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DAWN - Opinion; June 27, 2005

June 27, 2005


A serious setback to the EU

By Tariq Fatemi

THE EU’s current president is reported to have remarked after the latest EU summit this week, that “Europe is not in a state of crisis — it is in a state of profound crisis.” This, coming from the Luxembourg Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, a serious political leader, not given to emotional outbursts, is truly reflective of the deep malaise that appears to have struck the world’s largest and most successful economic union of independent states.

The summit, normally a very staid affair, ended with strong accusations and mutual recriminations, described by the Irish Prime Minister as “deeply embarrassing”.

What has brought about this sudden and apparently unexpected crisis? Some factors are well-known, while others require deeper reflection. The ostensible reason was the summit’s failure to resolve inter-state differences on issues relating to the Union’s roughly 120 billion euro annual budget.

While the expectation was that the leaders would show a maturity at a difficult time, the issue of the British budget rebate, presently worth 5.3 billion euros annually, became too much for the summit to handle. The Luxembourg prime minister offered a compromise, not cutting the rebate, but suggesting a freeze between 2007 and 2013 and tying any future reductions to cuts in EU agricultural subsidies.

But Britain flatly rejected the suggestion, unless the French agreed to a corresponding cut in agricultural subsidies. So, while the issue of British subsidy and French farm aid may have triggered the current crisis, what set the chain of events rolling was last month’s massive defeat of the new draft EU constitution at the hands of the French voters, followed by a similar rejection of the draft by the Dutch this month. These results led many political analysts to claim that the dream of one, united European continent had suffered a severe and possibly irreversible setback.

There is no doubt that the result of the May 29 referendum in France, though not surprising, was nevertheless a shock to many who had hoped that President Chirac would be able to induce a last-minute change in the attitude of the French voters. But what had not been appreciated outside France was that the voters, in rejecting the draft constitution, were only partially signalling their unhappiness with its provisions. More importantly, they were conveying their growing alienation with the policies of their President. This was evident from Chirac’s decision, in the aftermath of the 55 percent vote against the constitution, to fire his Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin and to replace him with his aide and protege, Dominique de Villepin.

It would be recalled that after more than a year of open debate in the constitutional commission, the provisions of a draft constitution were approved a year ago, amidst great jubilation. This document was intended to create a uniform legal framework that would give broad powers to the European central government, based in Brussels, on issues of foreign and domestic concern. Since then, the member-states have been engaged, by different methods, on the ratification process, as this is essential for the document to come into effect. Some chose to go the parliamentary route while others opted for a referendum, as in the case of France.

Since the French have always been among the most enthusiastic advocates of a more integrated union, the referendum result was disappointing to most Europeans. Chirac came in for strong criticism not only domestically, but in European capitals as well, for not doing a more convincing job of articulating how France would gain from a stronger EU. They did however recognize that though the EU leaders had crafted the constitutional process to make it appear democratic, it was in fact, drafted by a leadership group that was oblivious to the sentiments of the common man.

The British prime minister, who has consistently faced strong opposition to the document from within the ranks of his own party, must have been deeply relieved at having been let off the hook. The fear expressed all along had been that it would perhaps have may been the British who would reject the draft constitution. To see his nemesis Chirac being so deeply embarrassed must have been most satisfying to him. Seeking to play the role of the elder statesman, he called for a period of reflection, while making it clear that the issue of a referendum in Britain was all but dead, at least for some time. He added, not without a trace of some truth, that the constitutional debate had failed to take into account people’s anxieties over how an expanded and more powerful European central government would affect job security, immigration and national identity.

The reality was that the referendums simply came at the wrong time, in the wrong countries, when many of these leaders were at the lowest points in their political careers. Thus, the anger and apathy of the voters was translated into opposition to the draft constitution itself. Political analysts were also of the view that opponents of the constitution were not necessarily against the provisions of a stronger, more consolidated Europe, as long as they did not lose the generous social and welfare benefits that are a burden on the economy.

In recent years, however, dissatisfaction with the EU has become more pronounced, as France (and its neighbours) have been plagued with high unemployment and worries over rapidly expanding membership of the Union. With France mired in double digit unemployment rates, opponents claimed that the constitution would enable low-wage workers from Eastern Europe to migrate to France and compete for the scare jobs.

Even larger numbers were deeply suspicious of what the entry of a huge Muslim country, Turkey, would do to the Judaeo-Christian character of the Union. In fact, the Turkish factor was exploited nakedly by the right-wing parties in both France and the Netherlands, to create religious and economic fears. Others complained that Brussels was asking for greater contributions, while doing little to improve the lives of the ordinary citizens.

