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DAWN - Editorial; December 18, 2008

December 18, 2008


CII bans equality

THE conservative establishment in Pakistan has come up with another stomach-churning observation against women: they are second-class citizens. The Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body, has denounced the use of the term ‘gender equality’ in the National Commission on the Status of Women Ordinance 2000 as un-Islamic and called for its repeal. Why? Because the “impractical thinking” is “vague” and ignores “differences” in anatomy and mental and physical capabilities. Chalk up another victory for naked misogyny and the basest social instincts of man. In condemning gender equality as a goal of society, the CII, whose sole female member is a PhD in economics, has deliberately obfuscated a basic distinction between ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ — a distinction only a simple internet or dictionary search away. This from Unicef’s website on gender equality: “While ‘sex’ refers to the biological differences between males and females, gender describes the socially constructed roles, rights and responsibilities that communities and societies consider appropriate for men and women.” And, in case the CII misses the implications of the distinction, the website continues: “Gender roles, inequities and power imbalances are not a ‘natural’ result of biological differences, but are determined by the systems and cultures in which we live. This means that we can address and contribute to changing these roles by challenging the status quo and seeking social change.”

To condemn women’s quest for social justice, human rights more work opportunities and enhanced control of society’s assets as un-Islamic is perverse in the extreme. Not only are the CII’s observations wrong in principle, in practice they will serve to reinforce the power of the self-appointed guardians of a patriarchal society who span the length and breadth of the country and are vicious arbiters of what a woman can and cannot do. Pakistani women already face so much violence, repression and oppression that to deny them the distant, fantastical dream of equality by a nondescript panel few have heard from since its inception might appear to be a cruel joke. The CII, however, is dead serious in its opposition.

What is puzzling though is that the 2000 Ordinance is hardly a clarion call for women to storm the ramparts and tear down the edifice of society. Article 7, which contains the offending term ‘gender equality’, calls upon the National Commission on the Status of Women to “examine the policies and programmes of the Government” and to “develop and maintain interaction and dialogue with non-governmental organisations, experts and individuals in society” to promote and achieve gender equality. Scarcely the stuff that should keep conservatives awake at night sweating about their slipping power. Last month, the CII made some positive suggestions about changing the procedures of nikah, divorce and travel without a mehram that would benefit women. We suggest the CII remain focused on promoting the possible rather than banning the distant and the improbable.

Where does the fault lie?

AYUB Khan and Iskander Mirza began it half a century ago, and all governments have since then religiously followed what has become an abominable phenomenon in Pakistan’s politics — a pathologically perverse denunciation of the outgoing government and the character assassination of predecessors. ‘Screening’ and ‘accountability’ have merely been tools for persecution. Mirza and Ayub established a military dictatorship in October 1958 and denounced the ‘corrupt and incompetent’ politicians. Notwithstanding some good things that Ayub did — like starting industrialisation and signing the Indus waters accord with India — the short cut to democracy by making politicians redundant backfired. Eleven years later, when Ayub resigned after massive agitation rocked the country, Gen Yahya Khan abrogated the constitution and the nation was back to square one. Post-Ayub governments went a step ahead, for they made it a cardinal principle of their policy to make their predecessors appear as criminals. Ziaul Haq hanged Bhutto on a trumped-up murder charge, and Nawaz Sharif was lucky to escape possibly a similar fate because of Saudi intervention. Even the democratic governments between 1988 and 1999 did not rise above this revanchist spirit.

Against this background Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani’s advice to his ministers comes as a breath of fresh air. Speaking in the National Assembly on Tuesday, the PM said it was time his ministers did something good themselves instead of blaming the ousted military-led regime for the country’s ills. He was snubbing his minister for water and power who claimed that the previous regime had added not a single kilowatt of electricity to the country’s generation capacity. The prime minister said the people had voted his party to power, and thus it was the PPP-led government’s duty to face the challenges head-on and try to address them. One hopes the ministers will follow the PM’s advice and concentrate on working for the good of the people instead of seeking vainglory in invective. Precisely at this moment there is a grave threat to our security, besides the economic gloom. These tasks can be addressed by following imaginative policies rather than by harping on a familiar theme. The people’s political loyalties remain unchanged, no matter how many white papers the government of the day issues to smear the faces of its political opponents. The man in the polling booth asks himself a question before he ticks his choice: has this government done anything to make his life a little less miserable?

