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DAWN - Editorial; March 19, 2007

March 19, 2007


Need to conserve energy

WITH summer round the corner and few options available for additional power generation on short notice, it is time to return to basics and give the common-sense approach a chance. A desperate situation is becoming more dire by the day and the key at this stage may well lie in conservation. While there can be no denying the need to increase generation capacity, a job which the planners in Islamabad have neglected over the last eight years, other avenues have to be explored to compensate for the centre’s indifference or lack of foresight. By the government’s own estimates, total installed generation capa-

city in 2005-06 stood at 19,439MW, a mere 10 per cent higher than the figure for 1999. For an administration whose rallying cry from day one has been economic growth — a task in which it succeeded to no small extent — it is baffling that no one in authority could forecast that increased economic activity would result in higher power consumption. Indeed, if it had not been for the energy policy of 1994, the situation today would be even bleaker. Wapda now fears that the electricity shortage could exceed 2,000MW in coming months, a truly crippling scenario for industry and a nightmare for domestic consumers who could face up to four hours of load-shedding a day. Though belatedly, the water and power authority is now stressing the need for conservation in the light of the looming crisis facing the country.

There is no shortage of guilty parties when it comes to wantonly wasting electricity. The problem begins at home, where lights, fans, televisions — even air conditioners — remain on when no one is in the room to benefit from these comforts. The solution is simple: flick a few switches and save energy. Moreover, appliances that are left in perpetual standby mode ought to be turned off at the mains. Imagine the massive collective difference it would make in a large city if every home consumed 200 watts, just two or three light bulbs, less than what is currently used. While this may not be possible in the homes of the poor, the middle and affluent classes can certainly play their part. The town and city authorities can make an even bigger impact. As things stand, street lights can be seen blazing away in daytime and there is a growing number of parks that remain bathed in floodlights into the early hours. Restrictions must also be imposed on illuminated billboards and neon signs. Companies which have paid in advance for such rights could turn the situation to their advantage by highlighting how, as good corporate citizens, they are contributing to the larger public good. In government offices, it is customary for lights, fans and air conditioners to be turned on well before the officers and other staff members show up for work.

Such wasteful practices must end forthwith if the authorities are serious about energy conservation. It is also critical that the country’s power utilities tackle the problem of transmission and distribution (T&D) losses. Wapda’s T&D losses stood at 21 per cent in 2005-06, while the KESC fared even worse losing 34.4 per cent of total available electricity. To check these staggering losses, distribution networks must be upgraded and strict action taken against power theft by both industry and domestic users as well as state organisations.

Saving heritage sites

SUCH is the state of neglect that even the shocking sometimes fails to have the intended effect. For instance, no alarm bells rang after the New York-based World Monuments Fund listed two Pakistani sites in its biennial report on the 100 most endangered cultural heritage sites. The WMF warns that the Thatta monuments, also known as the Makli graveyard, and the Mian Nasir Mohammad graveyard in district Dadu are under serious threat from neglect and the ravages of time. Erosion is rapidly degrading the Samma-era Thatta monuments, a vast necropolis that is one of only six Pakistani sites on Unesco’s World Heritage List, while the Mian Nasir Mohammad graveyard of the Kalhoro rulers is at the mercy of waterlogging and salinity. Both sites are in urgent need of protection, the WMF report points out. In the case of Makli, help may be forthcoming from Unesco which is raising funds for its preservation.

These are not isolated cases. Several other cultural heritage sites across the country are also suffering from neglect. Local influentials are burying their dead in the 18th century Kalhoro graveyard in Hyderabad, a site protected under the Antiquities Act 1975. In November 2006, it was discovered that a cellphone company had begun constructing a communications tower within the 5,000-year-old Moenjodaro ruins. The complicity of local officials is obvious from the fact that this crime came to light only when a Unesco team visited the World Heritage site. Human activity aside, erosion is a major factor in Moenjodaro’s decline. Poor drainage and salt build-up are meanwhile playing havoc with the Jhukarjodaro ruins near Larkana. Even when the intentions are noble, the authorities can make a mess of things, a prime example being the ‘restoration’ of the Ranikot Fort in district Dadu. Similarly ill-advised are moves to ‘beautify’ the Lahore Fort and the city’s Shalimar Gardens, both World Heritage sites. At the same time, artefacts continue to be pilfered from sites and museums, sometimes at the behest of influential local collectors, and many antiquities are smuggled abroad. These are national, not local or provincial, treasures and efforts must be made to protect the country’s endangered cultural heritage.

