DAWN - Editorial; June 11, 2008

Published June 11, 2008

Ending death penalty

PERHAPS on account of the execution of its founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the PPP has never approved of the death penalty. In April, as head of the new coalition government, it came out strongly against capital punishment, saying that it intended to commute all death sentences to life imprisonment. More recently, Finance Minister Naveed Qamar revealed that the government was working on proposals for the abolition of this severest of all penalties. This stand is to be welcomed and one hopes that vacillation or procrastination will not accompany the exercise of evolving legislation to scrap capital punishment altogether.

True, in a society where the crime graph is going up daily, there are many who oppose such abolition, or even a moratorium on the penalty. Not only do they cite religious arguments in favour of retaining it, they also see the death penalty as necessary for furthering the cause of justice. But in a world where the term ‘progressive’ is applied to matters beyond the realm of economics and development, is their attitude reasonable? Should we not start looking at issues in a universal perspective within the framework of human rights? After all, Pakistan would not be the first Muslim country to do so. For instance, Turkey has abolished the death penalty whereas Algeria and Morocco, while retaining it on their statute books, have not carried out any executions for a number of years.

But it is not only with the intention of qualifying as a civilised society that observes all principles of human rights that we should consider abolishing the death penalty. What should also be noted is the fact that the death penalty has never really deterred crime. Otherwise, Pakistan, that executed at least 135 people last year — the fourth highest figure worldwide — would not have had such a soaring crime rate. This proves that instead of discouraging criminal elements, capital punishment — accompanied by other violent excesses — has brutalised the people. Lastly, there is also the aspect of ‘justice’ — which in practice leaves a lot to be desired in this country. Faulty police investigations, the lack of forensic know-how, forced confessions, bribery and other modes of corruption have sometimes led to the innocent being convicted. So far, the justice system has favoured the higher income groups who can afford lawyers, whereas legal counsel for the poor is often absent. Similarly, not everyone has the means to offer blood money in return for their lives. With such inequality prevailing, the death penalty can only be termed as an extreme travesty of justice.

All honourable men

STOP press! It now emerges that ‘honourable’ people — at least that is how the prime minister described them on Monday — are engaged in large-scale hoarding of wheat, a criminal practice that is making life a misery for the people. True, it has long been known, and not just to the intelligence sleuths reporting to the prime minister, that the politically connected are among the biggest hoarders of wheat and sugar in this country. So no surprises there. But more than the phenomenon itself, what is truly remarkable is the ease with which influence and power are conflated with honour and respectability. To be fair to Yusuf Raza Gilani, he couldn’t possibly be expected to call the culprits names and condemn them as scoundrels, for some of them may have been seated in the very House he was addressing. Nor would he benefit politically in these chaotic times by raiding the places where, in his words, “we know … the stocks are hidden”. Still, it is doubtful if such rebukes from the pulpit will somehow make the hoarders see the light and sheepishly release their stocks. But the prime minister has promised action if they don’t comply, so we must wait and see. After all, there are all honourable men.

Monday’s statement also confirms that despite promises of remedial action by the previous regime, the caretakers and now this government, very little has changed and the root causes of the wheat shortage remain the same. The prime minister is claiming some progress on the procurement front but a solution to the core issue of hoarding and subsequent price manipulation remains as elusive as ever. The Shaukat Aziz government announced on Aug 29, 2007, that a list of wheat hoarders had been prepared by the centre and forwarded to the provinces with the express directive that punitive measures be taken. But as was expected, the big fish remained untouched on account of their political clout. On Jan 22 this year, Mohammedmian Soomro’s caretaker cabinet decided to take ‘legal action’ against hoarders of wheat flour but little came of that move too. Now Mr Gilani is claiming the government knows who the hoarders are and where their wheat is stockpiled, which is no different from the situation some two years ago. Nor has there been much success in curbing smuggling, another key cause of wheat and flour shortages, despite increased scrutiny at the borders. Clearly, warnings alone will not deter those making a killing at the people’s expense. Action is required.

