DAWN - Features; June 15, 2005

June 15, 2005


Uzbek crackdown creates a dilemma for Bush

By Sonni Efron

WASHINGTON: In its struggle with Muslim extremism, the United States has had few better friends than President Islam A. Karimov of Uzbekistan, who has provided both intelligence and military facilities. But Karimov’s regime has emerged as one of the toughest tests of the Bush administration’s campaign to promote democracy, especially in the Muslim world.

In the month since Uzbek armoured personnel carriers rolled into the town of Andijon and troops opened fire on protesters, Karimov’s authoritarian government has refused US calls for an independent international investigation. Nonetheless, the Bush administration has been tepid in its criticism. Karimov’s record on democracy and the economy has been worsening in recent years, but he rules the most populous and strategically located of the Central Asian nation, and allows the United States to use its military bases.

The Uzbekistan case pits one of President Bush’s stated top priorities, demanding that dictators begin reforms that would defuse support for extremism in Muslim countries, against one of his key military concerns, securing access to bases to support US operations in Afghanistan.

Moreover, were Karimov to fall, he could be succeeded by a radical Islamic leader who would be even less to US liking, analysts said. But the the United States is considering taking Uzbekistan to the United Nations for a human rights investigation, State Department officials said. “We are considering all of our diplomatic options, including at the UN,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said last week.

The United States has been talking to other countries to drum up support for an international investigation, he added. Karimov has allowed the US military to use the Karshi Khanabad airfield — known as K2 — and other bases in southeastern Uzbekistan for special operations in neighbouring Afghanistan. But critics say Uzbekistan under Karimov also illustrates the “freedom deficit” that the administration cites as a root cause of terrorism.

Karimov has not lived up to pledges he made to increase democracy in a 2002 agreement he signed with Bush, and is using the fight against terrorism as an excuse to crack down on domestic opposition, critics charge. On the other hand, Karimov has released a number of prisoners and allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross access to some of Uzbekistan’s notorious prisons for the first time.

Karimov has portrayed the Andijon killings as a response to a revolt by Muslim extremists that killed some 165 people. But the International Crisis Group, a Brussels, Belgium-based think-tank, says most of the protesters were unarmed and the death toll might be as high as 750.

The US Embassy’s own reporting is consistent with the findings of Human Rights Watch, said a State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivity. The rights group last week called the Andijon killings “a massacre.”

Making matters more awkward are ongoing Pentagon negotiations with Uzbekistan for long-term access to the bases. The United States has paid Uzbekistan $15 million since 2001 in “reimbursement of services” for use of the K2 airfield, according to the Pentagon. US officials said there was no conflict between the Pentagon negotiating with the Uzbek government at the same time the State Department is ratcheting up pressure for an investigation of Andijon. “It’s certainly not a contradiction to say that you will talk to them about access to a base, while not establishing a double-standard with respect to democracy and human rights,” a State Department official asserted.

The International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and the rights group Freedom House wrote a letter June 9 to Bush calling on him to suspend negotiations over the bases until Karimov agrees to an international investigation of the Andijon killings.

The United States has demanded a “credible, transparent and independent investigation.” It has rejected a move by the Uzbek parliament, seen as a rubber stamp for Karimov, to conduct the investigation itself. Increasing the pressure on Bush, four Republican and two Democratic senators sharply questioned US military and diplomatic policy toward Uzbekistan in a June 9 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The administration hasn’t decided on its strategy for getting an international probe of the Andijon killings. “It could be a (UN) resolution, it could be a statement by the Security Council, it could be an action that the secretary general himself takes — or something else,” said the senior State Department official.

If the United States were to sponsor a UN resolution it is unclear whether Russia and China, two permanent members of the Security Council that continue to support Karimov, would agree. Analysts predicted that if the Bush administration has to choose between security and promoting democracy, it will choose security.

“This is going to be a case where we trade away the democracy interest for security interests, and as a result pay a price in credibility, in the Muslim world and elsewhere, in terms of our democracy policy,” predicted Thomas Carothers, who specializes in democracy promotion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. Paula Newberg, a democracy specialist who visited Uzbekistan last fall, said she doubts the Pentagon would agree to relinquish the bases.

“There’s never going to be a moment when the military cannot argue that, at the behest of the president’s current policy, it is an emergency” that requires access to the bases, she said. The administration has not held Karimov to the democratization agreement he signed in 2002, Newberg said. Others argue that Uzbekistan is a tough case that would prove the Bush administration’s commitment to democracy. “If you can’t act on the intersection of your values and your interests, as Bush said (in his second inaugural address) on Jan. 20, then your credibility goes down,” said Chris Seiple, an Uzbek-watcher and president of the Virginia-based Institute for Global Engagement. “If you can, your credibility goes up.”

