Breaking the old mould
ASIF Ali Zardari was never taken seriously in India. People either knew him as Benazir Bhutto’s husband or Mr Ten Per Cent. But his pronouncements after assuming charge of the Pakistan People’s Party began drawing attention in India.
He was applauded when he said, six months ago, that ties between the two countries should not be held “hostage” to the Kashmir issue. This was what New Delhi had been saying all along.
Since Zardari’s point of view did not fit into Islamabad’s policy which ‘mindset bureaucrats’, crusty politicians and the army top brass devised and pursued, he was denounced. Islamabad interpreted his statement differently and reiterated the same old policy. Even Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, whom I met in Islamabad subsequently, rationalised that Zardari did not mean what was being presumed.
Zardari, now Pakistan’s president, has expressed similar thought in a more explicit way. He seems to have stirred up a hornets’ nest of opposition on the Kashmir issue. In an interview to a US daily, he said that “Kashmiri militants are the terrorists.” I do not understand the furore over the remark. He has not given away Kashmir, nor has he withdrawn the claim on the state. All that he has done is to describe today’s militants as terrorists who, by no stretch of the imagination, are ‘freedom fighters’, the title that Gen Pervez Musharraf gave them.
If this definition is accepted, the entire argument of fighting against the Taliban falls flat. They too are up in arms to ‘free’ people from the modern way of thinking and living because it, according to them, defiles ‘Islamic behaviour’. (The Taliban have burnt down 125 girls’ schools in the territory under them). Who are the militants except those who were first trained and armed by Gen Ziaul Haq to bleed India and then sustained by Gen Pervez Musharraf till 9/11 when the entire scene changed drastically?
True, when the 1987 state elections in Kashmir were rigged, many from among the youth crossed into Pakistan and obtained arms after getting training in their use. The first phase of the insurgency was not sullied either by religious fervour or by senseless killings. But that phase ended soon and the fundamentalists took over. Terrorists operating under different names of the Lashkar-i-Taiba continue to indulge in violence and encounters. They kill the innocent. Should they be called freedom fighters or mujahideen as the fundamentalists claim? Terrorism cannot be fought if its perpetrators are hailed when they infiltrate Kashmir and condemned when they operate in Pakistan. Zardari sees the point. Others, prisoners of old policies, don’t.
I am a bit disappointed by the criticism coming from the Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif. He knows better because he saw through the game when he flew to Washington to retrieve the honour of his armed forces after the debacle at Kargil. They are the same terrorists who indulged in bomb blasts in Lahore, Bhakkar or elsewhere. They are the ones who burnt the Marriott in Islamabad. If Nawaz Sharif were to analyse the situation dispassionately, he would come to the same conclusion as Zardari has. Political considerations should not cloud Nawaz Sharif’s judgment.
Kashmir is an issue which has to be settled. There is no running away from it. But should even limited ties between the two countries depend on the solution of Kashmir? Both sides have wasted 60 long years and have fought three wars. They are nowhere nearer the Kashmir solution than they were in 1948. Had we reversed the order and facilitated trade and travel first, we would have generated enough goodwill to take up thorny problems like Kashmir.
Whenever I have visited Pakistan, I have found the climate improving. There is no tension. Pakistanis are awakening to New Delhi’s difficulties in keeping its polity pluralistic as well as democratic. India is ashamed of many happenings, particularly those which have made a mockery of our secular credentials.
Still the majority of people are trying to restore the ‘balance’ which India has come to represent over the years. The task has become more difficult because a band of Taliban has come up among the Hindus. Since we are nearing the general election, the BJP is at its old game of dividing the society. The party, burning with the ambition to return to power, is using all methods to incite the Hindus that constitute the majority.
Equation with Islamabad is an essential ingredient to protect the ethos of secularism. This is where I find Zardari different from the general run of politicians in Pakistan. He is preparing his country to face certain realities. He has no hesitation in saying that India is not a threat to his country. He has recognised India’s economic prowess. He rightly imagines Pakistani cement factories being constructed to provide for India’s huge infrastructure needs, Pakistan textile mills meeting Indian demand for blue jeans, Pakistani ports being used to relieve the congestion. What is wrong with that?
Mercifully, the clarification which Pakistan’s Information Minister Sherry Rehman issued regarding Zardari’s interview is confined to Kashmir. The most important part regarding economic cooperation between the two countries seems to have general support in Pakistan. It goes without saying that vested interests do not see anything beyond the Kashmir issue. And they are plugging the same old line. I concede that Kashmir is the core issue. But certain steps like trade, travel and sharing technology will pave the ground to tackle the issue more effectively.
