It is Waziristan again

VIOLENCE has become a way of life in North Waziristan where people are being killed practically every day. But Tuesday’s incident at Datakhel in which 22 people were killed in a blast in a cluster of compounds was a major event considering the large number of casualties (one source puts the death figure at 32). What is more disturbing is the ambiguity that surrounds the happenings in the tribal areas which are now determining not just the course of the war on terror but the entire future of Pakistan. Take Tuesday’s blast. There are at least three versions of what actually caused it. According to the residents, missiles from across the border had hit a madressah in the area that led to the death of a number of people. The Pakistan army spokesman insists that the blast was accidental and occurred when some militants were making explosives. The US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan have categorically denied that they had fired any missile. Who is to be believed? In order to preempt any misunderstanding the authorities should allow media representatives and human rights activists to visit North Waziristan — which at present is virtually a no-go area for outsiders — to determine the truth of Tuesday’s explosion.

This would have many advantages. If the government’s claim is correct and is confirmed by independent sources, it would save the army the odium that is hiding the truth. It would also help establish its credibility which has gone to shreds since General Musharraf joined hands with the Americans to wage a war against the al Qaeda. But the question would be raised as to why our forces have failed to check the entry of the foreigners into this region — those making the bombs are said to have been Uzbeks. If, contrary to what the army claims, the cause of the blast was a missile and innocent people were targeted along with the militants by our armed forces and their American allies, then it is time for the government to review its policy in the tribal areas, especially in respect of its strategy vis-à-vis terrorism. If the claim of the residents is found to be true, it means that the war on terror being waged mainly in the tribal areas along the Pak-Afghan border is proving to be counter-productive. If this war has failed to have an impact while resulting in the death of countless people — many of them innocent civilians — the Pakistan army and the coalition forces in Afghanistan will have to rethink their strategy.

There is also the long-term policy that the government is expected to address, though understandably it would like to focus at present on its immediate goal of controlling terrorism. It should concurrently work to bring the tribal areas into the economic, political and national mainstream. For centuries this region has been marginalised and kept backward and underdeveloped. Having failed to enter the 21st century, Fata obviously cannot keep pace with the rest of the country. It is the antediluvian thinking of its people, their poverty and the lack of economic opportunities that drive them to violence, smuggling and drug trafficking. In the present-day scenario a majority of them have fallen victims to some militant groups and the foreigners in their midst. If the government shows an understanding of these factors, it may succeed in rooting out terrorism from the frontier region.

A controversial knighthood

IT is astonishing that nearly two decades after the publication of The Satanic Verses, the British government should have chosen to re-kindle a forgotten controversy by knighting its author. Salman Rushdie may be a great fiction writer, but he has used his pen to create hatred rather than enlightenment among nations. When it was published in 1988, the book had aroused indignation throughout the Muslim world because of its blasphemous contents, leading to widespread protests. Iran even issued a fatwa of death, later withdrawn, against a man whom some people call a Satanic author. The relations between the Muslim world and the West are passing through a tense phase. The deception preceding the Anglo-American attack on Iraq, the disinformation campaign about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the Blair government’s hand in doctoring the intelligence dossier to create the myth of a 45-minute ‘warning time’, the attack on Afghanistan, the Abu Ghraib torture revelations and the unqualified Anglo-American support for Israel’s continuation of Palestine’s occupation — all these have combined to embitter relations between the West and the Muslim world. The idea here is not to underestimate the impact of the criminality committed by Osama bin Laden in September 2001, besides other acts of terror against civilians in Madrid, London and elsewhere.

Common sense requires that both sides do nothing that could aggravate the sense of mutual alienation. Like the Danish cartoons, Rushdie’s knighthood will widen the chasm. Equally deplorable is Mr Ejazul Haq’s talk of suicide bombing. Muslims have, no doubt, been hurt by Mr Rushdie’s ennoblement, but that a religious affairs minister should have talked in these terms in parliament is indeed deplorable. In fact, instead of articulating the Pakistani people’s sentiments in the spirit demanded by the occasion, Mr Haq has provided the western media with ample material to discover a Pakistani hand behind every act of terrorism. His statement is as much worthy of condemnation as the Labour government’s decision to confer knighthood on the Satanic Verses writer at a time when the arrest of Ruth Turner, one of Mr Tony Blair’s aides in the “cash for honours” scandal, has lowered the prestige of British honours.

