Ground zero: Fata

FATA is emerging as a ground zero as mixed signals come from Washington and Islamabad on the NWFP government’s initiative to strike peace deals with the militants. The US has been wary of such accords because of their history; militants have used the agreements signed with the military in recent years to bide time, regroup and continue their terrorist activities, of which Pakistan too has borne the brunt of late. The argument advanced by the Frontier government that the proposed peace deals will succeed this time round because they are being underwritten by an elected government as opposed to the earlier agreements signed with the military, and which were not backed by public mandate, can only be sustained if all concerned are on board. This is hardly the case. Washington and Kabul aside, even Islamabad has not extended its unconditional support to the Frontier government’s engagement with the militants. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has been heard on occasion parroting the line the Americans want to hear: no compromise with the militants. Thus, mystery surrounds the issue: the ANP-led government is talking to the militants; the PPP does not have a clear stance on the matter; the US and Nato keep carrying out bombing raids on Taliban/Al Qaeda targets inside Fata; and Kabul has been assailing what it calls Pakistan’s policy of ‘appeasing the Taliban’.

Where does one go from here? It is clear that to make any sense of the confusing agendas being pursued by the various players involved, a comprehensive policy will have to be devised by the PPP-led government so as to have one voice for Pakistan in dealing with the issue. It is equally important, then, to put that policy on the table and discuss it with the global allies in the war against terrorism. It will be simplistic on the part of the Frontier government to assume that it can strike peace deals with the militants to keep its house in order. Recent attacks in Frontier towns and villages say otherwise. If such subversive activities continue to take place in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, and if American strikes continue in Fata, even as talks are being held with the militants, any accord(s) signed with the militants will be doomed to failure.

The ball is clearly in the PPP’s court. This time round, it would do better to evolve its policy on Fata based on consultations with the ANP, the JUI-F and even the PML-N. One says this because Prime Minister Gilani’s announcement, soon after he took oath of office, hurriedly annulling the Frontier Crimes Regulation was objected to by both the ANP and the JUI-F — two major stakeholders in the Frontier. The need is to activate the parliamentary committee mechanism to deal with such issues rather than wait for individual party leaders to give their assent or dissent on important national matters. Let democracy work where autocratic measures have failed to deliver the goods.

No end to the moral brigade

A SPECTACLE of death: a tribal elder is gunned down while hundreds watch in the Landi Kotal area on Tuesday. This is not the first time such a gruesome incident has taken place but it has nevertheless shocked one and all. The militant group Lashkar-i-Islam had kidnapped the victim, Maulana Mastamin, and passed a ‘death sentence’ alleging that he was an agent of the United States and involved in the killing of many during clashes with the Ansarul Islam in Tirah. It has become common for the extremists to incessantly foist their views on the rest of the population. This is a dichotomy, for the people of the NWFP by electing secular parties like the ANP and the PPP have given an unequivocal indication of their disapproval of the imposition of extreme religious views. The popular mandate for liberal values notwithstanding, certain retrogressive forces are still at work seeking to ‘revolutionise’ society on their own terms. These forces not only punish those who they deem to be disloyal to the faith but in fact want to impose their radical brand of Islam, so that the way of life of the people is synchronised with their extreme beliefs. Another recent endeavour to transform the NWFP into a bastion of obscurantism was when a newly formed moral brigade — a so-called ulema committee — burnt television sets, record players, cassettes and CDs. These actions implore the question: who put them in charge?

Meanwhile, the brutality of the murder deserves condemnation. It is reminiscent of the era of the advent of Talibanisation in Afghanistan. It is disturbing though not unpredictable that these practices have spread to our side of the Durand Line where people are being desensitised to blood and gore. The fact is that the extremists have no authority vested in them to pass death sentences or burn entertainment goods. The extremists were not implementing any law — surely, no such laws exist — but were exerting control by force and challenging democracy. There is, of course, no place for such actions in a democratic set-up, where the will of the majority reigns supreme rather than the strictures of a small minority. The government must establish the writ of the state and prevent extremists from taking the law into their own hands. If this is not done, they will interpret the government’s failure to act as its weakness. In order to maintain stability, it must prevent the violation of fundamental rights and denial of freedom by any group. Furthermore, it has to ensure that the rule of law prevails while dictatorial proclamations by those who wish to establish a state within a state are cast out.

