DAWN - Opinion; September 14, 2006

14 Sep 2006

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Whither Balochistan?

By Kaiser Bengali


THE murder of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti at the hands of state security forces is both a human and a national tragedy, with consequences of unimaginably perilous scale. That such disproportionate force was used to kill a 79-year old ailing man and that his bereaved family has been denied the opportunity to offer their last respects and accord him a proper burial is deplorable.

There may be many questions about Akbar Bugti’s conduct as a tribal leader. Today, however, he stands tall as a man who forsook the comforts of his home in Dera Bugti and took up abode in mountain caves to fight for the rights of his people. The same cannot be said of many of his detractors living in the comforts of official residences and in cantonments and defence housing schemes in Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi.

The calamity and the sordid handling of the aftermath reflects General Musharraf’s arrogant faith in military solutions to the patently political problems that the country faces, including those that have been created by the perpetuation of the current military dictatorship since October 1999. The generals have certainly not learnt any lessons from Pakistan’s unfortunate history of a quarter of a century ago, nor from the current failure of the world’s sole superpower to enforce its writ in Iraq, or of the mighty Israeli army’s failure to write its agenda in Lebanon.

In 1971, the then generals opted to lay down their arms before the Indian army rather than negotiate and arrive at a compromise with the leaders of the people of the eastern wing of Pakistan. This attitude appears to be pervasive even today. And general Musharraf’s chest-thumping speech in Murree, hurling threats at the people of Balochistan, as well as of Pakistan, is likely to stoke more defiance rather than scare anyone.

The policy drift that the country has suffered under General Musharraf’s leadership portends disaster for the country. Questions about the general’s judgment had arisen immediately after the inane militarily untenable Kargil misadventure. He also made a foreign policy U-turn, hours after the tragedy of 9/11, and Pakistan shifted from being the most pro-Taliban country in the world to the most ardent ‘terrorist’ busting country in the US camp. The slogan that was then trumpeted as a rationale for the U-turn was that Pakistan must come first.

The implications of the principle of this simplistic justification are disturbing. Extended further, it could imply that, under external pressure, the Kashmir cause or the nuclear status could be abandoned on the grounds that ‘Pakistan has to come first’. After all, it could be perceivably argued that there can be no struggle for the freedom of the Kashmiri people if there was no Pakistan or of what use will the nuclear arsenal be if there was no Pakistan?

Now General Musharraf has proclaimed that the writ of the government will be enforced ‘at all costs’. One hopes that ‘all costs’ does not imply that the writ of his government — of questionable legitimacy — will be imposed even at the cost of Pakistan. These questions are not frivolous, given the increasingly apparent absence of any degree of political intellect in general Musharraf’s policy decisions. After all, the legacy of disastrous policy decisions by the coterie of Generals headed by Yahya Khan did not provide any assurance of intelligent conduct. And, given the current military regime’s paramount and almost exclusive objective of clinging on to power, there can be no confidence in the quality of decision-making on national, regional or international issues.

General Musharraf has tried to present the conflict in Balochistan as one where a mere three sardars, out of about 75, are attempting to sabotage development. The argument holds no water. Several facts need to be taken into account. Balochistan is a very heterogeneous province. The sardari system is a Baloch institution. Out of 26 districts, one-third of them in the north/north-east are populated by Pukhtuns and, as such, not subject to the sardari system. The system also does not prevail in the Mekran coast and adjoining districts.

It appears, therefore, that the sardari system is prevalent only in about one-third of the districts in the eastern/central part of the province. This is the part over which up to about 75 sardars are said to hold sway. As such, the area controlled by the three ‘anti-development’ sardars is likely to be rather small. The question that arises, is: why has development not blossomed in the rest of the province?

An overview of the development scene in Balochistan is discomforting and the extent of relative deprivation in the province is appalling. Eighteen out of the 20 most infrastructure-deprived districts in Pakistan are in Balochistan. The percentage of districts that are classified as high deprivation stands as follows: 29 per cent in Punjab, 50 per cent in Sindh, 62 per cent in the NWFP, and 92 per cent in Balochistan. If Quetta and Ziarat are excluded, all of Balochistan falls into the high deprivation category. And Quetta’s ranking would fall if the cantonment is excluded from the analysis. The percentage of population living in a high degree of deprivation stands at 25 per cent in Punjab, 23 per cent in urban Sindh, 49 per cent in rural Sindh, 51 per cent in the NWFP, and 88 per cent in Balochistan.

