DAWN - Opinion; October 12, 2006

October 12, 2006


One step forward, two back

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

SOME had feared — while others had hoped — that General Pervez Musharraf’s coup of October 12, 1999, would bring the revolution of Kemal Ataturk to a Pakistan in the iron grip of mullahs. But years later, a definitive truth has emerged. Like the other insecure governments before it, both military and civilian, the present regime also has a single-point agenda — to stay in power at all costs. It, therefore, does whatever it must and Pakistan moves further away from any prospect of acquiring modern values, and of building and strengthening democratic institutions.

The requirements for survival of the present regime are clear. On the one hand, the army leadership knows that its critical dependence upon the West requires that it be perceived abroad as a liberal regime pitted against radical Islamists. On the other hand, and in actual fact, to safeguard and extend its grip on power, it must preserve the status quo.

The staged conflicts between General Musharraf and the mullahs are, therefore, a regular part of Pakistani politics. This September, nearly seven years later, the religious parties needed no demonstration of muscle power for winning two major victories in less than a fortnight; just a few noisy threats sufficed. From experience they knew that the Pakistan army and its sagacious leader — of “enlightened moderation” fame — would stick to their predictable pattern of dealing with the Islamists. In a nutshell: provoke a fight, get the excitement going, let diplomatic missions in Islamabad make their notes and CNN and BBC get their clips — and then beat a retreat. At the end of it all, the mullahs would get what they want, but so would the general.

Examples abound. On April 21, 2000, General Musharraf announced a new administrative procedure for registration of cases under the blasphemy law. This law, under which the minimum penalty is death, has frequently been used to harass personal and political opponents. To reduce such occurrences, Musharraf’s modified procedure would have required the local district magistrate’s approval for the registration of a blasphemy case. It would have been an improvement, albeit a modest one. But 25 days later, on May 16, 2000, under the watchful glare of the mullahs, Musharraf hastily climbed down: “As it was the unanimous demand of the ulema, mashaikh and the people...I have decided to do away with the procedural change in the registration of FIR under the blasphemy law.”

Another example. In October 2004, as a new system for issuing machine readable passports was being installed, Musharraf’s government declared that henceforth it would not be necessary for passport holders to specify their religion. As expected, this was denounced by the Islamic parties as a grand conspiracy aimed at secularising Pakistan and destroying its Islamic character. But even before the mullahs actually took to the streets, the government lost nerve and announced its volte-face on March 24, 2005. Information Minister Sheikh Rashid said the decision to revive the religion column was made else, “Qadianis and apostates would be able to pose as Muslims and perform pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.”

But even these climbdowns, significant as they are, are less dramatic than the astonishing recent retreat over reforming the Hudood Ordinance, a grotesque imposition of General Ziaul Haq’s government, unparalleled both for its cruelty and irrationality.

Enacted into the law in 1979, it was conceived as part of a more comprehensive process for converting Pakistan into a theocracy governed by Shariah laws. These laws prescribe death by stoning for married Muslims who are found guilty of extra-marital sex (for unmarried couples or non-Muslims, the penalty is 100 lashes). The law is exact in stating how the death penalty is to be administered: “Such of the witnesses who deposed against the convict as may be available shall start stoning him and, while stoning is being carried on, he may be shot dead, whereupon stoning and shooting shall be stopped.”

Rape is still more problematic. A woman who fails to prove that she has been raped is automatically charged with fornication and adultery. Under the Hudood law, she is considered guilty unless she can prove her innocence. Proof of innocence requires that the rape victim must produce “at least four Muslim adult male witnesses, about whom the court is satisfied” who saw the actual act of penetration. Inability to do so may result in her being jailed, or perhaps even sentenced to death for adultery.

General Musharraf, and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, proposed amending the Hudood Ordinance. They sent a draft for parliamentary discussion in early September, 2006. As expected, it outraged the fundamentalists of the MMA, the main Islamic parliamentary opposition, whose members tore up copies of the proposed amendments on the floor of the National Assembly and threatened to resign en masse. The government cowered abjectly and withdrew.

