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DAWN - Editorial; February 10, 2009

February 10, 2009


Special envoy’s agenda

US SPECIAL envoy Richard Holbrooke will have a front-row seat to Pakistan’s key security issues this week. The government’s response to the Indian dossier on the Mumbai attacks is near to being made public; A.Q. Khan’s detention has been lifted by the Islamabad High Court, though the government may file an appeal; the investigation into the kidnapping of a UN official, John Solecki, an American citizen, is underway in Balochistan; and the Pakistan Army is pummelling Swat, Bajaur and Mohmand but victory is not in sight. Meanwhile, the Americans remain fixated on the threat emanating from Fata — though their appetite for drone strikes has triggered a backlash among Pakistanis. Against this backdrop, an epic political dust-up between the PPP and PML-N may break out in either Punjab or Islamabad or both, while the lawyers’ long march threatens further destabilisation. Mr Holbrooke is no shrinking violet but Pakistan surely is a unique challenge.

To understand the Americans’ approach to Pakistan we must begin with flagging up their interests in Afghanistan. Presently, Afghanistan appears to be a lost state: corruption is endemic, security is poor, violence is up, drug production is rampant and, perhaps worst of all, there is no clear plan on the table to restore stability in the months or years ahead. Keeping this dismal picture of Afghanistan in mind, the Americans have latched on to security as the first step towards establishing a modicum of normality. This is where Pakistan enters the picture. First, Fata has become a hub of militancy from where attacks are planned and launched into Afghanistan, giving rise to two American demands: eliminate the sanctuaries in Fata and crack down on cross-border movement of militants. Second, Pakistan is a critical supply corridor for international troops in Afghanistan. Central Asian supply routes may well be increasingly tapped by the Americans and ISAF but Pakistan will remain a primary conduit. Therefore, the Americans and ISAF have a deep interest in ensuring that Pakistan’s cities and road network are safe for their convoys.

From this security-conscious outlook, Mr Holbrooke’s task will be to ensure Pakistan’s cooperation while trying to assure it that the days of a ‘transactional’ relationship between the US and Pakistan are firmly in the past. Easier said than done. The state can be propped up with infusions of cash and commodities but on the ground it is hard to see how development projects can be undertaken. Anything with a whiff of American input will quickly become a target of militants. And if the Americans push too hard too quickly on quieting Fata, militants will retaliate in Pakistani cities. Militancy poses as much of a threat to Pakistan as to Afghanistan. We must defeat it. But if the US is too aggressive or impatient, South Asia will not become a safer place.

Not enough women

A REPORT from Karachi about the failure of the police department to attract female officers in sufficient numbers should cause policymakers to give serious thought to the matter. With growing public awareness of the rights of women, the need for a women’s police force has come to be recognised and posts for one created accordingly. Its presence is needed more than ever for staffing women’s police stations and to accompany male colleagues for house searches or for guard duties during processions and public gatherings. While the presence of female contingents on such occasions is essential — especially when the police is interacting with women — it is also important to explode the myth that women cannot perform as well as their male colleagues on other occasions. Meanwhile, their disinterest in this service is intriguing at a time when unemployment rates are high and female participation in the national labour force is on the rise. This phenomenon needs to be probed objectively and corrective measures taken.

The police department has claimed that women do not respond in spite of the incentives that are offered to them. The fact is that most of the incentives are in monetary terms and puny. They do not compensate for the anti-women environment in the police service. For instance, the glass ceiling for women in the police department is much lower and their rise to the higher echelons of the police bureaucracy is actively discouraged. They are not provided the facilities which they genuinely need, such as transport when on duty during late hours. Moreover, the behaviour and language — often abusive and oppressive — of their male colleagues discourage many new entrants. If women have to be attracted to the law-enforcement agency and retained, it is important that all members of the police service at all levels are sensitised to the needs of their female colleagues which they are not at the moment. Drawn from a society that has yet to shed its pro-male biases, not many police officers or the rank and file of the force is aware of the compulsions of gender equality. Moreover, training courses will also have to be upgraded so that both men and women learn modern investigative and law-enforcement methods as well as the norms of social interaction without violating the dignity of others. Women would then also be expected to respond and prove their capacity to perform as well as their male colleagues.

Time to move ahead

IT would be a pity if the possibility of a thaw in relations between Iran and America were to fall victim to posturing and rhetoric. In an interview with a German newspaper, Iran’s former nuclear negotiator and now assembly speaker, Ali Larijani, said on Sunday that Iran was willing to talk to America without preconditions, provided Washington came up with “a concrete” offer. His statement came a day after American Vice President Joe Biden mixed an offer of talks with a warning of “continued pressure and isolation” if Tehran went ahead with its nuclear plans. He also said Iran would get some “incentives” from America if Tehran stopped its purported support to terrorism. Some three weeks after President Barack Obama reached out to the Muslim world in his inaugural address and later asked Iran to “unclench its fist”, there is no sign yet that the two sides are anywhere near direct talks to end three decades of confrontation. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not help matters when he asked America to apologise for 30 years of “crimes” against his country. This amounted to attaching conditions for talks — something that Mr Larijani appeared to reject.

