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DAWN - Opinion; December 04, 2006

December 04, 2006

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Important mission to Kabul

By Tanvir Ahmad Khan


CONFRONTED with plunging popularity ratings and escalating calls to disengage from Afghanistan, Nato politicians are increasingly being forced to make claims of success that the situation on the ground does not substantiate. This disconnect lies at the heart of the unreality that hung over the deliberations on the Afghan situation at the just concluded Nato summit.

Perhaps it also explains why virtually all other participants in the Nato military project in that embattled land paid only lip service to the joint US-UK demand to remove the “caveats” inhibiting their forthright commitment to combat and why the Nato force in the south of the country would remain woefully unequal to the task facing it.

When Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri lands in Kabul, he would probably be given yet another recital of the theme song that the Afghan people are still brimming over with gratitude for deliverance from the mediaeval Taliban, for the historic emancipation of women, for the democratic institutions that sprang up in the wake of the Bonn accord and for billions poured into reconstruction. This will happen notwithstanding his own better knowledge as there is no other narrative to sell and, as General Orakzai observed, there is no inclination to admit failures. The adversary would still be described as a small minority of extremists afraid of democracy and modernity.

Unfortunately, the Afghan project has gone haywire, a tragedy that future historians may well trace to the decisions taken in the winter of 2005, especially the one that set up a physical extermination of very loosely defined Taliban as a pre-requisite for the nobler battle for the hearts and minds of the people. As the war flared up again, a perceptible change occurred in the attitude of Pushtuns towards the student warriors.

For a variety of reasons which went beyond ethnic solidarity, they started providing support to them investing the resistance with a quasi-national character. It started being metamorphosed into a struggle for personal survival as well as for the integrity of the Afghan state endangered by foreigners increasingly seen as indifferent and untrustworthy.

In September this year, the Senlis Council broke rank with the western governments and sounded the alarm that Afghans were starving to death and that there was evidence (apparently collected by its mission in Kabul) that poverty was driving support for the Taliban. Its report reminded the world that since 2002, the intervening countries had spent less than eight billion dollars on development and 11 times that amount on military operations. The post-invasion period had seen a fresh displacement of Afghans, a tragic process the beginning of which I witnessed with horror as the Marxist Saur revolution established its writ on an unwilling populace in the late 1970s.

This was not the only testament to the grave lapses in rehabilitating a country ravaged by decades of conflict dramatised in the end-game by daisy cutters. Fariba Nawa, an Afghan expatriate in the West, returned to her motherland to help implement the reconstruction plans. In a moving report published by her in the Sunday Times under the title “How the West short-changed Afghanistan”, she lamented that one in four children still died before the age of five, 3.5 million Afghans relied on food rations, four million people in Kabul still did not have access to reliable services such as water and electricity, people all over the country sought medical assistance from private clinics with phony doctors and fake medicines.

No less disturbing was her expose of how military necessity determined priorities in the rehabilitation of the infrastructure and how shoddy workmanship provided by foreign firms harvesting quick profits led to an astonishingly early decay of executed projects. She challenged Donald Rumsfeld’s list of achievements by pointing out that hundreds of schools had been shut down or burnt in 2006, the multinational companies were confined to secure areas that were quickly becoming unstable and the 49 per cent increase in poppy production was the likely reason why the Afghan economy had grown by the factor claimed by Rumsfeld.

While a westernised Afghan woman thus mourned the trials and tribulations of her nation, President Bush asserted that because of “our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan women were no longer imprisoned in their homes” and they could listen to music. Nero’s fiddle is alive and well.

Rumsfeld fell within hours of the Republican electoral defeat but the dogs of war he unleashed remain unchecked. Tony Blair seeks to dampen the peace movement by telling an audience in Copenhagen on the eve of the Riga summit that Nato’s credibility was at stake and if it did not succeed in Afghanistan “the whole of our world will be less secure”. He was not simply brushing aside the traditional peaceniks but also military professionals like General the Lord Guthrie who described the discarding of history, of Afghan psyche, of terrain in committing British troops to offensives in the southern provinces as “cuckoo”.

