DAWN - Opinion; December 29, 2008

Published December 29, 2008

Epicentre of terror

By Zafar Iqbal

IT all started about 30 years ago when the Russians decided to occupy Afghanistan. President Carter offered some assistance to Gen Ziaul Haq. Without trying to be witty the general said the aid was peanuts and not acceptable.

Subsequently, with the change of regime in the US, a combination of Pakistanis and Saudi Arabians with substantial US assistance decided to help the Afghans get rid of the Russians.

It is difficult to say who decided to call it jihad against the godless communists but it was wholeheartedly supported by the Saudis and Gen Zia. The US also decided that it was not a bad idea. In actual fact, it was probably unnecessary. The Afghans would have tried to get rid of the Russians anyway.

The US provision of Stinger missiles made Russian occupation exceedingly difficult. Finally, the Russians decided to quit. Unfortunately, when they left, the Northern Alliance under Ahmed Shah Masood, occupied Kabul. This upset the Pakhtuns, including their counterparts in Pakistan.

The Pakistan Pakhtun establishment and the government decided that the best Pakhtun fighters were the Taliban, and supported them. However, they were unable to capture Kabul. The Taliban requested Al Qaeda to help them against Ahmed Shah Masood. Al Qaeda arranged to get a suicide squad from Algeria requesting Ahmed Shah Masood for a television interview. They managed to assassinate him. The Taliban subsequently managed to capture Kabul.

It seems that Al Qaeda, having thrown world superpower No. 2 out of Afghanistan, felt they could also try and throw out world superpower No. 1 from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. For some reason it also included Britain. Osama bin Laden emerged as their great leader. There is also an element of the ‘clash of civilisations’.

It climaxed in the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York, the most sensational terrorist event at the beginning of the 21st century. Whether Osama bin Laden sitting in the wilds of Afghanistan supervised it is not known but the US had to apprehend a known leader and Osama bin Laden was the obvious target. Mullah Omar, in accordance with Pakhtun tribal custom, refused to hand him over.

In order to conform to the US demand Pakistan had to reverse its policy against the Taliban. As happens, when Afghans are confronting western military attacks they are quickly defeated as they were in the Afghan wars waged by Britain.

After the first Afghan war in the 1830s the British decided to occupy Kabul. Some time later, the Afghans attacked the British. Since movement was not quick in those days, while military intervention was being organised by the British the entire occupying force was destroyed and only one doctor managed to escape. The British subsequently defeated the Afghans, changed the ruler and withdrew their forces from Afghanistan. The same policy was followed in the second and third Afghan wars.

In the present Afghan war the Americans have decided to stay. Guerilla warfare was inevitable: the Pashtun fighters have a substantial presence on Pakistan’s side of the Durand Line from where they are operating. Musharraf, having agreed to fight the tribals, faced serious attempts on his life. He probably decided to come to an agreement. To promote this he managed to get a mullah government elected in the NWFP.

Unfortunately, the agreements didn’t work. The army walked into Waziristan in an overconfident manner, and many soldiers were killed. Because army action was not taken seriously, agreements with the Taliban leaders became ineffective. As a matter of fact they demonstrated their power through terrorist attacks killing many people in Pakistan.

Currently, the army is much more serious in taking on the militants. It is a difficult job because it is not easy to separate the militants from the non-militants. Today’s tribal can become tomorrow’s Taliban and vice versa. An agreement with the inhabitants of such areas would help as long as they are convinced that the army would take serious action in case of any breach.

A lot more people have been killed in Pakistan than in the terrorist attack in Mumbai. It is considered our fault without the realisation that we are still trying to work out how to stop this.

The British, at partition, were pro-Indian. Mountbatten made Pakistan into a moth-eaten creation. He hurried the process of granting independence by the middle of 1947, instead of the middle of 1948. The result: India had a full-fledged central government structure while Pakistan was in the wilderness trying to create one.

To show Britain’s great approval, Kashmir was handed over to India by changing the Radcliffe award. People thought that it was Nehru’s emotional involvement which caused this. Most probably he was more realistic and realised that it would give India greater control over the Indus basin. Subsequent developments are history.

The US has also always wanted to have a special relationship with India. George Bush and Manmohan Singh have managed it. The recent Mumbai terrorist attack was most unfortunate for Pakistan as it had sent its foreign minister to promote the peace process. It would hardly be in Pakistan’s interest to subvert this.

It is a bit unbelievable how only 10 terrorists could hold out for 60 hours and cause so much havoc and that Hemant Karkare and two of his colleagues were somehow immediately killed. Investigating the Malegaon blasts in October 2008 he had arrested various Hindus including Lt Col Purohit, a serving officer of the Indian army. They are supposed to belong to a Hindu supremacist group, Abhinav Bharat. The arrests made L.K. Advani very angry.

