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DAWN - Opinion; October 09, 2006

October 09, 2006


The missing details of 1971

By Tanvir Ahmad Khan

WHILE commenting on some of the themes of President Musharraf’s In the line of fire last week, I went back to the perennial question as to when men of power should stake a claim to immortality through a personal memoir. The general evidence is that the right moment comes when their reign has ended or is well advanced into the twilight zone. In this particular case, one felt that by adopting an aggressive posture of presenting the only valid interpretation of men and matters, the author had exposed himself to equally severe counter-punches.

A broad survey of critiques in Pakistan and the neighbouring regional countries reveals dismay and disbelief. Much of the negative comment is a response to the humiliating treatment of other personalities that still command group loyalties. In their case an almost institutional rebuttal became inevitable. There were also instances of gratuitous derision and, at least, in one case, that of the widely respected General Ali Kuli Khan Khattak who had maintained a dignified silence ever since he took leave of the GHQ, a provocation that could no longer to be ignored. He spoke up not only to set the record straight in the context of merit in the higher echelons of the Pakistan army but also to describe Kargil as a disaster. His reference to Kargil almost decisively changes the balance of opinion about this particularly poignant episode of national history.

Next door, in India, where adverse analysis was to be expected, reactions ran a whole gamut of denunciation far more strident than it should have been during the present delicate phase of bilateral negotiations. A column in the generally discreet and sophisticated magazine, Outlook, compared the book to Hitler’s Mein Kampf and warned that a catastrophe “awaits the world if it ignores the sick mind behind In the Line of Fire”. One is used to hyperbole in the media but one would still be at a loss to recall when a book was last construed to be a global threat.

It has been suggested in these columns that the key to the tone and tenor of the book is to be found in identifiable “ghost writers”. It is never easy in such cases to determine the extent to which those who assist in script-reading and editing shape the substance of a book. But one thing is beyond doubt: the president of Pakistan has been very poorly served both in content and style when it came to such legitimate assistance.

There is no greater trauma in our national life than the secession of East Pakistan. It is probably an index of the pain it still causes that it is still not easy to document it in a comprehensive manner. There is a manifest lack of exhaustive studies of the event and for those who look for them, the bibliography is dominated by Indian and Bangladeshi accounts. Nevertheless, a quiet tradition has been taking roots in our midst. Either you stay silent as Sahabzada Yaqub-Khan, a principal witness to it, has largely done or you address it with gravitas, sensitivity and humility. This is what it should be as it is a matter of historical truth about the loss of half the country.

Everything that you say about it will inevitably be judged by this yardstick. The editors and script assistants that President Musharraf chose have failed him in reconciling the very limited space allocated to the most momentous event of our history and the demands of accuracy. The result is an extremely unsatisfactory and problematic abstract of a story that ended in the creation of a new nation state. If it was meant to be a “short judgment” on the case, it simply does not bear scrutiny.

Consider the following extract from the book: “Under pressure from the wily Bhutto, and no doubt because he didn’t want to lose power, Yahya Khan postponed the meeting of the Constituent Assembly indefinitely on March 25, 1971. ...The very next day he outlawed the Awami League and arrested its leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman... Tempers rose so high with the arrest of the undisputed Bengali leader that an open insurgency was launched by the populace. This was massively supported by the Indians from across the border.”

The postponement of the session of the assembly was announced by Radio Pakistan on March 1. It was a climactic and, indeed, a fateful moment in an intense drama spread, in the shorter term over the entire months of January and February. There is no attempt even to summarise the conflicting positions that kept emerging during that period. General Musharaf would know what Yahya, Hamid and the other two generals said to Bhutto during the hunting trip to Larkana on January 17; it sheds light on the postponement of the assembly.

There is no recognition of the mass upsurge that followed that ill-advised step and de facto assumption of self-rule by the people of Bangladesh. Under unbearable pressure now, Yahya Khan set March 25 as the new date for the assembly to meet.

