A year after the tsunami

ONE year after the tsunami, it is difficult to say whether the world has learnt its lessons. The tsunami of Dec 26 last year was one of the worst disasters in recorded history and killed — official figures — 223,492 people, besides rendering nearly two million homeless. The countries hit by the tidal wave in the wake of the earthquake with a magnitude of 9.3 on the Richter scale ranged from Indonesia to Kenya, though the brunt of the devastation was borne by Indonesia, where 168,000 were killed in the Aceh province alone. Another tsunami cannot be ruled out, because it is caused by an earthquake, and despite all the scientific progress mankind has made — especially in developing weapons of mass destruction — man still cannot predict an earthquake well in advance. Scientists say temblors occur in clusters, and that the effects of the faults created in one place or the movement of tectonic plates in another touch off a chain reaction. As an example, geological experts point out that 10 major earthquakes took place between 1950 and 1965. But these are conjectures and cannot be called scientific truths.

What is the state of recovery 12 months later? According to Unicef, “the process of rebuilding is just beginning”. In its report the United Nations’ International Children’s Emergency Fund says “tens of thousands of families are still in temporary camps”. The estimated cost of reconstruction is $10 billion, but Unicef says it has so far received only $626.6 million, out of which it has spent nearly one-third. A greater indication of the effect of the disaster on individuals and states is available in the report released by former US President Bill Clinton, who is the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for tsunami. Like Unicef, Mr Clinton says the recovery process is still in its early phases. There is no doubt that temporary shelters, schools and health clinics have been built, but the construction of permanent homes and infrastructure is just beginning, because the economies of the countries concerned will take time to come out of the disaster. He concludes on a realistic note that it will take “many years” before households “and the wider economies on which they depend” will be able to fully recover. As for the establishment of an early warning system, he says: “It is progressing well.” According to Unesco, an early warning system could be in place in the Indian Ocean by June 2006.

Pakistan’s own earthquake rendered more people homeless than the Indian Ocean disaster did. There were additional problems here for relief agencies, because access to the sites of disaster had been blocked by massive landslides and damaged bridges. The nation and humanity at large responded quickly, but the absence of a trauma management agency made itself felt. Erra — the Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority — came into being after the temblor had struck. A disaster management cell is there in the prime minister’s secretariat, but it was unable to spring into action because it existed only on paper. The homeless are now braving the Himalayan winter in tents, very few of which have been winterized. The nearly 100,000 dead cannot be brought back to life, but Pakistan must learn its lessons. Erra should become a national body, possibly with another name, with branches in all provinces. These branches should be well-stocked action-stations where the relief machinery should be able to move quickly whenever there is a humanitarian disaster. Pakistan’s northern region is, no doubt, quake-prone, but a natural or man-made tragedy can occur in any part of the country.

Madressah registration

THE registration of madressahs in Pakistan is proving to be a more challenging job than had been anticipated. With the sponsors of the 14,000 or so madressahs not overly keen to register, one obstacle or another keeps arising and the process is prolonged. As a result, the deadline of December 31 for registration has had to be waived — the second time this has been done. The Ittehad Tanzimul Madaris Deeniya (ITMD), which represents the madressahs, has been expressing one reservation after another. The government has been trying to accommodate its demands in order to avoid a confrontation. An agreement has now been reached and from the few details available it appears that the government has watered down its requirements even further. Thus the madressahs are now required to submit an annual academic performance report and not a comprehensive report as required earlier, get any auditor to audit their accounts and not necessarily the registrar of the cooperative societies, and can teach the comparative study of religions. Each provincial assembly will adopt a law for registration on the agreed lines.

The proposal for the registration was designed to bring the madressahs in the educational mainstream and regulate their working. Some of them were funded from abroad and had emerged as centres preaching extremism, sectarian hatred and violence. After 9/11 they had come to be linked with terrorism that has become the bane of the modern world. As the conditions of their registration are relaxed, one cannot be too certain whether their working will actually be regulated. In the present conditions, the government should ensure that the madressahs are held accountable for their working by providing more information if the registrar finds it incomplete and makes enquiries. Above all, a system of inspections of all madressahs should be instituted as is supposedly done in respect of schools. It needs to be made clear to the madressah managements that the registration process is not just a ritual. The idea is to broaden the curricula of these institutions, inculcate tolerance in them and cleanse them of hatred and violence.

