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DAWN - Editorial; May 28, 2005

May 28, 2005

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Bush’s new stand

THURSDAY’s statement by President George Bush is one of the most categorical declarations he has ever made on the Palestinian issue. Addressing a press conference with visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, the American president said that “a great achievement of history” — a Palestinian state — was within reach. It was “a difficult journey”, he conceded, but hoped that “we will take it together”. Mr Bush followed this with a $50-million aid pledge for the Palestinian Authority and then went on to do a spot of criticism of Israel — a rare practice for an American president. He asked Tel Aviv not to expand settlements or take “other actions” — a reference to the separation barrier which Israel is building to annex more Palestinian land to occupied Al Quds. He also called on Israel to allow “linkages” between the Gaza strip and the West Bank, stressing that Tel Aviv had “obligations to help”. On his part, President Abbas pledged to support the American peace initiative but warned that the Arab-Israeli conflict must be resolved “before it is too late”.

At the moment, there is no roadmap available for the parties to follow. The old one is dead. The Oslo peace process died with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. His successors — Mr Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr Ehud Barak as Israel’s prime ministers — never had any intention of being faithful to the declaration of principles signed in Washington on Sept 13, 1993. In fact, Mr Netanyahu fought his election campaign from an anti-peace platform and won. Surprisingly, Mr Barak won voters to his side by pledging to revive the peace process, but it was he who wrecked the prospects of peace at Camp David in July 2000. Regrettably, President Clinton did nothing to make Mr Barak give up his intransigence. Later, both Mr Clinton and Mr Barak blamed Yasser Arafat for the summit’s failure, alleging that all contentious issues had been agreed upon and that only minor ones remained to be tackled. As it transpired later, such major issues as the future of Al Quds and the right of the Palestinian refugees to return home were not even taken up. The end of 2000 saw the beginning of the second intifada, followed next year by the assumption of power by Likud’s hard-line leader Ariel Sharon. From then on things began to deteriorate to a point where Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters were destroyed and the Palestinian icon made a virtual prisoner.

This US administration came up with a roadmap in April 2003 calling for a complete halt to settlement activity and visualizing the emergence of a Palestinian state by 2005. However, later Mr Bush had second thoughts and said 2005 was an unrealistic deadline for it. He also agreed with Mr Sharon that Israel could retain some West Bank land even after withdrawing from the Gaza strip. Thursday’s statement by Mr Bush, however, seems to hold out some hope that a Palestinian state may after all come into being. This assumes that Washington will not allow Tel Aviv to drag its feet, continue with settlement activity or proceed with the construction of the barrier. Nor must Israel be allowed to obfuscate the two-state issue by raising non-issues — like the PA’s internal matters. After all that has happened in Iraq, the US owes it to the Arab-Islamic world to do something positive. The continued occupation of Al Quds and parts of Palestine is the biggest source of unrest and terrorism in the Arab-Islamic world.

Attack on Bari Imam

YESTERDAY’S bombing at the shrine of Bari Imam in Islamabad, which left at least 19 people dead and many injured, is shocking beyond belief. One says this because the attack had all the characteristics of a sectarian assault, and it happened in the vicinity of the capital’s high security zone where the president’s and prime minister’s houses as well as the diplomatic enclave are located. It is not clear whether the attackers used a remote-control device or it was a suicide bombing. Whatever the case, the attack speaks volumes for the lack of security arrangements by the Capital Police, especially at a time when the annual urs festival was underway at Bari Imam. Thousands, both Sunni and Shia, flock to Islamabad from far off places every year to take part in the festivities. It is ominous that terrorists should have chosen to attack a shrine which symbolizes harmony between the Shia and Sunni communities at the people’s level. Motives other than sectarian cannot also be ruled out. But what happened yesterday should not have come as a surprise to the intelligence agencies; a similar assault at a shrine of a sufi saint revered by both communities took place in March at Gandhawa, near Naseerabad in Balochistan, which killed 44 people. The bombing at Bari Imam, thus, exposes a total paralysis in the working of the several intelligence and law enforcement agencies operating in the country.

Prompt as it was in coming, mere condemnation of the latest attack by the president, prime minister and high-ranking officials is certainly not going to deter such gruesome incidents of violence whose primary target are innocent, ordinary people. It is time a few heads rolled, and law enforcement agencies were given clear directives to ensure security all around, especially at places of worship. It is irrelevant which act of terror claims how many lives; the fact that such attacks have continued all these years and that they have resulted in the loss of lives and property is the basic problem that needs to be tackled effectively. Equally basic is the bigotry and intolerance that has permeated our society, and has often been exploited by our state agencies and religious and sectarian groups.

Reducing infant mortality

THE progress on bringing down the infant and under-five mortality rate in the country has not been satisfactory — a point raised by speakers at a recent meeting of healthcare managers in Karachi. Our indifference to this vital indicator of human development can be gauged from the fact that among South Asian countries, Pakistan has the worst statistics for infant and child mortality. According to the 2004 issue of UNDP’s human development report, figures for infant mortality stood at 83 per 1,000 live births and for under-five mortality at 107 per 1,000. Even under-developed Bhutan and poverty-stricken Nepal fared better. What adds to the sense of failure is that most of the children die from malnutrition and diseases that are preventable or curable. However, families with children are either unaware of this fact and do not take proper precautions to prevent their children from falling ill, or they do not have easy access to the required medical facilities. Living in mosquito-infested areas, drinking contaminated water and growing up without being administered the requisite immunizations, it is small wonder that children fall prey to a host of potentially fatal illnesses.

Considering that Pakistan adopted the UN-recommended IMCI (Integrated Managment of Childhood Illnesses) guidelines several years ago, it is about time we had something to show for it. As a strategy stressing an integrated approach to tackling childhood diseases, IMCI attaches importance to the prevention and cure of a number of illnesses through several initiatives. These range from raising health awareness in communities to training doctors to correctly diagnose the disease and treat it accordingly. For this plan to be successful, there have to be greater efforts to train local health workers and far greater IMCI coverage at the district level, which at the moment is lagging. A more concerted effort is also needed to create more health facilities for implementing the IMCI.