DAWN - Letters; 11 December, 2004

Published December 11, 2004

Occupying Iraq the Israeli way

Just as many senior Israeli military officials are openly criticizing their government's tactics in the occupied Palestinian territories, the United States is repeating in Iraq many of Israel's worst mistakes. This will doom efforts to stabilize Iraq and restore its independence.

"In a tactic reminiscent of Israeli crackdowns in the West Bank and Gaza," reports the Detroit Free Press, "the US military has begun destroying the homes of suspected guerrilla fighters in Iraq's Sunni triangle, evacuating women and children, then levelling their houses with heavy weaponry", and the residents in the village of al Haweda were given five minutes to evacuate before soldiers opened fire.

Near the Iraqi town of Dhulaiya, US forces re-enacted another scene familiar to Palestinians. The bulldozers worked for 10 days, methodically clearing the date palms and citrus groves as 200 soldiers sealed off the area.

Townspeople looked on helplessly while jazz music blared from speakers mounted atop the soldiers' trucks. Iraqis are quick to make a comparison with Israel's actions in the Palestinian territories, where Israeli forces regularly clear fields as a security measure and as a form of communal punishment.

Other aspects of life in Palestine are creeping into daily Iraqi experience. Due to the insecurity felt by the US occupation forces, body searches have become a feature of daily life.

Ordinary residents now may have their bodies patted down, pockets turned inside-out and the contents of purses, briefcases and grocery bags scrutinized several times a day. A trip to the hospital, attendance at a university class, entrance to a government office or a stop to pray at a major mosque involve highly physical encounters with total strangers.

The growing similarities between Iraq and Palestine are due in part to the inexorable logic of military occupation, which, in order to maintain control (or avoid losing it totally), must draw ever greater numbers of innocent people into the net of oppression. But worryingly, some of the American tactics in Iraq are deliberately copied from Israel.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that facing a bloody insurgency by guerrillas who label it an 'occupier', the military has quietly turned to an ally experienced with occupation and uprisings: Israel.

American army commanders, Pentagon officials and military trainers have sought advice from Israeli intelligence and security officials on everything from how to set up roadblocks to the best way to bomb suspected guerrilla hide-outs in an urban area.

Americans should be alarmed that their government is seeking advice on how to run the occupation of Iraq from an Israel whose bloody methods have not only failed for 37 years to bring "security" and end resistance to the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but have been often condemned by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International as war crimes.

In spite of all that security measures in Iraq, more than 130 American soldiers died in November alone. After all this, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld still seems to be in denial about reality in Iraq.

In an interview with Japan's NHK network, he said the security situation in Iraq could be compared with the crime levels in Tokyo or Chicago, and asserted that all in all the occupation was "doing very well".



Islam and science

This is with reference to Mr Mukhtar Ali Naqvi's letter "Islam and science" (Dec 2). Some of his arguments are so unconvincing that I would call them oblivious of reality.

He writes that "no believer says that religion is opposed to acquisition of knowledge", "there is no campaign from the religious platform to discourage scientific research", and argues that no religious scholar "has opposed or condemned research in the field of" education.

Of course, the issue is not religion itself, but its misguided followers with faulty perceptions. What are madressahs in Pakistan teaching their innocent victims? The theory of relativity? Mullahs in Pakistan abhor the idea of using modern scientific knowledge to handle day-to-day affairs. They issue fatwas against anything or anyone they don't like, and this list is quite extensive.

The tragedy is that even society's otherwise fairly educated people do not have the courage to resist this ignorance. One of the terrible consequences of this failure is the fact that Pakistan's Constitution now contains articles that sanction discrimination against non-Muslim Pakistanis. Obviously, the intellectual terror of the mullahs is a big problem.

Can Mr Naqvi honestly claim that a Pakistani artist who wants to hold a display of paintings depicting mistreated women and sexually abused children with scars on various parts of their bodies will be unjustified in fearing for his/her life? Art is one of the great ways of educating society and appealing to its conscience.

One of the advances made by medical science enables its practitioners to transplant organ/s donated by a dying person into the bodies of sick patients who can then go on to enjoy many more years of life that otherwise would have ended. Are the so-called religious scholars not against utilizing this medical skill that without a doubt is a great gift of Allah Almighty to humanity?

What good is education and scientific research if knowledge thus acquired cannot be used unless one has a mullah on one's side? Recently a woman died of a minor problem in the NWFP while giving birth in a hospital because no lady doctor could be summoned in time.

The male doctors present there who could have saved her life did not dare to come near her because they feared that a mullah would issue a decree of death against them.

If the so-called religious scholars are not against education, then why are modern schools being opened by the Agha Khan Foundation in Pakistan's remote villages facing opposition not only locally but also from the so-called protectors of 'morality' unfortunately present throughout the country?


Louisville, KY, USA

What are Karachi police doing?

