DAWN - Editorial; October 08, 2007

October 08, 2007

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A victory not notified

EVEN though the results of Saturday’s presidential elections have been announced and not notified, President Pervez Musharraf is one step nearer to another five-year term, provided the Supreme Court does not disqualify him. The result of Saturday’s poll was never in doubt. While the MMA-led opposition boycotted the election, the PPP chose to adopt an ambivalent position. Mr Amin Fahim, the PPP candidate, never formally announced his retirement, and the party abstained from voting, the opposition’s nominee Mr Wajihuddin Ahmad’s presence in the race — symbolic in the beginning — became incongruous when his supporters resigned from the electoral college. As a result it was a walk-over for the incumbent who won 354 of the weighted votes with Mr Wajihuddin getting a handful. President Musharraf then thanked God for his ‘great victory’, and Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Niazi declared everything about the election to be ‘constitutional, legal, moral and legitimate’. That, however, is his opinion, and it is for the judges to decide what they think about it.

The nation will now wait with bated breath for the Supreme Court’s verdict which could, if the 10 judges so decide, upset the general’s applecart. Oct 17 is incidentally the date for the next hearing, and not for the judgment. If the hearing drags on, one does not know how long the nation will have to wait in suspense for the outcome of what is basically a power struggle devoid of ethics and morality on either side. This must be emphasised because the government machinery has all but come to a halt since the March reference against the CJ. Since then, one event after another has rattled the nation. And there is more to go. The May 12 killings, the storming of Lal Masjid, the judgment restoring the CJ to his office, the verdict in favour of the Sharifs’ ‘inalienable right’ to return, the opposition’s petitions against President Musharraf’s right to contest the election, and Friday’s ‘yes, but’ verdict, besides the brute display of power by the government’s coercive apparatus have all come before the courts.

This looks like an unending crisis in which the two sides seem utterly indifferent to the people’s welfare. The lack of popular response on Saturday to the opposition’s strike call shows the people’s contempt for both sides. If on the one side they see a general using every trick up his sleeve to stay in power, on the other side they watch with dismay a fragmented opposition groping in the dark for a worthwhile strategy that could make the people believe that there was an opposition that offered a feasible alternative.

The continued uncertainty reflects itself in the government’s inability to recover the 200 or so ‘kidnapped’ soldiers, sooner or later the economy too will be affected, and foreign policy initiatives are on hold. We hope the Supreme Court will not delay the verdict too long so that the hiatus that has descended on the nation is lifted.

Two years on

IT is sad that the second anniversary of the Oct 8 earthquake will not get the media blitzkrieg it deserves which makes it all the more necessary to remind people of the victims’ continual plight. The rehabilitation and reconstruction process has come under attack from several quarters for its slowness and there are reports of people not getting due compensation. Complaints of irregularities in compensation have been pointed out several times but seem to have been ignored which forces us to ask where are the authorities going wrong in settling dues? The deputy chairperson of Erra recently expressed confidence at the pace of progress, saying that only 6,600 are living in tents compared to the 300,000 who were in temporary shelters in the days following the earthquake. But should this be a measure of success? Achievement lies in how many lives have been rehabilitated, livelihoods restored and how many homes and schools rebuilt. Here Erra authorities say that one-third of homes and health facilities have been rebuilt, though they admit that progress on schools has been slow. That doesn’t sound like progress.

On the first anniversary last year, international agencies reviewing the progress made until then felt that the transition from relief to rehabilitation was mired in ineptness and inefficiency. They argued that not enough people had started building homes, meaning it would take them that much longer to get back on their feet. If only one-third have completed their homes to date, that shows that the slow pace continues. Many victims complain that they have not received the necessary assistance for the reconstruction process, for example

in transporting construction goods to higher altitudes. One writer estimates that a household has received Rs150,000 in compensation to rebuild a home that will, according to Erra, cost Rs500,000. This brings in the question whether funds received have been spent in a judicious and transparent manner. There are many who believe the authorities have not been as forthcoming as they claim to be, with one NGO charging low-level government officials with corruption. These claims need to be investigated. Erra must address the public’s grievances so that it can gain its — and the worldwide community’s — trust.

One issue that seems ignored is that of generating employment among the affected. This is crucial for their rehabilitation and should also be done so that these areas can contribute to the country’s GDP. Quake victims should not be made to feel that their plight has been forgotten, least of all by the government.

Misery of bonded labourers

IT is heartening to know that 40 bonded peasants were freed from private jails in Sindh on court orders. This augurs well for the fate of those who continue to suffer in feudal jails, as well as for others, who though not in private prisons, are nevertheless living lives of permanent servitude as they strive to pay off mounting debts owed to callous landlords. It should be a blot on our conscience that bonded labour and private jails, that go hand in hand, should be allowed to exist at all. At a time when governments all over the world are being pressured to allow freedoms that are universally recognised as the fundamental rights of people, Pakistan continues to lean upon archaic traditions and shies away from implementing the existing legislation that could end the misery of thousands of workers by cancelling the debts of bonded labourers.

