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DAWN - Editorial; August 31, 2008

August 31, 2008


‘Taliban’ in the Senate?

SENATOR Israrullah Zehri’s defence of a barbaric incident involving the burying alive of five women in Balochistan smacks of a medieval mindset — and one that is totally in tune with the Taliban’s own obscurant worldview. It takes one back nine years when similarly regressive-minded legislators in the Senate refused to condemn the ‘honour’ killing of Samia Sarwar who was shot dead at the behest of her own parents over a marriage-related issue in 1999. At the time, a fair number of senators who had initially agreed to support a resolution condemning Samia Sarwar’s murder backed out at the eleventh hour under pressure from their respective political parties’ leadership, leaving only four brave ones to raise their voice against the killing. Clearly, then, this mindset that trivialises the sanctity of human life — especially if the life is that of a woman — and is dominated so easily by the interests of those who wield political, economic and social clout, is not confined to the representatives of the backward provinces alone. It has come to be a national state of mind.

In the recent case, three of the five women were going to contract a court marriage with men of their choice against the wishes of their tribal elders, when they were killed. Unfortunately, because of the alleged involvement of a political figure, the report of their death was suppressed, with the police even refusing to register an FIR. Can we hope for corrective steps to be taken, the case thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice regardless of their political and feudal stripes? Considering our sad track record vis-à-vis human rights, this could be wishful thinking. For in a tribal order where traditions involving human rights violations are not even condemned, let alone rooted out, how can we hope for the miracle of justice for the oppressed — especially women — or for the reformation of a society in dire need of change?

While Senator Zehri staunchly defended the incident as a tribal custom, Senator Jamal Leghari chose to bury his head in the sand saying that no Baloch could carry out such a reprehensible act. A cursory look at statistics shows us how wrong he is. Honour killings are rampant across the country — Balochistan is no exception — with women, already in a position of economic and social disadvantage, being the main victims. The facts are undeniable; and it is inexcusable that those who have the power to change things for the better and to discourage primitive customs should refuse to even acknowledge them. Others turn a blind eye to the abhorrent practice for purely political expediency. The government talks ad nauseam about the need to counter the threat of Talibanisation. But it chooses not to recognise, and therefore to condemn, similar traits in mindsets and practices that are not linked to religion alone. It would do well to come out of its self-inflicted stupor to condemn those who perpetuate myths about the sanctity of traditions. A beginning could be made in the two Houses of parliament.

Darkness in KESC

THE KESC is in a state of administrative meltdown. Notwithstanding denials by the few remaining managers, the KESC is a ship adrift with no one at the helm. On Friday, senior Sindh politicians were given a briefing by KESC officials that demonstrated the extent to which the rot has set in. The only senior KESC official present was Mr Shan Ashary, a director of the KESC and representative of the Al Jomaih group, the lead member of the consortium that controls the utility. According to media reports, Mr Ashary was a picture of calm amidst the storm of Karachi’s power crisis and faced reporters with equanimity. The image that Mr Ashary seemed keen to project on behalf of his employers was that of a power utility faced with some ‘challenges’ that will soon be ‘dealt’ with and that no one should ‘panic’ in the meantime. Karachiites would be forgiven for feeling very differently. The Al Jomaih-led consortium appears to be clueless about dealing with the KESC and all has but washed its hands of the utility. According to reports in the media a UAE-based consortium, Al Abraaj, will take over from the present owners in December, which is the earliest the Al Jomaih group is allowed to offload its shares as part of the deal it struck with the Pakistan government in 2005.