There is no reference to the preparations for a military crackdown during the month of March. The military operation launched on March 25, which finally led to the armed revolt of East Bengal Regiment and the East Pakistan Rifles, and the declaration of independence by General Zia-ur Rahman are all simply glossed over. What triggered off the province-wide revolt was not just the arrest of Sheikh Mujib but the ultimate resort to the long-feared military action, the option of open-sword martial law, a phrase attributed by Hasan Zaheer in his classic book on the separation of East Pakistan to Yaqub Khan.

In the impatience to put all the blame on late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, there is not even the slightest allusion to the assessments and warnings made by Admiral Ahsan and the Sahabzada about the consequences of military action. This autobiography had set out to be “my contribution to the history of our era”. The reader would want to know if this curious selectivity of facts should be laid at the doors of uninformed editors. A curious indifference to accuracy that seems to have gripped Simon and Schuster who should know the established principles of editorial care.

Consider again the following : “Immediately after the elections Bhutto more or less declared himself prime minister, suggesting such bizarre ideas as two constitutions, one for East Pakistan and the other for ‘West Pakistan’ with a prime minister for each wing....” In reality two concerns had bedevilled all discussions since Ayub Khan’s Round Table Conference. One, as the demand for autonomy for East Pakistan assumed the momentum of a force of nature stronger than even Sheikh Mujib had expected it to become, politicians from West Pakistan, including Bhutto, and powerful groups from the armed forces argued with the Awami League leaders that the Six Points would lead to a disintegration of the provinces in the West.

It was in these debates that the idea of holding the four western provinces together in a sub-federation took shape. As Justice Cornelius discovered after his belated injection into parleys with the Awami League, autonomy had gone far beyond the stage of being a bargaining chip on these six points and crystallised into a non-negotiable demand for a confederation.

In the parleys with Yahya Khan, Bhutto and other politicians from West Pakistan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made it increasingly clear that circumstances had obliged him to concentrate on the emancipation of the eastern wing and that the western provinces could safeguard their interests by creating a sub-federation. It is not easy to pinpoint the moment when Bhutto irrevocably embraced this concept but he was certainly not its sole source.

The other major concern linked to this inexorable political dynamic was the structure of national economy. Disparity in economic development had played probably a bigger role in fostering Bengali separatism than other important factors such as ethnicity and language. West Pakistani experts like M.M. Ahmad had fought a long and hard rear guard action to retain the structure of a federal economy while agreeing to provincial autonomy.

Most proposals emanating from either side such as the creation of two Reserve Banks and intra-federation accounts translated into the emergence of two entities in the two wings. Mujib argued again and again that he meant no harm to the western provinces and that they should take appropriate decisions as long as the Bengali demands on economic restructuring of the state were not compromised.

President Musharraf undertook the book project in the midst of more contemporary crises than the Bangladesh crisis of 1971. Nobody would have wanted him to take time off from the grave problems faced by him during the last seven years and research into the archives of that earlier tragedy. But he was entitled to better assistance. There is no dearth of people in Pakistan who would have rendered it selflessly and honestly. The circumstances in which the project got disconnected from more reliable sources have not been explained so far. There is a reservoir of better knowledge in the country which would inevitably reassert itself over a period of time. Truth has a strange way of surviving the worst of times.

The writer is a former ambassador to Bangladesh.

The ethics of leaking

By Kirk O. Hanson and Jerry Ceppos

LAST week, for the second week in a row, the big news came from a leak. Someone gave ABC News shocking e-mails between Rep. Mark Foley and congressional pages. A week earlier, the major story was either the leak of part of the National Intelligence Estimate or the hearings about Hewlett-Packard’s invasion-of-privacy case, which started with a leak.

All three stories generated huge quantities of news coverage and babble on talk radio. Lost in the heat was an examination of the ethics of leaks and of leakers. Was the leaker of Foley’s e-mail exchange guilty of serious ethical breaches, especially because the messages dealt with sexuality? Did the leak of part of the NIE enlighten all of us or only the terrorists? Did George Keyworth, a longtime member of HP’s board, violate confidences and his fiduciary duty by talking to reporters about company business?

