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DAWN - Features; March 16, 2007

March 16, 2007


Provincial autonomy, press freedom dominate coverage

By Sohail Sangi

TWO issues -- freedom of the press and provincial autonomy -- dominated newspaper headlines last week.

The government, on three occasions, barred journalists from official functions for reasons not explained. The three occasions were: the opening ceremony, performed by the prime minister, of the Urs of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai; the convocation at the Mehran Engineering University in which Governor Ishratul Ibad was the chief guest; and the multi-party conference (MPC) on provincial autonomy in Karachi.

The restrictions come at a time when journalists are agitating over the recent murder of newsman Munir Arain in Shahpur Jehanian town and the registration of a case against Hadi Sangi, who works for a Sindhi television network.

A few months ago, Hadi’s nephew Munir Sangi, representing the TV channel, was shot dead while covering a tribal feud.

Provincial autonomy has all along been a live issue in Sindh, virtually defining the anti-centre sentiment pervading the province.

The Sindhi press was sceptical about the multi-party conference organised by the provincial government. The daily Khabroon writes that the MPC did not yield anything positive because all the major political and nationalist parties stayed away.

The paper feels that the Sindh government was not keen to invite the major parties to the conference – the representative of a party was given invitation on the floor of the Sindh Assembly and no government leader met any leader of the party. The paper terms the Sindh government’s attitude frivolous.

The daily Hilal-i-Pakistan says that the government reportedly wants to give provincial autonomy to the smaller provinces, but it failed to ensure the presence of major parties at the conference. Although the conference could not be termed representative, the participants were unanimous that provinces should get autonomy.

The paper says the moot point was which document would underpin provincial autonomy – the 1973 constitution or the 1940 resolution.

The paper recalls that framers of the 1973 constitution had assured the smaller federating units that the quantum of provincial autonomy would be reviewed after 10 years, but it was never done. The Hilal-i-Pakistan says the district government system bypasses the powers of provinces, rendering them like a post office.

According to the newspaper, smaller provinces view the recent move of the government with doubt. “If the government is sincere, it should do away with the district government system.”

Daily Ibrat says the MPC was of the view that the present situation is worse than the crisis of 1971 and if provinces are not given their rights, the very integrity of the country will be at stake.

The paper supports the recommendations of the MPC regarding more powers for the senate, saying that now the ball is in the government’s court.

Daily Kawish takes up the incident at the Sindh Agriculture University, Tando Jam, in which hundreds of people attacked the university, causing a loss of millions of rupees. Police registered a case against some 1,500 people.

The paper ridicules the DIG’s statement regarding the inability of police to arrest the accused, wondering that if a protester can be arrested, why thugs cannot be caught for holding the innocent hostage for five hours.

The Kawish calls for a judicial inquiry into the matter.

Daily Kawish welcomes the statement of Sindh Chief Minister Arbab Rahim that he would oppose the division of Sindh. The daily says it is an irony that whenever there is a serious move to give provincial autonomy or some rights to Sindh, some 'quacks or spin doctors’ suggest the bifurcation of Sindh.

The paper urges the Sindh Assembly to take note of 'unwarranted suggestions’ and adopt a resolution denouncing proponents of Sindh’s division. .

Three newspapers -- Kawish, Ibrat and Awami Awaz -- comment on the recent relief package announced by the prime minister, saying the grant of subsidies solves nothing. They also deplore the sale of sub-standard commodities at utility stores.

Attack on Iran is imminent?

By M. Ziauddin

DON’T be surprised if one fine morning when you wake up you find that overnight the US has destroyed 10,000-plus targets inside Iran by using its strategic airpower and seas-based missiles.

Dr Dan Plesch, who sounded this warning during a debate the other day at the Foreign Press Association (FPA) on the Iran-US standoff over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, is a research associate at three institutes— the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the Keele University and the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies. Author of Beauty Queen’s Guide to World Peace, he has also founded and directed British American Security Information Council (Basic).

Others who participated in the debate included Dr Mehrdad Khonsari, senior Research Consultant to the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, and a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Mark Regev, spokesman of Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Michael Gayle, American Embassy’s Iran watcher, whatever that means.