The setback to the EU created, not surprisingly, great interest in Washington. The Bush administration, was not too unhappy at this development. But it carefully refrained from official comments, except for recalling that Secretary Rice had spoken of her confidence that the partnership between the two “will continue to grow and put to use in the service of great goals”.

At the commencement of his second term, President Bush had indicated that he recognized that the EU needed to be treated with greater consideration, than had been shown to it in his first term. But less than six months after Bush’s much-heralded trip to Brussels, trans- Atlantic relations are once again under severe strain.

The issue of United Nations reform and the enlargement of the Security Council, is one major element in the current tension. The Bush administration has made it clear that it does not support Germany’s candidature for a permanent slot, apparently because the EU, with two seats in the Security Council, already has one too many (meaning France).

Even an issue such as peacekeeping in far-off Darfur has created misunderstanding. While both sides support the presence of the peacekeepers, they differ on how the humanitarian assistance should be provided. While the US wants Nato to spearhead the operations, the Europeans want this job to be done by EU’s nascent, collective defence force.

Washington has long viewed European attempts to create an independent defence capability with suspicion. France, on the other hand, sees the EU defence force as an essential part of Europe’s ambitious plan to counter-balance the US influence.

Palestine is another matter on which the two sides have regular differences. While the EU wants to open low-level talks with the political wing of the Hamas, such contacts are an anathema to both the US and Israel. The EU, in anticipation of the likelihood of Hamas doing well in the forthcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections, argues that the West cannot be seen to be encouraging democratic development, while rejecting the elected representatives.

Iran’s nuclear programme, where the US has opted to let the EU retain the lead role in the negotiations, remains nevertheless, an element of mistrust between the two sides. The hardliners in Washington have lost no opportunity to allege that the EU has not been sufficiently tough with the Iranians, urging the administration to end what they call the “charade of negotiations” and refer the matter before the Security Council, where the US could call for the application of UN sanctions against Iran.

The two sides also have differing perceptions on China. While the French and Germans are in favour of lifting the arms embargo on China, the Bush administration has come out publicly against this idea.

There is no doubt that the EU is facing its most serious crisis, especially as the differences have come at a time when the people themselves appear to have lost much of their earlier enthusiasm for the organization. It will require renewed commitment from them and vision on the part of their leaders, to restore the Union to its earlier good health.

In the meanwhile, the failure of the ratification process means that the Union will continue to limp along on the basis of existing treaties, but all those grandiose plans that envisaged a strong presidency, a more effective commission, a single foreign policy spokesperson and a unified diplomatic service, now appear unlikely to become a reality for many years. This is a development that will cause great dismay to all those who had looked upon the Union to project a softer, more accommodating, more caring world power. And finally, the slim possibility of a more meaningful multi-polar world becomes even more distant.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Kashmir: a new perspective

By Afzaal Mahmood

DESPITE the unfortunate controversy between New Delhi and Islamabad regarding the travel of Hurriyat leaders beyond Azad Kashmir, the two-week visit of the nine-member Hurriyat delegation has been a positive development for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

The mere fact that India allowed the Hurriyat delegation to visit Azad Kashmir and hold intra-Kashmir discussion was reflective of the Indian desire to resolve the Kashmir dispute. The Kashmiri leaders were thus afforded an opportunity, the first of its kind in five decades, to have an exchange of views, in a free environment, with their counter parts on the Pakistan side of the LoC. The visit brought into focus the need to include the Kashmiris in future talks on the core dispute between India and Pakistan. The on-going peace process between the two countries seems to have somewhat perturbed the Kashmiris who justifiably feel left out of the negotiations on their future.

The Dawn group of newspapers organized two well-conducted symposiums on Kashmir, in Karachi and Islamabad, in collaboration with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Pakistan Peace Coalition and the Islamabad Council for World Affairs, addressed by the visiting Kashmiri leaders. The symposiums afforded an excellent opportunity to the Hurriyat leaders to do some straight talking, giving vent to their inner feelings and thoughts, which was not possible to do at public gatherings.

The Hurriyat viewpoint was forcefully presented by its Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who impressed his listeners by his clarity of thought, articulation and concern for the sufferings of his people. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq resembles his late father, Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq, in outward physical features and appearance but has a sharper mind and a broader vision, despite his young age. I met the late Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq at Deobund in 1980, where I had gone to represent the embassy of Pakistan at the centenary celebrations of the Dar-ul-Uloom and had an opportunity for an exchange of views with him on the Kashmir dispute.

