DAWN - Opinion; August 04, 2008

Published August 4, 2008

Our growing isolation

By Anees Jillani

ON July 25, eight small bombs exploded in quick succession across the south-Indian city of Bangalore, killing a woman and wounding at least 15 people.

So far the Indian police has few leads into the bombings. The Bangalore Commissioner of Police told the media that timer devices were used in all the bombs, and explosives were used in a quantity equal to one or two grenades. India’s home ministry said that it suspected “a small militant group” was behind the attacks, but has yet to give any details.

The next day, 16 blasts went off in Ahmedabad, resulting in more than 29 people getting killed and hundreds others injured. Mercifully, Pakistan and its premier intelligence agency, the ISI, have so far not been blamed. This is unlike the huge blast on July 7 at the gates of the Indian embassy in Kabul, blame for which was laid at the door of the ISI by a person no less than the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. Next in line was Indian National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan who called for the destruction of the ISI. “We made this point, whenever we have had a chance … There might have been some tactical restraint for some time, obviously that restraint is no longer present,” Mr Narayanan stated.

The Kabul blast was followed by several low-intensity explosions in the Pakhtun-dominated areas of Karachi which thankfully did not result in any deaths.

Hopefully, the above blasts in Kabul, Karachi and Bangalore are not interlinked and a consequence of internal turmoil. Nevertheless, there is now little doubt that India-Pakistan relations are again vulnerable despite the recent joint secretary-level talks in Islamabad, coupled with Pakistan adding 136 items to its positive list of imports from India in its 2008-09 trade policy and expressing an avowed interest in dealing with Indian traders and investors in several areas.

All these developments are not a good omen for Pakistan. They go to show the growing isolation of Pakistan in the international polity. It is high time the policymakers realised the folly of their policies and made necessary changes. There is in fact no harm in even publicly admitting the mistakes that the country made in certain arenas and showing the world and of course the citizens of Pakistan that adjustments have been made in relevant policies.

The government does not tire of stating that parliament is supreme but parliament is nowhere to be seen. This is the time to convene a session of the National Assembly and debate all these developments in detail. The country is increasingly seen by world leaders as a sanctuary for terrorists. The US Secretary of State just the other day stated that Pakistan needs to do more in its north-western region to control the Islamic militants; she rejected the plea that the terrain is difficult to operate in. The recent killing of 11 Pakistani soldiers by US air strikes showed that the American-led war in Afghanistan is relentlessly spreading into Pakistan.

The B-1 heavy-bomber and F-15 attacks were called “self-defence” by the Americans but there are reports that US and Pakistani troops engaged in a direct clash and heavy firefight that was ended by the American bombing. The US hunter-killer drones, US Special Forces and CIA teams have been launching attacks inside Fata. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has been openly advocating major ground and air attacks by US forces in Pakistan. American neoconservatives have been denouncing Pakistan as a ‘rogue state’ and a ‘sponsor of international terrorism’ and are calling for US air and missile strikes against Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and reactors.

The Indians have been accusing Pakistan for almost the past two decades for sponsoring and training the Kashmiri mujahideen who regularly hit targets inside Indian-occupied Kashmir. The Afghan president does not mince his words while holding his country’s biggest benefactor responsible for the “murder, killing, and the dishonouring of Afghans, and the resultant destruction and insecurity in the country.”

The irony is that Pakistanis are failing to realise this growing isolation of their country. They are becoming more angry with each American and Pakistan Army attack and do not see this whole campaign to suppress terrorism as their own battle; they see it as a foreign-sponsored war imposed on the country against its will. If this war is forced upon us by the Americans then it basically means that we condone whatever the militants are doing either in Afghanistan or Kashmir or for that matter even within our own country.

The militants for a number of years continued with the cruel practice of lining up Hindus in Indian-held Kashmir and spraying them with gunfire: the purpose was to force them to leave the territory and the militants succeeded to an extent in this endeavour. The Taliban are more ruthless, perhaps because non-Muslims are not so easily available and thus many a times take out their anger either in a sectarian manner or on people who refuse to cooperate with them.

The Pakistan government should come out openly with its policy regarding this campaign to control the growing Talibanisation and put a stop to this menace. This oscillation between making radical statements while meeting American and European dignitaries and sounding like a soft Taliban when conferring with the Taliban leaders has led us to the present imbroglio and can be hardly expected to get us out of it. The whole state apparatus, including our military and intelligence agencies, should be united and speak with one voice so that the terrorists take the state seriously. Otherwise, the Taliban will employ the British tactic of ‘divide and rule’ and will continue to conquer.

