DAWN - Editorial; September 13, 2008

Published September 13, 2008

Civilians must lead

WHO in Pakistan is in charge of the war against terrorism? On Wednesday, COAS Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani issued a statement condemning recent violations of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty by US forces and missiles and vowed to defend Pakistan “at all costs”. Gen Kayani was categorical: “There is no question of any agreement or understanding with the coalition forces whereby they are allowed to conduct operations on our side of the border.” On Thursday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters that Gen Kayani’s statement “reflected the government policy”. Is the country to infer then that the civilians are taking their cue from the military top brass? Why must the army chief enunciate government policy rather than the prime minister — or the president?

Few would have failed to note that Gen Kayani’s statement came a day after President Zardari’s first press conference in which the president was repeatedly pressed on Pakistan’s position on the war against militancy. Two things stand out from that press conference. One, President Zardari chose to make his presidential debut whilst seated next to President Karzai. This was a strange decision as the Afghan president’s harsh and long-running attacks against the Pakistan Army, and particularly the ISI, have made him radioactive in the eyes of the Pakistani establishment. Second, President Zardari refused to take the many opportunities offered during the press conference to categorically condemn US attacks in Fata, particularly the raid by US Special Operations Forces in a village in South Waziristan on Sept 3. Indeed, at one point in the press conference President Zardari renewed his call for setting up an international fund for victims of the war against terrorism. Some will interpret this to mean that his government has accepted that more raids inside Pakistan’s tribal areas were inevitable. Given the jarring difference between the tone of President Zardari on Tuesday and that of Gen Kayani on Wednesday, one is led to question Prime Minister Gilani’s statement on Thursday that there is no disconnect between the civilians and the army.

Moreover, in these dangerous times, a further twist has been added: the Americans are lashing out at Gen Kayani. The New York Times article disclosing that last July President Bush had authorised US strikes inside Pakistan also contained an extraordinary direct allegation against Gen Kayani. Speaking anonymously a “senior American official” told the NYT that it was “difficult to imagine that [Gen Kayani] was not aware” of the plot to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul in July. Against this American onslaught, the Pakistani leadership — civilian and military — must speak with one voice. What that voice says must be determined by the Pakistani leadership. But what is clear is that it must be a civilian voice.

No end to Israel’s land grab

GIVEN Israel’s hunger for land, one should not be surprised by the disclosure by an Israeli rights group that the Jewish settlers on the West Bank have usurped thousands of acres of Palestinian land in continued violation of international law. The rights group — B’Tselem — gives us two methods used by the Israeli settlers to steal Arab land: they have widened their settlements’ perimeter fences and scared the Arabs off. Actually there are many more — and barbaric and subtle — tactics which the Israeli government and settlers deploy to keep nibbling at Palestinian lands. These tactics, often monstrous, include building highways and roads that destroy Arab villages and orchards, declaring areas off-limits to Palestinians for declared reasons of security, and diverting water from Arab villages to the Jewish settlements. No wonder, the area under the settlements is now 40 per cent of the West Bank, even though in 1948, when the UN partition plan was adopted, the European settlers possessed only six per cent of Palestine’s land.

All settlement activity is in violation of international law. As the UN Security Council Resolution 446 says the “... policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East”. Similarly, the International Court of Justice declared the Wall which Israel was then building as illegal. But the Jewish state flaunted its hubris by going ahead with the construction of what Yasser Arafat called “the Middle East’s Berlin Wall” and so aligned it that it gobbled up more Palestinian land.

Evidently, there is no check or pressure on the Israeli leadership because the US and to a certain extent the European Union have extended it their unqualified support. All peace plans have fizzled out because Tel Aviv never had any intention of quitting even an inch of Palestinian land. In November last, Israel signed the Annapolis document, which pledged it and the US to a two-state solution by the end of this year. However, within a week of the signing, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that his government was not bound by the Annapolis timetable. The future, too, holds no hope for the Palestinians because both Barack Obama and John McCain, especially the former, have pledged America’s continued support to Israel in spite of its morally bankrupt position in the world.

School wall collapse

THE death of four youngsters who were crushed under the weight of a 100-year-old wall which collapsed in a school on Manora Island on Thursday, speaks volumes for the kind of priority the educational authorities attach to safety at school. Although the school in question had been abandoned for a newer building nearby, the question rankles as to why it wasn’t demolished or fenced off. The old building had apparently been vacated six years ago as it had become a looming threat to the students and teachers. However, even after the students were shifted to a new school the concerned authorities continued to ignore demands to demolish the old structure. Pakistani schools face severe problems of infrastructure, such as the absence of boundary walls, dilapidated buildings, unusable furniture and so on. The statistics issued in 2007 are telling: 52 per cent of government schools in the country have no boundary wall while 15 per cent are without a proper building, placing the students at great risk, especially in light of the frequency with which school collapses are reported.

