DAWN - Opinion; January 24, 2007

January 24, 2007

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Dealing with the Taliban

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh


WHAT should one make of the fact that a New York Times story accusing the ISI of “encouraging” the Taliban “if not sponsoring them” appeared 10 days after the director of US National Intelligence, John Negroponte, in a congressional appearance, said: “Many of our most important interests intersect in Pakistan, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda maintain critical sanctuaries”?

He said, “Pakistan is our partner in the war on terror and has captured several Al Qaeda leaders. However, it is also a major source of Islamic extremism. Eliminating the safe haven that the Taliban and other extremists have found in Pakistan’s tribal areas is not sufficient to end the insurgency in Afghanistan but it is necessary.”

It comes three days after the new US defence secretary, Robert Gates, visited Afghanistan and while acknowledging that Pakistan was a “strong American ally in the war on terror”, maintained there was a “problem” in Pakistan’s border areas, that “Al Qaeda networks” were “operating on the Pakistan side”. He said that the US needed to “work with Pakistan” so that violence and attacks from within its borders could be lessened.

It comes after reporters accompanying Gates to Afghanistan received a briefing from the local US commander, Lt. Gen Eikenberry stating that in Afghanistan the number of suicide attacks had increased from 27 in 2005 to 139 in 2006, remotely detonated bombings more than doubled from 783 to 1,677, and armed attacks nearly tripled from 1,558 to 4,542.

It comes after the Afghan put out a video recording of a captured Taliban spokesman known as Mohammad Hanif stating that Mulla Omar was based in Quetta under the protection of the ISI.

The timing is important because Carlotta Gall, the author of the story, also wrote another one that was put on the website on the same day by the same newspaper detailing the hooliganism to which she and her photographer were subjected by persons she believed were Pakistani intelligence agents.

For many in the West and indeed elsewhere in the world a physical assault on a woman journalist would perhaps be regarded as more damning of Pakistan than the material contained in the story itself. But for the purpose of the point being made here, it is apparent from the second article that Ms Gall had completed all the interviews and the research for the story in Quetta by December 19, the day on which she was assaulted and presumably made to leave.

It is also likely that she informed her publishers and US officials of what had transpired and what had prompted the assault. Why then did this story appear only one month after Ms Gall had left the scene so to speak? Was it because even the notoriously independent New York Times can sometimes be persuaded to hold back a story so that the maximum impact could be ensured at a later date?

Perhaps I am being unfair to Ms Gall. Perhaps she was really continuing her research in Islamabad and in Afghanistan or in the archives from which she probably retrieved the information that in September last Gen Jones the then supreme commander of Nato forces had told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Quetta “remained the headquarters of the Taliban”.

Perhaps she was interviewing our minister of state for information, Tariq Azeem, who denied that the Taliban leadership is based in Quetta and said that if there are Taliban in Quetta they are few and “you can count them on your fingers”.

Whatever the motivation or the reason for the delayed publication of this story there is no doubt that it provided colourful if anecdotal corroboration for the charges laid by American officials and largely undid whatever little comfort the commander of Nato forces, Gen David Richards, had provided by acknowledging Pakistan’s role in the elimination of Taliban leader Osmani and in the reduction in violence that had been noted in Afghanistan at least by this Nato commander.

We should note in this context that the UN team’s report on Afghanistan late last year held maladministration and corruption largely responsible for the mess in which Afghanistan finds itself. We should note that alongside Negroponte’s testimony there was also testimony by Gen Michael Maples of the Defence Intelligence Agency who pointed out that “Nearly five years after the Taliban’s fall, many Afghans expected the situation to be better by now and are beginning to blame President (Hamid) Karzai for the lack of greater progress.”

We should also note that the video confession of the captured Taliban spokesman can hardly carry any weight when he is not put before the international media and asked to answer their questions, the more so when a Christian Science Monitor reporter recalls that the same man had denied to him in an earlier interview that Mulla Omar was in Pakistan.

