DAWN - Opinion; July 17, 2006

Published July 17, 2006

The right response to Mumbai

By Tanvir Ahmad Khan

AS the death toll in the latest terrorist atrocity in Mumbai rises to almost equal the number of victims in an earlier terrorist attack on the city in March 1993, speculation about the identity and motives of the perpetrators of the outrage also multiplies. In the absence of a definitive opinion from the investigating and law enforcement agencies (other than the names of two suspects), initial comments reveal a tendency to use a great human tragedy to reinforce existing biases.

While it is entirely possible that this preconceived global explanation of violence gets substantiated by subsequent findings in Mumbai’s case, there is also a clear danger that it would blur an equally important focus on specific factors that are increasingly threatening the states and societies of South Asia, factors that urgently demand a collective approach by them.

The generalisation that clouds the horizon most is that of a global war on terrorism which in practice closely follows the contours of the construct known as the clash of civilisations. The enemy is the shadowy jihadist drawing inspiration and resources from an elusive organisation called Al Qaeda. In a media driven world, he provides the instant focus for every act of wanton terror anywhere in the world. He is the perfect reason to see a Manichean divide across the entire globe. He is also the alibi for an honest and intensive analysis of a particular situation.

Trying to cope with a heart-rending event that has taken more than 200 innocent lives in Mumbai, India showed restraint in attributing it to any specific organisation without further proof. But within minutes of the deadly explosions, major international media outlets were trying to link them to global Islamic militancy and, in particular, to Lashkar-i-Taiba which in turn was traced to Pakistan. When the Lashkar and Hizbul Mujahideen issued a firm denial, the allegation was implicitly sustained by pointing out that they never accept responsibility for terrorist acts. It was repeatedly argued that the bombing was carried out with an efficiency that could come only from a well established network of terror or a foreign intelligence service.

The royalist Iranian emigre, Amir Taheri, who is part of a prolific group engaged by the pro-conservative Benador Associates to conduct polemics against what he calls “the Islamist international of terror” rushed to the press to surmise amongst other things that the Mumbai mayhem might have been timed to coincide with this weekend’s G-8 summit in St. Petersburg where India would be a guest. A particularly wild stream-of-consciousness kind of analysis that washes away all canons of rigorous intellect is often used in the hope that it would help President Bush maintain his crusade in the midst of plummeting approval rates in the United States and justify the staggering simplicities of the terror war.

Notwithstanding the categorical condemnation by the highest leaders of Pakistan of the murderous assault on Mumbai, a major theme has been whether the Indian government would be able to continue the ongoing dialogue with Pakistan. At a time when the so called composite dialogue is already losing momentum, it is being suggested that the meeting of the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan scheduled for July 22 may be a casualty of the Mumbai tragedy.

That this meeting becomes all the more necessary if there are any misgivings about the international links of the Mumbai miscreants is hardly being mentioned. If there are rogue elements out to wreck the India-Pakistan peace process, the two governments clearly need to identify them for a well-coordinated response. There would not be a better gift for these elements than putting bilateral consultations on hold.

It is as difficult to rule out an “Islamist” connection at the moment as it is to assume it uncritically and with nothing better than vague circumstantial evidence. Dragging the Indian Muslims, who would be taking the same trains of Mumbai’s western line as the followers of other faiths, into the fray was particularly sinister as the communal situation in this part of India has not exactly returned to normal after the Gujrat killings. The allegations in the past against the Students Islamic Movement have been intangible and inconclusive and a knee jerk effort to weave a story that knits it, the Lashkar and Pakistan together is a cause of concern.

Not very long ago I wrote about the growing incidence of political violence in South Asia in this column. Islam certainly did not provide a common matrix for this disturbing trend noticeable in virtually every regional state. Sri Lanka, India, Nepal and Pakistan were the obvious cases where one would have to go far beyond America’s war on terrorism to understand the stresses and strains exploding into insurgencies of one kind or another.

