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DAWN - Opinion; August 01, 2008

August 01, 2008

Belling the cat

By Ayesha Siddiqa

THE government’s decision to place the notorious ISI under the complete control of the ministry of interior created a furore in many circles. While some believed that this would have harmed the workings of the ISI, others felt that like any other strategic intelligence agency it operates better under the ministry of defence. Although the agency is under the administrative control of the prime minister’s office, its operational management and finances are with the MoD.

Why did the government act at this juncture, why did it reverse the decision, and should Islamabad have made such a move are three pertinent questions which will be considered in this space.There are two reasons why the government tried to bring the agency under a different control regimen. First, considering that the ISI is notorious for destabilising civilian governments, it was logical to take such action. The only problem was with the timing — the constitutional head of the government, Yousuf Raza Gilani, could not defend the decision as he was not in the country at the time.

Second, there should be little doubt that this was done under pressure from the US which appears extremely unhappy with the agency’s involvement in Afghanistan and other places. Sources say that even the army chief, Gen Kayani, admits that relations between the ISI and CIA have nosedived, which makes a US attack on Pakistan probable rather than possible. Although one sympathises with the military’s concern over India’s intelligence activities in and around Kabul, Pakistani insiders in critical places have also been spilling the beans about the ISI’s possible involvement in the bombing of the Indian embassy in the Afghan capital.

The government is under tremendous pressure to build confidence vis-à-vis Washington. Some might call it a conspiracy against Pakistan but considering the country’s historical dependency relationship with the US, doing what every other civil and military regime has also done is certainly not a sin. The US cannot be pushed out as long as we seek military and economic aid. So why blame Mr Zardari alone for catering to the US?

The reversal of the decision is less of a mystery because it would certainly have been done at the behest of the military which was uncomfortable with the change, especially when it was being seen as the result of US involvement. The only odd thing about the decision was putting the agency under the interior ministry. It would have made greater sense and been less of a shock had the operations and finances been shifted to the prime minister’s office. There are quarters who are not comfortable with the closeness of the ministry’s higher management to both the British and American governments, especially their intelligence agencies. The reversal yet again exposed the problems of the PPP’s over-centralised decision-making apparatus.

Now the issue is, should Islamabad have acted the way it did? Many experts have referred to other agencies, arguing that since the ISI is responsible for strategic intelligence there was no purpose in taking away its operational and financial control from the MoD. But then the counter argument one would like to make is that the ISI is not an ordinary organisation. And can one blame the political government for making such a change given the agency’s long history of political involvement? The fact that the ISI’s political activities were started by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto does not in any way prevent a PPP government from restructuring its management.

The ISI is an organisation which is not only notorious abroad but has an eerie reputation at home as well. There is no information regarding its operations or expenditure. It is known for running safe houses within the country, for picking up people and making them disappear, for rigging elections and destabilising governments, and for spending pot-loads of money from unexplained sources. Surely these activities do not fall in the ambit of strategic intelligence.

What is popularly known about the organisation is that the bulk of its officers comes from the armed forces, the majority being from the army, for a fixed period after which the military men return to their parent services. Then there is a small cadre of civilians that provides permanency to the organisation. Very few people amongst the civilians know which portion of the agency’s manpower is the keeper of institutional memory and how it operates in terms of shutting out its organisational head if the officer concerned is thought to be pursuing his own agenda, as has happened in the cases of Lt-Gen (retd) Kallu and Lt-Gen Ziauddin Butt. Finally, has it turned into a state within a state, as many argue, or is it a more disciplined force following the will of the army chief?

Given the ISI’s chequered history, it is not odd for people within or outside the government to ask for greater accountability of the organisation or its restructuring. Governments create new organisations as well and the ISI needs to be restructured to take away its bite. The fact that the ISI is technically under the prime minister’s office has never made any difference to how the agency operates. This means that there was a need for something more radical which, unfortunately, the government could not achieve.

This brings us back to the timing of the decision. Had Benazir Bhutto been alive she might have done it differently, perhaps when her coalition was strong rather than when there are rumours every day of the government’s imminent break-up. Including Mian Nawaz Sharif in the decision would have made greater sense. After all, restructuring civil-military relations was part of the Charter of Democracy and cutting the powers of the ISI is an essential part of balancing the power equation. Also, the move would have gone down much better had the government earned the moral authority to take this big leap by first taking other tricky decisions such as restoring the judiciary. Moreover, the series of recent faux pas which have proved expensive in terms of the government’s credibility has made it hard for people to swallow yet another reversal.

