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DAWN - Opinion; October 29, 2007

October 29, 2007


Baloch nationalists’ dilemma

By Jamil Ahmed

ELECTIONS appear to be round the corner as the incumbent — though powerless — assemblies are about to complete their term.

Political parties in Balochistan have started consultations to decide on suitable candidates and chalk out their election strategy. The situation in the province is, however, different from the rest of the country.

Faced with a military operation, the Baloch nationalists face a dilemma. The educated youth is radicalised and along with the defunct Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) they reject parliamentary politics, considering it to be an utter waste of time.

The Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) and the National Party are the major nationalist parties which had participated in the 2002 general elections. The BNP (Awami), which had contested the polls, also claims to be a nationalist political entity but it is not recognised as such by the people. It is perceived to be close to the establishment.Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, who is a respected figure amongst Baloch youth and nationalist forces, has no political party of his own and has announced that he will not be a part of the election process. Serious criminal cases have been registered against Nawab Marri’s sons, with the exception of Nawabzada Jangez Marri, on charges of inciting a low level insurgency in Balochistan. Police have approached Interpol to get them arrested. Jangez Marri, the eldest son of Nawab Marri, is politically affiliated with the PML-Q. His participation in the elections cannot be ruled out.

The JWP, which had emerged as a political force on the Balochistan scene in 1990, has been split into two after the assassination of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in a military action in August 2006.

One faction of the party is headed by Nawabzada Brahmdagh Khan Bugti, the grandson of late Nawab Bugti, who is now leading the armed resistance. This group has announced that it will not take part in elections. The other group led by Nawabzada Talal Akbar Bugti, the son of Nawab Bugti, is not only inclined to participate in general elections but has also declared that the party would continue its struggle within the constitutional framework.

The united JWP under its founder Nawab Bugti had bagged more seats in the 1990 general elections than any other political party. But it could not form a government in the province because of the strong stand taken by Nawab Bugti when he was the chief minister of the province during Benazir Bhutto’s first term as prime minister. He had firmly stood for the rights of the Baloch, which had annoyed the establishment. The number of seats the party won steadily declined in the 1993, 1997 and the 2002 general elections.

The JWP won only four general seats in the provincial assembly and one reserved seat (for women) in 2002. Its showing inn the National Assembly was worse, with only one seat to its credit. After Nawab Bugti’s death, the JWP has been under tremendous pressure. Its members proceeded to vote for General Pervez Musharraf in the recent presidential elections.

Hence the chances of Talal Bugti’s faction winning any seat in the upcoming elections — even from Dera Bugti — are bleak. Large-scale migration has taken place from the area on account of the military operation while the opponents of Nawab Bugti are enjoying the full support of the government and its powerful agencies.

The BNP (Mengal)’s central committee decided in August to take part in the elections. Its members had resigned from the assemblies in protest against the killing of Nawab Bugti. It had been believed then that it would bid adieu to the electoral process forever and that had made the party popular with the hard-line nationalists and Baloch youth. But its popularity rating will fall with the central committee’s decision to participate in the elections.

Its patron-in-chief, veteran Baloch nationalist leader Sardar Attaullah Mengal, recently said, ‘I am convinced that the Baloch cannot achieve their objectives through parliamentary politics but if they leave the field of elections open then the rulers in Islamabad will get their own agents elected and showcase them to declare that no Baloch problem exists,’ he said. ‘The Baloch should continue their struggle on all fronts,’ he exhorted.

Though the BNP is not involved in an armed struggle it faces the brunt of the government’s wrath following its announcement of a long march from Gwadar to Quetta against the killing of Nawab Bugti and Gwadar’s mega projects. Not only has its president, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, been behind bars since last November, a large number of its leaders and workers, too, were arrested, to be released after three months under court orders. The inflexible attitude of the government towards the BNP shows that an unannounced ban has been imposed on the party because it has not been allowed to hold any political rally for the last one year.