The issue, however, is not about how well-documented or valid these allegations are. It is that not only do the Americans believe that the Taliban are being sheltered but more and more of them and their Nato colleagues are holding Pakistan responsible at least in part for the casualties that Nato forces are suffering in Afghanistan.

It is not realistic to assume that these casualties will cause the Americans and their more resolute allies to abandon Afghanistan. It is probable that the Democrat-dominated Congress will use its power to force a revision of the policy in Iraq but will back fully the effort to stabilise Afghanistan and this region since they, like Negroponte, believe that it is a major source of Islamic extremism.

The Americans, from their perspective, have made every effort to secure and applaud Pakistani cooperation. According to the figures that the Americans have put out, Pakistan receives, in addition to the yearly $600 million promised in foreign aid, a sum of $80 million a month for the facilities that are provided to the Americans.

They have tried to direct assistance towards the tribal areas and towards the education sector as part of their contribution to eliminate the menace of extremism. They have waived and will continue to waive the provisions of American law, albeit on the basis of an annual presidential certification that prohibits the provision of assistance to countries where there has been a military takeover. They have sought to avoid making public the concerns on the basis of which they are dissatisfied with the effort Pakistan has made against the Taliban.

We should now read the Negroponte assessment and the subsequent statements by Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as indicating that the administration may not be able to find support even within its own ranks for continuing this approach. This is a serious development and we should regard it as such.

Much more important is the question of what we who put “Pakistan first” want to do for our own well-being. If we are thinking of bringing back moderation and tolerance in Pakistan’s polity we have to have zero tolerance for those who preach the violent ideology of the Taliban or who risk Pakistan’s safety by undertaking or encouraging adventures abroad in the name of jihad.

This means that we should not tolerate the presence of any foreign Taliban fighters or recruiters on our soil. Tariq Azeem said that the number of Taliban in Quetta can be counted on one’s fingers. Whatever their number they should be apprehended and deported.

Given an opportunity to refute the NYT charges in an interview with the Washington Post, Pakistan military spokesman Maj. Gen Shaukat Sultan said that “We don’t deny the Taliban come and go, but that is not the entire truth.” He said, “If 25 per cent of the problem lies on our side of the border, 75 per cent of it lies on the Afghan side.”

There is no denying the truth of this. It would certainly help if the Afghans were able to tackle the 75 per cent of the problem that lies on their side but they seem to be incapable of doing so. However, this does not mean that we cannot or should not make every effort to eliminate the 25 per cent on our side.

How do we do this? We must now remove from our soil the refugee camps in which the Taliban find refuge, as Gen Sultan said, when they come across the border for rest and recreation. Even if they are not sanctuaries for the Taliban we must remove them because we know that these refugees have been there since the days of Ziaul Haq and are a disturbing element in Pakistan’s domestic polity. They have been used in the past, and will be used in the future to reinforce reactionary and extremist trends in the country and as “mules” for narcotics trafficking. They have been and will continue to be competitors for jobs in areas of Pakistan where jobs are scarce.

We must also control movement across our border. The biometric system must stay in force and be implemented whether the Afghans like it or nor. We must not be intimidated by mob demonstrations or Afghan protests and we must extend it from Chaman to Torkham and all other border points.

We have a Pakistan Taliban problem. Gen Sultan identified Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani tribal, as a top Taliban leader. Mehsud is a Pakistani and therefore our problem. Given the current temper in the tribal areas it is clearly not a problem that can be solved by the use of force. Making agreements with the tribal influentials to win peace is a good idea even if some of the influentials are Taliban or Taliban supporters.

But such agreements are worthwhile only if the peace so won is used to commence the sort of political and developmental activity that can erode the Taliban base of support, and rebuild the authority of the administration and of the traditional tribal maliks and that is our declared policy.

So far there is little to show by way of political or economic activity in the tribal areas. By all accounts the only politicians that have free access to the area are representatives of the religious parties. This must change. It must be recognised that in the course of our chequered history, we have deliberately and as a matter of policy fostered fanaticism in the area. We did so successfully because plenty of resources were made available. Now we have to reverse the results of past efforts and do so even if resources are lacking. Resources, however, will be forthcoming if a coherent plan is formulated and speedily implemented.

