COMMENT: The Swat deal is wrong —Shaukat Qadir

28 02 2009

Source: Dailytimes

The Swat deal amounts to the opening of a Pandora’s Box: where will it stop? The other chapters of the Taliban are only waiting to ask for their own ‘Islamic’ government. Is this the beginning of the real Talibanisation of the NWFP?

The Taliban in Pakistan are far from a monolithic structure. There is, at best, a loose union with a disputed leadership and undefined hierarchy. However, the undisputed Taliban leader in Swat is Fazlullah. Pakistan has attempted to strike a peace deal with the Swat Taliban, in return for the imposition of sharia — Islamic law — in Swat. The attempt has been heralded by some, viewed sceptically by others, and condemned by a few. Let us attempt to examine what is wrong with this deal.

To begin with, the government’s deal has been brokered with Sufi Muhammed, Fazlullah’s father-in-law, not with Fazlullah who, despite their relationship (or because of it), is not on the best of terms with Sufi. If Fazlullah accepts Sufi’s terms, it might result in Sufi becoming more powerful; else the endeavour could deteriorate to an internecine battle for turfs, doomed to fail from the outset.

If one vectors into this equation that the Taliban are hated by the population for all that they stand for and can rule only by force, it is obvious that the deal can, at best, offer a breather and no more.

The provincial government, having announced that it is prepared to go the extra mile to ensure the success of this deal, has now announced its intention of arming the local population to fight against the Taliban and that ‘arms not being used against the Taliban would be withdrawn’. How that will be discovered or how the arms, once given, will be recovered remains a mystery. The central government is having second thoughts anyway.

However, irrespective of whether it works or not, this deal is a recipe for disaster, unless we are prepared to hand Islam over to the Taliban and allow them to legalise their violation of every law of the land and every tenet of Islam.

The Quran states again and again that Islam is progressive; even Saudi Arabia that had been living with its archaic laws is attempting to change. Pakistan is, on the other hand, prepared to allow itself to be held hostage to these self-styled saviours of Islam.

I have persistently numbered among those who advocate negotiating with terrorists, though from a position of strength, and that the use of force alone is not the answer. I have continued to quote the IRA and Sein Fenn as an example of erstwhile terrorists who are today negotiating the fate of Ireland with the British government.

However, there is a line beyond which it is not possible for any state to cede its authority. While it is possible to negotiate a mutually acceptable form of government that reflects the aspirations of the people, no state should be prepared to accept a state within a state, which is governed by force, irrespective of the wishes of the governed.

One meaning of the word ‘Islam’ is peace; the Quran forbids its followers to kill innocent people or to take their own lives. However, the Taliban preach that to take one’s own life as a suicide bomber is not only the path to heaven for the bomber, but that he/she is also doing a favour to those killed for, unknowingly, they too will have died in the cause of Allah and will thus go to heaven.

Hazrat Bibi Khadija RA asked the Prophet PBUH for his hand in marriage. Islam permits each woman to choose her mate and seek divorce if unhappy, just as to the male. Yet the Taliban find justification for ‘honour killing’; the killing of disobedient female offspring, and women who choose their own mate or seek divorce against their parents’ wishes.

Islam asks its followers to seek knowledge and educate themselves; one of the most famous sayings of the Prophet PBUH is ‘seek knowledge, even if you have to travel to China for it’. Yet the Taliban condemn knowledge as being un-Islamic: they burn girls’ schools, throw acid on the faces of girls who defy them in persisting to seek knowledge, and murder persistent teachers.

Even if schools in Swat resume classes, what will they teach? If they have their own courts, what justice will they offer? Will not the next generation of Swatis be condemned to become Taliban?

They forget history and declare democracy to be un-Islamic. The first Caliph, Hazrat Abu Bakr RA was deemed to have been nominated by the Prophet PBUH, since he was asked by the Prophet PBUH to lead the Friday prayers when He fell ill. Yet, Abu Bakr RA did not assume his office until the Friday congregation following the death of the Prophet PBUH, when he was accepted unopposed and unanimously by the congregation. The same occurred following the death of Hazrat Abu Bakr RA when Hazrat Omer RA became Caliph. Following Hazrat Omer’s death, Hazrat Ali RA decided to contest the nomination of Hazrat Osman RA, but withdrew when he realised that Hazrat Osman RA was likely to win. What else is an election or democracy?