The government and its powerful agencies are supporting Senator Mir Muhammad Naseer Mengal, the federal state minister for petroleum and natural resources, in the Khuzdar area, the JWP stronghold. The senator is a staunch rival of the party in Dera Bugti.

The National Party has so far not faced any challenge from the government. However, the BNP (Awami), an ally of the ruling PML, enjoys the support of the government in Mekran and other parts of the province which are the strongholds of the National Party.

The defunct BLA has urged Baloch nationalist forces to keep themselves away from the poll process, as, according to the banned outfit, participation would harm the Baloch nationalist struggle. All Baloch nationalist parties have not paid serious heed to this advice. They are in trouble because of the military operation, the opposition of the Baloch youth to elections and the support of the government for their opponents.

Keeping in view this situation, some political observers are of the view that Baloch nationalist parties would never find a level playing field in the next elections. There are far too many hurdles of the government’s making.Understanding the gravity of the situation, the Baloch nationalists are now stressing the need for an electoral alliance. Former governor of Balochistan, Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, is now trying to rally the Baloch nationalists around one electoral alliance. He met Sardar Ataullah Mengal and leaders of the National Party with this aim.

Sardar Ataullah Mengal has admitted that the former governor met him and urged the nationalist forces to contest elections jointly. ‘Baloch nationalists should contest elections from a single platform and show the world that they are the real representatives of the Baloch by obtaining over 50 per cent votes,’ he said.

The National Party has constituted a six-member committee, headed by Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch, to form an electoral alliance with other political parties, particularly those with nationalist leanings. It is to be seen whether the nationalist parties will actually go in for an election alliance. Without an electoral arrangement they could find themselves in deep waters in the next elections.

Honouring culture and creativity

By Dr Faiha Abdul Hadi

‘When the bomb fell
(People, insects, fish
All were lost)
We thought of leaving
Carrying a small case,
Changing our earth and our kind
We wanted to be like horses,
Wild horses
We wanted to leave this place Away, away from here.’

–Pablo Neruda

IN your presence, Pablo Neruda, and on the metallic chair that you have prepared to meet your visitors by the entrance of your house in Valparaiso (Chile); I recall what is stuck in my memory, of your personal life history and your poetic path. I hear your poetic voice talking to me, it knew I was coming from Palestine. ‘Yes, we are doing okay, thanks to you, we still have hope.’

Since you left our world, oppressed and sad, on Sept 23, 1973, within a few days of your friend’s execution, the friend of free men across the globe, Salvador Allende, death’s hunger amplified, its laughs grew loud, mockingly and gladly. Death is still, as you have written, hovering above nations, searching for the dead; it no longer needs to be in disguise, as a broom, or any other.

How did you ‘blow into the rocks, into iron, into strict discipline, and relentlessly lived only with love’ as expressed in your poems? Have you bled? And even so, you and your companions remained ‘the world’s pure silver, the true human essence, embodying the sea’s endless motion’.

I recall what remained in my memory of your story to recreate the picture. I enter your house to discover your human features that disappeared behind the defiant poet...

I entered the house that was bought by the Pablo Neruda Foundation 15 years after his death and after it was destroyed and burnt by a military group. The foundation bought the house in honour of the poet and poetry, and for paying tributes to literary creators through preserving their personal belongings. Their objective would be achieved by renovating what was damaged, and printing their literary works, and translating it into the world’s languages.

An incredible diversity, space and colourful exteriors and interiors is the house of Neruda. The visitor finds oil paintings of ships and boats in every corner of the house as well as submarine-like windows.

The poet expresses his love for the sea and the vessels with his words ‘I am a fake sailor’, justifying the presence of the sea inside his house, and through the expressive paintings as he preferred looking at the sea from land than sailing in the ocean.

Valparaiso’s colours disperse, pink, yellow, green and blue — all in harmony they extend throughout the house. The poet’s love of colours is shown in the drinking glasses and dining plates. It is also shown in the stained-glass windows in front and above his bed, by the staircase and in every corner of the house.

