DAWN - Opinion; November 22, 2006

November 22, 2006


Cost of an extremist image

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

JUST as British Prime Minister Tony Blair was praising President Musharraf for his cooperation in the battle against terrorism and expressing optimism about the future of Pakistan-UK relations and that of Pakistan itself, the BBC was carrying stories about the new crackdown on illegal immigration to the UK.

It was perhaps incidental that the visual coverage of the story showed raids carried out on what appeared to be two South Asian restaurants and the arrest of two men who, despite the deliberate blurring of faces, were clearly South Asian — almost certainly Pakistani. This action is, of course, part of the campaign to curb illegal immigration to the UK where it is estimated that one in 19 workers is now a foreigner. It is not directed at immigrants from any one corner of the world.

It is, however, reasonable to assume that in implementing measures to arrest and deport illegal immigrants the officers involved will also take note of the MI5 assertion that there are 30 terror plots threatening the UK and that security service is keeping 1,600 individuals belonging to some 200 groups under surveillance. The MI5 chief added, “These plots often have linked back to Al Qaeda in Pakistan and through those links Al Qaeda gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale.”

Illegal migrants from Pakistan, who could be the conduits for such Al Qaeda “guidance”, are therefore bound to be priority targets in the newly intensified drive that Britain has launched. Illegal migration from Pakistan to the UK has been going on almost since Pakistan came into existence. This migration was driven entirely by economic considerations, and while there were frequent attempts to curb such migration, the British appeared to be ready to deal with it on a relatively humane basis, recognising that these migrants posed no security risks and could in many areas provide the low-wage workers that the British economy needed.

Now the UK’s policies are not only going to show zero tolerance for illegal migration from Pakistan but even the processing of papers of eligible family members of Pakistanis legally settled in the UK will take much longer than before as the MI5 ensures that they are not Al Qaeda adherents or sympathisers.

According to a news item, investigation by the US immigration and naturalisation service of fraud in visa applications by religious workers has led to 33 Pakistanis being apprehended in seven states this week on charges of entering the US posing as religious workers. Immigration officials confirmed that none of those arrested had any terrorist connections and were guilty only of visa fraud. But again, it is evident that the investigation of fraudulently obtained religious workers’ visas has focused on Muslims and particularly on Muslims from Pakistan.

In the United States too, it was known that every possible method — be it false papers or false degrees to obtain visas or the Mexican wetback route — was used by Pakistanis to get to the “land of opportunity” and that they were again driven by economic considerations. This illegal migration was again largely tolerated, because the US took pride in its “melting pot” philosophy and believed that those who were prepared to undertake such risks to get to the US would more likely than not become good productive citizens.

Much of the illegal traffic was from South and Central America but of the estimated two million illegal immigrants from other parts of the world Pakistanis were easily the largest or second largest. When an amnesty was declared in the late 1980s, if I recall correctly, no diplomatic office in Washington or New York was as busy as that of Pakistan in providing documents to the Pakistanis in the US who were seeking to avail themselves of the amnesty offer.

These Pakistanis were not doctors, engineers or otherwise qualified technocrats but rather villagers and small town dwellers who had sold their meagre assets to raise money for the human trafficker’s fee and had suffered innumerable hardships on finally getting to America and carving out for themselves a respectable life as taxi drivers, petrol pump operators or convenience store employees.

There were some heart-warming stories. I recall taking a taxi in New York and learning from the Pakistani driver speaking fluent English and Urdu that having landed in New York 10 years ago he had in the last three years accumulated enough to pay the $200,000 that a taxi medallion cost at that time in New York. His stay in the US had, in the meanwhile, been regularised, his immediate family had joined him and his son was now an aspirant for admission to an American medical college.

His point in telling me the story was that if his son did not get admission in an American medical college he wanted my assistance in getting him into a Pakistani medical college. This I promised but it was not needed. The son was brilliant and secured admission in one of the best medical colleges in a nearby state.

