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DAWN - Opinion; June 14, 2006

June 14, 2006

For sectarian amity in Iraq

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh


THE killing of Musab al-Zarqawi and the nomination, with the approval of the principal Iraqi parties, of a Shia minister of interior, a Sunni minister of defence and a Kurdish national security adviser must be regarded as a potential advance for ending the Iraqi people’s miseries. However, both President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair made it clear that they did not believe that his death would end the strife in Iraq.

Mr Bush, having learnt the cost of premature gloating since his “mission accomplished” declaration, warned: “We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him. We can expect the sectarian violence to continue.” He also said, “We have tough days ahead of us in Iraq that will require the continued patience of the American people.”

Mr Blair, too, was cautious. “We should have no illusions. We know that they will continue to kill. We know there are many, many obstacles to overcome,” he said.

In judging the impact that Zarqawi’s death will have on the situation in Iraq it is important to bear in mind how his location was pinpointed. Gen George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, in his statement at the joint press conference with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said that the operation to target Zarqawi was carried out after “tips and intelligence from Iraqi senior leaders from his network” were received. This could reflect the success of American intelligence in bribing such officials.

Prime Minister Maliki made it clear that the $25 million reward offered for Zarqawi would be paid to somebody or some group. But it may also be owed, as I believe it is, to the unhappiness of Iraqis with the dominance that Zarqawi exercised over the newly formed Mujahideen Shura Council that theoretically brought together the various insurgent groups in Iraq.

The important question is whether the activities of the insurgency have made it impossible to stem and reverse the sectarian sentiment that currently seems to dominate the Iraqi political scene. The Americans focus on the role of foreigners in perpetrating the hundreds of suicide bombings and the insurgency generally, but most insurgents are homegrown.

Some of them, probably a very small minority, subscribe to the views of Al Qaeda, but most have taken up arms out of fear that not only were the Sunnis going to be ousted from power but that, in a new dispensation they would not be given their fair share of oil revenues and the jobs to which their qualifications and experience entitled them.

For such Iraqis, the solution lay in opposing, by armed force if necessary, the imposition of such an inequitable order by the Americans and their Shia allies. Zarqawi’s unrelenting labelling of Shias as apostates who deserved to be killed ran against the grain of the majority of the Sunnis. The latter perceived this as frustrating the achievement of the more limited objective of getting the Sunnis a fair deal in the new Shia-dominated political dispensation.

Today, given the spate of sectarian killings, it might be difficult to believe reports of sectarian harmony in Iraq. But many Sunni, Shia and Christian friends I made in Iraq during my 1973-77 posting in that country assure me that this harmony survived the pogroms mounted against the Shias by Saddam Hussein. Many thinking Iraqi Sunnis also refuse to credit the charges made by Sunni leaders that the Iraqi Shias are under the influence of Iran.

They point out how valiantly the Iraqi Shias had fought in the Iraq-Iran war. They emphasise that the Iraqi Shia thinks of himself first as an Arab and then as a Shia. He attaches great importance to his country’s Shia holy places and believes that it is the seminaries in Iraq that have the highest standards of scholarship and it is the ‘marjahs’ of these seminaries, their original nationality notwithstanding, who have the greatest following among the Shias in Iran, as much as in Iraq and the rest of the Muslim world. From their perspective accusing the Iraqi Shia parties of being under Iranian influence or being Iranian agents is useful only in so far as it tempers the American enthusiasm for transferring all power to the Shias. But it is not seen as a serious factor in the negotiations on the dispensation in Iraq.

It is true that Zarqawi’s death will not mean an end to foreign influence in the insurgency but, in many ways, the new, more diffuse and less charismatic leadership of the foreign extremists in Iraq will find it difficult to promote sectarianism in the way that Zarqawi did. It is also unlikely that any new leaders who emerge would be able to play a decisive role in the Mujahideen Shura Council. If these were considerations that weighed with the Sunni Iraqis, who led the Americans to Zarqawi, these may have an important bearing on the future of Sunni-Shia relations. There is a good chance that sectarian harmony can be restored.

But this favourable development, if indeed it is that, can be capitalised on only if Prime Minister Maliki and his colleagues address the grievances of the Iraqi people in general and of the Iraqi Sunnis in particular. Over the last few weeks, since he took over as prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki has spoken with apparent sincerity, spurred on no doubt by the Americans, of the need to disband the militias and to ensure that only officials of the Iraqi security forces bear arms. This would be the first step.

The second step that is needed for reconciliation is to move away from the blanket ban on the employment of former Ba’athists. Like other Iraqis, the prime minister knows that ordinary Iraqis, primarily Sunnis but also the Shias, Kurds and Turkomans, had to seek Ba’ath membership if they wanted to advance in their official careers.