There is little doubt that Pakistan has to try and stop terrorist activity. We have suffered much more than India. What we are facing is an incipient civil war. As it progresses, we are likely to have increasing terrorist activity inside Pakistan. We have to make up our minds whether we are going to be forward-looking or backward in our views. There is room for compromise but not too much room.

India has been advised by the West and The Economist has reflected this by suggesting that they should sound tough with Pakistan. Indian leaders are following this advice. Besides, many Indian politicians and members of the bureaucracy think that by putting the peace process on hold they have converted India’s pain into India’s gain.

A political abyss

By Tariq Amin-Khan

THE inflamed rhetoric of the Indian political elite and its media towards Pakistan following the Mumbai terrorist attacks is an example of what not do in the face of terrorism. India has been sucked into the trap set by doctrinaire militant groups that are determined to derail the process of peace and amity between itself and Pakistan.

‘India shining’ — its bright lights on Pakistan — has actually had the effect of concealing the deep cleavages of Indian society, between Muslims and Hindus/Dalits and upper castes, while almost no one talks about the elephants in the room: Kashmir, Hindu nationalism and the genocide in Gujarat, and their links to the Mumbai attacks. The one recent exception, though, has been Arundhati Roy’s eloquent piece, ‘The monster in the mirror’. She mentions not only the elephants in the room, but also speaks of the ravages of empire and imperialism.

In speaking of empire, Pakistan figures prominently in the context of imperial machinations. The country is now being cornered in the face of aggressive US demands to ‘do more’, and the Pakistani leadership continues to submit without resistance. The highest state officials have behaved like bumbling apologists — ever ready to deflect public anger by acting surprised in the face of US drone attacks or offering trite explanations for the Indian Air Force’s aggressive incursions, calling them ‘technical’ violations of Pakistani airspace.

At another level, infantilism is on display. For instance, President Zardari readily acknowledged the role of non-state actors without considering that by asking India in the very same breath for the evidence of the involvement of these very non-state actors he was contradicting himself. A contradiction which raises issues of culpability that can be extremely damaging for the country, and as is wont to happen in Pakistan, a penchant to duck under pressure instead of facing it head-on.

In the same vein, the defence minister played the hapless victim in the face of the UN resolution that placed the Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jamaatud Dawa on the list of terrorist organisations — declaring that had the government not acted against these groups “Pakistan itself would have been declared a terrorist state”. Such facile logic has more to do with being less than honest on what appears as the government’s complicity in the passage of the UN resolution.

So, how is one to assess the conduct of the present civilian government since it assumed power in March 2008?

There is much that has run amok in Pakistan for which the current leadership has itself to blame. The military action in Swat has failed to contain the Taliban; people continue to be crushed under the burden of poverty and inflation; while the policies of the Musharraf-era (PCO and all) have been embraced with a stronger manipulative undertow. It is indeed painful to see the rot consuming Pakistani state and society, while the men at the helm go about their business unmindful that this country is on a precipice — on the verge of becoming a pariah.

The truth is being slowly revealed and so is the role of apologists. As an example, it was reported, although subsequently refuted, that the president, in a reference to drone attacks, said that these would continue, when his government has along denied complicity.

It is not a coincidence that this came on the heels of Bush’s own arrogant message in which he underscored that the US does not consult when it decides to violate a country’s sovereignty. That is, in carrying out pre-emptive strikes.

These only reinforce the cynicism about the Pakistani political leadership. The wrinkle though is the consequence of the government’s complicity in America’s actions: where do the families of those innocent folks killed in these drone attacks go for redress? In this law of the jungle, how does one distinguish the terrorism of non-state actors from similar state acts that kill and maim innocence?

Perhaps, the sagacity of the Indian Supreme Court chief justice is relevant here. At a talk, Justice K.G. Balakrishnan counselled the Indian leadership (including Manmohan Singh who was present at the talk) to desist from this notion of “pre-emptive strike”. Also, Balakrishnan has suggested that India not use the Mumbai incident to introduce even tougher criminal laws, which will end up throttling democracy and criminalising dissent.

Unfortunately, his words have fallen on deaf ears. While India continues to contemplate surgical strikes in Pakistan, it has also recently made preventive detention laws more draconian: increasing the incarceration without charge of an accused from 90 to180 days. Regrettably, this and other measures have been in the name of national security and protecting democracy.

But India is not my concern here. Rather, it is Pakistan, a country that is now in dire straits. Therefore, in closing I will identify steps needed to address key problems and issues facing the country:

• An urgent need to have an independent judiciary and to rescind Musharraf’s PCO.

• Compelling and meaningful steps to contain the militancy and sectarianism, but also persuading the international community to have India address the festering Kashmir issue.

