DAWN - Editorial; February 13, 2009

Published February 13, 2009

A new strategy

THE coordinated attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen in Kabul on Wednesday have underscored the fragile state of security in Afghanistan. The attacks, the worst violence in the Afghan capital since the bombing of the Indian embassy last July, came a day before the expected arrival of Richard Holbrooke and were clearly meant to send a signal of the Taliban’s strength. The Taliban control much of the countryside and fears are growing that they may lay siege to the capital next. Against this backdrop of violence, President Obama has ordered a high-level review of the US Afghan strategy ahead of a Nato summit in April where the international way forward in Afghanistan is likely to be hammered out. Mr Holbrooke tried to explain the new US approach at the Munich conference last weekend: “What is required in my view is new ideas, better coordination within the US government, better coordination with our Nato allies and other concerned countries, and the time to get it right.”

New ideas are certainly needed but it isn’t clear yet what shape they will take. Militarily, President Obama is still considering substantially upping the number of American troops in Afghanistan but is under pressure from his commanders to send more troops immediately. On their part, European allies have been reluctant to make further commitments on troops and resources, ensuring some friction at the Nato summit. Part of the problem is uncertainty over what additional troops in Afghanistan can actually achieve. Last month The New York Times reported that “there is growing debate, including among those who agree with the plan to send more troops, about whether — or how — the troops can accomplish their mission, and just what the mission is.”

Even if agreement can be reached on the military aspect, there are serious questions about whether the Afghan government will be able to capitalise on any breathing space that results from a more aggressive response to the Taliban threat. President Karzai’s government is perceived to be weak and corrupt and the West has notably distanced itself from it. Nowadays, it’s more common for President Karzai and westerners to trade barbs on the drug trade and civilian deaths in military operations than to work together. To complicate this already difficult picture a presidential election is slated for Aug 20, which Mr Karzai has promised to contest. A poll commissioned by a group of private Afghans has suggested that 85 per cent of Afghans will vote for someone else. President Obama will have to thread together these disparate, competing interests while keeping the Taliban at bay and nudging Afghanistan towards some semblance of stability. He believes he can but whatever the ultimate truth, this much is certain: Afghanistan is set for a long, difficult summer, politically and militarily.

Monster of terrorism

THE monster of terrorism is creeping from the fringe towards the centre. After Fata and Swat the militants are now making inroads into the settled areas of the NWFP and Punjab. Their latest attack in Peshawar that killed an ANP legislator on Wednesday could prove to be a watershed in the war on terror. Mr Alamzeb Khan is among the most high-profile victims of militancy — irrespective of which group claims responsibility — and his killing has shocked the government and the people of Pakistan. The fact that the attack took place so brazenly on the day the American special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, was visiting the NWFP capital speaks volumes for the message the terrorists wanted to send: no one is now safe in Pakistan. If a member of the ruling party can be targeted despite all the protection he had presumably been provided, how can the common man hope to escape the firepower of those determined to impose by violent means their own brand of Islamist extremism in the country? Pakistanis have never felt as insecure as they do today.

A look at the ‘victories’ chalked up by the militants should be enough to substantiate their claims that the government is not winning the war on terror. They have a clear-cut strategy: to isolate Pakistan in order to weaken it militarily, politically and diplomatically. Thereafter it would be a walk-over for them. In the last 10 days while the government has been issuing bulletins giving the count of the militants killed and claiming success, the terrorists have not been deterred. They beheaded a Polish engineer they had been holding hostage since September. They have attacked Nato supply routes in a bid to disrupt them — two bridges were blown up and trailers torched — forcing the authorities to shift the parking bays for Nato supplies to Punjab. Members of the paramilitary and police have been forced to defect to win their release. All this while people are being killed and threatened. It is to state the obvious that the people expect the government to get its act together and draw up a feasible strategy to counter the terrorists. That no strategy is still in place cannot be denied. The Polish foreign minister added another dimension to the picture when he spoke of rifts in the government which apparently does not command the loyalty of all officers. Can a war be won by a government lacking a strategy and discipline within its own ranks?

Israel’s hawks

IT is doubtful that Israel ever had any committed doves. But if there were any, Tuesday’s general election has wiped them out. Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party has gained one seat more than Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, but who will be prime minister will be decided by arch conservative Avigdor Lieberman — Yisrael Beitenu’s leader. By tradition, the Israeli president asks not the leader with the highest number of seats in the Knesset to form the government but the one who he thinks can come up with the largest bloc of parties in order to do so. That only 54 per cent of the Arabs voted testifies to their disillusionment with the apartheid state that Israel is — a view confirmed by the Jewish voters’ swing to the right, as seen in the gains made by the religious parties, especially the ultra-orthodox Shas. This means whosoever forms the government will have to kowtow to religious fanatics in the Jewish community to stay in power.

