WHETHER it is a member of the ‘axis of evil’ or ‘a major non-Nato ally’, the Bush administration does not seem to miss an opportunity to flaunt its military prowess and the unilateralism that has been its characteristic. With the presidential election only a week away, American forces on Sunday raided a Syrian town and claimed killing eight people, including what a US military spokesman described as “one of the most prominent foreign fighter facilitators”. The raid would remind the world of the Sept 3 attack by American troops in Fata, the first to come in the wake of President Bush’s secret order, signed in July, authorising raids inside Pakistan, the ‘frontline state’ in the war on terror. The Sept 3 raid by American special forces that killed 20 people in Angoor Adda sent shock waves across Pakistan. Since then, even though an incursion by US troops has not taken place, the Pentagon has continued to launch missile attacks on suspected Taliban targets in Pakistan — 18 have been reported since September — with the casualties each time not necessarily being the militants.
Since the Iraqi invasion, American military planes have often violated Syria’s air space, and sometimes US troops have chased militants across the border. But Sunday’s raid by US commandos in four helicopters near the Syrian border city of Qaim is the first incident of its kind and must shock observers of the Middle Eastern scene. With the level of ‘Sunni insurgency’ in Iraq having come down considerably and ‘the flow’ of foreign militants from Syria to Iraq declining by America’s own reckoning, Iraq appears to be gradually returning to normality. Hence why the need for such a raid at a time when the US has almost decided to cut troop levels in Iraq and send more troops to Afghanistan’s killing fields? America has had no qualms about launching attacks on the tribal areas of Pakistan to target Al Qaeda terrorists but without consultation with Pakistan. Since after the first ground attack, the subsequent attacks have been from the air, the casualties have been massive with civilians also being killed.
It is felt that these raids — especially the Syrian one — could be the Republican administration’s last major bid to boost John McCain’s sagging electoral prospects. A renewed demonstration of the Bush administration’s ‘hard line’ to the extent of carrying out a raid on an Arab country is something the strong Zionist lobby would love, more so at a time when Israel is in the midst of a political crisis. As for Al Qaeda, any military campaigns undertaken by the US for destroying its operatives have won popular support for the presidency.
Condemnable to the core
IT was in the days of the Roman Empire that men were thrown to slug it out with hungry lions to create a spectacle for the elite to enjoy. In modern-day, 21st century Pakistan, young girls are thrown before ravenous dogs to settle scores. Whether we have progressed in comparison with man’s primordial existence or regressed is a question that must agitate our minds in the Islamic Republic. A stark reminder of a value system that is heavily loaded against our womenfolk came in the form of the harrowing tale of Tasleem Solangi in Khairpur, who was murdered ostensibly in the name of ‘honour’ but more likely to settle a property dispute. Tasleem’s case also testifies to the commodification of women who have no identity of their own and serve as convenient tools for men to settle scores with. That for the most part the state has remained a silent bystander, refusing to go beyond setting up toothless inquiry commissions, makes all Pakistanis hang their heads in shame. Political and financial failures one can live with, but what about this continuing tale of misery in the name of honour? The Women Protection Act lies gathering dust in legal curriculum because beyond that it has failed to have an impact. Even the permission to invoke the Anti-Terrorism Act in such cases has brought about a change whose quantum is negligible.
As a result, the vulnerability of women is as palpable in urban settings as it is in the rural areas. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 713 cases of rape were reported in 2007. The Burns Centre in the city is also witness to the alarmingly high number of women being torched by their own families — 143 in the country in 2007 according to the HRCP. As is common knowledge, there is no dearth of laws, acts, decrees, rules and regulations against every possible crime in society. What we need is not a new law, but a renewed will on the part of the authorities concerned to make use of them in their true spirit. A recent communication from the National Police Bureau to the four provincial inspectors-general, as quoted by the national media, surprisingly made a frank confession when it blamed the “abdication of responsibility by the state” as being a major reason behind such lawlessness. One can but hope that the political and administrative machinery will not stop at this confession and will move to curb the menace.
In the name of love
SOME would see it as a profession of faith. Others may call it a religion of humanity. Either way, such intrepid devotion to the cause of basic humanism can only merit pure homage — as chaste as the aspiration itself, free of doubt and dismay. Gayle Williams, a 34-year-old British-South African aid worker, was one of many who believed in the doctrine of love. Last week, she lost her life to a bullet in Afghanistan and was laid to rest amid tight security in a Kabul cemetery where, reportedly, 50 family, friends and colleagues were in attendance — and in tears. Williams’ end may have been both unfortunate and dramatic but her last wish was nothing short of memorable — she had asked to be buried in Afghanistan where she worked with disabled children. Her murder has been claimed by the Taliban and fellow aid workers assert that the deceased had been targeted because Serve Afghanistan, the organisation she worked for, was spreading Christianity. Perhaps her desire to be put in the ground in a beleaguered Muslim country — instead of her own, amid her kin — will put such callous cynicism to rest.