Last year when a school collapsed in Jacobabad, there were nine injuries but luckily no fatalities. However, Kashmiri children in 2005 were less fortunate when a massive earthquake caused schools, many of them poorly constructed, to collapse like a pack of dominoes. This is one problem facing the education sector to which there is a simple solution — money. The government can give a boost to existing infrastructure by allocating more funds to improve the condition of school buildings. Not only will this provide a more nurturing learning environment for children, it will also counter potentially life-threatening circumstances. The government needs to learn a lesson from the latest tragedy and direct all its attention to the renovation of such buildings so that they conform to safety norms. In this regard, a focus on quality is imperative. It is evident that the material used in the construction of schools is of poor quality. Moreover, inspection should take place at the time of building to ensure the safety of design and structure, while regular checks should be carried out once the school is operational. Meanwhile, the authorities in this case should be brought to book.

OTHER VOICES - Sri Lankan Press

Concern over refugees

Daily Mirror

IT is not a matter of surprise that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed deep concern over escalating violence in northern Sri Lanka and the humanitarian impact of the clashes on civilians. As suggested by Secretary of the Peace Secretariat Prof Rajiva Wijesinha it is possible that the UN secretary-general had been prompted by reports about the large numbers of civilian casualties in other theatres of war making him conclude that the situation here is similar.

The UN secretary-general’s appeal … is not directed only at the government. He reminds all concerned … of their responsibility “to take active steps to ensure the safety and freedom of movement of civilians, allowing humanitarian organisations to do their work in safety.” Reports say that the fighting … uprooted 12,000 families in July alone.

The UN High Commissioner Pillay with her wealth of experience … will undoubtedly be able to understand the particular situation here…. Ms Pillay, who herself was a victim of both racial and gender discrimination in Apartheid South Africa, said that “if discrimination and inequality were allowed to fester, it would poison harmonious coexistence.”

While being responsive to concerns expressed by various countries and organisations over the situation prevailing in the country, it is Sri Lanka’s responsibility to take special care to alleviate the suffering that the hapless victims caught up in the armed conflict undergo today. The tribulations they undergo should receive the attention of the authorities as well as the rest of the country’s population not in response to appeals and concerns expressed by outsiders but because of the feelings of compassion that spring in human hearts….

The initiative taken by the National Freedom Front … to supply the requirements of the displaced people needs commendation. The party has decided to open a relief service centre to collect essential items of food, clothes and other materials for dispatch to the troubled areas. The main organiser of this move, NFF Chairman Wimal Weerawansa, in fact, is under obligation to extend the same consideration he extends to the security forces on the battlefront, to these victims of the war as well. Other parties that are genuinely concerned about the people’s suffering … should extend their cooperation in this humanitarian undertaking. — (Sept 12)

EU’s tense ties with Russia

By Shadaba Islam

RELATIONS with Russia continue to dominate the European Union’s autumn foreign policy agenda, with the 27-nation bloc struggling to ease tensions with Moscow over its recent military action in Georgia while simultaneously seeking to convince worried former Soviet states that a resurgent Russia will not be allowed to become the dominant force in the region.

It is a difficult, if not an impossible, task. Most EU nations, heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas resources, are clearly determined to keep relations with Russia on an even keel. But they want to balance this with efforts to increase aid and trade with former Soviet states, especially Ukraine and Georgia, which feel threatened by Moscow.

The EU’s dual track approach was in evidence last week as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, acting as current EU president, flew to Moscow to convince Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to withdraw Russian troops from Georgia and then immediately held talks with Ukrainian leaders to draw the country closer into the European embrace.

Mr Sarkozy’s visit to Moscow was a partial success: the Russian leader promised to pull back soldiers from Georgia by the second week of October but insisted this was conditional on the deployment of 200 EU monitors to the region. In return, Mr Sarkozy said if Russia implemented its promise there would be no reason for EU-Russia talks not to go ahead in October, adding: “Things are perfectly clear: we want partnership and we want peace.”

The French leader’s visit to Moscow came only a week after the EU froze partnership talks with Moscow over its action in Georgia. EU members remain divided over how best to deal with Russia, with so-called ‘new’ EU states from former eastern Europe — joined by Britain and Sweden — demanding tougher action against Moscow but Germany and France lobbying for a more conciliatory approach.

A day later, the French president was back in Paris, promising closer cooperation with Ukraine which, with its large Russian minority, is increasingly worried about a possible Russian threat to its sovereignty. Kiev, which is demanding an EU membership promise, was told that it was “a European country that shares a common history and common values with the countries of the European Union”.

Officials said this was the first time that the Union had stated so clearly that Ukraine was on the path to EU entry. But, not surprisingly, Ukrainian officials expressed palpable dismay that the EU did not go further. Many Ukrainians had hoped that Russia’s military assault on Georgia, and its subsequent attempt to partition the former Soviet republic, might prompt the EU to go the extra mile for Ukraine which wants to join the EU by 2020.