The Riga summit of the 26- nation Nato grappled, albeit unsuccessfully, with force deficits in Afghanistan but yielded little evidence that the United States and the United Kingdom which have been driving its expansionist mission have had any significant second thoughts on transforming the alliance into a global strong arm of their security policies. Their sights are still set on horizons far beyond the already considerably extended frontiers of its power and influence.

Now, the organisation will create a 20,000-strong Nato Response Force (NRF) capable of intervention at a mere five-day notice. It will be naturally backed by 2.4 million men under arms in member states. No territorial limits have been set and the alliance virtually contemplates a global role The role envisaged for Australia and New Zealand highlights the implications for the Asian continent, especially the Middle East, lying to the east of Nato’s present rim provided by Turkey.

One hopes that in his discussions in Kabul, the Pakistani foreign minister would give due weight to the professional assessment of NWFP’s governor General Orakzai who has recently made the telling observation that Nato and the Afghan government were closing their eyes to the reality that a military-based strategy was making matters worse and that Nato would need 50,000 additional troops for a military victory. Having squabbled over a mere 2,400-troop addition to the actual combat, it is high time that the alliance turns to alternative strategies of prioritising reconstruction over those that would spill more blood and exacerbate the condition of the Afghan people.

Mr Armitage whose blunt talking launched Pakistan in his president’s war on terror, more recently renamed war against Islamofascism, considers Afghanistan as more important than Iraq because failure there would destabilise Pakistan and then, indirectly India. If this is a serious and responsible reading of international security, Pakistan would do well to put on the table its own distinctive perspective on a country with which it has, for good or bad, remained engaged for 59 years.

Speaking candidly, Pakistan should seek at least a partial restoration of both regionalism and bilateralism in addressing issues in Afghanistan. This means taking the country out of the global agenda in which the neo-conservative strategic thinkers had set the invasion five years ago. There is universal agreement that Afghanistan should never become a hotbed of terrorism again and for this purpose, it should be generously assisted by the international community. What is debatable is if the present policies at all advance that objective. A dispassionate analysis would warrant going back to the drawing board with a more humanitarian and disinterested agenda.

There is need to enhance the role of the United Nations. A regional conference where Nato is present as a ground reality and not in pursuit of a global military role may still be the best option to make sure that the beleaguered Afghans are free to make their own sovereign decisions. It is a conference where states bordering on Afghanistan are joined by China, India, Russia and Japan. Above all, a freshly defined bilateralism that President Karzai truly subscribes to and can sell to his “Northern Alliance” partners — and stakeholders — is needed to give cooperation with Pakistan substance.

There is no point in recommending early jirgas, as is frequently done by contributors to these columns, unless there is a clear and comprehensive vision of where they fit into the larger design for Afghanistan and the region. Mr Kasuri will do well by both the countries if he were to spell out this vision in strategic rather than tactical terms. The objective is peace and development and not a transient edge in futile fighting. The little increments in fire power that the Riga summit seems to have focused on can prolong the conflict for a generation or more as often contemplated by some western leaders but will not bring stability and order to a much troubled world.

The writer, a former foreign secretary, has served in Afghanistan.

Abandoning Iraq to save it

By Rosa Brooks


CONDITIONS in Iraq grow more appalling each day, and a substantial majority of Iraqis now believe that the continued presence of US troops is a major cause of the ongoing carnage. Despite this, supporters of the Bush administration continue to insist that if we withdraw US troops, we’ll be “abandoning” Iraq.

“Abandoning” Iraq to what, exactly? To civil war? Iraq already has that, thanks in large part to us. Maybe things will get worse if we leave — but maybe our departure is the only thing that can save Iraq. The Iraqis think they’ll be better off without us.

The US does have a deep responsibility to aid the Iraqis. But let’s talk about what is, and isn’t, “abandonment.” Invading Iraq without a plan for protecting crucial infrastructure and civilian lives was a form of abandonment.

