DAWN - Editorial; August 30, 2008

Published August 30, 2008

Balochistan needs more

THE announcement by Prime Minister’s Adviser on Interior Affairs Rehman Malik that 35 of the 54 check posts of the Frontier Corps (FC) in Balochistan will be dismantled and relocated to the province’s borders from urban areas is welcome news. The removal of the FC checkpoints has been one of the longstanding demands of the people of Balochistan, who have complained of harassment at the hands of FC troops in settled areas and on highways. In addition to this, Mr Malik made several other announcements: the law enforcment agencies operating in the province are to work under the chief minister; political prisoners will be relased and non-criminal cases against them dropped; and new confidence building measures will be taken up to bring the tribal sardars to the negotiating table.

Since few things in Balochistan are straightforward, the success of the measures depends on what happens next. First, Mr Rehman’s commitment that army personnel will be withdrawn from the interior of the province and replaced by civilian forces raises a question: which civilian forces? There is no doubt that the FC presence is deeply resented by the Baloch but the police is not likely to win over hearts and minds either. Indeed, one of the demands of the province’s leaders is to revive the Balochistan levies, which have been merged with the local police in recent years. According to Balochistan’s politicians, the local levies are better suited to serve the local communities; the predominantly non-Baloch police is eyed with suspicion by locals and considered repressive and corrupt. In fact one of the key recommendations of the parliamentary committee on Balochistan formed under the last government was to retain the Balochistan levies.

Moreover, the latest measures fall short of addressing basic issues. The districts of Dera Bugti and Kohlu have been the hub of militancy but, given their currently inflamed state, the FC troops are unlikely to be withdrawn from there — virtually guaranteeing further clashes in the province. For the militants, the withdrawal of troops and resettlement of the displaced people of the districts — estimated last October by the International Crisis Group to be at least 84,000 — are prerequisites for peace. For the government, the withdrawal of troops while government installations and officials are under attack is a non-starter. A compromise has thus far proved elusive. Perhaps it is time the government considers a general amnesty along the lines offered by Gen Zia in 1979 that helped bring an end to the last — and much wider — insurgency in Balochistan. Interior Adviser Malik did announce the formation of a committee to review cases against political leaders, but it will do little to tempt the most radical of Balochistan’s militants to lay down their arms. So the verdict on Mr Malik’s latest measures must be: good, but not good enough.

Silence is golden

THE American military leadership is now pleased, so it seems, with the Pakistan army’s role in the war on terror. That is the obvious conclusion one draws from Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen’s briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday. A day earlier he held a secret meeting with Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on board an American aircraft carrier. Coming in that meeting’s wake, the Admiral’s statement that he believed “Pakistan’s focus in the war on terror was where it should have been” is extremely telling. It is intriguing why the Americans considered it necessary to announce this publicly. Equally embarrassing for the army leadership that has succeeded Gen Musharraf is for the Americans to make a song and dance of the ‘growing’ military-to-military relationship between the two sides. If Pakistan’s army chief had given the Americans an opportunity to understand a ‘complex’ relationship and this was a part of an ongoing dialogue, didn’t wisdom demand that the two sides maintain a discreet silence on it?

The fact is that Pakistan is trapped in a crisis that is shrouded in numerous contradictions. The war on terror which is being projected to the world as America’s biggest challenge of this century is equally, if not more, a challenge for Pakistan as well. Al Qaeda and the Taliban pose a threat to Pakistan’s integrity, security and way of life. It is ironical that the US as well as Pakistan’s intelligence agencies had a hand in creating this monster that they are now trying to eliminate. But this is not a simple battle for either of them. They are now faced with another challenge that comes in the form of strong anti-American public sentiments in Pakistan. This has been further compounded by the continuing political crisis in the country. Pervez Musharraf’s exit from the political scene has not led to stability, as the collapse of the grand coalition and the lawyers’ agitation continue to distract the government, which has yet to give a sense of direction to the country. Against this backdrop, Admiral Mullen’s statement conveys the impression that Washington feels that under its new command the Pakistan army is more malleable. This will only help to alienate a large section of the public without strengthening the military’s hand which is operating in sensitive areas where the ‘enemy’ often happens to be its own people. Needless to say, the biggest loser by this American indiscretion will be the civilian government in Islamabad.

Policing pains

THE police force is seen as a perpetrator of injustice but not a thought is spared for the myriad catalysts of frustration that plague its ranks. The most recent proof is a report in this newspaper, which reveals that the Sindh government is set to hand out “out-of-turn promotions to a fresh lot of police officers”. Unsurprisingly, for this democratic regime, the past is hardly another country as candidates recruited as deputy superintendents of police in Benazir Bhutto’s second stint in power will be the main beneficiaries. Alarming figures fill official records — from September 1995 to November 2007, 52 out-of-turn-promotions were carried out and the number remains unmatched when compared to such upgrades in other provinces. These have also triggered a debate regarding the criteria for such endorsements: if it is injury during Bhutto’s homecoming, where does it leave the many unsung officers who incur wounds when on duty for ordinary citizens? Secondly, an adequate description has to be given to ‘beyond the call of duty’ which has to extend beyond vague ideals of ‘gallantry’ and sacrifice.

