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EDITORIALS

Modi remains in the dock
Apex court order is damning

I
f
there was any doubt left about the questionable role of Narendra Modi and his government in the 2002 Gujarat riots, it has been removed by the directive of the Supreme Court to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate a complaint against him, his top Cabinet colleagues and top police and administration officials that they had aided and abetted the mob violence.

Swine flu
Need to take preventive steps

T
he
World Health Organisation may not have pressed the panic button but has sounded global alert on swine flu. Already, the flu has claimed over 100 lives in Mexico where it originated and spread to the US and Europe where no deaths so far have been reported. Nevertheless, experts feel it may be difficult to control the virus that has already spread to several countries.



EARLIER STORIES

Guns fall silent in Lanka
April
28, 2009
Advance of the Taliban
April
27, 2009
Qualification for MPs
April
26, 2009
Pakistan worries US
April
25, 2009
The electoral odyssey
April
24, 2009
Saving Tamil refugees
April
23, 2009
Eye in the sky
April
22, 2009
Threat to Kashmir voters
April
21, 2009
Aid for Pakistan
April
20, 2009
Voting for democracy
April
19, 2009
Democracy alive and well
April
18, 2009


Digital insecurity
Govt must tackle cyber threat
The
most secure computer is one that is not linked to any other PC and does not have any output devices like USB ports or CD/DVD drives. Hobbling a computer in this manner may improve security, but at the cost of efficiency and usefulness. The effectiveness of computers increases manifold when they are networked, though this brings with it the risks of unauthorised break-ins and malicious virus attacks.
ARTICLE

Polls: It is wiser for judges to defer cases with political overtones
by Fali S. Nariman
T
HE TRIBUNE’s front page report (April 28) saying that under directions of the Supreme Court (April 27) the Special Investigation Team (already appointed by it) has been now directed to investigate a complaint against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet colleagues that they had aided and abetted mob violence in the Godhra Riots of 2002 is certainly delayed justice. 


MIDDLE

Farmers’ suicides call for action
by S. S. Johl
Farmers’
suicides is a peculiar phenomenon of serious dimensions. It is not that farmers did not commit suicide earlier, yet in recent years such incidents have become more visible partly because of the enhanced level of distress that has visited the farming sector and partly due to the tremendously improved reach of the media. Yet every suicide by a farmer is not a suicide due to financial distress caused by indebtedness.


OPED

Population explosion
It is missing from the national political agenda 
by Gobind Thukral
The
exploding population of India has moved away from the public radar. Neither political leaders seeking a mandate from the people are talking about it nor are policy-makers paying attention to the rising human tide that could swallow everything.

Unravelling a culture of torture
by Doyle McManus

D
ick Cheney
is right. President Barack Obama should release any evidence the government has that shows whether torture — sorry, “enhanced interrogation techniques” — induced al-Qaida detainees to give up information that saved American lives.

Inside Pakistan
11 per cent Pak territory under Taliban

by Syed Nooruzzaman

Despite the Pakistan government’s claim of confining the Taliban to the Swat valley, the militant movement has enlarged its base considerably. “At least 11 per cent of Pakistan’s landmass has been ceded to the Taliban”, according to an article in The News (April 26) by Dr Farrukh Saleem, Executive Director, Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.

  • Militants’ money power

  • Baloch on the war path

 


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Modi remains in the dock
Apex court order is damning

If there was any doubt left about the questionable role of Narendra Modi and his government in the 2002 Gujarat riots, it has been removed by the directive of the Supreme Court to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate a complaint against him, his top Cabinet colleagues and top police and administration officials that they had aided and abetted the mob violence. Apparently, the apex court is not convinced of their innocence and rather thinks that something is seriously wrong. In fact, this step should have been taken much earlier. It is thanks to the persistence of remarkable people like Teesta Setalvad, secretary of the Citizens for Justice and Peace, that a widespread attempt to hide the skeletons in the state government’s cupboards has failed. The Supreme Court order was issued on a petition filed by Jakia Nasim Ahesan, wife of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed by a mob on February 28, 2002, in Gulbarg Society in Ahmedabad. She had named Modi and 62 others in her June 2006 complaint to the state police chief, who, shockingly, refused to even register a case.

Coming as it does less than 72 hours before voting begins for the 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat, the timing of the Supreme Court judgement has been questioned by no less a jurist than Mr Fali Nariman in an article on this page. Perhaps the apex court could have come out with it before the elections. Yet, the basic issues raised on the riots and about the nature of police inaction, complicity of some of his colleagues and investigations that were no more than a charade to shield the Chief Minister and his colleagues remain. Mr Nariman’s stand and anguish on what happened in the 2002 Gujarat killings are well known to the nation. He is worried that the Supreme Court might get caught in a political controversy because of the timing of the order.