Some of the important observations of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at the Karachi symposium were as follows:

* From Tashkent in 1966 to Delhi declaration of April 2005, the people of Kashmir have never been thought of or mentioned.

* The people who can really help in finding a Kashmir solution are brushed aside by both New Delhi and Islamabad. * Being in Pakistan does not mean there is unanimity of views on the solution of Kashmir.

* The youth of Kashmir wants to think what is practicable as a solution. Let us talk about what is possible.

* I do not care what the UN did in 1948; the basic issue is the pain and suffering of the people of Kashmir.

* There is a desire for a United States of Kashmir.

The chief grievance of the Hurriyat leaders is that since Tashkent up to the present time, Kashmir has been discussed as a territorial dispute between the two countries. What the people of Kashmir want has never been discussed or mentioned in their bilateral talks. Also, there seems to be justification in the grievance of the Hurriyat leaders that the people of Kashmir are being left out of bilateral talks on the Kashmir dispute.

Historically, there would have been no Kashmir problem if the rulers of the princely states had not been given the right to decide about the accession issue. The June 6 plan of the British government, accepted by the Congress and the Muslim League, related only to British India under which the Muslim majority areas were to join Pakistan and Hindu majority areas were to join India. But this plan did not apply to more than 500 princely states, which constituted twofifths of India. Consequently, there was a serious controversy over the question whether the rulers or the people of the states should have the right to decide about accession.

The Congress, through a resolution passed at its AICC Delhi session of June 14-15, declared that “the people of the states must have a dominating voice in any decisions regarding [their future]. Sovereignty, it is admitted, resides in the people, and if paramountcy lapses, resulting in the ending of the relationship of the states to the Crown, the inherent rights of the people are not affected thereby for the worse.”

The Muslim League, however, supported the right of the rulers of the states to decide about accession. The Quaid-i-Azam, in his statement of June 18, 1947, clarifying the Muslim League policy towards states, said that rulers were free to join Hindustan Constituent Assembly or Pakistan Constituent Assembly or remain independent (Dawn, June 19, 1947). The British Government went along with the Muslim League view and laid down that the rulers of the states would determine whether to join India or Pakistan or remain independent.

Under this plan, the people of princely states were given no say in deciding about their future. It is widely believed that the stand taken by the Quaid-i-Azam, supporting the right of the rulers to decide about accession, was meant to enable the Nizam of Hyderabad to make his state independent. The Quaid seemed to be confident that the Maharaja of Kashmir, because of geographical, logistical and economic reasons, would have no option but to join Pakistan. Former Prime Minister Chaudhri Muhammad Ali in his book “The Emergence of Pakistan”, says that at the time of partition the Quaid-i-Azam used to say: “Kashmir will fall into our lap like a ripe fruit”. The unpropitious turn of events in Kashmir had an adverse effect on the Quaid’s health.

It is true that we have been supporting the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people. Did we support this right as a means to an end (territory) or as an end in itself? Are we prepared to accept the Hurriyat demand that the people of the territory should have a free hand in seeking a solution of the Kashmir dispute as they are the “principal stakeholders”?.

There has, no doubt, been a change in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy as it no longer supports the views of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and seems to be now backing up the moderate faction of the Hurriyat. But is Islamabad prepared to accept the suggestion of a writer in Dawn that “Pakistan will have to step back and allow the Kashmiris to take the front seat”?

The above discussion does not mean that whatever the Hurriyat leaders said was unimpeachable. Some of their demands are impracticable or unreasonable. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq says that he would like to be a citizen of the United States of Kashmir. The Azad Kashmir is a Punjabi-speaking area and has no linguistic or cultural affinity with the Valley which speaks Kashmiri. Can the two be welded into a common state on purely religious grounds? Such a union is not likely to be lasting or workable. The same is true of Gilgit-Baltistan (Northern Areas). They have no affinity either with the Valley or with Azad Kashmir. They would like to be a part of Pakistan, with an autonomous provincial status.

From the practical point of view, the concept of independence for the state of Jammu and Kashmir also does not seem to be workable. Neither India nor Pakistan can accept the creation of an independent state in the north-west part of the subcontinent. Also, an independent state of Kashmir, a landlocked territory, will not be able to sustain its sovereign status, deficient as it is in power, food and the potential for development. It may be pointed out that Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has given a new meaning to “Azadi”by hinting that the Kashmiris would settle for less than independence if they were given maximum autonomy that only excluded defence and foreign affairs.

