DAWN - Opinion; December 20, 2006

December 20, 2006


Spillover of Afghan crisis

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

PRESIDENT Hamid Karzai’s outburst against Pakistan in which he accused the latter of wanting to enslave the Afghan people was unexpected. What has caused the Afghan leader to abandon his customary reticence and his careful wording on allegations regarding Pakistan’s role in strengthening the Taliban insurgency?

One can put it down to desperation. Nothing is going right in Afghanistan. Corruption is growing. Maladministration, thanks to Karzai’s ineptitude, cupidity or inability to resist the pressure from warlords and narcotics traffickers, has invited a scathing assessment of the situation from a UN team. The half-hearted effort at reaching out to the moderate Taliban has been a dismal failure despite the brave words of the chairman of the reconciliation commission, former Afghan president Sibghatullah Mojaddedi.

Collateral damage emanating from Nato offensives against the Taliban in the south and east of the country is creating outrage and is receiving the sort of publicity that serves as a recruiting poster for the Taliban. Nato commanders in the south have failed to secure the reinforcements they urgently need, and cannot, therefore, “hold” the ground they clear or provide security cover for reconstruction and development work which is the key to addressing the disaffection on which support for the Taliban is built.

In Pakistan’s tribal areas and Balochistan’s areas bordering Afghanistan, there appears to be no let-up in Taliban recruiting from the refugee camps and madressahs. The Taliban, now highly adept at propaganda, speak of having more volunteer suicide bombers than they can use and boast of the major offensive they intend launching next year to throw the “infidels” out of Afghanistan or at least out of South and East Afghanistan. Pakistan talks of having arrested more than 500 Taliban this year but from Afghanistan’s perspective, and indeed that of the Nato forces, the Taliban in Pakistan continue to operate freely from their “sanctuaries” in Pakistan.

The suggestion mooted during the meeting Presidents Karzai and Musharraf had with President Bush on holding joint jirgas seems to be in a state of limbo. Karzai appears to believe that there should be a single gathering of notables from all over Afghanistan of which tribal leaders would be only a small part. Pakistan wants a series of tribal jirgas which bring together representatives of the tribes that straddle the border with the specific purpose of getting the tribes to agree, in return for financial and other inducements, to deny the use of the territory they inhabit to the Taliban or other terrorist forces.

Karzai is taking an unrealistic position because the Tajiks, still a powerful force in Kabul, do not want to be excluded from any such gathering even though they know that they really have no role to play in the process.

In these circumstances, Karzai may well have felt that in launching a diatribe against Pakistan he had little to lose and much to gain. He could divert attention from the failings of his administration and persuade the allies to bring greater pressure to bear on Islamabad to take sterner and more resolute action against the Taliban in Pakistan.

This, however, is not the whole explanation. Karzai’s rant against Pakistan was preceded by statements in Washington from John Negroponte, the overall head of all American intelligence agencies, who told the Washington Post editorial board that “tribal authorities are not living up to the deal” and that back-and-forth travel by the Taliban and others “causes serious problems”. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made similar noises about the efficacy of the tribal pact.

In other words, the Americans had moved from the position of suggesting that all parties involved needed to do “more” to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda menace to pinpointing in official statements rather than press leaks the shortcomings in Pakistan’s performance. It is perhaps likely that Karzai either on his own or on prompting chose to take his cue from what was being said in Washington.

Afghanistan’s problems are real and deepening. The major military, reconstruction and diplomatic efforts they demand may not be forthcoming in required measure even though there are reports that a substantial increase in American assistance is being planned. Karzai’s administration is clearly not able to provide the required leadership.

The latest news that the highly respected governor of Helmand province has been dismissed probably because of the drug lobby’s pressure on Karzai is just the latest example of the latter’s poor administrative skills and inability to resist political pressure.

It does not help his credibility that his brother is accused of being one of the principal beneficiaries of the drug trade. It does not help that Karzai opposes the fencing of the Pak-Afghan border presumably because this would involve recognition of the Durand Line as the international border. It does not help that Karzai opposes the repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan to Afghanistan or restrictions on the cross border movement of Afghans. All these shortcomings notwithstanding, one must recognise that there is no viable alternative available.

