DAWN - Opinion; June 21, 2006

June 21, 2006


US’s flawed Palestine policy

By Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty

THE events of 9/11 transformed the global scenario, and reinforced the unilateralist trend in the US that had emerged after its triumph in the Cold War. It is significant that two theoretical concepts were floated after the end of the Cold War, both obviously calculated to bolster the role of the western military-industrial complex whose dominance might have been threatened if a sense of complacency had been allowed to prevail over the absence of any successor threat to communism.

Western ideologues, dominated by pro-Zionist experts, perceived the Islamic world as posing the most serious threat to the post-Cold War world order. Francis Fukuyama, in his celebrated study, The End of History, advanced the view that the thousands of years of the evolution of human political and economic institutions, through wars and revolutions, were now over. Western concepts of political democracy and market-based economy had been accepted as the norm so that history as a process of change and evolution had ended. Samuel Huntington, a social analyst, came up with his theory of Clash of Civilisations”, according to which future wars will be between civilisation rather than states. Citing an alliance of Islamic and Confucian civilisations as the main threat to the dominant West, his theory amounted to a call for the western military-industrial complex to maintain a high state of readiness to confront the danger.

In the 1980s, the US had encouraged jihadist movements, and even financed institutions imparting Islamic education, to strengthen national and Islamic resistance to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden, a member of a prominent Saudi family, was entrusted with the task of assembling Muslim jihadists from all parts of Asia and Africa, to reinforce the Afghan mujahideen, and was described as a valuable ally of the free world in the war against the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union. With the back of its Cold War rival broken in Afghanistan the US emerged as the only superpower.

Bush senior became president in January 1989 and played an active role in shaping US policy in the post-Cold War world. A consensus emerged in the western world that the two challenges facing the dominant West were the resurgence of the Islamic world, and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Seen in this context, Pakistan, which was a frontline state in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, was seen as guilty on both counts, and underwent sanctions, and other forms of pressure throughout the 1990s.

India, the strategic partner of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, was now seen as an ally and partner, by the West while it had been pursuing nuclear ambitions which had been in violation of UN non-proliferation goals, and had compelled Pakistan to launch its own programme after the Indian nuclear test of 1974.

President Bush Sr imposed sanctions on Pakistan in October 1990. After Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, who had been a western tool in the war he launched on the Islamic revolutionary regime in Iran in 1980 with the aim of bringing it town, felt emboldened to occupy Kuwait, he formed an international coalition to counter this obvious violation of the UN charter. He also spoke eloquently of plans to launch a new world order based on the principles of the UN, though the world was to be disappointed as the US virtually downgraded the UN as it began to exercise its influence as the world’s mightiest power.

However, after the victory over Iraq, it did initiate moves for a settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute in Palestine, which had caused three wars between the two parties, almost coinciding with the conflicts between Pakistan and India in 1948, 1965 and 1971.

Having vital strategic and economic interests in the Middle East, the US found it necessary to win acceptance for the state of Israel that had been established mainly through powerful Jewish interests in Britain and the US. The Zionist movement was founded in 1897 by Theodore Herzl, to establish a Jewish national home in the territory of Arab Palestine. During the First World War, Britain was hard pressed financially as well as militarily. Jewish leaders not only provided substantial loans but also used their influence with the US government to draw it into the conflict on the side of the allies in 1917. This was done in return for the Balfour declaration issued by the British government that undertook to help create a Jewish state in Palestine, which was then a part of the Ottoman empire.

When the First World War ended and Turkey was deprived of Arab territories under its control, Palestine along with Trans-Jordan and Iraq was mandated to Britain, while Syria and Lebanon went to France. The British provided various inducements and facilities to encourage Jewish settlement in Palestine, but even after 20 years, at the start of the Second World War, Jews constituted less than 10 per cent of the population of Palestine.