Inside his bedroom, and above his bronze bed, and below the stained-glass windows, we find a painting telling the story of the queen of Sheba. We also find his third wife Matilde’s toilette table and in the closet a few of her shoes and clothes, along with a picture of herself. Beside the toilette table is an oil painting of a girl smartening her feet with an explanatory text in French: ‘Tomorrow I will be fifteen/ tomorrow I will marry the man I love/ See: I am also loved/ I must prepare everything today for that longed, for that date when I will marry him.’

In his study, we find a map of America dated 1698 with information written by members of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris. It says: ‘Chilean inhabitants are big and well-proportioned, strong and cruel.’ We also find a typewriter, many books and oil paintings.

In the dining room, there is a little wooden horse, standing in a semi-circle motion beside the fireplace designed by the poet which is also in a semi-circle, and a window, also half-circled. Neruda wrote: ‘The child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play, forever lost the child in him.’

The door leading to the terrace, however, is kept covered with Walt Whitman’s picture, the poet that Neruda considered his father: ‘He is my father… in poetry’ ‘Poets to come! Orators, singers, musicians to come!

Not today is to justify me and answer what I am for,

But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than before known,

Arouse! — For you must justify me…

I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,

I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in the darkness.

I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a casual look upon you and then averts his face,

Leaving it to you to prove and define it, Expecting the main things from you.’

Pablo Neruda was also loyal to the labourers and the oppressed across the globe; he was loyal to his poetic self. He dedicated many of his poetic works to love, and his being was mixed with a historical awareness of the world resulting from his ideological commitment and mythical consciousness taken from the Latin American culture. He was also influenced by the European culture and diplomatic postings in European countries, and produced distinguished poetry that is far from preaching and directness, and takes a rare, beautiful, humanitarian course.

The writer, an author, poet, researcher and lecturer, is a member of the Palestinian National Council.

Code of conduct for polls

By Syed Sharfuddin

ON Oct 24, the Election Commission circulated a document entitled ‘Draft Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Contesting Candidates for General Elections, 2007’ to all political parties for comments. The commission also placed the draft document on its website for public information. Since the draft code of conduct has also been widely reported in the media, it is appropriate to analyse it in the light of good democratic practice and offer recommendations for incorporation in the final document.

The draft code of conduct should have been prepared by the Election Commission in consultation with all the major political parties and other interested groups such as the HRCP and PILDAT, so as to make it widely acceptable in letter and spirit. One hopes that the draft text as circulated to political parties is the result of such consultations. If it is not, at least the gesture to invite them to comment on the draft is an encouraging move and must be responded to positively.

While the draft text addresses many touchy issues and makes an excellent document, there are a number of areas where improvements can be made through additions and deletions in line with international democratic practice. The first is the reference made to Article 63 (g) of the Constitution which appears as Point 1.1 of the draft code of conduct. The restrictions listed in this sub clause were introduced in Article 63 of the 1973 Constitution by General Zia in 1985 to give the armed forces immunity from any kind of criticism. Since that time, the democratic right of political parties and elected representatives to question the activities of an institution of the state has been taken away from them under law. The Constitution now prevents representative institutions from acting in any manner ‘which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the armed forces of Pakistan’.

While the judiciary is entitled to claim such exemption under the principle of separation of powers, being a parallel body to the executive and parliament, the institution of the armed forces has not only become a holy cow under the Constitution but also acquired a personality of its own and has even superseded parliament. It is true that the Election Commission cannot undo what is now a part of the Constitution, but there is no need to highlight in the draft code of conduct only one disqualification out of the several disqualifications in Article 63 of the Constitution. All the 18 sub-clauses listed in Article 63 are applicable equally to the contesting political parties and candidates.

Point 1.2 of the draft code of conduct needs to be rewritten to take out the restriction that parties and candidates shall refrain from criticism of all aspects of private life, not connected with the public activities of the leaders or workers of other parties. Such criticism, especially if it is not based on unverified allegations or mere speculation, is part of the democratic debate in all countries. Any person who offers himself/herself for public office must be open to questions about his/her private dealings outside the daily family life.

