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DAWN - Editorial; October 24, 2006

October 24, 2006

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The rights and wrongs of Kargil

THE controversy touched off by President Musharraf’s claims about Kargil will never end because no independent inquiry has been conducted on the episode and there is no way of knowing the truth. The versions presented by different parties who had a say in the events of May-July 1999, however, lead to one undisputed conclusion. The military action was planned primarily by the army (supposedly taking the civilian government on board), while the move to bring it to an end through the good offices of the Americans was basically made by the Nawaz Sharif government. The two actors in the drama are now arguing about the various developments to justify their own policy decisions. Each is also trying to put the blame on the other for what the world sees as a “fiasco” for Pakistan. Now that a clearer picture is emerging of the military and diplomatic events that preceded the ceasefire in July 1999, it is a pity that the central issues are being glossed over. These pertain to the question: who has the final authority to take the country to war or agree to a ceasefire — the army or the civilian government? Should war and peace be seen through the narrow prism of military strategy, victory and defeat or does it call for a broader perspective of international politics and diplomacy for judging such issues? In the current debate on who was right and who was wrong, these fundamental points are being missed out.

The fact of the matter is that in any democracy, which is ruled by a constitutionally elected government, the armed forces are required to accept a subordinate position to the civilian government. It is the executive and the parliament that are entrusted with the responsibility of taking decisions on war and peace. As the chosen representatives of the people, they are better placed to decide when the country needs to take up arms in pursuit of its national goals — mainly to safeguard its national security. Also, it is the government which has to bear the consequences of a decision to go to war. Besides, as we have learnt from our own history, war has grave repercussions. It leads to loss of human life and involves economic destruction which is not always easy to justify. As for the political effects, only an irresponsible government would not weigh the pros and cons of a military action that could leave it isolated in an increasingly globalised world.

True, governments do take calculated risks but these must be hedged by an intelligent understanding of history, geography and world affairs. In the case of Kargil, one can only guess what would have happened if the military operations had continued. We may not dispute President Musharraf’s contention that the army was in an “optimistic military situation”. But for how long could the military have held on to the heights? Was not there the danger of a wider war with India as had happened in 1965? The political pressures and the diplomatic isolation the country had to face in the wake of Kargil were not something to be ignored either. What needs to be determined with the benefit of hindsight is whether it was right to start military action at all that would inevitably require a ceasefire under foreign pressure. All this called for a higher order of statesmanship that was missing. As for the army taking the decision, French statesman Georges Clemenceau was right when he said, “War is much too serious a matter to be entrusted to the military.”

A wise decision

THE Supreme Court’s decision to cancel the allotment of land in Gwadar made to those who are among the privileged deserves to be welcomed. Those affected by Friday’s decision include parliamentarians, civilian bureaucrats and serving and retired members of the judiciary. In what can be called a precedent-making verdict, the apex court has declared that the Balochistan government was not “competent” to allocate land quotas for politicians, ministers, MNAs, MPAs, senators and retired members of the judiciary, because the provincial government did not have a proper law on the subject. Instead, it has directed the Balochistan government to formulate “a transparent and fair policy” for the allotment and disposal of land in Gwadar. In the absence of such a policy, the court has ruled that all land transfers and sales in Gwadar had been made in “a dubious and suspicious manner”. What has happened in Gwadar is not something peculiar to that fast-developing port alone; the disposal of state land in a questionable manner bordering on corruption is a countrywide phenomenon. All governments have practised it brazenly and with impunity.

As a matter of principle, all state land must be auctioned and sold, and balloting held for housing projects. If at all there are to be quotas, they should be reserved for society’s deprived and underprivileged sections. Instead, in what can only be called a gross violation of the basic principles of social justice and egalitarianism, governments have been allotting prized lands to the rich and the well-to-do at throwaway prices. This is in addition to the grant of land to the rulers’ friends and favourites. While this form of favouritism is outright wrong, even heroes and individuals of brilliance can be rewarded in some other way instead of giving them a piece of land. The apex court’s decision is something that the other provincial governments and the federal authorities should take note of. Land allotments have been a source of corruption, and the callous disposal of state land in a manner that favours the privileged classes has widened the gulf between the rich and the poor and has been a source of land speculation and soaring real estate prices.

