DAWN - Editorial; January 14, 2007

Published January 14, 2007

A two-way responsibilityA two-way responsibility

THE familiar refrain about the need for Pakistan to “do more” seems to be giving way to some belated realisation among the allies in the war on terror that blaming Islamabad for every problem inherent to the situation is not going to help matters. On Friday, US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher injected a measure of realism into the controversy by saying that both Pakistan and the US had failed to curb terrorism. A day earlier, Gen David Richards, head of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, said that steps taken by Pakistan had helped bring down “the graph of insurgency ... compared to last winter”. Isaf troops, he said, were the “beneficiaries” of Pakistan’s policy, which had led to a “reduction in the incidents since autumn”. The litany of complaints against Pakistan has been led by Afghan President Hamid Karzai who has done nothing to help combat terrorism and has merely relied on foreign forces to do the job for him. However, western ambivalence still remains a source of worry for Pakistan. While Mr Boucher and Gen Richards sounded positive about Islamabad’s policies, senior US officials including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her newly-appointed deputy, John Negroponte, kept up the pressure by saying that Al Qaeda was present and regrouping in Pakistan’s tribal belt. This illustrates the complicated nature of the situation in the tribal area as also in Afghanistan itself. One explanation for the criticism that was levelled at Pakistan’s agreement with militants in North Waziristan can be found in this mistrust.

Even before the ink had dried, the agreement came under attack from both local and foreign journalists who alleged that the deal would provide the Taliban with a safe haven. Subsequent events proved that Pakistan’s approach to the issue was the best it could have done in the circumstances — hundreds of troops had been lost in clashes with the militants and Islamabad wanted to step away from confrontation. After initial reservations about the agreement, British commanders in Afghanistan’s southern province reached a similar agreement with local tribal elders, and the official reaction from Washington and London has been positive. That said, the statements by Mr Boucher and Gen Richards need to be seen in perspective. Both officials were speaking in Islamabad and any concerns they had would have been expressed in private. On Friday, Mr Boucher pointed to the complex nature of the problems involved in dealing with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, but the thrust of his press talk seemed to be in the direction of the three parties — Pakistan, the US and Afghanistan — working together in harmony for the task at hand.

Foreigners tend to forget that Pakistan has suffered at the hands of terrorists more than any other country in its neighbourhood. It has deployed 80,000 troops in the tribal area to combat the Taliban, and its security forces have suffered hundreds of casualties. Many of the militants operating in Balochistan and the tribal area cross over from Afghanistan into this country, and this fact often escapes the critics. The point to be noted is that cross-border movement is not in one direction but both ways. If it is Pakistan’s responsibility to check the militants’ movement across the Durand Line, it is the Kabul government’s duty to block the trek of Afghan refugees, who continue to pour into this country because of the utter lawlessness and lack of subsistence in Mr Karzai’s country. Stopping the two-way movement is the joint responsibility of Pakistani, Isaf and Afghan security forces, and regrettably Mr Karzai is taking cover behind publicly-shed tears to stay away from his duty.

Inflation: flawed methodology

ACCORDING to the Federal Bureau of Statistics, inflation in Pakistan rose by 8.8 per cent in the month of December over the same period in 2005. Many would scoff at this figure. Those who are constantly struggling to balance household budgets, especially housewives from low-income groups, are fully aware of the price situation on the ground. They also know how wide of the mark the FBS statistics are. A disaggregated look at the prices of different items gives another picture altogether. In the same period, prices of food and beverages rose by 12.7 per cent, fuel prices by 10.9 per cent and the cost of medical treatment went up by 9.6 per cent. The problem with the inflation rates that are periodically announced lies in the methodology adopted to calculate this essential economic indicator. The policymakers must surely be aware of the misleading results obtained, but they do not seem to be concerned about it.

The government can, if it makes the effort, obtain relatively accurate figures for inflation simply by changing the methodology used for this purpose. The key factor in the calculation of the inflation figure is the weight assigned to various goods/services in the basket comprising 374 items. The data on prices is collected every month from 71 markets in 35 major cities of Pakistan. The weight is calculated on the basis of information collected through the family budget survey which supposedly provides details of the commodity-wise expenditure of households of different occupational categories and income groups. The family budget survey, which is quite a comprehensive exercise, is normally held every five years in most countries. This survey was last held in Pakistan in the year 2000. It is already outdated. Moreover, the information provided by this survey is not too accurate either, partly because respondents are usually cautious about sharing financial information with strangers and partly because of the disinclination of our people to document their accounts. This makes the family budget survey not a sound basis for calculating the weights for various items. It is time an alternative was found to determine what proportion of the family income is spent on what item. Without rectifying this basic fault in methodology, accuracy in calculating the inflation rate cannot be ensured.

