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DAWN - Opinion; November 08, 2007

Published Nov 08, 2007 12:00am

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A futile peace initiative

By Tariq Fatemi


REELING from serious setbacks on most foreign policy fronts, the Bush administration has undertaken a major effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Talk of the gambler’s last throw of the dice!

Having ridiculed the Clinton administration for having spent time and political capital on the Palestinian issue, the Bush administration decided to relegate it to the backburner, without even bothering to keep up the pretence of being an honest broker in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Even when Israel was destroying Palestinian infrastructure and engaging in targeted killing of Palestinian leaders, there was not a whimper of protest from Washington.However, with just a year left before the US goes to the polls, the administration has suddenly woken up to the need for a major initiative on the Middle East, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spending considerable time in the region. The declared purpose is to bring the political leadership of the region to Washington for a peace conference, scheduled for the end of this month.

Ms Rice has held extensive talks with key figures, who, while supportive of it, have expressed their regret that this should have come so very late in the day. The Arabs have, therefore, pushed for specific timelines on issues that matter most to the Palestinians, namely: Jerusalem’s final status, the refugees’ right of return, eventual borders between the two states and security guarantees.

Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal pointed out that without a comprehensive exchange on these critical issues, “this conference will not have any objective and will turn into protracted negotiations”.

The Arab leaders are worried not only about this aspect, but also about the vagueness of the US plans to resolve questions that have long proven intractable. They also express the fear that the administration may be undertaking this mission for cosmetic purposes. Bruce Riedel, a senior Clinton aide and a key participant in the Camp David effort of 2000, is also concerned that Bush may not have the political capital ‘to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process’.

Israel’s agenda is far less ambitious. It simply wants the conference to consider joint declarations that refer to the core issues but that avoid any mention of the agreed principles of a solution. It wants no repeat of the Oslo accord that aimed at reconciliation between the two sides. The US, too, has limited objectives, hoping that this initiative will allow its Arab friends to claim that they did make a genuine effort to promote the Palestinian cause.

It was, however, not only the fear of failure or of upsetting the powerful pro-Israel lobbies in the US that made Bush avoid any involvement in the Palestinian issue. The reasons were far more profound.

To the ideological gurus of this administration, who were determined to brush aside all impediments in the achievement of their desire to transform the US into the world’s undisputed hegemonic power, Palestinian independence simply did not fit in their scheme of things. But to Washington’s disappointment, neither Israel’s targeted killings of Palestinian leaders nor its confinement of Yasser Arafat, resulted in the emergence of ‘quislings’.

Instead, Hamas, which was viewed as ‘extremist and terrorist’, gained in stature and credibility. Since then, the Fatah leadership has been encouraged to bypass the Hamas and, instead, work with the occupation forces.

Does the timing of the Rice initiative have something to do with Israel’s concern that the Hamas could actually gain wider support in the territories if they succeed in Gaza? This was articulated by the noted Israeli commentator, Shlomo Brom, who stated that “the operating assumption behind that policy (Ehud Olmert’s) is that if the Fatah administration becomes a success story and the Hamas turns out to be a failure, the Palestinian public will abandon Hamas and renew its support for Fatah”.

The fact that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders are weak and discredited is also a factor that does not lend itself to expectation of success from the conference. Abbas faces serious challenges from the Hamas, while Olmert has been under severe criticism since the disastrous Lebanon fiasco. He also faces multiple investigations for alleged corruption.

Both sides have made positive statements, with Olmert saying that if Israel fails to make peace with the current Palestinian leaders, it may not be able to do so with anyone. Ahmed Qureia, the chief Palestinian negotiator, was upbeat when he told the media that ‘there is trust building again’.

On ground, however, there is little evidence of change in Israel’s policies. It continues to seize more land in the West Bank, while continuing to build the massive separation wall barrier that takes in more of recognised Palestinian territory. While there were murmurs of protest from Ms Rice, these were more for the consumption of the regional media. Only this week, Olmert reiterated that Israel’s “security must precede the establishment of a Palestinian state”.

This may explain why the US is treading the issue cautiously, refusing to call its initiative a ‘meeting’, preferring ‘conference’. Ms Rice is also now trying to lower expectations. Even more significantly, Dick Cheney has not had one good word to say about the meeting. (Is he trying to discredit Condoleezza Rice whom he sees as a ‘moderate’?) And, Cheney’s soul mate, the Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, has come out publicly against any talk of a Palestinian state.

But as in all things relating to the Middle East, the last word should go to Dr Henry Kissinger, the author of many an American blueprint for this critical region. He believes that Israeli thinking has been influenced by four new and growing dangers: “an altered security environment in which the principal threat is not so much the conventional wars of the past as terrorist attacks; the demographic challenge posed by the Palestinians; the existential threat of nuclear proliferation from Iran and an international environment that sees Israel increasingly as intransigent”. In his view, it is this last factor that has “caused a reordering of priorities in the Arab world” and created a “confluence of US, Arab, Israeli and European concerns”.

