Time to rethink

IT’S never been lonelier for Gen Musharraf at the top. From up there on his pedestal, he is not looking at the same horizon that the people are. That he considered resigning, as confessed to a foreign TV host in an interview, and then decided against it, explains his estrangement from the ambivalent public mood surrounding him. The saviour he considers himself must come back to earth, with some circumspection, to save the country from further turmoil. The commotion sweeping the country is not confined to the madressahs and extremists’ hideouts in the remote mountains, or to the courts and the bar rooms anymore. Youth in elite colleges, those born of ‘enlightened moderation’, as practised in the last eight years, have joined the plebeian masses, who had come to lay down their lives for the hope they saw in Ms Bhutto’s return on Oct 18, and many were not disappointed. The people are out in pursuance of their democratic aspirations. The kicking and bussing away of unmistakably westernised students holding protests and demanding the restoration of an independent judiciary and the media, carrying placards and arranging peaceful candlelight vigils does not make for a good image of Pakistan abroad — if that still is the obsession it was with the general.

The president has said more than he was expected to say in the weeks after the imposition of emergency, which has failed to calm nerves. His friends abroad have advised him to doff the army uniform, lift the emergency rule and hold free elections with a level field for all under an independent election commission. The opposition wants an acceptable caretaker government for elections to be credible, but such voices of sanity are lost in the cacophony of the ‘saviour of the nation’ image that General Musharraf is now inculcating for himself. Well-meaning as the man may be, his failures in achieving the goals he had set himself back in October 1999 have been more than his triumphs. The promise of calling corrupt politicians to account dissipated as abruptly as it had been made; the state’s loosening of grip on extremism against its stated resolve to boot it out is a fact today; the avowed respect for the judiciary’s independence found its culmination in sending the non-compliant judges packing under the extra-Constitution PCO — an anomaly that may be indemnified in the weeks ahead but which will not reverse the harm done to the institution; suspension of civil rights and the independent TV channels, which were promised more freedom, are hardly the steps that will lead to sustainable democracy.

The fear gripping General Musharraf is shared by the whole nation today: that if some of the menacing developments over the past eight years continue, Pakistan may well be on the road to becoming what he calls a failed state. He can save it from going down that path by rethinking some of his own decisions. There are surely other options available to the mightiest in the land than calling all the shots himself. But that requires some serious ‘out of the box’ thinking, as the Americans put it.

Torture of activists

THAT Pakistan has entered one of its darkest periods is underscored not only by the emergency and the resultant curbs on the media and civil rights, but also by the mass arrests of activists and their torture at the hands of the law-enforcers. This was more than apparent in the case of advocate Hassan Tariq, a member of the Nawabshah District Bar Association and an active participant in demonstrations against the regime. Arrested and reportedly tortured by the police, Mr Tariq has suffered serious wounds with possibly lifelong effects. Hundreds of other lawyers and human rights activists across the country have ended up in police lockups, jails and at undisclosed locations, while the luckier ones have been confined to their homes. There is widespread concern for all those detained and the manner — especially ruthless under the emergency — in which they are being treated. This apprehension is heightened in the case of lawyers Aitzaz Ahsan, Muneer Malik, Ali Ahmed Kurd and former judge Tariq Mahmood, who are being kept in solitary confinement in jails and detention centres notorious for their barbaric interrogation tactics. According to sources, even foreign diplomats have been denied access to them. It is also feared that these detainees, along with many others, could be tried by anti-terrorism and military courts that under the amended Army Act can now try civilians.

For all its sermons on depicting the ‘soft image of Pakistan’, the government has dragged the country into the category of those that can be described as police states with absolutely no qualms about trampling on human rights. In the process, the regime has not only caused mounting civil unrest at home, it has also shown to the world that, far from protecting the liberal elements of Pakistan, it is seeking to crush them and to silence all voices demanding democracy. Under these circumstances, it is necessary to keep up the domestic pressure on the government to lift the emergency and release the activists, and to solicit the support of international rights organisations and foreign governments. The regime will only back off when it is hemmed in by all parties in favour of constitutional rule in Pakistan.

