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DAWN - Opinion; September 19, 2007

September 19, 2007


Will Iraq’s map be redrawn?

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

IN WASHINGTON, the last week has been dominated by a welter of reports and testimonies relating to Iraq. First, more details were revealed of the Congress-mandated study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). This showed that of the 18 benchmarks that had been laid down as goals, the Maliki government had made progress on only three.

In the unclassified version of the report that the administration had published, however, a much more optimistic picture had been painted. They had, for one, deleted in this version the GAO’s assessment that the number of Iraqi army units capable of operating on their own had declined from 10 to six.

Gen David Petraeus argued strongly against a quick withdrawal, maintaining that “a rapid withdrawal would result in the further release of the strong centrifugal forces in Iraq and produce a number of dangerous results, including a high risk of disintegration of the Iraqi security forces, rapid deterioration of local security initiatives, Al Qaeda regaining lost ground and freedom of manoeuvre in Iraq, a marked increase in violence and further ethno-sectarian displacement and refugee flows.”

He argued further that for some time to come the American troops in Iraq must see their role as being that of protecting the Iraqi population rather than training Iraqi security forces and must, therefore, remain engaged in combat operations.

In this assertion, he drew support from an earlier national intelligence assessment that had concluded that “changing the mission of coalition forces from a primarily counterinsurgency and stabilisation role to a primary combat support role for Iraqi forces would erode security gains achieved thus far.”

Gen Petraeus said he was prepared to support the withdrawal by March 2008 of the 30,000 odd troops that had been sent in as part of the “surge” but indicated that a recommendation on any further drawdown would depend on how the situation developed early next year.

Such testimony made it likely that the Democrats in Congress would not be able, given their razor-thin majority, to secure the much more rapid withdrawal that they had been pressing for and which they said the American people wanted. There seems to be little hope that there will be a bipartisan consensus “on the way forward.”

Defence Secretary Robert Gates has added to the debate, suggesting that he felt that a reduction of troop levels to about 100,000 by the end of 2008, that is, the end of Bush’s term, could be visualised. It seems apparent, therefore, that it will be left to Bush’s successor to find a way out of the Iraqi quagmire. It will be a formidable task to do so without setting the entire region aflame and without damaging further America’s regional and international image.

The fact is that for all the talk of improvement, the situation in Iraq has continued to deteriorate. The success the Americans achieved in enlisting the assistance of Sunni leaders in Anbar province to fight the Al Qaeda suffered a significant setback with the assassination of the tribal chief, Abu Risha, who formed the Anbar Salvation Council that had made the agreement with the Americans.

The significance of this agreement was, in any case, exaggerated since the Americans, in assisting the Sunnis, had to bear in mind the sensitivities of the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad and their own apprehensions about the anti-American feeling that prevailed among the rank and file of Sunnis in Anbar and the entire Sunni belt.

Elsewhere in the country, sectarian attacks show no sign of a significant decline. The improvement in the security situation remains confined to very small areas in which the Americans have the manpower to maintain a constant presence, but genuine reconciliation on a local, let alone national, level remains a distant dream.

The ongoing sectarian and ethnic conflicts in Baghdad, central Iraq and Kurdistan are bad enough. But there has also been an exacerbation, or so media reports indicate, of intra-Shia conflicts in Basra and the other southern provinces following the British withdrawal from Basra city to a garrison outside it.

The Iraqi government claims that it has reached an agreement on revising the law on de-Baathification but there is no sign yet that it will have the necessary support to carry it through in parliament or even in the cabinet which has been much reduced by the withdrawal of Moqtada al-Sadr’s supporters. There is nothing happening yet on reaching agreement on the sharing of oil revenues or on deciding the fate of oil-rich Kirkuk which the Kurds want made a part of Kurdistan.

In much of Iraq, be it Kurdistan or the Sunni belt or the Shia south, the people seem convinced that an American withdrawal is on the cards and that all leaders or aspiring leaders are positioning themselves for that eventuality. None seem to be very interested in the political reconciliation that is essential if Iraq’s unity is to be preserved.

Iraq’s neighbours are similarly placed. The influence of Iran is strongly felt throughout the country, particularly in Basra and the southern provinces. Saudi Arabia and Jordan are both concerned about the Sunni belt. On the one hand, they want to protect the Sunnis. On the other, they fear the emergence of Al Qaeda-inspired forces as the dominant power in the Sunni belt.

