DAWN - Editorial; September 26, 2005

Published September 26, 2005

Election politics

WITH many still seething over the way the first round of local elections was conducted, candidates for the next round on October 6 are well into the fray. Polling will now be for town/taluka and district nazims and councils, and will be indirect. Nazims will be elected by the councillors of towns, talukas and districts. Naib nazims will be elected after the elected councils have been called into session, and there will inevitably be further manipulation in the intervening period. Some heavyweights have decided to enter the ring for the second round, promising intense contests. According to the Election Commission, there are some 426 candidates for the posts of 109 nazims. Permutations and combinations are being worked out, and all the major political parties, including the ruling one, are unabashedly in the field, making a mockery of a process that is supposed to be basically non-political. Newspaper reports suggest a replay of the scene prior to the first round, with money, political influence and official pressure in full play.

Often what goes on before an election can have a greater impact on the outcome than rigging during the process. The Election Commission issued a number of commendable directives before the local elections began, but when the crunch came, they were largely ineffective in preventing many irregularities. Its stock response was to ask complainants to file applications or petitions. It did not (or could not) do anything to investigate allegations of kidnapping of opposition candidates and harassment by the police. It seemed reluctant to take action against ministers and other officials functionaries for canvassing in favour of their nominees. As a result, public confidence in the commission’s neutrality and effectiveness was further eroded. It will be futile to expect a more pro-active role on its part in the forthcoming round because successive governments have found it convenient to keep the commission toothless. The present government, early on, had promised an independent election commission enjoying a statutory status. But this has not happened in practice. It is absolutely vital that before the general elections scheduled for 2007, the commission is constituted as an independent body in consultation with political parties and made answerable to parliament.

This will be a major step in democratizing our political culture that is rooted in feudal norms and practices and has been distorted, additionally, by the prolonged absence of representative governance. Powerful groups of vested interests, rather than political parties, have dominated most of the electoral exercises to have taken place in the past. The political parties are also to blame for this because picking up ‘winnable’ candidates rather than the most desirable or the most committed provides an easy way out. An abiding paradox is that, looking at the daily press statements and speeches, one gives the impression of being one of the most highly politicized societies in the world, but in actual fact we are one of the politically most underdeveloped and immature countries. Even in the choice of nazims and naib nazims, most sponsors have fallen back on the time-tested formula of selecting candidates from locally powerful clans. The practice of holding non-party elections — one of the military’s favoured means of keeping the hoi polloi in control — has only encouraged ‘biradari’ politics. Once the dust settles down next month, political parties as well as the ruling establishment should seriously consider all these issues.

The growing gun menace

THE seizure of a large number of AK-47 assault rifles, bullets and magazines by customs authorities in Kohat district draws attention to the perils of unchecked arms proliferation in the country. While the fact that the weapons, bound for Punjab from the notorious gun-making centre of Darra Adamkhel, were Indian-made adds a troubling new dimension to the problem, the blame for the production and sale of illegal weapons inside the country rests with the government. Its complacent attitude towards a menace that has been a major contributory factor in the rising crime graph and violence in the country is apparent from the fact that arms licences for banned weapons were issued to a number of parliamentarians last year. It did so without considering the kind of dangerous message this could convey to the law enforcement agencies and ordinary people, many with criminal tendencies. Neither has it tried hard enough to curb the sale and public display of arms. Where international obligations are concerned, Pakistan has yet to ratify the UN Firearms Protocol that it signed in 2000.

Against this background, it should come as no surprise that the country is flooded with illegal arms (10 million according to one estimate). Even ordinary crimes — let alone terrorist acts — like thefts are committed by men armed with dangerous weapons because of the easy access to these. The pervasive effect of this gun culture can be seen across the country — from educational institutions where, despite the presence of the Rangers, violence occurs from time to time to the militant wings of religious and political parties. Moreover, the display and use of arms are also a part of the cultural milieu in the tribal belt and parts of the Frontier and Balochistan where children grow up under the shadow of the gun. The problem, then, is multi-pronged and calls for a similar strategy if it is to be checked through preventive action. The government will have to cast aside its non-serious attitude and take serious steps to control the widespread problem of production, sale and use of illegal weapons.