It is a travesty that the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani has called Gujarat the country’s best administered state in spite of the fact that the killers of some 2000 persons in the riots are still roaming free. Except for Modi’s ministerial colleague Maya Kodnani, no senior politician has been punished for the riots. Perhaps Modi and his partners will not be able to play any games with the SIT, headed by former CBI Director R K Raghavan, and it will submit its report within the stipulated period of three months. 

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Swine flu
Need to take preventive steps

The World Health Organisation may not have pressed the panic button but has sounded global alert on swine flu. Already, the flu has claimed over 100 lives in Mexico where it originated and spread to the US and Europe where no deaths so far have been reported. Nevertheless, experts feel it may be difficult to control the virus that has already spread to several countries. There is a growing fear that the deadly virus may reach India where, as of now, according to health officials, pigs are infection-free.

Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by Type A influenza virus that often hits pigs. As a rule, people do not get it, but human infections are possible. The current strain of swine virus is most certainly contagious, spreading from human to human, forcing the WHO to raise the alert level to Phase 4, implying that the virus is increasingly becoming adept at spreading among humans. There can be human-to-human transmission of the virus causing outbreaks. Though the severity of the virus infection varies, and outside Mexico the infection has been mild, still the virus could mutate into a deadlier strain. Already, this new type of virus has swine, human and bird flu strains.

Right now, there is no cause for alarm in India, but that does not mean it should not be on guard. The Union Health Ministry has rightly issued a travel advisory. Besides, there should be no let-up in the government decision to screen travellers from the affected countries. WHO spokesman Peter Cordingley has warned that air travel can be an easy way for the virus to spread. India must step up its preparedness, for precaution is possibly the most effective way to deal with the flu. Public awareness campaigns while quelling rumours must also stress on the do’s and don’ts on how best to avoid the infection. Swine flu symptoms may be mistaken for an ordinary flu. While the world is watching the swine flu situation with trepidation, India can learn its lessons from previous outbreaks of bird flu. 

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Digital insecurity
Govt must tackle cyber threat

The most secure computer is one that is not linked to any other PC and does not have any output devices like USB ports or CD/DVD drives. Hobbling a computer in this manner may improve security, but at the cost of efficiency and usefulness. The effectiveness of computers increases manifold when they are networked, though this brings with it the risks of unauthorised break-ins and malicious virus attacks. As more and more data is routed through computers, cyber security has become a matter of concern, especially since the vulnerability of computer networks has been exposed time and again by spectacular cyber attacks on what were presumed to be secure networks.

US President Barack Obama has taken the initiative of finding out the extent of vulnerability of the US government, military and civilian installations to cyber attacks and means of countering such attacks. He has moved fast because the issue is of critical importance, more so since cyber intrusions on the US Department of Defence’s servers compromised security, and untold amounts of data got stolen.

India is on a fast track to computerisation. Government networks are managed by the National Informatics Centre and are often hosted on its servers, which makes this premier agency a prime target. Decentralising such systems is just one of the many steps that need to be taken to ensure better cyber security for government networks. More than 2.23 million Indians work in the info-tech and outsourcing services sector and their livelihood depends on secure networks. In this age of cyber insecurity, they need to convince the world that information entrusted to them is safe and secure. The government’s inertia could threaten the nation’s security on the one hand, and trigger disastrous economic consequences on the other. It needs to act proactively to secure the nation’s cyber future from external attacks.

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Thought for the Day

Here am I, dying of a hundred good symptoms. — Alexander Pope

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Polls: It is wiser for judges to defer cases with political overtones
by Fali S. Nariman

THE TRIBUNE’s front page report (April 28) saying that under directions of the Supreme Court (April 27) the Special Investigation Team (already appointed by it) has been now directed to investigate a complaint against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet colleagues that they had aided and abetted mob violence in the Godhra Riots of 2002 is certainly delayed justice. Chief Minister Modi has much to answer for what happened in those tragic times. But I am extremely disturbed at the impression the order gives of the image of our Supreme Court as an independent arbiter of disputes.

If the order had come one month before or one month after April 27, 2009, I would have loudly applauded. But why now? Are our judges playing politics? The answer is: No, they are not. But in a country governed by the rule of law, reasonable people must never be left under the misguided impression that they are trying to!

Gujarat will go to the polls in a couple of days, and what two judges of the country’s highest court have said in the April 27 order will certainly influence people as to how they will cast their vote.

