IT’S official: Asif Ali Zardari will be the new president of Pakistan. The result of the indirect election was never in doubt given the majority that the PPP and its allies have in the presidential electoral college. However, other doubts do hang over the next president. On Election Day, everyone had at least one eye on the Punjab Assembly, where the votes for Mr Zardari were billed by many analysts as a de facto vote of no-confidence in the PML-N government. For now a fresh political crisis appears to have been averted as the PML-N candidate, Justice (Retd) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, earned 201 votes — comfortably above the 186 required to secure a majority in the Punjab Assembly.
The second doubt concerns Mr Zardari himself. There have been more controversial presidents in the past — indeed, the last occupant of the presidency, Gen Musharraf, was almost universally unpopular — but none has been as controversial as Mr Zardari at the time of assuming office. The catalogue of allegations against him is well-known and every sordid detail has been raked up since his bid for the presidency was announced. While the past cannot be erased — NROs notwithstanding — what Mr Zardari needs to do is to dispel the impression that he is a political wheeler-dealer who is adept at making backroom deals but unable to rise to the requirements of statesmanship. The president-elect’s performance since Feb 18 has highlighted precisely this deficiency. Mr Zardari was able to ease President Musharraf out of office but at the cost of trust in his public commitments.
That trust deficit is significant because Mr Zardari has renewed his pledge to pare down the extraordinary, anti-parliament powers of the president. If Mr Zardari fails to keep his word again his credibility and democratic credentials will be in tatters. It is in any case questionable how much Mr Zardari can now do to make parliament supreme. As president, with a PPP-led government in parliament, Mr Zardari, regardless of his legal powers, will be the de facto centre of politics — rendering real parliamentary supremacy unattainable. But this is only another reason for Mr Zardari to give up 58-2(b) and the right to appoint service chiefs, governors and judges of the superior judiciary — it’s the absolute minimum he can do to correct the structural imbalance amongst the institutions of the state.
The third question mark over Mr Zardari is his ability to steer the country out of the economic and militancy crises. On the economic front, it is a fact that the PPP-led coalition government in Islamabad inherited a wobbling economy; however, it is also a fact that the PPP-led government, now in the sixth month of its existence, has not arranged any significant amount of money to prop up the economy. As president, Mr Zardari must urgently lobby friendly governments and international agencies for quick money on comfortable terms. The militancy crisis too has worsened. Most dangerously, the Americans appear to have lost patience with Pakistan and are launching regular strikes in the tribal areas. With fuel supplies to Isaf forces in Afghanistan now suspended, relations between the US and Pakistan are at their lowest ebb since 9/11. Mr Zardari must use his new office to immediately defuse this crisis — bravado aside, it is simply too dangerous to have the Americans breaking down the door to Pakistan. It was Mr Zardari’s right to become president; it is the people’s right to expect leadership from him now.
Time to act
THE Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Ordinance, 2007 which became law last year is now under threat. It has been reported that a bill to introduce amendments in the ordinance has been sent for consideration to the National Assembly’s standing committee on health. According to reports some of the changes envisaged will, if adopted, nullify all that was achieved last year after a concerted struggle by transplantation experts and civil society. Just before the ordinance was promulgated, Pakistan had emerged as a flourishing haven for organ tourism. In the absence of any legal checks, unethical medical professionals and unscrupulous middlemen were running a Rs1.5bn trade exploiting the poverty of the indigent who were persuaded by circumstances to sell their organs for a pittance. The exorbitant amounts obtained from the wealthy, but desperately ill, went into lining the pockets of some doctors and their agents. This shocking commercialisation of health brought disgrace to the country in international medical circles.
The ordinance was a move in the right direction. It won international approval because it categorically banned the sale of human organs, forbade financial compensation and adopted a stringent definition of “blood relatives” while laying down the regulatory framework for deceased organ donation to promote the concept of cadaveric transplantations. True, there have been teething troubles in plenty especially with the registration of transplantation centres. But by and large the ordinance did succeed in discouraging organ trade while cases of legalised organ transplantation showed a remarkable increase. SIUT, the largest transplantation centre in Pakistan, registered an increase of 166 per cent within a year in the organs transplanted — free of cost. Reports of the changes being sought are stunning. They have broadened the definition of “blood relatives” to include virtually anyone. Compensation will be allowed if sanctioned by the evaluation committee — in effect it means there will be no bar. Worst of all, foreigners will be allowed “in limited numbers” to visit Pakistan for organ transplantation. If the amendments are carried through, we shall be back to square one as far as organ transplantation is concerned. The time to act is now if the health sector is to be spared the evil of commercialisation.
Much to answer for
THE mystery surrounding Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist who went missing five years ago from Karachi, has been partially resolved. She has been indicted by a US attorney in New York on charges of attempted murder and assault on US officials. She has not been formally charged as she refused to appear in court. Although Dr Siddiqui’s present whereabouts are now known — saving her family the agony of hunting for a missing member — this does not reveal much of what befell her in the intervening years. She surfaced in July 2008 when she was taken into custody by the Americans in Afghanistan. It is still a mystery how she landed in Afghanistan and whether she was picked up by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. Was she a victim of the ‘extraordinary rendition’ the US has been resorting to? No charges of terrorism have been brought against her, though we were being told all along that Dr Siddiqui was an Al Qaeda operative.