The issue is not what Karzai says but what the present situation in Afghanistan portends for the future of Afghanistan and as a corollary for the future of Pakistan and what Pakistan needs to do about it. A poor and corrupt Karzai administration, a less than fully resourced Nato force, a growing drug mafia and disaffected Afghans with kin across the border are the ingredients in Afghanistan that we have to work with.

On Tuesday, newspapers in Pakistan gave prominence to a claim by Maulana Fazlur Rahman that he holds the key to peace in Afghanistan and since his influence cannot be said to extend beyond Pakistan’s tribal areas he is obviously suggesting that the key to peace in Afghanistan lies in our tribal areas.

Recently, a demonstration of Pushtun transporters in Karachi was billed as an effort to seek rectification of the injustice done to the Pushtun transporters in the past. It seems that one other demand was that the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) should not try to register people. Clearly this was aimed at ensuring that there should be no identification of the more than half a million Afghan refugees who are now in Karachi and who have become part of the transport network. The potential they have for creating mayhem is evident from the way in which the rioting proceeded. This then is the Pakistani element that we have to contend with.

What can we do? We have to make sure that the influence that prevails in the tribal areas is not that of the religious parties but that of the tribal elders, particularly those who believe that their immediate future lies in preaching enlightened moderation and seeking government cooperation for the development of the area which alone will restore their credibility. For the government it is important that the tribal elders be provided the means to attenuate the influence of Taliban-like elements without putting their lives at risk. This is an initiative which must be undertaken with all speed. Development work must start immediately and must provide the employment that is so sorely needed.

In Karachi, as in the rest of the country, the process of the registration of the Afghan refugees must be completed. Those who are not registered by the Dec 31 deadline must be rounded up and sent back to Afghanistan. Negotiations must be started for the repatriation of those who are registered. No effort at cleansing our society of Taliban elements or influence can succeed while the Afghan refugee on our soil remains available for influencing his fellow Pushtun and for being recruited to fight the “jihad” in Afghanistan.

With regard to the situation in Afghanistan there is a growing belief that the Americans and Nato forces will both be looking for a way out and will not be prepared to stay the course. The failure of Nato countries to provide the required force levels and the clear preparations being made in Washington to extricate itself from Iraq by adopting large elements of the Iraq Study Group’s proposition that only the Iraqis can fix the Iraq problem seem to lend support to this assumption.

This is wrong. The West knows that the war in Iraq is lost. They can only pray that the Iraqis come up with some solution that does not make Iraq a haven for terrorists intent on attacking the West. They know, however, that if they fail in Afghanistan it will be a terrorist haven and its pernicious influence will make itself felt decisively in a highly susceptible Pakistan. The enormity of the problem that they would then face is clear not only to political leaders but also to other opinion makers.

This leads one to think that the Americans and Nato will make the required long term commitment to Afghanistan. American and Nato aid to Afghanistan will be increased substantially with a large part being devoted, in addition to developmental activity in the south, to building the Afghan national army and police. Before the next fighting season commences, Nato forces in the south will get more troops to enable a clear and hold operation. Pressure on Pakistan will build to eliminate Taliban pockets in Balochistan and the tribal areas. Aid will be provided for the tribal areas. These are the assumptions on which Pakistani policy should be based. If there are shortcomings it should be impressed upon the Americans and their allies that this is the urgent need for the stabilisation of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

If newspaper reports are accurate, a prominent leader of the ruling party has proposed that the Afghan government should negotiate with Gulbuddin Hikmatyar if not with Mulla Omar to find a solution. Such a proposal shows a woeful ignorance of Afghanistan’s turbulent history. No matter how much of a “mujahid” Hikmatyar may be in the eyes of certain quarters in Pakistan he is a reviled figure in Afghanistan not only among the Tajiks and other members of the Northern Alliance but also among the Pushtuns.

We should also know that in the eyes of the world Hikmatyar was the favoured protege of the ISI and suggesting a role for him in the Afghan reconciliation process can only strengthen the suspicion, strongly entertained already, that Pakistan has not forsaken its ambition to control Afghanistan rather than to treat it as a respected neighbour.

