DAWN - Editorial; October 26, 2007

Published October 26, 2007

Implications of poll code

ONE can only regard the Election Commission’s draft of the poll code, sent to political parties for their comments, with mixed feelings. There are a number of provisions that are positive, such as the instructions to parties to refrain from cooperating with each other to bar women from participating in the polls as contestants and voters — an all too familiar scene in the conservative northwest. Equally, one hopes that its directives to political parties not to provoke ‘sectarian and parochial’ emotions during electioneering are observed, although it is too much to hope that the already agitated politicians will follow the ban on the use of abusive language against one another.

However, there are other sections in the draft that raise questions. For instance, the limit on electoral spending — Rs1.5m for National Assembly seats and one million rupees for provincial assembly seats — is unrealistic considering the vast stretches to be covered by the campaigning political parties. How will the spending be monitored, given that many parties may not be transparent about campaign costs especially when the designated amount is insufficient for their poll needs? Moreover, the current ruling elite has been given an unfair head start. Millions must have already been spent by the government on advertisements eulogising political personalities — and so close to the time of the promised elections. Will these ads be stopped now that the Election Commission has prohibited the use of public funds to promote officials and other functionaries of the state and their various schemes and developmental works? If these continue in violation of the directive aimed at restraining the ruling party from enhancing its poll prospects through unfair means, will there be any penalty for the wrongdoers? These are questions that must be debated and answered before the poll code is given its final shape.

What is also disturbing about the draft code are the curbs on political rallies. In the aftermath of the deadly Oct 19 blasts, it makes sense to be concerned about security issues as well as public convenience that will, no doubt, be greatly hampered by the colourful shows of speeches, processions and cheering that will be witnessed when campaigning gets underway. One hopes that the traffic police and other relevant departments ensure that disturbance is kept to a minimum and that the public is informed about alternative routes in advance. Political parties, too, must urge their supporters to take security precautions. But it must be kept in mind that democracy is a participatory process, and election campaigns form an integral part of it. Long and regular spells of military rule have deadened the voting spirit in the people, and if it is to be re-energised they must be mobilised politically. Attending poll rallies is a good start. It is also an effective way of countering those who don’t want to see democracy bloom in the country.

Opportunities lost

THE ongoing investigation into last week’s bomb blasts in Karachi do not inspire confidence. By all accounts the police have badly bungled the probe, with detectives from the Federal Investigation Agency fearing that key evidence may have been lost in the initial haste and confusion. Let it be clear at the outset that no mala fide intent is being suggested here, for at this stage no independent observer can rightly claim to be privy to the true picture. Given the track record of the police force and the hash it has made of this investigation, a large share of the blame can instead be laid at the door of incompetence and a failure to cope with the enormity of the situation.

Perhaps no amount of training can fully prepare any security official for the madness unleashed on the night between Oct 18 and 19. Still, it must be noted that grave mistakes were committed in the aftermath of the explosions. Evidence had already been cleared by the time the SP Investigations East, in whose jurisdiction the blasts took place, managed to reach the crime scene. While it remains unclear who ordered the removal of evidence, it appears the exercise was motivated by a desire to prevent traffic jams. This is baffling if true, for Sharea Faisal had been closed to general traffic since the morning of Oct 18. Another 10 hours or so would have made no difference to commuters who were unlikely to venture out so shortly after the devastation. In any case, the scale of the human tragedy and its potential fallout demanded that the crime scene remain secure and untouched until daylight and the completion of a thorough on-site investigation. This did not happen and valuable evidence may have been compromised as a result. It also transpires that the statement of a police officer who was a first-hand witness is yet to be recorded by the investigators.

Reconciliation is the official mantra of the day, at least as far as the president and prime minister are concerned. Yet the government was quick to dismiss the PPP’s demand that foreign experts be included in the probe. Their presence after the event may have had no impact on the outcome of the investigation. Be that as it may, the induction of neutral observers would have served as a confidence-building measure that would have been well received not just by the People’s Party but also the public at large which has little trust in the official apparatus. This opportunity is now lost forever and merely replacing the top investigator will not undo the damage.