Condemned to die of neglect

A ZOO is not the same as the wild. Even when zoo animals get living conditions as closely resembling their natural habitats as can be made possible by their human keepers, some things will always remain amiss. For one, proximity to human beings, purported to be the primary function of every zoo, exposes animals to the dangers this closeness can visit upon them. Consider water supplies contaminated by sewage and industrial effluent, the hazards of indiscriminate use of fertilisers and pesticides, and the dangers posed by the ubiquitous polythene shopping bags. Add to it a conspicuous lack of veterinary care and what you get is a picture of a zoo in Lahore, or for that matter anywhere in Pakistan.

So the news report that at least 58 animals died in a city zoo recently has hardly raised any eyebrows. The number may be exaggerated, as some zoo officials have claimed. But denying an inflated death toll is one thing and claiming that all is well at the zoo quite another. Even these officials are reported to have admitted that the animals are putting up with physical conditions far from ideal. Most of the water pumps at the zoo are not working, animal feed is either inadequate or substandard and no qualified veterinarian is available to treat ailing animals. The fact that the victims of this maltreatment cannot even complain makes their plight all the more miserable. Unless they get what they urgently need — suitable living environs — to make their lives bearable, they will keep dying in silence. The zoo keepers need to realise that the place under their charge is as much about animals as it is about human beings. An unkempt zoo is not only dangerous for its wild inhabitants, it is also uninviting for its human visitors. Who wants to visit a zoo inhabited by a few ill-kept animals?

OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press

Treat Pakistan fairly

Khaleej Times

US AUTHORITIES have acted unwisely by carrying out an unauthorised missile strike inside Pakistani territory at a suspected pro-Taliban leader’s place. Islamabad has reacted in the right manner by protesting the 14 deaths, mostly innocent civilians, ‘in the strongest possible manner’.

The matter of US violation of Pakistan’s land and air space is not new. It has remained a controversial issue throughout the war on terror owing to militant movement across the porous border that is impossible to man or monitor. All throughout, the understanding has been that any actionable intelligence regarding elements inside Pakistan would be relayed to Islamabad, which would take action on its own. Yet the agreement has not deterred Washington from going off the reservation, time and again.

The latest violation comes at a particularly critical time for Pakistan. Increased terrorist activity in the run-up to the February elections forced the new government into a more flexible approach with regard to terrorism….

The give-and-take is meant to halt suicide bombs and … reduce risk to the federation….

Already, as President Musharraf has often implied, Pakistan has incurred the most damage from being party to the war on terror, especially since it has no direct stake in it.

While other coalition partners have flinched time and again, Pakistan has no doubt been the most steadfast, determined to see the fight through.

However, Washington does both itself and Islamabad great harm by violating a very crucial agreement, angering the country it should be most grateful to. — (May 19)

Just a mirage?

Jordan Times

US PRESIDENT George Bush still insists that his vision of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem will materialise before the end of his term in office….

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also hinted that progress has been made during his peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, without actually mentioning what that progress is all about.

At the same time, Olmert and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak have been busy threatening Gaza, suggesting that a major invasion of the Strip was imminent.

Amidst all these conflicting signals, the Palestinians are at a loss as to where they truly stand.

If Bush’s speech before the Israeli Knesset … is anything to go by, he is not about to use his remaining months at the White House to exert pressure on Israel.

The tone of his voice was anything but sympathetic to the Palestinian cause…

Is it sheer coincidence that charges of corruption are being levelled at the Israeli prime minister at a time when peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians seem to go on in earnest?

It is not far-fetched to say that the accusation of corruption against Olmert is meant to disrupt the ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians and effectively put them, again, in deep freeze.

This would be a convenient way to abort whatever progress has been made.

Unfortunately, there are too many ifs and buts, too many unsolved issues, on the Palestinian front not to look at Bush’s vision of a two-state solution as just a mirage. — (May 20)

Feudalism or jagirdari?

By Mubarak Ali

OUR society is not a monolith but a mixture of various cultures and systems with different traditions and values. There is tribalism in the NWFP and Balochistan while in central Punjab there are landholdings and the burgeoning towns of small industry.

At the same time, strong centres of the jagirdari system exist in southern Punjab and in Sindh.Some of the big and powerful landlords have acquired spiritual as well as social and political clout in their areas by virtue of their saintly lineage. These landlords, in spite of living in an age of mechanisation and technological development, are keeping their relations with the peasants strictly based on old traditions. This class of present landlords is the product of the colonial era and continues to exist in spite of the challenges of modern life.