I recently received a phone call in Saudi Arabia from one of my sons in Karachi that our house in Sector 11-A, North Karachi, was robbed in the early hours of the morning.

The four robbers, who appeared to be labourers and carried masons' equipment, jumped into the compound and entered my house by breaking the glass of the door/window.

They were carrying TTs and made away with all the valuables, cash, jewelry, electrical items, clothes, and other items, at gunpoint. They threatened to kill as well. The house was wiped out.

My son-in-law and daughter, who were visiting from the US, were also deprived of their cash, jewelry, clothes, etc. This is not the first time my house has been robbed.

Since my sons and daughter are pursuing their professional education, I already face financial constraints. Moreover, a wedding was about to take place, but everything has been looted. The police were informed and showed up but they declined to register an FIR.

When we contacted them again, the police asked my family to see them at the police station as they did when the previous incidents took place. They asked our family members if they suspected anybody and said that if not they were in no position to do anything.

I have always sent foreign exchange by legal means, i.e. through banks from Saudi Arabia. The government's hollow promises to protect expatriates are manifest from their ignorance. The question arises: what are the police in Karachi required to do? Are they out there to punish law-abiding citizens? Yes, it is exactly this.

I request President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to either correct the police in Karachi to protect us from robbers, killers, etc., or do us a great favour and remove the police and Rangers from Karachi and depute local police.

Why is the government not issuing us arms licences so we can protect ourselves? Moreover, it is known that if anybody gets a legal licence issued, the police harass him and tear up the licence.

Who should I call for help? The robbers, hijackers, kidnappers and killers are roaming around with arms while innocent people are being harassed by the police and Rangers in Karachi.

What are their duties? What are they doing out there? Is there any authority to question them? If they cannot perform their duties and keep squeezing people for bhatta, we do not need them.


Saudi Arabia

Sindh-Rajasthan rail link

Pakistan is prepossessed of the idea of replacing the metre gauge (MG) rail track between Mirpurkhas and Khokhrapar with a broad gauge (BG) track and extending it up to Monabao at a cost of Rs2.1 billion without specifying a timeframe (editorial, Dec 3).

The task of replacing the entire 128-km-long rail track in the Thar desert and creating new infrastructure is enormous in terms of both money and time, and is going to take the Pakistan Railways (PR) over two years to accomplish.

A year ago the North Western Railway (NWR), a faction of the Indian Railways, upgraded the Luni-Barmer-Munabao section to broad gauge. Accordingly, for operating through trains between Sindh and Rajasthan, gauge conversion by the PR has become imperative but, in the aftermath of current missile race, spending huge sums of money is not advisable.

The peace process is still in its cradle and the desire to promote and sustain its growth is lacking. Therefore, as part of the confidence-building measures adopted almost a year ago by the two countries, resumption of the Sindh-Rajasthan train service may be put into practice sooner than later in three phases.

1) Passengers and merchandise from Mirpurkhas, with some make and mend, may be transported by the existing service MG 5 up to Khokhrapar and then by buses/trucks to Munabao, a distance of 10 kilometres, and vice versa.

2) Subsequently, the PR may re-lay a MG track up to Munabao - the portion of 10km that was dismantled during 1965, out of its available resources. Transhipment of passengers and goods will then be done at the Munabao terminus of the NWR.

3) Subject to the success of the first two phases, the PR may convert the existing track into a modern broad gauge system and upgrade the infrastructure.


Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

Secondary & inter education boards

There has been a sharp increase in the number of candidates in Pakistan taking GCSE, IGCSE and A/AS level examinations through the British Council. It is unfortunate that boards of intermediate and secondary education (BISEs) have not invested enough funds in research to devise effective tools that could be applied according to the needs and demands of Pakistan and its future.

The University of Cambridge International Examinations (www.cie.org.uk) and Edexcel (www.edexcel.org.uk) invest a large amount of what they earn through their examination services to improve their curriculum and research on new tools to assess all subjects.

The BISEs in Pakistan earn a lot of money, but how much of it is spent on developing new assessment tools that could be best fitted according to the needs of candidates in the country?

I request the BISEs to learn from the examination boards of other countries, especially research commissioned by such boards. Fortunately, all research is available in English and the first place to look is the websites of these examination boards.

It is time the BISEs set their house in order. If they fail to do so, local educational institutes should set up their own examination boards with the help of foreign examination boards in the UK, Australia and America.


Leeds, UK

Zhob-Dera: the road of hope and despair

Zhob-Dera road and air links are a case study to support the fact that our leaders have failed to deliver. Zhob-Dera Ismail Khan Road, 190km in length, is the shortest road link between the NWFP and Balochistan, along the mountainous terrain of the Suleiman range and Dana Sher.

The road was built in 1909 by the British to support the Frontier Forward Policy designed by Lord Curzon and Lytton soon after the elevation of the NWFP as a province in 1901.