In fact, Islam is the first democracy in which not only was the Caliph appointed in accordance with the wishes of the people, he was accountable to the people during his rule. Numerous instances are recorded in history when common people challenged ruling Caliphs and had to be satisfied.

Finally, the Swat deal amounts to the opening of a Pandora’s Box: where will it stop? The other chapters of the Taliban are only waiting to ask for their own ‘Islamic’ government. Is this the beginning of the real Talibanisation of the NWFP?

If so, does no one realise that if they are permitted to take over a province, they will find time to consolidate and, some day in the not too distant future, threaten Islamabad, something they are incapable of doing, now or ever, unless the state gives them such an opening in Swat.

This article is a modified version of one originally written for the National

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The Roots Of Terrorism Are Internal, Not External

15 02 2009

Source: Radio free europe

As long as Pakistan’s youth have little choice but conservative religious education, they will be trapped in the same cycle of poverty and extremism.

February 13, 2009
By M. D. Nalapat

Muslims across the world have a right to be angry.

Despite being blessed with natural riches and an expanding population, 60 percent of them are illiterate, a figure that rises to more than 70 percent in the case of women.

More than half the world’s Muslims live under authoritarian rule and are denied the right to vote and other benefits of democracy. Access to travel and modern education is reserved for the elite, as is the ownership of assets.

In short, the long-established elites in many Muslim-majority countries have so monopolized power and its benefits that the rest of the population continues to suffer discrimination and lack of opportunity

Take the example of Pakistan, a country that today produces large numbers of terrorists. Unlike neighboring India, where democracy has taken deep root and has led to land and economic reforms across more than 80 percent of the country, Pakistan’s rural poor continue to suffer under landlords who use them almost as draft animals.

Politics in Pakistan is very largely controlled either by this feudal elite or their cousins, the business community that acquired its wealth through contacts with the all-powerful armed forces. People’s Party leader and President Asif Ali Zardari comes from a family of feudal landlords, while Nawaz Sharif, the second-most-powerful politician in Pakistan and head of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), is one of the richest businesspersons in the country. In the National Assembly, there are almost no representatives of the urban or rural poor, even though together those groups constitute more than 80 percent of the population.

Teaching To Fail

Why is it that the people of Pakistan have thus far been unable to empower themselves in a way that ensures a fairer distribution of national assets? Why is it that after six decades of independence, only the feudal elite and the well-connected can hope to succeed in Pakistan?

Apart from the absence of land reform designed to free the millions of peasants and landless from the tyranny of the feudal lords, another reason why Pakistan has become a problem for the international community is its education system, especially at the school level. Because of extreme poverty and lack of educational infrastructure, many parents have no option but to send their children to the “madrasahs,” or religious schools. Given a choice, most of these parents — and their children — would probably prefer a comprehensive education, rather than the restricted curriculum available within a madrasah.

Pakistan’s elite: Nawaz Sharif (left) with Asif Ali Zardari (center) and his son Bilawal

In India, the Ministry of Human Resource Development began a scheme six years ago that provided madrasahs state-funded access to computers, as well as to subjects such as the English language, and several religious schools have taken advantage of this to expand their staff and the range of subjects taught. While an old-fashioned madrasah education does not equip a graduate to compete effectively in the global marketplace, students in the more modern madrasahs in India are enabled, by a fusion of religious and comprehensive teaching, to handle a much greater variety of occupations than their counterparts from old-fashioned institutions.

Even the most fanatical religious extremist does not hesitate to use the Internet or modern methods of travel and communication, correctly recognizing in them not just attributes of culture but tools for self-betterment. Likewise, language too is only a method of personal advancement, and the learning of English — the international language of communication — can open the way to opportunities that would otherwise remain closed.