The change in the White House has kindled hopes worldwide that America could perhaps undo the damage done to its image by the Bush administration’s unilateralism, especially with regard to its invasion of Iraq, the way it conducted the war on terror and the carte blanche given to Israel for its depredations in Lebanon and Palestine. How far Mr Obama lives up to expectations where the Muslim world is concerned remains to be seen. But Iran should not miss the opportunity to normalise ties with America and Europe. Iran can do this without compromising its nuclear programme intended, it says, for peaceful purposes and by cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency. A presidential election is due in June and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s decision to run could add to the existing polarisation that exists between the conservatives and reformists. One hopes foreign policy and the question of normalisation of ties with the US does not fall victim to Iran’s domestic politics.

OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press


Sindh Assembly should play its due role

DURING question hour, Sindh Home Minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza told the Sindh Assembly that there were 1,563,000 illegal immigrants in the province ... However, he expressed the inability of the government to [expatriate them] and said although there were laws to repatriate the aliens ... unavailability of funds [restricted] their implementation.

An increasing number of illegal immigrants ... residing in Sindh are putting pressure on the resources of the province.... According to ... official figures, Sindh has 1,563,000 illegal immigrants, while different surveys and studies of some social and political organisations say that the [true] numbers are double the official figure. These might be immigrants who were staying here illegally, but those immigrants who through different means managed to get national identity cards ... should also be counted in this category. A large number of illegal Bangladeshis were issued cards during the previous government....

Dr Mirza, in his reply, stated that as per figures … of a total 1,563,385 aliens residing in Sindh, the highest number comprised Bengalis (823,360), Indians (16,400) and Sri Lankans (300) etc.

The first impact of illegal immigrants is ... ethnic and socio-cultural imbalance in the ... province. The local people are being turned into a minority. This is not an ordinary situation. But it is a matter of national and cultural identity. It appears a lame excuse that the Sindh Assembly should pass a resolution and only then would the government move to repatriate aliens. It is strange logic.

...Experts believe that the imbalance in resources ... creates a crisis.... Such a crisis can only be resolved by controlling the population. The burden of illegal immigrants can be reduced and these resources utilised by the local population.

Today the country is braving terrorism. Sindh has been a victim.... There are proofs of involvement of some illegal immigrants in such incidents. Why are the government and home department waiting for the Assembly to pass a resolution to end this terrorism? At present, the plea of the home department is that the policy exists but there are no funds. Suppose the Sindh Assembly passes the resolution ... where would these funds come from?

If at all the home department needs a resolution, why isn’t such a resolution passed? There is a dire need to reduce the burden caused by illegal immigrants and Sindh’s people should be saved from being converted into a minority. — (Feb 8)

Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi

Remembrance of things past

By Fazlur Rahman Khan

ARCHAEOLOGIST and anthropologist Dani’s 88-year journey from a small village of Basna (about 100 km to the east of Raipur; now the capital of the newly created state Chhattisgarh in India) to Islamabad, and which was academically awe-inspiring, scholarly dazzling, and intellectually monumental, has now come to end. For me, it symbolised a century’s relation with the Dani family.

A young fair lady from our extended Moplah family in Raipur was married in the latter half of the 19th century in the Dani family of Basna. Childless, she was reported to have adopted a Dani child (who later on, became the father of Dr Dani) as her son. Imposing, she lived in almost a regal manner. She moved about in a grand and majestic style. Whenever she came to Raipur, she travelled in a convoy of 20 bullock carts.

Years rolled by. One day, in one of the earlier years of the 1930s, it came to pass that a lad of Basna got into a bullock cart, and travelled west to Raipur. After several stops, he reached the portals of St Paul’s School to be received by one Mr Williams, the hostel superintendent. That lad was Ahmed Hasan Dani.

By coming to St Paul’s, Dani was following the footsteps of another Muslim boy, Muhammad Hussain, of the same school, who had topped in Sanskrit in the province in the Matriculation examination, and maintained that position in the Nagpur University, right up to the Master’s level. But he was lost in the wasteland of provincial civil service.

Like Mohammad Hussain, Dani appearing in the matriculation examination from St Paul’s, topped in Sanskrit in the province, and he did so in the Intermediate and Bachelor’s examinations of the Nagpur University. The panditji who taught Hindi and Sanskrit courses for Matric was proud of these two Muslim boys.

From Nagpur, Dani went to the city of Tulsi Das and Shiva — Benaras — to do his Master’s in ancient history. (Perhaps, Raipur was the only city in British India that sent a Muslim boy to the Hindu University, and a Hindu boy to the Muslim University. Both of them excelled in their preferred disciplines.)

Standing first, Dani, under the Hindu University rules, should have been appointed as a lecturer, but the Vice-Chancellor Radhakrishnan was helpless as a non-Hindu was not entitled to get such a job. Radhakrishnan did not want to lose Dani.

So he asked Dani to conduct some research on an unexceptional monetary compensation. From there, he was picked up by the Federal Public Service Commission for Mortimer Wheeler’s organisation.

