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DAWN - Editorial; January 26, 2009

January 26, 2009


Centre-Punjab tensions

CHIEF Minister Shahbaz Sharif must have emerged from his meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday a deeply satisfied man. Reports say President Zardari has asked for some more time to fulfil his promises, the main one being the restoration of the judges and his party’s pledge to do away with the 17th Amendment that vests overriding powers in the president. As the leader of a party whose popularity has apparently been soaring in the province he administers, Mr Sharif surely knows that dilly-dallying by Mr Zardari on these crucial issues is going to further boost the public standing of the PML-N at the expense of the PPP. The indications are that the PPP is finding it difficult to preserve its support base in Punjab, mainly because of its inability to deliver on the two issues mentioned above.

In part this loss of public support may be ascribed to Mr Zardari and his party’s failure to notch up successes in other areas of national life that could have then somewhat dulled the impact of the opposition’s thrust on the issue of the judges and presidential powers. In fact, some among the PPP’s ardent supporters are hoping that it is going to turn out to be a case of not outright refusal but procrastination on President Zardari’s part. They would prefer to see the president give in to the loud slogans for bringing back the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry. But the party’s detractors say, and not without reason, that by that time it would be too late for the PPP and its loss would be the PML-N’s gain.

This is not to say that President Zardari is sitting idle. The report in this paper about the Zardari-Shahbaz Sharif meeting carries a couple of very significant sentences that bring out the drift of Mr Zardari’s politics. “…[T]he PPP has strengthened its ties with the MQM. An MQM leader said the PPP had accepted all major demands of his party.” This is consistent with the course that Pakistani politics has taken since the general election last year. There are a number of small but powerful stakeholders who today stand at a distance from the PML-N and who are firmly in the camp that President Zardari has assiduously built for himself. These include the MQM, the ANP, the JUI, as well as some other smaller parties that have a good presence in the Frontier and Balochistan. The current alignment that pits the PML-N of Punjab against the grouping representing smaller provinces could have very serious repercussions for the federation. The PML-N has been duly criticised for its place in this standoff. President Zardari also has a role in pulling the country out of this polarisation.

Costs of climate change

THERE are millions across the globe who are waiting to see if US President Barack Obama will live up to his pledge to invest in renewable energy and help put the brakes on climate change. The US is one of the world’s biggest polluters and the only developed nation that is yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol which sets binding limits on carbon emissions by industrially advanced nations. The EU has wholeheartedly embraced Kyoto while Australia did the same in 2007 when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took office. But the US under George Bush doggedly stuck to its line that individual states have the right to set their own emission targets, and consistently denigrated what it called the “one size fits all” outlook of the Kyoto Protocol.

In doing so, America missed the point altogether. The battle against climate change must by necessity be a concerted effort because the actions of one nation can have an impact on a country thousands of miles away. Take the case of Pakistan. As this paper pointed out not long ago, “We produce a mere 0.4 per cent or so of the greenhouse gases emitted annually worldwide and yet Pakistan ranks 12th in the list of countries that will bear the brunt of climate change.” It is estimated that environmental degradation is eroding Pakistan’s GDP by nearly five per cent a year — Rs365bn, or a billion rupees a day. Add to this the havoc wreaked by climate change and the costs will be truly staggering. Livelihoods will be lost wholesale and millions are bound to be displaced. We will face acute food and water shortages, and ‘climate refugees’ will further burden towns and cities whose infrastructure networks are already on the verge of collapse. And anyone who thinks that this is a problem that will afflict only the poor is sadly mistaken. Think, for a moment, about investments in reclaimed coastal land and islands that ought to have been protected under the law. These playgrounds of the wealthy will all be under water if global warming continues at its current pace. The big polluters, such as the US, must also see the bigger picture and act accordingly. According to a 2006 report by

UK government economist Sir Nicholas Stern, global warming could shrink the global economy by as much as 20 per cent. Acting now, the report held, will cost the world just one per cent of its gross annual GDP.

Mountains and bombs

PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari’s call for hosting an international conference to focus attention on mountaineering in Pakistan comes at a time when parts of the country have become a battlefield. Talking to a group of mountaineers at the President House on Friday, he said mountain-climbing needed to be patronised to attract climbers from all over the world and encourage young Pakistani men to explore the highlands. While Swat would be enjoyed more by trekkers than hardy climbers, the conflict in what once was a tourist paradise has sent a wrong signal to mountain lovers across the globe. Greater heights where peace still reigns lie further north in Gilgit-Baltistan, where three of the world’s mightiest mountain ranges — the Himalayas, the Karakoram peaks and the Hindukush — meet. Endowed with glaciers and dozens of summits yet to be scaled, Pakistan has peaks such as Tirichmir, Nangaparbat, Rakaposhi and K-2, all of them over 20,000 feet high with a perpetual snowline. No wonder, this area, with its unique allure for visitors, drew mountain expeditions from all parts of the world. Sadly this is no more the case.

