DAWN - Opinion; September 27, 2006

September 27, 2006


Road to reconciliation

By Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty

IN THE new thinking that emerged after the end of the Cold War, Samuel Huntington’s theory of the “clash of civilisations” attracted worldwide attention. He predicted that future wars would not be fought between countries but among civilisations including the western (currently dominant), Slav, African, Hindu, Islamic and Confucian civilisations. He also envisaged that the hegemony of the West would be challenged by a combination of Islamic and Confucian civilisations.

Though the theory was not accepted by a majority of contemporary thinkers and even political leaders, it had one immediate effect that Huntington may have actually sought as an expert on the economic and social impact of military industries. The major powers, the US in particular, felt impelled to increase their defence budgets which had started contracting following the end of the Cold War.

Some say that the Pentagon and the major defence industries may have been behind the theory. As the challenge to the West was traced to the Islamic world and China, both not only rejected the theory, they called for dialogue and peaceful exchanges as the best means of safeguarding peace. Following the 9/11 attacks on America, then President Khatami of Iran came out with a specific proposal for a “dialogue between civilisations”.

Many western writers and scholars have called the Prophet (PBUH) the greatest personality in history, a man who not only spread a benign and humanising religion, but showed outstanding qualities as a teacher, administrator, law-giver and a promoter of human rights. Though mediaeval popes and Christian theologians have used the kind of expressions Manuel II did, recent pontiffs have taken a conciliatory stand. The late John Paul II, speaking three months after the 9/11 attacks, said, “as Islam and Christianity worship one God, Creator of heaven and earth, there is ample room for agreement and cooperation between them.” A clash between them can occur only when the faiths are “misconstrued or manipulated for political or ideological reasons”.

There has been worldwide shock over the speech made by Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg in Germany. The speech underlines the contrast between his stance and that of his predecessor, John Paul II, on the issue of the clash of civilisations.

Though he has said “sorry” over the deep hurt caused to the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims by his remarks on the harsh and negative evaluation by a mediaeval Christian Byzantine emperor, Manuel II, of the Prophet and of Islam, many scholars, even those belonging to the Christian faith, believe that the only reason for quoting the text was that the pope wants to press for an Islamic reformation in a dialogue he is seeking with its exponents. In other words, he has identified himself with the neo-cons in the US, who have gained dominant influence with the new German government headed by Angela Merkel. She follows President Bush in placing the responsibility for terrorism on “Islamic extremism”.

Unfortunately, whereas the western politicians put the blame for resort to terror on a minority of Muslims who are “fundamentalists” and “extremists”, the use of Manuel II’s quotation implies support for the view expressed several centuries ago that called the Prophet “cruel and inhuman” who ordered that Islam be spread “by the sword”.

The view expressed by John Paul II that given the common values of Islam and Christianity, a clash of civilisations between their followers can only result from the manipulation of their differences for political reasons is borne out by the policies of a minority of “extremist” Christians.

Unfortunately, the line taken by President Bush since 9/11 is reminiscent of the period of the Crusades as clear from the historical record. It was the Christian armies sent to the Holy Land who demonstrated extreme cruelty and hate that resulted in the massacre of thousands of Muslim citizens in cities conquered by them. When Salahuddin Ayyubi defeated the Christian forces he displayed such compassion and mercy towards the Christian inhabitants that he earned a place of honour in history.

The present Pope, though he professes a desire to pursue a dialogue with Islam, is regrettably starting from a view of the Prophet and Islam that is prejudiced and shaped by the warped thinking of Manuel II who had been defeated by Muslims six centuries ago.

In the words of the Quran, the Prophet was sent as a blessing to mankind and his life is full of examples of peace-making and compassionate deeds. When the Muslim army finally conquered Makkah where he and his followers were tortured and subjected to inhuman treatment, he declared a general amnesty for its entire population.

