DAWN - Opinion; September 13, 2006

September 13, 2006

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Understanding with Kabul

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh


IN the eyes of many critics it was a visit that should have preceded, rather than followed, the agreement with tribal leaders reached in North Waziristan. It was a visit that should not have taken place on the eve of President Musharraf’s visit to the US since it is now being seen as a means of placating a fiercely critical American media.

But despite these reservations, it was a visit which produced satisfactory pronouncements which may well become the basis, if the president follows his finer instincts, of a sounder Taliban policy. The pronouncements I am referring to include, firstly, the president’s acknowledgment that Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Talibanisation were common enemies that both countries must fight together; secondly, that Hamid Karzai did not blame Pakistan for Taliban infiltration but asked for help from a “brother”; lastly that he acknowledged, despite the misgivings of others, that the Waziristan agreement reached by the Pakistan government was a positive step.

Clearly, the most important of these pronouncements was the public articulation of the common danger that the Taliban and their ideology posed to Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was implicit in what President Musharraf had said earlier about the dangers that extremism posed to the Pakistan polity, but with reference to the war on terror, the focus was on fighting the Al Qaeda while carefully omitting any mention of the Taliban. It was read in Kabul in conjunction with his statement that even while Pakistan was held responsible for every incident in Afghanistan and while there was no denying that the Taliban did cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan, neither the government nor the ISI had anything to do with such crossings or incidents.

President Karzai’s reluctant acknowledgment that the Waziristan agreement was a positive step came as a pleasant surprise and could perhaps lead the Afghan president to consider emulating it in eastern Afghanistan as British minister Kim Howells suggested during his visit to Pakistan. All in all, the reception President Musharraf was accorded and the generally favourable media comment seemed to suggest that the visit was a step forward in dispelling the fog of suspicion that has come to increasingly cloud Pak-Afghan relations.

Does this mark a new resolve to tackle the problem of the Taliban finding shelter in Pakistan after their forays into the Kandahar and Helmand provinces or a fresh effort to persuade the Taliban to accept the amnesty offered by the Karzai government? The New York Times reported President Musharraf as saying that were Pakistan to support the Taliban, “the coalition would become the enemy of Pakistan and start attacking Pakistan. Would we be so foolish to do this?”

Increasingly, the question is becoming not what the government does to support the Taliban but what it does not do to prevent the militants from using Pakistan as a sanctuary, as a training ground and as the headquarters for their Shura.

One can argue rightly that the problems in Afghanistan have been created entirely by the Americans. It is they who decided to team up with the warlords, ignoring their unsavoury records and their attachment to the opium trade, to hunt down the Al Qaeda, and made a hash of the job as the Tora Bora episode showed.

It was the Americans who alienated the welcoming Afghans by allowing themselves to be misled into attacking or apprehending people on the basis of false information engendered by intra-Afghan feuds.

It was the Americans who dismissed the notion of nation-building. It was the Americans who ignored the weakness of the Karzai government and then watched almost helplessly while the limited aid the international community provided ($55 per capita as compared to $760 in Bosnia and $250 in Iraq) was frittered away on the salaries and overheads of NGOs and international organisations.

It was the Americans who failed to build even a single power station in Afghanistan, leaving the country as short of electricity as in the worst days of the Taliban. It was the Americans who built one highway which within two years of its opening is crumbling and which the American sponsors now insist must be made into a toll road. It was the Americans who shifted the focus of their attention to Iraq, not only ignoring the needs of Afghanistan but exacerbating the situation by creating a new source of extremism and then watching while the suicide bomber tactics of Iraq were exported to Afghanistan.