Obviously, the nation-building processes of the last 60 years have had some inherent flaws that fuel these fires. Then there is the inevitable cost of opening up to the global economy to achieve and sustain high growth rates — the infamous downside of globalisation; all over South Asia an under class is seething with anger at the widening social disparities. The situation demands honest introspection as well as a closer democratic interaction between the people and the ruling elites.

Insofar as the infrastructure of violence seems to acquire a general trans-national South Asian operational capability, the states of the region will have to develop a much higher degree of mutual trust and cooperation than available at the moment.

The Indian foreign office reacted sharply to Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s first comment on the Mumbai tragedy. Some outside commentators also found the reference to a settlement of the Kashmir dispute “distasteful”. Perhaps Mr Kasuri should have shown greater tact. He might have forgotten for a moment that it is an unwritten convention of the present war on terror that the barbarity of the day be detached from its historical context.

The images of horror that go round the globe in real time are supposed to align public outrage with purely militaristic solutions now underway and not invite attention to a chain of causes and effects. The militants in Palestine or Iraq attack “liberty” and “our way of life” as President Bush would immediately proclaim; they blow themselves and others up as they are driven by primeval evil and not by the desire to shake off foreign occupation. For once the very fashionable Mr Kasuri was being unfashionable; he referred to the underlying causes of the malaise in our region.

The sanctity and sensitivity of the occasion apart, India like neighbouring states has serious problems to resolve. Though more successful than in other South Asian states, federalism in India has yet to find a satisfactory solution of the northeastern provinces. Significantly, different rates of growth between clusters of states and growing inequalities even within the same state enable Indian Maoists to commit acts of lawlessness in more than one hundred districts of India.

Despite noticeable improvement on yesteryear, communalism still ranks among the causes of violence and discrimination in Indian society. When it comes to Kashmir, the Indian state is no more imaginative today than it was a decade ago. None of this should bring any joy to a Pakistani or a Bangladeshi. For their future progress and prosperity, the states of South Asia are more interdependent than they care to admit.

Not all of Pakistan’s current troubles are the consequence of exposure to Al Qaeda though there is little doubt that an excessive use of force to satisfy the insatiable demand from Washington to produce better statistics has exacerbated the situation. Be that as it may, there are explosive ethnic and tribal issues that get aggravated because of an imbalance between the military policy and corrective action in the political and economic domain. There is also widespread fear in Pakistan that India is creating an infrastructure of terror in Afghanistan to squeeze Pakistan in the trans-Indus provinces. Sri Lanka went through a period of negative attention from Tamil Nadu and New Delhi.

The effects were so devastating that long after that interventionist policy was replaced with a more benign interest in the island, there is no clear roadmap to stability. Nepal has gone through a revolutionary shift of power but it still faces the daunting task of writing a constitution that would bring the youthful Maoists into mainstream politics for all times to come.

Pakistan wants to be a frontline state in the war against terrorism. India is keen to be a partner of the United States in managing the world. Part of the price the two countries pay is to accept a facile explanation of our time of troubles against our better knowledge of the real dynamics at work. India and Pakistan must act as the vanguard of a South Asian march to genuine regionalism. There has to be a consensus on the causes of instability, be it religious bigotry, ethnicity or the hitherto intractable issues left behind by the withdrawal of paramount alien powers nearly six decades ago.

Beyond the anguish of the present tragedy and beyond the shared humanitarian grief is the undiminished responsibility to address these tangled problems. Hard as it may sound the process has to be sustained despite the occasional setback of the kind that we have just witnessed in Mumbai. The moral of the grisly tale is to redouble the effort to make the current dialogue more productive. The modest gains made so far should not be lost in mutual recriminations but should become the cornerstone of an imposing edifice of regional cooperation.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

The new best days of my life

(Art Buchwald will not be writing his column on a regular basis while he finishes a book about his experiences in hospice care. This column will likely be his last for several weeks.)

