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DAWN - Editorial; August 13, 2008

August 13, 2008


Kashmir on the edge

PROTESTS and violence in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir are threatening a wider conflagration. This is most disturbing as it has serious implications for the Kashmiris’ human rights as well as for India-Pakistan relations. On Monday, a leader of the pro-independence All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), Sheikh Aziz, was killed by Indian security forces while leading protesters headed for the LoC who were supporting fruit growers in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley. The growers’ produce has been rotting as Hindus in the Jammu region have blockaded a highway that links the valley with the rest of India. This is an escalation of Hindu protests in the region that have gone on for weeks since the Amarnath Shrine land issue strained ties between Muslims and Hindus in Indian-administered Kashmir. The catalyst for the protests was a decision in May by the Congress-led state government to transfer 100 acres of land in the Kashmir valley to the Amarnath Shrine Board, which oversees a yearly pilgrimage by Hindus. Nine days of protests by Muslims led to the fall of the state government and the revocation of the land transfer. But this only triggered counter-protests by Hindus in the Jammu region.

The protests have been a huge set-back for Congress which was touting an improved security situation in Indian-administered Kashmir as one of its successes in the run-up to state elections later this year. Indeed violence was on the decline, tourists had returned to the Kashmir valley and there was hope that the elections would be a turning point for stability in the region. But those gains have quickly evaporated and the Muslim protests, some of the largest seen in two decades, have widened to become pro-independence rallies and brought together fractious leaders of the APHC. Indeed New Delhi is so alarmed by the situation that the prime minister has called an all-party meeting to discuss the issue today.

What the meeting will have to confront are the sensitive issues of land ownership, communal identity and relative population strengths of Muslims and Hindus in different parts of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir that have been laid bare by recent events. In July, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of his faction of the APHC, said: “The fact is that unless and until India addresses the sentiment for the resolution of the Kashmir issue I don’t think you can have permanent peace in Kashmir.” The political process must succeed if the region is to be spared another Kashmir meltdown.

As India struggles with its Kashmir woes, the Pakistan government has remained remarkably quiet on this front. This despite the fact that New Delhi has accused Pakistan of LoC violations and warned that the composite dialogue is on shaky ground. In light of this, the statement by a spokesman of the Jammu and Kashmir government predicting cross-LoC trade by October should be welcomed. In fraught times, every small gain in CBMs, that help to ease tensions, should be appreciated.

Police under siege?

IT is becoming tragically clear that relevant authorities are bent on funnelling funds on police ‘support’ rather than implementing visible reinforcements within the force. Recent reports of the Rangers being granted “permanent” staying facilities with plots of land across Sindh, including Karachi, speak volumes for official bias. The still nascent proposal has emerged some two months after the Senate standing committee on interior demanded that the paramilitary force vacate public buildings. It is disturbingly indicative of the fact that the Rangers — temporarily deployed with the Frontier Constabulary to quash escalating political violence in 1989 — are here to stay. It may also be recalled that the annual budget for the Sindh Rangers was exceeded by 55 per cent last year and has been raised by another 4.8 per cent for 2008-9. According to a report in this paper, revised estimates in the budget stand at Rs637.9 million, showing that “the actual budget allocation overshot by Rs227.8 million”. Undeniably, the home department has a lot to answer for as these outfits have already consumed a staggering budget — beginning with Rs4 billion in 1991-92. Moreover, the 12,000-strong Rangers were initially trained to manage our borders. Hence, with the MQM collisions behind us, what precisely is the force’s function today? Repeatedly hailed as better trained and equipped than the police, their purpose is a sad Karachi tradition — one of managing calamities, be it rain or terror.

In April, Sindh Home Minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza announced an increase in police salaries and benefits as well as the recruitment of close to 10,000 personnel to assuage the manpower crisis, due to which the ratio of police deployment in Sindh was one officer for every 545 citizens. However, last month Dr Mirza directed the Rangers to “provide backup support to the police” in the anti-dacoit drive across the province. It is more than disconcerting to note the home department’s failure to recognise that tasks being allocated to the paramilitary body are police duties. This begs the question: should the home department not chalk out a withdrawal plan for the Rangers instead of conferring permanence? Surely the government cannot deny the mainstream benefits of such an endeavour. The funds saved can revive non-existent women police stations; strengthen the Public Safety and Police Complaints Commission; equip, educate and remodel the police force; curb police excesses; and enhance allowances and incentives. It is time the home department saw the ‘need’ for the Rangers as little more than its own malfunction.

Yet another pressure tactic

THE tactics Israel has used to maintain its control over the occupied Palestinian territories are shocking. The latest report by a human rights body claims Israeli security authorities pressurise Palestinian patients into becoming informers in return for getting permission to visit Israel for medical treatment. A report released by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel cites a number of examples where patients were give painful options. The PHR-Israel says the domestic spy agency, Shin Bet, is playing an increasingly important role in determining whether a patient should be given the chance to leave Gaza and utilise better medical facilities in Israel. If he agrees to spy on fellow Palestinians he is allowed to proceed to Israel. Otherwise, Shin Beth authorities tell him to “wait for the Rafah crossing”. The Rafah crossing is the point of entry to Egypt and remains closed most of the time. This way, the report says, Palestinian patients have become “an accessible and important” source of information for Shin Bet. According to the PHR-Israel this constitutes a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits occupation authorities from coercing civilians into providing intelligence for the enemy.

