Friday, 19 October 2012

Malala Shooting: They Fear the Girl at School

Sudarshan Pattnaik's sculpture at Puri

Law and order has never been a matter of pride for the establishment in Pakistan. So a bomb explosion or a shootout or an acid attack will not get the world sitting up and taking notice. However, on October 9 the world did pause to take note. A gunman in a Mingora, in the Swat Valley, attacked 14-year-old Malala Yousfzai at her school. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan took responsibility for the attack and said that it was Malala’s work in promoting education among women and other social activities — which according to their skewed interpretation of the Quran is ‘un-Islamic’ — that prompted them to attack an innocent teenager at school.
General Ashfaq Kayani, on October 10, visited Malala in a Peshawar hospital she was undergoing surgery. He condemned the attacks and vowed to fight the militants. Hollow statements like this prove that Kayani is more politician than soldier. If the Pakistan Army in true grit wanted to address the militant problem, by now the once-famous Swat Valley would have regained its sobriquet ‘Switzerland of Pakistan’.
Is Islamabad Ready?
The attack on Malala is a pointer to both negative and positive aspects. The most obvious negative is that an innocent teenager who only wanted to study and spread education is fighting for her life after a few cowards thought of it better to silence her. As is now being said world over, the Taliban are not afraid of US missiles or stealth raids by Navy SEALs; what they really fear is a girl with a book. That is true. It was not anger that led the Taliban to attack the National Youth Peace Prize winner, but fear that the message of resistance, awakening and education she was spreading was hitting them harder than Obama’s drones.
Oh No! That's worse than a bomb!

The other negative aspect is that the extremists — whatever label they come under — are in no mood to retreat. While Swat was once a stronghold of the Taliban, it no longer is and the attack can be seen as an attempt to regain that bastion and spread fear among the people. This should be stopped by all means—while it seems that the people are ready, is the Pakistan government ready?
Educate Her
Mainly there are two positives to take from this attack. First, the Taliban is desperate and are being pushed to a corner. The juggernaut of protests against the shooting is a sign that the people have had enough of the Taliban and value the progress and freedom they are enjoying. This is a positive sign.
The second is a lesson that changes on the ground, by empowering the people through education, better facilities and freedom, will achieve greater results than drone strikes and armed blitzkriegs. The ‘war on terror’ has been going on for more than a decade and relentless attacks and chases have not produced the desired results. The United States would love to think otherwise but even the killing of Osama bin Laden has not given the desired results. Al-Qaeda has not ceased to exist and it has spread to such an extent that the loss of one leader is too little a blow.
Petty Politics
The Pakistan government can rout out the Taliban if it acts in right earnest. The wave of anti-Taliban protests that is being seen throughout Pakistan is proof the Taliban’s wide support base in the country is but a shadow monster, a myth that conveniently suits political parties in Pakistan and adds fuel to a fear psychosis in the West. The civilian government in Pakistan and the West has got a real, tangible opportunity to channel this mass revolt against these forces of evil. The question, however, is whether Islamabad will rise up to the occasion. Past experiences have shown that it prefers to feed the monster in the hope that is can be used to its advantage in neighbouring Afghanistan and India. Islamabad fails to see that this Frankenstein is turning against its creator/nurturer.
Imran Khan

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on October 16 said that "the work that she (Malala) led was higher before god than what terrorists do in the name of religion. We will continue her shining cause.” These words are definitely reassuring but it loses its glow when one realises that it comes from a person who has little popular support and is yet to show resolute action against the terror networks operating in the country. Moreover political leaders have taken up the issue to further their cause. Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, after visiting Malala in the hospital, spoke in favour of the ‘jihad’ happening in Afghanistan. It is disappointing to see Khan, who is riding on a popular wave of support, fish in muddy waters. In the politics of opportunism what is lost is the freedom the people of Pakistan deserve. If this opportunity is not used to weed out the Taliban menace, posterity will not forgive these leaders and their name will be found in the gutters of Pakistan’s history. While most Pakistan leaders have a tainted past, the biggest loser now will be Imran Khan.
Until a few days back not many people around the world would have heard about Malala Yousufzai. After October 9 there should be not many who have not heard about her and the cause she represents.
The Taliban and apologists for the attack fail to realise that a very important person has been quoted in the Quran saying: “If a daughter is born to a person and he brings her up, gives her a good education and trains her in the arts of life, I shall myself stand between him and hell-fire.”
(The appeared in The New Indian Express on October 19)

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Symbiotic Adrenaline Shots from Unpopular Govts

