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DAWN - Editorial; August 11, 2007

August 11, 2007


Contradictory US policy

IN THE twilight months of his presidency, George W. Bush has still been unable to shed the contradictions in his Iraq policy which stem from his hatred of Iran, once dubbed by him as part of the axis of evil. As a result, Mr Bush has adopted positions that are at times quite illogical. Thus, he has come round to recognising that for the US to check the militancy in Iraq, Washington would have to open a dialogue with Tehran which is suspected of having its fingers in the Iraqi pie. Much to the relief of all, the Bush administration agreed to talk to Iran at the ambassadorial level in May that led to the establishment of a tripartite security committee. This body that also includes Iraq has already had two rounds of talks, with the third scheduled for next Monday. A welcome corollary to this development is the warming of Iran-Iraq ties. This can normally be expected to have a favourable impact on regional equations.

But one wonders what has prompted President Bush to do an about-face and issue a warning against Baghdad and Tehran drawing too close. This is an affront to Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq, who was installed in office by the Americans. Since it is difficult to fathom the logic of the stance adopted by President Bush, his statement of Thursday that was directed at the Iraqi prime minister betrays Mr Bush’s gross lack of understanding of the working of diplomacy and strategic policy. Or is it an expression of the pathological hatred the Republicans have for post-revolution Iran which surfaces from time to time even when the going is good? Or it may be the manifestation of a deep sense of insecurity America suffers from in the context of its pet concerns in the Middle East, namely its oil interests and Israel. Whatever the case, Mr Bush is not promoting peace and stability in the region by trying to pre-empt a rapprochement between Iran and Iraq. Having destabilised the Gulf region by its invasion of Iraq and turning it into a killing field, America is only pre-empting the return of peace to this area by antagonising Iran further. Undeniably, Washington disapproves of a number of Iranian policies — Tehran’s nuclear programme, its anti-imperialist stance, its hard-line approach to Israel and its pride in its independent and nationalist foreign policy. But today Iran alone can play a key role for peace in Iraq. Hence it needs to be accommodated, which is not difficult if one remembers that at present Tehran is going through a moderate phase — it is less belligerent on uranium enrichment and more cooperative on checking terrorism.

It is time President Bush realised that foreign policy cannot be conducted successfully by demanding cooperation from governments and, at the same time, treating them with disdain. If the US feels that peace can come to the Middle East only when Iraq and Iran cooperate with Washington, Mr Bush must treat them both with dignity and respect. Strangely, this basic tenet of diplomacy has found no place in Mr Bush’s scheme of things. Further east, he has demanded cooperation from President Musharraf in the war on terror while concurrently embarrassing him by accusing him of ‘not doing enough’ and threatening to attack ‘terrorist safe havens’ on Pakistan’s soil. This schizophrenic approach does not help in inter-state relations.

A timely peace initiative

THE Women’s Commission for Peace (WCP) that has been formed by the Women’s Action Forum comes as a breath of fresh air at a time when Karachi has emerged as a city torn by hate and violence. Since May 12, when the city was traumatised by terror that was unleashed in full view of television cameras, many concerned citizens have pondered the repercussions of the intolerance and extremism that have crept into the soul of the city. If nothing is done to stop this trend, Karachi is in danger of becoming a city at war with itself. Recognising that women are the worst sufferers when violence strikes, WAF has taken this welcome initiative. The inclusive character of the commission, which will welcome anyone subscribing to the philosophy of peace and non-violence, should enable it to reach out to the people on a wide scale and gather strength in the process. Its strategy is simple. Without any administrative machinery at its command, the commission plans to use its moral strength and person-to-person communication to bring pressure on the state, the government, the political parties and other bodies to shun violence and hatred. Dialogue will be its mode of operation.

The WCP offers a positive alternative in an environment that is highly polarised with elections round the corner. The need to create public awareness on this issue is also important to eliminate the violence and intolerance that mark life at the personal, social and political levels. Some may express scepticism about the success of the commission. Given the degeneration that has afflicted our politics, society and even inter-personal relations, cynicism comes easily. But one should not succumb to it. Hope can be revived by creating a movement for peace by encouraging people to talk about peace and harmony within the family, neighbourhood and at the social level. This can make a difference considering that our commitment to peace has been merely rhetorical. Even if the WCP can induce people to think about the implications of a trend of hate and intolerance for human rights and democracy, the effort would not be in vain.

