DAWN - Opinion; September 19, 2005

Published September 19, 2005

Rebirth of Afghan politics

By Tanvir Ahmad Khan


ONE of my most cherished memories of a long tour of duty in Afghanistan is of the advent of dawn through the mist hanging over Bande Amir, an interlocking system of lakes well above the vegetation line. As darkness melted away, images of unimaginably clear waters of the lakes and perhaps the purest light in the world merged. Not very long after this experience of breathtaking beauty, one witnessed in the far away Kabul, the leftist coup against Daoud and, with his death, the descent of this land of celestial light into decades of darkness.

The coup marked the formal end of a political experiment of constitutionalism which had begun in the ‘60s and which had been severely strained by Daoud’s own coup of 1973. As the country went under the dictatorship of the fatally divided Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), politics gave way, in successive stages, to violent resistance to the Marxist regime, a protracted civil war, the contentious rule of the Taliban, and finally the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan.

The Afghan state all but perished in this endless time of troubles. The Taliban who had little aptitude for reviving the institutions of a modern state remained an armed movement engaged in establishing its writ on the recalcitrant northern provinces. The devastating invasion by the United States shattered whatever still existed on the ground. The decision to let the Northern Alliance storm the battered capital, Kabul, overturned the 250-year old paradigm of the Afghan state built on the bedrock of Pushtun dominance.

Afghanistan’s national personality was always a paradox. There was an undeniable overarching Afghan identity, a palpable national consciousness, which did not supersede an equally strong ethnic and linguistic allegiance. The people of Afghanistan fought the Soviet Union as Afghans and also as diverse Pushtun tribes, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and Panjsheris. As the invaders laid waste to the structures built by the totalizing, theologically-orientated Taliban, they accentuated the secondary layers of Afghan identity and thus compounded the problems task of rebuilding the shattered state.

Afghanistan’s geography and terrain militate against an extended rule by decree by an alien occupation force which even today is as small as 32,000 troops of the United States and Nato. Regardless of the ultimate American objectives in the region, the Afghan destination must be a viable political dispensation. There are discernible milestones in this unfinished journey. A convenient point to begin from is the Bonn agreement of 2001 which provided the framework for the international effort to reconstruct and rehabilitate the Afghan state, politics and economy.

The next notable event is the emergency Loye Jirga of 2002, followed by the constitutional Jirga of 2003. Against a backdrop of continuing strife in several provinces, Afghanistan proceeded to the presidential election that brought Hamid Karzai to power in 2004. Roughly a year later, even as resistance to Karzai’s government and foreign forces seemed to be hardening, the next significant stage in this evolutionary process is as elections by a single non-transferable vote to a 249 strong Wolesi Jirga (House of People) and 34 provincial councils held yesterday.

The process also includes the creation of an upper house, the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders), comprising 102 members. Each provincial council will send one member; another one-third will be nominated by the president of the republic and the remaining one-third elected by the district councils which are yet to be constituted. More than 5,000 candidates to the Wolesi Jirga and the provincial councils presented themselves to the electorate as individuals and not as members of a political party. In actual practice, however, there were party affiliations.

In fact, the main opposition figure, Yunus Qanooni, who lost out to Karzai a year ago, speaks of a bloc of opposition parties under the rubric of National Understanding Front. Final Election results are expected to be posted by October 22. The Wolesi Jirga has 68 seats reserved for women; the provincial councils no less than 25 per cent.

A counter-narrative, however, puts a large question mark before a happy ending of this comforting tale. First and foremost, there is still considerable conflict in as many as 12 provinces. The use of non-Pushtun northern nationalities as the foot soldiers of an invasion conducted largely with air power exacerbated the ethnic tensions. A mixture of Taliban’s religiosity, Afghan nationalism and raw Puhtun sense of dispossession continue to fuel the resistance. Deprived of outside support, resistance fighters find their best chance in destabilizing Afghanistan’s political and economic reconstruction. Elections provide an obvious focus and in this campaign, candidates and election workers have been targets of choice.

