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DAWN - Editorial; October 09, 2007

October 09, 2007


The tragedy of Swat

ONCE the hotspot of Pakistan’s tourism, Swat is fast emerging as a stronghold of the Talibanisation that has swept most of the southern districts of the NWFP and some northern districts as well. The war in Waziristan has been the focus of national attention, and rightly so given the implications of the rise of militancy in the tribal areas for the territorial integrity of the country. But the happenings in Swat also have profound relevance for Pakistan’s society. Here the issue is not one of a military confrontation with the army. It is the Islamists’ self-acquired right to impose — even by using force — their own brand of morality on the civilian population. Since the beginning of July, there have been 53 incidents of bomb explosions, including three suicide bombings, claiming a total of 48 lives. That is not all. There has been an assassination attempt on an ANP leader and officials in the administration and their families have come under attack and many of them have now reportedly shifted to Islamabad.

A lot of the violence is directed against women, girls’ schools, NGOs and CD shops. With their misguided beliefs of restricting women and banning all entertainment, the militants are now on the war path. How this is affecting the lives of common people is shocking. Media reports suggest that worried parents have pulled out their children from schools in large numbers. Health care is being affected with Maulana Fazlullah conducting an anti-polio campaign on his illegally operated FM radio. The state’s writ appears to be weakening in this area. Police have withdrawn from checkpoints in some of the worst-affected tehsils of Swat, which are now being policed by militants. Fazlullah sent hundreds of his armed comrades to rescue two abducted women from the upscale Kanju Town in Swat and ‘bring to justice’ their alleged abductors who were paraded before a multitude of people as they await their fate to be decided by a self-appointed ‘Islamic court’.

Unfortunately, all this is happening, not in any remote corner of the tribal badlands of Pakistan but in a settled district of the NWFP. There seems to be total paralysis and inaction with the state security apparatus going through one of its worst patches and the administrative system in a state of collapse. The problem has been further compounded by a lack of an actionable strategy. The government has left it to the local police to handle the law and order situation while the troops that were sent in have not checked the militants who are also operating in other areas using Swat as their base. The intelligence agencies apparently have sufficient information on the militants’ operations but have failed to take action because the government is still not clear about its strategy. Already a section of the population shocked by the assassination attempt on Afzal Khan Lala has begun to react by rejecting the police ban on the carrying of weapons since its faith in the government’s ability to provide security has already been eroded. Is Swat heading for a civil war?

MMA’s self-destruction

THE MMA has made a laughing stock of itself. Not that the opposition’s other components are any better: the PML-N-led All Parties Democratic Movement never clicked. The ARD is dead. As for the PPP, one does not know where it stands after the expediency it has of late demonstrated. But the MMA — an alliance within an alliance — has self-destructed itself effectively. Going by their lofty Islamic rhetoric, one had expected the MMA leaders to practise politics based on principles. Instead, they have outdone those whom they hate most, the so-called secular-minded politicians. The resignation issue alone demonstrates how a political party or alliance should not behave. The differences between the JUI-F and the JI came to the fore on the question of quitting the assemblies to pre-empt President Pervez Musharraf’s re-election. But every declaration made to the people or the press by the MMA high command, promising to quit the assemblies, was followed by a denial, especially by Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Perhaps to present the MMA leadership with a fait accompli, Qazi Hussain Ahmed resigned his National Assembly seat, but the decision had little impact on the MMA, much less on the national political scene.

Nothing, however, demonstrated greater disunity and lack of a well-planned strategy than the question of the NWFP Assembly’s dissolution. The MMA announced its move to resign and call for a dissolution of the assembly well in advance, giving ample time to the provincial opposition to move a no-confidence motion to pre-empt the dissolution. With the JI members leaving the legislature but the JUI-F legislators continuing to sit there, NWFP’s politics has taken a weird turn. Now the scene looks crazier still with the JI speaker having resigned, following allegations by the Fazlur Rehman camp that the speaker could have managed, if he wanted, to reject or at least delay the tabling of the no-confidence move. The situation is now in flux. In spite of the JI’s absence, Chief Minister Akram Durrani still enjoys a thin majority. The dissolution of the assembly has now become irrelevant to its original aim, namely, denying President Musharraf an electoral college. The MMA is in a mess because it is motivated by strong negative impulses. It would have stayed together if it had a positive agenda, like working for the welfare of the NWFP’s people, most of whom live a life of poverty and deprivation.