Reporting sex crimes

IT is heartening to read that families in the NWFP are breaking taboos on reporting sex crimes to the police. On Thursday, police officials said that they receive around 25 cases of sexual assault every month from nearly all districts in the province. Compare this with just a couple of cases that were registered a few years ago and the difference becomes clear. This shows that people’s awareness has been raised and they are rejecting the notion that reporting a rape brings dishonour to the family. This was a big hurdle that prevented people from stepping forward to report sex crimes. Thankfully this is changing. As of July 31, the police recorded 150 cases of sexual assault from 24 districts of the province. The victims are girls and women of 11 to 50 years of age while the age of male victims is six to 18. They must not feel that they have been denied justice.

There are more hurdles that need to be overcome. The police have to strengthen their investigation process and ensure that cul-

prits are apprehended and brought to justice. Far too often culprits get away with their crime because the court does not have enough evidence to convict the perpetrator. For this, the police say they need to have better-trained personnel to handle investigations as well as modern equipment that can help them secure evidence which will lead to convictions. The same is true of the medico-legal team which examines sex crime victims: they too must be properly trained to gather evidence and have it analysed as quickly as possible for which improved facilities will also have to be provided. It is important to secure rape convictions so that justice is delivered and more people are encouraged to step forward to report crimes.

Deal against the nation

By Sardar Mumtaz Ali Bhutto

IT IS no surprise that in the current whirlwind of imminent political realignments the usual adventurers have started salivating at the prospect of yet another bite at the cherry, while those who have had an absolute ball at public expense for the last eight years, see an escape from accountability at the polls through an immoral and shady deal.

But it is really depressing that our society as a whole is caught up in the slipstream of the fraud that is being perpetrated against the nation. The Musharraf and Benazir linkup, must raise many serious questions, based on the record of their past practices, and it is up to the sane elements, particularly the media, to honestly analyse what all this means for Pakistan.

Of course, both sides to the deal are at pains to hoodwink the people once again by professing to join hands for the restoration of democracy and the good of the country. No one is fooled as the record of the two on both counts is dismal. Suffice it to point out here that the general came into power by violating the Constitution and destroying the democratic set-up while the so-called daughter of the East does not tolerate democracy even in her own party and ruled the country for five years through henchmen and stooges.

It requires no sharpness of perception to comprehend that the deal makers are motivated only by the desire to stay on in power, even by swallowing what they have spit out, on the one hand and to save billions of ill-begotten wealth and sneak into power by the back door, on the other.

Now that Musharraf is sinking, he is no doubt ready to grasp at any straw, although previously he had no time for Benazir who spared no effort to move in since the day he took over. He often publicly ruled out the possibility of any links with her, spending millions to make her accountable for corruption.

But Benazir is a deal maker by nature. During the Zia days, she made a deal to be shifted from Sukkur jail to Karachi jail and then to her residence. From there, she made a fresh deal with Zia, through the good offices of the late Habibullah Piracha and an American named Peter Galbraith, who was imported from the US for this purpose, to leave the country and remain silent.

On these conditions she was allowed to go. Then again, even though she won the 1988 election, she came into power through a deal brokered by the Americans with the then chief of army staff General Aslam Beg, in which she agreed to continue Zia’s policies and induct his ministers and followers into her government and party.

All this was done even though she publicly held the Americans and the armed forces (whom she later awarded the Tamgha-i-Jamooriat) responsible for toppling her father and murdering him.

In between there was the deal with the MQM to share power in 1988 during which Sindhis were killed to eliminate them from Karachi. Lately, there is her deal with Nawaz Sharif, who is the last of the Zia men and who filed all the corruption cases against her in which she is absconding.

Of course, she has already broken this deal and the Charter of Democracy and the ARD have gone down the drain. It is inevitable here that her conduct must be contrasted with that of her father, in whose name she survives, who rejected all deals and took on and defeated two most powerful military dictators and refused to make a deal with the third, despite the latter’s overtures, even though it cost him his life.

As for deal making for the good of the country, eight years of Musharraf’s rule have turned Pakistan into a deprived and vanquished battlefield in which no one, least of all he himself, is safe, while the five years of Benazir’s governments are remembered only for the dozens of corruption and murder cases against the Zardari couple and their closest confidants. Some of these cases, such as those pertaining to the Surrey palace and money laundering in Switzerland, stand proved.Thus let us take stock of what the nation gets if these two lend each other a shoulder and once again impose themselves on the people: Musharraf continues to fight George Bush’s war against extremism and place the country in increasing jeopardy culminating in rivers of blood. Lawlessness, corruption, unemployment, rising prices and poverty continue to escalate while municipal functions and the basic facilities of education and medical treatment are practically non-existent.

Criminals with mass murder cases against them and notoriously corrupt individuals with convictions and on-going cases fill government offices.

They put on designer suits and tour the world at public expense with absolutely no benefit to the nation. They publish bogus figures of progress which are contradicted by the manifest misery of the people. All elections held during the last eight years have been recklessly rigged, bringing to the assemblies the usual turncoats and time-servers who are nothing but a disgrace and are now looking for new moorings.

