The terrorism riddle

PAKISTAN, never far from the news, has been firmly in the international spotlight since the Mumbai attacks. The steady drip of leaks from investigators in India and comments by Indian and American officials suggest that a Pakistani connection to the Mumbai attacks has been irrefutably established, at least in the eyes of the wider world. There is, however, a second, sometimes unspoken line of allegations against Pakistan: that we are a state with weak governance where terrorist groups have long run amok. Enough is enough, now put your house in order, the world led by India and the US is saying to Pakistan. We wish the world, and in particular the US, was not so selective in its memories of what has brought Pakistan to such a pass.

If Lashkar-i-Taiba has grown to a position of such strength that it could execute the Mumbai attacks with consummate ease, it has not done so in a vacuum. The Lashkar’s capabilities grew on the watch of Gen Musharraf, a military strongman supported by American dollars and a White House that believed he was its best bet to take on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribal areas. Even as it became clear that Gen Musharraf was not delivering on American demands and was possibly playing a dangerous double game by covertly supporting some militant groups, the Americans steadfastly stood by their man. The past year provided a particularly unedifying juxtaposition of a desperate general clinging to power and the resurgence of the two largest political parties, the PPP and the PML-N, both of which unambiguously support closer ties with India. Throughout that tussle the US remained a silent spectator, keen not to upset a fading dictator. So militancy is a problem in the region not only because of Pakistan’s numerous sins of commission but also because of the sins of the US, whose interests in Afghanistan led it to back a ruler who made neither Pakistan nor the region safer.

Making the region a safe place is no easy task now. The torching of 150 trucks laden with Nato supplies and vehicles outside Peshawar on Sunday confirms that a dangerous game of whack-a-mole is under way — hit the militants in one area and they pop up in another. This is possible because the militants are neither a monolith nor neatly divisible into separate groups; they have overlapped and melded in ways that have extended their overall reach. So for Pakistan the priority then must be to push back against all militants, not just the ones that the US or India wants us to stamp out. To do so would require a well-thought-out plan. However, no plan will succeed if foreign countries regard terrorism in Pakistan in a piecemeal way that only narrowly focuses on their own interests.

For eco-friendly development

DESPITE the introduction of the Environmental Impact Assessment culture over a decade ago and increasing awareness about the EIA practice, the evaluation procedure of the environmental impact of development projects has yet to be successfully integrated into our policy, planning and decision-making process. This is evident from the controversy that erupted recently between the federal environment authorities and the Capital Development Authority over the requisite EIA for the Zero Point Interchange project in Islamabad, now already six months into construction. The required EIA has also failed to be conducted for many other development projects prior to construction despite the existence of legislative instruments for the EIA process, namely, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997 and the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Review of Initial Environmental Examination and Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations, 2000.

One reason for this is that the EIA process has yet to be fully integrated into the steps taken by the concerned forums for approving public projects. Hence, IEE/EIA studies are not always conducted as part of the project-approving process. Even if conducted, the findings are not always considered when the decision-making process is initiated. Moreover, the extent of coverage of the regulations governing the EIA process is not completely satisfactory. For instance, Section 12 of the 1997 Act states that IEE and EIAs are required before commencement of construction “where the project is likely to cause an adverse environmental effect”. But it is not clear who will decide that an activity has adverse effects and it is also not clear whether public or private projects, or both, are to be considered.

Ensuring that the EIA process is effectively implemented requires improvement in the regulations concerning the EIA process, e.g., providing for the EIA to be carried out at the same time as the project feasibility design — for both public and private projects. It also requires the introduction of the concept of Strategic Environmental Assessment to enable impact assessment to cover wider policies and plans, like the proposed new industrial estate in Islamabad. Also necessary is improvement in the capacities and capabilities of the agencies responsible for protecting the environment with regard to EIA reports. The practice of such assessments is not meant to hinder development; it is a tool for managing sustainable development. Establishing the legal instruments for the EIA process has been the easy part. We now need to move on to enforcing and strengthening EIA mechanisms in order to promote sustainable development.

Removal of barriers

BEFORE ordering the “immediate removal” of the barriers set up at the entrance to a large number of streets in Karachi, the Sindh government should have realised why the citizens have chosen to have their own system of policing. If the law and order situation were satisfactory, people would have had no reasons to resort to this form of self-protection. Invariably, the barriers are manned — sometimes by the traditional chowkidar and sometimes by uniformed men belonging to some private security agency. In fact, as the government must be aware, security agencies are a thriving business in Karachi, and commercial concerns and neighbourhood committees hire them to protect life and property. The citizens would not spend money on erecting barriers and hiring security agencies if they had confidence in the state’s law-enforcement machinery. However, the truth is that crime has acquired nightmarish dimensions in Karachi and that has invariably served to erode the citizens’ confidence in the police and other law-enforcement agencies.