Now, however, pro-West reformers in Kiev are concerned that many EU states, including heavyweights France and Germany, which remain lukewarm about offering EU membership to Ukraine, will become even more reluctant to do so because of fears this will further antagonise Russia.

The collapse last week of Kiev’s ruling coalition when opposition parties loyal to Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called for a law to weaken presidential powers while strengthening those of the prime minister, adds to concerns that faced with an unstable Ukraine, the EU will opt for keeping Kiev at arm’s length.

The EU was careful at the summit with Ukraine to affirm its commitment to the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to hold out the prospect of agreements on free trade and easier travel for Ukrainians to EU countries. Crucially, however, there was no promise of EU accession.

“Be clear that this agreement shuts no door, and maybe it opens some doors. This is the most we could offer, but I believe it to be a substantial step,” the French president insisted. But diplomats said Germany and the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent Belgium, were the most reluctant to state clearly that Ukraine could one day join the EU.

The three Baltic states, the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and the UK, while recognising that Ukrainian accession was not an immediate possibility, all sympathised with its aspirations.

As a result, for the moment, Ukraine will have to make do with an ‘association agreement’ with the EU, a pact that for Balkan countries such as Albania, Macedonia and Serbia represents the first step on the path to membership. In Ukraine’s case, however, EU officials insist that entry into the bloc is not on the cards in the immediate future.

The association deal is expected to be ready in about a year. At the same time, negotiations on an EU-Ukraine free-trade pact, underway since February, will only be wrapped up by the middle of 2009 at the earliest.

Unfortunately for Ukraine, Georgia and others, their calls for stronger ties to the EU, including demands that they be allowed to join the club, coincide with an EU-wide debate over the bloc’s institutional structures and future borders.

The ill-fated EU constitution designed to streamline European institutions to cope with enlargement, has still not been ratified after it was defeated in a referendum in Ireland earlier this year. In parallel, many EU states, including France and Germany, are demanding that the bloc put all plans for further expansion — including the possible inclusion of Turkey — on ice pending a decision on the treaty.

Ukraine’s Nato hopes have also run into objections from Germany and France, which in April blocked a US bid to put it on the fast track to membership. Nato foreign ministers will reconsider Ukraine and Georgia in December.

Moscow has watched warily in recent years as Ukraine and other former Soviet republics have pressed for closer ties with Nato and the EU. Seeking to ease such concerns, the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso insists that closer ties between Europe and Ukraine should not upset Russia. “We don’t need a Cold War in Europe, we need cool heads,” he said recently.

EU officials admit that given EU enlargement fatigue, Ukraine’s sheer size puts it far beyond the kind of expansion that the EU could begin to consider at the moment. With a population of 46 million, integrating Ukraine into the EU would be as problematic as Turkish entry.

Gaining membership of Nato is relatively easier than joining the EU which requires a large-scale adoption of EU economic, social and political rules and regulations. Nato’s focus is on comparatively simple questions of whether the newcomer could bring useful military forces or territory, and of whether existing members would be prepared to defend it.

The only problem is that if Ukraine and Georgia were to join Nato, the western military alliance could one day come into direct confrontation with Moscow.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.

Arab takeover’s fallout

By Ian Herbert

Mark Hughes, the Manchester City manager, acknowledged on Wednesday that Abu Dhabi does not recognise Israel but insisted that the club’s new Arab owners would not present a problem to his defender Tal Ben Haim, the Israel captain.

There is a feeling among some who are close to Ben Haim, however, that the sale of the club to Arab owners — four weeks after the player signed from Chelsea — could present an impediment to the 26-year-old’s career at Eastlands. Ben Haim would certainly be unable to play in any exhibition matches or attend training sessions organised by the new owners in Abu Dhabi, owing to the United Arab Emirates’ policy of not allowing Israelis to enter the country.

The UAE embassy in London reiterated this week that “an Israeli citizen would not be allowed into the United Arab Emirates because there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries.”

Ben Haim, who has featured in each of City’s three Premier League matches this season, is familiar with such difficulties.

Though Abu Dhabi prides itself on being relatively religiously liberal, there are instances of intolerance. One of the half-brothers of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the man behind the (pounds sterling) 210m takeover of City, was responsible for setting up and running the Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up a few years ago, which sanctioned the publication of anti-semitic material.

Sheikh Sultan, the member of the Al Nahyan royal family who secured funding for the centre is understood to have been upbraided by his family. The embarrassed emiracy eventually closed down the centre in 2002.

Hughes also said the Al Nahyan takeover at City has lifted him back into a world he has missed since his playing days were concluded. “One of the main reasons I came here was the anticipation of going into these games with top, top quality players.” n

— © The Independent



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