It was a shingle road on which government and private convoys travelled until 1947. The British allotted regular funds for its maintenance by the public works departments, since they knew the geo-strategic importance of the area which bifurcate the long mountainous region of Zhob district from lower Punjab and upper Waziristan adjacent to Afghanistan. The road was fairly maintained and was open to traffic, mostly government convoys, throughout the year.

The British could build the road and develop the area further but they did not only because of the policy of divide and rule. This policy was largely applicable to the tribesmen of North and South Waziristan and NWFP/Balochistan frontier region.

It could have been continued by limited development. The construction of a metal road and bridges (13 bridges ranging from 110 to 500 feet) was essential to support the road over a zig-zagging ravine. It could have mobilized traffic between the two parts and thus change the region's economic and social status.

Pakistan achieved its independence in 1947. The British left and the reins of the government fell into our hands. The construction of the road disappeared into oblivion. The road was not subjected to regular repairs and became impassable by the 1960s.

In the 1990s, the FWO widened Dana Sar Pass and metalled a portion of the road, but it remained incomplete and impassable. For the last five years the FWO has again been working on it. It was in much better condition for the people of the area between 1915 and 1947 than it is now.

The road passes through the Frontier Region of D. I. Khan as well as Zhob (part of Fata/Pata), which is largely inhabited by the peaceful, hard-working Sherani tribes that are the poorest in the tribal areas.

They claim that if the road were opened to traffic it could help them emerge from wretched poverty and lead reasonable lives. No change has taken place in their lives for the past 57 years. Isn't this country's independence from the British yoke meaningless for them?



PTCL blues

In Pakistan, some things never change and clearly PTCL is one of them. While the organization makes tall claims that it has considerably improved its service and customer care centres, one phone call to the officials concerned is more than enough to make you change your mind.

A few months ago, PTCL decided to make its presence felt in the telecommunication sector by offering free connections to all those who were interested. It seemed like a good marketing strategy, except for one problem - it failed miserably, causing service disruption for existing PTCL subscribers.

Thus, for the past two weeks, my phone (021-4829630, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Block 13/A) has been virtually out of order. There were frequent cross-connections, tremendous line disturbance, which made it impossible for me and my family to talk to anyone over the phone, not to mention use the Internet.

On Dec 7, my phone went dead for inexplicable reasons. One would have thought that calling up the PTCL complaint centre would have made a difference, but apparently it only made matters worse, for the official at the other end said that it was not his "job" to note down complaints and that it really wasn't his problem to begin with.

When I asked what I was supposed to do, he blithely pointed out that he didn't know or care and that I should simply stop harassing him before he decided to blacklist my phone number. I wonder if there is any PTCL employee who knows a thing or two about etiquette and is kind enough to pay heed to my complaint?



Losing decorum

Are some of our advertising agencies losing their sense of decorum in the pursuit of monetary gain? One example is an ad promoting a television in which a girl rejects two seemingly prosperous and good-looking boys because they do not posses such a TV, while she elects to marry a seemingly "odd-looking" person only because he owns such a TV! What is our world coming to?

Where are our principles and character? We have all seen many ads which had no earthly connection to the product being promoted. One can only presume that there will be no end to this imbecility which leads one to believe that only money matters and manners, ethics, traditions and decency come a distant second.

I urge the company to pull this ad, and the ad agency to use better judgment in its selection of presentations. The government agencies responsible for ensuring that decorum and principles are not sacrificed at the altar of money seem to never rouse from their slumber. This practice is not part of "enlightened moderation".



HEC: why this belated move?

I refer to Mr Afzal Rahim's letter "HEC: why this belated move?" (Dec 2), which asks why the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has issued NOCs to more than 50 universities which are operating illegally.

This is to clarify that the HEC issued no such NOCs and that these universities are operating illegally in various cities and towns in Pakistan. The HEC felt it was necessary to alert the general public so that parents and students are aware of the consequences of joining illegal institutions, since degrees from such institutions will not be recognized and students studying there will face serious difficulties in finding jobs.

The HEC is proactively taking steps so that students can enrol at legally authorized institutions only.


Director-General (Accreditation & Attestation), Higher Education Commission, Islamabad

Is Asif sold on democracy?

During his first post-release interview with a private TV channel, Mr Asif Ali Zardari made high claims regarding democracy. He mentioned he and his wife upheld democratic ideals despite all the hard times. Mr Zardari especially referred to the undemocratic rule of Gen Zia.

Unfortunately, this democracy lover failed to take a clear stand on the prevailing political scenario that is hardly different from Gen Zia's democracy. All of a sudden he became careful when asked by the host about Gen Musharraf's presidency.

The brave Zardari even expressed his and his party's willingness to talk over the uniformed president issue if given an opportunity to form government. I wonder if Mr Zardari showed anything other than the usual hypocritical political attitude shown by the PPP's defectors criticized by him.





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