The purpose of the debate was to explore the likelihood of a war on Iran, its consequences and how Britain would react to the bombing of the country. While no one said how London would respond to the bombing of Iran, three of the four speakers targeted their devastating barbs at Iran putting it into an imaginary dock and levelling all kinds of charges against it with no one to defend it. Dr Plesch the fourth speaker refused to believe that the possibility of war was off the table because the US is exhausted due to its Iraq entanglement. He even rejected the notion that US would hold its hand if it was verified by even the IAEA that Iranian programme was not aimed at making weapons.

“Washington is not prepared to take an Iranian ‘yes’ for an answer,” he insisted.

According to Dr Plesch, the US was in a state of high readiness to launch an attack against Iran. Its firepower has quadrupled since 2003 when it invaded Iraq, he said. All its forces from inside Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Gulf and the naval presence in the proximity were in top gear and could be activated on a minute’s notice, he implied.

He perhaps advisedly did not mention Pakistan in this list of countries arrayed against Iran because there are no US troops inside Pakistan but there must be some cogent explanation for President Ahemdiniejad’s indirect objection to the meeting of the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia in Islamabad last month. The issue between the two countries had become so contentious that President Musharraf had to telephone the Iranian president to reassure him.

The arguments propounded by Mr Gayle, of the US embassy, were too self-serving to merit any mention in detail. He even went so far as to window dress the US position on Iran’s nuclear ambitions by stating that his country accepted Tehran’s right to pursue a verifiable peaceful nuclear programme. But when Dr Plesch challenged his contention and said according to the IAEA, Iran was still too far away from acquiring weapon making capability he skirted the point by referring to the relevant UN resolution of sanctioning Iran which he said was based on the report by the IAEA—a UN agency.

He seemed at a loss for words when asked what would be the US position on the so-called human rights violations in Iran if Tehran took a U-turn on its nuclear programme; would Washington ignore these violations as it did in the case of Libya when it agreed to close down its nuclear programme? I could not but see the parallel in our own case when this part of the Q&A was being enacted.

To the dismay of mainstream political parties in Pakistan and the disillusionment of its democratic elements the US, the self-styled champion of democracy in the world as a trade off for Pakistan’s help in its war against international terrorism has continued to ignore the prolongation of military rule in the country and also tolerated violation of all kinds of human rights in the country like people disappearing by the scores and the recent incident of removal of the country’s chief justice without any constitutional, legal and moral sanction on yet to be framed charges and keeping him under virtual house arrest.

Mr Mark Regev of Israel was concerned about what he said Iran’s old-fashioned anti-Semitism, its opposition to a peaceful Middle East solution, its support to terrorism and its nuclear ambitions. He was convinced that Iran had become a fascist country because of what he believed to be its anti-Semitic attitude. He was also convinced that it was Iran’s money and weapons that were sustaining Hizbullah and Hamas in their opposition to the two-state Middle East solution. He thought Iran also had a hand in encouraging Jihad related global terrorism.

But the most astounding remark by him concerned his claim that Iran’s Arab neighbours wish to team up with Tel Aviv to defeat Tehran’s ambitions and join hands with Israel to defend themselves against a nuclear Iran.

Ridiculous as it sounds, the claim provoked one of the Arab journalists in the audience to ask him if he knew how the Arab countries neigbouring Israel felt about its own nuclear arsenal. First Mr Regev tried to side step the question but when the questioner insisted for a direct answer, he said he was invited by the FPA to discuss Iran’s nuclear ambitions and not Israel’s defence matters.

Dr Mehrdad Khonsari informed the audience that Iran’s domestic problems were as serious as its problems with the outside world, if not more. He mentioned the persistently high inflation in the country to show that the economy was in a bad state.

He was also worried about massive human rights violations in the country and said teachers, students, media persons and women were demonstrating for their rights.

Being an Iranian he wished there would be no attack on his country but pleaded with the world to bring enough diplomatic pressure on Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions and make it stop violating human rights. And contrary to general perception that Tehran was opposed to Taliban, he implied that Iran was not only tolerating but helping the Taliban.

World Cup brings forth literature on cricket

By Rahul Banerji

NEW DELHI: Come the cricket World Cup, and can a flood of seasonal literature be too far behind? The 2007 edition of the quadrennial cricket paroxysm has unleashed one apiece by veteran commentator Ashis Ray and Mumbai-based writer Devendra Prabhudesai.

Ray’s book — based on his 44 years of association with the game in many capacities as summariser, commentator and journalist — is a first-hand, anecdotal work in the course of which he examines India’s progress in the area of limited overs cricket very closely indeed.