Even on Kashmir, Sherry Rehman has said that Zardari never called the Hurriyat leaders terrorists. He did not comment on them. Why bring in something he never said? He wants Pakistan to be at par with India. But at the same time Zardari is not scared of India’s influence abroad.
One thing striking about Zardari is that he is courageous enough to tread the ground on which politicians of the old mould fear to walk. Leaders of different parties in Pakistan have a viewpoint on India that is not divergent from one another’s. Kashmir is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is the feeling which the country’s size and economy evokes. It has more to do with fear than with religious bias.
No doubt, New Delhi is closely watching what Zardari does or says. His meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New York went extremely well. It seems the latter was impressed by the former’s frankness. Pakistan is passing through difficult times. New Delhi has to do something concrete to express its solidarity with Islamabad, more so with the nascent democracy. It is in India’s own interest.
The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.
AS the threat from terrorism increases, Pakistan is more divided than ever in its response to the challenge. There are many who believe that it is not Islamabad’s war but Washington’s, and all the terrorism that we face is a result of our partnership with the US.
Then there are others who are of the view that this is our own war and the Taliban must be eliminated. While there is no doubt that no one has the right to kill innocent civilians, be it in Pakistan or anywhere else, the difference of opinion deepens regarding how best to save ourselves from the crisis of Talibanisation.
The basic assumption is that there is growing Talibanisation in the country because of Arab money, help from unknown sources and the presence of radicals with a killer instinct. Although the bulk of society is not radicalised, the fact is that the threat posed by these elements which operate within society is significant. It really does not take a lot of people to create mayhem and violence.
But countering this menace requires a holistic assessment of the source and nature of the threat. The liberal segment of society gets extremely unhappy with the argument that the Taliban or Talibanisation is linked to the class disparity in society. The view is that making such an argument is tantamount to eulogising the radical element. The idea is certainly not to glorify the Taliban. However, it is important to see how the menace is spreading in our society.
It is a fact that the state has contributed tremendously in creating and nurturing such elements, dating back to the Afghan war of the 1980s when the American CIA and Pakistan’s ISI played a major role in creating the militants we now call terrorists. Some of these militants continued to be supported by elements within the intelligence agencies even after 9/11. In this respect, the radicalisation of certain segments of society was influenced from the top. This particular top-down national security policymaking was also critical in exacerbating and enhancing sectarian violence in the country which grew during the 1980s and continues to do so.
However, the above factors were compounded by the problem of a skewed power structure. The bulk of the people who actually opt to sacrifice their lives in the name of religion as militants or suicide bombers belong to the lower strata of society. The managers of the militant outfits — managers of death, if you will — do not sacrifice their own lives but use the poor to unleash terror. In fact, a microscopic view will also show that many of the people who manage death or fund terrorism belong to the conservative middle class, and see jihad and ultra-orthodox Islam as a means of changing the existing power structure which they believe cannot be dismantled otherwise.
The existing power structure is mired in a system of patronage that is dominated by local hegemons. There are individuals and families that possess economic, political and even spiritual power. The other-worldly persona is most critical because it makes it difficult (though not entirely impossible) for ordinary people to challenge the influence of the powerful. In a traditional society, the hegemon is not just part of politics and financially influential but (in a lot of cases) a pir as well, representing faith that is most difficult to question.
The new capital in certain areas sees orthodox ideologies and jihad as a tool to question the existing hegemony by raising the ideological bar. Since people dare not question religion, the radicals fight their battle on a front that no one can dare enter, least of all the pirs who, in any case, are complacent about their power. The majority of pirs depend on tradition and the fact that people continue to follow them come what may. However, the bulk of the pirs today — unlike their predecessors who used to pray, were respected for their standards of piety or contributed in some way to the lives of their followers — do not offer much. In fact, most extort from poor devotees. So the Taliban and their ilk managed to persuade the underprivileged in our society, especially the young men and women who go to madressahs, to convert to another ideology.
The battle becomes fiercer where the existing ruling elite does not have spiritual power. Thus, many who support the Taliban in Swat, for instance, are ordinary people who are keen to question the maliks who represented the hegemon in that area. The existing ruling elite represents a continuation of a system that enhances poverty, which is not just a lack of financial resources but also has to do with an environment where people are denied access to opportunities to change their lives or move upwards. Poverty has a deep politico-economic connotation.
It might be hard to swallow but there are glimpses of a hidden socio-economic resistance in this battle which is connected and supported by other influences as well. So while one is not keen to support the Taliban or the recipe adopted by them, the fact is that this trend cannot be entirely reversed through military means. The answer is not just a meaningless dialogue but a political engagement with society at large with the intention of changing the existing hegemonic system and making room for the new capital or other classes to move upwards.