Let us be clear. It is in Pakistan’s interest if Pakistan is to return to “enlightened moderation” to ensure that no one of Mulla Omar’s or Hikmatyar’s ilk is in the corridors of power in Kabul. The writer is a former foreign secretary.

The language conundrum

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE government is once again about to experiment with the education system in Pakistan. The federal education minister, Lt Gen (retd) Javed Ashraf Qazi, a former ISI chief, has now announced a revised schedule for the language reforms to be introduced in schools.

From September 2007 (instead of 2006) students of class one will be taught science and mathematics in English, while Islamiat and Pakistan Studies will be taught in Urdu.

It is not very clear where the mother tongues, namely Sindhi, Punjabi, Pushto and Balochi, will fit in the new scheme of things. According to the minister, in five years the language policy will allow the authorities to eliminate the distinction between the English and Urdu medium schools and “homogenise them in one single entity”.

This makes one wonder if our education planners have ever analysed the problems that beset education in Pakistan. From what Mr Qazi has said time and again it appears that he believes there are two major problems that he has to address as the education boss. First is the failure of our schools to teach English to our students which will handicap them in the globalised world of today. Second is the class divide that has grown because of one section of the population being fluent in English and the other barely knowing the language at all.

For once the education minister has identified the two problems correctly, though one must hasten to add that these are not the only problems faced by the education system.

The strategy Mr Qazi has devised will hardly resolve the ills that beset education in Pakistan. Taking the language of instruction issue first, it is a pity that we have still not been able to make up our minds about the language in which a small child should be taught in school.

Believing that English is the language of progress and development — which it is, but not necessarily to begin a child’s education in — our education planners want that children should be taught subjects like science and maths in English so that they can compete at the international level. But is it not going too far to attempt to teach a child of five various mathematical concepts in a language to which his only exposure has been through TV ads. He would never be able to understand it. At the most he would memorise whatever the teacher tells him. The basic flaw in our teaching methodology is the lack of emphasis on comprehension and undue emphasis on learning by rote. As such the child never develops the capacity to analyse logically any information that he receives to enable him to ask questions. By switching over to English, our education planners will ensure that the child never learns to think for himself.

What Mr Qazi has failed to understand is that a small child learns best in the language he is familiar with and can communicate in — that is his mother tongue. Another basic fact which our education planners refuse to recognise is that teaching a language as a second language is different from using a language as the medium of instruction. Students can acquire proficiency in English if they learn it as a second language through the modern methods of language teaching at a stage when they have come to grips with the idea of going to school to learn.

By using English in a half baked fashion for teaching science and mathematics, our teachers, many of whom are not familiar with the language themselves, will fail to give a sound understanding of science and maths to the young ones. As it is the Punjab and Sindh governments have been complaining that they have not been able to find teachers who know enough English to be able to use the language as the medium of instruction.

At the most, the introduction of a small measure of bilingualism at the early stages should be acceptable but with the mother tongue being used in generous doses to explain concepts. At the same time, the educational planners also need to be reminded that there is need to improve the teaching of our own languages as well. Our failure in this field has led to the poor communication skills demonstrated by our graduates even from the best universities.

The second problem worrying the education minister in Islamabad is the polarisation in society caused by some children studying in English medium schools and others being the products of schools that use Urdu as the medium of instruction. No one would deny that this polarisation is the bane of Pakistani society today. But it needs to be pointed out that a class divide is being created more by the disparity in the quality of education being imparted in the elite private sector institutions and the government schools. It is not the language but the academic quality that makes the difference.

When the government switches over to English as the medium for the teaching of science and mathematics the condition of the government schools will deteriorate further because the majority of their teachers do not know enough English. They will be teaching their students poor stuff in poor English. How that will remove the polarisation is not at all clear.

The basic truth that has still to gain recognition in our education circles is that the standard of education is to a very large extent determined by the quality of pedagogy. Good teachers produce good and accomplished students. A good teacher is one who not only knows his subject. He also has mastery over the language in which he communicates and has communication skills as well.

