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DAWN - Opinion; September 24, 2007

September 24, 2007


Changes in values, lifestyles

By Arif Hasan

CHANGES in the social values and lifestyles of the elite and middle classes in Karachi are all too visible. However, the changes in the social values and lifestyles of the lower and lower middle classes are hidden from view. The most visible expression of the change that has taken place in these classes is the emergence of young couples holding hands or sitting with their arms around each other on the benches in the parks in the city.

This behaviour is surprisingly tolerated by the other visitors (even bearded ones) to the parks and has led in some cases to the segregation of spaces among families, male visitors and couples. As one waiter at Hill Park put it, “There is nothing you can do about this. You cannot quarrel with the zamana.”

In an attempt to understand this phenomenon, I have over the last five years interviewed or had a questionnaire filled by 100 young couples in parks and at the Sea View beach. They all belong to the lower and lower middle classes. Of these, 28 couples were married. Of the 100 women, 32 wore the hijab and 68 wore a black or grey ‘aba’. Only 18 couples were interested in politics and/or read political news in the newspapers. Eighty-three were interested in migrating to another country towards which seven married couples and 16 unmarried men had taken some steps.

The reasons for wanting to migrate were in order of importance; one, there was no justice in Pakistan; two, they would never be able to own a place to live in; three, married couples were afraid that they would not be able to educate their children properly; four, there was no affordable entertainment and recreation; five, there were too many family disputes often related to behaviour patterns of the young which they considered hypocritical; and six, they lived, worked and travelled in terrible environmental conditions.

These couples certainly do not constitute the majority of young people in lower and lower middle-income settlements in Karachi but they are definitely trendsetters as their numbers are rapidly increasing.

What has brought about this very visible change apart from TV and the “trickle down” of the lifestyles of the more affluent sections of society? I feel that the most important reason is that for the first time in our history we have a very large number of unmarried female adolescents. In the 1981 census, 37.54 per cent women and 13.14 per cent men in the age group of 15 to 24 were married. If we project the 1998 census figures to 2007 then less than 20 per cent of women and six per cent of men in this age group are married today.

Also, the low-income settlements that I knew in the 1970s and 1980s have changed. Then they were purely working class settlements and women did not work. Today, there are doctors, engineers, formal sector entrepreneurs, persons employed in the corporate and IT sectors, bank managers, college and school teachers (the majority of them women), living in these settlements. This is a sea change.

In order to know more I discussed the changes that I have noticed with older residents and the more upwardly mobile community members of low-income settlements. They agreed that the major change that has taken place is the break-up of the extended or joint family and this has played a key role in the change of values and behaviour patterns. Among the reasons given for the break-up of the joint family is that previously there was one earning member and others were dependents. Today, there are many earning members and hence the patriarchal structure cannot survive.

Money from abroad was also cited as a reason for the break-up of the family since it created jealousies and the nuclear family of the person sending it broke away from the rest. In addition, working women have also adversely affected the joint family system for it has led to quarrels and disputes. My friend Mansoor Raza’s survey of people sleeping in the streets revealed that the majority of them consisted of young men who had run away from home and old men who had been abandoned by their families.

People are not conscious of the changes that have taken place and as a result are confused. For instance, one person reported how, after much heartburning and violence, he agreed to let his daughter marry out of his caste and how terrified he was of what the reaction of his clan would be. However, there was no reaction except for a few elders being sarcastic — his peers did not particularly care. “The traditions are gone but we do not know it for out of fear we do not discuss these things,” was his conclusion.

Older residents agreed that an increasing number of youth are “undisciplined” and violent gangs are emerging in their localities. One of the reasons given for this is that parents have become more liberal because of a “change in the times”. Other reasons given are unemployment and the terrible state of public education and its uselessness. An increasing number of young people are doing their Matric and Intermediate and after that they are not willing to do manual labour.