THIS is the first day of the rest of my life. I’m winding up nearly five months of living in a hospice.

The purpose of the hospice is to help you go gently into the night when all else fails. You are supposed to do it with as little pain as possible and with dignity.

It didn’t work out that way for me. I will not go into the details of why I stayed here this long and why I’m leaving. Most people that enter a hospice depart by a different door than the one they came in. There are 14 beds in my hospice, and the average time a person spends here is two to three weeks.

The irony of my stay here is that word got out that I refused dialysis (a form of saving your kidneys) and probably didn’t have long to live.

The fact that I was in a hospice and people could come visit me anytime they wanted made it a happening.

Hospices have never gotten much attention, because people relate them with death. People are afraid of the mystery of death. Relatives and friends are initially afraid to visit. It’s a whole different ballgame from anything else in a person’s life.

Since I was in the hospice for almost five months, I have had visitors from all walks of life. I suspect one of the reasons was that the hospice was centrally located and people came to visit me after they bought flowers at nearby Johnson’s florist shop.

Women were the most moved. The thing that kept them going was that I was always upbeat. I knew I was getting into something very serious, but I didn’t want my friends to worry.

My hospice is very special. It has a large living room where families can hang out while their loved one, in almost all cases, remains in bed. Some patients stayed for days and others for weeks, but the bottom line was, we weren’t going to be around very long.

People took a lot of interest in what was going on, first with me, then with the hospice as a whole. We celebrated birthdays here and fed the goldfish. There was no reason the fish had to die just because I was going to.

Of course people want to talk about death if you give them permission. I always give people permission to discuss it. I discovered it made them very happy to be able to share fears and questions about dying.

During the last five months, people kept asking me, “What is it like to die?”

I answered, “I don’t know, because I haven’t died. I thought I was going to, but then something changed.”

Instead of going straight upstairs, I am going to Martha’s Vineyard. I doubt that people will be that interested in me there.

I had such a good time at the hospice. I am going to miss it.

I don’t know how long I’ll be around, but I do think I won’t be in a hospice this summer. If nothing else, I made an awful lot of people happy.

Dying isn’t hard. Getting paid by Medicaid is. —Dawn/Tribune Media Services

Big Bang theory in ruins

By E. J. Dionne Jr.

THE most intellectually honest case for the war in Iraq was never about Saddam Hussein’s alleged stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction. It was the Big Bang theory.

Not to be confused with theories about the origins of the universe, the Middle East Big Bang idea was simple and seductive. Unlike other arguments for the war, it was based on some facts, though also on some wishful thinking. The point was that the Middle East was a mess. A nest of authoritarian regimes bred opposition movements rebelling against the conditions under which too many people lived and energised by a radical Islamist ideology. Some of them turned to terror. In this bog of failure, moderate Muslims were powerless. They were frequently jailed or killed.

The situation’s hopelessness argued for a hard shove from the United States to create a new dynamic. Installing a democratic government in Iraq would force a new dawn. Newly empowered Muslim democrats would reform their societies, negotiate peace with Israel and get on with the business of building prosperous, middle-class societies.

It was a beautiful dream, and even when the administration was asserting things that turned out not to be true, it held the dream out there for all to contemplate.

Consider Vice-President Cheney’s address before the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Aug. 26, 2002, one of the earliest major public arguments the administration made for war. The lead of the news stories was Cheney’s claim that there was “no doubt” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was prepared to use them. “The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action,” Cheney declared.

But then there was the delightful promise of what American success in Iraq could achieve. “Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad,” Cheney said. “Moderates throughout the region would take heart, and our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced.”

Today, with Israeli troops battling on their northern and southern borders, with Iran ignoring calls for negotiations on nuclear weapons, with Baghdad in flames and with many of Iraq’s moderates living in fear, those Cheney sentences stand as the most telling indictment of the administration’s failures.

If Israelis and Palestinians were closer to peace, if Iraqi democracy showed signs of stability — these might justify a war fought in part on the basis of false premises.

