DAWN - Editorial; January 18, 2008

Published January 18, 2008

Neutral, not national

WEEKS before the polls it is not a national, consensus-based government that the country needs, as advocated by the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, but a more neutral caretaker set-up and an election commission which all concerned can trust for holding free and fair elections. Mr Sharif’s party had taken the decision to contest the forthcoming election to be held under President Musharraf as the head of the state after consulting with the PPP; both the major parties had doubted, as they still do, the neutrality of the current caretaker dispensation, but they had wisely resolved not to leave the field open to their rivals by opting out of the election, as the APDM component parties have done. The PML-N leader is now having second thoughts on the issue after his party was reportedly approached by the president through an intermediary with the idea of forming a national government ahead of the election, which the PML-N had supposedly turned down because it meant putting a stamp of approval on the election of the president by the last assemblies.

Mr Sharif is welcome to have his opinion on the legality or otherwise of Mr Musharraf’s re-election as the president and on the restoration of the superior court judiciary to its pre-Nov 3 position, and many will share his opinion on these two issues, but nothing can justify any further postponement of the Feb 18 election. There can be little constitutional basis found for the removal from office of the president before the election unless, of course, Mr Musharraf himself wishes to step down and then let the law take its own course. As the latter does not seem to be a possibility, it is in the interest of all concerned to abide by the system for now howsoever flawed it may be seen to be. The Constitution lays out a procedure for impeaching a president, but that is a task that only the elected assemblies can undertake. Likewise, the formation of a national government is also the prerogative of an elected house. Any suggestion to do so at this time will be extra-constitutional — a temptation which must be resisted rather than advocated, because the country has suffered many an upheaval, not least in the recent past, on account of extra-constitutional measures being imposed from above.

That said, one could not agree more with Mr Sharif and the other opposition leaders that a question mark will continue to hang over the outcome of the election if it is held under the existing caretaker administration. It is for President Musharraf to see how much further erosion he wants of his own credibility as an honest umpire overseeing the electoral process; his is after all a controversial personality, seen more than just as taking sides. There is still time for inducting more neutral elements in the existing caretaker setup to allay the opposition’s fears of rigging. The same can be said about the election commission.

A military set-back

THE devastating nature of the Taliban assault on the Sararogha checkpost on Wednesday night must make us all sit up. Attacks on convoys and bunkers of the security forces, check posts and ‘forts’ have been taking place for over half a decade. But this attack stands out for several reasons: first, unlike most previous attacks that took the form of rocket fire or sneak assaults by small contingents, this was a frontal assault, and according to the government sources 200 militants were involved. Unofficial reports put their strength at 700. Second, the attack shows the complete failure of the army’s intelligence. The preparations for an attack of such strength should have taken a considerably long time, and a lot of spade work by the Taliban must have gone into it, including intelligence activity, before they could have launched their assault with such ferocity. Third, the Sararogha humiliation serves to underline the security forces’ operational inadequacies. The strength of the South Waziristan Scouts manning the fort was said to be inadequate — merely 38, including cooks, barbers and orderlies. They were caught by surprise because they had no inkling of what was coming. The battle lasted six hours, the enemy kept advancing and, despite desperate calls from the besieged garrison to the Ludda fort, calling for air support, it is reported that no helicopters came to their rescue.

The Taliban did a thorough job: they blew up the fort, killed 22 soldiers — the ISPR claims only seven FC militiamen lost their lives — took many prisoners and, according to the official version, lost 40 men. The Taliban’s own claim was that they suffered only two casualties. In keeping with the barbarity typical of them, the Taliban slaughtered some of the captured security personnel. The attack was led by Baitullah Mehsud, the man the government holds responsible for Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. However, the government has so far been unsuccessful in locating him, arresting him and putting an end to the atrocities he has been perpetuating.

The various Taliban factions have united into a new Tehrik-i-Taliban and are operating with renewed vigour. The situation on the government side seems to be characterised by stagnation. Unless Islamabad adopts a new political approach to the Fata insurgency, there is little possibility that peace will return to Waziristan. Incidentally, given the intelligence disaster that Sararogha was, one wishes the intelligence agencies paid more attention to their professional duties than to spying on politicians and judges.

Has organ trade been halted?

THE SIUT’s reservations about the Human Organ Transplantation Authority’s (HOTA) inspection teams should alert the government that all is not well with the implementation of the recently adopted transplantation ordinance. HOTA, which was set up under this ordinance in September, has granted interim recognition to 30 health institutions. It is now in the process of carrying out physical inspections of these hospitals. But the composition of HOTA and the inspection teams is becoming a contentious issue given the fact that some hospitals which had earned a bad name for alleged unethical practices have been given recognition and the surgeons involved in the commercial transplantation activity have been associated with HOTA. This will defeat the very purpose of the Human Organs and Tissues Transplantation Ordinance, which came after a long struggle by urologists to halt the flourishing organ trade in the country.