The writer is a former foreign secretary

Missing factors in health education

By Zubeida Mustafa


THE good news from the medical sector is that Dr Azhar Faruqui, the enterprising director of the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases, Karachi, has taken the initiative to establish a paediatric cardiology unit at the NICVD.

This will be the first of its kind in Karachi. Lahore already has one such unit. Until now, infants needing cardiac surgery did not have many choices and many of them went abroad for simple corrective surgical procedures if their lives were to be saved.

Some medical professionals resent it that patients are taken to India when similar procedures can be performed here. But the fact is that the facilities here are very limited. Recently, Shabina, who runs the Garage School for children of the katchi abadis in Clifton and also arranges for the healthcare of her students and their families when needed, took Maxwell Happy, aged 14 months, to Chennai for a congenital heart problem that needed corrective surgery. Doctors in Karachi had refused treatment saying they did not have the post-operative care facilities to perform the operation on such a young child.

It is therefore heartening for children like Maxwell that the NICVD will be setting up a unit for paediatric cardiology. Dr Azhar Faruqui told media representatives that he plans hiring the services of foreign surgeons and anaesthesiologists for the paediatric unit.

While initially foreign expertise might be required, one hopes that Dr Faruqui plans to have his own men and women trained in this branch of medicine as soon as possible. Pakistan does not lack surgeons and physicians who excel in their field, although the declining state of medical education in the public sector has badly affected the middle cadre health professionals. But it would be a short-sighted policy to go in for foreign experts on a permanent basis rather than create training facilities to produce our own paediatric cardiologists.

We return to the question posed in these columns a few weeks ago: do we really need foreign expertise? Yes, for paediatric cardiology until NICVD can train its own specialists, which should not take more than a few years. Other health institutions in the country are sending their professionals to foreign medical institutions to provide them training under an arrangement. The Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation invites transplant surgeons to perform specialised surgery to train their own staff.

There have been other precedents. Prof John Hadfield, a British surgeon who died recently, rendered yeoman service to this country by paying annual visits to conduct post-graduate courses in surgery free of charge for the fellowship examinations of the Pakistan College of Physicians and Surgeons. He did that for 30 years until advancing age and failing health prevented him from undertaking the arduous journey. It is estimated that over a thousand Pakistani surgeons owe their post-graduate training to Prof Hadfield.

It is time that we explored innovative measures in the health sector. These should be designed to train young health professionals to equip them with expertise in modern technology and knowledge in their respective fields. The idea should be to opt for methods that do not unduly enhance the cost of treatment since ultimately it is the poor man who has to foot the bill for his own treatment. It is therefore more feasible if doctors who plan to stay in Pakistan and serve their own people are trained in their own environment or as close to home as possible.

We have a strange paradox here. The public-sector medical colleges and universities, which at one time produced top-ranking physicians and surgeons in the country, are in a state of rot with a few exceptions. Many new institutions are so appalling in terms of the quality of education they provide that it is actually hazardous to seek treatment from the so-called doctors produced by them.

The private sector medical institutions are vastly superior and also seek to root their education in the local socio-cultural milieu. One would have expected their graduates to form the backbone of the health delivery system. But they failed because they are not motivated enough to stay and serve their own people. They opt for the greener pastures abroad. Hence, the first step should be to revamp and radically upgrade medical education in the public sector, which should also be tailored to indigenous conditions.

If medical professionals are trained scientifically on the basis of the concept of continuing education, their performance would improve since they would understand the local needs and the people better. Some may have to be sent abroad for specialised training. But many would not have to go far. The medical institutions in China seem to produce better graduates and are quite affordable too ($2,475 per annum which includes tuition and hostel). Moreover, the health statistics of the country are living testimony to the commitment of the Chinese to public health.

