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DAWN - Opinion; September 12, 2007

September 12, 2007


He came to conquer, but …

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

HYPOTHETICALLY it was billed as a major event. The leader of a mainstream political party was returning to Pakistan after spending seven years in exile. He was coming after having burnished his very tarnished credentials as the champion of democracy and an opponent of military dictatorship.

Tarnished because his advent and advancement in Pakistani politics had been as a protégé of a military dictator. It was his government that had launched a physical attack on the Supreme Court and he made it evident in his last year of office that he was looking forward to becoming the “amir ul momineen” (with all the dictatorial powers that this office granted) as soon as the Senate elections in early 2000 gave his party the same sort of majority in the Senate as it already enjoyed in the National Assembly.

Tarnished were his credentials because he as much as his military successor was responsible for the Kargil misadventure. Tarnished because while he pushed for the demonstration of Pakistan’s nuclear capability in response to the Indian tests of May 1998, he failed to take steps that could have mitigated the economic impact of the sanctions that he knew were inevitable, and chose instead to freeze foreign exchange accounts, creating a crisis of confidence from which the country has yet to recover.

Tarnished because he continued to deny that he had sought and secured the intervention of the Saudi royal family to secure a remission of his sentence in return for a pledge to stay in Saudi Arabia and out of Pakistani politics for a period of 10 years and had signed an undertaking to this effect.

He had worked hard, however, particularly after he left Saudi Arabia two years ago and moved to London, to put all these past failings behind him and to restore the fortunes of his party. It was deserters from his party for the most part who formed the new “king’s party” but he was able to hold on to the hardcore rump.

Perhaps he would have lost further ground but for the blunders of the military regime, particularly after the mishandling of the judicial crisis and the May 12 carnage in Karachi that fuelled further the discontent and revulsion. It then became a question of finding a figure around which the opposition could coalesce.

In the absence of a contender it was not surprising that a physically and mentally refurbished Nawaz Sharif, operating with a well-financed and efficient organisation, emerged as just such a figure. The assembly in the very glitzy Dorchester Hotel in London — organised at considerable expense — of Pakistani politicians of all shades of opinion was a spectacular success.

The Supreme Court judgment that affirmed his inalienable right to return to and stay in Pakistan was, in my layman’s view, the only decision that the court could make. Even if he had made an agreement with the Pakistan government to go into exile in return for the remission of his sentence the court would have had to regard the agreement as void since in international law the rights of a citizen can be taken away only if he renounces his citizenship or has it revoked through procedures laid down in domestic law for this purpose.

The agreement or “understanding” with foreign intermediaries, no matter how prominent, could have no legal weight in a court of law. Nawaz Sharif belatedly offered a lame explanation of how that understanding was to have been revised to call for an exile of five years rather than 10. Few were prepared to believe this but that was irrelevant. Rather, people were pained by the fact that the Saudis had somehow been persuaded to take a public position on this.

Why this pain was felt I have not understood. We have had a long history of accepting, nay inviting, foreign involvement in our domestic affairs because we have found it beyond our capacity to iron out our differences ourselves.

To take one example, it was the Saudi ambassador who was the go-between in the talks between Bhutto and the Islamist opposition in 1977. His involvement was justified on the ground that Pakistan’s stability was a vital Saudi interest. In the present instance, the same justification was proffered, but it is apparent that the Saudis intervened in the manner they did only because they were persuaded that President Musharraf had to be spared the discomfiture of Sharif’s presence if he was to deliver on the war on terror in the years to come.

This then was the backdrop to the events of Sept 10. Sitting glued to the television through the day (Monday) one could only share the feelings of an emotional commentator who called for Pakistanis to hang their head in shame.

The manhandling to which the former prime minister was subjected at the airport, the deportation, which appeared to be in blatant disregard of the Supreme Court decision, and the precipitation of another major crisis have done no good to Pakistan’s image, but our image was down in the mud anyway. We have already been labelled as the country most likely to be the next terrorist haven and the country that is most likely to provide nuclear know-how and material to terrorists.

What I found most notable, however, was the absence of massive demonstrations. The tremendous response to the lawyers’ campaign had raised hopes of similar outpourings of support for political leaders. Admittedly, the government machinery, creaking and inefficient as it has become, had done what it could to prevent such demonstrations. But this could not have prevented a public uprising had the will existed.

The truth of the matter is that no matter now refurbished his image, Nawaz Sharif does not have the sort of charisma, credibility or democratic credentials that can overcome the distrust of politicians that has built up in the public mind over the years. I doubt whether any other mainstream politician does either.

What the “liberal” and “democracy” minded members of civil society have to consider is what this portends for the future — particularly when one contrasts what happened at Islamabad airport with what happened at the theoretically equally inaccessible Lal Masjid. Apparently, the tiny minority that supports the cause symbolised by the Lal Masjid is more dedicated and committed and more prepared to brave the batons of the state machinery than the majority that is said to support the cause of restoring a democratic polity.