—Dawn/LAT-WP News Service

Tanneries pollution unchecked

By Abid Mehdi

SIALKOT is in the grip of severe environmental pollution caused by tanneries, posing serious health hazard to humans and animals. Marine life has also been affected. It negates claims of the district government of making adequate efforts for eliminating pollution caused by tanneries. The protesting people have urged the Punjab chief minister to immediately send special medical teams of the Health Department to thoroughly examine affected people in the surrounding villages.

Over 264 small and medium-sized tanneries have been set up in the city and its outskirts and more units are expected to be established in future.

Most tanneries are located in the thickly-populated areas near Sambrial-Daska, Zafarwali-Sahowala, Sialkot-Sambrial-Wazirabad Road, Sialkot-Daska Road and Sialkot-Head Marla Road.

According to a survey conducted by this correspondent, the tanneries dispose of their untreated water into seasonal nullahs, watercourses and nearby agricultural lands and thus cause environmental degradation besides contaminating the water table in the area. Hundreds of acres of fertile agricultural land has been destroyed while people are suffering from various diseases, including hepatitis, and liver and stomach disorder.

Villagers of Zafarwali (Sambrial) say that all the tanneries located there discharge untreated waste and effluents into the fields and Nullah Aik. They say that the local people, especially children, have been suffering from throat and ear diseases, hepatitis and other serious infections since birth.

Due to the negligence of the relevant government departments, there is no alternative arrangement of providing potable water to the people who are forced to drink subsoil water laden with chemicals.

In village Zafarwali-Sialkot, effluents being discharged have reached the residential areas and believed to be a source of skin diseases. The foul smell from the stagnant waste has badly polluted the environment.

The local people have urged the government to immediately install a water treatment plant for providing potable water to the people, besides setting up effluent treatment plants near the tanneries to check further pollution. The affected people also suggest that an underground pipeline should be laid for the safe discharge of chemicals and effluents.

MMA’s local MPA Arshad Mehmood Baggu and alliance’s Sialkot District President Chaudhry Amjad Ali Cheema have expressed grave concern over this critical situation.

They say that the uncontrolled pollution caused by tanneries has made the life of people very difficult. Criminal negligence of government functionaries has put the lives of the affected people at risk. Baggu told Dawn that he would raise this issue in the Punjab Assembly.

Around 3.5 lakh square feet of finished leather is being processed every day by these tanneries in Sialkot district. Of this, two lakh square feet is processed in Sialkot-based tanneries.

About four litres of water is used in manufacturing one square foot of finished leather from hides and skins and two litres of water is used for each square foot in the processing of finished wet-blue leather.

The total amount of water being discharged from tanneries is estimated to be 1.1 million litres per day. The effluent is pumped into Nullahs Aik and Bhed, which pass through Sialkot city and its adjoining areas, while the tanneries located outside the municipal limits discharge their waste into Nullah Palkhu.

The tanneries along the Sialkot-Sambrial Road discharge their waste into ‘M-Nullah’ which falls into Nullah Aik in Daska tehsil.

According to a survey, the most alarming aspect of the matter is the contamination of underground water resources in Sialkot, Daska and Sambrial tehsils.

Medical experts demand stern action against those causing pollution in the area. According to them, the pollution during the next 10 years will increase to a dangerous level and the new generation may be at greater risk. If remedial measures are not taken, the people of the area may develop maladies like cancer and tuberculosis, they fear.

Export-oriented Sialkot has traditionally been a centre for the production of sport goods and surgical instruments but during the last several years, the production and export of leather goods has also grown rapidly.

The setting up of tanneries has increased employment opportunities for the educated unemployed and skilled people at the local level. But at the same time, this industry is creating health hazards for the inhabitants of the affected areas.

The local traders, industrialists and exporters have urged the Punjab government for the early establishment of a tanneries zone at Sialkot. The city’s main trade bodies, including the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry, have demanded immediate installation of the tanneries waste water treatment plants in Sialkot as has been done in Kasur. In a representation to the federal, provincial and district governments, they have quoted figures to prove that Sialkot deserves special attention to save the people from pollution and its effects.

The government on one hand is spending a huge amount on advertisement in the print and electronic media to create public awareness about pollution while on the other it is keeping its eyes closed to hazards being caused by tanneries in Sialkot district.

The government, they say, should prepare a crash programme to meet the threat of pollution by tanneries and implement anti-pollution regulations.

Pakistan Gloves manufacturers & Exporters Association (PGMEA) chairman Shaikh Abdul Waheed Sandal says that steps have been taken for installing treatment plants.