Too many power failures

WHENEVER temperatures soar in Karachi, one can be sure that power outages are soon to follow. So it comes as no surprise that the city’s residents have endured on average six to eight hours of daily power failures this past week. As was expected, the KESC has denied what was painfully obvious: that this is a case of unofficial load-shedding rather than sporadic failures. Instead, it stuck to its usual line of citing technical faults as the reason behind the frequent blackouts — one that convinces no one. That the utility has never felt that it owes an explanation to its consumers is strange and only adds to the citizens’ frustration. We witnessed some of it in April when an electricity complaint centre was attacked by irate consumers. Yet that outrage has not resulted in the KESC becoming more forthcoming in explaining what exactly is causing the present spell of outages. Whether it is a technical fault, as is often said, or whether there are cases of an unannounced shortage of power remains a matter of speculation. This is not how a public utility should conduct itself vis-à-vis the consumers.

Despite tall claims of improving its services, the military-led management of the KESC has failed to curb power theft through illegal connections. It has even failed to bring down line losses, which still stand at 40 per cent, whereas the internationally accepted level is below 10 per cent. Power rates remain the highest in the region, so it is doubly frustrating for those who are paying exorbitant power bills but are still suffering. If the KESC management wants to win the trust of its consumers, it needs to come clean over the reasons behind the present power outages and remove these soon and effectively.

Importance of ties with Israel

By Mansoor Alam

PAKISTAN decision to establish contact with Israel has generated a lot of interest and controversy among Pakistanis. But before analyzing the pros and cons of this initiative let us first look at the facts. First, the meeting held between the foreign ministers of Pakistan and Israel in Islamabad and the subsequent “chance” meeting between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the UN in New York did not amount to recognition of Israel by Pakistan.

According to international law, bilateral negotiations do not imply recognition. In fact, even the opening of a trade office in a country, otherwise not recognized formally, does not constitute recognition.

Second, recognition of a state and of a government are two different things. The former is irrevocable, unless the country disintegrates and disappears like the USSR or Yugoslavia and loses its juridical personality. On the other hand, recognition of a government is specific to that government, although it does not have to be formally renewed after every change of government.

Third, establishment of diplomatic relations means recognition of a state, but breaking of diplomatic relations does not mean de-recognition of a state.

For instance, Pakistan refused to recognize the governments of Babrak Karmal and Najibullah but that did not mean de-recognition of Afghanistan by Pakistan.

Fourth, Indo-Israeli ties have been growing stronger and appear to pose a threat to Pakistan’s strategic assets, particularly in the wake of Dr. A. Q. Khan’s sale of nuclear technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea. It was necessary to do something to weaken this threat.

Fifth, the Palestinian attitude on the Kashmir issue has not been half as supportive as Pakistan’s has been on the issue of Palestine. That has been a source of great disappointment among many Pakistanis who have, therefore, been advocating a change in Pakistan’s policy of no-contact with Israel.

Now, let us look at the points made by the critics of this initiative. One is that Pakistan did not take the Palestinian leader into confidence.

However, President Mahmood Abbas dispelled that impression by revealing that President Musharraf had spoken to him before Kasuri-Shalom meeting.

The impression is the initiative would not have any impact on Israel’s hardline attitude on withdrawal from the West Bank and creation of an independent Palestinian state. The truth is that President Musharraf and foreign minister Kasuri never said it would, and did not mention that as a reason for establishing contact with Israel. However, the possibility that it may have some impact cannot be ruled out because direct talks often lead to better mutual understanding and a compromise-based solution.

Did the meetings imply rewarding Israel before evacuation of occupied territories and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state? certainly not.

Pakistan has not established diplomatic relations as yet and President Musharraf has repeatedly said that Pakistan would not recognize Israel until it had agreed to the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state. Hence Pakistan has not rewarded Israel for anything in any sense.