The Karachi power crisis cannot be fixed by owners with one foot out the exit door. Indeed, managerial negligence has compounded Karachi’s power woes. An anticipated shortage of gas for KESC’s electricity generation plants was not offset by an alternative supply of oil to keep the plants running, resulting in an aviodable shortfall of 100MW, according to Mr Khuhro, speaker of the Sindh Assembly. This on the back of a catalogue of servicing, operational and managerial oversights that have literally left Karachiites in the dark. Moreover, the KESC management is certainly obfuscating and dissembling. New figures of power shortfalls are given every day but they scarcely match the reality in Karachi’s neighbourhoods. If the power shortfall is only 20-30 per cent why are some neighbourhoods without electricity for 16-18 hours a day — 66-75 per cent of the day? And what are the inducements that have been offered to the Al Abraaj group that makes it so eager to take over at this time of crisis? Despite the chaos in Karachi, speculation abounds that Al Jomaih have earned a handsome profit on their investment. Given this track record, the government must urgently set up an independent commission with real powers of investigation to uncover the truth behind the troubles at the KESC.

Spirit of the mountaineers

ALTHOUGH only bad news seems to emanate from Pakistan, sometimes we also have a cause to celebrate. One of these presented itself on Thursday when a Slovenian mountain climber, Dejan Maskovics, was rescued from the saddle between Mustagh Tower and the 6,550-metre ‘sharp peak’ where he had been trapped for three days. It is unfortunate that Maskovics’ partner, Pavle Kozjak, lost his life at the same spot. Maskovics’ successful rescue was good news not only for the community of mountain climbers but also for Pakistan as this was achieved through a combined effort. Army aviation helicopters flew the rescue team led by two Slovenian climbers who had flown in from Slovenia, to the base camp of the mountain from Skardu. The rescue operation was hampered by the bad weather, but its successful conclusion clearly established how collective efforts pay off in such situations.

Possessing the picturesque icy peaks of the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountains in the north, Pakistan attracts mountain climbers from all over the world. They all vie to earn a place in the pantheon of mountain climbing. The region has an estimated 108 peaks above 7,000 metres high that are covered with snow and glaciers. Five of the mountains in Pakistan are over 8,000 metres. Since Pakistan has been endowed with some of the highest peaks in the world, teams of mountain climbers frequent the country. However, as is the case any where in the world, mountain climbing carries its own hazards, and tragedies are not unknown. Earlier in August, 11 lost their lives in an accident on the K2, just before the Slovenians attempted to climb the 7,273-metre Mustagh Tower peak and met with tragedy. But knowing the spirit of mountain climbers this will not deter them from undertaking their journey to Pakistan in search of adventure. But discretion demands due precautions which are never out of place.

OTHER VOICES - Indian Press

Kids are not guinea pigs

The Tribune

…[T]HE death since 2006 of 49 children undergoing clinical trials at the prestigious AIIMS is shocking [and] needs a thorough enquiry….

The paramount concern is to preclude even the remotest possibility of poor Indian children having been treated as guinea pigs for research. The number of deaths is, indeed, large. …[W]hen this happens at a premier institution like AIIMS, there are bound to be raised eyebrows, because the situation could be far worse in institutes with a limited reputation. The report of an internal committee would not ... satisfy all. What is needed is an independent committee of the most eminent doctors of the country.

AIIMS has made it clear that the deaths ... were due to high risks and serious disease conditions…. It has categorically said that none of the trials was done exclusively on Indian children and the group of medicines for high blood pressure had been safely and effectively used in children worldwide.

…But what cannot be lost sight of is the fact that India is being increasingly used by western countries for drug testing. Even AIIMS admits that six of the 42 trials were funded by the pharmaceutical industry and the tests involved five per cent of the enrolled children.

Last year, 139 new trials were outsourced to India.... There is need for strictest possible regulation in such trials.... — (Aug 28)

Grow for the poor

The Times of India

THE latest World Bank figures show that India has brought down the number of people living below the poverty line of $1 a day … from 26.3 per cent to 24.3 per cent between 2002 and 2005….

The bad news … — argue some — is that Indian poverty declined at a faster rate between 1980 and 1990 than it did between 1990 and 2005. This is seen in some quarters as indicating the failure of post-1991 economic reforms. But several points need to be noted here.

