A quagmire of tyranny - By Soumaya Ghannoushi - Monday, January 31, 2011

Source : www.dawn.com

WE are witnessing the breakdown of the Arab state after decades of failure and mounting crises. The Arab political establishment has never looked weaker than it does today. It is either dying a protracted silent death, corroded from within, or collapsing in thunderous explosions.

Tunisia, which toppled its dictator through popular revolution two weeks ago, is by no means an exception. The symptoms are evident throughout the region, from the accelerating movement of protest in Egypt, Algeria and Jordan, or the increasing polarisation of Lebanon`s sectarian politics, to the near-collapse of the state in Yemen and the Sudan, and its complete disintegration in Somalia.

The postcolonial Arab state has always carried deficiency as part of its genetic make-up. It had emerged as a substitute for the complex network of local elites, tribal chieftains and religious groupings through which the imperial authorities had maintained their grip; and its mission was the regulation of the indigenous population. This system of indirect control over the region, which assumed its present shape in the aftermath of the first world war, specifically required a “state” that is capable of keeping the local populations under check and maintaining “stability” at home, but too weak to disrupt foreign influence or disturb the regional balance of powers.

The first generation of post-colonial Arab leaders, the likes of Egypt`s Nasser and Tunisia`s Bourguiba, had been able to soften the repressive nature of the Arab state by virtue of their personal charisma, and promises of progress. With their exit from the stage, and the entry of a new class of colourless autocrats and crude generals, the Arab state lost any cover of legitimacy, and became synonymous with violence and oppression.

Much of the turmoil plaguing the region today is traceable to its diseased political order. Its degeneration has wrought havoc on the social sphere too. It has led to weaker national identities, and to individuals reverting back to their narrower sectarian affiliations, sparking conflicts between Sunnis and Shias, Arabs and Kurds, Copts and Muslims. The result has been a growth in extremism, self-insulation, and what the French Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf calls “killer identities”.

Beyond the Arab state`s aura of physical might — embodied in its terrifying coercion apparatus — lurks a moral vulnerability and an abysmal dearth of popular allegiance. This paradox has been laid bare by protesters in Tunisia and is in the process of being exposed in Egypt today. These demonstrators are discovering the extreme frailty of the instruments of repression that have long crushed and suffocated them simultaneously, with the staggering power of their collective action on the street. The ousting of Tunisia`s tyrant after no more than a month of perpetual protests has handed millions of Arabs the magical key out of the prison of fear behind whose walls they have been incarcerated for decades.

Events in Tunisia, Egypt and — to a lesser extent — Algeria are harbingers of a change long impeded and postponed. Were it not for the international will to maintain the worn out status quo, what happened in Eastern Europe and the USSR in the late 1980s could have occurred in the Arab region too. Its decrepit autocrats were allowed to stagger on, shedding their old skins and riding on the wave of rampant economic liberalism, which benefited the narrow interests of ruling families and their associates alone, and thrust the rest into a bottomless pit of poverty and marginalisation.

Arab rulers have been able to steal over two decades of their societies` political life. Today they face the hour of truth: either radically transform the structure of authoritarian Arab rule, or depart for ever. The trouble is that an entity that has made coercion its raison d`etre and violence its sole means of survival has left itself no option but to sink deeper in the quagmire of tyranny.

— The Guardian, London

Unfit for public consumption? - By Hajrah Mumtaz - Monday, January 31, 2011

Source : www.dawn.com

OUR legislators are up in arms against television channels again. On Thursday, treasury and opposition MNAs found themselves in rare accord in parliament when they spoke angrily against private television channels.

They were upset because of the broadcast of material in dramas and advertisement that they felt was objectionable. The Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Samsam Bukhari, thundered that “language, subjects, obscenity and the vulgar scenes are all objectionable in most of the dramas and in advertisements of the cellular companies. What kind of message are they sending to the children as they give them temptation to talk all through the night offering certain packages.”

Other legislators nodded in agreement as he further pointed out the presence of what he referred to as ‘vulgar’ talk shows where parliament was disgraced and disrespect was shown towards parliamentarians.

One may sympathise with Mr Bukhari’s concerns, but little can be said about the matter other than the fact that free speech is not always sensible or intelligent speech. Much can and has been said about the problems of quality and content in Pakistani talk shows. That is up to the channels. But what parliamentarians can do about the problem is make sure they do little to draw the ire of hosts. That includes appearing to care about the disaster that Pakistan has become.

The concern about obscenity is more interesting. It is no new issue, and television is not the only medium to have been targeted. In the past, voices from parliament to the judiciary have been raised on the subject, and in Lahore the matter once went to the extent of dance being banned from the theatre stage.

The point, as always, remains that one man’s obscenity is another’s art — or in the case of advertisements, money. And while the influences on children, in whose hands the country will soon be, are an important matter, would they not be more badly affected by the other matters that have become everyday, such as terror attacks, public lynchings and the violence and frustration that have become the hallmarks of Pakistani society? I may not love much of what passes as entertainment in our local programming, but I certainly can’t blame them for trying to depict a world where free of care people flirt and talk to each other all night.

This issue ought to die already. The greater obscenity is the state of the country and we, the public, would be far more grateful if those who run the country turned their full attention to fixing that situation. Really, it’s having a very negative impact on the sensibilities of younger generations.

But the calls for bans are not without precedent, and neither are they exclusive to Pakistan. Neither is their ridiculousness. Earlier this month, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled that Dire Straits’ classic song ‘Money for Nothing’ be banned from the Canadian airwaves because it contained a word that was offensive to members of the gay community. The move came as a result of a complaint filed by a listener.

Many Canadians are not happy, and hundreds of letters of complaint against the ban have been filed. The song is, after all, one of established staples of rock. It was written and recorded a quarter of a century ago, and was a product of that time and that world.

Reality is a dirty place, and so is history. In my view, the effort to sanitise cultural fare to bring it in line with current sensibilities is not only an endless exercise but also a foolish one. There is no possibility of an entirely sanitised world. And, not only does such an exercise lead to unnecessary restrictions and a decreased number of choices for consumers, it also belittles their intelligence and ridicules their capacity for tolerance. Surely someone who finds a song or a book or whatever offensive can choose not to take an interest in it.

But that, it seems, is a wisdom that has not been learned. Take the example of Enid Blyton’s books, which also faced similar calls for sanitation. The golliwogs in them are, of course, racist. But unrestrained racism was a reality of the world when these books were written, and censoring them will not change that. True, new such material ought not be produced now, and in many places across the world there are laws to ensure this. But Blyton’s books are a product of their own times and ought to be left as such.

Similarly, as an example that such sanitisation is a path without an end, Blyton’s books can also be considered sexist. Remember how, almost across the board, the message they sent out was that girls were the carers and had to be looked after, while boys did things and made decisions? George of the Famous Five was interesting precisely because the character was conceived of and presented as such a curiosity. Will we one day hear calls to fix this aspect of the books too? And what will happen to The Taming of the Shrew, a misogynist piece of work if there ever was one?

The world is full of things that any community may potentially find offensive, once you start looking. In 2008, the UK government agency’s award panel turned down a digital version of the classic story of the three little pigs, warning that “the use of pigs raises cultural issues”. As the book’s creative director said at the time, rather than preventing the spread of racism, such an attitude was likely to inflame ill-feeling. “Does this mean that secondary schools cannot teach Animal Farm because it features pigs?” she asked.

But, given the world we live in, that is not outside the realm of imagination.

The writer is a member of staff.


Not a good precedent - By Khwaja Ahmad Hosain - Monday, January 31, 2011

Source : www.dawn.com

THE Judicial Commission has determined the fate of 34 additional judges of the Lahore High Court. Ten judges were relieved of their duties while 24 were granted an extension for one year. Not a single judge was confirmed.These individuals were appointed on the recommendation of the current chief justice of Pakistan. None of the individuals he recommended merited confirmation as a judge of the High Court. If you pick 34 individuals for a particular post and after more than one year it is determined that not even one of them is fit for that office on a permanent basis, some soul-searching is called for.

In Pakistan, problems with judicial appointments led to judicial attempts involving strained interpretation of constitutional language to remove discretion and political interference. The changes brought about by the 18th and 19th amendments are an attempt to improve and streamline the process. Whatever their other merits, these changes do not envisage a process of public scrutiny or transparency.

All proceedings of the Judicial Commission and Parliamentary Committee are to be held in camera. In the latest decision, no one knows why these additional judges have not been confirmed. There may be some logic to this secrecy. We may not yet be ready for open scrutiny of decisions pertaining to judicial appointments. It would not encourage the best and the brightest to make themselves available.

However, in extending the `additional` status of 24 judges, the Judicial Commission has set a bad precedent. An additional judge of the High Court has no security of tenure. Without security of tenure, there can be no meaningful independence. An additional judge holds office for a prescribed period of time (usually not exceeding a year) and if the tenure is not extended, the judge automatically ceases to hold office. If, during that year, the judge fails to please the members of the appointing authority, the appointment is not made permanent and he can be removed.

A permanent judge has security of tenure and, under the constitution, can only be removed by the Supreme Judicial Council. The fact that the appointing authority is now comprised mainly of judges does not detract from this point. All it means is that rather than looking over their shoulders to certain political masters, these judges have to look over their shoulders to their masters in the Judicial Commission. This is bad for their independence and undermines confidence in the bench.

The whole system of `additional judges` appointed for a limited period of time is undesirable. It strikes at the root of judicial independence. Either you are good enough to be a High Court judge or you are not. Additional judges and permanent judges deal with the same kind of cases. Both are dealing with critical matters impacting the lives of citizens.

