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DAWN - Opinion; March 28, 2007

March 28, 2007

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Targeting foreign militants

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh


THESE are depressing times for Pakistanis. Consider the following:

• The political crisis caused by the reference against the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice was exacerbated by his physical manhandling by over-zealous officials and the sacking of the offices of a private TV channel in Islamabad.

Demonstrations by lawyers, initially countered by brutal police methods, have since been held peacefully and are now being reinforced by demonstrations led by political parties. So far, they have been peaceful and if they remain so will mark a new level of political maturity. But for the man in the street the fear is that once the government party also arranges counter demonstrations things may well go very wrong.

• In Washington and elsewhere, the ham-handed handling of the matter and the strong public reaction have raised serious questions about President Musharraf’s “aura of invincibility” and accentuated concerns about Pakistan’s stability. US administration officials, while studiously avoiding adverse comments, have nevertheless felt constrained to remind the president of his pledge to remove the uniform before seeking re-election.

Congress has been less reticent. The chairman of the sub-committee on South Asia of the House Foreign Affairs Committee asked the administration to make sure that it did not rely on Musharraf alone and highlighted his belief that the recent disturbances in Pakistan showed that “democracy is an issue that has slipped in emphasis if not in actual importance.”

The letter from the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee attracted attention because it asked for permitting the leaders of the PPP and the PML (N) to participate in the elections. It also suggested that action against the Taliban leadership in Pakistan would help the development of US-Pakistan relations.

This could not be seen as reassuring in terms of the measure of American support even though it is clear that, at the administration’s urging, Congress has not yet imposed any conditionality on the continuation of American assistance to Pakistan.

• Consider, too, Pakistan’s stunning defeat at the World Cup. The subsequent murder of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer led to, as was almost inevitable, unsubstantiated reports that the murder was somehow associated with “match-fixing” in which a part of or the entire Pakistan team participated.

Given Pakistani enthusiasm for cricket, this has perhaps been more damaging to Pakistani morale than any other event. That this incident was only the latest and most tragic of the sordid events that have plagued the team in recent months has not helped.· In UK at the opening of the trial of Britons of Pakistani origin the prosecution claimed that the abortive bombing attempt on July 21, 2005, like the more successful July 7, 2005, bombings in the London underground, had its origin in training camps in Pakistan. It is a grim reminder that only a few of the graduates of these training camps went to the UK. The rest are here to create mayhem in our own cities.

• The bomb blasts in Quetta and the blowing up of rail tracks and gas pipelines serve as a constant reminder of Baloch discontent and the ineffectiveness of the coalition government in Balochistan.

• Next door, a new UN resolution has strengthened the sanctions regime against Iran. Iran suspects that recent incidents in Iranian Balochistan have been carried out by “Jundullah” militants based in Pakistani Balochistan and are part of the American effort to destabilise the regime. The Iranians are now fencing the Pak-Iran border ostensibly to guard against drug smuggling from Afghanistan via Pakistan but largely because of this fear of infiltration.

• Tensions in Iran’s relations with the West have grown further after Iran detained 15 British sailors whom it accuses of entering its territorial waters. Hopefully, this problem will be resolved peacefully and quickly. There is no chance that Iran’s confrontation with the West will lead to a military conflict but many Pakistanis entertain the depressing fear that we may soon be asked again to decide whether you are “with us or against us”.

• President Musharraf’s presence at the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia is ostensibly recognition of the role he is seeking to play in evolving a consensus among Muslim countries on the solution of the Palestine issue. Many in Pakistan, however, perceive this as an attempt to draw Pakistan into the anti-Iran alliance that the conservative Arab states are building against a perceived Iranian effort to marginalise the Iraqi Sunnis and to have a subservient Shia government in Iraq.

• In Afghanistan, the Nato forces backed by the Afghan national army have launched Operation Achilles to force the Taliban out of the areas of Helmand province that provide access to the Kajaki dam and to proceed with the reconstruction of the dam that could provide economic benefits to the people of the southern provinces.