A horrifying crime

YET another heinous crime committed in the name of honour has made international headlines and may again give Pakistan the reputation it is trying to shed. This time, Nazir Ahmed, a labourer in Burewala, slit the throat of his four daughters (aged 25, 12, eight and six) because he was angered at his eldest daughter’s decision to marry of her own free will. In a bid to lure her home, he pretended that he’d forgiven her but as she and her unsuspecting sisters slept at home on Saturday, he murdered all four before surrendering himself to the police. One has grown accustomed to hearing of such cases but it is still difficult to understand how a man could so brutally murder his own daughters because he did not want them to follow in their elder sister’s footsteps. Such is the tragic fate of an unaccounted number of women in this country whose lives are governed by antiquated customs and false notions of honour.

It is doubly tragic that the event occurred on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision asking IGPs to prevent the equally barbaric custom of vani. Just when women might have felt safe knowing that the police would protect them from brutalities imposed on them by their own families, Nazir Ahmad’s crime reminds them — and society — of the grim realities. This makes it even more important for the state to ensure that the man is duly punished under the law for unlike other honour crime cases where it fails to gather sufficient evidence, in this case it has the father’s confession. The more the perpetrators are punished, the higher the chances are that men will think twice before imposing their will on innocent women. The intelligentsia too must play a role by enlightening people about blind adherence to some primitive customs and traditions.

Denying democratic right to Hamas

By Tanvir Ahmad Khan

THERE is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the western project of bringing democracy to Arab-Islamic societies. Stripped of rhetoric, democracy is meant to be a procedure to elect representatives and rulers approved in advance by the principal arbiters in centres of global hegemony. A verdict by a Muslim electorate in favour of a political party that anchors its agenda in Islamic values is virtually a casus belli.

The denial of this democratic right was the beginning of a protracted conflict in Algeria. Now Israel insists that Hamas cannot be allowed to participate in the forthcoming Palestinian elections and if Mahmoud Abbas does not eliminate Hamas from the contest, Israel will not allow voting in Jerusalem . Sharon’s spokesman considers a possible Hamas victory as the end of the peace process.

This is a disconcerting and perplexing response to the recent gains made by Hamas in the local body elections. Analysed in the framework of accepted norms applicable to conflict resolution, the transition from armed struggle to a readiness to participate in a political process — the momentous shift from bullets to the ballot — is a desirable transformation that should be encouraged.

This is the matrix of all initiatives by the United Kingdom, Ireland and the international community in the case of Northern Ireland. This is what every Arab-Islamic government would devoutly pray for in the case of Palestine. This is, indeed, what many thoughtful Israeli peace activists would want. But this is the change that Sharon fears most for the obvious reason that it would deprive him of a major excuse for systematically dismantling the peace process painstakingly put together at Madrid and Oslo.

“Historical experience,” writes Yoram Schweitzer of Israel’s Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies in a recent article “suggests that the entry of terrorist organizations into political processes and parliamentary competition has a moderating effect on their behaviour. In certain circumstances, it has even prompted them to abandon terrorism as the primary mode of action and replace it with political activism.”

This observation would be widely shared but unfortunately it runs counter to Israel’s project of coercing the post-Arafat Palestinian National Authority into accepting a settlement that cedes a large chunk of the West Bank to Greater Israel, abandons all Arab claims on Jerusalem, negates the Palestinian right of return forever and abridges Palestinian sovereignty to municipal powers in some disconnected territories.

Democratization of Arab Palestine is expected to be synonymous with the legitimization of Israel’s expansionism since 1967.

Since Hamas’ entry into the political arena may give heart to Mahmoud Abbas’ resistance to this self-serving interpretation of democracy for Palestinians, it must continue to be demonized as a ‘terrorist organization’.

Opposing the historic manoeuvre by which Hamas seeks to assume a political role alongside Fateh and other Palestinian factions, albeit without giving up the right of armed resistance to the 38-year-old occupation, demonstrates more than anything else how deep-seated is the fear of peace in some of the most powerful echelons of Israel’s establishment. Evidently, this opposition at this point of time is a tactic that reduces the options available to Mahmoud Abbas and perhaps forces him to postpone the elections scheduled for January 2006.

Israel’s own political spectrum extends from enlightened left-liberals of the Labour party to rightist extremists whose irrationality and racism match the political ideology of Hitler’s Nazism. This spread of opinion and policy is cited as proof of the democratic temper of the Jewish state but the same state arrogates to itself the right to prescribe to the Palestinians the limits of their politics.

