Monday, July 02, 2012

Pakistan in the extreme by Sayeed Hasan Khan and Kurt Jacobsen

Too many Westerners view Pakistan as a dark fantasyland populated by nothing but duplicitous politicos and religious fanatics. This faraway country of which most Westerners know precious little is, the media assures them, a "sanctuary" for rabid terrorists.

The term "sanctuary" implies that mountainous areas were created for the single nefarious purpose of threatening innocent Westerners.

That even the British empire long ago learned to leave inhospitable border regions alone is a fact omitted from many a sputtering indignant account. So reputed analysts get away with peddling any fear-mongering image they please in Western mass media. In his latest book even the estimable Ahmed Rashid sadly has given in to hysterical images of Pakistan.

Pakistan contains plenty of whopping woes and afflictions from which to take your pick for the very worst one. True. But meddling external actors rarely are deemed to be major contributors to the plight that these well-paid and well-positioned experts decry. So the horrific flourishing of ‘Kalashnikov culture’, drug dealing and jihadis since the 1980s is regarded as having absolutely nothing to do with the whims of fickle US foreign policy.

 Americans, like imperial elites earlier, love to say to the world, and to each other, that everything is your own fault. It’s a handy device by which elites manage to pretend today that the economic crisis was caused by a greedy public and not by slick financial manipulators, such as themselves.

Obama accordingly reckons that Pakistan’s border region "the most dangerous place in the world", while the CIA chief and former General, David Petraeus, dubbed it the apparently everlasting headquarters for al-Qaeda. A RAND report links several utterly loony post-9/11 attempts to bomb Manhattan to Pakistan-based plotters (RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy through research and analysis).

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also opined that most plots against Britain had Pakistani origins. Apparently, masterminds in Pakistan are absolutely essential to conjure the procession of thoroughly bungled and amateurish plots since 9/11, usually nursed along by planted informers and spies. If so, the West ought to feel extremely secure indeed. It’s been all downhill for Islamic terrorists since Khalid Sheikh Muhamed allegedly boasted that he trained the 9/11 hijackers. The enemy the West faces is not often a cut above the sorry lot of goofs in the satirical film, Four Lions.

The main US interests in the region are to: (1) destroy the al-Qaeda; and (2) stabilise the area. That a ruthless pursuit of the first aim endangers the second remains the American/Nato quandary. At the end of Bush’s administration in 2008, the US National Intelligence Council warned that escalating commando and drone attacks in North-west Pakistan generated more enemies than they eliminated and risked "destabilising the Pakistan military, which might divide over the policy."

Only the Taliban (and the US weapons and energy industries) thereby prosper. That, for a refreshing change, was an intelligent intelligence report. But a typical way the foreign policy elites solve this kind of problem is by defining it out of existence.

RAND experts, for example, decided that militant groups represent a constant threat to Pakistan, as though cruel counter-insurgency tactics were not a factor in recruiting sympathisers. Yet what actually are Pakistani public attitudes towards extremism? You would never guess from reading most experts that recent elections repudiated extremist parties.

Highly welcome then is a recent study of Pakistan political attitudes, part of a series of academic investigations, which might dispel obstructive and unhelpful Western beliefs. The survey, deftly conducted (if not always admirably interpreted) by Princeton and Georgetown University researchers, in conjunction with local Sedco, punctures a ballooning myth.

The researcher surveyed 6000 people across the four provinces with tactful and tactically worded questionnaires. What they found won’t be news to astute local observers but it is revelatory to most outsiders.

They found that the mass of poor people, especially the rural poor, in Pakistan are not inclined to support religious militants. The poor acutely suffer the consequences of the Islamic militants’ actions, and suffer the reprisals by authorities afterwards, at no discernible gain to themselves. So they accordingly are not queuing up feverishly to enlist in vengeful jihadic enterprises. This is not the same thing as saying the rural masses would not change their conditions if they could. Islamic forms of militancy offer no such hope.

The sober finding, however, is bound to be misread as the lesson that punitive actions will force the population into line, which is a perpetually popular notion in higher circles. Many moronic studies of the Vietnam War said exactly the same thing about the South-east Asian peasantry, who were regarded as stupid or stolid, or both. Those disgraceful analysts of course were wrong, though it usually didn’t hurt their careers.

So poverty allegedly does not contribute to militancy, Islamic or otherwise, even if an unspecified portion of recruits, the study allows, do come from these strata. The vast majority of poor Pakistanis are not aching to conquer, convert, and enslave Nato powers, they just don’t want to be bothered by the latter (which appears to be too much to ask).

The researchers find that "poor and wealthy districts are less supportive of militants on average than those from middle-income districts." Violence is "heavily concentrated in urban areas", if one skirts major exceptions such as campaigns in Swat, Baluchistan and the Frontier.

The minority middle class, brimming with educated under-employed people, are more likely to be supportive of religious militants, in word if not in deed. In developmental studies this strata has always posed a worry because, if growing, they are tinder for radical solutions. This phenomenon deserves attention. Yet the study concludes that "it is unlikely that improving the material well-being of individuals will reduce support for violent political organisations."