Meanwhile, jobs that are available in the market require technical skills and more and more of them require formal “sanads” and not just experience with an ustad. These jobs are mostly in the textile, medical and construction industry. However, there are no educational centres where one can be trained for these jobs. Those that do exist are too few and far too expensive. For example, there is a great demand for male nurses but there are only five institutions that one can apply to. Admission fee to these institutions is between Rs30,000 to Rs40,000 and the monthly fee is between Rs2,000-3,000.

The rising gap between poverty and wealth is a major factor in the social and political alienation of the young in the lower and lower middle income groups as aspirations increase but resources and opportunities do not. The solution lies in the development of good public sector educational institutions equal to those of the elite and in the teaching of English. For example, it was mentioned in one of the discussions that at a private school a normal female teacher earns about Rs1,500 to Rs3,000 a month whereas someone who is good in English can get up to Rs8,000 to Rs10,000 a month.

Private schools are expensive and often a family has to choose which of its children it will send to them. In the absence of an affordable and useful public school education system more and more students are being sent to madressahs. “At least they learn how to read and write there and without reading and writing there is no future today.” “In a government school they learn nothing but corruption from their teachers.” “These are not schools, they resemble aasar-i-qadeema. No water, no toilets, no furniture, broken floors and collapsing roofs.” These were some of the comments that were made during the discussions.

I conclude from the discussions I had that we will have a very different society in Karachi in the next decade. It also points to the need for a major reform in the education and social sectors and in state culture along with corresponding changes in city planning priorities. If that does not happen, political and social alienation will increase and so will the chances of conflict and further fragmentation.

Prospects of US conference

By Tanvir Ahmad Khan

A DECISION taken early in the George Bush presidency downgraded the Middle East peace process in his list of priorities. An obvious explanation at the time seemed to be the failure of a major initiative launched by President Clinton towards the end of his tenure that left the Palestinians, Israel and the United States equally frustrated. It was a reasonable assumption that a period of quiet diplomacy was needed to explore fresh ideas.

Before long, a different set of intentions became identifiable as the real determinants of the new policy of neglect. The neoconservative ideologues shaping the policy were dreaming of the 21st century as an indefinite period of uncontested American hegemony.

A more direct control of the immense energy resources of the Middle East was the cornerstone of this enterprise. As the former head of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, has reaffirmed in his recent book , The Age of Turbulence, that the Iraq war was essentially about oil.

The neoconservatives underestimated the degree of resistance that this new kind of empire-building would face but they were not unaware of it. Resistance was to be overwhelmed by deploying American military power even pre-emptively.

Even when limitations of this faith in transforming the world by force had become apparent, Richard Perle and David Frum reiterated in their book, An End to Evil, the view that the United States was a great force for good in the world and that the best way to project American values was through American force of arms.

Enterprises of such magnitude need surrogates. Transformation of the broader Middle East particularly required regime changes and changes in leadership. Israel as the pre-eminent regional surrogate demanded and secured a free hand to crush the Palestinian national movement and in due course of time also the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. The Oslo process was all but consigned to the dustbin of history.

In the new ideology-driven approach to the region, Israel felt free to intensify colonisation of the West Bank. Yasser Arafat was no longer an acceptable interlocutor and had to be removed from the scene. That the Palestinians reacted by voting overwhelmingly for Hamas in January 2006 meant that this electoral verdict was to be frustrated systematically with the help of the Quartet.

Meanwhile, the radicalising impact of the Iraq fiasco on the region showed that some movement towards a revival of the Arab-Israel dialogue was necessary. Belatedly, Washington began exploring possibilities of such a dialogue without making a demand on Israel to make a significant shift in its policy. The most important event that has come out of this quest is the proposed meeting of Arab and Israeli leaders in Washington possibly on Nov 15.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has attracted criticism in her own country for having made insufficient investment of time and energy in the proposed conference, not even a fraction of what it took to convene the 1991Madrid conference, the 1998 Wye River summit and Clinton’s Camp David parleys of 2000. In her latest visit to the region, she has said that “we have got to start to move towards a two-state solution”.

