Kashmir: the economic option

By Shahid Javed Burki


I HAVE suggested in three articles published in this space over the last several weeks that deep engagement in the dispute over Kashmir has been very costly for Pakistan. The country has paid a large economic price for continuing to keep the Kashmir dispute on the front burner for nearly six decades. The dispute has also enabled Islamic extremism to take deep roots in the Pakistani soil.

The cost of getting the Islamic extremists involved in the dispute has been to allow the country to drift towards destructive radicalism. It is now possible for extremist groups to declare war on almost every action by the state or by individuals of which they don’t approve. The state has succumbed to this pressure on a number of occasions, giving encouragement to these groups.

It is obvious that Pakistan cannot afford to pay either the economic price for prolonging the dispute or continue to tolerate extremism to distort its society and corrupt its political system. Given all this, what are the options available to Islamabad at this time? I would like to emphasize the “at this time” aspect. Today, the Pakistani economy is at the point of fulsome recovery; the country has also begun to attract the interest of foreign investors as vividly demonstrated by the recent bidding for the privatization of Pakistan Telecommunications and the government’s decision to award the enterprise to a UAE company.

India seems ready to do a deal with Pakistan on Kashmir in order to free itself from a dispute which has also been costly for it. By remaining unresolved the Kashmir issue would come in India’s way as it begins to assert itself as a global power.

President Pervez Musharraf has openly acknowledged that Islamic extremism is his greatest problem. The western world exposed to the expression of violence by the extremists — most recently in London perpetrated, it appears, by the people of Pakistani origin — cannot possibly tolerate them in their midst. This then is the right time to seriously ask the question about the right Pakistani approach towards Kashmir.

Should Pakistan abandon its long-standing demand that the problem of Kashmir can only be resolved by the state’s citizens expressing their will openly as was agreed at the United Nations in 1949? Or should Pakistan, awed by the multiple cost of keeping the issue alive, abandon the people of Kashmir to their fate and to political expediency? Neither of these approaches is practical; the second one in particular cannot be sold to the people of Pakistan even when they have been fully educated about the cost of the dispute and about how they will be hurt by letting it fester.

The only feasible option appears to be to follow the way the ever-practical people of East Asia have dealt with territorial disputes. The Chinese have tolerated the virtual independence of Taiwan for almost as long as Pakistan has lived with the issue of Kashmir. They are prepared to continue with the status quo for as long as Taiwanese “virtual independence” remains exactly that: virtual. The South Koreans are not particularly interested in reuniting with their brethren in the north, hoping that whenever that happens it would be less destructive for their own economy and political system. What these examples have to teach is the value of patience.

There are times when it is much more prudent not to force solutions for which the environment is not ready. Such is the case with the Kashmir problem at this time. If Pakistan cannot force a solution that would fully satisfy its moral commitment, and political and strategic interests, how should it approach the problem of Kashmir at this time? One way out is to allow the gradual integration of the Kashmiri economy into its own system.

The on-going effort to build a free trade area in South Asia over a period of a decade offers a unique opportunity for laying the ground for the resolution of the Kashmir problem. Under this approach, a beginning would be made within the Safta framework already agreed among the Saarc countries. An economic development programme for the state of Kashmir could be formulated that would rely heavily for its success on greater trade among India and Pakistan and Indian occupied Kashmir.

Since such a plan would cost tens of billions of dollars to implement, it would require the active support of the international community. However, a development plan focused on the state’s physical and human endowment would only work if it gains political acceptance from the parties involved in the dispute. For that to happen it must not change the political status of the state for some time to come, otherwise it would not be acceptable to India.

At the same time, it must not suggest that the present Line of Control would become the international boundary. That would not be acceptable to Islamabad. Even with these two constraints in place there is enough space left within which an ambitious plan could be formulated. The plan would have to be ambitious to achieve its three objectives: increase economic welfare for the citizens of Kashmir, initiate a process that could ultimately lead to the resolution of the dispute, and draw foreign support for its implementation. For the plan to be ambitious in scope as well in its objectives it must fully involve the state’s people, the governments and people of India and Pakistan, and the international community. The main focus of the plan would be to develop exchanges — movement of people, goods and services — among the three geographical entities i.e. Kashmir, India and Pakistan. The aim would be to develop an integrated market in the region, which could later develop into a common market. Such a market could later encompass other parts of South Asia. A plan of economic and trade integration involving Kashmir and the contiguous parts of India and Pakistan could become a stepping-stone towards the establishment of the free trade area in South Asia envisioned in the Islamabad Declaration issued by the leaders at the 12th SAARC summit on January 6, 2004.

