Monthly Archives: September 2010

Arms lead the way to collapse

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

SO the ‘inevitable’ has come to pass. The government has announced that the defence budget will be increased by Rs109.8bn in the current fiscal year — from Rs442.2bn to Rs552bn. And from where will the funds come? The public-sector development programme is to face the axe.

For decades, defence and security were treated as holy cows not to be questioned. Defence spending figured as a one-line entry in the federal budget that allowed the armed forces the privilege of being above accountability. Thus they were shielded from the prying eyes of the public even though they were the main beneficiaries of the taxpayers’ money.

Security would be jeopardised if confidentiality were not observed. Besides what did we ordinary mortals know about such highly technical issues that figured in the jargon-filled statements of defence experts who were after all trying to protect us from the enemy? Things have changed but not radically. We still cannot debate what weapon system is actually needed by our men in uniform and which strategies are good and which are not so good.

Is it then surprising that Patrice Legace writing in La Presse (Montreal) asks bluntly, “If Pakistan had $1.4bn to acquire fighter planes (F-16) from Lockheed very recently, why doesn’t Pakistan have $460m to help its own ‘drenched’ citizens?”

True there is slightly more transparency in the defence budget today than before. But not enough and misappropriations are regularly reported by the auditor general. On Friday, parliament was told that Rs2.5bn was lost in 2009-10 due to “commonly occurring irregularities” in various departments of the armed forces and the defence ministry.

Moreover defence continues to be a subject one cannot freely debate. But more openness in reporting has opened the door to more questions being raised and criticism being voiced. Thus no sooner had the media reported the increase in the defence budget than the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives expressed its concern at the reordering of budget priorities at “a time when educational, healthcare, rehabilitation and other social needs of people have multiplied due to high inflation and the recent floods”.

Greater anger was expressed at the failure of the authorities to reduce “non-productive expenditures through better management and efficiency” and generate more revenues.

The country paper, presented by the government to the International Monetary Fund, also indicated plans to reduce the overall expenditure by Rs68.4bn and increase revenues by Rs197bn. Now all this will have an adverse effect on public policy especially national security. What can be expected is more indirect taxation, as indicated by the finance minister, that will further boost the spiralling inflation and burden the poor even more.

Cuts can be expected in the health and education budgets, though the finance minister has been denying it. Is he to be believed? Already cuts have been announced in the development budget.

Why is this bad defence planning? We first have to identify our enemy. To me it seems that the greatest threat we face is from the Taliban. Even the prime minister is on record as saying that the greatest danger to the country’s security comes from the “internal threat” the country faces. But we seem to be strengthening ourselves vis-à-vis external enemies — and who are they but the Indians?

Will the 36 F-16s priced at $3bn and being purchased currently be used in the war on terror to destroy Taliban strongholds? Apart from the fact that aerial bombing produces more collateral damage — civilians become innocent victims — this siphoning off social-sector funds will affect our social capital which in turn will weaken our societal fabric.

Can we afford this?

The problem lies basically in our failure to recognise the changing nature of warfare in the modern world. There is the additional failure to understand that when extra-regional powers like the United States extend us a helping hand they do so to promote their own selfish interests in the region where we are located. We try to act smart and exploit American strategic imperatives. With the US now poised to withdraw from Afghanistan, has Pakistan planned its own post-US exit strategy? In 1989 when the US disengaged from the region after helping the Mujahideen (via Pakistan) to drive out the Russians, we were left at the mercy of the squabbling Afghans — a situation that gave birth to the Taliban phenomenon which continues to be our nemesis.

We have played the foot soldier to Washington in the region as we continued to fight a war on two fronts — hostility towards India hardly ever abated. As a result, our economic priority has always been massive defence spending. It is here that our failure to understand the changing nature of warfare has proved detrimental to our national security. In an age when wars are total and the defences too have to be total, Pakistan has concentrated on buying arsenals, recruiting soldiers and building bombs, including of the nuclear variety.