Woes of hepatitis patients

FREE treatment for almost 2,500 patients of hepatitis in Sindh has been held up because of delays in the supply of medicine. The patients are registered under the Prime Minister’s Programme for the Prevention and Control of Hepatitis that was launched in 2005 and which also aims at providing potable water, Hepatitis B vaccines and Hepatitis C medication. Unfortunately, so far the programme has not proved very effective in Sindh or elsewhere in the country for that matter. Not only does the provision of medicines leave much to be desired, little headway has been made in creating awareness about the two blood-borne diseases. While definite figures for hepatitis (B and C) patients in the country are not available, the World Health Organisation fears that this could be as high as 10 million. This is not surprising considering that most people have not been vaccinated against Hepatitis B and are exposed to dangerous medical practices, such as the reuse of syringes, which could cause the hepatitis virus to enter their bloodstream. This concern is exacerbated by the knowledge that Pakistan has one of the highest use of injections worldwide, and doctors here administer these to even those who do not need them.

There is need for greater research on the incidence of the disease to get a clearer picture of what kind of health strategy should be employed to treat the patients. Similarly, a greater check must be kept on hospitals and clinics to ensure that contaminated medical equipment is not used on patients. Educating the public about the modes of transmission of blood-borne hepatitis and of its health implications is also necessary to prevent their going to quacks or doctors with doubtful qualifications. Meanwhile, the government must step up the supply of medicine to contain the suffering of patients registered under its hepatitis control programme.

Tony Blair’s legacy

By Ammar Ali Qureshi

IN 1997, Peter Hennessy, a highly respected British historian, wrote a few months before Tony Blair assumed power: “Command premiership of a highly personalised and driven kind usually ends in tears.

Sir Anthony Eden’s and Mrs Thatcher’s did in 1957 and 1990 respectively. Getting your own way simply by stamping the prime ministerial foot is conducive neither to good government nor to personal survival, nor to a contented retirement.”

A decade later, Blair’s “command and control” premiership — as Professor Hennessy later characterised in his book The Prime Minister — has ended in tears and tragedy. The most accomplished performer-politician of his time is leaving the political stage, unsung and unlamented.

In the last few years, Blair had become obsessed with his legacy, his place in and impact on history and the verdict of history on his premiership. In the final analysis, it is achievements not performance on the stage which shapes legacy or determines one’s place in history. Focused on performance and presentation instead of on achievements, Blair’s was the most media-conscious government in British history that preferred spin over substance.

Tony Blair set records and achieved distinction during his political career which started in 1983 when he became MP at the age of 30. Eleven years later, he assumed the leadership of the Labour Party and played an instrumental role in redefining its image and philosophy and changing its traditional policies, most importantly, Labour’s ideological commitment to nationalisation under Clause IV of the party’s constitution.

Embracing concepts such as the market economy and globalisation, he re-oriented the Labour party from left to centre and rebranded it as New Labour. In 1997, Tony Blair, positioning himself as a new leader for the new millennium, led the Labour party — which had been in opposition for 18 years — to a historic victory. At 43, Blair was the youngest 20th century British prime minister. He led his party to three successive election victories, becoming the first Labour prime minister to do so. In his last term, Blair became the first serving prime minister to be questioned by police in a “cash for honours” scandal.

Inheriting a good economy from the Tories, Blair presided over the longest economic boom in the post-war period, although credit for economic management must go to Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer for 10 years and the next prime minister.

Blair tried to introduce reforms in the education and health sectors but too late in his tenure to produce any significant results. He espoused the cause of climate change and made efforts for Britain to be a leader in this field. In the first week of his first term, the Bank of England was granted independence to set interest rates. Two significant achievements of his 10 years in power are devolution in Scotland and Wales and bringing peace to Northern Ireland.

On the domestic front, Blair’s decade as prime minister was viewed as a continuation of Thatcherism in a diluted form. Known as ‘Tory Blair’ and ‘Maggie’s Boy’, Blair was considered by Old Labour as a Conservative who hijacked the Labour Party with his catchy idea of New Labour.

When Edward Heath, Conservative prime minister in the early ’70s, died in 2005, Blair, paying tributes in the House of Commons, recalled his first meeting with him in the early ’80s. He drew laughter in the House when he quoted Heath as saying, after finding out that the young Blair was a Labour MP, that he did not look or speak like a Labour MP.

In reality, Blair was a populist who borrowed ideas eclectically from both the left and the right and incorporated those ideas into an election-winning template. After 18 years in the wilderness, Labour, in 1994, desperately needed a leader who could win elections, and Blair, charming and charismatic, was the man of the moment.