It was the Americans and their emphasis on bringing democracy to the Middle East, rather than forcing the Israelis to address the root cause of Muslim discontent, that turned them into villains throughout the Muslim world, including Afghanistan where they are no longer seen as saviours but as oppressive occupiers. It was the Americans who made the task of fighting extremism more difficult in every Muslim country, particularly in highly susceptible countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

One can argue quite rightly again that the resurgence of the Taliban is a direct consequence of these failures compounded no doubt by the corruption and ineptitude of the elected government in Afghanistan and the presence in the Wolesi Jirga of known warlords and drug traffickers. One can also argue that, for the most part, the Taliban are Afghans living in Afghanistan, and that to protect the Afghan border from the Al Qaeda Pakistan has deployed more soldiers and suffered more casualties than the American or coalition forces in Afghanistan. It has, perhaps, not succeeded in its endeavour because there has not been a comparable effort on the other side. (The American troops in Afghanistan have never exceeded 20,000 while more than 135,000 were deployed in a much smaller and much less recalcitrant Iraq).

Against this background, it is difficult for Pakistan to achieve the goal of a stable peaceful country with no Taliban, no poppy and a road and rail network that can make it possible for Pakistan to be the bridge between Central and South Asia. Why do I say this?

Today, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that if the Taliban cannot prevail in Afghanistan they can, with external support, keep the south and east of Afghanistan in turmoil and extend their existing tentacles to Pakistan’s troubled border areas.

Today, Afghanistan is expected to harvest 6,100 tons of opium. Of this, barely 1,700 tons will make their way to the European market. The rest will be consumed by the alarming number of addicts in Iran and Pakistan. At a recent conference an Iranian expert disclosed that Iran has 3.7 million users and 2.5 million addicts while in Pakistan, according to conservative estimates, the number of drug users is between three to four million. The increased poppy yield and cheaper availability will cause the numbers to rise even further in Pakistan and Iran. Is that the future we want for our new generation?

Today, we are spending millions on developing the port of Gwadar and its environs. It makes absolutely no sense to do so, given the capacity of Karachi and Port Qasim to handle our own trade, if we do not have a peaceful Afghanistan through which the latter and the Central Asian states can use this port for trade purposes. The Iranians have already built a first-rate road and a railway connection of sorts to connect Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and the rest of Central Asia to their port at Chahbahar. The longer it takes to restore peace in Afghanistan the more likelihood there is of Chahbahar becoming the port of choice and of Gwadar becoming a gargantuan white elephant — and, of course, the greater the chances of our losing the opportunity of getting pipeline gas and perhaps oil for South Asia at affordable rates.

Today, we still have on our soil some 2.5 million Afghan refugees who have long outstayed their welcome. They should be sent back but the international community sanctimoniously tells us that this can only happen when conditions improve in Afghanistan. For some inexplicable reason we cannot persuade them to shift the refugee camps to Afghan soil with logistic support being provided from Pakistan. This causes economic distress to our own nationals, upsets the ethnic balance in Balochistan adding to the nationalist unrest, and equally if not more importantly, provides the basis for allegations that the Taliban find a safe haven in these camps in Pakistan.

Our frontline status in the war on terrorism has won us international standing and the consequent international assistance has won us the fiscal space we needed to introduce reforms and hasten the pace of development.

We are, however, far from being out of the woods and this largesse will continue to be needed for some time before we can say that we have broken the begging bowl. Let us be quite certain that as the Nato offensive against the Taliban brings more Nato casualties more accusing fingers will be raised against us as the harbourers of those responsible for Nato casualties. Will our international standing and therefore aid levels remain unaffected?

We should also note as we seek to project a “positive image” of Pakistan that many in the western media differ on how far to castigate the Bush administration for diverting American attention from Afghanistan to Iraq and the Karzai government for corruption and maladministration. However, they are one in holding activities on Pakistani soil largely responsible for the current situation in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Some examples: “The chief reason is that the Taliban are based in Pakistan, where they buy arms, deal drugs and collect cash sent by their foreign admirers” (The Economist); “The Taliban are said to be growing in influence in Balochistan, allegedly using the province’s capital, Quetta, as a base for directing operations in southern Afghanistan” (Christian Science Monitor); “Nobody has a clear picture of the connections between elements in Pakistan and the Taliban, or how the insurgents draw support from inside the country without, apparently, any meaningful interference from Pakistani authorities.