The Iraqi people, at least those who can find the opportunity, are showing their loss of faith in the country’s future. They are fleeing the country or at least their homes. There are 2.2 million Iraqis in Jordan, Syria and other neighbouring countries. There are two million internally displaced Iraqis who have fled mixed neighbourhoods to find shelter in areas where their communities are in the majority. The sectarian divide is becoming more and more complete.

The survival of Iraq as a composite unit and as the strongest and most viable of the Arab countries is now improbable. If Iraq splits as seems likely the regional countries will take whatever steps they can to exploit the opportunity or to protect themselves from the fallout.

Whether this is what the American neoconservatives had in mind in 2003 can be debated, but there is little doubt that Bush’s successor, no matter how pure his motives, will be required to effect an American withdrawal from a country that will have fallen apart or will be doing so in the messiest way possible and from a region that will be experiencing far more turbulence than was caused even by the Palestine issue. There can only be the grim prognostication that in the second decade of the 21st century the map of the Middle East will have been drastically redrawn to the detriment of regional and international peace and stability.

Mediaeval answers to modern problems

By Javed Hasan Aly

STUNNED by the pace of unfolding events of the past months, civil society, that has been trying to influence an under-performing government, has found itself in a state of utter disbelief. Seemingly choreographed on the basis of archaic responses to present-day socio-political conflicts, these events have evoked strong reactions.

Attempts to analyse the causes lack an understanding of the dynamics of these phenomena. Neither is there recognition of the social psyche that determines public attitudes which, in turn, shape these events.

A closer look at the roles of various protagonists points to a psyche that relies on wisdom born of experiences of yore, without relating these to present-day issues. Without addressing the communication-driven, environmental pressures or looking to the intellectual advances made by the developed world, we are inclined to provide mediaeval answers to modern problems.

Whether it is the feudals or neo-feudals running the establishment as a result of vertical social mobility, or the dogmatic obscurantists, all are impervious to the dynamics of the changing social order. Their yearning for their past heritage has degenerated into nostalgia. For them, the sole source of wisdom resides in days gone by — whether centuries ago or the less remote past of colonial subordination. The voice of the saner middle class is a feeble cry in the wilderness while the middle ground has shrunk in size and value.

We may begin with the most disturbing and obvious mediaeval response to the Muslim malaise — the suicide bomber. Taking a charitable view, one would concede that the pain of exploitation of the Muslims and their political subordination by the West is real. Anger at the injustice inflicted on the Muslims, such as the Palestinians, has provoked extreme responses such as the phenomenon of suicide bombing.

But have such frustrating conditions been created by the West in Pakistan that they warrant a self-destructive demonstration of anger? The suicide bomber considers himself a symbol of the reassertion of Muslim power. But he is more like a modern-day Don Quixote mistaking the windmills for demons. In fact, his reaction is essentially a sign of weakness.

How is this militant bigotry created and sustained? It owes its birth to the ulema who continue to reside in a remote past. They essentially gain and perpetuate transmitted knowledge (‘naqli’) through imitation (‘taqlid’) of the great masters of the past. While this may be adequate for some interpretation of the Quran and the Sharia (albeit with the aid of ijtihad), it is too remotely placed in the past to respond to the demands of developments in the cosmological sciences.

The ulema (barring some exceptions) show no interest in the real Muslim legacy of learning and advancement which was based on intellectual knowledge (‘aqli’) acquired through verification and self-realisation (‘tahqiq’). A primitive approach to social reform was demonstrated by the militant religious bigots, of either sex, in their Lal Masjid stronghold.

One may appreciate the desire to save society from moral bankruptcy but the technique used by the Lal Masjid brigade was taken from the now obsolete methods and mechanisms of yesteryear. The madressahs churning out these so-called reformers still follow a curriculum (Dars-i-Nizami) which is about 300 years old.

Let us move to the moderately enlightened, barely secular, establishment trying to address socio-political conflicts in society. Its members claim to be ostensibly strengthening the state’s drive to adopt democratic norms. The establishment, which enjoys a position of authority, demonstrates a neo-feudal attitude to governance where authority is flaunted rather than exercised. This elite has only recently found a place in the hierarchy of power through wealth, stealth and circumstances.

