Beyond emergency rule

SATURDAY’S declaration of emergency rule has put an abrupt end to the government’s policy of ‘enlightened moderation’, as borne out by detention of dozens of civil society members within 24 hours of the proclamation. It is ironical that such natural allies against the forces of extremism should now be seen, together with the independent media and the judiciary, as a threat to state power. Both had asserted their freedom, which admittedly tried the patience of the executive. While the independent electronic media did not have the satisfaction of going down laughing on Saturday evening when news channels and radio stations were taken off air, the Supreme Court did. Though in vain, seven judges served a restraining order, barring the government from imposing emergency rule minutes after the issuance of the Provisional Constitutional Order. The restrictions placed on the judiciary and the media have since been validated by several judges of the higher courts who took fresh oaths under the PCO, paving the way for sacking those who did not oblige. However, it comes as a surprise that some of the judges involved in granting bails

to those Gen Musharraf referred to as terrorists in his speech — and which he made out to be one of the reasons for putting the Constitution in abeyance — were required to and took oath under the PCO.

The road ahead to transition to democracy, which the president promised in his speech as still being one of his missions to be accomplished, has nonetheless been queered. One is tempted to say this because the action expected of the law enforcement agencies and the security forces against extremists holding the people hostage, say, in Swat and elsewhere, has remained elusive. This, even though the judiciary, which was cited as a restraining factor, has now acquiesced in the matter. The state apparatus was quick to apprehend some politicians and members of civil society, ostensibly because it expected least resistance from such individuals. This policy of taking action only where it is so very convenient is least likely to rein in the militants and the terrorists who are the real threat to the writ of the state and to society. We have repeatedly urged the government to show zero tolerance towards such elements, condoning even the use of force if that is the only way to curb their anti-social activities.

That said, the momentum created in the country in the run-up to parliamentary elections prior to the imposition of emergency rule must be allowed to continue unhindered. This is necessary to keep the public sentiment at ease and to salvage whatever trust the people may still have in the continuation of the democratic process, which the president has promised. The existing assemblies should be dissolved at the appointed time and credible caretaker administration sworn in to oversee the next election which should be held sooner than later. The curbs on media should also be withdrawn forthwith. This is the least the people expect of Gen Musharraf when he says it was for the country’s interest alone that he was forced to resort to emergency rule.

Leaving home

ANGER runs high in the green valleys of the north, especially Swat, which is hostage to Mullah Fazlullah and his Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi. However, this blood-stained battle with the state has created an acute human problem in the shape of hundreds fleeing the region for safer environs. These are the beginnings of a refugee crisis as countless have already escaped from approximately 50 villages to Mardan, Nowshera, Abbottabad and Peshawar. They have left their homes and livelihood to pitch makeshift tents in these relatively safe areas, particularly in Mardan and along Peshawar’s Ring Road. Reportedly, nearly 70 families are currently living in tents in Mardan without any aid from the government.

Displacees claim that the NWFP authorities had announced the establishment of a refugee camp in Barikot but the declaration was not more than regular humbug. So far, the government has failed to take note of the rising numbers and problems of internally displaced people. Their food supplies, businesses and children’s education stand disrupted and they face extreme economic hardship, disintegration of social security and community, and, given their forced evacuation, mental and physical torment. There is an immediate need for food supplies, winter clothing and camps with basic amenities such as water and power. The government, for once, needs to pre-empt an impending emergency and devise a policy that implements adequate compensation, relocation and rehabilitation through employment. It must also involve NGOs to tackle the psychological traumas of displacement, especially those of children. These problems need to be addressed with a sense of urgency, given the course the violence is taking in Swat. An early return to peace can hardly be expected and therefore the agony of the refugees promises to be a prolonged one. Rehabilitation measures have to be long-term and extend beyond their return, which is when they will require support to rebuild their livelihoods and homes. The plight of internal migrants is easily worse than that of international refugees as they have little choice but to contend with forces responsible for their displacement. Therefore, an enduring solution remains protection from rabid elements that have stripped people of homes in the name of faith.

Lahore’s traffic woes

TRAFFIC chaos in Lahore is both a cause and an effect of the way citizens in this metropolis behave — as drivers as well as pedestrians. Ever-angry over poorly managed traffic, people in Lahore drive and walk on the roads instinctively rather than follow rules and thereby add to the mess that makes them throw away the rule book in the first place. This adverse symbiosis is apparent on Bund Road more than anywhere else in the city. A vital route for heavy vehicles coming in and going out of Lahore, this road is also used by school-going children on motorcycles, rickshaws, cars and on foot. With no overhead or underground facilities for them to cross the road, they have no choice but to jaywalk. Any driver trying to avoid hitting them is bound to throw into huge disarray every vehicle following his, leading to frayed tempers and a holy mess. This, however, is still some lucky distance away from the mayhem that results when someone crossing the road is hit by a fast-moving heavy vehicle, as happened last Wednesday when a schoolgirl was fatally struck by a truck.