There is no system or established precedent of assigning only unimportant or trivial cases to additional judges. If any additional judge is not confirmed, a litigant who has had a case unfavourably decided by such judge will have the grievance that his case was decided by an individual who did not merit the position of a High Court judge.

In its latest recommendation, the Judicial Commission has not only endorsed this discriminatory categorisation but extended it for a further period for 24 judges of the Lahore High Court.

These 24 individuals will continue to serve as High Court judges. They will deliver judgements. But they will do so under a shadow. Litigants and lawyers will speculate as to why they were not confirmed. Was there a question mark over their integrity or competence?

Obviously, there was some difficulty which led the Judicial Commission to decide that they did not merit confirmation at the moment. Maybe the Commission simply felt it needed more time. It seems we will never know, and neither will the affected individuals. The lack of knowledge leads to unhelpful and harmful speculation.

Under the constitution, the appointment of additional judges caters for unusual and exceptional situations, either when an unexpected vacancy arises or when a permanent judge is temporarily absent. This is stated in Article 197. The process of additional appointments was never meant to be used wholesale to fill normal judicial vacancies. However, an unfortunate precedent has been established in Pakistan that all appointments of High Court judges are initially appointed as additional judges. This practice has no constitutional basis and the only real reason for it was that the political appointing authority wanted to retain control over the individuals they appointed. It is a practice which needs to be revisited.

If the logic for all appointments being only temporary appointments to start with is that performance needs to be monitored for a period before confirmation, then this in itself is objectionable. There is no concept of a judicial probation period either under the constitution or in any other recognised system of judicial appointments. How can you entrust an individual with the powers and discretions of a High Court judge if he is under probation?

By failing to confirm 24 additional judges and granting them an extension for only one year, the Judicial Commission gives the impression that it is seeking to retain control for a further period of time over these individuals. It undermines the position of these additional judges and compromises confidence in the judicial process before benches comprised of these additional judges.

On the one hand, these individuals are clearly good enough to carry on as High Court judges — hence the extension. On the other hand, they are not good enough to be confirmed as permanent judges. This constitutes a mixed and confused message.

The writer is a barrister who practises in Lahore.

Useful instability - By Moeed Yusuf - Monday, January 31, 2011

Source : www.dawn.com

THE weakness of the Pakistani state continues to worry many, both within and outside Pakistan.There tends to be very little appetite, both among external benefactors and segments of the Pakistani civilian and military elite, for any form of instability believed to be affecting the state’s capacity to tackle militancy.

This includes prolonged or recurrent political crises, seeming indifference among the leadership towards weakening economic prospects, lack of political will to tackle militancy holistically, and absence of resolve to challenge the ultra-right sentiment that seems to be gaining at the expense of the moderates.

As we look to the future we cannot but help notice an inherent disconnect between this obsession with avoiding episodes that lead to uncertainty and chaos in the short term, and the desire to see a stable Pakistan in the long run. While the attributes that all well-wishers want the Pakistani state to exhibit are exactly the ones needed for sustained stability — consolidated democracy, robust economy, elimination of terrorist presence, a moderate polity that respects the rule of law, etc — the journey to this end cannot be completed without significantly high instability in the interim. In fact, attempts to avoid uncertainty and instability in the short term will undermine the end objective.

Let me project Pakistan’s most likely path to stability in two of the mentioned areas, politics and the economy, to substantiate my observation.

Politically, Pakistan is moving towards a phase where coalitions are likely to replace hegemonic parties. We are witnessing the beginnings of this trend today. Reinforcing it is the move towards a more decentralised Pakistan that will lend itself to more influence for regional and ethnic parties in years to come.

As coalition politics becomes the norm, it will bring with it all the messiness, uncertainty and superficiality inherent in it. Pakistan will see repeated political tensions: coalition partners will switch sides regularly to up the ante, oppositions will support the ruling alliance in times of distress and create hurdles on other occasions, smaller parties will piggyback on larger ones at times and oppose the same when they see fit, the military will try and meddle from behind the scenes to maintain its stakes in the new system, etc. The overall political landscape will see coalitions and governments form and break with relatively high frequency. The recent political crisis involving the ruling PPP-led coalition may have presented a glimpse of what is in store for us in the years ahead.

On the face of it, recurrence of political crises will be seen as counterproductive to the country’s long-term stability. In reality, however, it is only by going through repeated iterations of such politicking that the political elite may develop a spirit of cosociationalism: indigenous mechanisms that will allow them to co-exist, to bargain keeping the country’s long-term interests in mind even as they protect their own short-term gains, and ultimately to arrive at a consensus on certain national issues that they deem too important to hold hostage to political expediency. At this point, Pakistani politics will resemble that in India today. Individual politicians would not have changed (although some new, dynamic ones would have arrived on the scene), nor would their desire for short-term gains have disappeared. But they would have forged a grand, elite consensus around certain national interests they agree must not be undermined at any cost.

Economic decision-making is intrinsically linked to the state of politics in the country. One can expect populist decisions until the grand consensus emerges on points relevant to the economy. The RGST debate is a pertinent example. While being responsive to public sentiment against additional taxes, political parties never made an attempt to explain to their constituents that Pakistan has committed to an IMF package that compels it to impose such taxes. Nor did they offer any viable alternatives. The PPP, for its part, used the RGST as a bargaining tool to get the MQM back into the coalition.The international community is dismayed at the PPP’s backtracking on the issue and sees it as proof of the self-serving nature of Pakistani politicians. They are right. But why would anyone expect otherwise from a political class that has remained self-centred for the longest period of time, has found no incentive to break from patronage politics and has hardly ever found room or time to evolve into a more thoughtful and mature cohort? For them to do otherwise, they need to go through the iterative political process described above, with all its attendant messiness and uncertainty.

One could easily apply the same argument to questions about extremism and terrorism and virtually all others of consequence. But the point ought to be clear.

Let me then ask the ultimate question: will Pakistan find the space to go through an unstable and uncertain period of democratic consolidation and elite consensus-building? Or will its ‘special’ place in global politics deny it this luxury?Will the Pakistani military live with the messiness despite no guarantees of political and economic stability in a reasonable period of time? Will external actors with leverage over Islamabad continue to assist Pakistan even though elementary political and economic mistakes will be repeated for some time to come? Will Pakistan’s civil society or its business elite accept messiness that may at times seem to be thrusting the country towards chaos?

The current mindset suggests otherwise. More likely is a reality where well-meaning benefactors settle for short cuts: they may meddle in politics, choose favourites among politicians, opt for the neatness associated with a strong centre or a military-led or military-backed dispensation and prefer prudent macroeconomic decisions at all times even if these lack consensus.

The problem is that this will only bring temporary respite of a kind that will make the quest for long-term stability that much more difficult. The onus to avoid this lies on the very well-wishers who want Pakistan to be a stable, prosperous country, but presently lack the patience to let the process unfold.

The writer is South Asia advisor at the US Institute of Peace, Washington DC.

News unplugged - Sana Bucha - Monday, January 31, 2011

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

I have been in the journalism industry for the last 10 years, but am I a journalist? Can anyone deny that journalists have been used — often willingly — by dictators, democratic governments and the establishment. Each bit of news that we read in print or every current affairs programme that we watch could potentially be serving someone’s agenda.

Here’s an example. Currently, the Arab world is rocking. With revolt and protests. And the American media is going after the ‘real cause’: not the fruit seller who burnt himself alive, but the Arabic channel, Al-Jazeera. The number one channel in the Arab world understands the power of visuals. From the Tunisian fruit-seller burning to Ben Ali’s departure, it covered every protest, and carried each demonstration on-air. It almost turned the revolt in Tunisia to ‘Democracy in the Making.’ A noble cause indeed. But will Al-Jazeera now champion democracy in Qatar too? Maybe not. The rulers of Qatar fund them, and you don’t get on the wrong side of those who show you the money!

People rioting on streets is one thing; creating it into a real sensation is another. Al-Jazeera started endorsing the revolution in Tunisia with the wrong man – the leader of the Muslim brotherhood in Jordan. A group which claims that fundamental Islam is the key; and the armed forces are the only force capable of tackling chaos. Is this the kind of change newsmakers in Qatar have in mind? And Egypt has already been ‘Al Jazeera’d,’ so to speak. Even though the internet is down and phone lines are jammed, the channel continues to embarrass the US media with its detailed live stream coverage.

I don’t claim to know the solutions to the problems of the Arab world. However, when it comes closer to home, I’m getting sensitive. Media gurus in Pakistan are ranting on about the Tunisian change and almost encouraging, if not pushing for the same in our country.

Objective journalism is a myth today. Its whose line you tow that sets the course of this nation. And what a variety of tow-ers we have to choose from – screaming shouting women (not recommended for the faint hearted) to smirky men, to wannabe intellectuals to serious faced, read: seriously paid middle aged men who have tons of ‘experience’ to make up for lack of credibility! One anchor on a particular news channel decided to discuss the judiciary’s role in helping curb corruption. The recent casualty, Moonis Elahi was the topic of discussion. The anchor, forgetting the fact that this case is subjudice and any prediction could be counter-productive, proceeded to talk about his personal experience with Elahi. “He doesn’t appear to be a crook,” he said. Gut feeling takes precedence over facts.

