DAWN - Editorial; April 30, 2006

Published April 30, 2006

No more appeasement

WHATEVER the genesis of the current rampant extremism in Pakistan, and whether or not Pakistani and American interests coincide in resisting this phenomenon, President Musharraf is right in saying that the fight against terrorism has to be fought for the sake of Pakistan. What is happening in Waziristan, with its trickle-down effect on the rest of Pakistan, cannot be exaggerated. It is not just the problem with militants from Afghanistan; a new breed of Taliban cadres has sprung up in the frontier regions that seeks to replicate the ideology and the methods of its reactionary predecessors. As a columnist writing in this newspaper pointed out yesterday, Taliban radicals have announced the formation of a “republic” of their own in Jandola, groups of them also dominate Tank and elements have moved into Dera Ismail Khan. The writ of the district authorities, including the nazims, has all but disappeared. A retired army colonel has been quoted as saying that a renegade tribal leader virtually controls much of North Waziristan. Violence, sectarian and otherwise, has been reported from Gilgit, Kohat and Bajaur. The government cannot sit back and let the menace spread. The clerics who criticise the government on this account should realise that this is something that is going to eat us all up if it is allowed to go on unchecked.

The constant harping on the American dimension needs to be seen in perspective. One wants to ask the obscurantists and the leaders of the MMA to tell us of one period in our history when we have not done as the Americans have wanted us to do. Our involvement with US strategic interests has been the most dominant determinant of both our external and domestic policies. Our dependence on US military and economic aid, and our military’s ambitious objectives in the region, have ensured that the Americans whistle, and we jump. There has always been resistance to the American connection, dating back to the early years of Pakistan and encompassing the Vietnam war era, but this came from the liberal sections of society. The mullahs and right-wing ideologues have discovered the pernicious side of US influence only now: otherwise they were happy to go along with the Americans, specially during the Afghan jihad in the days of Ziaul Haq when many sacred cows were fattened. The liberals were sidelined by the military because of their commitment to democracy, and the right-wingers allowed to rule the roost.

Having said all this, Gen Musharraf must understand two things. One, that he cannot absolve his own military from, over the years, planting the dragon’s teeth that dot the north-west and Balochistan. He was late in realising the umbilical link between the jihadi groups patronised vis-à-vis Kashmir and domestic extremist and sectarian outfits, but now that this is clear, further appeasement has to end. How this is to be done brings us to the second point: the use of force, which often fails to distinguish between friend and foe, may prove as counter-productive as appeasement. Civilian political institutions in the tribal and northern regions should be reinforced, not brushed aside. One of the military’s great mistakes has been to believe that it is the repository of all wisdom. That is one of the reasons for the political mess created in the past and the mess that we are in. Civil institutions, including political parties, must be taken along in tackling extremism and terrorism in all its manifestations.

Chirac’s commendable move

FRENCH President Jacques Chirac’s proposal for setting up a special World Bank account to channel money to the Palestinians could help relieve the current financial crisis in the occupied territories. During a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris on Friday, the French president said he would make this proposal to his European and international partners. The situation in the occupied territories has become grim following the suspension of aid by the PA’s western donors and Israel’s own decision to freeze the transfer of revenue receipts meant for the authority. The PA has over 160,000 employees. This is a large bureaucracy for the tiny territories over which the authority has some kind of control, but the salaries given to them support a million people, including families whose members have been murdered by Israel or who were killed in fighting with Israeli troops. The denial of funds by Israel and its western backers is a political move, designed to cause the collapse of the Hamas government, but it is hurting the beleaguered Palestinian people, who are being punished for electing Hamas to power. March salaries have not been paid to PA employees, people have stopped going to work, and this could lead to what President Abbas called “a catastrophe”.

The US is supposed to be a peacemaker in the Middle East, but the extent of its hostility to the Palestinians is evident from the pressure it is putting on banks to stop the transfer of even the money being given to the PA by Arab states, Iran and Russia. The idea is to make the PA “a failed state”. In the first place, a state that has not even come into being cannot be a failed state. Second, the issue here is alleviating the misery of the Palestinian people. The western-Israeli hope is that the unrest in the occupied territories will lead to violence that will bring about the fall of the Hamas government. This kind of cynicism may stifle the new government, but will that advance America’s cause of “spreading democracy” in the region?

