US crisis diplomacy
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s unscheduled dash to the subcontinent appears to have quelled talk of a conflict, at least for now. In her remarks to the media Ms Rice appeared relatively relaxed and spoke of the “reasonable and responsible” discussions she had in New Delhi and Islamabad. As Ms Rice’s jet flew off into the skies, it looked as if American crisis diplomacy had chalked up another success. But much will depend on the days ahead. Specifically two issues will determine the level of tension between India and Pakistan: one, the evidence India can present to prove a Pakistani link to the Mumbai attacks; and, two, the demands India makes on the basis of that evidence. There is clearly deep anger in India over the Mumbai attacks and that anger may yet shatter the carefully crafted détente that Ms Rice has been able to achieve.
Here in Pakistan the government must carefully map out its options and possible next moves. Ms Rice would not have left Islamabad in the mood she did had she not gotten some assurance from the civilian government and military leadership that Pakistan will act against any individuals or groups that India may show are linked to the Mumbai attacks. The government must prepare for this possibility. Cracking down on militant groups that have deep roots in Pakistani society and have fanned out across the country will be a tough task that will require substantial groundwork. The government must also prepare for the possibility of a backlash from militants, with a new round of violence possibly engulfing Pakistan’s cities if the government goes after militants in earnest. Similarly, the civilian government and military leadership must speak with one voice against the scourge of terrorism. Any signs of a rift in that relationship will further complicate matters and hamper Pakistan’s efforts to credibly respond to India.
If Pakistan is under a great deal of international pressure then it is because of the toxic brew of militancy present in the country for a long time. However, the government must make the point that the various jihadi, militant, terrorist, sectarian and criminal groups here have morphed and overlapped since 9/11 in such a way that isolating one group is no longer easy. Pakistan is already actively fighting militants in at least two tribal agencies and the northern region. There are links between the militants there and the so-called Punjabi Taliban, many of whom believe India is the original enemy because of its acts in Kashmir. All these linkages, spreading across the length and breadth of the country, have potentially grave ramifications that the outside world must be made to understand. Simply asking Pakistan to bag militants or else deal with India’s anger will get neither India nor Pakistan anywhere closer to where they want to be. Pakistan must be in a position to win the battles it is already fighting before it opens new fronts.
Beating about the bush
IF a better law and order situation is the aim, then regrettably the decisions taken by the Sindh cabinet on Wednesday are unlikely to be of much help. Announced to the media by no less than three provincial ministers, the decisions said that all arms licences would be verified, fake ones would be cancelled, and that, instead of the district coordination officers, the home department would issue arms licences. Frankly, this is beating about the bush, because most, if not all, weapons used in crime and violence of the kind seen in Karachi over the weekend are not licensed. They are in the hands of criminal elements, some of whom may have political loyalties, and they get those killing machines from peddlers coming from as far as Afghanistan. The law-abiding citizens are forced to keep licensed weapons because they have little faith in the state’s security agencies. Here we would like to take note of a Sindh government advertisement that reminded the citizens that “carrying and brandishing” weapons, even if licensed, constituted an offence under the Pakistan Arms Ordinance and it was punishable with seven years in jail or with fine or both. One would like to laugh at this, because the reality on the ground is harsh and contrary to the naiveté displayed in the ad.
May 12, which saw PPP, MQM and ANP supporters brandish arms in 2007, and the violence in Karachi following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination last December are a stark reminder of what unlicensed weapons and criminal elements’ access to arms and explosives of all sorts can do. As our experience shows, all political parties display arms at their rallies, and their workers resort to firing in violation of the law to celebrate an occasion, to display the party’s firepower or to threaten or even kill their rivals. Political rallies throughout the world are a normal and peaceful phenomenon. That was the case with Pakistan, too. However, in the wake of the US-led ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan during Ziaul Haq’s days, it became normal for political parties, especially those with a religious orientation, to possess and display arms. Other parties also followed, and today political rallies terrify the citizens. The law and order situation can improve not by verification of arms licences or by changes in the issuing process but by applying the law even-handedly. Sindh’s ruling parties can occupy a moral high ground by applying the law of the land first and foremost to themselves.
From pity to privilege
THE International Day of People with Disabilities on Dec 3 put the spotlight on the issue of lack of opportunities for the disabled. Therefore, the Sindh government’s initiative of establishing a task force for their welfare calls for appreciation. Speaking at a seminar the Sindh minister for commerce and industries said that Rs5m would be given to the task force on behalf of the provincial government along with space for the establishment of a structure to accommodate associations devoted to the cause of the disabled. The minister also announced that the job quota for disabled persons would be increased to five per cent at the Sindh government level. In September, Pakistan also became a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that was adopted by the UN in 2006 and that seeks to protect the interests of approximately 650 million disabled people to ensure that they are not denied constructive participation in societal pursuits. Earlier this month, the Planning Commission declared that children with minor disabilities would be brought into the mainstream. This is progress indeed and one hopes that it is not restricted to paper.
