A dangerous game

DOES Chaudhry Shujaat realise what a dangerous game he is playing? He and several PML personalities have met Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid fame and there are reports that the hard-line cleric is to be released. Whether or not he is guilty of any crime is to be decided by the court. But there are cases against him relating to his involvement in the Lal Masjid insurgency last summer. The ‘deeds’ of the brainwashed commandos wearing polka dotted kaffiyehs and led by him and his dead brother, Ghazi Abdul Rashid, have included arson, murder, kidnapping (including those of some Chinese nationals), illegal use of firearms, etc. Only a court can release him if it acquits him of the charges. Maulana Fazlur Rahman, too, visited him, and one of Abdul Aziz’s relations told a press conference that his family expected him to be released. On the eve of the general election?

Even though a ‘neutral’ caretaker government is in power, Chaudhry Shujaat heads what for all practical purposes is still the ruling party. Is he going to get Abdul Aziz out only to get some more votes? Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s voters will, of course, vote for the JUI-F, but the PML chief is seriously mistaken if he thinks the supporters of the MMA’s boycott group or those with a Taliban mindset will choose to vote for a party that, for good or bad, ordered the crackdown on the Taliban’s citadel and killed Ghazi Abdul Rashid. We know how the government made a political blunder by reopening the Red Mosque after renovating it. This gesture did not win it any laurels; instead, all that the government action did was to let the mosque re-emerge as the militants’ focus of attention. The moment he is released, the first thing Abdul Aziz will do is to visit the Lal Masjid, and once again it will become a shrine, a military headquarters and a madressah all rolled into one. More dangerously, his presence has the potential to re-ignite the rebellion with consequences that will not remain confined to Islamabad. The rebels in Fata and Swat, too, will consider this as their victory, and they may be emboldened into doing whatever they are doing at present with greater ruthlessness and ferocity in which civilian lives are of little value.

One can understand the panic in the PML-Q ranks because of all that has happened over the last few months, including the return and assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The only option Chaudhry Shujaat and his acolytes have is to tackle the PPP and the PML-N politically, fight a clean election, and accept its results. Freeing Maulana Abdul Aziz may perhaps — perhaps — give his party some votes, but one doubts if those votes will be in numbers that will swing the election results in the PML-Q’s favour. The consequences of Maulana Abdul Aziz’s release, if it is not the result of due process, will be disastrous for Pakistan.

Missing Pakistani envoy

CONFUSION surrounds the disappearance of the Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan who was en route to Kabul from Peshawar when he was presumably kidnapped on Monday morning. The Pakistani Taliban have denied a hand in the possible abduction of envoy Tariq Azizuddin. And one does not know how far to believe reports that some militants are claiming responsibility and demanding the release of Taliban commander Mansoor Dadullah, who was nabbed by security forces on the same day, in exchange for Mr Azizuddin’s freedom. Meanwhile, there is no dearth of criminals who kidnap ordinary people for ransom in the area. But conjecture apart, what the incident also indicates is the high level of insecurity that prevails in this region dominated by militancy. Mr Azizuddin’s reported habit of often travelling without official escort does not seem to have helped matters, although there is the argument that one is rendered more conspicuous by such security.

Such high-profile abductions also demonstrate the fast deteriorating writ of the state, which is clearly losing out to the militants in the north, despite fortified security in the area. This is borne out by the other event on Monday when two employees of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission were abducted near Dera Ismail Khan. Prior to that, two Pakistani Red Cross workers went missing in the border area. In such a frightening situation, solutions are hard to come by, especially when the state seems to be blundering on all fronts. Better security and communications is a partial remedy, but implementing it can be tough in view of the Taliban’s strength and the alienation of the local population. One hopes that attempts will be stepped up to trace and recover the abducted persons. Sterner action against militancy is called for while the state must also seek to win local support. Unless this is done, both ordinary and militancy-influenced criminality will continue to increase.

Food out of reach

PAKISTAN, just like the rest of the world, is facing the most severe food price inflation in its history. The January food prices soared to above 18 per cent — the highest ever monthly increase — from over 14 per cent in October. Higher food price inflation meant that the poor, vulnerable and low-income groups, who make up almost two-thirds of the population, had to either cut their non-food expense to make room for spiking food budgets or consumed lesser calories than required. For the government it meant a huge setback in its fight against poverty. Global food inflation was the consequence of surging commodity prices as food and energy economies converged owing to the increasing use of grains for ethanol fuel production. In Pakistan, food prices were pushed in recent months by a mix of domestic supply side constraints, market abuse and global commodity price pressures. The price of flour, our staple food, more than doubled from May due to acute wheat shortages while edible oil has jumped by around 100 per cent in one year on the back of the escalating global palm oil market. On top of that, millions of people found their medical expenses go up last month. They had less to eat and even lesser stamina to fight disease.

