March on Islamabad?

EVEN though it is not from Qazi Hussain Ahmed, who specialises in ‘million-man’ marches, the statement coming from the Jamaat-i-Islami’s NWFP chief needs to be taken note of because of its callousness. Speaking at a party workers’ convention in Swabi on Saturday, Mr Sirajul Haq said his party would organise a protest march on Islamabad if the operation against the militants in Swat was not stopped immediately. Ignoring for a moment as to what such marches organised by the JI and other parties have achieved in the past, we have to focus on the philosophy the JI provincial chief’s remarks represent. The speech gives an impression as if cardinal virtues preached by Islam have fallen victim to politics. Broadly speaking, the JI leader is in sympathy with the Swat militants. He wants a halt to the operation against Maulana Fazlullah’s men and demands of the government to negotiate with him.

Shocking as it is, the JI leader fails to condemn the reprehensible means adopted by Maulana Fazlullah. By not categorically censuring the barbaric actions of the militants in Swat that include the beheading of security personnel, burning video shops, shutting down girls’ schools and interrupting the campaign for the administration of polio drops — and all this ostensibly in the name of enforcing Shariat. What is shocking is that the religious parties as well as the other political organisations have failed to rebuke the militants. There are two basic reasons why they should not be supported. First, they are violating the law of the land and turning a blind eye to what the militants are doing amounts to encouraging insurrection. Secondly, if our basic philosophy is to recognise the dignity of human life and treat every individual with the esteem that is his/her right as a human being, it is our moral duty to raise our voice against the barbarity the militants are resorting to.

Already, thousands of people have fled the region where the fighting is taking place, and scores of innocent people have died, because ‘Maulana Radio’ wants to have Shariat his way. We also know that the suicide bombings by the Taliban and in the wake of the Lal Masjid rebellion have killed more civilians than soldiers, yet there is no sign that this military-led government has in any way been shaken or forced to revise its foreign policy. The time for ‘marches’ is over. The nation is waiting with bated breath for the Supreme Court’s judgment on the presidential election. It is this judgment and not the uprising in Swat that will determine our fate. Let all political parties adopt the electoral path to power so that they can implement their programme for the good of the people once they achieve power through constitutional means.

Fire at Radio Pakistan

MILLIONS of rupees worth of infrastructure and equipment were lost in Sunday’s blaze that left the studios of the Radio Pakistan building in Karachi gutted. But the regret that will linger will be less for the monetary loss incurred and more for the destruction of memorabilia that formed an integral part of Pakistan’s broadcasting history — and for many nostalgic remembrances associated with an era dating to Partition. However, there is much to be thankful for. There were no casualties and children participating in a radio show were safely evacuated. The fire was also confined to the first floor of the two-storied structure, and although the 14 studios bore the brunt of it, the library holding precious archival material was spared. Much renovation work will be needed before the building can be considered safe for the resumption of full-scale operations, and it is hoped that in rectifying the damage, attention will be paid to features of fire safety to prevent extensive damage in case of another blaze. In this connection, the probe into the causes — whether related to faulty wiring, human error or sabotage — of the fire should be thorough so that future precautionary measures can be strengthened in the light of the findings.

The fact that several fires have erupted in different parts of the city of late, including two in the PNSC building, points to a weak administration that has been unable to emphasise the rules of fire safety or crack down on frequent violations of building laws. It is, nevertheless, a greater shame that after such frequent blazes no action should have been taken to reduce risks to national treasures such as the Radio Pakistan building where the level of destruction was limited in part due to its more sensible architecture planned during the colonial era. The library archives were saved this time and luckily a number of radio records are digitised. But one cannot rule out a similar calamity — at Radio Pakistan or in other places including public libraries — where carelessness, electrical defects or sabotage can lead to the destruction of records which are the basis of a nation’s identity. Ways and means will have to be found to preserve existing material in a form that cannot be easily destroyed. For manuscripts and sound tracks, computerisation offers one solution, while memorabilia such as the instruments that were destroyed in the blaze could form part of a well-guarded museum collection. After all, memories must be preserved at all cost.

