EDITORIAL: Patch-up efforts - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The strain in Pakistan-US relations that emerged after the Raymond Davis affair and the subsequent fallout of the drone attack that allegedly killed innocent people in FATA refuses to yield easily to solutions. While President Asif Ali Zardari in an interview with the Guardian has iterated the destabilising effects of the war in Afghanistan on Pakistan, including but not limited to its undermining efforts to restore democratic institutions and economic prosperity, he has also complained that some US politicians show limited understanding of the impact of US policies (e.g. the recent critical White House report). President Zardari argued that the emphasis in Pakistan for long decades has been on security, whereas what is needed is a focus on commerce for our survival and progress. He spoke of the malign effects of the situation on industry and the wasted potential of gas exports to India and the world, provided of course Afghanistan settles down. He was critical of the failure of the US to quantify and calculate the effects of the war on Pakistan. Last but not least, the president said he would raise the issue of Pakistan being provided drone technology so that any future such actions should be under a “Pakistani flag”. Whether, especially in the present straitened circumstances, the president will be able to budge Washington from its past refusal to contemplate such a transfer remains a moot point. The Guardian report goes on to underline that operations against terrorists have cost Pakistan $ 68 billion and more than 33,300 civilians and military personnel killed or seriously injured since 2001.

ISI chief General Pasha is believed to have met his CIA counterpart Leon Panetta in Washington to sort out the frozen cooperation between the two agencies since the Davis affair in January. The CIA spokesman described the meeting as positive, while the ISI is mum. Significantly, General Pasha is reported to have cut short his short visit and returned. Make of that what you will. It is not difficult to surmise that around the issues of Raymond Davis and drone attacks, the discussions currently ongoing between the two sides centre on the Pakistani military’s demand that the CIA curtail its clandestine (and unknown to the ISI) activities ion Pakistani soil and stop the drone attacks. Reportedly some CIA operatives have already left or are in the process of leaving Pakistan. Another issue is the US Special Operations forces training Pakistani soldiers in counter-insurgency, a programme that too may suffer a cut of 25-40 percent if the Pakistani military has its way. Incidentally, a 40 percent cutback would probably mean the closure of the entire programme. From all this, it is not difficult to sniff out the state of affairs in the relationship.

US Ambassador Cameron Munter meantime has tried to soothe ruffled feathers in an address at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. He reiterated Washington’s desire to improve relations despite the tensions over Davis and the drones. He also tried to allay deep-seated fears from the past that the US intended to abandon Afghanistan (and Pakistan) once again as in 1989 by stating that the US was not leaving in 2014 but would be changing its role much more to training and on the civilian side.

The Raymond Davis affair also resonated in the halls of the National Assembly when Chaudhry Nisar, the Leader of the Opposition, roundly turned on the government and President Zardari, criticising them for the release of Davis and demanding a parliamentary committee or judicial commission to probe the whole affair. He was also at pains to defend the PML-N Punjab government as innocent in the matter of the release. That may or may not be true, but one cannot help wondering how a prisoner in the custody of the Punjab government could be whisked away from under its nose unless it was on board?

This brief survey of the goings on in the diplomatic, security, political and media field should help to underline the very real difficulties that the always fraught relationship between Pakistan and the US is presently confronted with. It will take a fair bit of skill, diplomacy and flexibility on either side to overcome the divergence in interests that is opening up as endgame in Afghanistan draws ever nearer. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: French veil ban

In defiance of the French ban on the veil implemented from Monday, a small group of Muslims wearing veils gathered in Paris to hold a symbolic protest. It seems that, fearing a weakening of his position in the run-up to presidential elections at the hands of the far-right party the National Front, which is making electoral gains by taking extreme positions, President Nicholas Sarkozy has walked into a trap of expediency, to his own detriment. Although the new law only makes ‘hiding of the face’ by any person in public unlawful to avoid legal challenges, the debate preceding the enactment of this law focused entirely on the veil of Muslim women. According to official estimates, there are only about 2,000 women in France out of a Muslim population of 500,000, who cover their face in public. Therefore, risking communal harmony just for the sake of targeting a minuscule number out of the 65,821,885 population of France seems utterly absurd. One of the reasons presented for clamping this ban is that the veil could be used for criminal activities, including terrorism. But this has no evidence to back it and has ruffled the feathers of a significant section of French society. Whether the French authorities agree with the veil in principle or not, trying to drive people into ‘paradise’ at the point of a bayonet is not likely to work. If anything, it will make those who wear the veil for religious or traditional cultural reasons feel singled out and harden their position. The demonstration evoked defiance because it is an irrational law. It not only infringes on a person’s right to dress as s/he pleases, but also violates the European human rights conventions.

The cultural preferences of an immigrant community need inter-generational evolution. The old habits of immigrants received from mother cultures are transformed gradually as younger generations grow to assume their adopted cultural norms and values. The whole immigrant experience in Europe shows the difference in the generations who immigrated and their progeny born on European soil. A ban on their cultural/religious norms has evoked defiance, resistance and attempts at assertion of identity in a traditional way. By being seen as attacking one of the most prevalent cultural norms in the entire Muslim world as well as playing a leading role in the assault on a Muslim country, Libya, France is digging for itself a big hole as far as its relations with the Muslim world are concerned. *

Source : http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\04\13\story_13-4-2011_pg3_1

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