It is these Pakistanis who provide the bulk of the remittances that help to bridge the gap between our stagnating exports and our burgeoning imports. When I was in the US, it was to these Pakistanis and their children along with Pakistani doctors, engineers and IT experts that I looked to sustain the “Pakistan lobby”. It was to these Pakistanis that I appealed when we were looking for “overseas Pakistanis’” investment in Pakistan. Now it appears less and less likely that there will be a way for such people to get to America or to be allowed to stay if they do manage to get there.

During the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistani officials had many discussions with the Americans about identifying the common interests that would sustain Pakistan-US relations once the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan had been achieved. It was recognised that apart from Afghanistan there were from the American perspective no strategic or economic interests that could form the basis for ties where Pakistan would be seeking assurances of American support for the preservation of its territorial integrity and economic development. There were, in fact, differences on Pakistan’s pursuit of the nuclear weapons option, and less importantly, on the nature of its internal polity.

Pakistan tried to push the idea and secured some measure of American assent that with its intimate connections with the Gulf countries, it could be a secure “bastion” that would “irradiate stability” to this area which was of vital economic interest to the West and in which signs of turbulence were beginning to appear following the Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq war.

Ironically, it was Pakistan where these events had the most effect as it was converted, with help from well-financed local extremists and a conniving state apparatus, into the secondary Iran-Arab battlefield. Today it would not be an exaggeration to say that the rulers of the Gulf states expect an “irradiation of instability and extremism” from Pakistan and have placed severe restrictions on the import of labour from Pakistan.

Today in the drawing rooms of Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore the talk is of the difficulty in getting visas for Europe, UK and the US and consternation at the fact that even “friendly” Muslim and Third World countries now look askance at Pakistani visa applications. Their concerns are genuine and significant but what is more important from Pakistan’s overall perspective is the limitations that Pakistani workers face in getting work visas or in arranging illegal immigration.

We make much of the fact that our human resource is our greatest asset and that we will increase our spending on education and health to ensure that this asset is well-prepared. But this will require far greater access to the sources of knowledge in the West than will be available to us if our image continues to be that of an extremist people intent on spreading a destructive ideology.

Also 45 per cent of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 15 and, therefore, almost three million to 3.2 million among the Pakistani youth turn 16 and enter the job market every year. Even if we exclude a large number of females and take retirement into account it would appear that Pakistan needs to generate some 1.5 million to two million jobs a year. This is well beyond the capacity of the Pakistan economy in which much of the current growth is coming from the capital intensive or knowledge intensive sectors. These generate high paying jobs but far too few of them. Employment abroad, even though it represents a lamentable drain of brain and brawn, is an inescapable need if a modicum of stability is to be maintained in a society where disaffected youth are an easy prey for all kinds of nefarious activities.

One can partly agree with President Musharraf’s contention that the Taliban problem is an Afghan one and that “its solution lies in what we do in Afghanistan and not in Pakistan. The war has to be won on the Afghan side.” But the fight against the elements who support the Taliban in Pakistan has to be waged more vigorously, not for the sake of Afghan stability but for Pakistan’s own well-being, perhaps even survival. President Musharraf may be right in claiming that we are the only country that is fighting this battle on all fronts “military action, reconstruction, political settlements, etc”. He may also be right in claiming that one can wage this battle successfully only if one’s strategy takes the environment into account.

The problem is that there are yawning gaps in this strategy particularly along the border with Afghanistan in Balochistan. We can dismiss as unfounded and even scurrilous the charges by President Karzai and anonymous British commanders in Afghanistan that the Taliban headquarters and training camps are in Quetta. But surely we must acknowledge that the refugee camps along this border and the daily crossing of 30,000 to 40,000 persons from Chaman into Afghanistan and the virtually untrammelled smuggling along this border provide ample opportunity for the Taliban to use Pakistani soil as a base for their activities in Afghanistan.