But when the Big Bang happened, the wreckage left behind took the form of reduced American influence, American armed forces stretched to their limit and a Middle East more dangerously unstable than it was at the beginning of 2003. Whether one ascribes these troubles to the flawed implementation of the Big Bang Theory or to the theory itself, what matters now is how to limit and, if possible, undo some of the damage.

That is what the American debate should be about, but those in charge of Republican campaigns this year have another idea. They have hit upon the brilliant strategy of pushing any serious discussion of the failure of American foreign policy past Election Day. For the next 3 1/2 months, they want the choice before the voters to be binary: staying the course and being “tough,” or breaking with President Bush’s policy and being “soft.” There are just two options on the ballot, they say: firmness or “cut and run.”

If I were a Republican strategist, I’d probably do the same thing. But Democrats (and, yes, the media) risk playing into Republican hands if they fail to force a discussion of the administration’s larger failures or let the debate focus narrowly on exactly what date we should set for getting out of Iraq.

The case for reducing our commitment to Iraq in the interest of other and larger foreign policy purposes — has anyone noticed the growing mess in Afghanistan? — is built on a compelling proposition: that the administration made a huge bet on Iraq and it lost.

By late November of this year, the United States will have been at war in Iraq for as long as we were involved in World War II. Under those circumstances, the burden of proof should not be on those who argue for changing what we’re doing. It should be on those who set a failed policy in motion.—Dawn/Washington Post Service

Effects of 9/11 on Pakistan

By Javed Rana

ALMOST five years after 9/11, the scars of the American-led war on terror are fast becoming visible in Pakistan. Backlash from Pakistan’s over-generous support to the US has radicalised society and placed the nation on an uncharted political course.

With damage control measures yet to be implemented, the prospect of unifying the different factions of society remains dim. International and regional events have been shaped by a strong reaction to the so-called war on terror which is now driving Pakistani youth to give up their lives for the “greater cause of jihad”.

Contrary to western reports, most militants are not madressah students. Unfortunately, the western media has as usual resorted to stereotyping nations and individuals, giving rise to the misleading belief that every act of terror is masterminded by a Taliban or mullah. But the reality is quite different.

In late 2005, the interior ministry compiled an investigative report on the identity of suicide bombers in Pakistan. The report reveals that 9/11 produced 22 suicide bombers. Of these, only three were madressah students. The rest were ordinary youngsters who had joined militant outfits, and who subsequently went on to target western interests and mosques of rival minorities including the Shia community. Unofficial figures of homegrown suicide bombers have now risen to as many as 30.

The pre-9/11 era spanning more than 50 years in Pakistan saw hardly any suicide bombers. But in a matter of just five years, 30 cases of suicide attacks were recorded in Pakistan. One of the reasons for this is that the government has opted for a secretive modus operandi instead of pursuing a genuine and transparent long-term strategy with regard to the US-led anti-terror campaign that is undermining the country’s sovereignty.

There has been a 10 per cent increase in the enrolment of well-off educated students in madressahs. Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who heads the second largest madressah network in Pakistan, says that highly qualified youngsters are approaching the religious scholars to know more about jihad.

Hundreds of suspected militants have been detained without any charge. Their families have not been informed about their whereabouts. Many Pakistanis were handed over to the US clandestinely on unproven charges of connections with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This has generated a wave of public sympathy for them. This means that there are more minds that accept suicide bombings. Many young men who are no strangers to images of destruction and who have been brushed aside by their own undemocratic regime are willing to become suicide bombers.

Internet and the comprehensive coverage of world events by the international media have raised the level of political awareness. The media provides youngsters with graphic text, videos and images of US carpet bombings and air raids in Afghanistan and Iraq. They see the devastation and humiliation wreaked on ordinary Muslims including those who have suffered physical and mental agony at the hands of US forces in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay. These images are not easily forgotten and remain etched on the minds of hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world silently watching the rape of Muslim nations by the world’s lone superpower.

