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DAWN - Editorial; December 13, 2008

December 13, 2008

The common enemy

GREAT statesmen, it is said, don’t just respond to public opinion: they shape it. In these troubling times when Pakistan is being called the “epicentre” of terrorism by our neighbours to the east, we have a collective responsibility to look inwards. But that burden rests most heavily on the shoulders of our elected representatives who should feel duty-bound at this critical stage to put into clear, concise words what it is precisely that ails this country. Most Pakistanis, an overwhelming majority in fact, do not support militancy or terrorism, yet a small fanatical fringe has come to dictate the agenda. Why is this so? Well, the fanatics are armed to begin with and also come equipped with greater zeal and ideological fervour than those of liberal bent. They can cause mayhem whereas the broad-minded can simply talk, or write. They also strike a chord with the disenfranchised for whom the state has done next to nothing generation after generation.

The resentment the powerless feel may be cloaked in anti-Americanism or religiosity but in actual fact it boils down to a class conflict. Becoming part of a militant or terrorist organisation empowers poor, impressionable young men. And it’s not just the weapons or the monthly stipend that give them comfort — finally they have an identity when previously they were faceless, they become part of a community in which they are respected. The uniform of militant Islam confers instant respectability in some quarters. The sole gunman captured in Mumbai, Ajmal Kasab of Faridkot, apparently first sought refuge from poverty in crime and then gravitated towards ‘jihadi’ outfits. As long as nothing is done to address the growing underemployment in this country, the militants will find no shortage of fresh recruits. At least that is the case in Pakistan. The radicalisation of middle-class Muslim youth in the UK or other parts of Europe can be attributed to numerous other factors, including race. American foreign policy and brazen double standards don’t exactly help either. Unresolved disputes such as Palestine and Kashmir can also be cited.

What the Mumbai assault has done in this country is divert attention from the internal threat to an external ‘enemy’. This must not be allowed to happen. Soul-searching is in order, and an acceptance of the fact that Pakistan is indeed a hub of militancy and terrorism. The prime minister and the president must inform the nation in unequivocal terms that what is past is past and that extremism, which has taken root in this country, will enjoy no sanction and will not be tolerated. It is sad, on one level, that it has taken external pressure to stir the government into acting against those who are besmirching our name in the world. We face isolation, and internal ruin, if the common enemy is not brought to book.

Tussle in Punjab

A PUNJAB represented by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Governor Salman Taseer is, literally, half a century behind writer Giovanni Guareschi’s Italy. Following the Second World War, Guareschi invented two characters, Don Camillo and Peppone. His books were later adapted for film. Like Taseer and Sharif, the two Italians “symbolise the clash between two opposing cultures which, precisely in the 1950s, crossed swords as they defended two different philosophies of living.” Don Camillo, a parish priest, and the revolutionary communist town mayor, Peppone, represented two world views. But they were “united in the face of outside adversities” presenting a “model of historical compromise”. No compromise is in sight between Messrs Sharif and Taseer. The country may be faced with the threat of war from a neighbour, a civil war could be raging and democracy could be at stake; but there is no separating the two leaders locked in a grapple, each one wooed by the same constitution.

The latest controversy in the series erupted when the Punjab Assembly speaker, Rana Mohammed Iqbal, and at the time standing in for Governor Taseer, swore in the provincial ombudsman and the Punjab Services Tribunal chief. Taseer, who was accused of having delayed the appointments for quite long, reacted typically. He reminded the Sharif administration that he was a nominee of President Asif Zardari, implying that the president had shared his grievances on the subject. The PML-N of Shahbaz Sharif retorted by saying that Taseer did not represent the PPP and identified a very quiet Raja Riaz, the senior minister in Mr Sharif’s cabinet, as the true spokesman of the PPP. Mr Sharif has himself been quoted as saying that he had lost patience with the governor.