If it was Britain that backed the idea of a Jewish national home to be created on land held by Arabs, Muslims as well as Christians, for over two millennia, it was the US that used both its diplomacy and power to create the state of Israel in 1948. The US backed partition plan of Palestine approved by the UN that gave 55 per cent of its territory to Israel, and 45 per cent to the Arabs. When the Arab states launched a war against the Jewish state, their ill-equipped and poorly led forces were routed by the Jewish armed groups, and at the time of the ceasefire, the Palestinians were left with only 26 per cent of their homeland.

During the pre-emptive war launched by Israel in 1967 in the face of defiant words by Egypt’s Gamal Nasser, and others, Israel not only occupied all of Palestine, but also parts of the adjoining Arab countries such as Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, the Golan Heights of Syria, and portions of Jordan and Lebanon. Israel has withdrawn from the Sinai Peninsula, after the Camp David Accord of 1978, a bold decision by President Anwar Sadat that led to the recognition of Israel by the largest Arab state.

The Arab League and the OIC both boycotted Egypt, and Sadat was assassinated shortly after this decision. However, his policy and pro-West orientation have been continued by President Hosni Mubarak, a former air force chief who has held power for nearly 27 years, and was recently re-elected. Egypt has become the second highest recipient of US aid, after Israel, since 1978, and its ruling elite has become wealthy, though there is much poverty and unemployment at the lower level.

Jordan is another Arab neighbour to normalise relations with Israel, but the majority of the Arab and Muslim states are not reconciled to Israel’s and arrogant and hostile attitude towards the Palestinian Arabs, who have risen up in two Intifadas or mass movements since the conflict of 1973, owing to Israeli violation of their human and legal rights. The recent one was provoked in 2000, by Israeli Prime minister former Ariel Sharon deliberately desecrating Islamic holy places in Jerusalem.

What is remarkable, and can be documented, is that the US, despite having promoted certain accords between the Palestinians and Arabs, such as the Oslo accords of 1993, and several others thereafter, continues to back violations of these accords by Israeli hardliners, who apparently have such complete control of the US Congress and government leaders, that there is little hope of a return of peace. To put it bluntly, any people when they are driven to despair, resort to terrorism.

Israel has been given the military and technological means to dominate the entire Middle eastern region. It resorts to brutal and humiliating tactics that are unacceptable to the great majority of the states represented in the UN. But the US uses its veto power to frustrate any action by the UN, which was created to promote peace with a major role by the US in the drawing up of its charter.

We may come to the current situation, in which any rash or ill-considered policy can ignite a reaction that would influence the entire Arab and Islamic world. Indeed, all people who support the principles of equity, and justice embodied in the UN charter would be on the side of the Palestinians.

President Bush had proposed a roadmap during his first term, following the 9/11 attack that won the approval of the UN, the European Union, and Russia. It was a settlement based on the creation of two states, and called for an end to violence, and phased Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory, in a manner that respected UN resolutions, through negotiations, to enable two independent and viable states to live in peace.

The policies adopted by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which his successor, Ehud Olmert, is continuing, amount to a unilateral settlement of Israel’s borders, thereby depriving the Palestinians of substantial areas of the West Bank, and ignoring the interest of the Arab and Muslim countries in Al-Quds, that forms East Jerusalem.

During Prime Minister Olmert’s recent visit to Washington, President Bush gave his approval to the Israeli plan in such a casual manner that one was amazed at his indifference to the likely consequences of such a solution.

It not only ignores his own roadmap, that had been backed by the Quartet, but also the UN resolutions and the likely reaction primarily in Palestine, but also in the Arab and Islamic countries.

If President Bush counts on the undeniable military superiority of Israel, backed by his country’s might, he will drive the 1.3 billion Muslims, and countless other tormented people all over the developing world to a state of despair and resentment that can lead to acts of terror.

The Middle East region and adjoining areas are already seething with discontent over the manner and purpose of western domination. This can also get aggravated if an unjust and totally unfair “solution” devised by Israel is imposed on Palestine.