Lahore’s heritage needs care

NEGLECT threatens to deprive Lahore of its archaeological heritage. Its magnificent Mughal monuments are fast running the risk of losing their splendour to the fatal combination of pollution, human intervention and a lack of money and expertise to conserve and restore them. Even when the money is made available by an enthusiastic donor, the problem of finding right men and materials to bring an ageing building back to its youth is always there. The recent restoration of a craft bazaar at the entrance of the splendid Masjid Wazir Khan within the walled city underscores the gravity of the problem. The freshly done frescos are blurring into undistinguishable ugly patterns and the dark brown plaster is peeling off in big chunks to reveal an ugly layer of white lime. The restoration of the bazaar was made possible by a grant of $18,000 from the American embassy in 2003 which, a year later, provided another $31,000 for the purpose. The project, completed on June 30, 2006 and executed by the Punjab Archaeology Department, however failed to involve any known archaeologist/conservationist which only ensured that the materials used and drawings followed were not scientifically tested and approved. The inferior quality of the restoration, therefore, should surprise none of those closely connected with the project as well as those who want to see the Masjid regain its original beauty. But still the department owes to well-meaning donors and concerned citizens an answer to the question as to why on earth it took up a job it did not have the know-how to accomplish.

This badly done restoration is worrying for two reasons. For the donors the money that has been wasted in this transient restoration may not be big enough to lose sleep over but it will certainly make them think twice before they are asked to make similar donations in future and for other monuments. More importantly, the messy job done by the department will certainly be quite difficult, if not altogether impossible, to rectify. Not many outsiders, however, will be willing to lend a helping hand if and when that rectification is thought of.

Need for political balance

By Hasan Sadiq

EACH country should have a political system that suits its internal and external situation. While the goal should be to move towards a pure democratic system, a stable, non-democratic political system should be acceptable in the interim.

China is a case in point in that the Chinese are successfully proving to the world that after decades of western interference prior to 1949, stability in the long run is preferable to an unstable democratic system that could be manipulated from the outside.

In Pakistan, there is a need to legitimise a political system that is shared by civilians and the military. This can only be achieved if the people understand the real challenges Pakistan currently faces or has always faced.

Since Pakistan’s birth in 1947, the western world recognised its geographic location as that of a vital frontline state to stall the Soviet Union’s ambitions of an advance towards the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. If this were to happen, occupation of the Middle East oil fields would have been the next goal of the Soviets. Many experts have endorsed this theory.Soon after Pakistan came into existence, in an interview with Margaret Bourke-White, an American journalist, Jinnah said, ‘America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America…If Russia walks in here, the whole world is menaced.’

Therefore, America should be much more interested in pouring money and arms into Pakistan, said Jinnah. This concern of Jinnah and the West proved to be correct when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Had the Soviets succeeded in Afghanistan, their next logical step would have been the invasion of Pakistan to reach the warm waters. For the western world, it was imperative that Pakistan had a civilian or military leadership that would support their geopolitical interests.

In early 1951, Pakistan’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan needed to have a balanced foreign policy when it came to the Soviet Union and the United States. While Liaquat Ali Khan continued to weigh Pakistan’s options, he was assassinated on Oct 16, 1951, under most mysterious circumstances.

Once Khwaja Nazimuddin replaced Liaquat Ali Khan, six prime ministers changed hands within the next seven years. None of these managed to survive longer than two years except Mohammad Ali Bogra who was brought into Pakistan from Washington where he was serving as Pakistan’s ambassador.

During an overnight announcement, Bogra replaced Nazimuddin on the orders of Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad. At the time it was openly known that Bogra was the stooge of the American government. It was during Bogra’s tenure that Pakistan became a member of Cento and Seato, both western-backed military alliances designed to stall the Soviet advance into the Middle East and Southeast Asia respectively. It was also during Bogra’s period that Pakistan’s currency was devalued by 25 per cent against the dollar, which was earlier opposed by Nazimuddin.

In 1958, the last of the civilian prime ministers was replaced by Gen Ayub Khan, the first military ruler of Pakistan. Ayub saw the writing on the wall. Not only was Pakistan an economically weak country, it was also dependent on the IMF and the World Bank. Pakistan was woefully divided along linguistic and ethnic lines. Militarily, it was dependent on the US for all its supplies. Any strong outside power had the capability of breaking the country if Pakistan did not have the support of a strong power.

During the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971, the US government had time and again urged the military rulers in West Pakistan to come to some sort of an amicable settlement with Mujib, the leader of East Pakistan, so that war with India could be avoided — even if it meant the creation of Bangladesh.

According to some declassified papers of the US government, Henry Kissinger, then US national security adviser, advised US President Richard Nixon to use the one lever the US had against Pakistan — to hold back IMF aid to make Pakistan reach an understanding with Mujib and agree to the creation of Bangladesh.

The US was desperate to avoid a larger war in the strategically placed West Pakistan, which if attacked by India and backed by the Soviet Union would definitely draw in the United States and China towards a possible Third World War. Loss of West Pakistan to the western world would have meant losing a frontline state to Soviet designs in the Middle East.