What may have finally persuaded the United States to host this meeting is the temptation to take advantage of the tragic split between Hamas and Fatah which has turned into a physical and antagonistic separation between the Gaza Strip controlled by Hamas and the West Bank now “ruled” by President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction.

Recounting how this split made it possible to renew the dialogue between Israel’s prime minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas and how it prompted the adoption of a policy “aimed at building up the Fatah government and strangling the Hamas government in Gaza”, the noted Israeli commentator Shlomo Brom has made the following trenchant observation: “The operating assumption behind that policy is that if the Fatah administration becomes a success story and the Hamas administration turns out to be a failure, the Palestinian public will abandon Hamas and renew its support for Fatah.”

The Washington conference will have at least four perspectives. One, the participating Arab states will like it to work for a comprehensive settlement. They would want it to produce a “detailed framework” that includes specific timelines for substantive issues such as the emergence of two equally sovereign and viable states with inviolable borders, the status of Jerusalem, the question of refugees and mutual security guarantees for the future.

Two, Israel is vigorously engaged in convincing the United States that all that can be done is to consider joint declarations that mention the core issues but do not even enunciate the agreed principles of a solution, much less a timeline. Tel Aviv is simply not interested in Oslo’s dream of reconciliation with the Palestinians. It is telling the Americans that two Israeli parties, Shas and Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beenu, will bring Ehud Olmert down if he accepts anything that requires implementation in the near future.

Three, the Bush administration needs to carry some conviction with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia that its connivance at the strangulation of the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip will be compensated with an earnest engagement with a two-state solution.

Fourth, Hamas will do everything possible to ensure that the destiny of the Palestinian nation is not decided behind its back.

Israel is working overtime to dampen expectations from the Washington meeting. It has vitiated the atmosphere further by declaring that the Gaza Strip is a “hostile entity” that may soon face disruption of power and fuel supplies. Israel’s defence minister says that the objective of the declaration is to “weaken Hamas” and that Israel is getting closer to a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Considering that 120 megawatts out of the total 200 megawatts now used by the people in Gaza depend on Israel, the threat loads the dice against the Washington conference addressing the substantive issues of Palestinian self-determination and a grand settlement on the basis of the Arab initiative Israel is now arrogating to itself the right to reconstitute the Palestinian nation on Israeli terms for any discussion of a two-state solution. A million people in the Gaza Strip stand excluded.

Israel is serving notice that it will virtually pre-determine the internal politics and international relations of Palestinians, the Lebanese and the Syrians. Reports of a recent Israeli air strike on a sensitive Syrian target are now being linked to a nuclear facility that Syria is allegedly building with North Korean assistance. According to other sources, the site had just received conventional missile parts.

Opinions vary if Hamas has always acted with the prudence that the situation demanded particularly after the Saudis had helped put together a government of national unity. On the other hand, Mahmoud Abbas’s camp has often been seen to lack the sheer artfulness with which Yasser Arafat maintained the semblance of national unity. But nothing has changed the fundamental truth that the architecture of a durable Middle East peace cannot be raised on the debris of the Palestinian yearning for self-determination.

The Washington conference can make a positive contribution only by convincing Israel of the importance of a framework of principles and steps for a comprehensive settlement with a clear timeline for their implementation. It will be counter-productive to use it to exclude either Hamas or the Gaza Strip from the process envisaged for a two-state solution.

Hamas is a mainstream Islamic movement which like some other Islamic parties (including some in Turkey and Pakistan) are seeking participation in a democratic polity. Denying it that role or Israel’s planned punishment for a million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip can only further radicalise the region.

Development hijacked

By Najma Sadeque

THE ‘war on terror’ has been very good for authoritarian governments worldwide, especially those that pose as democracies. For over half a decade, the world has witnessed the peak of unilateral and brutal power. To some northern governments, it gave enormous arbitrary control over their Muslim citizens and ‘guest workers’ from abroad.

