DAWN - Editorial; May 30, 2008

Published May 30, 2008

The soap opera

DOES it occur to our politicians that when they speak of hidden forces out to topple democracy they serve no one’s cause, not even their own? On Wednesday, Asif Ali Zardari repeated this warning; there was a slight difference, though. Talking to a segment of the People’s Lawyers Forum, the PPP co-chairman indirectly held some politicians responsible for the purported threat to democracy by saying street agitation against the elected government could snuff out democracy. PLF members later told Dawn they would not take part in any anti-government movement that could serve to undermine democracy. This was obviously a signal to the PML-N and the ‘pro-active’ lawyers that their proposed long march for the restoration of the judges would not get any support from the PPP and its lawyers’ wing. Why could they not be direct and frank without speaking of hidden forces and the possible threat of martial law?

More than three months after the Feb 18 vote, the national scene is murky. The ship of state appears rudderless, even though the PPP and PML-N and their allies enjoy a comfortable majority in the National Assembly. However, it is not a catastrophe if the two major parties differ on the modalities of how the judges should be restored. The differences on the issue were a challenge which the two parties could have sorted out without making a mess not only of the judges’ issue but also of the grand coalition they had created with such fanfare and hope. Perhaps a sensible statement on the issue from the Sharifs’ camp came the other day from Syed Zafar Ali Shah. The PML-N’s senior vice president said the restoration issue was not a simple matter and that Iftikhar Chaudhry’s warning to the PCO judges, if implemented, could have unpredictable consequences. He pleaded for behind-the-scenes negotiations to develop a consensus.

One wishes the politicians and the media realised the damage the bickering over the judges’ issue has done to the nation’s morale and the economy. The Karachi Stock Exchange, whose performance is a barometer of how the business community views the situation, dipped again on Wednesday. No relief package has yet been unveiled for the people’s benefit, reports about subsidies being withdrawn have added to the nation’s fears about a new bout of inflation, and the switch-over to the failed daylight time-advance is a laughable alternative to a pragmatic strategy to address the power crisis. Some sections of the print and electronic media have not helped matters by taking sides and opting for ‘activism’, rather than presenting balanced reports representing all shades of opinion. The two major parties of the moribund grand coalition should get down to working for the people’s betterment instead of giving the nation its daily dose of the political soap opera with full help from some eager channels.

A new start for Nepal

IF Nepal’s recently dethroned monarch Gyanendra is regretting the loss of his kingdom, he has only himself to blame for setting in motion a series of events that led to his fall. The abolition of the monarchy by a special assembly on Wednesday brought to an end over two centuries of often despotic Shah rule. The exit of the king was clearly the people’s choice as 560 delegates of the 601-member constituent assembly voted for him to go with only four against the move and the remaining parliamentarians not turning up at the session. It was the logical conclusion to the former monarch’s seven-year rule in which the country regressed politically, especially when he assumed direct powers in 2005. Nepal’s acquaintance with democracy had been brief till then. It was only in 1990 when King Birendra — Gyanendra’s brother who was killed along with many other royals in the 2001 palace massacre — lifted a 30-year ban on political parties making way for democracy in the country. Instead of taking the process forward, Gyanendra chose to abort it — until the large-scale people’s protests of April 2006 forced him to reinstate parliament paving the way for elections two years later.

But the road ahead will not be without pitfalls. The former rebel Maoists, who emerged as the largest party in parliament in last month’s polls, have yet to learn the ropes of democratic governance. Their political maturity remains a question of considerable debate. True, they agreed to give up their armed struggle, and joined forces with other political parties agitating for democratic change. However, their decade-long domination of the countryside as an insurgent force was characterised by violence, and conflict between the Maoists and Nepalese troops led to some 13,000 deaths. The Maoists, headed by the popularly called Prachanda, remain a terrorist force in Washington’s eyes, and many governments will be watching every move of theirs. Even in Nepal, there are many who have yet to be convinced of their democratic aspirations.

For the smooth working of democracy, then, it is imperative that the Maoists settle outstanding differences with other parties whose cooperation they will need to govern. Nepal has pressing socio-economic problems — it ranks 142nd on the UN’s human development index — and outdated ideologies should have no part in their resolution. Instead, the new rulers will have to assess the situation realistically and in consultation with others, before embarking on long-term reforms. They should refrain from taking any arbitrary measure as it is the path of democratic consensus that will lead Nepal out of the woods.