HAMAS — Harkat al Muqawwama al-Islamiyya — is a child of the Palestinian intifada. It was born out of a painful realization that the broader secular Palestinian struggle for freedom needed to be reinvigorated, and if need be supplanted by, a movement drawing upon Islam’s historical conflict with injustice. Its roots are to be found in the growing apprehension that PLO’s decision to embark upon the uncharted peace process had been cynically exploited by Israel to intensify land appropriations, settlement activity in the West Bank and Jewish colonization of East Jerusalem. Nor had the peace process curbed the Israeli extremist view that ultimately the Palestinian question would have to be solved by the mass expulsion of Arabs from Eretz Israel.

Faced by the threat of annihilation, a segment of the Palestinian activists turned to the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood for inspiration and concluded that they must build an enduring capacity to counter the incremental depredation of Israel. Sharon’s invasion of Lebanon and a clear demonstration that the only effective resistance to it came from the much maligned ‘warriors of Islam’ added a new dimension to the Arab struggle for survival. This development is reminiscent of similar stages in the emergence of the French resistance, the Yugoslav partisans who took on the might of the third Reich, the IRA and countless liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Its essence is clear enough: the martyr embraces death so that his people can live.

In its formative years, Hamas talked of supplementing Yasser Arafat not challenging him, of deepening the intifada by enabling the people to absorb the Israeli reprisals and of creating a multi-tiered long- term resistance in collaboration with the PLO cadres.

Gradually, Hamas designed itself as an alternative to the PLO with its own distinctive political, intelligence-gathering and military wings. Its point of departure from the PLO was two-fold. First, PLO was a national platform that united Muslim and Christians in a joint secular liberation movement. Hamas reflected the view that this unity should not obliterate the Islamic identity of the Muslim component of the nation.

Secondly, even as the majority of Palestinians followed Yasser Arafat in exploring all available avenues of negotiating a settlement with Israel under the US-driven peace process, there was a strong body of opinion that Israel would never offer honourable terms for it.

A Hamas leader, Ibrahim Al-Quqa defined intifada as going beyond the “circles of politics, or raising (of) and discussing (the) issue in conferences and organizations” and aiming at “liberating the land, and the honour and creed” — a comprehensive and extensive liberation of Palestine from imperialist oppressors, as he put it. It was, as the memorable writings of late Edward Said showed, by no means a mere Islamist or Jihadist view of the Palestinian dilemma.

Sharon’s invasion of Lebanon and Israel’s subsequent determination to virtually annex a sizable part of southern Lebanon has never been fully discussed in our own midst. In fact, I recall a number of occasions when Arab intellectuals and diplomats showed me copies of a strangely composed tribute to Sahabzada Yaqub Khan by the internationally known American columnist, Safire, in which this distinguished writer strained an observation made by the Pakistani foreign minister to him to imply that he advocated a continuous American military presence in Lebanon. This was clearly a motivated construction put on what he had said to Safire but it underscored the role that Lebanon was expected to play in the destruction of the Palestinian liberation struggle. That Israel was to hold on to this strategic enclave till the Hezbollah made it materially untenable lent credence to the view that resistance to Israel could not be exclusively political.

In its early years, the relative emphasis by Hamas on community values and welfare projects made it relatively more acceptable to Israel than the militant wings of the PLO. In Islamic Politics in Palestine, Beverley Milton-Edwards has documented Israel’s hope that Hamas, as a reformist, welfare-oriented movement would actually dilute Yasser Arafat’s hold on Palestinian politics. There are several milestones marking the ascendancy of the Izzul Din al-Qassam brigade in the Hamas hierarchy but perhaps no more dramatic than the massacre of 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron by an Israeli settler on the fateful February morning 1994.

There is an inherent banality in such random acts of violence but in the context of the Sharon-authored colonization of the West Bank, it dramatizes a fear of extermination. Earlier, in December 1992, Israel had rounded up more than 400 Hamas activists and left them stranded and derelict in Marj al-Zahour in occupied southern Lebanon.

Unlike some other militant factions such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas has shown an awareness of present day regional and global realities by its willingness to terminate its boycott of political institutions under conditions of alien occupation. It regards abandonment of armed struggle as premature, but implicit in its bid for a share of political power is the promise of accepting Israel’s right to exist within its pre-1967 borders.

Political participation will change the semantics of intra-Palestinian rivalries and set the stage for productive negotiations between the two nations for a genuine two-state solution provided Israel throws up a leadership that accepts peaceful co-existence within secure frontiers as its principal objective. Security in the Middle East is not divisible and Israel will never find it without according it to the other party.

For the Arabs, it has been a long retreat since 1949 but there is no space left for its further extension. Doubtless, Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas know this reality. The Palestinian voter is making it manifestly clear that it now leans towards those who rule out anything less than a viable nation state of their own with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2005


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