Secondly, difficulties in raising Afghan national forces, especially a high rate of defection, have given a new lease of life to the legendary warlords. Large swathes of the land are still “pacified” by these larger- than- life figures and in return, they appropriate to themselves powers incompatible with the idea of a national state. The present elections warranted measures to reduce the grip of warlords and many of the lesser ones have been disqualified on grounds of human rights violations and other crimes.

A UN study found that 16 per cent of the candidates needed to be disqualified on the same criteria. Despite well funded programmes for disarmimg, demobilizing and rehabilitating past fighters, there are still 1,800 armed militias, a hundred of which are classified as dangerous. The disqualification process could only be prudent and selective.

Third, the economy has not recovered enough to provide a secure base for democratic governance. A disproportionate percentage of GDP continues to be dependent on poppy cultivation and trade in drugs. Shortfall in funds available from abroad and internal instability have slowed down reconstruction. The economic scene favours the warlords and other local influentials as drug money, extortion rackets and illegal land seizures add to their, and not the national, coffers. There is little doubt that this black money has played a role in the election campaign.

Fourth, the decision to hold non-party elections may well turn out to be a mistake. In the presidential election of 2004, 70 per cent of the votes were decided by ethnic loyalties. The election to Wolesi Jirga and the provincial councils was an appropriate occasion to try to re-link present Afghan politics with the past tradition of party formation. Flawed as the party system was, it did create free associations of citizens based on principles, ideas and programmes.

Since it was my bread and butter to read their vast literature — constitutions, rules, statements of policy, manifestoes and, of course, polemics — for full four years, I can testify that the process had injected into the body politic dynamic ideas from all over the world, be it the American declaration of independence, the French Revolution, Marxism-Leninism, Chairman Mao’s thought and, above all, Muslim reformist and revivalist movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.

In fact, this nascent clash of ideas and ideologies was one significant factor which led Daoud to abolish monarchy and establish his authoritarian rule as an antidote to the anarchy of democracy. Subsequently, the Marxists seized power primarily to pre-empt an impending rightist coup and destroyed pluralistic politics.

Men perish more easily than ideas. Politics would have found a more stable base if Afghans were allowed to restore party politics for the September 18 election. It could have curbed Afghan tribalism and brought greater political discipline as the reformed parties cut across linguistic and ethnic divisions. It is true that in the period 1960-1977, there was an unwieldy proliferation of parties. But what shaped Afghan history was a smaller cluster of parties with strong ideological orientation. There was the pro-Moscow PDPA with sharply differentiated Parcham and Khalq factions.

Directly opposed to them were a number of Islamic parties, including The Islamic Democratic Party — the leadership of which included Ustad Rabbani, Prof Sayyaf and Maulvi Yunus Khalis — Syed Ahmad Gilani’s Milli Watane Pak, and Engineer Gulbadin Hikmatyar’s Hizbe Islami. The pro-Daoud Hizbe Enqilab-i-Milli strove to hold the middle ground in the face of a sharpening confrontation between the left and the right. The left itself was fractured not just between Parcham and Khalq; it had other splinter groups too, including the pro-Chinese Shola-i Javed .There were other organizations that championed ultra-nationalistic causes such as Pushtunistan.

The leftist putsch led to a belligerent polarization of political forces. Apart from the great Parcham-Khalq schism that bloodied Afghanistan and eventually sucked the Soviet Union into its internal conflict, the coup led to an unprecedented militarization of Islamic and nationalist parties that eventually formed an uneasy alliance of seven major parties or fronts leading the Afghan Jihad from Pakistan and Iran. Party-based elections this September would have been a major incentive for realignments in the political class.

The country needs to come to terms with three decades of conflict and plan its future with a better awareness of what went wrong. Perhaps millions of Afghan who went into exile and saw other countries and cultures would have been the cutting edge of this awareness. Perhaps significant numbers of Taliban and other militants could have found a place in these reconstituted parties. Electing individuals outside the collective wisdom and coherence of a political party seems to be a regressive step.