The policymakers miserably failed to curb food prices no matter what they did. A tight monetary policy didn’t help much. Domestic oil prices remained unchanged since January 2007, despite a 76 per cent increase in the global crude market, forcing the government to borrow heavily to finance its budget and defeating the purpose of the tight monetary stance adopted by the central bank to contain core inflation. Just below 20 per cent expansion in money supply, including substantial fiscal expansion, until last month had generated additional demand pressures and pushed up food and non-food prices. The situation demands that the economic managers re-think their strategy to fight food inflation. In the short run, they should take measures to prevent sudden jumps in prices due to artificial or real shortages, subsidise, as in the case of wheat, imported food like raw materials for edible oils, and abolish or scale down taxes on such essential items. In the long run, it must remove supply side constraints to check artificial shortages and support agriculture to boost food output. At the same time, the poor to low-income people should be shielded from the harsh effects of rising food prices now, by expanding the network of utility stores and making the ration card scheme that has been launched recently effective.

The weighty issues

By Dr Mubashir Hasan

THE people of Pakistan generally perceive the military to be the ruler of Pakistan. The perception is only partially true (Dawn, Jan 15). Nonetheless, this perception damages the image of the armed forces.

We hate our police and do not come to its help as civilised people do. We do not believe that our courts dispense justice and we shirk from appearing before them. We are landed with a huge gap of trust between the people and the apparatus of the state.

The elections are due on Feb 18. The government that comes into power will not be different from the government it replaces as it will also be imposing its rule with the help of the police and magistrates protected by the Rangers and the army.

So, what happens after the elections is a source of worry for all serious-minded and patriotic Pakistanis. Given the present alarming social economic, political and security situation in Pakistan, no government of Pakistan, sworn in after the elections with the aim of restoring the status quo ante, has the prospect of offering stability to the state and security to the citizens.

The infrastructure of governance of the last 60 years has manifestly failed. It is not capable of protecting the lives, property and honour of citizens. It does not dispense justice or provide equitability in the distribution of wealth. Our infrastructure has gone from bad to worse to catastrophic.

We need a brand new structure of governance.

The most vital issues to form the basis of a new infrastructure of governance are:

National independence: Pakistanis cannot call themselves free citizens of Pakistan unless Sindhis, the Baloch, Pathans and Punjabis consider themselves to be free within their provincial domains. The heavy-handed rule of Islamabad has to give way to the power of a federal unity of all the provinces. And that is not all. Our status as a sovereign country is also under a cloud.

While it may be only partially true, the widespread perception among the people here and abroad that Pakistan is a client state and its ruling elites are a client elite of the United States has vastly demoralised them. They believe that the US runs the state of Pakistan. They cannot take any pride in their country; indeed, they feel ashamed.

In Federal and Sovereign (1985), Eqbal Ahmad lays down the basic governing principles of politics among nations: “First, sovereign nations have neither permanent enemies nor permanent friends. They only have permanent interests, namely, safeguarding of national sovereignty, territorial integrity, economic prosperity and welfare of the people.”

Second, “…more important than technical ‘military balance’ are a country’s international standing, the reliability of its allies, the certitude of its supplies, the morale and professionalism of its defence forces, the commitment and mobilisation of its populace, and the strength of its economy.”

Third, “...A government for whom the trust and support of its populace is not evident cannot command respect and legitimacy at the international level, nor can it mobilise the morale and dedication of its fighters and citizens.”

“Fourth, self-reliance and civilian rule are two basic requirements of effective national defence…”

Aspirations of the people to govern themselves

Freedom: Unless citizens do not superintend their police and dispense justice among themselves, as they do in civilised nations, they are not free or liberated citizens. They remain oppressed and exploited through a bureaucratic set-up working for someone beyond them. They have no interest in increasing production and in being creative. A nation of the oppressed becomes an oppressed nation.

The people want to be in charge of the machinery of governance at the level of the village, cluster of villages, town, city and district, provincial and at the federal level. Only then, can they be said to be at the helm of the ship of state.

To be free citizens of an independent state, a people want their own police to police them and their own courts for all criminal cases in their jurisdiction. All citizens should have an obligation to serve on juries. The cases should come up before a jury acceptable to the defence and prosecution. The people should be dispensing justice to themselves.

