Iraq under new government

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

THE Bush-Blair press conference in Washington last Thursday brought to the fore the problems that the Americans and the British continue to face in Iraq despite the election of a new prime minister there and the formation of a new cabinet. Earlier the American administration had made much of the fact that Nouri Al-Maliki had been able to form, with active American assistance, a 36-member cabinet and to have it approved by parliament.

Analysts, and even the American man in the street, viewed this ‘success’ with scepticism. Note was taken of the fact that three key ministries, security, interior and defence, had been left unfilled and that when the vote was taken 15 Sunni legislators, some with ‘insurgent’ connections, walked out of parliament before the vote to protest against the breach of the agreement that all cabinet posts would be filled. This was seen as a sorry portent.

How sorry can be gauged from the fact that on Saturday and Sunday the death toll mounted with some 30 people having died on Saturday and more than 50 the next day. In the meanwhile, there has still been no agreement among the politicians on the various nominees for the posts of defence and interior ministers, creating the impression that Nouri al-Maliki will prove no more effective than his predecessor in resolving the political disputes that have made it impossible for the Iraqi administration to tackle the insurgency, or even more importantly, to rein in the militias that are now recognised as being more of a threat to Iraqi unity than the insurgency.

At the press conference President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged the difficult times in the Iraq war that they had launched together in 2003, but both vowed to keep troops there until the new Iraqi government took control. Responding to a question on what he had achieved during his Baghdad visit, Prime Minister Blair could only say that “I came away thinking that the challenge is still immense, but I also came away more certain than ever that we should rise to it.”

As was to be expected there was considerable focus in the press conference on the question of the withdrawal of American and British troops from Iraq. The best that Mr Blair could offer was that he thought it was possible that Iraq’s new prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was correct in predicting that Iraqi forces could gain control of the security situation in all provinces within 18 months.

But President Bush reverted to his familiar insistence that he would not begin a drawdown until his commanders said it was possible, and he noted that troops were recently called up from Kuwait to help stabilise Baghdad. He said that in the end he would insist on victory over both insurgents and terrorists linked to Al Qaeda, and dismissed as “press speculation” reports of tentative Pentagon plans to bring American troop levels to about 100,000 by the end of this year.

Even before the press conference it was evident to most Americans that the much touted plans to “stand down” American troops as Iraqi forces take on security responsibilities did not mean that there would be a drawdown of American forces in the near future. The US army chief has said in a recent interview that he was planning on the basis that the present level of troops — the US army provides 115,000 of the 133,000 US military personnel currently in Iraq — would have to be maintained for the next two years. The Americans also recall that President Bush had earlier talked of the fact that the next president may be the one to decide on troop levels in Iraq thus making it clear that in his assessment the Iraqis would not be able to assume full security responsibilities until well beyond 2008.

More and more press reports make clear why this is so. Most of the recently created Iraqi forces, particularly those supposedly under the control of the interior ministry, are actually fanning the flames of sectarian conflict and promoting the interests of the parties they belong to. The departing interior minister, Bayan Jabr Solagh, acknowledged in a recent interview that he had little idea about what many of the 230,000 armed men under his control were doing, nor of the degree of their involvement in Shia death squads that have killed hundreds of Sunnis in revenge for Sunni insurgent attacks.

The New York Times recently published a report on the 16th Brigade, a largely Sunni force set up by the Iraqi ministry of defence to guard the Doura oil refinery and which converted itself into a death squad, collaborating with the insurgents to execute government collaborators. The reprehensible activities of this brigade are matched if not exceeded by the members of the Facilities Protection Service now some 145,000 strong. This service created on the orders of Paul Bremer consisted of various units recruited and paid for by the ministries to whom they were supposed to provide protection. The composition of this force is largely Shia and its members are drawn from the militias of the various Shia parties which make up the Shia Alliance.