The answers can give guidance to others about whether and when to leak information. Is it ever ethical to leak? Is there sometimes an obligation to leak?

The first question a potential leaker should ask himself concerns the status of the information. Is the information classified, proprietary or otherwise protected? Is there a system that clearly considers this information restricted? If so, then the leak must be worth the betrayal.

The second consideration is whether the potential leaker has a specific obligation, legal or ethical, to protect the information, or perhaps has the information only because another person violated an obligation to keep it secret. If either is true, it is a more serious matter to reveal the information.

The third consideration is whether the information is about public or private matters. Information about another’s sexual orientation, about private finances or about personal phone calls has more of a claim to privacy than information about a person’s actions as a corporate executive or a government official. The difficult cases are those in which the private life of individuals influences their public actions, as in the Foley case.

After the privacy issue comes the most important consideration: the public benefit that would result from a leak and the harm that could be done.

If the leak serves the purely political or self-interest of the leaker, for example Richard Armitage’s outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, then it is wrong.

If the leak reveals a government action that is illegal or behaviour that harms individuals significantly — as in the Foley case — then it can be more easily ethically justified. Sometimes that’s a tough call. The New York Times learned about the Bay of Pigs invasion before it happened and famously soft-pedalled the story. President Kennedy supposedly said later: “If you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake.”

As for assessing the harm, self-interest and self-righteousness can cloud the potential leaker’s view of the damage a leak may cause. It’s crucial to get another’s perspective on what harm will result. Taking the attitude of “the ends always justify the means” is inadequate.

Do these ethical principles help us assess the leaks of the preceding two weeks?

In the case of Foley, earlier complaints to the authorities and even to newspapers appear not to have worked. Thus, the final set of leaks to other media seem appropriate because they may have stopped behaviour that could have caused emotional or physical damage to other young people. In the case of the National Intelligence Estimate, we learned that people in government concluded that the war in Iraq might stoke terrorism. While unsurprising, this conclusion seems important information for Americans, even if it also served political ends.

In the case of Hewlett-Packard, we still don’t know if any damage was done by the leaks. On the other hand, Keyworth may have violated a fiduciary duty, and the culture of trust on the board clearly was damaged. But did the leaks justify the methods — which included impersonating people to gain access to their phone records — that HP used to track down the culprit? Clearly not — and five people, including HP’s former chairwoman, were charged with felonies Wednesday.

In general, leaks always will be part of a free society, but we need some scepticism about claims that all leaks and leakers are unethical. British Lord Northcliffe had it right when he said that “news is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.” —Dawn/Los Angeles Times Service

Straw’s unease over veil

TO intrude into how someone chooses to present himself is an act that cannot help but test individual sensitivities. The way people dress is both a matter of personal choice and community tradition and any questioning of it, however thoughtful and well-intentioned, is likely to provoke a reaction.

When the questioner is a senior minister and those whose are being questioned are female Muslim constituents who wear the full veil, the potential for resentment and misunderstanding is extreme indeed. That means that there is undoubtedly a requirement for clarity and consideration. But it does not mean there is a necessity for silence.

Jack Straw is a man of intelligence and discretion who has worked over many years with his Muslim constituents and sometimes shared their point of view, as when, earlier this year, he questioned the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. So he will certainly have thought carefully before writing this week in a local newspaper column about his unease at dealing with those of his Blackburn constituents who visit his advice surgery dressed in the full veil, or niqab.

His reference was exact, not to the hijab, or headscarf, worn by many (although not all) Muslim women, but to the covering of the face in a private meeting, something which he found troubled him and which he chose to discuss. He did so in considered tones with reference to specific experiences, although he will have known too that his remarks would be used in a wider context.