The plan could be built around five central elements: developing the state’s water resources with a view to generating electric power; rebuilding and expanding the tourism industry; developing forestry and high value added agriculture; improving physical infrastructure; and developing the human resource to engage the young in the more productive sectors of what would essentially become a new economic system.

The first element would involve re-interpreting rather than renegotiating the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 that distributed the waters of the Indus river system between India and Pakistan. The main aim of the treaty was to make sufficient amount of water available in the eastern rivers so that the irrigation system that relied on these rivers and served many parts of Pakistan would not go dry. The treaty was remarkably successful in that it prevented a major confrontation between India and Pakistan on the issue of the use of water from the large Indus system.

Kashmir’s ‘accession’ to India had made that country sit on top of the system of irrigation the British had built in order to turn the part of Punjab that was now a province of Pakistan into a granary for colonial India. India had plans to use its upper riparian status to irrigate the deserts of Rajasthan with water drawn from the Indus tributaries. Soon after gaining independence, it began work on the Bhakra dam project to bring new land under cultivation in Rajasthan. This would have resulted in a serious reduction in the amount of water flowing into Pakistan. With the treaty in place, India was in the position to achieve that objective without reducing the availability of water flowing through Pakistan’s rivers and canals.

From Kashmir’s perspective, the treaty froze the development of water and hydropower resources for its own people. The question then is whether the treaty could be reinterpreted in terms of not reducing the flow of water to Pakistan but jointly developing hydroelectricity to benefit both Pakistan and Kashmir. This could be done on the basis of a careful study of the power potential of the Indus system for the purpose of developing it so that it brings benefit to the power-short regions of Kashmir, Pakistan and northern parts of India.

An important component of this plan would be to build an integrated power grid to serve the three areas. This plan could aim to generate between 5,000 and 7,500 megawatts of additional power for use in the three areas. The total cost to be incurred over a 10-year period, say from 2005 to 2015, would be of the order of $10 billion.

Both India and Pakistan are working separately to develop the hydroelectricity potential of the rivers flowing through their parts of Kashmir. The Indian efforts have resulted in creating considerable apprehension in Pakistan that the authorities in New Delhi are attempting to subvert the Indus treaty. Islamabad has serious concerns about the Wullar Lake, Baglihar Dam and Kishenganga Dam projects. It sees all these as attempts to draw more water from the tributaries of the Indus river than India is allowed under the 1960 treaty.

Unable to have its concerns resolved by India on the issue of the Baglihar dam, Pakistan has invoked a provision in the 1960 treaty that allows for external arbitration in case a dispute concerning water distribution in the system cannot be resolved by the two governments working on their own.

There is, therefore, an urgent need to summon experts from both sides to develop a plan that would tap the power potential of the rivers in Kashmir without disturbing the water distribution agreement of the Indus Waters Treaty. This is best done within the scope of a sub-regional treaty, overseen by an international agency such as the World Bank. International involvement would be helpful not only because of the large amount of money involved. It would also be useful since it would keep all the parties involved on track.

A sub-regional arrangement is needed since the amount of power that could be ultimately generated is far in excess of the future demand of Kashmir. There will be the need — and an opportunity — to sell the surplus power through a regional grid to India and Pakistan which could be built inexpensively by connecting the elaborate systems that already exist on both sides of the border. I will continue for the next few weeks the subject of a formulating a special economic development plan for Kashmir and using the SAFTA mechanism to bring the disputed state’s economy closer to that of Pakistan.

No compromise on democracy

By Aqil Shah


ELITE pacts or deals are an accepted feature of transitional politics. The most widely used definition is an explicit though not public agreement between authoritarian elites and the democratic opposition that determines the basic rules of a transition to democracy.

Speculations of such a pact between the military and either of the two moderate opposition parties — the PPP and the PML-N — have been rife for quite some time. To avoid muddying the political waters any further, it is appropriate to examine the broader political context.

For starters, consider the following press expose: the minister of state for parliamentary affairs, Raza Hayat Hiraj, has been reporting on the parliamentary attendance of the ruling coalition’s MNAs and ministers, over the head of the prime minister, to the DG, ISI, DG, MI, and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Such a blatant breach of parliamentary norms would have been unthinkable in any functioning democracy. But in a garrison state where civil-military boundaries are often poorly differentiated from each other, military monitoring of its civilian allies with the state minister’s connivance is unlikely to cause a major stir.