Some published reports, such as one about Taliban leaders travelling in cars with official ISI licence plates, suggest that Pakistan intelligence retains its links with the insurgents. But does the military regime in Islamabad know about, or control, its ISI agents in the borderlands? ‘We don’t have evidence of that. But we know Pakistan could, and should, be doing more to stop the Taliban,’ a senior western diplomat in Islamabad said” (Toronto Globe and Mail).

We must realise that much more than the Americans and the West, and perhaps even more than the current Afghan government, Pakistan needs to see the Taliban, or at least their ideology, eliminated, and peace and stability in Afghanistan.

In publicly acknowledging on Afghan soil that Afghan Taliban are crossing over from Pakistan and that they are a danger to both Pakistan and Afghanistan which both countries must fight together we have taken, hopefully, the first step towards recognising this reality. Will we go further?

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Poverty: actions, not words

By Zubeida Mustafa


POVERTY is the buzzword in development economics and policymaking in Third World countries today. The problem with the strategies that are being mooted to eradicate this blight from people’s life is that planners tend to focus on the monetary aspect of poverty.

It is widely — but erroneously — believed that if a person has a comfortable income to enable him to purchase the good things in life he has pulled himself out of poverty. That is why the emphasis is on employment generation and schemes to enable people to earn a livelihood.

What is often overlooked is that a dent can be made in poverty by addressing other factors as well — not necessarily financial — that will create an impact on the poverty level of a society. It is a pity that no empirical study of its kind has been done to determine what effect interventions in the social sectors will have on poverty. A person’s economic income may be given a boost not by directly doling out cash or jobs to him.

Raising his educational level and improving his health status while providing him positive and inspirational leadership could lift him out of poverty by giving him the incentive and motivation to better his living standards. The basic difference between the poor and the rich is that the former have few choices in life while the latter have far too many. Reducing poverty, in effect, is all about creating choices for everybody.

In an excellent background paper titled, “The poverty-health relationship in Pakistan”, prepared for the Asian Development Bank, Akbar Zaidi, a senior economist and consultant, has correctly pointed out the close nexus between poverty and ill- health. “The poverty health relationship in developing countries is often an interlocking relationship, with each round of poverty having an impact on ill health, and the further deterioration of health having a subsequent impact on the level and nature of poverty at the individual and household level,” he writes.

It is strange, as Zaidi points out, that not much notice has been taken of this interrelationship that is so obvious. Thus it is not surprising that the national health survey of Pakistan found 65 per cent of the extremely poor ill at the time of the survey. Moreover, nearly two-thirds of the deaths in Pakistan are caused by communicable diseases (mainly infectious, viral and malarial). These can be easily controlled by better hygiene and sanitation. It is generally the poor who fall victim to typhoid, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, etc because they are affected more profoundly by the government’s apathy, ineptitude, inefficiency and corruption — all of which are the primary cause for the creation of conditions that lead to these illnesses.

But what needs to be noted is that it is not just health and poverty that are so closely interlinked. Education, water supply, housing, sanitation and environment also have a direct impact on one another as well as on health and poverty. Hence the need for a holistic approach to all these sectors of national life.

One doesn’t even need a survey to be told that the majority of the extremely poor are also illiterate and uneducated. Going further, it is the poverty-stricken that are denied access to potable water supply. The rich go and purchase bottled water. Those living in dismally unhygienic conditions are also the poor.

An empirical study on how the deficiency in one area of life affects the other aspects of people’s life would be instructive and also shake policymakers out of their stupor. It is no revelation that a child who is ill cannot attend school and his high rate of absenteeism makes him likely to drop out and thus become a candidate for illiteracy. This in turn would ensure his lack of awareness of how insanitation and impure water affect health. This vicious cycle would serve to perpetuate his poverty.

Hence it is essential to focus on all aspects of life of the poor if poverty has to be eradicated. Unfortunately, this is not being done. Had there even been an iota of awareness of the linkages between the various social sectors and poverty, the government’s blatant thrust towards the private sector would not have existed. The private sector does not cater to the needs of the poor. The shrinking role of the public sector in education, health, population welfare and housing point to a policy of marginalisation of the poor.