More public toilets needed

CAN people be blamed for relieving themselves in open spaces in the absence of public toilets? Unfortunately city administrations and planners have failed to provide public toilets, or ensure that the system of sewerage and drainage is up to the mark. This explains the level of filth everywhere. Take an example from Karachi, where a paid toilet facility at Civil Hospital is frequented more than the ones in the hospital because it is relatively clean. This proves that people will pay for hygiene and convenience. So why hasn’t this simple logic been applied on a mass level? The Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, in partnership with the city government, started some paid toilet facilities in Karachi in 2000 but only built 31 out of 38 because of apathy on the part of the local government. The administration has to cooperate with the building of public toilets because it needs to sign off on issues like land, water, electricity, etc. Yet it seems the issue is at the bottom of their list of priorities. This is reflective of the low priority given to issues like sanitation which are as vital (if not more) to a country’s progress as the construction of roads and bypasses. More funds need to be spent on teaching people how to build makeshift toilets and about personal hygiene as this will reduce many health and environmental problems.

An international survey in 2005 estimated that approximately 45 per cent of Pakistani households do not have access to toilets. What’s worse is that only 51 per cent of houses are connected to some form of drainage. That speaks volumes of the level of sanitation in the country. This needs to change, starting with the revamping of cities’ drainage systems. In the meantime, public toilets must be built and well maintained.

Are we reconciled?

By S.A. Qureshi

THE National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) appears to have run into a storm of protest and derision from the press and civil society. The criticism primarily is that it will permit politicians to launder money that they could not account for.

It has, therefore, been labelled with various epithets like daylight robbery and an abdication of principles on the part of both Musharraf and the Pakistan People’s Party. This is so despite people having called for national reconciliation for the past few years.

It strikes me that in any system of justice such a law would be curious. The reason would be that people would ask, why not resolve the issues through the established judicial system.

The root of the problem is that we do not have a judicial system that can be trusted by anyone in this country. Traditionally, apart from a few individual exceptions, this whole system has been carrying out the dictates of the military in Pakistan. If a civil servant, a judge or a police officer dared to defy the military, they paid a heavy price. The list is surprisingly long.

Does anybody remember Justice Safdar Shah who as a sitting judge of the Supreme Court had to escape to London just because he disagreed with the then military regime? His analysis that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had not murdered Nawab Kasuri was legally clear and correct.

Almost 30 years later, instead of Safdar Shah’s commemorative statue standing outside the Supreme Court it is the Sharifuddin Pirzada protégés who still wield influence within the hallowed portals of the building.

Many of these gentlemen actually owe their elevation to a system which has heavily been influenced by individuals like Justice Anwarul Haq and Justice Nasim Hasan Shah.

I have nothing against those two gentlemen but they practically admitted judicial murder by calling Bhutto’s execution a political decision. In short, the current judicial system comprises personnel tainted by Provisional Constitutional Orders that dignified military rule. This was a factor that the PPP could not reverse in its short tenures and which Nawaz Sharif as heir to Zia quite enjoyed.

If anyone believes that things have changed they should remember that the current top law officer of the country, the attorney-general, is famous not for his legal analysis but for the engaging conversations he held over the telephone and which found their way to the Internet.

As a sitting judge these conversations with Mr Khalid Anwar, the law minister at the time, were remarkable for their frank appraisal of what awaited the PPP leadership in cases before him.People who, therefore, argue that the cases should be allowed to go to court are either simplistic or basing their analysis on two false assumptions: a) that the cases against the PPP leadership are all proven even before they are heard; b) that the courts will decide these cases fairly.

As far as the second assumption is concerned when we talk about the judicial system it does not refer to judges alone. Actually, it means the criminal administration system which includes the investigating agency (e.g. police, NAB), the prosecution and the judiciary.

The judges cannot do much if the evidence before them is fixed, forged or concocted which can easily be done when the state is not neutral. The investigating agencies in Pakistan are, therefore, replete with police officers who have emulated our judges in ‘pragmatism’. The hijacking case against Nawaz Sharif was a particularly brilliant example of incisive investigation.

There were, of course, a minority of police officers who, like judges, stood up and objected to unfair investigations. They have been made horrible examples of and their peers do not even whisper their names for fear that their conscience may be impacted. These were the easiest prey. Unlike politicians they do not have a party, lawyers or independent incomes behind them.

The press hates the police and the effort to dissect an individual’s role behind the uniform requires too much hard work and investigative journalism. These police officers will die unsung. However, the impact of the military’s manipulation is visible.

