DAWN - Opinion; August 09, 2006

August 09, 2006


No end to Lebanese crisis

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

ALMOST one thousand civilian deaths, almost a million displaced, four UN peacekeepers killed and some 10 injured, Lebanese army barracks destroyed with numerous casualties caused to soldiers who stayed away from the conflict and 60 per cent or more of Lebanon’s infrastructure destroyed.

This is the grim tally resulting from the disproportionate response of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and of the Bush administration’s decision to view the crisis as an opportunity to redraw the map in the Middle East.

There is no end in sight since it is apparent from the 200 or more rockets being fired every day into northern Israel, some with deadly effect, that the ostensible prime target — Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal — has not yet been destroyed nor has the ability of the Hezbollah to launch such rockets been seriously affected.

If the Israeli air force has failed so far to deliver on the promises that the air force commander is said to have made, the Israeli army’s advance into Lebanon is having even tougher going with the Hezbollah resistance proving to be far more resilient than the Israelis had been led to expect. Press reports suggest that at least twice Israeli forces have been thrown out of the border village of Bint Jebeil. Elsewhere, Hezbollah has claimed that four Israeli tanks have been damaged in villages for occupation of which battles have been raging intermittently since the conflict began on July 12.

The Israelis have been critical of their prime minister’s decision to rely primarily on the air force to destroy Hezbollah and are now deeply worried about the casualty count which is bound to mount as Israel pursues a land offensive with the ostensible purpose of driving Hezbollah out of the approximately 15-mile depth that lies between the Lebanese Israeli border and the Litani river.

Some Muslim commentators have expressed their apprehension that Israeli aggression is aimed not merely at the destruction of Hezbollah’s military potential but at the reoccupation of southern Lebanon at least up to the Litani river. Farfetched this may well be but it is indicative of the deep distrust of Israeli and US motives among the people of the region.

Meanwhile, the Israeli people are also concerned about the damage - relatively light when compared to Lebanese losses - that Hezbollah rockets have inflicted on the morale of the Israeli people and on the image of invincibility that the Israelis had acquired after their lightning fast victories in earlier wars with their Arab neighbours. The killing of 12 Israeli army reservists, who were due to move into Lebanon, just south of the Israeli-Lebanese border at the village of Kifr Giladi has intensified such concerns and prompted an intensification of Israeli air attacks.

In the light of these ground realities Prime Minister Olmert’s claims of having crippled Hezbollah sound almost as bombastic as the claims Arab leaders used to make during their losing wars against Israel. This early and remarkable success on the part of Hezbollah, and the folk hero status its leader Sheikh Nasrallah has acquired in an Arab world sadly bereft of heroic figures, must not, however, blind us to reality.

It is inevitable, given the overwhelming Israeli military superiority and the unending chain of supplies from the US on the one hand, and the cutting off of all supply routes for Hezbollah on the other, that the Israelis will be able to prevail if they are not reined in. What Hezbollah has achieved by denying Israel a quick victory is time — time to allow the resentment and hatred in the Muslim world to build, time for Israel’s supporters in Washington and elsewhere to be questioned about the destruction they are wreaking and the consequences for ties between the West and the Arab and Muslim worlds, time for isolating Israel’s supporters and putting them before the bar of international public opinion. What should be the effect of this?

Olmert, whose disproportionate reaction was owed, in my view, almost entirely to his desire to be seen as a worthy successor to Ariel Sharon, will not be influenced by the international outrage. He believes that even after the recent erosion the support his present posture enjoys in Israel is overwhelming. In his view, friendly or even normal relations with Israel’s Arab neighbours are a distant dream. Israel can and must impose its own “peace” on these neighbours and be prepared to defend it with its military might. If this leads to turbulence and instability in the region so be it since it will only enhance in American eyes the value of the alliance with stable and democratic Israel.

It is only the Americans, pushed ever so gently by the Europeans and an ever more beleaguered Prime Minister Tony Blair, who can rein him in and they have good reason for doing so.