I hope the government understands that it is psychologically debilitating for its voters to see their elected government slipping towards disaster, as such blunders would naturally indicate. The intelligence agencies will now be keener than ever to plot against the government.

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.

The crisis of change

By Kuldip Nayar

IN two different countries, at two different places, different peoples have met to discuss their age-old problems and find a collective solution. One was the People’s Saarc at Colombo, the venue of the official Saarc Summit, and the other was at Jaipur where people working at the grassroots gathered to pool experiences of their movements. How helpless did both feel in their fight against vested interests?

Both meetings transcended boundaries, faiths and identities. Both challenged official policies and mindsets in their anxiety to confront the insensitive rulers on the one hand and the inhuman extremists on the other. At the two-day People’s Saarc conference, some 400 delegates from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives threw down the gauntlet to the official Saarc to do something concrete for bringing the member countries nearer to one another instead of holding sterile debates. The unanimous demand of the delegates was for a borderless South Asia, with no visas, no restrictions to enable people to travel and trade.

I recall how keen the late Benazir Bhutto was for a borderless subcontinent. When she talked to me in London a few months before her assassination, she said that if she ever returned to power, her first task would be to make borders soft. I wish the government led by her Pakistan People’s Party had pursued her dream. But the army and the bureaucracy appear to be having the better of the party. Were the PPP to take steps to have close contact with India, it would find Nawaz Sharif welcoming this development. He has even proposed a unilateral move.

What comes in the way is too much emphasis on nationalism. This has made people set their sights on their own country and community, not on the bigger vision like a South Asian Union on the lines of the EU. In such an arrangement, nations will retain their sovereignty while having common trade, commerce and other avenues of economic development.

Before independence, Rabindranath Tagore wrote an article expressing his wish that India should not adopt nationalism as its creed. His fear was that nationalism would lead to chauvinism. This has more or less happened. Chauvinism is now leading to extremism and terrorism.

Terrorists have different front organisations in different countries. In some places they call themselves the Students Islamic Movement of India, Lashkar-i-Taiba, Harkat ul Jihad al Islami or just mujahideen. In fact they are all religious fanatics who want to create a theocratic state. They are essentially fundamentalists drawing inspiration from the Taliban, if they are not the Taliban themselves.

They are killers and do not spare even women and children. They target hospitals, as was seen earlier at Karachi and now at Ahmedabad. Joint action by the Saarc countries needs to be initiated with the participation of scientists, technocrats and others. They must devise a long-term plan with new weapons to eliminate the menace because the general run of the police in the region is not adequate.

It is heartening to find that India has not put the blame on Pakistan. But to name a particular organisation or an individual without sufficient evidence is like saying that the terrorists are from among the Muslims. This exposes them to all manner of risk because the media holds trials against them long before the real trial begins. The Bajrang Dal, an organisation of Hindu fundamentalists, should not escape scrutiny because they have been found indulging in certain incidents to see that the blame comes to Muslims, for example for the attack on the RSS headquarters.

India and Pakistan have not gone very far with the anti-terrorism coordination committee. Both have yet to overcome their mistrust of one another. Now that a democratic government is at the helm in Islamabad, it should not allow the army to influence policy matters. Bringing the ISI under civil control was a good beginning. But this decision has been reversed and the status quo maintained, with a general heading the organisation.

The People’s Saarc also adopted a declaration to ask the countries in the region — Saarc has been expanded to embrace Afghanistan and Myanmar — to enter into no-war pacts with one another. This, the delegates believed, would divert the funds allocated to the military to departments working for eradicating poverty and ignorance.

The official Saarc has nothing to its credit expect pious resolutions and laudatory speeches. The governments have tended to live under one illusion or another, such as the illusion of being honest with themselves. The fact is that they have never looked beyond their own territory and have seldom assisted neighbours in their time of need. The record is full of discord and hostility. They talk of friendship but frame policies to harm one another. Saarc is a club which outlived its utility within a couple of years of its existence. The spirit of togetherness demanded giving, not taking. But that dream has gone sour.

The second meet at Jaipur was that of civil groups, concerned citizens and some leaders of movements which, in the words of famous writer V.S. Naipaul, were like a “million mutinies”. The groups constituted the Lok Rajnitik Manch (People’s Political Platform) which aims to make a “political intervention” on the issues of livelihood, displacement, the farm crisis and discrimination. The platform is meant to be an umbrella under which all organisations engaged in arraying people against exploitation and fighting electoral battles will stand shoulder to shoulder with their individual identity. Together they will confront the established political order with which people are disillusioned. The effort is to evolve “a genuine alternative” which can restore the democratic values that formed the basis of national polity after independence.