Fear of a dengue epidemic

WITH Islamabad/ Rawalpindi confirming eight cases of dengue fever on Sunday, there is now a widespread fear of a national epidemic. This calls for the federal health authorities’ urgent attention as the number of patients is increasing; the death toll in Sindh reached 23 on Sunday while one woman has died in Chakwal. The World Health Organisation says that the number of dengue cases is increasing every year as the disease spreads to new countries and causes alarming outbreaks. With each occurrence of an annual outbreak, more people are likely to be affected in Sindh and even the north of the country. This requires a vigorous campaign to curb the spread of the deadly mosquitoes. Sri Lanka was able to reduce the number of dengue cases in just one year — from 15,365 cases in 2004 to 3,000 in 2005 thanks largely to its effective awareness campaign. Pakistan too will have to follow suit if it is to curb annual outbreaks which are likely to gather strength over time. It will have to conduct effective fumigation drives after the monsoons in Sindh and ensure that the rest of the country follows suit. The media has played an effective role in raising awareness of the disease, which is perhaps why more people are going to hospitals in time to screen themselves and seek treatment.

Despite the Sindh and Karachi authorities stating that they are taking stringent steps to deal with the situation, there is much criticism that they have been slow to take preventive action. The affluent are ordering fumigation in their homes and schools but the poor who cannot afford such services are reliant on the government which must step up its fumigation campaigns. The Punjab government, which has admitted to being caught unawares by the spread of dengue fever, must brace itself for any eventuality of an outbreak and take all necessary steps to contain the disease.

A charter for Christian, Muslim harmony

By Dr Arif Alvi


IN a recent lecture in Germany, Pope Benedict angered the already seething Muslim population of the world by his remarks when he quoted a Byzantine emperor in a 1391 dialogue who said that “show me just what Mohammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

Pope Benedict insists that it is necessary to open a discussion on what Christianity interprets as forceful conversion and a tendency towards violence in Islam.

The Australian prime minister, John Howard, supporting the pope reinforced the same stating that he did not “note terrorist groups killing people and invoking the authority of the Church”. True, but he ignores an increasing cascade of revelations and evidence highlighting the neo-con religious movement whose radical ideas seem to be the hidden reason behind many orchestrated wars in the Middle East including the most brutal one in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands have died in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan to ensure among other things, the safety of Israel, a scenario which fits in well with the apocalyptical belief of the neo-conservatives of a “Greater Israel as a necessary precursor to the arrival of the Great Messiah”.

Historically the reaction of people under suppression is universal whatever their faith or colour. To demand “servility” and “renunciation of armed resistance” to brutal state suppression will never allow a constructive resolution of the conflict. No number of killings or ghettoisation over the centuries was able to exterminate the Jewish people or their faith. Neither would the wanton brutality and destruction in the Muslim world result in acceptance of the unfair, or a rewriting of Islamic religious doctrine.

Christians and Muslims are drifting apart but I believe a very important historical document exists today which can provide the foundation for an understanding between the two. This treasure has been preserved in the obscure reaches of the Sinai peninsula in the Monastery of St Catherine, located in a triangular area between the Desert of El-Tih, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba.

The history of this place goes as far back as Moses. The Book of Exodus describes that one day, Moses, while tending sheep, saw a burning bush and as he came closer he discovered that the bush was on fire, but the flames did not consume it. God then spoke from the bush and said that “I am your father’s God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”, and ordered Moses to speak to the pharaoh, because God had “heard the people’s cries”. Helena, the mother of Constantine I, in 330AD built a chapel on the site and later Emperor Justinian around 540AD constructed a monastery which came to be known as the Monastery of St Catherine.

The fathers of the monastery visited Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in Medina in 625AD and requested protection. Apparently, the request was favourably granted and the so-called Ahitname (which is a Latinised version of the noun “Ahed-nama”), or “immunity covenant” was sent to them by Prophet Mohammed himself in 628AD. The historic document states as under:

“This is a message from Mohammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.