All public institutions have drowned in incompetence and corruption, leading to uselessness and collapse. Those absconding from the country to escape accountability for corruption and charges of multiple murder, will return as conquering heroes to recommence their nefarious activities from the point where they were compelled to stop and run.

Each party to the deal is insufferable separately, together they will be a prescription for a bloody revolt by the agonised masses.

Moreover, when the chips are down and the time comes for the leaders to make a stand, this lot will, instead, make a hasty exit on their well-trodden paths to hide in safe havens abroad, which they have built for such eventualities. From there, they will watch and wait like hungry vultures.

The redeeming hope in this scenario is that the deal will not materialise. Even though Benazir is ready to become Shaukat Aziz, the armed forces, which still remain the paramount political force in the country and will continue to play a leading role in any dispensation, will not be happy.

Even though he is sponsoring the formation of a secular front against the MMA, George Bush’s only interest in Pakistan is to have a set-up which effectively implements his edict and it does not matter that this means the wholesale killing of innocent citizens in the country. This is a requirement which no civil leader, no matter how willing, can meet.

While Benazir, in the end, will be more then willing to support a politically dead general in return for escape from the corruption and murder cases against herself and her spouse, the deal really does not give an indication of jelling.

Hence, whether they know it or not, the ball rests in the court of the people. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry made a heroic stand which was bravely supported by the legal profession. But it was the overall backing of the people that brought victory.

The people are masters of their own fate and there is no political force greater than them. They must not allow shady deals between untrustworthy individuals to take the country over the precipice. They must stand up and exercise their right to elect new capable and clean representatives who may go forth and salvage the sinking ship of the state. In this, the role of the media is of fundamental importance and it must play it to the hilt or share responsibility for the sad fate of the nation.

The writer is chairman of the Sindh National Front.

State of many emergencies

PRESIDENT Pervez Musharraf’s announcement that he was committed to holding free and fair elections in Pakistan was not so much meaningless as ominous. If, as his aides claimed, he has rejected the option of declaring a state of emergency, why had the same people flagged up the possibility so vociferously 24 hours earlier? Why did the general pull out of a peace conference in Kabul at the last minute? And what was the subject of the midnight conversation he had had with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice? Even by Pakistan’s standards, it was a hot and heavy day for an unpopular general clinging on to power.

Of all the threats facing General Musharraf — and they are now becoming a rather long list: an Al Qaeda backed insurgency in Waziristan, pressure from US politicians, the Taliban, a suicide bombing campaign by Islamic fundamentalists, the impending return of two exiled civilian opponents, his re-election — the strongest challenge he faces is a judicial one. Last month, the Supreme Court delivered a momentous verdict by voting to reinstate the chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, whom Gen Musharraf had tried earlier to dismiss. In so doing, he transformed a court traditionally composed of pliant judges subservient to the dictats of the executive, into a fully functioning institution capable of making its own decisions. As a result, the court is blocked up with cases, each of which could thwart the political manoeuvres of the general. The Supreme Court even has the power to stop the state of emergency which Gen Musharraf has toyed with declaring.

One of the less visible dramas taking place was a court petition by the general’s arch-rival Nawaz Sharif, who is seeking to return home after seven years in exile. It was the former prime minister’s botched attempt to fire Gen Musharraf in 1999 that triggered the military coup that brought him to power. One motive for making such a public display of considering a state of emergency could be to send a shot across the bow to such rivals.

But a more obvious theory was that it was just another symptom of the disarray in which Pakistan’s military leader finds himself. He is floundering around, unable to find a political remedy for his problems. Time is running out if he wants to find a constitutional means to fulfil his desire to continue both as head of the army and as president: the mandate of parliament expires in mid-November. It is one of five bodies that forms an electoral college which chooses the next president. Under the Constitution, the college has to do so 30 days before the current parliament’s mandate expires. If the general waits for a new — and probably more hostile — parliament, his chances of re-election are doomed. Unfortunately, every lever the general has considered pulling — such as a pact with Benazir Bhutto — would exert an equal and opposite force on the desired result. For the situation is so volatile that the mere return of Mr Sharif or Ms Bhutto to the country could in itself change the dynamics of the general’s dilemma.

If there are few options for the general, there are even fewer for the US, other than to pray that their best friend in the region will muddle through. Washington’s embrace may prove to be the general’s undoing and it might be wiser to consider a power-sharing solution which bolsters, rather than undermines, the nation’s institutions. The old dogma of Pakistan’s army, that the country fares better under its generals than its politicians, is no longer true. If the general wants to survive as a political leader he should take off his uniform, put it in the cupboard and leave it there.

— The Guardian

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007