Limited struggles throughout the region provide ample evidence of change at the grassroots. Yet our leaders continue to indulge in the same old game of gaining ascendancy through the politics of manipulation and money. Many among them are the ones who go in for ideological posturing and populist rhetoric. They have little respect for public interest or popular sentiment which they exploit to ensure their political survival.

The crisis of politics is a crisis of change. It reflects the widening gap between the base of the polity and its structure. Are the Saarc countries willing to bring about the change? The people have little confidence in the established order.

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.

New local government — good or bad?

By Zafar Iqbal

THE new local government system installed in 2001 is not necessarily bad, except that the manner in which it has been implemented is rather pig-headed. It is anti-deputy commissioner, probably deliberately so.

The election of nazims was supposed to be non-political. The secret expectation was clearly that they would be supporters of the military government. In the 2002 elections it probably went according to the plan and the PPP and the PML-N became minorities in parliament.

On the other hand local government became even more corrupt. The police were handed over to the nazims and, according to my personal experience, the district police officer did whatever the nazim wanted him to do. In order to show that the police were independent of the nazim the Police Act was modified. This made everything worse.

Civil servants who worked in the provinces will confirm this, except that since the present government is anti-nazim their statements are not likely to be believed unless they have recently retired, and even then they would be doubted. In India they have separated the judiciary from the executive, but the responsibility for maintenance of law and order rests with the DC.

In principle, elected local government is a desirable development. When one takes Pakistan’s social and political environment one has to adjust the institution efficiency. In this case the other EDOs would report to the DC who would report to the nazim. This would lead to a certain amount of friction between the nazim and the DC — assuming that the DC was committed to public service. The other issue would be development expenditure. Was it designed for the personal benefit of the nazim or for benefiting the citizens of the area?

Assuming that nazims were elected through a free and fair process they may not necessarily belong to the party in power at the provincial level. Fair play is not part of our political process as yet. But given a relatively free and objective media this may gradually happen. Seeing how the media is behaving at present creates some doubts: they are very careful about criticising the people currently in power, although they had no hesitation in going after Gen Musharraf.

The reason is quite clear if one has read exposés of the Indian press by Rahul Singh and Kuldip Nayar. The capitalist owners of the press have to be careful not to upset the government which has various means of harassment at its disposal. Gen Musharraf likes to defer matters until he has to act in desperation which he did on Nov 3, 2007. Any person with better sense, if he wanted to do that sort of thing, would have done it on March 8 instead.

If the Musharraf regime had been objective about local government, they should have visited India and possibly Sri Lanka. In the West, visits to France, the UK and US would have been useful. There are differences in all three. In France, until recently it was the prefect who monitored the local government — not entirely dissimilar to arrangements in India. In the UK and US things are a bit different. The police there reports to the county chief constable or sheriff.

In the US, I have only experience of California where the police reported to the city manager. This concept was introduced in America to improve the quality of local administration. The city manager/county manager reported to the mayor in council. Since vocational training is important in the US the selection of such people began to shift to individuals who had acquired an MPA degree.

My friend Walter Hahn, who was the city manager of the town to which I was attached, ultimately obtained a master’s degree in public administration along with his son, Curt, from the University of Southern California. He sent me a newspaper cutting which showed both father and son receiving their degrees on the same day. He subsequently moved on to become the city manager of San Diego.

As mentioned earlier, the concept of ‘manager’ was introduced to improve the performance of local government. In Pakistan Gen Musharraf tried to do the opposite by trying to weaken the role of the DC. Perhaps it was the result of conscious or subconscious sibling rivalry. His eldest brother was supposed to be the clever son of the family and as was popular those days joined the Civil Service, renamed by ZAB as the District Management Group and levelled with other services.Currently there is a lot of talk of doing away with the nazim. An elected local government is, in many ways, part of democracy. Checks and balances on the power of the nazim can always be there. The DC will represent the provincial government. There will be some tension between the nazim and the DC especially if the nazim represents another political party. In case he or she is a member of the political party in power the DC will be at a disadvantage.