All along the country’s domestic policies have created the social, cultural, economic and political conditions that have nurtured prejudices, ignorance and social insecurity that now pose a grave threat to the country’s stability and cohesion. Greater liability was created by the armed forces by their alleged training and arming of militants such as the Lashkar-i-Taiba to fight their proxy wars in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Concurrently they spawned obscurantist thinking and bigotry by whipping up irrational religiosity that became a deadly mixture in an environment of poverty, ignorance and despair.

In this climate the advantage goes to the enemy within, with which we are locked in a total war. A strategic policy that ignores this adversary to seek arms to be used in future battles against an external foe does not make sense. We need to remember that in the post-1945 years more than military defeats economic implosions have destroyed nations. These states have invariably failed to realise that an arms build-up only hastens this process.

The whackos in our midst

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

IN Jhootha Sach, Yashpal’s epic novel in Hindi on Partition (now translated elegantly into English as This is not that Dawn by Anand) there is a profound observation.

It is made by the Sikh bus driver who transports a bunch of kidnapped, raped and abused Hindu women from Lahore to Amritsar. On the way he passes a caravan of bedraggled Muslim refugees walking in the opposite direction towards Pakistan. There follows another group that is humiliating and degrading a handful of Muslim women who have likewise been raped.

The driver comments, “Countries of human beings have been turned into nations by religion…Those that God had created as one have been torn apart by the distrust of others, and all in the name of God”.

Isn’t it paradoxical that all faiths teach compassion, humanism and love and yet religion has emerged as the biggest divider of humanity today? This is one area of life where tolerance and coexistence are widely shunned.

In a thought-provoking book, Religions of South Asia, authors Dr Viqar Zaman and Gul Afroz Zaman observe so aptly, “All religions are meant to provide a code of conduct which will ensure safety, security, peace and harmony in their respective societies. History shows that this did not always happen. Conflict within religions, and between religions, [has] occurred on numerous occasions. At present, most conflicts in the world are based on religion”.

How true this is. In the twentieth century the religious conflicts of yesterday largely lost their edge as contest for political and economic control related to colonialism and imperialism emerged as the key determinant of relations between societies and states. Democratic, liberal traditions, the rule of law, political imperatives and globalisation that has created multicultural societies that subscribe to the norms of tolerance, took the focus away from religious polarisation.

But in a few cases religion was factored into politics to give strength to one party vis-à-vis another in the power struggle, the most notable examples of this being the circumstances governing the birth of Israel and Pakistan.

This situation has changed since 9/11 and in many instances religion itself is now at the root of conflict that is devouring nations. True there are obscurantist and dogmatic elements on the fringes of every religion — be it Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism or any other — who have created a widening rift between faiths that is becoming increasingly difficult to bridge.

Ironically the fringe elements are one another’s bitterest foes yet they feed off each other to bolster their respective causes. As Andrew Coyne observes in Canadian news magazine Maclean’s, an excess of sensitivity leads to deliberate outrage and thus to still further outrage.

Mercifully we still have sane and rational people identifying the malaise. Badri Raina, a retired professor of Delhi University, titled his latest ZNet column ‘We abuse Ram when we spill blood in his name’. In Pakistan blood is being spilled in the name of Allah and there is no dearth of armchair critics who feel revulsion against this horrible phenomenon. In the US “the deranged Florida pastor” Terry Jones, to use Andrew Coyne’s words, invited angry derision from non-Muslim North Americans for threatening to burn the Quran.

The opposition to building a mosque (actually a prayer room) at Ground Zero (actually a few blocks away) was what brought about the angry criticism. Michael Moore, the award-winning film-maker of Fahrenheit 9/11-fame writes on the Huffington Post website, “Blaming a whole group for the actions of just one of that group is anti-American…. Let’s face it, all religions have their whackos…. But we don’t judge whole religions on just the actions of their whackos”.