“No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.

“No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

“No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.

“Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (of Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

The English translation has been taken from the book Muslim History: 570 - 1950CE written by Akram Zahoor.

The “phobia” of Islam in the West unfortunately helps to mask the crimes perpetrated by a so-called “civilisation under threat”. The semantics of this struggle and the terminology used to describe these fears serve to raise the level of reaction to that of a “brutal war against terror” where the foe is debased to the sub-human level, not to be covered even by the Geneva Convention.

Writers like the late Oriana Fallaci became fierce, even apocalyptic, critics of Islam. Ms Fallaci feared that the unassimilated and inassimilable Muslim immigrants in the West whom she called “invaders” were turning Europe into “a colony of Islam” or “Eurabia”. In her book The Force of Reason published in 2004 she elaborated in great detail and attempted to cloak all such prejudices with a now familiar pseudo-rationality. For a people or a religion to be banished or ostracised, vilification is necessary. Sections of the media and writers throughout the Christian world are doing so with dangerous abandon, almost oblivious to the damage they are doing to the ideals of the very civilisation they themselves have nurtured over the past centuries. It now seems that the Church too is not impervious to these prejudices.

Interestingly, when Ms Fallaci was asked by Tunku Varadarajan, the editor of The Wall Street Journal, whether there was any contemporary leader she admired, she replied there were two. She said that Pope Benedict XVI was a man in whom she reposed some trust. “I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a pope think the same things (in her assessment of a Muslim invasion which needed to be resisted) there must be something true”.

This was long before the pope made his speech on “Faith and Reason” (a title similar to Ms Fallaci’s book). The other person she said she admired was George Bush who had the “vigour” to do something. After her death Bush introduced the term “Islamofascism” which Ms Fallaci uses frequently in her own book. But it was “Ratzinger”, as she insisted on calling the pope, who she said was her “ultimate soulmate”.

Strange indeed. Too many coincidences in this nexus to call the pope’s speech purely an innocent attempt for dialogue and as Tariq Ali very aptly says in Counterpunch “the Bavarian is a razor-sharp reactionary cleric. I think he knew what he was saying and why. In a neo-liberal world suffering from environmental degradation, poverty, hunger, repression, and in a planet of slums, the pope chooses to insult the founder of a rival faith”. By disparaging Islam as evil and inhuman before 250,000 onlookers and the world press, and then talk about a genuine dialogue between cultures is naive indeed.

The Monastery of St Catherine in Sinai, which also contains a mosque within its walls, seems to have the key to bringing Islam and Christianity together. The Covenant of Mohammad for followers of the Christian faith could be the healer so desperately needed. I wish Pope Benedict XVI had looked at history, particularly that recorded by the Church itself, through a fair light before he made his speech casting aspersions on the rationality and the spread of Islam. The revolutionary aspect of this document is that it is 1,500 years old, when there were no laws, no democracy, and no human rights. It is an excellent charter for the protection of Christians and minorities living under Islamic rule and would help the world understand this religion of peace.

Saving the whales, again

THE Icelandic word hvalreki means both “beached whale” and “jackpot.” This gives you a sense of how dearly the island country views its cetaceans. For centuries, whales have been a huge source of national and gustatory pride.

Nonetheless, Iceland has mostly adhered to a 2-decade-old global ban on commercial whaling. Until last week, that is, when the country announced that it would immediately resume hunting whales. Everyone from Greenpeace to the Bush administration has rightly condemned the move, and Iceland should reverse its irresponsible decision before doing irreversible harm.

But that alone won’t protect the world’s whales. For that, we’ll need one of two things: a real regulatory system for whaling that environmentalists and whale-hunting nations can agree on, or an outright worldwide ban on hunting whales. What this week’s news shows is that the current system — an undefined temporary ban — isn’t feasible anymore. Whales have been an environmental icon for decades, ever since Greenpeace activists began storming whaling boats.

—Los Angeles Times