There is a cascade of questions demanding answers. Will elections help overcome armed resistance? Will elected officials promote national reconstruction or crystallize into ethnic and linguistic blocs that thwart the formation of broadbased political parties? Will these institutions carry out the groundwork for a fairly early departure of foreign troops, a step necessary for the full restoration of Afghan sovereignty?

There are no certain answers at present; only hopes that President Karzai will use the elections to finally grasp the elusive objective of a democratic, representative government acceptable to the diverse nationalities of Afghanistan. On its part, Pakistan has its task cut out; it has to find a sustainable basis for a brotherly and mutually beneficial relationship. Geography and geo-economics provide no other choice. The two nations must learn not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs whatever the temptation or provocation.

A wholehearted recognition of shared and overlapping cultures spanning millennia should translate into a large exchange programme in education, science and technology. Our common civilization should be underpinned by intensive knowledge-based endeavours. The stresses created by recent history will resolve themselves. In any case, they should not obscure the vision of a common destiny that neither nation can escape.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Recognizing Israel

By Anwer Mooraj


BY now the thinking man in the land of the pure has probably fully recovered from the headlines which etched the friendly overtures made to the Jewish state by a country that has for 57 years carried on as if the Hebrew republic just did not exist.

Predictably, the Istanbul meeting, in which Mr Kasuri gave a friendly nod to the Israeli foreign minister, Mr Shalom, has stirred up a lively debate in the media in this country where readers look forward to a healthy controversy.

After glossing over the letters that have popped up in various sections of the press on a regular basis since that fateful day, it does appear that the Cavaliers have won the first round against the Roundheads, though some did point out that the Pakistan president had been unnecessarily secretive about the move, and should have taken the assemblies into confidence rather than the King of Saudi Arabia. Had he done so, chances are that the ARD parties might have supported the government and their allies, and the home office would eventually have had to go into overdrive producing rubber stamps to reverse that offensive passage in the Pakistan passport.

However, one cannot ignore the lobby, which includes a couple of former ambassadors, that has sharply reacted to the move and the many arguments that have been advanced why Pakistan should not in any event recognize Israel. The spontaneous reaction of Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of the Jamaat-i-Islami, who heads the thumbs-down faction and whose pronouncement was, in a sense, a distillation of the chorus of negative vibes that emanate from the political right, was that the move was ‘against the ideology of Pakistan’.

Unfortunately he did not specify what the ideology of Pakistan actually is, and how recognizing the Jewish state would undermine the principles and beliefs of the people of Pakistan. Nor did he elucidate just how an essentially political decision motivated by national self interest, like establishing contact with another state, would adversely affect and undermine the firm resolve of the faithful in this country.

The opposition to the move has little to do with ideology and is actually a reaction to the excessively brutal treatment meted out to the Palestinians by a string of Israeli prime ministers in which Mr Sharon has been singled out as something of a monster. They have been accused of doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to the Jews — treating them like Untermenschen. The anti-recognition lobby has put forward other arguments which while they don’t touch on religious tenets are nevertheless compelling. They go something like this: the eventual establishment of diplomatic relations is a one-time event, and Pakistan would lose leverage once it takes the plunge. Recognition will be seen as some kind of appeasement, where Pakistan is taking on the oleaginous heartiness of the small businessman trying to clinch a deal with a bigger one, and once full diplomatic relations are established Israel will improve its intelligence gathering network, making the assets of the only Muslim nuclear power even more vulnerable. An Israeli embassy in the capital with the Star of David fluttering in the Islamabad breeze will be the obvious target of terrorist attacks and will increase militancy in this country.

Recognition, for this lobby, implies condoning the continual occupation of Palestine and the fact that while Mr Sharon knocks down Jewish settlements in one occupied area he builds fresh settlements in another. And lastly, as Israel has paid no heed to the counsels of the United States, Russia and the European Union about settling the Palestine issue, why should they listen to Pakistan which poses no military threat to the Jewish state?

The pro-recognition lobby is currently much stronger and has put forward some compelling and seductive arguments, which appear to be tilting the scales in the establishment’s favour. The main thrust of the rhetoric is that it is time Pakistan started to think of its own national interest instead of always adopting a moralizing tone and behaving like a super Islamic sergeant-at-arms.