Public memory is short but just two years ago, in March 2007, another Bench of two Judges of the Supreme Court had directed a CBI inquiry against the Chief Minister of another state (UP), Mulayam Singh Yadav. This was in a PIL filed by a Congress party sympathiser. That order, too, was singularly ill-timed because the UP Assembly elections had just been announced — to be held in May 2007. The presiding Judge retired a few days later and was appointed by the government of the day as Chairman of the Law Commission. He deserved to be so appointed but bloody-minded people wagged their malicious tongues.

All this does little credit to the Supreme Court of India as an institution.

As a lawyer I recommend a precedent worthy of emulation by all the judges of our highest court. When a contempt petition had been filed against Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in respect of the Babri Masjid case, and the matter came up for hearing, many years later before a Bench presided over by Justice S.P. Bharucha (not yet Chief Justice), it was pointed out to the Court that the case was motivated only in order to embarrass Narasimha Rao at a time when elections were round the corner.

It was also suggested that many years had elapsed since the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and, therefore, whether a contempt case should be proceeded with or not raised serious questions of law and propriety. However, counsel for the petitioner — my distinguished friend Rajeev Dhawan — told the judges that he was prepared to answer all legal questions immediately, and the court must deal with the case. But the presiding judge on the Bench, imbued with much wisdom, merely said in a speaking order that “in the light of all the circumstances” (a beautifully evasive phrase frequently used by courts when they want to be imprecise) “it will be more appropriate to adjourn the case beyond the elections.”

Justice Bharucha made it plain that he did not want the Court to be dragged into any political controversy. The right approach. As Shakespeare would have said: “A Daniel come to judgement.”

The writer is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India.

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Farmers’ suicides call for action
by S. S. Johl

Farmers’ suicides is a peculiar phenomenon of serious dimensions. It is not that farmers did not commit suicide earlier, yet in recent years such incidents have become more visible partly because of the enhanced level of distress that has visited the farming sector and partly due to the tremendously improved reach of the media. Yet every suicide by a farmer is not a suicide due to financial distress caused by indebtedness.

There are several studies conducted by various organisations and individuals that put the farmers’ suicides between 45 and 65 per cent due to indebtedness. There are other multiple factors that lead a person to suicide. One of the most important factors is family disputes. Genetic make-up of a person is also an important factor. In a recent study on farmers’ suicides conducted by PAU, the number of such suicides was reported to be 1,757 during 2000 to 2008 in Sangrur and Bathinda districts, out of which 1288 (73 per cent) were committed mainly due to indebtedness.

The majority of suicide victims belonged to marginal and small farm categories, where debt, once incurred, was very difficult to be repaid due to low incomes. The distress emerges mainly because of diversion of loans taken for productive purposes to the nonproductive uses like marriage ceremonies and other such functions, and often unavoidable consumption purposes. While the Committee on Framers Distress constituted by the Reserve Bank of India, under my chairmanship, was studying the phenomenon, we came across a large number of instances where farmers’ suicides were not related to distress caused by indebtedness.

To quote a couple of examples, one farmer went into bet that he could consume 16 pegs of home-made liquor in one go. He died after taking 12 pegs. Unfortunately, this was also taken as suicide due to farm distress. Another farmer had 16 acres of land. He had eight daughters and one son. He would sell two acres of land for the marriage of every daughter. When he was left with two acres only and he had still one daughter and one son to marry, he committed suicide. In many cases, farmers died due to purposely mixing insecticides with drinks as intoxicants. A little overdose, it would kill the consumer. All such cases are disposed of without postmortem. Yet these are taken as farmers’ suicides, and financial compensation is paid to the families concerned.

Yet this does not mean that there are no suicides due to the distress caused by the pervasive indebtedness in the farm sector. Interestingly, there are more suicides in the comparatively more progressive states like Maharashtra, Kerala and Punjab. There is lower incidence of suicides in the more distressed states like Rajasthan and Bihar. The reason is the entitlement to production credit. In two-crop irrigated land the entitlement is higher compared to that on one-crop partially irrigated or unirrigated land. Out of the tendency to use production credit for non-productive and consumption purposes, farmers draw loans to level of their entitlement. Also, in the absence of rigorous evaluation, the farmers quite often draw loans in order to retire the loans taken from private moneylenders. Because of such diversions, the credit obtained does not generate an additional repaying capacity and the farmers sink into indebtedness. Failure of crops is also one of the reasons of indebtedness, yet it ranks low in the hierarchy of other reasons.

The question is how to deal with the problem. Loan-waivers in an undifferentiated manner across the board is no answer. This approach, in fact, ruins the credit culture in the farm sector and prompts other sectors to demand similar waivers. Repayment of future credit advances is also bound to suffer due to the vitiated credit culture. Rather than repaying the loans in time, the borrowers would prefer to default and keep looking forward to the waivers. This amounts to politicians playing with the honest taxpayers’ money, because the ultimate burden of these waivers falls on the resources collected through taxes. The burden of resources generated through internal or external loans and monetary expansion as well as state and Central-level fiscal deficits ultimately falls on the honest tax-payer.