While the Hurriyat leaders see no light at the end of the tunnel, President Musharraf is quite optimistic about the settlement of the Kashmir dispute. He is satisfied with the progress of the peace process and his conviction seems to be rooted in the trust and confidence built between him and the Indian prime minister.

It is significant that even disagreements between the two countries over issues like Baglihar dam or the Kishenganga project or Siachen or Sir Creek have not disturbed the mutual confidence of the two leaders. President Musharraf has emphasized the need to listen to the voice of the Kashmiris. Sooner or later, Pakistan and India will have to find some honourable way of associating the people of Kashmir with the peace process. Until they do so, the focus of their attention will continue to be on the question of territory rather than the people of Kashmir.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Battle for reforms

By David Ignatius

WHEN an Arab leader removes his chief of intelligence, it’s a sign that some kind of serious internal shake-up is underway. And that’s just what has been happening in Jordan as the storm of political reform settles deeper over the Arab world.

On May 5, King Abdullah removed the director of Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate, Gen. Saad Kheir. Though Kheir was widely respected for his skill in counterterrorism operations, the Jordanian monarch believed the intelligence chief had become an obstacle to the political and economic reforms he hopes to launch this summer.

The Jordanian moves are the latest evidence of the reform battle taking shape in this country, and in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration is pushing for reforms and is seen by many Arabs as a driving force. But the recent events in Jordan are a reminder that, in the end, all politics is local. Abdullah has been advocating reform for six years, but he has made limited progress because of entrenched domestic opposition. Now he has decided to move more aggressively.

Kheir was widely regarded as the second most powerful man in Jordan. As in most Arab countries, the intelligence service in Jordan maintains extensive files and a pervasive network of informants, which gives the intelligence chief considerable political leverage. Kheir was an especially effective spymaster and a favourite of former CIA director George Tenet. Abdullah has moved Kheir to the palace as national security adviser, where he can continue his anti-terrorism efforts.

Abdullah has taken other steps to shake up Jordan over the past two months, including forming a new government in April in which reformists are more prominent, installing a new chief of the royal palace and replacing the director of public security. Because these moves followed a trip to Washington by the king in late March, the chattering classes in Amman have speculated that they resulted from US pressure. But there’s little evidence of that. Indeed, when Abdullah explained his reform plans in a White House meeting in March, President Bush is said to have approved, but cautioned, “Take it easy.”

“What the king found was that not all agencies were in line with his programme,” a top adviser to Abdullah said. “One arm was working against the other. People were confused. The king decided to bring in a team that was reformist and worked in tandem.”

The top royal adviser explained the king’s decision to replace the chiefs of intelligence and public security: “The intelligence agencies wanted to continue their grip on the country. They felt that by opening up, they might lose that grip. They confused security and policy issues. Being an intelligence agency in this part of the world, that’s how they always operated.”

Abdullah is also trying to address public worries about corruption. He plans to appoint soon an ombudsman who will take over the anti-corruption department that was run by the intelligence agency. And he is moving to end government contracts for a prominent Jordanian businessman, Khaled Shaheen, who has been criticized in media reports for being too close to the palace and the security agencies. Shaheen’s assistant said he was travelling and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Jordan’s economic reforms are being framed by the finance minister, Bassem Awadallah, who returned to government in the April reshuffle. He plans to announce in July a plan to reduce about $620 million in oil subsidies over the next two to three years, and to cut the budget deficit by about $600 million over the same period. He will also launch a roughly $500 million privatization of Jordan’s telecommunications, power generation and phosphate mining industries. Awadallah has been a lightning rod for conservative critics, and attacks on him are likely to increase when the new fiscal measures begin to bite.

A “national agenda” of political reforms is being prepared by Marwan Muasher, a former foreign minister who became director of the royal court in the recent shake-up. He hopes to launch this plan in September with a series of 10-year targets, such as providing national health care, halving unemployment from the current 14 per cent, and doubling per capita income. Abdullah is likely to call for a national referendum to endorse the package.