The first duty of every government is to protect life, honour and property and to maintain conditions of peace in which the people can pursue their lives, sleep peacefully at night and go out to work during the day without being robbed. This government — like those before it — has failed to control crime and maintain peace in the nation’s biggest city. While murders, robberies and burglaries are the order of the day, the recent killings and acts of arson have shown how the government has failed to discharge its primary duty towards the citizens. The barriers set up by the citizens sometimes become a nuisance and serve to block traffic. Nevertheless, the people have chosen to do their own bit of policing because that’s how they think they can protect themselves from criminals. Before getting the people to remove the barriers, the government should try to improve the working of its law-enforcement agencies and check crime so that the citizens feel no need for spending money on setting up manned security barriers.

Threats from two borders

By Mahmood Shah

THE government’s warning that it would have to withdraw troops from its western border in case of a threat on its eastern frontier with India was not only uncalled for, it was unrealistic as well. The continuous harping on this issue on TV talk shows is creating a negative impact in the NWFP and Fata.

Such tendencies in the past, including an overemphasis on the Kashmir issue, and without any tangible results created negative feelings in the former East Pakistan. Although East Pakistan’s population was larger than that of West Pakistan, not only did the issues discussed concern the interests of the western wing but most of our troops were also deployed in West Pakistan.

Without meaning to sound parochial, the fact is that there are similar feelings in the NWFP and Fata at this point of time. Defending territory and ensuring the security of its people is the foremost responsibility of the state. Unless it is proactive in ensuring that it is fulfilling this responsibility, other countries and non-state actors (an increasing phenomenon presently in Fata and the NWFP) will be encouraged to encroach upon the security foundations of a neglectful state.

Pakistan’s views on the subject of moving troops from one border to the other were meant more for US consumption and discussing these on TV talk shows would be tantamount to encouraging non-state actors and creating negative feelings among the people of the NWFP and Fata.

Meanwhile, the reported views of some security officials that Baitullah Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah are patriotic Pakistanis are laughable. The kind of demoralising effect this has had on local law-enforcement agencies and elders (who should be in the forefront when it comes to checking the enemy from within) is not difficult to imagine. If Baitullah and Fazlullah are patriots, how should one categorise our law-enforcement agencies and local elders who are pitted against them and are losing their lives to attacks on a daily basis?

The assertion that our tribes will defend the western border is doubtful because they have been overrun by a superior and motivated force. It is no longer 1948 or 1965 when these tribesmen with rustic weapons but superior motivation and fighting techniques in the mountainous area were able to add to our fighting strength. We are living in 2008 and must keep the battlefield of the 21st century in mind. Our tribals are not cannon fodder just to be thrown into these battlefields. If their services are required we must work out a proper plan on how to use these. In any case, they are not available at this point of time and we must not deceive ourselves.

Even after the Mumbai attacks, the threat on our eastern border is not a credible one. Given Pakistan’s nuclear status, India would not want to commit the blunder of attacking the eastern border. Core areas like Sialkot, Lahore and Rahimyar Khan are perilously close to our eastern border. It is no longer possible to have a limited war between India and Pakistan without provoking a nuclear response from Pakistan. Therefore, any threat emanating from our eastern border is largely taken care of by the country’s nuclear status.

In the present day, no country in the world can afford a nuclear war or should even think about it. The real purpose of having nuclear weapons is the deterrent value which these provide and we could exploit this by reducing the deployment of conventional forces along the eastern border.

NWFP and Fata inhabitants ask that if all politicians can unite when faced with a threat from India even when the forces have not been moved, why can’t they sit together to debate the threat emanating from our western border and give it the same degree of importance.

Understandably the Indian government and media overreacted to the unfortunate incident in Mumbai but there is no reason for the same response on our part. The NWFP and Fata are already under attack and the enemy is within our territories. Our complacent attitude towards the enormous threat on our western border is not understandable. Our military and political leadership appears to suffer from some kind of mental fixation and seems equipped to handle only threats from India. We cannot reorient ourselves to respond effectively to a new situation.

US drones are attacking our tribal, even settled, areas and even then we are unable to stop our enemies from whatever it is doing. In case we pull out our forces from the western border they will simply walk into our territories. Therefore the warning that in case of a threat on our eastern border we would have to pull out forces from our western border is not only unrealistic, it is also making the people of the NWFP and Fata feel demoralised. The government must re-evaluate the threats on both borders and carry out a major redeployment of our forces as per this new threat perception.

The writer is a retired brigadier and former secretary, Fata.

Death of village life

By Jason Burke

All over France it is the same story. Changing social habits, rural depopulation, the recently introduced ban on smoking, strict laws prohibiting fruit machines, inflation, static salaries and the economic crisis are forcing thousands of cafes and bars to the wall.

In the big cities, the sheer weight of population and prices are keeping business buoyant. ‘We’ve no problems here,’ said Michel Gineston, owner of Le Barricou bar in Paris’s fashionable 3rd arrondissement, but in the small villages it is a ‘catastrophe’.

Meurquin has been in the business for 20 years. Vendresse, a classic cluster of grey-roofed homes around a fortified Gothic church, does not suffer from the loss of inhabitants like so many rural settlements in France, because it is a dormitory for nearby Charleville-Mezieres. But that has brought its own problems.

