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DAWN - Opinion; May 3, 2006

May 03, 2006

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A symbiotic relationship

By Touqir Hussain


THE debate focusing on US-Pakistan relations has been marked by great analysis but has left behind some troubling questions about our approach to the relationship. Pakistan’s ties with the US continue to be filtered through our perceptions of India. These perceptions have failed to break through our traditional assumptions of parity with our neighbour. But the growing gap between Pakistan and India is obvious to the rest of the world that deals with each country according to its own merits. This we regard as a great betrayal, which is how we perceive the recent Bush visit to the region.

Over time, our criticism of the US has accumulated many new themes as an idiom of resentment against our US-centric leadership and as an expression of nationalism under the impact of the Iranian revolution and the rise of religious extremism. Post-9/11, it has merged with the rising wave of anti-Americanism in the Islamic world.

Yet the dynamics of US-Pakistan relations and the discriminatory US approach to India and Pakistan have been at the heart of our feelings towards America. A brief history will explain the issues.

At the time of independence Pakistan was deeply conscious of the power disparity in the subcontinent and looked for ways to redress it. The viability of the state was at stake compelling Pakistan to look in the direction of the US, which in turn was trying to promote a strategic consensus of non-communist Asian states to check the expanding lines of communist influence.

Pakistan opted to become a close ally of the US as its assistance established a semblance of balance of power in the region. The US co-opted Pakistan because of its inability to woo India. Although the relationship did serve the critical interests of the two countries, from time to time it reflected the absence of a long-term policy based on a larger conceptual framework, a shared vision or continuity.

Both sides gave to it more than what they got. The United States strengthened Pakistan’s defence capabilities and potential for economic development that gave critical help in stabilising the emergent state. But in doing so it also helped encourage undemocratic tendencies in Pakistan, as US patronage of the military caused the latter to raise its national profile which came to dominate the country’s politics through a pro-western alliance of conservative forces, including the Islamists. The US itself did not escape the negative fallout which caused complications in its relationship with India and thwarted its opposition to Pakistan’s nuclear programme — two important strategic objectives from its perspective. The Pakistan-US alliance during the Afghan war prospered — though under the darkening shadow of the forces that would later come to threaten them both.

No wonder the relationship has never enjoyed broad-based public support or endorsement of the strategic community in the US except during the heady days of the Cold War. Afterwards it continued to face one stumbling block after another because of Pakistan’s relations with China, the issue of democracy and our nuclear programme. There was of course the theme that never went away, that is Indo-Pakistan tensions and concerns about an arms race in the subcontinent.

Over the years, many in the US Congress have had serious reservations about Pakistan. So the seeds for a de-hyphenated relationship go far back. Indeed the de-coupling of US relations with India and Pakistan had begun way back in 1962 at the time of the Sino-Indian war, and continued imperceptibly, working sometimes to India’s benefit, and sometimes to Pakistan’s. It remained an underlying determinant of US policy in South Asia until former President Bill Clinton brought it out into the open. So in essence the US has all along followed separate tracks in its relations with India and Pakistan, responding to different needs and rationales.

While as a superpower it was easy for the US to weave in and out of Pakistan, the latter became addicted to the relationship as it served more than our national interests. It served the ends of our political leadership and the elite, civilian and military, could not be weaned away from it. This dependency syndrome was fostered in part by the need to fall back on help from a big power to occasionally bail out the country from the ill effects of bad governance, and in part by fears stoked by America’s overwhelming power with which it often trampled on Third World countries that did not do its bidding.

The myth that nothing moves in these countries without US approval lives on. So does the corollary that everything wrong in these places is America’s fault, an impression instigated by the leadership itself to divert dangerous currents of social discontent and political opposition. So the relationship has undergone much distortion over the years.

While the US has often treated Pakistan unfairly, even in a highhanded manner, it must be said that the public grudge against America for not supporting Pakistan against India in 1965 and 1971 is misplaced. A close scrutiny of US treaty obligations to Pakistan leave no doubt that the historical US commitments were essentially in the context of a communist threat to Pakistans security.

The 1959 agreement on bilateral cooperation clearly says that in case of aggression against Pakistan, “the Government of the United States in accordance with the constitution of the US will take such appropriate action including the use of armed forces as may be mutually agreed upon and is envisaged in the joint resolution to promote peace and stability in the Middle East” in order to assist the government of Pakistan at its request.

The joint resolution on the Middle East speaks of only one eventuality of the US coming to the aid of a country under aggression, and that is in the event of communist aggression.

That was in the past but what about the present? President Musharraf has stimulated a debate on reforms, and thanks to the economic policies and management of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan has registered an impressive growth rate. But credit should also go to the US and its allies for lending such critical support to these efforts. Yet the US-Pakistan engagement, and the military-dominated political dispensation, which feed on each other, have increased the potential for both good and harm for Pakistan.

