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DAWN - Editorial; March 3, 2006

March 03, 2006


Reaping the whirlwind

A US foreign service officer was among at least four people killed in yesterday’s suicide bombing near the American consulate in Karachi. Scores of people were injured. Mr Bush’s visit to Pakistan appears to be the likely motivation for this latest act of suicidal terrorism that, tragically, kills and maims innocent citizens. In the heated atmosphere created by the cartoon episode such an incident was perhaps waiting to happen. The cartoons published in the European press have provided a fresh impetus to religious extremism. Religious parties are clearly drawing on the reservoir of genuine public fury at the blasphemous sketches to whip up an anti-government and anti-US campaign. Every party is complicit in contributing to the current hysteria where the form that the violent protests have taken has pushed the original calumny in the background and let loose a horde of rabble-rousers on the streets. Another strike is planned for today; yesterday’s attack in Karachi has set the scene for it in the most gruesome way possible.

But the religious factor is only one, although the most potent, element in the atmosphere of almost complete destabilization that has gripped the country. Balochistan and southern Punjab have been wracked by daily bomb and rocket attacks and other acts of sabotage. On Wednesday there was a renewed military offensive in Waziristan against suspected foreign terrorists in which women and children were also reported to have died. Coming as it does in the wake of the US air strike in Bajaur, the new operation is bound to stoke emotions further. Several angry groups are floating around, each with its own agenda. An open-ended commitment to US interests in the war on terror has itself become a source of destabilization throughout the region, but Pakistan is reaping the bitter harvests of decades of neglect of popular aspirations and the decimation of democratic institutions. Thoughtless tinkering with established systems of governance has politicized and weakened the administration. Civil society has been treated with contempt and the opposition sidelined.

Even where extremism is concerned, successive governments have contributed to all the humbug and hypocrisy that have come to encrust a liberal, tolerant, egalitarian and peaceful religion that had moved the world with its enlightenment and humanism. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan enabled a military dictator to make ‘jihad’ — already encouraged in various ways by governments in relation to Kashmir — a pillar of state. Peaceful expressions of dissent and protest have fallen into disuse because the feeling is that they evoke no response from the rulers, who are always ready to resort to force to crush opposition. Have we had a rude awakening yet or are we prepared, as we mourn the loss of precious lives, to continue in this state of mindless drift, refusing to return to a civilized, democratic, constitutional and responsive system of governance that isolates extremism?

Afghan allegations

THE Foreign Office has done well to dismiss as “baseless” the Afghan allegation regarding purported infiltrations from Pakistan into that country and has instead asked Kabul to “do more” to stop incursions from its side of the Durand Line. Afghanistan has been raising this issue with Pakistan from time to time, and chose to do so again on Wednesday during President Hamid Karzai’s talks with President George Bush. Pakistan has deployed 80,000 troops along the Afghan border, and its security agencies have met with some extraordinary successes in the area. Besides the uninterrupted operations against foreign militants in Waziristan and other parts of the tribal area, Pakistan has arrested a number of leading Al Qaeda terrorists, including Abu Farraj Libi, Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. In sharp contrast, the beleaguered Karzai regime has nothing to show by way of success against Al Qaeda.

Mr Karzai has been at the helm of Afghan affairs now for more than four years, both as a consensus head of government and lately as an elected president. But, apart from an unmistakable liberalization of society, there has been little by way of solid achievements for the betterment of the Afghan people. The world community had promised billions of dollars to Afghanistan for reconstruction, but the donors have refused to part with the greater part of the promised money because of the Karzai government’s failure to pacify the country and make it fit for rebuilding and reconstruction. His own security forces have not reached a stage where they could enable the UN and other aid agencies to undertake the reconstruction process with an assurance of success. Instead, it is foreign forces that are required to maintain peace in Afghanistan. The US is now in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan and expects the Nato-led forces to give peace to the country. But Nato itself is unwilling to expand its role, even though there has been some increase in the number of its troops. The result is that Nato troops have confined their activity to Kabul and Kunduz and in the rest of the country it is warlordism that is rampant. In such a situation it is not only the Taliban who have managed to reorganize and restart their activity in Afghanistan. Brigands and drug pushers are also thriving, and the country has become the world’s biggest source of opium supply.

