DAWN - Editorial; January 01, 2008

01 Jan 2008


Violent shock to economy

PAKISTAN has never been a favourite destination of international capital. We have always been regarded by global investors as a closed and politically unstable society with little space for democratic politics and rule of law, and thus a highly unsafe place to travel to or invest in. The violence that gripped the country, especially Karachi, in the wake of the brutal assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in a gun-and-bomb attack in Rawalpindi last Thursday has made Pakistan an even less sought-after place for world business. Over 150 bank branches had been vandalised and burnt, hundreds of private vehicles reduced to ashes, petrol and gas stations closed down, the entire retail and wholesale business and industries shut down, domestic and international travel disrupted, and foreign trade suspended before the army and rangers were called out and a semblance of normality returned. The Karachi Stock Exchange had to suspend trading for fear of a crash. When it opened on Monday, the KSE index of 100 shares (KSE-100) lost 700 points in its first session. By Monday afternoon, violence had broken out again in the city.

The economy has suffered losses to the tune of billions of rupees in the wake of the violence. The nation’s economic managers insist that the country will make up for this loss in the months to come and achieve the budgetary targets for the year. That may be so. We can only hope for the best. But for most of us it is too optimistic a view; the damage caused to Pakistan’s image abroad is perhaps irreparable and investor confidence has hit rock bottom. Doubts about the country’s stability and security have resurfaced and are affecting the currency, stock and other markets. Political instability is affecting our credibility in terms of delivering export goods on time. Efforts to integrate the country into the global economy and attract foreign investment in sectors like energy and manufacturing — crucial to future economic progress — are likely to take a big hit. So what recovery are we talking about? Violence spawned by public sentiment and the emotion surrounding the PPP leader’s murder in cold blood will soon be channelled into electioneering. But a lot of the disruption caused is by criminal elements, not mourners, seeking to disrupt law and order. If the government does not want the nation to pay a heavy economic price for years to come it must deploy the law-enforcement agencies to control the situation.

Promoting organ donations

ALTHOUGH the recent cases of cadaveric organ transplant at Karachi’s Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation were not the first time that the SIUT transplanted kidneys taken from a deceased donor in renal patients, previously it had done so before the legislation sanctioning such donation was promulgated last September. Two recipients, one a housewife, the other a 17-year-old student, were given a new lease of life when the family of Professor Razak Memon, a professor at a medical college, decided to donate his kidneys after doctors certified that he had suffered from brain death. Unfortunately, while the law allows cadaveric transplant, a combination of socio-cultural factors and ignorance has kept this idea from taking root. As a result, few people will their organs for donation after death. This is regrettable for there is a severe shortage of organ donors in the country, both live and deceased, and as a result, the number of organ-related deaths, many of which could have been prevented, is around 50,000 a year. Out of this, there are approximately 15,000 cases of kidney failure.

The government will have to do much to promote deceased organ donation if it wishes to put an end to the kidney trade that, though proscribed by law, will take time to be rooted out. While kidney donation by blood relatives and others with marriage ties to the patient is encouraged, a potential voluntary donor may be reluctant to part with a kidney during his/her lifetime. Besides, a compatible tissue match may not be found in the family or among non-blood relatives. It is to maximise options, to benefit the greatest number of organ failure patients, that the transplant of organs from deceased donors should be promoted. The authorities must make amends for the delay of several years in promulgating the law, and undertake a sustained campaign to educate people on organ donation and how it can save precious lives. If it drags its feet on actively implementing the law and creating awareness, the kidney mafia will be back in full force, confident that the government will do nothing to halt its illegal transactions.

Death of Benazir and after

By Kamal A. Munir

WHAT will the death of Benazir Bhutto mean for Pakistani politics? Political pundits are already trying to outguess each other as to what this event will lead to. Much of the discussion is focusing on the ‘inevitable’ consequences of this tragic event. However, the assumption that there is any inevitability associated with such events is a flawed one.

History is usually presented to us in a simple, linear fashion in which particular events are seen to lead to specific outcomes. For instance, the assassination of a particular duke may be understood to have triggered a world war, or the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers seen as precipitating catastrophic consequences for the Afghans. The actual position of events in history is far more complex than is indicated in such linear historical accounts. Events are not given. They are constructed. And how they are constructed determines their consequences.

And so the battle to construct Benazir Bhutto’s death has already begun. For the first 24 hours after her death, it was widely believed that she was shot dead by an unknown assailant who managed to penetrate her security circle, fired three shots and, seconds later, detonated the bomb he was wearing. At the moment of her death, she was waving to her party workers, while bravely exposing herself to any would-be assassin. Such a narrative constructs her as a courageous leader, who put her obligation to party workers above her own life. It automatically hands her the tag of a martyr.

Such a narrative, however, also pits her against certain elements, not least a hostile state which was presumably responsible for her safety. The fact that she was assassinated in Rawalpindi, the heart of the military establishment, further fuels the public resentment against the state. And finally, the fact that the state has lately become synonymous with high-handed tactics against any political opposition lends further credence to this narrative. While Benazir was fighting an election campaign against many opponents, such a discourse identifies only the state and its cronies as responsible for this needless death, while bringing her Pakistan People’s Party closer to its other opponent, the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif.

To counter the obvious implications of such a narrative gaining further ground, the state has now conjured up its own. In an astonishing press conference, more than 24 hours after the killing, a government spokesman categorically claimed that Benazir Bhutto did not receive any bullets in her head or neck. Indeed, she completely escaped all bullets as well as shrapnel from the bomb blast. Her death, it was claimed, was in fact a result of a head injury sustained when she tried to lower herself into her jeep. This was part one of the state’s account. It was presented with pictures of her jeep, a CT scan of her skull and some video footage that was neither here nor there.