The Israeli vote is a blow to hopes for peace, for there are hardly any differences between Kadima and Likud on key issues on which hinges the fate of the moribund peace process. Both remain committed to a Palestinian state in theory, but Likud’s 1999 charter “flatly” rejected a sovereign Palestinian state, saying it wanted to give Palestinians autonomy but not anything that could be a “threat” to Israel — like the Palestinians having an army and controlling the Jordan valley and air space. On Jerusalem, Livni says she will not “concede” it to the Palestinians, while Netanyahu is against “dividing” the holy city. As for the settlements, neither Kadima nor Likud would dismantle them, and settlements activity continued uninterrupted during Kadima rule. The two parties also believe, like Yisrael Beitenu, that “all options” are open vis-à-vis Iran, and that Hamas should be destroyed. In fact, Netanyahu and Lieberman believe that the 22-day Gaza war, which killed 1,300 Palestinians, did not go far enough. This being the state of mind of the victors of Israel’s election, one can guess what kind of chance peace has. The Palestinian Authority has rightly commented that the Israelis voted “to paralyse the peace process”.

OTHER VOICES - Pushto Press

Taliban’s threat to Islamabad

Larawbar Kabul

ACCORDING to the Pakistani press, Taliban leaders are determined to attack Islamabad in retaliation for the military operations in Darra Adam Khel and Swat. Some ulema residing in Islamabad have also received similar warnings in which they were threatened outright: “You [the ulema] have two options. Either side with the Taliban or leave the capital.”

Surprisingly, the Taliban from Swat and Bajaur have also blacklisted some of the religious and jihadi leaders who are reluctant to fight the Pakistan Army. Those on the out-of-favour list include some of the leaders of Lashkar-i-Taiba, Harkatul Mujahideen and Hizbul Mujahideen who are trying to convince the militants not to fight the Pakistan Army. They have called such jihadi outfits “pro-Pakistan” and view them as enemies, namely Maulvi Nazeer from South Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur from North Waziristan, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, Maulana Farooq Kashmiri and Syed Salahuddin.

In Mohmand Agency, another Taliban leader, Maulvi Umer Khalid, has ordered militants of the banned Lashkar-i-Taiba to leave the area or else prepare to be shot. He says that these militants only fight against foreign troops inside Afghanistan or are prepared to wage jihad against India. According to him, these militants do not want Sharia in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the government has taken some assertive measures against the militants in Swat and Darra Adam Khel and in retaliation the Taliban killed a Polish engineer. Previously, the government had held negotiations to release some members of the Taliban in 2008 for the release of diplomat Tariq Azizuddin and a soldier but faced severe criticism from America. The government and military of Pakistan have to take drastic decisions in this regard. — (Feb 11)

Selected and translated by Khadim Hussain and M. Arif

Benefits of reading the Quran

By Atif Noor Khan

INDEED, to reflect on Allah’s verses is a form of worship that will draw one close to Him. The Quran is not a book like any other; it is a timeless guide for life, death and the Hereafter.

Therefore, it necessitates the reader returning to the early narrations of those who witnessed its revelation and heard its explanation by the one deputed by Allah to explain His words to humanity. So every sincere Muslim who hopes to earn Allah’s love by reciting and reflecting on His Book should hold on to the meanings explained by the Prophet of Islam (PBUH), his companions and the early scholars of Islam.

Reciting and reflecting on the Quran has tremendous benefits. Each of them explained stands as an encouragement to reading and trying to understand the Holy Quran. The Prophet of Islam summarised the faith as naseehah (sincerity). When Hazrat Tameem ibn Aws inquired, “To whom?” he said: “To Allah, His Book, His Messenger, the leaders of the people and their common folk.”

Thus, sincerity is due to the Quran, its recitation, learning the rules of reciting it beautifully, learning about its interpretation and the reasons for its revelation, abiding by the orders found in it, teaching it and calling the faithful to it.

So by reading and reflecting on the Quran, one fulfils an obligation and is rewarded for it. Upon fulfilling this obligation, the Quran then becomes a witness for one on the Day of Judgment. The Holy Prophet says, “The Quran is a proof for you or against you.”

It will either be in your favour, a proof for you on the day when you will need every single good deed, or it will be something against you, the very speech of your Creator, a proof against you!”

The Quran will intercede for us on the Day of Judgment. Hazrat Abu Umaamah relates that the Prophet said: “Read the Quran, for verily it will come on the Day of Judgment as an intercessor for its companions.” According to Saheeh al-Muslim, we find a lovely story about how Hazrat Umar understood this principle.

Some men once came to ask him, “Who do you use to govern Makkah?” He said, “Ibn Abzaa.” They asked, “Who is Ibn Abzaa?” Umar replied, “A freed slave.” They remarked, “You have left a freed slave in charge of the people of the valley (the noble tribes of the Quraish)?”

He answered them, “Verily, he is a reader of the Book of Allah and is knowledgeable about the obligations of Muslims. Haven’t you heard the statement of your Messenger: ‘Allah raises some people by this Book and lowers others by it’?”

