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DAWN - Editorial; October 23, 2007

October 23, 2007


Probing questions

GIVEN the general lack of trust in the police and other security agencies, no harm can come from an independent probe into last week’s carnage in Karachi. This is also what Benazir Bhutto wants and she is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore, although the interior minister has dismissed the option out of hand. The PPP chairperson demanded on Sunday that foreign experts be included in the investigation process, for two reasons: their technical expertise plus the fear that Pakistani security agencies have, in Ms Bhutto’s words, been infiltrated by ‘militants and Al Qaeda’. Ms Bhutto added that she had already held discussions in this connection with US and UK officials. This assessment implies that local forensics experts and crime investigators are less skilled than their western counterparts and more open to manipulation by vested interests. Both scenarios are plausible, though care should be taken to not conflate the possible with what is certain. It could well be that a wholly impartial and professional investigation is already in progress, conducted by qualified officials dedicated to bringing the culprits to book. The point is, there is no way of knowing for sure and any confidence-building concessions in these emotionally charged times cannot possibly go amiss.

Take a look too at previous investigations into high-profile acts of terrorism. They do not inspire confidence, even in those cases that the authorities claim to have cracked, such as the deadly bomb blast in Karachi’s Nishtar Park in April 2006. It is also absurd playing the ‘sovereignty’ card in a matter such as this — if help is needed or could positively supplement existing resources, there is never any harm in asking for it. Sovereignty becomes an issue only when unwanted ‘help’ is imposed on the country.

While foreign assistance cannot hurt, it is questionable if it can produce results at this late stage. The crime scene has been cleared and is open to traffic. Any evidence found is already with the authorities, and there is no knowing the level of professional care with which it was collected. Also, if the investigation is to be deliberately sabotaged, it can be easily derailed prior to the arrival of international experts. Key evidence can simply go missing, as it did in the case of the probe into the stock market crash. On that occasion, reams of data maintained by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan vanished miraculously, quite possibly by hitting the delete key. That said, conciliatory gestures can only build confidence, not sour the mood further.

Unjustified status quo

THE draft package approved by President Pervez Musharraf for the Northern Areas does not seem to address the basic issue — giving the region’s people fundamental rights and a constitutional identity. Under the package, the Northern Areas will merely get enhanced political, administrative and financial powers. The region comprising Gilgit, Baltistan, Hunza, Nagar, etc has its own ethnic and cultural identity, and its people never considered their land as part of Kashmir. In November 1947 they threw off the Dogra rule and announced the areas’ accession to Pakistan. However, Pakistan has denied the people of the region their fundamental rights and has chosen to rule them through a federal government nominee.

Today, the status quo is a source of injustice to the people of the Northern Areas, for they stand virtually disenfranchised. They have representatives neither in the Azad Kashmir Assembly nor in Pakistan’s parliament. Some headway was made when the Northern Areas’ Legislative Council was created with a membership of 29, but its powers are restricted. On May 11 the NA’s chief executive, who also happens to be the Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas Affairs, declared that the region had a right to be

represented in the National Assembly, while a ruling party senator supported the people’s demand that it should be given the status of a province. He even said the people would hear some good news. However, nothing has come out of these promises, and the changes made in 1994 in the local bodies’ ordinance merely increased the seats from 29 to 32, gave more representation to women and delegated some administrative and financial powers to the local administration.

Today the people of the region do not enjoy fundamental rights, because it continues to be governed by the Legal Framework Order of 1994. This way, the government has failed to implement the Supreme Court’s ruling for giving the area self-rule through its representatives and an independent judiciary. This is surprising because, as Pakistan’s ambassador to Brussels said in a letter to Baroness Nicholson following her controversial report to the European Parliament, the UN resolutions do not prohibit the

integration of the Northern Areas with Pakistan. It is time the government revised the status quo of the Northern Areas, gave the people a basic constitutional identity besides political and civil rights, and gave convincing reasons as to why the region cannot be given the status of a province.

Trafficking of children

THERE is nothing new in reports that Pakistan is one of the biggest hubs of human trafficking — that is, the abominable business of transporting people illegally across borders. What is worrying though is the revelation that those willing to take up the arduous task of crossing many international frontiers in order to land somewhere in Europe include even minors and teenagers. Two youngsters being kept at the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau in Lahore after they were sent back to Pakistan by Iranian and Greek authorities prove that the trend is catching on. One news report suggests 15 youngsters have been deported back to Pakistan in the first ten months of the current year alone after they were arrested by border officials in Iran, Turkey or Greece. Coming on the heels of an international campaign that effectively ended the smuggling of Pakistani children to the Gulf states as camel jockeys, this latest trend shows that traffickers are successfully marketing European destinations to lure parents to send their children to these faraway places in search for quick and extra bucks.