Regrettably, Gayle Williams is not the first whose desire to serve humankind in the name of love has been denigrated in the name of either religion or suspicious intentions. Take the case of arguably the greatest ‘seraph’ of our times, Mother Teresa, hailed as the Saint Of The Gutters; she was also subjected to barbs such as the infamous book The Missionary Position and undying accusations of accepting aid regardless of its source. Then there is our indigenous and legendary humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi who, despite working miracles in areas such as rescue, refuge and rehabilitation, has been hounded by accusations as vile as child trafficking. Perhaps societies such as ours deserve fallen heroes. We either destroy our own idols or ensure that they are not free of clay feet.
OTHER VOICES - European Press
The damned and the saved
The Slovak Spectator
THE way foreigners enter a country speaks volumes about both their own homeland and the country they want to visit.… [S]ome are tourists welcomed … some are exchange students, made to sign a declaration promising to return to their own country; some are refugees who no longer have their own country. Some are crossing the border under cover of darkness…. Visas are much more than just stamps in passports: they reflect the dynamics between countries and also the challenges that nations face. Yet, the absence of visas can have greater significance for a country than their existence.
US President George W. Bush announced on Oct 17 that his country will no longer require citizens of six formerly communist European countries, among them Slovakia, plus South Korea to apply for visas in order to visit as tourists. The ongoing discussion about visas has undoubtedly been an important part of relations between Slovakia and the US.... Visas even made it onto the agenda of the first-ever visit of a US president to Slovakia back in 2005, when the Slovak government requested a “better visa policy for Slovakia”.
Besides this, liberalisation of US visa policies towards the European Union’s newer members has been very much a live issue within the EU, with some countries criticising the union for not being more assertive in negotiating a unified approach for all its members.
There are walls that can come down overnight, but political and psychological walls can take decades to dissolve. These walls need to be taken apart brick by brick … on both sides. Entry to the Schengen zone removed one of the last remaining bricks from the wall separating Slovakia from the old European Union countries. The cancellation of the visa regime with the US is another. While most Slovak state officials have acknowledged … the … importance of this act, Prime Minister Robert Fico declined to celebrate…. [A] message for his voters … typical for politicians who like to play on the frustrations of part of the populations of small nations, suggesting that they will not ‘bow’ to anyone.
And yet acts such as waiving visas and presidential handshakes always happen in a political context and, understandably, there will always be politicians who want to glue these acts into their little political albums hoping that the voters will remember them….
Fortunately, Slovaks can now overlook all the political bargaining surrounding this act and simply take it for what it is: another confirmation that Slovakia is recognised as a normal democratic country…. They no longer have to stand in line, or … face interview — a process which … still retains about it an unpleasant whiff of the damned and the saved….
When all is said and done, it is a good thing that visas are not waived or retained based only on statements made by politicians. Given Slovakia’s spectrum of political opinion, the country might otherwise have had to wait for a few more years yet. — (Oct 27)
Do US polls really matter to us?
“The United States has essentially a one-party system and the ruling party is the business party.” — Noam Chomsky
SINCE the nominations for the US presidential elections kicked off last year, there has been an inordinate amount of discussion in Pakistan’s media about which candidate is, or would be, more sympathetic to Pakistan.
Of course, there is a tremendous amount of ambiguity in the basic idea of what being ‘sympathetic’ to Pakistan actually means. Generally, this is understood to mean being liberal with the aid dollars, supportive at international forums and indulgent about our real or perceived follies. Whether previous such ‘sympathetic’ US presidents — Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush being the most recent incarnations — have actually been a blessing or a curse is an entirely debatable issue.
However, putting aside this valid question for the time being, the debate about the merits of various American presidential candidates has focused almost completely in the Pakistani media on one of two factors — their personal history or chemistry with Pakistan on the one hand, and the relative stance of their political parties regarding our country on the other. Both of these issues are trivial and of no consequence, and the Pakistani media has hardly added a whit to the cumulative understanding of its audiences. Let’s take a look at them one by one.
In the current match up, much has been made of the Democratic Party’s nominee Senator Barack Obama’s statements that he would support unilateral American action inside Pakistani territory to attack Al Qaeda leaders. Such has been the chorus of disapproval from Pakistanis both within Pakistan and in the US, that it has drowned out the earlier (muted) euphoria over the discovery that Mr Obama had close friends from Sindh whose homes he had visited during his college days (the personal connection we are so fond of).
But if any Pakistani had any illusions about Obama’s rival, the Republican Party candidate John McCain, having a greater concern for Pakistani territorial sovereignty, they were certainly disabused of such notions during the presidential debates. McCain attacked Obama for his pronouncements about Pakistan, but mainly over style. “You do what you have to do,” he told the American public, “but you don’t say it publicly.” So, basically, the choice for us is between someone who supports disregarding Pakistani sovereignty on the one hand, and on the other, someone who also supports the same line but just doesn’t want us to know.