One can only hope that the support given by the US to Olmert’s plan for Palestine will be reconsidered more carefully, and the original aim of the roadmap: to create two viable, independent states in Palestine living in peace will shape the superpower’s policy. The Muslims in South Asia, and especially in Pakistan and Kashmir can sympathise with their Palestinian counterparts because a powerful and aggressive India is also trying to impose its own solution on Kashmir, without taking into account the wishes of its people or the resolutions of the United Nations.

Why make people homeless?

By Zubeida Mustafa

IT IS ironical that it required a massive show of strength in the form of a large demonstration in Karachi on June 2 to get the city government to stop the demolition of katchi abadis it had been carrying on in a very determined way.

The protest rally organised by the Pakhtoon Action Committee two weeks ago blocked the main arteries of Karachi and caused such a traffic jam that the administration was forced to rethink its policies — at least for the present.

Those who protested had many grievances. Their main grouse was against the forced eviction of the dwellers of the katchi abadis and the demolition of their homes which the city government has undertaken as a part of its so-called gentrification programme. In the name of renewal and rebuilding of Karachi under a new master plan still on the anvil, the city fathers have bulldozed 3,490 housing units since January 2006. Apart from these, nearly 14,000 housing units and shops have been demolished since 2002 to make room for the Lyari Expressway project. The transporters joined the demonstration to add to the size of the procession.

Daily reports by the press at times fail to create an impact. But seen collectively, the human suffering is colossal. It is estimated that over 23,000 people have been made homeless in the process and their monetary loss is calculated to be to the tune of Rs 1.047 billion which they had invested in the construction of their homes. If people are upset it is understandable. Describing the katchi abadis as eyesores and the havens of criminals and the land grabbers, the city administration has moved to strike them down . It has justified its action by terming the abadis as encroachments that are illegal.

There are two aspects of this issue that have been totally disregarded. First, the modality of the eviction has not been as humane and compassionate as it should have been. Secondly, there is the issue of pinning responsibility for encroachment when it takes place and if it is morally and legally correct to penalise the so-called encroachers when others have committed a graver crime.

As has been reported widely, the evictions have been carried out brutally with the use of force, without any prior notice and no compensation or alternative land being given to the affected people. None of the internationally recognised guidelines for development-related evictions were observed. It should be stressed that all the people who are thrown out are the poorest of the poor. It is wrong to declare them wrongdoers who have breached the law and illegally seized government land.

One has to understand the process of encroachment to realise how wronged the inhabitants of katchi abadis are. In Karachi alone six million people live in 539 katchi abadis. They are the people whose fundamental right to adequate housing and shelter has not been recognised. They are forced to fend for themselves.

Since the government does not feel it is its duty to provide low cost housing for them — Karachi needs 25,000 housing units a year — they are forced to turn to the land grabbers. The land grabbers do for the poor what the government should have been doing. After all, isn’t it the state’s duty to provide the poor land at affordable prices, with possession given without delay? At present, land for low cost housing is not that low in cost and formal documentation involves weeks of legal processes and repeated visits to various offices.

The land grabber is in league with the police and the functionaries of the local government. Together they ensure that the so-called encroachers are allowed to settle on the land the land mafia has seized illegally and charged the poor to erect their homes on. The poor build a shelter for themselves incrementally as they gradually invest in adding concrete structure, getting electricity, gas and water connections.

All this takes quite a few years. When they are evicted, as is happening now, their earnings of a lifetime are lost. Meanwhile, the mafia, the police and the revenue department officials who had become rich by selling land they had grabbed free of cost cannot be traced and get away with their loot.

The key question is who is responsible for the problem of encroachments? The fact is that the appetite for land seems to be insatiable. It is increasingly being controlled by market forces. That is why we keep hearing of so many land scams. There is the common phenomenon of utility land being commercialised and land being unlawfully allotted. According to Arif Hasan, the chairman of the Urban Resource Centre and the OPP-RTI, 8,000 acres of amenity land has been converted into commercial plots in Karachi since the early nineties.