Though Jesus Christ himself also stood for love and kindness among human beings, mediaeval Christianity was notorious for such movements as the Inquisition. Members of the Jewish community were persecuted not only in the Middle Ages but also in the 20th century when as many as six million were exterminated by Nazi Germany.

It may be that the Bush policy of pre-emption and extreme force against countries of the Islamic world that are regarded as failures such as Afghanistan and Iraq will be replaced by greater reliance on diplomacy and multilateralism.

The Pope, whose initial views show that he has a distorted perception of Islam, may also realise that the future of the world lies in a peaceful dialogue between civilisations, and not in a clash. He has sought a meeting with representatives of the Islamic world and if he is serious about building bridges of understanding with Islam, he may yet emerge as a powerful voice for a just world order. Instead of harking back to mediaeval prejudices, he needs to focus on political and economic injustices taking place against Muslims, notably in Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya. Poverty, backwardness and exploitation characterise the plight of a majority of Muslims. He also needs to recall that Muslims revere Jesus Christ and consider Christians as people of the book.

Just as religion confers decency and order in human life, religious leaders are expected to be a force for peace, tolerance and justice. Pope Benedict, who was so close to Pope John Paul II, can learn from the latter’s humanitarian and loving approach towards all mankind.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Foreign policy in the line of fire

By Zubeida Mustafa

WHEN an army general, who seized power through a coup to become the head of state, goes on to write a book — wearing all three hats at the same time — what does he produce? A book that brings him in the line of fire of friends and foes alike.

President Pervez Musharraf, whose memoir In the Line of Fire was launched with great fanfare in New York on Monday, may now find that the principle of academia, “publish or perish”, does not really hold true for a sitting president.

If anything, for a person holding high office to write a say-it-all (but selectively) autobiography can prove to be quite indiscreet given the sensitive nature of his position. After all he has several options available for letting the world know what he wants to say — the media, the diplomatic channel, public meetings, his spokesperson and direct interpersonal communication. These are better options as they do not have the air of finality about them as a book has. They also allow a leader to retract his words without loss of face. So why write a book with all the hazards that the act of putting pen to paper incurs (even if the services of the best ghostwriter, in this case Humayun Gauhar, have been enlisted)? The printed word seems to be so irrevocable.

President Musharraf’s rationale, as he records it, is not too convincing. “I decided to write my autobiography after Pakistan took centre stage in the world’s conflicts, including the war on terror. There has been intense curiosity about me and the country I lead. I want the world to learn the truth.”

But in telling the “truth” the author has many readers questioning the veracity of what he writes. He spills many beans that should not have been spilled at this stage when he is still in a position of power and his words can create foreign policy problems for his government in an ongoing phase of our contemporary history. The controversy has already begun. The by now famous quote from the US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, in the wake of 9/11 warning Pakistan to be “prepared to be bombed back to the stone age” has evoked denial from several American quarters. According to the author “our director general of Inter Services Intelligence, who happened to be in Washington, told me on the phone about the meeting with {Mr Armitage}.” The author terms it the “most undiplomatic statement ever made”.

Now we have Mr Armitage denying having said that. “I had a very strong conversation with the intelligence chief. I told him that for Americans this was a black or white issue. Pakistan was either with us or against us. I have no doubt that the intelligence chief was quite inflammatory in the language he used with President Musharraf,” he told Reuters. President Bush has already said he first learnt about this from newspapers reporting the CBS interview with President Musharraf in which he had brought up the matter first and then referred to the book for more information. Who is to be believed? This has come down to pure semantics which cannot be ignored in an age when body language is supposed to decide the destinies of nations.

There is also the question of the language used by the various people involved. Obviously Mr Armitage spoke in English but did Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, the ISI DG, report his conversation in idiomatic Urdu? All this has created a needless stir and the author might be wasting more time explaining the finer points, as he is now being accused of caving in to a rude threat.