It is widely acknowledged as India’s coming of age in ODI cricket. But Ray was there, and saw it all happen to which he has fittingly devoted a full chapter, “The Turning Point”.

Prabhudesai’s book starts with two negatives. On the cover legendary cricket photographer Patrick Eagar has been rendered as Eadgar, and it marks a shoddy beginning. The book itself is hard-bound and cumbersome ovate in shape, which means you have to be firmly ensconced, preferably in a deep armchair, to delve any further.

Another book by senior Kolkata reporter Debashish Dutta, is an unabashed paean to Sourav Ganguly. The coffee-table publication is lavishly illustrated, but the meat is lacking as Dutta — a seasoned cricket writer better known as Debu on the circuit — concentrates his efforts on a series of explanations about India’s most successful captain’s up and down career, particularly the downs.

For Ganguly fans, a soothing balm. For others seeking a reasoned assessment of a fascinating cricketer’s life and career, not the reading of choice at the end of it all. —Dawn/The Asian Age News Service

Iraqis want political leaders who care for them

By Ali al-Fadhily

BAGHDAD: Many Iraqis are now looking to local political leadership to fill wide gaps in a fractured government that is failing to provide security and basic needs.

“Iraqis feel lost amongst too many political currents that blew their country away with their narrow sectarian and personal interests,” Mohammad Jaafar, a Baghdad-based politician formerly involved in the interim government said.

“I am ashamed to say that I am or even was an Iraqi politician after all the damage to our country that we caused. It is entirely our fault and there is no question about that.”

Many politicians feel similarly.

“The only solution for the Iraqi dilemma is to change the whole crew of politicians including myself,” Thafir al-Ani, Iraqi MP for the Sunni al-Tawafuq List said earlier. “We must admit that we have failed our people, and so we should make way for newcomers who may improve the situation.”

Iraqis have been confused by the turbulent political machinations since Saddam Hussein was overthrown in March 2003 following a US-led invasion. Saddam had been placed in political power by a CIA-backed coup in 1968.

The Coalition Provisional Authority led by L. Paul Bremer took over the administration of Iraq after the invasion, followed by a US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. This body was then followed by an interim government led by Iyad Allawi, a former CIA asset.

Iraqis then voted on Jan 30, 2005 to bring in a government they expected would call for a US withdrawal and bring stability and security to the war-torn country.

Instead, the country burns in violence, with very little reconstruction. Much of the population lives in survival mode. This has made people angry with the current government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

“Iraqis dream of a new face who will lead them to security and prosperity -- even if he were a new dictator,” Aziz Nazzal, an Iraqi analyst based in Baghdad told in an interview.

“Iraqis have tried kings, communists, Arab nationalists, dictators and now Islamists, but have never found a system that could tap the huge potential of Iraq in a way that fulfills people’s hopes for a developed and safe country.”

Many are also frustrated with their religious leaders, most of who find a place in the current government.

“We followed our religious leaders and trusted them for four years thinking they would lead us ashore after our long sufferings,” Foad Hussein, a teacher now working as a taxi driver in Baghdad said. “But all we got is death and terror. They seem interested only in protecting their personal interests and their close family members.”

What may emerge now as a grassroots movement is beginning to call for a shift towards local politics.

“Let’s go home and do something” -- that is a call often heard now at refugee centres. Some believe the answer may lie in tribal arrangements; others want political leaders “who did not get their hands dirtied” in the current mess. “Tribes in Iraq are not sectarian and our chiefs of tribes are the best interim solution,” Mukhlis al-Bahadly from the Sadr City area of Baghdad told. “They are the ones who can lead us until this country finds its way out of this mess.”

There is little hope that this can happen while Iraq is occupied by the United States.

“We know who the good people are and we will choose them if we ever have the chance, but they refuse to participate in any solution under occupation,” said Sheikh Jassim al- Badri, a cleric from Baghdad. “Clean hands could not eat out of the same plate with the occupation, but they will definitely take their positions as soon as the occupation leaves or some acceptable arrangement is agreed.”

Rumours run of “shadow governments” being formed abroad, but Iraqis have little faith in people who fled and left them to face the situation.

General Nizar al-Khazraji, former chief of staff in the previous army, former minister for foreign affairs Naji al-Hadithi and some others are said to have formed such ‘governments’ abroad to replace the current government when the time comes. No one is sure yet what, and who, will work.