In the winter of 2001, the US destroyed the Taliban regime militarily, but rooting out the clandestine Taliban network has proved to be a far more difficult task. The militants are there on both sides of the Durand Line, and it goes without saying that some sections of the tribal people here are sympathetic to them. They cannot operate militarily unless they are provided sanctuary and help by the locals. Tackling the locals, winning them over to the task of reconstruction and moving them away from extremism are tasks that need close coordination between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The topography of the area helps militants move across the Durand Line freely, and even the best of efforts cannot seal off a porous border that is 2,300 kilometres long. While Pakistan has been doing all it can to crush militancy, Afghanistan cannot claim to be doing even half as much. Instead, it seems to find fault with Islamabad. What can achieve results is close coordination between the security forces on both sides rather than baseless accusations which serve little purpose save that of adding to mistrust. What hurts Pakistan is the attitude of those Northern Alliance elements who dominate the Karzai government. The people and government of Pakistan have made untold sacrifices for the cause of Afghanistan’s liberation from Soviet occupation, and this country served as host to four million Afghan refugees. Even now it continues to shelter nearly three million displaced Afghans. That Afghan leaders should forget all this and instead miss no opportunity to hurl charges at Pakistan is indeed most unfortunate.

THE Romans would never have had time to conquer the world if they had been obliged to learn Latin first of all.

—Heinrich Heine

INTELLIGENCE appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without education. Education appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without the use of his intelligence.

—A.E. Wiggan

Bush’s agenda for his visit

By Talat Masood

THE forthcoming visit of President Bush to India and Pakistan is a milestone in the on-going engagement and increasing interest of the United States in this part of the world. Several factors have contributed towards making South Asia an attractive destination for significant US presence.

The emergence of democratic India as an economic and military power, Pakistan’s central role in the war on terror, nuclearization of South Asia, Pakistan’s geo-strategic location and its influence in the Islamic world are contributing factors drawing America to this region.

Fallout from the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the looming nuclear crisis facing Iran, the growing unrest in the energy-rich Muslim world and the rise of China as an economic and military powerhouse in Asia are additional factors for the importance of this region. The visit to Pakistan is also meant to be a strong endorsement by President Bush of the policies being pursued by President Musharraf, especially as related to fighting terrorism and extremism.

It goes to the credit of the United States that it enjoys at the official level very good relations with India, Pakistan and Afghanistan despite the mutual differences and on-going tensions that exist between these countries. The US deals with India and Pakistan separately, at different levels, based on mutuality of interests and at times even solely advancing its own unilateral agenda.

The United States considers India as the largest democracy in the world and a strategic partner. Indian liberalization of the economy since the early 1990s is attracting US investments, and American corporations consider India a huge potential market for their goods and services. The support for growth of India is across the political spectrum. Republicans and Democrats alike perceive India to develop into a countervailing force to China, for this they are willing to encourage India to be a capable nuclear power. The requirement of India and the United States to cooperate in nuclear energy and secure future sources of energy is the centrepiece of their current relationship.

The most extraordinary feature of this partnership is the level of confidence that US reposes in a nuclear-armed India and how it has come full circle since sanctions were imposed in May 1998 after the nuclear detonations. India’s interest, on the other hand, lies in seeking critical technologies — nuclear, space and defence — sophisticated arms and equipment, and infra-structural development from the US.

India gives high priority to acquisition of technology and assistance in human resource development. Today the highest number of foreign students in the US universities and institutions are from India followed by China.

Whereas Washington repeatedly assures Islamabad that its relationship with India is not a zero-sum game and it wants to develop a de-hyphenated, but a strong relationship with Pakistan, based on mutuality of interests. Nonetheless, Pakistan and some other Asian countries fear that India’s strategic partnership with the lone superpower will give fillip to India’s aspirations of becoming a regional hegemon.

Moreover, a common feeling prevails among Pakistanis that their relationship with the US is not intrinsic but based on expediency and currently driven by its pivotal position in the war on terror. Firstly, it has to be realized that there is no permanence in relationship between nations and it is only the mutuality of interests that provide continuity.

