DAWN - Editorial; October 14, 2007

October 14, 2007


Peace & the environment

THE desire or need to control natural resources has been a source of conflict throughout human history. An example of this imperative may be found today in the Iraq war, where the prospect of an oil-based hegemony was among the major triggers. Not all battles, however, are motivated by greed, the profits of empire-building or the lure of loot and plunder. Sometimes they are based on basic needs such as water, grain, livestock and cultivable land. Such conflicts are nothing new but there is a fear they could escalate rapidly due to global warming, which is already threatening livelihood security in parts of the developing world. Margaret Beckett, who was the British foreign secretary at the time, warned in May this year that climate-driven conflicts are a reality even now in some African countries. A ‘struggle between nomadic and pastoral communities for resources made more scarce through a changing climate’ is one of the underlying causes of the Darfur crisis in Sudan, she said. In Ghana, an expanding Sahara Desert is meanwhile fuelling animosity between Fulani herdsmen and local farmers. The evidence is in and mounting by the day: environmental degradation and shrinking resources lead to a loss of livelihood and increase the risk of conflict.

The link between a healthy environment and world harmony first received widespread attention in 2004 when the Nobel peace prize was awarded to Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, founder of The Green Belt Movement which focuses on reforestation, sustainable sources of firewood and the creation of associated livelihood opportunities. This vital connection between human and planetary well-being was re-emphasised on Friday when the latest Nobel peace prize went to Al Gore, the former US vice-president turned environmental campaigner, and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Explaining its decision, the Nobel committee said it wanted to highlight the ‘increased danger [posed by climate change] of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states’. In Mr Gore’s case, an Oscar-winning documentary and his sustained awareness campaign have popularised the science of global warming and helped take it to a worldwide audience. The IPCC’s highly respected — and, importantly, neutral — scientists have been conducting research on climate change for almost two decades. The panel’s February 2007 assessment report was hailed as a landmark document that confirmed that human activity is indeed responsible for global warming. The bad science, often sponsored by big business, stood rubbished once and for all.

The publicity generated by the peace prize is timely, coming as it does shortly before a key UN conference on climate change starting in Bali in the first week of December. Here, negotiations will begin to hammer out a post-Kyoto Protocol framework for capping emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause global warming. As always, bringing the US on board remains a major problem. Washington has not ratified Kyoto and continues to reject the mandatory emission caps accepted by most developed countries. Perhaps the snub delivered by the Nobel prize will help make the naysayers change their ways but that, sadly, remains a remote prospect.

In limbo

INDIAN Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that the presumed slow-down in talks with Islamabad was due to Pakistan’s domestic problems contains a grain of truth. Pakistan has been in limbo since it went into a state of crisis on March 9 with the government filing a reference with the Supreme Judicial Council against the Chief Justice. This crisis has continued till this day. In between, we have had the Lal Masjid uprising and the government’s belated crackdown, besides some key judicial pronouncements that rattled the government. Two of the Supreme Court judgments were categorical and the cases were closed: Mr Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was restored to his position as Chief Justice and the verdict on the Sharifs’ petition made it clear that every Pakistani had an ‘inalienable right’ to return. However, after these two key verdicts, other judgments have, for reasons of law and paucity of time, been of an ad hoc nature. The petitions challenging the president’s right to contest an election were dismissed on technical grounds, and the court did not pronounce a judgment on the dual office question itself. Then, when the opposition went to court again, the judges refused to stay the presidential election but said the results of the Oct 6 election be not notified until a final judgment was made on the dual office issue. On Friday, the SC declined to stay the operation of the National Reconciliation Ordinance but said the benefits drawn from the NRO would be subject to its final judgment.

The government is in limbo. The results of President Musharraf’s victory on the 6th were announced but not ‘notified, and he still has options to exercise if he is not elected. Besides, even if the SC decides in his favour, the parliamentary election is scheduled for January. This means an elected government will not be in place for at least three more months. Add to this the situation in Fata, and one realises why vital domestic and foreign policy issues are on hold. It is time a government that is on the defensive and an opposition that is in disarray behaved with a bit more of responsibility. Friends and foes alike are wondering what the outcome of the current power struggle, tempered with judicial assertiveness, will be. Basically, this mayhem is the result of our failure to develop and hone a democratic system of succession.