While in India several madrasahs have now dropped their objection to the teaching of English (and in some cases, even to teaching in English), in Pakistan those who run the madrasahs remain opposed to any innovations in their curricula. The result is that hundreds of thousands of students graduate from religious schools without the ability to compete in the international jobs marketplace.

No One Else To Blame

Because of this frustration, some turn to extremism, just as many from poor urban and rural families in Pakistan turn to extremism because local elites have blocked their paths to advancement.

Although the local elite in Pakistan blames external factors for the accelerated radicalization of youth in the country, pointing to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the disputed Kashmir region, the truth is that they themselves are the culprits. It is the ramshackle educational structure that they have imposed on the poor that is to blame. It is the absence of opportunity caused by the stranglehold of the feudal elite in the rural areas and the commercial-military elite in the cities that has led thousands of youths towards radicalism.

By always emphasizing external factors, the elites in Pakistan hope to be able to continue concealing from the rest of the population the fact that they themselves are the guilty persons. They themselves are responsible for the poverty and the lack of opportunity in Pakistan that creates the atmosphere in which so many embrace radicalism.

The lone individual caught in the November 26-28 Mumbai terror attack, Ajmal Kasab, represents the face of this new terrorist. He joined the Lashkar-e-Taiba group because it provided him with both an income and a social identity. Unless fundamental reforms take place within Pakistan’s society and educational system, the country will continue to turn out terrorists, even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, along with those in Kashmir, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The roots of terrorism are internal, not external.

The Time For Truth

A situation similar to that in Pakistan exists in several other Muslim-majority countries, many of which are ruled by a single family. True, a few monarchies have introduced reforms, such as Kuwait, where elections take place in which even women have the vote, but others have continued to deny their populations any say in governance. Small wonder that it is in such countries that extremists find fertile ground to recruit the young to their deadly cause.

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be good, but wouldn’t solve Pakistan’s problems.

Yes, Iraq is important. This writer has consistently supported the right of the Iraqi people to run their own country, rather than have important issues decided from outside. Yes, Afghanistan is important, as is a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that ensures a prosperous Palestinian territory. For unless people in the Palestinian Territories (who are among the most versatile in the world) are enabled to build up their economy, recruitment will continue to organizations that seek to destroy Israel. Yes, the people of Kashmir need to be assured that their interests and identity will be preserved, so that some in their midst cease to resort to violence and terror in the cause of an independent homeland.

However, what the peoples of the Muslim-majority countries need most is democratic governance, the removal of feudal constraints to personal advancement, and the creation of educational infrastructure that can once again propel Muslims to the forefront of human creativity.

For too long have feudal and other elites fooled the people by blaming on external factors problems caused exclusively by their own oppression and misgovernance. This cloak needs to be pulled away and the truth exposed. Which is the shameful misuse of religion and its symbols to conceal the absence of internal reform. Which is the attempt to divert public attention towards external conflicts in order to prevent people from looking too closely at their own situation and its real causes.

The time for internal reform has arrived.

M.D. Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair and is director of the Department of Geopolitics at Manipal University in India. The views expressed in this commentary are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL





Challenges in extremist-hit areas

30 05 2008

22 May, 2008, 0000 hrs IST, TNN

Growth feeds democracy — this is the essence of the strategy of inclusive growth, in contrast to the conventional wisdom on the Left that growth and prosperity are achieved by preying upon the common people. A recent expert group report on Naxalite violence submitted to the Planning Commission echoes the philosophy of inclusive growth. This is welcome.

But the report presents development essentially as an administrative task, to be carried out by the government through wise policy, sound planning, enlightened legislation and honest implementation. What this leaves out is the political essence of the process of development.

The Planning Commission appointed a 17-member committee, including three former police chiefs and senior administrators, along with social scientists and human rights activists, to submit a report on development challenges in extremist-affected areas.