First, the figures give the lie to those who claim that reforms and globalisation are making the poor poorer. Second, it’s misleading to divide independent India’s economic history into two simple phases, a centrally planned economy till 1990 and radical reforms since 1991. ...Indira Gandhi who came to power in 1980 was a good deal more pro-business than during her radical phase in the late 1960s and 70s. And Rajiv Gandhi’s government built on this process….

…The point to note … is that there’s a strong correlation between higher growth and poverty reduction, both of which took off in India after 1980.

Neither is it the case that reforms have consistently been on the agenda since 1991. They stalled around 1994, picked up during the NDA government’s ‘shining India’ phase, then stalled again after an initial spark under the current UPA government. …. But the way forward is not less but more reforms…. — (Aug 29)

Vaulting the liberal bar

By Afiya Shehrbano

WHILE listing his many presidential successes over nine years, Gen Musharraf forgot to mention in his resignation speech, his foremost achievement. That is, his crafty ability to have redefined liberal politics in Pakistan.

The last military dictator, Gen Zia (1977-88) introduced a politics of expediency by invoking Allah’s spiritual command. Musharraf did so by evoking the liberal sentiment and eliciting collaborators from the entire political spectrum, be it the left, right and/or centre.

Exemplifying a personal liberal outlook he therefore managed to capture, soon after his coup, not just the goodwill but the practical participation of many supposedly progressive-minded liberals. Many held the view (some still do), that the country was destroyed by corrupt, feudal and civilian politicians and, instead, needed an educated, technocratic leadership with an authoritarian strongman at the helm of the state.

Our social elite are also prone to valuing everything that is foreign — education, expertise, funds and the pragmatic rationale of a US alliance. Hence they advised and accepted the most non-democratic farce that inducted many overseas Pakistani professionals into a historically enormous cabinet, as well as into ministries and created advisory roles for still others. This included the unaccounted for former Citi Banker–PM, Shaukat Aziz.

Early on Musharraf learned that in the civilian world, deals and co-option rather than combat, was the way to capture the liberals’ imagination. By not hanging, and instead making an extradition deal with the elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, he came across as a reasonable rather than a vengeful dictator. He also appeased the business elite by allowing them to ‘voluntarily’ return some of their ill-gotten wealth as part of the national accountability process. As many-the-wiser liberal has confessed over the past months, they were all taken in by the unbearded, therefore presumably secular, picture perfect liberal dictator who patronised fashion shows, film fare and loved pet dogs too.Even within civil society, those who had been at the forefront of anti-dictatorship activism during the reigns of Gen Ayub and Gen Zia have been guilty of aligning themselves with and even taking on ministries of the Musharraf government. Interestingly, this included members from both, the first and second wave women’s movement too.

This left just a handful who rejected the dictatorship outright as an illegitimate, unconstitutional and historical usurpation of democracy. This minority was derided as purist and pessimistic by the pro-Musharrafians or dismissed as impractical revolutionaries by sympathisers of the then opposition party, the PPP. Either way, they were accused of being anti-democratic depending on who was defining the qualifications.

An interesting argument derived by this ‘rejectionist’ minority was that the Musharraf rule of symbolic liberalism while relevant on one level is non-substantive in political terms. For example, while women’s political and other visible forms of representation were important achievements of his government, the social conservatism that built up within institutions, structures and society, including the first cases of stoning of women and the targeted murder of women representatives, also became concurrent practices.

Like the flawed economic indicators which suggested that the profusion of mobile phones and motorcycles were proof of trickle-down economic progress, so fashion shows, sleeveless clothes and coffee shops became the identity markers of progress for these social liberals.Despite the increasing cases of the disappeared, the Aafia Siddiqi (dating from 2003) and Mukhtaran Mai cases, extra judicial killings, provincial government-sponsored fascism in the NWFP, collateral damage increasingly visible through the new media and so on, the veneer of this false liberalism became questionable only after the Lal Masjid occupation. For the first time, social liberals started fearing lack of protection by the state for their newly acquired lifestyles. Prior to that, all other stripping of the liberties and citizenship of common Pakistanis was not their concern. Neither is how extremism is exterminated.