A separate operation was launched by the Afghan national army on Nauroz. Tall claims of success — 99 Taliban killed by Friday — have been made by the Afghans but there is no Nato confirmation for these numbers. What has emerged is an acknowledgement by a Nato commander that the more intensive efforts of Pakistani forces at the border and around the refugee camps have reduced the level of Taliban infiltration from Pakistan. This is a significant but small consolation.

There seem to be no signs yet that either of the operations is making substantial headway in clearing the roads and making reconstruction possible. There is little to indicate that the campaign to “win the hearts and minds” of the people has made much headway.

American pleas for additional European troops to be sent to Afghanistan and for the caveats on their use to be removed have yielded little result. Nor have there been any additional pledges of aid for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The destabilising influence of a disturbed Afghanistan will continue to be felt in Pakistan and will continue to complicate the task of fighting extremism in this country.

It is against this backdrop that one should view the somewhat cheering news from the tribal areas that the local tribes are now waging a war against the foreign militants — primarily the Uzbeks led by Tahir Yuldashev but including Chechens and Arabs — and have inflicted heavy losses of men and materiel on them. While reliable figures are hard to come by, there seems to be little doubt that more than 150 foreign militants have been killed and their vast arms caches have been taken over by the locals.

One such cache in a jail maintained by the Uzbeks was said to have contained 188 Kalashnikov rifles, 175 rocket propelled grenades, 1,800 hand grenades and thousands of bullets. The government has denied assisting the locals in this fight but eyewitness reports suggest that army helicopters have been sweeping over the area and possible providing information to the locals about the location of the militants.

Government representatives also appear to be very well informed about the course of the fighting and it would be reasonable to assume that the government is discreetly providing assistance and advice.

There had been many indications that the presence of the foreign militants and their heavy-handed ways were beginning to grate on the nerves of the local tribesmen, including fervent supporters of the Taliban and dedicated opponents of the US presence in Afghanistan. The code of Pashtunwali was severely strained by Tahir Yuldashev’s apparent insistence that the principal enemy was the Pakistan army and that no agreement with it needed to be honoured.

Today, the tribesmen allege that the Uzbeks killed most of the 120 odd pro-government tribal leaders eliminated since the 2005 agreement between the tribals and the government. The people of the area, it is well known, do not take kindly to the presence of foreigners in their areas. These factors alone, however, would not have been enough to trigger the present action. The Uzbeks with their foreign backers provided money to a poverty-stricken area and were generous in paying for the services they received locally.

It can be said that the tribesmen finally decided to take action against the foreigners after the government promised more generous compensation and because these promises were regarded as credible. If this is what happened, then the government is right in claiming the credit. It is likely that either the Uzbeks will leave the area or will continue to live there only under conditions prescribed by the local leaders. This, however, is only the first step, albeit a significant one.

There are reports that the tribal leaders who led the action against the foreign militants — chief among them Mullah Nazir — are now said to be on the government’s side. But Mullah Nazir is at best an ex-Taliban. Those who are seeking to bring a jirga to the area to work out a settlement between him and Yaldashev are people like Baitullah Mehsud, the man the government holds responsible for breaching the 2005 agreement, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of the famous Afghan Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, and perhaps even the notorious Mullah Dadullah.

Apparently Mullah Nazir has refused to heed their call for a ceasefire so far and is asking more or less for an unconditional surrender by the foreign militants. These people, however, have a strong Taliban following in the region. Mullah Nazir may be under pressure to heed their call since he, too, is theoretically sympathetic to the Taliban objective of securing the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and restoring Pashtun primacy in Afghanistan.

A lot of hard work lies ahead to rid the region not only of foreign militants but also of Taliban influence. For this, money and social sector development is one element. Political space for the parties with an anti-Taliban and anti-extremist manifesto is another, perhaps more, significant requirement. It goes without saying that success in the tribal areas would have an enormously beneficial effect on the internal situation in Pakistan. If nothing else, it would bring to an end the creeping Talibanisation to which the Frontier province is being subjected.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Sabotage of another kind

By Hafizur Rahman


EVER since I read in a mofussil newspaper that RAW, the Indian secret service, had smuggled 200 "young and beautiful" girls into Sindh to seduce local dissidents into acts of sabotage, I have been tormented by thoughts leading to sleepless nights and near crazy days. Because, try as I might, I have not succeeded in setting eyes on even one of the 200.

