My choice today: Tue 10 June 2008 – Lawers Movement and Fake Posturing

Niaz A Naik, Jahangir Karamat and Nawaz Sharif

Warna bardasht kar – Wusatullah Khan

Musharraf and reconciliation – Asadullah Ghalib

Enough of posturing

TRUE, posturing is an essential element of statecraft but our politicians need to be reminded that it is now getting on people’s nerves. In fact, one wonders whether the overdose of political rhetoric is meant to serve as a smokescreen for the failure to draw up pragmatic policies that could give some relief to the people. Four months after the euphoric Feb 19 morning, the national scene remains dangerously chaotic. The victors, it seems, had not done any homework. Confrontation is in the air, the principal players seem to be re-enacting the post-Zia anarchy of the ’90s, and there is no evidence that any side is willing to compromise for the greater good of the nation and end the sense of crisis. Yesterday, the lawyers began their ‘march’ from Karachi to Rawalpindi to achieve two objectives — to have Iftikhar Chaudhry reinstated and to get President Pervez Musharraf to vacate the Army House. There is already a split among their ranks, and the PPP lawyers’ wing and those in the MQM camp have boycotted the ‘march’. Besides, it is not clear how a ‘march’ can achieve these objectives, given the fact that the differences between the PPP and the PML-N have become obvious. Barring an agreement between the two major parties, the issue is unlikely to be settled politically in the near future, and that means that one can expect more confrontation which in our part of the world could lead to tear-gassing, baton charges, demonstrators being dragged and hauled into police vans, and the media having a field day. In brief, no respite from the crisis, while food prices soar.

The big question is: who is responsible for perpetuating this crisis? If President Pervez Musharraf is doing what he has been accused of doing — conspiring against a system he himself fathered — what stops the anti-Musharraf forces which control parliament to throw him out by legal and constitutional means? The truth is that the change in the PPP’s stance on the judges has added to the political confusion. Either it should not have committed to Iftikhar Chaudhry’s reinstatement, or if it did, as indeed it did at Bhurban, it should have honoured its commitment. Let down, the PML-N seems determined to pursue this goal in a scenario in which the odds seem pitted against it. The ultimate casualty is the people’s hopes — the people, who want no more than the right to live and have at least one square meal a day.

The PPP and PML-N today are in the corridors of power because of the people’s vote. Would they care to rise above partisan considerations and do something for the people’s good? The true indication of their concern, or lack of it, for their voters will be the budget. Will it be people-friendly? (Dawn)

Handouts: keep your fingers crossed!

As recommended by a group of eminent economists, the government is getting ready to arrange direct payment of cash subsidy to the poorest segment of the population in the coming budget. According to reports, the government may be targeting over 5 million people. As Mr Asif Ali Zardari has said, the handouts may be Rs1000 to Rs1500 per person. The handouts will be monthly, for a period of 12 months initially. The total dent in the budget may be around Rs 60 billion.

The list of over five million people is reportedly being compiled from various sources such as baitul maal. This would amount to a final admission that the so-called divine system of zakat has failed to deliver, after which the government would be justified in scrapping the 30,000 zakat committees run on zakat funds and ploughing into the subsidy the billions accumulated in the national zakat fund. If poverty is the yardstick then the NWFP comes first as deserving of handouts, followed by Balochistan and Sindh. Punjab, according to statistics, is not poverty-stricken compared to the other three. This will alleviate the hardship after the government passes on the real prices of wheat, oil and electricity to the consumers. In fact the government might then discover that the poor clamouring for handouts are far more than just 5 million. And if the handouts go haywire, it would be a double whammy for the poor in Pakistan. (Daily Times)

Divided we fall

THOUGH nothing novel in idea or spirit, the three-day congregation of Muslim leaders and thinkers from around the world in Makkah has to be appreciated for what it was: an attempt to achieve some level of intra-religious harmony before reaching out for full-scale inter-faith interaction. The Muslim-kill-Muslim violence has for long kept the community divided, earning not just a bad name for the faithful both in historical and contemporary terms but also allowing others to play on such fissures. Saudi Arabia, indeed, has the spiritual leadership in the Islamic world and the economic clout to raise the right kind of questions and help change the mindset of lay Muslims who form close to 20 per cent of the global population. To his credit, King Abdullah, since he took over in August 2005, has taken some meaningful steps in that direction. On the inter-faith front, he broke fresh ground by meeting Pope Benedict at the Vatican. Besides, he took part in a US-hosted gathering in Annapolis where an Israeli delegation was also in attendance. On the other hand, to heal wounds within the Muslim community, he has been quietly trying to engender less adversarial ties with Iran, advocating a balanced approach with the West. As a confirmation of his reconciliatory approach, the king also invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to last year’s annual pilgrimage, which was the first such invitation to an Iranian president.

The presence of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani at the recent Makkah gathering — again a brainchild of the king — was yet another indication of the thaw between the two nations. When the two entered the venue together, it was more than mere symbolism; it was a message to the world that despite differences the Muslim world was united on most issues confronting it. And it was Mr Rafsanjani’s call that echoed in the final communiqué which urged various groups and schools of thought within Islam to close ranks and achieve unity while attempting to understand other religions and cultures and to strive for a peaceful coexistence with others. The world today is a troubled place, much more complex than during the bipolar existence of the Cold War era. Like it or not, the fact remains that the fault line today runs across religious lines. Any chance for Muslims to have a real say in world affairs is based on their ability to put up a united face. The age-old maxim of ‘divided we fall’ was never truer. (Dawn)