Imran Khan’s arrest

THE manner in which one of General Musharraf’s most vocal critics, Imran Khan, was arrested on Wednesday is highly questionable. Mr Khan, who escaped his home after being detained right after the emergency was imposed, came to Punjab University on Wednesday to mobilise students against the emergency. However, students of the Islami Jamiat-i-Tulaba, the student wing of the Jamaat-i-Islami, are said to have roughed up Mr Khan on his arrival, detained him in a classroom for 45 minutes before bundling him in a van which was handed over to the police. Mr Khan has been charged with several counts of disrupting public order, but more worryingly, he has also been booked under the anti-terrorism act. As head of his own political party, Mr Khan has the right to protest as well as mobilise people. He did not call for people to take the law into their own hands nor did he incite them to adopt violent means. Mr Khan joins a reported list of 5,000 people who have been detained since the emergency was imposed, of which very few can be described as terrorists. This double standard is not winning the government any votes. The government must pay heed to the growing resentment within the country, as well as international calls, to rescind the emergency and restore all fundamental rights.

It is also important to take note of the IJT’s behaviour. The group has more or less terrorised the Punjab University for the last year or so, bullying the administration into taking certain decisions like shutting down the musicology department or disrupting cultural functions. The self-professed morality police seem to be upset that Mr Khan was invited to the PU campus without their knowledge, as if the university is their sole turf. This self-righteous attitude coupled with coercive force — similar to another fiery ethnic student group’s in Karachi — has never been taken to task by university administrations or the political leadership of the parties the student groups belong to. This time a JI leader has condemned the behaviour of IJT but it must be followed through by stern action against them. No student group should have a monopoly on campuses.

Guidance of human beings

By Haider Zaman


Friday feature

THE Quran tells us that human beings are the vicegerents of Allah on earth (2:30) (33:39) and for that reason have been treated above many other creations of Allah (17:70).

It also tells us that as vicegerents of Allah the human beings have to discharage two kinds of obligations. One is what they owe to Allah, and the other is that every human being owes to his fellow beings. And it is but natural that for the proper discharge of their obligations they have to be guided and developed.

That is why the process of guidance and development started simultaneously with the creation of Adam. When Adam was created, Allah taught him the names of certain things and then asked the angels: “Now if you are right tell Me the names of these things” (2:31). The angels had first objected to the creation of human beings because, according to them, they (the human beings) might create disorder and bloodshed on earth. But they had no answer to the question when they were asked to tell the names of the things concerned.

They simply said: “O Lord we know only that which You have taught us” (2:32). Allah then turned to Adam and said “Tell Me of their names.” When Adam told their names, Allah said “Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heavens and earth? I know all that you reveal or conceal” (2:33) and ordered all those present to fall prostrate before Adam. All the angels fell prostrate except Iblees (satan). The main object of this exercise was to highlight the importance of knowledge and how much it was valued by Allah. It was knowledge that gave an edge to Adam over the angels.

After the above exercise Adam and Eve were told to dwell in the Gardens above and to eat from whatever they liked but not to go near a particular tree. They were, however, misled by satan and were made to do what they were forbidden to do. As a result they were turned out of Gardens and were sent down to earth. The main object of this exercise was to highlight the importance of Taqwa, which means fear of Allah and submission to His will.

During the same process Adam and Eve were made aware of some other elements germane to the development of human beings. They were the outcome of self-centred pride and arrogance on the one hand and of repentance and submission, on the other. Satan was so proud of his false superiority that he not only refused to fall prostrate before Adam when he was asked to do so but also did not care to beg pardon for his disobedience. As a result he was condemned for ever. On the other hand, Adam and Eve after realising that what they had done was wrong, immediately admitted that it were they who had wronged themselves and prayed for pardon. They were pardoned (7:23).

They were told by satan that they were forbidden to go near the said tree because if they tasted it they will either become angels or will live for ever. It was, in fact, the desire to become angels or immortals that impelled them to do. The object was to let them know that inability to resist lust was one of those weaknesses of human beings that could be easily exploited by satan.

The third element emphasised by the Quran is the need for the observance of the principles of balance. As the Quran says “He raised the hevens high and set the balance” (55:7). It means that simultaneously with the creation of heavens Allah devised the system of balance which means that all the stars, planets and other celestial bodies were so placed in relation to each other as to maintain the requisite degree of equilibrium in the system. That is why none of these bodies can possibly overstep, or encroach in any manner over the functional area of each other.