True, its hardly a month that the Sukkur correspondent of that small Urdu daily broke the news, but I had thought that with my connections in Sindh, and my friendship with dissidents of every kind and colour, it should not be difficult to appropriate one of the 200 to myself. But I was not bargaining for the fact that the Pakistani male is terribly jealous and selfish where women are concerned. So there has not been a clue to any of them.

I did not try my Sindhi relations, for they are from a wellgaddi nashin family, and for them the very thought of a Punjabi relative daring to took at a "young and beautiful" girl in their possession would amount to sacrilege, assuming they have managed to catch one of them.

I even toyed with the idea of putting forth the argument to them that since they are as committed to Pakistan as to their gaddi, and that the thought of any act of violence or sabotage against the mother country would be abhorrent to them, they might as well transfer the young lady to me. But when your favourite niece is married into such a family you can't even broach such a subject with them.As for being willing to indulge in sabotage or any other act of violence, I could always make a fool of the young woman by pretending to blow up the office of the Privatization Commission or throw a spanner into the PTV works. Though I know that by doing even a little harm to the latter I would please more Pakistanis than the Indians waiting in the wings to see one of our national institutions go up in smoke.

You must be visualizing me as a lecherous old man drooling at the mouth at the thought of enjoying the company of a youthful siren from across the border. No, I am not that old. Only the other day I was narrating to one of my grandsons my romantic exploits in college and advising him, much to the chagrin of his mother, not to be engrossed all the time in his studies. One is only as old as one feels.

Come to think of it, I am too much of an optimist hoping that somehow I may be able to secure one of the 200 for myself. I have neither the influence nor the clout to get even a small plot allotted in my name. Who is going to let me get away with such a precious packet of foreign goods?

You see, while 200 is quite a number, it is hardly enough when you consider that it is 200 young and pretty girls for a grownmale population of something like 50 million. Of course these 50 million are not all privileged, nor are they all of the class that hankers after female company of the glamorous type. But even so the number of applicants would run into many thousands.

Pakistan is chockfull of VIPs of every kind, ever ready to exercise their influence and their clout for selfEvery one of them considers himself the state's sonlaw (as we say in Punjabi) and believes that he has a prior right to all the goodies available in the country, including girls received as gift from India.

Apart from the 100 or so cabinet ministers in the country, these VIPs are there in every class — among politicians, the feudal gentry, the dirty rich, industrialists and businessmen, lawyers and sointellectuals, and even maulvis. Most of them spend the day making money and nights making merry. What chance does a poor old freelance journalist like me stand with such eager claimants around, all straining at the leash to get at the girls?

And yet, as they say, hope springs eternal in the human breast. I was thinking that if I were to contact the Sukkur correspondent of the daily who gave out the news in the first place, he might be able to help. I don't know his name, but I may have done him a good turn when I was in the government PR business and he might be willing to reciprocate. Although I know it will be useless. People are likely to ignore their own father where the favours of a delectable young female are concerned, and I am not even his uncle.

I don't know what the 200 young girls from RAW are likely to achieve by wining and dining Pakistanis and provoking them into acts of subversion. But RAW has certainly succeeded in doing one thing. The very act of introducing all these beauties into Sindh alone is not going to be liked by the other provinces.

Punjab is decidedly going to believe that, as Big Brother, all the girls should have been passed on to it for equitable distribution like the Indus waters, while the Frontier and Balochistan will feel more than ever neglected and take their deprivation as a conspiracy between the Indians and the Sindhis. Thus RAW may have, purposely or unintentionally, driven a wedge between the Pakistani people and effectively sown the seeds of misunderstanding and disunity in their ranks through this ruse. I wonder if this act of discrimination on the part of RAW can be made the subject of a demarche to the Government of India.