Schools without basic facilities

IT comes as no surprise that half of the country’s public schools do not have any access to water or toilets and a whopping 70 per cent are without electricity. These dismal statistics are contained in a June-December 2005 report by the finance ministry on poverty whose breakdown on schools in the provinces is gloomy: in Balochistan only 17 per cent have water facilities while in Sindh it is 46 per cent; in the NWFP it is 50 per cent and in Punjab it is 79 per cent, which shows that the provincial government there has made some strides in this respect. But the situation of schools without toilets is dismal: only 21 per cent have washroom facilities in Balochistan, in Sindh 49 per cent and 59 per cent in the NWFP while in Punjab the figure is 49 per cent. It is cruel to subject children to hardship in shabbily built school buildings 50 per cent of which do not have boundary walls. It is as callous to expect children to endure extreme temperatures in, say, the NWFP where 63 per cent of schools are without electricity.

Although the government claims to have increased the education budget, it is difficult to fathom where the funds go when so many primary schools in the country are in a dilapidated state and without basic facilities and services. How can parents be expected to send their children to schools in such an awful state? No wonder many parents prefer their children to go to madressahs where they are better taken care of, at least in terms of basic facilities. The government must take note of the pathetic condition of schools portrayed in the finance ministry’s report and take immediate steps to rectify it.

Challenge of coexistence with India

By Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty


HAVING been created in the teeth of India’s opposition, whose Hindu majority considered the division of “Bharat Mata” (Mother India) a sacrilege, Pakistan has had to contend with India’s hostility from its very birth. Imperatives of national survival have largely determined our defence and foreign policy, impelled our entry into western pacts and shaped our strategic partnership with China as well as our nuclear policies that have been aimed at safeguarding our sovereignty and independence.

The end of the Cold War was one global watershed. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on American soil have become another. Pakistan’s geo-strategic location has again made us highly relevant in the world’s most sensitive region, where strategic, economic and civilisational rivalries are at play. The world’s only superpower is guided by a doctrine that has made power the dominant element once again, and is seeking to ensure that it continues its hegemony in the 21st century.

As the theatre of global confrontation has shifted to Asia, where the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, both neighbours of Pakistan, are rising in economic and military power, jockeying appears to have started for a new alignment of forces. For the conservative forces led by the US now dominant in the world, the principal threats are China economically, and Islam (which they equate with militancy and terrorism) ideologically.

Israel has acquired a special status in US security policy, and now India appears to be moving towards a third angle of this triangle, that would interact with Australia and Japan on the periphery of China to contain it. Russia, that has been almost marginalised in Europe, is also turning eastwards, where the bulk of its territory is. It may join China in global strategy, but would also seek to preserve its close relations with India, while interacting with Islamic states such as Iran, and those in the Arab Middle East and in Central Asia.

With India receiving US and western patronage as a democracy, and as an anti-Islamic force, there are some analysts who are becoming alarmed at the success it is apparently having in its diplomacy and hegemonic ambitions. Used to Indian tactics, and mindful of Indian traditions dating back to Chanakya, they are fearful that India will soon have the muscle and the diplomatic weight to absorb its smaller neighbours. It had got away with annexing Sikkim, and its former BJP rulers had begun talking of forming a confederation of the subcontinent immediately after the Indian nuclear tests of May 1998, until Pakistan’s tests two weeks later took the wind out of their sails.

The current state of alarm over the preferential treatment given by the US to India is understandable. Pakistan has done far more than India in the war against terror, capturing and handing over more than 700 terrorists, including some key figures involved in the 9/11 attacks. Pakistan is paying a higher internal price, owing to the strong reaction in the tribal areas as well as the provincial border areas. The role of Pakistan is likely to remain crucial for many years, because militancy cannot be eliminated until its deeper causes, including the injustices that Muslims are suffering in Palestine and Kashmir are redressed. It may be recalled that there are UN resolutions on both these issues that are being violated on the basis of force.

The reordering of perceptions and interests that had started in 1990, following the end of the Cold War had involved a reversal of the roles of India and Pakistan, in the 1990s decade. India, despite having backed the Soviet Union in the Cold War, was seen as sharing US concerns on Islamic resurgence, and nuclear issues. The conclusion of a defence agreement was considered in 1995. Pakistan, on the other hand, was subjected to the Pressler law in 1990 (that ended not only US aid but military sales also) and other sanctions following the 1998 nuclear tests and the military takeover of 1999, thus becoming the most sanctioned country in the world.