Against this backdrop, we should not confuse the term ‘feudalism’ with our jagirdari system. Feudalism as an institution developed in Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire in conditions that were quite different from those of today. When the central power of the Roman emperors disintegrated, the cities became barren and trade routes unsafe. This resulted in the emergence of small feudal units independent of the sovereign power. Feudal lords had total control over their peasants. In the absence of any centralised power, the lords acquired judicial and political authority to administer their units. They also assumed the role of defenders and protectors.Though the Carolingian and Merovingian empires attempted to crush the power of the feudals, they failed because these empires themselves were on the decline. Feudal lords continued to challenge the absolute power of monarchs and enjoyed independence on their estates.

In 1215, they forced King John, the ruler of England, to sign the Magna Carta which delegated the right of levying taxes to parliament. One of the features of English history is the continuous conflict between the king and parliament which was dominated by lords.

To keep the feudal estate from fragmenting as a result of inheritance, the law of primogeniture was enforced. According to this law, the elder son inherited the estate and the other children were forced to seek jobs either in the army or in church or to make efforts to acquire properties through their own resources.

The feudal institution declined in Europe in different ways. In England, the Industrial Revolution gradually transformed society from feudal to industrial. In France, after the 1789 revolution, the national assembly passed an act to abolish feudalism. In Prussia, the government ended feudalism when it realised that the role of the Junker class in society was diminishing. It relegated the responsibility of collecting revenues to its subordinates who were also entrusted with the task of maintaining law and order.

A change occurred in India during the Sultanate period when landed property was assigned to military officers in lieu of salary. In return, they were obliged to supply cannon fodder to the ruler in case of military campaigns. This system was known as iqta which was first implemented by the Buwahids in Baghdad. The holders of landed property were known as iqtadars.

The term jagir was introduced in India in the 16th century and continued to be used by the Mughals.The Mughal mansabdars were assigned jagirs in exchange for cash payments. There was no concept of private property. A mansabdar was transferred from one place to another quite frequently.

That is why Bernier, the French traveller who visited India during Shah Jehan’s rule, criticised the jagirdars for not taking care of the peasants’ welfare or increasing agricultural output. Their main concern was to extract as much revenue as possible during their tenures. In the later Mughal period, there was a crisis in the jagirdari system which led to the decline of the Mughal Empire.

When the British established their power in India, they found European feudalism to be different from Indian jagirdari. To them private property was sacrosanct and important for agricultural production and political stability. Hence, after 1857, they arrived at the conclusion that a class of landlords was essential to serve as collaborators to help the government control the masses and stabilise its rule.

They strengthened those landlords who supported them during the uprising and created new ones who promised to be loyal to them. To strengthen this system the British government started allotting land to army officers after their retirement in recognition of their services, thus creating a new class which was loyal to the Raj.

The British government declared the jagir as private property. To protect it, the Alienation Act of 1900 was passed in Punjab disallowing the purchase of rural property by urban residents. The system of ‘court of ward’ was established to manage the administration of the estate. Those estates which were mismanaged were reformed by the colonial officials.

Educational institutions such as Aitchison College (Lahore), Mayo College (Ajmer) and Talluqdar College (Awadh) were created for the modern education of future generations of the landlords. Throughout the colonial period the jagirdar class remained loyal to the government and helped it in times of political crisis.

During the First and Second World Wars it also recruited soldiers for the British army. Till the end of colonial rule, the jagirdars opposed any movement for independence and favoured continuity of the Raj. It was only when independence became unavoidable that the landlords of Punjab and Sindh joined the Muslim League in order to protect their privileges and properties. This strategy paid them handsome dividends, as we all know.

The current jagirdars of Pakistan belong to the class which was created and nurtured by the British for their advantage. They have continued to dominate the country by monopolising political parties and by using democratic institutions for the perpetuation of their jagirdari system.

Whenever martial law was imposed in Pakistan — and that happened frequently — they readily played an active role as the generals’ surrogates. In rural Sindh and southern Punjab, their havelis, armies of toughs and packs of dogs symbolise their power. They continue treating their peasants as slaves and even have private jails to punish those who dare to disobey them. They hold their private courts to decide cases on the basis of their own brand of justice and remain beyond the reach of the law of the land. As the political and financial position of the jagirdars remains strong, local administrations are totally subserviant to them.

If any change has come about in this situation, its pace has been painfully slow and hardly perceptible, making it difficult for historians to determine with precision whether the jagirdari system has ended in our country, if at all.

At a loss for words!

By Salman Rashid

IN Among the Believers, V.S. Naipaul wrote that the people of Tehran drove as they walked. That is, they meandered about on foot and when they got on four wheels they weaved this way and that with utter disregard for everyone else. Poor Naipaul. He hadn’t got to Pakistan yet.

