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DAWN - Editorial; August 28, 2008

August 28, 2008


Powerless Karachi

KARACHIITES must be wondering what it is that they have done to deserve so much punishment. Already walloped by a dire shortage of electricity, the denizens of Karachi will be dealt a hammerblow by an impending hike in power tariffs. Many electricity consumers will soon be confronted with the perplexing scenario of increasing bills and decreasing durations of power supply. With KESC dependent on so many different sources for electricity and so many different variables at work, there is plenty of blame to be shared — and some bad luck to boot. First, the national power generation situation is grim. According to a report in this paper, the national deficit of electricity has surged to 4,500MW. And, demonstrating the complexity and politics of electricity generation, part of the present shortfall has been caused by sabotaged gas pipelines. Then there is the fact that hydel power — which can generate up to 6,600MW — is dependent on the level of water in resorvoirs and the irrigation needs of the country.

However, there is much that is desperately wrong in the KESC system which can be blamed on human, controllable elements. On Tuesday, peak power demand in Karachi was 2,200MW, while supply hovered around 1,300MW. Much of that 900MW deficit has its roots in operational, managerial and political failures. On the operational side, it seems that the KESC is simply incapable of keeping its own power generation units in working condition. Some units of the Bin Qasim and Korangi power plants are always offline, for technical reasons that appear simply to be a coverup for gross incompetence. The decrepit transmission and distribution network has also seen little improvement since the KESC was handed over to private management. On the managerial side, the takeover by Dubai-based Al Abraaj group from the consortium led by Saudi-based Al Jomaih group has proved deeply problematic. For one, the Al Abraaj group, a financial and real estate conglomerate, has no experience running a power supply utility. For another, the Al Abraaj group, which will take over the affairs of the KESC at the end of November, has been set on wrangling financial concessions from the government, which has appeared overly sympathetic to the group’s demands. The hike in the power tariff that has been approved by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) has at the same time been met with a decrease in the price KESC will have to pay for Wapda power. There is no doubt that a financially healthy KESC is good for Karachi; however, everything that is good for Al Abraaj and the KESC is not good for power consumers. Karachiites must pay a fair price for electricity; what they must not be asked to do is to pay for the KESC’s incompetence and self-interest.

Blood-letting on campus

THE death of three students and a watchman at the Karachi University on Tuesday in fierce clashes between two student groups points to the gravity of the situation on the campus. It is not that the fighting was unexpected. As facts show tension had been building up between the IJT and APMSO supporters for a week since the row over a ‘peace march’. The two had also clashed on the NED campus on Saturday. On Tuesday, firing between the two groups began in the morning, stopped briefly after intervention by KU officials and the Rangers, but resumed in the evening and continued for half an hour resulting in casualties. Such is the extent of enmity between the two groups that they even fired at the hospitals where the injured were taken, and some vehicles were burnt. The student activists also beat up some administration officials.

Two major questions crop up here. First, how did the students manage to enter the campus with arms when the Rangers were on duty? Either the IJT and APMSO activists managed to find loopholes in the Rangers’ security system, or they had stocked fire-arms on the campus somewhere and made use of them. The firing lasted intermittently the entire day and this should have given the Rangers time enough to end the shoot-out. Instead, the two warring groups seemed to have all the opportunity in the world to turn the campus into a battlefield. Second, why did the KU administration not make its presence felt and intervene to stop the clash? This gross failure on the administration’s part reinforces the general belief that the teachers themselves are divided and have for that reason undermined their professorial authority that is so essential for maintaining the dignity of any educational institution and for inculcating discipline and moral values among students and inspiring them to higher achievements in education and life. Finally, the political parties must share the responsibility for what happened on Tuesday. The student groups owe loyalty to the Jamaat-i-Islami and the MQM. To blame only the students amounts to whitewashing the crime of the parent organisations. The clash was not something unusual, for these armed groups have been spilling blood now for decades. It was during Ziaul Haq’s regime that student militancy emerged as an ugly feature of campus life. To blame only the student-killers is to absolve the top leaders of the two parties of their role in failing to check violence on the campuses.

Price of morality?

AN enemy who speaks an altogether different language with unforgiving conviction is at best a dark dead-end. A research by the Asian Human Rights Commission clearly states that there has been negligible change in the incidents of violence against women after the Women Protection Bill 2006 came into force. A local NGO’s research supports this claim with astounding figures — 1317 women endured violence in 2007, including over 210 victims of honour killing. Take recent shockers, such as the woman in Sukkur who was axed to death by her cousin over ‘suspicions’ of illicit relations and another victim of domestic violence in Ranjhapur village who sought asylum at Thull police station. These came soon after two bullet-riddled bodies of women were discovered in Gulli Garhi village with a note that declared them of ‘loose character’. It also stated that the victims had been killed for defying warnings by the Jaish-i-Islami. With the treacherous recesses of the NWFP having been turned into a minefield of extremism and the rural areas nursing their gender prejudices it is not strange that violence against women is on the rise. Moreover, the parameters of a ‘loose character’ or ‘illicit relations’ remain undefined and anything is enough to trigger the wrath of the custodians of morality. The question is how long will regressive elements enforce a parallel ‘legal’ system that challenges the writ of the state and perpetrates outright murders in the name of virtue?