The unelectables

By Afiya Shehrbano

THERE is something unique about Pakistan, where non-electable individuals can continue to be president, run ministries, architect legislative and constitutional packages and get embedded as governors — all this, under a supposedly democratic government.

One rung lower on the ethics hierarchy reside their advisers, who hold no delusions of being representatives of the people. Instead, they convince themselves that theirs is a job for which they are accountable only to their benefactors — many of whom, as it stands, are technically not accountable to anyone.

Last year, the revived debate on transitional vs transformational democracy ended with a seeming victory for the pragmatists who wished for a trickle-down democracy rather than the uncompromised return to civilian democratic rule. They even defended the call for reform rather than the restitution of the constitution or judiciary. Today the institutional crisis has inevitably moved from a deposed judiciary to the much more rooted institutions that are the intelligence agencies. Those who repeatedly lament that the former has become too politicised will only too soon learn about the more meaningful nexus that is the military, the intelligence agencies, religion and politics. One wonders what constitutional reform package is being dreamt up to transitionally cross this little hurdle towards democratic change.

There were two central points that surfaced in the debate cited above and are pertinent as they play themselves out today. One of the points raised against the transformation argument was the need for transition through elections rather than a principled boycott. This was based on realpolitik, the understanding that political mobilisation had its limitations and a negotiation with Gen Musharraf was the only viable guarantee against future military intervention and a safeguard against abandonment by the Americans. The second was a more convoluted justification for the NRO deal which suggested this should not be analysed on its merits for individual benefits; rather it should be judged for its political moral ends — or something like that.

Within this argument, however, what got lost were the democratic goals we thought we were struggling for. Restoring the constitution and judiciary seemed like rational starting points but instead, it seems that unresolved individual motivations did in fact seep right into the political morality framework after all. Any good feminist could have told you, the personal is political and they overlap without warning.

The botched attempt to bring a military agency within a democratic framework is merely symptomatic of the broader constitutional crisis that lingers on. The juxtaposition of military and civilian rule is a ridiculous and unworkable competitive process, which will only serve to dilute an already precarious democracy characterised by paralyses rather than transition. So accommodating Musharraf may theoretically prevent the military from directly taking over the political reigns but, as we’ve seen, it certainly will not tolerate any civilian attempt to democratise the role of the military or its agencies.

Are we in transition or in a trance then? Since when did pragmatic politics depend on hope, prayer and patience to bring self-corrective change? The clash of institutional purposes is inevitable and, for their survival, political parties ought to retain the trust and faith reposed in them on Feb 18 so that the people support political democracy rather than succumb to despair from the parochialism and failed sense of purpose demonstrated by the government today.

One of the exemplars of the transition process is the current special adviser on economic affairs to the PM, Hina Rabbani Khar. Apparently, economic advice has no ideology. Rabbani Khar used to be the poster girl from amongst the yuppie ivy-leaguers employed by the Musharraf-Aziz PML-Q government, only to be unceremoniously denied a ticket due to her apparent unelectability just prior to the elections. However, the PPP, for all its scathing criticism of the previous government’s economic policies, has seen it fit for her to advise their PM on future economic policy. Is this continuity, contradiction or just plain confused principles?

It should be clarified here that the objection is not about qualification or the process of becoming elected. The women’s movement has always insisted on reserved seats for women and minorities as a corrective process. While this does not mean that these members of the government are any less credible, neither does it mean it’s a free lunch and they are therefore any less accountable.

The role of advisers to government is interesting because it is not as transparent or traceable as that of an elected legislator. For example, much social policy advice is drawn from an elite force that elusively refers to itself as ‘consultants’ and are often multi-disciplinary in their talents. If pressed, an experienced consultant can advise on economics, health, women’s issues, labour policy and the environment all by himself. They have long resumes, publications to their names and research findings which may not have been derived from any consensual, critical or democratic process.

But nonetheless, they lend acquired expertise to the unassuming and often disinterested minister, bureaucrat or parliamentarian. Further advantages are that consultants are not accountable to any party, voter or institution and they certainly do not have to worry about being re-elected.

Going by the current trends of political decision-making in Islamabad, it seems this government is not too concerned about re-election or accountability either. More importantly, advice, no matter how informed, is no substitute for peoples’ support, goodwill and votes. It is obvious that institutional reform, forget change, is a difficult task. But that the very obstacles to change are accommodated for personal ends disguised as political necessity is a morality no voter will accept in the future.

Perhaps the best free advice for the government today would be to avoid decision-making by the unelected and focus more on collective decisions towards enforcing hard-core institutional changes. The unelectables are merely buffers who are delaying institutional resolution and making challenges more insurmountable than they already were.


