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DAWN - Editorial; August 28, 2006

August 28, 2006

Tragedy with a price

IT is distressing to find the president congratulating the country’s security forces for their “successful operation” that killed Nawab Akbar Bugti and several of his companions in the Bhambore Hills of Balochistan on Saturday. Every sensible person should be filled with deep foreboding at this critical development. The repercussions may not be immediately visible but they will appear in time, as our troubled political history has shown whenever force has been employed to solve a political problem. Nawab Bugti was a headstrong, politically erratic person and a tribal sardar to the core of his being, with all the characteristic harshness and also some of its paternalistic mellowness. He had lent his services to various governments, compromising relations with even some of his own fellow Baloch leaders to become both governor and chief minister of his province at the expense of old party comrades. His politics could hardly be described as being always very consistent.

But, outspoken as he was, Bugti also articulated the nationalist aspirations of the people of his province and was respected by almost every ethnic group there. His killing could easily lead to a recrudescence of nationalist sentiment, not merely in Balochistan but also in Sindh, and the acts of sabotage in Balochistan which appeared to be waning may return in a more violent form. Indeed, it is mystifying why this operation, reminiscent of the targeted attacks carried out against Al Qaeda suspects, was carried out now when a Bugti tribal jirga was arranged only the other day with such fanfare by the government. Although patently stage-managed, it seemed like an attempt to politically isolate Nawab Bugti and his companions and gradually wean away the sardars’ followers. This was the right approach to Balochistan’s pacification, and fitted in with the efforts made earlier by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain (who, significantly, has expressed his regret over the Bhambore incident) and Senator Mushahid Hussain. Many Baloch and nationalist demands are rooted in the realities of calculated indifference and neglect over decades. They need to be understood and redressed rather than their advocates being branded as traitors and ‘miscreants’ and wiped out with missiles. Political angularities need time to be tackled: feudal and tribal systems cannot be uprooted over-night by proclamations and through violent methods.

The folly of blocking the natural flow of political ideas and opinions by the military has always led to disaster. The Saturday battle, which was obviously strongly fought by the dissident tribal people, resulting in the death of several security personnel, will also lead to a sharp deterioration in the already heated government-opposition relations and can only further pollute the political atmosphere. It doesn’t do the state any good to be remembered as an executioner of former prime ministers and chief ministers. This paper has repeatedly stressed that neglecting issues of provincial autonomy and federal decentralisation will result in incalculable harm. Nawab Bugti had fallen out with Islamabad on previous occasions too, but there was always a sullen reconciliation later. Why the break this time went so deep and led to such a bloody end is not immediately clear. Perhaps ultimately the epitaph will be couched in the immortal lines of Muneer Niazi: “the denizens of the city were cruel, but we too perhaps had a wish to be killed.”

Peacekeeping in Lebanon

PEACEKEEPING in Lebanon is not going to be a pleasant job. This is one reason why it is taking so long for Unifil to reach the 15,000-troop level approved by the Security Council on Aug 11. The SC resolution has not created a new peacekeeping force; instead, it has raised the strength of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (where it has been since 1978) from 2,000 to 15,000. The key issue is the resolution’s failure to fix a specific date for Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. While it asks Hezbollah to stop all attacks immediately, it calls upon Israel to cease “all offensive military operations”. As for an Israeli pull-out, the resolution asks Tel Aviv to withdraw “at the earliest” and in parallel with the deployment of Lebanese troops in areas south of the Litani river. It, thus, implicitly allows Israel to continue its so-called “defensive” operations. True to its track record, Israel will have the broadest possible interpretation of the resolution in order to continue hostilities at levels that suit it. It goes without saying that it has no qualms about making terror raids on apartment buildings and other non-military targets and using cluster bombs — something that the US has discovered after the ceasefire. Will Unifil’s western troops have the authorisation from their governments to fire back on the Israelis?