I don’t want to dwell on how the media behaved after Salman Taseer’s assassination but what needs to be reiterated is that, by and large, most newsmakers in Pakistan push a right-wing agenda. Some journalists didn’t stop with the sad demise of Taseer, they continued to wage the holy war after his murder. A few even made the intentional or unintentional mistake of fabricating a story that Taseer and his daughter were pro-Ahmadi in order to stir sentiments. These are the same ‘journalists’ who think the 2005 earthquake was a result of excessive immoral voices reverberating from northern Pakistan. This is the same bunch of people who find it hard to take sides when a suicide bomber blows up in a shopping centre, a five star hotel or even a mosque. You might think that these journalists are people you would never listen to or agree with. But you could surprise yourself. These are your mainstream media gurus, spinning and spewing such facts in the middle of their “unbiased” analysis.

Journalists, senior anchors along with their ‘religious’ scholars and columnists rant on about how our society has been plagued by immorality. One believes the only reason we haven’t been able to develop as a nation is because our Prime Minister’s wife does not cover her head. The comparison was made in reference to the wife of Turkish Prime Minister who does wear a scarf.

Turkey has developed and prospered because of a piece of fabric?! Another reasonably ‘liberal’ host on a mainstream news channel decided to become the judge of Pakistani actress Veena Malik’s character. While he played god, Ms. Malik sat on his show sticking up for herself against a cleric who was convinced of her shady character as he was about her beauty.

There are others who want to take up the issues of the common man. When some anchorpersons adorning expensive clothing and flashy jewellery talk about the scarcity of sugar, it’s cloying enough to give me cavities! And when other ‘responsible’ ones drone on endlessly about the governments corruption figures, you marvel at their math but wonder why they don’t raise questions regarding the impartiality of the judiciary or the role of the army?

We are not just held captive by ‘closet talibans’ or the pro-establishment conservatives – the so called ‘liberal fascists’ also hold us hostage. An English daily went to the extent of publishing a false story about a Fatwa being issued against a certain MNA by a popular mosque’s cleric in Karachi. They want justice for Taseer but at the cost of getting another individual targeted was not such a good idea – especially since the fatwa was never issued. Another advocate of freedom of expression - a Pakistan based media blog – went ahead and published another false fatwa by a Mufti who declared not just Mumtaz Qadri but leading journalists, clerics, lawyers and politicians who hailed Taseer’s assasination “Mufsideen fil arz”. The perpetrators he declared should be punished as provided in Surah Maida – i.e. execution or crucifixion or the cutting-off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile, or, as a last resort, hell.

But as with everything else the sorry state of journalism also has its saviours. Between the liberal vs. right wing divide exist well-intentioned moderates. The problem, however, is to find the right balance. But even these journalists don’t know which route to take. Pakistan is one of the worst countries for journalists - and the fear does not just emanate from its ‘troubled’ areas and extremists - one also needs to be weary of the state and non state actors operating within.

A clash in thinking or a different perspective from them and you could lose your life. Wali Khan Babar is a glaring example.

I cannot vouch for much except my own intentions but I get confused too. Should I do the easy thing? Bashing the government, calling for a Tunisia-like revolution or should I reason with myself. Yes, Pakistan has seen a man torch himself in close proximity of the Presidency and yes, we have the unhappy fruit peddlers too. But we are a democracy, not a police state. The people of Pakistan decided our fate, contrary to common belief, not the West.

We, as members of the powerful media, should hail the principles of free expression. People need to get real news, not what is fed to them. And candid debates about real issues, not propaganda. If the way to liberation goes through television networks, we must choose wisely. Instead of becoming loyal subjects, let’s focus on becoming citizens. The last call is yours. Vote with your remote!

The writer works for Geo TV

Sana Bucha’s column will henceforth appear on every alternate Sunday

Let’s not be cynics - Hussain H Zaidi - Monday, January 31, 2011

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

Faced with public criticism, the prime minister has referred to parliament the matter of building new lodges in the capital for the parliamentarians. The project, which will cost the public exchequer a pretty penny to the tune of Rs3 billion, comprehends construction of scores of luxury family suits and hundreds of servant quarters, as well as gymnasiums, departmental stores and lounges – a sort of parliamentarians’ city. Let’s hope and pray our parliament sees reason and the project doesn’t turn out to be a dead duck.

Of all the people, parliamentarians deserve to have new and luxurious abodes for them, in keeping with the high and exalted place that they occupy in society and in acknowledgement of the glorious and meritorious services that they are rendering for the nation.

On top of that, the parliamentarians’ city will be all grist to the mill for the country. To begin with, it will make for stronger democracy. We know both houses of parliament meet regularly for several days on end and the members have to come from all over the country to attend the sessions. If the lawmakers are not provided with suitable lodging arrangements and access to auxiliary services, it will be difficult for them to apply their mind to public problems. In consequence, they may under-perform and not prove equal to the gigantic tasks they are entrusted with. If, God forbid, the parliamentarians fail, the public faith in the democratic process will be shattered and the prospects for democracy will remain fragile.

In the second place, as the lodges will be built for the lawmakers independent of their party affiliations, the completion of the parliamentarians’ city will shore up support for the government’s policy of reconciliation. In all fairness, the criticism of the project would have been justified if the lodges to be built were meant only for the ruling party members. But this is not the case, and no political party of note will be able to point a finger at the parliamentarians’ city on the ground that its members have been left out. Needless to mention, our survival and salvation consists in following the policy of reconciliation, in agreeing to let bygones be bygones and in casting off from our collective psyche the tales of massive loot and plunder by the high and mighty, lest the democratic process may be derailed.

Contrary to the widespread view, the building of parliamentarians’ lodges will inflate rather than deflate the economy. In the course of the completion of the project, thousands of workers will be hired and a large quantity of raw materials, finished goods and equipment purchased. This will generate employment opportunities and demand in construction-related industries, which in turn will drive up the level of investment in times of economic slump. Here is an excellent solution to the macroeconomic problems of the country.

But if the project is of such enormous advantage in terms political as well as economic, why is it giving rise to so much criticism? The reason is to be found in our deteriorating national psyche. By and by, we have degenerated into cynics and take a dim view of good works and ideas, on this point or that. We have also become highly thankless and conveniently fail to acknowledge, let alone repay, the debt that we owe our benefactors, especially when it comes to the political leadership. These remarkable people work day in, day out for our betterment, and we have the temerity to oppose construction of scores of lodges for them, which will ultimately be to our own benefit. We, the incorrigible lot!

We are also wont to making wrong comparisons. A case in point is the argument that in a country where a large section of the population is homeless and shelterless, building luxurious apartments for a handful of the elite is like rubbing salt into the wound of the ordinary people. Is there a single provision in any law of the land which prohibits building lodges for the parliamentarians for the reason that millions of people who they represent are homeless? Besides, the comparison between the commoners and the elite, the poor and the wealthy will take us nowhere.

In the society we live, everyday a large number of people starve; should the parliamentarians also remain hungry? The poor folk are forced to sell their children to barely survive, should the rich politicians also do the same? A vast majority of people lack access to health, education and safe drinking water, should our law makers also stop sending their scions to high-ranking schools and colleges and start drinking impure water? In a word, the fact that poverty and misery are endemic in the country constitutes no reason that the affluent and fortunate few shouldn’t enjoy themselves.

No, it doesn’t make sense to compare the commoners with the elite.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: hussainhzaidi@gmail. com

A date to remember - Asif Ezdi - Monday, January 31, 2011

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

Two weeks ago, India observed the 250th anniversary of the Third Battle of Panipat. The bloody encounter that took place on 14 January 1761 on India’s most famous battlefield in which Afghans under Ahmad Shah Abdali and their local Muslim allies crushingly defeated the Maratha army. At Panipat, in Puna, and elsewhere in Maharashtra and the rest of India, several events were organised to remember the day and eulogise the Maratha soldiers for their heroic deeds against the foreign invader. Their present-day progeny, among them an Indian Minister of State who is a scion of the Sindia family of Gwalior, were also honoured and shared in the reflected glory of their valiant forebears. A massive monument costing the equivalent of $60 million has been proposed to be set up at the site of the battle.

Displays of patriotic fervour and chest-thumping on such occasions are par for the course all over the world. But in India they are also inevitably used as opportunities for Pakistan-baiting. So there was plenty of finger-wagging at Pakistan during the Panipat anniversary. There were calls to draw inspiration from the battle of Panipat in facing the current enemies of the nation. Gallantry awards named after Maratha heroes of Panipat were handed out to Indian soldiers who took part in military action in Kargil and those who fought against “terrorists” in Kashmir.

There were also some attempts to rewrite history. According to the representative of the Bhonsale clan, one of the five which made up the old Maratha confederacy, the Marathas did not lose the battle as is commonly believed. Instead, they made a strategic withdrawal to save the lives of women and children who were accompanying the Maratha army. This “strategic retreat” was certainly one of the costliest such manoeuvres in military history. According to Bhonsale, nearly 150,000 Marathas were slaughtered in just nine hours on that fateful day. Most estimates put the number of those killed on the Maratha side at about 200,000.

Before the battle, the Marathas had been at the zenith of their power. Their dominions extended over large parts of central India and they were a formidable military power in the north. After the sack of Delhi by Ahmad Shah Abdali (1757), the wazir at the Mughal court had called in the Marathas to restore his authority. From Delhi, the Marathas pushed into the Punjab. The capture of Lahore in April 1758 was followed by the occupation of the whole of Punjab.

In Lahore as in Delhi, the Marathas were now major players. The Puna court began to dream of extending their rule up to Kandahar. The Peshwa talked of ‘leaping over the walls of Attock.’

Since the Marathas saw themselves as representing the resurgent power of the Hindus, the Muslims became alarmed at the advance of Maratha power. Some Muslim rulers wrote to Ahmad Shah Abdali and asked him to save the Muslims from the depredations of the Marathas. Shah Waliullah, the greatest Muslim scholar of his age in India, appealed to Ahmad Shah “to earn the glory of waging a holy war and rescue the Muslims from the hands of unbelievers.” He also urged that “this undertaking should not resemble the invasion of Nadir Shah who destroyed the Muslims and left the Marathas and the [Hindu] Jats intact.”