The tussle has been allowed to continue for too long. In the process families have been dragged into it and ugly scenes created. The situation defies an easy explanation since the PPP and the PML-N still claim to be in a coalition, at least in Punjab. It appears that all a solution demands is a heart-to-heart meeting between Mr Sharif and President Zardari. A compromise is the order of the day. Chief Minister Sharif has the right to rule without having to deal with unwanted interventions by the governor. At the same he must remove the impression that Governor Taseer has been forced to hit out at him because the PPP has been denied its due share in power in Punjab.

Our heroes and heroines

ON Wednesday, the UN General Assembly conferred the prestigious UN Human Rights Award on the late Benazir Bhutto. Her son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, received the award from the UN Assembly chief Miguel D’Escoto Brockman. Benazir Bhutto deserved the award not because she was the Muslim world’s first woman prime minister but because of her struggle against Ziaul Haq’s military dictatorship. Although she was subjected to the trauma of her father’s judicial murder and the tragedy surrounding the death of her two brothers, her spirits were not dampened. Arrested several times, Benazir Bhutto was put in solitary confinement by Ziaul Haq for five years. She was persecuted by others after the general as well but astounded the world by returning home in triumph — only to be felled by an assassin. While the world honours Pakistan’s heroes and heroines, we ourselves hound, persecute and murder them for parochial and political reasons. Liaquat Ali Khan, the first prime minister, was assassinated in the same park in Rawalpindi where Benazir Bhutto was killed 56 years later. Her father, who laid the foundation of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, was thrown into jail, maltreated and finally hanged after a morbid political drama in which some politicians acted as the military’s stooge.

We also know how Prof Abdus Salam, our first scientist to win a Nobel Prize — in fact the only recipient of the prestigious award from Pakistan — was unwelcome in this country. Prof Salam wanted an institute of theoretical physics set up in Pakistan, but bigots unhappy with his religious affiliations deprived the country of this honour which then went to Italy where an institute set up by him has benefited students who upon completion of their degree in higher physics go out to serve the world of science and their own countries. Pakistan has also produced heroes of international standard in cricket, hockey and squash — Jahangir Khan has just been given this status at the Olympic Museum. While the world honours our heroes, we must reflect on how we treat them.

OTHER VOICES - European Press

Home Information Pack farce

The Telegraph

IN the midst of a property market crash the like of which has rarely been seen, what does the government do? It stubbornly ploughs ahead with a policy that makes it more difficult to sell a house. Under new rules to take effect next April, Home Information Packs (HIPs) must be made available on the day that a property is put up for sale, rather than after a 28-day grace period, as is currently the case. Sellers will also be burdened with more red tape, a new requirement to fill in a six-page Property Information Questionnaire. The 28-day concession was due to run out at the end of the year, so its extension to April is at least an advance. But the idea that the housing market will have recovered by next spring is fanciful.

There is something wilful about the government’s refusal to accept that it was wrong to bring in HIPs (they used to be called sellers’ packs). They capture the essence of a good deal of Labour’s policy: pointless, ill-conceived, interfering, spiteful, and incompetently delivered. They were a manifesto promise in 1997, but it then took six years of consultations, Green Papers, White Papers, pilot schemes (which showed that the HIPs were flawed) and draft legislation before the idea was brought to Parliament in the Housing Bill in 2004.

This extended gestation should have alerted ministers to the fact that they were neither wanted nor needed. They slow down the sale process by creating red tape for estate agents and sellers and put an end to same-day sales or to speculative tests of the market. But more to the point: what business is it of the state if two people wish to engage in a property deal any more than if they are buying a car? The idea that you will be fined for failing to produce a HIP is another example of the grotesque use of the criminal law against law-abiding people engaged in everyday transactions.

The government has even abandoned the original intention of the packs, which was to include a home-condition report — as though any buyer would rely upon a survey produced by the vendor. Instead, it sought to give the scheme a spurious veneer of environmental legitimacy by insisting they contain information about energy-efficiency levels. Opponents can then be denounced with the modern-day equivalent of medieval Satanism: not being ‘green’ enough.