Another acid burn case

TWO days after the prime minister spoke about introducing laws to regulate the sale of acid in an effort to prevent attacks on women, an 18-year-old became the latest reported victim of this brutal form of violence. The young woman was attacked at a bus stop in Karachi by a man whose marriage proposal she had rejected. She received 15 to 20 per cent burns and is seeking treatment while the police are looking for the culprit. While she got away relatively lightly compared to many other acid burn victims whose faces and bodies are mutilated beyond recognition, her life too has been altered, making her bear the scars for the rest of her life. The police must relentlessly pursue the culprit and bring him to justice. Until men are made to serve the harshest of punishments for committing such barbaric acts, they will believe they can get away with it. Thus far, this has largely been true as the high-profile case of Bilal Khar demonstrated. The former MPA from Punjab was accused of throwing acid on his wife in 2000, finally arrested in 2002 and acquitted the following year because the prosecution could not present a strong case against him. His wife was lucky to get reconstructive surgery abroad but life will never be the same for her — or others like her for that matter.

Crimes like acid throwing, while barbaric, are not limited to the country’s backwaters. They are occurring in large cities too as was the case on Friday. That acid is so readily available is part of the problem. Its sale must be strictly regulated and those who sell it illegally should be held answerable. A law that is strictly enforced can curb the crime but it is not enough. Society must be taught to respect women and those who abuse them must be ostracised.

The misunderstood war

By M.P. Bhandara

The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgement that the statesman and commander must make is to establish the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for nor trying to turn it into something that is alien to its nature’.

— Carl von Clausewitz, ‘On War’

IF only imperial US seeks wisdom in the above words, it would save itself and both Pakistan and Afghanistan from a host of troubles. To begin with, let’s try and understand what kind of war the US and Nato have embarked on and likewise the Taliban. The reference here is not to the instruments of warfare but to respective perceptions.

The Taliban of the ’90s, under the influence of the financier ideologue, Osama bin Laden, were gung-ho in creating a so-called Islamic state which was rejected by the majority of the world’s Muslims. The Taliban today assume the mantle of Afghan nationalism, the true heirs of the Pashtunwali, are giving battle to expel the foreign invader.

What kind of war is it five years after the invasion of Afghanistan? The objective then as now of the US was to bring Bin Laden to justice and establish a ‘democratic’ polity. The Taliban today do not consider Osama bin Laden to be an issue. Mulla Omar’s interview of January 4 needs to be read closely, between the lines. You do not expect him to make a volte face but his distancing from Bin Laden is unmistakable. The Pashtunwali ‘zeitgeist’ does not promise democracy but a sort of personal autonomy and equality to each member, which might be a better democracy than the prescriptions of the US; and in its external aspects, a fierce nationalism, which is intolerant of foreign domination. The Pashtuns, who constitute about half of Afghanistan’s population of 30 million, have been the standard bearers of Afghan nationalism ever since the state came into being about 250 years ago. To understand the kind of war that the Taliban are fighting, we need a brief glimpse of the Pashtunwali culture.

This fierce Pashtunwali culture can be summed up in one word — honour, but with very special connotations and nuances. For the Pashtun, it is an eye for an eye, a life for a life or in lieu thereof monetary or other compensation such as girls and women given in payment of blood debts, as may be determined by a jirga of Spingeeri — literally, white beards. The jirga has undergone change with the times, particularly since the Bin Laden era of the ’90s to make its decisions more Shariah compliant. An appeal from the jirga lies with a Shariah court, which functions as a sort of supreme court. The jirga is the protector of the Pashtunwali culture and customary laws.

It is mandatory in the Pashtun code of honour for an insult to be avenged. As the saying goes, “A Pashtun waited 100 years, and then took his revenge, it was quick work”.

The more attractive part of this culture is ‘malmastai’ — hospitality to one and all, and ‘nanawatai’ — to give sanctuary to one in need, who knocks on the door seeking refuge. ‘Nanawatai’ is best explained by a true story. A Talib in the Zadran tribal area of eastern Khost province killed a man with a knife. The Talib knocked on the nearest door and said to the woman who opened it “I have killed a man. Shelter me”. It later turned out that the man killed was the son of the woman giving shelter. Her husband and other family members were furious to which the woman responded, “I am a Pashtun and have given this man refuge. Take him away to safety.”

A Pashtun in gross violation of the Pashtunwali code is regarded in utter contempt. Such persons are best advised to leave the society in which they live, and migrate. (The writer acknowledges his debt to the London Economist issue of December 23 on the Pashtunwali, for the above quotes).