Hazrat Usman also narrates the Holy Prophet as having said: “The best among you are the ones who learn the Quran and teach it to others,” according to Saheeh al-Bukhari.

There are 10 rewards for each letter you recite from the Quran. A hadith in Al-Tirmizi says: “Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah will have a reward. And that reward will be multiplied by 10. I am not saying that Alif, Laam, Meem is one letter, rather Alif is a letter, Laam is a letter and Meem is a letter.”

Hazrat Ayesha, too, relates that the Prophet once said: “One who recites the Quran beautifully, smoothly and precisely will be in the company of noble angels. As for the one who recites it with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, (s)he will have twice that reward.”

Hazrat Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-Aas narrates the Holy Prophet as saying: “It will be said to the companion of the Quran: read and elevate (through the levels of paradise) and beautify your voice as you used to do when you were (alive). For verily, your position in paradise will be at the last verse you recited!”

The Prophet also said: “The Quran is an intercessor, is given the permission to intercede, and it is rightfully believed in. Whoever puts it in front of himself, will be led to paradise; whoever puts it behind him, will be steered to hellfire.” This hadith about the Quran is on the authority of Hazrat Abdullah ibn Masood, summarising for the faithful the importance of reading the Quran and reflecting on its universal message.

Ailing education

By Mansoor Alam

THERE is a general perception that the main cause of the pitiable state of education in Pakistan is the inadequate allocation of funds.

The persistent refrain has been that Pakistan devotes less than two per cent of its annual GDP to education while most other countries, even in South Asia, allocate at least three to seven per cent.

To a great extent this is true of Pakistan but low allocation is certainly not the sole cause of the deplorable state of education. Based on my experience as a teacher and head of an NGO working for education, I can say that it is not the paucity of funds but their misuse, coupled with mismanagement, which is the main culprit.

Indeed, the quality of education at government schools can be improved without additional monetary support provided proper use is made of allocated funds. The following measures are urgent: 1) revamping the practically non-existent system of monitoring; 2) improving the teaching capability of teachers through a rigorous training programme; 3) appointing an experienced administrator from the private sector in all government schools.

These are indispensable steps if reforms are to be initiated and can be implemented without additional funds. Also, there are plenty of retired, senior private-sector executives who will be happy to volunteer their services if the government promises not to interfere. But before taking these measures, the government must appoint a panel of honest experts from different fields and provinces to formulate a policy on the above-mentioned points and present their recommendations to parliament.

It is unlikely, though, that the government would accept these recommendations as they may get in the way of too many vested interests. The root cause of the problem lies in the fact that the process of democracy has been repeatedly interrupted by military regimes.

The government of the last dictator, famous for his ‘enlightened moderation’, decided to raise the monthly salary of teachers significantly. The income of teachers of non-formal home-based schools rose from Rs1,000 to Rs4,000 for matriculates, Rs1,000 to Rs4,500 for intermediates and Rs1,000 to Rs5,000 for graduates. Similar increases were given to teachers of formal government schools but nothing was done to improve teachers’ training programmes or the monitoring system with the result that while the GDP and the teachers’ salaries went up, the quality of education did not improve.

In fact, something worse began to happen. Teachers who were matriculates and intermediates began to buy fake degrees in order to claim a salary of Rs5,000 and officials who could facilitate this scam became their partners. As for teachers of government schools, they continued to come late, leave early, teach indifferently, do other jobs as well as take cuts from snack vendors’ daily sales in return for granting the vendors space within the school premises. Anyone who believes that a mere increase in salaries brings with it efficiency, higher productivity, greater motivation and improvement in teaching quality need only visit some of these schools.

The Ministry of Education is primarily concerned with the total number of students in government schools; whether or not they are learning is of no interest to them. Hence, principals, headmistresses and the teaching staff are made to orient themselves towards increasing enrolment figures. They are apathetic to students being late or playing truant and could not care less if the students extend their summer and winter vacations by weeks or if they actually return on the first day of school. This situation also suits teachers as it gives them the liberty to come late and leave early, and to give or not to give homework in order to avoid correcting and checking it. Therefore, despite the hefty increase in teachers’ salaries, public-sector education continues to produce illiterates.

An astonishing example is that of a student who was meant to take his Matric examinations in less than seven weeks and did not know the meaning of the first word ‘shiver’ of the first exercise in the first chapter of the English textbook. I witnessed this when I went to teach English as part of an effort to start free tuition classes in English, Maths, physics and chemistry so that children would be able to obtain better marks in their board assessments.

In the end, the quality of education will remain poor in Pakistan until education becomes a top priority and is de-politicised. At present, it is a source of jobs for cronies and voters. The standard is so dismal that even the poor do not like to send their kids to government schools. Unless concrete action is taken to remedy this state of affairs, the gap between the haves and the have-nots will continue to widen.



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