Everyone in the housing business, from estate agent to consumer groups who originally championed then has turned against HIPs. Yet the government blunders on. Why? The only possible explanation is that they presage additional taxes to be foisted on householders who have been slow to upgrade old boilers, install energy-efficient light bulbs or re-lag the loft. One thing is for sure: with the housing market flat on its back, to make HIPs an even greater imposition on buyers and sellers than they are already is a sure sign of a government that has completely lost touch with reality. — (Dec 10)

EU not eager for an FTA

By Shada Islam

LIKE most Asian countries, Pakistan has long squabbled with the European Union over access for its exports to the 27-nation bloc’s huge and lucrative market.

There has been endless tension over EU anti-dumping duties, including a 10 per cent punitive tariff imposed on Pakistani exports of bed linen four years ago and Islamabad’s repeated demands that Pakistani exporters should get special trade preferences (known as GSP plus) because of the perilous state of the national economy and the country’s role as an ally in global counter-terrorism efforts.

In Brussels next week, Pakistan and the EU will turn their attention to Islamabad’s demands for the negotiation of a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two sides — and once again, probably find a new trade issue to disagree on. Possibly for a very long time.

EU policymakers insist that they have not yet made up their minds on the pros and cons of a free trade deal with Pakistan. “No doors are closed to Pakistan,” an EU trade official told this correspondent.

After all, the bloc’s foreign ministers last week promised to help consolidate democracy in Pakistan and voiced concern at the country’s economic plight. The focus was on urging Pakistan to fight extremism and step up counter-terror efforts.The EU also recognised the seriousness of Pakistan’s economic crisis and underlined the “importance of economic and commercial development for further long-term progress in Pakistan and of significantly enhancing the EU trade relationship with Pakistan”.

The EU had taken note of Pakistan’s request for a free trade agreement, said ministers. But much to Pakistan’s disappointment, the EU made no firm commitment to open the free trade talks in the near future. Instead, they said the EU would be “examining all options aimed at enhancing trade relations with Pakistan”.

Pakistan’s focus on opening free trade talks with the EU is not difficult to understand. Islamabad has long argued — with some justification — that under current European trade rules, other South Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India, have better access to the EU market than Pakistan.

As least developed countries, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are eligible for duty-free and quota-free access to the EU market. Sri Lanka, classified as a ‘vulnerable economy’ can still secure tariff preferences under the GSP-plus scheme (although the privilege could soon be withdrawn because of the country’s failure to abide by certain human rights conventions) and India is negotiating a free trade pact with the EU.Pakistan, meanwhile, has access to the ‘regular’ generalised system of preferences which is much less generous than the ‘plus’ version and its key bed linen exports are subject to a massive 10 per cent tariff. Pakistani trade officials insist that they want a ‘level playing field’ and that their exports — especially of textiles — are suffering because of concessions being given to other South Asian nations.

In addition to the commercial argument, Islamabad has argued that the EU must give it additional tariff reductions because of Pakistan’s pivotal role in global counter-terrorism efforts.

If only it were that simple. The EU did accord Pakistan special trade preferences in the immediate aftermath of Sept 11, 2001 and Pakistan’s decision to back the ‘war on terror’. But a successful Indian complaint in the World Trade Organisation against the EU quickly brought that concession to an end.

Since then, EU officials confess that they have been “scratching heads” to reconcile Pakistan’s demands for better access to the European market with the bloc’s own, often stringent, trade rules.

Certainly, after years of reflection and hesitation — and faced with a continuing impasse in the World Trade Organisation efforts to conclude a new trade liberalisation round — the EU has started FTA negotiations with a number of countries, including India, South Korea and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

But negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU is no easy task and not surprisingly the talks are not proving easy. All three separate negotiations have become stuck over technical details and, in some cases, political issues, proving that clinching a FTA deal with the EU is easier said than done.

