DAWN - Opinion; December 13, 2006

December 13, 2006


Worsening ties with Kabul

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

THE hope that Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri’s visit to Afghanistan would lead to some better understanding between the leadership in the two countries has not been borne out. Conciliation went out of the window as President Hamid Karzai, in a statement immediately after his meeting with Mr Kasuri, talked of the continuation of violence perpetrated by terrorists from across the border as a major obstacle to the realisation of Afghanistan’s desire for better relations with Pakistan. He went on to add that the “patience of the Afghan people was running out”.

A couple of days later, in an emotion-laden speech at a function to observe Human Rights Day, Mr Karzai portrayed himself and his countrymen as helpless pawns who were unable to prevent the “terrorists from coming from Pakistan”. Neither could they prevent “the coalition from bombing the terrorists,” because of which “our children are dying”. According to press reports, Mr Karzai broke down during the 15-minute speech and had to wipe away his tears.

Whether or not his emotions were genuine, Mr Karzai, who has a well-deserved reputation for showmanship, certainly knew that his speech would inflame passions and do further damage to an already damaged Pak-Afghan relationship.

There was no announcement on the dates for the joint jirgas that Presidents Musharraf and Karzai had agreed upon in their meeting with President Bush in September this year. What could be gleaned from the joint statement and from other official pronouncements was that Afghanistan had been given written proposals on the subject, that Afghanistan was expected to send its written proposals shortly and that Pakistan had agreed to set up a mechanism to interact with the commission created in Afghanistan to organise these jirgas.

In the meanwhile, independent think-tanks and usually reliable correspondents are calling into question the efficacy of the “peace deal” that Pakistan has made with the local leaders in North and South Waziristan and which it hopes to replicate in Bajaur.

The International Crisis Group issued on Monday a report according to which the agreements that the government has reached with local leaders in North and South Waziristan have led to an increase in the number of militants in the area and to an increase in the number of cross border attacks by the Taliban and their Pakistani sympathisers. The recommendations that the report makes are of the “if wishes were horses beggars would ride” variety, suggesting for example that the writ of the state be re-established in Fata by “disarming militants, shutting down terrorist training camps and ending the flow of money and weapons to and recruitment and training by Taliban and other foreign or local militants on Pakistani territory” and by “prosecuting those responsible for killing civilians and government officials”.

This recommendation is made even while asserting earlier in the report that “The military operations Pakistan has launched since 2004 in South and North Waziristan agencies to deny Al Qaeda and the Taliban safe haven and curb cross-border militancy have failed...” It attributes this failure to an approach alternating between excessive force and appeasement, even while acknowledging that appeasement was tried when excessive military losses were suffered.

Nevertheless, the report is right in proposing that the restrictions imposed on the activities of political parties in Fata should be removed. This, for the simple reason that in their absence the only politically influential people in the area will be the Taliban, the mullahs and the religious parties and they cannot be countered by administrators alone.

Carlotta Gall of the The New York Times has written a piece ‘Taliban and allies tighten grip in north of Pakistan’ and which starts with the bald assertion that “Islamic militants are using a recent peace deal with the government to consolidate their hold in northern Pakistan, vastly expanding their training of suicide bombers and other recruits and fortifying alliances with Al Qaeda and foreign fighters, diplomats and intelligence officials from several nations say.”

She cites Pakistani intelligence officers as the source for the information that “the number of foreign fighters in the tribal areas was far higher than the official estimate of 500, perhaps as high as 2,000 today. These fighters include Afghans and seasoned Taliban leaders, Uzbek and other Central Asian militants, and what intelligence officials estimate to be 80 to 90 Arab terrorist operatives and fugitives, possibly including Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman Al-Zawahiri.” She quotes Nato officials as saying that “since the September accord, cross-border attacks by Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and their foreign allies have increased”.

Generally her report which seems to be based on extensive interviews presents a grim picture not only of the impact this “creeping Talibanisation” — Musharraf’s words — of the tribal areas is having on Afghanistan but even more ominously from Pakistan’s perspective on Pakistan itself. Can we dismiss Ms Gall’s account as fanciful or unduly alarmist?

