DAWN - Opinion; July 30, 2005

Published July 30, 2005

Indo-US pact — a gamble?

By Afzaal Mahmood

THREE weeks after the signing of a 10-year defence agreement that will enable New Delhi to buy sophisticated US military equipment, President George W. Bush has now agreed to provide American civilian nuclear knowhow and nuclear fuel to India, indicating a major policy shift in global and regional implications.

Under the accord hammered out at a White House meeting between President Bush and the visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the US will enhance Indo-US cooperation “in the areas of civil nuclear, civil space and high technology commerce”. The arrangement agreed to between the two leaders will enable India to secure international help for its civilian nuclear reactors, while retaining its nuclear arms. In the case of India, President Bush has set aside the long-term American policy that countries refusing to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty should be denied civilian nuclear assistance and, in many cases, face a weapons embargo.

The nuclear deal will enable India to acquire the same benefits and advantages that are reserved for five members of the nuclear club including the US, Russia, China, Britain and France which are recognized as legitimate nuclear states under the NPT. The US decision to help India build nuclear power plants is a move tantamount to recognizing India as a nuclear weapons state for all practical purposes.

The Bush administration views India as an emerging Asian superpower which will be “the swing state” in the global balance of power in the coming years. According to the western media, US officials have been stressing for some months that “there is no higher priority” for George Bush’s second term in office than “expanding and broadening our relations with India”. It was in pursuit of this policy that when Condoleezza Rice paid her first visit to South Asia as US secretary of state in March this year, she told New Delhi that US was reconsidering its restrictions on extending nuclear and space cooperation to India. During the external affairs minister, Natwar Singh’s visit to Washington a month later, the two countries decided to establish a high level group on energy cooperation.

What is the price that New Delhi has paid in return for “full civil nuclear energy cooperation” from Washington? According to the joint statement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has committed India to segregating, “in a phased manner”, the country’s military and civilian nuclear facilities; “voluntarily” placing its civilian nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards; signing and adhering to an additional protocol with respect to civilian nuclear facilities; continuing the “unilateral” moratorium on nuclear testing; working with the US to help conclude a multilateral fissile material cut off treaty; continuing with stringent non-proliferation export control policies; and “harmonization (with) and adherence to” the guidelines of the missile technology control regime and the nuclear suppliers group.

But the unanswered question is whether there are hidden linkages or secret commitments made by the US or India, especially by the latter, in the realm of foreign and security policies. The secretive manner in which New Delhi has done the deal and the sudden change of tone by the Indian Prime Minister on some policy matters, like the Iranian gas pipeline, have strengthened the suspicion that the nuclear deal may not be without some secret commitments. Some analysts believe that India appears to have committed itself to a strategic relationship with the US closer than what has been publicly disclosed.

It is significant that until the Bush-Manmohan Singh meeting, India was quite enthusiastic about the Iranian gas pipeline and had even pledged its commitment to push forward this project despite US objections. But after the nuclear deal agreement with the US, the Indian prime minister and his oil minister have described the gas project as “a risky venture” which faces “formidable challenges”. It appears that, as part of the nuclear deal, India will now move slowly on the Iranian gas project and may ultimately abandon it on one pretext on the other.

On the eve of his US visit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in interviews to various American publications, insisted that India was seeking a relationship with the US as “an independent....not a client state”. He also rejected the suggestion that India could work as a bulwark against China. “I don’t think our relationship with the United States is at the cost of our relationships with China, with Russia or, for that matter, the EU.”

By signing the 10-year defence treaty and now the nuclear deal with India, America wants to help India realize its aspiration to become a global power. Since international relations are not based on charity or altruism, one may legitimately ask the question as to why the US is so eager to help India become “a major power in the 21st century”. Can this American policy be viewed in isolation from apprehensions about China’s looming might?

The US policy towards India does not seem to be different from its China policy in balancing the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. As far as India is concerned, it is true that its relations with China have never been as good as they are today and their economic relationship is growing rapidly. But it is also equally true that New Delhi’s determined efforts to secure close relations with the US cannot be separated from its own long term suspicions of Beijing.

However, the all-important question is: will the Bush administration’s gamble pay off? Are the benefits of the nuclear deal greater than the risks involved? The US needs good relations not only with India but also with its nuclear armed neighbour, Pakistan, who happens to be America’s non-Nato ally and a crucial collaborator in the war against terrorism. Islamabad is bound to seek a similar deal from Washington and a rebuff will unquestionably inflame anti-American sentiments in the country.