Child abuse in war zones

THEY are incessantly changing and are chaos-ridden, these war zones. The unrelenting mayhem that grips them puts them in a state of flux where nothing is certain or absolute. Their impact on human lives is far-reaching. Families are uprooted and people are thrown in disarray with children being socialised under abnormal conditions. Now we learn from Save the Children, a British NGO, that worse evils have followed. The prevalence of child sexual abuse has been found to be high. According to this NGO’s report, aid workers and peacekeepers — those who are expected to be providing succour — are sexually abusing young children in war and disaster zones and they have to a great extent gone unpunished. These children, deprived of the basic amenities of life, trade sex for items ranging from meagre amounts of food and money to mobile phones while rape is also a common occurrence.

The irony is that this abuse is coming from the peace-keepers of the United Nations which is a staunch advocate of children’s rights. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument which includes a full spectrum of rights for children. By signing this agreement, governments commit themselves to respect the rights of children. Thus it was incumbent on the UN to take stern action against the perpetrators of child abuse. It is, therefore, a matter of much relief that the world body is bringing to justice those who have been reported. This is important as it will not only deter prospective abusers but will also encourage the reporting of such incidents. Better reporting and monitoring mechanisms should be set in place. Regular checks by high-ups in the UN would also serve to pre-empt such evils. Undoubtedly, UN forces are expected to comprise men of integrity and courage who not only serve their countries but also the international community. The few who threaten to vitiate the image of the organisation deserve stern treatment.

OTHER VOICES - Pushto Press

American attacks on Fata to be condemned

Khabroona, Peshawar

FATA has been under the shadow of war since the US invaded Afghanistan. The people of Fata are faced with severe problems as are the people of Afghanistan. The continuous attacks by American forces on Fata are something to be condemned by any sovereign country in the world.

This is not the first time that American forces have attacked Damadola in Bajaur Agency. They have attacked several times before causing the death of many innocent civilians. The present government needs to take stock of the situation because the attack on Damadola is, in fact, an attack on the sovereignty of Pakistan. The government has to ensure the safety and security of its citizenry on a priority basis.

These types of attacks actually instill hatred in the people against the US government, and consequently, more and more people are attracted to the jihadist ideology. After the tragedy of Sept 11, hundreds of people in Afghanistan were killed by the American attacks. Not only this, the American forces continued with the cycle of death and destruction and started another war in Iraq. Now, it is Fata’s turn. Thousands of people in these regions have lost their lives since the US started attacking these regions. The trail of death and destruction continues.

It is high time that people in the tribal regions united against the adverse conditions that they find themselves in and blocked the way to more death and destruction by the Americans. The onus is on the UN to inquire from the American government about the attacks on the innocent people of Fata. The UN needs to protect the human rights of the people living in this part of the world if it wants to prove its neutrality. Many people around the globe have already started raising doubts regarding the role of the UN in this matter.

The present global scenario demands unity from the Muslims because without a concerted response from the Muslim world the present state of affairs cannot reach its natural conclusion. Muslims worldwide have to unite to respond to the excesses of the people who want to do harm to Muslims around the globe. This response might bring about a change in the behaviour of the people around the globe and usher in an era of peace and love among the people of the world at large. At the same time, Muslims around the globe will be saved from repression and suppression. Even the people of the US have condemned the atrocities of their government several times in the previous years because they probably do not agree with what the US government has been doing to Muslims and other countries in recent times. Until Muslims worldwide unite against this repression by the US government, the situation will continue to deteriorate and people around the globe will continue to suffer. — (May 24)

Meeting the challenge of sectarianism

By Atai Karim


THE Muslim world is facing many internal and external challenges. Sectarianism is one of them. Sectarianism may be characterised by dogmatism and inflexibility. In a narrow sense it denotes zeal for, or attachment to a particular sect.

Likewise, it connotes an excessively zealous and doctrinaire narrow-mindedness that would quickly judge and condemn those who disagree. However, in a broader sense, it refers to the historical process by which all the divisions in major world religions have come about.

In a general way, sectarianism is usually used as a pejorative term to describe division, intolerance and violence based on religion. Wherever religious sectarians compete, religious sectarianism is found in varying forms, like prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, malice, violence, and ill-will towards members of another sect. Sectarianism, in different forms, has been an issue among different Muslim sects and this practice has led the Muslims to disunity and weakness, intellectual and educational backwardness.

There are different types of sectarianism. It can appear in several, often inter-related forms, e.g. personal, cultural, institutional and structural. Sectarianism is also revealed in attitudes and behaviours, where one can easily observe the signs of hatred and prejudices. Sometimes, members of different sectarian groups take the form of name calling, titles or other forms of verbal abuse or discrimination. It can also take the form of physical violence.