Musharraf’s government proved no more enlightened, or more moderate or more resolute, and behaved no differently from the more than half a dozen previous civilian administrations, including two under Benazir Bhutto and several ‘technocrat’ regimes. No one made a serious effort to confront or reform these laws. But the pattern is broader than deference to the mullahs. General Musharraf has been willing to use the iron fist in other circumstances. Two examples stand out: Waziristan and Balochistan. Each offers instruction.

In 2002, presumably on Washington’s instructions, the Pakistan army established military bases in South Waziristan which had become a refuge for Taliban and Al Qaeda fleeing Afghanistan. It unleashed artillery and US-supplied Cobra gunships. By 2005, heavy fighting had spread to North Waziristan and the army was bogged down.

The generals, safely removed from combat areas, and busy in building their personal empires, ascribed the resistance to “a few hundred foreign militants and terrorists”. But the army was taking losses (how serious is suggested by the fact that casualty figures were not revealed) and soldiers rarely ventured from their forts. Reportedly, local clerics refused to conduct funeral prayers for soldiers killed in action.

In 2004, the army made peace with the militants of South Waziristan. It conceded the territory to them, which made the militants immensely stronger. A similar “peace treaty” was signed on September 5, 2006, in the town of Miramshah in North Waziristan, now firmly in the grip of the Pakistani Taliban.

The Miramshah treaty met all the demands made by the militants: the release of all jailed militants; dismantling of army checkpoints; return of seized weapons and vehicles; the right of the Taliban to display weapons (except heavy weapons); and residence rights for fellow fighters from other Islamic countries. As for “foreign militants” — who Musharraf had blamed exclusively for the resistance, the militants were nonchalant: we will let you know if we find any! The financial compensation demanded by the Taliban for loss of property and life has not been revealed, but some officials have remarked that it is “astronomical”. In turn they promised to cease their attacks on civil and military installations, and to give the army a safe passage out.

While the army has extricated itself, the locals have been left to pay the price. The militants have closed girls’ schools and are enforcing harsh Shariah laws in both North and South Waziristan. Barbers have been told “shave and die”. Taliban vigilante groups patrol the streets of Miramshah. They check such things as the length of beards, whether the “shalwars” are worn at an appropriate height above the ankles and the attendance of individuals in the mosques.

And then there is Balochistan. In 1999, when the army seized power, there was no visible separatist movement in Balochistan, which makes up nearly 44 per cent of Pakistan’s land mass and is the repository of its gas and oil resources. Now there is a full-blown insurgency built upon Baloch grievances, most of which arise from a perception of being ruled from Islamabad and of being denied a fair share of the benefits of the natural resources extracted from their land.

The army has spurned negotiations. Force is the only answer: “They won’t know what hit them,” boasted Musharraf, after threatening to crush the insurgency. The army has used everything it can, including its American-supplied F-16 jet fighters. The crisis worsened when the charismatic 79-year old Baloch chieftain and former governor of Balochistan, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, was killed by army bombs. Musharraf outraged the Baloch by calling it “a great victory”. Reconciliation in Balochistan now seems a distant dream.

Musharraf and his generals are determined to stay in power. They will protect the source of their power — the army. They will accommodate those they must — the Americans. They will pander to the mullahs. They will crush those who threaten their power and privilege, and ignore the rest. No price is too high for them. They are the reason why Pakistan fails.

The writer is a professor at the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.

Pyongyang’s N-test in perspective

By Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty

THE worldwide condemnation of the October 9 nuclear test by North Korea is, in effect, an endorsement of the general stance that nuclear proliferation cannot be condoned. However, the fact that this event took place constitutes a failure of US diplomacy that could have prevented the violation of international norms by engaging Pyongyang instead of putting pressure on it.

The situation in the Korean peninsula is a holdover from the Cold War, when the US, animated by its anti-communist agenda, was involved in a proxy war with the Soviet Union. However, the stalemate with which the Korean war concluded persists. The Korean peninsula, divided since the 1953 ceasefire that established the Demilitarised Zone along the 38th parallel, continues to be characterised by confrontation, with some 30,000 US troops permanently stationed there.