Strangely enough, many attempted reforms later, the question remains the same: can the blame be laid at the door of under-resourced police stations that suffer from political interference and non-professionalism? Dr Shoaib Suddle had formulated stringent measures to eliminate the curse of extraneous influences on the department and prescribed set terms for certain cadres with merit being mandatory. Sadly, his stay was cut short by controversy. However, the home ministry needs to revisit the issue, which the police reforms under Gen Musharraf sought to improve but failed to do so. Undeniably, politics and policing cannot make amicable bedfellows. Why then have democratic leaders failed to eradicate political patronage that perpetuates police apathy and spells ruin for civil society? Successive governments have forced nepotism upon the force and left it bereft of objectivity and professionalism. Small wonder then that the citizenry remains the worst victim as a detached police corps is the greatest impediment in the journey to justice.

OTHER VOICES - Sri Lankan Press

‘It is the elections, stupid!’

The Island

WE Sri Lankans do three things right. We watch cricket obsessively, engage in politics fanatically and view TV madly. Other things including work can always wait…. The real problem is with politics. There may be only a few other nations that are as fixated as we are on politics. We had PC polls last Saturday and the results were announced the following day. But, politicians have not yet allowed the country to put those elections behind it.

As if premature PC polls had not been enough, some government politicians threatened the other day to go for a parliamentary election…. The opposition, not to be outdone, has insisted that a parliamentary election be held…. Time was when the SLFP refused to concede defeat at elections without addressing the causes of its poor performance, the main being a bitter intra-party dispute. It lost several elections for 17 years … from 1977 onwards.

True, there was rigging and election violence but if the SLFP had … solved its problems, it could have made use of several opportunities it had during that period to turn the tables on the UNP. The UNP is in a similar predicament today.

The JVP has, despite all its faults, admitted its setback and promised to make a comeback…. It has said this is not the first time it has been routed in politics and that every time it was defeated it bounced back…. Meanwhile, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ruled out a snap parliamentary election….

President Rajapaksa may not call a snap general election but he is likely to dissolve another PC or two prematurely, if the JVP, which contested on the UPFA ticket and gained representation last time, rocks the boat again.

It is not elections and political muscle-flexing that the country needs urgently. It needs proper economic management, solutions to the problems affecting people and, above all, an early end to the ongoing war. Anyway, we need not be surprised by the government and opposition’s preoccupation with elections. For, politicians always think in terms of the next election. Only statesmen think in terms of the next generation. — (Aug 29)

EU’s strategy on Russia

By Shadaba Islam

THE European Union’s autumn agenda looks set to be dominated by events in its immediate eastern neighbourhood as an increasingly assertive, self-confident and energy-rich Russia tests the 27-nation bloc’s ambitions of playing a strong regional foreign and security role.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has summoned his European Union colleagues to Brussels on Sept 1 for an emergency summit to discuss the 27 nations’ troubled relations with Russia. Mr Sarkozy is clearly hoping EU leaders will send a strong message condemning Moscow’s decision to recognise the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia — a move condemned by the EU as a breach of international law.

But the summit also risks revealing deep rifts within the EU on how best to deal with Russia as well as EU differences on future relations with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, once Soviet-bloc nations which are struggling to establish closer ties with Nato and the EU. Mr Sarkozy, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, was successful in helping to broker a ceasefire agreement between Russia and Georgia earlier this month under which Moscow agreed to withdraw all its troops to their pre-war positions by Aug 22. EU diplomats warn, however, that Russia is not respecting the deal.

However, even as they spar with Moscow over its decision to send troops into Georgia, the 27 EU governments have become entangled in an embarrassing — but not unexpected — internal debate on the bloc’s increasingly difficult relationship with Russia. The EU’s so-called ‘old’ member states France, Germany and Italy have historically lobbied for a more conciliatory approach towards Russia, not least because of their dependence on Russian oil and gas resources.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said recently the West had made a “mistake” by humiliating Russia over 10 years (from 1991 to 2000), asking Moscow to be a “supplier of energy and welcome our investments” without being given a “political role” in return. “Russia has nourished a frustration which today exploded,” Frattini said.

In contrast, ‘new’ formerly communist EU states, including Baltic nations as well as Poland — joined by Sweden and Britain — are pressing for a tougher line on Moscow, arguing that Russia should not be allowed to become the dominant power in the region.

Complicating the picture even further are deep divisions within some EU governments over Russia. The schism within the German coalition is most marked, with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was born in eastern Germany, much less willing to compromise with Moscow than her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier whose Social Democratic Party favours a close partnership with Russia.