If Dr Kissinger sees the solution of the Palestinian problem on the basis of a ganging together of ‘moderate’ Sunni Arab states with the US and Israel in their avowed aim of destroying the Islamic regime, he is making a grave error. Such an approach may reinforce US hegemony over the resource-rich region, but it will neither resolve the Palestinian problem.

Peace will not come to the region by strategies that aim at denying the Palestinians their independence, a right that is recognised by the world and the major powers, including the US. Israel, too, will have to recognise that its tremendous military strength and its strategic linkages to the US may ensure its survival, but will not give it the peace and recognition that it craves.

Back to the drawing board

By Syed Sharfuddin


THE imposition of emergency rule throughout Pakistan on Nov 3 is a clear indication of the failure of the policies pursued by General Musharraf both as president and the patron saint of the ruling PML-Q which forms the rubberstamp government at the centre. The growing independence of the judiciary for the first time in the history of Pakistan is the main cause behind this move.

Of the 13 reasons cited in the proclamation, nine lay blame on the judiciary, two on terrorist activities and one each on the inability of the government and the Constitution to address the current situation.

During the last seven years, President Musharraf has been trying hard to convince the country and his well-wishers abroad that he stands for democracy and the rule of law. But his latest action once again flouts these tall claims.

The Constitution of Pakistan provides for emergency rule under Articles 232-237. However, by totally ignoring these clauses, the president has ensured that the proclamation will not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny within 30 days of its issuance, nor will it have a sell-by date of four to six months, as provided in the Constitution. By staying out of the Constitution, the president has also caused this unconstitutional act to be condemned widely within Pakistan and abroad.

The first international challenge to the government will come later this month when the Commonwealth heads of government meet in Kampala to consider whether Pakistan should be re-suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth.

With the implementation of the PCO Pakistan has slipped back to 1999 when the 1973 Constitution was held in abeyance by the military. At least then, the military regime had an under-performing government to blame for its failures.

In the absence of war which justifies a state of emergency without question, in all other instances the government needs to make a convincing case for taking this extraordinary step because it involves suspending the fundamental rights of the people. The Constitution guarantees these rights and the courts ensure that these are not taken away by any institution, group or individual.

Pakistan had just begun to see this process at work. It has now been stopped. States of emergencies take away these rights only temporarily and need to be fully justified. The state of emergency in Pakistan fails to meet both these criteria.

The proclamation puts the blame for terrorist attacks and suicide bombings flatly on the shoulders of the judiciary. The proclamation also does not mention the relationship between these activities and the resurgence of the Taliban, combined with the ‘us and them’ policies of the government.

The government has a responsibility to maintain a balance between security considerations and the human rights of its citizens which are guaranteed in the Constitution. Democracy is sometimes a costly affair. Although happy to take credit for reforms, President Musharraf does not seem to be prepared to pay the cost for sustaining democracy in Pakistan.

The superior courts are said to have caused interference in government policy by questioning the disappearance of citizens and taking suo motu notice to preserve the human rights of the people. Pre-empting and preventing terrorist attacks is the main task of intelligence and security agencies. If the judiciary is to take the blame for all such attacks, why should we have these agencies on the public payroll?

The proclamation goes on to say that the inability of the government to perform its administrative functions properly is caused by the superior judiciary affecting the trichotomy of powers and assuming charge of administration. This is an argument which the military has often used for itself. The 1999 coup was justified on the basis that politicians were not doing their job properly. It can be said that when an administration fails to protect its citizens, the judiciary has a duty to intervene to fill in the gap.

And finally, the biggest untruth that the proclamation tries to give words to is that the country’s economy is adversely affected not because of the complacency that has set in the government after the tall claims that were made in 1999 to rescue Pakistan from poverty and financial bankruptcy, but because the judiciary is acting too independently to enable the government to take time to audit its own failures and shortcomings through its slow moving internal processes.

Nothing can be more telling than the fact that after seven years of leading this nation, President Musharraf has admitted that Pakistan is facing an economic crunch and there is an open challenge to the stability of Pakistan.

Contrary to his claim for promoting separation of powers of the executive, legislature and the judiciary, President Musharraf has in fact heightened the tensions among them. President Musharraf expected a cooperative judiciary which would back the government’s actions on the security situation and throw away the presidential reference by taking a quick decision. Neither of this happened and that is the root cause of the present conflict.

President Musharraf has said that he wants to complete the third stage of democratic transition by calling elections shortly and swearing in a fully civilian government, Let us hope that this promise does not turn out to be another pipe dream.

During emergency, extremists can go underground and quietly recruit supporters. The cost of mounting a security intelligence operation as well as keeping the law and order situation in control would obviously take its toll on development projects. Any further decline in living standards will cause the public to go short on patience. A prolonged emergency rule could be very costly for Pakistan.

The writer was deputy conference secretary of the meetings of Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on the Harare Declaration which suspended Pakistan from the Councils of the Commonwealth following the military coup of October 1999.