The dominant role in determining North Korea’s external and internal policies has been played by Kim Il Sung, who was called the “Great Leader”, and since his death in 1994, by his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, popularly known as the “Dear Leader”. They maintained totalitarian control, and built up a personality cult, which is in marked contrast to the regime in South Korea, a democratic society with a market economy, that has flourished with US and Japanese investment and technology transfers.

North Korea has maintained powerful defence forces and has, by some estimates, the fifth largest military in the world. Perceiving a threat from the US which maintains a large nuclear-armed garrison in South Korea, the North Korean leaders have given the highest priority to security. Helped by technology transfers from the Soviet Union, Pyongyang has also built up its missile and nuclear capability.

Since Washington does not recognise the communist regime in Pyongyang, North Korea’s perception of the threat from the US is well-founded. Since the end of the Cold War, with communism in retreat, pressure on surviving communist regimes has been stepped up. North Korea has concentrated on its missile and nuclear programmes, and entered into arrangements to export its products to countries like Iran and Syria, which lack access to western sources. The US sees this trade as a threat to Israel’s security and has stepped up its pressure on North Korea.

As North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities were undermining US strategic interests, President Clinton even considered military action, but bearing in mind the risks of this action, tried diplomacy instead. A framework agreement was signed in Geneva on October 21, 1994, under which North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear programme in exchange for two light water reactors to be supplied by the US. However, the West did not implement the agreement, and North Korea resumed its clandestine nuclear programme, and also refused access to the International Atomic Energy Agency for inspecting its nuclear facilities.

The Bush administration having assumed power in the meantime, a tougher approach was adopted, and Bush included North Korea in the “axis of evil” in his State of the Union address in 2002. However, given North Korea’s ability to hit back against South Korea and Japan, he opted for Six-Power diplomacy instead of a preemptive strike as in Iraq.

The course of the Six-Power talks has again witnessed the same alternation between compromise and defiance, with Pyongyang ready to compromise when engaged, but reverting to defiance when the West, led by the US, resorts to tough tactics.

At the September 2005 session of the Six-Power talks in Beijing, North Korea announced it was ready to abandon its nuclear ambitions, in return for security assurances from the US as well as economic aid. Once again, the hawks in the US administration toughened their stance, and insisted that North Korea must implement its offer first, before the US would oblige.

The return to tough tactics by the US convinced the North Koreans that the combination of arrogance and threats being demonstrated by Washington had to be matched by bold action. One year after the gesture of September 2005, they carried out a series of missile tests, and followed it up with a nuclear weapon test on October 9.

The condemnation that has followed is not unexpected, and will have to be taken into account by the ruling elite in North Korea. There is a general consensus that the Korean peninsula should be kept free of nuclear weapons. China has joined the other members of the Security Council in condemning the test, but as the dust settles, it will urge negotiations rather than sanctions, which will have only a marginal effect, if imposed. Diplomacy has to be resumed and pursued in an even-handed way.

Significantly, some western analysts have pointed out the difference in approach by the West in dealing with potential proliferates. The Libyan leader, Muammar Qadhafi, also had a clandestine nuclear programme. British Prime Minister Tony Blair promised him three things if he made his peace with the West by opening up his installations. These were recognition, withdrawal of sanctions and economic incentives. Even after its test, North Korea is likely to agree with the concept of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, if it receives security guarantees, recognition and economic aid.

One can only hope that the futility of relying on force rather than peaceful means will be recognised, as is becoming obvious from the results of the Bush doctrine. Mr Ban Ki-moon, the South Korean nominated successor to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, has this immediate challenge to face. Since he played a leading role in engaging North Korea diplomatically, his choice as secretary-general may prove providential.

The writer is a former ambassador

The furore over the veil

By David Edgar

WELL, who would have thought a bit of black cloth could have provoked such anger and such anguish. The anger is part of a growing and alarming trend. The general consensus among the anguished is that, in Jack Straw’s words, “there is an issue here”.

Certainly there is. The veil question has exposed a staggering level of thoughtless illiberalism, and not just where you’d expect to find it. Hot off the mark, the Express consults its readers about a ban on the veil: “An astounding 97 per cent of Daily Express readers agreed a ban would help to safeguard racial harmony.” It’s not quite clear how this ban would be implemented. (Policemen ripping veils from women’s faces? Asbos? Flinging wearers in jail?)