The committee’s report is available on the Planning Commission’s website. The report calls for departing from a security-centric view of tackling naxalite violence. This is a refreshing break from the mainstream approach to the problem. However, the report can be faulted for not offering a radical enough vision of what is possible when it comes to emancipation of the oppressed.
The fault, in turn, stems from inadequate appreciation of the changes that globalisation has heralded and its immense potential to change lives for the better, particularly for those at the bottom of the economic hierarchy. One crucial change is that the world is awash with savings. Investible resources are available in plenty. What is scarce is availability of profitable avenues for their deployment — the sub-prime crisis shows what happens when unregulated greed mediates the mismatch between bounteous supplies of capital and a paucity of sensible investment opportunities.

And one consequence of this abundance of investible resources is that primitive accumulation of capital, through dispossession and loot, is no longer necessary for businesses to commence and flourish. Try telling the farmers of Singur or the those being evicted from their land for the Posco project this nice story about the historical obsolescence of primitive accumulation of capital, some might sneer. True, dispossession and loot do often take place, but these are far from necessary today.

Another facet of globalised growth that needs to be fully internalised in development thought is its enormous potential for wealth creation, provided people are integrated into the global production process.

Following from this is the need to carry out enormous, sustained research into strategies of creating proactive roles for the rural poor in the process of urbanisation and industrialisation.

The simple point is that it is not enough to give those displaced by new projects from their traditional land and occupations a package of relief and rehabilitation based on the current market value of the land they lose or occupations they give up.

That land use will change extensively across India has to be accepted and welcomed, if India is to build the new roads, railways towns, factories, mines, power plants, ports and airports that would create new prosperity. Millions of people will be uprooted from their traditional habitats, physical as well as economic. It is not enough to offer them ‘compensation’ linked to the current market value of what they lose. Those categorised today as ‘project-affected’ must be transformed into stakeholders in the project. This calls for concerted efforts in skills creation, creating new companies or cooperatives of the ‘project-affected’ to carry out essential services for the new project such as transportation services, construction, maintenance, etc.

But all this cannot happen, merely on account of enlightened policy. The first precondition for any pro-poor policy to work is political mobilisation of the poor, so that they have agency, a sense of entitlement and the will to enforce their rights. This cannot come from government schemes or better planning or honest administrators. Voluntary organisations can help. But there is no substitute for the intervention of a political party with the right vision, when it comes to political mobilisation.

Even today, we read reports of six-year-old girls being thrown into the fire for the crime of overstepping their Dalit boundaries and daring to walk on a road frequented by upper caste Thakurs. Scheduled caste panchayat presidents dare not assume office in some parts of the country. Tribal people are cheated, their lands are sold, they themselves are sold by their social superiors. Such violence and oppression feed the naxalite movement in this country.

Policing can tackle the core activists who preach and practise violence as the only solution. But unless redemptive politics removes the grounds for rural violence, mere policing will only breed more violence.





The unseemly politics of terrorism in India (Commentary)

25 05 2008

The unseemly politics of terrorism in India (Commentary)

May 25th, 2008
Courtesy: thaindian.com

By K. Subrahmanyam
Following the Jaipur terror blasts resulting in over 60 deaths, there is an intense debate in the country on how to deal with terrorism. As is very characteristic of the political culture of this country, this outrage, instead of bringing our political parties together in a united effort to fight terrorism, has led to mutual recrimination. This would give a great deal of comfort and encouragement to the trans-national and intra-national terrorist organisations that target this country. The debate is about the policies towards terrorists advocated by different parties, the laws available to counter them, the jurisdiction of various central and state agencies, adequacies and capabilities of organisations at centre and states etc. All these are very legitimate issues needing to be debated constructively. Instead of using those arguments to score points against political rivals there is an imperative need for political parties to get into a meaningful dialogue among themselves.

Contrast the behaviour of Indian political parties with that of parties in other mature democracies such as the US, Britain and European Union countries. In no other country claiming to be a democracy do we see as much acrimony in facing what is recognised as a national threat. This is the situation in a country that has been engaged in fighting terrorism for well over a quarter of a century.

This calls for a serious introspection among our people, academia, media and politicians on the basic features of our society and political culture that makes this country so vulnerable to terrorism and so difficult to unify in countering it.