Unfortunately, in a country where the police, as law enforcers, are viewed as more of an obstruction in the way of justice, it will be an uphill task for those seeking an end to the cruelty of the feudal set-up that seeks to suppress the poor who are born into it. Poor access to justice, which is often delayed as well, also leaves many in desperation, fearful for their lives and those of their children if they rebel. The fact that many legislators sitting in our assemblies are also products of the feudal system has not helped. Instead of upholding the law of the land, they go by their own rules. It is about time that the government disregarded the clout of influential feudal elements and undertook to make an example of those flouting the law. Efforts should also be made to create greater awareness of basic human rights among peasants, brick kiln workers and all others who continue to live as slaves.

The will to be free

By Ameer Bhutto


CONDITIONS are as ripe as they have ever been for a popular uprising against the present dispensation and yet, inexplicably, despite seething public discontent, there are no visible signs of this happening. If the monks in Myanmar can evoke widespread response from the masses, why have the people of Pakistan failed to respond to the lawyers’ movement?

Part of the answer lies in a suffocating leadership vacuum. The opposition cannot even muster enough street power to welcome back their exiled leader and their alliance has been infiltrated by elements known to bear flimsily disguised sympathies with the Musharraf administration.

Others have already bowed before the military president and have been his partners in government since the last eight years. And those who have been left out in the cold during this period are now scrambling to elbow their way back in to become the next loyalist prime minister.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s principled stand against authoritarian rule in Myanmar has earned her incarceration for 12 of the last 18 years. Nevertheless, she remains on home soil to act as a point of focus for pro-democracy forces. Pakistan’s ‘Suu Kyi’ chose to strategically place herself oceans away from home to play a clever waiting game, giving the generals a free run for eight years. Now, at a time when the country is deluged with critical legal, constitutional, political, economic and security crises, she has chosen to enter into a power-sharing deal with the president.Political parties no longer play the role of factories of ideology and principles in Pakistan. That is why they have failed to mobilise public opinion. Their overriding impetus is to get into power by hook or by crook.

There are very few politicians who are genuinely committed to a party and its ideology or leadership. The political field is inhabited by drifters and the identifying characteristic of the times is drifting with the tide. Almost everyone in PML(Q) was once a part of PML(N) during the heyday of the Sharif brothers.

When they fell from grace, virtually the whole party rushed to pay obeisance to the new king; principles be damned! When Musharraf eventually falters, they will once again migrate en masse to greener pastures.

This lack of commitment to principles has created a vulgar fluidity in which democracy cannot take root. Throw in an eagerness to capitulate before foreign powers and you have a situation that is anathema not only to democracy, but also national sovereignty.

The fact is that Pakistan has lost all remaining vestiges of sovereignty, which has been sacrificed to western powers by our politicians to obtain power or cling on to power, for which they are even prepared to hand over Abdul Qadeer Khan to the IAEA and are also willing to formally allow American troops to go after Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil.

This is something that even our military president has managed to avoid thus far. As a result of such capitulations, there is no such thing as ‘politics’ in Pakistan anymore and any pretence to the contrary is just window dressing. The will of the people and all issues related to national interests count for nothing and have been shunted to the sidelines.

The White House is running the whole show. After much denial, the Americans finally conceded that they sponsored the deal between President Musharraf and Benazir, leading to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s statement that Benazir should be made part of the next set-up. But if everything is to be worked out beforehand in shady deals, then elections become a pointless façade, the voice of the people loses all importance and the ‘democratic’ process is reduced to a sad burlesque of all hopes.

For the US, the stakes are considerably higher than the future of democracy in Pakistan or our petty internal squabbles. Pakistan has become a key pawn in America’s war on terror. Consequently, all meaningful decisions regarding our future are taken in Washington DC. Our leaders have been reduced to mere managers and the masses to no more than cattle, to be herded at will.

In the pursuit of American interests, one-man rule has achieved such paramount importance in Pakistan that the rulers have received a carte blanche from their foreign masters to deploy extreme measures such as mass arrests of opposition politicians and their supporters, indiscriminate police brutality, sealing off of entire cities, acting in defiant breach of the apex court rulings, the manipulation of the Constitution and electoral rules and even the imposition of emergency or martial law as a last resort, if that is what it takes to sustain the status quo.

The people of Pakistan find the American agenda being pursued by our rulers repugnant and contradictory to their values, yet they remain unmoved and silent. The fire and passion of a people fighting to regain control of their destiny is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we have lawyers and the press/media bearing the brunt of lathi charges and tear gas.

Of course, lawyers and the press have a distinct role to play in the struggle for democracy, but their battlefields are different from those of the masses. However, due to the apathy of the masses, they find themselves fighting battles that are not theirs to fight.

The silence of the masses has cost the country dearly for the last eight years. Their continued silence and inability to look past narrow immediate self-interests towards the greater long-term common good will destroy Pakistan.

In the absence of the requisite democratic checks and balances, it is human nature for politicians to try to get away with whatever they can. The people of Pakistan have never held their leaders accountable for their repeated betrayals of trust and misconduct. Instead, some of them are now dancing in the streets in the run-up to the expected return from self-imposed exile of an already failed politician.