Failing to complete — or even begin — most of the reconstruction projects we promised was a form of abandonment. Taking such a heavy-handed approach to combating insurgents that thousands of civilian deaths were written off as “collateral damage” was a form of abandonment. Refusing to engage with Iran and Syria, the two regional powers whose cooperation is most crucial to slowing the violence, is a form of abandonment. Most of all, keeping 140,000 US troops in Iraq when their presence is only making things worse is a form of abandonment.

If we’re serious about helping the Iraqi people, there are still some things we can do. For a start, we should withdraw US combat troops from Iraq — something the bipartisan Iraq Study Group appears likely to recommend.

That doesn’t mean there’s no longer any role for the US military. In the shorter term (the next six months to a year), redeploying some US troops to secure Iraq’s borders might diminish the likelihood that Iraq’s civil war will morph into a full-scale proxy war among regional powers. Similarly, US military advisors should continue to provide training to the Iraqi army and police in the shorter term, but such programmes need to be constantly reassessed to make sure that the Iraqis we’re working with don’t simply become US-trained members of ethnic death squads.

At this point, though, most of what we can do for Iraq won’t directly involve the US military. In a May 2006 report written for the Centre for American Progress, Lawrence Korb and Brian Katulis call for the US to help organize an international peace conference on Iraq, bringing together Iraqi government and militia leaders, along with representatives of key neighbouring states, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria and Iran. The goal: get leaders of the various rival factions to hammer out a cease-fire agreement, an agreement on federalism and division of resources, a timetable for disbanding the militias and, perhaps, agreement on a regional or international force to help keep the peace.

Such a conference — modelled on the 1995 Dayton conference that ended the war in Bosnia — wouldn’t produce pretty results. But in Iraq, as in Bosnia, even an imperfect peace would be better than ongoing carnage.

We should also redouble the US commitment to Iraqi reconstruction. Though our credibility in the region is shot, our money could still help make things better, and we should push other donor states to pony up as well. A genuine international commitment to Iraqi reconstruction — job creation, the restoration of basic services such as electricity and healthcare and support for civil society and honest, effective local government could help give Iraqis the motivation to pull together. If we don’t want our financial help to be seen as poisonous, though, we need to let the United Nations or a regional entity administer the funds (sorry, Halliburton).

But the next year is likely to be bad for Iraqis, no matter what. So what about those Iraqis who would rather not hang around, ducking suicide bombers and hoping things will get better?

The least we can do is make it easier for them to get out of Iraq — starting now. We should encourage neighbours such as Jordan to welcome refugees — and, as George Packer insists in this week’s New Republic, we should make Iraqi refugees welcome in the US.

Last year, Packer reports, the US quota for Iraqi refugees was fewer than 200, and our Baghdad embassy doesn’t even issue visas. The administration should grant temporary protected status in the US to Iraqis fleeing the civil war. And, as Packer warns, we should get ready now with “contingency plans for massive airlifts and ground escorts” for the most vulnerable Iraqis, in case the worst happens.

“We had to destroy the village in order to save it,” an Army officer reportedly said during the Vietnam War. With so many dead, and so many Iraqis calling on us to leave, insisting that the withdrawal of US troops is “abandoning” Iraq comes to much the same thing.

—Dawn/Los Angeles Times Service

Urban renaissance

By Richard Rogers


AFTER a century in which cities were treated as problems — dirty, crowded, dangerous — the 1997 general election marked a turning point with a new government that saw cities as the only sustainable solution to the growing demand for housing.

There has been a measurable cultural shift — to an understanding that we need to use land better, and plan better, to sustain our cities. If you visit Manchester today, you can see tangible evidence of that change in the centre. Over 15 years the population has soared enormously, bringing life and pride back to one of Britain’s great urban centres.