However, where strong measures are sorely needed is in the area of Pakistan’s education system which is highly unfriendly towards handicapped persons in the attitude of the teachers and students and in the infrastructure and curricula. The UN Convention lays emphasis on ensuring ‘an inclusive education system at all levels’ which is geared towards the growth of one’s potential and confidence. Regrettably, our system is light years away from a model that promotes empowerment. An overhauled model has to begin with basics such as ramps for wheelchairs, Braille and move on to extensive teacher training projects, corrective therapists and special extracurricular activities and interests. This is the ultimate element that can take the disabled from being pitied to privileged.
OTHER VOICES - Sri Lankan Press
Good examples ignored
Setting an example for all countries that seek to follow democratic principles and traditions, two main Indian leaders relinquished their duties following the Mumbai tragedy. Although they are not directly responsible for the disaster India’s Home Minister Shivraj Patil and National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan offered their resignations accepting their “moral responsibility” for the tragedy.
One may ask whether the type that is practised in this country is not genuine democracy. We have political parties, political meetings are conducted, elections are held, governments are changed and institutions such as parliament, law courts and judicial systems are in existence. True, all these are features that characterise democracies. But their presence alone is not sufficient to make fully-fledged democracy.
The researchers have come to this conclusion after inquiring into the governance structures within three main political parties, the United National Party (UNP), Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). They have looked into the levels of inclusiveness, decentralisation and proceduralism as indicators for measuring the level of democracy within these parties. These weaknesses are clearly evident from periodic upheavals occurring in these parties. The way the election campaigns are conducted is another aspect that betrays the low levels of democracy practised by these parties. Their commitments to free and fair elections are confined to words.
However, if our political leaders choose, by any chance, to emulate Indian leaders who resigned, the country’s administration will be devoid of sufficient personnel to carry on the administration judging from the widespread nature of charges and allegations that are hauled against those at the helm of affairs.
This is the level of corruption, irresponsibility and brazenness that our leaders have reached. Following the example of their political leaders, even the officers working for them cling on to their posts until they are compelled to move out. It is some consolation, in this context, that the country’s judiciary has lately assumed a more active role in guaranteeing to the people at least some degree of good governance…. — (Dec 04)
The father of monotheism
NAMRUD ruled over Babylon with absolute might and power, the pelf of which drove him to command people to worship him as their lord. His astrologer, however, predicted his downfall at the hands of a commoner from among his subjects, who would not only challenge his authority but also rise as a formidable tide against idolatry.
Thus ignorant of the ways of Allah, a frenzied Namrud embarked on an unnatural strategy of separating all men and women in his kingdom, to ensure that no such child was ever conceived. Azar’s wife retreated to the loneliness of the Babylonian hills and it was there that Abraham (Hazrat Ibrahim A.S.) was born in a cave. His sustenance descended from Allah and 13 years later he returned to the city and took apprenticeship with the master sculptor, his own father, Azar.
“They said, build him a furnace and throw him into the blazing fire!” (39:97) Abraham was cast into the fire for defying idol worship, but the flames cooled by divine order. “We said O fire! Be then cool and means of safety for Abraham.” (21:69) “This failing they then sought a stratagem against him.” (39:98).
Interpreting the verse, (39:97-98), Allama Yousuf Ali says, “The argument of Abraham was so strong that it could not be met with a counter-argument. In such cases evil resorts to violence and to plotting. Here there were both, violence consisted of throwing him into a blazing furnace. But by the mercy of Allah, the fire did not harm him so they resorted to plotting. But even the plotting was a boomerang that recoiled on their hands.”
Other than Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Hazrat Ibrahim is the only other prophet whose Sunnat is enjoined upon Muslims. This is indeed a unique honour. Not surprisingly then Hazrat Ibrahim is the father of the doctrine of monotheism and was mentioned to Hazrat Muhammad in the early Makkan Sura Al-Nahl: “Abraham was an exemplar, obedient to Allah, upright (Hanif)…..” “Then we revealed to thee: follow the faith (millat) of Abraham, the upright one (Hanif) and he was not of the polytheists.” (16:120-123)
The legacy that Abraham left for his progeny was monotheism. His unflinching faith in Allah is mentioned in Surah Al-Baqr, verse 131: “Behold! His Lord said to him: Bow, (thy will) to the Lord and Cherisher of the universe.” Hazrat Ibrahim made a moving supplication to Allah: “O! My Lord bestow wisdom on me, and join me with the righteous; grant me an honourable tongue of truth, among the latest generations.” (19:83-84).