His concern about the niqab was partly practical: “I felt uncomfortable about talking to someone ‘face to face’ who I could not see.” But more profound was his fear that the increasing use of the full veil was “a visible statement of separation and difference”. Its spread, he suggested in a BBC interview on Friday morning, was a sign of the rise of “parallel communities”. And that is surely something society should want to discuss and respond to, not hide from.

Mr Straw made it clear that in raising the issue he was not questioning the right of women to wear the niqab if they chose. He accepted that wearers may have made a choice of their own (although social pressures may also be immense). But he pointed out that the use of the full veil has consequences, both for the wearer and for how the wearer is seen. It puts a literal barrier between citizens, an obstacle to interaction rather than a bridge between people and in that it adds to social divides that already exist. Mr Straw’s remarks certainly echo an unease that is shared by many voters, an unease that among some people must have its roots in prejudice. But he was not voicing prejudice and his reasoned comments attempted to lessen separation and alienation, not spread it.

The niqab may bring benefits but for a wearer there may be costs too in terms of contributing to and advancing in society. Mr Straw is no less on such a woman’s side than those who defend her choice. Anger is inappropriate.

Some will argue that a minister who helped plan and execute the Iraq war is not best placed to challenge Muslims on how they behave, and it is true that British and US policy in Iraq and beyond has played a role in fuelling a sense of exclusion and anger.

— The Guardian, London

Trying times for women

By Anwer Mooraj

THE national political scene has not changed very much during the last six months. The country still has an unelected president who continues to rule the roost, backed by the military brass and a rag bag of functionaries who pretend to represent the masses at the grassroots level.

There is still a government of defectors that has on more than one occasion demonstrated that when it comes to discussing really meaningful and important issues, it doesn’t have a mind of its own. The recent bill for the protection of women was a supreme example of this ineptitude.

One has been told that there is also an opposition, united only in name, where the two parties that share certain democratic norms are ideologically opposed to the third prong of the trident — represented by the holy warriors. What complicates matters is that the men of the cloth believe they are the chosen ones to guide the nation out of the darkness and into the light, and that in matters temporal no other political grouping enjoys quite the same licence as they do in interpreting the Holy Scriptures.

The scene is further complicated by the fact that the local political honchos don’t have a free hand when it comes to taking decisions or making statements, and often have to consult, on matters of policy, one or the other of the leaders in exile, both of whom have twice sat in harness and wouldn’t mind a third bite at the national cherry. This explains the recent statement made by Makhdoom Amin Fahim that there is really no need for a united opposition. Could it be that there is after all some truth in the rumour that the president is secretly in touch with the chairperson of the PPP?

But at times the two liberal parties also play games with one another, as happened during the bill designed to protect women against the unpredictable and capricious behaviour of men. The Nawaz faction of the Muslim League kicked off all traces of open-mindedness and sided with the MMA against the PPP.

However, in spite of what has happened, it would be incorrect to say that there hasn’t been some advancement, however insignificant, in political rectitude, even though numerous efforts are being made to sidetrack the ‘empowerment’ issue and to divert attention away from the plight of Pakistani women.

The very fact that the MMA agreed to discuss proposed changes in the Hudood Ordinances, when the recent bill was introduced into parliament, demonstrated that the religious alliance had, by implication, accepted that the Ordinances in question were man made and did not have a divine origin.

This was certainly a step forward, even though as Sherry Rehman so tersely put it in her article published in this paper: “The message of the whole sorry saga is that the regime has caved in with a parliamentary majority and allowed the national agenda to be dictated by forces that could take Pakistan back into the dark ages.”

What nobody seems to have brought to the notice of the high-ups in the Muslim clergy is that until the obscurantist dictator Ziaul Haq appeared on the scene, the Hudood Ordinances simply did not exist. The establishment seemed to manage quite well with the existing codes and regulations some of which had been fortified by Ayub Khan’s judicious Family Laws. In this respect Ayub Khan showed considerable enlightenment and was the very antithesis of Ziaul Haq.

