DAWN - Opinion; December 23, 2008

Published December 23, 2008

In tandem with India

By Shahid Javed Burki

IT goes against Pakistan’s sense of pride and the conviction of many of its citizens to recognise that the country could have a better economic future if it could somehow work with India.

For several decades after Pakistan gained independence, its citizens were proud of the fact that Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the country’s founder, had succeeded in creating a separate homeland for the Muslims of British India.

Jinnah and his associates worked against heavy odds. They were able to persuade not only the British administrations in India but also the Hindu-dominated All-India Congress Party that the Hindus and Muslims would not be able to live together in peace within the boundaries of one state. Jinnah argued that there was not one Indian nation but two, Hindu and Muslim, nations. Each deserved a country of its own.

Much of the pride that the people of Pakistan felt about the story of its creation is now gone. Both the country and its citizens are troubled as they face what appears to be an insurmountable set of problems. The economy has slumped and is surviving on the basis of the largesse of the few friends the country has left. The world has become increasingly hostile to what one part of the citizenry defines as the new idea of Pakistan — a state that would adopt radical Islam as its credo. As the American-Nato war in Afghanistan continues to run into problems and the foreign forces begin to suffer more losses, the West’s attention has turned towards Pakistan.

There is no doubt that the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan have dug into the lightly governed tribal areas of Pakistan’s northwest. The two Waziristans have become the centre of the Taliban’s activities across the border in Afghanistan. As the war heats up, Pakistan is being pressed hard to do more. Doing more means using force against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Military shock and awe did not work in Iraq; it will certainly not work in the Afghan-Pakistan tribal belt. It will also do a great deal of collateral political damage in the rest of Pakistan by turning the people even more against the US.

Working closely with India not only to tackle the scourge of terrorism but to obtain a better economic future for the country is an option the current leadership should explore. The Americans, under soon-to-be-sworn-in-president Barack Obama, may be prepared to help. The remarkable political change that has occurred in the country may also make such an approach possible.

The 2008 election highlighted what some had believed all along: that radical Islam had little popular support in the country; that its grip could be loosened by encouraging the moderate elements to pursue an agenda that focused on improving the economic and social situation of the citizenry; that one way of stopping the country from falling into an abyss was to work towards its greater integration with the global system.

The Islamic groups that participated in the elections (the Jamaat-i-Islami chose to boycott the contest) lost most of the ground they had gained in October 2002. People, by their vote, moved the country towards the centre in terms of defining the role of religion in politics. The belief that even in a predominantly Muslim country such as Pakistan, religion was essentially a private matter may not have been expressed clearly, but by voting largely for the PPP and the PML-N it was clear that the citizens wanted the state to focus on what mattered the most for them — social and economic improvement.

While the two mainstream parties had won almost two-thirds of the votes in the election neither could govern without forming coalitions. After a lot of manoeuvring, the two parties agreed to work together. In the past both had showed some interest in working with India. Benazir Bhutto had a meeting with Rajiv Gandhi in Islamabad during her first term in office and agreed to work within a bilateral framework to resolve the long-standing differences between the two countries. Nawaz Sharif hosted Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee of India in 1999 at Lahore and agreed to bring the two countries closer to each other.

The return to power of these two parties could have resulted in a new beginning in relations between India and Pakistan had the process of change not been interrupted by the terrorist attacks of Nov 26 on Mumbai, the nerve centre of India’s economy. At the time of writing, it appeared that saner heads, with some pushing by Washington, had prevailed and South Asia saved from yet another conflagration. Had that occurred, there is no doubt that the result would have been catastrophic.

There is also no doubt that India and Pakistan cannot hope to take care of their enormous economic and social problems if the governments in the two countries allow themselves to be distracted by the politics of extremism. The extremist Islamic groups in Pakistan don’t want the country to make peace with India. They wish to distance the country from India and also from the West. It is only then that Pakistan could become the central place in an Islamic caliphate that encompasses at least central Asia but eventually also the Arab world. Terrorism is the weapon being used to achieve this goal. There are also groups on the Indian side that don’t wish Pakistan well and would like to establish a Hindu political identity in their country.

One way of dealing with this existential threat is for Pakistan and India to work together, initially in the area of economics, but eventually on a broader front. This would seem an enormously ambitious undertaking at this point.

Not only is there the pressure being continuously exerted by extremists not just in Pakistan but also across the border in India against close ties between the two countries. There is also a heavy burden of history that weighs down both sets of policymakers. Pakistan’s departure from the fold of British India was not well received by the first generation of the Indian leadership. Initially, the Indian government tried hard to cripple Pakistan economically as it was trying to stand on its feet after having gained independence. The memory of those events continues to live in Pakistan.