There is another aspect of this case. For all we know — since nobody has seen a sample of — the 200 may neither be young nor beautiful. RAW may be playing a cruel joke on the macho men of this country. If this is so, and if I have any say in the matter, then the Indians can say goodbye to amicable relations with us Pakistanis.

Teachers as social reformers

By Zubeida Mustafa


OF ALL the components of education, the key one which determines the success or failure of a state in educating its citizens is the role of the teachers. Their professionalism, knowledge and pedagogic skills mould the minds and personalities of the generations of tomorrow.

Needless to say these have deteriorated over the years and partly account for the rot in the education sector in Pakistan. But there is another element which is equally important, if not more. That is the degree of motivation and commitment of the teachers. This factor goes into the making or breaking of an education system.

This conviction was further strengthened when I visited the education project of the Indus Resource Centre which runs 54 schools in various districts of Khairpur, Dadu, Jamshoro and Sukkur and is educating nearly 3,000 children (2,325 of them girls). True, this is no more than a drop in the ocean.

What is, however, remarkable inspiring about the programme is the motivation of the teachers. There are 114 of them and they do not treat their work as a career job — as a ladder for personal gain and monetary benefits. Probably, they have never heard of trade unions and would be shocked if they knew how they operate. The teachers I met in Sehwan and Khairpur demonstrated a lot of zeal and dedication and their performance went far beyond the call of duty as perceived by many of their more highly educated colleagues in Karachi.

Enlisting the services of such highly motivated teachers is the biggest achievement of the IRC that was founded seven years ago by Sadiqa Salahuddin with the motto of mainstreaming the marginalised. Sadiqa, who describes herself as a development professional, very soon discovered that not much would be achieved by simply opening schools with teachers present to teach.

Though in itself this would not have been an insignificant service considering the fact that 7,442 government schools in Sindh are non-functional, an NGO worth its salt would have to aspire for much more to justify its existence.

Recognising a universally accepted development principle, IRC adopted a holistic approach to education. Therefore it incorporated three basic elements in its programme, namely, education, participatory governance and economic initiative. It would like to include health care as an active component but has so far not succeeded given the expertise and resources that would be called for. But health awareness, environment sensitivity and gender equality are “cross-cutting themes” to quote the IRC’s profile document.

All this is possible only if social mobilisation, networking and advocacy is undertaken on a massive scale. This is where the role of the 114 teachers — as well as a hundred or so social mobilisers, trainers and other staff — comes in. Take the role played by the two coordinators — Farzana and Aasiya who are based at Sehwan and Khairpur respectively.

They travel all the way from their villages to their office every day leaving home early in the morning and work till late in the evening. They are visiting the schools under their care to check on the attendance and performance of the teachers and to keep a record of the needs of the school — be it for chalks and stationery or for reinforcing the teachers’ skills and knowledge. This might require them to organise workshops in different subjects to upgrade the teachers’ competence.

In the process the coordinators and the teachers would initially encounter resistance at the social level. Poverty was so entrenched that for many families it was a burden to even send their daughters to school. There were some who did not want their daughters to travel to a neighbouring village for reasons of personal security.

On many occasions Farzana and Aasiya were required to go to the villages and talk to the parents and persuade them that no harm would come to their girls, especially when transport was arranged for them.

One major apprehension of some fathers was that their daughters would go to school, get educated and then “run away” from home. The teachers and coordinators have managed to change mindsets on many occasions by putting themselves up as an example. They are smart, articulate, confident and, above all, highly motivated. What is more, they have not run away and continue to live with their families while supporting ageing parents financially.

The IRC has played its cards well by not being hamhanded in its approach. When a teacher had to be sent to attend a training programme in Sehwan/ Khairpur the doubting Thomases were reassured by encouraging aunts and mothers to chaperone them.