It is time our policymakers were more honest in their poverty eradication policy. Their loud talk about doing away with poverty and their concern for the poor are no more than a subterfuge to win support from the aid givers. Only a fraction of the funds that flow in for the purpose of eliminating poverty actually go to the poor.

Thus the government claims that its poverty reduction strategy consists of five elements: accelerating economic growth, investing in human capital, augmenting targeted interventions, expanding social safety nets and improving governance.

But that doesn’t convince one that the policy is sincerely directed against poverty. Thus investment in human capital by itself is not enough. It must be channelled towards the poor. The Pakistan Economic Survey 2005-06 boasts of poverty related expenditures amounting to Rs378 billion in 2005-06 that include community services, human development, rural development, safety nets and governance. But in the absence of any breakup, one cannot be certain how much of this amount helped the rich. The Economic Survey itself admits that consumption inequality in Pakistan has increased with consumption having increased faster for the top 20 per cent of the population as compared to the growth rate of the bottom 20 per cent. The Gini Coefficient went up from 0.2752 in 2001-02 to 0.2976 in 2004-05. (The higher the figure the greater is the inequality.)

Had the government been focusing on poverty reduction, its education policy would also have been oriented towards establishing schools in the public sector to provide high grade education to the children of those living below the poverty line.

Rather than setting up expensive tertiary hospitals, the government would have focused on preventive medicine such as immunisation, sanitation, environmental protection, clean water supply, safe maternal health and population planning. The fact, however, is, as pointed out by Akbar Zaidi, “The market-driven private, for-profit sector, for the most part, is not involved in preventive measures.” It may be added here that the government has not done enough either.

Emphasis on preventive medicine would automatically reduce the need for interventions of a curative nature which mostly benefit the private sector — be it the physician charging Rs1,500 for a visit and a prescription for high cost medicines or the quack who charges Rs50 for dispensing medicines the contents of which he himself doesn’t know.

Plight of juvenile offenders

By Hafizur Rahman


HOW many middle class homes in Pakistan can honestly affix on their door the sticker that I came across in a bookshop, saying, “This home is child labour free.”

I would not include lower middle class because the families there do not have the education and awareness about why child labour is bad. Going lower still you reach the stratum where if the children of the house do not work the family would have to starve.

I have written about child labour before, but what can such sporadic writing achieve as long as there is no strong will on the part of the government and the public to change the system? And the labour aspect is just one of the numerous ugly facets about the state of children in this country about which many NGOs are concerned, none more so than the Islamabad-based Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child. I would need to write a whole book just to acquaint you with what this society has been doing.

The society publishes an annual report on the State of Pakistan’s Children and has been doing so for the last many years. These reports are actually full-fledged books, each of more than 200 pages, and tell you all that you would want to know about how the children of the masses are faring — or suffering — and all that the government is not, repeat not, doing for them. The public is kept reminded of all this through periodicals, a quarterly newsletter and a quarterly titled “Discourse.”

However, the size and contents of these books pale in comparison before the monumental “Cries Unheard: Juvenile Justice in Pakistan.” You have to see it to believe the amount of hard work and research put in its 600 or so pages. It’s a guide and record that all social workers and lawyers should be constantly looking into. When I say lawyers I mean those lawyers who are ready to forgo fees in order to assist hand-to-mouth youthful offenders. If some of them are so inclined here is a case for them in the form of a letter (abridged) from one Umar Daraz who was in Borstal Jail, Bahawalpur, for a long time. I do not know how fate treated him finally. It was published in the society’s newsletter last year.

“I am in jail since 1994 for a murder I never committed. I was just ten years old and a student of Class VI when I was charged with the crime. There were also two other persons involved in the case who got released after paying three lakh rupees to the heirs of the murdered person. The complainants also demanded a lakh of rupees from my father, but being a poor man he could not pay the money so I was awarded 25 years rigorous imprisonment. I had spent about 27-28 months in the judicial lockup but these were not counted towards my sentence.