Jordan has been something of an oasis of tranquillity in a turbulent neighbourhood, and many Jordanians worry that the reform effort will bring instability. But Abdullah is convinced that the coming storm over reform is preferable to the hurricane that would result from inactivity. “We need to accelerate,” says the top adviser. “We cannot stay where we are.” —Dawn/Washington Post Service

Rumsfeld’s concerns

By Fred Hiatt

EARLIER this month Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld questioned the priorities of editorial pages in some newspapers. “Two of the country’s largest newspapers, for example, have devoted more than 80 editorials, combined, since March of 2004 to Abu Ghraib and detainee issues, often repeating the same erroneous assertions and recycling the same stories,” he said.

“By comparison, precious little has been written by those editorial boards about the beheading of innocent civilians by terrorists, the thousands of bodies found in mass graves in Iraq, the allegations of rape of women and girls by UN workers in the Congo.”

This wasn’t the first time Rumsfeld questioned why a newspaper would devote so much more space to criticizing US officials than to spotlighting foreign terrorists or dictators who behave far worse. It’s a fair question, echoed by many readers who ask why US newspapers focus so much attention on a few American soldiers who misbehave — when most are performing heroically and when Iraqi terrorists are deliberately blowing up Iraqi civilians by the score.

Of course, one of the largest newspapers has published editorials on the subjects Rumsfeld mentioned — mass graves, UN abuse, terrorist killings — and on the crimes and misdemeanours of many other foreign actors besides, from Darfur to China to Burma, from Saddam Hussein to Robert Mugabe.

But it’s also true that this newspaper has published more editorials criticizing Donald Rumsfeld than Abu Musab Zarqawi. That’s partly because, to the extent that editorials are meant to educate or explain, there isn’t all that much to say about Zarqawi’s evil that isn’t evident to most readers; and to the extent that editorials are meant to influence, there’s no point in addressing messages to the beheaders of the world.

But there’s more to it. The newspapers have criticized the administration for failing to give detainees hearings as called for under the Geneva Conventions; for writing memos that toyed with the definition of torture and undermined long-standing Army restraint in questioning prisoners; for prosecuting low-ranking soldiers while giving the brass a pass; for allowing the CIA to hold prisoners beyond the reach of the International Red Cross or any other monitor; and for refusing to empanel a truly independent commission to examine accountability for prison abuse up the chain of command, up to and including the White House.

Rumsfeld does not accept the editorial assessment of these events. But even if he did, as I understand his comment, he would point out that none of these offences, even if accepted as true, is as heinous as filling a mass grave.

But just invoking such a comparison, even implicitly, amounts to a loss for the United States. If we have to defend ourselves by pointing out that we are morally superior to terrorists, it’s a loss.

The United States and this administration in particular continually assert the moral right to behave differently than other nations. We will not be bound by the International Criminal Court. We insist that other nations give up their nuclear weapons while we keep our own. We wage war without UN Security Council approval. —Dawn/Washington Post Service

Justice for the poor

By Anwer Mooraj

THE worst thing about the current state of affairs in this country is not that things are really bad, which of course they are, but that there doesn’t appear to be any possibility of improvement. In fact, if an independent survey were to be conducted to determine just how the public sees the current establishment, there is a strong likelihood the people would return the verdict that the present government was about the worst in the short and eventful history of this country.

It has been pointed out on more than one occasion that the present political malaise that the country finds itself in is to a certain extent the result of two significant decisions taken by the president the moment he started to wield the stick. The first was the deliberate administrative manoeuvre to ensure that the religious parties gained certain ascendancy at the expense of the PPP. And the second was the introduction of the devolution system.

The first action resulted in messing up the politics of Balochistan and introducing certain retrogressive practices to the NWFP which, perhaps because of its doctrinaire outlook, is still the best administratively governed province in the country. This fortified and replenished the country’s image abroad of a repressive culture, fuelled by parallel systems of feudal and tribal justice which were inimical to the rights of women.

But if seen in its historical perspective the religious parties also provided the most vociferous opposition to the president, even though it is a matter of dispute whether the resistance was genuine or part of a pre-arranged understanding with the government to enact charades on a regular basis by hoodwinking the PPP.

The consequences of the second action are far reaching and struck at the very roots of good governance. It destroyed a system which evolved out of a service that the British had painstakingly built up and which it could proudly display to the world as a model of efficiency and integrity.

The implementation of the devolution system has resulted in so much confusion in matters of authority and disbursement of funds that an independent NGO in Brussels had after considerable research and deliberation advocated its replacement.

The president cannot be entirely blamed for disliking the Pakistan civil service. Though the majority of the officers were dedicated and straight there were some rotten apples in the basket, and members of the public did occasionally come across examples of inaccessibility, favouritism or just plain boorishness.