A populist is not wedded to any ideology, does not indulge in institution-building relying instead on direct contact between the charismatic leader and the people and refuses to accept any institutional check on his authority. A true populist, Blair, in his presidential or imperial style of governance, displayed all these traits. Eloquent and persuasive, Blair banked on direct contact with the people and was fixated with media management.

He did not depend on any institution — such as the cabinet, the party or the parliament — for taking major decisions and showed indifference towards these institutions, although he did deliver some remarkable speeches at party conferences and in parliament. His greatest strength was his ability to reach out to the people and win elections, something he was more comfortable with than governing the country.

His populism and the ability to engage or persuade the public failed the most important test of his political career: selling the Iraq war to a sceptical public. The run-up to the invasion of Iraq fully illustrated a complete disconnect between the public and the leader.

Despite media management and dossiers on Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, the British public remained unconvinced about the rationale for an unnecessary and disastrous war. Iraq exposed Blair’s poor judgment and lack of understanding of history. His previous foreign policy decisions of liberal interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan were successful but the catastrophic war in Iraq has continued to haunt him well into the last days of his premiership.

Blair’s close personal friendship and alliance with President George W. Bush on the invasion and occupation of Iraq (although Washington did not support London during the Suez crisis) made him unpopular at home and distanced him from European leaders. The most pro-European prime minister when he came into office, Blair found himself alienated from Europe after the decision to invade Iraq.

Tony Blair once confided in Roy Jenkins, the late British statesman and a prolific political biographer, that he wished he had read history, and not law during his Oxford years. A big believer in spin, Blair probably never uttered a truer word. Jenkins was not much impressed by Blair and later compared his government to a lighthouse, “its revolving beam alighting for a time on this issue or that before moving on to the next.”

Had Blair read history he would have placed less emphasis on attention-grabbing ideas or opinion polls showing popularity. He would have known that longevity of tenure cannot compensate for lack of far-reaching reforms or poor foreign policy decisions.

Apart from Winston Churchill, Britain has seen two great prime ministers, in the 20th century, known for far-reaching domestic reforms and successful foreign policy: Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher. History is unlikely to place Tony Blair, the longest serving Labour prime minister ever, in the same category. Anthony Eden’s premiership ended due to the Suez fiasco and the issue continued to haunt him during his long retirement.

Blair’s reputation has been soiled by a four-letter word: Iraq. His legacy is hostage to the fate of British troops in Basra and Baghdad. It is not his successful economic policies but his Middle East misadventure which will be the tragic epitaph for a man who lacked experience in the domain of foreign policy before he became prime minister.

Does CIA use torture?

IS the CIA doing the United States more harm than good by interrogating suspected terrorists in secret prisons overseas? Inquiring minds on the Senate Intelligence Committee want to know, and they're entitled to an answer.

And in pressing the administration to justify this shadowy programme, senators should demand answers on a related question: Will the CIA continue to subject prisoners to what President Bush demurely calls "alternative" interrogation techniques that may border on torture?

In approving an authorisation bill for intelligence agencies last month, the committee stopped short of de-funding the programme but recommended in a report that it be shut down unless the administration proved that it is "necessary, lawful and in the best interests of the United States."

That the CIA programme survives became clear in April, when the administration revealed that Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, a former advisor to Osama bin Laden, was being transferred to Guantanamo Bay from CIA custody.

What isn't clear is whether the CIA has forsworn interrogation techniques such as sleep deprivation and "water-boarding."

Some members of Congress believe that these and other cruel and degrading techniques were ruled out by legislation introduced by Sen. John McCain and reluctantly signed by Bush in December 2005. But the president confused matters with a signing statement in which he reserved the right to interpret the law in a way consistent with "protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."

In September, after the Supreme Court ruled that detainees enjoy the protections of the Geneva Convention, then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte said the CIA had discontinued "tough" and "aggressive" interrogation techniques.

But the next month, Bush signed the Military Commissions Act, which he said would allow "the continuation of a CIA programme that has been one of America's most potent tools in fighting the war on terror." Administration lawyers are still devising new guidelines for the CIA that will allow unspecified "enhanced" interrogation techniques.

All of this has created ambiguity about a subject that cries out for clarity. Torture violates basic norms of American society; it is wrong wherever practised and by whatever euphemism. If the administration persists in defining torture down, Congress should push back — by using the power of the purse.

As McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, put it in the Republican debate in South Carolina: "It's not about the terrorists; it's about us. It's about what kind of country we are."

––Los Angeles Times

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007


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