Silence is golden
PRIME Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani must make at least one request of President George W. Bush when he visits the White House later this month: the US president needs to tell his people to put a lid on the tough talk about Pakistan. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has caused a needless controversy after announcing that he is ‘comfortable’ that he had ‘all the authorities’ he needs to launch an operation against terrorists hiding in Fata. Admiral Mullen declined to specify that he had the authority to go after Taliban or Al Qaeda leaders on Pakistani territory without Pakistan’s permission, but the damage was done. Then the Washington Times revealed that the US has “a standing agreement with Pakistan that CIA-operated Predator drones may strike Osama bin Laden’s hide-out without prior permission from Islamabad”. A ‘knowledgeable official’ and a ‘former US intelligence officer who spent time in Afghanistan’ were the anonymous sources quoted. This must stop.
Fata is undeniably one of the most troublesome neighbourhoods for the US in the world because the militants who roam with impunity there are vehemently opposed to the American presence in Afghanistan and, more generally, American power. But public pronouncements on what authorities or permission the Americans do or do not have when it comes to acting unilaterally in the region on Pakistan’s side of the Durand Line helps no one. In the US, no one doubts that the American military juggernaut will swoop in on its bêtes noires, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, on foreign soil regardless of permission from a foreign government. The problem for the Americans is locating the leaders of Al Qaeda and Taliban, not in acting against them — and for that Washington needs Islamabad’s cooperation. However, the effect in Pakistan of Admiral Mullen’s statement and the Washington Times’ story has been dramatically the opposite. Already fighting a domestically unpopular counterinsurgency because it is perceived to be America’s war and not our own, such statements only add fuel to the fire of stubborn opposition here. The statement by the US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher that the US wants Pakistani forces to act on the Pakistani side of the border was predictably drowned out by the other, harsher statements emanating from Washington. So when Prime Minister Gilani meets President Bush, he must drive home a message: American tough talk is making it tougher for the Pakistani government to focus on the already tough job of defeating militancy here.
Breaking the impasse
THE season of long marches continues. The secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Chaudhry Ameen Javed, has announced that another long march will converge on Islamabad at a date to be announced at the All Pakistan Lawyers’ Representatives Convention to be held in Lahore on July 19. Meanwhile, lawyers from Rawalpindi, Sialkot, Gujranwala and Gujrat have announced that they will gather on Constitution Avenue in Islamabad on July 10 to keep the flame of judicial restoration alive. Undeniably, the politicians are to blame for the judicial impasse. Since May 13, when nine cabinet members of the PML-N resigned in protest against the non-restoration of the judges, there has been no meaningful movement on the issue. A show has been made of paying the non-functional judges their salaries and an amendment in the Finance Act has made it possible to accommodate the post-Nov 2 judges, but restoration of the non-functional judges seems in no way imminent. Still the mechanism for doing so remains dispute. Moreover, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif appear in no hurry to put the judges issue behind them, with both frequently travelling outside Pakistan. Given the slow pace at which the coalition is handling the issue, the lawyers are within their democratic rights to call for more protests.
However, caution is in order. According to Mr Javed, the long march will culminate in a sit-in in Islamabad that will not end until the non-functional judges are restored. It is hoped that Mr Javed and his legal fraternity will equally firmly commit to maintaining the peace. Consider what happened when the last long march dispersed in the early hours of June 14 amidst confusion. A group of angry, hotheaded lawyers chanted slogans against Aitzaz Ahsan and appeared itching for a battle. They were only just contained from crossing the barricades set up, which would have resulted in a violent confrontation with the law enforcement agencies present. While the lawyers have been more often than not the victims of violence since their movement was launched in March 2007, it is clear that there are some violent elements within their group. The distasteful scenes of former MNA and federal minister, Sher Afgan Niazi, barely escaping the clutches of a mob of lawyers was an illustration of how ugly situations can become. Protesting is the lawyers’ right; but they must remember their duty to stay within the confines of the law.
THE political scene in Turkey has entered a critical stage, with a key ruling expected soon on a constitutional petition seeking a ban on Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s party. The ruling AKP received a blow the other day when the constitutional court scrapped a newly-made law that lifted the ban on headscarves in educational institutions. Now the issue is the very survival of a party which is in its second consecutive term in office. The petition before the constitutional court accuses the AKP of trying to undermine Turkey’s secularism — a feeling shared strongly by the powerful military, the judiciary and the academia. An even more disturbing development has been the arrest of 21 ultranationalists, including two former generals, all of whom have been accused of planning a series of terrorist attacks to invite an army coup.
More than eight decades after Kemal Ataturk established a secular republic, Turkey has still not been able to develop a stable political system. Military interventions have been frequent. During his two tenures as prime minister, Erdogan has managed to tame the generals and turned the once-powerful National Security Council into an advisory body. It is under his leadership that Turkey has been able to have a government that is not a patchwork of mutually hostile coalition parties. Erdogan has done a lot to rid the Islamists of Necmettin Erbekan’s baggage. He pledged support to secularism and finally has the satisfaction of seeing the European Union start entry talks. However, more than the Cyprus issue and the stiff EU entry conditions it is Turkey’s internal scene that has become cause for concern. Last year’s soft ‘e-coup’ by the generals sent alarm bells ringing.