Licence to kill

WINTER after winter the massacre of the innocents is repeated in Pakistan. This year will be no exception now that at least 27 dignitaries from the Gulf states have been awarded special permits to hunt the highly endangered and internationally protected houbara bustard. On paper the ‘bag limit’ has been set at 100 birds per permit, but that is a largely meaningless restriction because it is rarely if ever followed. It also goes without saying that the wildlife liaison officers attached to the hunting parties will be powerless to verify the number of houbara bustards killed daily over a 10-day period. As a previous editorial in this paper pointed out, when wildlife department officials cannot challenge minor local influentials who engage in poaching, how can they be expected to stand up to Arab royalty? What naturally ensues then is the gruesome slaughter of an endangered species. Experts calculate that a kill rate of over seven per cent is simply not sustainable. But that makes no impression on the authorities in Pakistan where an estimated 30 to 50 per cent of the houbaras who migrate to the country each year are killed or trapped. And all this to appease Arab dignitaries who, after wiping out the houbara bustard in their own countries, have now turned our land into their killing field.

While provincial regulations may vary, Pakistan is a signatory to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. As such the country is under an obligation to enact relevant legislation in due course but that is yet to happen. And even if it did, would that make any real difference given that our wildlife laws are rendered null and void by the exemption clauses they carry? Take the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1972. Section 39 (Power to grant exemptions) states: “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Ordinance, Government may, in the interest of any scientific or public purpose allow by notification in the official Gazette, killing and capturing of such wild animals in any specified place by any specified means.” Our wildlife protection laws are not worth the paper they are printed on and need urgent revision.

OTHER VOICES - Middle East Press

Thai soup

Oman Tribune

WHERE’S Thailand heading...? That’s the billion-dollar question on the lips of many sensible Thais and those … having a stake in stability in that country…. Instead of an amicable ending to the torturous confrontation between the government and the opposition…. Thailand might be taking a turn for the worse if the present trend continues with a period of chronic instability ahead.

There is little doubt that the opposition’s move to seize power by encouraging defections from the coalition government is … an act of desperation. With their actions that are encouraging undemocratic practices, this unholy opposition alliance of monarchists, the military, academics and the urban elite is vertically dividing the country.... A civil war then cannot be ruled out. So the time has come for the opposition to realise that its actions may blow up the country. Those instrumental in creating the current dangerous climate must … change their ways.... — (Dec 13)

The enemy within

Yemen Times

AL QAEDA leader Al-Dhayani, under the protection of Jahm tribe in Mareb, has accused the government of plotting terrorist attacks within Yemen and throwing the blame on Al Qaeda…. The interviewee also claimed that there will be coming attacks targeting Mareb tribal leaders and social figures under the cover of Al Qaeda....

Now there are two points to ponder here. First, how messed up does a state need to be to plot attacks against itself in order to claim that it is in danger? As if there are no battles to fight and Yemen’s stability is not naturally under the test. Second is the notion of protecting Al Qaeda figures in Yemen and taking advice from them.… It does not take much intelligence to realise that there has to be a drastic change in the way this country is handling its security. Perhaps a master plan to civilise tribal structures needs to be put in place…. [W]here will the 20-something million people go when the country crosses the point of no turning[?] — (Dec 15)

Fall of the global empire

By Andleeb Abbas

IS the financial tsunami in America as shocking as it is made out to be, or is it a classic case of a value-correction taking place in a market which had gone overboard with its own addiction to being bigger and more powerful than everybody else?

Whatever the reason, it is a much-needed lesson which all countries and societies across the globe need to learn; firstly to rescue themselves from similar disasters and then to develop their own structures on a sounder basis than inflated materialism to fool clients.

The recent economic turmoil has made economists and financial analysts scramble through models and theories in an attempt to find an explanation to what is happening in a world where trillions are just a figment of some crooked banker’s creative imagination. This, of course, raises a lot of questions about which model, which structure and which regulation will stop these waves of doom engulfing the world.

Has the capitalist model failed and is there going to be a resurgence of the communist mode keeping in view China’s rise to economic stardom? The world’s best financial brains are still scratching their heads and brainstorming to come up with a plausible explanation. British Thatcherism in the 1970s brought about a whole revolution by championing privatisation and setting the way for most to follow. Now we have Gordon Brown’s version of nationalisation of increasing government stakes in private institutions, setting the way for others to follow.

For years deregulation was the development mantra, while all we hear now are shrill cries of panic for more regulation. Financial principles of capitalism, theorising ‘the higher the risk the higher the returns’ has taken the literal course too seriously, leading free market concepts to unholy extremes where $62 trillion worth of credit-default swaps occurred without being traded on exchanges. This is surely not capitalism but swindling which has destroyed the belief in an economic system that had created many opportunities for the less-privileged countries. The system of capitalism is not at fault but its unregulated abuse is. When a system fails, the danger is that opposing systems become an automatic refuge for victims of the failed system.