Yet why are the ‘whackos’ gaining the upper hand? It is simply because on the one hand the liberals who speak in support of tolerance never organise themselves on the ground to network at the grassroots level to draw strength from the people. They fail to make an impact. On the other hand, the media’s role in providing publicity to the ‘whackos’ has helped their cause immensely. By choosing to sensationalise matters relating to religion that encourage religiosity and exclusivity, many TV channels have also promoted religious extremism. Gut issues that really matter never get addressed.

Take just one example, that of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan. The Ahmadis were declared non-Muslim by the Second Amendment to the 1973 Constitution by a supposedly secular, liberal prime minister and a decade later a staunch Islamist military leader banned them from identifying themselves as Muslims or calling their places of worship as mosques.

As though it was not bad enough that the Ahmadis, who produced the only Nobel Prize winner this country has ever had (Prof Abdus Salam), the community has been made the victim of violence and discrimination. In May, 93 worshippers were killed when their houses of worship in Lahore came under attack. No compensation was paid to them. Ahmadi flood victims have reportedly found themselves being denied relief goods. What kind of justice is this?

The channels and print media have left no aspect of the Sialkot incident that led to the brutal lynching and killing of two brothers in August unexplored. But how many have highlighted the exemplary behaviour of the Ahmadi worshippers on May 28, when they managed to capture alive two gunmen? In spite of extreme provocation, the congregation exercised restraint and did not take the law into their hands. The gunmen were given to the police to allow justice to run its course. One doesn’t know if it did.

The media didn’t find this incident exciting enough to pursue. As a result it is still not known what happened to the gunmen and what they had to say.

It appears that when it comes to the Ahmadis, many people in Pakistan become what Michael Moore dubs as ‘whackos’.

Time to rethink India policy

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE floods have left a trail of misery the effects of which will be felt for a long time to come. What is surprising, however, is that the floods have not had an impact on our foreign policy. Even in this hour of crisis nothing has changed in Islamabad’s perception of our friends and foes. India continues to hold the position of Enemy Number One.

To the satisfaction of our policymakers, conspiracy theorists on the electronic media have squarely blamed ‘arch enemy’ India for the floods. Hadn’t India opened the floodgates of its dams to release waters into our rivers to drown us? So we are told.

Blinded by their pathological hatred of India they failed to look up the map. The rivers that caused the greatest suffering do not have their source in Indian territory. Suffering from a deficit of common sense we allowed the warmongers to whip up frenzy against the ‘enemies’ lurking in our neighbourhood.

The government has done no better. It first sent out an international appeal for aid. Sixty-three countries/agencies responded. When India offered $5m for flood relief, Islamabad snubbed New Delhi asking it to donate the amount “to the UN flood response appeal”. There were insinuations that this amount was paltry. But the official websites show that India’s aid offer exceeds what has been provided by 35 donors, many of them touted as our friends.

What does all this imply? It means Islamabad is convinced that its policy on India cannot change. Our domestic policies, economy and our positioning in global politics have to be adjusted to this India-centric thinking.

But if Pakistan is to survive there has to be some rethinking of our India policy. Concurrently, global equations are in a state of flux. The new equation that is emerging calls for a response from us — possibly a proactive move. Our being winners or losers will depend on this.

The Obama administration has ended its combat operation in Iraq. Afghanistan is next in line. Even though this does not imply the end of the American presence in the region, it will be a shift from direct military involvement to a policy of installing proxies in the region. Afghanistan, India, China and Iran have already begun to explore new options. They would not wish to play a proxy’s role.

The first indication of this came in July when New Delhi hinted that it had reopened negotiations with Tehran for the revival of the IPI gas pipeline. Although it was initially to be a party to this energy project, India had backed out under American pressure. Not certain about Pakistan’s cooperation — this has always been a question mark in the changing fortunes of this project — the Indian government has also entered into a dialogue on the construction of an underwater pipeline linking Iran and India.