If Israel is allowed to continue, Lebanon will be destroyed along with Hezbollah’s arsenal but Hezbollah, as a movement will live on. Despite the current display of Arab solidarity the deep and chronic fissures in Lebanon exacerbated by economic hardship will reemerge and a new phase of Lebanon’s civil war of the 1970s and 1980s will commence. The Cedar Revolution of which the Americans were the most fervent proponents if not sponsors will wither. Freeing Lebanon from foreign influence will remain an elusive goal.

Lebanon will not be the only country in which Hezbollah will find fresh adherents nor will the Shias be the only recruits. If Al Qaeda chooses to recruit it will run out of enrollment forms but even more ominously other Al Qaeda-like organisations will sprout all over the Arab and Muslim world. Terrorist attacks, with Muslim countries as the first victims, will also spread to the West. Muslims settled or born in Europe and the US will be viewed with increasing suspicion even if they maintain a low profile and offer no more than oral sympathy to their coreligionists and kinfolk in the Middle East. Analysts and scholars will find it increasingly difficult to maintain in the West a distinction between the “radical Islamists” and the “moderates” who reflect the true spirit of Islam.

The incipient civil war in Iraq may turn into a full-fledged confrontation with the occupation forces. Already it appears to me that the demonstrations in Baghdad, larger than those in any other Arab country have caused misgivings and will, in all likelihood, strain relations between the Americans and the Shia alliance. The rejection of demands made when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited Washington for a condemnation of Hezbollah has apparently had an impact on Congress where Israel’s supporters abound.

In these circumstances it is perhaps time for the Bush administration to look again at the Security Council resolution they have virtually coerced the French into accepting and which calls for a cessation of hostilities but permits the Israelis to continue to occupy the Lebanese region into which they have moved. According to the latest reports the Arab League ministers are sending, after their meeting in Beirut, a special delegation to the UN to ask that the resolution be brought in line with the seven-point proposal made by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and approved by the Lebanese cabinet of which Hezbollah is a part.

Currently, the American president maintains that a ceasefire resolution would not address the root problem which he identified as being the “ability of Hezbollah to operate as “a state within a state” and to establish an armed presence in southern Lebanon while receiving arms from foreign sponsors, notably Iran and Syria. The Lebanese proposal that the Israelis withdraw completely from Lebanese territory and be replaced in that area by the Lebanese army backed by the 2,000 strong UNIFIL force currently in Lebanon seems to meet the American demand. The Lebanese are not opposed to the subsequent introduction of a robust international peacekeeping force but argue rightly that the vacating of Lebanese territory must not be made dependent on the induction of such a force which will take time.

The Lebanese have also demanded the return of the Shebaa Farms. The Israelis argue that the area belongs to Syria and presumably that its return would be part of the peace settlement with Syria. They dismiss as cartographic manipulation the Syrian assertion that the area is part of Lebanon. The Lebanese argument is that since the Syrians and Lebanese are both agreed that this is Lebanese territory Israel should hand it over and thus remove the rationale for Hezbollah retaining a militia that could strive for the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty over Israeli-occupied Lebanese territory. This is not a fundamental issue and could be dealt with in the second resolution which would also deal with the question of the overall Arab-Israel relationship. The question of the exchange of prisoners could also be left to the second resolution.

The Israelis should certainly be required, as a matter of humanitarian law, to provide the Lebanese with the maps of the minefields that they laid in Lebanon during the long years of occupation. It is legally mandatory for Israel to do so but in the present circumstances it is also the sort of gesture that could at least in small measure mitigate the impact of the damage Israel has done.

The Americans have to see that the Hezbollah’s move away from being a military force has been made more difficult by recent events and by the elevated status that Hezbollah now enjoys in Lebanon and the Arab world. Hezbollah, however, is also aware that after the dust settles those who praise it for restoring Arab pride will also blame it for providing the excuse Israel needed to wreak havoc on Lebanon. It will have to tread a fine line and that it is already doing so by endorsing Prime Minister Siniora’s efforts to get an agreement on a resolution that will ultimately lead to the disarming of Hezbollah.