Pakistan is already concerned that the supply of sophisticated equipment to India under the 10-year defence pact would disturb the strategic balance of power in South Asia. India’s access to American civilian nuclear know-how and its denial to Pakistan will weaken pro-western and moderate elements and strengthen the hands of militant Islamists in the country.

The nuclear deal with India will certainly harm US efforts to contain the nuclearization of Iran and North Korea. If India can build nuclear weapons and gain access to American civilian nuclear knowhow and nuclear fuel, other countries may also aim to emulate the Indian example. After the US-India deal, Russia is likely to sell more weapons and equipment to India and China may be unwilling to get tough on the nuclear issue regarding North Korea. Even friendly countries who wanted to acquire nuclear weapons but decided against it because help with their civilian nuclear programmes was considered more valuable, may now think that they too can have it both ways.

Can the US be certain that India will be willing to play its game? Does India share the US commitment to defend Taiwan? Will New Delhi join Washington in other potential US-China rows if they do not affect Indian interests? The odds are that India’s coalition governments will try to keep out of the emerging US-China rivalry and decline to position themselves in American plans to contain China. Most probably, India’s strategy towards the US and China will not be much different from the one followed by Deng Xiaoping towards Washington and Moscow in the 1980s. While deepening relations with the US, Deng was shrewd enough to also begin normalizing bilateral ties with the Soviet Union. By playing a skillful balancing game, he enabled China to emerge stronger than before.

The jubilation in the Indian camp is understandable. New Delhi has at last achieved “dehyphenation” — de-coupling of its relations with Washington from the latter’s close ties with Islamabad. But one cannot understand the need or the justification for Pakistan-bashing by the Indian prime minister on American soil. His unnecessary and uncalled for anti-Pakistan comments, made after securing the nuclear deal, have come as a painful surprise to all supporters of peace and friendship between the two neighbours.

In his remarks at the National Press Club in Washington and in his meetings with the editors of the Washington Post and other US media, he painted a picture of India as a “besieged fellow democracy” needing American support and understanding. Glossing over the fact that India started its nuclear programme much earlier than Pakistan, he justified the Indian nuclear programme because “in the region that we live, we saw that there was reckless proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in our neighbourhood, which posed serious threat to our security.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the CNN network that “the security of nuclear assets under control of Pakistan does worry us. If they get into the hands of the jihadi element that could pose a serious problem”. When asked whether the US should say ‘no’ if Pakistan asked for a similar nuclear deal, he went to the extent of painting Pakistan as a breeding ground for terrorism. His opposition to the supply of civilian nuclear assistance to Pakistan is all the more surprising because it will neither affect the strategic balance in South Asia nor adversely affect Indian interests.

Most surprisingly, the Indian prime minister even expressed misgivings about the peace process. He said he might not be able to push forward the process of dialogue with Pakistan if “acts of terrorism cannot be controlled” and that he had “some worries on that score.....that the infrastructure of terror is largely intact in Pakistan”. These remarks are all the more unwarranted because his own chief of army staff, General J.J. Singh had informed reporters in June that he did not think the Pakistan army was supporting the cross border infiltration.

This change in the Indian prime minister’s tone has baffled analysts in India and Pakistan, and Pakistan bashing was least expected of a person of Mr Manmohan Singh’s background, maturity and balanced views. Was he carried away by the success of his US visit and the new-found closeness to America?

The danger is that India’s “strategic partnership” with America may bring into play its big brotherly attitude which has not allowed its relations with Pakistan and other smaller neighbours to grow for almost five decades. This unfortunate prospect has already injected a fair degree of uncertainty into the ongoing peace process and the efforts to resolve bilateral problems.

The writer is a former ambassador.

BJP’s politics of contradictions

By Kuldip Nayar

WHEN President Bush introduced his wife to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he said here was a person whose country had more Muslims than any other except Indonesia but none of them was the Al Qaeda type. Subsequently, at a function in Washington, the prime minister said with pride that not a single Muslim from the 150 million in India was part of Al Qaeda, the Taliban or any other terrorist group.

This fact may have remained obscure to Indians. But foreigners, particularly those from the media, have singled out the nation for praise whenever they have traced terrorism to Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran. Indeed, no Indian Muslim is reported to have participated in jihad or any ‘holy’ war that the fundamentalists have relentlessly fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya or Palestine. Even in India, there has never been a Muslim from Moradabad, Patna, Coimbatore or elsewhere joining the “liberation war” in Kashmir.