The insurgency in the north, the dislocation of normal life in Swat, and attacks on foreigners, including those involved in aid activity in so many parts of the country, have destroyed tourism and put an end to all climbing activity in the north. No climber would want to venture into the area if he/she feels that there could be a suicide bomber around the corner. A conference of the kind suggested by the president may be held in a posh hotel in Islamabad, but it will be just that. Papers read at a seminar cannot change ground realities, nor make the Taliban tourist-friendly. What can turn the situation around is the restoration of normality in areas affected by violence. With lawlessness and fanaticism rampant, the future of tourism and mountaineering in Pakistan remains bleak. Crush the insurgency, enforce the state’s writ and restore normal life, and tourists and mountaineers will come in droves to enjoy the unparalleled beauty of Pakistan’s north.

OTHER VOICES - North American Press

Obama rolls back Bush’s excesses

Toronto Star

HISTORY will recall George Bush’s presidency as much for its imperial manner as for its serial blunders. After the trauma of the 9/11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, Bush claimed extraordinary executive powers as a ‘wartime’ leader, and his White House acted as if it were above the law, veiled in secrecy and unaccountable.

Flouting the Geneva Conventions and inviting the Abu Ghraib scandal, Bush authorised the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to abuse terror suspects. He created a shameful military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, where 770 detainees were denied basic legal rights. That offended even the rightward-leaning US Supreme Court. And he allowed past presidents, vice-presidents and others to veto the release of executive archives that should be in the public domain.

In much of the world’s eyes, the United States on Bush’s watch came to stand not for freedom and democracy, but for presidential abuse of power, indifference to human rights and due process, and scant regard for accountability. The nation’s highest office shrank in stature. But today Americans are celebrating a season of renewal, as President Barack Obama turns the page on a dismal era.

In his first executive act this week, Obama made what he called a “clean break” from the imperial presidency, rolling it back to something the country’s founders would have recognised. “Transparency and rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency,” he said. And in a rebuke to Bush he vowed “the US will not torture.”

Government will be held to a higher standard of accountability, Obama promised on Wednesday, as he scrapped Bush-era policies that cloaked presidential records in secrecy and made it easy for federal agencies to deny information requests. He also froze the salaries of staff making more than $100,000 a year, in a nod toward Americans who feel the economic pinch. And he tightened the rules for lobbyists….

No less important is his bid to “renew American leadership” abroad with an “aggressive” push for Mideast peace, more thoughtful involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a fierce drive to reclaim the “moral high ground” against terror. To that end he has surrounded himself with a strong diplomatic team headed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and special Mideast and Afghan/Pakistan envoys George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke.

On Thursday Obama ordered the CIA to shut down its secret prisons, told the military to close the Guantanamo Bay internment camp within a year, prohibited abusive interrogation of prisoners and ordered a review of the 245 still held in detention. This repudiation of the Bush era gulag, where public scrutiny was non-existent and abuse commonplace, is vital to restoring America’s international stature.

Clearly, Obama gets it. He understands that the US is bigger than the ‘war on terror’, and does not need to sacrifice its soul to prevail….

Tough challenges lie ahead for the 44th president. But if Obama stays true to his principles of accountable, open, lawful government, he will improve his nation’s standing in the world and strengthen its security at the same time. — (Jan 24)

The melting-pot pedagogy

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui

“The knowledge and power nexus is inherent in the dominant system because, as a conceptual framework, it is associated with a set of values based on power which emerged with the rise of commercial capitalism.”

— Vanada Shiva in Monocultures of the mind

A MAJOR objective of education, which most schools of thought subscribe to, is the broadening of mental horizons, personal and societal development and emancipation from various ‘constraints’.

The debate about the role of education came into sharp focus after 9/11; when madressah education was brought under direct scrutiny.

Needless to say, a number of madressahs teach from archaic books in an atmosphere of extreme pedagogy. In some, the style of teaching leaves minimum space for reflection, independent evaluation, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence — values which are considered central to the spirit of Islam. There are only a few exceptions where curriculum and pedagogy encourage a degree of scepticism and disagreement.

While on the topic of madressahs and the bigotry associated with them, many of us tend to overlook the often skewed and tunnel-vision coaching in so called elite schools that claim to impart modern education with contemporary teaching apparatus. In the wake of neo-liberalism, two phenomena — privatisation and corporatisation — flourished rapidly and turned education into a profitable business. Corporate education follows the assembly-line structure, and towing the true spirit of neo-liberalism, focuses on the maximisation of profit, mass production and exploitation of labour. However, a significant component of the mass production model is the quality control of a product, which, in the case of our schools, is conspicuous by its absence.

In a number of educational institutions, especially in school chains, conscious efforts are made to produce students of a certain brand. Some schools have made sure that, besides wearing a certain kind of uniform, the students use similar notebooks, stationery, school bags and other items.