The non-military tactics which the Israeli occupation authorities use to persecute the Palestinians are legend. They include control over water resources in Arab villages, their diversion to Jewish settlements, denial of electricity to Palestinian villages, construction of highways and bridges through Palestinian villages and orchards, the spraying of Palestinian grazing grounds with toxic chemicals, and the construction of new housing schemes on Arab lands, the latest example being the go-ahead given to plans for 400 new houses in the Arab part of Jerusalem.

While Israeli authorities are doing this, one is shocked to see Hamas and Fatah shedding Palestinian blood. Mahmoud Darwesh, the celebrated Palestinian poet who died recently, lamented the lack of unity among the Palestinians and termed the West Bank and Gaza as “two prisons”. The peace process remains frozen and it is unlikely that it will be revived unless the Palestinians forge unity and stop shedding their own blood.

OTHER VOICES - European Press

Musharraf’s day of reckoning

The Independent

FOR the past seven years, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has been supported by the West on the basis that… he was still a bulwark against terror in the post-9/11 world. …. If this vision of Mr Musharraf as the bastion of stability … was ever true … it is most certainly not true today as he faces impeachment proceedings from the two main parties in government.... The impeachment itself may or may not prove the occasion of his demise.... But as a symbol of his fading authority, even the threat of impeachment is indication enough of how far his power has waned…. True, his enemies are fractious and divided. Mr Musharraf still has support in the bureaucracy and … traditional political factions. But…little… from Pakistan’s power bases, particularly the army. Even Washington seems to have despaired of his ability to control his country. …Mr Musharraf’s continuance in office has always been untenable since the elections....

Pakistan’s new government may be weak but it will be no weaker for a change in president…. No one can predict … a stable road to democracy for the country. But what is most striking … is not how important Mr Musharraf is but how irrelevant he has become. — (Aug 9)

Russian bear smells honey

Times of Malta

In … Our Game, John le Carré quotes an Ingush proverb — he who thinks of the consequences cannot be brave — that in some cases is not true…. Ask Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. His attempt to seize South Ossetia on the principle that whatever breaks away can be brought back…has exploded…. Putin … disagreed with Saakashvili, invaded South Ossetia…. Reclaiming South Ossetia, … not Russia’s to reclaim, was bad enough but… the reported capture of Georgian towns by Russian troops added … to an already worrisome situation. …Mr Saakashvili’s decision to pit Georgia’s puny, military strength against Russia has resulted in the foreign occupation of South Ossetia…. Mr Putin is ... demonstrating that he is unafraid of aggression….

The United Nations is impotent…. The US is hardly likely to go to war if Russian troops are not withdrawn. …There is no unity in the European Union over how to handle Russia. ...The military-political implications are obvious…. Add an economic one — Europe’s partial dependence …on a pipeline that runs across Georgia…. Mr Putin has not hesitated to turn off the taps that allow Russian oil flow to Europe. He may be tempted to do the same with that Georgian pipeline; but that would mean war…. — (Aug 12)

Back home in a coffin

By Tom Parfitt

AS busloads of refugees from the conflict in South Ossetia continued to flow into Russia on Monday, mourning families prepared to bury the first fighters killed in the battle.

Hundreds of men from the bordering Russian region of North Ossetia have travelled into the war zone over the past few days to support Russian army units and the South Ossetian military, fighting Georgian forces. Ill-equipped or poorly trained, some were killed within hours of arrival. Murat Dryaev, 29, a construction worker, left for the war on Thursday and was brought home in a coffin two days later. He lived with his parents at the end of a stony track in Novy Batakayur, a village 16km from the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz.

“He went to defend his sister and her children who live in South Ossetia,” said his wife, Ira, weeping over her husband’s pallid face. “But he never reached the place where they hand out weapons.”

Dryaev and his group of volunteers were hit by Georgian artillery fire.

“His three-year-old daughter still thinks he’s coming home,” said his sister, Larisa. The dead man’s mother, Teresa, sat at the head of the coffin. “She’s been speechless, like a living corpse,” said Larisa. “She begged him not to go but she couldn’t stop him.”

The family said they did not know the fate of the sister Murat went to save.

The estimated 30,000 people who have escaped into Russia have been put up in hotels and holiday camps across the south of the country, where they have been given free food, medicines and phone calls.

At the recruitment centre for volunteer fighters in the city, Colonel Nerses Avetisyan said the centre would be switching its efforts to relief work in South Ossetia, “to do everything possible to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe”.

Russia’s emergencies minister, Sergei Shoigu, said the urgent priorities would be bread, a water supply, and hospitals.

Shoigu said there were plans to send extra teachers to southern Russian to cope with the influx of more than 5,000 refugee children into local schools.

— The Guardian, London