A doomed operation?

REPORTS emanating from Swat suggest much worse than the authorities are willing to admit. The militants’ stranglehold over the valley is greater than told in terms of the hardship faced by the local people. Home to over 1.6 million, with a vast majority living below the poverty line, three of Swat’s seven tehsils are now under the control of the cleric Fazlullah and his heavily armed and trained militiamen. The worst-affected subdivisions are Matta, Kabal and Khuazakhela, having a population of over 600,000 and now in the line of fire. Thousands, including women, children and the elderly, have been forced to flee their homes. As the fighting between the two sides intensifies, many more civilian lives are at a grave risk. The government had made no plans to evacuate the most vulnerable or set up relief camps to house those who managed to reach safety on their own. The sheer numbers involved and the worsening economic condition in the valley since paramilitary action began eight days ago points to a human tragedy in the making. The disregard shown by the authorities for civilians’ safety is appalling. You can’t hold an entire people under siege or leave them to their fate in order to punish a few outlaws holding the people hostage. What message is the government sending to the people of Swat?

Even as we speak of the security forces’ ongoing action against the local Taliban, serious doubts remain as to the efficacy or longevity of the operation. The valley is virtually cut off from the warmer south by the militants. In November it is already landlocked from the west and the north due to higher altitude and snowbound mountains blocking passage. The route east of Khuazakhela, leading to the Karakoram Highway along the Indus river via the highland Shandur Pass, is also under control of the militants. This leaves the security forces deeply entrenched in the valley, with their supply lines cut off. No wonder the local police too are holed up in their stations, jealously guarding their rations and ammunition and hoping for a miracle to save them. Under the circumstances, is it any wonder that the paramilitary personnel sent in to fight the local Taliban willingly surrender when asked to do so?

The government for all practical purposes is paralysed on how to resolve the issue. This is because the paramilitary operation now under way was launched at least a few months later than it should have been. The time to curb Fazlullah was months ago, when he, like his father-in-law and jailed cleric Soofi Mohammed before him, began flexing his military muscles with the backing of the powerful local smugglers. Shariah courts and radio stations were allowed to be set up and money collected for jihad. Now that much has been lost, not least the writ of the state, it is time to take the military operation to its logical end, but with careful circumspection. It must not be allowed to become a human tragedy for the majority of the peaceful and woefully impoverished people of Swat.

And back to Dubai again

NOT even a fortnight after she returned from her eight-year exile, PPP leader Benazir Bhutto has returned to Dubai, ostensibly to visit her children and ailing mother. Although the party insists that she will be back on Nov 8, Ms Bhutto’s departure will be viewed with disappointment, especially at a crucial juncture in the country’s politics. When Ms Bhutto who faced charges of corruption at home — she still does abroad — was given amnesty by Gen Musharraf and returned to Pakistan on Oct 18, many, except her worst critics, saw this as an act of courage in the face of threats to her life. Her welcome rally confirmed their fears when explosions killed nearly 150 of her supporters and security personnel, leaving 500 injured. In the days following the rally, Ms Bhutto silenced her detractors as she visited her injured supporters in hospitals and the homes of some of those killed in the rally — in defiance of security advice. She also expressed her determination to take on the militants. All this was seen as a demonstration of a brave leadership.

While as a mother and a daughter she has every right to visit her family, the role she has chosen is that of a political leader and to this she must devote herself. After all, politics is a full-time vocation that even the opposition cannot ignore. At a time when the state’s writ is being flouted by armed religious zealots in many parts of the NWFP and Fata, the presence of a populist leader like her in the country had been a source of inspiration for those opposed to extremism. The fact that so many thousands welcomed her in Karachi gave the impression that her supporters were willing to forget and forgive her alleged past indiscretions if she would lead them in the fight against obscurantism. Hence the sense of disappointment, which is all the more acute because of rumours that her departure was instigated by Gen Musharraf, who unsure of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case challenging his candidature in the recent presidential polls, was contemplating ‘extra-constitutional’ actions. With such speculation so rife, her departure will damage whatever credibility she had left after agreeing to a ‘deal’ with the military. Whatever hope she represented to those feeling threatened by the extremists is turning into despondency as it seems that Ms Bhutto is attaching more importance to the advice of Pakistan’s military ruler and her foreign backers than to providing leadership to her rudderless support base.