Autonomy: Today, Sindh, Balochistan and the Frontier perceive themselves to be ruled by Punjab. The basis of this perception needs to be rooted out. Ethnic groups, nations and nationalities in Pakistan have to work out once again, as in 1973, what powers and means they would like to entrust to the federal government in Islamabad. A new compact needs to be negotiated.

What is not entrusted to the federal government should be in the domain of the provinces; the provinces should further negotiate compacts among themselves for sharing what is commonly owned between them.

Devolution of power: To prevent the polity from plunging from the frying pan of the federal government’s oppression into the fire of the provincial government’s oppression, political, social and economic power should be devolved to the district, city, town, cluster of villages and the village level on the principle that what can be decided and implemented at a lower level should not be entrusted to a higher level of governance.

Economy: The market economy such as the one imposed on Pakistan has proved to be disastrous for Third World economies all over the world. Making the rich super rich and the poor abjectly poor, it has resulted in the tremendous outflow of capital from the country. During the last six months, Pakistan exported profits of foreign firms amounting to more than $500m, including $191m by foreign electrical power companies.

The public sector needs to be revived in areas such as electricity and other forms of energy, communications, municipal water supplies, housing for the poor, heavy chemicals and banking. The public sector should compete with the private sector.

In an agreed resolution of these vital issues which have plagued the social contract between the state and the people for the last six decades, giving rise to all kinds of ills, lies the key to ending the era of dictatorship regimes, to meeting the aspirations of the people to govern themselves and above all to making Pakistan an independent and sovereign nation.


OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press

Preserve beauty

Oman Tribune

OMAN has been blessed with immense natural wealth that includes its mountain ranges, and, therefore, it is important that they be protected from environmental degradation... It is also important to remember that Oman takes pride in its natural wealth and if steps are suggested on how to strike a balance between development targets and conservation of this wealth, then these should be implemented without delay.

Muscat, it has been pointed out, is surrounded by hills on three sides that are an extension of the Hajar Mountain Range that shape the bays and act as excellent storm shelters, especially for ships. It is the rapid construction of buildings in these mountain ranges that is a cause for worry… It has been pointed out that storms are normal as a natural phenomenon, and till now the mountains have been braving them, but in the event of large-scale construction it will be the buildings that would have to face the fury of the storms of the future.

Moreover, the removal of hills may escalate coastal erosion leading to a rise in the sediment load entering the shelf. It has been pointed out that the movement of excess sediment load will smother coral reefs, and marine biodiversity will be affected and that would have a knock-on effect on food webs and productivity…

The… mountain degradation… may result in… unwarranted flooding because in the natural course such water volumes would normally flow into the sea. That is why it is important that the issue of the conservation of the mountains should be given high priority.

It is significant that the Centre for Environmental Studies and Research at the Sultan Qaboos University was awarded His Majesty’s Strategic Research Grant in 2004 to conduct a multidisciplinary research on the subject… It is time to develop on this research and implement the findings to preserve the natural heritage of the Sultanate… — (Feb 12)

Bomb not bullet makes little difference

The Saudi Gazette

INVESTIGATORS from Scotland Yard have delivered their report on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and their conclusion is the same as that of the Musharraf government: Bhutto died as a result of a suicide bomb blast, not a gunshot wound to the head, as her supporters claim…

Bhutto’s party, the PPP, has outright rejected Scotland Yard’s take on the murder. Certainly, the truth about a murder of any sort…must be found out, but the implications of rejecting the death-by-bomb conclusion are not at all clear.

Bhutto was assassinated. It was no accident. There was a man in the crowd with a gun, and that same man, apparently, was a suicide bomber, as well. What possible difference does it make if she died because the bomb blast forced her to hit her head so violently against something in the vehicle she was riding in or if she was shot in the head before the explosion?

PPP spokesperson Sherry Rehman complained that Scotland Yard’s investigation was limited to finding the cause of death, but one wonders what else could be expected of a foreign police force.

Clearly, there are more important questions that should be answered. Specifically, how did someone carrying a gun and wrapped in explosives get so close to Bhutto? Was it a simple security breach? And did Bhutto ignore warnings that she was being targeted by terror groups?

Pakistani opposition members have pointed their finger at the Musharraf government. The government has steadfastly denied any involvement or prior knowledge of any specific attack on the former prime minister although it claims to have warned her of an imminent threat to her life. No one has said anything about the cause of her death providing any information as to who was behind it…

Whether it was a bullet or a bomb seems, at this point, to make little difference… — (Feb 9)

© DAWN Media Group , 2008


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