Is communism the answer to this issue? Interestingly the three economies which are comparatively unhurt by this global economic free fall are China, India and Russia, all practising various forms of protectionism, with Russia being the closest to the closed economy model and India the farthest away. Government intervention seems to have become the favourite recipe for economic survival. However, hopefully the infatuation with this model should only be limited and selective.

The financial mess definitely needs more government regulation to limit the damage inflicted by the financial gamblers of the world. However if this tendency turns into a full-scale system of government controls it would unnecessarily make countries reticent to opening up markets for trade thus reversing all the good work done to make this world a more equitable place for goods from rich and poor countries to find worth in the most opportune markets of the world.

Pakistan’s economic debacle has little to do with the world crisis. In fact its banking system is in much better shape than many others. The crisis that we find ourselves in is a result of years of political and economic deception carried out by successive governments. The complete lack of proactive planning of our basic resources has put us in a state where basic survival is the name of the game. Exports have not performed and imports have ballooned; local industries have been crippled by the lack of basic facilities, and foreign investment by lack of security and opportunity. In fact the world crisis may have given us an outward chance of survival.

As world markets crumble, the opportunities to invest elsewhere will become rare; thus capital flight from our country may not find alternative options. Our crisis is still solvable considering that we need only $5bn to bail us out compared to Lehman Brothers which needed $690bn to survive. As predicted, most Friends of Pakistan are fair-weather friends. With Americans taking full advantage of our vulnerability and stampeding over our territory, and China only agreeing to some remote long-term investments, Pakistan had no choice but to go to the lender’s mafiosi, i.e. the International Monetary Fund. In hindsight it may not be the worst choice especially if the IMF manages to force the two biggest resource-guzzlers of our country — the military and government — to cut spending.

What has happened in the world is not because of flaws in the capitalistic model but a huge flaw in the humanistic model. All models are subject to use and abuse by the people managing them. Each model is operative only under certain guidelines and principles. It is insatiable greed and corruption which are at the root of the trouble. In fact, western financial extremism has caused terror in the world economy. It is time for the world to spurn this obsession with materialism and balance it with the values of contentment, of integrity, of humility and of humanity. Without these principles, sanity will be at risk.

The writer is a consultant and CEO of FranklinCovey.

World guide to insulting Bush

By Emine Saner

GEORGE Bush was on the receiving end of the worst of all Middle Eastern insults at the weekend when an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at the outgoing US president at a press conference in Baghdad. Throwing a shoe at a person’s head isn’t, of course, considered insulting in only the Islamic world, though it does carry a particularly degrading symbolism (showing the sole of your shoes is considered deeply offensive; when the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad in 2003, Iraqis beat it with their shoes). Bush steps down in January, but this surely won’t be the last offensive gesture he encounters on his travels. Here, then, is our handy guide.

The V sign

In his book Gestures the anthropologist Desmond Morris concluded that we will never know the origin of the two-fingered salute. One theory, though widely discredited, is that the French threatened to cut off the fingers of English archers at the Battle of Agincourt; the English would hold up two fingers as a sign that the French had failed. Not to be mistaken with the victory or peace signs: Churchill often got his fingers facing the wrong way — and on a tour of Australia in 1992, George Bush Sr flicked the Vs to a group of farmers.

The bras d’honneur

Not easily misunderstood? The slap of one hand against the crook of the opposite elbow, the aggressive thrust of the forearm and fist, and the giant entity it is supposed to resemble. Particularly popular in France (where it is translated as “the arm of honour”) and southern European countries.

The thumbs up

In the Middle East, this is possibly the biggest insult you can inflict with your shoes on. A Fonz-style double thumbs up adds insult to insult. The same goes for parts of west Africa and South America. Loosely translates as “sit on this”.

The OK sign

Like the thumbs up, the hand gesture that westerners know to mean everything is fine (it comes from the hand signals used by divers) has other meanings elsewhere. Do it to someone in southern Europe, and you’ll be telling them they are “nothing” (or “zero”); in Brazil or Turkey even worse.

Bunny ears

Although this gesture is more commonly considered a prank to sabotage photographs, it is closely related to the Italian gesture, whereby two “horns” held up behind someone’s head are supposed to imply their spouse is cheating on them.

Biting the thumb

“I will bite my thumb at them, which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it.” So said Sampson to his fellow Capulet servant Gregory in the first scene of Romeo and Juliet. Rarely used in southern Europe these days but surely due for a comeback.

Open hand

Nobody likes having an open palm thrust in their face? The aggression is obvious? Though in Greece, where it is known as the moutza , it means “I rub ... in your face”. It originated in Byzantine Greece where criminals were paraded through the streets, faces blackened with soot, or worse.

— The Guardian, London