Though the UN may not have succeeded in formulating an agreed definition of terrorism, there is commonly accepted definition largely acceptable to the social scientists. Terrorism is the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against people or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies often to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives.

While explosions like those in Jaipur, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Malegaon, Bangalore and Varanasi are recognised as terrorist acts, the killing of people during the election violence (as in West Bengal recently) has been happening routinely and is not considered as terrorism for some inexplicable reasons. Similarly, when civilians are killed in ‘bandhs’ called by political parties, they are also not described as terrorism.

But since terrorism is violence or threatened violence against people and property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies to achieve political, religious or ideological purposes, in fact all such violence should be treated as terrorism. Further, when the presiding officer of a legislature is prevented from discharging his legal duties by members storming into the Well of the house or through various moves such as shouting, that too amounts to violence to intimidate the presiding officer to achieve political objectives.

In other words, the behaviour of legislators amount to terrorism. One does not see such behaviour of parliamentary terrorism, bandh terrorism and electoral terrorism in other mature democracies. It is submitted here that all these categories of terrorism form a continuum and to arrive at the place and role of religious extremist terrorism, one must look at the whole spectrum of terrorism.

When parliamentary terrorism, bandh terrorism and electoral terrorism are tolerated by the majority in the country, that too often in the name of democracy, freedom, right to protest — all of which are permissible only if violence is scrupulously avoided — then some others push the envelope further and resort to political, religious and ideological terrorism.

It must also be clear that violence does not necessarily mean inflicting bodily harm to another person. It also means preventing and intimidating the other person’s legitimate freedom of action or legal functions. Preventing the presiding officer from discharging his legitimate duties by slogan shouting and storming the Well of the house are clear cases of violence. Stopping traffic on roads and compelling shopkeepers to shut down through intimidation are also acts of violence. They are being undertaken for political, ideological or religious purposes. Therefore they are all acts of terrorism.

While in some other parts of the world it has been argued that one man’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter, it would appear in India that one man’s terrorism is projected as another person’s legitimate democratic political activity: Often it becomes a matter of double standard that one’s own terrorism is permissible political activity the other person’s is not.

Which decent democracy will need hundreds and thousands of police and paramilitary personnel will be required to guard the elementary right in democracy — voting in the election — to be exercised? We take pride that the country has held successive free and fair elections under such conditions of strict policing to avoid largescale political terrorism being resorted to by our political parties. Our Election Commission is not in a position to assure our people that they will be in a position to hold a one-day poll all over the country without terrorist violence resorted to by political parties. There is yet no sense of shame or remorse among our political parties on this kind of political culture nurtured in this democracy.

In other genuine democratic countries, it is easier for security services to gather intelligence about preparations to resort to terrorism from the common citizen since such activities involving potential violence will be an aberration in the society. In India there is no rapport between the common citizen and the police force as the latter has been politicised and made an instrumentality of the ruling party.

Secondly, given the Indian political culture where local dons turn into ‘netas’ and often enjoy political power and patronage, the common citizen is not willing to take the risk of communicating to the police or security services such aberrant activities.

The politicians themselves have denigrated the reputation of the police and security services with their charges that all cases against political persons are foisted ones at the instigation of the parties in power. We have situations in which political dons are able to run their criminal empires dealing with extortion (which invariably involves terrorism) from jail cells.

While terrorism is a specific threat in other democracies, in India it is part of our present political culture. In these circumstances it is difficult to expect terrorism of the Jaipur, Bombay, Hyderabad type to be overcome before the country is able to cleanse our parliament of the scourge and to a significant extent our electoral process. But there is not even adequate awareness in the country about the nature of terrorism that is afflicting the country.

It is extremely unlikely the present generation of senior political leaders can be expected to be de-conditioned from their mindsets that accept terrorism of certain categories as part of politics. It is now up to the civil society to bring about a basic change in the perception of our politicians.

(K. Subrahmanyam is India’s pre-eminent analyst on strategic and international affairs. He can be contacted at ksubrahmanyam51@gmail.com)