“We need a leader who really cares for us,” a 55-year-old teacher from Baghdad who asked to be referred to as Fatima said. “They all say they love us, but where is that love? All they did was drag us into poverty and a war between our brothers.”

And some have just left it to God.

“Only God can save us by giving us a man who really cares for us,” said 35-year-old Jamal Hakki from the Ghazaliya district of Baghdad. “All humans in other countries are either against us or with themselves while we face our destiny on our own.”

—Dawn/The IPS News Service

Across the globe, warming viewed as ‘critical’

By Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON: Climate change is of real concern in all parts of the world, but there is disagreement over whether the problem is urgent enough to require immediate, costly measures or whether more modest efforts will be satisfactory, according to an international poll released on Wednesday.

The poll, conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and in cooperation with polling organisations around the world, was carried out in 17 countries containing more than 55 per cent of the world population, although not all questions were asked in all countries.

Twelve countries were asked whether steps should be taken to address climate change.

Ninety-two-per cent of Australians favour measures to combat global warming, making it the country with the largest majority of its population believing immediate action should be taken to reverse climate change.

Surprisingly, China, whose environmental policies are often criticised, and Israel are the next most inclined to favour such measures, with 83 per cent of their populations in favour of immediate actions to reverse trends in global warming.

The lowest level of support for taking steps to address global warming was found in India, with 49 per cent of the population supporting immediate action while 24 per cent were opposed.

Arguments against the validity of global warming as a scientific fact have not fared well, with fewer than one in four people in any country endorsing the statement, “Until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs.”

Countries with the highest percentages favouring inaction include India (24 per cent), Russia (22 per cent), and Armenia (19 per cent).

Countries with the smallest percentages favouring inaction include Argentina (three per cent) and Thailand (seven per cent).

In a separate question, asked in ten countries, strong majorities in all of the countries say climate change is an important threat, with small minorities calling it unimportant.

The highest percentage of climate change sceptics are in Armenia (16 per cent) and Israel (15 per cent).

Majorities call climate change a “critical” issue in Mexico (70 per cent), Australia (69 per cent), South Korea (67 per cent), Iran (61 per cent), Israel (52 per cent) and India (51 per cent).

Larger numbers agree climate change is “critical” in Armenia (47 per cent), China (47 per cent), and the United States (46 per cent) while Ukraine was the only country split about whether the problem was “critical” (33 per cent) or “important but not critical” (33 per cent).

Proponents of the “go-slow” and “low-cost” approach include: Philippines (49 per cent), Thailand (41 per cent), Poland (39 per cent), Ukraine (37 per cent), and India (30 per cent).

The polls are split between those who favour less expensive measures and those who believe the problem merits action involving significant cost in China (low cost, 41 per cent, significant cost 42 per cent), and Russia (low cost, 34 per cent, and significant cost, 32 per cent).

The recent poll data suggesting an increased awareness that global warming requires immediate action comes on the heels of a report released last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the leading international network of climate scientists — which confirmed the scientific evidence behind global warming and urged prompt action to slow and reverse the dangerous buildup of heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere. —Dawn/The IPS News Service

Tremors: way to predict big earthquakes

By Alok Jha

LONDON: Mysterious tremors deep in the earth’s crust could provide a way to predict future catastrophic earthquakes, according to scientists.

Weak “non-volcanic tremors”, first discovered five years ago near Shikoku in Japan, pose no dangers in themselves and have previously been dismissed as insignificant by many scientists. But a new study shows that they are related to low-frequency earthquakes (LFEs), slow-moving seismic activity deep underground which can potentially build up enough force over time to cause a major earthquake at the surface.

Gregory Beroza, a geophysicist at Stanford University, who led the new study, said: “Some people believe that LFEs and tremor are separate phenomena, but what we’ve shown in this paper is that they are actually the same thing. Tremor is simply a swarm of low-frequency earthquakes, but rather than happening quickly and impulsively like ordinary earthquakes, tremor shakes the earth for hours, days or even weeks at a time.”

The findings, published on Thursday in Nature, could help experts predict when a deadly earthquake is due to strike.

“We now understand tremor is generated directly by slip on the deep extension of the fault. Combining this understanding with our new ability to locate tremor precisely in time and space, we can track the details of how slip evolves during a week-long slow-slip event,” he said. “This could potentially lead to an improved ability to forecast a major earthquake there.” —Dawn/The Guardian News Service

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007