DAWN - Features; 14 January, 2005

14 Jan 2005


A troubled border

By A.R. Siddiqi

Events in Balochistan have overshadowed the recent incident on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. An ISPR press release on the incident described it as of a 'minor tactical nature'.

It advised the media to avoid blowing up such incidents 'out of proportion' and that it could not be 'portrayed' as a clash between Pakistan and Afghan forces.

The ISPR version in effect dismissed reports of an extended exchange of small arms and long-range artillery and mortar fire and of an actual 'clash' between the two forces, unintended or planned, as a matter of little consequence.

A spokesman for the 18,000-strong US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan attributed the incident to a 'misunderstanding' between the two forces deployed eyeball-to- eyeball at the time of the occurrence. He denied any involvement of US-led forces fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda militants. But what remains unclear is whether the episode was just an exchange of fire or an actual engagement. While an exchange of fire, light or heavy, between two forces involved in a prolonged stand-off can perhaps be ignored as a 'minor tactical' occurrence, an actual (physical) clash even at platoon level can hardly be treated lightly.

A foreign office statement had urged the US military to investigate what it described as the 'unprovoked fatal' mortar attack in the Shigai tribal zone of North Waziristan.

The expression 'targeted fire' was also used in certain press reports of the incident. The shifting of emphasis from an episode of 'minor tactical nature' to the foreign office version of the attack as 'unprovoked' and 'fatal' needs to be noted.

The reported Afghan version of the event was blunt in verbiage and offensive in content. According to the AFP, an Afghan border security commander squarely blamed Pakistan for firing the first shot.

The Pakistani militia, he said, wanted to 'cross' the border and 'enter' Afghanistan, when the Afghan militia retaliated and stopped the Pakistani advance into Afghan territory.

He went on to accuse Pakistan of showing little respect for international rules. If the spokesman has been correctly reported, this is a serious allegation to make as a responsible neighbour.

Another statement attributed to an Afghan militia commander, Gen. Khalil Baz, was even more ominous in tone and threatening in terms of action, and contemplated the reinforcement of forces along the border with Pakistan.

The Afghan commander was said to be 'rushing extra troops' to the border with Pakistan to 'cope with any untoward situation'. In support of a fresh force build- up, he quoted reports about Pakistani troops moving towards the 'uneasy border'.

Whereas there is no need to project a border skirmish out of all proportion, it would be quite wrong to dismiss it as a solitary incident. This is a link in the long chain of such border clashes in the on-again, off-again relations between the two countries.

Pakistan's proactive support to the Taliban and Islamic radicals in Afghanistan remains a thorn in the flesh for the Northern Alliance-dominated Karzai regime. Viewed in the context of the on-going, mopping-up operations against 'miscreants' in Waziristan and the historically strained nature of Pakistan- Afghanistan relations, the incident acquires a wider strategic dimension.

The US role in the incident had been ambivalent, even insidiously provocative. Certain Pakistani intelligence sources claimed that a US helicopter 'opened fire' on our troops while they were busy collecting the debris of a crashed US drone that had crashed.

Also, some US 'war-planes' were scrambled to rush to the area and calm down - buzz? - the two sides. A somewhat strange way of helping and assisting allies and partners in the joint campaign against terrorism.

- The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army.

Bifurcation of districts

By Shaikh Aziz

One may not know exactly what led to the carving out of new districts in Sindh, but it has been an ill-conceived move leading to unrest and the loss of lives and property in Qambar and other places of Larkana district.

Seeing the reaction of the people in upper Sindh, President Musharraf had sought a report on the factors leading to the popular unrest and on the likely repercussion if a decision was also taken on the division of Hyderabad district. Arguments for and against the proposal continue.

Normally such changes are made to simplify administration and improve services to the people of the area concerned. Since the people of large districts face difficulties in their day-to-day affairs, various governments in the past have bifurcated districts for the sake of better governance.

The English rulers maintained only a few districts to keep power centralized. This was the need of the colonial rulers. But after independence, it became necessary to make districts manageable for the local people and decentralize powers.

With this objective in view, the number of districts was gradually increased. For instance, Tharparkar, as Sindh's largest district, has been divided into three districts, and that has worked well. Ultimately it was decided to have 17 Sindh districts, plus four in Karachi.

A genuine move to decentralize aimed at providing facilities to the citizens at their doorstep will thus not be disputed. But the manner in which the present bifurcation of Larkana has been manoeuvred, it appears that narrow political objectives are at work. It seems aimed at dividing the vote bank of a particular party and to increase the strength of another.

Hyderabad district can become another flash point owing to its demographic composition. On the one hand, it has a Sindhi- speaking rural population and, on the other, an Urdu-speaking concentration in its urban areas, besides other small linguistic and ethnic communities.

Although no linguistic and ethnic disharmony exists at present, if the over three million population of the district is divided into two districts on linguistic basis - one formed of 51 union councils with an Urdu- speaking majority and the other of 61 union councils with a Sindh-speaking majority grouped in rural Hyderabad - the situation could be dangerous.

In fact, what the bifurcation appears primarily to have achieved in to allow finances to be controlled by a small number of people. The other factor is the availability of jobs the new district administrative units would create. A political fiefdom might come into being.

There is a lesson we have forgotten to learn from history. Bifurcation of administrative units on realistic and practical grounds will be welcome, but if it is made on political grounds, and that too for some dubious basis such as language or ethnicity, it will be retrogressive.

Tomorrow, Orangi, Lyari Benaras Chowk, Landhi or any locality with a particular linguistic majority can make a similar demand. There can be certain financial and political benefits for some political party or individual, but that cannot become a guiding factor for establishing a bad tradition.