If the AKP is banned and Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul are barred from politics for five years, the internal scene will undergo a radical change, the consequences of which are difficult to predict. A decision against the AKP will lead to an early general election, and the results could again be a weak coalition government that could be exposed to pressures from the military, lack the will to address the Cyprus and EU entry questions and carry out reforms to stick to the Copenhagen criteria. It is to be noted that each time Erbekan’s party was banned it re-emerged under a new name. Banning a political party is no solution to Turkey’s eternal quest for stability based on a secular system.
OTHER VOICES - Bangladesh Press
Fuel price hike
On the first day of the new fiscal year, the government hiked energy prices. Bangladesh, weighed down by a huge burden of energy subsidies, took what appeared to be an inevitable decision in the wake of soaring oil prices on the international market.
The government said that it could no longer afford to sell petrol, diesel, kerosene and cooking gas at subsidised fixed rates when oil costs $60 a barrel.
The government hiked diesel and kerosene prices by 37.5 per cent and petrol prices by 34 per cent.
Bangladesh pays hefty import bills on energy. Octane, petrol, diesel and kerosene had been imported at Tk90 to Tk95 per litre, meaning that the government had subsidised Tk23-Tk50 a litre.
One thing is now missing or unclear: the government did not explain how much it earns in import duty, value added tax (VAT) and other taxes on fuels. An explanation by the government would have brought transparency to its decision. The government, we suggest, should find ways of cutting taxes on energy.
Will the government cut energy prices if international prices come down significantly? ….Allegations abound that a syndicate of businessmen smuggles ‘low-priced’ diesel into India where prices are higher than Bangladesh. The fact is there is only a Tk2 gap in diesel prices between the two countries. It means the possibility of diesel being smuggled out of the country is dim.
It would have been wise of the government to raise the prices of fuel in phases. A sudden and significant hike has thrown the government’s decision into considerable controversy. — (July 2)
The fuel price shock will add to people’s misery…. At the same time, it seems there was no alternative than to increase prices. The decision appears caught in the crosscurrents of different opinions and views. We are not questioning the rationale behind the rise. We are just worried about the people, already hurt by rising food prices.
Farming, transport, electricity and industries will bear the brunt. Cabinet members, including the finance adviser, ruled out any impact on inflation, but the reality is different.
The government has announced a plan to channel more subsidies into the agriculture sector to safeguard farmers against the impact of the diesel price hike. A positive move.
We expect the government to take similar decisions for other sectors vulnerable to price shocks. — (July 2)
— Selected and translated by Arun Devnath.
Making a splash the French way
FRENCH President Nicolas Sarkozy certainly knows how to make a splash.
Only hours after France assumed the European Union’s (EU) rotating six-monthly presidency on July 1, the mercurial French leader almost brought the Doha world trade talks to a standstill by publicly berating EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson for working against EU farm interests in the uphill negotiations.
The outspoken Mr Sarkozy also warned Ireland that the EU would just move on without it if Irish voters continued to snub the bloc’s reform treaty in a still uncertain second referendum, following their rejection of the EU blueprint on June 12.
While Mr Sarkozy certainly enjoys living up to his reputation as a politician who does not fear controversy, policy-makers in the rest of the 27-nation EU are braced for a stormy six months ahead.
Mr Mandelson is certainly not taking the attacks lying down. “I am being undermined and Europe’s negotiating position in the World Trade talks is being weakened and I regret that,” Mr Mandelson told the BBC. “It’s very disappointing because the mandate on which I’m negotiating…has been agreed by all the member states,” he added.
Protectionism would not help “feed the world’s hungry”, Mr Mandelson insisted in response to the French President’s assertion that the EU trade chief and Pascal Lamy, the Frenchman in charge of the World Trade Organisation, were out to destroy the livelihood of French farmers.
“Mr Lamy and Mr Mandelson want to make us accept a deal under which Europe would commit to cutting farm output by 20 per cent and reduce farm exports by 10 per cent. That would be 100,000 jobs lost. I won’t let it happen,” Mr Sarkozy warned.
Such cuts were unacceptable, he added, “in a world where there are 800 million poor people who cannot satisfy their hunger and where a child dies every 30 seconds from hunger”.
The Sarkozy-Mandelson row is expected to run and run over the next six months, sparking fears that the Doha trade talks — already in trouble over farm subsidies and tariffs and uncertainty over the trade policy of the next US president — would now come to a screeching halt.
Lech Kaczynski, the Polish president, is proving immune to such tactics, however. The famously Eurosceptic Polish leader has said he will not ratify the treaty because of the Irish ‘no’ vote.
