Iran’s growing N-crisis

By Najmuddin A, Shaikh

EARLIER this month the Iranians, in the presence of IAEA inspectors, broke the seals on some of the equipment in the Natanz facility to recommence what they said was research activity on the nuclear fuel cycle. The fresh crisis this precipitated was the catalyst for the European request, after consultations on Monday with the Americans, Russians and Chinese in London, for the meeting of the IAEA board of governors on February 2 and 3, more than a month before the regularly scheduled meeting of the board in March.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that the US feared that if the IAEA waited until March, Iran would use the time to further “obfuscate” over any nuclear weapons plans.

It appears that the Europeans and Americans have been able to persuade Russia to go along with the call for the IAEA meeting and that even the Chinese, while saying in a foreign office statement “All relevant sides should remain restrained and stick to resolving the Iranian nuclear issue through negotiations” have not been sufficiently strident in their opposition to the calling of the IAEA meeting. Diplomats participating in the London discussions have cautioned that there remains a great deal of work to be done by the Europeans and the Americans to persuade the other members of the IAEA board to go along with any action, specifically a referral to the UN Security Council, that the Europeans will propose.

There is reason for this. President Ahmadinejad’s intemperate statements may have adversely influenced public opinion and provided grist for the West’s propaganda mills. But none of Iran’s actions so far have been in violation of the NPT, the safeguards agreement that Iran has with the IAEA or the additional protocol to which Iran has agreed, voluntarily, to adhere (the agreement has not been ratified by the Iranian majlis).

In September last, the EU and the US found that there was opposition to an immediate reference to the UN Security Council and ultimately settled for a resolution asserting that Iran’s nuclear activities and “the resulting absence of confidence” about its nuclear programme being “exclusively for peaceful purposes” had given rise to “questions that are within the competence of the Security Council, as the organ bearing the main responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.” Even at that time 12 members, including Russia and China, abstained on the resolution breaking the long tradition of decisions by consensus that had been the practice in the IAEA.

These abstentions were prompted by the concerns not only of Russia and China about their lucrative oil deals with Iran but equally importantly by developing countries — India being the notable exception — that Iran was being penalized for what a number of other countries had also done but without suffering penalties. South Korea, Taiwan, Egypt among others were countries that had engaged in nuclear activities without informing the IAEA or subjecting these activities to IAEA safeguards. These activities were subsequently investigated by the IAEA and the countries in question were given a clean bill of health — in the Korean case the IAEA accepted the Korean government’s explanation that scientists had engaged in uranium enrichment only on an experimental basis and without official authorization.

Further, according to one calculation some 106 countries, have yet to sign the additional protocol which would give the IAEA unfettered access to all declared or suspected nuclear-related sites and enable it to certify that there were no clandestine nuclear activities. Iran has voluntarily adhered to this protocol and at least until November Dr Baradei seemed to think that he was making progress in getting access to all suspect sites in Iran.

In November when the board met again Dr Al-Baradei presented what could be seen as a reasonably good report on Iranian cooperation in resolving outstanding issues and there was, therefore, no effort on the part of the EU to pursue a referral to the UN Security Council.

Many will argue that by resuming research activities under IAEA safeguards Iran has not done anything illegal and that this should be seen as an assertion of the right Iran enjoys under the NPT to develop its nuclear know-how and as a way of pressuring the Europeans to return to the negotiating table and present an offer better than the one put forward in August and rejected by the Iranians as “humiliating”. Many others will argue that the “red line,” if there is to be one, should be the commencement of uranium enrichment and this the Iranians have refrained from doing.

Do the Iranians have a reasonable case on the question of the EU’s negotiating stance? Iran signed the additional protocol in December 2003 having agreed to do so in October 2003 and after Dr Baradei had stated in November 2003 that there was no evidence of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. In November 2004, Iran agreed with the EU negotiators to halt all uranium enrichment activity. In January 2005, the IAEA got access to the Parchin site situated in a military facility but no sensational discovery was made. In April 2005, Iran threatened to resume uranium gasification but was persuaded to await detailed EU proposals promised by the end of July. No proposals were made by the indicated date Then, Iran announced the resumption of uranium gasification at the Isfahan facility and this acted as the spur for the submission, at long last, of a 31-page proposal by the EU for improved relations between the EU and Iran.

The main point seems to be that Iran would be required to commit itself to being bound by the NPT in perpetuity — renouncing its right to opt out of the treaty — and to for swear in perpetuity its right under the NPT to develop a nuclear fuel cycle and in return it would receive assurances for the supply of fuel for its nuclear reactors and for its research activities, apart from cooperation in other fields such as admission to the WTO. Earlier the US had said that it would, as part of the package, not stand in the way of Iran’s application for WTO membership and would allow the export of spare parts for Iran’s air fleet.