Ahmad Shah was also eager to recover Punjab, which he had held for some time and which was now in Maratha hands. He had the support of fellow Afghans settled in India like the Rohillas. Shuja-ud-Daulah, the nawab of Awadh, was also won over. In the autumn of 1759, Ahmad Shah invaded India for the fifth time. The Peshwa sent his cousin, Sadashiv Rao, with a formidable force, the largest ever assembled by the Marathas. Besides a large train of artillery, it included a well-ordered cavalry and a disciplined infantry under the command of Ibrahim Gardi, a Muslim general from Deccan who had been trained under the French general Bussy.

Following 18 months of moves and counter-moves, the two armies faced each other at Panipat. For two months, the two sides watched each other. Famine soon began to make itself felt but Ahmad Shah refused to force action because the Maratha army was superior in numbers and equipment. Some of Abdali’s Rohilla allies urged him to make peace but he refused.

At last, driven by hunger, the Marathas on 14 January 1761 threw themselves upon the Afghan army. For a time it seemed that they had triumphed. The Rohillas suffered heavily. Ahmad Shah then ordered up his reserve cavalry. It turned the tide. The Marathas gave way. Their commander and the Peshwa’s son and heir were killed. An awful butchery followed. The Peshwa himself died a few months later, supposedly of a broken heart.

Yet, although the Muslim armies won a resounding military victory at Panipat, it did little to arrest the decline of Muslim political power in India. Ahmad Shah’s soldiers mutinied for their arrears of pay and compelled him to retire to Afghanistan. After this, he and his successors never again got further than Lahore and Punjab gradually slipped from their grasp.

Shuja-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Awadh, who had nominally been on the side of Abdali, had taken no active part in the battle. He had the Mughal emperor Shah Alam under his wings. Less than four years later, Shuja-ud-Daulah was defeated by the British at Baksar (1764) and became a vassal of the East India Company, while the Moghul emperor became their pensioner.

The Marathas never again attempted to control Punjab. But within 10 years they were back in Delhi, acting as the guardians of the Mughal emperor Shah Alam whom they escorted from Allahabad to Delhi in 1771. In 1785 Shah Alam invited Mahadji Sindia to Delhi and legalised his position with the title of deputy vakil-i-mutlaq or regent of the Empire. With the blinding of Shah Alam in 1788 by a half-mad adventurer, he became a pensioner of Sindia and the Mughal kingdom virtually became a Maratha province.

At Panipat, the two main contenders for power in North India, the Afghans and the Marathas, neutralised each other mutually. The main beneficiaries were two parties who took no part in the battle: the British and the Sikhs. The British had just defeated the French and were destined to become masters of the whole of India, while the ground had been prepared for the Sikhs to gradually take control of Punjab and present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa until their own defeat by the British.

The Sikh ascendancy in Punjab was to a large extent made possible by the loosening of authority which resulted from the invasions of Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali. After the capture in 1715 of Banda, the “false guru”, by Abdul Samad Khan, the Mughal governor of Lahore, the Sikh armed bands were forced to seek refuge in the foothills of the Himalayas. Little was heard of them in the plains until Nadir Shah’s march to Delhi in 1738-39. From 1948 to 1769 Abdali invaded India nine times, mainly to claim tribute from the local rulers. Punjab bore the brunt of these invasions. This destroyed the Mughal administration of the province, creating a political vacuum in which the Sikhs emerged as the masters of Punjab. From Punjab, Ranjit Singh later conquered Multan and Peshawar as well. Some Sikh historians are therefore of the view that the real victors of Panipat were the Sikhs, and that Abdali, though their bitter foe, unknowingly turned out to be their greatest benefactor.

Such were the long-term consequences of the Third Battle of Panipat. It is as much a part of our history as that of India. But it is a sad reflection that an educated Pakistani today is more likely to be familiar with Napoleon’s campaign to Moscow than with what was one of the bloodiest and most momentous battles of our own history. It is therefore no wonder that the 250th anniversary of Panipat passed unnoticed in the country.

The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Email: asifezdi@yahoo.com

COMMENT: A revolutionary upsurge in the Middle East — I —S P Seth - Monday, January 31, 2011

Source : www.dailytimes.com

In Tunisia, the army that should have been the bedrock of Ben Ali’s dictatorship decided to stand aside, refusing to slaughter civilians to save his political hide, leaving him no choice but to find asylum with another kindred dictatorship in Saudi Arabia

Tunisia is becoming a byword for hopeful resurgence in Arab countries. Who would have thought that Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, its president, who had mastered ruling by dictate for 23 years, would just fall by the way in a matter of days? Not only that the people’s power brought him down, they do not want any vestige of his regime. They want them all to go lock, stock and barrel and start the new era with a clean slate. The country is in the midst of great anticipation and expectation from a new order that has still to arise.

However, the developments in Tunisia have created a new wave of people’s power sweeping or threatening to sweep much of the Middle East. In a sense, the Arab world is experiencing a surge of revolutionary expectations. In other words, it is not just a national movement affecting Tunisia, but has regional ramifications.

But let us put all this in the context of the recent Arab history. In the post-colonial period around the 1950s, there have been tumultuous events in some of the Arab countries, the most important, perhaps, was the overthrow of Egypt’s King Farouk in 1952 led by a group of army officers under the nominal leadership of Brigadier Mohammed Naguib. The real leader behind the putsch was Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, who managed to depose Naguib in 1954.

Nasser was not only the new hope of Egypt but also the trailblazer for Arab nationalism. It looked like the days of Arab monarchies were almost over; such was the political environment of the time. And this period also saw increasing hostility toward the newly created state of Israel that had annexed more territory to its domain following the defeat of Arab forces in the late 1940s.

But what created a wave of Arab anger (and in much of the world) was the joint invasion of Egypt by Anglo-French-Israeli forces in 1956 to undo the nationalisation of the Suez Canal by the country’s Nasser-led government. Nasser became an instant Arab hero with his determination to stand his ground against, what looked like, insurmountable odds of facing three powerful enemies.

Nasser was unwittingly helped by the US because it came out against the joint attack, forcing the aggressors to withdraw. US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was enraged that the UK, France and Israel had the audacity to undertake the invasion without the knowledge or approval of the US, still harbouring dreams of their colonial days. The US was now the undisputed leader of the ‘free world’ as the Cold War started to hot up between the Soviet Union and the US and its allies.

The Suez Canal saga, with Nasser leading the charge of Arab nationalism, emerged as a unifying force of sorts in a region that had not seen anything like this before. Such a surge of popular enthusiasm scared the daylights out of the region’s monarchs. At the same time, Nasser’s Egypt got sucked into the Cold War, having to depend more and more on the Soviet Union for economic and arms aid as it was not forthcoming from the US.

Arab nationalism was also perceived as a serious threat to the US oil interests concentrated in the oil producing countries ruled by kings and the like. In the same way, the US commitment to Israel started to become more pronounced as the US’s most reliable ally in the region, beefed up by the work of the US Jewish lobby in the US.

Even as this surge of Arab nationalism was worrying the US, Nasser was feeling increasingly confident riding a wave of popular support after his success in nationalising the Suez Canal and the humiliation of its attackers. And in his rallying cry for Arab solidarity, Israel increasingly appeared as the next challenge to restore Arab pride.

Nasser was a great Arab leader but also a demagogue. His 1956 success had given him a false sense of confidence, hoping that such feats can be replicated again without the necessary military preparations to take on the Israelis. The resultant six-day war in 1967, with Israel launching a surprise attack, finished off the Egyptian air force as it lay exposed on the ground. As part of the then rising Arab nationalism, Jordan and Syria were Egypt’s military partners. They all suffered humiliating defeats, with Israel occupying large chunks of their territories and creating the new issue of occupied Palestine.

The six-day war put to rest, for the time being at least, the surge of Arab nationalism triggered by the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. Israel emerged from this a much stronger power than it ever was, and its support base in the US expanded, further embellishing its credentials as the US’s most reliable and strongest ally in an unstable region.

By the same token, the region’s reining monarchs got a new lease of life with the US as their protector. Another attempt at rescuing the Arab pride also failed disastrously in the Yom Kippur war of 1973, with the Arab forces once again suffering a humiliating defeat, which finally convinced some of them, like Egypt and Jordan, to make peace with Israel.

The Arab world has been in the doldrums ever since, ruled by aging kings and despots clinging to power at any cost. During such times, the events in Tunisia have an entirely new meaning. Although it is still early days, the collapse of the first Arab dictator under popular revolt is the first of its kind in the Arab world for as long as one can remember. And the message is uplifting for all Arabs. It also shows how thin and frayed are the threads that tie together the different arms of every repressive regime. They tend to buckle under when enough popular pressure is applied.

For instance, in Tunisia, the army that should have been the bedrock of Ben Ali’s dictatorship decided to stand aside, refusing to slaughter civilians to save his political hide, leaving him no choice but to find asylum with another kindred dictatorship in Saudi Arabia.

Egypt, Yemen and Algeria are also under pressure, with popular demonstrations seeking the removal of their rulers. After Tunisia, Egypt appears to be the next domino to fall. Its dictator, Hosni Mubarak — now 82 — has been in power for 30 years, and reportedly has plans to engineer his son’s succession. His government seems determined to tough it out, even if it means killing its own people. Imagine the prospect of another scion of the Hosni Mubarak lineage ruling over Egypt for another 30 years.