Partly because of this alliance and partly because of some global forces that are shaping our history many powerful ideas that move men and define a nation’s life have come into play in Pakistan. These pertain to religion, nationalism, democracy, ethnicity and regionalism, and above all pressures for reform, modernisation and social consensus. The direction of change, however, remains unclear.

Pakistan’s role in the war on terrorism, for instance, has aroused strong feelings in tribal and feudal societies in smaller provinces stimulating regionalist tendencies. The war on terrorism, being seen as an assault on Islam, has also raised the profile of the Islamists complicating our debate about national priorities.

The two countries are conscious of this narrow focus on terrorism and are trying to make the relationship broad based and long lasting. This was the objective of the recent dialogue between the Pakistan foreign secretary and state department officials in Washington which reportedly went well. Broadened cooperation with Pakistan is geared to meets its reform requirements as well as the US objective of a stable and moderate Pakistan that seeks a cooperative and tension-free relationship with India and Afghanistan to promote America’s larger economic and strategic interests in the region.

As to the future, one can only speculate. My own view is that both Pakistan and the US are heading for a period of transition that will have some repercussions for their relationship. Both Bush and Musharraf will fade away. Pakistan’s internal dynamics are reaching a critical stage because of the 2007 elections, while in the US the Republicans are likely to lose their majority in the House in the 2006 mid-term elections and a Democrat will be making a strong bid for the White House in 2008.

These changes, along with the outcome of the Iraq war and the Iran crisis, may turn out to be watershed events in America affecting the war on terrorism and Washington’s approach to Pakistan.

Terrorism may in time be reduced to one of the regular threats that can be addressed with a range of normal military, intelligence, and foreign policy options. Pakistan’s cooperation in this war will still be needed but not so critically that the US may have to trump its other important interests. US dependence on Musharraf may well decrease as the scaled-down level of cooperation can equally be provided by a civilian leadership despite political constraints. Indeed Musharraf may himself become less compliant to US demands in the war on terrorism.

So the democratisation pressure by Washington will increase if the US feels that the present hybrid system and Pakistan’s potential de-politicisation threatens its stability and enhances the prospects of the Islamists. In any event, the US would not like to be identified too closely with Musharraf’s personal ambitions.

On the other hand, if Washington feels that it is the present system and not full democracy that ensures Pakistan’s stability and that Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terrorism is still needed it will not rock the boat. For now, the army remains America’s best bet. But nobody knows what is going to happen in Pakistan in the future.

However, one thing is clear. The US cannot afford to walk away this time because its policies towards Pakistan have to be integrated with critical US policy choices in the region. India may offer the United States great economic and strategic opportunities, but it is Pakistan’s internal dynamics and relationship with India that have been at the root of challenges to US foreign policy in South Asia. The US will remain engaged though its pressure on Pakistan to conform to American policies in the region will increase.

Will the US agree to cooperate with Pakistan in the field of civilian nuclear energy? No, not now and even less so in future. Does this make the relationship any less valuable for us? Not as long as it continues to serve some other important national interests of ours. In a strange irony both Pakistan and US have historically been part of the problem and part of the solution for each other and this paradigm is unlikely to change.

The writer is a visiting scholar at the George Washington University.

E-mail: thussain@gwu.edu

Globalisation and languages

By Zubeida Mustafa


AT A conference on elementary education organised recently by the Sindh Education Foundation in Karachi, an issue which came under discussion was that of globalisation and language. In his well researched and enlightening presentation, Dr Tariq Rahman, professor of sociolinguistics at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, pointed out the snags in Pakistan’s language policy in education. He also explained how globalisation was affecting the state of languages all over the world.

Quoting Dow Templeton Associates, he said, “English will become the universal language and capitalism will become the dominant social system.” Dr Rahman continued, “If this vision comes true, most languages will die and English will be the great ‘killer’ language. It is already moving towards that role.”

One may further add that in Pakistan the situation is worse because we are still so ambiguous about which language we want to teach our children in school. According to Dr Rahman, increased and rapid communication, which is a by-product of globalisation, has given the English language a special status as the most pre-eminent international language.

Therefore, English is perceived as the language of power, and is the language of choice for most students as an agent for self-empowerment. Students are disowning their mother tongue and consider English to be “the most useful, sophisticated and superior language out of all they encounter in their daily life”. This in turn fosters a feeling of alienation from one’s mother tongue that is deleterious for the self-esteem of a person. How can a person who feels ashamed of his mother tongue feel positive about his identity? Language is also becoming an additional factor in the stratification of our society.