‘People do not have the sense of rural life these days. There’s no conviviality,’ she said. ‘About five of my regulars are from the village. My revenue is down 20 per cent on last year. I feel like I’ve failed, but I know it’s time to do something else.’

But no cafe means no social life in the village. On Saturday, Meurquin hosted the local firemen’s annual lunch: ‘Even if you don’t go there all the time, a village needs a cafe. You don’t talk to people in a supermarket. You can’t hold a lunch there,’ said Jean-Louis Lenoir, 58. ‘It’s where everybody — young and old, from all social classes — mixes.’

The figures speak for themselves. In 1960, France had 200,000 cafes and bars. Now there are just over 40,000. So far this year, another 500 have closed. Studies suggest that the rate of bankruptcy among cafe owners could be up to 56 per cent higher than last year.

‘The hotel and restaurant business has already been undermined by a host of factors before the economic crisis,’ said Herve Lambel, of union Cerf. ‘For 30 years there has been the competition from takeaways, dropping alcohol consumption and the advent of television, which means people go out less. And in a crisis, it’s beers and cigarettes that are first hit.’

Herve Novelli, France’s tourism minister, contested the bankruptcy figures. According to the national institute of statistics, bankruptcies in the sector are only up by 11 per cent. But Lambel fears cafes will soon become relics, catering just to tourists and the nostalgic.

‘We have to save a few before we end up just pointing tourists at those which are still there, saying, “Look, that’s what it was like in a bygone era”,’ he said.

The wave of closures has made French bar-room grumbling even darker than usual. ‘It’s bad for us all,’ said Didier Baton, of the Cafe du Chene, the only one left in Grandfresnoy in the Oise, 60 miles north of Paris.

Many cafe owners are resorting to extreme measures, tolerating smoking, running illicit lotteries, bingo and even gambling. On the door of the only bar tabac in Dresny, a small village in the Loire-Atlantic, a sticker welcomes smokers. Yet Joel Lailler — Jojo the rebel to his fellow bar owners — has now hoisted the white flag.

Even a hunger strike and an interview with French president Nicolas Sarkozy has not held back the inevitable. ‘I opened a breach, but no one followed me,’ Lailler said. ‘If the government can’t let us decide ourselves whether to let our clients smoke, then I’ll take a decision for them and close.’

In the Ardennes, cafe owners complained that, as their Belgian counterparts faced no ban on smoking or on staying open later than 1am, local youths simply drive across the border to spend their evenings there.

‘There is no freedom any more,’ said Jacky Valente, the 44-year-old owner of Le Sedanais in Sedan, where on Friday afternoon only two clients, one Valente’s nephew, sipped beers. ‘You can sell cigarettes, but not smoke; buy alcohol, but not drink; buy a car that can go at 150kph, but not drive it faster than 110.’

There are now moves to change the law on games in bars to help cafes attract a new clientele, but the owners say it is too little too late.

— The Guardian, London

OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press

Paddy procurement


LIKE the sugarcane issue, once again the procurement of paddy has cropped up as a major issue for growers as well as the common man. A huge quantity of paddy was lying at encampments in Sindh and Balochistan. Neither traders of the private sector nor millers and government organisations were purchasing it. Eidul Azha is round the corner; the growers are in need of money and are compelled to sell their produce at low prices. Taking benefit of the situation traders were purchasing paddy at Rs450 to Rs500 per 40 kg, as against the government fixed price of Rs700.

This is a common occurrence in the agriculture sector and growers have to bear the brunt of it. When agriculture produce is in the hands of the growers its prices remain at the lowest level. As soon as this commodity reaches the traders its price shoots up and becomes out of reach of the poor.

Last year when rice reached the hands of traders its price touched new heights. Today when it is in growers’ hands, the traders, millers and government organisations are not ready to purchase it.

The fixed rate of the government is Rs700; however, following assessment this is not deemed to be a fair price. If the Agriculture Price Commission would calculate it would find the growers’ cost per maund would stand higher than the fixed price….

Two or three years ago the government fixed wheat price at Rs350 per maund; at that time the Agriculture Price Commission in its observations noted that growers’ expenses per maund were much more than this price. Growers are sowing essential food produce but they lack facilities and the support of the government. From seed and fertilisers to pesticides they have to arrange everything on their own. They have to purchase these inputs at double prices in the black market.

The growers have been demanding opening of government outlets along with the private sector which would ensure appropriate prices. When paddy harvesting starts in Sindh there are only traders and no official agency is found in the field. The growers have to either sell their produce at the prices offered by the traders or let the produce rot.

This situation only benefits either black markets or the government officials who facilitate them to earn undue profit. It is the people who suffer a loss. As a result of the policies of the previous government the floor prices are high today. At that time some 1.5 million tonnes of wheat were imported from Australia but it was returned as viruses were discovered. Hence neither the shortage was met nor did the prices come down. It was later found that the wheat was not infected. This was done to benefit the black market. Later these stocks were sold in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the UAE, etc.

The common man, the primary consumer of food commodities like rice and wheat, despite being promised low prices had to pay exorbitant rates. These consumers should be the priority of the government and it should make arrangements to ensure availability of these food items at low prices. — (Dec 04)

— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi.


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