Can we not, for the sake of a moderate and tolerant Pakistani polity and for assuaging Baloch nationalist concerns, take steps in cooperation with the international community to shift these refugee camps across the border? (Baloch nationalists claim that not only do the refugees take away scarce jobs from the locals, they also upset the Baloch-Pukhtun demographic balance). This plus a stricter check on border crossings at the regular border posts at Chaman and elsewhere should be made part of our strategy in the sure knowledge that this is fully in accord with what the environment requires.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

School adopters in a dilemma

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE adopt-a-school project launched by the Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) under its dynamic managing director, Prof Anita Ghulam Ali, in 1997 faces a dilemma.

Having peaked in 2004 when 251 schools enjoyed the benefits of sponsorship, the scheme now has only 150 institutions in its fold. Having shown that a public-private partnership in education can work, the adopt-a-school system has opened the way for others to follow suit.

There are a number of adoption schemes now in vogue at multiple tiers. For instance, there are schools that are adopted by private individuals and still have their links with the SEF. There are other schools that have been adopted with encouragement from the Sindh education department that has created partnerships to ease its own financial burden — the private sector enters the scheme to pay for the adopted school’s physical infrastructure.

Others have found adopters through the courtesy of the local government or even the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy. Now the FPCCI has also entered the scene and has promised to improve the physical infrastructure of 50 schools, though they seemed reluctant to use the word “adopt” for their project. This is at the behest of the city government of Karachi.

Ms Ghulam Ali is happy that there is much public interest in the school adoption idea that has caught on and is providing some benefits to the education sector.

But what is worrying — and she agrees with my concern — is that the underlying goal of the adopt-a-school scheme has not always been kept in view. When Ms Ghulam Ali had conceptualised the project, she had expected private citizens who adopted a government school to not only provide financial resources to improve its physical infrastructure but also to play a role in the supervision and monitoring of its management and functioning.

Some of the sponsors had been so motivated that they would make it a point to visit their adopted school regularly to keep an eye on its working. If they felt that the staff strength was not adequate they even paid the salary of a teacher. Others arranged for training workshops for the teachers to improve their performance. True, there was friction — the schools with lax and corrupt managements resented this intrusion and tried to resist it. But in those days, the schools came under the jurisdiction of the Sindh education department, and in spite of all its failings, the department did not ignore the sponsors if they brought wrong practices of teachers and principals to the notice of the authorities.

With devolution and the restructuring of the local bodies system, the organisation and management of the schools has been transformed and not necessarily for the better. Today, the education department’s job is restricted to that of policymaking. The supervision and inspection roles have been transferred to the executive district officer, education, (EDO) who has usually been co-opted from the education department but works under the city government. Previously, the education department would post its own officer in every district to supervise the schools.

This has caused the working of educational institutions to be undermined. According to Ms Ghulam Ali, the education sector is totally politicised now with the EDO reporting to a number of officials. In effect, he is caught in a tug of war between the education secretariat of the government of Sindh, the nazims of the town governments, the district coordination officer (previously the district commissioner) and the DPO who is a police officer. One can visualise the impact of this struggle for power and influence on the adopter who is supposed to be supervising the schools and improving their quality. As a result, the adopters are now spending mostly on bricks and mortar.

Previously, the SEF had developed a system of accountability in the schools’ management by strengthening the school management committees (SMC) that are mandatory under the law. But with the politicisation inherent in devolution, the SMCs found their functioning hampered and in due course these committees were rendered ineffective. The interference by the nazims became intolerable and the community — represented by the parents — that was supposed to be the backbone of the SMC system lost interest and drifted away.

As a result, the adopters have also begun to pull out. Until last year, when Mr Naimatullah Khan was the city nazim of Karachi and was responsive to the SEF’s calls — at least verbally — Ms Ghulam Ali tried desperately hard to stem the slide. She would convey the adopters’ complaints to the nazim in no uncertain language, but to no avail. Her letters were hard hitting and one of them even stated “the condition in schools is deteriorating by the day and the quality of education is reaching irretrievable depths.”