The new Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has spoken of the fact that the disarming of the militias is going to be a high priority of his government but there is no evidence that he has the political clout to persuade his coalition partners in the Shia United Iraq Alliance that this should in fact be done. Perhaps for the first time since the war started there was acknowledgment by Prime Minister Blair that the decision to strip most members of the Ba’ath party of their positions in government and civic life in 2003 had been a mistake. This was a decision that Paul Bremer announced apparently while he was en route to Baghdad in May 2003 to take over as chief of the US Occupation as Order No: 1 of the Provisional Occupation Authority. What Blair did not say and what contributed perhaps as much if not more to the current situation in Iraq was the subsequent decision by Bremer, who was taking his orders from the Pentagon, to dissolve the Iraqi army and the national police force that was under the command of the Iraqi ministry of interior.

What he did not mention was the monumental error of not accepting the UN recommendation that the first government in Iraq should be of technocrats who would supervise fair elections but would not themselves participate.

What he did not mention was the abysmally low level of training provided to the new police and security forces or the total lack of vetting of new recruits.

There may in the future be further such acknowledgments of the errors made. But other bigger public relations problems are looming. In the Saddam trial in Baghdad Tareq Aziz, Saddam’s former deputy prime minister, appeared as a witness and claimed that it was legally and morally justified to try and execute those involved directly or indirectly in a plot to assassinate President Saddam Hussein. The prosecution insists, rightly, that this defence was untenable.

Saddam’s trial and probable execution were supposed to drive home the message that the day of the ruthless dictator was over and a new era would be dawning in the Middle East. The trial, unfortunately, has not gone quite as the Americans wanted and has been viewed as a comical farce rather than as the beacon call for a new democratic age.

As if this were not bad enough the recent investigation into the killing of Iraqis by a group of Marines in Haditha seems to suggest that the American forces have been guilty of similarly indefensible crimes. The facts of the Haditha case, as they have emerged in a journalist’s investigation subsequently corroborated by an official inquiry, are that 24 Iraqi civilians were murdered in cold blood by a Marine detachment after one of their colleagues was killed by a wayside bomb planted by insurgents they suspected came from the village and that various stories were put out by Marine spokesmen to present the massacre as an encounter with insurgents or to otherwise justify the killings as a legitimate military operation.

A Washington Post report on the reaction to the Haditha killing in Baghdad talked of benumbed Iraqis offering only muted sympathy and quoted various Iraqis as saying “We have a Haditha every day. We have a Fallujah and Karbala every day,”’ or “Were they the first Iraqis to be killed for no reason?” or “We’re used to being killed. It’s normal now to hear 25 Iraqis are killed in one day.” The report concluded, however, that the one aspect of the case that would interest the Iraqis was the trial. An Iraqi pharmacist was quote as saying, “Even if they investigate, and even if five American troops are proved guilty, would they sentence them to death? Unless they do that, the investigation won’t interest the Iraqis.”

Another report in the same paper quoted an Iraqi lawyer, who was preparing a case for taking the matter to an international tribunal if the American trial results were disappointing, as saying that “They are waiting for the sentence — although they are convinced that the sentence will be like one for someone who killed a dog in the United States, because Iraqis have become like dogs in the eyes of Americans.”

In fairness to the Americans it must be said that the sense of outrage here is strong. The American senator, John Warner, has promised to hold hearings on the Haditha killings as soon as the military investigation is concluded and has already expressed concern about the “immediate reaction of the senior officers of the Marine corps”.

The results of the investigation have not yet been made public but Congressman John Murtha, highly respected for his war record and his support for the armed forces but an opponent of the Iraq war, has pointed out that the cover-up of this incident was probably sanctioned at higher command levels since compensation, at $2,500 per victim, would not otherwise have been offered to the victims.

It is likely that one or more of the Marines involved will be charged with murder and exemplary punishments will be awarded but it is unlikely that senior officers responsible for the cover-up will be as severely treated if indeed they are punished at all.