Gruesome child abuse

NO one should be allowed to get away with the murder of a 12-year-old boy, whose hanged body was found in a mosque in Karachi on Tuesday. The police have so far arrested the naib pesh imam of the mosque who is alleged to have confessed to strangling the boy who resisted the cleric’s sexual abuse. It is important that the investigation is swiftly completed and the alleged abuser successfully prosecuted for this gruesome crime. The rampant abuse of children, sexual and emotional, often goes unpunished and it is high time that there is some level of accountability. A report published by an NGO in August showed that 500 cases of abuse were reported nationwide from January to March whereas the number for the next three months was 815. Given the taboos associated with child abuse and people’s reluctance to discuss the matter, let alone report it to the police, means that the actual numbers are likely to be much higher. And it is unlikely that people will step forward to report the cases if they feel that perpetrators of the crime get away with it. This is why it is important to have tougher laws on such crimes and, of course, an assurance that those laws are implemented, which means that the government has to secure more convictions against paedophiles and molesters.

Of equal importance is raising awareness on child abuse. Parents need to know how to spot the signs of abuse in their child and then how they should deal with it. The same is true of teachers. Children have to be taught from a young age how to protect themselves and that they should tell their parents or teachers about any untoward behaviour from any person. The silence on child abuse must be broken first if it has to be stopped.

Ninety years after Balfour

By Muhammad Ali Siddiqi

NINETY years ago this month, a British diplomat wrote a letter that has since then been the single biggest cause of political instability, massacres and wars in the Middle East.

JAMES Arthur Balfour was intensely anti-Jewish. As prime minister he had the Aliens Act passed by parliament to block the entry into Britain of Jews fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe.

He ceased to be prime minister in 1903, but joined Lloyd George’s war cabinet as foreign secretary in 1916 and remained there till the end of the war. It was, thus, in his capacity as foreign secretary that Balfour wrote to Rothschild, a Jewish banker, a letter that history refers to as the Balfour Declaration.

Dated Nov 2, 1917, it was a short letter of which the declaration itself consisted of eight lines. After pleasantries, it said:

‘His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’

The letter is an exercise in diplomatic finesse and contains two extraordinary caveats that give an indication of the letter writer’s intents. First, it speaks of ‘the civil and religious rights of (the) existing non-Jewish communities’ — as if the Jews were already in a majority in Palestine and in their magnanimity they must not hurt the rights of the non-Jewish, i.e. Muslim and Christian, minority.

The fact was that in 1917 the number of Jews in Palestine stood at 83,790 as against 486,177 Muslims, 71,764 Christians and 7,617 others. This means the Jews constituted 14 per cent of Palestine’s population. The number of Jews mentioned above includes those European Jews, especially German, who had been allowed to settle in Palestine because of the friendly relations between the Ottoman and German empires. This way, the Arabic-speaking Jews came to less than 10 per cent of Palestine’s population.

Second, while speaking of the non-Jewish communities’ ‘civil and religious rights’ it very conveniently ignores their political rights. Yet it does not fail to use the word ‘political’ when it says that the declaration would not affect ‘the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country’.

Jerusalem had not yet fallen to Allenby when Balfour sent the letter to Rothschild, but its fall was imminent; on Dec 11, 1917, the Turkish mukhtar handed over the holy city’s keys to the conquering British general. Since then, Palestine has not known a day’s peace.

However, a mere letter could not turn a minority into a majority and vice versa, unless brute force, sanctioned by diplomacy, was used. In 1922, the Covenant of the League Nations not only gave Britain and France a ‘mandate’ over Arab territories taken from the Ottomans, it asked the mandatory power in Palestine to take steps to implement the Balfour Declaration, i.e. to turn the Muslim-Christian majority into a minority.

Thus began a process that has not ended till this today — bringing Jewish settlers to Palestine and evicting, and if necessary massacring, the native Arab population. Hagana, Irgun, Palmach and Zvai Leumi have long ceased to exist, but their names and their records of brutality and massacres, including the one at Deir Yassin, survive. In contrast, no one can come up with the name of a single Arab militia which could have sprung to action to defend Palestine’s takeover by foreigners.

Two and a half decades after the League issued its covenant, its successor, the United Nations, would successfully implement the covenant in a new style: accepting the Peel Commission’s recommendations for partition, the UN gave 60 per cent of the holy land to the Jews, who constituted 40 per cent of the population of Palestine, and 40 per cent of it to the Arabs, who were still in a 60 per cent majority.