Measured in terms of poverty, the percentage of population living below the poverty line stands at 26 per cent in Punjab, 38 per cent in rural Sindh, 27 per cent in urban Sindh, 29 per cent in the NWFP, and 48 per cent in Balochistan. Yet another stark measure of Balochistan’s relative deprivation is that while the country boasts of a 50-per cent-plus literacy rate, the same for rural women in Balochistan is a mere seven per cent.

Balochistan’s relative decline is also indicated by provincially disaggregated national accounts data. Estimates for the period 1973-2000 show that Punjab alone has increased its share of national GDP by two percentage points from 52.7 per cent to 54.7 per cent. Sindh — on account of Karachi — and the NWFP have maintained their share. Balochistan’s share has declined by nearly one percentage point from 4.5 per cent to 3.7 per cent. Resultantly, the annual rate of growth of per capita GDP has been 2.4 per cent in Punjab and 0.2 per cent in Balochistan.

Statistics tell only a part of the story. In fact, given the conditions in Balochistan, Pakistan’s national statistics do not tell the full story. This is because no enumerator of the official statistics collecting department makes the effort to visit a settlement that is two days walking distance away. Conditions in such settlements are so dire that, if half the children born in a family survive, it is considered lucky. The absence of such data has tended to show national statistics in a better light than it actually is — and has tended to conceal Balochistan’s real plight.

Apart from chronic underdevelopment, the insurgency is also a product of the exclusion of the Baloch from the mainstream national political process. After all, in the period since independence to date, how many of the corps commanders or lieutenant-generals or brigadiers have been Baloch? How many of the ambassadors or high commissioners in Pakistan missions abroad have been Baloch? How many of the federal secretaries or additional secretaries have been Baloch? How many of the heads of public organisations — a la Wapda — have been Baloch? How many of the heads of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry have been Baloch? How many of the members of Pakistan’s national cricket or hockey teams have been Baloch? And so on. Perhaps General Musharraf or his prime minister or his more garrulous ministers would venture to answer some of the above questions, at least with respect to the current situation.

Admittedly, Balochistan’s underdevelopment is a product of over half a century of exploitation and neglect. Unfortunately, however, General Musharraf’s seven years in power has merely seen an extension of the past record. The fact is that, not unlike any previous governments, the Musharraf regime has never had any development agenda for Balochistan. The few mega projects that have been undertaken, a la Gwadar, are actually motivated by strategic considerations. They are more likely to bypass the local population and, worse still, turn the Baloch into a minority in their home province.

The Baloch intelligentsia has seen through Islamabad’s colonisation game and the general insurgency is merely a response. The military’s operation in Balochistan is a counter response, not to the insurgency per se, but to the challenge posed to Islamabad’s colonisation agenda.

Resultantly, the situation is extremely precarious. With the army possibly embroiled in Balochistan, the defence of the eastern frontier is likely to be compromised. There are likely to be serious impacts on the national economy as well. Without security across the vast province, Gwadar port’s planned position as the third port of the country and a transshipment point for central Asia and western China will go up in smoke. So will the under-discussion Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. The rest of the country too will not remain unaffected. Unlike in the case of East Pakistan, Balochistan is not a thousand kilometers away.

Given Karachi’s geographical proximity to Balochistan, the presence of large Baloch settlements in the city, and the sympathetic Sindhi nationalist element, any civil war-like situation in Balochistan will inevitably envelope Karachi in the theatre of conflict. And, given that Karachi and neighbouring Port Qasim are the only seaports of the country and handle the entire shipping of export and import cargo, the situation will impact the economy in all parts of the country.

The postponement of the National Assembly session, scheduled for March 3, 1971, in Dhaka, finally snapped the tenuous emotional thread that had bound the eastern province with the rest of the country. Today, the killing of Akbar Bugti has severely frayed the emotional thread linking Balochistan with Pakistan.

The withdrawal of Baloch nationalist legislators from the parliamentary process is an ominous signal that cannot and should not be ignored. If the damage to the federation is to be repaired, the military establishment will need to withdraw from the political, economic and commercial arenas and a genuinely elected government will need to take effective charge of the country to assuage the deep wounds that have been inflicted on Balochistan.

An inconvenient truth

By Jonathan Freedland


I AM ashamed to say it took a movie to make me realise what, above all others, is surely the greatest political question of our time. An hour and 40 minutes in the cinema watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is what finally did it.