The IRC has gone to all extremes to reassure sceptical parents that educating their daughters would not be a disaster. The reluctance has stemmed mainly from the fact that not every village has a school. While official negligence has been a major factor there is also the fact that some of the villages are no more than small settlements and it would not be feasible to set up a school in each of them.

The determination and motivation of the teachers are remarkable. Many of them have themselves fought a hard battle to convince their families that education is good for them. They feel they are changing the lives of the little girls who come to them to study. They transmit their own motivation to their students and that acts like magic. The students are motivated too and they all have dreams of becoming doctors, teachers and even lawyers one day. When these little girls make their dreams come true they will return home to change the life of rural Sindh.

Where does all this motivation come from? The monetary inducements are not all that big to make them starry eyed and committed. It is an interactive process. As the cultural barriers come down, the teachers discover that they are winning the respect of the village communities with whom they identify themselves and from whom they are not alienated.

This process goes all the way up. Their ‘madam’ — the founder and secretary of IRC, Sadiqa Salahuddin — provided the spark to light the flame of commitment in them. They are now passing on the light to the little girls who dream of a bright future. Their dreams inspire the teachers to sustain their motivation and each of them ensures that this chain is not broken.

Immigration reform

THE BATTLE over immigration reform was joined in Congress last week with the introduction of sweeping legislation that would toughen enforcement, tighten border controls and provide eventual citizenship for millions who entered the country illegally.

That the opening legislative salvo came in the House, where real reform went nowhere in the last Congress, and that the bill has bipartisan sponsors generated fresh optimism that the broken-down immigration system may be replaced by a workable one. The optimism will be justified, though, only if the White House, which has been trying to coax a consensus on immigration from divided Republican lawmakers, sticks to its guns and fashions a blueprint for action that is both practical and comprehensive.

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, and Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, is a sound starting point for the debate. It should appeal to Republicans concerned about enforcement and border security, whose support will be needed in both houses of Congress. And it should also be attractive to Democrats determined to provide a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million illegal immigrants already here and for future immigrants who will enter the country on legal work visas.

Thick as a phone book, the bill is similar in structure, and in some details, to one introduced in the last Congress by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John McCain, with whom Mr. Flake and Mr. Gutierrez worked closely last year. For immigration hawks, there is plenty to like: Before the bill's citizenship provisions kick in, stringent new standards on workplace enforcement and border security would have to be satisfied. They include a major build-up in personnel and technology monitoring the nation's border. In addition, the legislation requires tougher penalties for a range of immigration-related crimes and the creation of a system whereby employers can electronically verify that employees and job applicants are authorised to work here.

The bill would require immigrants here illegally to cross a border and then reenter the country legally -- in theory on the same day, or even within hours -- thereby "rebooting" and legitimising their status at any time within six years. This is a political fig leaf that will allow immigration hawks to claim a symbolic victory, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory if it establishes a system so onerous or risky that immigrants simply decide it isn't worth it and remain in the shadows. For now, the bill's sponsors affirm that the "rebooting" requirement will be sufficiently flexible and common-sensical -- providing waivers for single parents, for instance, and allowing heads of household to "reboot" on behalf of their families -- that most illegal immigrants will comply.Conservatives opposed to citizenship for illegal immigrants are fond of pillorying it as "amnesty." This bill provides nothing of the sort. In addition to requiring lawful reentry to the country, it would entail immigrants paying a $2,000 fine and any back taxes they owe, clearing a security and background check, learning English and civics, compiling a felony-free record, and submitting proof of past employment. Only after six years and after satisfying those requirements could workers apply for permanent residency status, which could lead to citizenship.

The Senate, which proved much more receptive to realistic immigration reform than the House last year, has so far produced no legislation this session, despite pledges from Mr. Kennedy and Mr. McCain that they remain intent on doing so. As the Bush administration continues to plug away with Republicans, it realises that time is short; any bill up for debate too late this year will be at risk of succumbing to the passions engendered by next winter's presidential primaries. President Bush will have precious few chances to add to his domestic policy legacy before he leaves office. Immigration reform may be his last, best hope. The moment for pushing is now.

––The Washington Post



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007