Despite the fact that women in Fata continue to cry foul, citing the region’s ‘special status’ as the root of these ‘murders’, Frontier Crime Regulation persists and jirgas have yet to be replaced by courts of law. Regrettably, the ‘edicts’ ordained by jirgas and militants remain loaded against women and are in open violation of the laws of the land. Perhaps, aside from the establishment of a judicial system, far-flung areas are in dire need of empowered, sensitised women’s police stations. As experts have pointed out in the past, the National Commission on the Status of Women must also become more independent, aggressive and, above all, relevant in such areas. Lastly, the security of our womenfolk is a national investment and education and employment are surefire tools to thwart patriarchy and brutality.

Ghosts of the past

By Dr Rubina Saigol

CONTEMPORARY Pakistan finds itself at the nexus of a number of intersecting conflicts that have generated unbridled violence across the length and breadth of the country.

The suicide bombing at the Pakistan Ordnance Factory was the continuation of a series of attacks on state institutions including the ISI, the SSG unit, the air force as well as civilian law-enforcement agencies such as the FIA building in Lahore.

News of bloodshed is splashed across the front pages of dailies from attacks on utility installations such as Sui gas pipelines in Balochistan to the regular bombing and torching of girls’ schools in Mingora, Swat, and other areas of Pakhtunkhwa. Added to these horrific news items are the almost daily attacks by Nato forces on the innocent people of Bajaur and other Fata areas from where populations are forced to flee and become displaced.

There is a virtual civil war going on between the security forces and militants, and among militants themselves, in Waziristan. A number of outfits such as Lashkar-i-Islam of Mangal Bagh and Amr Bil Maroof Wal Nahi Al-Munkar of the slain Haji Namdar have sprung up. Among all religio-militant contraptions, the biggest and most deadly by far are the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan led by Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Omar and the revitalised Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi.

Nobody knows which ones have been spawned by the spymasters themselves and which ones sprung up in resistance to US and Pakistani siege of the areas. Similarly, one hears whispers of the Balochistan National Army being active in the province with the backing of some powerful actors.

We need to understand our plight in a historical perspective. What we see all around us today is not a sudden or recent uprising but goes way back into the very process of the formation of our state in a communal split and the subsequent festering of wounds inflicted over years of insensitivity exhibited by a highly centralised state. As Pakistan emerged in the context of the divisive two-nation paradigm, the state came to be defined in religious terms early on in our history.

There were two major consequences of the birth of the country within a primarily religious idiom: 1) The state acquired a communal, religious and sectarian character which generated sectarian and religious violence; and 2) the overemphasis on religious identity excluded and denied the existence of older and more entrenched ethnic, linguistic and regional identities which were suppressed in the name of religious homogenisation.

Let us take the communalisation of the state first. As early as 1949 the Objectives Resolution was adopted which declared that sovereignty belongs to Allah and the religious and social system of Islam would be fully observed. In spite of serious objections raised by the minority members of the constituent assembly, the resolution was passed on the insistence of the Muslim members who took their cue from the two-nation concept.

In 1985, during Gen Zia’s Islamisation drive, Article 2-A was inserted into the constitution and the Objectives Resolution was made a substantive part of the constitution thereby making its provisions justiciable. At that time the minorities were deprived of the right to practise their religions freely as the word ‘freely’ was deleted.

The Afghan jihad, coupled with the Islamisation measures designed to legitimise Zia’s illegal rule, provided enormous impetus for the growth of madressahs supported by Saudi, US and Iranian funds. The greatest increase in religious parties was recorded between 1979 and 1990, and this is accounted for by the staggering rise in the number of sectarian outfits.

While jihad-related organisations doubled, there was a 90 per cent increase in sectarian parties. In the same period, religious seminaries began to proliferate in Pakistan. Prior to 1980, there were 700 religious schools in Pakistan and the annual rate of increase was three per cent.

By the end of 1986, the rate of increase of deeni madaris reached a phenomenal 136 per cent. By 2002, Pakistan had 7,000 institutions awarding higher degrees in religious teaching. The new schools were mostly set up in the Frontier province, southern Punjab and Karachi. Religious leaders were provided with economic incentives to create militants for the Afghan war.

The situation was now rife for sectarian conflict as arguments and interpretations of the ‘true’ meaning of an Islamic state became ubiquitous. In Punjab, 1994 was one of the worst years in terms of sectarian killing when 73 people were killed and many more wounded. In the latter half of 1996, sectarian violence in Parachinar and part of the Kurrram Agency claimed hundreds of lives. In March 2004, unidentified gunmen opened fire on an Ashura procession in Quetta killing over 40 people and injuring scores of others. Sectarian violence escalated in Oct 2004 when on Oct 1 29 people were killed in an imambargah in Sialkot. On Oct 7, a bomb explosion in Multan killed 40 people in a mosque while three days later a blast ripped through a Shia mosque in Lahore killing four people. The latest was in Dera Ismail Khan where a hospital full of Shia mourners was attacked.