(To be continued)

The writer is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia. He can be reached at sushilpseth@yahoo.com.au

VIEW: First Tunisia, now Egypt? —Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain - Monday, January 31, 2011

Source : www.dailytimes.com

Non-representative governments that deny political oppositions a chance to develop inevitably foster the rise of religious fundamentalism. The mosque becomes the centre of the only organised opposition and this stimulates growth of Islamist ideologues

Whenever I think of autocrats who style themselves as ‘presidents for life’, I am reminded of an old joke. Bad enough that half of all marriages end in divorce, but then the other half end in death! Something similar is probably true of dictators. After years of ‘mistreatment’, many are finally ‘divorced’ by their ‘subjects’ and the rest eventually die in office.

Looking at what happened in Tunisia and is now happening in Egypt, one thing stands out that Africa is home to some of the longest ruling autocrats and dictators. Ben Ali of Tunisia had been around for more than a quarter of a century and Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt for close to 30 years. There are of course the two that have been around almost forever, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. The latter came pretty close to being ousted after recent elections but is still clinging on to power and will probably die in office. As far as Gaddafi is concerned, Allah knows best.

It would seem to me that like medicines, leaders and dictators should also come with an expiry date and instructions saying ‘do not use after’ such and such time. Both Ben Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt played an important role early on as rulers of their respective countries but eventually outlived their usefulness. In time all such autocrats develop a notion that only they can save their country from chaos and ruination. Sycophants that surround them and family members and supporters that feed at the trough of public largesse in their name encourage this exalted sense of self-importance.

If allowed to wield unlimited power, even the most devoted public ‘servant’ is eventually corrupted. Lord Acton’s famous observation that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” comes into play in almost all cases. More importantly, aging autocrats start depending upon political repression and development of a personality cult to perpetuate their rule and in doing so create a web of nepotism and corruption that makes them increasingly unpopular among ordinary citizens. Most of them also aggressively suppress all political opposition.

Continued repression of political opposition creates a political vacuum that is eventually filled after the ouster of the ruling autocrat by any relatively organised group that can swing things its way. In Pakistan the agitation against Ayub Khan in 1968 led to another martial law and the eventual dismemberment of the country. The agitation against Bhutto a decade later did not bring his political opponents to power but gave us the horrible years of Ziaul Haq. In Iran the revolution against the Shah was eventually hijacked by the mullahs.

In the age of the internet, opposition to dictators is now often generated through social networking sites populated by relatively anonymous citizens of the World Wide Web rather than by organised political parties. This creates a conundrum. At least when it is political parties, however weak and disorganised, that initiate opposition to an autocratic rule, the people have some idea of what to expect after the leader is finally ousted. But as the lessons of the past suggest, most spontaneous ‘revolutions’ starting with the French revolution onwards arguably end in something worse rather than something better.

Democracy, however much reviled in many developing countries, especially in the dictatorship-prone Muslim world, is the ultimate antidote to autocracy as well as chaos that results after the ouster of an autocrat who has been around too long. The internet has brought democracy to a new level. As long as a country and its citizens have access to the internet, autocrats are no longer able to manipulate public opinion as they could in the past. International electronic media also is now impossible to suppress. The role of TV, especially of a network like Al Jazeera, has proved particularly important in informing the Egyptian people about the progress of the popular movement against Mubarak.

Autocracies and personal dictatorship all over the world are now being shaken and sometimes toppled by restive populations that have access to the internet and the electronic media. In this there is an object lesson for the inherited monarchies as well as the last remaining dictatorships of the Middle East. As the people in these countries get educated and have greater access to modern communications and electronic media, the autocratic systems of government will be at increased risk. Benevolent dictatorships as well as benevolent monarchies are anachronisms and are unlikely to last for much longer.

One of the bugaboos always trotted out by Muslim autocrats and hereditary monarchs to defend their rule is that only they can hold ‘Islamism’ at bay and once they go the ‘extremists’ will take over. The truth is exactly the opposite. Non-representative governments that deny political oppositions a chance to develop inevitably foster the rise of religious fundamentalism. The mosque becomes the centre of the only organised opposition and this stimulates growth of Islamist ideologues. Moreover, the cynical support offered by many Muslim autocrats to Islamist parties at the expense of relatively secular opposition inevitably sets the stage for a theocratic resurgence.

As I watch what is happening in Egypt, I am once again convinced that indeed the ‘worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship’. Those of us in Pakistan who continuously moan and groan about our present democratic set-up are well advised to remember that we at least have the choice to ‘throw the bums out’ in a couple of years. And that also without having to come out into the streets and being forced to consume teargas and face baton charges, rubber bullets or water cannons.

I will take a constitutionally elected Zardari, warts and all, any time over the likes of Hosni Mubarak or Muammar Gaddafi. I know that Zardari must be re-elected in a couple of years or else he will be history and that sounds quite reassuring.

The writer has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at smhmbbs70@yahoo.com

COMMENT: Where is our Martin Luther King? —Shahzad Chaudhry - Monday, January 31, 2011

The rich and poor divide, which could be normative in most South Asian countries, attains a dastardly touch to it when hope takes leave of the people. We in Pakistan are victims of this great tragedy

In my article, ‘Pakistan’s strategic roadmap’ (January 17, 2011) on these pages, I had suggested that terrorism and its various manifestations, including extremism and militancy, the economy, Pakistan’s stance on the Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), and societal dissent in the aftermath of Salmaan Taseer’s murder, will impose themselves as Pakistan’s compulsive strategic agenda in the near-term. A failure or success in treating each of these at their respective levels of existence will determine to a very large extent the Pakistan that we might have after these processes have played themselves out. Except for the nuclear-related FMCT pressures that Pakistan is likely to face with increasing persistence, the remaining three have common roots.

The antithesis of life is absence of hope. The Urdu word for it is even more encompassing, mayoosi. Where all has the Pakistani nation lost hope? In its leadership? In its effort to survive in both a physical and economic sense? In hoping for hope — the biggest killer? That is what societies are meant to do — keep hope alive, in the famous words of Martin Luther King. People agree to live together in an accepted arrangement of rights and duties — the most fundamental charter of human existence, because they gain assurance on their right to life, food and survival. They also accept responsibilities: to choose leadership, to follow the law that those leaders will make as an enjoined responsibility, and to contribute to the health of society in making it sustainable and resilient.

The more modern equivalent of the fundamental human charter is an individual’s right to opportunity enabled by the leadership structure to better himself with equal stakes in all facets that will constitute progress in a society. Societies in turn progress on the back of sound economies, freedom to think and create, equal opportunity to education, sciences and arts, and the right to associate with freedom with social and cultural activities. Societies need progress for its members to keep their hope in the system that they are a part of. When that does not happen and societies regress, all aspirations of hope for the better evaporate. Not only that such a society crumbles, it takes along with it the refuge and shelter, both psychological and material, that societies offer to their members. There is not a bigger dampener of hope.

Not all societies, or nations in their political manifestation, can grow exceptionally well all the time. Difficulties abound. That is the nature of the modern nation-state and the conflicts that it will need to navigate through in a competitive world. But nations are seen to be fighting, inching forward in the face of great adversity — howsoever slowly — but inch forward, not regress. Nation-states will endeavour to recover and recoup through a collective mindset of tenacity and belief in their ability to overcome. Churchill as a leader stood apart among leaders of his time when in a thoroughly bombed London, he stood amidst the ruins and waste of his beloved London and declared that England was not out. Its courts function and the nation will stand forth against any test to defeat the enemy. Londoners gathered themselves behind their leader and put forth the stout defence that characterises the English will in adversity. England ultimately prevailed.

The seclusion that African Americans faced in the US, more so in the South, is a dark chapter in the world’s history. They were treated poorly, they were perpetually poor, and had a worse social recognition than domesticated pets. Yet, they hauled weight, pulled chores, and served their masters, because one man, Martin Luther King spoke to them and weighed in with them for their cause. They believed in him when he promised them ‘a city on the hill’ that will soon be theirs. They believed in him when he asked them to just keep with him and trudge along despite the arduousness of their daily lives, and he will deliver them from the yoke of the white master’s tyranny. His message to them at all times was ‘to keep hope alive’, for he knew as long as hope sustained he had their collective strength to turn their lives around. Hope sustained and African Americans kept their hopes in Martin Luther King’s ability to provide them their share of justice, peace and opportunity from life and from society. Martin Luther King kept his people out of despair and moved the cycle of time forward for his people. He may have died early but he had formed the critical mass, which subsequently could not be stopped. African Americans got their rights and today can proudly boast of owning the White House.

How does the situation in Pakistan compare? Pakistan has been in difficult conditions, politically and economically. It is staying afloat with handouts from multi-national donors and is mired in a most intractable societal conflict deciding its future. In a stagnated economy, hope tends to evaporate. What may have been only 30 percent of Pakistan below the nominal $ 2 a day poverty datum a couple of years back by some accounts is now at 51 percent according to a recent Oxford survey. At less than $ 2 a day, 75 percent of Pakistanis survive on mere subsistence. In such situations even faith cannot sustain. Or, faith used to exploit tends to wrangle the right to life away from the impoverished. So if we were to only revisit two of the strategic challenges, extremism leading to militancy, which morphs into terrorism, and the societal divide it creates, the largest gaping gash today in society. The rich and poor divide, which could be normative in most South Asian countries, attains a dastardly touch to it when hope takes leave of the people. We in Pakistan are victims of this great tragedy.