At the pedagogy level, an interesting development has been witnessed in the recent past; teachers are handed down copies of pre-designed lesson plans which are prepared by the head office of the school.

The practice is based on the melting-pot approach where the pedagogy, decided by the powerful school head office, leaves no room for any diversity and expects teachers to dissolve their individual methodologies in the melting pot, to merge with the command centre approach.

The desire to make teachers act and behave in complete unison with the headquarters is orchestrated by the ‘competent authority’, which denotes the centre of power that protects the interests of school owners and acts according to their desires. The faculty, in a corporatised model of education, is generally reduced to mechanical robots who work as instructed. Ali Shariati, a famous Iranian scholar and sociologist, says about such a robotic worker: “He becomes an instrument, simply a piece of equipment for production and his effort is confined to a monotonous job which he must do day after day and in doing, suspends all the characteristics which makes up all his personality.”

Should teaching be made so mechanical that personal freedom of creativity is compromised? Can teaching be etherised and sterilised to the extent that it becomes robotic, bereft of the element of personal reflection so that anybody can qualify for it? David Solway in his seminal book, Education Lost, comments on the nature of the teaching phenomenon, “…real teaching is a mystery, a rite, a drama, whose purpose is to establish the conditions in which a kind of transformation can take place in the mind of the students: from monotony to interest, from ignorance to understanding, from rote to memory, from repetition to curiosity, from description to cohesion”.

But The other aspect is that they see themselves as helpless consumers of knowledge as their only role is to implement set guidelines. Sadly, such structured, routine teaching is unable to produce students with critical thinking skills, and since teachers are discouraged to bring their individuality to their teaching, they also expect students to think within strictly drawn mental structures, making thinking ‘out of the box’ an unwelcome and unpardonable act.

These teachers promote a society that doesn’t allow any difference of opinion; that discourages diversity, pluralism and creative initiatives. It was this kind of education which was the target of Ivan Illich in his book, Deschooling Society — it fails to liberate minds, petrifies individuals and blinds them towards alternative possibilities.

And the worth of opposition or disagreement for constructive debate is devalued. Henry Giroux, in his book, Border Crossings, comments: “Oppositional paradigms provide new languages through which it becomes possible to deconstruct and challenge dominant relations of power and knowledge legitimated in traditional forms of discourse”. It is appreciation for this kind of an opposite viewpoint that is missing in the extreme versions of madressah and elite education.

If we are interested in an education that promotes critical thinking skills, reflection, tolerance for disagreement and appreciation for opposite viewpoints, we need to revisit restrictive pedagogical practices and give teachers more academic freedom to exercise their creativity. We need to realise that one-dimensional teaching is bound to produce students with rigid and skewed thinking.

The writer is director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and the author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

Sarkozy move to promote reading habits

By Angelique Chrisafis

NICOLAS Sarkozy, the French president, announced 600 million euros (£565.1m) in emergency aid for his country’s troubled newspaper industry on Friday, declaring that every 18-year-old in France would get a year’s free subscription to the paper of their choice to boost reading habits.

The French press is among the least profitable in Europe, stymied by a rigid communist print union, a lack of kiosks selling papers and a declining readership below that of the UK or Germany.

The public’s trust in the media is at an all-time low in a climate where politicians rewrite their own interviews for publication and the president’s business friends own several major papers or TV stations.

Sarkozy has been likened by his political opponents to Silvio Berlusconi for recent moves to tighten state control of public TV. But on Friday he made no apology for announcing measures to improve print and online newspapers.

In a speech, he instructed them to improve the content of their articles, bring in younger readers and transform business models in exchange for the emergency aid over the next three years. He said the help was not an attack on press freedom but would protect newspapers’ independence. It was the state’s responsibility to ensure “a free, independent and pluralist press”, he said.

The French state gives 1.5 billion euros in direct and indirect state aid to the press each year, and has overseen four months of industry crisis talks.

Sarkozy’s measures included a year’s free, state-subsidised newspaper subscription for all teenagers from their 18th birthday because “the habit of reading a daily paper takes root at a very young age”. He extended tax breaks for investors in online journalism and doubled state advertising in print and online papers.

Rules would be changed to allow investors outside Europe to take bigger stakes in French titles and the number of outlets selling papers would be increased.

The biggest problem for French newspapers is the cost of printing with printworks controlled by the communist Le Livre union, which has rigid protections. Sarkozy said the state would support negotiations with printers’ unions to reduce costs by between 30 per cent and 40 per cent.

Laurent Joffrin, editor of the leftwing weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, said the measures made “good sense”, but more detail was needed on printworks negotiations. Asked about the president’s role to lecture journalists on the quality of newspaper content, Joffrin said: “It is bizarre, but this is France. Ten per cent of the press’s turnover comes from state aid ... But it would be a problem if he told us what our content should be.”

The circulation of all French national papers totals 8 million, half that of the UK. The biggest daily seller is the sports paper L’Equipe.

— The Guardian, London