I continued my education in jail and passed the matriculation examination. For the last six years I have received no word from the authorities about my appeal.

“After getting remissions announced by the government on national days, and remissions because of education, I believe I have served my sentence, but I am still in prison because the High Court has imposed Rs 202,927 on me as blood money. That means I will spend the rest of my life in jail. The complainants are rich and influential.”

Is any one of my readers moved? Has it made anyone cry in anguish? Don’t you think we should all be ashamed of belonging to a society that permits such laws to govern us? It is proudly claimed that in Islam the concept of justice is adl-bil-ehsan — justice tempered with mercy. Where is that Islam put into practice? Certainly not in our legal system. Judges of the superior courts are known to have taken suo moto notice of irregularities. Will one of them take up the case of this boy? I laughed in my tears when I remembered that the boy’s name is Umar Daraz. Should all of us who are weak before the law wish him a long life in prison?

Columnists can only pick and choose whatever appeals to them most, like Umar Daraz’s letter in my case. In fairness to the Society, its report on children is not all criticism and carping. Every action of the government in the domain of children’s welfare is scrupulously recounted, though these actions are few and far between. As the preface says, “It is not a pleasant experience to be writing about the plight of children year after year since there is so little change. In this latest report one can see innumerable commitments made by the state authorities and few steps taken on the ground.”

Before closing I must refer to a new initiative of the Society and five other NGOs. People are being asked to send a letter to the NWFP governor, drawing his attention to the plight of innumerable children in the Frontier prisons and those undergoing trial, and requesting him to notify the Juvenile Justice Rules, nominate juvenile courts, release the maximum number of youthful offenders under 18, and enact a Borstal schools law.

Why no further attack?

IN the days and weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, anguished Americans asked “Why do they hate us?” and “How could this have happened?” As the nation marks the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the question preoccupying Americans is different: “Why haven’t we been attacked again?”

One answer, of course, is that we have — just not on US soil. And the question could be rendered horribly irrelevant tomorrow if Al Qaeda or its sinister soul mates manage to penetrate the defences erected over the last five years. But there really can be no single answer to the question. A certain humility becomes those who try to explain why the US has been spared an attack in the last five years. After all, no less an authority than Tom Ridge, then secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, predicted in 2002 that another terrorist attack was “not a question of if, but a question of when.”

Security measures adopted since 9/11 — such as more secure aeroplane cockpits and more thorough baggage screening — are certainly part of the explanation, as is a generally heightened state of vigilance. But pure luck also may be a factor.

That said, President Bush is correct when he says, as he did last week, that “one reason the terrorists have not succeeded is because of the hard work of thousands of dedicated men and women in our government, who have toiled day and night, along with our allies, to stop the enemy from carrying out their plans.” The president also is right to point to changes in the law most of them enacted with bipartisan support to break down walls between the FBI and the CIA and to extend to counter-terrorism investigations techniques that already had been authorized in criminal investigations.

More debatable is the proposition that the US is safer because of the reconfiguring of various agencies into a massive Department of Homeland Security, or the creation of a new position of director of national intelligence. A substantive commitment to greater vigilance is a more important consequence of 9/11 than changes in governmental flow charts.

Some initiatives undertaken after 9/11 are clearly efficacious; others are still a question mark, and still others amount to an overreaction. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has suggested that its anti-terrorist initiatives are all of a piece. Because the “world has changed” since 9/11, it asserts, no opposition to its policies can be tolerated. According to this view, amplified in the squawk box of partisan rhetoric, it is obstructionist or even disloyal to question particular post-9/11 policies, be they particular provisions of the Patriot Act, interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay or the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping of Americans.

Testifying before Congress in December 2001, then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft suggested that critics of some of the administration’s terrorist proposals might be giving “ammunition to America’s enemies.” Almost five years later, House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio complained that the Supreme Court was granting “special privileges to terrorists” when it ruled that Bush could not impanel tribunals to try suspected terrorists without congressional approval.

—Los Angeles Times