The Americans can tell the Israelis that they risk little in agreeing to this proposal. The Israelis have the force to be able to reoccupy Lebanon if the implementation of the agreement falters or if Hezbollah’s conversion into a purely political force does not occur.

In an election year and with his band of dedicated neo-conservative advisers President Bush may find this a difficult decision to make but it is the only one that can save the region and the world from further destruction turmoil and instability.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Progress of library science

By Zubeida Mustafa

TOMORROW is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Library and Information Science Department of the University of Karachi. It was on August 10, 1956, that the department launched its post-graduate diploma programme – the first degree level course for librarians in Pakistan.

A programme in librarianship had been started in Lahore by Asa Don Dickenson, a student of the famous Melvil Dewey in 1915, but it was a certificate course. In 1957, the diploma programme was converted into a degree and a Master’s course. Nearly 3,143 students have graduated from the department in the last 50 years. Its faculty has grown from seven members – many of them part time – under the founding chairman Abdul Moid to nine full time staff members today.

Being the first in the field, the Karachi University’s library science department naturally has enjoyed a preeminence in the country. Now other universities also teach this subject, so aptly termed as the “final science” by John Barth. But strangely enough, the others were late in following suit. The Sindh University was the next one to launch a Master’s programme in library science in 1976 followed by Punjab University in 1979, Peshawar and Balochistan universities in 1983, and the Islamia University in Bahawalpur in 1985.

The most important contribution of the department in Karachi university is that it has raised the status of librarianship in the country. With legendary figures such as Dr Anis Khurshid associated with it, the department rose to great heights. Dr Khurshid was a devoted teacher, a committed researcher and a prolific writer. He conducted a number of surveys of libraries in the country and was instrumental in drafting a library law which, unfortunately, has not been adopted by any government so far. Even in his retirement he is a source of inspiration to other librarians in the country.

Thanks to his efforts, the librarian’s profession achieved a dignity and status which was until then non-existent in a country that sadly lacks a book culture. Although the reading habit has not quite caught on, there are pockets of avid readers all over the country. They might be students borrowing books from the school/college/university library, office workers visiting one of the few public libraries we have or housewives shopping for low cost publications in bookstores and supermarkets. They constitute a small but vocal band of readership that ardently supports the institution of libraries and librarianship.

These readers are like islands of scholarship in an ocean of ignorance and apathy towards learning. But good and committed librarians are not unheard of. The few that are there serve as catalysts in promoting the reading habit. Gone are the days when a librarian was just a keeper of books who organised them on the shelves after indexing and cataloguing them. Today, the librarian is basically an information scientist who, in the words of Moinuddin Khan, another ardent champion of the library movement in the country, regards his/her primary duty to help people gain access to information. The librarian’s expertise lies in his knowledge about precisely where a particular piece of information is available and how it can be reached. While performing this function she/he becomes a specialist on diverse sources of information, and in the process, becomes very knowledgeable her/himself.

Small wonder so many librarians have gone on to acquire a higher degree in a field of their interest. Of course, they do not relinquish the basic expertise they have gained in handling books and information. But they also learn about the subject on which they are digging up information. They are the true transmitters of knowledge and have come to be respected in their role. According to Moinuddin Khan, a library can become instrumental in spreading literacy and education. Today, a librarian in a government organisation can go up to NBPS-20 which is equivalent to the deputy secretary’s post. The director general of the national library is a grade 21 officer.

This recognition, though not adequate enough, has come to a great extent because the Library and Information Science Department at the Karachi University has, unlike many other departments at the same institution, kept pace with the growing and diverse need for information and the increasingly multiple sources of knowledge. It has played a pioneering role in introducing the latest technologies and methodologies in the field in Pakistan. Thus in 1983 the library science department became the Library and Information Science department and information science courses were added. Then came the computer age and courses on information storage and retrieval, data processing in libraries and information networks data bank were made compulsory. A computer laboratory was established in 1985.