The state was the largest employer in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and is likely to be the largest employer in today’s Iraq. Banning the employment of former Ba’athists would have a disproportionate impact on the economic prospects of the Sunnis. Equally important, it would deprive the state of the expertise of those with the most experience of government and management.

The third and the most important step in terms of reconciliation would be to include in the constitution a provision for equitable resource-sharing among all regions in Iraq. The constitution does provide that the resources now being exploited are the wealth of the people and should be used by all of them while making a point of positive discrimination in favour of the previously deprived Shia areas. With regard to reserves that are yet to be exploited, however, the province in which they are located will have the final say on how they are exploited and how the proceeds are shared. In other words, Sunni Iraq will be dependent on such handouts as the Kurds and Shias are prepared to offer.

In an amendment to the constitution, unapproved by the Iraqi parliament, it was agreed that, “at the start of its functioning, the Council of Representatives shall form a committee from its members, which will be representative of the main components of Iraqi society and the duty of which will be to (make) ... recommendations for the necessary amendments that can be made to the constitution....The articles amended by the Council of Representatives ... will be put before the people for a referendum within two months of the Council of Representatives’ approval of them.”

Some Sunni parties accepted this sop as sufficient to overcome their reservations and to participate in the constitution referendum and to agree to participate in the elections.

None of this is easy. Earlier on, the previous interior minister had confessed that he did not know how many of the 230,000 security forces under his control belonged to party militias or how many of them were part of the death squads that had wreaked havoc in Sunni and Shia neighbourhoods. The kidnapping of June 5 was, perhaps, the work of rogue police officers or a gang of dacoits but the very fact that 56 people could be taken hostage from a bus stop in the centre of town is indicative of the degree to which the law and order situation has deteriorated.

When Nuri al-Maliki starts to vet and disband the militias, he will have a tough task. One solution could be to disarm all suspect members of the security forces and send them on forced leave. To prevent them from misusing their time they should be asked to report at a designated place everyday. Since this would ensure that they continued to receive salaries the political parties to which they belong may be more easily persuaded to accept their being sidelined.

The exodus of trained and experienced Iraqis, mostly Sunnis, in the last couple of years has been high. The government has to make efforts to bring them back because it is on this body of educated professionals and managers that Iraq’s future depends. Most will want to come back if they can be sure of jobs and a modicum of security.

Improving the security situation must, of course, be the main task, but it would be naive on the part of the government and the occupation forces if they do not reassure the Sunnis that they will get a fair share of the oil revenues of the country. Nuri al-Maliki should ensure that the necessary changes are made to the constitution.

The American forces will have to play a much more active role in the political manoeuvring that is needed for this. A crucial role will be that of Ayatollah Sistani.

Were he to publicly endorse the revision of the constitution as a means of furthering sectarian harmony, Shia politicians would find it difficult to resist. This could also help reduce the difficulties that are likely to arise as the Kurds continue to press for a definition of their region which gives them physical control of a substantial part of Iraq’s oil resources.

The task is difficult but not impossible. All Iraq’s well wishers should hope that the prime minister will be able to move decisively and that in doing so he will have the support of his fellow politicians, the occupation forces and the international community.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Training of media persons

By Zubeida Mustafa


THE government’s move to establish a large number of universities in a country where only half the population is literate has been widely debated. But President Pervez Musharraf’s suggestion for a media university should not be dismissed without a second thought because this venture, if it were to materialise, will be a different one of its kind.

Pakistan has no meritorious institution for training media personnel. This need not be a highbrow university to make an impact. Even an institute which awards a post-graduate diploma — but a really prestigious one — should serve our purpose well.

We do not know what the president had in mind when he made his remarks at the presentation of the ministry of information in Islamabad. Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani, who has only recently taken over as the chief of the information outfit, was obviously trying to show his boss how effective new brooms can be and how clean they sweep.

The president’s main concern appeared to be for the better training of media persons especially at a time when media technology has made tremendous advances globally. He also spoke of the need to bridge the gap between reality and perception. According to him, if there is a conflict between the two it will adversely affect the image of the country. He was informed by the prime minister that a regular interaction of the federal ministries with the media has been planned. This is presumably designed to ensure a free flow of information.

All these issues are closely interlinked. Given the rapid development of communication technology it is no longer possible for a government howsoever authoritarian it might be to stem the flow of information and impose controls on the freedom of expression. In the modern age all governments have come to realise the futility of attempting to suppress the media, so much so that President Musharraf has spoken of the media in Pakistan as enjoying unprecedented freedom.

But that does not necessarily mean that this will result in the projection of a soft image of the country. On the contrary, an honest and professional media person will not try to gloss over the ills around him to paint a rosy picture of the economy and society. Of course, he has to strike a balance between the negative and the positive in order not to distort reality. Easy access to information will help a media person in his work since information is the raw material journalists work with. Again, it would be unwise of the government to expect the media to present the information exactly as presented by official sources.