Gastronomy on the Seine

By Zafar Masud

WITH summer just about settling in to claim its supremacy over spring rain, wind and thunder, a lot has already started happening in France.

No, no, it has nothing to do with boring stuff like the French presidency of the European Union or the rising influx of African immigrants!

Here we are talking about exhilarating events like the quinquagenarian Madonna’s live performances, spiked leatherwear and all, to promote her latest, sado-maso video entitled ‘Hard Candy’ (think ‘hard core’ please!) and the recurring TV shots of a resplendent Angelina Jolie (no spring chicken herself) in the corridors of a Nice hospital from where she has graced our famished world with her much awaited twins. At the same time we are privileged to see her ‘partner’ (‘husband’ is a thing of the past in these elated times) Brad Pitt looking like a diligent mother-hen and gathering in his arms the brood of children, whether borne or adopted by Angelina according to her whims at different moments in her life.

The oblique message by both women to the gullible young is as follows: “Kids are dying of hunger every day in Africa. It’s your fault and you should be ashamed, you hamburger guzzlers! If you don’t want that to continue, just make us richer. Never mind if we already are billionaires. Give us more. God bless you!”

None of those asininities, however, for a youthful Belgian lawyer who thinks on different lines. Merci beaucoup and God bless you, Michel Cloes!

Michel says the inspiration to put together an international gastronomy festival came to him after he successfully organised a lawyers’ conference in Brussels a few years back.

“That thrilling experience and the haunting memories of the delicious dishes my mother used to make …”, said Michel finding a moment between taking calls on his cellphone and politely whispering instructions to his staff on the mini-yacht on the Seine in the heart of Paris, with a grand view of Notre Dame just behind him, “… both played tricks with my imagination until I was totally convinced that I must do something to attract the world’s great chefs, food experts, writers of cookbooks and bon vivants in the same spot for a few days so that they could exchange ideas and quite simply have a good time.”

A good time is what everyone had for three days at the ‘Gastronomy by the Seine’ festival on that luxury boat whose moment of glory was a dinner cruise until one in the morning under a candent July sky as chefs from different countries demonstrated their culinary skills and offered their varied menus, tirelessly and expressing unabashed pleasure and pride in their art.

It may not have been gastronomically correct to clutter one’s plate with Indian samosa, Japanese sushi, American turkey-roast, French soufflé and Italian ravioli all at the same time, but the temptation was too great and the elegantly dressed guests were trying their best to savour the delicacies one by one and retain the nuances of their distinct flavours and tastes.

In a daze one meandered through one group of experts to the other as conversations progressed headily. While a gourmet critic from New York perorated over the fine difference between crème frèche prepared from the milk of cows grazing in pastures in the plains and the milk from the mountain variety, a Norwegian lady explained that her country’s fabled fresh-water salmon steak, available aplenty on board that night, was at its succulent best when flipped over the frying pan quickly, taking care that neither side absorbs heat for more than a few seconds, so the meat turns warm without getting cooked.

Good to know! The cruise also offered the guests, foreigners but also many indigenes, the possibility of admiring the undersides of the Seine’s stately bridges and to have an unusual view of well-known sites such as the François Mitterrand Bibliothèque, a smaller model of the Statue of Liberty and of course a scintillating Eiffel Tower, aglow with a million sparks as the yacht lingered facing it long enough to allow the guests to take photographs.

But that was far from being the most dramatic of the surprises cascading down one after the other in admirable cadence. While the guests were still under the spell of the Havanas following a cigar-tasting ceremony, in rushed a dynamic and youthful group of tenors, baritones, sopranos and mezzo-sopranos who delighted the audience with a string of arias and bel canto items from famous works by Mozart, Vivaldi, Rossini and many others that they sang mingling with the crowd, as a beautiful young woman in a pink dress played on a grand piano. What a delightful treat, gasped a lady, ecstatic. One could safely bet a million euros no one was thinking of ‘hard candy’ during those enchanted moments!

The other highlights of the festival during these three hectic and appetite-enhancing days were a gourmet book-signing ceremony, a seemingly unending array of culinary workshops, a young chefs’ cooking competition and discussions by experts on hot topics of international interest today: organic farming and sustainable fisheries.

The festival committee included such illustrious names of world gastronomy as the famed French chef and restaurant owner Guy Savoy and the world-reknowned food critic Naomi Barry who once also did gastronomy columns for the International Herald Tribune.

Michel Cloes, who has founded and heads the World Chef Culinary Network that was behind the event, was justifiably proud of his achievement of organising the first annual festival in the very home of world gastronomy. Beaming with delight he informed this writer he was looking forward to having a Pakistani stand next year.