For Pakistan, the going is likely to be even harder. For one, Pakistan’s exports to the EU are stuck in a rut. Despite repeated European warnings that Pakistan should diversify its export base, textiles and clothing represent a whopping 60 per cent of Pakistan’s exports to Europe. Increasingly, these exports have to compete with cheaper — and better quality — products exported by China and other Asian nations.

Second, given the security situation in the country, EU industrialists are not clamouring for access to the Pakistani market for exports of their goods or services. Third, there is no real economic motive for an EU-Pakistan FTA since Pakistan is only number 52 in the EU’s list of leading trade partners.

And most significantly, Pakistan’s fragile economic structures are unlikely to be able to cope with a free trade pact with the EU since such an agreement will focus not only on eliminating tariffs and non-tariff barriers but also on the harmonisation of regulatory standards in areas such as competition, investment and intellectual property protection as well as labour and environmental laws.

Negotiating a free trade deal with Pakistan would also run counter to the EU’s ‘Global Europe’ strategy which stresses that FTAs should be about “stronger engagement with major emerging economies and regions” and should strengthen EU competitiveness.

In addition, as pointed out by Prof Sally Razeen in his book Trade Policy, New Century: The WTOs, FTAs and Asia Rising most FTAs negotiated by Asian countries are ‘trade-light’ and do not seriously help developing countries to increase their exports to industrialised nations.

Dr Sally admits, however, that foreign policy considerations loom large when countries decide to take the FTA route. As such, these agreements are viewed as a means of cementing stronger political as well as economic links with favoured partners, he says, adding: “For instance, they can be a door-opener to other, strategic, security-related agreements.”

If Pakistan is seeking to clinch a free trade agreement with the EU for prestigious foreign- and security-policy reasons — or merely to catch up with India — it will have to come up with more sophisticated and better-reasoned geopolitical arguments to convince Europe.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.

Why Brits won’t fight

By Julian Borger

THE British prime minister, Gordon Brown, was accused of hypocrisy on Thursday by human rights activists pointing to the alleged gap between his rhetoric about the plight of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and his readiness to send troops to the country.

The government’s critics highlighted Britain’s role in leading opposition to the deployment of a European force to protect civilians in Congo while the existing UN mission awaits reinforcements.

Britain maintained its stance in Brussels on Thursday less than 24 hours after the prime minister delivered a speech to mark the 60th anniversary of the UN’s universal declaration of human rights. Brown had called for urgent international action to help the people of eastern Congo, and other civilian victims of crises.

However Britain is resisting the deployment of a rapid-reaction European battle group. The UK negotiating team in Brussels is arguing that its armed forces are over-stretched, that the battle group was never designed for an operation like that in Congo, and that deployment of a separate European force in eastern Congo would create a confusing duplication of roles with the UN force Monuc.

Britain’s reasoning did not persuade some human rights organisations. “There is a breathtaking gap between Brown’s rhetorical commitment and what Britain is actually doing in Brussels. Britain has been the most rejectionist of the troop contributing countries,” said Tom Porteous, the London director of Human Rights Watch.

British officials say they are not opposing the deployment of more peacekeeping forces in Congo, and say Britain has offered support to any reinforcements in the form of logistics and specialist officers. However, they say Britain’s army is too thinly stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan to be able to withstand another big deployment. Brown’s aides also argue that the European battle groups — of which there are 15 — do not represent the right response to a situation like that in Congo.

Tomas Valasek, a foreign policy expert at the Centre for European Reform, said: “This isn’t a quick reaction, in-and-out operation that the battle groups were designed for.” Valasek said that there were fears that a European bridging force might not be relieved for months. Thursday marked the second time in two days the British prime minister was attacked over his human rights record. His adviser on constitutional reform, Lord Lester, said on Wednesday he was resigning in disgust over the ruling British Labour party’s “dismal” lack of leadership on human rights.

— The Guardian, London