Emergency or martial law?

By Dr Tariq Rahman


GEORGE Orwell understood both tyranny and language very well. One of his many insights in this context is that tyrannical governments change the meaning of words. The most recent example of such a distortion is the term ‘emergency’. For, what is called ‘emergency’ in Pakistan today is actually some kind of martial law.

Emergency, as defined by the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, is imposed on account of war or grave internal disturbance which provincial governments cannot control (Articles 232, 233 and 234).

However, there is no war going on. As for the suicide bombings, they cannot be controlled by any declaration of emergency. Indeed, they also took place on the day after the ‘emergency’ was imposed. The other relevant point is that only the president may issue a proclamation of emergency and not the army chief. The latter does, however, impose martial law (which, again, is not allowed by the Constitution). In short, the situation now is some variant of military rule martial law.

Surely we have become rather good at not calling a spade a spade since the days of Ayub and Yahya, even Ziaul Haq. For they called martial law just plain ‘martial law’. Ayub even called his coup just plain ‘coup’ though, of course, he also claimed it was a revolution. Yahya called it a deliverance from misrule and a prelude to elections. Zia went one better and called it the ‘protection of the chadar and the chardiwari’ — basically the protection of women and privacy. Now who would object to that?

But General Musharraf surely takes the cake because he invented the term ‘countercoup’ for his coup. All the dictionaries say that a coup is carried out against those who legitimately hold power. But here was a prime minister carrying out a coup against an army chief and the poor army chief, with his back to the wall, merely resorted to a ‘countercoup’. And now we have an ‘emergency’.

What has this achieved? Well, it has removed the judges of the Supreme Court who could have barred General Musharraf from the presidency. The first attempt to remove the judicial impediment came on March 9. This did not succeed because, for a change, the lawyers stood up against it. The Chief Justice returned in triumph but the judges seemed to have been divided or cowed until the Supreme Court again gave statements which indicated that it would not let General Musharraf become the president while in uniform. This new impediment was removed by the present proclamation of ‘emergency’.

What else was achieved? Well, the media was muzzled. The private channels went off air and, if they return, they will probably be much more restrained than they were during the judicial crisis.

Those who believed that the media was given (note the word ‘given’) unprecedented freedom ought to know now that it was given this only as long as the powers that be were not threatened too much. As soon as they were, as we noticed from March this year, the media was subjected to various draconian black anti-freedom laws. Several channels were taken off air and some saw their premises attacked. Freedom is not really freedom until there is such a strong civil society that it ensures that nobody can curb it.

The next question is: who is the loser? Well, we are the losers. We, the people of Pakistan, are the obvious losers as our freedom is curbed. Whenever we are forced to acquiesce in power, whenever we face violence, the culture and habit of democracy withers away. It is a fragile plant, democracy; and it is nurtured by a free press, constitutional freedoms, brave judges and rulers who respect citizens.

Of course, globalisation and the press barons played their role in achieving what freedom we had, and the government, hoping to get a liberal image, helped all along but that is not all. We have had a tradition of some very intrepid, very heroic, very honest people among our journalists. We have also had our share of sycophants and those who are looking for the next bribe. But the noble souls are always there; one or two maybe, but they exist.

They took advantage of the relaxed atmosphere at least for the fashionable part of the press and created a bubble of which the rest of us were proud and rightly so. But just as many of us waxed lyrical about our media, the latter was punished, as on Sept 29 in Islamabad. Now there is a clampdown. This will certainly silence some people and that is not a good thing for democracy.

Some may point out that the media will spring back stronger than before. This may be true for some of its members but it cannot be true for all. The truth of the matter is that courage is created — as is cowardice — by political, social and economic conditions.

Some people are naturally very brave but others become brave because bravery is easy for them in their society. Such people — ordinary people like me who are not heroes at all — are cowed by draconian laws. That is why societies where draconian laws remain in force for long periods are never brave or open or articulate. They are closed, secretive and sneaky societies. This, then, is a major loss for the people of Pakistan — the possibility of the reduction of their natural openness and fearlessness.

But there are two scenarios. One is the strengthening of militant forces. These forces operate in the name of religion so they are difficult to oppose anyway. Now that Benazir Bhutto is seen to have supported General Musharraf, the progressive forces will be weakened and the religious forces will be correspondingly strengthened.

The other scenario is that, after years of apathy, progressive forces — students, lawyers, human rights activists — outside the political parties have started speaking up. Their protests are weak and unorganised yet but they represent the possibility of the creation of public opinion against non-democratic rule. It is all the more welcome as some alternative to the political parties may emerge and, for a change, it will be liberal and democratic in nature.

We are citizens and remain so as long as there are rights, laws and courts. When these come to an end we will not remain citizens of a modern, democratic state at all. The subjects of mediaeval states were not citizens because they were ruled by their feudal masters while citizens choose one of themselves to govern them temporarily in accordance with the law. Surely we did not create Pakistan in order to become non-citizens, did we?



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007


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