Are we as bad as bombed out Londoners, or the Blacks of America? Perhaps not. But the rot is setting in fast. At such times the need is for a Churchill or a Martin Luther who could just shout out to his fellow countrymen to ‘keep hope alive’, for across on the other side of the hill lies in Reagan’s words, ‘a city upon the hill’. Leaders are not meant to manage alone — that systems do — they only ensure fulfilling their enjoined responsibility to provide an enabling environment to their followers to seek from among the common resource of opportunity and empowerment their due right to life, progress and prosperity. Sometimes it is only the hope that if not today, tomorrow will be a better day. But if tomorrow is destined to be worse, the ranks of those who walk across the divide are bolstered and societies decay.

The mother of Pakistan’s ailments is its impoverished economy for which none but the leaders of the day will bear the cross. Just across the border, in India, the poverty figures are equally dismal, somewhere in the 40s percentage points, but what keeps the poor labouring is that great story of how India has revamped itself into an economic powerhouse. They surely hope, if not them their children will soon have a better life. That keeps society more or less integrated. With hope and pride, adversity can be conquered. But where are our Churchills and Martin Luthers?

The writer is a retired air vice marshal and a former ambassador

Smokers’ Corner: Bananas - Nadeem F. Paracha - Sunday, January 30, 2011

Source : www.dawn.com

For long, many Pakistanis have wondered just how do certain Pakistani media men and religious leaders who have turned the obsessive act of badmouthing the US, Jews and liberals into a robust cottage industry, manage to travel so frequently to the US. Well, it seems the days of curiosity in this respect may be coming to an end. According to a front-page story in Dawn last Friday, four US Congressmen have asked Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, to refuse visas to those Pakistanis who are on record praising the killer of former Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer.

There are reports that the US government is now seriously contemplating refusing visas to a number of Pakistani media personnel, lawyers and religious leaders who have been reported to have condoned the ghastly murder. These also include TV and print journalists and religious leaders who travel regularly to the US (and Europe). Most Pakistanis who were shocked by the jubilant reactions of certain people at Taseer’s assassination have squarely hailed the report of a possible US visa ban on these men and women.

This hailing has nothing to do with some Pakistanis’ resentment of not being able to visit Disneyland the way all these so-called anti-West media folks, lawyers, politicians or religious leaders have been doing for many years. Instead, the welcoming gesture by them is more about the rather concrete perception that surrounds the ways of these obsessive anti-US charlatans in which they are seen as spreading political and religious hatred and arousing populist political chaos under the cover of being gung-ho patriots and people of faith who are out to warn the Islamic republic of the nefarious designs of Americans, Jews and Hindus.

But, of course, unknown to most Pakistanis is the startling fact that many such fiery journalists and men/women of faith are regular visitors to the US and European countries. Also, for long, a number of Pakistan’s staunch anti-West defenders of the faith and sovereignty have had close relatives, children and siblings settled in various western countries, while they urge Pakistanis to rise against ‘US slavery’ and to ‘crush America.’

The question always was, for how long could Pakistanis go on loudly supporting the rising and now almost entirely knee-jerk and rhetorical tide of anti-Americanism while at the same time be the first to join the long queues seen outside American and European visa offices? It is a bizarre sight, but come to think of it, the bizarre, especially in matters of faith and ideology, has certainly become the norm in this country.

We are quick to use terms like munafiq (hypocrite) for others, but we conveniently refuse to see that each one of us has become a raving, ranting hypocrite — a double-faced act that we then explain away as a reaction against corruption and ‘US imperialism.’ It’s a vicious cycle that denies us the patience and logic to reflect upon our own doings instead of always being on the look out for ‘bad Muslims’, ‘heretics’, foreign agents and media-made punching bags to blame our economic miseries, political chaos and moral confusion on. Worse are those who do so simply to bag cheap and instant applause from morally and intellectually bankrupt sections of society, or from a populace frustrated by living under the booming hammer of economic downturns, wobbly regimes and terrorist attacks. So much change (in the mindset and not just faces) has to be allowed and worked for if this unfortunate country is ever to finally take that turn towards some sort of salvation. And mind you, like it or not, this turn may also mean us having to embrace certain economic, social and political ideas and policies which, today, we are mindlessly rejecting as being western, Orientalist, secular or liberal.

I just cannot understand why so many Pakistanis clamp up when anyone suggests such ideas as solutions in Pakistan, whereas the same Pakistanis are okay living among these same ideas in western countries. But then, are they, really? For example, forget about nuts like Faisal Shahzad or prying puritans like Farhat Hashmi — their topsy-turvy ways are all too obvious — what about those Pakistanis who keep posting hate comments and speeches on the internet from various US cities? How did they get the US visa?

Over the top - Masood Hasan - Sunday, January 30, 2011

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

It’s sheer madness these days to question what is wrong with us. In the days when the Zionists were lambasting the Egyptian forces in the Suez, an Arab friend of mine organised a fun fair to collect money for the war effort. When I arrived at the venue I asked him, ‘Abdul, why the long face buddy? What’s wrong with you?’ Abdul shrugged his shoulders, ran a hand over a three day stubble, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Brother what’s right with us?’ End of discussion. The fun fair was a success. I wish one could have said the same for the war.

Now many moons later another dictator whose reign seems endless is facing a rough time from a disillusioned nation many among them from a new generation which cannot understand why one man should continue to rule forever? As per script, the law enforcing agencies are out in full battle gear, gunning people with water tanks, plastic bullets and the real stuff. The people are out on the street and things are serious. As Pakistanis watch from afar, many wonder when will that day come when the people, the ordinary folks who lead ordinary and inconsequential lives, rise up and take to the streets and say, ‘enough is enough’. Many believe that the day will never arrive because something vital has been extracted from within us, that we are just a walking talking body of soulless people who enact the rituals and endure the tedium of daily life, then wither away and are buried somewhere forever.

If the Pakistanis possessed a soul once, vibrancy or even a sense of being, it has long gone consigned to the overflowing and cracked dustbin of our national aspirations. Today, for most of the people, one day simply merges into another so that it is hard to recall what happened when. Maybe there are other nations that possess this incredible appetite for punishment but surely most will agree that the Pakistani people have an insatiable appetite. Look around you and ask if there is one man who will stand alone, without a firearm and stare back defiantly at an approaching tank. That classic picture became a symbol for all struggling people but forgive me if I don’t see one of my fellow sheedas looking down the barrel of a tank gun. More than likely he will burst forth into a ‘qaumi naghma’ and do a folk dance that depicts the four provinces – an item we have done to death.

Writing on the passing away of jazz legend, Dr Billy Taylor a few weeks ago, I was inundated with emails from people who saw something of value in that particular piece. Even one friend who said that about half a dozen lines of what I bothered people with on Sunday mornings was all that could be endured, this piece was better than the usual drivel. So I have been thinking that is there some way we can reawaken our somnolent people and at least point out the direction whether they take one step or another and it was music that came to my mind. That and a forced stop at Liberty Chowk in Lahore yesterday where one looked at this obscene plaza that now sits like a giant frog on what was Madam’s residence. A small sign – thank you Lahore, says ‘Madam Noor Jehan Road.’ That’s it. That’s our sum total of thank you to a woman who sang her heart out for us and lifted the sagging spirits of this battered country with half a dozen songs that still run a shudder up your spine and bring a tear to your eyes.

Those wonderful soldiers Madam serenaded with all her heart and soul are long gone, replaced by one of the world’s most capricious armed forces, air, land or water and who in turn have spawned the spooks that run our lives from shadowy outfits fired with a myopic and misplaced zeal of ‘patriotism.’ And more dirty tricks afoot so that the question of who really rules Pakistan is always one that leaves people more bewildered than before. And what have we done for Madam? No official acknowledgement of her birth or death anniversary aside from a few cursory and passing references, no seminars, no festivals in her honour, no scholarships floated in her memory, no re-issue of her great work stretching four decades. No nothing. Madam is dead and so be it.

And Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali has suffered similarly. Buried in Faisalabad he is just about forgotten. His nephew mints money the other side of the border and charges the kind of fee his uncle might have in his last few years and while he holds forth on how much he owes his legendary uncle (and Rahat Fateh Ali is no comparison to the Ustad) – I at least have never once heard him, here or in India or for that matter the rest of the world, talk with passion about preserving the legacy of the man who put Pakistan on the map of contemporary music blending our traditional stuff with the musical patterns much loved by a new set of listeners the world over. The industrialists of Faisalabad are rich enough to build a city named after Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan but they will not do that or even a fraction of it. There is no festival here and all that the rich apparently do is feast in the evenings or shop in the plazas.

The only music that is acceptable here or in Lahore or elsewhere is to invite slobs to drink scotch like one would drink lassi on a hot June afternoon and make fools of themselves shoving thousand rupee notes down the inviting bosoms of nautch girls as the Brits put it quaintly. The brush with music is confined to mujras and money flows faster than scotch here. And the sad list is long – painters, writers, calligraphists, dancers, theatre stars, television stalwarts – all have and will suffer a government that does not care and a people who have lost touch with their real roots. Those who don’t even know their yesterday cannot even dream of having a tomorrow. And it is not a question of money. It’s a question of taste and priority. Hence you have Musharraf’s Potato atop Shakarparian Hills but no monument to Madam or the great Ustad, to name just two. How many of us know where that diva Roshan Ara Begum lies buried amongst the most lyrical notes that flowed from her magical throat? More the question will be – Roshan Ara Begum? Who is that?

And therein lies our tragedy or at least partially. We have all the potential but we have no vision. And no soul. No heart. No compassion. We have history’s greatest explorers who passed through here but we cannot even recall who they were. The great Khyber Pass should be given to the Taliban to blow up like they did the Bamiyan Statues as long as it doesn’t jeopardise their lucrative opium, gun running and snuggled goods trade – they are and have always been more traders than servants of Islam. And that’s the way it goes. When was the last time someone said to you, ‘I have to go, am reading a book’?