Pakistan also not only suffered from internal instability, with repeated changes of democratically elected governments, but also insurgencies and civil conflict in Afghanistan and Kashmir, increasingly attributed to terrorism. As a result, GDP growth fell to an average of three per cent as against over six per cent in the preceding decade of military rule, while exactly the reverse happened in India, which doubled its growth rate to six per cent in the 1990s.

Significantly, even before George W. Bush was elected to the presidency, President Bill Clinton, who visited South Asia in March 2000, spent five days in India, conjuring up a vision of close relations with a democratic and economically vibrant India, while delivering a stern lecture on democracy, good governance and counter-terrorism during his five hours in Pakistan. It was made clear that the relationship with the two countries would be at different levels.

The saving grace of this period was that the success of the country’s scientists and engineers in developing its nuclear capability to match that of India not only assured its security but also underlined the need to resolve the Kashmir dispute, which as the UN Resolution 1172 stated in June 1998, could cause a nuclear conflict. The two countries started a dialogue process in 1999 that was resumed again in 2004, following a military standoff that lasted almost a year when India tried coercive diplomacy.

Since 9/11, both Pakistan and India have been allies of the US in the global war against terrorism. So, for that matter, is China. All three countries are following trajectories of their own in the years since then, and are poised for further growth. What distinguishes their individual approaches is also very clear. China, which has maintained the most impressive rate of growth since 1978, with an average of nine per cent per year, is the least militaristic in its plans, the accent being on bringing its vast population out of poverty.

India has been engaged in building up its military strength, despite subscribing to the philosophy of non-violence backed by Gandhi since independence because Nehru, the first Indian prime minister, saw the world eventually as dominated by the four great powers, namely the US, Russia, China and India. The resolve to build up its military power to the point where India would be impregnable, was reinforced in 1962, after India suffered defeat in a border conflict it had precipitated with China.

The fears and apprehensions of those in Pakistan, who are alarmed over the US decision to build India into a great power, can now be considered. Firstly, while we have developed nuclear deterrence, backed by missile capability ranging from cruise to high trajectory systems, India is progressing across a wider spectrum and will have overwhelming superiority within a few years. Our approach should continue to be to avoid an arms race, and to maintain sound deterrence. It is true that we can hit only a few targets while Pakistan can be obliterated in a second strike, but deterrence can be maintained without the kind of arms race that ruined the Soviet Union economically.

The most important constraint on India opting for an active hegemonic policy comes from its internal problems. The western media, including BBC, have highlighted that despite its middle class market of over 300 million, it continues to be home to nearly 400 million people who are not only poor, but denied basic human rights under a caste system that remains deeply embedded.

The situation is comparable in other countries of South Asia. The other constraint can be provided by a proper global multilateral system. In order to manage global affairs, the UN and other bodies need to be strengthened so that do not only discourage excessive concentration of resources on the acquisition or manufacture of arms, but also promote peace and international cooperation to alleviate poverty in all its forms as well as to safeguard the environment. China is setting a good example, both in development and in eschewing hegemonic impulses.

We need to remind ourselves of the role of active diplomacy, backed by an outreach to markets for trade and investment. We have important assets in a campaign to counter India’s sheer power through economic, cultural and ideological activism. We have regional linkages with South and Central Asia and historical and cultural links with the Islamic world. We should also maintain and reinforce our close and time-tested relations with China. We can maintain our good relations with the US that should know that neither the people nor the government of Pakistan want to be used against friendly neighbours like China, or Iran.

Our perspective on future relation with India should also take into account the fact that it is a country with diverse races, languages, religions and cultures. It sought to separate Bangladesh as a part of undoing partition, but Muslim Bengal endured. Whereas 96 per cent of China’s population is of Han ethnic origin, India has hundreds of nationalities, races and tribes.

The caste system is divisive, and the country is hard to govern. So we need not be alarmed about its military superiority but concentrate on resolving our internal problems and building up our own strength and prosperity.

Overall, Pakistan is far more governable, and its people more robust than those of India. Even if India does emerge as a great power in the next few years, we should take timely steps against any efforts to divide or weaken us, and concentrate on improving the life of our people. Above all, adherence to the principles the Quaid gave us — unity, faith and discipline — should ensure a secure and prosperous future for us as a responsible, peace-loving nuclear power, with a role in Asia and the world.

The writer is a former ambassador.



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