In developed democracies, candidates for parliament and even sitting ministers drop out of the contest or resign from their office the moment the media or some other quarter throws light on a dark corner of their past, such as paedophile activity, an indecent incident, fraudulent or corrupt dealings. It is advisable not to aim the bar so high in a country which has scored poorly on the list of Transparency International so many times.

Point 1.9 of the draft Code of Conduct forbids contesting candidates from making such comments on international issues as are likely to embarrass the government’s relations with other countries. They are also not allowed to say or do anything in any manner, which might prejudice Pakistan’s foreign relations, including making any controversial and harsh remarks about leaders of other countries and their ideologies.

Application of this restriction will virtually remove any level playing field that exists during the campaign period for opposition political parties. If this point is not deleted, the ruling party will be free from any criticism of its foreign policy and its domestic implications on the security situation, internally displaced persons and those nationals who have disappeared and whose cases are currently before the courts. The opposition might as well pack up and go home instead of taking part in an election campaign which stops them from offering views on the performance of the current government’s management of Pakistan’s relations with the outside world.

Point 1.11 should make a specific reference to respecting ethnic harmony, pluralism and freedom of belief. Campaign speeches should not contain remarks that show intolerance to or disrespect for the minorities and their beliefs and religious practices.

Point 1.13, forbids any person from causing injury to any person or damage to any property in any manner under Section 81 of the Representation of the People Act, 1976. This restriction should be further strengthened by adding that if such person is found to be acting on the advice, instigation or instruction of a political party, official or contesting candidate, the same shall also be answerable under law and shall be required to provide immediate compensation, including payment of fine for such loss or damage.

The draft code of conduct should clearly state that children who are under 18 and ineligible to vote will not be engaged or employed by political parties, candidates and their supported for campaign-related work, duties and activities.

Display of posters should be disallowed anywhere except on the personal vehicles, campaign offices and houses of parties and contesting candidates and enforce this rule throughout the federation. It is common knowledge that public property is badly defaced during election campaign and for months no one takes action to clean the electric polls and walls which are littered with tons of toxic ink and flaking paper. Any political worker found writing campaign slogans on public or private property without permission of the owner should be prosecuted and the concerned political party and the contesting candidate should be mandated under law to erase such unsolicited ‘graffiti’ during the campaign period.

Lastly, the draft code of conduct does not say anything about the presence of party agents or representatives of contesting candidates at the sealing of the ballot boxes after the poll, and the counting process. It will enhance the confidence of all those concerned to see such procedures also listed in Section 4 which is presently confined only to access on the polling day.

The writer is the chief executive of Commonwealth Consulting and Risk Analysis Ltd in London and has previously observed elections in Trinidad and Tobago, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Uganda on behalf of the Commonwealth.

Food security concerns

By Sami Saeed

“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race…levelling the population with the food of the world.”

— (Thomas Malthus, Essay on the Principle of Population, 1789).

THE Malthusian ghost has come to haunt the world again — this time with an awful sense of irony.

Amid the razzle-dazzle of the 21st century — with all its opulence, technical ingenuity and march towards globalisation — the glum prediction of the English thinker about a world breeding more people than it can feed seems closer to reality.

Food security has always been an issue for nations plagued by anarchy, droughts or war. However, in the backdrop of recent food shortages and soaring prices, it has become a global concern, affecting both rich and poor nations. Since the importance of food in overall consumption is negatively correlated with income levels — 60 per cent of the consumption basket in sub-Saharan Africa and only 10 per cent in the United States — food shortage and price hike affect poor countries more severely.

According to the UN estimates released on the annual World Food Day on Oct 16, there are 854 million malnourished women, men and children around the globe, and 10 million people die every year for reasons associated with hunger.

Providing food to the teeming millions poses a daunting challenge worldwide. For the first time since the early 1970s, the world is facing the dismal prospect of food shortage. Gone are the days of abundant food supplies that the world enjoyed for nearly three decades.