Kaczynski has said he believes in upholding the EU’s ‘unanimity’ principle that treaties can only enter into force if ratified by every single member state.
Germany and the Czech Republic have also both delayed ratification until courts in their countries deliver rulings on legal challenges to the treaty. The treaty needs to be ratified by all 27 EU member states before being enforced. But the unpredictable French President has other distractions up his sleeve. On July 13, he will play host to an array of European and Middle East leaders for a much-vaunted meeting to launch a Mediterranean Union bringing together the two regions. The project itself remains mired in controversy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel initially opposed the blueprint. However, after watering down some of the key elements of the French package, she finally agreed to be part of the enterprise.
Criticism of the new Union has also come from Turkey which sees the move as a French ploy to further stall Ankara’s EU membership bid and from leaders from Algeria and Lebanon who see the proposal as a forced attempt to foster peace with their Israeli neighbour.
In addition to launching the Mediterranean Union, France has defined four priorities for its EU presidency — immigration, defence, energy and the environment, and agriculture.
“There have been errors in the way that Europe has been built,” Sarkozy said earlier this month, adding: “The European idea will be in danger if we don’t protect Europeans.”
The French leader insisted that Europe needed to be protected against the effects of globalisation. Warming to one of his favourite themes, Mr Sarkozy insisted that “Europe worries people and worse still, citizens are asking if it is not the nation state that protects them better than the Union.”
EU policy-makers fret that such talk will make ordinary Europeans even more sceptical about European integration and further erode public confidence in the EU. German Chancellor Merkel, who chaired the EU last year, is believed to have warned the French leader to tone down his anti-EU rhetoric.
The French and German leaders are not the closest of friends, according to EU insiders but Mr Sarkozy does have grudging respect for Ms Merkel and her consensus-friendly leadership style.It’s unclear, however, if the French leader who clearly loves the European and international spotlight, is going to listen to any advice, however well-intentioned.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.
Choosing soft targets
The military operation,currently underway in Bara area of Khyber Agency was preceded by a deliberately orchestrated campaign of raising the spectre of an imminent attack on Peshawar. Who will attack Peshawar with what weapons and, more importantly, with what objectives and goals was not spelt out in the doomsday scenario painted by the protagonists of such a potent threat. A hype was created as if a force of pro taliban elements, by the thousands, was ready to invade Peshawar.
There were even reports that Mangal Bagh, the local chieftain of Bara had collected a force of 5000 armed men who would come into action as soon as orders are given. As it turned out the chieftain had a handful of followers who quietly left, along with him, for Tirah, the largely inaccessible Afridi country.
The hype was created ostensibly to induce the federal goverment to provide massive assistance and agree to a substantial increase in the provincial security forces .It was also a ploy to create a justification for an ingress into Bara, by far the easiest target to hit, because Mangal Bagh had declared, in most unambiguous terms, that if attacked, he would not strike back and retaliate against government security forces and installations.
Yet another objective of the operation was to send a positive message to external mentors of our government that action is finally underway. it was not realized that Bara had nothing to do with the Taliban like insurgency that is sweeping parts of the tribal areas.
What was intriguing is that the path of dialogue ,as an instrument of engagement with the tribes in Waziristan, Bajaur, Mohmand and Swat was abandoned in the case of Bara . The fact of the matter is that with lawlessness growing, institutions breaking down the fear of institutionalized retribution waning, the citizens feel more and more vulnerable. In this state of growing decline of order, certain elements, driven by religious frenzy, have, from time to time, attacked video shops, cinema houses, etc across the province and indeed in many parts of the country. That has also happened in a few cases in villages near Peshawar, But such activists can be counted on fingertips. It was baffling therefore to read statements about an impending assault on Peshawar.
There is a certain sinister motive behind this wholly unfounded claim of an attack on major cities. It had more to do with generating a sense of insecurity and in the garb of such a climate of fear and alarm launch an operation to dislodge Mangal Bagh, the chief of Lashkar-i-Islam from his position as a de facto administrator of Bara.
It must be recognized that the activity in Bara had nothing to do with the Taliban movement and. Secondly the movement had considerable local support and following. That does not imply that the government should allow or tolerate any parallel system of administration to emerge.. But the operation would be seen by many as a deviation from the half hearted policy of engaging with the resistance in the process of dialogue.
Now that the operation is underway the government must ensure:
a) There is no collateral damage. b) The operation must be ended since the chieftain has left the area and his houses have been destroyed. c) The political agent assumes full control over and total responsibility for dealing with any possible backlash or reaction from those that have been hit hard in the operation. d) The process of dialogue with the disenchanted groups of tribesmen in Fata must continue. But in doing that has to be undertaken in a framework and within certain parameters. e) In order to bring about a lasting transformation in the situation, the policy on war on terror must be presented before the parliament for a comprehensive review.
The last measure alone would have a significant impact on improving not only our image as a sovereign state but also sending a message to the tribes and people generally that we are not fighting someone else’s war.
The writer is a former chief secretary, NWFP.