All functional political parties including the nationalist groups have opposed the bifurcation, and it would be wise to review the unpopular decision, which was summarily taken.

Ali Raza: devoted scholar

By Dr Azra Raza

Syed Ali Raza, a retired director of the ministry of foreign affairs and a devotee of scholarship, died peacefully in his sleep in Karachi on January 6. The youngest of four children of Syed Zamarrud Hussain (1876-1932) and Hashmi Begum (1885-1956), he was born in Bijnor, India, on November 29, 1913.

By the time Ali Raza was four year old, his father had relocated the family to Lucknow. There after began two decades of a life full of economic hardship, but also full of deep family bonding, motivated by the ideals of intellectual and personal enhancement.

At a time when 'sharifzadis' were predominantly instructed in the art of becoming perfect housewives, Ali Raza's sister was admitted to a fledgling girls' school in Lucknow where English education was available. Similarly, the two boys were enrolled for formal education at the cost of unbearable hardship for the family.

The brothers received a solid grounding in Urdu, English, Persian and Arabic, not only in school, but through the family's connections, by acquiring the patronage of some of the best known poets, writers and religious scholars of the time.

Even the games that the family encouraged at home in Lucknow were often instructive and designed to be intellectually challenging. One of these fondly remembered by Ali Raza was called Ghalib-Maghloub.

Participants had to memorize the unique system of assigning numbers to Urdu alphabets and play a game where the person acquiring tickets with words or pictures that translated into the highest total number in successive rounds would be declared the winner.

Another was the more familiar poetic competition, the 'bait-bazi'. At the same time, the family was also acquiring distinction in a variety of disciplines. For example, a maternal uncle, Murtaza Hussain, was acknowledged not only as an extraordinary Hakim but a public speaker sought after for inspiring the audience with his eloquence and wisdom at Majalis-i-Aza that were held in elaborate style in Lucknow.

Another uncle, Abul Qasim a deputy superintendent of police, was awarded the title of 'Khan Bahadur' by the British government for his ingenuity and courage in catching the most notorious and feared outlaw of his time, Sultana Dakoo.

Ali Raza graduated with high honours from the Shia College, Lucknow, in 1933 and on June 11, 1934, he left his beloved Lucknow forever to join the central secretariat, stationed for the summer months in Shimla.

The following year, he was married to the 15-year-old Zaheer Fatima whose family had befriended Hassan Raza during his stay at the Aligarh Muslim University. Ali Raza's career as a civil servant lasted from 1934 to 1970, when he retired from the Pakistan foreign office.

The partition of the subcontinent saw Ali Raza opting for Pakistan, arriving in his new home in Karachi on August 14, 1947. He served in the agriculture, rehabilitation and works ministries and finally the foreign affairs ministry.

Ali Raza was justly proud of several accomplishments during these long years, the most seminal ones relating to the protection and just settlement of evacuee property and the rehabilitation of immigrants from India.

His sensitivity and compassion for both the departing Hindus and the freshly arrived, often devastated Muslim families from across the border, were deeply admired and appreciated. He was awarded the Tamgha-i-Khidmat for his selfless dedication.

A fine testament to his photographic memory is Ali Raza's two-volume autobiography - Hamarey Zamaney - which is filled with astounding minutiae of the prevailing customs, geographic details, names and fine points of individuals and the dates various events took place.

The autobiography is currently a part of the graduate syllabus in several Indian and Pakistani universities, and at least one student is pursuing a PhD degree on Ali Raza in Lucknow at this time.

Upon his retirement, when the children wanted to found an academic endowment in his name, Ali Raza asked for it to be set up at the Shia College, Lucknow. He was an expert calligrapher and transcribed the entire Holy Quran during a monumental three-month effort while serving in the foreign office in Islamabad.

Because of his level of comfort in several languages, Ali Raza also acquired a reputation for translations from Urdu, English, Persian and Arabic. One of his finest accomplishments is the direct translation of Hazrat Ali's Nahjul Balagha from Arabic into English, a publication which has undergone several printings, and remains in wide circulation not only in Pakistan, Iran and the Middle East, but is also found in libraries across Europe and America.

Other books translated from Arabic into English include Aqa-i-Syed Baqar Sadr Shaheed's Bahas Haul-ul-wilaya, Hashim Maroof Hussaini's Al Aimmatul Isna-ashr, Mohammad Jawwad Mughannia's Al-mazahibul Khamsa, Aqae Abdul Hussain Sharful Moosvi's Abu Huraira, Murtaza Askari's Muqadmate Miratul Uqool, and Aqaey Mehdi Shamsuddin's Al-zaroof-us-siyasat-us Shooratul Hussain.

The list of his translations from Urdu into English is too long, but some of his most beloved original contributions are those done at the request of his children such as a tashreeh of Josh Malihabadi's Wahdat-i-Insani and Hussain aur Inqilab and Allama Iqbal's Masjid-i-Qurtuba.

Ali Raza's interests were wide and varied. He strove to acquire extensive knowledge of whatever appealed to him - religion, poetry, philosophy, literature, homoeopathy, horticulture and calligraphy.

Ali Raza lived a truly exemplary life dedicated to the pursuit of excellence and a steadfast rejection of all things material. He was a gentle and decent human being who served his country and his family with absolute devotion.

Despite the infirmities of his last two years, he was intellectually fully alert till the day he died, continuing to work several hours a day, engaged in reading, writing, editing and publishing.

Surood-i-rafta, baaz ayad kchy nayad
Nasim-i-az Hijaz, ayad key nayad
Sar aamad rozgar-i ein faqeeray
Dagar daana-i-Raaz ayad kay naiad.