Poaching lessons

PAKISTAN needs to study the case of Salman Khan. The Indian actor was arrested and charged with seven years’ imprisonment for hunting the black buck, a serious criminal offence in India. His case has shown that no matter how popular or influential a person is, he/she is not above the law. This message needs to be sent to Pakistan too where, despite well-intentioned laws that prohibit hunting endangered species, or limit the number of game that can be poached, every rule is openly defied — and how. Foreign dignitaries have been allowed to hunt the houbara bustard, an endangered bird, in total violation of existing laws that disallow it. Perhaps the prime minister, who issued hunting licences in January this year, did so because he felt obliged to the Arab dignitaries for their economic support, but such disregard for laws results in others feeling no compulsion whatsoever to follow the law. This explains why this past Sunday in Sindh when four influential men were charged with poaching wildlife in Kirthar National Park, they refused to turn over their game. One of the men, a former chief minister of Balochistan, is reported to have expressed utter disbelief at having been stopped at all, let alone arrested, for breaking the law. The question now is whether the men will be charged with six months’ imprisonment and heavy fines?

The wildlife department should be commended for busting the hunting expedition, because it requires a steely will to take on the influential. However, the matter cannot just end here, as has happened in the past when attempts have been made to apprehend influential men. The case must be followed through and the guilty punished in accordance with the law. Laws alone cannot bring about a change but when examples are made of violators, they can act as deterrents.

The trait of forgiveness

By Bilal Ahmed Malik

Friday feature

THE quality of forgiveness, in any culture and society, is considered a sign of generosity. It facilitates the peaceful flow of human interaction and reduces resentment and revolt in interpersonal relationships.

This is a particularly admired trait among people who hold positions of authority. Such individuals, who are also by nature forgiving, get more compliance from their juniors and subordinates and therefore prove to be more effective in their roles. The Quran has stressed this quality many times as a necessary ingredient in the smooth functioning of society.

Islam permits retaliation commensurate with the extent of wrong done to an individual, even though it states that forgiveness in any case is a more appropriate choice. A forgiving attitude strengthens social ties. This is a quality that was demonstrated time and again by the Prophet (PBUH) as he forgave the crudest of insults and abuse. He lived up to the following Quranic injunctions fully.

“Praised are they who restrain their anger and pardon the faults of others; and God loves those who do good to others” (Quran 3:134). “If ye punish, then punish with the like of that wherewith ye were afflicted. But if ye endure patiently, verily it is better for the patient.” (Quran 15:126).

According to the above quotation from the Holy Quran, it can be inferred that even blood money can be waived as charity. The emphasis is on forgiveness rather than compensation for a wrongdoing.

The Quran narrates the story of Adam’s two sons and how the one did not retaliate the other’s evil actions. “But recite unto them the tale of the two sons of Adam, how they offered each a sacrifice, and it was accepted from the one of them and it was not accepted from the other. (the one) said: I will surely kill thee. (the other) answered: Allah accepteth only from those who ward off (evil) (Quran 5:27).

Allah not only urges Muslims to forgive, but also recommends that they go a step further, by doing good to people who have wronged them. This is the rationale offered by the Quran in this matter: “The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! He, between whom and thee there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a bosom friend.” (Quran 41:34).

In a well known Hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “There may well be persons who through forbearance and forgiveness get the same degree (of merit) as those who keep the fast and perform the prayer.”

Hazrat Ali, the fourth Caliph of Islam, also once said:

“Do not feel ashamed to forgive and forget. Do not hurry over punishments and do not be pleased and proud of your power to punish. Do not get angry and lose your temper quickly over the mistakes and failures of those over whom you rule. On the contrary, be patient and sympathetic with them. Anger and desire for vengeance are not going to be of much help to you in your administration.”

From the above questions certain ethical principles regarding the virtue of forgiveness can be deduced. First, Islam avoids extremes like “tooth for tooth” or “turning the other cheek.” Islam on the other hand provides a more balanced and practical approach. The objective is to provide the maximum good for the largest group of people.

Where are the new feminists?

By Muna Khan

ASK a group of women if they are feminists and you are likely to be met with an awkward silence. You can’t really blame them, what with the clichés feminists have acquired over the years: from them being man-like in appearance and hating men to feminists not believing in hair removal.

This is hardly the stuff cool is made of. Yet the first generation of feminists made significant contributions to social movements in the West. In Pakistan they helped the women’s movement that fought against oppressive laws. That fight is still on but its crusaders are dwindling in number. Perhaps, feminism needs an image makeover if it is to survive.