Under the new reforms the government’s first priority should be to upgrade the teachers’ knowledge of their subjects and impart to them pedagogic skills through crash training programmes. This is not the time to focus on teaching the teachers English — that too from scratch. The immediate goal should be to reinforce their knowledge of science and mathematics. Let them teach these subjects in the child’s mother tongue. The need is to re-train a cadre of English language teachers to enable them to make the child fluent in English.

Ending illusions

IT speaks volumes about the dire state of the Middle East that a foreign head of government visiting Iraq dare not stray beyond the heavily fortified “green zone” in central Baghdad and that the entire Gaza Strip — the centre of the region’s latest escalating crisis — is now strictly out of bounds on security grounds.

Tony Blair’s pledge that British troops will stay in Iraq “until the job is done” had an unreal air as he stood by Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday with the disastrous mayhem of daily life — mass kidnappings, bombings and shootings — continuing unabated, with “terrorists fighting democracy” in Mr Blair’s words. Flying on to Jerusalem, the prime minister took with him another unshakeable belief — that he can help find a way out of the deadly impasse in which Palestinians and Israelis are so dangerously trapped.

Mr Blair is right to want to help. The world’s most intractable conflict is too volatile to be left alone even if few Arabs believe he is qualified to act as an honest broker. Not only is he George Bush’s sole significant ally in Iraq but he also delayed attempts to secure a ceasefire as Israel went on the offensive in Lebanon during the summer war against Hezbollah. The phrase “perfidious Albion” may have gone out of fashion, but the sentiment is alive and well. And the phrase “kick-start” beloved of Whitehall briefings about reviving the peace process seems spectacularly inappropriate - in the sense that kicking a corpse can achieve little.

Yet seeking peace matters especially because too many Americans from Mr Bush downwards still resist the idea of making a significant effort, as recommended in the report by James Baker’s Iraq Study Group. It is true, as US neocons like to argue, that resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict will now do nothing for Iraq. If a Palestinian state were somehow to be created tomorrow, Iraq’s bloody sectarian war and insurgency would continue.

But an Arab-Israeli accommodation could help draw the sting of hatred that so poisons relations between the west and the Muslim world. It would allow Syria to come to terms with Israel and help detach it from its alliance with Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would find it harder to pose as the champion of the Palestinians. If Israel was no longer in permanent conflict with its neighbours it might not need its nuclear weapons.

That could all take a very long time. But the conflict needs resolving, and urgently. Some 500 Palestinians have been killed by Israel since July when a cross-border raid and the capture of an Israeli soldier ignited a confrontation that has continued ever since, helping trigger Hezbollah’s fatal attack. The Hamas government, refusing to formally renounce violence, recognise Israel or accept past peace agreements, has faced a crippling and misguided financial boycott since winning the elections last January, though there is now a ceasefire in Gaza.

The danger now is of a Palestinian civil war, a dire prospect for a people who have suffered so much already. The weekend call by President Mahmoud Abbas for new elections came after he failed to form a unity government. Polls suggest a majority of Palestinians back his choice.

But Israel’s Ehud Olmert — sounding unusually doveish in a recent speech — has to be made to understand that Palestinian militancy and desperation will not disappear until Palestinians have the prospect of a viable and independent state, not disconnected bantustans separated by ever-expanding Jewish settlements.

—The Guardian, London

‘This land is mine’

By Hafizur Rahman

LO and behold, the Mughals are back! If not in full force as rulers of the subcontinent then, at least, in the solitary person of a photographer in Peshawar who is determined to get back his “heritage” from its usurpers. The usurpers in this case being first the British government of India and now its successor, the government of Pakistan.

Unlike Mirza Bashir Ahmed alias Nawab Sahib of Lahore, who last year, claimed sovereignty over the whole of Pakistan but was content to be given back all the Mughal monuments in the city by virtue of being the last living descendant of the Mughals, the Peshawar photographer is not too ambitious. He claims only a part of the Peshawar cantonment, stating that this property, including the railway station and the old radio station, was granted to his ancestors as jagir by Emperor Akbar. He has a long memory, I must say.