Children’s mental health

THOSE who observed Mental Health Day in Pakistan a few days ago spoke of the need to formulate a policy for children whose mental health is often ignored. This needs to be given some attention as health practitioners around the world point to a rise in mental illnesses among children. One survey estimates that 17 per cent of Pakistani children suffer from mental disabilities yet there is no trained child or adolescent psychiatrist in the public sector according to a speaker at a workshop on the subject in Rawalpindi on Friday. This disturbing revelation should not come as a big surprise given the government’s neglect of the health sector. The government must see children’s mental health as crucial to the country’s development. If a child is diagnosed at an earlier stage, chances of his or her recovery are greater, then later when he or she may need more treatment or care, which will prove more expensive for the government. This is why more funds need to be pumped into child psychiatry so that healthcare professionals are trained on how to identify, diagnose and treat these cases. Public hospitals should have child psychiatric clinics on their premises so that children can be treated there. This will also raise awareness among parents who do not know that their child is suffering from a disorder.

Teachers too need to be trained on how to identify various behavioural disorders. Often they treat a mentally ill child as a ‘difficult’ one simply because they do not know. A mentally ill child need not be ostracised or treated differently but knowledge about his condition is essential for his treatment. Ideally schools should have trained counsellors on hand to help them in this regard. What is most important is teaching society about mental health as there is still a lot of stigma attached to it.

Land-grabbing bonanza

By Q. Isa Daudpota

LAND-GRABBING around the metropolitan suburbs in developing countries is commonplace. This happens principally in two ways. Long-established settlements are usurped by the land mafia, by first intimidating the residents, and if that fails, employing brute force to evacuate the place.

The other way is when politically influential land predators bend the rules to facilitate personal acquisition of vast tracts of land. Compared to the blatancy of the first method, the later is a more covert operation.

For those who have missed the breaking news emanating from the capital, let’s recap the sordid details. A local journalist broke the story on Oct 10 about Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s directive to the Capital Development Authority to cancel allotment of all farms in Chak Shehzad, which are being used for residential purposes.

These plots were initially allocated — during the 1970s through the 1990s — at highly subsidised rates for growing vegetables and poultry farming, ostensibly, to meet the growing demands of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

The CDA later modified its by-laws to enable some powerful people to resell these plots at many times their throwaway cost price. According to this report, President General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz bought their five acres and 2.5 acres at Chak Shehzad, respectively, in 2003. The divulged list of 499 owners of these plots predictably include top military officers, high-ranking officials and bureaucrats, who in all own 2,500 acres of land currently priced at Rs75bn.

I knew the owners of an opulent house in this very area, whom I happened to visit about 10 years ago. Their house had a huge front lawn and a matching vegetable patch at the back, which was obviously for private use. The area where such houses are located is not set up for collection of produce from each house and delivery to the marketplace.

Also, no one is likely to set up an economically viable poultry farm in a residential area, which this is, because of the unhygienic conditions that are generally part of battery farming.The chairman of CDA, Mr Kamran Lashari, confirmed that the report of the new survey of Chak Shehzad and its surroundings would be submitted to the apex court. It will be interesting to see if there is a change of tack by CDA, following the directive of the Chief Justice. CDA’s track record on implementing the court’s orders leaves much to be desired.

In Feb 2006, in the case ‘Moulvi Iqbal Haider vs CDA and others’, the Supreme Court declared that commercial activities in public parks violated Article 26 of the Constitution and was contrary to the by-laws of Islamabad.

The court revoked the lease granted by CDA to Mr Shah Sharabeel to build and operate a mini golf course in the F-7 Jubilee Park. This followed an effective campaign against the project by Fauzia Minallah, a local artist.

Further, the court ordered CDA to start disciplinary action against the staff responsible for executing the lease.

The reason this has almost certainly not been done is that such a lease must have had the blessings of Mr Kamran Lashari who is a crony of Mr Sharabeel. Also, nothing has been done by the authority yet to restore the park to its original condition after building work was stopped, what to talk of it being improved!

This shows the sulkiness of CDA and its chairman at having their plans overturned. It has deprived the people of the nearby crowded slum, euphemistically called the “French Colony”, of their only public space.

This lack of care for an existing park, made worse by CDA’s arrogant disregard for the court ruling, led to it giving a lease to McDonalds (of which the Lakson Group holds the franchise) to cut out a large chunk of the Fatima Jinnah Park for selling unhealthy fast food. When the Chief Justice was removed from his position, Mr Sharabeel publicly insulted him and his decision on cancelling the golf course at a public gathering.

The cases described above illustrate where the CDA has clearly failed to implement the court’s directives in letter and spirit. This is also true for the demolition of 150 dangerous high-rise buildings in Murree, several of which the court had ordered be destroyed eight years ago!

One hopes that the court will gain the teeth to ensure that its writ is respected and executed.