The passage of the women’s protection bill has been hailed as a victory, albeit partial for “moderate” forces in Pakistan. I agree. It is also apparent that the religious parties have reneged on their pledge to resign from the assemblies because they had no stomach for bucking the government since they would have little chance of winning bye-elections if they had no official sponsorship. But this is not the whole story. They also want to remain in office because by doing so they can influence, perhaps decisively, the course of events in Fata and can continue to provide assistance to forces that are opposed to moderation and provide their principal base of support.

Monday’s newspapers carried pictures of the MMA-organised demonstration against the women’s protection law in Karachi. One could clearly see that the participants were Afghan refugees or Pushtuns from the tribal areas who form the majority of the students in the madressahs that have mushroomed in Pakistan’s largest and now most dangerous city. If there is Talibanisation in the tribal areas it is being accompanied by Talibanisation in what used to be Pakistan’s most moderate and cosmopolitan city.

Is there recognition of this danger? Official statements suggest that there is. But is enough being done to tackle it? What can be done?

There is no doubt that the Waziristan agreement has led to increased Taliban influence. This was to be expected. The point is how soon can we make our countervailing strategy produce results that will attenuate and eventually eliminate this influence? It has now been more than three months since the North Waziristan accord was signed. There is no sign yet that as a result of it some employment-generating projects have been started in the region. There is no sign that the authority of the tribal elders has been restored — although it may be regarded as a hopeful sign that some 500 maliks did assemble at the government’s bidding in Miramshah and, reportedly, showed a willingness to engage. Pakistan must act much more quickly to bring development to the area and to provide the maliks with equal or greater financial and political clout than what the Taliban and foreign militants currently have in the area.

The Talibanisation problem is one that would ideally be more easily resolved if there was cross-border cooperation but there appears to be little chance of getting such cooperation because the Afghans are suspicious and also because their internal dynamics seem to take them in another direction which the Nato forces will be able to change only if they are convinced of our sincerity.

The jirga issue is illustrative. I do not know what is contained in the written proposals the government has submitted to the Afghans but I do know that no national or single jirga will tackle the problem. Rather, it has to be a series of jirgas that bring together the Afghan and Pakistani parts of the same tribes or tribes living in the same area and having the same interest in bringing peace to that particular area.

The government representatives who attend these jirgas, be they the two presidents or some lesser lights, must be able to make promises of financial and other assistance that they can keep. There must also be the realisation on both sides that there will be setbacks. Neither the Taliban in the area nor their backers can be expected to sit back and accept the gradual or rapid erosion of their standing and the defeat of their cause. There must also be patience. This is something that will take time. The anxiety for quick results must be curbed. What has taken decades to build up will take at least years to dismantle.

It is unfortunate that the current thinking in Afghanistan does not seem to accept this. Failing agreement with Afghanistan, we should proceed with holding these jirgas on our own side and allow Waziristan-like agreements to emerge in all the tribal agencies.

We must also now be clearer about our refugee policy. We have played host for long enough. With or without international cooperation all Afghan refugees must be removed from our soil and as a first step they must be moved out of cities like Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore into guarded camps.

The second step is to devote all possible financial and technical resources to economic development in the tribal areas. Their limited absorptive capacity will pose problems. But notwithstanding the constraints this must be made a priority.

The third step is to recognise that money as much as misguided fanatic belief is fuelling Taliban recruitment. The cooperation of governments in the Gulf must be sought to stem the flow of zakat and other funds from philanthropists to the Taliban and their sympathisers. Those who aid and abet the clandestine transfer of funds or otherwise assist the Taliban must be identified and eliminated from the bureaucracy.

Pakistan must increase intelligence activity to locate and eliminate foreign militants (be they 500 or 2,000 in number) who continue to be in the tribal areas. But in doing so, it must guard against the sort of false information that could lead to actions that affect innocent civilians and alienate the locals.