Here is why this demonstration of civilian subservience to the military is relevant though. Barring exceptions such as the PPP government of prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (and perhaps even Nawaz Sharif’s second PML-N government), no one can deny the typical lack of civilian regime autonomy from military influence.

But one can reasonably speculate that this latest episode indicates a qualitatively different and evolving model of military influence in politics. Loosely traceable to the 1980s but one that has been institutionalized since 1999, this model has taken at least two distinct paths: the first is the successful creation of institutional structures like the NSC through which the generals can formally direct the course of national politics while fobbing off the thankless task of running the day-to-day affairs of the government to pliant civilian elites.

The second significant route is the informal strengthening of military prerogatives in the routinized practice of the electoral and parliamentary affairs of the state. With this embedded power, the military can set the boundaries of political behaviour, police them and punish any deviations. The incarceration of acting PML-N President Javed Hashmi or the kidnapping and torture of the party’s Punjab Assembly leader Rana Sanaullah should suffice as two extreme examples. Even though such commendable oppositional voices periodically challenge the military’s tutelary powers, these practically remain outside the pale of even a modicum of statutorily sanctioned public scrutiny.

The obvious question is this: is any form of “national reconciliation” tenable in the face of embedded military prerogatives? If “reconciliation” is no more than a euphemism for a transition in which the military imposes “confining” vetoes on the PPP (or the PML-N) in return for sharing power, it is likely to suffer from fatal defects.

Pervasive military intrusions in civilian affairs in post-Zia Pakistan provide ample evidence that unequal civil-military power equations mask the military’s actual political influence while making its prerogatives a permanent feature of governance. In these circumstances, ad hoc attempts by elected representatives to assert their constitutional authority ended either in their dismissals or in the authoritarian termination of the democratic process as in October 1999.

Both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif should know full well the consequences of entering into yet another ‘pact’ with the military. General Musharraf and his civilian allies might periodically talk of reconciliation with the moderate parties but the proof of the pudding is in its eating. The actual government policy seems to be one of divide and rule that seeks to separately engage and lure these two political leaders to a dialogue while simultaneously sowing the seeds of dissension in their parties and creating mistrust between them.

While it might be pragmatic for the two leaders to engage the generals, the military has little incentive to accept any significant diminution of its political prerogatives at this time. Short of upheavals triggered by an economic collapse, civil war and the like, the military is likely to initiate a transition to democracy only when its internal and external costs of retaining power exceed those of transferring it to an elected government. Intractable problems of economic revival, ethno-regional tensions fuelled by centralized military rule and center-province frictions over financial and administrative autonomy could push the military in that direction. But these alone are not sufficient.

Another critical factor facilitating the military’s hold over political power is external backing. Unless geopolitical conditions warrant a clipping of the generals’ political wings, they are likely to sustain a facade of democracy in which the principles of parliamentary government are respected more in the breach than in observance.

These structural constraints do not mean that the choices and strategies of political leaders are irrelevant to potential transitions. Both Bhutto and Sharif have taken the right step by closing their ranks and agreeing to work on a ‘Charter of Democracy’ to remodel the political system. Proposals put forward by the two sides are quite ambitious in scope. These include the restoration of the 1973 Constitution as it stood on October 12, 1999, the abolition of the NSC, the depoliticizatioin of intelligence agencies, opening military expenditures to parliamentary debate, the reconstitution of the Election Commission and the creation of a constitutional court.

The PML-N has reportedly insisted on two significant points: “neither side will solicit the support of the military, either to come to power or to dislodge a democratic government” and that “we will not join a military government nor a military-sponsored government.”

Given the “office-seeking” motives of politicians and the general absence of enforceable commitments that can prevent either of them from defecting, it is hard not to be sceptical. But this does not have to be a false start.

If the two parties can agree to and sustain a minimalist agenda of refraining from ‘knocking on the garrison’s doors’ for political power, a headway in reducing military’s political involvement is possible. Need they be reminded, their past acquiescence in coup politics has traditionally provided the military with the most convenient pretext to launch “corrective” interventions that invariably turn into long praetorian spells.

Washington in action

NO one was surprised when it was revealed that Karl Rove was one of the leakers to Matt Cooper of Time magazine.

As a patriot and a trusted Bush aide, it was his job. You can’t have an informed public unless you have high government officials to protect the president, and do havoc to his enemies.