In the last few years, there has been a widening social, economic and political gulf between the people who have studied in private English medium schools and those attending public sector institutions where the language of instruction is generally Urdu or one of the regional languages. This had never happened in the history of Pakistan before because the gap in the academic standards of schools run by the government and the private sector was never so wide.

What should the solution be? Of course, the first priority should be to raise education standards in all sectors. It is also important that the government should define its language policy clearly. The first point that needs to be impressed on the people is that at the school level language and academic standards are not necessarily linked directly. To neutralise the false esteem granted to English at the expense of a child’s mother tongue it is important that a concerted move is made to revive pride in one’s own language and culture. Let the child learn in a language he understands and is familiar with. That will make learning a pleasurable experience.

There is also need to emphasise to parents and demonstrate by example that good education can be imparted in Urdu or Sindhi or any other language. It is more important that the books are well produced and the teachers well trained. If anything it will be found that it is easier to teach children in the language they understand. Thus the rote method will not be so indispensable.

But it will not be possible to abandon English altogether. It will have to be taught for its utility. This should be introduced gradually over a period of time in a system which accepts bilingualism. If we stop perceiving a person fluent in English as a socially superior being it may be possible to convince parents that knowledge and academic excellence cannot be equated with fluency in a foreign language especially at the primary level.

Teaching English in a bilingual system requires some preconditions. John Clegg, a British educationist who has done research on language in education, says that education through the medium of a second language normally works if the children come from an educated background, have a sound foundation in literacy in their own language, have adequate exposure to the second language and have a good level of ability in the second language before it is used as the language of instruction for other subjects. John Clegg also advises that subject teachers who teach in English should be provided language supportive education in their subject.

In this context some questions that need to be honestly asked are:

— Given the poor language skills of teachers generally can they really impart knowledge to students who are not familiar with English either?

— Can schools raise their standards by teaching children in their mother tongue while appointing a well-trained English language teacher to teach English as a separate subject to the students?

Since we have been pretending that English is the panacea of all evils the standards of schools are falling and will continue to fall if this trend is not reversed.

If a change has to come it will have to start with the teachers. It will be easier to train teachers who understand comprehensively the language they teach in and are articulate in it. They can be familiarised with the skills of pedagogy. The focus needs to be on excellence in teaching and the first precondition for this is proficiency in the language of instruction.

Secondly, we need to transform our approach to language teaching. The main function of a language is to enable the user to communicate. But children are not being taught communication skills in any language. Hence the falling standards of education. The fault lies in the method of language teaching. In fact, it is more likely that a child taught in his mother tongue initially would be able to communicate better and would enjoy it too.

So one can only ask what should be done about the language dilemma in Pakistan. No one questions the need for learning English if the country is not to be left isolated in the globalisation race. But under no circumstances should the language and culture of a people be allowed to be swamped by the forces of globalism.

It would be wisest to introduce bilingualism in the country — English along with the mother tongue or Urdu — but it is imperative that the child’s first exposure to learning and knowledge should be in the language he understands and is comfortable with. In other words, the first step in his journey of a thousand miles should begin in his mother tongue. Let another language be introduced at a stage when he is firmly set on the road to learning and is enjoying it. But let the learning of the second language be a fun activity and not a painful experience.

It is time some language experts studied this problem scientifically and dispassionately to dispel the misgivings that surround language teaching. It needs to be made clear that language should not be equated with academic standards which are determined by the teaching methods, the training of the teachers, the textbooks used and the curricula. It is also important that all languages are taught correctly and scientifically to optimise their use as the medium of communication. If students are taught English as a second language and gain proficiency in it by the time they are ready to leave school, they would enjoy all the advantages of knowing English in global competition. It would also facilitate the process of their higher education.

The advocates of English adopt the attitude that if a child is not pushed into English from day one, he will never be proficient in the language. That is why we have the elite schools ordering parents to speak only in English with their children. What damage this approach does to a child’s psyche we would never know. One cannot even be sure that this raises their standards significantly because there is no comparative yardstick for them to evaluate the merits of teaching in the mother tongue or in English.

‘Afsari’ will never go

By Hafizur Rahman


A RATHER puerile piece of advice heard over the radio reminded me somehow of Mr A.G. Khan, the uncle of a friend of mine. Mr Khan was a senior officer in the Pakistan Western Railway, as it was then known. He was an officer of the old era, strict and snobbish but, at the same time, well-mannered and truly considerate towards his subordinates.

It was his habit that if one of them came into his office to ask for a favour he would say, “Young man, this is not the way to approach an officer. Don’t just confront him with a demand straight from the hip. First see what his mood is like. After all, an officer is an officer and not a shopkeeper. If you find that he is not receptive, put off the request to some other time. And if you think he looks all right, humour him a bit and then put in your application.”