Stock market and CGT factor

BY extending the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) exemption on share business, the government has conceded a major demand of the stock market. The popular belief was that strapped for cash, the taxmen would prod the government to end the exemption from financial year 2008-09. Capital gains tax on short-term, speculative business, following the Indian model, was thought to be on the cards. Companies that make heavy investment in shares, had already started rewriting their portfolio before the announcement of the budget in order to stave off the expected blow. Now the extension of the exemption for not one but two years has pleased the bourses immensely. The icing on the cake comprised several other decisions that went in favour of the capital market. The fact that the measures came about a week ahead of the announcement of the Finance Bill 2008 raised a few eyebrows. Was there a need to make such haste? The stock market having dipped by 23 per cent in 29 trading days since its peak index value of 15,676 points on April 18, the government was believed to be worried about the outflow of foreign investment.

Market participants argued that the fear of the CGT levy from the upcoming financial year was sitting heavily on the investors’ mind. But the euphoria was short-lived. After a day of celebrations, the stock market again started its downward journey. All of which underscores the point that these are factors impacting on the market. The investors have been worried over the depreciation of the rupee; the State Bank’s monetary tightening and, most of all, about the unsettled political situation in the country. It would be difficult to fathom whether it was the fickle-heartedness of the government or its sagacity or whether it was the display of the power of stock brokers or their ability to plead a convincing case before the finance minister which prompted an extension in the CGT exemption. Whatever might have been the determining factor and the KSE managing director’s statement welcoming the government’s incentives for development of the capital market, one has to note that this move simply highlights the inequities of our taxation system.

OTHER VOICES - European Press

Short-lived truce in war of words

Cyprus Mail

A NEW pattern appears to have been established in relations between the two sides since the first meeting Demetris Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat had last March.

That meeting was followed by a brief honeymoon period during which each side refrained from antagonising the other publicly with incendiary public statements. But this truce in the war of words did not last despite the fact that the representatives of the two leaders were working constructively for the establishment of the working groups and technical committees. Once the first salvo had been fired … the blame-game exchanges were stepped up.

Christofias kept belittling Talat by insisting that Turkey was calling all the shots while Talat would respond… by referring to a settlement involving two states. Christofias then started complaining that the working groups were not making any progress, while Talat kept calling for the start of direct talks in June regardless. The impression given was that the primary concern of both sides was to avoid any blame if and when the procedure ground to a standstill.

These fears were dispelled after the May 23 meeting which went well and produced a joint communiqué that seemed to satisfy both leaders. The honeymoon period lasted a couple of weeks again, and all hell broke loose last Thursday when Christofias signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The document outraged the Turkish Cypriot side and since Thursday Talat has united with opposition politicians in lambasting Christofias….

The bickering and the exchanges are set to intensify over the next few days in anticipation of the UN Security Council resolution for the renewal of the UNFICYP mandate as both sides try to have their positions included. And once the resolution is released there will be more bickering ….

The two leaders were also scheduled to meet, at the end of June again, to evaluate the progress being made at the working groups and to decide a start date for direct talks. But will the meeting take place if Talat snubs Pascoe next week? And if the exchanges sparked by the Cyprus-Britain Memorandum continue there might not be a point to such a meeting. This is why it is so important for the two sides to call a halt to this pointless bickering.

Perhaps Talat is playing to his domestic gallery, as Christofias had done a few weeks earlier, but both need to realise that there is a much bigger issue at stake …. And if there is to be a new procedure with a hope to succeed, both leaders need to forget the blame-games of the past…. — June 10

Chavez spurns armed revolution

By David Usborne

THE armed revolutionary has no place in modern Latin America, the Venezuelan President has declared. Catching his critics off guard, Hugo Chavez called on the Marxist rebel army in neighbouring Colombia to lay down its arms and release its hostages, declaring that guerrilla armies are now “out of place”.