Notwithstanding the demands of groups that desire greater upward social mobility, the lower classes are the worst off and will remain so because their fate is not going to change even if the Taliban-type manage to establish their writ. The militants use religion to gain power, not to distribute it amongst the dispossessed. In fact, if the Taliban were to become powerful they would generate a new set of the dispossessed.
So the best way is to rethink the existing power structure and improve governance through building institutions that can deliver to the poor. For example, the absence of a potent judicial and law and order system is pushing people towards Sharia. Furthermore, ill-planned urbanisation, the unplanned demographic shift, lack of education and a non-functional education system are producing a disgruntled population that can fall into the Taliban’s trap.
Not recognising the linkages between poverty, bad governance and Talibanisation betrays a certain complacency on the part of the rulers and the liberal segment of society. In a country where sections of the state have systematically eliminated all other ideologies, the dispossessed (at least some of them) might find extreme religious fervour as the only means to change their fate. If we can’t recognise this correlation, the war will become unwinnable.
The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.
Prioritising mental health
EVERY year the World Federation for Mental Health celebrates Mental Health Day on Oct 10. This year’s theme, ‘Making mental health a global priority’, underscores the importance and seriousness of the issue that is taking a heavy toll worldwide.
Mental disorders affect nearly 12 per cent of the global population --approximately 450 million or one out of every four people experience a mental illness that would benefit from diagnosis and treatment. They affect all age groups, both genders and cause great suffering.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) first identified mental health as a global health priority over four decades ago. It has also published an atlas identifying the human resources, facilities, policies and infrastructure for mental health in most countries of the world. According to the findings, 30 per cent of the countries surveyed do not have a specified budget for mental healthcare and 25 per cent spend less than one per cent of the total health budget on mental health.
Pakistan falls in this category where the expenditure allocated to mental health is abysmally low. It would not be unrealistic to assume that Pakistan, with its 160 million-population, has a very high morbidity pattern compared to many developing countries because of militancy, terrorism, internal displacement, human rights abuses, runway inflation and severe economic disparity.
The prevalent stigmas, low literacy and belief in supernatural causes, compounded by the failure of policymakers to understand the gravity of the problem, has prevented us even in this day and age from recognising, addressing and preventing mental illness.
There is growing pressure on governments from organisations like the WHO and the World Federation for Mental Health to give priority to mental health. Despite tall claims by some local authorities, Pakistan has not been able to prioritise mental health in its true sense. As far as morbidity is concerned, estimates for a debilitating illness like depression, which carries a very high suicide risk, range from ten to 44 per cent. A major problem that has been witnessed of late is the upsurge in physical illnesses as a result of complications arising from mental disorders, thus posing a double jeopardy.
The manpower resources available are grossly inadequate for such a large population and, what’s more, concentrated mostly in urban areas while rural areas remain seriously deprived. There is also an acute shortage of allied mental health professionals. In view of poverty, a small health budget and the high cost of medicines, there is a huge economic burden on patients. Although Pakistan has progressed somewhat with the setting up of psychiatric units in major hospitals, the dream of replicating the same in district hospitals has not been realised.
The government repealed the Mental Health Act 1912 and promulgated a new law in 2001. The ordinance provides for the prevention of mental illnesses, promotion of mental health literacy and establishment of community-based services, while laying emphasis on protecting the rights of patients. Ironically, this new mental health legislation is lacking when it comes to outlining the specific roles and effectiveness of governmental and non-governmental organisations in mental health action and programmes.
Specific and religion-based promotive, preventive and rehabilitative actions are not identified. The same is true of interventions involving vulnerable age groups, psychological needs, and training and research activities. With the existing health budget and infrastructure, the implementation of this law will not be possible even in its existing form unless the government enters into a partnership with NGOs and private psychiatric set-ups.
The tenth five-year plan aimed at working towards the adoption of the biopsychosocial model, integration of mental health in healthcare at all levels, public-private partnership, formation of bilateral links between teaching hospitals and peripheral units, the public health approach to healthcare and participation of public representatives. Some strategic themes included: manpower development; public education and awareness; de-stigmatisation through promoting mental health literacy; service development and provision; development of ‘mental health-friendly hospitals’, facilities for substance-dependent persons; development of sub-specialities like child, old age and forensic psychiatry; development of a national institute of elderly health; and setting up of crisis centres through organised multi-sectoral collaboration. None of the aforementioned objectives appear to have been fulfilled.