It addresses its insecurities by considering itself autonomous and exclusively wise. Its members rely on ‘time-tested’ answers to complex problems which may have no roots in real learning. Instead of finding effective solutions through comprehension and analysis, they approach all situations from the perspective of ‘law and order’ and ‘crisis management’.

They find comfort in colonial responses to conflicts. The imperial masters were not concerned with socio-political conflicts in their colonies until simmering undercurrents of unrest started to boil over and threatened imperial interests. Then they merely hushed up the conflicts or smoothed out the irritants while allowing social sores to bleed as festering wounds.

The managers of the state in Pakistan — the government — continue to demonstrate this colonial approach to socio-political conflicts. There appears to be no desire or effort (think-tanks’ reports notwithstanding) to address the frustrations causing these conflicts and then devising long-term strategies to resolve them.

The establishment first allows a situation to persist unaddressed and when expressions of conflict assume demonic proportions, the powers that be deal with it as a ‘law and order’ situation. They thus lose credibility. This has been the case in every crisis — be it the Lal Masjid tragedy or the attacks on the local Taliban in the north.

Similar is our approach to situations when political confrontation erupts or a rapprochement has to be worked out. The government and its adversaries adopt pre-modern responses to postmodern situations. They sideline the people of Pakistan and make no effort to understand the conflicts, appreciate their dynamics or resolve the issues in a transparent manner.

Personal deals or understandings secretly negotiated and banishments are manoeuvres irrelevant to this age and time. They reflect a mediaeval mindset, unwilling to respond to the realities of the 21st century. The days of ‘management’ are almost over. The world needs solutions. Restraining a politician from entering one province in the name of public order is a colonial response to political differences, unlikely to help any side.

For the sake of record, one must also address the feudal factor. The feudal class cannot help living in the past and looking at the world with a view to prolonging its influence and overlordship. No surprise then, that in the first decade of the third millennium, a well-educated member of the National Assembly sits on a jirga to dispense inhuman justice in a vani case, without regret or remorse, with the authorities providing him a pretext to avoid any legal embarrassment and help him escape the long arm of the law.

If Muslims, be they in Pakistan or elsewhere, aspire to regain their lost glory and wrest their old position from the clutches of postmodern colonialism characterised by political domination and economic control, they will have to regroup to acquire power through the modern weapons of intellectual superiority, knowledge and information. Only then can we change the world — our own as well as that of others. Change can be ushered in only through debate, discussion, conversion to new ideas, dialogue and persuasion — and not through coercion or incarceration.

The heartless campaign

By Hafizur Rahman

HAVING failed to oust influential encroachers or take action against owners of palatial mansions in Bani Gala who pollute the Rawal Lake with their effluvia, Islamabad’s Capital Development Authority has launched a jihad against the poor handrehriwho sell their corncobs and fruit on handcarts, and confiscated scores of their vehicles, many of them duly licensed. After all, it had to show its authority somewhere.

It’s like the lower subordinate in a government office who has no one on whom he can vent his impotence and powerlessness, and beats his wife and kids when he gets home. They are always there to enable him to get rid of his frustrations.

I suggested to the relevant officer in the CDA (whom I had approached to intercede vainly on behalf of a fruit vendor) to send out a team and make sure that the men who had been deprived of their rehris had not started some other business to keep their families from starving. They should not be allowed to do so. My sarcasm was lost on him. He confessed however that he personally found the antirehri operation and the one against unauthorised jhuggies “most painful”. But naturally he had to do his duty instead of giving up the assignment on grounds of conscience.

You would think that these petty hawkers and peddlers, every one of them with half a dozen hungry mouths to feed at home, had been caught robbing citizens and deserved to be punished for their crime. And yet the real robbers go scot-free. These robbers are the permanent shopkeepers, each earning a profit of one to ten thousand rupees a day, and patronised by a capitalistadministration of which the CDA is proud to be a constituent, and pay not more than oneof the taxes they owe to the state.