Four indicators can be taken as the yardsticks to measure the state of health of a nation. One is the life expectancy at birth which is 71.5 years for China and 62.9 years for Pakistan. Infant mortality rate in these countries is 26 and 80 per 1,000 live births. Maternal mortality rate in China is 51 per 100,000 live births and 530 for Pakistan. And above all, the literacy rate is important to determine the capability of the people to contribute to their own health. In China 91 per cent of the people above 15 are literate. In Pakistan, this figure is 50 per cent.

What is missing in our medical colleges and health professionals is the sensitivity to the importance of public health. Very few of our physicians lobby the government on public health issues. How many of the medical bodies have launched serious campaigns demanding clean water, sanitation, better solid waste management?

Significantly, all of these have a direct bearing on the health of the people. It is important that a holistic approach to health be inculcated in health professionals and medical students. Specialists are certainly needed and some foreign training will improve their skills and knowledge. But better public health policies will reduce the need for medical specialists because people would not be falling ill so frequently.

Hides and votes

By Hafizur Rahman


READERS may recall newspaper reports published after the recent Eid-ul-Azha that there had been quite a competition between the MQM, the Jamaat-e-Islami and Imran Khan’s boys for grabbing the skins of sacrificed animals. However, no observer, as far as I can recollect, had analysed the political aspects of this triangular contest.

Now a Peshawar daily, assessing the role and performance of the Jamaat-i-Islami in this behalf, has put forth a criterion which may not have occurred to anyone so far. Quoting a spokesman of the Jamaat, the paper has gauged the popularity of his party from the fact that overwhelming deposits of goat and sheep skins are made in the party offices on every Eid-ul-Azha.

The spokesman must be putting a brave face to it, but it must be pretty galling for a religious political party seeking the allegiance of men’s hearts and souls to find that the only thing it has received from them in abundance is stinking hides.

What would you say about the people of Pakistan who go out of their way to deposit with the Jamaat-i-Islami the skins of animals sacrificed by them as a religious duty, but at the time of election vote religiously and overwhelmingly for non-Islamic parties, including the secular PPP?

This reminds me of the charismatic Ahrar leader and orator, Syed Ataullah Shah Bukhari. You may not be old enough to have seen him in action, but if you are even a little interested in the politics of this part of the subcontinent you are bound to have heard of him. Dazzling oratory of a fiery kind was his forte. Without exaggeration, he would start speaking to a huge crowd after the Isha prayer and end on hearing the azaan just before dawn, with the audience rooted to the spot and not a man thinking of getting up and going home.

Sometimes when the crowd would burst into adulatory applause for Shahji (as he was popularly known) he would say to them in rather acid tones, “I know you love to hear Shahji, but when the time comes for voting you will go and vote for the Muslim League.” He used to be quite bitter about this.

Shahji never thought of inviting Muslims to hand over their goat and sheep skins to him, otherwise he could have become the biggest hide merchant in the country if he had appealed to them and they had obliged. The Ahrar Party never had much money.

What is it about the hide-collecting business that has not attracted other political parties to it? Is there something derogatory about it that the Jamaat’s example has not been followed, except rather fitfully by the MQM or Imran Khan? After all if a party and its adherents can go from door to door begging for votes, what is the harm in asking for animal skins? Don’t forget that later these skins fetch a handsome price, a welcome addition to party funds.

I must tell you a story, a true story connected with begging for votes, and in a way also for animal skin — that of the prized Karakuli lamb. In President Ayub’s time, one of his favourites was Chaudhry Mohammad Husain, for many years mayor of Lahore. A journalist friend once accompanied him in his car on a vote-securing mission, the voters being members of Basic Democracies, the electoral college for election to the National Assembly.

In every house that he visited Chaudhry Sahib staged a melodramatic scene, assuring the voter of his eternal loyalty and “khidmat”. In a parting act of histrionics he would take off his Jinnah cap and place it at the man’s feet in an ultimate gesture of humility. As soon as he came out his chauffeur would hand him another Jinnah cap for the next voter.