No one has yet linked this incident to Saddam’s trial but soon it will be asked what difference there was between Saddam allowing his underlings to execute those who plotted to assassinate him and the senior Marine officers who covered up the massacre of civilians by their junior officers and soldiers.

Will the revulsion this creates in the minds of the ordinary Americans have the same effect as the My Lai massacre in Vietnam did? Will this be linked with the riot against the Americans in Kabul following what should really have been perceived as no more than a traffic accident and will the conclusion be drawn that an American military presence is seen in Afghanistan as much as in Iraq as part of the problem and not as part of the solution? How will this impact on the fortunes of the Republican party in the next election? This will be analysed next week.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Social exclusion is their lot

By Zubeida Mustafa

UNICEF’S The State of the World’s Children, 2006 is titled “Excluded and Invisible”. The authors of the report define those children as excluded and invisible who are deemed to be at risk of missing out on an environment that protects them from violence, abuse and exploitation.

Those children are also considered to be excluded if they are unable to access essential services in a way that threatens their ability to participate fully in society in the future. Keeping this definition in mind one wonders how many children in Pakistan would qualify as ‘excluded’.

In the physical sense, children’s “visibility” in our society is very high. You see them everywhere, even in places where they should not be seen — on the streets, in workplaces, in garbage dumps, and even in battle zones. With 4.7 million children born every year and nearly 71 million Pakistanis being under 18 years of age (about a third of them under five) it is not surprising that the physical presence of children is so noticeable. Yet a huge majority of them qualify as being defined as excluded.

The Unicef report is quite clear that when it refers to exclusion it means social exclusion which is a multidimensional concept. It includes the deprivation of economic, social, gender, cultural and political rights and does not refer to material poverty alone. In the market driven society of today, material affluence tends to make a lot of difference in a person aspiring to improve his social, political and legal status. But the problem is that material poverty generally goes hand in hand with an individual’s capacity to get his rights enforced. Is it not the rich who seem to get all the benefits that the society and the state have to offer the citizens?

Thus when we speak of a child being denied his basic rights as recognised by the International Convention on the Rights of a Child we know that the worst sufferers are the children of the poor. The fact is that a child denied access to education and health care can never hope to participate fully in society when he is an adult. The chances are that his children may not be able to do any better either. Thus the cycle of exclusion is perpetuated from one generation to the next.

Our children live in difficult times. There were the days when it was universally considered the duty of the state to provide every child basic education. Of course Pakistan failed to fulfil its responsibility but at least it recognised its responsibility — even if verbally — and strove — even though weakly — to do something in that direction. But now the state’s responsibility in the education and health sectors has virtually been abandoned. The private sector has been encouraged to enter the field in a big way, with the state acting at the most as a facilitator.

How has this affected our children? First of all, not all of them are enrolled in school. According to Unicef, 56 per cent of the children are enrolled in primary school. But figures can be deceptive. The quality of education being imparted to most of these children will hardly open meaningful avenues for them to improve their life situation. Besides most of them do not study beyond primary/middle school and lacking any further training or skills they have no chance of enhancing their capacity significantly to find jobs that will raise their status.

In terms of health care the situation is no different. The dismal state of health of the children shows in the high number of underweight and stunted children under five years of age and the high infant and under-five mortality rates. Although it is not recognised generally, poor health has a negatively effect on the school performance of children, their capacity to learn and their productivity in later life. At this rate, can the socially excluded of today ever hope to overcome their exclusion?

A very pertinent question that can be asked is what are the root causes of exclusion? The Unicef report identifies them at the national level as poverty, weak governance, armed conflict and HIV/Aid. The report admits that inequality, which is obscured in the national averages generally cited, is a major cause of exclusion. But if one looks more closely into the issue it will be found that inequality is at the root cause of the malaise. Because some people have been pushed to the bottom of the heap socially they are also reduced to poverty, are the worst victims of poor governance, are vulnerable to armed conflict and are hit by Aids more easily than those of a higher social status.