The officer I talked to was truthful enough to admit that the CDA’s only interest in destroying these people’s business was that big shopkeepers in the markets felt that they were in competition with them. Imagine a destitute Pathan peddling challis corncobs offering competition to the brightly lit mart whose owner has probably paid twenty lakh rupees as pugree to secure the premises!

The CDA has no objection when such shopkeepers fleece the opulent in Islamabad (including maybe the Chairman and his family) by selling unlawfully imported foreign goods at four times their real value, but the presence of the handcart rankles. Another characteristic of the heartless rich is that a begum will pay whatever price the cutthroat shopkeeper wants for his goods, but when she comes out to her Mercedes, she will haggle with the poor woman with an infant in her arms selling laces and buttons. “Paanch rupay, “ she says indignantly, “Aabpara mein to yeh do rupay ka milta hai. “

This is a common trait among our rulers. Protect the dirty rich, and to hell with the pauper. A bank will not waive five rupees that a poor widow might owe it, but it is ready to write off a loan of a crore of rupees borrowed by a bloodthirsty billionaire who can pull the right strings. And still our government leaders can’t sleep nights when they think of the sufferings of the poor and have to fly for Umra every now and then (at government expense) to pray for the povertyIf the CDA chairman and his director of municipal administration can find time from their exciting bureaucratic activities to read a book, they would do well to look out for “The Other Path” by Hernando de Soto, the famous Peruvian economist, who speaks up for the petty traders of the world. Mr de Soto was in Lahore some years ago and, for the first time, the business elite of Pakistan was informed that the hand barrow man was as essential for the national economy as the commercial giant and the big industrialist.

Instead of commending the spirit of enterprise of these petty shopkeepers without shops who make a perilous living against heavy odds, local administrations in this country are after their blood. Shooing these poor fellows away from the fancy shopping areas, giving undeserved protection to the millionaire stores, ostensibly saving snooty shoppers from the importunate whining of peddlers and small boys trying to sell equally small items, these administrations display a callousness matched only by their generally cruel attitude towards the downtrodden.

I have yet to see a more heartless and meaningless exercise of authority. You should look at the poor peddlers hovering around the CDA office in the hope of getting back their rehris. But now the CDA is powerful and impervious to influence by any sentimental considerations. Its officers have no time for the plain and simple argument that in this socalled Islamic welfare state these micro businesses are also their responsibility. Their slogans seems to be “Just get out of here. We don’t care where you go and what happens to you. But don’t spoil the scenery by standing around.”

No politician, no social worker, not even Islamabad’s MNA has taken the side of these poor men, women and children to assert that they have as much right to their own way of selling their goods as any Seth or Haji Sahib in his posh establishment.

Let us not forget that these and others of their size and kind were not always big. In his youth, C.M. Latif, owner of the sprawling BECO Iron & Steel Works in Lahore, nationalised by ZAB, used to sell washing soap on a handcart. What were the beginnings of the Sharif family? Such initiative is honoured in the United States, the Mecca of big business. Who will tell CDA and other municipal committees to lay off and leave the poor peddlers and pavement shopkeepers alone?

As it is, their rotten administrations are a hoax on citizens. They don’t give a tinker’s curse for what happens to the poor because they consort with the rich who can afford to buy off their rules and byeand their ethically dubious services. All that I can say to them is, “Have a heart!”

Buying a lemon

What links an angry queue outside a branch of Northern Rock with a financier unwilling to lend to a colleague at another bank? More than one might think. Red braces are hardly de rigeur on Tyneside, and Canary Wharf probably lacks enough Newcastle United fans to fill half a terrace –– but the two groups are part of the same fundamental problem plaguing markets. They are both worried about getting lemons.

Lemons, in this case, means duff goods, or straight-up swindles; and they were comprehensively studied by the Nobel laureate George Akerlof.

Looking at the market for second-hand cars, he pointed out that there was a basic imbalance: sellers and dealers knew the truth (good or bad) about their vehicles, while the buyers were in the dark.

Akerlof called this information asymmetry, and its result was that reliable motors had to be discounted to reflect buyers’ fears of being landed with a lemon.

Asymmetric information is common. Supermarkets know more about their food than shoppers; employers cannot be sure prospective recruits have all those qualifications. But most markets try to correct that imbalance.