But if you travel just a few blocks from revitalised city centres you can see shoddy housing and wasted land, which shows how many problems remain. Most worrying are the signs that the government is losing its nerve: that it is beginning to focus on quantity at the expense of quality.

The greatest danger is that the government might weaken its policy of giving priority to development on derelict brownfield sites. This sequential approach to land use is crucial to strengthening the social and economic vitality of the city and protecting the beauty of the countryside.

When you review the facts, there is no need to abandon a commitment to brownfield development. The total quantity of brownfield land has fallen by only three per cent over five years, and the housing capacity of the land that remains has actually grown by seven per cent. This supply could be boosted by more responsible use of publicly owned land, if the potential regeneration value of redundant military, NHS or rail property were taken into account. Focusing on market value alone seriously undermines our ability to regenerate cities.

Brownfield development will always be difficult, but there are other barriers to tackle. The fiscal framework for development also needs attention; it is no surprise that house builders are lobbying for access to greenfield sites when the development costs are so much lower. The government should review the fiscal framework to make the true costs of greenfield and brownfield development more equitable.

Good urban design is about paying attention to the spaces between buildings as well as the buildings themselves. Well-designed streets, parks, squares and pavements are the scene for the synthesis of urban life. If you make streets attractive to passersby, then you enhance quality of life and security: busy streets police themselves. Citizens should be able to enjoy well-designed public spaces at all scales, from small quiet gardens to squares, parks and countryside easily accessible on foot or public transport.

We can all recognise beautiful family-friendly neighbourhoods, be they leafy Georgian terraces or the new waterfront developments in Amsterdam and Barcelona. We must all ask why we cannot aspire to this quality of development for all. Architecture is not just aesthetic; it has social, moral and political dimensions. Badly planned and maintained spaces and buildings play an important part in brutalising people.

Urban renaissance needs to spread out beyond our city centres. Most of our city-centre population growth consists of young and single people. To draw families back to cities, we need to create beautiful and family-friendly suburbs too. Architects and planners have often neglected, or even derided, suburbs.

They may lack the urban vitality and mix many of us enjoy, but they provide a quieter, greener environment for families and can enhance the mix of housing that a city can offer. The best suburbs - linked to the city by good public transport - already offer a model for a different style of environmentally sustainable urban living. We need to bring all of them up to this standard, through intensification and new infrastructure.

But to make our suburbs work, you need intelligent and design led planning. One only has to look at the dreadful suburban strip that stretches along the Mediterranean coast from the south of France to Spain and Italy, let alone the sprawl outside our own cities, to realise how important it is to use our planning laws intelligently, not to let rip.

The debate over use of greenfield and brownfield land is not really a debate about saving green space from development, but a debate about the future of our cities, about saving them from physical dereliction, social fragmentation and economic decline.

—Dawn/Guardian Service

Transparency in investment

By Syed Mohibullah Shah


EVERYONE agrees that Pakistan needs large and sustained inflows of quality investment to realise its dream of an economic take-off. It is equally true that controversies surrounding certain investment activities must be scrupulously avoided as these are counter-productive to the attainment of these objectives.

To begin with, those dealing with investment projects — whether political or bureaucratic functionaries — would do themselves a favour if they carefully go through the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on the privatisation of the Pakistan Steel Mills. Although that judgment came in response to some specific concerns about the manner in which the state-owned PSM was being privatised, the important principles laid down by the court in that judgment provide guidance for all investment decisions involving publicly owned assets — whether those assets are traded in the shape of mills and factories or agricultural and urban land.

Three important guidelines emerge from that first major judicial review of investment decisions. Firstly, mandatory provisions of laws and rules have to be followed in taking investment decisions. The failure to do so could make the said decisions null and void in the eyes of the law. Secondly, no “indecent haste” should be resorted to in processing an investment project since the courts would judicially review whether the functionaries of state fulfilled their fiduciary duties of care and loyalty they owe to the stakeholders/people. And thirdly, the courts would review whether the legitimate interests of weak and poor sections among the stakeholders received due protection in reaching the investment decision.