Where does the training of journalists figure in this picture? A well trained media person would not only learn how to access information from diverse sources promptly s/he would also learn how to verify it, analyse it and present it to the reader/viewer/listener with a measure of credibility and an understanding of the issues involved. There are also many other matters that s/he has to be taught about, such as libel, sensationalism, and consideration of public interest. There is also the need to educate the reader/viewer/listener while informing him.

These issues can be handled sensitively only by a media person who has received training of a high quality. Do we have the facilities to provide this training especially at a time when the media has expanded at a rapid pace? Given the large number of newspapers that are now being published in the country and the mushrooming of television channels and radio stations, training has become the first requirement of the media sector. What pass as the mass communication departments in the various universities are really not providing the education and training that the journalists of today need. They do not even have the facilities and equipment — press, computers, radio and television studios — to impart practical training to the would-be media people.

With no exposure to the nuts and bolts of newspaper work and television and radio programme production the graduates of these departments get their real training on the job when they get employment. What they have been taught theoretically at the university amounts to a person being taught swimming without as much as entering the water. Therefore, the most urgent need of the hour is to create facilities and a highly qualified faculty for training media persons.

It is a pity that the greatest resistance to the expansion and upgrading of the existing facilities has come from those in this profession itself. On many occasions, efforts by private individuals to improve training facilities have come to nought. A case which got considerable publicity but has all but been forgotten is that of the Dr Feroz Ahmad Institute of Mass Communication at the Karachi University.

Six years ago in April 2000, Nadera Ahmad, the wife of the renowned scholar and social scientist, Dr Feroz Ahmad, who died in Washington in 1997, signed an agreement with the University of Karachi “to establish a research and educational centre for mass communication” to be named after her husband and the existing department of mass communication was to be upgraded to the level of the institute. The vice chancellor at the time was Dr Zafar Zaidi, a progressive thinking man who looked ahead in time and was willing to adopt new ideas for the benefit of the Karachi University.

The University Syndicate accepted the proposal and Nadera Ahmad invested Rs 10 million from the trust she has set up in Dr Feroz Ahmad’s name to start the construction of the building at the campus where the institute was to be housed. Six years have passed. One vice chancellor died in office and the second completed his term to give way to the third. Two PC-1s have been prepared and Rs 16 million procured from the UGC and the HEC to complete the building and furnish it minimally to make it functional.

The saddest part of this story is that the executive board comprising scholars, media professionals and others, that was to operate and maintain the institute, has been sidelined. The syndicate has now taken the stand that since this is the first time the upgradation of a department is taking place, the head of the department — who holds office by rotation — should ipso facto become the director of the institute. The initial proposal to have a high powered and eminently qualified director with a sound academic cum professional background selected through open competition has been scuttled. Another intriguing move has been to appoint the senior faculty members of the department as directors (something unprecedented in any institution of higher learning) and from what one can make out, the shifting of the department into the new building would be taken as amounting to its upgradation.

The composition and role of the institute as it was envisaged would have fulfilled two fundamental needs of an institute designed to train mass communication professionals. First its functions would include proficient practical training/education as well as research which is missing in the country. Secondly, an executive board predominantly of non-faculty members would ensure independence and autonomy.

Before Dr Attaur Rehman responds to the president’s suggestion, it would be a good idea if he looks into the original proposal for setting up the Dr Feroz Ahmad Institute of Mass Communication. He may still find some merit in it.

The ‘hidden’ hand

By Hafizur Rahman


SINCE we hate to face reality in both personal and national matters, we are inclined to see a hidden hand in anything that goes against our plans and desires. The conspiracy theory appeals strongly to our imagination, and instead of looking for simple explanations within ourselves we tend to romanticise and ascribe the happening to a hidden hand.

Even our presidents and prime ministers have not been able to resist this temptation. Sometimes, however, in rare cases though, the hidden hand is as clear as daylight. For instance, the air crash that killed General Ziaul Haq and others 18 years ago was the work of a secret hand but nobody has so has succeeded in naming it, nor has it come forward itself to claim responsibility. Maybe the hidden hand was just an act of God to show that a dictator, too, can be got rid of without firing a shot.

In Pakistan’s politics the hidden hand is very active and usually plays an important role. When politicians fail to achieved desired results, they start looking for the hidden hand. Of course they can’t see it because it is supposed to be hidden, or invisible. But whether it is there or not, it offers a convenient handle, almost a scapegoat, for putting the blame on something or someone no one can identify or locate.

I’ve heard a hundred times a tale of woe about individual failure, either in business or a profession or in government service. The narrator is signally blind to his own deficiencies and holds intrigue and conspiracy responsible for his downfall or retarded progress. Someone or the other is always interested in causing a setback to him, for reasons that are not very clear. The hidden hand somehow never makes its motives known.