The main obstacle in the way of removing these inequities is the inequity itself. Those who control power are the privileged ones who have always derived many advantages from their elitist status. Why would they want to forego the advantages they have traditionally enjoyed when they feel no compulsion for it?

If the intelligentsia is really intelligent it will find one solid reason for doing away with this inequality that characterises our system. It is not possible to keep the children of today suppressed for ever. The advancements in communication technology and the little bit of education that has been imparted to the people has created the awareness in them of what they are missing out. They have their own aspirations and ambitions. They are, unlike the children of yesterday, unwilling to accept defeat. Arif Hasan, the chairman of the Urban Resource Centre and the OPP-RTI, is of the opinion that if the altered needs of the youth are not met, Karachi will never become free of conflict. He graphically describes how the old order is being destroyed and a new one emerging that derives its information, education, entertainment and, one may add, aspiration from television — that is the satellite and cable. They have their demands and will want them to be met.

The children of today are being fed on a heavy diet of television which not only exposes them to crime and violence. It also takes them into the luxurious houses of the rich and the famous, which they may never see in real life. They are taken to the campuses of the elitist universities the portals of which they can never dream of entering. They see the ‘five-star’ hospitals where the rich are treated in luxury when they fall ill. And above all, television constantly exposes them to the affluent lifestyle of the rich whose life is comfortable beyond belief — they don’t ever experience power breakdowns or water shortages. It may not actually be that way but that is how TV projects it.

A time will come when the rising expectations of the youth and their unmet needs will lead to a violent reaction. It is this that has to be avoided and therefore the need to remove inequities from society and bring those millions of children in Pakistan who are excluded and invisible within the purview of social inclusion.

Should politicians retire?

By Hafizur Rahman

IF politicians were to retire from active service (of people) under a law, at an age fixed by that enactment, do you think some of them would manage to get extensions just as specially favoured government officers do? Why not?

If you read any act of parliament or an ordinance promulgated by the head of state, please do go through the last section. It is called the “saving clause.” It invariably says that the government in its wisdom or pleasure can suspend from operation any part of the law. Which means that howsoever binding on the government a piece of legislation may be, it can always be bypassed. A loophole must be kept for favourites. Many a person and many a situation has been “saved” in the past by this saving clause.

So if there is a law defining the age at which a politician must call it a day, the government — obviously the chief executive — can always say, “Hold on, you are not going home for another two years. We need your services in the national interest.” More sins (and crimes) have been committed in Pakistan in the national interest than otherwise. And when the saving clause is used in the national interest anything can happen.

To the best of my knowledge the only politician who voluntarily retired from active politics in the past was the late Mr Wali Khan, and I don’t think Chaudhry Shujaat Husain had anything to do with it. I am naming him because, some years ago, he had mooted the idea of a retirement age for politicians. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea,” he had said. I recall that this had given an interesting topic to some columnists of Urdu newspapers — both for and against — at that time.

There will of course be violent opposition to any attempt by the government to convert the idea into a regular enactment. (By the way, could such retirement be called a golden handshake, with a couple of commercial plots in Karachi and an ambassadorial appointment offered as an incentive?) It can be said that no political government would even dream of taking it up. Only President Pervez Musharraf can have the gumption to do so under one of his quick-firing ordinances or constitutional amendments. But I suppose there is no time now. Or is there? Some people will say there is always time.

Ms Benazir Bhutto, who is comparatively young, may not mind if the retirement age is 60, as it is for government servants. Mian Nawaz Sharif, who is almost of the same age, may also be content with 60, always being mindful of the saving clause to get him through with the help of an old friend, if he is not in power himself at that time. Trouble will rear its head when septuagenarians and octogenarians are asked to give their views on leaving the arena and going home.

Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, that inveterate cobbler of political alliances, is no more with us, would not have been happy unless the retirement age was 90. On the other hand Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan, if he had been active in politics, would have fought tooth and nail had the age been fixed at less than hundred.