Sure, I had heard the warnings and read the reports: for two decades environmental activists have been sounding the alarm. But, I confess, none of it had really sunk in the way it did after seeing An Inconvenient Truth. I can think of few films of greater political power.

It should be a perfect yawn. A souped-up lecture delivered by a middle-aged, thwarted politician who was best known for being dull and wooden. Yet the film somehow gets right to your gut. Methodically, using graphics, photographs and the odd bit of computer animation, the former US vice-president sets out the case that the climate is changing, with human activity the most obvious culprit. By the time he’s done, you accept that we’re facing a planetary emergency, you agree that global warming is the greatest threat confronting the human race — and you desperately want to do something about it.

It is a model of political communication. Gore assumes no knowledge and starts right at the beginning. He has a brief, childish cartoon to explain that the thin layer of atmosphere that surrounds the Earth — like the coat of varnish on a wooden globe — is being thickened by vast quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The thicker that layer becomes, the more heat gets trapped in, so raising the Earth’s temperature. In the simplest of nutshells, he explains what the climate crisis is all about — a basic step too many green advocates take for granted.

He supplies the numbers, with graphs showing the steady increase in CO2 in the atmosphere and the accompanying rise in temperature. To convey how high the current CO2 figure stands, he walks along, tracing a line projected on to the screen behind him that goes back some 600,000 years. Then he has to be raised by hydraulic lift to reach today’s number. He announces that of the 21 hottest years ever measured, 20 have come within the last 25 years. And the hottest of the lot was 2005.

But what brought gasps from the audience were photographs of glaciers, then and now. Once clear, beautiful ice, they have turned, in a matter of years, into blue water or dry dust, from Peru to Italy. The evidence of a world warming up appears before your very eyes.

And, Gore explains, there are consequences. Some doubted it, but that was before the world took a “nature hike through the Book of Revelation”, with floods in Europe as well as tornadoes and hurricanes across America, culminating in Katrina last year.

The devastation of that event confirmed what the scientists had concluded a while earlier: that global warming was making hurricanes more powerful and destructive. But it also supplied the missing piece of the climate change argument. Many, especially in the US, were prepared to accept that carbon emissions are making temperatures higher; they could even see how that would affect nature — glaciers, plants and the like.

But they were still sceptical about what that had to do with human beings. With Katrina as the precedent, Gore shows them. And he explains that as glaciers melt, sea levels will rise, eventually flooding land from Florida to Shanghai, Holland to India. In Calcutta and Bangladesh, he says, 60 million people would be displaced. In Manhattan, Ground Zero would be ground no longer. The site of the World Trade Centre would be under water. More gasps.

The range of emotions this prompts begins with shock, then anger — directed by Gore at those corporate interests that, with their political servants, have sought to keep this inconvenient truth from the public, especially in the United States. The stand-out case is that of Philip Cooney, a former lobbyist for the US oil industry, who wound up — despite no scientific training — as chief of staff of the White House’s environment office. From that perch, he set about rewriting papers by government scientists, turning firm conclusions into doubtful possibilities. He literally got out his pen and changed “is” to “may”. He was caught and left the Bush administration - taking a job at ExxonMobil the next day.

But Cooney is just an unusually blatant example of what is an ongoing campaign by Big Oil to cast doubt over climate change, much as Big Tobacco did over the dangers of smoking. The oil companies fund spurious pressure groups which, in turn, persuade the media to cast global warming as a matter of debate. The reality, notes Gore, is that of 928 peer-reviewed scientific papers on the topic in the last decade, the percentage that express doubt over the cause of global warming is zero.

But soon that anger gives way to determination to act. The former vice-president is aware that Americans in particular could move “from denial to despair”, believing first that there is no danger and then that there is nothing that can be done about it. Gore tries to be more upbeat than that, ending his movie with a rapid — probably too rapid for non-American audiences — guide to action. It worked on me. Four months after I saw the film, I find myself looking at the world through its lens. I now notice office buildings at night, aglow with electric light; or hotel rooms abroad, frigid with 24-hour air-conditioning even when empty. I see the planes ripping through the sky, and read about the roaring economic expansion of China, building a new coal-fired power station every five days. I see all this and I fear for our planet.

The film leaves a more direct political thought. You watch and you curse the single vote on the US supreme court that denied this man - passionate, well-informed and right - the presidency of the United States in favour of George W Bush. You realise what a different world we would live in now if just a few hundred votes had gone to Al Gore (rather than, say, Ralph Nader) that fateful day.