Lastly, while ties with Afghanistan are deep and abiding, there is a need at this time to insulate ourselves from Afghanistan limiting people to people intercourse to the minimum. If this means accepting a limited Pak-Afghan relationship for some time so be it. If this means that other countries will become more influential in Afghanistan so be it.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Another formula on Kashmir

By Zubeida Mustafa

KASHMIR is again in the news, this time not be cause of an upsurge in violence. Once more there is talk of peace. Another plan has been floated by Pakistan.

In an interview to an Indian television channel last week, President Pervez Musharraf proposed a four-point formula that envisaged the free movement of people within the state with unchanged borders, self-governance or autonomy to the state, a phased withdrawal of troops and a joint supervision mechanism with the participation of India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris.

This is a variation of the proposals President Musharraf has made time and again on several occasions since 2004 — the most notable being the statements of October 25, 2004, April 18, 2005, June 14, 2005 and October 21, 2005. As before, India’s response has not been encouraging enough to give rise to hopes for a breakthrough in the peace process.

Last week’s offer elicited a wishy washy statement from India’s junior foreign minister who spoke of his government’s position being that of making the “borders irrelevant”, but “not redrawing the map”. He reaffirmed India’s desire not to remain in conflict with Pakistan.

These casual exchanges have encouraged President Musharraf’s critics to react cynically to his move. The right wing lobby in Pakistan cannot stomach any modification in Pakistan’s position on the right of self-determination of the Kashmiris and so the new formula is anathema to them. There are others who see Islamabad’s persistent effort to offer different versions of its peace plan as counter-productive since New Delhi has not responded positively to any of the proposals recently floated.

One may well ask if it is worthwhile formulating such peace plans especially when they imply a shift in Pakistan’s position? In fact, the president was quite categorical in stating last week that Pakistan would give up its claim over Kashmir if India accepted his peace proposal. As it is, Pakistan has modified its conventional stand and no longer demands that the UNCIP resolutions of 1948 and 1949 be implemented. This is a sensible move. Who would deny that after 58 years these resolutions simply cannot be implemented in letter or even in spirit? To go on reiterating the old demand ad nauseam would confirm that Pakistan is not interested in bringing about any change in the nature of inter-state relations in South Asia.

The position adopted by President Musharraf is, therefore, the best option available to Pakistan. One should remember that Islamabad has failed to seize Kashmir on the battlefield. An armed insurgency launched by infiltrators has also backfired causing a lot of opprobrium to be heaped on Islamabad. Now the only route open for Islamabad is the diplomatic one and any agreement reached at the negotiating table can at best be a compromise. With India holding the better part of the state, Pakistan’s bargaining position is weak and it should perceive it as a political victory if it just manages to retain the goodwill of the Kashmiris.

This would be possible if the Kashmiri leadership — both from the valley and Azad Kashmir — is equally involved in the dialogue that takes place on the future of the state. This requires both the sides to work out the modalities. Instead, what we have is Pakistan giving the impression of trying “to rush a solution” and New Delhi adopting a “do nothing” stance. As the second roundtable of prominent persons from India, Pakistan and both sides of Kashmir held in Gurgaon in January 2006 observed, “There is need to find a right balance.”

President Musharraf will have to refrain from trying to conduct diplomacy through the media as he is fond of doing — every time he has floated a proposal on Kashmir it has been in a press conference or a television interview. Should not he be seeking a dialogue on his proposals through diplomatic channels? Such sensitive issues are normally not negotiated in the glare of the media.

As for India, the roundtable’s warning is timely: “There is danger in delaying a solution as the situation could take an ugly turn. Some feel this is no time to talk of solutions but to help the dialogue process within the state and across the LoC.”

The present need is to expand the common ground on which the two sides feel they can act without undermining their political standing. The Gurgaon roundtable identified many areas on which action can be taken without creating a public hype. There is, for instance, much internal tension in both parts of Kashmir. India and Pakistan can facilitate intra-Kashmiri dialogues at several levels — between Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas and between the leaders of the three communities in the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh.

