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DAWN - Editorial; November 12, 2008

November 12, 2008


Taliban raid

MONDAY’S hijacking by the Taliban of vehicles carrying Nato supplies is disturbing both for its audacity and possible implications. For one thing, the ambush took place not in some remote corner of the tribal belt but on the Peshawar-Torkham highway in an area where there is no shortage of security checkpoints. Equally if not more worrying are reports that paramilitary personnel at the nearby Jamrud Fort just watched the incident as it unfolded instead of taking on the militants. And when helicopter gunships finally launched an attack well after the event, more civilians than militants were hurt or killed, including a 12-year-old schoolboy. The militants then hoisted Taliban flags and banners on the military vehicles they had captured and conducted a victory parade on wheels in the Jamrud area of Khyber Agency. They even posed for photographs, showing off their booty.

This brazen attack raises serious questions about the operational capability and motivational levels of the security forces vis-à-vis the fight against militancy. The argument that it is difficult to check militancy in Jamrud because of the heavy deployment of troops in Bajaur and elsewhere only highlights the security forces’ inability to man several fronts simultaneously. True, some significant gains have been made recently in Bajaur. The moves initiated by some tribes to raise militias and clear their areas of militants are also encouraging. But even then there seems to be no stopping the Taliban in Swat, Khyber Agency, Waziristan, Frontier Region Kohat and other parts of the NWFP and the tribal belt. If hundreds of militants have been killed in recent weeks, which is what the military claims, then the strength of the Pakistani Taliban as a whole must be truly staggering. Indeed it can be asked at this stage whether the authorities left it a little too late to decisively take on the Taliban. At any rate, the military strategy ought to be reassessed and greater effort made to bring the more moderate militants round to the government side.

Pakistan is fully justified in its protests against repeated violations of the country’s territorial sovereignty. But incidents such as the one on Monday can reinforce the impression in certain quarters that our security forces cannot by themselves stamp out militancy and enforce the rule of law. Images of the Taliban posing in front of US Humvees can only lower our credibility in foreign eyes and weaken claims that Pakistan can go it alone in rooting out militancy. More Taliban attacks will lead to more US strikes. Respect for sovereignty, then, could be reduced to little more than a futile dream.

Captive humanity

SOME say we live in liberated times. But Pakistan’s hinterland harbours myriad tales of captivity. However, a recent step in the right direction promises changing fortunes for beleaguered hundreds: a sessions and an additional district judge in Hyderabad released a total of 124 brick kiln workers on Saturday. These were produced by the police under court orders and were some of many claims registered against kiln owners, accusing them of keeping workers in bondage. This occurred shortly after the Supreme Court issued a last opportunity to the federal government and other respondents to contest appeals against a Sindh High Court order that dismissed 94 petitions of detention of bonded farm workers in Sindh. The appeals date as far back as 2002 and were moved by two petitioners, Dongar Bheel and Kanji Bheel and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Despite the promulgation of laws and attempts by successive governments to initiate labour reforms, it is tragic that lives continue to reek of the brutality that plagued a scheduled caste labourer — the famous case of Mannu Bheel that evoked international ire. Mannu had taken an advance sum of money from Rind, a zamindar, who not only refused to pay his wages but also sold a number of Mannu’s family members to another landlord. Regrettably, the vicious cycle spins on: Dongar also alleges that 18 of his kin were held in bondage and 12 relatives in Kanji’s case were held as bonded workers.

This scourge of slavery persists despite the fact that the Constitution of Pakistan ordains ‘…the state shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfilment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability, to each according to his work’. Pakistan is also a signatory to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, and the ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principals and Rights at Work; both treaties pledge freedom to choose employment and an amenable work environment. Captive labourers are also a direct violation of the country’s indigenous Bonded Labour System Abolition Act, 1992, adopted following an ILO warning of censure. Sadly, ideals often collide with reality. Doctrines of ethics may shine on paper but have a long journey before they can make inroads into feudal-run, impoverished backwaters of Pakistan. This is a collective human tragedy spun by poverty and illiteracy and these areas can only be tackled if easy loans are available to haris to ward off the curse of debt bondage. There has been repeated emphasis by NGOs on the monitoring of kilns and other work units, where a majority of these excesses take place and police patronage to influentials must also be eliminated. However, the abolishment of the feudal system and land reforms remain the ultimate lights at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

The same old story at the PCB

THE decision by Pakistan Cricket Board to focus its energies on ways to ‘move forward’ instead of ‘probing the misdeeds of the previous management’ can, indeed, be called a pragmatic approach. With on-field activity getting dried up, players opting out of national duty, and the domestic structure struggling to throw up much of a talent, it is surely time to get down to the business of management rather than roaming the wasteland of official inquiries. It also makes sense on another crucial front. If the sitting management finds anything wrong with its predecessor, it will actually be calling into question its own worth and acumen for the job because the leading lights of today have been part of the system for long. The re-designated chief operating officer, for instance, is serving his third consecutive boss at the PCB. In turn, the chairman, as a member of the 14-strong board of governors, had himself been part of the cricketing setup for the last year or so. During the period, he was party to all the decisions that were made by the previous management. And he is not on record as having raised a voice of dissent either.