Another major consequence of a state emerging within a religious theory was that Pakistan failed to evolve a viable federal structure. Religious nationalism became a centralising force and the unique identities of ethnic minorities came to be denied or erased because of the promotion of an overriding religious identity. As early as 1963 Ayub Khan declared that “I do hope that in a few decades, which is not a long time in the history and progress of nations, our people will forget to think in terms of Punjabi, Pathan, Sindhi, Balochi and Bengali and think of themselves as Pakistanis only … our religion, our ideology, our common background, our aims and ambitions unite us more firmly than any geographical boundaries could have.”

The denial of the rights of smaller provinces in recognition of language, NFC award, royalties or water share led to various conflicts one after another which culminated in East Pakistan’s secession and ensuing resistance movements in Balochistan, Fata and Sindh. In 1970-71 the state was locked in a power struggle against the Bengalis, in the mid-1970s against the Baloch, in the 1980s against the Sindhis during the MRD movement and in the early 1990s against Urdu-speaking migrants from India.

An over-centralised state, dominated by one ethnic group along with a powerful army and bureaucracy drawn primarily from one or two ethnic groups, drew its ideological inspiration from religious nationalism to create a false sense of unity. The foundational paradigm of the state’s emergence ironically created existential crises for it, as the founding theory blew up in its face and its repressive response simply added fuel to the fire of ethnic disaffection. Today its own policies have come back to haunt the state.

‘Idle’ environmentalists

By Robert Tait

TURKEY’S prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, known to prize his reputation for plain-speaking lambasted environmentalists as “idle” on Tuesday, saying they “prance around” doing nothing to protect nature.

The diatribe was triggered by a spate of protests against government plans for more than 40 hydroelectric dams, the decision to build nuclear power stations and fish farms said to be polluting beaches on Turkey’s Aegean coast.

On a visit to Rize on the Black Sea, Erdogan made little attempt to win over hearts and minds, instead asking campaigners: “Where were you until now? Why were you silent? The government is trying to do something now. Why didn’t you do anything when the fish farms were first built? There is this tendency to hit at the government and Tayyip Erdogan no matter what. You don’t have the right.”

The “finest environmentalists”, he continued, were himself and his government — not the “idle environmentalists” who comprised campaign groups and failed to recognise his achievement in committing Turkey to the Kyoto treaty.

“Just ask those who prance around saying ‘I am an environmentalist’: what have they done for the world or the environment?” he said. “They are just people who try to do something with their spare time. We have signed the Kyoto protocol. Did they even stop to say thank you?”

Erdogan’s attack coincided with the arrest at the weekend of 33 campaigners — many foreign nationals — at a camp in the town of Sinop, where they were protesting against plans to build a nuclear plant.

While the prime minister may have calculated that his approach would appeal to voters concerned about energy needs and economic development, it has provoked outrage within the green movement and warnings from political commentators.

Umit Sahin, a spokesman for Turkey’s Green party, said Erdogan favoured “using force against the green opposition”.

— The Guardian, London

OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press

Arab adolescents

Yemen Times

OVER 11 per cent of [the] Arab population is adolescent youth. Although it varies from one Arab country to the other, most teenagers admit they have not had any kind of proper sex and reproductive health education during their growing years and especially during puberty.

Because of immigration, globalisation and modernisation family life in the region is changing and the youth are exposed to different kinds of media that was not available to their parents. This makes the media seconded by friends … the primary source of information on sex and reproductive health for Arab youth. A national survey of Egyptian adolescents titled ‘Transitions to Adulthood’, which was published in 1999 by the population council in Egypt, showed that only seven per cent of boys said they learned about puberty from their fathers, although 42 per cent of fathers said they talked to their boys about it.

So far, little is known about what young people themselves want in terms of sexual and reproductive health services. It is crucial that young Arabs are provided the opportunity and … adequate resources to learn about their health and how to handle physical and psychological changes. They have the right to know, and we as adults have the obligation to assist them in their self-exploration so that they make the correct decisions. — (Aug 25)

Russia-Nato ties

Gulf News

THIS has been a month that shook the world. The Russian invasion of Georgia changed the dynamics of Washington-Moscow relations and forced politicians and analysts to re-examine how close future ties should be. Moscow has already shown its intention by informing Nato it will break off military cooperation with the West…. This was in response to Nato’s earlier announcement that there could be “no business as usual” as long as Russian forces remained in Georgia.

The consequences … from the short war with Georgia [will be] … longer than the brief military exchanges. It is important to make sure the diplomatic barbs are not allowed to set the agenda for more catastrophic actions, which can occur all too easily if standard communication lines between Nato and Moscow are cut.

The potential for … escalation is obvious, especially with Nato warships in the Black Sea for what the alliance said were long-planned exercises and routine visits to ports in Romania and Bulgaria.

Nato and Russia have different global objectives, but it is in times of crisis that the two must establish secure and reliable communications…. The scope for misunderstanding is great and the consequences of some hot-headed action by the military on either side are too serious… [T]he Caucasus [crisis] must not be allowed escalate into a crisis for the world. — (Aug 22)