It shows how, over the years, the Muslim population, even though alienated and dismayed, has fashioned itself in such a way that it has instinctively felt in the manner the rest of the population does. Muslims in India are convinced that the ethos of the country is secular. They have seen many storms of communalism gathering and disappearing to face the reality of day-to-day living and the demands of give-and-take in a pluralistic polity. They have come to terms with India as it is emerging.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid made the Muslims realize for the first time after independence that their assumption of safety of mosques, other religious places and graveyards was wrong. They still feel perturbed. But the strong reaction to the demolition that swept across the country has assured them that their trust was not misplaced. They know that there cannot be forcible construction of the temple on the site where the Babri Masjid stood. They have the same conviction about the mosque-temple complex at Mathura and Varanasi.

The blow which had them staggering is the massacre in Gujarat. They had never imagined such carnage after 58 years of partition. The brutality with which the media and the intelligentsia tore the mixed-up government apart has sustained the Muslims’ faith in the country. What has made them despondent is the state’s reluctance to rehabilitate the victims or to make amends for the wounds it has inflicted on them with its partisan attitude.

An educated woman in Delhi told me the other day that she never felt any difference between one Indian or another in the last 30 years but Gujarat had made her realize that she was Muslim. True, the constitution guarantees minorities equality. Yet they have suffered most at the hands of the law and its guardians. The Muslims have seldom seen any Hindu instigator of communal riots being punished. It has been the same sordid story from Bhiwandi to Meerut. Instances of police connivance are unending.

Even the Congress party is not all that secular. One of its former chief ministers has confessed in his autobiography that the Bhagalpur rioting was the doing of his party chief minister at that time. The party has not taken action against any Bihar member till today. Different probe commissions have felt that “the alienation of Muslims is 100 per cent.” They have confirmed the distance between the Muslims and the rest of the country. The commissions have given the government their recommendations. But, practically none of them has been implemented.

Some desperation among the Muslim youth is discernible. Some have joined the underworld. A few instances of bomb blasts in the country testify to the feelings of anger and religious propaganda. Most madressahs continue to bring forth the fundamentalists. Still none of them has gone the way of Al Qaeda or other terrorist outfits. It indicates that they, however brainwashed and misguided, want their countrymen to realize that their problem is economic. With a limited kitty, the problem has been aggravated further.

It is a pity that the BJP, which appeared to realize the futility of a stark Hindu line, has surrendered to the RSS, an organization of fundamentalists, lock, stock and barrel. The party seemed to be trying to separate culture and religion from politics. The question that L.K. Advani raised in Karachi was not whether the post-Pakistan speeches by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah should be recalled but whether the philosophy of secularism he adumbrated in a Muslim state was worth supporting by the BJP that equated Hinduism with secularism. He and his ardent supporters, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh, lost courage. If they had only chalked out a different path, the BJP might have been split but would have found an alternative to the RSS-supported BJP and the Congress.

Had the two-month-long crisis in the BJP been related only to the resignation of Advani from party presidentship, things would have been sorted out long ago. He is not a person who would have stuck to the office if not wanted. Observations by some of the BJP leaders must have hurt him really bad because they were practically his creatures. The question was whether the BJP had any entity of its own or whether it was at the end of a telephone call from Nagpur, the RSS headquarters.

For the first time, many occupying senior positions in the BJP showed guts. Differences were not ideological as the RSS was trying to project. In many years, George Fernandes talked sense for the first time when he wrote a letter to the RSS to stick to its socio-cultural agenda and not to dabble in the internal affairs of what is essentially its own political outfit.

Fernandes was not speaking the language of Advani or Vajpayee. He was groping for a line which the NDA, sullied because of its links with the BJP, could take in the forthcoming elections in Bihar. But all was over when Vajpayee and Advani went to RSS chief Sudarshan and assured him that they would recede into the background in due course.

The Sangh parivar’s violent segment, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), has gone to the Minorities Commission to give vent to its anger. The complaint is that Muslim leaders did not adequately condemn the attack on the Ayodhya temple. The commission, in turn, has conveyed VHP’s angry comments to important Muslim religious leaders and the community’s intellectuals at a meeting. They have attacked the media for not reporting their criticism of terrorism.

Both sides will soon meet at the instance of the commission to discuss the differences between the two communities. It’s a good move. But it seems their leaders have yet to wake up to the diversity of India and to the futility of dividing society on religious lines. This is not the concern of Muslims alone but that of the entire nation.

The writer is a leading columnist based in New Delhi.