But good and wise leadership is supposed to be able to deal with such hurdles. The aim on both sides should be to achieve the larger good for all people of South Asia, not to serve the interest and diktat of a small group of people.

The policy on Israel

By Antony Loewenstein

DURING this year’s US presidential campaign, both Republican nominee John McCain and Democratic contender Barack Obama expressed unwavering support for Israel.

It was the only country in the world that required constant loyalty tests. Obama told the leading Zionist lobby, AIPAC, that he would “bring to the White House an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security”. Palestinians were understandably upset when he argued that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” Such sentiments invalidate the possibility of a two-state solution, the road map long endorsed by the western world.

In February, Obama made the only comment in this year that could be construed as critical of the Zionist diaspora. “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel”, he said, “then you’re anti-Israel, and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel.”

In other words, the best friends of Israel, indeed any nation, are ones that offer both praise and anger. Unsurprisingly, the Jewish establishment reacted with fury to the statement, incensed that anybody would dare challenge Israel’s policies, such as its ever-expanding, illegal occupation of the West Bank, strangulation of Gaza and imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians without charge.

President Obama therefore presents a unique chance to re-frame the conflict, though the initial signs are less than promising. The appointment of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and James L. Jones as national security adviser — the latter described by The Nation commentator Robert Dreyfuss as a “proverbial hammer in search of nails” — suggests a business as usual approach.

Will any global power dare tell the Jewish state — whose behaviour in Gaza was recently slammed by the United Nations as a “continuing flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law” — that its current behaviour is unacceptable to civilised nations?

The role of other international players will be essential. India and Pakistan should play their parts and engage both the Israelis and Palestinians. Each country brings a unique perspective to the negotiating table and necessarily challenges the blatantly one-sided partisanship of Washington and much of the European Union during the last eight years of the Bush era. At the end of this period, with Afghanistan and Iraq still in flames, Israel remains more isolated than ever before, thanks to resurgent Arab nationalism, led by Hizbollah, and Iranian ascendance.

Pakistan officially first engaged with Israel in 2005, despite robust opposition from hardliners. Following the Jewish state’s ‘withdrawal’ from Gaza, Pakistan’s then foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri said that, “We see this development as the beginning of the process of [ending] Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security.” Israel’s then foreign minister Silvan Shalom expressed optimism that the Muslim state’s moves would lead to “a full diplomatic relationship with Pakistan as we would like it with all Muslim and Arab countries.”

The last three years have solely led to expanded Israeli occupation on Palestinian land and growing frustration with Israel’s intransigence. Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf said that his country would only fully recognise Israel when an independent Palestinian state was established.

“Pakistan is like Israel, an ideological state,” said Pakistan’s former dictator Ziaul Haq in 1981. “Take out the Judaism from Israel and it will fall like a house of cards. Take Islam out of Pakistan and make it a secular state; it would collapse.”

In the coming years, does Pakistan want to become friendlier with Israel to deepen its relationship with Obama or distance itself from a country that oppresses Palestinians on a daily basis?

The most likely scenario, assuming a relatively pro-western government remains in Islamabad, is a Pakistani elite that expresses occasional diplomatic solidarity with another nation fighting its own ‘war on terror’. Realpolitik is likely to win the day, not least because of India’s growing strategic partnership with Israel and weapons deals between the two countries. Pakistan fears its rival’s edge.

From Israel’s perspective, Pakistani recognition would be a coup — Turkey is one of the few Muslim states that recognise its existence — and could lead to Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh following suit. Furthermore, Pakistan remains the Muslim world’s only known nuclear power and Israel has long worried about this technology being transferred to its enemies. An alliance may lessen this risk.

But Pakistan should think very carefully before giving Israel what it craves. The vast bulk of the Muslim world regards Israel’s 41-year occupation of Palestinian territory as a crime against humanity and would not look kindly on Islamabad ignoring this reality. The Bush doctrine is hopefully dead and Obama may bring some greater pragmatism to the international arena. Pakistan would be unwise to show solidarity with the Jewish state at a time when virtually every country in the United Nations consistently votes against its policies.

India, that formed diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, remains tightly bound to the Jewish state. It even launched an Israeli spy satellite in January this year, primarily to monitor Iranian soil. The Indian secretary of defence Vijay Singh visited Israel recently and a senior Israeli security official told the Haaretz newspaper that “our security cooperation with the Indians is excellent — there is simply no other way to put it.”

Cooperation against ‘Islamic terrorism’ and the possible dissolution of Pakistan were also discussed. Relations between India and Israel tend to improve during periods of tension between New Delhi and Islamabad, so the period after the Mumbai terror attacks is proving to be lucrative for both sides.