The impression that it will weaken the diplomatic position of Palestinians vis-a-vis Israel is not correct. Palestinians will continue to enjoy Pakistan’s full backing and support as before. The meetings of Pakistani leaders with their Israeli counterparts do not imply any change in Pakistan’s principled stand on various Middle East issues.

The some is the case with the suggestion that Pakistan has made concession to Israel without getting anything in return. The argument is not sustainable. Dialogue with an adversary does not mean making concessions. If that was the case, Pakistan should not be talking to Indians because they too have not implemented the UN resolutions on Kashmir.

To think that President Musharraf was naive if he though that it would weaken the Indo-Israeli nexus, would be incorrect. The point is that it was not the main consideration for the overture towards Israel and that is not the expectation of President Musharraf. But it will certainly help reduce the Israeli apprehension about Pakistan’s nuclear programme and reduce the anti-Pakistan feeling of the Jewish lobby on the Capitol Hill.

The holders of dogmatic attitude on international issues need to understand that no state, not even a superpower, can live in isolation in today’s interdependent world.

Hence they should keep in mind the ground realities while analyzing the pros and cons of the initiative taken by the government of Pakistan to open the doors of diplomacy to Israel. One should try and avoid the damage that is caused by a rigid stand without the power to back it up.

Islamic countries refusal to talk to Israel has been exploited by the latter to create the perception that they are opposed to the very existence of Israel and thereby obfuscate the real issue of its illegal occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights.

It was President Sadat’s much criticized decision to enter into bilateral talks with the Israeli Prime Minister, Menachin Begin, that finally led to the Camp David accords and return of Sinai to Egypt.

As to the negative impact of Pakistan’s initiative on its relations with the Palestinians, there has been none so far. There has also been no adverse reaction from any of the Arab countries, including Syria, which indicates that they do not think that Pakistan’s initiative will harm the Arab-Palestinian cause. Moreover, Pakistan has reiterated that its recognition of Israel would depend on the latter’s withdrawal from the occupied territories and East Jerusalem and an agreement on the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

In diplomacy the two most important ingredients of success are pragmatism and timings. Many equate pragmatism with opportunism — which is wrong. The former means taking the best course available in an adverse situation, while the latter means grabbing an opportunity at the cost of another person or friend.

Pragmatism is not devoid of principle and that is why it is not frowned upon, whereas opportunism enjoys no respectability. Pakistan’s initiative of opening dialogue with Israel comes in the first category as it has been taken after a lot of deliberations and is likely to help both Pakistan and Palestine. At least it will not harm the interest of the Palestinians.

Importance of a timely action is another virtue in the field of diplomacy. Right timing has always played a crucial role in war and peace.

It can make the difference between defeat and victory. Thus the opening of dialogue by Pakistan with Israel at this juncture, when it is seen by the world and Israel as an important member of the comity of nations is the right decision. International situations can change suddenly as happened after 9/11, 7/7, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989 and its unexpected collapse in 1991. All these four events had a profound impact on Pakistan’s standing in world affairs.

Such being the vagaries of international affairs, the real value of an action lies in taking it at the right time. That is the case with Pakistan at present in regard to its policy towards Israel.

In the words of Israeli foreign minister, they consider Pakistan as “the most important Islamic country” including Indonesia and believe that it can be of great help in improving its ties with the Islamic world. That belief in Pakistan’s importance gives it a leverage that it can use to the advantage of Palestinians.

Finally, we cannot ignore the that fact Israel enjoys special relationship with the US and has a very effective lobby in that country which influences the decision-making process of the government. There is a need to change the perception of that lobby that Muslims are incorrigibly hostile to the Jews. One can also take the position of total indifference to what they think or do.

On the other hand, one can show a better understanding of the deep-rooted fear of the Jewish people who, having suffered exile, pogroms and holocaust for two thousand years at the hands of Christians, are now afraid of everyone, even Muslims who have always been friendly, hospitable and generous to them

To conclude, the decision of President Musharraf to open a channel of communication with Israel is correct because it is pragmatic, timely and likely to serve the interest of Pakistan without undermining the Palestinian struggle for freedom, independence, dignity and a state of their own.

The writer is a former ambassador.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2005



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