Looking elsewhere, let us also note that as soon as the deportation became known the stock market index went up and the volume of transactions recorded a massive rise. In effect, the businessman was saying that the status quo was entirely acceptable and that for him and his equally “elite” counterparts in other spheres, any change that was effected should be an orderly transition duly endorsed if not sanctioned by those on whom Pakistan’s financial health depended.

This may and should run against the grain but realistically we must recognise that much as he reviles the military regime the man in the street is not prepared to make sacrifices for politicians who have lost his trust. On the other hand, we must also recognise that as a country our principal need is to find a political solution to the extremism issue, and that, in turn, forces upon our politicians what would otherwise be unacceptable options.

Look East for the Left

By M.J. Akbar

ONE of the oldest laws of politics is back at work: when a government is not in control of events, events take control of a government. Delhi, obsessed with itself, believes that events only take place in Delhi. Government is in a tight geographical ring; voters live outside this pseudo-magical circle.

If you want to understand what the Left is doing, you have to hop across from Delhi to Kolkata. The Marxist machinery has been cranked back into gear. You can hear the occasional squeal of age, of course. And the design is not pretty. But it still works. This week saw the surest sign that the Marxists are getting ready for a general election. I don’t mean the posters and the processions, evocative as they are. The CPI-M brought out its genuine heavyweight and put him into political play. When Jyoti Basu speaks Bengal listens. It would not be inaccurate to suggest that Mr Basu’s influence extends over much larger space than the Marxist vote bank or the Bengali world: the Indian poor know he is on their side even if they do not have his party’s candidate in their constituency.

Mr Basu made two statements, connected by an unseen cord. He remarked that “anything” could happen if the Manmohan Singh government went ahead with the 123 Agreement. It does not require a philologist or a scientist to decipher the meaning of “anything”.

His second public statement was in response to Mamata Banerjee’s rather facile explanation that she was in the previous BJP-led alliance only because of her personal respect and admiration of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Mr Basu thought that he had never heard, in his 67 years of public life, anything more ridiculous.

Mr Basu rarely makes a point unless he has a point to make. If that is the best reason that Mamata Banerjee is going to offer for being an ally of the BJP, it is not going to wash. She would have been far more credible if she had been a little more honest. She could have argued that defeating the Left was the most important part of her political agenda, and she chose to align with the BJP precisely because she thought this alliance could take on the Left.

After all, if she thought the Congress was good enough, she would never have left the Congress, would she? But some politicians continue to believe that the simple truth is injurious to their health. They must be firmly convinced that the voter is a fool.

A primary reason for the split between the Congress and the Left is the secret understanding between the Congress and Mamata Banerjee’s party that they would contest the next elections in harmony even if they could not manage a complete alliance. The alliance was not formalised because the Congress needed the Left’s support in Delhi to survive.

But workers of the two parties had begun to cooperate on the ground, the parties were together in the Singur and Nandigram movement, and when Mamata Banerjee decided to go on her famous hunger strike Congress ministers made every gesture of sympathy and support.

The announcement would have been made just before the elections were due, after the Congress had made full use of the Left’s support in parliament, and in the process neutralised the Left’s ability to criticise it on the hustings. How do you attack, in an election campaign, someone you have defended during five years in power? The Left was in a trap, a clever one set by the Congress, and unable to wriggle out of it.

Moreover, some Left MPs had succumbed to the obvious temptations of being associates of a ruling alliance; the beneficiaries were loath to end this relationship prematurely. But realpolitik had to supersede the preferences of individuals. As the Left moves towards departure mode, Mamata Banerjee turns up in the arrival lounge.

This is not the only trap that the Congress has set for partners that it does not consider reliable enough for a long-term alliance.

When the escalating price of food becomes a subject of steamy exchanges during the coming election campaign, will the Congress blame Sharad Pawar, the agriculture minister?

Priya Ranjan Das Munshi has already gone on record to suggest that the wheat purchases were mishandled because Mr Pawar is more interested in being president of the cricket board than in being agriculture minister.

The nuclear deal was the perfect opportunity for the Marxists to walk out of the Bengal trap, precisely because it was an ideological issue. The Manmohan Singh government wants to bind India into a strategic relationship with the United States, specifically targeted against Iran (in writing) for starters but developing into a larger axis of the kind that America once had with Pakistan through the Baghdad Pact.

This was sweetened by much talk of nuclear energy on rather salty terms, intrusive, expensive and imbalanced. The Left could hardly have found a better reason to take a stand. Incidentally, those who are waiting for the Left to split on the nuclear deal do not understand Marxists.

We live, thank heavens, in a free country, but freedom does not give anyone the freedom to dictate the pace of a vital national debate.