Clearly there are precedents: the Dutch parliament has voted for a ban on wearing burkas in public places, and three Flemish towns have actually instituted a ban. In this country, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown supports a burka ban on feminist grounds, and the “progressive nationalist” David Goodhart, who edits the left-leaning Prospect magazine, calls for a ban on the burka in schools and public offices (which, depending on where Jack Straw holds his surgeries, might solve his problem at a stroke).

The problems attendant upon such a policy are demonstrated by the Belgian municipalities, which had to define burka-wearing in a way that didn’t criminalise carnival masks (and it is very hard to see a way of defining the burka that wouldn’t incriminate the niqab).

That liberalism can so easily collapse into nativism is clearly seen in Rotterdam, where designs for mosques are rejected as “too Islamic” and a citizenship code makes it compulsory to speak only Dutch in the street. That Muslims will not be the only victims of cultural proscriptions is seen in Flanders, where the bans on burkas in public places have been followed by one on speaking French in schools. That bans on veils don’t end there is shown in Germany, where several states are seeking — pace David Goodhart — to ban civil servants from wearing the hijab, including Baden-Wurttemberg — the first German state to bar headscarf-wearing teachers from the classroom.

So this furore has exposed the double standards of the liberal anti-Islam agenda. Like the Behzti and Jerry Springer controversies, the Danish cartoon affair was spun as a contest between universal western liberal values of tolerance and particularist religious fundamentalists who wanted to impose their sensitivities on everybody else. Now many people who defend free expression to the death want to stop other people wearing what they want, in order to protect themselves from cultural offence.

Many Muslim women have pointed out they would be accused of rampant Islamofascism if they asked women with short skirts or naked midriffs to cover up. There is, one hopes, no call for Britain to follow the US state of Virginia in banning visible underwear from its streets. But you can’t have it both ways: I can disagree with what you wear, but — if I am to remain true to universalist Enlightenment values — the other half of Voltaire’s formulation has to click in too.

However, the question of the veil does put liberals on the spot. For most of the past 30 years, being in favour of free speech meant being in favour of good things (notably honesty about sexuality) and against denial and repression. Most of the causes celebres of the battle against state censorship, from Lady Chatterley to The Romans in Britain, were works of worth; even where the worth was questionable, there were persuasive arguments that the work was either harmless (as in pornography) or progressive.

Now we are having to defend things we disapprove of, such as the glorification of terrorism or, indeed, calls for censorship. The conundrum that one of the things liberals have to tolerate is intolerance hasn’t needed to be at the forefront of debates on free expression before. It is now, and it should be.

So, yes, it’s fine and right for Dutch gays to walk hand in hand in public, and for Dutch women to walk topless along beaches; but it’s not OK to insist that prospective immigrants to the Netherlands be quizzed on their response to DVDs containing those images. Yes, it’s good for immigrants to learn the language of the country where they live, but it is wrong to ban any language from being spoken in public.

Yes, it is bad for wives to have to obey husbands, or for parents to renounce gay children, but such attitudes were common among this continent’s indigenous peoples until relatively recently - and people coming to live in Europe should not be asked to disavow them as a condition of entry, any more than they should be forced to express opinions on any other matter.

And yes, the veil can be alienating to people trying to communicate with the person wearing it; it is sometimes (but not always) worn involuntarily, and (for me) is an expression of devotion to a non-existent supernatural being whose worship excuses all kinds of barbarism. But if we want to have a leg to stand on when we stand up for The Satanic Verses or Behzti or Jerry Springer, we must defend to the death the right to wear it. —Dawn/Guardian Service

The writer is a playwright and fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Democrats’ options

By David Ignatius

IT’S too late for the Democrats to forge coherent positions on Iraq or tax policy before the November elections. But fortune has presented them with a mission that can be summed up in a simple sentence: They must be the party of accountability and reform.