The study answers not to concerned Pakistanis but to the agenda of outside powers. They advise their audience not to indulge in poverty programmes. For these researchers a broad consensus on the link between poverty and violence is proving elusive: though we recommend they consider, for example, James Scott’s incisive studies of peasant resistance to get a few clues.

Whether aid reaches the intended people, after everyone in between has taken a cut, is a different question. (In our reading of the voluminous counter-insurgency literature, by the way, it is anything but a truism that poverty is linked to discontent.) Poverty is briefly mentioned and swiftly whisked away to focus on military means.

Clearly, corruption, poverty and exploitation are not problems to authorities until they become opportunities for militants to exploit, which tells one a lot about the mindset of both analysts and authorities.

The writers are freelance journalists and researchers.


Why not use it to secure a country that belongs to all rather than Eelam for some?

Sampanthan’s change of strategy:

The TNA leader R. Sampanthan’s recent speech at the 14th annual ITAK convention has raised a lot of public interest. After many years in the political arena and a mouthpiece of the LTTE, Sampathan used the Batticaloa platform to remind that his group was still relevant, active and invigourated, particularly after the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka. People should not therefore discount him and his group as a spent force. His speech comes at a time when the young Tamils generation is beginning to question the old guards: some more openly while others tacitly, calling for a new strategy and leadership to advance Tamil cause given the changing socio-political realities and circumstances in the country and internationally. Changing Eastern Province political climate over the past six years has diluted ground aspirations compared to the time when this province remained merged with the Northern Province to demand a separate Tamil homeland. Mr.Sampathan’s speech served a purpose; recharging confidence among the party members and sympathizers within and outside the country that he is still strong to occupy the leadership.

Outside Unitary Lanka

What his party aspires for is now clear when Sampathan said "Our expectation for a solution to the ethnic problem of the sovereignty of the Tamil people is based on political structure outside that of a unitary government, in a united Sri Lanka in which Tamil people have all powers of the government needed to live with self respect and self sufficiency. We believe that only within such a structure of government Tamil people truly enjoy the right to internal self-determination that is their inalienable right"

Immediately, Sampanthan also spoke of "The position that the North and East of Sri Lanka are areas of historical habitation of Tamil speaking people cannot be compromised in this structure of government". What is more confusing is the context in which he used Tamil speaking people (in which Muslims presumably are also included) and Tamil People. From his assertions "Any solution to the ethnic problem concerning the Tamil people must be acceptable to the Muslim community of Sri Lanka" and " The structure of government in Sri Lanka must also allow the Muslim community to fulfill their social, economic and political aspirations" one gets the impression that not all component groups of Tamil speaking people will be in the structure of government that the Tamil people desire to truly enjoy the right to internal self-determination which is considered their inalienable right. By this Sampanthan seems to advocate separate arrangements for Tamil speaking people (i.e. Muslims) outside that of the Tamil People. What happens if any arrangement only with the Tamil people in the North and East is unacceptable to the other Tamil speaking people? What happens if arrangements that will enable internal self-determination as in Sampathan’s proposal is not acceptable to the Muslims? Has there been any discussion on common positions between the Tamil people and the Tamil speaking people and, if so, what are they and when did this happen?

Muslims also discriminated

Like the Tamils, Muslims in Sri Lanka are also a minority, and they too periodically have complained about being marginalized and discriminated. However, Muslims had not taken the position that only North and East are areas of historical habitation but always maintained that they too are rightful citizens of this country. Therefore, they are entitled for equal rights and treatment constitutionally accorded to any other citizen wherever they choose to live. Historically, while maintaining religious identities, Muslims have blended with other communities socio-culturally. In spite of long years of cordiality between the Muslims and Tamils, the LTTE did not hesitate to declare Muslims unwanted in their ‘homeland’.

Given the vast Tamil exodus in the past seeking refuge and citizenship in other countries – a practice that continues even today in spite of stringent legal barriers and life threatening circumstances- the number of Muslims in this country, as of now, may even outnumber the Tamils. Nonetheless, Muslims will be very uncomfortable with an arrangement that Sampanthan is calling for; self determination someday that he hopes for with or without the international support.

Betrayed by Muslim politicos

Muslims of this country do appreciate Sampathan’s concern for them. Almost every Muslim member elected to parliament has deserted promises made to the voters and joined the government to toe its policy lines, even supporting constitutional amendments meant to perpetuate power and control by one group. As such, genuine grievances of the Muslim community are now underplayed or unattended to. Unfortunately, Muslim parliamentarians have repeatedly shown an affinity to cross over to other political camps for personal gains, and the Muslim community may have to put up with such representatives for a long time to come. Under these Circumstances, Sampanthan’s plea for Muslim interest is a welcome development. However, given LTTE hostility towards Muslims, bitterness and trust deficit between the Tamil/Muslim communities arising out of events like the expulsion of the Muslims from the Northern Province, massacre of worshipers inside mosques, confiscation and demolition of Muslim villages and properties, besiege of Muslim villages and civilian displacement from time to time as it happened in Muttur 2006, heavy sale taxation and boycott campaign against businesses with Muslim ownership, outright objection to the inclusion of Muslim representation in the post-CFA peace talks and TNA’s silence when it could have diffused tension between the two communities do not give credence that there is now an attitudinal change and Sampanthan’s concern for Muslims is genuine. Such goodwill positions had been bartered in the past between TNA and SLMC, and no one took them seriously then and no one will take them seriously now.