That judgment of the Supreme Court and these guiding principles are not against investment per se but are meant to improve the quality of investment flows to Pakistan. These are also in conformity with the standards of investment laws observed by other common law jurisdictions like the US and the UK where community hearings are held and stakeholders consulted before reaching decisions. In the said judgment, the Supreme Court reminded the government and its functionaries of their fiduciary duties of care and loyalty in handling investment proposals involving public assets.

This clarion call of the Supreme Court needs to be properly heeded to protect our investment scenario which is generating increasing concerns and controversies as several reports appearing in the national media indicate.

Probably, an all-time record of investor complaints would be held by what has been going on for some years in the name of transactions of Gwadar lands. It is also enlightening that no supervisory levels of executive authority of the province, which controls land matters, came to the rescue of thousands of small investors who are now suffering at the hands of these monumental malpractices.

It fell again upon the Supreme Court to redress what was described as the “classic example of abuse of authority and misuse of powers”. The Quetta bench of the Supreme Court went on to add, “Nobody knows how the settled land owned by the state has been transferred to the private sector, that too at a peanut price, which depicts lack of transparency and mismanagement. The provincial government and the Board of Revenue cannot be absolved from their responsibilities in this regard.”

The findings behind the stock market crash of March 2005 that wiped off about 13 billion dollars in market capitalisation, bankrupting small and medium investors, are still not clear, nor are the much needed reforms in governance of the capital market in the pipeline to prevent future abuse.

Another investment project in Sindh has been generating concerns and protests where Port Qasim Authority, which itself received land from the provincial government for its limited mandate of port operations, has apparently run away with two entire islands belonging to the provincial government and signed itself as a shareholder in a private investment project with a foreign company.

In the case of the Sindh island project, it also gives an insight into the eerie working of the government where the right hand does not know what the left is doing since those who signed the investment project and those who claim ignorance and violations of the law are coalition partners in the same government.

But there is a long established practice of processing investment proposals through interagency meetings in the Board of Investment which brings together all relevant federal and provincial departments for the purpose. Preliminary screening of issues like land title, licensing or joint venture agreements, feasibility of the proposal and other terms and conditions associated with the project is carried out in these interagency meetings and also jointly with investors before an investment proposal reaches anywhere near approval stage and is signed into an investment project.

So how could such elementary issues like title of the land, impact on the environment, livelihood of fisherfolk and port operations remain unexamined and unclear when large investment project are processed through various stages and even approved and signed?

From what has been appearing in the press, it seems that these interagency meetings were either bypassed or the basic issues not sorted out and the project hastily and quietly approved and announced.

An investment project is a business decision and not a charity. The investor undertakes a project only if it provides attractive returns on investment — and this is as it should be. But the investor cannot be held responsible for doing the homework for the host country as well. That responsibility — the fiduciary duties — fall upon the functionaries of the host government and their professional knowledge and negotiating skills to ensure that the said investment fits into the development strategy of the host country and creates win-win situations for both parties.

The wide range of concerns expressed by civil society organisations are not against investments per se but reflect fears as to whether their legitimate interests have been protected or compromised by “omissions and commissions” of relevant state functionaries — both political and bureaucratic — in the performance of their fiduciary and other legal obligations.

However, by keeping quiet and not addressing their concerns clearly, we are only compounding the issues. For how could we give them confidence that their legitimate interests are being protected in investment processing, negotiations and project design when their basic rights of ownership, information and consultations are not accepted in the first place?

We have been making some publicly funded development projects controversial in parts of our country, not because the people are against development but because we do not incorporate them into the wide range of processes that constitute development itself.

We should not be turning privately financed investments into controversial activities. Whoever else they may be helping, they are certainly not helping Pakistan by making its investment projects controversial through omissions and commissions.

A course correction is needed to make investment in Pakistan free from controversies. The guidelines for doing this are already available in the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The writer is a former head of Board of Investment and federal secretary.

Email: smshah@alum.mit.edu