There is also the recent news of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan signing an agreement on TAPI, another pipeline project that will link these two countries with Pakistan and India. China has also shown interest in these projects given its growing need for energy.

The US has kept a watchful eye on these moves. Its interest in the oil and gas reserves of the Middle East and Central Asia is no secret. Much will depend on how Pakistan plays its cards. It will be tempted to keep India out of these deals that may scuttle them and make it vulnerable to American pressure.

The unconditional support of its all-weather friend China can no longer be taken for granted. Beijing is now a world actor in global politics and it would not jeopardise its own interests for Pakistan’s whimsical geopolitical strategy of playing “both ally and enemy” to the US with regard to the Taliban.

With Afghanistan President Karzai now positioning himself to hold a dialogue with the Taliban, Islamabad will find itself isolated. It is Pakistan’s ill-judged quest for strategic depth — considered essential to wage a successful war against India — that is driving us to such illogical ends. This has also jeopardised the negotiating process that is so essential for the two countries to keep each other engaged. The official talks that reopened some time ago are lackadaisical and unsteady.

The silver lining in the cloud is the new Track 2 dialogue that was launched in Thailand recently by the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. It acquired a new dimension in its fifth round when the newly-founded Jinnah Institute in Pakistan headed by Sherry Rehman, former minister of information, also became involved.

This institute seeks to advance the cause of national and human security discourse with an emphasis on regional peace. Delegations comprising senior former officials from the Foreign Office, armed forces, the intelligence agencies and political leaders on both sides issued a consensus document earlier this month.

This focuses on the need for a sustained dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad and suggests that Kashmiri leaders should also be included. It is important for the two neighbours not to break off the lines of communication each time there is tension between them. Only thus can disputes be resolved.

The other recommendations pertaining to non-interference in each other’s affairs, prosecution of terrorists, adopting confidence-buildng measures, the need for back-channel talks on Kashmir, etc., indicate a positive approach. The most significant has been the recognition of civil society’s potential role in promoting friendly relations between India and Pakistan. This should encourage civil society to become more involved in foreign policy issues. Secondly its efforts should produce pressure on their respective governments to reach a consensus.

That this is possible has been proved by the release of 442 Indian fishermen from Pakistani jails, courtesy the petitions filed in the Supreme Court by two civil society organisations. Although human lives are involved, the tit-for-tat arrest of fishermen who inadvertently cross unmarked maritime boundaries has been taking place for decades. A sustained dialogue between the two countries can stop it.

Seizing the moment

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

HISTORY is replete with examples of societies having cleverly turned their adversity into a window of opportunity to achieve what they never would have in ‘normal’ times. Without a cataclysmic tragedy they often remain mired in retrogressive traditions that block their innate dynamism.

It is a well-established fact that people leading settled and stable lives are prone to resisting change in their conventional lifestyle and culture. Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan, the architect of the Orangi Pilot Project and the epitome of worldly wisdom, had observed that migrants uprooted from their homes tended to be more enterprising.

In their research on the aftermath of the 1947 partition of India, the Indian feminist writers, Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon, discovered that many women who fled their hearths and homes found it easier to break away from the culture of servility they had been chained to for centuries. Many opted for education that changed their lives which would never have happened if events had not disturbed the social equilibrium. munshis.

In the 1970s, in the post-Bangladesh period when many workers from Pakistan went to the Gulf states to take up jobs, a silent revolution was initiated back home amongst their women. Zeba Zubair, the founder of Pavhna, an NGO working in Sindh, used to tell me about women joining literacy classes. They wanted to read the weekly letters their homesick spouses sent them without the intervention of intrusive Knowledge of reading and writing also helped them manage their own affairs independently.

I wonder if it is possible to show the way to the millions who have been displaced today by the devastating floods to seize this moment as an opportunity to change the direction of their lives. They can, if they are mobilised and motivated by community leaders and provided some support (financial, technical and moral) by those who understand their needs. In this way what is being branded as the “wrath of God” will become a godsend opportunity.