By criticising the deeds of their predecessors, they had till now been questioning their own decisions. Sanity finally seems to have prevailed and the PCB has decided to ‘move on’. This is a sad story, but even more regrettable is the fact that this was true of even the previous management where Nasim Ashraf was an integral part of Shaharyar Khan’s team, but once he replaced his boss at the top, he found something wrong with everything and almost everyone. Clearly, like the nation at large, the PCB is in no mood to take a lesson from history. The new appointments made in the last month or so only confirm the notion. They have all been around for a long time and have returned to the scene only wearing different hats.

OTHER VOICES - European Press

Power — and who should have it?

The Scotsman

SIX months ago many were quick to dismiss the cross-party Calman Commission as a device by which the Westminster Labour government could kick the issue of extra powers for the Holyrood parliament into the long grass. But the commission has struggled doggedly on, and is now becoming the focus of debate on some of the most contentious issues thrown up by the devolution settlement.

One of these is, predictably, finance, and whether the Holyrood parliament should be given more fiscal powers, or as Labour in Westminster would prefer, ‘assigned revenues’ which would limit the discretion of the Scottish parliament.

The Westminster government has asked the Calman Commission to tackle the problem of Holyrood being able to use the devolved powers it enjoys over planning and transport to block Westminster’s activities in the areas of energy and defence. The SNP administration, which is strongly anti-nuclear, has looked to ways of using its devolved powers to stymie the building of new nuclear power stations in Scotland.

Labour in Westminster firmly maintains that defence and energy are areas reserved to the UK parliament and that powers devolved to the Scottish parliament should not be used vexatiously to frustrate the execution of policy by an elected UK government.

This is a fraught area into which the Calman Commission has been brought. It raises many complex issues over a clash of jurisdictions. The current SNP administration says that Labour in Westminster is not genuinely interested in expanding the powers of the Scottish parliament and indeed would prefer to circumscribe some of the powers it already has. It views the Calman exercise as a means to draw attention away from its own ‘national conversation’.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of these claims, the commission needs to have regard to the constitutional settlement as it stands and to consider areas where there is broad support for more powers for Holyrood. The last general election was fought on the basis of energy and defence being reserved matters, and voters expressed their preferences on the basis of the policies offered. It would be setting a dangerous precedent were arrangements agreed upon by voters to be set aside without a thorough examination of the constitutional implications. The danger of an approach which disregarded this would be increasingly bitter constitutional wrangling — an outcome Calman must seek to avoid. — (Nov 11)

Focus on the people

By Shahab Usto

AFTER remaining in the eye of terror for the last eight years Pakistan seems to be finally graduating from one-man rule to governance characterised by participatory politics, diplomatic initiatives and combined civil-military efforts to deal with the war.

Such a view emerges from the recent developments on the political, military and diplomatic fronts.

On the political front, the government has come around to accepting the fact that it cannot fight the war without broad-based political support. Therefore, the in-camera joint parliamentary session was convened rightly to bring on board not only the parliamentarians but also the entire national leadership. On the diplomatic front, despite Richard Boucher’s recent reiteration of Washington’s ‘resolve’ to fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the Nato-US combine has changed its tone vis-à-vis the Taliban, showing its willingness to co-opt the ‘moderate’ Taliban.

In fact the change was overdue. The US has spent $140bn and suffered hundreds of causalities in Afghanistan, yet the Karzai government has utterly failed to deliver. Therefore, the Saudis are now using back-door diplomacy to knit a modus vivendi between the Karzai government and the Taliban.

The Pakistani military leadership is also stressing the need to enlist the peoples’ support against this war. It is a major departure from the policy pursued by Gen Musharraf which envisaged fighting the war by relying on the US-backed security and intelligence apparatus, completely ignoring the role of the political parties.

Finally, it is encouraging that the local tribesmen are increasingly coming to grips with the impending realities of the war. Already sick of the war crimes committed by the Taliban in Fata, Swat and other settled areas, they are now wary of the intentions of the US president-elect who has declared Fata to be more ‘dangerous’ than Iraq. Therefore they do not want this war to go on and turn their habitat into an inferno. Hence, efforts are being made to raise lashkars, private tribal militias, to resist and eject the terrorists. No wonder they are facing violent reprisals from the terrorists.

As a result of the aforesaid developments, Pakistan seems to have another chance to end this war and disentangle itself from the Afghan imbroglio. The first chance was squandered in search of strategic depth in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the Soviet troops in 1989. However, the objective conditions are now more favourable than in 1989.

Today Pakistan has a vocal media. The coalition government represents large sections of the liberal, conservative, religious and nationalist opinions. Importantly the military is more willing than ever before to work with the government to end this war. The US and the international community are also mindful of the regional and international repercussions of Pakistan’s failure to win this war; hence, Pakistan was a prime theme of the US presidential debates.