Of course, it would be entirely legitimate to question how either Messrs Obama or McCain’s line would be any different in substance from what the US is already pursuing under President George Bush. With Predator-Hellfire missile attacks every day — whether with the tacit acquiescence of the Pakistani government or not — and tribal areas that are under the state’s writ only in name at best, the very idea of ‘Pakistani sovereignty’ seems a laughable one. In any case, so much for the personalities affecting their attitudes to Pakistan. Let’s now take a look at another great myth — the difference between the two main American political parties vis-à-vis Pakistan. The conventional wisdom is that the Republicans are pro-Pakistan, while the Democrats are pro-India. The source of this fairytale is traceable to the line propagated by Gen Zia’s administration that was the beneficiary of American largesse during the Afghan war and the perception is fairly strongly tied in with the flow of aid.
Since Ronald Reagan and his Republicans held sway through most of Gen Zia’s tenure at the helm, and aid to Pakistan dried up during Clinton-the-Democrat years, only to be resumed during Republican George Bush’s tenure, this perception has almost assumed a position of unchallenged fact.
You could poke holes in this argument by pointing out that Pakistan was recognised as a state in 1947 by a Democratic US president, Harry Truman. That it was during the Republican administration of Richard Nixon that half of Pakistan’s territory seceded. Or that the Pressler Amendment (drafted by Republican Larry Pressler) and military and economic sanctions were enforced under the Republican administration of George Bush the Senior. But one cannot argue with this perception without questioning the entire basis of the ‘pro-Pakistan’ argument as espoused by the Pakistani establishment.
Does anyone other than Hamid Gul or Qazi Hussain still believe that Zia pushing Pakistan head first into the Afghan quagmire at the behest of the American CIA was in Pakistan’s long-term interests? Was having Pakistani society overrun by cheap Kalashnikovs, sectarian mafias and heroin a good trade for the aid the Americans pumped in? In more recent times, whatever opinion one may have about Gen Musharraf, would most Pakistanis consider their country becoming a frontline ally of George Bush’s neocon ‘war on terror’ a prudent move in the best interests of the country? If anything, has it not tainted our own necessary battle against Talibanisation?
But lest this be taken as arguing the case for the Democrats, the corollary to the above bit of conventional wisdom is that the Republicans favour military rule in Pakistan while Democrats are more, well, pro-democratic. Let’s cast a brief glance at history. Aside from Gen Ayub Khan’s coup in 1958, which took place during Republican President Dwight Eisenhower’s tenure, all subsequent coups in Pakistan have taken place during Democratic administrations. Ayub had very cordial relations with both the Democratic administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson despite the folly of Operation Gibraltar in 1965.
Regardless of the Republican support to latter Pakistani military dictators, one can even argue that all military dictatorships in Pakistan have only met their end during Republican administrations — Ayub and Yahya Khan during Richard Nixon’s tenure, Ziaul Haq during Ronald Reagan’s tenure and Pervez Musharraf during the current Bush administration.
The point is this: it really does not matter to us which party is in power in the US. American interests — or at least the perception of American interests — is what drives American policy towards Pakistan, or anywhere else in the world. We would do well to remember that it was under Bill Clinton that American cruise missiles hit Afghanistan for the first time, and a most crippling economic embargo was imposed on Iraq that reportedly led to the death of hundreds of thousands of children. The differences between the Republicans and Democrats are limited to their domestic arena, and at best to the style of international diplomacy. Yes, Obama being quite possibly the first black president does send a good message to the world about America. Yes, his early schooling in Muslim lands may give him a better understanding of cultures other than American.
But to believe that his ethnicity, his parentage or his party affiliations are going to fundamentally alter real American geopolitical interests with regards to places such as Russia, China, the Middle East or Central Asia is to live in a make-believe world. It’s time Pakistan’s media woke up, and as Americans are fond of saying, ‘smelled the coffee’.
Sarkozy’s court battle
IF there is one thing that Nicolas Sarkozy likes even more than eyeing up Rolexes or single-handedly saving Europe from the financial abyss, it has to be a good, old-fashioned court battle. His threat to sue a company producing a voodoo doll in his image, complete with glowering expression, has sparked derision both from the firm responsible, which denounced it as “totally disproportionate”, and from the media, which has made no secret of wholeheartedly enjoying it.
But if there is a curious sense of deja vu about the affair, it is perhaps because it is by no means the first time Sarko has turned to legal action to avenge his despoiled image or hurt pride. Sarkozy is by far the most litigious president in his country’s recent history, and the French have become wearily accustomed to seeing their diminutive head of state throw his toys out of the Elysee’s gilt-encrusted pram.
In January, shortly before his wedding to Carla Bruni, the president decided to sue the low-budget airline Ryanair for using a picture of the couple in an advertisement. Just weeks later it was the turn of magazine Le Nouvel Observateur to face his wrath after it published an article claiming Sarkozy had begged his ex-wife to come back to him by text message. (The reporter subsequently apologised and the case was dropped.)
This month the Elysee’s legal team have been especially busy after Sarkozy announced he was suing the country’s former head of the intelligence services over leaked extracts from the top spy’s diary and a slew of unsubstantiated allegations concerning the president’s sexual and financial exploits.
Some say Sarko’s unusual behaviour stems from the fact that he has put his personal life on display in a manner unprecedented for any French leader. Others blame the coming together of a quick temper and an ego the size of Mont Blanc.
— The Guardian, London