What Mr A.G. Khan advised tongue-in-cheek was consistent with reality. Officers have to be humoured, even pampered, both by their juniors and members of the public if they are required to be helpful and accommodating. Mr. Khan’s acid homily to his subordinates used to be made in the early fifties when he was in service. But it holds good today in the new century, as it did then.

I began this piece with something heard over the radio. The listeners were exhorted during short breaks of a popular music programme that if they see the notice “No admission without permission” outside an office door, they should not enter unless they are permitted to. The broadcaster referred in this connection to the moral responsibility dictated by the code of social behaviour. So far so good. But as she went on, she added (and this is what got my goat) that government officers should not be put to annoyance unnecessarily for they are always doing important work.

Now hold on, I said to myself. This sounds like the blue-blooded officer himself. Here is Mr A.G. Khan in person, without the A.G. Khan sympathy and humour. If not he, then it must be a hanger-on of the officer class who knows that the expression “public servant” does not necessarily mean a servant of the public. Here was someone who was counselling the public to face reality and not be carried away by publicity.

Officers have to be made much of if they are expected to give of their best in the service of the people. The trouble is that persons like me expect too much from the bureaucracy. We think that just because the officer was trained in theory to always keep the good of the common man in mind; just because he attended courses in NIPA and the Administrative Staff College; just because he is being constantly advised on paper to behave like a servant of people; he should necessarily do so.

Not at all. Look at the matter dispassionately. Take the case of the young man who entered service in 1977. The only government he saw in long years was a martial law government in which the bureaucracy was supreme. He never came into contact with an elected representative of the people. The nearest to an MNA or MPA he saw was a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora, a collection of hand-picked yes-men ever ready to serve the military regime.

This young man was never confronted with accountability in a democratic atmosphere. He would not recognize it even if he saw it from close quarters. He did not understand the expression (“Never heard of the blasted thing!”) and considered it an insult to his ‘afsari’ when he encountered samples of it on the return of democracy.

How could such a person be expected after eight or nine years of unquestioned lording it over the public in the formative years of his service, to suddenly start acting as a servant of the people?

This is one of the gifts of martial law, a sense of trauma created in the mind of the officer class. The free and unfettered corruption, with no questions asked even when the second PPP regime (BB’s first) that came afterwards. No wonder that democracy was restored in August 1988, officers resented the orders they received from elected ministers and took them as unjustified intrusion in their powers and authority.

We have a popular saying in Urdu and Punjabi, which, loosely translated, means “The horse kicks from the rear, the officer kicks from the front. Beware of both.” I did not coin this adage. It is as old as the Margalla Hills. Maybe this adage is a bit of an exaggeration because certainly not all officers are haughty and pompous. A few of them can well be described as social workers, if not saintly. But it is mainly a question of what one thinks of them as a class and what one has experienced at their hands.

If you go on saying like that unctuous woman on the radio, that officers should not be bothered too much, they’ll naturally start thinking of themselves as something which must only be touched with kid gloves on. Sort of “This side up. Fragile. Handle with care.”

Actually (and unfortunately) it is also the citizens themselves who spoil the officer. They adopt an obsequious pose before him, and are apologetic even when they are seeking a right and asking him to do his duty towards them. If you look at a transaction it is never the citizen demanding a legal or constitutional right, it is always the officer doing a favour or distributing largesse.

My reference to the martial law product was just an example. In reality, officers in Pakistan have always been like this, and may never change in the future, because when they join service there are only two options that they wish to exercise; either make money or wield clout and authority. This is also what their parents dreamed for them. In Mr A.G. Khan’s time they had other qualities too and they could laugh at themselves. Now they may laugh at anything, but never at the service they belong to.

Online censuses

TECHNOLOGY, curiosity and enterprise are a brilliant combination, and they have come together again with the online launch of the 1841 census for England and Wales. This is the earliest census of real use to the growing number of family historians.

Its digital availability is a huge success for Ancestry.co.uk, the pioneering subscription-only website. Professional historians may well already know that on the evening of June 6, 1841, with the corn laws still in force and Lord Melbourne prime minister, Queen Victoria was at Buckingham Palace and Charles Dickens was at home with Mrs D and the kids on Devonshire Terrace: these are useful details for biographers of the famous.

But the boon for the unknown soldiers on the genealogical frontline is in finding information - age, occupation, address and birthplace - about their mute and inglorious forebears, even if the 1841 details are sketchy and were surpassed in later surveys. The extraordinary growth of interest in our ancestors has been explained by the breakdown of the traditional family unit and the relative ease of looking back rather than facing the present or future.

The popularity of the TV programme “Who Do You Think You Are?” and other websites such as Genes Reunited and 1837online.com leave no doubt that this is a phenomenon of our times.

—The Guardian, London