The India-Pakistan CBMs in Kashmir need to be stepped up. The five LoC crossing points opened in Kashmir have proved to be symbolic considering the limited number of people who actually use them on account of the rigorous processes for travel documents involved. The need is to make the LoC soft and allowing free movement of people.

In this context the most innovative proposal made at the Gurgaon roundtable was for a peace park to be set up on the LoC covering an area of three by five kilometres on the main Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road. This should be a demilitarised zone where free entry is allowed to all Kashmiris from both sides who will, however, not be able to use it as a transit point to travel further on. This peace park will be administered jointly by the Azad Kashmir and the Jammu and Kashmir governments. The two sides as well as the India and Pakistan governments could finance the establishment of the infrastructure such as meeting halls, telephones, electricity, water supply and medical facilities.

The roundtable suggested that if this experiment succeeded more peace parks could be set up enabling the divided Kashmiri families to meet and increase interaction between the people from both sides. This is an excellent idea since it has the seeds of the key measures proposed by President Musharraf. In a small part of their own state, the Kashmiris will learn to administer themselves jointly, the area will be neutral territory, free movement of people will be allowed and it will be a demilitarised zone.

One hopes the two sides pick up this idea when their foreign ministers meet next. It would be a modest beginning but could go a long way in growing into something big.

Looking larger than life

By Hafizur Rahman

SPECIAL days designated by the United Nations are also becoming like the national days of Pakistan — some advance publicity and a lot of platitudes, and the thing is over. The real motive is conveniently forgotten.

Most of the time you don’t even know what’s going on, till the newspapers tell you the next morning that yesterday was a memorable day. If I am not wrong there is also an International Women’s Day, though I can’t tell you when it falls and what women do on that day.

There is hardly any country in the world that is not a member of the UNO. All of them swear to abide by its principles and charter and resolutions, and make it a point to laud them and applaud them from their housetops. But when it comes to implementing these principles and resolutions, most countries — especially of the Third World — turn a blind eye towards them on grounds of religion or hoary tradition.

I am sorry if I sound serious and sombre, for this was supposed to be a light piece provoked by a news report circulated some time ago by the DPA, the German news agency, which said, “One of the top Arab religious leaders has warned women against wearing high-heeled shoes. He said that Islam rejects such shoes which make women appear larger than they are in reality.”

It is strange how little most of us know about Islam, and how much “religious leaders” do. Stranger still is the fact that they take such a long time to come out with their interpretation of some Islamic tenets, when the harm they want to prevent has already spread.

Edicts of people like this Middle East mufti are treated with great respect in Muslim countries like Pakistan, where everything and everyone coming from the holy land is also treated as holy. He should have given his verdict on high-heeled shoes 60 years ago when we came into being as an Islamic nation. I assure him I would have done my best to prevent women in my family from using these shoes and trying to look larger than life.

As I’ve just said, it is strange how little we know about Islam. Some of our religious commentaries are deficient in this respect. My friend Zahid Malik compiled a great book some 20 years ago. It provided a complete index of the subjects and topics mentioned in the Quran.

You just go over the index to find the matter you are interested in and it will give you the exact sura, verse and line in which it is discussed in the Holy Book. Since the Arab mufti had said “Islam rejects such shoes... I looked in vain for a mention of high-heeled shoes in Zahid Malik’s learned compilation. Nothing doing. Maybe he should revise the book.

If he has forgotten high-heeled shoes there is no knowing what else he may have forgotten. But then, the best of scholars are liable to make mistakes. If the Arab scholar says, “Islam rejects such shoes,” they must have been dealt with in some other scholarly writing about Islam. I must ask Dr Israr Ahmed or Dr Zakir Naik. They are busy persons but maybe they can find time to look for high-heeled shoes.

It is not an insignificant issue so far as women are concerned. The learned scholar particularised his observation by adding (according to DPA) that “shoes that made women appear larger than they are in reality.” No woman should do that. It is a different matter that many men, especially politicians and rulers, make themselves look much larger then they are without using high-heeled shoes. They employ good PROs and image builders to do it for them.