Why should not Pakistan rise from the ‘waters’ as New Orleans has done from Hurricane Katrina that struck in 2005? As rehabilitation and reconstruction of the flood-ravaged areas is undertaken, it would be a cheering thought if those who have come forward to extend a helping hand to the flood victims in their hour of crisis, do not pack their bags and go home once relief operations are over. Let them stay back for the rebuilding task as well.

Let the rebuilding efforts be spearheaded by those who have devoted their services primarily to education. Let reconstruction be school-centric with housing, healthcare, nutrition and economic activity revolving round education. The Pakistan Coalition for Education has reminded the government of the UN General Assembly resolution A/64/L58 (July 2010) that reaffirms the human right to education for all citizens and calls on governments to ensure access to education to all affected people in an emergency situation. It is the government’s job primarily to rebuild the schools that have been swept away and make them functional as soon as possible.

But will it? In normal times education has never been the government’s first priority. It will take its time to get its act together. Meanwhile the numerous NGOs and other institutions, which are already in the field having responded promptly when the floods came, should not be in a hurry to leave. Although the prime minister has made unkind remarks about NGOs they should not be discouraged. It is now time to turn to long-term plans for rehabilitation.

Some like the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) and the Sindh Education Foundation have gone beyond their mandate to provide relief to flood victims. The first has been providing safe drinking water to nearly 10,000 IDPs who have been housed in Karachi. It has also opened a primary school and got volunteer teachers to teach the children while a medical camp has been set up with the help of the Pakistan Medical Association.

The Sindh Education Foundation has undertaken the responsibility of providing food, water, shelter and basic health services to the flood-affected people in Sindh. The foundation says it has also launched an emergency education programme for adults and children across all IDP camps in the province.

Meanwhile, the Layton Rehmatullah Benevolent Trust (LRBT), has provided medical relief to over 23,000 flood victims in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where its mobile teams started work on the ground within days of the flooding and has been treating cases of acute diarrhoea, respiratory ailments, skin problems and eye infections.

These are just a few I have named. What is significant about them is the public confidence they enjoy. They have raised donations to fund their projects. My mailbox is flooded with appeals for help from NGOs and I know they can be trusted, given their past performance.

This is the time to focus on education. Let the NGOs network and coordinate their efforts. Concentrating on schooling in this hour of crisis offers three advantages. First, it would allow the people the opportunity to organise their lives and get involved which would help them cope with their distress by getting control of their lives.

Second, it would create public interest in education especially when people realise that the school in their area could become the focus of the rehabilitation process.

Third, some innovative approaches could be tried now. The Sindh Education Foundation could encourage communities to organise their own schools without over-centralising the education system as has been the practice until now.

Of course guidance and learning material along with new ideas will have to be supplied. For instance why can’t shortwave radio transmissions be used to motivate teachers and help them upgrade their pedagogy and subject knowledge? (The power of radio can be gauged by Mullah Fazlullah’s transmissions to boost the Taliban’s following in Swat before the army cracked down.) If we wait for the education department to get round to conducting surveys to draw up their plans precious time would have been wasted and another generation would be lost.

The making of a terrorist

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

ANOTHER terrorist plot, described as ‘home-grown’, has been unearthed in Canada, belying conventional theories about what breeds militancy.

Last week the police arrested three men in Ottawa and London (Ontario) accused of “taking part in a domestic terrorist plot and possessing plans and materials to create makeshift bombs”. The police are tight-lipped about the details saying that the matter is still under investigation. According to them the suspects had allegedly selected specific targets for attacks.

This is the fourth case of people being charged for terrorism in Canada after 9/11. The three men picked up last week were all professionals — an engineer, a doctor and an X-ray technician — and, from what neighbours had to say, well integrated in Canadian society.

The arrests caused quite a stir as they shook the public out of its complacency. Since the men charged were Muslim, a wave of concern ran through the 600,000-strong Muslim community which, as is inevitable, becomes apprehensive of a backlash on such occasions.

