October Issue 2003

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 18 years ago

The LFO is not the only issue MMA maulanas are presently agonising over. There are other equally pressing and less principled concerns. There is this one maulana, a senior minister in the Balochistan cabinet, who is extremely unhappy with the Land Cruiser placed at his disposal. He is a demanding a Lexus Grand Cruiser costing 8.5 million rupees. The speaker of the Balochistan Assembly meanwhile, wants his brand new, top-of-the-line Toyota replaced by a Mercedes, and new furnishings for his official residence.

But then these parliamentarians from one of the country’s most underdeveloped province are only taking their cue from the top.

Only last month, a country that is only now beginning to emerge from the quagmire of debt, and where 30 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, spent 60 million dollars on what was essentially a senseless public relations exercise.

Three delegations of around 50 parliamentarians were flown to the US for 15 days as part of the non-official component of the delegation to the UN General Assembly session. This in addition to the official entourages of the President and the Prime Minister.

All were flown business class, put up in 400 dollar-a-night hotel rooms, and what’s more, dished out allowances of between 102 to 204 USDs a day (presumably for shopping at Bloomingdales?).

Reminds one of the bad old days of the other general, Zia-ul-Haq ,who flew down for Umra every so often with a coterie of cronies —all at state expense. Protege Nawaz Sharif followed in his mentor’s ‘holy’ footsteps. Not that all that ‘godliness’ got us anywhere.

For that matter, neither did the September sojourns of Jamali and Musharraf. There was no addition to the three billion dollars promised to Musharraf earlier, in return for “good behaviour” -read toeing the US line -for the next five years. All Mr. Jamali got was lectures from State Department officials on Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, even as the US continued to bomb the South Waziristan agency on the Pakistan border in search of Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives.

Terrorism, in all its forms, needs to be fought, and it is a battle Pakistan will have to fight with an iron hand-for its own survival. But all we seem to be doing is allowing the Americans to fight their war against terrorism on our soil.

There is no escaping the fact that terrorism has become part of our national landscape. Any terrorist arrested in any part of the world is invariably discovered to have links with Pakistan, never mind how tenuous. The latest example is the arrest of Gunawan, the brother of Hambali, the mastermind of the Bali bombings, in Karachi. Now there is talk of a possible Jemmah Islamiyah “sleeper cell,” with links to Al Qaeda operating in Pakistan.

And then there is the other in-house terrorism.Sectarianism has reared its ugly head once again. On October 3, six Shias on their way to an imambara for their Friday prayers were gunned down in a bus. Will there be no respite from these wanton killings?

Proclamations and some token bans on extremist organisations aside, there seems to be a lack of political will to confront the forces of extremism head-on because, as is increasingly obvious, this might upset the governmental apple-cart so laboriously put together. One is a witness to the general’s backing out of a minor amendment to the blasphemy law. The general and his parliament will be put to the test once again as the recommendations of the National Commission on the Status of Women on the repeal of the Hudood Ordinances are presented before parliament.

Will the powers that be stand up and be counted among the progressive league of nations, or will the extremist elements be allowed to dictate the destiny of the nation?

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.