What people in the 1960s felt, without actually saying so, was that the absence of repressive, punitive laws did not necessarily mean that Muslim men and women were adrift on a sea of permissive wickedness. It meant that in those days there were laws to deal with all kinds of cases, and nobody felt the need to deliberately misinterpret Islam.

Once the issue had been tossed out of the window by the parliamentarians, with the promise that it would be discussed at some future date, one would have thought that progressive elements in the media would have taken up the crusade and kept the momentum going. Nothing of the sort happened.

One became aware of the fact that hardly any male columnists considered the topic worthwhile. And those television channels that were persuaded to give the issue some coverage, possibly because the subject was topical, put up the regular props — an enlightened mullah, a representative from one of the more vocal of the women’s organisations, an attractive lady journalist who is invariably photographed in profile, and an all-purpose retired mandarin who is frequently thrown in to make ambivalent statements and, after exhausting all angles, eventually presents the establishment’s point of view. It was one of these talk shows that this writer found particularly irritating.

In previous programmes the host always came across as a pretty solid sort of fellow, well read with an excellent command over the vernacular, eager, probing and anxious not to cause too much offence. But he must have gotten out of the wrong side of the bed on the day when Majida Rizvi and Maulana Bhutto sparred in front of the cameras and represented opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Women’s rights is a very serious subject. And the theme deserves serious discussion. One cannot afford to be whimsical about issues like a victim getting pregnant and ostracised while her rapist goes scot-free and carries on as if nothing had happened, or a man slicing off his wife’s nose because she happened to sit on the same bench with a stranger in a government hospital. But anybody watching the show in question might have gotten the impression that the people around the table were discussing the sort of punishments that should be meted out to landlords who steal peasants’ buffaloes in Vehari.

In the space of five minutes the viewer saw the host’s face dissolve into weariness, astonishment, shocked incredulity, surprise, amazement, bewilderment, amusement and finally deep shock. When the programme was over one couldn’t help getting the feeling that women’s rights will never be restored unless the draconian edicts that were imposed by the country’s most retrogressive leader are fully reversed. The kind of plastic surgery that the MMA has been proposing is not going to solve anything. The president must issue an ordinance completely abolishing laws hostile and unjust to women. Nothing short of an ordinance will set the record straight.

In the meantime the struggle must continue and women’s groups should, in addition to holding seminars, try printing and distributing posters, outlining the reasons why the Hudood Ordinances should be abolished. Here are some pointers which have been culled from Ms Rehman’s article.

‘The Constitution of Pakistan prohibits any laws that discriminate against women and members of the minorities... The Hudood Ordinances were introduced 26 years ago without conducting any public or parliamentary debate... The laws are entirely man-made and have no divine origin...

‘More than one national commission on the status of women has recommended their repeal... Many jurists have stated that these laws are not in conjunction with the principles of the Holy Quran and Sunnah, and were drafted in a hurry...

‘Prior to the Ordinances, children under the age of seven bore no criminal liability. Now they do...Despite the fact that Islam forbids discrimination on the basis of sex, colour, caste, or creed, this law makes minorities victims of double jeopardy...The Ordinances are used to keep poor, dispossessed women in police lock-ups without access to defence counsel or speedy justice... They encourage ‘honour killing’ and injuries because they allow these crimes to be compoundable offences...

‘These laws discriminate against women as they de-link puberty from adulthood. Is a girl of 10 expected to tell the difference between paedophilia and rape? So far hadd has never been executed but it has been awarded. That means that these laws have little utility except to keep our superior courts busy in overturning their sentences...’

Most jurists and experts on law have concluded that the defects in these ordinances are so basic that amending them would serve no useful purpose and will cause more miscarriages of justice. If the delivery of justice is the objective, the only option is to abolish the ordinances in their entirety. All it really takes is one stroke of the pen.

And finally, only Pakistan and Saudi Arabia accept these laws in their totality. All other Muslim countries have rejected or amended them in the interests of justice and equality. This should certainly give people food for thought.