What is one to make of all this? The Pakistan government has much to answer for. Under law no one can be taken into custody and be handed over to another government without proper extradition proceedings. No charges were proved against Dr Siddiqui. Mr Musharraf himself admitted in his memoirs that Pakistan earned millions by handing over ‘terrorists’ to the Americans. The fact is that what happened to Dr Siddiqui is apparently what is termed as ‘involuntary’ or ‘forced’ disappearance under international law. Doesn’t the government know that the UN has adopted a convention to protect people from enforced disappearance which is recognised as one of the most heinous crimes against huma-nity? It makes it obligatory on governments to disclose to the families the whereabouts of persons they detain only after observing proper legal processes. Their guilt or innocence is another matter.
New trends in global politics
RUSSIA’S recent move to send its troops into Georgia in support of the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia has given rise to a new debate at the international level about the Russian role.
Should this be treated as a neighbourhood-specific effort to punish the defiant pro-West Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili? Is this the beginning of a new Russian global profile of challenging American bids to establish pre-eminence in almost all regions of the world, especially in Russia’s neighbourhood?
Russia may have both objectives in mind, with a greater focus on destabilising the defiant Georgian government that is working incessantly to cultivate the West, especially the United States, giving them a foothold on Russia’s borders. However, if the objective was to dislodge Saakashvili, this has not so far been achieved and he appears determined to cultivate the West.
Russia wants to maintain a strong military pressure on Georgia despite strong protests by the US, the UK and other leading western countries. It has not only refused to withdraw its troops from Georgian territory but has also created security rings around South Ossetia and Abkhazia to protect them from Georgia’s military attack. Russia went one step further by formally recognising these territories as independent entities. It has also promised them military assistance to deter the US from supporting Georgia’s possible military action against them.
Georgia severed diplomatic relations with Russia on Aug 29, 2008. Russia responded by doing the same. This is the first instance of a formal break-up of diplomatic relations between Russia and its former republic.
The present crisis began in early August when Russia dispatched its troops to Georgia, declaring that Georgia had violated ceasefire arrangements with South Ossetia. It pushed back Georgian troops from the vicinity of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, thereby neutralising whatever control the Georgian government had over these regions.
The people in South Ossetia and Abkhazia have strong ethnic linkages with their counterparts living in Russia. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 they expressed solidarity with Russia in order to maintain close links with their co-ethnic people living in Russia. As these territories border Russia, it encouraged separatist tendencies. Russia may like the breakaway regions to join it. They would have to depend heavily on Russia for their survival.
Problems between Russia and Georgia arose because of the divergent disposition of the two governments about regional and global issues. Russia continues to view its former republics as its domain of interest, especially those sharing a border with it. It does not want the West, especially the US, to establish its military presence or strong economic influence in the Russian ‘sphere of interest’.On the other hand, Georgia’s current president, Mikheil Saakashvili, is known for his pro-West leanings and he plans to join Nato. The United States encourages Georgia to distance itself from Russian influence and is attempting to establish its foothold in Georgia and other states in the vicinity of Russia.
Another development that perturbed Russia is the US and Nato decision to install missiles in Poland and a radar facility in the Czech Republic between 2011 and 2013, ostensibly to defend Europe from the long-range missiles of ‘rogue states’ like Iran and North Korea. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Poland on Aug 19, 2008 to sign an agreement with the Polish government on the installation of missiles.
The US and other western states demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgian territory. The American secretary of state and the British foreign secretary visited Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, to assure their support to Georgia. They have taken a strong exception to Russia’s recognition of Georgia’s separatist regions because it amounted to negating the territorial integrity of Georgia. Neighbouring Ukraine also expressed concern at the Russian action.
Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, are convinced that all these moves — plans to establish a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic and efforts to win over Georgia’s president — are aimed at restricting Russia’s foreign policy options and building security pressure.Therefore, Russian leadership intends to apply strong military pressure on Georgia to force its government to give up the idea of cultivating the West as well as warn the US to stop penetrating its neighbourhood. It also wants to discourage the US from extending military support to Georgia for launching military action against the separatist regions.
Russia is also expected to increase its opposition to American policies elsewhere. It will oppose American bids to apply more economic and military pressures on Iran. It may also take exception to the Nato and American military presence in Afghanistan. However, Russia’s choices are quite limited in Afghanistan. It does not view Islamic militants as its friends.
Georgia has got entangled in the high-stakes politics of the US and Russia. The US and the European states want to encircle Russia by developing economic and security ties with its former republics and thus contain its bid to return to an active global role. Russia has somewhat recovered from the economic and political setback of the 1990s and wants to retrieve its influence at the global level. It is slowly emerging on the regional and global scene to challenge America’s pre-eminent role.