Tasneem Siddiqui, who retired recently as the director general of the Sindh Katchi Abadis Authority and has contributed in a big way towards housing for the poor, pins the blame on the revenue department which is notorious for its corruption. He cites the case of the Sindhi goths which have existed for centuries and naturally have no legal documentations. The revenue department failed to demarcate them and as a result it is now difficult to even determine the boundaries of the goths and where the encroachments begin. For the present, the evictions have mercifully stopped, but it is unlikely that the policy will be abandoned altogether. Those whose homes have been demolished have had to move to the periphery of the city, again on state land. Those who could not find new homes continued to squat in the open on the rubble of their homes. Of course, the land mafia must be having a field day in the process. But for many, this shifting will bring unemployment, uprooting from their social support structures, an end to their children’s education and psychological trauma from which they may never recover.

Since the law provides for the notification of many of these katchi abadis, the government should provide the lease to those who have not received it so far. The basic intention should be to cause the minimum of uprooting and suffering. There will be some abadis that might have to be razed to the ground. That should be done as a last resort and only after due notice has been given and alternative land provided. A resettlement policy will have to be formulated before anyone is evicted.

In most other cases, it should be possible for the city government to upgrade and improve the katchi abadis themselves so that they do not remain black spots in a city the administration is attempting to gentrify.

But that is only possible if our rulers approach the poor with empathy and attempt to understand their needs and how they strive to meet their needs. Policies which take the needs of the people into account will succeed.

It is also important that the greed, cupidity and avarice of the vested interests who act in league with the government functionaries are not allowed to play with the lives of the people. Since corruption is so rampant in the government, the land grabbers can get away with their evil ways.

It is time the administration stopped looking for its political gains at the expense of the poor. A general impression is that most of the people uprooted are not Mohajirs, hence they do not constitute the vote bank of the MQM that is in power in the local government and in the Sindh provincial coalition. Quite a chunk of the evictees are Pakhtoons who therefore rallied behind the ANP on June 2. This gives the entire problem an ethnic and political colour. One can ask if this is a form of gerrymandering?

Begums of the VIPs

By Hafizur Rahman

ALL prime ministers of Pakistan keep calling upon public servants to change their style of work and their attitude towards people to meet the needs of the time. I don’t exactly recall a similar exhortation from presidents but it must have been made because no head of state or government can do without it.

I suppose Begum Pervez Musharraf and Begum Shaukat Aziz can be requested to advise bureaucratic begums to do the same in respect of the female side of the social network. All Third World countries have VIP wives, by marriage one should say. But since periods of democracy in Pakistan have been a few and far between, and both the civil and military bureaucracy has been the de facto ruler of the country for long stretches of time, appellations like Begum General and Begum Deputy Commissioner have come to be accepted without tongue in cheek. They are used solemnly even by the newspapers.

Many years ago we had a distinguished visitor from abroad. Distinguished in her own right, that is. Her name was Khanum Rahnaward and she also happened to be the wife of the then prime minister of Iran. She had only one complaint against her treatment as a guest here. She said her own personality as a scholar was ignored and she received VVIP attention merely because of her husband’s status. Her statement left many people, mostly VIP wives, bewildered.

In Pakistan the common grouse of begums of VIPs is that they are not properly appreciated. People here are simply incapable of realising the importance of their role in contributing to the personality (and often the advancement) of their husbands and tend to take them simply as wives. Nothing could be farther from the actual state of affairs. But then, even with this handicap, they succeed effectively in making their presence felt.

One of my unforgettable memories is the offending look I received from the wife of Lahore’s deputy commissioner when on duty as a junior official in the VIP enclosure at a cricket test match in the fifties. I had failed to recognize her as such and asked her to show me her pass. Also I can never forget the words that went with the icy look, “Barre afsos ki baat hai.” They left me feeling like an ignorant moron with a sin on my conscience.

Imagine, not being able to recognize the DC’s begum! It’s a wonder I was not demoted or something. In the heyday of General Ziaul Haq’s rule, the begum of the Chief of Air Staff, a self-proclaimed poetess, came to Radio Pakistan, Islamabad, for an interview on her contribution to Urdu literature.