The highly-paid spin doctors of the perpetuators of the war created enough convincing fiction that any and every Muslim could be a terrorist or a potential one. The laws were twisted around enough in effect to presume anyone guilty until proven innocent.

In the South the ‘war on terror’ has shrugged off such niceties as parliamentary discussion and consensus, notwithstanding US protestations that a price has to be paid for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ which the Bush government defines to suit itself.

For the allies of the US in the North who did not want to be part of the ‘war on terror’, the expediency is clear. But for southern allies, it was a double-edge sword: some were given a choice and helpless citizens would certainly support not being bombed. Those who did not harbour such fears, embraced it nonetheless — after all, it gave a pretext to strengthen absolute rule, and provided the extra military sweeteners that came for free.

Somewhere along the way, development took a hit. Earlier, the West had withdrawn from colonisation when it decided it didn’t want to stay in a state of perpetual war and self-endangerment against restless, resentful natives: it found mutually-agreed-on trade a better way to get the same raw materials from the South.

Whether to assuage feelings of guilt over the plunder by their previous generations, or the belief that direct assistance to civil society instead of exclusively to governments that often tended to behave like local colonials, many northern countries began to extend support to NGOs in a range of sectors from health, education, environment to self-reliance and advocacy programmes.

In most cases, governments were content to let NGOs take up where the state was failing, especially when World Bank/IMF-imposed structural adjustment policies struck down the poor who constituted the majority.

But there were also NGOs that focused on informing people and making them think and act for themselves. That did not always go down well with some governments, whether aid recipients or donors. At the same time, many social welfare and other organisations based where most needed — as they are supposed to be — also happen to be located in areas or take up activities of ‘strategic’ interest or ‘concern’ to donor governments.

This confusing or deliberate melding of contradictory donor objectives with local and national goals and activities led to western governments increasingly viewing ‘developing’ countries as homogeneous components on the global map rather than unique sovereign entities. In this scenario, donors had to balance the near-impossible task of juggling northern trade and investment interests and military objectives with southern subservience.

Furthermore, this also affected the freedom of private, independent NGOs from the North giving assistance to organisations in the South. Legislation can be hard on charity organisations that are clearly not involved in guerrilla activities but which feel bound to extend their humanitarian assistance to all victims of conflict irrespective of their real or perceived allegiance.

This transition has not gone unnoticed and NGOs have been reacting in various countries where affected, some with caution so as not lose the ability to do what good they can, and fewer taking the risk of thinking aloud. Over the past couple of years, INTRAC, a UK-based international training and research NGO, addressed these concerns at consultations in half a dozen different geographical regions including South Asia and the Middle East. INTRAC revealed some interesting linked actions.

Since 2001, American NGOs have been required to report regularly on all their activities to the US State Department. The most chilling of the many directives that followed was the Patriot Act which gave the authorities the unquestioned power to control people, borders and civil society organisations. All US NGOs actually have to guarantee under the Terrorism Certification Act that their funding is not being used to provide material support to terrorists or terrorists organisations.

Consequently, those NGOs doing humanitarian work in areas or for groups that the US does not favour — even if they are innocent victims — risk losing their funding altogether. In US eyes, anything and everything can be termed a ‘security’ issue. Equally alarming has been the enactment of legislation and codes of conduct initiated by the US (with the UK in tow) and imposed on other governments as a collaborative measure in the ‘war on terror’.

It includes the monitoring of all kinds of civil society organisations for the origins and use of their foreign funding but which include NGO development and advocacy work. This can and has led to the harassment and freezing of NGO funds especially those doing advocacy work and working against human rights violations, such as the disappearance of countless social activists.