It is a pity that with this wealth of training and know-how available here Pakistan still lacks a library movement. It has rightly been said that “we cannot have good libraries until we first have good librarians — properly educated, professionally recognised, and fairly rewarded”. Now good librarians are not so hard to find. But good libraries are. Malahat Kalim Sherwani, the head of the library and information science department at the Karachi University, feels that without a network of public libraries and a library in every school it is difficult to make this institution popular at every level. At the university, she and her colleagues have tried to inculcate this awareness in their students. But without the government’s cooperation and support it is not possible to create this chain of libraries. “We will never be able to fight illiteracy and ignorance if this apathy towards the library continues,” Malahat Sherwani says.

Given this official indifference, it is essential that librarians should become social activists for their cause in order to initiate a library movement in the country. The focus has so far been on conferences and workshops to create awareness about the importance of libraries as institutions of learning. Librarians have struggled hard to gain recognition of the importance of libraries as purveyors of information but something more than that is needed. The library and information science department should add a compulsory course on librarians as motivators.

Some of the best librarians I have known have succeeded in creating a desire in people for books. They know how to attract people to books and make readers out of them. A course on this would combine elements of psychology, sociology, inter-personal communication and the art of counselling to teach the librarian-to-be skills that a good teacher, psychologist and counsellor employs.

Although many librarians have this skill, not all of them have mastered it. Thus they do not always succeed in creating enthusiasm for reading a book. Who will they motivate? Of course, the students, children and readers who come there way. But most importantly, they need to motivate parents because the love for books becomes a lifelong thing when inculcated from the cradle.

This land is mine!

By Hafizur Rahman

ONE could say that the Mughals were back. Not in full force as rulers of the subcontinent but in the person of Mirza Zafar, a photographer of Peshawar who was determined to get back his patrimony from its usurpers. The usurpers in his case being the British government of India in the first instance, followed by its successor the government of Pakistan.

Earlier a similar “royal” in Lahore, Mirza Bashir Ahmed alias Nawab Sahib, had claimed sovereignty over the whole of Pakistan but was willing to be content with much less. He just wanted to be given the Mughal monuments in the city by virtue of his being the last living descendant of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Unlike him, the Peshawar man was not so ambitious. He claimed only a portion of the cantonment, including the railway station, saying that the land had been granted as jagir to his ancestors by Emperor Akbar. He even went to court on this, though I couldn’t keep up with the proceedings.

These were personal foibles and the two were dismissed by public opinion as crackpots. Also one does not know the psychological or other reasons that impelled them to air their claims in the press.

While the Peshawar photographer could have become a billionaire if his claim had been accepted, what would Nawab Sahib have done with Lahore’s Mughal monuments? Become rish by restricting entry into them by tickets?

These are questions that have agitated mankind for ages and in modern times are echoed by racial claims to land based on ancient history, and even legend. The are cries all over the world, saying, “This land is ours!”.

The question is — if it is valid at all in these times — who was the original owner, and of what part, of the globe? For instance, the USA aggressively supports the right of the Jews to Israel just because they once lived there some 2,000 years ago, but is not willing to concede the same right to its Red Indians who were masters of the country only 300 years ago. Apparently the older a claim the more valid it is in American eyes.

Chauvinistic Hindus in India, who label Muslims as alien conquerors and want them to go back where they came from, forget that, as ryans, they too had been intruders and marauders and had driven the Dravidians, the original inhabitants of Northern India, to the South. After that they set up in UP and Delhi the mythical utopia described so eloquently in the Ramayana as Ram Raj. On principle they should all go back to Central Asia and the Russian teppes from where they rode out to invade this land.

Imagine, if like Mirza Zafar, the Hindus were to adopt legal means and file a petition with the International Court of Justice in The Hague that all the rich and prosperous republics of Central Asia, now peopled mostly by Muslims, should be handed over to them since they were the original inhabitants of that vast region; what would happen? Probably nothing.

Only the world would laugh, and if the Court possesses a sense of humour besides a sense of justice, it would ask them why they had left their homes in Central Asia in the first place. Who and what made them do that?