It’s a deal, Michel!

The writer is a journalist based in Paris.

Climate change threat

By Andrew Simms

IF you shout “fire” in a crowded theatre, when there is none, you understand that you might be arrested for irresponsible behaviour and breach of the peace. But from today, I smell smoke, I see flames and I think it is time to shout. I don’t want you to panic, but I do think it would be a good idea to form an orderly queue to leave the building.

Because in just 100 months’ time, if we are lucky, and based on a quite conservative estimate, we could reach a tipping point for the beginnings of runaway climate change. That said, among people working on global warming, there are countless models, scenarios, and different iterations of all those models and scenarios. So, let us be clear from the outset about exactly what we mean.

The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere today, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, is the highest it has been for the past 650,000 years. In the space of just 250 years, as a result of the coal-fired Industrial Revolution, and changes to land use such as the growth of cities and the felling of forests, we have released, cumulatively, more than 1,800bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Currently, approximately 1,000 tonnes of CO2 are released into the Earth’s atmosphere every second, due to human activity. Greenhouse gases trap incoming solar radiation, warming the atmosphere. When these gases accumulate beyond a certain level — often termed a “tipping point” — global warming will accelerate, potentially beyond control.

Faced with circumstances that clearly threaten human civilisation, scientists at least have the sense of humour to term what drives this process as “positive feedback”. But if translated into an office workplace environment, it’s the sort of “positive feedback” from a manager that would run along the lines of: “You’re fired, you were rubbish anyway, you have no future, your home has been demolished and I’ve killed your dog.”

In climate change, a number of feedback loops amplify warming through physical processes that are either triggered by the initial warming itself, or the increase in greenhouse gases.

One example is the melting of ice sheets. The loss of ice cover reduces the ability of the Earth’s surface to reflect heat and, by revealing darker surfaces, increases the amount of heat absorbed. Other dynamics include the decreasing ability of oceans to absorb CO2 due to higher wind strengths linked to climate change. This has already been observed in the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic, increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and adding to climate change.

Because of such self-reinforcing positive feedbacks (which, because of the accidental humour of science, we must remind ourselves are, in fact, negative), once a critical greenhouse concentration threshold is passed, global warming will continue even if we stop releasing additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

If that happens, the Earth’s climate will shift into another, more volatile state, with different ocean circulation, wind and rainfall patterns. The implications of which, according to a growing litany of research, are potentially catastrophic for life on Earth. Such a change in the state of the climate system is often referred to as irreversible climate change.

So, how exactly do we arrive at the ticking clock of 100 months? We followed the latest data and trends for carbon dioxide, then made allowances for all human interferences that influence temperatures, both those with warming and cooling effects. We followed the judgments of the mainstream climate science community, represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on what it will take to retain a good chance of not crossing the critical threshold of the Earth’s average surface temperature rising by 2C above pre-industrial levels.

We were cautious in several ways, optimistic even, and perhaps too much so. A rise of 2C may mask big problems that begin at a lower level of warming. For example, collapse of the Greenland ice sheet is more than likely to be triggered by a local warming of 2.7C, which could correspond to a global mean temperature increase of 2C or less. The disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet could correspond to a sea-level rise of up to 7 metres.

We found that, given all of the above, 100 months from today (Aug 1) we will reach a concentration of greenhouse gases at which it is no longer “likely” that we will stay below the 2C temperature rise threshold. “Likely” in this context refers to the definition of risk used by the IPCC. But, even just before that point, there is still a one third chance of crossing the line.

There is now a different clock to watch than the one on the office wall. Contrary to being a counsel of despair, it tells us that everything we do from now matters. And, possibly more so than at any other time in recent history. It tells us, for example, that only a government such as the current administration of Gordon Brown that was sleepwalking or in a chemically induced coma would countenance building a third runway at London-Heathrow airport, or a new generation of coal-fired power stations such as the proposed new plant at Kingsnorth in Kent, south-east England. Infrastructure that is fossil-fuel-dependent locks in patterns of future greenhouse gas emissions, radically reducing our ability to make the short- to medium-term cuts that are necessary.

Deflecting blame and responsibility is a great skill of officialdom. On the first get-out, it is delusory to think that countries such as China, India and Brazil will fundamentally change until wealthy countries such as Britain take a lead. And it is wildly unrealistic to think that individuals alone can effect a comprehensive re-engineering of the nation’s fossil-fuel-dependent energy, food and transport systems. Governments must lead.

—The Guardian, London



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