But you also remember what that election turned on. The conventional wisdom held that Gore and Bush were so similar on policy — Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, the pundits said — that the election was about personality. On that measure, Bush had the edge. Sure, he couldn’t name any world leader, but the polls gave him a higher likability rating. If you had to have a beer with one of them, who would you choose? Americans said Bush, every time.

Even that was not enough to give Bush a greater number of votes: remember, Gore got more of those. But it got him closer than he should have been. And the world has been living with the consequences ever since.

Perhaps Britons should bear that in mind at our next election. If the choice is between David Cameron and Gordon Brown — and, given the events of last week, that is now a serious if — then polls will show, as they have already, Cameron ahead on the affability index. Brown, like Gore before him, will seem stiff, unnatural, oddly robotic, a creature of 24/7 politics, unable to speak fluent human. Cameron, like Bush, will be charming and easy. He won’t make odd grimaces when he speaks. But we should ask ourselves: is this any basis for choosing a leader? Surely we should choose the man of substance, no matter how he looks in a fleece or how breezily he can talk about his iPod. America made that mistake already and we are all paying the price. Let’s not repeat it. —Dawn/Guardian Service

How US media views Muslims

By Robert Fisk


EVERY time I enter the United States, I wonder what the lads in Homeland Security have in store for me. But last week, Chicago was a piece of cake.

I was arriving from Lebanon, I told the young man at the desk, and I was to address a Muslim conference. “Gee, you must have had a bad time out there in Lebanon,” he commiserated, stamping my passport in less than 30 seconds and handing it back to me with a scriptwriter’s greeting: “There you go, partner.” And so I passed through the barrier, saddled up my white Palomino in the parking lot, and rode off towards the crescent Islamic moon that hung over Chicago. Hi Ho Fisk, Away!

I had forgotten how many American Muslims were south-west Asian rather than Middle Eastern in origin, Pakistani and Indian by family rather than Syrian or Egyptian or Lebanese or Saudi. But the largely Sunni congregation of 32,000 gathered for the Islamic Society of North America’s annual gig were not the hot- dog sellers, bellhops and taxi drivers of New York. They were part of the backbone of middle America, corporate lawyers, real estate developers, construction engineers and owners of chain- store outlets.

Nor were these the docile, hangdog, frightened Muslims we have grown used to writing about in the aftermath of the international crimes against humanity of September 11, 2001. To about 12,000 of these Muslims in a vast auditorium, I said the Middle East had never been so dangerous. I condemned the Hezbollah leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, for saying he had no idea the Israelis would have responded so savagely to the capture of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of three others on July 12. Later, a worthy imam told me: “I thought what you said about Sheikh Hassan [sic] was almost an insult.” But that clearly wasn’t what the audience believed.

When I told them that as American Muslims, they could demand a right of reply when lobby groups maliciously claimed that a network of suicide bombers was plotting within their totally law- abiding community, they roared. But I warned them that I would listen carefully to their response to my next sentence. And then I said that they must feel free to condemn — and should condemn — the Muslim regimes that used torture and oppression, even if these dictators lived in the lands from which their families came. And those thousands of Muslims rose to their feet and clapped and yelled their agreement with more emotion and fervour than any rabble-rousing non-Muslim yelling about “Arab terrorism”. This was not what I had expected.

Signing copies of the American edition of my book on the Middle East some hours later — the real reason, of course, for going to Chicago — these same people came up to me to explain they were not American Muslims but Muslim Americans, that Islam was not incompatible with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Some had stories of great tragedy.

One young man had written out a short sentence for me to inscribe in the front of his copy of my book. “To my parents and siblings,” he had written on a pink slip, “who perished in the hands of the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Yousos Adam.” I looked up to find the young man crying. “I am against war, you see,” he said, and vanished into the crowd.

There were other more ingratiating folk around: the Pakistani broadcaster, for example, who wanted me to talk about his country’s peace-loving principles — until I began describing the continued secret relationship between Pakistan’s intelligence service and the Taliban, at which the interview was swiftly concluded.

Then there was the young man with Asiatic features who said softly that he was “Mr Yee, the Guantanamo imam” — who turned out to be the same Mr Yee foully and falsely accused by the US authorities of passing Al Qaeda type messages while ministering to prisoners at America’s most luxurious prison camp. But there was no bitterness among any of these people. Only a kind of growing pain at the way the press and television in America continued to paint them — and all other Muslims in the world — as an alien, cruel, sadistic race.