And then he arrived in the Land of the Pure. So totally aghast was he at the endless circus that our roads are that he simply found no words to comment on the moving bedlam. And that is the great Naipaul, Sir Vidya, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. He was left at a loss for words; so what can we, far lesser mortals, hope to write about our driving? But I shall attempt to do so.

Now Naipaul visited back in the late 1970s when this was a country of less than half the current population and much more poverty, the greater poverty being because of Jimmy Carter not yet having offered us his famous peanuts for being a front-line state in the war against the godless Soviets. That was the time when the generals of the army were still almost ordinary people and the inimitable Mr Cowasjee could tell a son of a general, straight to the man’s face on a television show, that his father was a big-time two-bit thief. But that is a digression.

There is not a country in the world where roads do not exist and people do not drive about in cars. Not even Afghanistan! Someone once returned after a short visit to Tanzania and reported that no one honks in a traffic jam. Being a bit of a racist, I had always believed this abstinence from blowing the horn was some Anglo-Saxon sickness. But evidently the black people of Africa too were afflicted with it.

This person also said that drivers in Dar es Salaam slowed down or even stopped to permit pedestrians to cross the road. This was another one of those sicknesses that I had known only white people suffered from. But evidently these illnesses are widespread and only providence by some mysterious plan has preserved us from them. Moreover, all those sick people have nothing better to do than spend their lives on the streets, waiting for good-for-nothing vagrants to saunter past the tarmac.

Here in Pakistan, we drivers do two things. Every car owner or paid driver has a chest full of pet fleas at home. Yes, those tiny critters that you simply cannot crush between thumb and forefinger. Try it, as hard as you possibly can. Let go, and ‘pling’ the thing jumps off backward and disappears up your sleeve. They can only be killed by a road-roller (which all English-language newspaper reporters for some inexplicable reason always refer to as a ‘bulldozer’) or in an incinerator.

So, every morning each Pakistani driver, sticks his hand into his chest full of jumping fleas, takes a fistful, shoves it into his shirt and buttons up. Then he gets into the car, sticks his mobile phone to his ear and takes off. The fleas get to work, the phone rings and with one hand scratching away and the other shifting from waiting call to waiting call, the driver zooms and weaves through the traffic. I know for sure these people have fleas in their shirt because there is no way on earth one can drive the way they drive without these critters being where they are.

Moreover, look closely and you’ll find your man occasionally laughing away into the mouthpiece. I am certain he is comparing notes with his chums to see whose fleas cause the greatest itch. Indeed, the only time we ever show any signs of life is when we are behind the wheel: faces contorted with rage and a lack of concentration, hands working overtime managing the phone and the fleas. At all other times, especially when behind our respective desks, we are like a nation of cadavers.

That is how the car wallahs go. The motorcyclists are a breed apart. I have been around and I have seen people ride their motorcycles in so many different societies. But no one rides their mopeds like us Pakistanis. Although they too seem to have picked up the flea habit from the car-wallahs and set out duly equipped, moped riders, in addition, appear to have evolved over the past 20 years from mice. The Indian house mouse (Mus musculus) is, I suspect, their common ancestor.

This little, rather cute, creature can squeeze itself through the eye of a needle — if it tries hard enough, that is. And so too with the moped riders of Pakistan. A three-lane downtown street with cars nine abreast waiting for the light to turn amber so that they can start hooting their horns, leaves room just enough for Mus musculus on his 70cc to get through. He comes from behind, takes a 90-degree turn and sticks his front wheel in the few centimetres between your front bumper and the car ahead. Then he goes backwards and forward a few times and as you feel the nudge and know the new scratch on your bumper he is through.

He will then turn 90 degrees again and slide between the two cars in front where only the house mouse can pass. And if he thinks the traffic is too slow or if the fleas are getting a bit too fidgety, he will hoist his bike onto the median or the footpath and zoom along weaving through the multitudes of pedestrians.

Woe betide the driver whose side the moped rider dents. There is no way this one, or indeed anyone else in Pakistan, will ever admit they were wrong and say sorry. I have heard such precious ripostes as, ‘It’s not my fault you were parked so close to the other car with no room for anyone to get through!’

And then there are the wagon and bus drivers. Years ago, a dear friend was secretary transport in Lahore when the Punjab government was introducing a new air-conditioned city bus service. Khushnood asked what they would do with the 3,000 wagons and their drivers in Lahore. Not being a minimalist, my suggestion was cut-and-dried: make an almighty bonfire of the cursed wagons. As for the drivers, set them loose in the Changa Manga forest and invite German hunters to come shoot in the wild!

Khushnood condemned me for being negligent of human rights. Human rights are for human beings, I said. The case of the drivers could be referred to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The writer is the author of several travel books.


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