DAWN - Editorial; November 28, 2007

November 28, 2007


Stuff of dreams

PRESIDENT General Pervez Musharraf has been reported as saying: “The impression that the freedom of the media has been achieved through a struggle is incorrect because the decision to give independence to the media was taken by the government.” His major criticism of the (electronic) media — for once inarguable — was that they show ‘pictures of dead bodies’ while the western media doesn’t. This newspaper has repeatedly called on the media to refrain from showing images of bodies whether they belong to victims of earthquakes or terrorist bombings. These blood- and gore-filled images add nothing to the sum of human knowledge. They only contribute to exacerbating the trauma suffered by a society already brutalised by violence inflicted by militants and the excesses of the security forces. Therefore, one cannot but agree with the general’s second point. But this is as far as one can nod in agreement.

His statement that the media spread despair and despondency is a most unfair characterisation. There have been innumerable reports about the healthy rate of economic growth in the country over the past few years. The government has also been credited with the rapid growth of the economy and the private sector. If the media have criticised the disparity that this development is creating between the haves and the have-nots and the crisis for the poor as food inflation spirals apparently out of control, it is its duty to report on this aspect and of those in power to respond. The nation, though, waits to hear the general say, hand on heart, that the only reason behind the media clampdown was the manner in which ‘terrorism was being reported’ and ‘despondency being spread’. And that the real reason was not a series of questions that was being raised over the legality of his re-election and admiration at the way the judiciary was seen to be asserting itself.

President Musharraf’s assertion that the freedom that has just been wrested from the media was his gift is even more disputable. He thereby implies that taking back something he himself had granted was not an issue to make such a big fuss about. There is an analogy for the president to draw a lesson from. Former South African President Nelson Mandela spent nearly three decades in the prime of his life at the infamous Robben Island prison. As a prisoner, all he could have done was to provide a source of inspiration to the rank and file of the African National Congress — an organisation credited with the successful struggle which resulted in the dismantling of the Apartheid regime in that country. And yes, President F.W. de Klerk eventually signed the power transfer deal. But could this be described as the last vestige of the Apartheid regime bestowing majority rule on the majority black South Africans as a favour, or was it Mandela’s dream coming true? A dream that was nurtured with love and resilience for a lifetime, including nearly 30 years in a narrow cell at Robben Island. The fact is that nobody grants anyone freedom. It is a right to be wrested from those who are in a position of power and deny it.

This madness must end

AS in previous years, the business of slaughter will be booming this winter. Arab dignitaries have been awarded 31 special permits to hunt the houbara bustard, a locally and internationally protected species that winters in Pakistan after travelling from its breeding grounds in Central Asia, China and Mongolia. Each licence carries a ‘bag limit’ of 200 birds which means that, at the very minimum, 6,200 houbaras out of the twenty to thirty thousand expected to grace us with their presence this year will be massacred on Pakistani soil. The actual figure will be much higher. Although the permits are supposed to be ‘person-specific’, a number of people routinely hunt under one licence. The bag limit too is rarely respected, if ever. When wildlife officials can’t question small-time local influentials engaged in the illegal hunting of other species, who is going to check the number of houbara bustards killed by Gulf royals? In all it is estimated that over 10,000 houbara bustards are killed or trapped in Pakistan every year. As such, between 30 to 50 per cent of the migratory houbara population is decimated each winter in this country. Some experts believe that a kill rate of anything over seven per cent is not sustainable. Houbaras, like other migratory birds, are dependent on veteran group leaders familiar with the routes to and from breeding grounds. If the navigators are killed, entire flocks can become disoriented, reducing their chances of reaching the destination in time for breeding.

The local peregrine falcon, which is resident in all four provinces, and the migratory saker falcon, a winter visitor, have also fallen victim by association. These prized birds of prey, both listed as rare by the World Conservation Union, are trapped and sold to falconers who use them for hunting purposes — and the (anything but endless) cycle of destruction goes on. The hunting of the houbara bustard is illegal in Pakistan but annual exceptions are made for Arab royals on the flimsy grounds that this ‘courtesy’ extended to ‘brotherly’ countries fosters goodwill. It is also argued that the money generated by these permits is spent on the uplift of the underdeveloped areas in which hunting takes place. Yes, the odd token ‘gift’ to the human population does materialise from time to time. But the primary benefactors are those who, by bending over backwards to appease the royalty, cultivate their contacts for future deals and personal enrichment.

An inhumane act

SOMETIMES it is impossible to understand the rationale behind what the local Taliban do. Their burning of goods meant for pregnant women in South Waziristan on Sunday is one example of that. They justify their act because they believe that any aid coming from a western organisation has only one purpose — to harm future generations of Muslims and to reduce the Muslim population. It is sadly children and women who suffer on account of the illogical ways of the Taliban, and this time it is no different. In this case an NGO wanted to directly give food and cooking oil to pregnant women suffering from malnutrition, but lax security meant that the Taliban could easily take away the goods from the hospital they were stored in and destroy them. Thus they have done more harm to future generations but who will explain that to them? The administration on its part maintains that it would have been advisable for the NGO to give the authorities the goods for distribution to avoid any untoward incident. Perhaps the government does not realise that it suffers from a credibility problem.

This incident highlights the government’s failure at getting aid to people in conflict-ridden areas as well as calamity-hit ones. The country’s maternal healthcare is dismal with the mortality rate at 500 per 100,000 live births. There are no statistics for the tribal areas but it is safe to assume that they are higher. If the government has not absolved itself of its responsibility of providing healthcare to the people, it should give priority to the distribution of goods meant for the people’s betterment. By the same token the government must reach out to NGOs and work with them to ensure that goods get to the people who deserve them the most.

OTHER VOICES - European Press

‘Popular’ work stoppages

IMPROMPTU, two-hour work stoppages appear to have become the most popular form of industrial action. Although they are in violation of the industrial relations code, which stipulates that prior warning should be given, they are preferred by union militants as they do not have to consult with other members before taking action…

Sunday afternoon’s two-hour work stoppage at Paphos airport was a prime example of the new form of union muscle-flexing.

Some 40 contract workers, annoyed by the security checks they were subjected to when arriving and leaving their jobs at the airport, decided to stop work for two hours. Their spontaneous irresponsibility affected six flights, inconveniencing some 1000 passengers.

This was all they achieved because the company running the airport yesterday made it clear that it had no intention of reducing security checks for the sake of the employees.

Security measures had been tightened after EU representatives carried out inspections at the airports a couple of months ago and found them too lax.

Workers were essentially demanding that the EU instruction should be ignored…. Such is the power of unions in Cyprus and so accustomed are workers to always getting their own way, they cannot accept that anyone else’s interests could be placed above their own…

Yesterday, less than 24 hours later, Welfare Department staff held an impromptu two-hour work stoppage….

It is a fact that welfare workers may run the risk of being physically assaulted, but what was the need of the work stoppage? Was it meant to make claimants who have an inclination to be abusive or violent behave rationally? If this was the objective of the strike, then it failed. It is not even as if staff had been denied requests for protection when dealing with ‘dangerous’ cases.

Like the stoppage at the airport, it was totally pointless industrial action. But workers have become so strike-happy they do not even bother to consider what they would achieve. As long as they can vent a little frustration and remind us all that unions have the right to do as they please, they are satisfied.

Perhaps it is time for the government to start punishing this irresponsible behaviour, if only to show unions that they cannot impose work stoppages at the drop of a hat. — (Nov 27)

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007