Moreover, it is also most commonly observed through jokes and by using sectarian terms to describe the people. We find these examples in history, where different sects named each other with different names to look down upon them. Every sect has its own concept of others. All of us have our own religious ego and we tend to glorify our own faith in different forms, which encourages sectarianism.

Furthermore, disapproval of relationship and marriage, sectarian threat, harassment and discrimination in employment decisions has also been common forms of sectarianism. Within Islam there is scope for difference of opinion but unfortunately, in Muslim societies the difference of faith has crossed the boundary of tolerance and reached violence in terms of fanaticism and extremism. The violence and refutation of each other’s beliefs has become part of religious duty of different sects. Considering others infidel and ‘kafir’ is considered to be a favourable religious duty which enlarges the gap between different Muslim sects.

Sectarianism is known to have sparked religious violence throughout Muslim history. The main cause of it seems to be the attitude of exclusivity and fanaticism. According to Dr Riberio, inflexible attitudes, the claim of religious believers to an absolute and exclusive hold on truth, and the denial of the right of others to be different, are root causes of religious sectarianism.

Indeed, human beings have a tendency to exclude others and to see their own beliefs as right, and all others wrong. This tendency leads to violence and fighting in history. A question can arise here that why do people exclude others? One answer could be the religious rigidity, but another answer could be some personal material interests. There are many examples in history to show that most sectarian clashes and wars did not happen on religious basis, but also for material benefits, power and identity. So the development of sectarianism should be viewed religious as well as a political phenomenon.

Moreover, if we see the sectarianism in the Muslim context, it is clear that every sect considers others heretical sects, ‘kafir’ (infidel) and dweller of hell. Verses of the Quran and Hadith are used to disprove others’ faith and sect. Furthermore, every sect is trying to keep a specific physical appearance and insists on its identity which sometimes causes clashes of identities. In addition, there has been a close connection between poverty, sense of deprivation and religious violence.

People, who are poor and deprived, are usually used and engaged in sectarian violence. If the roots of sectarianism become strong in Islamic Ummah, it will pose a more serious threat to the unity of the Muslims than any external threat. Hence, it is the need of the hour that every member of the Muslim society played his/her role in creating an open-minded, flexible and tolerant society, where every Muslim sect can survive peacefully without any fear and can practise without anybody’s pressure.

A debate has been raging for a long period among Muslim intellectuals on sectarian differences. Each sect is unique and it is the beauty of Islam to be diverse. Diversity is the strength, not weakness within Muslim community and every member of the Muslim community has to respect it to promote peace and harmony within Muslim community. Within Islam there is scope for difference of opinion and Muslims should take these differences as blessings and should respect each other’s opinion, faith and ideas by showing tolerance and patience.

Tolerance, respect for each other’s ideas, pluralism and diversity are beauty and core values in Islamic tradition. Quran recognises diversity and tolerance of differences based on belief, ranks (64; 2; 6: 165), gender (49: 13; 53; 45), skin colour and language (30:22). Harmony between different religious, social grouping and communities is praised, and competitions, violence, force and control of any person or sect by any other is condemned.

It is important to note that Allah has created diversity and we should accept it in all humility. Diversity is in fact our test. Our response should be pluralism. Each sect is unique. It is Allah’s will to have diversity in the world and the believers have to live with it in a way which will promote peace and harmony. Quran confirms divine unity but it also recognises the diversity of culture, religions and ethnicity. Above this, it recognises freedom for humans to choose their way. “Let there be no compulsion in religion…” (Quran, 2: 256). In order to promote peace and harmony among different sects within Muslim community every member of the Muslim community including our leadership and stakeholders at different level can play a major role and can live as brothers and sisters.

Brazil and biofuels

By Jan Rocha


BRAZIL’S ambitious plans for supplying the world with renewable sugarcane ethanol have been put on hold as criticism of biofuels escalates. Instead of being seen as a solution, biofuels have become the new villains of the energy scene and are now blamed for everything from hunger to climate change itself.

“A few years ago, we thought biofuels were heaven, but now we think they are hell,” says Anders Wijkman, an MEP from Sweden, which is the only European country that already imports Brazilian ethanol for its public transport system. “I think the truth is somewhere in between.”

Last year, Brazilian exports of ethanol fell by 14 per cent. Work on two giant pipelines planned to carry ethanol from the canefields of Goias to the ports of Paranagua and Sebastio has been suspended, and the question being raised is whether the bio-boom is over before it has begun. Are the big-name foreign investors such as George Soros and the pension funds, who were falling over themselves to buy up land in central Brazil to plant sugar cane, backing the wrong horse? Are biofuels really less sustainable and more polluting than fossil fuels?