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: masoodhasan66@gmail.com

Wretched of the earth - Ghazi Salahuddin - Sunday, January 30, 2011

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

In the midst of all these flaming headlines about conflicts and disorder as well as revolutionary conflagrations, I was shocked by one that relates to a forlorn territory far from the reach of television cameras and satellite beams. I read it on Thursday on The Guardian website.

And what was this headline? It said: “Pakistan flood crisis as bad as African famines, UN says”. There was a sub-heading: “Unicef survey shows almost a quarter of children under five are malnourished in Sindh province six months after floods”.

Incidentally, the report was sent by Declan Walsh, the Pakistan correspondent of The Guardian and it noted that a “humanitarian crisis of epic proportions” is unfolding in flood-hit areas of southern Pakistan where malnutrition rates rival those of African countries affected by famine, according to the United Nations.

It quotes deputy head of Unicef in Pakistan, Karen Allen, as saying: “I haven’t seen malnutrition this bad since the worst of the famine in Ethiopia, Darfur and Chad. It’s shockingly bad”. Dorothy Blane of Concern said: “This sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight. It indicates deep, slow-grinding poverty”.

Though there have been some other news items about the Unicef survey, it was this report that highlighted a situation that many of us are vaguely aware of. I had some premonition of this disaster on the basis of eye-witness accounts I had from my wife, Sadiqa, who works with marginalised communities in some rural areas of Sindh in her association with an NGO that mainly promotes education of girls. But the floods came as a massive distraction, necessitating urgent attention to relief operations.

Last week, Sadiqa had an occasion to visit a number of flood-affected villages of Shahdad Kot near Larkana. What she told me about the state of poverty and helplessness of the people was unbelievable. I was particularly surprised because I had thought that the floods had really brought into focus the monumental deprivations of the landless farmers of the area and that it would certainly oblige the provincial officials and the local feudal lords to come to the rescue of their own people.

This expectation was also based on the fact that the floods had generated unprecedented private and organisational assistance, including from international donors. I had expressed my optimism that the entire experience would be instructive for those who exercise their power in the affected areas. In fact, I was waiting for some indications of a progressive social change in rural Sindh.

Alas, that silver lining was swallowed up by the enveloping darkness. One wonders: what would it take to rouse our obscenely rich rulers from their deep slumber? As for the accounts of poverty and utter helplessness of the farmers of Shahdad Kot’s villages, you should know that this is the constituency of the leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party. We know about the spoils system and how activists, when the PPP is in power, grapple for privileges. Be that as it may, the dreary lives of the poor in Sindh’s villages have not really changed.

This does not, however, mean that the level of poverty across the land is not equally depressing. Indeed, the central theme of the national discourse is the plight of the citizens of Pakistan. They are afflicted not just by poverty but also by social injustice and insecurity. Mere survival for millions and millions of them has become an awful challenge and they do not seem to have sufficient resources, including in an emotional or intellectual context, to meet this challenge.

Meanwhile, our electronic media is awash with other emergencies that are political and administrative in nature. It does have some justification for dealing with the ‘breaking news’ that unfailingly keeps popping up. Take, for instance, the gruesome incident that took place in Lahore on Thursday in which a functionary of the US Consulate shot and killed two young men who were alleged to have pointed a gun at him. A third was crushed to death by a vehicle that came to rescue the American citizen.

This dramatic episode in the present highly-charged environment is bound to raise a storm and its implications are likely to be grave. Already, popular emotions about America are very strong, sometimes lapsing into irrational excitement. This, surely, is a serious matter and we can expect a lot of protest and angry outbursts. We do not know if this may lead to any serious consequences, given the crises that are brewing at different levels.

At one level, stories of corruption involving billions or rupees are unfolding at a baffling pace. The political situation, in spite of the respite that is provided by Nawaz Sharif’s deadline to the government to initiate action on his 10-point agenda, remains alarming. Some observers see the economy tottering at the edge of a collapse.

Finally, the tumult in Egypt during this weekend, as a response to the overthrow of the Tunisian regime after popular revolt, has become a global focus. The entire Arab world is gripped by unrest and dark apprehensions. Would this surge of turbulence in the Arab world also affect the mood in other Muslim countries, including Pakistan? Well, Pakistan is disturbed for its own reasons and we have had stray incidents of protests on our streets.

Against this blazing perspective, where do the poor of some parts of Sindh, who are faced with the prospect of a famine, really belong? Do we have time to think about them? Are some emergency steps in the offing to prevent this crisis from becoming a major catastrophe?

This brings me back to The Guardian report. It said that the Unicef survey was done in early November but “Pakistan’s government, reluctant to publish the figures, delayed their publication, according to several aid officials”. We are told that figures for southern Punjab, which was also badly hit by the floods, have yet to be finalised.

The report said: “Sindh is Pakistan’s third largest province and home to some of the deepest inequalities. Karachi is a bustling business hub of more than 16 million people. But in the countryside, feudal traditions are strong, illiteracy is rife and government services are often non-existent”.

Ah, but do we need a Unicef survey or foreign aid workers to discover a reality that has always been present to us? Besides, it will never be enough to provide immediate relief to the affected people and to feed them and give them shelter. They deserve to lead a life of dignity and promise.

Let me quote the last two sentences of the report: “A majority of children in flood-affected areas suffer from anxiety, depression and phobias, according to a study by Save the Children. Of the children surveyed, 70 per cent expressed fear of ‘people, water, open spaces and darkness’, it found”.

The writer is a staff member. Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

Capital suggestion - Dr Farrukh Saleem - Sunday, January 30, 2011

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

Q: Why do revolutions take place?

A: The most popular theory is the Frustration-Aggression Theory according to which “revolutions occur when frustration leads to collective aggressive behaviour”. There also is the Disequilibrium Theory according to which revolutions take place because of an acute lack of equilibrium in the society – economic, social or political. The Marxist school of thought has the Interest-Group Social-Conflict Theory according to which a ‘revolution is a consequence of a power struggle between competing interest groups’.

Q: What are the three types of revolutions?

A: Socio-political, cultural and economic. More often than not, all three dimensions are merged whereby there is a fundamental change in all forms of power structures-socio-political, cultural as well as economic.

Q: What are the three prerequisites to a revolution?

A: A motivating ideology, a leader who symbolises that ideology and a critical mass of the population (that supports both the ideology and the leader).

Q: What is the common factor of almost all revolutions?

A: A drastic change in the way that a society thinks and behaves. The French Revolution replaced the monarchy with a radical democratic republic-and the French society’s thinking and behaviour went through a drastic change. The Islamic Revolution of Iran replaced a monarch with a vilayat-e-faqih – and the Iranian society will be the same never again (Grand Ayatollah Khomeini argued that the Iranian government had to be run in accordance with sharia and that could only happen if a faqih becomes the supreme leader).

Q: What was the role of the Imperial Iranian Army during the revolution?

A: The army did not protect the existing power structure (read: the Shah).

Q: What are the catalysts behind the ongoing Tunisian outbreak?

A: Corrupt politicians, unyielding poverty and joblessness.

Q: What has been the role of the Tunisian Armed Forces?

A: Tunisian Armed Forces have sided with the people and dumped the long-time president.

Q: Who is the leader behind the Tunisian strife?

A: Cyberspace, Facebook and Twitter in particular, were the tools for stirring revolutionary fervour followed by revolutionary mobilisation. A revolution without a leader is more chaos-cum-anarchy. In Tunisia, the guiding hand behind the scenes is General Rashid Ammar, the Chief of Staff of the Army.

Q: Are conditions ripe for a revolution in Pakistan?

A: Yes, there exists a motivating ideology – the sharia. Yes, there exists a critical mass that supports that ideology. But, there isn’t a leader on the horizon who symbolises that ideology.

Q: What can a government do to prevent a revolution?

A: There are only two known ways: reforms or repression.

Q: What is the probability of a revolution in Pakistan?

A: Likely but not inevitable. And, remember, ‘revolutions are not made; they come’.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad. Email: farrukh15@hotmail.com

Who will save Pakistan? - Najam Sethi - Sunday, January 30, 2011

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

Last Friday, three friends of mine commented in this paper on “the state of the nation,” each presenting a contrary view. Much of what each wrote about the nature of the problem makes sense to me. But some of the prescribed solutions raise disturbing questions in my mind.

Shaheen Sehbai is outraged by the continuing corruptions and blunders of the Zardari regime, no less than the “miserable” opposition of Nawaz Sharif. “In three years, the political system has collapsed, the parties have turned into mafias, the economy has officially reached the point of bankruptcy, security has vanished and people have been crushed under the weight of struggling for sheer survival caused by the grandiose failures on all counts,” he argued. “Politicians have to understand that a crippled and dilapidated Pakistan which cannot be revived would be in no one’s interest,” he reasoned. More ominously, he concluded: “That stage will not be allowed. It should not be allowed. If politicians cannot deliver, someone has to.”

Who might be that “someone”?

My friend’s solution was articulated thus: “In practical terms, the military is already calling the shots because Zardari and Sharif have failed, singly and jointly. Besides the strategic assets, the military establishment controls the internal, external, economic and financial policies. The commanders get regular briefings on all critical issues, even matters like Reko Diq contracts and negotiations with the IMF. They talk directly to Washington on matters of vital importance. They have not acted to stop the rot because they thought the politicians will themselves rise to correct the system. They have been proved wrong.”