What people still don’t understand is that leaks are used by the government to get across the message that it makes no mistakes.

This is how we in the elite media work in Washington.

First I have a cup of coffee. Then I go through the mail. Leaks never come on White House letterhead. That would be too obvious, and it would also be turned over to a grand jury. The leak, if it arrives in an envelope, is usually a message made from letters cut out of magazines such Penthouse, Newsweek or the National Review.

If there’s nothing in the mail, I start reading my e-mails. Leakers prefer e-mails because it saves on postage and is the fastest way of getting the leak in the papers.

After reading all my e-mails, I then get on the phone. First, I call the White House.

“May I speak to Karl Rove? I’m a friend of Robert Novak’s ... Oh he’s in a meeting with the president? ... What am I calling about? ... Let me give you a hint — drip, drip, drip. Do you get it? ... I promise you I will keep it under deep cover. ... All right, deep, deep secret cover. ... No, it has nothing to do with liberals having a bad attitude about 9/11. ... I did that story already.

“Does he have anything new that he didn’t leak to Novak or Cooper? ... Anyone in the CIA who is married to an ambassador who just came back from Africa, and didn’t find any uranium there? I know it’s farfetched, but people are interested in any reason for what the hell we are doing in Iraq.

“Well, when he’s finished, he can call me back on my cell phone. I’ll take anything he leaks that is destructive to Democrats against the war, Sen. Kerry, Howard Dean and any others Rove decides are the usual anti-Bush suspects.

“Thank you. Now will you give me back to the operator? . . . Operator I am a friend of Robert Novak’s. Is there anyone in Dick Cheney’s office or on his staff who has anything he wants to leak today? ... No, you won’t offend Novak. He has so many leaks to handle as it is and he said he didn’t mind if I made this call. “The vice president isn’t in town? Then let me speak to a high government official who could leak a story to me. I’ll take anything.

“Hello, I was put through to you because I understand you are a high government official who prefers to remain nameless. I am a friend of Robert Novak’s, and he told me that you are an unimpeachable source in the same class as Deep Throat. You don’t have to leak any new information. Just tell me if my facts are right or wrong, in case I’m called in front a special prosecutor. Promise me, you will waive your right to remain silent and I can say you were my source. ... Well don’t get so upset. I get waivers from all my sources. Otherwise, I could be in jail right now.”

He hung up.

Karl Rove never called me back. — Dawn/Tribune Media Services

Anatomy of the oil crisis

By Paul Roberts


IF American motorists seem unpanicked at the prospect of $60-a-barrel oil, it’s understandable. After four years of steadily rising crude prices, the predicted oil crisis hasn’t materialized.

American economy is humming. Gasoline is flowing. We’re still buying enormous cars and driving more miles, and most of us couldn’t care less that Congress can’t reform US energy policy.

Such a blase attitude is, by conventional economic theory, normal and even healthy. In a free market, consumers respond rationally to prices. When oil gets costly enough to cause pain, we can depend on market forces to kick in. Demand will fall. We’ll buy more efficient cars, or develop alternative fuels, or start riding bikes or buses.

In time, a whole new energy economy will be born — more efficient, perhaps cleaner, and certainly less reliant on worrisome places such as Saudi Arabia or Venezuela. Best of all, it will have happened not because Congress bullied Detroit into building wee little cars but because it made sense economically.

That, at least, has been the guiding theory for US energy policymakers, who since the early 1990s have been content to let markets determine how quickly and in which direction our oil system evolves. When prices get high enough, we’ll change.

Until then, there is no crisis: If we don’t feel compelled to change, then, by definition, the status quo is fundamentally sound. And all the urgent talk about higher fuel economy standards or programmes to brew gasoline from farm crops is misguided and unnecessary. For although $60 oil may mean the end of cheap energy, it doesn’t mean the end of our current energy paradigm.

There is, however, a less comforting way to look at all of this. Even if $60 oil isn’t high by inflation-adjusted historical standards, it’s plenty high enough to indicate a dangerously overheated global supply system. That consumers can afford to ignore these problems isn’t necessarily a sign of economic rationality but evidence that markets may not be so brilliant when it comes to building our energy future.

There are three big reasons oil prices have more than doubled since 2000, none offering any reason to have confidence in the market.

First, demand for oil, in the United States but also in China and India, is rising faster than anyone expected. Indeed, it is rising despite higher prices, in part because we have no easy alternative to oil in the transportation sector.