The protest that a Bund Road accident triggers follows a familiar pattern — blocking of road for hours, burning of tyres and anything that comes in handy for stoking the fire and smashing vehicles plying or parked on the road. In the last one and a half months alone all this has happened at least three times. But, unfortunately for the accident victims, this instant rage achieves nothing except creating more chaos for commuters, vehicles as well as pedestrians. The protestors end up becoming a part of the problem instead of being helpful in finding a solution. To ensure that they don’t have to do all this again, nothing less than strict adherence to the traffic rules by everyone using Bund Road is a must. Better traffic management by the police will also help. The civic authorities should now consider the building of overhead bridges and underpasses for pedestrians. For sanity to prevail, people — drivers and pedestrians alike — need to change the way they behave on the roads.

Why not a deal with the militants?

By Sardar Mumtaz Ali Bhutto

IF at the end of six years of open war against the so-called militants and loss of thousands of lives of citizens and soldiers, Gen Musharraf can make no better showing than yet another bomb blast close to his residence on Oct 30 and one in Sargodha the next day, the time has come for him to admit defeat.

It is now abundantly clear that getting citizens and soldiers killed achieves nothing but wanton death and destruction, which necessitates an immediate change of direction.

Even the United States and the United Kingdom, for whose satisfaction Gen Musharraf has plunged the country into a bloody civil war, are visibly dissatisfied with the results and are now experimenting with an alternative by incorporating the PPP into the ruling partnership of the Muslim League-Q, the MQM and the generals, an arrangement which already shows signs of going sour.

It is a matter of record that immediately after 9/11 when the American ultimatum that ‘you are with us or against us’ came, this writer was among those invited to the President House, Islamabad, for consultation and the only one to advise caution with no greater involvement in the American course of action than that of other Muslim countries in the region. It was not very difficult, even at that stage, to see that President George Bush and his henchmen were heading for serious trouble, and just as in Korea and Vietnam, attitudes would harden and resistance grow, plunging the world into a state of insecurity and fear, the worst hit being the United States and Britain themselves.

This has now come to pass. Muslim reaction to the American onslaught is no longer a local issue visible only in some Muslim countries. It has become a matter of honour, for one-fifth of the population of the world, to take a stand, in one way or another, against the persecuting forces. The youth is attracted by the challenge and glamour of confronting the infidel. Many young men see themselves as Salahuddin Ayubi and find glorification and martyrdom in sacrificing their lives. The commitment is so deep that the pain fades into insignificance.

This is a no-win situation that Gen Musharraf is caught in and the disastrous outcome is breaking the back of the country not only in terms of loss of life but also economically. As a payment for our joining the war against Muslims, our loans have been rolled over thereby making us debt ridden forever. We have been promised $700mn over a period of five years which is a cruel joke and ‘peanuts’ as General Zia would say.

There is, of course, the clandestine payment of one billion dollars a month but this is purely for military purposes and of no use to the vanquished people of Pakistan who are sinking in the evils of lawlessness, corruption, rising prices, unemployment, poverty and scarcity of all basic needs such as clean drinking water, electric power, medical treatment, education and hygienic conditions.

Trapped in such deprivation, they are being smugly told by the rulers how good the economy is and there is prosperity all around, conveniently trying to conceal that it is the bankers, industrialists, traders, smugglers, hoarders, black-marketers, ministers, parliamentarians, nazims, and bureaucrats who are raking in the loot.

The rulers have to admit that they have no defences against the militants and cannot protect the citizen anywhere in the country. It is only the president, prime minister and now Benazir Bhutto who enjoy the security of bullet-proof vehicles and hundreds of guards, but even then the general and his prime minister are lucky to escape attempts on their lives while Benazir Bhutto just happened to descend into her bullet and bomb proof saloon on wheels when the explosion occurred killing 140 people and injuring 550.

Thus the ordinary people are at risk at all times with no protection. Such is the degree of the government’s failure that it is not just the militants but also the ordinary criminal against which it is helpless. The law enforcement agencies stand totally licked even on this count. They are reduced to the humiliation of appeasing criminals, performing services for and making deals with them.

