawar, where a reader had lamented at what was described as "eve teasing" in the NWFP capital. He had mentioned places and examples of how deplorable the "menace and nuisance" was, and he had attributed the phenomena to ever growing urbanization.

Of course there are people and opinion groups in this society, who believe and militantly so, that the more society changes and education spreads, and women come out to join the workforce, there will be more of this insecurity problem. Surely we do not intend to advocate that women stay out of the workforce, in a context where they are very much needed to contribute their time, talent and hard work to the betterment of society.

Now this is one particular way of looking at it. There are women who speak out angrily and insist that the best answer is to deal firmly with men, who misbehave with men. Indeed it is difficult to do this comprehensively, but it is possible. There should be laws on this subject to protect women from lecherous and vicious men, or even from those who indulge in extending 'unwanted advances' towards women.

There are other men who do this with a persistence, with a carefully concealed strategy, a kind of scheming game in which they make the women realize that eventually they will lose. What is exploited is the sheer vulnerability of women. Keep in mind that women more than ever before now work alongwith men for economic reasons. Those who don't work for economic reasons are in a minority, and theirs may be a different context.

It is pertinent to mention the status of working women in Islamabad, depicted in an article that appeared in Dawn last year, which after detailing the manner of how women are targeted, victimised and humiliated, even in that posh Federal Capital, asked this question very candidly: "whatever kind of man he is, can there be any statute law to protect the above woman from his kind of behaviour? Being teased in such a manner is a common phenomenon for women who venture out of the four walls of their homes, to go to the bank, the shop around the corner, and worse of all, to a police station to launch a complaint?"

The more one reads of instances like that of Rubina Shaheen, the more it makes one believe that the general attitude towards women in our society be considered a serious social problem, which needs to be addressed before it gets worse. But the larger question is whether the answer to this lies in law or in morality, or both.

Having said all this, one would like to return to the news story that I began with. It says that the known, reported cases are the ones that are tip of the iceberg. Silence prevails due to culture, religion and family honour. It is a tiny majority that speaks out despite the best of assurances given by organizations that are working to provide protection and guidance to women who wish to speak out.

There is indeed much that needs to be done to make men realize that women are not doormats and that holding hands with them with dignity and grace may bring them the power and honour they seek in vain, otherwise. For Rubina Shaheen, a bouquet, to add to the list of medals and trophies, that she already has. She has dared to be different by speaking out, and has shown the toughness that the hour calls for, even though the journey is a long and lonely one.