In the context of the above it is easier to understand Mulla Omar’s refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden, as demanded by the US after 9/11. It would have been a fate far worse than death. If he did, Omar, his family and tribe would have lost face for generations to come. Do you think the Americans who judge the world by the bottom-line of what is best in their interest can understand this? It is tempting to speculate on how different would have been the evolution of events if no invasion had taken place. Could Omar have survived a Pakistan economic blockade in the months following 9/11? Iran coming to the rescue of a Shia-hating Mulla Omar and Bin Laden will not understand the sectarian polities of the Muslims.

Let’s take the case of the September North Waziristan agreement. Locals and foreigners in their protection are said to be violating the agreement. Since anti-American feelings are at fever pitch at the moment, the Pashtunwali code in respect of affected persons will give primacy to revenge — ‘badal’ over the agreement. Honour has to be redeemed for the insults showered by the Americans on Afghan prisoners of war in Kabul and Guantanamo Bay.

If Pakistan attempts to stop it, Bajaur-like incidents will happen again, the whole of Fata will be ablaze — a large part of the Pakistan army will be needed to quell a civil war, not of our making. Patience is required and turning a blind eye to minor infractions and holding the Wana Jirga to account for major ones might be better than an abrogation of the agreement, as demanded by some rightist circles in the US. But there are other ways to make the agreement workable: Enter into negotiations to compensate for lives and dishonour done to the deceased, the maimed and the insulted, this is within the Pashtunwali cultural norms. Herein lie the seeds for getting to talk to the adversary.

Eventually a jirga, in which the Taliban, Kabul and Islamabad governments and our Fata tribes have equal representation must begin a dialogue towards a ceasefire agreement. The Taliban are not likely to come to the jirga meeting unless the agenda includes a timetable for the withdrawal of US/Nato troops. This is the only road to peace. The alternative: the next five years are likely to be more gruesome and destabilising than the last five years assuming that the West has the temerity and public backing for its forces to stay in harm’s way in Afghanistan.

President Karzai comes from honourable Pashtun stock and has a good record behind him, but ever since he became a ward of the US protected by American dogs and guards, he has lost all credibility in the Pashtun areas. It would be in Afghanistan’s interest (and America’s) if he were to give way to a Pashtun with better lines of communication with the Taliban.

Bin Laden, if alive, has been smoked out. There is no way he can finance or mastermind terrorism from a remote cave. Militant Islam as espoused by Bin Laden today finds its roots among the alienated, dispossessed Muslim youths living in the ghettos of the great western cities in Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid and Birmingham. Consider: not one Afghan has been associated with any terror attacks in the West. Militant Islam today is an internal problem of the West.

The Afghan war has some similarities with the Iraq war in that the basic premise of both wars has turned out to be incorrect. Wars once unleashed have a momentum of their own. Thousands of lives and billions of dollars later, can one see any logic in America’s Vietnam war? Today, American businessmen are queuing up in Saigon to make multi-billion dollar deals.

George Soros in his latest book The Age of Fallibility sums it up as follows: “Who would have thought”, he asks “the oldest, most well established and most powerful open society in the world (the US) could pose a threat not only to the concept of open society at home but also to peace and stability in the world? Yet that is what has happened in the aftermath of the terrorist attack of 9/11”.

The sheer bone-headedness of successive Washington administrations on the denial of justice to the Palestinians and letting the Israeli tail wag the dog has led directly to the calamity of 9/11, and its tragic aftermath. Afghanistan, small and insignificant, has already become the graveyard of one great empire, now threatens to become the graveyard of the remaining one.

The writer is an MNA.

Absence of winter

WINTER this year seems to have been abolished, or at least postponed, and in its place the country is plodding through a season of warm, wet, windy, grey murk.

There is a little snow on the highest Lake District fells, and some too in Scotland, but storms and unseasonable temperatures are no substitute for proper winter weather of the kind that allows snowball fights and sledging and leaves frost on car windows each morning.

Cold weather produces miseries of its own, of course, especially for the old and unwell, but a January that has brought 12.6C nights in London and early spring flowers in gardens has provided a start to the year that is somehow out of sorts.

Twenty years ago today it was -9C in Southend; 60 years ago this month the great freeze of 1947 began, blanketing Britain in ice until March. Those were both extremes, but even the normal cold snaps of a British winter mark the passage from one year and the next, a climatic shift that shapes the rhythms of life.

The absence of winter this year in mainland Europe and the United States has been even more marked, although it is at least forecast to snow in Moscow today after 7C days this week.

Winter may yet arrive — the Met Office predicts snow next month and the hard winter of 1947 may not begin until January 22. That was followed by a roasting summer. Weather in this country rarely reaches such extremes, which is something to be thankful about, but dreary, damp days are no match for thin winter sun, snowdrifts and hoar frost.

The Guardian, London

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007



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