Illustrating this, when Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas recently said there must be consequences for Russia’s “unacceptable and unproportional” use of force, Mr Steinmeier retorted: “I see no point in us getting lost in a long debate about responsibility for and origins of the escalation.”

“You can decide to make strong statements with one-sided condemnations, or you can look to the future and take a real role in stabilising the situation,” Mr Steinmeier said.

In recent days, Mr Sarkozy and his chief diplomat Bernard Kouchner also appear to be singing from distinctly different hymn sheets. The French president appears uneasy about ruffling Russian feathers but Kouchner has said the bloc should consider sanctions against Moscow and has also accused the country of seeking to start another Cold War.

The French minister and his British colleague David Miliband have gone even further in recent days by voicing fears that Russia may be planning Georgia-type scenarios in Ukraine and Moldova. Over 50 per cent of the population of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula is ethnically Russian and hundreds of thousands hold Russian passports. Some groups have called for the territory to split from Ukraine. Crimea is also home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

In Moldova, the Russophone Transniestria region gained de facto independence after a civil war in 1992. The strip of land still houses 1,300 Russian troops. Mr Miliband warned that the war in Georgia marked “the end of the post Cold War period of growing geopolitical calm in and around Europe.” Voicing similar concerns, EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn has told EU governments that “Ukraine could be the next target of political pressure by Russia.”

Russia’s move to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia is seen by many in Brussels and other EU capitals as a signal of its determination to reassert its authority around its borders.

Moscow is certainly playing tough with both the EU and Nato. EU policymakers recognise that there is clearly room for a stronger EU role in its eastern neighbourhood. This is especially true because Russia does not regard the Bush administration, a primary supporter of President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, as an honest broker.

The EU strategy for the moment appears designed to increase engagement in Georgia and other countries neighbouring Russia, rather than seeking open confrontation with Moscow.

As such, EU leaders on Monday are unlikely to come up with any breakthrough decisions. The bloc has already backed plans for a civilian monitoring mission to Georgia but rejected the deployment of a military peacekeeping force there without an international agreement.

France, however, would like to put European monitors and observers in the security zones around South Ossetia and Abkhazia to protect civilians and help convince both Russia and Georgia that the military conflict must end.

Europe’s cautious approach reflects a sentiment that EU options for punitive action against Moscow are limited. The focus is therefore more on adopting longer-term measures to forge a common energy policy to reduce EU dependence on Moscow and to increase its presence in nations that border Russia.

There are suggestions that the EU could suspend its negotiations on a partnership agreement and some would like the EU to toughen its visa system and to consider boycotting the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. Still other options being considered include moves to slow down Russia’s talks on joining the World Trade Organisation and expelling Moscow from the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations.

Europe is also divided on whether potential membership for Georgia and Ukraine in Nato should be accelerated or postponed. In April, France and Germany opposed Washington by refusing to let Nato give both countries a so-called Membership Action Plan which would have set them on the path to joining the alliance. The issue will be revisited in December.

The EU is also under pressure to strengthen links with Ukraine and to give a positive response to the country’s demands for joining the bloc. This is unlikely, however. EU governments have put all discussions on future members on ice pending ratification of the so-called reform treaty. That stance will not change — despite fears of Russia’s intentions.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.

China’s N-plants plan

By Mark Milner

INDIVIDUAL nations’ plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations across the globe will face fierce competition for skills and resources according to research published on Thursday.

China, alone, has plans for 24 nuclear plants and outline proposals for another 76, according to the Economic Research Council, using figures from the International Energy Agency and the IAEA.

“China’s plans indicate its key role in new nuclear build, and the impact of just a small element of its projects being realised would have major implications for new nuclear build capacity — and the many constraints,” according to the ERC. The research into planned and proposed nuclear plants is part of the ERC’s Digest of Energy Statistics 2008, tracking energy trends including consumption, reserves, prices and efficiency at the European Union and world levels. The ERC defines planned plants as those with funding and planning consent, while proposed plants may lack funding, planning consent or both.

One of the digest’s editors, Nigel Hawkins, said there had been little nuclear new-build in the world after the Chernobyl disaster but rising fossil fuel prices and the need for new electricity capacity has meant that most leading countries are now looking at the possibility of new nuclear facilities.

“Over the next 20 to 30 years we are going to see a major ramp-up in nuclear build,” he said.

Hawkins pointed out that the number of companies capable of nuclear new-build was limited. They include Areva, General Electric, Westinghouse — which Toshiba bought from British Nuclear Fuels in early 2006 — and Atomic Energy of Canada.

The ERC research bears out comments made by the UK business and enterprise secretary John Hutton in June who said then that more and more countries were competing hard to enable their own nuclear programmes as they sought to insulate themselves against future energy price rises and climate change.

— The Guardian, London



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