The question being asked is: ‘why’? That is a question that even we in Pakistan have been seeking to answer with reference to our own terrorists. In our case it is often said that the terrorists are desperate men resorting to extremism, who are impoverished and have nothing to lose when they indulge in acts of violence that cost them their lives.

Another factor is said to be the intense sense of injustice — denial of a decent livelihood, education and healthcare — that drives people to the edge to give vent to their anger and inflict vengeance randomly. Others speak of religious indoctrination by the fundamentalists.

This can’t, however, be said about the alleged terrorists arrested in Canada. All of them were born and educated in this country and enjoyed economic security and the advantages of living in a highly developed country with an integrated multicultural society where racism is hardly a problem.

It was Haroon Siddiqui, a veteran journalist writing for Toronto Star , who pointed out the connection between the “the wars we wage and the terrorist mayhem that they trigger there and here”. He links the rise of the home-grown, self-radicalised terrorists in Canada (and also the US and Britain) to the West’s attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq and the tendency to hold Islam responsible for this phenomenon.

This argument follows the same line advanced by many of our own analysts who insist that were the drone attacks in Fata to cease the suicide bombings would also halt. But we know that this may not be entirely true. Since militants — be they Pakistan’s or Canada’s — find the only outlet for their anger in acts of terrorism, they will discover other provocations to fuel their militancy when Nato pulls out its forces from Afghanistan.

True, wars are not good for the mental health of the people and create more problems than they solve, and it would certainly help if governments stopped taking recourse to them. But the militants would not disappear.

Conversely, one can ask why most people in similarly adverse conditions nursing anger against perceived injustices do not adopt the route of militancy. Why do many of them seek out more constructive avenues to drive home their point such as organising themselves into advocacy groups or becoming community activists rather than taking human lives? Why is only a minuscule minority radicalised?

A few years ago, the Pakistan Association of Mental Health held a seminar in Karachi debating the phenomenon of suicide bombing. There were some psychiatrists who believed that those who committed suicide bombings were people suffering from mental illness.

In the debate that has followed the disclosure of the alleged plots in Canada last week, one psychology researcher echoed a similar line of thinking when he said with reference to home-grown terrorists, “There seems to be a personality characteristic that predisposes people to radicalise — and that is sensation seeking.”

This seems to be a logical explanation. If the majority in similar circumstances is not radicalised it is because it does not have that abnormal trait. One may also add that some possessing a personality prone to radicalisation do not become militants because their circumstances do not encourage this tendency.

It is basically the age-old ‘nature versus nurture’ debate. We now know that it is a combination of personality and an atmosphere conducive to radicalisation that helps mould the terrorist psyche. In the West the Internet has facilitated such individuals for whom group activity is essential. They derive the sense of belonging needed to spur them into action from numerous websites promoting jihadi literature.

Now YouTube, which brings live images with sound to any computer user, provides the environment to radicalise an individual prone to extremism. The Internet also allows people to communicate on a global scale for strategy planning. Muslims have become vulnerable because all manner of militants ranging from the Taliban to the various lashkars in Pakistan and Afghanistan provide a ready training ground to would-be terrorists.

Such globalised facilities have not been available to extremists who are not fighting for an Islamic cause, whether it was Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Alfred Murrah Building in Oklahoma in 1995, or the gunman who recently went on a killing spree in Cumbria, England.

In a society like Canada, a person with exaggerated notions of self-aggrandisement stuck in a job that offers little satisfaction to his ego could turn to violence for the sake of sensationalism. In Pakistan a person with extremist traits might end up in a madressah environment where he receives military training or he might be a university student who is seduced by a religious party that radicalises him.

The need is to correct this aberration. Unfortunately, the media has not been very helpful. No one denies that the right to information is a basic human right and should not be suppressed. But reporting an event — even a horrific one like a suicide bombing or target killing — in a factual way is devoid of all interpretative (mostly speculative) frills is different from sensationalising it.