In part two, the spokesperson, a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army, identified the culprit: Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani-Taliban military commander based in the tribal areas in the north-west. As evidence he produced a recorded transcript in Pushto, which was supposedly that of Mehsud talking to an accomplice. This transcript was nothing like ordinary phone conversations. It was more like a journalistic piece, conveniently identifying the suicide bombers and their accomplices, details of their mission and in case someone was unsure which side Mehsud was on, his glee at the whole episode.

Here was a radically different construction of the event of Dec 27. Benazir’s death, it suggested, was an unfortunate accident, precipitated by a bungled suicide attempt by an Islamic militant, the same that the government was trying to fight. It beseeched the public to share the state’s perspective — the fight against militants was in everyone’s interest. The angry mobs should vent their fury not on the Q-League and the State but on Islamic militants.

It is likely that the state is not alone in trying to construct and sustain such an account. It is likely that its partners in the war against terror will also support it in sustaining an account that holds Mehsud and his men responsible. However, in order to succeed in producing such an understanding of what really happened on Dec 27, the state needs two things. First and foremost, it needs to plug the gaping holes in its story. For example, how did they know it was Mehsud? Where was the weapon that the shots were fired from? Why was the crime scene cleared away so rapidly, without collecting any forensic evidence?

The body is now buried and so is any chance of a post-mortem. Though the administration has offered an exhumation of the body it is unlikely. Secondly, the state needs credibility. Unfortunately, in the last nine years, it has only managed to lose whatever legitimacy it had to begin with. It faces an uphill battle in convincing the people of its rather far-fetched account, and has probably only managed to dig itself deeper.

The state’s concern is to prevent Benazir from becoming a symbol of resistance against an oppressive army. If Benazir is remembered as the hero, Musharraf will likely be cast as the villain. Whereas in real life Benazir Bhutto was flexible in her beliefs, selective in her memory, and willing to strike the occasional pact for expediency, in her death she will be far more principled.

Whatever its role in this episode, it is possible that the state now wishes that it would rather deal with a living Benazir Bhutto than a dead one. A living Benazir for instance may have gone along with military excursions in Fata and Swat. A dead one might be more reluctant. If so, its best course of action will be to defuse any myths of resistance and struggle that may be forming around Benazir Bhutto, and instead paint a picture which shows her in a more realistic light than lily white. If they are unable to do so, like her father, she will continue to haunt them for generations.

The real battle then will be played out in the media. How the events of Dec 27 come to be implicated in the narratives that will now be constructed, and how Benazir Bhutto’s life is remembered will determine the consequences of her tragic death.

Kamal A. Munir teaches Strategy and Policy at Cambridge University, UK.

OTHER VOICES – Sindhi Press

Benazir Bhutto’s martyrdom

SINDH once again was made to condole the tragic death of a princess — Benazir — who was killed for her love of this land and its people.

To pay tribute to her braveness, tremendous courage, commitment and untiring struggle, lets recall the words of a visionary who said, “Even if I learn that the world will end tomorrow, I would still plant red roses today.” The brave princess carrying rose saplings of democracy in her hands came to this land but was killed in a cowardly attack. This plunged Sindh into a tsunami of mourning, grief and anger.

There is a volley of significant questions. People do not expect an impartial and clean inquiry from the government. Strangely, the administrators are taking such steps which might destroy all the evidence…. If at all, under international pressure, an investigation is conducted by foreign experts they might not find any clue …

The government informed her time and again about threats of an attack. Even then the government did not provide adequate security to a former prime minister. The jammers provided by the government proved ineffective in the Karsaz attack which she narrowly escaped. Ms Bhutto’s request for a probe by foreign experts was rejected on the pretext that domestic experts possess the required expertise. But this so-called expertise has yielded no results as yet.

The people reacted violently after Benazir’s assassination, torching government and private property and vehicles; arson and vandalism and looting were seen throughout interior Sindh. All this cannot be called the reaction…. The storming of jails and burning of official records could not have been carried out by political activists, for such acts defamed the protests. Besides the tragedy of Dec 27, the events of October 18 should also be investigated by foreign experts. — (Dec 29)

Don’t extinguish fire with force

SINDH is burning. Protest and violence has erupted in every small or big town… [O]ne of the reasons behind it is said to be … anger which did not find proper and timely guidance. Though protests are being held throughout Pakistan against the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Sindh is feeling greater shock, grief and anger. The people of Sindh had braved more state oppression and exploitation and also rendered more sacrifices but continued to provide leadership to Pakistan. It starts from … the Quaid-i-Azam to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. One of them was left helpless and he could not do much for the country, while Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged in Rawalpindi. Sindh has been facing excesses since the inception of the country … Sindh is being deprived of its oil, water and other resources … Sindh’s elected representatives were either denied the right to rule or were assassinated and there are a number of cases in which common people and activists from Sindh have been killed or have disappeared …

It is strange that the government is trying to avoid an impartial inquiry into the murder of a leader of such calibre. This has further exposed the designs of the government. The government claims that Al Qaeda was behind the incident and tried to provide very dubious evidence, but Al Qaeda and the Taliban have denied their involvement …

… It seems there is no chance of improving the situation in Sindh, particularly when the administration intends to … use force…. Once again the army is in Sindh and hundreds of people may be arrested and convicted or killed on one pretext or the other. There is a need to avoid such violent and oppressive measures and think about peaceful ones. — (Dec 30)
Awami Awaz

Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2008