The world also knows that Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan has been an ambiguous one of “playing both sides of the fence, saying one thing but doing another, closing militant training camps in one area and reopening them in another” to use Kathy Gannon’s words (in I is for Infidel). She also reports how the hawkish, pan-Islamic chief of the ISI, General Mahmood, who was sent to Kandahar after 9/11, urged Mullah Omar to resist the US and thus ensure its own annihilation.

A report in Karachi’s monthly Newsline (Feb 2003) confirmed that the ISI chief “had met with the Taliban leader without any aide for several hours and later informed the President that he was hopeful that Mullah Omar would cooperate”. It also stated how General Mahmood “who had earlier, in Washington, signed on the dotted line [when summoned by Armitage on Sept 12, 2001], showed reservations on the decision to pull out support for the Taliban regime”.

It adds, “Some highly placed sources believe that General Mahmood may have been playing a double game. President Musharraf was also not very happy with Mahmood’s arrogant style, and for not consulting him before agreeing to Armitage’s seven-point demand. President Musharraf acted swiftly and replaced the hard-line General Mahmood.” What is one to make of these accounts made more confusing by General Musharraf’s disclosure?

Then there is the case of Pakistan’s Kargil adventure about which our army is so sensitive. The president presents a sanitised version of what happened in May-July 1999. The author glosses over the Pakistan Army’s role in skilfully using the “freedom fighters” as a proxy which has been brought on record by India’s ex-foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, in his book A Call to Honour. He cites verbatim the taped conversation between General Musharraf and General Aziz in which it clearly emerges that the freedom fighters were controlled by the Pakistan Army.

In this context, our author’s claim that “whatever movement has taken place so far in the direction of finding a solution to Kashmir is due considerably to the Kargil conflict” could be damaging to the India-Pakistan dialogue that has moved by fits and starts since it started in 2004. Small wonder the author has shown deep interest in the Hindi translation of the Kargil chapter. There is much room for misunderstanding.

We have already heard quite a lot about the 1999 events from Bruce Riedel, special assistant to President Clinton, who has written an insider’s account of the summit in Blair House between Mr Nawaz Sharif and the American president. Mr Riedel doe not project Pakistan as an innocent party in Kargil as Musharraf does.

Given the sensitivities involved in a head of state/government writing a book while in office, one can understand why President Ayub Khan was one of those rare exceptions who became an author while governing the country. He did not have the patience to wait for his twilight years to pen his life experiences that are recorded in his Friends Not Masters. Besides, being an army man he did not expect to be questioned on what he wrote. General Musharraf probably feels the same way. Since he is not a leader who feels his hands are tied by the constraints of a democratic system, he does not have to worry about the repercussions of his words.

Other world leaders who have written best-sellers either did them before they entered the august office that brought them fame or after they were out of it. Nelson Mandela’s Long Road to Freedom was published after he was released from Robben Island prison and before he was elected to the presidency. Margaret Thatcher’s Path to Power and Bill Clinton’s My Life kept them busy after they had left 10 Downing Street and the White House respectively. One may well ask: what was the hurry Mr Musharraf?

Accountability? No fear

By Hafizur Rahman

THEY say that accountability is now part of the Constitution through what is called the Legal Framework Order. In fact, those who don’t like the LFO — the political opposition, that is — say that the Constitution is now part of the LFO. I find this too subtle for my comprehension. But it doesn’t matter for the purpose of this piece, so I’ll go on.

There are two groups in the country which can be afraid of accountability — politicians and bureaucracy. Observers watching the national game from the sidelines say that while politicians somehow manage to wriggle out of the accountability net (witness that some of the former accused are now federal ministers) it is always the poor government officer who is caught in the end. Please note that I use the word “poor” metaphorically, otherwise nowadays there is no such thing as a poor officer, at least among the top cats.

Accountability is every ruling regime’s answer to corruption, which, so far as the government servant is concerned, can be roughly divided into two categories: bribes and misappropriation of public funds. These days no officer with any self-respect takes bribes, but they gladly accept commissions and kickbacks, which is quite another thing. Misappropriation and misuse (and even misplacing) of departmental money is not difficult. If you employ a clever accounts man in your office he will teach you how your budgetary allocation can be manipulated to your personal advantage.