In a joint article by the foreign ministers of Germany, France, the UK and the EU foreign affairs commissioner, published on the eve of the September meeting of the IAEA board, these proposals were termed as “the most far-reaching ideas for relations between Iran and Europe presented since the 1979 Iranian revolution and would provide the foundation for a new relationship based on cooperation”. Not only the Iranians, other objective observers were also doubtful about the value of these proposals. The US controlled or influenced the major sources of nuclear fuel and, in the words of noted nuclear expert George Perkovich, “I don’t understand how the Europeans can guarantee fuel supply if the US isn’t explicitly saying it won’t impose sanctions on companies that cooperate with the Iranians”.

Equally importantly, the Europeans knew that the Iranian establishment, before President Ahmadinejad came to power, had been extremely concerned about the US military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq and was seeking security guarantees from the United States in this context. One is sure that there was also an Iranian expectation that the United States would offer some concessions on sanctions that it had currently in force on Iran and that it would also offer to release $8 billion in Iranian funds that remained frozen in American banks. In the event, the EU was able to offer only European security guarantees and these as George Perkovich says, were not “relevant when it is the United States that Iran is worried about”.

Essentially it would seem that Iran — a proud and rich country — was being asked to accept a mess of pottage in exchange for giving up what it had set its heart upon and what had become a symbol of national pride. I don’t think that there is any developing country that does not empathize with Iran’s position and will not suggest that even if concerns about Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapon capability are justified — and that can almost be taken as said — there must be greater effort to address Iran’s needs and apprehensions than the present EU approach suggests.

Are these concerns and apprehensions justified? Israel has nuclear weapons and Ahmadinejad’s unwise provocative statements or the arranging of a conference on the “Holocaust” are less relevant to Israel-Iran relations than the fact that Israel is intent on ensuring that there is no country in the Middle East that can challenge it militarily. There is no advance on proposals for making the Middle East a nuclear weapons free state.

Given what appears to be implacable American hostility, Iran has also to contend with the fact that on its other borders, it has a nuclear-weapon Pakistan allied with the United States in the war on terror, a nuclear-weapon India seeking a strategic partnership with the United States, an American-occupied Afghanistan and an American-occupied Iraq. Iran’s traditional friendship with these countries (and the influence it wields in Iraq) and continued deft diplomacy to keep these relations on an even keel does not detract from the dangers that the situation could pose. Saddam Hussain had waged a chemical war against Iran and there are even today some 100,000 survivors of these attacks serving as a grim reminder of Iran’s vulnerability.

Iran has had problems in its Kurdish region and on a smaller scale similar problems have arisen also in the Arab minority province of Ahwaz. The hand of foreign intelligence activities has been suspected at least by the Iranians. The uprisings have been brought under control by the deployment of massive military force in the Kurdish areas and harsh repressive measures in Ahwaz but the unsettling prospects of internal disturbances remain a factor in Iran’s security calculations.

Under these circumstances, the Iranians could be forgiven for believing, even if they do not say so, that in the absence of the normalization of relations with the world’s sole superpower and its allies, their country’s security requires the possession of a nuclear deterrent.

With the new president in Iran it is not certain that the West’s fears, or indeed the world’s fears, about potential proliferation will be addressed as satisfactorily as the West would like, but an effort in that direction has to be made, and that effort has to be far better than what has been put on offer. The fact that the Iranians have not rejected the Russian proposal for enrichment activity being carried out in Russia on Iran’s behalf and that the talks on this are continuing may be only a deft diplomatic move to win time but it may also be a serious signal that Iran has not entirely slammed the door on certain elements of western proposals.

How the drama is likely to unfold in the next few weeks, how this will impinge on Iran’s relations with the countries of South Asia and how this will affect the prospects of the proposed pipeline will be the subject of my next article.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Spirit of sacrifice

A FRIEND, who is a devout Muslim otherwise, has made a bizarre comment on the ritual of sacrifice performed on the Eid-ul-Azha. He says, “I think the poor goats, sheep and other animals give their lives on Eid day for nothing. They go waste because, as we are constituted today, they fail to create in us, Muslims, a corresponding spirit of sacrifice that is the concept inherent in the festival.”

I do not entirely agree with him, and nor you will, I’m sure, but there is something of the bitter truth in the comment. As it is, we harangue our countrymen day and night about the nobility of sacrifice, but make sure at the same time that we are not required to give up anything, either for Islam or for Pakistan. It is a favourite subject of political leaders, whether they are in government or in opposition. Beginning from 1947, all our heads of state and chief executives too have always been most vociferous about it.