Today the liberal sentiment is to forgive and forget an era of dictatorship. The price of not removing a dictator immediately and then not actually impeaching but rather forcing Musharraf’s resignation by building pressure, may, in hindsight, have been worth the cost. However, the continued chosen method of ‘dealing out’ issues rather than transparently resolving these may prove to be an addictive legacy of Musharraf’s rule.

Meanwhile, there are policymakers who believe that deals and structural arrangements be damned, as long as policy starts shaping up the economy and delivering services, the people will be convinced of the difference that real democracy can bring. This may turn out to be the biggest challenge for the politically liberal, democratically elected PPP government. It may find it hard to prove itself as more liberal in its articulation or through policies than those which were instituted by a dictator and his much mocked attempt to institute ‘enlightened moderation’.

The PPP’s unwillingness to break away from the Musharraf era beyond rhetoric is also elevating the high moral ground on which the essentially conservative PML-N is rooting itself. The latter’s principled positions are not only about the quick restoration of the judiciary and constitution. They are also calling to account for all the damaging policies, as well as human rights atrocities such as the cases of those who ‘disappeared’, during the Musharraf years. But these years also saw a host of unprecedented symbolic progress (and even some political and legal changes) which appeased his liberal defenders. How will popular parties surpass the raised bar on these fronts?

While preoccupied with power arrangements and stealth deals, the historically progressive PPP may just lose its liberal credentials to the conservatives who are looking practically radical in comparison at the moment. Whatever else Musharraf did, he has pulled the carpet from under the liberal agenda.

After all, as Musharraf said in his resignation speech, that while political leaders merely talked of democracy, it was he who brought about “the essence of democracy” in Pakistan. In comparison, however, this democratic government seems to be dealing away the transparent and judicial opportunity of disproving this. Rather, it insists on continuing with the politics of appeasement and accommodation of dictatorial structures and relationships, rather than taking the principled route of holding accountable and then purging all remnants of dictatorship, restoring the constitution and judiciary, then pursuing reform and policy.

If the balance of personal gain is perceived to outweigh the benefits of true democratic governance, then the people have the right to ask: how is this democracy really different from the previous acclaimed one? The very heavy burden of proof will depend solely on how effectively the current democrats commit to democratic structures and political rule.

Deals may be dirty necessities in democracies. However, if the only compensation this democracy can offer is that you get to vote the dealers out after five years, one may wonder at the attraction of those who are prone to making deals with a liberal dictator. He may demand the price of your soul but at least he’ll promise you a good time until then.

AKP again warned

By Robert Tait

ONE of Turkey’s most senior army commanders has warned the Islamist-rooted government that it will face a powerful military backlash if it seeks to alter the country’s secular system.

General Isik Kosaner also vowed to defeat domestic critics who, he said, falsely linked the army to an alleged anti-government coup attempt known as Ergenekon, and complained that the fight against violent Kurdish “terrorists” was being hampered by new human rights legislation aimed at enhancing Turkey’s EU membership bid, which the government strongly backs.

The comments were delivered in a setting calculated to have maximum political impact, a military ceremony attended by the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and President Abdullah Gul, who both last month escaped a political ban when the constitutional court narrowly decided against closing the governing Justice and Development party (AKP) for allegedly plotting an Islamic state.

Kosaner said the army was determined to defend the unitary secular state founded by Ataturk and brushed off accusations of political meddling. The remarks were an apparent signal that the AKP remains on probation after the court ruling, in which judges fined the party for being a “focal point of anti-secularism” but stopped one vote short of closing it. They were also a rebuff to the EU, which criticised the case as judicial interference and which also supports greater rights for the Kurds.

The army has played a pivotal role in Turkish politics since the modern republic was founded in 1923 and has ousted four governments in the past 50 years. It tried unsuccessfully to block Gul’s election as president last year because of concerns over his Islamist past and is widely assumed to have backed the closure case brought by the chief prosecutor.

— The Guardian, London