My friend said to him that this must be quite an expensive undertaking. A Jinnah cap for a person of Chaudhry Mohammad Husain’s status and wealth must cost a couple of hundreds at least in those days. (Say a couple of thousands today.) Why should he want to spend so much on hundreds of give-aways?

Chaudhry Sahib smiled and said, “I may be a simple man but I am no fool. The boot of this car is packed with the cheapest variety of Jinnah caps. It is one of these that I place at the voter’s feet. My own Karakuli is with the driver. It is the best quality from Afghanistan and I got it in Kabul. I wouldn’t give it away for a hundred votes.”

Yes, why haven’t the other parties thought of hide-collecting as part of their extracurricular activities? Even religious parties like the two Jamiats, each with its breakaway factions, has abstained from taking to this business. Why have they left the field open to their rival, the Jamaat-i-Islami, which exploits the statistics of skins gathered by it to publicise its popularity with the people, as shown in the Peshawar daily?

Frankly I don’t know the answer. Only persons who have known the Jamaat from very close quarters for a long time, like the respected columnist Irshad Haqqani of Jang and Mustafa Sadiq, owner and editor of the daily Wifaq, can enlighten us about the philosophy behind this idea.

As for me I have suddenly seen it as an inexpensive alternative to the (normally) fair-yearly exercise of national and provincial elections that cost the country hundreds of crores and leads only to mutual bitterness, even killing, dishonest rigging and finally White Papers. Why not amend the electoral laws and base each political party’s grading at the hustings on how many goat and sheep skins it is able to command from the masses?

I know there can be (and will be) rigging in a system of hide-collecting too if such a system is enforced. One party may kill thousands of goats and sheep outside the Eid requirement and stuff the ballot boxes with these bogus votes. But look at the advantages. No fights at polling booths, no fraud in the name of women’s votes. And then the extra bonus of “sawab.” How can anyone even dream of computing that!

Haunted by the past

WRITING what turned out to be his last column before he was murdered, Hrant Dink likened himself to a pigeon, “obsessively looking to my left and to my right, in front of me and behind me”. Not without good reason. As editor of a bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper, he had never shunned controversy, and on Friday he paid the price. He was shot three times as he left his office.

Worryingly, this was not an isolated incident. In the past 15 years 18 other Turkish journalists have been killed for their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists — making Turkey the eighth deadliest country in the world for members of this profession.

Aside from the risk to life and limb, journalists — along with academics and others — have suffered pervasive legal harassment for allegedly violating article 301 of the penal code, which makes it a crime to “insult” Turkey, its government or national character.

Those who have fallen foul of this law include the novelist Orhan Pamuk, who late last year became the first Turk to win a Nobel prize.

Mr Dink, a Turkish citizen of Armenian descent, had also been prosecuted several times — on one occasion for complaining about certain lines in the Turkish national anthem. But most of the trouble heaped upon him resulted from his views on the mass killing of the Ottoman Armenians in 1915, which many regard as genocide.

More than 90 years after the event, it remains one of the most sensitive and intractable issues in Turkish politics, with the government continuing to reject the “genocide” label.

Mr Dink’s contribution in this area was far from unconstructive: he had been looking for ways, as he put it, to “change this historical conflict into peace” and had urged Armenians in the diaspora to temper their anger.

This is one key issue (along with Cyprus and the Kurdish question) that Turkey will have to resolve as it strives towards membership of the EU.

The need to do so is obvious but, in fairness to Turkey — sandwiched between Europe and the Middle East, shackled by relics of its past and attempting to balance the demands of conflicting internal forces — we can scarcely expect results overnight.

What we must expect, though, is a thorough and transparent investigation into the killing of Mr Dink, with scrutiny that is up to the best standards, rather than those of the Middle East.

We might also hope, though with less confidence, that the Turkish government will take this chance to reconsider article 301, not just because such laws have no place in a modern state, but because honest debate is the best, and perhaps the only, way in which the ghosts of history might finally be laid to rest.—The Guardian



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007