The government’s failure to ensure the timely implementation of the law — that was promulgated four months ago — has allowed the illegal organ trade to continue, albeit on a smaller scale. True, foreigners, the main beneficiaries, are no longer known to be coming to Pakistan to have a kidney transplanted and hopefully the country shall be able to shed the hideous reputation it had acquired for transplant tourism. But the same cannot be said about the abhorrent trade in human organs. It has not ceased altogether. Since it thrives on exploiting hapless, poor and sometimes unsuspecting donors, cases of sale of organs for transplantation in local patients are not unheard of. In this context, the integrity and credibility of the national authority set up under the ordinance acquires great importance. To root out this evil, it is important that the reputation of members of the inspection teams that have been set up should be such that they inspire confidence in the transparency of the process.

Hussain’s great sacrifice

By S.G. Jilanee

THE martyrdom of Imam Husain was a great sacrifice in every sense of the word. Here was a true servant of Allah laying down not only his own life but also sacrificing his closest relations and friends in the way of God. This was the true rendering of “great sacrifice” (zibh-i-Azeem) with which Allah had ‘ransomed’ Ismail (A.S), as mentioned in As-Saffat: 107.

Husain’s sacrifice was also most magnificent. Ibrahim (A.S.) was going to sacrifice only his one son to Allah. Hussain laid down not only his own life but also sacrificed 72 others. Among them were his two sons –– one of them just a six-month old –– his nephews, sons of his deceased brother Hasan and his sister Zainab besides his loyal followers.

Husain believed that “the Hereafter is better and everlasting.” (Al A’la: 17). Yezid’s goal was the pleasures of life in this world –– power and pelf and grandeur. But life here is a sojourn. The immortal soul is given a body for a certain period of time. When the time allowed is over, it casts off the body and returns to its Creator. Husain had learnt this Divine Message on the knees of Allah’s Messenger, at first hand.

He had learnt that those slain in the way of Allah are not ‘dead’ but just invisible to human eye. ‘They are living and continue to receive provision from their Lord.’ (Al Baqarah: 154; Al-i-‘Imran: 169) Husain’s focus was therefore on the Hereafter. Therefore, he died to live forever; Yezid lived to die and perish. Husain is remembered, Yezid is forgotten; Husain’s shrine is visited by millions of devotees, Yezid’s grave nobody knows or cares to know.

The gory incident was the consequence of Husain’s refusal to accept Yezid as a Caliph. But there was no way he could do that, because Yezid’s character and conduct being in the sharpest contrast to the examples set by the first four “well guided Caliphs” (Khulafa-i-Rashedeen) did not qualify him for that august office of Caliph of Islam. His only qualification was that he was Mu’awiyah’s son.

Judging by today’s standards Husain’s approach was truly democratic. His father, Ali, before him had the same approach. Thrice after the demise of the Prophet (S.A.W.) he was sidelined, despite having a very strong claim to succession. But he submitted to the “will of the people” and reconciled to the situation instead of crying ‘foul’ and starting an agitation. Even when he accepted to become Caliph, it was under pressure of “public demand.”

Husain had also the moral duty to lead the Ummah. So, when letters began pouring in from the people of Iraq, beseeching him to take charge of the flock, Husain, the son of the fearless Ali and grandson of the Prophet, could not disappoint them.

In a letter to Muhammad bin Al-Hanifiah, he explained himself thus:

“...I did not revolt for the cause of evil, tyranny or corruption, but to reform my grandfather’s Ummah. I want to enjoin the good and denounce the evil, and take the course of my father and grandfather.”

Imam Husain, like his father, tried to take all practicable means to avoid spilling Muslim blood. In the Battle of Siffin, when Mu’awiyah’s troops raised the Quran on their lances, Ali at once ordered his troops to sheath their swords, instead of pushing his advantage in the battle to victory. The purpose was to demonstrate the absolute sanctity of the Holy Book to the Ummah.

Similarly Husain took every measure to avoid bloodshed. He even offered to go into ‘exile’ because the pomp of Caliphate was not his ambition. He would have raised an army instead of travelling with his entire family. Husain’s only condition was that he would not pledge fealty to Yezid. But Yezid demanded it in order to legitimise his appointment.