Second, supply is strained. The OPEC countries, Russia and other big exporters are already pumping oil at near maximum capacity. The Saudis try to blame high prices on America’s lack of refineries to turn crude into gasoline. But the real problem is a lack of crude to put in those refineries. That’s why, when OPEC promised recently to pump more oil, the market called the bluff and oil prices rose still higher.

Third, in a market this tight, there is no spare capacity — no extra oil wells, pipelines or tankers that could be brought online quickly in case of disruptions in world supply. And such disruptions become more probable every day. With few exceptions, nearly every major oil exporter, from Saudi Arabia to Russia to Venezuela, is less politically stable now than it was five years ago — and thus more likely to suffer a crisis that cuts off exports.

At $60 a barrel, oil traders are essentially betting that a disruption is more likely than it was four years ago, when oil was at $24. They’re also betting that such a disruption would be more severe, because we lack much spare capacity to cushion the blow. In fact, almost any disturbance — new unrest in Venezuela or continued deterioration in Iraq — could easily send prices above $100 a barrel.

Would $100 oil be such a bad thing? After all, it’s only when prices get that high that consumers will be likely to start the move to a post-oil economy, which is where a lot of experts think we’ll need to be eventually. The problem is that such a transition can’t happen overnight. Oil isn’t just a commodity, like coffee: When oil prices triple, it isn’t simply a matter of skipping your morning cup and enduring a little headache. Oil is fundamental to our economy. Not only does oil supply 95 percent of our transportation sector (without which our high-growth economic model cannot work) but we have no alternative.

We will find one, certainly, for we are a clever species. But innovation of that scope and scale takes years to develop and decades to roll out. Even a partial replacement for oil won’t be concocted overnight - and certainly not fast enough to avoid one of those monster recessions that have followed every spike in oil prices in the past half-century.

Put another way, rather than reflecting any inherent economic wisdom, today’s blase oil attitudes may mask a dangerous split reality in the world of oil. Prices aren’t yet high enough to curb demand in America, China or elsewhere, which means demand pressure will continue to build.—Dawn/Washington Post Service

Towards a shackled society, perhaps

By Omar R. Quraishi


THE controversial Hasba bill passed by the NWFP Assembly on July 14 has already forced the federal government to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court regarding its constitutionality. Passed in the face of stiff opposition from the opposition MPAs and after an amendment which exempts all members of the provincial assembly from its applicability, the Hasba bill could well push the province into a process of Talibanization.

A day after its passage, the NWFP senior minister, Sirajul Haq, in his sermon at Peshawar’s Mohabbat Khan mosque, told the audience that the NWFP government had only done what it had promised its voters to do. These sentiments had been repeated a few days earlier by the secretary-general of the MMA, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who had attended the assembly session as a visitor when the bill was initially tabled. Both said that the religio-political alliance was elected precisely on an Islamization platform and that the MMA government in the NWFP was only keeping the promise that it had made at the time of elections.

This line has been used consistently by Akram Durrani’s government, and from a strictly technical point of view, cannot really be challenged. The six-party MMA has a majority in the NWFP assembly and hence it can get any law passed. Passage of such a law would in fact, on the face of it, seem to be a step in line with democracy because the MPAs are the chosen representatives of those who elected them.

Clearly, the passage of any bill by a legislature is supposed to represent the will of the people after which the legislation acquires the force of law. Nobody can take away this right of law-making from them, and certainly not in a democratic dispensation. The problem, however, is that sometimes actions which may be technically faultless can be very retrogressive, even ruinous for society. One cannot find a more telling example of this from history than Adolf Hitler who was put into power by massive electoral majorities, and rose to become the chancellor of Germany.

The point here is not to compare the MMA with the Third Reich but to emphasize that sometimes even elected governments can make terrible mistakes, and the MMA-led one in the NWFP may well be on its way to that. It has made the unfortunate assumption that being elected to public office allows it to make laws that are tantamount to gross interference in the private lives of the people, which is precisely what world happen if the Orwellian Hasba bill is signed into law by the NWFP governor (who, thankfully, has said that he will resist any such move).

Under the law, the governor, in consultation with the chief minister, will appoint a religious scholar as an ombudsman or mohtasib. This official will have powers to “reform society” in accordance with the teachings of Islam and whose main job will be to “discourage vice and encourage virtue”. He will be vested with the power to “reform society” in accordance with the teachings of Islam.