As I have said many times before, it is the easiest thing in the world to give advice. It costs nothing, not even the obligation to follow it ourselves. And somehow advice about sacrifice rings so noble and high-sounding that it is a rare one amongst us who can resist the temptation to preach it to others. In fact it can be stated with certainty that it is the most common counsel in our social and political life.

Like guidance and admonition, it is the favourite in the world of education. Students are always receiving it, both from teachers and parents. The latter too, unable to make their children better citizens by example, confine themselves to advice on the need for sacrifice. (They also advise teachers on how to teach or how not to teach). Every “eminent” person invited to deliver the convocation address at a university or college relies heavily on it as a subject.

That is one reason why, in the domain of education, March and April, the months of convocations, have nothing else to show for themselves. Education ministers, both federal and provincial, have a busy time reading out convocation addresses written by their PROs or university professors. However, psychologists maintain (in keeping with the popular Urdu adage) that students either don’t pay attention or listen to advice of every kind with one ear and expel it from the other. Some aspects of the matter are peculiar to Pakistan. We are all the time expecting the armed forces to lay down their lives as a sacrifice for the nation, if not in war then in floods and other natural disasters. Ever since October 1958, the armed forces have learned to advise civilians to sacrifice their penchant for democracy now and then so that they can run the government of the country for a change.

After a while, when they are convinced that political government is not their cup of tea, they go back to the barracks on the plea that they have set matters right and now the civilians should be able to govern themselves better. This has happened so many times that now it is difficult to tell whether, on a given day in time, we have a democratic regime or the military one in power.

Sense of sacrifice is good for creating the delusion that we are being charitable and generous. Giving up something minor we convince ourselves (and more than that we try to convince others) that we have made a great sacrifice. After that we strut about with pride, and somehow cannot forego the pleasure of public approbation of our act. Some people make a puny contribution of a few hundred rupees for a mosque and insist that a marble tablet should be fixed in its wall mentioning them and their generosity.

This is very much evident nowadays. Some newspapers have instituted a fund for collecting donations for the victims of the recent disastrous earthquake in Azad Kashmir and parts of the Frontier province. Lists of donors are regularly published by them. It is disgusting to see how the names of even those who have given a mere hundred rupees are published. I am sure those who make such a grand “sacrifice” must be flaunting a copy of the newspaper concerned before their friends and relations, and exhorting them to do likewise and be equally generous.

Sometimes we do want to make a sacrifice of our time and money but are prevented by worldly considerations. I am reminded of the case of a pious hardware merchant, with whom I was very friendly, who was anxious to build a madressah and appoint a wholetime nazim-cum-maulana to look after it. In his limited vision this was indeed a very noble project and just what the community needed.

However, whenever he was about to realize his dream something would happen to postpone it. Once the family had to shift from Rawalpindi to Islamabad and there was the question of buying a plot and building a house in the capital; another time the weddings of two daughters necessitated putting off the plan; still another time a young son who had failed in matric exam here had to be sent to America for studies and the family went with him to set him up there.

From these examples one is likely to gather that the concept of sacrifice is all but dead. No, that is not the case. All noble concepts and ideas and beliefs are kept alive by some sincere people who not only believe in them but make it a point to follow them. However if they are genuine adherents of the concept they prefer to follow them silently, without making a song and dance about it. There are two reasons for this. One, their inherent modesty, and two, they think it is in bad taste to publicize such acts.

History and tradition are replete with stories and legend about sacrifices by well-known persons. But the real acts of sacrifice, of truly heroic proportions, never get known to the world at large because they are made by small men operating in a limited sphere. The intent and purpose of these men is to follow the dictates of their heart and not to earn plaudits and public renown. It is these people who keep up the world’s faith in the concept, Whoever they are, we must salute them.

Early learning in mother tongue

By Zubeida Mustafa

ON October 22, the federal education minister, Lt Gen (retd) Javed Ashraf, made a presentation on the “Education scenario in Pakistan” to the president and prime minister. At this meeting some key decisions were taken that were communicated by the prime minister’s secretariat to the federal education ministry for onward transmission to the provincial education departments to ensure their implementation.

These decisions, marked as “top priority”, reached various sections and departments concerned with education in Sindh on Dec 21. Some of these decisions have far-reaching significance, that is if they are actually translated into reality. Others will not have the desired impact — in fact they will have negative repercussions — because they are unscientific, unnatural and go against the basic mental development of a child.

The most important of the decisions taken on Oct 22 which needs re-thinking is the one on language teaching. Para 7 of the communication states, “English language will be compulsory from class 1 onwards.” Para 13 goes on to state, “Introduction of English as medium of instruction for science, mathematics, computer science and other selected subjects like economics and geography in all schools in a graduated (sic) manner was endorsed.”