When I shared the sensational news of the possible cancellation of the Chak Shehzad leases with Humaira Rahman in Toronto (she and Navaid Hussain are founders of Shehri, the brave NGO in Karachi that has fought illegal construction for years), she sent me a report describing land-grabbing of the more overt kind.

This is what it said… The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the Urban Resource Centre, Karachi that one person was shot dead and more than 10 were injured by thugs, with the help of the police, during an illegal demolition on Oct 3, 2007.

Twelve police jeeps from the Korangi Township came along with bulldozers to the 300-year-old village, the Juma Kalmati Goth, Ibrahim Hyderi town, Karachi. About 50 to 60 armed people, some in police uniform, emerged from the jeeps and started demolishing the houses.

Juma Kalmati Goth comes under Bin Qasim town. Individuals from the Korangi Township carried out the demolition, which is a stronghold of the ruling MQM party.

After the incident, the nazim of Korangi town, Jan Alam Jamote, vehemently denied that his town office conducted the demolition of the village. However, witnesses identified that the demolition vehicles and police jeeps were marked as originating from Korangi Township.

It is regrettable that the investigation into the killing of Mr Sultan Junejo and those injured by gunshots has not been launched yet. This case also illustrates how easily the police can be arbitrarily mobilised in such an illegal operation, for an ulterior purpose or interest, instead of protecting a citizen’s life and property.

AHRC naively asks concerned people to write letters of protest to the president, the chief justice of Sindh, registrar of the Supreme Court, governor and chief minister of Sindh and a few others to the email addresses provided. People who do send in letters will almost certainly not have their notes attended to. I have recently tested the mailing section and email addresses of the registrar and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and found the place grossly under-staffed to adequately handle the average of 700 mails that it receives daily.

Nevertheless, the Chief Justice remains the only recourse for justice for the uprooted fisher folk of Juma Kalmati Goth. Along with disposing off the scandal of the ‘legalised’ land-grabbing by Islamabad’s sophisticated land mafia, may he also focus the court’s attention on the plight of the poor Sindhi fisher folk who have been illegally ousted them from their homes by the muscle-men of the politically powerful MQM.

The writer is an Islamabad-based physicist with an interest in issues of environment, education and science.

National Reconciliation Ordinance


PEOPLE were rejoicing after the recent political developments. They had high hopes that a new political era would begin with a change in the present set-up. Meanwhile, the National Reconciliation Ordinance that provides relief to politicians emerged as a controversial issue and is being questioned by civil society and rational elements. The NRO is not considered a good omen as criminals will get indemnity. It amounts to the crime and corruption of the elite being institutionalised.

The NRO provides relief to Benazir Bhutto and her colleagues but at the same time people who were involved in criminal cases are also among the beneficiaries… Later, the situation changed and all of a sudden the rulers were attracted by the liberalism of the PPP and a deal was struck between them being labelled as the road to democracy.… The deal has been concluded, but the sword of 58 (2) b is hanging over parliament and the bar on Benazir from becoming prime minister for the third term is still there…

There are clear indications that the US wants a role for Benazir in the new set-up, hence it is hoped that the issue of a third term for Benazir as prime minister will be resolved with one stroke of the pen like the NRO. Insofar as Article 58 (2) B is concerned, this could be left to parliament to decide, as it had repealed the controversial article during Nawaz Sharif’s time.

The apex court is hearing the petitions regarding the election of President Gen Musharraf and the NRO. Until the court gives its verdict on these two important issues the situation will remain uncertain. — (Oct 8)

Price hike and order of Supreme Court


THE Supreme Court’s bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has rejected the reports of provincial governments regarding the prices of consumer items. The court observed that the rulers were issuing orders for their personal benefits but were not ready to provide any relief to the common man. The court expressed displeasure over the performance of the government and directed it to take action against the hoarders.

The apex court’s directive has come on the occasion of Ramazan when a record price hike was witnessed. There should have been a decrease in prices particularly of food items during the holy month. On the contrary, people braved a record increase in the prices of fruit, pulses, flour, etc.Rulers are busy saving their power. They have no time to think about the common good and ensure that food items are sold at fixed prices. The price committees constituted by the government have proved ineffective.

Providing relief to the common man is the prime responsibility of the government. But we have the government of the elite class; therefore all benefits go to this class, while the poor are left to God’s mercy. If the rulers continue to bask in their luxuries, we will definitely not see any decrease in prices. Taking notice of the issues which are directly related to the problems of the common man is laudable….the chief secretaries and all heads of concerned departments should be called and made answerable as to why the common people were allowed to suffer and no action was taken. — (Oct 10)

––Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007