Consumers should be protected by the Food Standards Agency, while licensed bodies certify exam results. There is also the power of reputation; questionable goods are swiftly recalled by any supermarket that values its good name. Whatever forms it takes, assurance is vital to buyers. Without it, markets may seize up.

Which is what is happening in finance. Customers of Northern Rock have only just been told their bank is in deep trouble. Financiers are not lending because they do not know enough about who they are lending to –– and what trouble they are in.

––The Guardian, London

Wullar barrage controversy

By Ghayoor Ahmed

A JOINT statement issued on August 31 in New Delhi announced that Pakistan and India were unable to make headway towards resolving their 22-year-old dispute on the construction of a dam on the River Jhelum in Indian-held Kashmir. The two sides, however, agreed to hold further negotiations — also at the technical level.

In 1947, the boundary between Pakistan and India cut right across the Indus basin leaving the former as the lower riparian. Soon after Independence, a dispute arose between the two countries on the utilisation of the irrigation waters when India, despite giving assurances to Pakistan that there would be no interference whatsoever in the existing flow of rivers, stopped the supply of water from the two headworks under its control.

The shortage of water became so acute and intolerable that in May 1948, a high-powered delegation from Pakistan rushed to New Delhi where it had to sign an agreement, at India’s bidding, before the flow of water was resumed.

Fortunately, the then president of the World Bank, Eugene Black, offered the good offices of his organisation for a settlement of the India-Pakistan dispute on the sharing of the Indus waters.

After protracted negotiations, the two countries signed the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) in 1960, which sought to ensure optimum utilisation of the Indus waters on the principle of equity and fair play. Under the treaty, the waters of the three rivers, the Chenab, Indus and Jhelum were allocated to Pakistan while the Beas, Ravi and Sutlej went to India for their unrestricted use.

The treaty also provided that both countries would be allowed the conditional use of the waters in each other’s rivers for four distinct purposes: domestic use, agricultural use, restricted use for hydroelectric power through a “run-of-the-river” plant and non-consumptive use.

However, both sides were prohibited from constructing any man-made obstruction to change the volume of the daily flow of waters. The treaty specifically barred India, the upper riparian, from constructing any storage facility on the rivers allocated to Pakistan, except limited storage to control floods.In 1984, India started building a barrage on the mouth of Wullar lake, claiming that it was aimed at facilitating navigation between Baramullah and Wullar throughout the year. However, it halted construction on the project in 1986 following Islamabad’s objections that the barrage in question could interfere with the flow of the Jhelum, adversely affecting Pakistan’s agro-based economy.

According to technical experts, the Wullar barrage project violates the terms of the IWT as it would increase India’s storage capacity and create a shortage of irrigation water in Pakistan.

In those rivers which do not run through the territory of only one state, as is the case with the six rivers allocated to Pakistan and India, the flow of water cannot be regulated arbitrarily by one riparian state.

It is a provision of international law that no state be allowed to alter the natural conditions of its own territory to the disadvantage of a neighbouring state. For this reason, a state is legally barred from stopping or diverting the flow of a river which runs from its own territory to a neighbouring state.

Pakistan’s sensitivities about the Jhelum are understandable. It has, therefore, rejected India’s offer to make some structural changes in the design of the barrage and wants the project in question to be scrapped. It is also important to note that the site of the Wullar barrage has strategic importance for Pakistan. The barrage in question would enable India to expand the manoeuvrability of its troops in relation to Pakistan.

Since November 1987, many meetings have taken place between Pakistan and India to resolve the issue through negotiations as provided by the IWT. Regrettably, all meetings have ended without any result.

Pakistan and India had hammered out the IWT to attain the most satisfactory utilisation of the waters of the Indus system of rivers. The treaty, which is considered a landmark in the realm of water-sharing, has survived despite wars and tensions between the two countries as it ensured the judicious distribution of available waters between them.

Needless to say, a drastic reduction of water supply to Pakistan, as a result of the construction of the barrage, will not only erode the credibility of the treaty and defeat its very purpose, it could adversely affect relations between Islamabad and New Delhi.

Therefore, it is imperative that the dispute is amicably resolved, even at this belated stage, in a spirit of goodwill and mutual understanding. In any case, the issue should not be allowed to become another major irritant in India-Pakistan relations. However, a greater effort is called for on the part of India as the upper riparian.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007