So where does the salvation for the people lie? Deals not only with criminals but also political opponents have suddenly become the order of the day. The deal to facilitate Gen Musharraf’s election as president in return for withdrawal of cases of multiple murder and loot of public funds to the tune of many billions of dollars cannot be justified in law or morality. The funds are not his to barter away and the murdered, including Mir Murtaza Bhutto, are not his kith and kin for him to forgive. The matter is in the Supreme Court and it will be astounding if it decides to the contrary.

Such being the case what would be wrong if a deal with the militants is brokered when it brings the desperately needed security of life and property, which the rulers cannot provide and the citizens are clamouring for?

Of course, deals of sorts are being made in the tribal areas which appear not to be working, seemingly because of the rulers’ overall commitment to the unholy war and the outside pressure which keeps them fighting. It cannot, however, be forgotten that after all it was the Americans and the generals who brought the militants into existence by recruiting, training, arming, financing, motivating and launching them against the foreign occupation of Afghanistan. This is what they are tuned into and this is exactly what they are doing.

Furthermore, it was during the prime ministership of Benazir Bhutto that Interior Minister Gen (retd) Naseerullah Babar went to Afghanistan and established direct government to government links with the Taliban. Not only that but in the current political dispensation the self-styled pundits, as a manifestation of their dubious wisdom, loftily declare that there is nothing final in politics (Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau must be retching in their graves).

In other words, there are no ideologies, principles, manifestoes, commitments and loyalties in politics and it is all a mad rush for personal aggrandisement. Thus there being no restraints even on crooked deals, an honest one to bring safety and security to the man in the street is the very least the ruler must do to compensate the people for the woe and bloodshed that they have inflicted on them.

This need has become all the more urgent since the Americans, in their usual blundering manner, have inducted Benazir Bhutto in the ruling team, who can do nothing more than carry on a loud and highly provocative tirade against the militants. This will no doubt please her sponsors but only aggravate the situation on the ground, the requirement being to sooth tempers and work out a solution which brings peace and harmony to the country.

OTHER VOICES - Indian Press

Danger gong

THE danger gong has been sounded once again, this time by the UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook report… The human species is living beyond its means on a planet with limited resources.

Unless action is taken right now, the race is headed for sure disaster, it says. Over 60 per cent of the ecosystem is degraded. Agricultural output is poised to drop even further as arable land area too is growing lesser.

About three-fourths of marine fisheries have been exploited and, continuing on this scale, will collapse by 2050.

By 2025 almost 1.8 billion people will face water shortage. The results of environmental degradation can have disastrous consequences…

The report…stresses…that this is not so much about disaster prediction as about calling for urgent action…

The population of the world has increased in the last two decades by 34 per cent from five to 6.7 billion. Resources…have not seen any increase. Nor are they likely to.

The planet can cater to most of our needs without having to sacrifice any basic comforts. But there just isn’t enough to provide for wasteful lifestyles. It would be foolish to point fingers and demand rightful shares of the resources pie, whether it be for improved quality of life or simply for evening out divides.

Not if we care for a tomorrow. The report points to how it is time policymakers everywhere stop keeping environment at the periphery of development. Environment has to be brought to the centre-stage. — (Nov 2)

Criminal deed

AN outrageous incident…has been reported from Kanpur where two women in urgent need of medical attention were thrown out of a government hospital. Their only fault was that they had no money to bribe health officials to avail of treatment which…should have been available for free. For want of a paltry Rs1,000 each, these women, post-natal, were heartlessly shown the door and, in the absence of medical care, lost their lives. That they were Dalits is not germane to the issue except incidentally, for the venality of corrupt officials knows no caste…This was not particularly an atrocity perpetrated on Dalits, but insofar as this identity is an index of deprivation it is relevant and that it should happen in a state with a Dalit chief minister is galling. It shows how officials in their lust for loot care two hoots for consequences…Horror tales of similar sorts of atrocities in public health centres across the country abound, with reports that even mothers of newborn babies have to pay bribes to have a look at them…according to reports of the Kanpur incidents, it was the medical staff who demanded the bribes.

This is then a case not just of corruption but also of the grossest violation of medical ethics. Sadly, medical professionals…have no fear because a moribund Medical Council of India allows them to get away with all kinds of criminal misdeeds…As long as the poor continue to be so brutally victimised by corrupt officials, it is just no use to so proudly…boast of our achievements and impending rise, which…would remain incomplete in the face of such monumental corruption… — (Nov 3)

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007


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