It was also during this crisis that Pakistan played a pivotal role in establishing diplomatic contact between the United States and China. To thank President (General) Yahya Khan, on August 7, 1971, President Nixon sent a handwritten note to him: ‘…Those who want a more peaceful world in the generation to come will forever be in your debt.’

In the end, while the incompetent rulers of Pakistan also played a major role in the dismemberment of Pakistan — in West Pakistan a wider war was avoided and Pakistan immediately accepted a US-backed ceasefire in the United Nations. Here the point that needs to be understood is this: Pakistan was a pivotal state in the Cold War and the western powers needed western Pakistan to stall the Soviets.

As the history of Pakistan is immensely complex, for the moment it would be sufficient to understand that what has been described so far is just the tip of the iceberg regarding what Pakistan has faced during its yet young life. Just as Pakistan was pivotal for the western powers during the Cold War, Pakistan is equally crucial today for China’s geopolitical interests. Other countries that are interested in what happens in Pakistan include India, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia. In modern day history no other country in the world has attracted so much outside interest.

With the upcoming general elections in January 2008, there is little doubt that Benazir Bhutto is a US-backed candidate. The Saudis support Nawaz Sharif. He has been their royal guest for the last seven years. The military seems to be playing both sides of the street when it comes to the strategic interests of China and the United States.Under these circumstances, Pakistan’s political and economic infrastructure is simply too weak to have an independent policymaking mechanism. At the same time, it is also crucial to avoid a lopsided power base — civilian or military. From the October 2007 presidential elections it has become clear that the military is desperate to gain civilian acceptance. But that is not enough.

What is needed is an effective constitutional backed political balance of power between the military and civilians. This currently does not exist. If there is consensus, then the question is, what will be the final shape of this military-civilian coexistence? That is the real debate for the intellectuals and the people of Pakistan. And the time for that debate is now.

OTHER VOICES – European Press

Still room for manoeuvre with Iran

THERE is still some room for manoeuvre in the nuclear dispute with Iran. And the US sees this too, despite the militaristic rhetoric within the Bush administration. If Washington is now tightening the screws by imposing further sanctions on Tehran, that is a clear indication that Iran does not pose a real danger at the moment.

Developments over the past few days, including the resignation of nuclear negotiator Larijani and Russian President Putin’s meeting with spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, show that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s confrontation course is anything but uncontroversial. Even the hawks in Tehran are slowly starting to resent the president.

Of course it is not particularly fair that the Iranian people should bear the brunt of the dispute. However, it is far better to encourage Iranians to consider whether they are being led by the right politicians than to take military action against them.

There is hope that if the internal tensions are exacerbated by the pressure from the US and Europe, then the forces of reform may return to power. — (Oct 26)


America runs out of patience

AMERICA has run out of patience. Washington’s decision to impose new, purely national sanctions ... is above all a vote of no-confidence in the United Nations, where China and Russia are blocking tougher measures to dissuade Tehran from pursuing its suspect nuclear programme. By pushing ahead the US is signalling that the West should march alone from now on.

It is the Europeans above all who are now under pressure. ... The German government in particular has repeatedly voiced doubts about how much purely western sanctions can achieve. Now Berlin has to forgo business with Iran.

It’s not only the gradual effect existing sanctions are having on Iran that speaks in favour of tougher measures. Berlin should also be helping those forces in Washington’s unpopular government who want to act tough but still peacefully. Those who don’t support sanctions risk giving Vice-President Dick Cheney the upper hand in the White House. If Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates ... want to win George W. Bush’s ear they now need help from afar. — (Oct 26)

Süddeutsche Zeitung

US unilateralism is risky and unnecessary

THE US government is forcing through the correct sanctions strategy one that the international community has been attempting to use to persuade Iran to give up uranium enrichment. But the fact that the Americans have pressed ahead on their own is as unnecessary as it is risky.

The haste can be explained by the second important conflict between the US and Iran, one that is carried out daily in Iraq. But the combination of the two problems has made a diplomatic solution to the nuclear dispute more difficult.

The tougher sanctions will make the economic situation in Iran worse. The hope is that this will change power relations in Iran in favour of the realists, who understand that giving in on the nuclear conflict would be to their benefit.

Washington’s unilateralism runs the risk of giving a boost to those who want to be able to divide the international community. If Russia or China change course because they feel offended, that will, in the end, help the hardliners in Tehran. — (Oct 6)

The Financial Times

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007


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