During the 1948-49 fighting, the Zionist militias flattened at least 400 villages, making 800,000 Palestinians flee. Those who fled but returned were given the status of ‘present absentees’ and all their moveable and immoveable property has till this day remained frozen. Worth billions of dollars, that money is spent on settling Jewish immigrants in the West Bank.

Ben-Gurion used to say ‘how small we are’ whenever he looked at a map of the Middle East, and it goes without saying that he and his successors have pursued with Nazi efficiency and cold-bloodedness the one aim they had set for themselves from the moment they landed in Palestine — lebensraum.

No matter how many times the UN called upon Israel to vacate the territories it occupied in 1967, the UN resolutions — including 242 and 338 — would remain unimplemented. In fact, Israel would chide the world by annexing Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and making a mockery of all peace treaties, including those signed on the lawns of the White House, and continue its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, deserves to be read, because it comes from the pen of a man who did the greatest service a statesman could possibly do to Israel by making the Arab world’s most important country, Egypt, recognise the Jewish state in exchange for the latter’s withdrawal from the Sinai.

The Carter book was condemned by the Zionist media, because it held Israel responsible for violating the Camp David accord. As Carter put it, Israel used the Camp David accords to ‘confiscate, settle and fortify the occupied territories’.

In her book The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Arab-Jewish Divide, Susan Nathan, an Israeli woman, observes, “The modern state of Israel has come to represent: a compulsive, racist and colonial hunger for land and the control of resources in the face of opposition from a largely powerless but implacable Palestinian population.”

What is to be broken, she says, is not the cycle of violence “but a cycle of lies we Jews tell ourselves to persuade us that we have a two-thousand-year-old title deed to this land”. As she succinctly observes, “my state (Israel) was built on lies” and that “Israelis and Jews (must) accept that this was not their land, that they are living uninvited in someone else’s house”.

The apartheid regime in South Africa was more liberal because it left 27 per cent of the land with the natives. In contrast, she says Jews in Israel own 97 per cent of the land. Whether it is a question of health or education, or such services as water, sewerage, electricity and telephone, it is Israeli policy to keep the Palestinians deprived. No Israeli, she says, is prepared to admit that “in 1948 we ethnically cleansed the Arabs from their villages”.

Last month, Israel announced it would start a periodic cut-off of electricity and fuel to Gaza.

That is how the Zionists are guarding “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” 90 years after Balfour sent the letter to Rothschild.

OTHER VOICES - Bangladesh Press

Dream for free judiciary comes true

IT was a dream. It came true.

Bangladesh freed the judiciary from the executive branch, effective from November 1, ending the long legacy of British colonial and Pakistan’s ‘semi-colonial’ rules.

Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, more than 600 magistrates — appointed by the government in the so-called administrative cadre — dealt with criminal cases in trial courts.

The law was amended. A new journey began amid high hope. We have now both executive and judicial magistrates. Executive magistrates will have limited judicial powers under the Mobile Court Ordinance, 2007.

We congratulate the government, the Supreme Court and hundreds of lawyers and journalists who launched a campaign to carve out a free judiciary for Bangladesh. The present caretaker government succeeded where past political governments failed.

We hope people wounded by injustice in Bangladesh will benefit from the historic change which will also discipline and bring transparency to the judicial magistracy.

We also believe that the Supreme Court, the symbol of the people’s expectations, will be more active than ever before, and the government will work as a helping hand.— (Nov 1)

Looking back

THE lingering issue — judiciary separation that is — assumed a new dimension on December 2, 1999, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 12-point directive in the Mazder Hossain case.

The case was named after the then general secretary of the Bangladesh Judicial Service Association who along with 441 other judicial officers filed a writ petition with the high court in 1995.

The country’s apex court gave the government six months to implement the 12 points to clear the way for a free judiciary.

On June 18, 2001, it rejected a petition to review the verdict, making it mandatory for the government to separate the judiciary.

The interim government finally made the judicial system independent, based on the theme that a “citizen cannot call himself free unless his government has separate judicial and administrative state organs to ensure his well-being”.

Pakistan and India separated the judiciary in 1973 and 1974 effectively by amending the 1898 CrPC.

We waited for November 1, when the country’s judiciary started its new journey. We would like to refer to the statement of Chief Justice M. Ruhul Amin who emphasised honesty, integrity and commitment of judicial magistrates to make the judiciary free in its ‘truest sense’.

— (Nov 1).

––Selected and translated by Arun Devnath.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007


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