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DAWN - Editorial; 20 July, 2004

July 20, 2004

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Truth about Kargil

Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain's categorical rejection of the suggestion for holding a judicial inquiry into the Kargil episode is in keeping with our record in hushing up unpleasant matters and avoiding fixing responsibility.

Talking to reporters in Lahore on Sunday, he said an investigation into the Kargil affair would open a Pandora's box of controversy. Surprisingly, in rejecting the suggestion, the prime minister went on to deliver his own verdict.

Kargil, he said, was a "collective responsibility", and the chief of army staff, Gen Pervez Musharraf, had kept Mr Nawaz Sharif, then prime minister, informed of the operations. He said that he could give the dates on which Gen Musharraf had met Mr Sharif.

According to him, a judicial commission could not go beyond collecting evidence and that what he was saying was an eyewitness account of the meetings between Mr Sharif and the army chief. Mr Sharif insists he was not fully briefed.

Contrary to what happens here, we have the example of the Iraq war and the number of commissions set up by the victors to let their peoples know the truth. Two commissions have recently given their verdicts in Washington and London on the intelligence hoax preceding the war.

There have also been inquiries into the intelligence leak involving Dr David Kelly and the BBC, and into Iraqi prisoner abuses. Recently, the Butler commission delivered a damning indictment of the Blair government on intelligence doctoring about Iraqi WMDs.

The commissions' findings have done no harm to these nations. Our governments usually sweep such matters under the carpet in the "national interest". We know, for instance, what happened in such cases as the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan, the 1971 East Pakistan debacle, and the Ojhri camp inferno.

These reports were never made public, with the exception of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission's findings, which were released decades later. In each case, publication was withheld to cover up misdeeds.

Kargil hit the headlines in the summer of 1999. Such was the intensity of fighting in that mountain outpost that the world became convinced that it would lead to an all-out war between Pakistan and India.

Mr Sharif's subsequent rush to Washington, his fateful meeting with President Clinton, the decision to pull back - all this is part of Pakistan's recent history.

The future generations must know who were the brains behind the Kargil adventure; did the army act on its own and keep the government of the day in the dark, or was the prime minister "on board" as often claimed by the military? Obviously, there are conflicting versions, Chaudhry Shujaat's being one of them. Why not let an independent judicial commission inquire into the affair and come up with its findings?

Heavens would not fall if the truth about Kargil is ascertained and made known. After all, the episode is more than five years old. We have lived with its consequences. So most certainly we can live with the truth too.

In any case, those found responsible for the Kargil adventure need not have sleepless nights. The former prime minister is Saudi Arabia's guest while the army chief is today the president of Pakistan. The inquiry commission's findings will merely uncover the truth for history's sake.

Palestinian Authority in a bind

Confined to his bombed-out Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah since December 2001, President Yasser Arafat has had to contend with all kinds of allegations from Israel, and now with what looks like an orchestrated challenge to his leadership from militants in the Gaza Strip.

Refusal by Israel and the US to engage the PA in a meaningful dialogue aimed at moving forward on last year's roadmap has made matters worse. President Bush, who had presented the roadmap on behalf of the Quartet - the US, UN, EU and Russia - last June, has himself all but abandoned it by reneging on the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.

The Quartet's acceptance of Israel's illegal security wall - as adjudged by the International Court of Justice last week - has also been a blow to the PA. The on-going wrangling between the moderate PA and the militants in Gaza is the outcome of that ill-advised move.

The Palestinian Authority may not have been totally above board when it comes to allegations of corruption and mismanagement against it. But under the existing conditions imposed on it by Israel it cannot be expected to carry out any meaningful administrative or political reforms and keep its popular appeal among the Palestinians.

Doing so under pressure from Israel and the US may well prove to be the last straw. The call from these quarters to remove Mr Arafat from the helm has not found support among the Palestinians.

The unrest in Gaza and the resignation of the second Palestinian prime minister within a year will fail yet again to dislodge Mr Arafat because these ideas have no indigenous backing, save from the Islamic militants.

It is the latter whom Israel and the West should be seeking to weaken rather than the largely moderate and secular PA. The sooner the Quartet realized this and pressed Israel to do the same, the better it would be for prospects of restarting the stalled peace process.

Slaughter of trees

There will be much sympathy for the plight of the landed gentleman who undertook the felling of mango trees on his 125-acre orchard in the village of Mehrabpur in Nawabshah on Saturday.

He made the dramatic move to underline the shortage of irrigation water in Sindh. A number of notables duly made the trek to Mehrabpur to bless the chopping down ceremony and articulate the province's mounting woes resulting from lack of water supplies.

It is tragic that the issue, which has inflicted lasting damage on Sindh and resulted in much acrimony, continues to be ignored and should have forced the cutting of fully grown trees brought up with loving care over a number of years.

One of the persons present at the sad ceremony was asked to strike the first chop; he refused, saying it was a sin to bring down a tree. His sentiment would be widely shared. In an environmentally poor country like Pakistan, the wilful felling of grown up trees or any other act leading to denudation of greenery should be treated both as a sin and an offence against nature.

If there is no water available at the site, the orchard owner couldn't possibly consider growing anything else there either; selling off the land wouldn't be a feasible option, and he could argue that without water the trees would wither anyway.

So his quandary is understandable. But he shouldn't have been in such haste to destroy his orchard and those who encouraged him and helped publicize his action should have given better counsel. Some irrigation official might yet have been moved to arrange more water in the coming weeks, and the trees could have been saved.

Whichever way the incident is looked at, as a desperate act by an individual or as an instance of flamboyant theatrics, the problem remains and should be tackled on a war footing.

The water issue has already become highly politicized: the need is to get away from its politics, and tackle it on the basis of the reality on the ground and the requirements of all those affected. Let's not miss the wood for the trees.