The city district government of Karachi under the MQM has ignored the SEF’s position on the adopted schools. The latest sponsor to pull out is Azra Karrar, the executive trustee of Helping Hands Trust. Her husband, Haider Karrar, the son of Prof Karrar Husain, had adopted the Government Boys’ Secondary School, Nazimabad #2, in 2001. The trust raised Rs 15,00,000 in donations and spent it on cleaning the premises and building a boundary wall. More importantly, a computer lab was set up and the school library was renovated and equipped. A librarian and a computer instructor were employed. The students were given a medical check-up and 118 teachers were sent to training workshops. A full time education adviser was appointed to oversee the working of the school.

The school had begun to revive and enrolment was going up. All the effort and money have gone waste because Azra Karrar feels that “due to the non-cooperation of the directly related stakeholders, no substantial work” could be done in the school for a year. She decided to pull out when her pleas evoked no response. If things continue as at present, more adopters will withdraw.

This would be a deadly blow to education in Sindh. The fact is that financial constraints are no longer the first problem of the education sector at the macro level. With funds flowing in so generously — the country’s education budget jumped up to Rs 163 billion in 2005-06 — one can hardly complain that the education department’s hands are tied due to lack of financial resources. It is management and supervision that is lacking. Having fallen victim to widespread corruption at all levels, the education authorities have failed to ensure efficiency and conscientiousness in the working of the school system. Accountability is minimal. The SEF-sponsored adopters were at least providing this to a certain level.

The only light at the end of the tunnel is the SEF’s research project to “re-envision the adopt-a-school system”. Since July, the foundation has been investigating the working of public-private partnerships in education in our environment. According to the director of the Foundation, Mashhood Rizvi, his team is studying “the various forms of adoption and what would be the best way forward”. The FPCC&I is also trying to devise a workable approach with the city district government. Whether a feasible approach will be found we will have to wait and see. But this is clear that in the ultimate analysis the government will have to take responsibility for the successful working of the education sector.

Poisonous relations

COLD WAR cliches spring easily to mind — perhaps too easily — in connection with the extraordinary story of the Russian defector who has been poisoned in London. The known facts are that Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-officer of the Federal Security Service (the successor organisation of the KGB), is gravely ill after reportedly investigating the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who worked to uncover the truth about torture in Chechnya.

Mr Litvinenko faced charges at home after alleging that he had been ordered to kill the tycoon Boris Berezovsky. Later, from his British exile, he claimed that his former colleagues orchestrated bombings in Russia that killed 300 people but which were officially blamed on Chechen separatists. He is not a popular man in Moscow. The Kremlin has denied any involvement. The rest is purely speculation.

What is not in dispute is that there is a readiness in the West to believe the worst about Vladimir Putin’s government. Half of all Britons and more than 60 per cent of French people think badly of Russia — and with good reason: the erosion of basic freedoms

and the rule of law are regrettable hallmarks of Mr Putin’s “managed” or “sovereign” democracy.

Foreigners worry about Russia’s tightening grip on the energy sector, and its bad habit of bullying and intervening in countries such as Ukraine and Georgia in the old Soviet “near abroad”.

—The Guardian, London

Beware of forests

By Hafizur Rahman

THE provocation for this piece is provided by a write-up in a Lahore Urdu daily, though it has been expedited by a letter to the editor of an English daily of Lahore captioned: “Never go near Chhanga Manga.”

The writer of the letter was thoroughly disgusted by the lack of charm in the place, but since there are other possibilities too in that forest I hope to make him change his mind about it, especially if he can go there without his family.

The write-up in the newspaper reminded me of the popular Urdu couplet which may be translated as thus: “Don’t let the honey-bee go into the garden for it will mean the death of the moth.” The explanation, as given by the poet himself, was: “If the bee goes into the garden, it will suck the nectar from the flowers. From the nectar it will get the honey. From the wax in the honey will be made the candle which, when it burns, will attract the moth and be its undoing.”

Something of the same sort, the same fear and apprehension has been expressed by the writer about tree plantations. These plantations, he says, grow up and develop into huge forests. If they are near a city they become pleasure resorts for all kinds of people. To such places the young are invariably drawn. And when the young are both boys and girls roaming together, romance and immorality must rear their head and lead to objectionable consequences.