The move of the Indian Hindus would be in keeping with the prevailing accusation of smaller states in South Asia that India was becoming hegemonic day by day. Maybe they will make such a move only after they have assured their neighbours like Nepal and Pakistan that their welfare lies in existing submissively as satellites of the great Hindu empire. By the way, can anyone explain why India is unable to live in peace and goodwill with Nepal which is the only other Hindu country in the world?

Shall we them see a mass exodus from over-populated India to the beautiful and fertile valleys of Central Asia? But before that happens the Hindus of Northern India may well be confronted by a demand from the even more over-populated South that its people — originally and racially Dravidians — were anxious to move northwards and reoccupay the great cities of UP. They may have become bored with living for centuries in the hot and humid South and think that a change of scene and climate would be good for their health and colouring.

Allowing for wholesale shifts in population, where will the people of Central India go if the original Aryans decide to return to their homeland? Frankly, I don’t know because my knowledge of ancient history ends here. I can only suggest that they should move to the vast open spaces of Siberia. It may be somewhar cold out there but what is a little discomfort for the sake of historical adjustment?

There will be a problem for the Muslims of Pakistan. Should they too move or should they stay put? You must have noticed that no educated Pakistani worth his salt, and even the uneducated Pakistani, admits to local ancestory. The same goes for the Muslims of India. Everyone of us is born of forebears who came from Bukhara or Ispahan, Istanbul or Makkah. Our surnames make that very evident. There are more Qureshis in the subcontinent than Muslims in Arabia.

Would we like to go back to those sacred haunts if promised corner plots there? Or is this foreign ancestory flaunted by us merely to acquire a superior distinction? None of us wants to admit that we are the children of converts and thus originally Hindus, or even Achhuts, untouchables. If this absurd claim on our part is recognized that we all came from abroad then the question arises — where did all the Hindus of this vast area go? None of us wants to be asked to answer this question and face the truth about ourselves.

Actually, what do all these claims amount to? Someone or other will always turn up and shout, “This land is mine!” Therefore it is better and wiser to to try yo make good wherever we are instead of setting up sights on free property. We should learn to be content with what we have and respect the rights of our neighbours. That goes for both Mirza Zafar and Nawab Sahib and the expansionist Hindus of India.

Unbalanced progress

THE United States wanted a suspension of fighting and France wanted a ceasefire — but perhaps the best that can be hoped for is a standoff. On Sunday, though, even that looked unlikely as Israel suffered its worst losses to date, with rocket attacks killing at least 15 people.

Similar numbers died in Lebanon, as Israel continued a campaign of bombardment that has displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes, laid waste to essential infrastructure and killed hundreds of civilians. In another part of the forest, the conflict with the Palestinians — which Tony Blair for one has linked to the Lebanon war — stepped up a gear when Israel arrested their parliament’s speaker, Aziz Dweik.

The dire news on the ground emerged just hours after the US and France agreed a draft UN resolution calling for the violence to stop, giving an apparent glimmer of hope. It could be adopted by the Security Council as soon as today. Not least among the ironies of this tragedy has been the emergence of France as a bridge between the US and much of the rest of the world. It was a role Tony Blair once hoped to take.

But in practice, even without Sunday’s tragedies, the details fell short of what is likely to be needed to achieve peace, even though the draft resolution does inch things forward. It calls for a “cessation” of hostilities, rather than a mere “suspension”. And the resolution avoids making the ceasefire conditional on an international force being assembled, as Israel had demanded. France prevailed on the US on these points by exploiting the leverage afforded by its willingness, in the right circumstances, to supply boots on the ground.

Sadly, though, on many issues the Israelis remain as intransigent as Hezbollah may prove, so it is still hard to see a ceasefire sticking. The lack of balance in the draft resolution poses further problems. Israel is called on only to end “offensive military actions”, but it claims the whole disproportionate campaign so far has been defensive.

The demand for the immediate release of Israeli soldiers, whose capture triggered the war, is not mirrored in respect of Lebanese prisoners held south of the border. Israel’s troops will be able to remain inside Lebanon for the immediate future — something Hezbollah is unlikely to accept — while Lebanese grievances, such as the occupation of Shebba Farms, are not addressed.

—The Guardian, London