• Drying up sources of foreign funds for religious groups.

• Addressing the unresolved national question and the issue of provincial autonomy.

• Universalising accessible free public education as a counterweight to the proliferating madressahs.

• Immediate steps to constructively address issues of poverty and accessible healthcare.

• Sixty years of clientelism to be replaced by a more principled position on the US-led long war or the ‘war on terror’.

• Creatively move towards an economic policy that includes the excluded majority so that there is a shift away from privatisation and other misguided neoliberal policies of the IMF.

• The ruling classes have to decide whether Pakistan will continue to straddle the two domains of feudalism and schizoid capitalist development or pursue more self-reliant economic and social development. Land reforms, however, will have to become part of policy.

• Overhauling the colonial legacies in the justice system, the bureaucracy and the military, and putting an end to the politics of patronage. If there is movement in this direction, then the problems of policing, corruption, speedy justice, democratic participation and governance will start to resolve themselves.

The foregoing is a tall order for sure, but if Pakistan is to remain a viable state these problems and issues will have to be addressed.

The writer teaches politics at Ryerson University, Toronto.

Crisis of leadership

By Andleeb Abbas

AS the saying goes, ignorant are those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing — a true reflection of what is going on in the country.

We talk about saving, protecting and reforming the country; we put monetary estimates of $5bn to save us from bankruptcy and many more calculations of megawatts of energy and tax-to-GDP ratios to put us back on track, but are we again making the mistake of dealing with the symptoms and not the root cause of the disease?

Are we just looking at blocking the leakage without finding and repairing the hole that caused it? Or are we indulging in window dressing without working on the structure and foundation of the building which can collapse at the slightest tremor?

Perhaps this is the very reason that we as a country have always been on a socio-economic cliff ever since we were born. Fighting fires is an exercise which creates burnouts and incapacitates, creating chronic dependency on circumstances, other people’s help, luck and so on. How long can we survive this state of dependency is anybody’s guess.

In a country where the price of leadership is calculated in numeric terms, be it buying votes or seats in parliament or on the board of directors of major organisations, it is but natural that corruption becomes the modus operandi. It is ironic that Pakistani leaders are demanding proof of charges levelled by India following the Mumbai attacks when their own chief justice, despite allegations of abuse of authority in the case of his daughter’s exam grades, has been supported by the government.

References to injustice thus are not just a matter of media uproar but have deeper implications for building a disrespectful image of a country where people in position are above the law. The Mumbai attacks have resulted in resignations by officials in India, an attack on the Marriott hotel in Pakistan has not. Neither do the daily bombings in the northern areas prompt our interior, law or other ministries to accept responsibility. The price of injustice has eroded the values of merit, fairness and equality which are key to building secure and peaceful societies.

The tactless handling of the Mumbai conflict is a bitter reflection of the poor ability of our leaders to handle rhetoric. With India pointing fingers and framing punches and heaping accusations on Pakistan, Pakistan’s apologetic and slow-motion responses have given confidence to others to take advantage of the lame handling of the situation.

With absolutely no strategy to respond to the Indian attacks via media and the international channels, we have successfully portrayed the image of an apologetic country that is there to be blamed for all that is wrong anywhere in the world. So far the sequence goes as follows: India levels accusations, Pakistan gives a mumbling denial; India uses America to turn the accusations into a threat; Pakistani leaders give loud media statements against the threat yet do exactly what others want it to.

The reason for this strategy paralysis is twofold: one is lack of clarity and the other the absence of courage. A clear-cut response strategy needs talent and communication ability in our information and planning wings which appear to be sadly lacking as the ineffective and meaningless vocabulary emanating from here shows. The other problem is lack of courage to take on America. It is not the Indian propaganda which makes our leaders shiver, but the strength of American support to New Delhi. This lack of courage stems from the fact that many in the corridors of power have agendas which need America’s political blessings. In return, they are willing to compromise on national interest. The price of holding on to their positions is traded with the value of freedom and self-respect of the country.

Apathy and avoidance are lethal combinations to spread despair and hopelessness. Apparently oblivious of the grave situation at home, the president is often seen out of the country rather than developing a strategic response to the multiple crises the country faces. In this context one can mention the violation of Pakistani airspace by Indian war planes that were explained away as a ‘technical’ mistake by the government. And it took much public uproar for a protest to be lodged with the Indian High Commission.

This apathy was further reinforced by the half-heartedness with which the government complied with UN instructions to take action against certain suspect organisations in Pakistan, thus giving room to Indian allegations. Even allies like China were not with us, such is the disregard for national priorities.

When a nation does not stand for something, it can fall for anything. Unfortunately the lack of character and values displayed in our decision-making brass has made Pakistan the favourite target of all. Be it America or Britain, India or Afghanistan, they are all taking advantage of leaders among whom many lack character.