You may have noticed that most of our Urdu dailies are not in favour of romance. In fact they positively frown at it and gleefully publish stories about couples caught by the police “in suspicious circumstances.” They believe that if young (unmarried) couples cavort around huge trees in forests, it will inevitably lead to destruction of the nation’s moral fibre. Next time you read a message by the president or the prime minister exhorting people to grow more trees, do keep that Lahore newspaper’s warning in mind. Don’t just be carried away by such messages and start planting saplings all over the place.

And even if you do go in for the slogan “plant more trees,” make sure that they are sufficiently spaced like the birth of children under family planning. Do not make a jungle of them or even a cluster or group, because otherwise you might be held guilty of spoiling the morals of our innocent youth be providing a place for clandestine love-making.

This newspaper ranks the huge man-made plantation of Chhanga Manga as the No. One criminal for furnishing a haven to love-sick young men and women (those who have somehow lost their morals) for their nefarious romancing. The paper’s special correspondent, in an effort to awaken the people of Punjab from their apathy, relates how he landed in this erstwhile scene of the first-ever horse-trading mart after the general elections of 1988 and what he learned there.

Of course, after nearly 17 years there were no relics of that grand political coup but the correspondent was lucky enough to come across Noor Muhammad, an old grass-cutter, who gave him the scoop of the year by throwing light on the dark deeds that go on in the huts and the luxuriant growth of Chhanga Manga. This was true journalistic enterprise. But hold on. Noor Muhammad and the correspondent were blaming Chhanga Manga for nothing.

Chhanga Manga didn’t materialise of its own. It is not a natural jungle but a man-made forest. The plot for undermining the morals of Punjabi youths was hatched not by the trees but by officials of the Forest Department who planted them and tended them, and that too during the days of the Raj. There was abetment too, by the Irrigation Department which provided a special canal to water the saplings. Who would have ever thought that responsible and staid public welfare departments would be indulging in this sort of evil venture, purposely creating an atmosphere of sexual permissiveness and depravity for boys and girls of the future.

Mian Nawaz Sharif made much of his achievements as chief minister of Punjab from 1988 to 1990 when he endeavoured to make the province safe for Islam by fighting immoral behaviour. But even he, that great missionary, could not purge Chhanga Manga of its unhealthy influence, its unethical atmosphere, and used the forest, immediately after the elections, to play hide and seek with the new MPAs and employed the dense undergrowth to pass on brand new brief cases to them. Brief cases full of you know what.

Actually what Mian sahib should have done was to clear Chhanga Manga of all trees that provide even a modicum of shade and shelter for unsavoury romantic escapades. In Pakistani movies, the hero and heroine need just one large tree to dance around and sing a love duet. But in actual life you need a lot of forest giants as a cover for illicit love-making. So there was no alternative but to wipe out the entire Chhanga Manga reserves if the young boys and girls of Lahore were to be saved.

But Mian Sahib did not do so although this would have added to his list of achievements. Sadly, on becoming prime minister he completely forgot Chhanga Manga and occupied himself with distributing brief cases.

Since then there have been many political regimes in Pakistan, some bad, some very bad. They had the chance of cleansing the area but did not avail themselves of it. I suppose we should not wait for a self-appointed iconoclast (the favourite redeemer of every Pakistan’s dreams is a second Salahuddin Ayubi) who can rid Punjab of this pernicious affliction. Since he is not likely to succeed with the sin-hardened men of the province he might as well start with trees.

It is strange how a person or a book or a newspaper suddenly draws your attention to an aspect of a matter that has so far remained hidden from you, and you start looking at it from an entirely new angle. This has been the case with me in respect of Chhanga Manga. I always took it as a harmless and rather boring picnic spot where you spent three or four hours and then you wanted to get away from it and go home.

But now my eyes have been opened to its romantic possibilities. I am thankful to the correspondent of that Lahore newspaper for letting me know the truth about this forest.