Life under the Hasba law

By Iqbal Haider

MUCH to our disappointment the most controversial Hasba Bill was bulldozed through the Frontier Assembly. Despite strong opposition and without in-depth debate or study of its vires, viability, effect and consequences, the MMA, using its brute majority, passed the Bill.

A comparative study of the Hasba Bill with other existing laws reveals that with the exception of a couple of the clauses under Section 23 of the Hasba Bill, provisions of all other clauses are already covered by the existing laws on the list of both federal and provincial statutes on the same subject and having the same objects and purposes.

These include the Pakistan Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, anti-corruption laws, accountability laws, foods and price control laws, labour laws, Civil Procedure Code, banking laws, Civil Servants Act, the federal and provincial ombudsman laws, Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act, Regulation and Control of Loudspeakers Ordinance etc.

In any event there is no need to make any new law nor is it advisable to create new judicial or quasi-judicial authorities. If enforced, the Hasba Bill would not only create a parallel judicial system but also create conflict of laws, conflict among authorities at different levels, and would inevitably lead to confusion and chaos in the country.

If MMA is sincerely desirous of establishing good governance and carrying out reforms in society as it claims, it need not waste its time and energy on making such a controversial law in violation of the Constitution, fundamental rights of the citizens and basic human rights. Having all resources, an administrative machinery and a large majority in the Frontier assembly at its command, the MMA can easily carry out reforms, ensure good governance and remove the ills of society by ensuring the implementation of the existing laws in letter and spirit.

Despite all these powers and resources at its command, the MMA government has failed to achieve these objectives in the past three years of its rule. There is no reason to believe that the MMA would now succeed in reforming society and provide good governance through the Hasba law.

It seems the MMA government has tried to camouflage its obscurantist motives by adding some apparently non-controversial and otherwise desirable clauses in the two main sections (10 and 23) of the bill, but these two are unnecessary because laws on these subjects already exists.

The real motives and objects of the MMA government can be seen under the cover of “Amer-Bil-Maroof” and “Nahi-Anil-Munkar” empowering it to dictate and impose, through the provincial, district and tehsil mohtasibs their own peculiar orthodox, obscurantist social, moral and cultural values, norms and practices on the society to enslave the people of the Frontier. At the same time, by this law, the MMA government intends to deny the people their basic right to challenge any order or directive of the mohtasib in any court of law in the country.

In not so distant past, we have witnessed the misuse of the same principle of “Amer-Bil-Maroof” and “Nahi-Anil-Munkar” during the reign of terror of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Under these draconian laws (i) schools and colleges for women were closed down; (ii) no woman was allowed to step out of her house without the Burqa or a peculiar Hijab; (iii) no woman was allowed to drive any vehicle; (iv) music was banned; (v) even watching television or keeping television and photography were regarded as unIslamic; (vi) making of portrait, sculpture or statues was prohibited; (vii) and the height of the atrocity was the destruction of the statues of Buddha at Bamian which were part of the world heritage; (viii) what to talk of women, even the members of a football team from Pakistan wearing half pants showing legs below their knees were attacked and their heads shaved while playing a football match in Afghanistan; (ix) execution of barbaric, inhuman sentences of “sansar” (stoning to death) as well as flogging in public places, was allowed with pride; (x) non-Muslims were forced to wear a yellow band on their wrists to distinguish them from Muslims; (xi) all adult men were forced to keep a long bushy beard and any adult without it was punished by the Taliban. Though alcohol was prohibited in Afghanistan and also in Pakistan, ironically the use of all other kind of intoxicants such as niswar, opium, charras, bhang, lethal qiwam and pan tobacco were freely allowed in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Even without the Hasba law, the MMA government, taking a leaf from Taliban, vigorously pursued their oppressive policies in the Frontier. The leaders of the alliance cannot possibly deny that soon after their taking over the government in the NWFP, Mr Fazal Wahab, a critic of theocrats and author of a book against mullahs, was brutally murdered. Dr. Wahab, the author of some articles in newspapers on personal hygiene and prevention of venereal diseases, was murdered as his writings were regarded as immoral, obscene and un-Islamic. None of the murderers of these two noble authors and writers were arrested or punished. Video shops, music cassette vendors and cinema houses in the Frontier were repeatedly burnt and ransacked.

Even the shops making and selling musical instruments were destroyed and not allowed to operate. A man singing at a wedding function in Peshawar was restrained and harassed by the Frontier police so much so that he preferred to leave the province and go and live elsewhere. Singing and dancing on any occasion is prohibited, while billboards showing just the face of a woman were blackened and banned. These are just a few of the instances of intolerance and victimization suffered by the people at the hands of the MMA.