The pollsters report that nearly two-thirds of the country now believes that America is heading in the wrong direction. The events of the past several weeks offer a devastating argument for the Democrats of why that is so. With the Republicans in control of the executive and legislative branches, arrogance has become a way of life. In a series of widely disparate cases — from ignoring the ethics problems of former House majority leader Tom DeLay to refusing recommendations to fire Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to covering up the egregious conduct of Rep. Mark Foley — the Republican leadership’s instinct has been political self-protection rather than accountability and effective government.

The Democrats are talking about a culture of corruption in Washington, but what are they going to do about it? That’s the question Democrats should address over the next month if they want a mandate for change. If they win the House of Representatives, will the Democrats embark on a two-year binge of investigations and score-settling? Or will they get serious about solving the country’s problems?

The challenge for the Democrats, if they do triumph in November, will be to break out of the partisan straitjacket that constricts American politics. That has been the real inner demon of the Republicans — they appeared to care more about their party and its prerogatives than about the country’s welfare. The Democrats, in recent years, have drunk deep from that same poisoned chalice, and they need to stop.

The Democrats’ first priority next year should be ethics reforms that address the gross misconduct that surfaced in the DeLay and Jack Abramoff scandals. They should start by seeking GOP co-sponsorship for new legislation on lobbying and campaign finance. The Republicans will try to paint Democrats in the next Congress as liberal fanatics bent on revenge. The Democrats should answer with a spirit of bipartisanship — an offer to work with the Republicans on effective oversight of the executive branch and congressional reform. If a Democratic victory in November becomes an exercise in “payback,” the public rightly will be angry.

To see how far the Republicans have strayed from accountability, it’s useful to recall their response to the DeLay scandal. At every opportunity, they tried to evade, obstruct and bully. When the House ethics committee admonished DeLay in late 2004 for ethics violations, the GOP leaders stonewalled. First they changed the Republican caucus rules so that DeLay could remain as leader even if he was later indicted. The leaders were forced to back down on that one, but they then fired the conscientious Rep. Joel Hefley as chairman of the ethics committee and purged two other Republican members and several staffers. The effect was to gut the committee, which didn’t function at all during 2005.—Dawn/Washington Post Service

As oil price ebbs

THE decliner in the price of oil from its July peak of $78 per barrel has prompted relieved sighs among policymakers. Just a few months ago there were fears that expensive oil could simultaneously slow US growth and stoke inflation, resulting in the vexatious problem known as stagflation.

Today, cheaper fuel is rescuing consumers from at least part of the impact of falling home prices. Oil at around $60 per barrel is one reason the Dow Jones industrial average recently broke its record.

The relief should not distract from the central policy fact about oil, which is that the US government must do more to discourage consumption. The past year or so has vividly demonstrated the connection between surging oil demand and high prices on the one hand and noxious political trends on the other. High energy prices pumped money into the coffers of oil exporters such as Venezuela, Iran and Russia, emboldening their leaders to challenge the interests and values of the rich oil-importing democracies.

Back in the 1990s, Russia depended on western capital and made progress in embracing western democratic values. In this decade, by contrast, the boom in oil and natural gas prices has left Russia with a surplus of capital. Freed of any need to humour Western creditors, Russia’s leaders have hobbled democratic institutions at home and bullied democratic neighbours abroad.

Deflating petro-bullies is one good reason for the United States to reduce oil consumption and so bring oil prices down. Another reason is to reduce global warming, the evidence for which continues to strengthen.

Again, the past year or so has provided a revealing natural experiment: High prices began to curb sales of gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles and generated a flood of venture capital investment into alternative fuels such as ethanol made out of agricultural waste or grass. But with oil prices now down a bit, the commercial momentum behind energy conservation and alternative fuels may dissipate.

The policy challenge can be summed up this way: How do you keep oil prices low so as to deflate petro-bullies but simultaneously high so as to stimulate alternative fuels? The answer is taxation, which could mean specific levies on gasoline and other products or a more general carbon tax. Taxation would prompt cuts in consumption, which would lower the pretax price at which petro-bullies sell crude oil. Taxation would simultaneously boost the incentive for carmakers and venture capitalists to pursue energy conservation and alternative fuels.—The Washington Post