It would be foolish to think that feminism has achieved all that it set out to do when it was first launched in the 1970s as a movement to fight injustices. Its success in the West in securing better pay, access to healthcare and education has meant that younger women take those things for granted and do not feel the need to engage themselves in feminist issues. The same applies in Pakistan with a growing number of women feeling disengaged from everything. However, the battle is far from over: the discrimination in salaries still exists, as does the glass ceiling; healthcare rights are always at threat of being taken away (fewer funds for maternal healthcare for example) and the objectification of women in the media is depressing.

These are all issues that feminists continue to speak up against but their voices are rarely heard, or, countered by right-wingers who coin terms like ‘feminazi’ to trash the entire movement.

Such stereotypes, along with the ones about feminists not shaving, take the focus away from the issue at hand, be it empowering women in governance or asking why women have to prove that they weren’t asking to be raped. If more space was given to these issues, perhaps a variety of voices — good, bad, hairy — could be heard.

The media, in the form of magazines or TV shows, should share some blame for alienating ‘other’ voices. Women can now celebrate their independence on TV because they do not have to worry about having to cover their heads but what exactly are they celebrating if shows are sponsored by face-whitening creams? Where is the celebration of individuality, which interestingly enough, is one of the things that feminists once fought for?

The toughest battle for women, feminists included, is to overcome societal attitudes. There is so much violence against women in Pakistan and it is disturbing that it does not cause the outrage that it should, politically or socially. Feminists need to include men in their movement and not just as token gestures, like the few odd male protestors at rallies.

Men’s attitudes need to change and that is only possible if they are included in the dialogue. The movement needs strong male and female role models if it is to get a renewed boost. Above all, it needs to shed all forms of stereotype from within so it can fight stereotypes that keep society enslaved.

OTHER VOICES : Middle East Press

Larijani’s exit can set a chain reaction

THE resignation of Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani could be attributed to a number of reasons — mainly his prolonged disagreement with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — but it certainly shows instability regarding atomic energy policy. Larijani, whose official title is secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, is known to have offered his resignation on several occasions but it was always refused by the firebrand president.

He was a moderate politician who tried to convince the international community that Iran’s nuclear programme is peaceful. But all his efforts were undermined by Ahmadinejad’s uncompromising position in negotiations with the United Nations nuclear watchdog and provocative broadsides against the West.

His departure also comes at a critical time, with the US and its western allies pushing for more UN sanctions against Tehran and the US threatening unilateral measures of its own.

Larijani has been replaced by Deputy Foreign Minister Saeed Jalili, described as “a hardliner and a close confidant” of the president. Iran insists that the move will not affect its nuclear policy.

But according to analysts, the departure of moderate Larijani means the West will have another Ahmadinejad to quarrel with. They say the appointment of Jalili indicates Iran’s expected refusal to offer any concessions to the international community.

But most importantly, the move indicates Iran’s determination to confront its opponent. Leaked reports say the US has already drawn up plans to attack Iran. — (Oct 21)

Turkey’s rules of engagement

TURKEY may be tempted into mounting an incursion into northern Iraq now that the Turkish parliament has approved the plan.

Still, Ankara has to think twice before making good on its repeated threats to thrust in this part of Iraq to hunt for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party insurgents.

Such action would not be without its risks. Embarking on a massive… military operation there is likely to provoke from 15 to 20 million Kurds living inside Turkey, a possibility which would take its toll on the country’s security scene. Meanwhile, such (an) incursion would add to America’s dilemma in Iraq where the US military personnel have apparently failed to stabilise the country, especially in the central parts.

Ankara’s threat of … military action in northern Iraq may be a message to the US to move against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party rebels. Only time will tell if the US will act accordingly.

In order to deal a shattering blow to its foes inside Iraq, Turkey — according to military experts — would have to move around 60 kilometres deep inside the chaotic country in a manner which may well make the Turkish troops vulnerable to guerilla warfare.

With the situation being fraught with these regional and local perils, Ankara may eventually opt for limited, pinpoint strikes, which would cripple the Kurdish insurgents’ facilities and underline Turkish assertion to safeguard territorial integrity. — (Oct 22)

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007



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