At the same time it also confirms how vulnerable Pakistan is on this count. With a very young population — about 50 per cent of all people living in Pakistan are aged between 15 and 24 years — our country hardly affords facilities and opportunities to accommodate all of them within its own borders. That leaves a lot of room for desperate measures like sending our younger generation abroad, by any means possible, or leaving them at the mercy of the forces of anarchy and destruction. The fact that so many of Pakistani children are becoming the foot soldiers of international jihadi forces — as fighters as well as suicide bombers — testifies to our failure to channelise their youthful exuberance for positive gains rather than allow their trafficking to other parts of the world. The government of late has taken a lot of laudable steps, including the promulgation of a law in 2002, to stem the tide of human smuggling. Yet it will take a comprehensive strategy involving social, economic, educational and cultural measures to bring it to a complete halt. The only other option is to let people drift — a sure recipe for disaster if the people involved make up the bulk of the population and on them depends the future of the country.

Breaking colonial state structures

By Syed Mohibullah Shah

NO nation in the modern world has risen to prosperity and power unless its people have been blessed with three reforms in governance.

First — and it deserves to be repeated — first, when they have been blessed with the liberating powers of reform in the organisation of society, thus breaking the shackles imposed by centuries of mediaeval and, subsequently, colonial structures and creating opportunities for all those who were locked out.

Second, when people are blessed with the enabling powers of widespread education and skills that enhance abilities, give them a competitive edge and gather critical mass for society to take off.

Last, when they are blessed with fair and predictable processes of governance, rather than being made to suffer under a rule characterised by personal arbitrariness; in other words, when they are blessed with the protective powers of the rule of law that provide a level playing field, and ensure that the rights and rewards of the weak are not usurped by the strong.

It took pioneering England, some other European countries and the US several decades to perfect this model and achieve a transformation. Japan used the model and reduced the time span to 50 years while other East Asian nations refined this model further and arrived at the high table within 30 years.

So why haven’t most member countries of the OIC — some endowed with abundant resources — arrived at the high table even after being independent states for 60 to 80 years? The prescriptions dished out by those who control the state apparatus have not helped to cure the ailments that have been afflicting their societies for long.

If anything, the situation is getting worse. The disease of persistent underdevelopment — even when rich in resources — is now spreading and mutating into militant expressions of anger and impatience. The structures of state and society in most OIC countries are no different from those of other developing countries. Likewise, they carry a heavy baggage from their mediaeval and colonial past. The remedy lies — as in success stories in other cultures — in shedding this baggage by reorganising the state and society.

Very little exists by way of serious and objective studies and scholarship that have explored the issues of the decline and fall of Muslim societies over the last 500 years. Without much guidance provided by the rigours of objectivity on the basics of reorganising the state and society in their countries, it has been difficult for most OIC states to achieve even half the success recorded by others within the same time.

Some have preferred to take refuge in the revival of the failed mediaeval model, wishing that the rest of the world would also oblige them by going back to the equation of yesteryear in order to relive their past glories. But no one in the world is going to oblige us and return to the days of yore.

Others are happy to remain busy with superficial labels and the trappings of the modern world. They are hesitant to undertake the needed restructuring of the state and society that would bring the three blessings to their people and put their countries on the path to prosperity and power.Sixty years is a long time in today’s world to change the course of a nation if the instruments of governance are designed to produce such a transformation. But 60 years after independence, large sections of Pakistani society still await the three blessings to transform their lives. True, there have been specific achievements but these are islands surrounded by backwardness, poverty, underdevelopment and the disempowerment of large sections of society as discrepancies keep growing.

The social and economic reforms that liberate people from the shackles of the mediaeval and colonial times, and which usually come with the independence of a state to mark a break with the past, never really materialised for the vast majority of Pakistanis. Their rulers were happy for the colonials to depart for England but were reluctant to change colonial structures once they took control of the state apparatus.

A large part of society in Pakistan, therefore, has been carrying the old baggage — social, economic and political — much beyond independence. This baggage kept them in the mediaeval and colonial times and continues to do so. This is why the ‘trickle-down’ is not trickling down to the masses, and one sees development and disempowerment simultaneously acting on different sections of society and widening the disparities among them.

Of the several examples, let us select one that is often talked about. In 1951, Pakistan and South Korea had about the same level of literacy: 16 per cent for Pakistan and 21 per cent for South Korea. Pakistan had just won independence and Korea had seen the end of Japanese occupation.