The Israeli military attacked UN troops repeatedly and got away with it. In the 34-day war, they killed four UN peacekeepers. The attack was not a mistake, for the UN checkpoint had been warning the Israelis that their air strikes were coming gradually closer to it. The Israeli air force, however, kept firing missiles, leading to the death of four UN peacekeepers. As for disarming Hezbollah, the resolution calls for this indirectly by reaffirming support for the Taif accords and the relevant resolutions that require the disarming of all militias by the Lebanese government. Hezbollah has already warned that it reserves the right to retaliate if Israelis take military action in south Lebanon. This makes the job of both Unifil and the Lebanese army difficult and hazardous. No wonder, very few nations appear keen on contributing to Unifil.

Achieving literacy targets

IT IS all very well for President Musharraf to say that the government will offer the required funds to achieve an 85 per cent literacy rate by 2012. But past experiences have shown that once translated into action, the government fails miserably to follow up. Just last month, an Education for All global report expressed serious reservations about Pakistan meeting the Millennium Development Goals’ education targets. At 53 per cent, the country has the lowest literacy rate in the region. Other statistics on the existing infrastructure are equally deplorable — ghost schools are rampant, many school buildings are without walls and toilets, and access to drinking water is non-existent in many cases. If President Musharraf is seriously committed to improving educational standards — as he said recently when directing the National Commission for Human Development to increase its educational facilities from 50 to 100 districts — his government has to substantially increase budgetary allocations for education. At present, Pakistan spends a mere 2.1 per cent of its GDP on education as compared to India’s 4.1 per cent. This explains why the country has one of the highest drop-out rates in schools. Except Punjab which has made some headway in its educational promotion drive, the rest of the country lags far behind. This is the result of decades of poor policymaking and a lack of political will to tackle the issue head on.

It is time to move beyond words that state the obvious. The rural areas are the worst hit and require the utmost attention for improving the existing infrastructure and building new schools, preferably close to peoples’ homes so that children, especially girls, can easily attend. Of equal importance is a strict inspection system that ensures that schools are functioning well and teachers attending to their job. Without this, there will be any number of pledges and promises, but no real progress.

Understanding & fighting terrorism

By Talat Masood


THE news of the terror plot in Britain in which some British citizens of Pakistani origin and a few Pakistanis were allegedly involved came soon after the regrettable Mumbai train explosion that had the Indian leaders and media pointing fingers at Pakistan. The western media has since joined the chorus and in tandem with its usual line has been projecting Pakistan as the epicentre of terrorist activity.

While it would be incorrect to brush this aside as mere Indian and western prejudice, it is nevertheless highly unfair to put the major blame of global and regional terrorism on Pakistan. A complexity of factors is triggering these events.

Western memory is short and the central role that Pakistan played during the occupation of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union has been conveniently forgotten.

Then Islamic fundamentalism was deliberately encouraged by the West to act as a bulwark against communism, the legacy of which we are still suffering.

Pakistan has played host to millions of Afghan refugees and most of them continue to live here with adverse consequences for our economy, politics, demography and social fabric.

No less has been the pressure on Pakistan after the post 9/11 US invasion of Afghanistan, both in terms of the dislocation and devastation across the Pak-Afghan divide and the radicalisation of the tribes and the adjoining areas. The highly proactive and aggressive foreign and defence policy pursued by the US is another factor that has contributed to fuelling terrorism and marginalising moderate forces, including Pakistan, in the Islamic world.

Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, its state of war against a democratically elected Hamas, the US invasion of Iraq on false pretexts and the recent brutal invasion of Lebanon by Israel are the stimuli that are alienating Muslims worldwide.

These events also present a frightening picture of the changing nature of warfare and the threats that nations and people around the world are likely to face for years to come.

In Pakistan, there is broad sympathy for the Muslim cause and alienation against the US and the West for harbouring a discriminatory attitude. Additionally, India’s approach in suppressing the inalienable rights of Kashmiris and Pakistan’s sustained support to resistance groups is another major source of breeding extremism.

With the writ of Pakistan’s government being weak in several areas, individuals, groups and entities are becoming strong and are exploiting the sentiments of the people to advance their ideologies and political agendas. This has led some groups to engage in supporting the resistance in Kashmir, the ideology of the Taliban and disgruntled Muslims in UK.

Despite the fact that terrorism and insurgency are instigated by different motivations, the United States and the major powers have deliberately blurred the two for reasons of political and military expediency.