The view from Brazil, which has vast space, a burgeoning economy and a growing population hungry for development, is very different from that in Europe. With oil at over $120 a barrel, they say the answer can only be “no”. Ethanol is just $35 a barrel, and for most countries — especially poor oil-importing countries in Africa, where high fuel prices have already led to a drop in real income — the economic argument is all important. As the number of vehicles in the world tops a billion, the oil companies themselves admit that biofuels will be essential for meeting the growing demand for fuel, probably providing 10 per cent of transport needs by 2030. Today, they account for only one per cent.

Moreover, the demand for fuel is expected to double by mid-century, thanks not only to the gas-guzzling rich countries’ inability to reduce their already high consumption, but to population growth and higher incomes in the large emerging economies.

There is conflicting research on sugar cane’s contribution to greenhouse gases (GHGs). According to Friends of the Earth’s biofuels campaigner, Kenneth Richter, research shows that growing and processing some crops in certain countries can release more GHGs than they save. Meanwhile, the Smithsonian Institute — reviewing recent research into 26 biofuel products — gave sugar cane black marks for polluting rivers and producing GHG from nitrogenous fertilisers and annual burning.

However, Brazil’s government research company, Embrapa, has found that where sugar cane replaces soy or cattle pasture, it absorbs much more CO2 because it has a greater capacity than other crops to convert the gas into biomass. For Mark Lundell, a World Bank expert on biofuels, other factors such as the type of crop, production technology, energy inputs into processing, transportation to refineries and product markets, and alternative land uses also affect the environmental impact — and Brazilian sugar cane comes out well when compared with US maize or Malaysian palm oil.

The American ethanol made from maize is not only heavily subsidised but is also protected from its much cheaper sugar cane competitor by a steep import tariff — so much so that Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, has called for the tariff’s reduction to allow cheaper fuel to help in his battle with inflation.

But above all, biofuels are seen as a threat to tropical forests and food production. In Indonesia, palm oil plantations have replaced rainforest, and there are fears that sugar cane will invade the Amazon region, or have a domino effect, pushing soy and cattle into virgin forest, causing more deforestation.

Marcos Jank, president of Unica, the sugar cane industry association, points out that the humid climate of the tropical forest does not suit sugar cane, and that it grows best in the temperate south-eastern state of Sao Paulo, where productivity is higher and technology is most up to date. Mechanisation will soon eliminate the practice of burning the cane, cutting emissions — and thousands of jobs.

Brazilian officials laugh at the idea that sugar cane will push out food production in a land where at least 90m hectares of arable land is said to be still available for farming outside the rainforest, and where sugar cane covers only five per cent of Brazilian farmland. Jank claims that increased productivity will soon double the current yield of 7,000 litres per hectare and that production could be raised by 50 per cent, with an additional 10m-15m hectares of land.

The problem is that while the Amazon rainforest might be safe, another invaluable ecosystem, the cerrado of central Brazil, could be at risk. And Lundell believes that rainforest deforestation will be difficult to avoid if sugar cane production demands more than 20m hectares.

But social sustainability is much harder to defend. In 2007, over half of nearly 6,000 workers found by government inspectors in slave-like conditions were sugar cane cutters, most of them in the traditional plantations of the north-east.

The babassu palm, whose oil was used to part-fuel Richard Branson’s Boeing 747, grows mostly in the poor and backward states of Maranhao and Piaui, and is harvested exclusively by women. If it joins the list of desirable renewables, will these 300,000 women reap some of the reward or will they lose their livelihood to multinational companies with machines?

Some form of certification of environmental and social sustainability is seen as the answer, and will be on the agenda at the next G8 meeting in Tokyo, in July.

If it can meet the demand for sustainability, Brazil, which already enjoys a huge competitive advantage because of its abundant land, good climate and advanced technology, stands to become a major player in the new world of renewable energy.

The country’s experience with ethanol goes back to the 1970s, when Brazil — a big oil importer — was hit hard by the oil shock. The military government launched a huge, subsidised state programme to produce fuel from sugar cane. An unexpected side benefit was the avoidance of 600m tonnes of carbon emissions between 1974 and 2004.

As the price of oil collapsed, ethanol fell out of favour. But now it is back. Nearly all new cars leaving the factories are “flex” or dual-fuel models, able to detect and run on any mixture of petrol and ethanol, whatever the percentage of each; 80 per cent of Brazil’s ethanol goes to its own market.

While the Americans tax it and the Europeans condemn it, Brazil is looking at other export markets, not only for its ethanol but for its highly advanced ethanol technology.

—The Guardian, London

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