The most important point relates to common sense rather than special expertise: what is the hurry? Why cannot parliament and the people be permitted time to discuss a matter that will set the course of investment and strategy for the next four or five decades? China took 15 years over its negotiations with America; why can’t India be permitted a few months to examine the complex issues?

Most people simply do not know the meaning of the strategic embrace that seeks to create a nexus of long-standing American allies, Japan, Australia and Singapore, with India. All these countries go to war when America goes to war, as they did in Iraq, even when majority public opinion is not in favour of self-defeating conflicts like Iraq.

How many Indians are aware that there are four clauses in three sections of the Hyde Act which bind India to a “congruent” foreign policy with America on Iran, and that they express and impose an operational obligation on the US administration to bring India into full compliance?

Link this with statements made by American officers that the current war games between the “allied” navies are designed to achieve operational compatibility in war. One has a right to ask whether this is preparation for a potential conflict with Iran, particularly when Pentagon sources are openly talking about an Iran plan in which the country’s nuclear and other assets will be flattened by three days of intense aerial bombing.

The government has an obligation to discuss this.

Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh is still waiting for a response to his query on the price and value of the peaceful nuclear energy that has suddenly become the key to the future. I hope he is not condemned as a traitor — or even a Marxist! — for asking inconvenient questions. But such is the hurry of the prime minister that he even had a chat with Mr Amar Singh in the hope of getting the support of the Samajwadi Party.

There is no danger to the government if it doesn’t rush through the deal: why would the prime minister want to risk his government when he can tell George Bush that he needs a stable majority in parliament behind this deal before he can go through with it? Surely Dr Singh can crave for something without being craven?

India has begun to ask questions. A slogan is not an answer.

The writer is editor-in-chief of The Asian Age, New Delhi.

Balm for old wounds

By Hafizur Rahman

SOME time ago I sent a small book to a Sikh friend in Chandigarh, Gurdial Singh. We were together at the Aligarh Muslim University. I was trying to become an engineer while he was doing his M.A. in Geography, having earlier graduated from Government College, Lahore.

We established contact after 49 years of separation, with one or two sporadic attempts at correspondence in between. The long gap did not lessen our affection for each other.

The book I sent him is about the horrors of the 1947 partition – purely about the bestial side of two apparently civilised peoples, but with no reference to the political aspects of independence. The book doesn’t even say why the bloody riots broke out, who fired the first shot and who was to blame in West Punjab and East Punjab. Its contents show that it doesn’t take much to make people go crazy, particularly when emotional politics is the basis.

This is what I wrote on the fly-leaf of the book: “From Hafizur Rahman in Islamabad to Gurdial Singh in Chandigarh. There were good people on both sides.” Indeed there were. The book graphically describes, in the words of persons directly involved in the terrible events of the mass migration, what they saw and suffered. At the same time it lights up a ray of bright hope when we read that even in that collective madness there were men and women who saved members of the “enemy” community, sometimes at the risk of their own lives. Gurdial’s family too were evacuated from a village in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad). I have not had the courage to ask him if all went well.

“Partition: Surgery Without Anesthesia” has been published by Anees Jillani of the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, though it has nothing to do with children, except that I would personally like every boy and girl in Pakistan who can understand English to read it. It is more revealing and much more educative than the history they are taught, though it may not conform to the biased writings of the authors who compile books for schools and colleges under the title of Pakistan Studies.

Had I known that Anees Jillani was publishing this book I would have requested him to include an account of my escape from Junagadh. Working in the state railway I was foolish enough to stay on after its occupation by Indian-sponsored “freedom fighters,” thinking with my faith in human goodness that no one would bother about me. But I forgot that I was a Pakistani. It was only when I was warned by friends about what I was likely to face that I ran for it.

I took a train for Jamnagar, a neighbouring state, and caught a plane for Karachi. I had a dear friend in the railway, Laxmi Shankar by name. The real story is of how I went without baggage so as not to excite suspicion, with Mrs Laxmi Shankar (God bless the noble lady!) following with my things. She went back after she had safely, and tearfully, seen me off at Jamnagar Airport. It was only later that I came to know how the couple had been accused of treason and grilled for allowing me to get away.

Not that my life was in danger in Junagadh, but there had been physical maltreatment of others like me who were considered outsiders, among them Lieutenant Waheed of the puny Junagadh “army” who was subjected to third degree. He was released from jail after six months, came to Karachi and joined the Pakistan Army. Incidentally he became Military Secretary when Nawab Dilawarkhanji of Junagadh was Governor of Sindh.

Coming back to the book, it makes sad, gory and painful reading. It comprises 14 accounts of partition and mass migration by way of reminiscence, shared almost equally by Indian and Pakistani narrators including Khushwant Singh and Satish Gujral, the painter-architect brother of former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral. None of them has minced words, describing just what they saw, at the same time handing down no verdict of guilty or not guilty.