In general elections of which we have seen four (or is it five) in the past decade or so this syndrome was very much in evidence. Candidates who would have lost in any case accuse either personalities or contrived circumstances for what happened to them at the hustings. The conspiracy theory was at its height, fuelled by indignation on the part of the losing political party. It was the same in the last elections in October 2002. And now the hidden hand is not allowing the government to operate in peace.

Coming down to families, some parents think their son is a prodigy or a genius. He is far ahead of his schoolfellows in every subject. He must always stand first; in fact he is hounded into standing first. Then as the matric result is announced it is found that he has only secured a very good first division. This is not enough for the ambitious parents, for he should have broken all records in the Board’s history. The hidden hand is blamed. Instead of making the boy conscious of his faults, or the parents scaling down their ambition, he is exalted into a martyr.

There are other parents who have twice arranged a match for a daughter, but each time things fizzled out for one reason or another. This time the offer is pucca, and as is the practice in our society, it is being kept a closely guarded secret. You might think it was a nuclear pact between two countries. “Don’t tell Brother A or Sister B about it yet. You never know in these matters. We’ll just call them when the nikah is fixed.”

But if fate is averse to the match something untoward happens again and the engagement is called off, naturally to the grief and frustration of the family. The hidden hand is held responsible. “Somebody must be interested in getting the affair broken off,” lament the inconsolable parents.

We Pakistanis are particularly prone to seeing the hidden hand at the international level. If a disturbance takes place in the country because of our own lack of vigilance or our indifference to the sentiments of the other provinces and other national groups, We at once hold the Hindu-Jewish lobby guilty of creating the schism. In fact the Hindu-Jewish axis is our favourite whipping boy. One is simply amazed at the range of mischief it is able to engender in Pakistan. It must really be the most formidable evil force that exists in the world.

Within the country anti-Pakistan elements are another popular hidden hand. If a woman fails to put the dopatta over her head on TV, these elements are said to be active in a surreptitious way. If there is a typographical error in a textbook which gives a slightly different meaning to some words of the Quaid-i-Azam, it is the anti-Pakistan sections which are doing mischief and trying to distort the ideology.

The only truly diabolical hidden hand that I can think of in Pakistan is the one that organises the terrorist murders of innocent persons in the big cities, or the one that rides a motor cycle to kill Muslims in mosques, now even in the villages, just because they are either Sunni or Shia or Christian. That is the hidden hand that deserves to be exposed and then cut off at the root, but which we have not yet been able to identify and catch and throw on the dirt heap. It is threatening our very existence, let alone our unity and integrity and our peace of mind. It is also giving us a bad name in the outside world, as if corruption and drug trafficking were not enough.

It is a wonder that our law and order agencies, which claim to know every criminal in their jurisdiction and call him by his first name, have invariably failed to find out the hidden hand. Same is the case with our secret agencies which are adept at harassing the political opponents of ruling regimes but seem to lose their touch when it comes to providing solid and positive service to protect the state by fighting terrorism.

Figures indicate that they now have a strong presence in every district, but there are no figures to show the catches they have made. These agencies may be pastmasters at intimidating harmless innocent citizens, but when it comes to identifying and apprehending anti-state elements their intelligence powers somehow desert them.

I remember President Pervez Musharraf reacting angrily at their ineptness some time ago and vowing to set them right, but then he got involved in politics and the referendum and then the elections. Maybe these agencies too are under the influence of a hidden hand!

Abuse of options

SINCE 1995 American business has performed far better than it did in previous decades and far better than rivals in all other rich economies. Productivity has boomed because executives have risked trying out new ways of doing business, even if those changes were wrenching and made executives unpopular in the short run.

To motivate managers to take these risks, it makes sense to tie pay to performance; stockholders will benefit and, overall, most workers should also benefit, since strong corporate performance is a necessary condition for rising wages, even if not a sufficient one.

This is why it can be wise to reward executives with stock options. But it’s also why the abuse of options matters: Abuse discredits a financial tool that can boost the dynamism of the economy.

The latest abuse concerns the suspicious dates on which options are granted. At more than 30 companies, executives have received options on a day when their firm’s share price was at a low; the subsequent rise in the price has made the options valuable.

As the Wall Street Journal has reported, top executives at KLA-Tencor Corp., a maker of semiconductor equipment, were awarded options on two days in 2001.

The first day marked the low point of the firm’s share price in the first half of the year. The second day marked the low point in the second half.

The chances of this being a coincidence are around one in 20 million. It seems likely, therefore, that the options were gamed: Perhaps the issue date for the options was chosen retrospectively, so that the firm could look back on a six-month period and pick the most advantageous date from the point of view of the executives.

If so, a mechanism that was supposed to reward performance was used instead to pay bosses irrespective of performance. The aim was to disguise the scale of executive pay and to make it look more merit-based than it was.

—The Washington Post