As demand for food outstrips supply, there is a huge spike in prices. Wheat and milk prices are at record levels; corn and soybeans are well above the 1990s averages; rice and coffee have crossed 10-year records; and meat has posted an increase of nearly 50 per cent in some countries.

These cases are not simply isolated anomalies but symptomatic of a global trend. The FAO predicts that prices of agricultural commodities will move up by 20 to 50 per cent in the next decade above the average for the last decade. The reasons for this phenomenon are not far to seek. Some price swings may be attributable to temporary problems such as drought in Australia or outbreak of disease elsewhere.

The main reason, of course, is the increase in food demand stemming from Asia, where richer populations in China and India are demanding more protein.

The second main reason is the growth of the biofuel industry. Grains like corn once grown exclusively to feed humans and livestock are now being diverted into programmes to generate ethanol and other biofuels as an alternative to oil and gasoline. With oil prices rising steeply in recent years, the economic incentive to produce grain-based fuels has risen as well. It is estimated that 30 per cent of the US corn crop will be used up in biofuel by 2010.

There are other factors at play also. These include a growing world population, under investment in agriculture technology, housing and business development crowding out farmlands, droughts and floods made more severe by climate change, and ever-growing human demand for a limited supply of fresh water.

The prognosis of food shortage in view of growing demand for staples such as wheat, corn and rice has triggered competition among nations to build up food supplies, thus feeding into supply shortfall and price spirals.

This is obviously hurting countries which depend heavily on food imports. Most of these are poor and underdeveloped economies of Africa, Asia and parts of the Middle East. Food importing countries such as India and Pakistan are planning to import more wheat than usual to build up their stocks.

Higher prices are benefiting farmers and businesses in grain exporting countries such as the US, Australia and Canada, although their consumers are worse off. Consequently these countries are imposing prohibitive export tariffs to keep domestic markets well stocked to avoid the political cost of galloping food prices.

These developments are also adversely impacting public finances in the form of higher import payments and increasing subsidies for producers and consumers. The government of China, for instance, has increased subsidies for farmers producing pork and milk as well as for low-income urban consumers.

Many analysts are of the view that the US and the EU are to blame for the current price increases. Heavy subsidies for farmers by these governments have discouraged agricultural investment in many other countries as they are unable to compete. The IMF, in its latest World Economic Outlook, considers biofuel policies pursued by the western countries as part of the problem. The policy of promoting biofuel while protecting farmers is creating additional risks to inflation and growth.

The world markets will continue to witness growing demand for agricultural raw materials as countries like China and India, which are relatively self-sufficient in food, will resort to imports to meet additional demand created by rising incomes. The World Bank predicts that cereal production will have to rise by nearly 50 per cent and meat output by 85 per cent between 2000 and 2030 to meet the projected world demand.

Faced with this situation, many governments all over the world are rightly concerned about food security and the implication for political stability as food prices soar. During recent months, there have been rumblings of protest against the doubling of the price of tortillas in Mexico and rising prices of pasta in Italy.

Complex factors are causing global demand for food to rise faster than the supply. Without prompt and well-considered action, the problem will compound with passing time. For one, governments must ensure increased investment in agriculture to augment supplies. Secondly, more funding for crop research, combating climate change and improving marketing of agriculture products is required. Thirdly, water conservation and management are critical for sustainable agriculture.

Fourthly, farmers need to strike a balance between food crops and those meant for energy purposes. Fifthly, farmer subsidies in the developed world need to be rationalised to eliminate disincentives for agricultural development in the rest of the world.

Last, but not least, government subsidies for ethanol and other biofuels should end to rectify the incentives structure for growing food crops. The whole issue, however, has a silver lining. Rising food prices will encourage greater food production and help stabilise prices. But the solution of the problem, cannot be left to market forces alone.

A sustainable solution would require bigger and longer-term investments in both private and public sectors. Without such investments, the outlook for food supplies in sub-Saharan Africa, much of South Asia and other parts of the world will become more bleak.

The writer is a civil servant. The views expressed by him are his own.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007