S M Krishna (L) seen with Hina Rabbani Khar

Earlier last month external affairs minister S M Krishna was in Pakistan on a three-day visit. He had meetings with important leaders and described the trip as ‘fruitful’. This positive momentum was also evident when both the foreign ministers, Krishna and his Pakistan counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar, came out with a joint statement after their meetings. What was different this time, from the routine tenor of earlier meetings, was the gung-ho mood on both sides. Visa requirements have been relaxed and there are moves to give trade a fillip. If everything seems to be rosy and bright it can only be attributed to the craving of both governments. Reality, however, is something altogether different.
The history of Indo-Pak relations show that progress is a permanent mirage. Past experience shows that for every step taken forward a few steps are retraced. While largely the people of both the countries want cordial relations, the same cannot be said about the political establishment and armed forces. Many segments of the political establishment, on both sides, thrive on ‘neighbour-bashing’ rhetoric. It is not just regional or fundamental political outfits, but even mainstream political parties indulge in such venom-spewing depending on how it furthers their cause. The armed forces of both the countries have fought at least four wars and have had numerous stand-offs. If anything there is no dearth of bad blood between the two forces. The list of unresolved issues keeps on rising with every passing year.

Zardari’s Infamy
In politics timing is paramount and for important decisions and breakthroughs this is crucial. If one were to take this into consideration keeping the recent Indo-Pak talks there could not have been a more bad time for India to lend its hand towards Pakistan for friendship. The political climate in both the countries, more so in Pakistan, is anything but stable.
In Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party is at the nadir of its popularity — with the people and with the army. Battling widespread corruption and inefficiency the PPP-led government has lost its appeal among the people. Almost all opinion polls predict a thorough hiding for the party at the hustling. It’s siding with the United States of America in the war on terror, especially the drone attacks that have killed civilians, has considerably eroded its popularity. As if to add insult to injury the Abbottabad operation that saw Osama bin Laden’s end was done by the US keeping Pakistan in the dark.
The rise of other political parties has also dented the present government’s popularity. While Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister and leader of Pakistan Muslim League (N), has come to the front from virtual obscurity, it is the rise of Tehreek-e-Insaf leader and former Pakistan cricket team captain Imran Khan that is notable. Such has been the rise in popularity and appeal of Khan that it is hard to believe that he is the only notable face for his party in the legislature at present. Khan’s anti-US approach and pro-Taliban stand has won him acceptance, even among the conservatives. It is also said that he has the blessings of Rawalpindi (Rawalpindi is where the Pakistan Army headquarters is situated). To add to its woes, the government has got the judiciary, which only recently has become a force to reckon with, regularly pulling it up for administrative lapses, notably on reopening graft cases against Zardari.
It is with this Zardari government that the Manmohan Singh-led government wants to mend fences. While the Zardari government is trying hard and keeping its fingers crossed to be the first elected government in Pakistan’s history to complete term, there is no guarantee that the next government in Islamabad will continue from where Zardari and Co have left with India. (The same is also applicable if there is a change in regime in New Delhi after the next general election). If the present talks have helped anyone it is Pakistan. These talks are happening at a time when Pakistan has been isolated in the international arena with even the US being critical about it. Pakistan has managed to show Indo-Pak talks as a gesture from its side to achieve peace in the subcontinent. However, if Zardari’s UN speech recently, in which he brought up the Kashmir issue, is anything to go by, good relations are just a Trojan horse for Islamabad.

Manmohan’s Woes
In India, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government headed by Manmohan Singh has been dousing one fire after another for a great part of its second term in office. There has been a series of scams haunting the ruling coalition and this has adversely affected the image of the government. It is not just opposition parties that are attacking the government but also members of the ruling coalition and parties that are offering outside support to the coalition are critical of the ways of the government. Initially the government was accused of turning a blind eye to irregularities because of submitting to ‘coalition dharma’. In addition to this it was blamed of policy paralysis leading to the economy being depleted of the strength acquired over the years. Recently, from a snooze mode it has gone full throttle taking much-delayed steps to revive the economy. However, these moves have not generated the desired results.
It is this Manmohan Singh government that is trying to set things straight with Pakistan. It is often cited that Manmohan Singh has a deep desire to be seen as a PM who made great progress in building cordial ties with Pakistan. Singh’s desire to mend fences with India’s western neighbour is seen as unreasonably high given the deep-seated differences both the countries hold for each other.

Simmering Issues
India and Pakistan are nuclear powers and there is an unpleasant arms race between the two countries. The sine qua non of the Pakistan Army is to inflict damage on its eastern neighbour. Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Baglihar dam — the list of simmering issues is endless. Add to this the constant string of terror that starts from Pakistan into India.
Political observers do not see much hope in the efforts made by the two governments at this point of time. There is a general sense of hopelessness and resignation from the common man in both countries, never mind the jubilation shown by either government. This ad nauseam is partly because of the numerous previous talks and efforts to build ties that have not borne fruit. The relaxed visa regime also raises many concerns as past experiences have not been pleasant.
India’s move to better relations with Pakistan has come as a much-needed relief for the Zardari government. However, whether it will help the Manmohan Singh government is to be seen.
(This appeared as a comment in The New Indian Express)