Is my friend suggesting that it is time for the military to stop pussyfooting and overthrow this crippled, crumbling and failing political system to set things right?

I hope not. I have serious problems with such prescriptions. We have had three military interventions, and each has been a terrible, divisive, politically impoverishing experience and left ugly scars on our body politic. If a litany of political blunders can be laid at the door of this civilian government – actually, of every civilian government to date – much worse political abuse can be attributed to our wannabe military saviours.

Shaheen should know what I am talking about. After all, he was among the most outspoken critics of the last two military dictators to stalk our land. And if, as he says, “in practical terms, the military is already calling all the shots...and controls the internal, external, economic and financial policies” of the country, what more is left to hand over to the khakis? And if, by handing over practical control of the fate of this country to the khakis under the facade of a civilian regime, we are going from bad to worse, why should we invite more trouble by legitimising another military intervention?

My friend Ayaz Amir is more anguished than outraged. Like Shaheen, he too is desperate for someone to appear on the horizon like a gallant knight and exorcise “the demons and nightmares” haunting our beloved country. Who might be that “someone”?

“Only a Kemalist army” could make a go of it, he believes. But in the same breath, Ayaz correctly dismisses the notion that “an army high command wedded to a fortress-of-Islam myth can take Pakistan out of these woods.” Indeed, it is his view that “between the armies commanded by Mustafa Kemal and those which guard our ideological frontiers – never mind the inconveniences of geography – the distance is as vast as between the mountains and the seas.”

So what is the challenge today? “As in 1966-67.” writes Ayaz, “it is to sense the hot winds blowing and fill with something new, some colour and poetry, the barren desert of ideas which is the national political stage... Pakistan needs a makeover, a turning away from the past and a reinvention of the very idea of Pakistan. Is there any artist out there who can fulfil this historic task?”

If my idealist friend Ayaz doesn’t have any “artistic” answers, there is no shortage of those who hanker for a Khomeini to save Pakistan a la Iran, which is neither a Western-type “democracy” like Pakistan, nor a praetorian regime like Egypt or an autocratic one like the one that has just perished in Tunisia. Is a pious strong man at the top the need of the hour?

Pakistan certainly needs much more law and order. It also needs better economic management, greater social equality and much less corruption. But a “Made in Pakistan” Islamic revolution is neither possible, nor desirable. For one, an Islamic revolution, as opposed to a putsch (like the one by Gen Ziaul Haq), requires a regional and religious homogeneity (as in Iran) and intellectual leadership (like the Ayatollahs) that is missing in Pakistan. Also, the performance of the religious parties in government – the PNA during Gen Zia’s time and the MMA during Gen Musharraf’s tenure – was worse than that of the mainstream parties in the 1990s. Therefore, any such frustrated impulse is a recipe for anarchy, not good governance. Also, one should not overly glorify the Islamic Revolution in Iran in view of the marked and increasing yearning for greater “Western type-freedoms and democracy” among its urban middle classes.

So where do we go from here?

My friend Shafqat Mahmood is not so forlorn. For him, “the state of governance in our country that fed deep pessimism suddenly seems capable of reformation. The internal checks that were never visible before in the system have now come aggressively to the fore. And are beginning to leave a mark.” He is referring to the newly aggressive and independent Supreme Court of Pakistan. “What has not been experienced in any sustained way is the impact of judicial accountability on corruption. Seeing it unfold graphically, with all the details being laid bare, is not only surprising (and satisfying) but opens up immense possibilities.” He is talking about the Supreme Court’s intervention to hold the high and mighty politicians and bureaucrats accountable for corruption and misuse of power, no less than its firm advice to the military to remain within the ambit of the law and Constitution regarding the “missing” persons.

I agree. We have experimented with men on horseback like Gens Ayub, Zia and Musharraf and with wannabe Bonapartes like Z A Bhutto, and lived to regret it. Therefore, we must try and fix the system incrementally, without derailing it. In this regard, the Supreme Court is rightly banging on about accountability and corruption. No less significant, there is, finally. broad agreement between the government and opposition over the essential elements of an agenda for reform, even if the will is still weak and there is much foot-dragging. Sooner or later, too, we will have a neutral Chief Election Commissioner and NAB chairman, and then we can have another go at trying to make parliamentary democracy work.

But I would be amiss if I did not raise qualms about two core institutions that need to reform themselves if we are to get going. The army must revamp its national-security doctrine and stop insisting on commandeering the heights of economy and society in an age of internal scarcity and regional distrust. And the media must act with greater responsibility to encourage a progressive, moderate and international outlook in the mindset of the nation. No modern democracy or economy can work in the stifling environment of religious orthodoxy, international isolation or military supremacy.

The writer is Jang Group/Geo adviser on political affairs.

EDITORIAL: Change in Egypt - Sunday, January 30, 2011

Source : www.dailytimes.com

“As long as there is in my chest a heart that beats and I draw breath”, that is how long Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak vowed to continue ruling the land of the Nile in a 2006 declaration to the Egyptian Parliament. However, the massive uprising that is the largest in the three decades of his rule, inspired by and following in the footsteps of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, looks set to prove the 81-year-old president wrong. Since January 25, youth from all walks of life in Egypt have been rallying against a system that has for too long given them nothing but unemployment, crippling price hikes, corrupt governance and police brutality to make it clear to Mubarak — and the world — that they are no longer prepared to put up with a dictatorship that has been seeking to inculcate a political dynasty through anointing Mubarak’s son as his successor (the son has fled in the face of the protests to London, complete with bag, baggage and family). Hosni Mubarak has been President since 1981, taking over after President Anwar El Sadat was assassinated. He had continually been re-elected to office in 1987, 1993 and 1999 in largely controversial elections as no one could really run as a candidate against the president. In 2005, a highly biased referendum was held in which Mubarak was once again re-elected. Although still clinging to power, rumours started buzzing that the ailing president was grooming his son, Gamal Mubarak to take over. For the people of Egypt — where 40 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day — to have a son of leisure and privilege represent them without their approval was perhaps finally too much to swallow. Emboldened by the successful ouster of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s protesters, it seems, will not rest until they have rid themselves of a despot president.

So far, some 75 people have been killed and some 1,000 arrested in protests all over Egypt. On Wednesday, when the government saw the situation getting radically out of control, curfew was imposed and gatherings of more than five people were officially banned. The army was ordered in and the police rampaged with tear gas and water cannon. What started off as a peaceful demonstration of youth dissent quickly turned into an all out revolt by Friday. The government has sealed off most internet and media access inside the country. The headquarters of the National Democratic Party in Cairo were set on fire by the protesters on Friday after which President Mubarak, in a late night televised address, dissolved his government in an attempt to pacify the crowds. He has still not hinted at stepping down and the people seem inclined to settle for nothing less.

As can be seen in much of the Arab world, the US has always sided with rulers who serve its agenda best. Pumped up with some $ 2 billion in military and economic aid annually, Mubarak was the US’s trump card to keep the ‘Islamists’ away from power — the Muslim Brotherhood is perceived by the West as Egypt’s biggest Islamist threat — and keep Egypt within the fold of Arab states who have made peace with Israel. Throughout the Arab world, the US has aligned itself with despots who refuse to vacate power, making a mockery of the ‘democracy’ it otherwise advocates so fiercely. Even now, President Obama is urging “democratic reforms” in Egypt but not the ouster of an unpopular president, while at the same time withholding $ 1.5 billion in military aid, perhaps as a signal to the Egyptian generals to intervene if they want the money.

Considering the momentum of events and the unrelenting protests on the streets, it looks like President Mubarak’s days are numbered. With the Muslim Brotherhood remaining silent so far, it is yet to be seen what character this impending change will take. Any regime changes in Tunisia and possibly in Egypt will set the tone for whatever comes next in the Arab world. The entire world watches and waits. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Floods — six months on

After intensive coverage in the first few weeks, survivors of the floods that devastated vast tracts of land along the Indus River, and affected all the four provinces as well as Gilgit-Baltistan, have almost completely disappeared from the media scene. The public too seems to have forgotten what was being dubbed as the ‘biggest flood disaster’ in history in terms of the directly affected populace, about 20 million. Once in a while one might hear an oblique reference to the devastation caused and how it has jolted our economy, but little do we know how the survivors are faring in winter. How has the aid that was pledged and collected been spent? Did all of them manage to get a roof over their heads before the severe cold threatened to take away whatever little life was left in their malnourished bodies? It seems not.

In its six-month review of the post-floods situation in Pakistan, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has revealed alarming details of malnutrition among children in the flood-affected areas, particularly in Sindh. According to Sindh government estimates, 90,000 children (aged six months to five years) are malnourished. Unicef says about seven million people are still dependent on monthly rations. The situation in Balochistan is particularly bad, as 166,000 flood survivors have yet to go back to their homes and are living in 240 camps in Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in desperate need of help.

Unfortunately, as the media spotlight has shifted to the daily din of politics, public sympathy and even the attention of the authorities appears to have waned. But the survivors are waiting for relief and succour from both the government and the people. The extent of the damage is so severe and widespread that it cannot be handled by one agency alone. While the government should focus on rebuilding infrastructure, there is so much that non-government organisations and public groups can do to help the victims, not only in terms of collection of finances, but also volunteer work. After the receding of the floodwaters, roads have opened and the affected areas are approachable. There is a large space for volunteer work to help rebuild collapsed houses, provide medical aid, run awareness campaigns, etc, among the people in coordination with government and non-governmental agencies. It our duty as responsible citizens to not turn a blind eye to this massive tragedy and keep working on rehabilitation of the affected people till their lives return to something resembling normality.