Adopting the mantle of international statesman, the Venezuelan president appeared to be stepping forward finally to turn a page of history for a continent that for decades has been blighted by eruptions of insurgent violence, not just in Colombia but also Nicaragua and El Salvador. As most of those conflicts have come to an end, Colombia has been alone in failing to end its own internal strife.

“At this moment in Latin America, an armed guerrilla movement is out of place,” Mr Chavez said. “The guerrilla war is history,” he asserted in his weekly television address, prompting expressions of both surprise and welcome among government leaders in Colombia. They have recently accused Venezuela of running a clandestine campaign of support for the Marxist rebels.

Mr Chavez is no stranger to the revolutionary mantle. In 1992 his Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement — inspired by the 19th century independence guerrilla Simon Bolivar — made a doomed attempt to overthrow the government. Even now, having made the transition from rebel to politician, Mr Chavez is still the staunchest of supporters of the world’s most famous revolutionary, Fidel Castro. Whether his latest comments represent a profound change of heart or not, they may help open a path to long-term peace in Colombia after 40 years of bloodshed.

It is a time of deepening difficulties for Farc, the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which recently confirmed that its founder and top commander, Manuel Marulanda, also known as “Sureshot”, had died of a heart attack at a jungle base in March. It has lost several other members of its top leadership in recent months. “I think the time has come for the Farc to free everyone they have in the mountains. It would be a great, humanitarian gesture in exchange for nothing. That is what I propose to the new [Farc] leader.” Since the death of Mr Marulanda, who instigated his Marxist-inspired struggle in Colombia with a group of armed peasants in 1964, the group has been led by Alfonso Cano, a man described as being more bookish and potentially more moderate than the man he replaced.

His statement on Sunday marked the first time that the Venezuelan leader had addressed Mr Cano directly. “I say to Cano, let’s go. Release those people,” Mr Chavez said unambiguously.

Farc is believed to be holding as many as 750 hostages in remote jungle areas of Colombia. For much of its existence, it has relied on taking citizens captive in the hope of extracting large sums in ransom — a practice that became known as “miracle fishing”. For years, Colombians lived in terror of Farc roadblocks when any of them could have found themselves snatched from their cars.

A few dozen of those still in captivity are considered high-profile hostages. They include three military contractors from the United States and the former presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt. Believed to be in poor health, Ms Betancourt holds joint French-Colombian citizenship. Her plight has been the subject of persistent lobbying by the French government for her release.

Since coming to office in 2002, Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe has waged a determined effort to restore order to the country and end civil war. Over four decades, tens of thousands of lives have been lost as Farc battled it out against right-wing paramilitary groups that sprung up to combat its grip on the country as well as government forces.

Last year, he invited Mr Chavez to help mediate with the group for the release of its hostages but withdrew that invitation in November, claiming that the Venezuelan leader was not sticking to his side of the bargain. The breach triggered a deep chill in relations between the two leaders as Mr Chavez made a string of derogative remarks about Mr Uribe’s competence. Tensions spiked further when a computer belonging to Farc’s second-in-command was found, which Colombia said showed Mr Chavez had funnelled $300m to the group.

There was no concealing the surprise in Bogota at the switch Mr Chavez seems to be making. “He was their defender and ally and so it’s surprising that he has acted like this,” said Carlos Holguin, Colombia’s Interior Minister. “I hope Farc hears him — that all of Latin America hears him.”

Indeed, while Colombia may retain some scepticism about Mr Chavez’s motives, its government also knows that Farc has a long history of ignoring all outside appeals for an end to its struggle. However, Mr Chavez, who has been leading his own “socialist revolution” in Venezuela, may be the one leader able to bring influence on them.

In his statement, Mr Chavez offered a reason of his own to bring Farc’s campaign to an end, pointing to the US. “You in the Farc should know something,” he offered. “You have become an excuse for the empire to threaten all of us.” He often uses the term “empire” to refer to the United States. Washington has made no secret of its desire to isolate Mr Chavez from other governments in Latin America.—© The Independent



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