Quite apart from the age factor, the question is what will the retired politicians do to pass the time? Of course there is always the pastime of issuing press statements, but you never know this too may come under the heading of playing politics and thus be prohibited by the law. In that case the only thing left for them after a hectic and exciting life would be to wither away with inertia. Death by boredom may become a common occurrence.

That would be a real pity. You see, most of our politicians come from the landed gentry. Usually they fill up seats vacated by their elders who are called away by the Almighty. They don’t possess any qualifications or aptitude to become politicians, and it is a rare bird among them who has an inborn flair for the game. In the presence of the retirement law the axe will fall when they have just acquired the know-how through experience, and they will be left to brood and mope over a bright past and a bleak future.

Then there is the all-important question of a serving prime minister reaching the age of superannuation while in office. This might create embarrassing situations. One moment the PM is inaugurating with great fanfare a pet project, say an ambitious retiring home for senior citizens, and the next he is attending a farewell function in his own honour where his successor is getting all the attention and stealing the limelight. He might seriously contemplate becoming the first inmate of that institution. The way our people are made, the poor man may not even get a coup of tea at the reception.

And quite some time before the date of retirement, a situation would have developed which, though in keeping with our trait of worshipping the rising sun and turning our backs to the setting source of light, would subject the incumbent PM to many a humiliation. Bureaucrats would tend to become indifferent to his orders. His own staff officers would be making overtures to the incoming new chief executive. Even his personal security guard may forget to salute him in the morning. What his wife will be saying during those tortuous days requires a volume to record.

And, horror of horrors! The President may ring up one day and say, “I am holding an important meeting with the COAS and your successor, and of course the chiefs of the IB and the ISI. Its about the opposition’s next move. Would you care to come? Don’t bother if you are busy elsewhere.”

However these are professional hazards and part of the job of prime minister, or, at the provincial level, that of a chief minister. But if I may repeat my earlier worry, the main problem will be for the retired politicians to keep themselves busy somehow. Even a world cruise takes up only a few months. And the days are gone when elderly Muslims liked to spend the last years of their lives in the Holy Land. Now they would prefer to be in Las Vegas, with short visits to Paris.

I suppose vicarious participation in politics through sons and sons-in-law and even daughters wishing to walk in the footsteps of BB, should keep them busy. But all said and done, the proposal is not a happy one. However, before anything is done in this behalf, Chaudhry Shujaat Husain should himself be asked what age he thinks would be appropriate for superannuation of politicians. I bet he will say, “Ah, that idea of mine. Can’t you see it was a joke?”

Victims or terrorists?

THE Senate in the US had an opportunity last week to fix the horrendous mess Congress has inadvertently made out of the law governing the admission of refugees to the United States.

In an overwhelming, bipartisan vote, it passed it up — much to its shame. The body voted 79 to 19 to reject an amendment that would have restored discretion to the government to admit human rights victims bizarrely branded under current law as terrorists or supporters of terrorism.

The vote followed gross misrepresentations of the proposal by Sen. Jon Kyl and Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter. Indeed, given their descriptions, it’s a wonder even 19 senators voted for it. Mr. Kyl portrayed it as permitting the admission of Taliban fighters; Mr. Specter warned of members of Hamas and other terrorists showing up on American shores.

The proposal would have done nothing of the kind. The government has wide latitude to exclude people who pose a national security threat. The problem with the existing laws are that they define a terrorist group so broadly as to include virtually any organization that has ever used weapons. And they not only permit but also require the exclusion of all members and material supporters of such groups — with no exceptions for people who acted under the threat of violence.

So a Liberian woman used as a sex slave in her own house or a Northern Alliance soldier who fought alongside American troops in Afghanistan would both be excluded — the former for providing shelter to terrorists, the latter for membership in a “terrorist” group. Tens of thousands of refugees around the world are held up because of these strictures, many of them for affiliations with armed groups this country has actively supported and certainly never regarded as terrorists.

The Leahy proposal would have clarified that the bar applies only to groups the government has designated foreign terrorist organizations.

—The Washington Post


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