No one doubts Sampanthan’s intent and commitment to serve the Tamils. Also, there is no doubt that the Tamil community has suffered. Some argue that the Tamils had their prime time under the British, and because of the socio-development disparity caused during pre-independence other communities had some catching up to do. However, post-independent government strategies to achieve it were discriminatory and largely benefitted one group. Violence as a strategic choice by the Tamils to rectify post-independent discrepancies in governance caused even greater human suffering and impeded development throughout the country. What seems important today is to reconfigure our thoughts and actions to move away from a position of hurting stalemate and concentrate all energies rebuilding this country for all. Unfortunately, this is not happening.

No hate attacks

A country focused on reconciliation and rebuilding cannot allow hate attacks on people and their places of worship. Land grabbing, kidnapping and proliferation of symbols of one religion in places predominantly inhabited by followers other faiths are now on the increase. Continued and strong military presence in war affected areas, increasing crime and breakdown of law and order, pervasive corruption and waste of public resources go unabated. After the war, child abuse has become a menace everywhere. These are not positive signs for a country on a recovery path. Anti-social activities and hate crimes were once blamed on the insurgents but, such crimes are now being openly used with impunity to solidify party positions or frighten dissidents. These may have contributed to hardening TNA position as prospects of a home grown solution for Tamil grievances fade, while the government seems to harden its position to ensure that terrorism cannot raise its head again and separate homeland cannot be justified on the basis of group-affinity numerical strength.

Consider other options

Time has come to consider other options, and starting from a ground zero is one of them. This will mean everyone in this country to openly accept that mistakes have been made by all sides and make a fresh commitment for a new Sri Lanka, laid on a foundation which will truly internalize and respect ethnic diversity, freedom of worship, meritocracy ensuring the best person for the right job, rewarding professional excellence, independent public service, judiciary and law enforcement agencies, revised legal systems and penal codes to facilitate justice even to the weakest and strengthen deterrence and civic consciousness that encourage corporate responsibility to ensure safety and security of the present and future generations. All post-independent constitutions had provisions but, we couldn’t use them effectively to shape a country that belongs to all. Thus, without an attitudinal change, no new constitution will lead to a better Sri Lanka. Can Mr. Sampanthan adopt his new strategy - a ground zero option - in which the past is put behind, and the demand is to concentrate on rebuilding the country with stringent constitutional safeguards against misuse of governance in order to deny equal rights and opportunities to all its citizens. Can the government reciprocate this demand in good faith, and carry along with it the majority community, particularly its hardcore that sharpens its saber against the minority every now and then? As the legislators and those in the executive arm have benefitted immensely by propagating dysfunctional system of governance for so long there may be resistance for any change? What will it take to make the attitudinal transformation to accept a ground zero strategy?

The world entrusted the politicians far too long to determine destiny of the respective countries. Politicians have arrogated in their positions, and left the people astray in moral, financial, territorial and environmental crises. It will take a rare kind of visionary leadership to rebuild a country but it can only happen if there is genuine willingness to build a more caring and integrated society. Dasaraja Dharma may have been practiced in the past and, unfortunately today, Sri Lanka does not have it.

Three spied on STF movements for Tiger detainees

Vavuniya police last Friday arrested three persons, who were said to be LTTE spies. They are alleged to have been passing information on STF movements to the LTTE suspects detained in the Vavuniya prison.

A woman and two men had been arrested, Headquarters Inspector Vavuniya Police, Chief Inspector Erick Perera said.

He said that as some lawyers were recording the operation to rescue three guards held hostage by the detainees there, their phones had also been taken into custody and the footage deleted.

Special Task Force (STF) Commandant, DIG R. W. Chandrasiri Ranawana yesterday revealed that about 28 LTTE prisoners, detained in the Vavuniya prison, had satellite phones to pass information to the Tamil Diaspora abroad. Those phones were detected during the operation to rescue the three prison guards. The STF seized a total of 57 mobile phones during the raid on the prison.

He said that ASP Silvester Wijesinghe had been rushed to Vavuniya with special weapons and Tactic Unit commandoes on June 28 with 40 elite commandoes. Approximately 80 commandoes participated in the rescue of the three prison guards. The operation commenced at 12.00 noon on June 29 and was over at 12.45 p.m. All the prisoners were transferred to the Anuradhapura prison immediately afterwards.

Ranawana added that of 200 prisoners at the Vavuniya prison, 28 were LTTE detainees. The Vavuniya prison was located near the Court complex.

He said that the reason for taking three prison guards hostage was because they were transferring three detainees to the Anuradhapura prison on a Court order. The inmates were demanding that they be retained in the Vuvuniya prison. As the authorities refused to do so they staged a hunger strike. But food items adequate for six months were found inside the prison.