The question is where these frustrated youngsters will end up in their effort to participate in what they view as a jihad. Obviously, their prime targets are western interests to which the general public in Pakistan may not object given the growing anti-American wave in the country and elsewhere in the Muslim world. But at the same time, this unbridled lot is vulnerable to misuse by powerful unscrupulous elements for suicide targets against different Islamic sects. These targets are no longer restricted to the Shia community. The recent bombing in Nishtar Park in Karachi has sowed sufficient seeds of enmity within major schools of thoughts among Sunnis.

Another part of the problem is the frequent compromises the government makes with regard to Pakistan’s sovereignty. There have been incidents of direct commando operations by the FBI that has whisked away citizens in league with Pakistani security agencies. Similarly, repeated incursions of US forces in the bordering northwestern region with Afghanistan have incensed tribesmen who see the Pakistan army as an extension of US forces on the other side of the border.

So far, armed militants have ambushed and killed over 650 Pakistani soldiers in North and South Waziristan region since 9/11. Within the last two months, over a dozen security officials have been killed in suicide attacks, a level of violence never witnessed in the tribal belt before.

Lack of democracy, institutional instability and the resultant breach of sovereignty have compounded the problem.

While our rulers may finally be trying to navigate a new course and exploring strategic options including looking for more reliable allies, tackling domestic problems might prove a far more difficult exercise.

The government lacks a political and democratic face to effectively achieve its long-term vital geo-strategic interest. Strategic goals might turn out to be short-term tactical policy arrangements if the people continue to feel insecure over the infringement of their rights as citizens of a sovereign state.


Wisdom on detainees

SENATE testimony on Thursday by the judge advocates-general of the four military services was illuminating — so illuminating, you wanted to weep that they hadn’t been listened to four years ago or more.

The setting was the Armed Services Committee’s opening hearing into how terrorists should face trial, following the Supreme Court decision that struck down the administration’s scheme. Testimony from the leaders of the army, navy, air force and marines’ justice systems showed how foolish the administration was to sideline both Congress and the existing military justice system in crafting its plan for terrorism trials. Had the conversation that began yesterday taken place soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, many terrorists might today be serving prison sentences instead of being warehoused — and some innocent men being warehoused might be free.

Not one of the six active-duty and retired judge advocates-general who testified yesterday would endorse the administration’s request that Congress simply ratify the military commissions it had set up unilaterally. All emphasised, to different degrees, that it was a mistake not to incorporate more of the normal rules of military justice in creating the commissions.

Some argued, as we have, that Congress should start with the court-martial system and amend it as needed. Others want to incorporate elements of President Bush’s commissions, of courts-martial and of international war crimes tribunals. None, however, contended that the system the administration set up offers an appropriate balance between wartime needs and American values.

At the same time, every witness also agreed that the system of courts-martial, as normally used to try US service personnel, can’t be used for alleged terrorists without changes. The rules must adapt to accommodate defendants who are captured in war, not arrested, and who may be detained for long periods before trial, they said. The strict requirements of the rules of evidence applied in a general court-martial also would need tweaking. But as a former Navy JAG, Rear Adm. John Hutson, said, “Those modifications should be very narrow and very specific and well articulated and based on absolute necessity.”

Finally, the judge advocates general all agreed that detainees can be treated humanely without damaging this country’s war-fighting ability. In other words: Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which mandates humane treatment and which the Supreme Court applied to the conflict with al-Qaeda, poses no obstacle to the military. “In fact,” said Adm. Hutson, “I’d turn it around and say I don’t think we can win the war unless we live within Common Article 3.”

The challenge for Congress is to rigorously identify and define the necessary modifications to the military justice system so that trials can, at long last, begin. Committee members appeared to understand the gravity of the task and, unlike some commentators and legislators, key members did not seem in a hurry to undo the Supreme Court’s ruling.

—The Washington Post


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