It all depends on the quality of political governments which tend to be dictatorial rather than democratic. But this is an evolutionary process which will come to a stop unless we continue trying to practise democracy with emphasis on suitable institutional development. Its main constituents are a competent non-political machinery of government, generally referred to as the bureaucracy. A free and diligent media and a competent and independent judiciary, given how we have been drifting over the years, are not easy to bring about.

The other major issue is revenues which should be assigned to the district government. In India, about 100 years ago, with the evolution of increasing government responsibility, a matrix system had naturally evolved. It was not celebrated: it was simply taken as a fact of life. When one comes to think of it all provincial departments such as the police, magistracy, education, health, irrigation, etc operate in the manner trumpeted in business as a great development — the matrix system. Like all systems, it has its pluses and minuses.

The people in power should try and make local government more efficient instead of abolishing it.

N-accidents on the rise

By Julio Godoy

THE recent proliferation of accidents at nuclear power plants in France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Slovenia and elsewhere in Europe has made calls for greater reliance on nuclear energy questionable.

Several accidents were reported in mid-July at three nuclear power plants in the south of France. They came days after President Nicolas Sarkozy announced on July 3 that his government had decided to construct a new nuclear power plant.

In one accident at Tricastin on July 7, up to 30,000 litres of a solution contaminated with more than 70 kilograms of uranium leaked into ground water. The plant is located near the medieval city Avignon, 530 km south of Paris, in a densely populated area with intensive agriculture.

The leak forced authorities to ban use of water for agricultural and domestic purposes around the plant for several days. The accident drew sharp criticism of Electricité de France, the state-owned power generation monopoly. It first concealed the leak, and reacted to it several hours after it had happened.

At the same plant, about 100 workers were contaminated with radioactive dust containing during maintenance operations July 23. Five days earlier, another uranium leak occurred at the Romans-sur-Isère plant, some 80 km north-east of Tricastin. Some reports suggested that this leak has been continuing for years. A fourth accident occurred at the plant at Saint Alban, in the same region, 115 km north of Tricastin. Fifteen workers were exposed to radioactive dust.

Environmental groups say similar incidents occurred during July at the nuclear power plants at Nogent sur Seine, 80 km southeast of Paris, and Gravelines, near the border with Belgium.

”In less than 15 days, we have received information of the accidental contamination of 126 persons working in nuclear power plants,” says Bruno Chareyron, an engineer in nuclear physics, and director of research at the independent investigative commission on radioactivity CRIIRAD (after its French name).

Chareyron told IPS that CRIIRAD had knowledge of other leaks in Tricastin last year. ”Carbone 14 and tritium were released into the atmosphere,” he said. ”This time, uranium leaked for several hours before the authorities were warned and precaution measures were put in place.”

According to CRIIRAD, the July 7 leak represented at least 17 times the maximum radioactivity allowed legally for a whole year.

Annie Thábaud-Mony, a physician at the French National Institute for Medical and Health Research, says contamination of workers ”confronted regularly with important irradiation increases the risks of contracting diseases associated with ionising radiation, such as cancers and disorders affecting the human reproductive cycles.”

All facilities involved in the accidents are the property of AREVA, the state-owned monopoly which constructs nuclear power plants in France. The new power plant announced by Sarkozy will use pressurised water reactor (PWR) technology. Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, had decided in 2006 to construct the first PWR in Flamanville on the northwest Atlantic coast, by the English Channel.

The PWR in Flamanville is under construction, and is expected to go into production in 2012, and produce 1,600 megawatts of electricity. But the project has been hit by delays, and construction began really only in December last year.

”We want that nuclear energy be one of the main answers to the oil crisis we are facing today,” Prime Minister Francois Fillon announced. France has long relied on nuclear energy. A total of 58 nuclear power plants produce some 63,000 megawatts, 80 per cent of the electricity consumed in France. But, like all other countries using nuclear energy, France has not found a solution to the disposal of nuclear waste. And, judging by the recent string of accidents, it cannot claim that its nuclear power plants are absolutely safe.

Greenpeace has called for a suspension of the PWR programme. It points out that a PWR reactor under construction in Finland, in which AREVA is a partner, has faced numerous setbacks, and will go into production only in 2011, after more than two years delay and a 50 percent increase in construction costs.

Numerous accidents in European nuclear power plants have occurred in recent months. In Sweden, a fire broke out July 11 at the plant at Ringhals, near the city Göteborg.

In Germany, two nuclear power plants near Hamburg had to close in March. But leading members of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have been calling for reversal of a decision taken in 2000 to phase out nuclear power by 2022.

—IPS News