Significantly, the UK Home Office Review has renamed itself as the Department of ‘Homeland Security’. The UK British Overseas NGOs for Development (BOND) objected to NGOs being forced to associate themselves so closely with this regulatory body, as it seemed that charities were being singled out by cultural or religious identity.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the main umbrella body for UK NGOs (NCVO) supported their reservation. BOND requested the UK government to clarify the matter, pointing out that “lists proscribed in the US, especially where no evidence has been made public, cannot automatically be enforced in the UK”.

Everyone knows the absurdity that is the ‘war on terror’ cannot last forever. America has stretched its financial as well as human resources much too thin with a war that costs it almost $4,000 per second at the same time that the dollar is taking a daily plunge, while its citizenry suffers moral and economic breakdown. It has degenerated into a war of stubborn attrition, and the US has long since lost respect and standing in the world’s eyes.

But that is poor consolation to those in the South facing death or a future-less existence. Ultimately, countries will pick up the pieces towards rebuilding and mutual peace — for which even more help will be needed from the NGOs — making the ‘war on terror’ a totally unnecessary and fruitless exercise. The irony is that in the process the South will have paid the greater price with over a million innocent lives lost and a country destroyed and several others crippled.

It’s all about oil

By Gwynne Dyer

AUSTRALIA’S defence minister, Brendan Nelson, is not the sharpest tool in the box, so people were not really surprised in July when he blurted out that the real motive for invading Iraq was oil: “Obviously the Middle East itself, not only Iraq but the entire region, is an important supplier of energy, oil in particular, to the rest of the world. Australians and all of us need to think what would happen if there was a premature withdrawal from Iraq.”

Fast forward two months, and a rather sharper tool has just offered the same analysis. Alan Greenspan, chairman of the US Federal Reserve banking system for eighteen years and the high priest of capitalism, puts it quite brutally in his new book, The Age of Turbulence.

”Whatever their publicised angst over Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’,” Greenspan wrote, “American and British authorities were also concerned about violence in the area that harbours a resource indispensable for the functioning of the world economy. I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

”What everyone knows”? No, what everyone has been encouraged to believe, by the protestors and the manipulators alike. And poor old Alan fell for it too.

In interviews following the publication of his book last week, Greenspan explained that Saddam Hussein had wanted to seize the Strait of Hormuz, and so control oil shipments through the only sea route out of the Gulf. It would have been “devastating for the West,” he said, if Saddam had done that. The Iraqi dictator could have shut off five million barrels a day and brought “the industrial world to its knees.”

Saddam Hussein was a bad man. He probably held the record in the modern Middle East for the number of citizens his army, secret police and torturers had killed. But control the Strait of Hormuz? He had about as much chance of doing that as he did of controlling the English Channel, and anybody with access to a map should have known it.

Iraq lies at the north-western end of the Gulf, one thousand kilometres from the Strait of Hormuz. It has only 50 km. of coastline, and most of its naval and air assets were destroyed in the Gulf War of 1991. It had no strategic ability to reach that far east. Even if the US Navy had not been permanently present in the Gulf in overwhelming force, the notion of an Iraqi military threat to the Strait of Hormuz was sheer nonsense.

The only country in the region with the military ability to shut the Strait of Hormuz is Iran. Since it depends on oil income to support its domestic economy and feed its population, it won’t do that unless it is attacked. It may call the United States the “Great Satan,” but it has pumped oil as fast as it could and sold it at the world market price every year since the 1979 revolution. It can’t afford to care where the oil ends up.

That is true of all the major oil exporters, whatever their political convictions. They have to sell their oil, so it does not really matter much to the West who rules these countries (although it obviously matters greatly to the local residents). You don’t need to invade countries to get oil from them. Just send them a cheque.

Greenspan doubtless believed what he said, but it doesn’t make sense. He just fell for the cover story that “it’s all about oil,” which serves to distract western electorates from the more complex and often even less defensible motives of their governments.

So why did they invade Iraq, in the end? One motive was certainly the desire for permanent American military bases in the Gulf from which the United States could, at need, stop oil flowing to China. The strategic community in Washington has identified China as America’s new strategic rival.–– Copyright

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007