Again, unlike Mirza Bashir Ahmed, who was arrested for possessing heroin soon after staking his claim to Lahore’s Mughal monuments at a press conference, the photographer did not adopt the method of merely airing his right before pressmen but went to court with it. Initially his petition was heard by a civil judge, but I confess I was not able to keep track of the case after that.

Who was the original owner of which part of the globe? This is a question that has agitated mankind for a long time. For instance, the USA, which actively supports the right of the Jews to Palestine — to the exclusion of the local Arabs — just because they once lived there some 2,000 years ago, is not willing to concede the same right to its own Red Indians who were owners of that country only 200 years ago.

Nearer home, chauvinistic Hindus of India, who label Muslims as alien conquerors and want them to go back where they came from forget that as Aryans they too were intruders and marauders and had driven the Dravidians, the original inhabitants of the subcontinent (of Northern India at least) to the South.

After that they set up in North India the mythical utopia described so eloquently in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as Ran Rajya. On principle they should all go back to Central Asia and the Russian steppes where they had come from to invade the subcontinent.

Imagine if, like the Peshawar photographer, they were to go to court, and file a petition with the International Court at The Haque that all the rich and prosperous republics of Central Asia, now peopled mostly by Muslims, should be handed over to them since they were the original inhabitants of the area. What would happen then?

Probably nothing. Only the world would laugh, and if the International Court, besides a sense of justice also possesses a sense of humour, it would ask them why they had left their homes in Central Asia in the first place, and who had asked them to do so. But courts are not like that.

The move of the Indians — rather the Hindus there — would be in keeping with the prevalent accusation of smaller states in South Asia that India is becoming hegemonistic day by day. Maybe the Indians will make such a move after they have dealt properly with their neighbours like Pakistan and Nepal and assured them that their welfare lies in living as satellites of the budding Hindu empire.

Shall we then see a mass exodus from over-populated India to the beautiful and fertile valleys of Central Asia? But before that happens the Hindus of Northern India may well be confronted with a demand from the even more over-populated South India that its Hindus — originally and racially Dravidian — were anxious to move northwards and re-occupy Delhi and Benares and Lucknow and Agra and other great cities.

The South Indians may have become bored with living for thousands of years in the hot and humid South and think that a change of scene and climate and a new atmosphere would do them good.

Allowing for wholesale shifts in population, where will the people of Central Asia go if the original Aryans decide to return to their old homeland? Frankly I don’t know because my knowledge of ancient history ends here. I can only suggest that they can move to the vast open spaces of Siberia. It may be somewhat cold there but what is a little discomfort for the sake of historical adjustment?

There will be a problem for the Muslims of Pakistan. Should they too move or should they stay put? You must have noticed that no educated Pakistani worth his salt (and even the uneducated Pakistani) admits to local ancestry. The same goes for the Muslims of India. Everyone of us is born to forebears who came here either from Bokhara or Isphahan or Istanbul or Makkah. This is evident from some of our surnames too.

Would we or wouldn’t we love to go back to those sacred haunts if promised corner plots there? Or is this foreign ancestory flaunted by us merely to acquire a distinction, or at least a distinctiveness? None of us wants to admit that we are converts and thus originally local Hindus.

If this absurd claim on our part is believed and it is admitted that we all came from abroad (“foreign ka maal”) then a question arises: where did all the local Hindus go? None of us can give an answer to this question, since none of us wants to hear the truth about ourselves.

Coming back from my day-dreaming to the actuality of the Peshawar photographer’s petition claiming half of Peshawar Cantonment, his case may well be contested by someone who can remember that half the land given as jagir by the Emperor Akbar to his ancestors previously belonged to his, the new contestant’s great-great-great-grandparents. He too can them move a civil court. And if he wins the case then not only would he become owner of the best part of the Cantonment but the judge might even decide to allot his photo shop and studio to him.

Actually what do all such claims amount to? History can be twisted but it can rarely be falsified. Someone of the other will always turn up and say, “This land is mine.” Therefore it is better and wiser to try to make good wherever we are. We should learn to be content with what we have and respect the rights of our neighbours. That goes for both the Peshawar photographer and Mirza Bashir Ahmed alias Nawab Sahib of Lahore, as well as for the over-ambitious Indians.