According to this group which has given the thumbs up signal, the eventual recognition of Israel would blunt some of the hostility felt by the American Jewish lobby against Pakistan and might influence a paradigm shift in US policy in South Asia. Pakistan will certainly benefit from Israeli technology and might even discover a new supplier of sophisticated weaponry.

There is also the old conflict theory — if Pakistan can recognize India with whom it has fought three wars, why can’t it recognize a country with which it has fought no wars and had no official contact whatsoever? If four Muslim countries have recognized Israel and another clutch of Muslim powers have established trade relations, in spite of the repressive policies the country has inflicted on the Palestinians, why shouldn’t Pakistan follow suit, especially when Pakistanis are not Arabs?

There’s also the moral argument. If Pakistan feels it has a moral right to oppose any country which has inflicted suffering on fellow Muslims, why does it continue to enjoy diplomatic relations with former colonial powers like France and Holland whose soldiers committed unspeakable atrocities in Algeria and Indonesia? The spokesmen for this lobby add that it would be in extremely bad taste if Pakistan suddenly went back on its gesture now that it has made its intention clear to the international community.

When the flack started to fly back home Mr Kasuri was quick to retort that Pakistan had only made a gesture of friendship and had not gone the whole distance and that full recognition would be made only when the Israeli occupation had ended and the Palestinian state had been fully established.

Mr Kasuri appears to have gotten away with it, but it does remind one of that delightful verbal exchange from Beyond the Fringe, the revue that took London by storm in the early 1970s, when Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore fuelled themselves on the iconoclasm of the time and targeted among others unctuous white clergymen, black members of parliament, landladies and foreign ministers.

After a little light-hearted banter involving social stratification and class consciousness, one of the quartet in a rare anti-Semitic jibe said he’d rather be working class than a Jew. There was a hush in the auditorium as dense as the forest. Suddenly Jonathan Miller, the only Semite in the group, said he wasn’t really a Jew, just Jewish — you know, not the whole hog. That is probably what Mr Kasuri was trying to say. He wasn’t going the whole hog — at least, not for the present.

If one digs a little deeper beneath the surface one would realize that Pakistan and Israel really have a lot in common. Both countries were created around the same time on the basis of religion. Both countries have embryonic infrastructures, economies based largely on agriculture and light industry and long virtually indefensible borders. Both countries have fierce nationalists, large swathes of ordinary nice people who are sick of war, hate politicians and want peace, and pockets of orthodoxy that provide focal points for extremism.

Both countries have been victims of some form of oppression-in the case of Pakistan it was colonization by a European power and the degradation that lies in its wake. In the case of Israel it was centuries of targeted persecution of the most humiliating kind followed eventually by intense wide spread ethnic cleansing.

Both countries have had hostile neighbours and faced military threats from an enemy that was many times larger. In Pakistan at the time of the 1965 war with India the population ratio was five to one, whereas in Israel at its very inception, when the country was invaded by the armies of seven countries, the combined populations of the invaders outnumbered that of Israel by a hundred to one!

But in spite of the fact that there is still widespread dislike of Zionism and accusations of racism practised by the Ashkenazi minority, the Israelis have managed to retain their sense of humour and make fun of everything and everybody, including Moses who one wit in a Haifa night club said made them suffer for 40 years in a desert and then selected as a home for the Jews the only spot in the Middle East which didn’t have any oil.

Perhaps the British politician had a point when he said that a race that can produce people like Emmanuel Lasker, Akiba Rubinstein and Aaron Nimzovitsch, Yehudi Menuhin, Jascha Heifetz and Mischa Elman, and decided to finally stage Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde can’t be all that bad. All that remains is for Mr Sharon to complete Mr Bush’s roadmap.

Where is the institutional response?

By Dr Farzana Bari


AFTER the shocking incidence of the rape of Mukhtaran Mai, Dr Shazia Khalid and now Sonia Naz — which has brought into question the existence of an informal parallel judicial system of panchayats and jirgas in the country, exposed the criminal nature of the police and the inability of the criminal justice system to dispense justice in cases of violence against women — most appalling is the response of the government to the issue of rape in Pakistan.