Look at our former prime minister, Ms Benazir Bhutto. She is very tall and doesn’t have to wear high-heeled shoes like other modern women. On his part, Mr Zardari uses high-heeled shoes (though not as high as a woman’s) to catch up with her in height, but fails. I wonder what the Arab scholar would say to this. Maybe he doesn’t approve of Ms Bhutto because she is taller than her husband.

There is one point on which the Arab scholar has given prudent advice. He says, “High-heeled shoes bring the danger of tripping and are also bad for women’s health.” The latter was confirmed by western doctors long ago when they said that the constant strain of standing and walking in high-heeled shoes takes its toll in enhanced personal tension.

In that respect I agree with him. However, so far as tripping goes what does he think about ‘purdah’, the ‘burqa’ that women in Saudi Arabia are required to use? Even a sure-footed male athlete would trip if made to use that all-enveloping garment.

There is another thing about this edict. DPA on its own has conjectured that “the remarks could expose women who do not appear in flat-heeled shoes to disciplinary action by officials who patrol the streets to enforce religious customs.”

Maybe the elite-class ladies of Saudi Arabia will choose to fight the mufti’s edict, just as they did some years ago when they publicly rebelled against the state order that women will not drive motor cars. Since these rebels included some princesses, they were spared imprisonment through the gracious intervention of the King himself.

I know what you are going to say: that all this is frivolous and hardly a matter that should have brought into limelight a serious subject like the International Women’s Day, that it is as pointless as the verdict on high-heeled shoes by an Arab mufti.

Some wishful thinking

IT could not put an end to sectarian violence in Iraq, but at least for a day the Iraq Study Group put an end to sectarian bickering in Washington. The panel’s five Republicans and five Democrats unanimously agreed that the present strategy in Iraq is not working and signed off on 79 recommendations to the Bush administration.

Their report distils the emerging conventional wisdom in Washington, laced with a measure of wishful thinking. Yes, persuading Iran and Syria to help stabilise Iraq, contrary to the administration’s stance, is a worthy pursuit, though it isn’t clear why Syria and Iran would want to do so, at least in the immediate term. And yes, settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would indeed reduce tensions throughout the Arab world, though linking that issue to the commission’s brief was a stretch that plays into the hands of anti-American extremists in the region.

The report also engages in some suspiciously tidy thinking when it says that most US combat troops can exit Iraq by the first quarter of 2008. The commission seems to be offering President Bush the “graceful exit” he has said is not possible. But the formulation is unsatisfying and carefully hedged.

The report says the situation in Iraq is “grave and deteriorating” and concedes that the US cannot pull out abruptly. Yet its recipe for turning the corner — ramp up the training of the Iraqi army while reducing US combat units — is disingenuously optimistic. No one can argue with a recommendation to train Iraqi units at an accelerated pace and to include more US troops serving alongside them. But more direct US involvement in the daily battle to secure Baghdad may also be necessary, especially in the short term.

More useful is the report’s discussion of Iraqi governance. To counter the impression that the United States has given the Iraqi government a blank check to do as it pleases, the commission calls for consequences if Baghdad fails to meet specific milestones on governance and national unity.

For instance, future US assistance should be conditioned on the government’s willingness to take on Shia militias. This is the most timely part of the report, in light of the Bush administration’s own doubts about the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and the moral imperative of preventing US troops from becoming partisans in an Iraqi civil war.

One of the most refreshing of the report’s recommendations doesn’t appear until No. 72. It won’t get US troops out any faster, or bring democracy to Iraq. It would, however, end a gross subversion of democratic checks and balances at home.

The commission calls out the Bush administration for its excessive reliance on supplemental appropriations bills to pay for the war. This is a way of bypassing House and Senate committees that spend nearly a year examining the president’s annual budget request. The emergency bills make it impossible to tell what’s going to Iraq and what’s going to Afghanistan or somewhere else.

In this, as in so many other areas of the war, the administration’s strategy seems designed to avoid congressional review — and in this case, it also runs up the federal tab and conceals the true costs of the war from the American people. —Los Angeles Times