The Georgia episode has another implication for global politics. It has caused insecurity among the smaller states situated in the vicinity of big powers. It is clear from this incident that the major states do not want the smaller states in their immediate neighbourhood to engage in autonomous decision-making on domestic and foreign policy affairs. These smaller states are expected to accommodate the security sensitivities of the powerful states. The latter can apply military, economic and diplomatic pressures to change the disposition and policy options of such states. If the Russian-backed secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia materialises, this will be a matter of concern for smaller and weaker states that face dissident movements and internal strife.
The US and the EU will support Georgia to the extent it serves their global agenda of containing the rise of Russia as a countervailing force. They will rely mainly on diplomatic and economic strategies to push out Russia from Georgia. Russia may be inclined to do so if its concerns in the neighbourhood are respected. The US will avoid any direct military confrontation with Russia and will not favour a return to the old-style Cold War.
Fight for female votes
JOHN McCain shrugged off a poor prime time speech to the Republican convention on Thursday night to begin an aggressive play for the votes of the working class and women, heading off on Friday on the campaign trail with his running mate, Sarah Palin, for the first time.
The Road to Victory tour sets the stage for an epic battle for a newly identified swing constituency of working mothers — the hockey moms. Next week the Republicans and Democrats will go head to head for women’s votes in Florida, a potentially decisive state. McCain and Palin hope to peel away Democratic and independent women voters impressed by the Alaska governor’s unusual resume and her electrifying performance at the Republican convention on Wednesday.
Barack Obama will counter by sending Hillary Clinton to Florida on Monday, her third visit in two weeks, to try to shore up support among Democratic women. He will send Democratic women governors and senators, such as the Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, to other battleground states.
The fight for women’s votes, coming after the party conventions, marks the start of the final phase of the two-year election campaign — the 60-day sprint to November 4.
McCain and Obama are battling for women disenchanted with the Democrats’ failure to nominate Clinton and for blue-collar votes in battleground states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, where McCain and Palin campaigned on Friday, and Pennsylvania, where Obama and his running mate Joe Biden spent the day.
Palin remains a controversial choice. The McCain team, nervous about an unguarded remark by her, appear intent on minimising her contact with the media, insisting she would give few interviews during the campaign.
The McCain camp is working hard to get a sympathy vote for Palin as a victim of sexism. McCain sent an email to supporters in which he lashed out at Democratic operatives who have “stooped lower than anyone could have imagined” in questioning Palin’s experience and discussing her pregnant teenage daughter.
McCain failed to rise to the occasion on Thursday night when he delivered his acceptance speech. He did not match Obama’s soaring rhetoric the previous week or even Palin’s feisty, sarcastic delivery on Wednesday night.
While he won several standing ovations as he related his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, the overall reaction was muted with long passages of his speech listened to in near silence.
— The Guardian, London
OTHER VOICES - Indian Press
Burden of being a civilian
The Sangai Express
...IN Manipur the most dangerous thing to be is a civilian.... For any act of commission or omission by government agencies or non-state actors, the ugly fallout has to be borne by civilians and nothing illustrates this better than the latest ... decision taken by the government to keep all routes leading to the official residence of the chief minister and VIP areas out of bounds for civilians everyday from 6 pm till 7 am the next day.
The decision comes in the backdrop of the audacious attack launched by the proscribed PREPAK on the residence of the chief minister.... In the face of such an attack, it is natural that security be beefed up for the chief minister as well as other VIPs but the manner in which the government has decided to go about it is disgusting and an insult....
If all routes [to] the CM’s residence are to be blocked ... then may we suggest that the CM’s bungalow be moved to Leimakhong...? ...[T]he bomb attack ... was a clear case of security lapses. It was a case of the failure of the intelligence agencies to gather information. It was a failure of the state agencies to keep alert. ...
Instead of studying how the loopholes can be plugged the government has come out with the grand idea of shunting out all civilians from the roads leading to the CM’s residence and VIP areas.... — (Sept 3)
Killing the deal
The New Indian Express
...[T]HE nuclear deal has encountered a near-fatal obstruction because of the US State Department’s ‘secret’ letter on the damaging consequences of a Pokhran-type test by India. Yet, there is nothing surprising about the assertion that the deal will be off if there is a test as this restriction is an integral feature of US policy. ...If complications have ... arisen, the reason is that the Indo-US agreement tried to fudge the issue by spelling out an elaborate consultative process in the event of a test. ...
That there are influential lobbies eager to kill the deal is evident from the revelation of the ‘secret’ missive on the eve of the second round of the [Nuclear Suppliers Group] meeting. As it is, a ‘clean’ waiver from the objectors — Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and New Zealand — was going to be difficult to obtain. Now, they will be justified in saying that the State Department’s points should be incorporated in the final draft.
Although ... an underground ‘implosion’ is no longer essential since technological upgrades can be carried out via laboratory simulation, the political imperatives make it difficult for any government to accept restrictions imposed by others.
A voluntary moratorium ... is alright. But it would be politically suicidal for the ... government to bow to dictates from abroad. ... — (Sept 5)