Without doubt, fighting the war on terror would remain America’s top global priority for years. Combating terrorism as the world has learnt the hard way, requires a comprehensive approach, and the military dimension is only one element of it. If Washington shies away prematurely from Pakistan (and Afghanistan) there is every possibility that the same forces would reorganize themselves and once again pose a serious threat not only to the United States but also to the rest of the world.

Building capacities of countries of the region to counter terrorism is one of Washington’s major priorities, and being a long-drawn process, would need to be sustained for years. As a part of the same policy the US is providing economic assistance to Pakistan on a long-term basis and it is expected that during President Bush’s visit the two countries would sign the bilateral investment Treaty to create a legal and operational framework for enhancement of trade and investment. Washington is promoting educational programmes for Pakistani students on a high priority basis both to sustain economic development and also for developing a cadre of future leadership, which is not only US friendly but also has a more comprehensive world view.

Pakistan’s geostrategic position and the United States’ deep strategic interests in the Muslim world will also keep Washington engaged and provide durability to our relationship. It is unlikely that the US will agree to a similar deal on civil nuclear energy for Pakistan, but may consider some form of arrangement in the future, provided the nuclear supplier group can be taken on board.

President Musharraf should ask President Bush to review their objections to the Iranian gas pipeline, which is so vital for meeting our energy needs, especially when the US is keeping us out of the nuclear deal. Washington is willing to sell F-16s to Pakistan, but Islamabad is now more inclined to buy a mix of new as well as refurbished fighter aircraft at reduced prices.

America’s unilateralist policies, its invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, unstinted support to Israel, selective application of democratic principles and international treaties has given rise to a powerful anti-American sentiment globally but more so in the Muslim world, including Pakistan. American policies toward Muslim countries are the subject of criticism but there is no ill-will against American people. Indeed, there is wide respect for Jeffersonian ideals and entrepreneurial spirit of its people. To win back the support of the people, the such administration ought to apply international norms more uniformly and also address the root cause of conflicts.

During his forthcoming visit to South Asia, President Bush will address the complex problem of Kashmir. The US is already engaged in quiet diplomacy but the president is likely to use this opportunity to urge both countries to move toward a resolution, as was apparent from his recent interviews to the media. President Musharraf’s proposal for self-governance and demilitarization strikes a responsive chord in US circles.

Americans are also promoting the idea of building close economic and trade links between the two parts of Kashmir. These include developing of infrastructure facilities like roads, airports etc, and creating additional employment opportunities by initiating joint projects with the assistance of foreign donors. On the question of any territorial adjustment of Jammu and Kashmir the US position is fundamentally not different from that India which favours the freezing of the status quo.

The Indians of course will harp on the jihadi problem, despite Pakistan’s assurances that they are doing their best to prevent cross-border infiltration. In any case, elaborate fencing along the LoC, installation of sophisticated electronic and other sensors and heavy presence of Indian military makes infiltration by non-state elements almost impossible.

As for promoting democracy in Pakistan, the US will continue to follow the existing policy of sidelining it in favour of its immediate strategic imperative of fighting the war on terror. On balance, President Bush’s visit, apart from being symbolic, is likely to invigorate our mutual relationship and give a new depth and dimension to it, notwithstanding, that it will be characterized by some elements of expediency.

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general.

The tunnel rail link

The history of Britain’s Channel tunnel rail link has been slow and tortuous. If the original plans had been approved the link would by now have been working for years, starting at Waterloo and going underground through south London.

That plan was scuppered, partly through fear of protests but mainly because Margaret Thatcher, who never willingly travelled by train, refused public funds for it. Eventually money was found for the easier first stage of the link from the tunnel towards London but only after the government had showered the project with public subsidies.

But if the Channel tunnel link once showed what was wrong with Britain, today the replanned link shows what is right. The first half of the connection — to Ebbsfleet — was built on time. Now the second part, also with substantial Treasury guarantees, is nearing completion too, along with the comprehensively rebuilt station at St Pancras.

The whole project, one of the largest in Europe this decade, could be completed on time in 2007 and within budget. Now that the risks are behind it, the private sector is taking a keen interest.

The government has formally invited private sector bids for London & Continental, the builder, a huge vote of confidence in its viability.

—The Guardian, London