She was accompanied (or rather conducted) by an ADC in uniform, and the expectation was that the interviewer should speak to the Begum Sahiba only through that official. It took all of radio staff’s persuasion and PR to convince the pair — Begum Air Chief and the ADC — that this was not possible.

I can recall after all these years, as if the observation about her treatment as the prime minister’s wife was not enough, Khanum Rahnaward told pressmen that she had not purchased a new pair of shoes for the last ten years. She also took pride in saying that at home she had no servant and that she tried to maintain the standard of living of the middle class for her family. The strangest aspect of her visit to Pakistan was that she was not accompanied by any official or private secretary.

Really one should do something about keeping such visitors from coming to this country. They have no business to devalue our favoured notions and upset our begums. It is well that the Khanum never went to the Philippines, another Third World country, during the reign of “Queen” Imelda Marcos of the 3,000 shoes fame. The Khanum had the authority of some twenty scholarly books to her credit, but then it would have had to be 3,000 books to match Imelda’s achievement.

In a country like Pakistan where the wives of VIPs are rated in importance in terms of clothes, jewels and shoes that they are able to buy in one evening in London or New York, the Khanum’s statement about her ten-year old shoes was disappointing. Here the wife of even a junior section officer cam put up a much better show than that lady.

In China, wives are not invited to state functions, nor are they accorded special treatment on the basis of their husbands’ official position. If that is still true, even after the advent of Coca Cola in that country, then the begums of Pakistan should take a delegation to Beijing to educate Chinese wives on their rights and privileges. This sort of exploitation of wives should not be allowed to go unchallenged. Whatever the country and whatever the international protocol involved, “Equal opportunities for begums everywhere” should be the name of the game.

In the West, women are praised if they take interest in the official careers of their husbands. There may be many such wives in Europe and America, but I’m sure our begums can teach them a thing or two. The extent of the latter’s interest can be gauged from the fact that most of them identify themselves completely with their sahibs’ posts. I have heard them saying, “When we were Commissioner in Bahawalpur...” or “There was an SDO under us in Sargodha...” It will take a long time and much effort and practice for western wives to achieve that state of oneness with husbands.

The truth is that begums in Pakistan, whether they are wives of senior civil and military officers or of political personalities in power, are inclined to think of themselves as national housewives, and in that privileged position they order people about, enjoy official facilities, treat their husbands’ PAs as their own and generally make a nuisance of themselves.

Some administrative experts contend that half the corruption in the country’s bureaucracy owes itself to the begums’ demands and whims. This may be an exaggeration, though I can name one or two members of the defunct CSP class who lost their jobs because of their ambitious wives. Other people may have kept count of other officers in other services like, say engineering, income tax, police, etc. In any case the allegation wouldn’t be far- fetched.

Political logos

THERE will be few mourners for Britain’s Conservative party’s flaming-torch logo, which is close to being extinguished in the party’s race to appear kind and gentle (and which anyway looks more like a melting ice-cream), but the need to replace it is a reminder that politics is about symbols as well as words.

The Tories have attempted to light the path to the future with their freedom torch since the 1980s, although it has become softer and dimmer, like the party, in various redesigns since then. Now the Tory chair, Francis Maude, has confirmed that it is on the way out.

The most likely replacement is the dull pile of pale-blue blocks which now makes an appearance on the top of party literature and which is supposed to show the electoral challenge the party must overcome to win the next election.

This lack of interesting imagery seems to be part of a trend: Labour uses its red rose less these days and the Liberal Democrat bird of liberty, which has already shed feathers in one redesign, was nowhere to be seen at Sir Menzies Campbell’s big speech last week.

Britain’s politicians should look abroad for fresh ideas: the Democrat donkey and the Republican elephant are the most famous of all political logos (although once the parties fought under the avian badges of gamecock and eagle). In countries where many voters cannot read, household objects carry parties to defeat and victory. The idea could work here, too. Perhaps Thatcher’s torch should make way for Cameron’s big blue bicycle.

—The Guardian, London