In the 1970s both of us were in Peshawar. He was at the university as a professor of archaeology and I was secretary finance in the provincial government.

We used to meet regularly. At that time I realised that he was developing interest in anthropology. Since I am an anthropologist manqué, a sort of another link developed between us.

In our house in Raipur, there were a few copies of an issue of Man in India, a quarterly anthropological journal, which was started in the early 1920s by the doyen of South Asian anthropology, S.C. Roy, and it is still being published. I brought a couple of copies of the journal with me to Pakistan.

More than that, the work of Verrier Elvin who lived barefoot amongst Chhattisgarhi aboriginal tribes for 25 years, and wrote heavy tomes on them, influenced me a great deal to think about adopting anthropology as my profession. That was not to be. But Dani encouraged me to keep up my interest in the subject, and always recommended new books to read.

I had been a collector and selector of saris for my late wife, who always wore saris in traditional way — not in Satya Paul’s style. To know the weft and warp of such diverse saris as Maheshwari, Chanderi, Tanchoi, Kanjeevaram, Pochampalli, etc, I had to read a lot of literature on saris.

Two well known experts Kapur Chisti and Amba Sanyal wrote a book Saris of India in 1988. They visited all places known for weaving of saris. They also went to Basna, and wrote, “….Ghulam Sarwar Dani is the biggest trader of traditional saris here…. Ghulam Sarwar Dani has been in the trade for the last 20 years; and the story of how this shalwar kurta-clad 70 years old patriarch came to these parts sounds like a classic trader’s tale. ‘We are Kashmiris. …My pardhada lost a bag with 1,000 coins in it. He came here searching for the man he knew had stolen it. Here, he was able to cure the queen of her longstanding cold with a special snuff. After all, he came from the mountains. He was rewarded with a gift of land and given the title of Dani, the giver’.”

When I showed the book to Dr Dani, his slit eyes opened up and he went into remembrance of things past. My response that the difference between him and me was that he went to school in a bullock cart, and then went on to a highway leading to the academic Everest, while many years later, I used to cover the five minutes distance from our house to St. Paul’s on foot, and eventually got lost in a pathless arid scrubland of civil service, was received by Dani, first by shrinking away into silence, and then by a supremely generous smile.

Trouble in eurozone

By Nils Pratley

IT’S not a story of green shoots in the US or the UK. Jobless claims in the US have hit a 26-year high. In the UK, output will shrink by 2.8 per cent this year, the International Monetary Fund predicts; industrial production fell even more steeply than thought at the end of 2008.

No, the currency markets are saying that many of the newest, biggest worries come from the eurozone. Spain reported a 19.6 per cent fall in industrial output in 2008, while Germany said the decline in industrial orders accelerated in December, taking the year-on-year fall to almost 40 per cent — an extraordinary figure.

Strength in manufacturing exports is not much help if trading partners can’t afford to buy cars, machine tools and electrical goods. “Germany is going to go through a brute of a recession, almost certainly worse and longer than that of those unsound, debt-laden, floating-currency recidivists, the Anglo-Saxons,” says Charles Dumas of Lombard Street Research.

It seems so unfair. Germany’s prudence — remember its finance minister’s jibes about Gordon Brown’s “crass Keynesianism” — appears to have earned no reward at all.

It avoided a housing bubble and concentrated on real, rather than financial, engineering and yet will feel the collapse in world trade more keenly than the spendthrifts in the US. In theory, Germany’s healthy public and private finances make it well equipped to lead the eurozone out of recession.

In practice, Germans show no inclination to go on a spending spree.

Germany is not the eurozone’s biggest problem — Spain, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Greece are. Italy may even top the list because of the size of its economy and the fact that it hasn’t enjoyed the fruits of the boom — growth has averaged a little less than one per cent since 2002, Italian industry is uncompetitive and public debt exceeds GDP.

Leave the euro? The idea is fanciful in one sense. Italy would hardly solve its problems by returning to the lira. Its cost of borrowing would balloon, probably overwhelming the boost to competitiveness from having a freely floating currency again.

A more plausible plot may involve a debt default while staying within the euro — and that’s another risk that financial markets have started to price in. The price of insurance against a sovereign debt default by Greece, Ireland, Spain and Italy has risen sharply.

The danger signals are not yet flashing red — government bond yields would still have to rise substantially before these countries struggle to finance themselves — but the market’s view of the euro has shifted. Its safe-haven status provided stability to members during last year’s banking dramas but a single currency is a poor tool to address internal trade imbalances.

Meanwhile, potential problems are brewing in the east as Russia’s growth stalls. The big German and Italian banks are the biggest lenders to the emerging eastern European economies.

What if the European Central Bank were to change course? What if it were to embrace big monetary packages, such as expanding the money supply in the manner of the US and (probably) the UK? But operating such a policy within the eurozone’s current framework would be tricky.

Of course, one can look at these issues from the other end of the telescope. If the US’s free-spending approach doesn’t achieve a revival, markets may once again punish the profligate, in which case sterling’s mini-rebound would evaporate in no time.

— The Guardian, London