Internet censorship

WHILE the global uproar over the government’s recent attempts at gagging the mainstream media in Pakistan may lead it to a hands-off-the-media policy for now, it brings little relief to those nationalist media organs and groups whose websites continue to be blocked. Dozens of internet blogs and sites run by Baloch, Sindhi and even smaller ethnic groups continue to face the ban, with internet service providers forced by the government to apply filters to block their viewing in the country. While the initiated internet users know how to circumvent the ban via a third domain, it is the blocking of direct access to a particular blog or a socio-economic and political forum which presents the government and the country in equally bad light as do attempts to gag the popular media. The internet is a common cyberspace shared by users globally; there are innumerable sites run by rights activists which provide lists of the websites banned by a given government. Gen Musharraf’s has the dubious distinction of being listed among the world’s most xenophobic regimes censured for curtailing people’s access to information.

That this has been happening for months with media organs representing Pakistan’s smaller ethnic communities which do not find a voice in the mainstream media is all the more reprehensible. It is good that now when the national media and civil society are rallying behind the cause of the freedom of the press, the Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement has also decided to take part in the multi-party conference called by the PML-N in London later this week. This will provide the nationalist leaders a wider platform from which to voice their grievances and become part of the mainstream opposition to press the government for greater civil liberties and for enforcing the rule of law.

Contempt for institutions

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

WHAT is it with us in the Muslim world? What explains our indifference to, or, worse, casual contempt for institutions that are held in deference by the rest of the world? Just look at how the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court is being treated.

Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has been made non-functional and confined to his residence. His crime? He has been accused of ‘misusing authority’. Accused by whom? By a little known lawyer who has accused the top judge of using his official position to get his son a police job.

The action against Justice Chaudhry may have come as a shock to the uninitiated like me who are not inured to the daily shock-and-awe of Pakistani politics. However, as far as the people of Pakistan are concerned, this is not something new. In fact, they have seen worse over the past six decades in their eventful history.

Would such a thing be possible in a mature democracy, say, like the United States? Coming from India, I know for sure that such highhandedness on the part of the executive is unthinkable in the world’s largest democracy.

Not only does the Indian judiciary take pride in its independence, it continues to exert its healthy influence over other branches of the state from time to time. Let alone taking on the courts, the executive and legislature in India revere and seek guidance from the judiciary. This is perhaps why India is hailed as a successful democracy whereas its separated-at-birth twin, Pakistan, continues to fight daily existential battles 60 years after its creation.

I don’t know and I don’t care if there’s any truth in the accusations hurled at the Chief Justice. For it is not for you and me or for that matter for President Pervez Musharraf to sit in judgment on the top judge of Pakistan’s highest court.

This doesn’t mean the judiciary is above the law. The law will judge the judges too, if they ever take liberties with it. But there are ways of holding the judiciary to account in all countries in accordance with their constitutions. I am sure Pakistan’s constitution too must have built-in mechanisms to deal with such an eventuality.

Constitutional propriety is the last thing on Pakistani politicians’ minds. We haven’ still forgotten how eight years ago, Pervez Musharraf was unceremoniously divested of his position as the army chief by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The current president, who had been in Sri Lanka at the time, was not being allowed to return to his country. The general’s plane was not being allowed to land even though it was dangerously low on fuel. We all know how the army then stepped in to rescue its top gun and send Nawaz Sharif into exile. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sharif’s excessive hunger for power proved to be the tragic flaw in his character. He played recklessly with the country’s institutional framework, hiring a new army chief here, ousting a chief justice there. In fact, the current army chief and president, Musharraf himself, was picked up by Sharif to replace Gen Jahangir Keramat, who had fallen out with the prime minister. Sharif also forced the ouster of the then Supreme Court Chief Justice, Sajjad Ali Shah, with equal arrogance.

The prime minister forced Justice Shah out by dividing the Supreme Court judges between two benches, creating an embarrassing situation in which the two benches were ready to condemn each other.

It’s a tragedy that Musharraf has drawn no lessons from recent history. In disdainfully dealing with the Chief Justice as if he were one of his many minions, the Generalissimo has ironically chosen to walk in the footsteps of Nawaz Sharif, his former boss and present bete noire.

