In the grip of violence

THERE is a new upsurge in resistance in Iraq, and the level of violence has markedly increased. Bomb blasts in cities, especially in Baghdad, are a daily occurrence. Seventy or so killed daily looks like a routine affair. In April, there were 135 car bomb explosions, compared with 69 in March. The man behind the resistance is said to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of Al Qaeda’s Iraq chapter. His organization is obviously getting bolder, for it is now engaging the Americans in pitched battles. In the fighting around Al Qaim near the Syrian border, the Americans claim to have killed 100 Iraqis. The Zarqawi group has denied this, but given the difference in firepower and the strength of the US-led occupation troops, it is obvious that it is the resistance that must have suffered high casualties. The total number of dead so far this month is near 500. For the Americans the price for the continued occupation is the rising number of casualties. By now, the Americans have suffered 1,610 dead, and there is no possibility that the coming weeks or months will see a decline in fighting.

Iraq is, in short, in the grip of total anarchy, and the existence of an elected government has made no difference to the situation. The delay in the formation of a government itself showed the deep divisions among those elected. But now that a government is finally in place, one expected that it would restore peace and stability. However, going by all that has been happening, it is unlikely that it will be able to control violence. The resistance’s principal target is the new security set-up. Like President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafri, the soldiers, policemen and recruits of the new security agencies are seen as America’s collaborators fit to be targeted.

In the meantime, American authorities continue to demonstrate their enormous capacity to hurt — and not just the Iraqis. Because the Sunnis boycotted the elections and are now in the forefront of the resistance, the US army is rounding up Sunnis in the streets. According to latest estimates, there are now 10,500 Iraqis in prison, most of them Sunnis recently arrested. At the same time, prisoner abuse continues. The latest disclosure on this score is from Col (former general) Janis Karpinski, who herself was convicted for prisoner abuse and her rank lowered. She said in a TV interview on Thursday that prisoner abuse was continuing. More specifically, she held an American general responsible. Gen Geoffrey Miller, she said, gave the interrogators ideas — like the use of dog leashes and human pyramids. In spite of the publication of incriminating photos, she said, prisoner abuse was going on. The latest to enrage all Arabs and Muslims is the desecration of the Holy Quran at Guantanamo. This has sent a wave of revulsion across the Muslim world. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has expressed regrets and promised “appropriate action”. But the damage has been done.

The aims behind the Iraq war were two — to destroy weapons of mass destruction Iraq allegedly possessed and to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein’s ‘tyranny’. The WMDs did not exist, and the result of the ‘liberation’ of the Iraqi people is before us. The number of the dead — both Iraqis and Americans — will continue to rise, unless America announces a firm date for the withdrawal of its troops. Of this, there is no indication yet. So, more of the same is to be expected in occupied Iraq.

Costly consultants

REVELATIONS on Friday in the National Assembly about the hefty packages various consultants were receiving make for a shocking disclosure. One consultant hired for a period of five months at the ministry of culture, sports and youth affairs was paid Rs. 5.52 million to formulate a youth policy, and its implementation plan — which has yet to be announced. In the NA session, one also learnt that subordinate departments of the ministry of industries, production and special incentives had hired consultants at salaries which in some instances were higher than the prime minister’s, and these pay packages did not include other perks and privileges. Another disclosure was about a foreign consultant who was being paid 16,500 pounds sterling for working on the SME Policy Development and SME Act, while an American company was hired by Pakistan Steel at $27,624 per month. In March a report disclosed that certain retired civilian and armed forces officials, appointed as consultants in PTCL, were being paid more than ministers and parliamentarians. Even without questioning the level of expertise these consultants carry, these exorbitant salaries are difficult to justify. Such expenditure is a waste of scarce resources in a country already burdened by the hefty salaries, perks and privileges being provided to parliamentarians.

Money is desperately required for poverty alleviation, building schools and creating job opportunities for the unemployed, not to mention improving the dismal health sector. Instead, money is being wasted on the salaries and perks of a privileged few, with little to show for it. If the government does not want to engage government servants for tasks they are qualified to do, instead of hiring expensive foreign consultants, it must explore the vast pool of local talent who can contribute their expertise for a fraction of the sum. If consultants are required, the preference should be for local specialists who have in the past delivered results without depleting the national exchequer in the process.

Countering the drug threat

THE UN’s pledge to help Pakistan curb the narcotic menace in the country has come at an appropriate time. Pakistan has been experiencing a resurgence in poppy cultivation at home, and while the law enforcement agencies regularly interdict large consignments of narcotics, there are fears that last year’s bumper crop in Afghanistan could frustrate their efforts, leading to an alarming increase in drug trafficking in and through the country. The UN’s help in nabbing drug runners along the border with Afghanistan, and reinforcing surveillance at Pakistani ports of entry should go some way in restricting the sale of dangerous poppy derivatives to local consumers. But more than that, the UN will have to concentrate on eliminating poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, which has impacted heavily on Pakistan’s 500,000 heroin addicts — and the number is growing.

This is a difficult task as indicated by the head of the UN’s anti-narcotics agency. On a recent visit to Pakistan, he pointed out that the international community had given only a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars pledged for reversing the drug situation in Afghanistan. There are a number of factors why donor countries cannot afford to renege on their promises now, the chief one being that the forces of international terrorism derive much of their financial muscle from the huge dividends of the narco trade. Moreover, with more than seven per cent of Afghanistan’s population engaged in poppy cultivation, there are compelling reasons for donors to devise alternative means of livelihood for a people steeped in abject poverty. Of course, this would be in addition to lending greater support to local law enforcement agencies to enable them to take on dangerous warlords and drug barons. Without such measures, Afghanistan, and by extension, Pakistan will remain mired in the drug trap for years to come.


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