One woman produced an article of June this year from the Toronto Star about the Israeli town of Sderot, the target of hundreds of Palestinian missiles from Gaza. “Under fire at Israel’s Ground Zero”, ran the headline. “Do you believe in this kind of journalism, Mr Fisk?” the woman demanded to know. And I was about to give her the “both sides of the picture” lecture when I noticed from the article that just five Israelis had been killed in Sderot in five years.

Yes, every life is equal. But who at the Star had decided that an Israeli town with one dead every year equalled the Ground Zero of Manhattan’s 3,000 dead in two hours? All dead are equal in the American press it seems, but some are more equal than others.

And I couldn’t help noticing the degree to which The New York Times’s Thomas Friedman is stoking the fires. This is the same man, an old friend, who wrote a few years ago that the Palestinians believed in “child sacrifice” — because they allowed their kids to throw stones at Israeli soldiers who then obligingly gunned them down. Most egregiously for the Muslims I spoke to, Friedman was now “animalising” — as one girl put it beautifully — the Iraqis, and she presented me with a Friedman clipping which ended with these words: “It will be a global tragedy if they [the insurgent Iraqi enemy] succeed, but ... the US government can’t keep asking Americans to sacrifice their children for people who hate each other more than they love their own children.”

So there we go again, I thought. Muslims sacrifice their children. Muslims feel hate more than they love their children. No wonder, I suppose, that their kiddies keep getting Israeli bullets through their hearts in Gaza and American bullets through their hearts in Iraq and Israeli bombs smashing them to death in Lebanon. It’s all the Arabs’ fault. And yet here in Chicago were 32,000 Muslims, dismissing all the calumnies and sophistries and lies and saying they were proud to be Americans. And I guess — for a man who wakes each morning in his Beirut apartment, wondering where the next explosion will be — that I felt a little safer in this world. —(c) The Independent, London

Taking gain from the pain

GORDON BROWN may still be Labour’s man most likely to succeed, but after the events of the last 10 days he is in an immensely delicate position — and it showed in his important interview with Andrew Marr on Sunday.

If he sets out his own distinctive stall, switches on the floodlights, stacks it full of political goodies that mark his many differences from Tony Blair, he is immediately charged with disloyalty, divisiveness and making things even worse for the Labour party than they are already. But if, on the other hand, he plays it by the collective responsibility book, professes his loyalty to all the policies of the past, protests that he is a natural team player and insists that there isn’t a sliver of significant difference between himself and Mr Blair, he simply looks like more of the same — and not many people would swallow it anyway.

The interview was not an occasion in which Mr Brown could heal all Labour’s wounds at a stroke or resolve all the party’s current discords into instant harmony. There is no magic wand to be waved over the accumulated tensions of the Blair-Brown relationship, the more so after the eruptions that have marked the past few days. Mr Brown yesterday had to do everything he could to prevent things from getting worse, and as much as lay within his power to help them get better. Judged by that yardstick Mr Brown did well.

Just as Mr Blair had to concede last week that he can no longer control the time of his departure, so Mr Brown yesterday gracefully accepted that he will have to become Labour’s leader through a process of debate and contest that he had previously appeared to regard as intolerable and that only a week ago his lieutenant Ed Balls arrogantly condemned as navel-gazing.

Under pressure from events and Mr Marr, the chancellor said several welcome things which, whether they are close to his heart or not, were necessary if Labour is to dig itself out of its current hole. It was good to hear him extol not just debate and an electoral contest but also teamwork and inclusivity. The olive branch towards John Reid and even Charles Clarke was magnanimous and statesmanlike.

His comments about seeking a big tent approach involving people outside the Labour party in government were intriguing and are something on which the chancellor should expand. There were hints, too, about new thinking on subjects as diverse and sensitive as Iraq, the House of Lords and civil liberties — all encouraging as far as they went. It was hard to believe every protestation of innocence for the plots and antagonisms of the past week, but it was good that Mr Brown made them. It will be even better if he sticks to them over the difficult weeks ahead. No one who now wants the Labour party to get past the Blair era in good order should ignore the many positive signals from the chancellor.

Labour’s situation nevertheless remains fragile. The factions around Messrs Blair and Brown have not struck a truce. The battle between them could explode again during the TUC conference this week or at the Labour conference in two weeks’ time.

—The Guardian, London