Haj, a pillar of Islam, is indeed the manifestation of the acceptance of Hazrat Ibrahim’s prayers. Haj and all its rites are a continuum of Abrahamic traditions. “And then we assigned to Abraham the place of the House, saying , do not set up aught with me, and purify My House for those who make the circuit, and who stand up to pray and who bow and prostrate themselves. And proclaim among men, the Haj…” (22:26-27)
History suggests that the concept of Haj existed even before Abraham but the Haj in its true spirit evolved from the authority of Abraham. He was divinely ordained to rebuild the Kaaba and purge it of idols and institute Haj.
In Sura Al-Baqra, from Ayat 196 to 203, the various rites of Haj are described for the pilgrims to complete. The principal rites are: (i) wearing of the ahram from certain fixed points on all roads leading to Makkah. As soon as the ahram is donned by a pilgrim, the prohibitive conditions come into force; (i) the pilgrim is committed to the worship of Allah and must refrain from all worldly attractions; (ii) circumambulation of the Holy Kaaba seven times, typifying activity by kissing the Hajr al-Aswad; (iii) a short prayer at the station of Hazrat Ibrahim (2:215) and then running between Mounts Safa and Marwa (2:158) remembering the patience and perseverance of Hazrat Hajra; (iv) listening to the great sermon of Haj. (v) visit to the valley of Mina and the hill of Arafat, where all pilgrims stand on their feet from noon to sunset and invoke blessings of the Almighty; (vi) on the 10th day of Zilhaj, Eid day, sacrifice of animals is performed in the valley of Mina.
The purpose of Haj is to attain spiritual loftiness. “...and make a provision with you for the journey. But the best of provisions is the right conduct….” (2:197). Pilgrims are expected to be self-sufficient and not resort to begging or chasing after worldly riches while at Haj.
Climate: harsh truths
ABOUT two years ago, I realised that the military in various countries were starting to do climate change scenarios in-house — scenarios that started with the scientific predictions about rising temperatures, falling crop yields, and other physical effects, and examined what that would do to politics and strategy.
The scenarios predicted failed states proliferating because governments couldn’t feed their people; waves of climate refugees washing up against the borders of more fortunate countries; even wars between countries that shared the same rivers.
So I started interviewing everybody I could get access to: not only senior military people but scientists, diplomats and politicians.
About seventy interviews, a dozen countries and eighteen months later, I have reached four conclusions that I didn’t even suspect when I began the process. The first is simply this: the scientists are really scared.
Their observations over the past two or three years suggest that everything is happening a lot faster than their climate models predicted.
This creates a dilemma for them, because for the past decade they have been struggling against a well-funded campaign that cast doubt on the phenomenon of climate change. Now, finally, people and even governments are listening.
Even in the United States, the world headquarters of climate change denial, 85 per cent of the population now sees climate change as a major issue, and both presidential candidates in last month’s election promised 80 per cent cuts in American emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.
The scientists are understandably reluctant at this point to announce publicly that their predictions were wrong; that it’s really much worse and the targets will have to be revised. Most of them are waiting for overwhelming proof that climate change really is moving faster, even though they are already privately convinced that it is.
So governments, now awakened to the danger at last, are still working to the wrong emissions target. The real requirement, if we are to avoid runaway global warming, is probably 80 per cent cuts by 2030, and almost no burning whatever of fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) by 2050.
The second conclusion is that the generals are right. Food is the key issue, and world food supply is already very tight: we have eaten up about two-thirds of the world grain reserve in the past five years, leaving only 50 days’ worth in store.
So the international grain market will wither for lack of supplies. Countries that can no longer feed their people will not be able to buy their way out of trouble by importing grain from elsewhere, even if they have the money. Starving refugees will flood across borders, whole nations will collapse into anarchy — and some countries may make a grab for their neighbours’ land or water.
These are scenarios that the Pentagon and other military planning staffs are examining now. They could start to come true as little as fifteen or twenty years down the road. If this kind of breakdown becomes widespread, there will be little chance of making or keeping global agreements to curb greenhouse gas emissions and avoid further warming.
The third conclusion is that there is a point of no return after which warming becomes unstoppable — and we are probably going to sail right through it. It is the point at which anthropogenic (human-caused) warming triggers huge releases of carbon dioxide from warming oceans, or similar releases of both carbon dioxide and methane from melting permafrost, or both. Most climate scientists think that point lies not far beyond 2 degrees C hotter.
Once that point is passed, the human race loses control: cutting our own emissions may not stop the warming.
But we are almost certainly going to miss our deadline. We cannot get the ten lost years back, and by the time a new global agreement to replace the Kyoto accord is negotiated and put into effect, there will probably not be enough time left to stop the warming short of the point where we must not go.
So — final conclusion — we will have to cheat. In the past two years, various scientists have suggested several “geo-engineering” techniques for holding the temperature down directly. We might put a kind of temporary chemical sunscreen in the stratosphere by seeding it with sulphur particles, for example, or we could artificially thicken low-lying maritime clouds to reflect more sunlight.