Equally important, from Israel’s point of view, is the realisation that America’s influence in the world is declining and making friends in other regions is important for its long-term viability. India is the world’s largest democracy and a large market for its missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The beginning of the Obama administration presents opportunities for a rejection of years of failed policies towards the Jewish state, but caution is urged. For example, the new president has spoken of challenging Iran’s suspected nuclear programme and will be looking for partners in this mission.

Pakistan and India, states that both commit their fair share of human rights abuses, should think carefully before fully embracing the racially exclusionary Jewish nation.

Strategic partnerships only make short-term sense. Israel’s survival is challenged by fundamentalist settlers in the West Bank and soaring Palestinian birth rates and is unsustainable as a western colonial outpost.Justice is not on its side.

The writer is a Sydney-based journalist and author.


For a better life

By Lynsey Hanley

OUR local library, a sandstone beauty in a small northern English city, is less a reading room than a shelter for the disaffected. Its banks of computer screens attract pairs of young men in wind-tunnel tracksuits and hats with flaps. One helps the other to spell; one scrabbles through Bebo requests while the other paces the floor, shooting looks to command the field; both take mobile calls on the promise of splitting GBP100 cash at a mate’s house.

If “the underclass” are as thick as is commonly assumed, how come they’re so good with technology? The men who sit next to me are twice the size of their grandfathers and yet their hands can hit keyboards with precision and speed. But they’re not trading stocks or updating their CVs; they’re making sure their social networks are maintained and are kept in their place. As long as everyone stays the same, it’s fine.

The recent Cabinet Office publication on raising aspirations among young people living in deprived areas rightly made a connection between their desire to stay on at school after 16 and the strength of their social bonds. If entire peer groups show no inclination to stay on, individuals within those groups find it extraordinarily difficult to go against the grain. No one wants a bad life but getting out of one requires resources that the group to which they’ve gravitated lacks: self-confidence, skills and a lack of loyalty. The creed of “us” against “them” remains powerful.

Do you really think the young men in the library once aspired to spending their days knocking around the shops, with their baby’s buggy on one hand and a can of cider in the other? Is that how different you think they are to you? This is life for many men in once industrious, industrial northern cities, where fewer teenagers — particularly white boys — express the wish to stay on at school than anywhere else in the country.

Goals, particularly those to do with education, are crucial in the absence of other opportunities. There hasn’t been a day in my life that hasn’t been dominated by some sort of goal. If I hadn’t attended daily to realising a dream of an independent, autonomous life — with a partner who believes without question in the equality of men and women, with a job that fulfilled and stimulated me, with friends unthreatened by differing worldviews — then it wouldn’t have come true. I cannot tell you how much these facts of life mean. They mean an escape from servitude, drudgery, violence, depression, infantilisation, and daily bullying by unseen forces.

The awful circumstances in which people find themselves are not part of some natural order. People respond to mean conditions with meanness: not always, but more easily than those who live with abundant opportunity. Carolyn Steedman’s classic book Landscape For a Good Woman details the soul-gnarling effects of thwarted aspirations on family life. Everybody wants to be somebody; whether you get to be somebody depends, overwhelmingly, on where you’re from. Only football and pop stardom give the impression of being blind to postcode.

The fact that parents now have higher aspirations for their daughters than for their sons shows that they have made a rational adjustment to the opportunities that are on offer. The service economy, reliant on strong communication skills and consensus-building, favours the feminine. By contrast, as researchers from Cardiff University found, many young men growing up in former industrial areas cannot stand the humiliation of such work and prefer to stay unemployed.

Yet they must either stay unemployed for life, or cave in to minimum-wage work, if they are to stay within the community that raised and which supports them. To find better work they must leave, whether by going to university or by moving, effectively, to the southeast. This is why the northern cities highlighted in the Cabinet Office paper are still leeching people to the south.

But if young people are encouraged to develop aspirations to attend university, to broaden their horizons and to have new experiences, they will almost certainly have to leave their neighbourhoods in order to do so. In areas of strong social bonds — where everyone does the same thing and where there is no threat to the collective sense of what “people like us” are able or unable to do — leaving will cause a rupture. They have to be able to manage the often passive, sometimes forceful, rejection it entails.

What I am saying is that social mobility is painful. If inducements to move “upwards” are delivered from the top down to individuals, rather than generated within communities, those who leave behind their peers may never again feel entirely comfortable in any social group. The old group will express its hurt at “how you’ve changed”; the new one will seem blithe and over-entitled. No one wants to waste their life. No one wants their lives to be petty and aimless. Everyone wants, in some way, to be productive. The goal of the Cabinet Office team must be that no one pays over the odds for the privilege.

— The Guardian, London



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