Which is kind of sad. For I have always found Musharraf to be a reasonable man. Unlike many other Muslim leaders, he has managed to strike a rare balance between his beliefs, or rather his people’s beliefs, and demands made on them by political and strategic compulsions in which Pakistan finds itself hopelessly entangled.

The doctrine of enlightened moderation that the president unveiled last year in his opinion piece, published in Khaleej Times among other newspapers around the world, reveals a sensitive and thinking leader who is not out of sync with the realities and problems of our world, especially those of the Muslim world.

More importantly, he shares and identifies with the concerns of the so-called Muslim street. Seeking to act as a bridge between the West and the Muslim world, the general passionately called for addressing the historical injustices in the Muslim world, especially against Palestinians, to deal with growing extremism around the world.

In improving Pakistan’s relations with India too, Musharraf has gone to the extent no other Pakistani leader has ventured before. If Indians and Pakistanis are freely travelling today across the geographical divide and the Line of Control in Kashmir has been opened at five points, the credit should largely go to Musharraf and former Prime Minister Vajpayee, of course.

Musharraf has his share of warts. And there are many ordinary people like me who have serious differences over his unquestioning support for and involvement in Washington’s war on terror. This so-called terror war has spilt much innocent blood. The general’s record on democracy and human rights is not irreproachable either. But the people of Pakistan do not really seem to be missing the ‘democratic’ leadership of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.

On the whole though, Musharraf hasn’t done badly for himself or Pakistan. His rule or stage-managed ‘democracy’ has been better and certainly cleaner than that of the two ‘elected’ prime ministers.

Which is why it’s unfortunate that the general should choose to taint his legacy with this shocking and shortsighted attack on the judiciary. The violent protests across the country that have brought lawyers, judges and ordinary people out on the street leave one in no doubt that Musharraf has for the first time swallowed more than he could chew.

Guilty or not, Justice Chaudhry finds himself transformed into a popular hero and man of the masses. When he came to present himself before the Supreme Judicial Council, Justice Chaudhry was mobbed like a rock star by a crowd of lawyers and ordinary people. You don’t have to be a pundit to know it’s not the excessive popularity of the honourable Chief Justice that is driving the crowds delirious but the boiling anger against the establishment’s highhandedness.

Musharraf has presented the directionless and divided opposition, which has been hopelessly trying to corner the general and the puppets he has picked up ahead of another election certain to be choreographed by the army once again, with a rare opportunity.

Ironically, Justice Chaudhry may end up accomplishing what powerful and calculating politicians like Sharif and Bhutto have failed to achieve: that is, drive Musharraf out of power.

But Musharraf is not alone in this shameful desecration of institutions. This has been the tradition right from the creation of Pakistan. In fact, why single out Pakistan? This has been the norm rather than an exception across the Muslim world, from the Middle East to North Africa to Central Asia. The Muslim world continues to suffer the rulers who had not been chosen by the people. Rather, they had been forced on them by the departing colonial masters.

And this colonial legacy lives on in the all-pervading corruption, institutional decay and all-round decadence. If the Arab and Muslim world continues to remain stuck in a time warp without democracy, good governance, transparency, freedom and basic rights while the rest of the world has moved on, we should thank our former colonial masters. Honestly, if it were not for them, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in.

And then they accuse Islam and Muslims of being naturally hostile and ill suited to democracy and all that it brings with it. This even as the West continues to patronise and protect its friends and allies who remain the real stumbling block to peace and progress in the Muslim world.

The writer is a journalist based in Dubai.

Cruelty to children

IT WAS 1874, and the only way a New York City social worker could rescue a 9-year-old girl who was being horribly abused was to get help from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. There were no laws on the books dealing with the protection of children. One has to wonder how far we've come: Today in Maryland there still are harsher penalties for neglecting a dog than for neglecting a child.

That was the revelation from the recent arrest of a woman on charges that she left her five young sons unattended in a squalid basement apartment in Prince George's County. The children were hungry and living in filth. Yet, as reported by The Washington Post, the mother faces a maximum penalty of only 30 days in jail on each misdemeanour charge of leaving a child unattended. In contrast, she faces 90 days in jail on an animal cruelty charge because a dog also had been left in bad conditions. It has been established that those who abuse animals often progress to mistreating people, and that's just one of the many good reasons for having laws to protect animals. Clearly, though, the disparity here just doesn't make sense.

Maryland is the only state that doesn't have a criminal child neglect statute. Instead, there's a gap between its laws regarding leaving a child unattended and child abuse.

— The Washington Post

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007