The office of the ombudsman — which will be set up at the district and tehsil levels — will have the power to issue directives to ensure that those living in an area under his jurisdiction adhere to the tenets of Islam and to ensure society is indeed being ‘Islamized’. To discourage vice and encourage virtue and to enforce his directives, the proposed law sanctions a police force to be at the ombudsman’s beck and call.

Even more worryingly, no person will be able to challenge in court any action “taken in good faith” by the ombudsman. Critics — and these include the federal government and the PML which has warned that it will challenge the law once it is passed — have argued that in the presence of the Objectives Resolution in the Constitution there is no need to have a particular law to ensure that people live their lives in accordance with Islamic teachings and that the system proposed under the Hasba law will create a parallel system of justice, dependent on the notions and interpretations of one individual with immense powers to interfere in the people’s private lives. Besides, apart from being a parallel system, of justice, the Hasba bill places the office of the ombudsman above the law.

The powers of the ombudsman include “ensuring Islamic values at public places, discouraging business activities or playing during prayer times, begging, misusing loudspeakers, preventing corruption in government departments, protecting state property, creating a

spirit of public service among government servants and ensuring parents’ obedience by children”.

The vague and ambiguous provision of “ensuring Islamic values at public places” is bound to open a Pandora’s box because it would be safe to assume that the person whom the NWFP government will appoint as ombudsman will share the MMA’s rigid and retrogressive interpretation of religion, and of Islamic values in particular.

A situation can well be imagined in which police will stop and question all men and women walking or driving together to check if the man is ‘mehram’ or not. ‘Ensuring obedience of parents by children’ seems all right and is a worthy goal but a government-appointed official ensuring this is not only absurd but also seems unworkable and far fetched.

Implementation of the Hasba bill could well take the NWFP back to the Dark Ages. Helped by the police — who will assume the role of the dreaded mutawwa or religious police of Saudi Arabia — we could well see business and shops being forcibly shut down at prayer times and people being coerced into going to the mosque. This is quite contrary to the true spirit of Islam which relies on a direct and personal relationship between the believer and the God and emphasizes that there should be no compulsion in religion.

Unfortunately, the religious alliance in power in the NWFP fails to appreciate this precept and its logical corollary, believing that religious, moral and ethical values are in need of being enforced through coercion and threat of coercion. In fact, the MMA government has repeatedly said that enforcing such a system is precisely its goal. Its leaders, and many ministers in the NWFP, have openly expressed their admiration for the Taliban and some of the MMA’s component parties, especially Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI, have had very close links with the Taliban. However, that should be of little comfort to many people residing in the province who will soon face the consequences of the proposed system of Islamization forcing religion down people’s throats.

For instance, under the MMA government, women have been at the receiving end of discrimination and other forms of unjust treatment. Discriminatory policies have been followed by the provincial government such as a ban on male doctors treating women, forced segregation in government colleges, prohibiting male coaches from teaching women and so forth.

Then there have been MMA-backed or affiliated groups, such as the Shabab-i-Milli which have acted as vigilantes and gone about exercising a very misogynist agenda of forcing women out of public life. This they have done by indulging in activities like blackening female faces on advertizing billboards or forcing men to stop women from voting in local and provincial elections.

In fact, in one highly publicized case, one such group in Haripur in Hazara district — known to be traditionally less conservative than the rest of the province — forced the local administration to ban the hiring of women in public call offices. The reason for this ridiculous action was that the presence of women in PCOs was promoting immoral practices when in fact women saw it as a much-needed opportunity for them to augment their family’s income.

Other than women, all creative individuals and groups such as musicians and artists were driven out of the province after their activities were banned.

The situation is bound to get worse because under the proposed new law, the ombudsman will have the power to imprison or fine anyone who listens to music or takes photographic images. The NGOs, too, should prepare themselves for some rough times ahead.

Working in the more backward areas of the NWFP, they have been routinely harassed, criticized and herried and have had to deal with a very hostile environment in the province. This has led to some tragic incidents in which some NGO activists have been physically harmed, and for some cases even killed, as happened recently in the case of a woman, who was working for the Aurat Foundation, and her daughter. One can well imagine what will happen once the Hasba bill begins to be enforced, because senior MMA leaders in the past have repeatedly called most of the NGOs ‘un-Islamic’.

Other than making the NWFP a joyless and shackled society whose residents will probably go through the vigorous process of legally enforcing religion (and

a highly retrogressive interpretation at that) the Hasba bill also has the potential to snowball into a confrontation between the provincial and federal governments, with far-reaching legal and political implications.

Email:omarq@cyber.net.pk

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