Although their fears that insurgents could develop links with terrorist entities are partly true, generalising them and treating them as a single phenomenon is neither analytically correct nor wise policy.

By labelling the resistance in Iraq against foreign occupation as terrorism, and branding Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organisations the US has committed a strategic error.

It has lost focus on combating terrorism and its ‘New Middle East’ policy is being perceived by Muslims as a mere cover to advance its imperialistic designs and Israeli aggression.

For the US and other western countries to expect that Muslim societies and states would be able to enforce a policy of zero tolerance against violence while they themselves continue to flout international norms and commit acts of aggression is highly unrealistic.

Selective application of policies and the excessive use of the military instrument has blunted US influence and marginalised the moderates within Muslim countries.

It has given rise to growing anti-American sentiment, and the ongoing violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon has further hardened these attitudes.

In Pakistan, the political parties and the people do not take the campaign against terror seriously.

Ironically, the ruling party, the PML, is least enthusiastic about fighting extremism and does not seem to share President Musharraf’s vision.

For the past five years, US policy towards Pakistan has been shaped around Pakistan’s usefulness against the war on terror and the US administration finds dealing with Musharraf very convenient. As long as US strategic interests are being met, Washington will support Musharraf and the status quo and pay lip service to political reform and true democratic governance.

If, however, Musharraf fails to stabilise Pakistan and new threats emerge from Pakistan and the surrounding region, his utility will be called into question.

The time is not far off when the realisation will dawn on the US that reliance on the military dimension alone is not enough and that promoting democracy is a strong tool for curbing extremism and the radicalisation of societies.

Terrorism has many dimensions and the roots of discord are deeply embedded within societies and nations, and require political solutions. In the last few decades, two major trends have influenced the Muslim world: religious resurgence and globalisation. Religion now plays a far greater role in every facet of Muslim life than previously.

As Muslim countries and people emerged from their colonial past they started asserting their identity and Islam played a major role in shaping their attitudes.

At the same time, it is also true that globalisation has diluted the traditional values of Muslim states and societies. There exists a feeling of insecurity among certain sections of society that their ability to retain their independence, particularly with regard to religious and cultural values, may be difficult.

The failure of the Muslim world, however, lies in its inability to govern and to provide its people the basic services of health, education and economic development.

Most Muslim countries have a serious legitimacy problem as they are governed either by military dictators and monarchs or have autocratic political dispensations.

The solution also does not lie in merely paying lip service to universal human rights but in transforming them into everyday reality. Their poor performance creates underlying tensions, and many Muslim states, instead of engaging in genuine reform, resort to repression and strengthen their security services, which in turn promotes radicalisation.

Pakistan, too, suffers from this malaise. Moreover, terrorist networks operate successfully in areas where

the writ of the state is weak or altogether missing.

These become safe havens for drug barons, smugglers and potential recruits for terrorist activities. Afghanistan’s south and southeastern provinces have very weak or no government control.

Similarly, there are pockets in South and North Waziristan where non-state entities have become very powerful.

At the same time, globalisation and other factors have resulted in the diffusion of technology which gives weak nations and entities the ability to wage asymmetric warfare.

In recent years, and more so since the advent of the Bush administration, US policies have acquired religious underpinnings.

With the rise of Islamic fervour on one side and Christian and Jewish revival on the other what the world needs is dialogue and not confrontation. President Bush’s categorisation of the world in black and white and the ‘us versus them’ philosophy has failed.

Equally dangerous is the hate rhetoric of the Muslim extremists which is a recipe for never-ending conflict, turmoil and terror.

From this complex picture it clearly emerges that terrorism and radicalisation of Muslim societies is occurring due to multiple factors some of which are endemic to Pakistani and Muslim societies and that could be overcome by building capacities and taking corrective measures.

While other factors are of an international character for which the US and other states, including Israel and India, must share the blame and correct their policies, it is very clear that we all are part of the problem and that we need sustained multilateral cooperative approaches, instead of indulging in the blame game. Otherwise we will be only fuelling the flames of terror.

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general of the Pakistan Army.