These deputy commissioners always seemed to be in interminable meetings lasting the whole day while a harassed, obsequious private assistant gave the caller the impression that the navy had informed them that a meteor was about to hit Kothari Park in Clifton and it was really up to the DC to ensure that it landed near the Rann of kutch.

In fact, there was a deputy commissioner who had mastered the art of going out for tea before returning home from lunch, which, according to reports has been emulated in other departments of government.

However, news has come down the pike that the president is willing to review the issue of governance, not only because he has been told that certain nazims have been cutting down too many eucalyptus trees, but because of the numerous conflicts at the district level. However, good governance is at present not at the top of the president’s agenda.

One would like to believe he is a little concerned about how the rest of the world sees us. That’s probably why he stated with considerable enthusiasm that his visit to Australia and New Zealand did wonders for Pakistan’s image abroad. This is a view that is endorsed by the faintly manic chalk-faced figures in the assemblies who appear on television with their physical and verbal flourishes, who have set some sort of international record for having spent three years in office without coming up with a single meaningful law. However, this is not the general perception.

Mr W. Malik writing from Las Vegas, whose letter appeared in this newspaper last Monday, gave a knee-jerk leftist response when he wrote: “ President Musharraf has been globetrotting endlessly, and not a single month goes by when he does not visit new countries — in some countries he has been ‘the first Pakistani head of state to visit.’

“One does not understand what these countless visits can accomplish. In our constitutional framework the president is head of state and the prime minister is head of government. If these tours are conducted for foreign policy reasons our foreign minister has enough laurels to his credit for travelling to so many countries. Further, the goals — we don’t know what they are — can be equally accomplished by our well-placed ambassadors in foreign countries. Does President Musharraf know that each time he visits a foreign country he undermines his own handpicked prime minister?

“When are we going to learn to control spending? We already have an army of cabinet ministers and advisers doing multiple and overlapping jobs...We have to catch up with 21st century demands for better health, education and environment as well as elect a government which is responsive to the requirements of the people of Pakistan — not people who enter the highest offices through force, coupled with never-ending conspiracies by all those fossilized, feudal politicians who never disappear from the country. And if they disappear or die, their equally incompetent daughters and sons come and share their power. Is this the destiny of the poor people of Pakistan?”

Mr Malik has, in fact, echoed the sentiments of the majority of the people of this country who have to sit by helplessly as people in power make repeated assaults on the national treasury while the peasants of the lower Punjab and Sindh still don’t have proper drinking water or electricity.

All one can say to Mr W. Malik is: “keep writing, and stay away from the gaming tables, even though you know that the kind of utopia you have in mind, where heads of state are firmly anchored to their little patch, and take a little more interest in what is happening in their backyard, will never be realized.

“Writers in this country have not been able to get through to him. Perhaps your letter might land in the intray and do the job.”

It is, in fact, what has been happening in the nation’s backyard that has given, and is continuing to give, the country a bad image abroad, and no amount of trips to exotic tropical or temperate lands, embellished with success stories of how Pakistan is winning the war on terror, will wipe out the image of a poor village woman who was raped and the humiliation she was made to subsequently suffer.

Hardly a day passes without some newspaper or other publishing a letter on Mukhtaran Mai’s ordeal. During the last week several columnists have written on the plight of the unfortunate victim, and how she was prevented from leaving the country. The impression that has gotten through is that in Pakistan you can subject a woman to gang-rape and walk away free.

Rapes are not peculiar to Pakistan. They take place all over the world, even in Ireland. The difference is that if a gang ravished the female assistant librarian in Blane Head in the south west of the emerald isle, where the land shelves off to furious rain mist and the Atlantic rushes in, the chances of the ghastly deed being authorized and commissioned by a group of wicked old councillors who have no locus standi at the town hall, is next to nil. And the Irish police are not inefficient. Nor are they intimidated by members of the landed gentry.

If President Musharraf really cares about Pakistan’s image abroad he must, in spite of the deliberate botch-up by the police and the acquittal by the court, find an appropriate way of punishing the four rapists and the members of the panchayat.

The issue will not go away. It will keep coming like the proverbial bad penny. Real honour, and not the kind where a brother slits his sister’s throat when he is after her property, cannot be swept under the carpet. All Mukhtaran Mai is asking is that justice be done. After all, paraphrasing Arundhati Roy, Pervez Musharraf is also the president of the little people.