The mental health policy was first formulated in 1997 and addressed issues of advocacy, promotion, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and inter-sectoral collaboration. It envisaged training primary care providers, establishing resource centres at teaching hospitals, and psychiatric and detoxification centres. There was a provision for crisis intervention and counselling services, special facilities for the mentally handicapped and upgradation of large mental hospitals. As such the policy for mental health is not comprehensive and is riddled with lacunae. It does not meet the minimum criteria laid down by the WHO.
The human rights of the mentally ill are still denied in Pakistan with reports of rampant abuse and stigmatisation. A number of divorce cases are filed simply on grounds of depression. Women from poor and deprived social backgrounds are coerced into marriage with mentally unwell wealthy males. Families are shunned if they have an individual suffering from a mental disorder. Hence, a large number, say roughly 50 per cent, of sufferers don’t seek treatment because of the fear of stigma and labelling.
What we see in terms of mental illness is only the tip of the iceberg. With the growing worldwide recognition of mental illness, it is high time that policymakers in the government should prioritise mental health and give this key area its due share. The media that is very vocal and effective nowadays can become a standard-bearer for the de-stigmatisation campaign and in doing so provide a great service to the country. We as a nation should take a collective pledge to fight mental illness with vigour and enthusiasm.
Suddenly, government runs the economy
FOR a century or more, the political left in Britain has said there will be no fundamental change until the state controls the financial sector; that, up to a point, is what happened on Wednesday. Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have done what their Labour forebears could only dream of doing: they have socialised the City, London’s financial district. Some may be tempted to think, judging by the total Horlicks they have made of things in recent days, that the prime minister and chancellor (finance minister) are sleepers who have spent their lives burrowing deep into the system simply to emerge when the time is ripe with a revolutionary blueprint. Let’s be clear. Darling and Brown have taken this momentous step not out of conviction but out of dire necessity. Britain’s financial system was on the point of meltdown on Tuesday night, with potentially catastrophic effects for the economy.
One way of looking at the dawn announcement that the Treasury will inject GBP50bn into the banks and another GBP250bn lubricating the wholesale money markets is that the class war is over and the good guys won.
In reality, it’s far too soon to say that. The government may choose to run the big high street banks so that the worst excesses of recent years — the absurd risks, unwarranted salaries, and short-termist approach to investment — are reined in. But it may not. Wednesday’s statement signalled an intent to clamp down on pay and bonus structures at the banks, but there was no suggestion that the Treasury would use its financial clout to influence the way institutions are run. Some caution is justified. When the French government nationalised Credit Lyonnais, the directors running the bank believed the state guarantee gave them the security to take ridiculous gambles with taxpayers’ money, including buying a Hollywood film studio, with predictably disastrous results.
Everything the government has said since it was forced, reluctantly, to take over the Northern Rock bank in February suggests that it wants to take a back-seat role. But this may be more difficult than Darling believes. The financial crisis will not be brought to an end by Wednesday’s move, dramatic though it was. Despite the half-point cut in interest rates, Britain is in the early stages of a deep and painful recession that will further sap the strength of the banks. Indeed, it is still unclear whether the chancellor and his team fully comprehend the nature of what has happened in the past month. There are four big conclusions.
The first is that the long period of economic expansion that started in September 1992 with the pound’s forced departure from the European exchange rate mechanism is now over. The IMF warned on Wednesday that Britain’s economy will shrink next year for the first time in 18 years, with a risk that the forecast 0.1 per cent decline in GDP will be over-optimistic. The way things look, that’s a reasonable call.
The second thing to disappear on Wednesday was the notion that the British economy could survive on finance alone. For the past 20 years, policy-makers in the UK have convinced themselves that the might of the City could compensate for the country’s inability to make anything. The notion that the ever-widening trade deficit was merely a temporary phase while Britain adjusted to a weightless, virtual, financially-driven future has now been exposed for the grotesque fantasy it always was.
Thirdly, the bankruptcy of the City also represents the bankruptcy of New Labour economics, which has been based to an unhealthy degree on a desire to ape the go-getting, deal-making culture of the United States.
Labour governments of the past have always had industrial strategies, which have normally been based on the idea that manufacturing matters. Since 1997, ministers have convinced themselves that Britain had a comparative advantage in financial services and that therefore industrial policy should be based on giving the City what the City wants. The light-touch regulation of financial services was but one expression of the almost total obeisance to big capital.
Britain would be a cleaner and more prosperous country if a fraction of the effort spent on making London safe for speculators had been reallocated to harnessing the nation’s raw scientific talent into a thriving environmental technology industry. Finally, the dominance of the City is over, at least for the time being. What we have seen over the past 14 months is the humbling of the City: what the Greeks would have called nemesis following hubris.
— The Guardian, London