What are these celebrations for? Which Somnath temple has been conquered? How can bypassing the people and striking a deal with a military ruler with the blessings of a foreign power to receive general amnesty for past corrupt practices be considered a triumph for democracy?

The murder of democracy does not warrant celebrations. These celebrations can only be explained in terms of anticipation of the perks of power, nepotism and self-aggrandisement. We have learnt nothing from the past.

The enemies of democracy and their accomplices are destroying the country, yet the masses remain silent, as if in a trance. No good can be expected from the present leadership since most of them stand to benefit from the status quo. But if this land has been cursed with spineless and corrupt leaders who are not fit to spearhead the struggle for democracy, then does that mean that the people should accept the status quo as their ordained fate and continue to suffer in silence till the bitter end?

If the future is to be salvaged, the people have no alternative but to seize the initiative themselves. They will have to realise, sooner rather than later, that by remaining silent they stand to lose the most. History teaches us that it is the masses, not leaders, who bring about revolutions.

There is nothing more sad and painful then the demise of the will to be free. Once the will dies, hope dies with it and then humiliating servitude becomes the inescapable fate. No self-respecting nation can accept such a fate. We must decide now, once and for all, whether we want to be free or continue to live as slaves to the whims of indigenous and foreign masters.

Exports show resilience

The Economic Times

INDIA’S exports grew 19 per cent in dollar terms in August 2007 against a considerably slower 4.3 per cent when denominated in rupee. The large difference suggests that exporters continue to maintain volume growth at the expense of profit margins, which have been hit hard because of the strengthening rupee. Therefore, while the country may still achieve the targeted $160 billion of exports in the current fiscal, the exporting community may not have as much to show in the bottom line.

In contrast…the growth in imports when denominated in rupees was only 16.4 per cent in August 2007, nearly half the 32.6 per cent growth in dollar terms. All import-intensive sectors…would be the clear beneficiaries of the rupee’s recent strengthening.

The point is that while exporters have suffered because of a stronger rupee, there is a bigger import economy that has benefited. …Therefore, any response to exporters’ pleas for relief has to fit in with the larger picture. The large cost of sterilising ...inflows means that the RBI would find it difficult to keep a leash on the rupee. Exporters...have no option but to adjust to the rising rupee...

India’s export economy is dominated by small and medium players, who are faced with the attendant disadvantages of lack of scale economies, outdated production technology and poor infrastructure. The stronger rupee should be used by the exporters to modernise production and achieve scale economies… — (Oct 3)

Time to speak up

The Nagaland Post

INDIA is caught on the twin horns of dilemma with regard to the current movement for democracy in Myanmar … it may be seen to be supportive of the military junta if it does not speak out against the violent suppression being unleashed against the unarmed civilians. … India has an obligation to speak out against repression considering the fact that it has been a champion of the human and civil rights of other peoples across the globe. India also cannot afford to sully its image for fear that the Myanmarese generals will embrace the Chinese… The ground reality is that there is no guarantee that the Myanmarese generals will ditch their Chinese patrons even if India continues to keep mum over the current violence unleashed against the Myanmarese people.

…For those in Nagaland, the actions of the Myanmarese soldiers against Nagas living in Myanmar is too well known. …Rattled by the size of the street demonstrations and the legitimacy the monks were conferring on the protests through their participation, the junta has decided to crush the protests. The current protests have been met with butts and bullets... It is reported that the Myanmarese soldiers did not even spare the UN staff members working in poverty alleviation projects. In the light of the violent crackdown and extreme repression against the Myanmarese people, India must speak out against the brutalities perpetrated by the Myanmarese junta... — (Oct 6)

Historic deal

Deccan Herald

THE two Koreas have signed a landmark deal that holds out the promise of ushering in peace in the peninsula. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-il concluded a historic three-day summit with a joint declaration calling for peace talks to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War with a treaty...

Relations between North and South Korea have been fraught with tension in the decades since the two countries were caught in the Cold War. However, the relationship began changing in the 1990s when South Korea initiated a conciliatory “Sunshine Policy’ towards its northern neighbour. In 2000, bilateral relations reached an important milestone when the leaders of the two countries met for the first summit ever; the just-concluded meet is the second summit between the two countries. Over the past few years, reunions between divided families have taken place and economic cooperation has grown. Such efforts at reconciliation suffered setbacks however when North Korea flexed its military muscle with its nuclear and missile tests. While these tests were aimed more at sending out signals to the United States rather than intimidating Seoul, this injected an element of insecurity in the peninsula.

...With their declaration, North and South Korea have signalled that they want to put their conflict-ridden past behind them and build a new tomorrow. But peace in the Korean peninsula will be possible only if the US, China, Russia and Japan back the effort. The US has already said that a peace treaty and normalisation of US-North Korea relations is conditional, among other things, on Pyongyang dismantling its nuclear weapons programme. While the international community has some valid concerns over North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons...the peace process that the two Koreas are interested in cannot be held hostage to Washington’s concerns. The quest for a permanent peace is what the two Koreas want and the international community should support that, whether or not it meets their interests. — (Oct 6)



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007