Have our education policymakers pondered the implications of these decisions? A child is generally five years old when he is admitted to class 1. Apart from a minuscule minority coming from homes where children’s exposure to the English language is considerable, how familiar would the students generally be with English? At an age while they are still struggling with one language — in most cases not their mother tongue — would it be fair to burden them with another language of which they have no comprehension at all?

Another key question is: does it make sense to get teachers who are not proficient in a language and which is equally alien to them to teach it to a child of five? This is not an exaggeration. Whoever formulated the expression “in a graduated manner” (quoted verbatim above from the presentation made to the president and the prime minister) is a good example of the problems we can expect from the teachers who will be involved in this exercise of teaching English.

As though this were not disastrous enough, the children are to be taught science, mathematics and other “selected” subjects in English. Even without these experiments we have failed to give our children a fairly good understanding of science and mathematics. Once the teacher proceeds to speak in a language the students can’t comprehend, science and maths will be reduced to mumbo jumbo for them.

Prof Anita Ghulam Ali, managing director of the Sindh Education Foundation, who finds it difficult to swallow policy decisions of this nature without uttering a word, promptly fired off her comments to the federal and provincial ministers of education, the president, the prime minister and the secretary of education.

Describing the decision on teaching English as “strange” — an understatement — she rightly points out that the government is not clear about the ramifications of the following: — If English is taught for the purpose of being the medium of instruction. — If English is taught as a second language. — If English is taught to improve the standard of vocational and technical skills. — If English is taught to help Pakistanis be comfortable in the global village.

It is important that our policymakers should first be clear in their minds about the purpose of this decision. No one would question the wisdom of learning English not just as a spoken language for communicating orally in but also as a language in which one can read and understand texts on various subjects.

This is important because English taught for different purposes will have to be taught differently and at different stages. Psychologists, for instance, insist that a child should be taught initially in his mother tongue until he is nine or 10 and his language skills have been established. After that he can be taught in other languages with ease.

According to John Clegg, a British educational consultant, a student learning through the medium of a second language is doing more things, cognitively speaking, than he does if he is learning through his own tongue. He is not only learning subject matter, knowledge and skills, but he is also concurrently learning the language which is the vehicle for that subject-learning. This means that he has less mental processing capacity than when learning in a language familiar to him. He cannot, therefore, do some classroom tasks without help and teachers must have extra training for that.

Language has a direct bearing on the level of comprehension of a child. It must be remembered that a young child who starts attending school is at that stage in his mental, physical and emotional development when it is advisable to allow him to learn and adjust at his own pace. By pushing him to learn more than his mind, intellect, memory, cognition and temperament are ready for we only derail the learning process. More importantly, we also cause the child to lose interest in education and knowledge. Some schools are going to the extent of forcing children, their siblings and their parents to speak only in English in a bid to make the child fluent in the language.

In a study he presented to the seventh international language and development conference in Addis Ababa, John Clegg emphasized that students must learn in their local language (mother tongue) throughout their school years. He said, “Education through the medium of European languages depresses school achievement in Sub Saharan African countries. Education through the medium of a second language normally works under certain conditions, which are not fulfilled in Sub Saharan Africa. In contrast, education through European language limits levels of individual and school achievement.”

His argument that “policies promoting second language medium education could be constraining learning” came as a challenge to parents and educationists.

The general belief not just in Africa but in our own country too is that children who start learning early in English enjoy an advantage over their peers who “stay longer with their mother tongue”. But Clegg questions this belief. He argues, “Learners who do not have good foundations in their mother tongue are disadvantaged if taught in a second language and that this situation is compounded when teachers using the second language themselves lack confidence in that language.”

The main factors giving rise to the bias in favour of teaching English from an early age is first the tendency to link language with the standard of education and secondly to equate language with social status and political power. If English medium schools are by and large imparting better quality education it is not because good education is simply not possible in Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi or Pushto. After all, many of our forefathers received their schooling in their mother tongue. They learnt English at the secondary level and learnt it so perfectly as to study at college and university in English.

It would be worthwhile to introduce some pilot projects in which children are taught in their mother tongue — and all care should be taken to observe high standards by training the teachers accordingly and using good textbooks which are now available in plenty. Let English be introduced when a child is 10 — but again the language should be taught by a well trained English language teacher. At the Addis Ababa conference, Clegg suggested the establishment of African pilots of bilingual education to explore the available forms, their affordability and their acceptability to parents and planners.

It is time education policymakers in Pakistan also studied the language question not as a political issue but from the point of view learning and education. No one would question the need to teach English to all students. But a child would not lose much — in fact he may gain more — if he starts learning English in secondary school and learns it really well there.


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