It was Yezid who in his arrogance forced the confrontation on Husain. Even if he had stayed on in Medina or Makkah, Yezid would not let him sit at rest. He had decided to send an army under Amr bin Saad, to force Husain to offer bai’at to Yezid or kill him. But any fighting in Makkah would violate the sanctity of the city. On the other hand there was the invitation from the Kufians. That was why he decided to proceed to Kufa.

Recalling what happened at Karbala breaks our heart, even today. The horrors and the barbaric brutalities visited on the Imam and his entourage will remain unparalleled in the history of mankind. From the seventh of Muharram Yezid’s forces stood guard on the bank of the Euphrates to prevent even a drop of water reaching Husain’s camp.

When Abbas tried to force his way to the river, both his arms were severed and his chest pierced with a lance. Even when Husain carried his baby child in his arms and pleaded with them for a little water on the ground that the quarrel, if any, was with him, but the child was innocent, his appeal was greeted with an arrow that pierced Ali Asghar’s throat.

One by one all the males were slain. Husain was the last. The bodies were trampled under horses’ hoofs. And their severed heads displayed at the point of a lance were taken to Damascus with his survivors, his sick son Zainul Abedeen and the womenfolk, in chains.

Another crucial factor that prompted Husain’s decision to confront Yezid was perhaps the realisation that his martyrdom was the only way to arrest the drift that had overtaken the Ummah and revive Islam in its pristine form. Muslims, who had been taught to fear none but Allah, were now cowering for fear of death. The conquests and the resultant booties had demoralised the Muslims. He had noticed the trend when some dignitaries had tried to dissuade him from embarking on the journey to Kufa.

The fear factor was what made the Kufians break all their pledges, promises and oaths, once they were subjected to the wave of terror unleashed by Ibn Ziyad. They feared Governor Ibn Ziyad more than they feared God.

From what he observed around him, Husain had come to the conclusion that the Ummah needed a great shock to shed its torpor and there could be none greater than his own martyrdom ,which also gave meaning to the Prophet’s saying that his martyrdom perpetuated the Message that the Prophet had preached and immortalised his memory.

OTHER VOICES - Sri Lankan Press

Government’s predicament pitiable

WITH the demise and burial of the much-maligned Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of 2002 and the expected intensification of terrorist attacks, a meaningful, efficient and effective system to ensure public safety and security has become essential. Not that they were less important before, but the need for such a system has increased several folds today.

The list of tragic events of the new year that opened on the first day itself with the killing of UNP’s T. Maheswaran continues to grow…

This shows that the plague of bomb blasts is fast spreading to all corners of the country. Special care, however, has to be taken to ensure security in the Colombo City in view of its vulnerability.

The action taken by the police to activate Community Police Officers Committees (CPOC) is, in the present context, appropriate.

The CPOC system…was launched some time ago, but the effectiveness of this and other systems introduced to counter terrorist attacks and crime…left much to be desired. True, there was a period during which guns and bombs were silent either because of these arrangements or in spite of them.

However, the ineffectiveness of these arrangements became evident after the escalation of the conflict.

So now the reasons for past failures have to be found out and corrective action has to be taken to streamline all security systems. Among the shortcomings in the CPOC system were the failure to get the correct type of persons involved in the system, fear of reprisals…and the suspected nexus that some police officers had with criminal elements…

It is futile, however, to imagine that these arrangements alone will succeed in removing fear…and bringing about a peaceful environment in the country. Terrorists will make every effort to carry out their foul deeds with a view to destabilising the country so long as the present conflict remains unconcluded either by all out war or through peaceful negotiations. — (Jan 17)

Rule of the blind

TO cover up their impotence, scapegoats are being searched for. It should be recalled that even before the CFA came into force the LTTE ran riot when it so pleased them and the targets they hit before the CFA are too many and too well known to be recalled in these comments.

The tragedy is that while the country bleeds, the tin pot dictators of Sri Lanka are busy playing politics merely to cling to power at any cost as evident from statements made by President Rajapakse to the APRC members last Thursday…

It is in this very context that an attempt is being made to project the orders made by the supreme court, following appeals made by citizens for the protection of their fundamental rights, as the cause for the upsurge in violence. It is always a third party’s fault and not that of the government…

Indeed, the irate public found road barriers most annoying not only for the inconvenience caused but for the apparently stupid ways deployed to determine whether a person was a terrorist or not. Members of minority communities particularly found these checks on highways harrowing.

The feeling was that those who are indeed terrorists would not risk passing through check points but would find alternate ways to enter areas of their choice or to transport goods and that probably is why the chief justice in open court said what we have today is a blind administration. — (Jan 13)

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2008



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