EDITORIAL: Talk of roundtable talks - Thursday, February 10, 2011

Source : http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\02\10\story_10-2-2011_pg3_1

Taking into account the major issues plaguing the country, with crisis upon crisis stymying any economic and political progress, President Asif Ali Zardari has proposed a parliamentary parties roundtable conference to chalk out solutions for some of these mega problems. The president has already spoken to key political leaders such as those belonging to the JUI-F, MQM, PML-Q and others in an attempt to round up support for the talks. It has been reported that the PML-N, when it was told about the president’s proposal, was in a meeting of its own being chaired by Mian Nawaz Sharif. One cannot help but appreciate the president’s sense of timing as this meeting was being held to prepare an all out assault on the PPP government for not implementing the PML-N’s 10-point agenda as quickly as the opposition would have liked. Now that the president has proposed a conference on a national level, it is hoped that the PML-N will take into account that the only way to have their agenda adopted will be to have more broad-based consensus with a number of parties, including on the economic reforms package that the PML-N has proposed. However, as is the case with our seemingly ‘friendly’ opposition, it even found fault in this by levelling the accusation that the PPP was skirting around the 45-day deadline by employing delaying tactics. One would like to remind the PML-N that the government has started implementing some of the PML-N’s recommendations, one of which was the trimming down of cabinet flab.

Accusations and petty politics aside, it must be stated that Pakistan is not going to pull itself out of its current morass on its own. The fact that President Zardari has taken the initiative by calling this conference is quite telling in many ways. It is being said that although the country is in duress, it is the Raymond Davis affair that has proved to be the final nail in an already overburdened coffin. However, it must also be taken into account that the economic crisis and the threatened political fracturing of the coalition were now coming to a head and such an initiative probably became inescapable. President Zardari may have a personal interest as his upcoming visit to the US in March could be impeded due to the Davis affair, but it is in everyone’s interest to have our key political leaders sitting together at one table, discussing the common problems. In the interest of national security, the money we depend on the US for to keep our fragile economy afloat in the broader context of the war on terror, Raymond Davis’s release may prove unavoidable. If his diplomatic immunity is proved, we should let the matter go at that — for the greater good. It is also being speculated that the PPP government is consolidating its position before the next elections, whether two years down the line or before. The appointment of a PPP stalwart, Syed Masood Kausar, as Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is giving rise to the suspicion that the PPP is preparing for an early election. On the other hand, the PPP may just intuitively be inviting this round of talks in an attempt to bridge the gap that exists between itself and other parties.

As far as our economic problems go, there have existed, in the past, sufficient obstacles in the RGST issue with the PML-N and the MQM taking a ferociously opposed stance. Now that talks may be on the table, it is possible that this economic reform gains its much-needed consensus. All in all, this conference has been a long time coming and the proposal must see fruition so that some solid solutions are brought forward with consensus and are implemented to better our crippling conditions. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Indonesia: going the Pakistan way?

Religious intolerance seems to be on the rise in the Muslim world. The recent attacks on the Ahmediyya community and the Christian community in Indonesia should ring alarm bells for all Muslim countries. Just a few days ago, three Ahmedis were killed when a mob attacked the minority sect in Banten province. In 2008, Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister, Home Minister and Attorney General signed a decree that ordered the Ahmedis to “stop spreading interpretations and activities which deviate from the principal teachings of Islam” and “spreading of the belief that there is another prophet with his own teachings after Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)”. If an Ahmedi violates this decree, he/she is subject to up to five years of imprisonment. On the other hand, hardliner Islamists attacked a court and torched two churches and vandalised a Catholic school after a court sentenced a Christian man, Antonius Richmond Bawengan, to five years in prison for blasphemy. He was found guilty of handing out books and leaflets that “spread hatred about Islam”. This is the maximum penalty for blasphemy under Indonesia’s Criminal Code’s Article 156(a). Despite this, Muslim extremists are asking for a death sentence for the convicted man or that he be handed over to them (after which it is obvious the ‘death sentence’ would be carried out).

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world with more than 80 percent Muslims, a large number of Hindus, and a smattering of Christians and other religions. In recent years, under the influence of al Qaeda, some Islamic terror groups have gained strength in Indonesia. The 2002 Bali bombings were carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah, a radical Islamist group. Despite convicting most of the perpetrators of that hideous attack, fundamentalism kept growing in the country.

It is disconcerting to see Indonesia, which used to be a highly tolerant society, going Pakistan’s way. The universal appeal of a caliphate and the so-called ‘Muslim Ummah’ has obliterated national differences and tolerance in many Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia’s Wahabiism can be seen as the root cause of this rising intolerance. Though Wahabis claim to ‘purify’ Islam of all ‘deviations’, in essence they have done great injustice to the message of Islam, i.e. peaceful coexistence of all religions. It is time for the moderate Muslims to intellectually defeat the trend of hardliner Islamists. The Indonesians should learn a lesson from Pakistan where the religious right has grown so strong with the backing of powerful quarters that liberal and progressive voices have been almost muted. If the Indonesians do not learn from our example, a violent future awaits them. *

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