At a national level, one either gets police officers who in situations like May 12 in Karachi avoid confronting killers or act in reverse in Islamabad where they bully the press and the lawyers. Little surprise then that the PPP, which has been at the receiving end of this ‘justice system’ for the past 30 years, wants another way.

So what happens if you have a criminal administration system which your country’s largest political party regards as untrustworthy and unworkable?

In South Africa, Nelson Mandela as the leader of the country’s largest political party, the African National Congress, faced the same problem about which he was aware.

In the absence of agreed rules of the game during the anti-Apartheid struggle, both parties had taken measures unpalatable in a civilised framework. These were crimes with a purpose which had overridden ordinary law.

The courts dominated by the Apartheid regime’s judges would interpret them according to the system they knew — a system that would have Nelson Mandela described as a terrorist. A system of reconciliation under a truth and reconciliation commission was worked out where crimes committed by both sides were identified and the state declared amnesty for the majority of them. The ANC was then given effective power and it has governed reasonably well for a revolutionary party since.

Unfortunately, despite this ordinance, reconciliation between the PPP and the military does not appear to have occurred. The reason is that although very much like the Apartheid regime in South Africa, the military has now come under tremendous international and local pressure to clean up its act, but unlike the Apartheid regime in South Africa it has never really decided to give up or share power.

Shorn of its traditional right-wing allies whose patronage structures are under international investigation the military believes it can use the PPP as its new front.

The NRO appears to have been negotiated by it with this intent. Clearly, the military’s friends have produced a badly drafted law without sincerity of political purpose. The constitutional protection and wide ambit that should have blanketed this law is missing. It is very likely to be struck down by the judiciary influenced by the military.

The military still appears to believe that if the ordinance fails it is home and free. This is short-term thinking. The long-term consequences are unnerving. If PPP does not have the opportunity to articulate and then implement a radical programme of social reform because of being stitched up with cases and allegations there will be no good governance.

The people of Pakistan will have no option but to look at the right-wing alternatives. These alternatives have neither the will nor the political vision to implement much-needed reform.The military must buy into the spirit of the ordinance and let the PPP, if successful at the ballot, implement a programme of reform like it did in the 1970s. If the PPP fails, then one can only hope that the dynamic of the failure will create political parties which can rise to the challenge. People may be dubious but this is the only political option for the moment.

“Right decision, wrong reason”

European Press : The Independent on Sunday

GORDON Brown has come to the right decision, but apparently for the wrong reasons. Now is not the time for a general election. … There may be great issues that could be put to the people…but the prime minister proposes no big changes in government policy.

There was a plausible case for an election when Mr Brown became prime minister…on the grounds that the country’s leadership had changed. But it was hard to argue that it was democratically necessary. …

Indeed, the mood of the country since June 27 has been one of slightly surprised satisfaction at the way Mr Brown assumed his responsibilities. … In the past two weeks, Mr Brown has put all this at risk…Mr Brown’s advisers told journalists that the prime minister was studying opinion polls as he considered whether to call an election. They confirmed that the deciding factor would be party-political advantage.

What was surprising was that they did not even bother to invent a reason that might make it look as if Mr Brown would make the decision in the national interest…This has been a damaging episode for Mr Brown… because it makes us look again at the way Mr Brown has drawn attention to his calm authority in the face of bomb plots, flooding, foot-and-mouth outbreaks and a bank run. … — (Oct 7)


European Press : Le Monde

NO one can miss it: Nicolas Sarkozy is omnipresent in the media and especially on television screens. … The president is in the news because the opposition is asleep.But there’s no doubt, this is beginning to weigh heavily on the public debate. This is the essence of a protest addressed recently by the Socialist Party to the president of the Audiovisual Superior Council, an institution mandated to ensure the “respect for political pluralism” on radio and television. “It is a question of democracy,” the Socialist Party complained. The protest is justified: the rule that TV stations must ensure a balance between members of the government, representatives of the majority in power and those in the opposition loses its meaning if the head of state is constantly in the news.

The president of the Audiovisual Superior Council has argued that the amount of time given to heads of state on radio and TV has not been taken into account by the regulatory authorities since 1982, given that they intervene…in the name of the country. That is true. But a rule that was applied to François Mitterrand or Jacques Chirac, who deliberately did not make too many political declarations in order to stay above the political fray, makes no sense when the president is constantly in search of headlines…as a result the opposition cannot play its proper role. — (Oct 6)

— Selected and translated (Le Monde) by Shadaba Islam

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007