The Quran further says “It is Allah Who sent down the Book and the balance” (42:17). And “We sent our Messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the book and the balance”( 57:25). It means that Allah first made use of balance while setting the Universe in order and then sent it down to earth through the Prophets and Books so that it is made use of by the human beings in their own spheres of influence and activities. That’s why the Quran specifically tells us not to disturb the balance (55:8) and warns not be like those who rejected the signs of Allah and got perished (28:39) (53:52).

In the sphere of human activities, the maintenance of balance would mean maintenance of requisite degree of equilibrium, observance of the norms of moderation, doing of justice, provision of equal opportunities, avoidance of aggression and commission of excesses, observance of the principle of golden mean where possible and being just and fair in all dealings with others. Thus, observance of the principles of balance could be the third pre-requisite of human development.

The fourth element highlighted by the Quran is continuous march towards progress and enlightenment. This is evident from the Quranic verse which says “O Lord give me more of knowledge” (20:114) and the sayings of the Prophet when he said that one should go on seeking knowledge from cradle to grave and that one should go even to China in search of knowledge. Another Quranic verse which says excel in all that is good (2:148) is also reflective of support to continuous progress.

Another Quranic verse which says “Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change (first) that which is in their soul” (13:11) tells how to achieve progress and excellence in a particular direction. And the verse which says “Allah has subjected to you whatever is in the earth and heavens” (31:20) provides pointer towards unlimited technological and economic progress. Thus acquisition of ability to march continuously towards progress and enlightenment could be the fourth Pre-requisite of human development.

Thus, with the acquisition of knowledge coupled with the observance of the principles of balance and the ability to march continuously towards progress and enlightenment and animated by the fear of Allah, one can play the role of vicegerent of Allah in a befitting manner.

OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press

Mission bogged down

The six recent deaths of American soldiers in Afghanistan bring the number killed in that country this year to at least 101, the deadliest for the US military in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion. The toll reminds us of the situation in Iraq where US military deaths this year have exceeded 850, also a record.

The war in Afghanistan is supposedly different from the one in Iraq — but the similarities, foremost of which is the violence against US forces, are growing. In method, target and impact, the attacks on US forces in Afghanistan have shown how much the Taliban have borrowed from the Iraqi insurgency. It is an influence conceded by the Taliban themselves who, according to their sights, see one and the same enemy.

Regime change in Afghanistan has been sold as one of the few successes of the new world born of the 9/11 attacks on America. Less than two months after the planes hit New York and the Pentagon, the Taliban were driven from Kabul and Osama Bin Laden from his mountainous Afghan hide-out. Unlike in Iraq, the Afghan invasion had the sanction of the UN. It also had the support of most Afghans, with 70 per cent of the electorate turning out for presidential elections in 2004. How then — five years on — is Afghanistan so near collapse and why has what appeared to have been a swift military victory gotten bogged down? ...

The counterinsurgency battle US and NATO forces now face will take a decade or more to win. The same situation holds for US troops in Iraq: the insurgency can never be done away with completely. The next US president must level with the American people, in a way President Bush never has, about the real burden of an attempt to build two countries from scratch at once. That burden can no longer be borne by military families alone. (Nov 12)

‘God bless the sheikh, he voted for us’

Of all the poverty, famine and injustice one sees in the country, this is one of the most shocking. This is the story of a district called Thubab stretching between Taiz and Hodieda governorates. It is an isolated area by mountains and not connected by easy roads.

Thubab has a sheikh, called sheikh Al-Rabbash, who ruthlessly controls … 3,000 villagers, deciding what to do, what not to do, and even how and who … to vote (for).

The village has no signs of development, no power, no water, no convenient housing, no basic education or healthcare. It escaped time in the sense that it is a typical Yemeni village, the way it was two hundred years ago. If you visit the village, you will find … houses built using grey-bricks, stones, and metal plates, you will see goats and children roam around, and you might also notice the tire tracks of a $47,000 land cruiser which the sheikh just got last year. He says it is a gift from the president along with another seven million riyals ($35,000), in exchange for the votes of all the villagers.

… The women might sometimes have to walk for two hours carrying a bucket of water in the earliest hours of the day, only for her husband to wash himself before going to work in the sheikh’s land. Her two-hour journey is equal to less than two minutes of washing up for him…

This is how it goes, President Saleh uses the country’s wealth in breeding and maintaining the power of the enslavers.

The $82,000 could have gone a long way in improving the lives of thousands of villagers — that much money is enough to build a school, dig a well and establish a water project, and perhaps establish a basic health care facility…(Nov 13)



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007

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