The only question that racks the mind is: will our leadership rise to the occasion and seize this historic opportunity? The political leadership is divided into three camps with regard to the war. First, the coalition partners minus the JUI-F seem to stand closer to the US policy: fighting terrorism militarily and lately also engaging the moderate Taliban. But the US military strategy has failed militarily; while it’s too early to judge the success of the talks.

Second, the Islamists, including the Tehrik-i-Insaf and a section of the PML-Q, are against the military oppression in Fata and Swat. They want Pakistan to de-link its war from that of the US and hold direct talks with the Taliban. What is overlooked is the fact that we are fighting a regional war. Ideology, geography, logistics, targets and enemies are all intertwined. The Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda will not fight a war in Afghanistan without intruding into Fata. The Pakistani Taliban cannot live in peace while the war is going on in Afghanistan. Nor can Pakistan economically and militarily afford to deal with extremism while leaving the US to fend for itself in Afghanistan. After all much of Pakistan’s current woes emanate from the war. We rightly deserve US financial and military aid.

Third, the PML-N which enjoys a sizable presence in the parliament and considerable influence in Punjab is treading pragmatically. It is trying to sit in both the camps, condemning both the US and the Taliban. The PML-N believes we are fighting America’s war. But the party does not explain how we can rid ourselves of the war given our economic malaise and the long-term American involvement in the region.

Thus, the three camps do not propose a workable solution. Not because the arguments are fallacious but because they are misdirected. The focus is the extremists, not the local populace that hosts or cohabitate with them. The people are the key to the solution.

In 1969, when the US was engaged in Vietnam and Gen Westmoreland was bragging that America was “winning the war”, Henry Kissinger wrote: “A guerilla war differs from traditional military operation because its key prize is not control of territory but control of the population.” How true in our context. We have miserably failed to convince the extremists of the futility of war because they have acquired through fear or indoctrination a measure of control over the local population.In fact to retain control the Taliban have lately relaxed their strict Sharia-based regimen. They no longer object to music, shaving beards or sowing poppy in Helmand. Yes, when it comes to challenging their writ they react violently. The recent attacks on jirgas are a case in point.

So the watchword is ‘control’ over the lives of the population. The government’s policy should be geared toward neutralising the controlling factors through a combination of diplomatic, military, economic and political initiatives. This is not a war of capturing territories but of hearts and minds.

Indeed both the US and Pakistan have lessons to learn from their histories. The American army was defeated in Vietnam because the people treated it as an occupational force. Our forces were defeated in East Pakistan because the Bengalis treated them as the ‘Punjabi army’.

Therefore the American ‘surge’ policy will not work in this region as long as the people don’t own this war. By winning the hearts of the people Fidel Castro’s 80-odd guerillas overthrew the Batista’s US-backed 50,000-strong Cuban army. Yet, Che Guevara, Castro’s top guerilla, failed in Bolivia because he couldn’t win over the local peasants.

Vendetta politics

By Simon Tisdall

THE least dismaying aspect of Monday’s) disclosure of a deliberate, codified White House policy of mounting worldwide, covert, cross-border US special forces attacks on Al Qaeda and other selected targets is that there were limits to these operations, albeit self-interested and self-policed.

The most disheartening aspect is the extent to which CIA-directed under-the-radar missions, often amounting to the arbitrary execution of suspects by hit squads with little regard for civilian casualties, resemble the methods of the terrorists they are designed to eradicate.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, George Bush repeatedly vowed to hunt down those responsible and their associates. But the danger inherent in such vendetta politics was always that the behaviour of the state would descend to the level of its most bloody-minded tormentors. The abuses subsequently uncovered at Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay suggest this is what happened. In its assaults on civil liberties and personal privacy in the “homeland,” the Bush administration again fell below expected standards.

By declaring a “war on terror” of indefinite duration, dedicated to the triumph of the morally good over the evildoers, Bush created a western version of divinely blessed jihad. Increasingly he played by the terrorists’ rules — and increasingly people in the Islamic world died by them.

In this context, news of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s classified 2004 order, endorsed by Bush, authorising special forces raids, anywhere, any time, is not a total surprise. According to the New York Times, there have been a dozen or more undisclosed operations since 2004 similar to the ground raids in Syria last month and in Pakistan in September. How many countries have suffered such actions is not known but they include Saudi Arabia, Yemen, some Gulf states, Somalia, and possibly countries in the Maghreb.

These states, in which the US (unlike in Iraq and Afghanistan) is not at war, can hardly be proud of their inability to halt unilateral US operations. Hence perhaps their reluctance to talk about them. But it may also be the case that some governments privately welcome the US taking on militants they cannot, for political or military reasons, confront themselves.

The US has set some self-imposed limits, indicating a sort of target hierarchy. Some raids were called off as too diplomatically damaging. And while the defence secretary can reportedly authorise a raid in the ungoverned spaces of Somalia, similar action in Pakistan or Syria requires presidential approval.

— The Guardian, London