The way the “enlightened” and “women friendly” regime of President Pervez Musharraf reacted to the rape victims and those who stood by them is no different than the reaction of a typical feudal lord or the patriarch of the family who believes that abuse and violence within the family or community is a private matter. Therefore, those who dare to speak of private matters in public must be awarded exemplary punishment for ‘dishonouring’ and bringing a bad name to the family or the community.

Similarly, the government in general and the president in particular are behaving like a patriarch of the family and constantly threatening rape victims and women rights organizations of dire consequences of “washing their dirty linen” abroad as it is believed that this will bring a bad name to the country.

Due to a dominant feudal and patriarchal mindset, the government is unable to understand that Pakistan has not been singled out in the world due to the incidence of rape as it is a global phenomenon and happens all over the world. It is the poor institutional response, mishandling of the government of high profile rape cases that got enormous media publicity at home and abroad and the mindboggling statements made on various occasions nationally and internationally by no less a person than the president of Pakistan, that have singled out Pakistan.

It is important for Pervez Musharraf to understand that images are not built by silencing the voices of the oppressed but by changing ugly realities. The statement he made to the Washington Post, and which he later denied having made, “you must understand the environment in Pakistan, this has become a money-making concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped” is most damaging to the image of the country. It shows the height of disrespect to the women of Pakistan. As a head of state he should know that he has committed a political blunder to quote the most decadent minority view as a dominant public view of Pakistanis on the issue of rape.

It is ironic that Gen Musharraf’s military regime has done the most to empower women politically through the reservation of seats and has hosted record number of regional and international conferences on gender issues that are attended by the president and the prime minister. This approach is fairly unique and uncommon as compared with other countries. And yet the government has messed up in the handling the most sensitive cases of rape in Pakistan.

What is wrong in the government approach is the lack of basic understanding of gender-based violence. It is trying to formulate an ad hoc case by case response to the issue of violence against women that is a structural issue and demands a most comprehensive institutional response. The government must understand that the direct intervention of the prime minister or the president in cases of violence against women is not the solution of the problem.

There is an inherent limitation in responding to such cases at the personal level. How many cases would they be able to intervene in? There are hundreds and thousands of women who become victims of violence everyday. What is needed is to put in place an effective, robust and specialized institutional arrangement.

Violence against women is systemic and structural that requires a structural change which is not possible without complete restructuring of the state and society in order for them to become violence free. Structural change is a long-term project. While it is important that the government works towards a long-term strategy to transform socio-cultural, political, legal, economic and criminal justice system to become more gender sensitized and responsive, there is an urgent need to develop an effective response to deal with the cases of violence that are being reported in the print and electronic media daily.

If the government is interested in building its image on the violence against women front, it needs to focus on immediate institutional solutions to the problem. Presently the institutional response to reported cases of violence is poor because our institutions are inefficient, insensitive and ill-equipped to deal with violence against women cases. In turn the pathetic delayed institutional response puts the government in an embarrassing position. Therefore, we need to establish a parallel institutional arrangement that is highly effective and efficient.

In this regard a concrete suggestion to the government will be to establish a dedicated high-profile committee consisting of members who are known for their expertise, credibility and commitment to the issue of violence against women (VAW). The committee should have an attached court (high court judges exclusively working on cases of VAW), police, laboratory with facility of DNA testing, legal experts, shelter, etc.

This committee, with its comprehensive response package to VAW, must be mobile and should be able to go from place to place across the country. The committee should hear cases of VAW on the spot, conduct investigation with their attached specialized police, the attached specialized court with its judges should decide cases promptly and dispense justice without delay.

The committee could be placed under the umbrella of the National Commission on the Status of Women or the Ministry of Women’s Development. However, it must be independent of these institutions, otherwise the inherent inefficiency of these institutions would negatively influence the work of the committee too.

The travelling committee with a comprehensive response package to the cases of violence against women will go a long way not only to bring credibility to the government but also to create a social and psychological environment that will support and promote the enlightened moderation policy.



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2005

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