He says that the work on Sialkot tanneries zone project will be carried out shortly where a combined effluent plant will be installed jointly by the government and the private sector on a partnership basis. He says that the tanneries functioning in and around Sialkot will be shifted to this zone under a specific formula which will ultimately reduce pollution.

District Nazim Mian Naeem Javaid says that the Sialkot district government has already banned the establishment of tanneries in the jurisdiction of the city, asking the tanners to establish their units on the outskirts of the city towards the proposed Sialkot tanneries zone.

The government, he adds, is endeavouring to provide a pollution-free environment for Sialkot industrial sector to cope with the new global challenges.

An evening with a researcher in Islamic heritage

By Hasan Abidi

AN evening with poet and scholar Syed Naeem Hamid Ali was held at the Pakistan Arts Council last Sunday. Hamid Ali was not a name familiar to many people at a mushaira held at the council about a fortnight back in which he had taken part.

Prof Saher Ansari had advised his colleagues on the occasion that the poet needed to be properly introduced to the Karachi audience. That is how last Sunday’s sitting came about.

Hamid Ali has been living in Madina for the last 50 years where he is recognized as a Persian language scholar, a researcher in Islamic heritage, and a learned person who can provide an understanding of Pakistan.

Born in Muradabad in 1945, Ali’s family came to Pakistan in 1950. He was eight when the family moved to Saudi Arabia. What is remarkable about him is his study of the life and poetry of that most fastidious of poets, Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil, whom Ghalib, despite his intellectual arrogance, called Moheet-be-Sahil — an ocean without a shore.

At the Arts Council, Ali recited some translations from Bedil, done meticulously in poetic form. He also presented his own ghazals from his poetry collection Ukaz-i-Ghazal. His first collection of ghazals, Paiker-i-Naghma, was published around 12 years back.

He has also compiled Kulliyat-i-Bedil, which includes the poet’s literary notes, and looked far and wide to unearth Bedil’s disciples to gather more information about the great master who is venerated equally in Afghanistan, Iran and other Persian-speaking nations.

Hamid Ali has founded an Urdu library in Saudi Arabia which contains rare books and manuscripts, including manuscript form the Persian verses of Munshi Har Gopal Tufta, Ghalib’s disciple. He is liberal in providing photocopies of valuable articles at his own cost to various institutions. The founding of the first Urdu paper in Saudi Arabia is another of Ali’s achievements. He also takes an active interest in holding mushairas in the kingdom.

The Arts Council function, which was scheduled to begin at 6pm, started at 8.30pm, to the agony of many, but who cares. Such delays are perhaps part of our cultural scene.

* * * * *

MUSARRAT Afza Roohi is a recognized storywriter. She presented a short story before the Forum of Independent Writers last Tuesday.

The evening was pleasant and the attendance was quite encouraging. Unfortunately, a band of schoolchildren, noisy as usual, had occupied the adjoining parlour at the club, where the function was held and so the reading could not be properly followed.

In her story, the writer has reversed the roles of husband and wife in their love for an adopted child, whose mother - a beggar - had died leaving her little son in the care of the owner of a hotel and the vendors around. The man took the boy with him and provided him with all the comforts of life. But his wife hated children. She herself did not bear a child because it could have spoiled her physical charm and beauty. So, one morning when the man was away, the spiteful lady beat up the innocent little soul and threw him out on the street. His subsequent fate was not detailed.

Objections were raised about the behaviour of both husband and wife which appeared to go against nature. It is usually the wife, who is emotional and caring. It was also pointed out that the “literary” language used by the street child during conversations with the man was also unnatural and superficial. So, the writer was advised to re-write the story as she was quite capable of doing so, some critics thought.

The second item of the evening was a ghazal by Rafiuddin Raaz. Sarwar Javed, who as usual led the discussion, found the ghazal well composed and chiselled as did Sadiq Madhosh. But there were other critics, among them Tashna Barelvi, who thought there were only three couplets that were reasonably good.

Noor Mohammad Shaikh found fault with the usage of one word against “the ideology”. Mansoor Multani admired the ghazal so did Tahir Abbas who thought it was classical in form and yet close to the realities of modern times. Ghazals should not be discussed like an exercise in the classroom, Javed observed, since the ghazal was a sensitive form and it should be treated accordingly.

* * * * *

MOHAMMAD Ahmad Sabzwari, the newspaper columnist who writes on economics, was paid tributes by writers when a special number on the life and work of the nonagenarian journalist was presented at a forum the other day.

After the conclusion of routine business at the meeting, a special number of the journal Fikr-o-Aagehi was presented in the house. The journal published from Delhi and edited by researcher Dr Razia Hamid carries articles from Dr Aslam Farrukhi, Dr Ahmer Refai, Prof Afaq Ahmed, Akhtar Saeed Khan, Maqsood Elahi Shaikh and many others.