There is a permanent institution in the country to take account of financial misdemeanours by officers. Actually there are five of them: the Public Accounts Committee at the centre and a public accounts committee in every province, each presided over by an elected representative of the people. However the outstanding feature of a PAC is that the man in the dock has to account for the misdeeds of his predecessors in office, never his own. I’ll tell you why.

You see, the process of auditing of financial matters in the administration is so complicated that only the most important issues that have not been settled at the lower level go up to the PAC. By that time, five or even ten years may have passed. Unless you have not been promoted or transferred, or the post occupied by you is so unattractive that nobody else wants it, your chances of being there after that long period are next to nil.

From what I remember of my service days, the appearance before the PAC used to be more terrifying than what it could be before your future father-in-law for an interview. Some officers linked it to the Day of Judgment and approached it in the same spirit of night-long prayer, humility and seeking forgiveness from their Maker. The chairman of the PAC, an MNA or MPA, was determined to show that he didn’t care a tinker’s curse for the mighty bureaucrat sitting so humbly before him.

Actually he was as nervous as the public servant in the dock. He had the future in mind, picturing himself as an ex-legislator standing meekly before the Commissioner of his division which this officer might well become one day. Only the officer does not know that his adversary, the chairman, is also feeling apprehensive, otherwise he might not be so frightened. The whole exercise inspires terror.

The PAC is a far cry. Even an ordinary routine annual audit gives government officers the jitters, and you should see how they fawn on these yearly account-takers. The head of the department is usually a senior officer and compared to him the auditor is a small fry. But looking at them you would think it was the other way round.

The auditor and his team are repeatedly assured of the staff’s fullest cooperation. This usually consists of a five-course lunch and heavy tea every few hours as long as the audit proceeds. The staff car is withdrawn from the officer’s begum and placed at the disposal of the audit party. Cinema shows and other feasible entertainment is also laid on. All said and done the auditors have a jolly good time. Even if they feel obliged to record a few objections at the end of the shows, they also tell the officer how to cope with them.

The late Zafrul Ahsan was one of the most gifted of the old CSPs, and a very fine man. He once told me during a press tour of the Thal that he had found a way of dealing with the Accountant- General’s office. Mr Ahsan was given to unorthodox and quick- action administrative methods when he was chairman of the Thal Development Authority and his way of working did not find favour with the AG’s office. Whenever he was asked by that office to quote the rule under which he had incurred an unauthorised expenditure, he would invariably write back to know the rule which prevented him from doing so. He said he never got a reply.

In every government department there are superintendents and senior clerks known for their expertise in answering audit objections. They acquire this expertise by indulging in various kinds of irregularities themselves. I like the story of the rubber hosepipe which the head of an office had taken home because his begum needed it for her garden. The words in which the absence of the pipe was explained by the wily superintendent are a masterpiece of dissimulation. He said that with the constant flow of water the mouth of the pipe would give way, and a few inches had to be snipped off every now and then. As a result of this “every now and then” the 100-foot pipe had been gradually eaten away. All this while the officer’s begum was watering her flowers with it.

Expensive office carpets have been known to have melted away during shifting of offices, while an entire tea set, rather a fancy one, ostensibly purchased by the head of the office for visiting pressmen, was reported to have been shattered by the tremors set off by railway trains passing in the neighbourhood and had to be written off. Or so the audit party was told.

Audit is a nuisance for every government officer, and so is every kind of accountability. Fed on the myth of grandiloquence associated with the word “officer”, a new entrant joins public service with preconceived notions of having his own way in everything. But when he is confronted by rules and regulations he feels cheated and tends to rebel against them. That is the only rebellion he is capable of.

The hardest word

By Anne Applebaum

“WE have screwed up. Not a little, but a lot. . . . If we have to give an account to the country of what we have done in four years, what are we going to say?”