The silver lining in these clouds of doom is that they have exposed their true colours. As a nation there is an increasing consensus that we need leaders who restore the self-respect and identity of our country. Thus it just maybe the end of despair and the beginning of hope that we will choose leaders whose values and character are based on substance and not mere style; whose actions speak louder than words; and who have the vision and passion to restore the dignity and sanctity of the country.

The writer is a consultant and CEO of FranklinCovey.


Remembering Harold Pinter

By Michael Billington

I FIRST met Harold Pinter in the early 1970s, when I sat on a sunlit lawn at Shepperton studios north of London interviewing him about Peter Hall’s film of The Homecoming. That went well enough, and Harold even told me that the famous “Pinter pause” owed a lot to the American comedian Jack Benny, whom he had seen at the Palladium in the 1950s.

There was a distinct froideur after my review of his play Betrayal at the National Theatre in 1978. As I wince to recall, I wrote that Pinter “has betrayed his immense talent by serving up this kind of high-class soap opera”. A few months later the play won the top prize at the Society of London theatre awards. In his acceptance speech, Pinter unveiled his dentist’s smile and said: “I must be the most surprised person in the room, with the possible exception of ... [long pause] ... Michael Billington.” A thousand heads turned towards me as I slumped into my seat.

It took a while to get over that. I remember a ludicrous occasion when Pinter and I found ourselves standing in parallel entry queues one summer at JFK airport. As the lines gradually diminished, we ignored each other and maintained an immaculate, frosty silence. The thaw only set in when I interviewed him for a book I was writing on Peggy Ashcroft. He was not only helpful, he gave me a copy of his play, One for the Road, inscribing it: “You didn’t like it much but what the hell?”

The real breakthrough came in 1990 when I presented a four-hour programme on BBC radio celebrating his 60th birthday and charting not just his theatrical career but his passion for poetry, politics and cricket. In 1992, out of the blue, came an invitation from Robert McCrum, chief executive at Faber, suggesting I meet with him and Harold to discuss my writing a short book on Pinter’s politics. At some point over lunch Pinter turned to me and said: “Of course, you can talk to anyone you like about my life.” I realised, to my astonishment, that I was being given the green light to write a full-scale biography.

That led to four years of research and writing that taught me a lot about Harold Pinter. But what exactly did I learn? Most obviously, that his plays were almost invariably triggered by some memory or incident from his past. I also learned that Pinter’s politics were the product of a rage against any form of injustice, partly the result of his postwar Hackney (east London) youth, in which he and his friends were appalled by the licence given to anti-Semitic organisations. If any later episode fuelled that anger, it was the American government’s proven involvement in the 1973 overthrow of President Salvador Allende.

I realised that Pinter’s politics were driven by a deep-seated moral disgust at the way western states not only manipulated language but often undermined the concepts of “freedom” and “democracy” to which they claimed exclusive entitlement.

But Harold’s anger was balanced by a rare appetite for life and an exceptional generosity to those he trusted. I saw that in myriad ways, large and small. He couldn’t have been more generous in giving me access to his life, his manuscripts, even his study: at one point, we played Box and Cox as I worked there in the afternoons and he in the mornings.

Sometimes his help was purely practical. A few years back, when I was required to have an endoscopy, I asked Pinter’s advice as to whether I should have an anaesthetic, since the hospital implied that real men didn’t. “Don’t be so ... silly,” said Harold, “of course you do with that tube stuck down your throat.”

Pinter was, even more than most of us, a man of contradictions: his fierce concern for language was balanced by an equally warm regard for individuals. His friend Michael Colgan, who runs the Dublin Gate Theatre, tells a great story of recently going out for drinks with Pinter in a posh Dublin hotel. As they placed their drinks order with an over-enthusiastic waitress, she cooed at them, “No problem, no problem.” Pinter looked at her levelly and announced: “I wasn’t anticipating one.” A reminder that you don’t waste words in Pinter’s presence.

If that sounds harsh, I can only recount an amazing experience I had two months ago when I directed Pinter’s Party Time, Celebration and a staged version of his Nobel lecture with drama students at Lamda, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Pinter had promised to come to the final performance and, on a cold autumn Saturday, he and his wife, Antonia, duly turned up. Not only that. As the cast gestured towards him at curtain-call, he struggled to his feet with great difficulty, shook them individually by the hand and made an impromptu speech expressing his admiration for their performance. It was something neither they, nor I, will ever forget.

Only later, when we had supper, did I realise just how desperately ill he was and what it had cost him, physically, to attend the performance. It was almost the last time I saw him and it reinforced something I had long known: that Pinter wasn’t simply the finest dramatist of his generation, he was a man with a great heart.

— The Guardian, London



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