As the caption of one narrative says, “Fifty years down the road the bloody days of Partition are still fresh in the minds of those who were physically affected by it. Though safely settled in the country of their choice, they still have many tales to tell from the days when the subcontinent bled into its new shape. There are tales of killing and looting, murderous attacks and heroic rescues, of animosity and camaraderie. And in August every year these bitter memories flood back with renewed force.”

However, the purpose of publishing the book is not to revive nightmarish memories or reawaken the communal hatred that had overtaken the best of us at that time but to make the tales serve as balm and salve for old wounds. Each one of them has a human story to tell of kindly, unprejudiced men and women and families who went out of their way to help those belonging to the trapped or endangered community. They were Muslims as well as Hindus and Sikhs, and their actions are a glorious and unforgettable tribute to the innate goodness of man.

Many books on the horrendous events of 1947 have been published in both the countries as well as in the world outside the subcontinent, but “Partition: Surgery Without Anaesthesia” is the first of its kind that I have seen. Never before has anyone attempted such a collection of personal experiences with the aim of spreading goodwill and harmony among the benighted peoples of India and Pakistan whom political happenings still keep asunder.

As Anees Jillani says in his introduction, “We must recall again and again those terrifying events in their full bloody detail while they are still in living memory and not yet embellished with legend and myth, so that we can collectively resolve one day to say: “Never again.”

Cadaver donation: creating awareness

By Rizwana Naqvi

THE good news is that the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Ordinance 2007 has finally been promulgated and it has now come into force with immediate effect.

But just making the law is not enough. It is important that efforts should be made to educate society and sensitise the people so that the idea of deceased organ donation becomes acceptable. If people are not aware of the fact that they can save the lives of others by willing their organs for transplantation after death, they will not do so.

The transplant programme in Pakistan was initiated with live related donors nearly two decades ago. In the absence of the availability of a sufficient number of organs — sometimes due to the lack of tissue matching and sometimes due to the absence of motivation among relatives — unscrupulous people turned kidney donation and transplantation into a profitable trade. There was no dearth of impoverished people who came forward to sell their organs for a few thousand rupees when there were wealthy patients and unscrupulous middlemen to buy them and unethical surgeons to transplant them.

Over the years people have come round to donating their organs for a relative they love. But there are few who are willing to donate their organs after death — when the heart, liver, lungs and eyes can also be removed. There have been two cases of deceased organ donation in Pakistan.

Now that the ordinance is in force, the need is for awareness campaigns to educate people about brain death and deceased organ donation. Unless people are made aware of the importance and benefit of cadaver donation they will shy away from it.

The fact remains that any new concept is met with resistance by the people, especially in a society like ours with a low education level and where religious beliefs are deep-rooted. But this can be overcome. Even without a campaign the families of two young people, Syed Naveed Anwar and Shamim Bano, kept on life support for many days, allowed their organs to be donated after their death.

When the transplant programme was first launched it was a tough job getting donors. Many opposed it on religious grounds. But now that it is realised that such programmes have found acceptance in other Muslim countries, much of the opposition has subsided.

Initially, when a campaign for deceased organ donation is launched many doubts will assail the people, but these must be addressed openly and with conviction. Many will ask if, when a person is declared brain-dead and his relatives are given the option to consider donating his or her organs, the judgement of the doctor can be trusted. Would not vested interests try to take advantage? Would not preference be given to the rich and the influential rather than the most deserving? And so on.

These are unfounded fears, but must be addressed all the same in order to remove misconceptions. Only then can the idea of voluntary donation by living relatives and cadaver donation become acceptable to the masses.

At present, only eye and kidney transplants are being done in Pakistan. Once cadaver organs are available, not only will renal patients benefit but also those with heart, liver, lung, pancreas and other organ disorders. It is said that the organs retrieved from one person with irreversible brain death can save the lives of 17 others.

Concerned doctors, the media and those with influence like the clergy, teachers and community leaders can play an effective role in creating awareness. Their efforts can take the form of newspaper articles and participation in TV talk shows. Short dramas can also be scripted highlighting the issue.

A poster exhibition on the subject and walks can be arranged so that the message can be conveyed to a large number of people. Informative advertisements like those being telecast regarding the prevention of hepatitis and HIV/Aids and the importance of immunisation can be prepared. It is also through these means that the people can be warned against the sale and purchase of organs.

As the idea of cadaver donation catches on, trade in non-related organs will take a backseat. Meanwhile, it should be ensured that the elements engaged in the organ trade are brought to book. Other countries — India included — show how the trade in organs can be suppressed through the enforcement of laws. The promulgation of the ordinance is a welcome step but it is important that it is strictly enforced in letter and spirit.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007