I wish I could gleefully report that the words quoted above had been spoken by an American politician, preferably at a large public gathering with lots of media. But, alas, they were pronounced by a foreign politician with an unpronounceable surname: Ferenc Gyurcsany, the prime minister of Hungary. For those readers who don’t follow Hungarian politics on a daily basis, he also said that “we lied, morning, noon and night” and conceded that his country had stayed afloat during his government’s first term thanks to “divine providence, the abundance of cash in the world economy and hundreds of tricks.”

Gyurcsany made these refreshingly frank comments during a private meeting. They were taped, and leaked. He now says he spoke that way to impress upon his colleagues the urgent need for radical economic reform in Hungary, by which he means higher taxes (his party had promised lower taxes) and tighter budgets (his party had promised few cuts). Shakily, he’s sticking to that line.

It won’t be easy. In Budapest, his comments sparked several nights of riots, some 250 injuries and daily demonstrations. Hungary’s currency and credit rating took sudden dives. The opposition is calling for his resignation. Inexplicably, Gyurcsany still managed to show up late last week at a conference on European Union reform in Berlin, where I watched him make an emotional and not entirely comprehensible speech. He warned, among other things, of “radical nationalism,” by which he presumably meant all of those people angry at him for “screwing up.” He looked close to tears.

The lesson here is clear: Prime ministers, presidents and other sundry statesmen beware. In democratic politics you get in trouble not for what you do but for what you say — particularly if it’s true.

I should point out here that the Hungarian case is unusual, since the prime minister was admitting not only to mistakes but also to deliberate deception — a double whammy. But it’s true, too, that plenty of other politicians around the world have lost elections, support and power for telling a difficult truth. Let’s be blunter: In America, no one gets elected dogcatcher if he talks about reform, sacrifice or lower living standards — let alone confesses to serious mistakes. This is not because such candidates are liars, though some of them may be. It is because the public doesn’t like talk of reform, sacrifice and lower living standards. We don’t tolerate negative politicians. We don’t reelect them.

All of which brings me, unavoidably, to the Bush administration and Iraq. Last week another leak revealed that at least some part of the American intelligence apparatus now believes that the war in Iraq has led to an increase in radical Islam, a strengthening of the international terrorist network, and a higher threat of attacks on America and Americans. If this is true, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, it means that the president and the defence secretary have been told by some of their own intelligence officers that the bungling of the war in Iraq was a grave mistake.

But I’m not holding my breath in anticipation of hearing that analysis from the president or the defence secretary or anyone else close to the White House. And — without getting into the ins and outs of who said what to whom, what might have been done differently or what the future policy in Iraq might be — maybe none of us should be surprised.

It’s all very well to call for apologies or admissions of wrongdoing or acknowledgment of failure. Yet if the president really were to publicly declare that “we have screwed up,” he would inspire, if not riots, then jeering and sneering all around. If Donald Rumsfeld were to state that all of his Iraq-is-a-success talk was wrong, and that “we lied, morning, noon and night,” I’m not sure anyone would like him any better for it, either.—Dawn/Washington Post Service

Compromise on torture

IF it’s good enough for John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner, then it’s good enough for everyone else. That, essentially, has been the argument for the compromise reached last week between the White House and the Senate concerning the Bush administration’s treatment of suspected terrorists.

But it’s not good enough — neither the compromise nor the argument. The three Republican senators admirably opposed the administration’s attempt to undermine international law on the treatment of prisoners captured in the war against terrorists. Yet Congress should not accept their assurances without the sort of sustained scrutiny that will be impossible if there is a rush to enact the compromise into law before the midterm elections. Democrats, who until now have allowed McCain and Co. to serve as their stand-ins, especially should resist a stampede.

To their credit, McCain of Arizona, Graham of South Carolina and Warner of Virginia (with an assist from former Army general and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell), forced the administration to back down from its proposal to redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits “cruel” and “degrading” treatment.

—Los Angeles Times