While governance in Pakistan did not reform the mediaeval and colonial heritage of the structures of state and society and merely changed the rulers, South Korea changed not only the rulers, it also carried out extensive social and economic reforms that demolished the old baggage and empowered the vast majority of its people.

Consequently, while the South Korean literacy rate went up to about 90 per cent by 1981, in the same 30-year period Pakistan’s literacy rate was struggling at 26 per cent. Even after 60 years, the rate of literacy in Pakistan is still hovering around 50 per cent. The rapid rise in literacy soon translated into an educated and skilled workforce that helped put Korea on its path to industrialisation and prosperity.

There is another indicator. Again we start from the same benchmark. The exports of Pakistan and South Korea in 1951 were of the same order — about $50m each. But triggered by the social and economic reforms that raised the capabilities of a vast majority of its people, South Korean exports by 1981 had gone up to $18bn, while Pakistani exports stood at $2.5bn after the same period. Today, while our exports are around $18bn, South Korean exports have rocketed to nearly $300bn.

The purpose of this article is to remind OIC leaders that these things are doable without having to wait until eternity. Countries from different backgrounds — ethnic, religious and cultural — have used the same prescription of reforming the governance of state and society to bring power and prosperity to their nations. Following old prescriptions is causing bigger problems that need not occur if reform initiatives are undertaken.

The writer is a former head of Board of Investment and federal secretary.

OTHER VOICES - European Press

Pakistan in the front line

KARACHI, the economic capital of Pakistan, has a long history of ethnic, religious and criminal violence. However, the carnage caused by the Oct 18 attack on the convoy of Benazir Bhutto, who is back in the country after eight years in exile, illustrates the use of suicide bombing as a weapon of urban destruction.

The authors of such sacrificial violence, which carries the signature of Al Qaeda and its allies, have decided to generalise suicide bombings on Pakistani territory. This is because Pakistan is in the frontline between neo-jihadists and the United States.

The ‘land of the pure’ is the stage for a bloody confrontation between those who cry ‘Death to America’ and those conducting a ‘war on terror’. For the moment, the human bombs have mainly hit the Pakistani army which, under American pressure, is trying —with equal measure of brutality and ineffectiveness — to rein in Islamists in the tribal zones bordering Afghanistan.

With Benazir Bhutto, the target has changed. In the eyes of some, she is a creature of the US, more so even than President-General Pervez Musharraf who was recently condemned to death by Al Qaeda. Washington is seen as having brokered the power-sharing deal between Ms Bhutto and Mr Musharraf.

This is the drama of Pakistan which is perpetually in the frontline between the US and its enemies. Democracy in Pakistan is the primary victim. The return of Benazir Bhutto, her reputation tarnished but not fully destroyed, was expected to break this spiral. She believed she could reconcile security with liberalism, anti-terrorism and democracy.

The assassins of Karachi have shown that they were ready to do anything to prevent this.

— (Oct 21)

Benazir Bhutto returns

UNTIL explosions ripped through Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade in Karachi, leaving scores dead and wounded, her homecoming had been a triumph of political choreography. That should not have come as a surprise — comebacks, after all, are her specialty. Since her father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was executed in 1979, she’d been elected prime minister twice, deposed twice on charges of corruption and self-exiled twice. Now, at 54, she was back for another try.

But the twin explosions were a swift and horrifying reminder of how close Pakistan is to the brink, and what she’s up against. Fearing just such an attack, the authorities had urged her to use a helicopter, and 20,000 security personnel had been deployed to protect the motorcade.

Even absent the bloodshed, it’s hard to see Bhutto’s return as a victory for democracy — especially since it is the result of a dubious deal with General Pervez Musharraf that grants him another five years in the presidency. Nor is it a great triumph for the rule of law, since, in exchange for playing ball with the general, Bhutto has been handed a convenient amnesty that wipes out serious corruption charges dating back to her years as prime minister.

Bhutto’s greatest challenge will be to redeem this tawdry trade-off by using her popularity and skills to leverage this modest political opening into something resembling genuine democracy.

Her first step should be to insist that the parliamentary elections are open to all. Nawaz Sharif’s previous tenure, like hers, was badly flawed. After recognising that the general’s misrule was dangerously strengthening extremist forces in Pakistan, Washington helped engineer the deal that permitted Bhutto’s return. Now, it must help her and Pakistan truly move towards democracy. — (Oct 20)

–– Selected by Shadaba Islam

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007