EDITORIAL: A bloodstained flag - Friday, March 04, 2011

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks on Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination echoed what every sane Pakistani feels. “I was shocked and outraged by the assassination...I think this was an attack not only on one man but on the values of tolerance and respect for people of all faiths and backgrounds that had been championed by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan,” she said. On Wednesday, Pakistan lost Mr Bhatti to the extremist forces. In two months, we have lost a serving governor and a serving federal minister. This is certainly not the Pakistan our forefathers dreamt of. It has been hijacked by the very same forces that were once against the creation of this country. Mr Bhatti’s assassination has been condemned worldwide and has sent shockwaves everywhere, especially in Pakistan.

The reaction to Governor Taseer’s murder was shocking for another reason as most Pakistanis were either ambivalent or glorified his murderer, Mumtaz Qadri. But Mr Bhatti’s murder has put most of those voices on the defensive. The religious parties are not condoning Mr Bhatti’s murder like they did in Mr Taseer’s case but are blaming it on an “international conspiracy” to take the focus away from the Raymond Davis case. This is too far-fetched to be taken seriously. Instead of shifting the blame, all those who are drumming up this theory should take a good look around this ‘land of the pure’ and they will get to see the evidence of an inside hand themselves. The Punjab Taliban themselves claimed the responsibility for this callous attack on Mr Bhatti. In pamphlets left at the site of the murder, the ‘Taliban al Qaeda Punjab’ warned of sinister consequences for anyone who dared to raise their voice against the blasphemy laws.

It was surprising to see Punjab Chief Minister all riled up at Interior Minister Rehman Malik for ‘politicising’ the Punjabi Taliban issue and giving it a provincial angle. What Mr Sharif has obviously failed to understand is that Mr Malik is not fanning provincialism. The perpetrators themselves signed the pamphlets as such and later claimed responsibility as well. This is not the time for a tussle between the federal and Punjab government; it is time to stand united in order to root out the terrorist menace. All provinces and the federation have to pull together because the terrorists are now attacking political figures. It seems that the terrorists now have a hit list on the blasphemy issue. For once our politicians must rise above partisan politics and understand the gravity of the situation. The terrorists have the capability to inflict damage and pain by killing political leaders at will.

In another sad development, leading members of Pakistan’s Christian community have asked the Vatican not to give statements on their behalf. It shows the insecurity of our minorities who feel threatened that any international condemnation, especially that coming from the Vatican, might serve as fodder for the Islamist extremists who are baying for their blood in any case. The government needs to put its foot down and assure all minority communities that they are safe in Pakistan. This is as much their country as the Muslims’. President Zardari said, “We have to fight this mindset and defeat them. We will not be intimidated nor will we retreat.” Had the government stood up against the extremist forces earlier instead of trying to appease them, the terrorists would not have gained so much space. But as they say, better late than never. The government should now stand firm and challenge the extremist forces in order to defeat them. Our survival is on the line here. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Foreign intervention in Libya

In his address to his loyalists in Tripoli, Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi warned of dire consequences if there is any foreign military intervention in Libya. Yesterday, two US warships entered the Mediterranean headed for Libya. In addition, warships from Britain, France, Italy, Canada and South Korea are on their way, ostensibly to evacuate the refugees. The quick response by the West to the humanitarian crisis of Libya, where thousands of people are waiting at the border with Tunisia to be evacuated, is welcome but is also a cause of concern because the warships sent for aid could also be used for military purposes. Foreign intervention in Libya would be difficult because it is unlikely that there would be consensus in the UN Security Council on this issue. Even if such a proposal is accepted, it would have practical difficulties, and serious consequences for the region.

In the past, foreign powers have pursued their interests in other countries in the name of humanitarian intervention. These did not always work out the way they were intended, led to unintended consequences, and certainly a trampling of very important aspects of international law and sovereignty. If the world system has to be run on the basis of a mutually agreed system, big powers cannot single out certain countries for such action when it suits them and leave out others when it does not. Western powers never intervened in Myanmar, where the military has ruled with an iron fist for decades, while the US rode roughshod over all the norms of international conduct and attacked Iraq on fabricated charges of possessing weapons of mass destruction. Interest-based, rather than principle-driven interventions cannot be condoned. The Arab League, which met to discuss the Libyan crisis, has also opposed the idea of foreign intervention because it would not only add to the problems of the Libyan people, it would cause enormous ripple effects and destabilise the whole region.

Venezuela has proposed a mediation plan for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Libya. There might be other such proposals on the cards. It would be best to resolve the Libyan crisis through credible mediation rather than military intervention. *

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