Not only in the Frontier, MMA stalwarts and workers did not hesitate in attacking, intimidating and abusing women participating in mixed marathon races in Punjab. They did so without the aid of a Hasba law. One shudders to think of the reign of tyranny and suppression that will be let loose by the MMA government once it arms itself with the proposed Hasba law.

Some of the most offending and unconstitutional provisions of the Hasba Bill are its Section 10 and Clauses I, XIV, XXIV, XXV and XXVI of Section 23, which confer on all mohtasibs unrestricted powers to enforce an ‘Islamic code’. It may be noted that by virtue of Section 10, the mohtasib will have the authority to (a) protect the Islamic values and etiquettes; (b) to ensure that government publications are useful for the purposes of upholding Islamic values; (c) to forbid government servants from acting against Shariah, etc. The proposed law does not specify whose etiquettes or whose Shariah or whose values and who will determine what is Islamic and what is not. We have more then 72 sects among the Muslims. There is no consensus even among the major sects on some of the basic precepts of the religion.

There is nothing in this law to restrain the mohtasib from imposing his own obscurantist brand of Islam and enforce values, norms and practices according to his own peculiar interpretation of Shariah or Islamic jurisprudence. There is every reason to believe that by Islamic values/etiquettes, etc., the mohtasib will impose the acts, policies and decisions of the Taliban, which had brutalized the Afghan society and brought a bad name for the Muslims generally.

Under Clause XXIV of Section 23, the mohtasib may force an adult man and woman not to marry or take any decision about their lives or choose a profession according to their choice or preference and instead follow the dictates of their parents. Similarly, under Clause XXV of Section 23, the mohtasib is free to perform any other functions, he may choose. Such an open-ended authority is unprecedented and can prove harmful. Under Clause XXVI of Section 23, mohtasib is empowered to mediate in murder cases and all or any other case of heinous crimes. The outdated concept of “jirgah” will be enforced under the Hisba law. Such mediations and decisions of the mohtasib will be without precedent anywhere in the civilized world.

Another most ludicrous aspect of Hasba law is its Section 30, which seeks to override all other laws in force. Yet another most objectionable provision is Section 25 of this law which seeks to oust jurisdiction of all the courts to question the proceedings, orders or directives passed by a mohtasib and restrains all courts from issuing any injunction against the mohtasib. Thus, the mohtasib is intended to be the most unchallengeable and unquestionable supreme authority on the face of the earth.

The Hasba law gives rise to a number of other legal and constitutional issues, as it seeks to encroach upon, invalidate and violate the fundamental rights of citizens and their human rights as well as the decent, moral norms, practices and customs being followed in civilized societies. The parallel judicial and quasi judicial forums sought to be provided by the Hasba law and its provision of ouster of jurisdiction of all courts of Pakistan are detrimental and unconstitutional and, as such, are wholly unacceptable. The Frontier assembly is subservient to the Constitution of Pakistan and it is not competent to make any law repugnant to the Constitution under any pretext whatsoever.

The writer is the secretary-general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and a former federal minister for law.

China’s currency move

THE United States and China are at loggerheads on several fronts: China’s military buildup, its piracy of intellectual property, its human rights abuses. But one potential flash point has been managed successfully so far, to the credit of the Bush administration.

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow has persuaded Congress to shelve bad legislation that would slap tariffs on China to punish it for maintaining an undervalued currency. Meanwhile, Mr Snow has urged the Chinese to reform their currency policy for their own good. China took a first step in that direction, abandoning a decade-old policy of pegging the yuan to the dollar.

China’s move is too cautious to do more than dent its trade surplus, much less cure the alarming U.S. trade deficit. The yuan will now be worth two per cent more, in dollar terms, than before the announcement; the monthly wage of a Chinese factory worker will move from, say, $100 to $102, a trivial difference.

Even so, China’s announcement is symbolically important. With China having shown itself capable of one currency move, further adjustments now seem more likely. In time, the policy of pegging the currency may give way to a more flexible, market-driven “float.”

This is the right direction to head in. Allowing the currency to float would strengthen China’s ability to manage its own economy, softening the recent pattern of inflationary booms followed by painful slowdowns.

From the global perspective, the stakes are even higher. In the past decade or so, the world has come to rely on the United States to drive economic growth. Both the U.S. government and American consumers have borrowed to spend lavishly, and the spending has stimulated not only the U.S. economy but also export-driven growth elsewhere.

— The Washington Post



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