Financial compensations extended to the families of the persons who commit suicides are inert in their very nature, because these have no impact on the reduction of suicides. They neither reduce nor increase the incidence of suicides. These financial helps certainly assist the affected families to some extent, but have no positive influence on other suicide-prone individuals. Some scholars erroneously argue that such financial compensations promote suicides. One wonders if anyone would like to commit suicide for getting compensation for his family! Only a rare perverted soul will resort to such fatal means.

The answer to this crucial problem does not lie in reactive actions. Neither the loan-waivers nor financial compensations are going to resolve the problem and reduce the incidence of farmers’ suicides. It is the proactive actions that can ameliorate the distress considerably. In the first place, the lower or subsidised interest rate on loans to the farmers should be effective on timely repayments only. No interest subsidy should be given across the board on advances.

On the issue of help to the families of the persons who commit suicides, rather than compensating after the death as a reactive action, there is a need to adopt proactive measures to prevent suicides. At the level of the central government and also at the state level, there is a need to create a distress amelioration fund.

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Population explosion
It is missing from the national political agenda 
by Gobind Thukral

The exploding population of India has moved away from the public radar. Neither political leaders seeking a mandate from the people are talking about it nor are policy-makers paying attention to the rising human tide that could swallow everything.

We find no political party, no worthwhile leader taking up the serious issue of exploding population. It is nowhere on the agenda. No manifesto talks in the manner it should be debated. Even the proverbial lips sympathy is gone.

Today in 2009 we are 116 crore, an absolute increase of over 13 crore from the 2001 level and by the next national elections in 2014, we will be 124 crore.

These are not sustainable numbers, given the need to get out of the poverty trap, meet education and health care needs and wrestle with ecological pressures.

According to the 2001 census, India’s population was 102.9 crore. Viewed globally, India constitutes 16.9 per cent of the world’s population with just 2.4 per cent of the global land area.

During the last elections in 2004, we were 108 crore, an increase of over five crore over the census figure. Is this not a serious issue to demand attention from the ruling party or the Opposition?

At one level as the election campaign degenerates into a slinging match between the leaders, one wonders what kind of public men we are going to attract. Every manifesto is a bundle of worn-out slogans or some sweet promises never to be fulfilled.

Admittedly, election time provides a good chance to seriously debate the issues that confront the country so that the public can make informed choices. Sadly, serious issues are either sidetracked or marginalised.

Control of population is not an issue per se. Neither is the only cause of poverty. But as poverty and ignorance fuel population growth, they hinder development.

If we fight poverty and bring social and economic justice to the doorstep of the poor, we can apply a check on the breeding population.

Conversely, there is truth in the argument that a check on population helps alleviate poverty. The poor need not be blamed for the increase in population as our urban smug middle class tends to do.

It is their poverty, lack of health care and ignorance that lead to an abnormal growth of population and the ruling classes are directly responsible for both poverty and ignorance.

How would one explain that after six decades of Independence, India is home to the largest number of the world’s poor — 50 crore or so? We have no drinking water or toilets for them.

We have the highest percentage of infant mortality, close to Sub-Sahara. Look at Third World countries like Malaysia that got freedom 10 years later than India and how they have moved.

A small 175 square kilometre city state of Singapore is one of the richest countries with a gross domestic product [GDP] of US $241.121 billion and per capita income at US $51,649.

It got into a hard drive in 1965 after separation from Malaysia. Its current worry is to check the falling population and reward those who produce children. The correlation between poverty and population growth should be clear to all.

It took humans thousands of years to reach the number of 3.5 billion in 1950.And in just 60-odd years we crossed 6.79 billion as per the July 2009 estimates.

How hard the humans must have been working at it across the world, more so in poor countries. The growth is directly linked with the birth and death rates.

According to experts, the birth rate across the world is estimated at 20.18 per thousand population and the death rate is reckoned at 8.23 per thousand.

That the population issue has an inextricable link with the development of any country is not disputed by anyone. One fails to understand why these issues take a back seat just when they ought to be highlighted. Election time is the best as people are more receptive to debate and new ideas. Tragically, even many in the mainstream media pay little attention to them.

In India the consequences of the current trends in population growth will be painful migration, more strain on land, employment and environment. This would prolong the fight against poverty which is already not in full gear and create demographic imbalances.

Happily, as per the experts the overall population growth rate in India has declined since 1981, but not as per the desired levels. In four large states — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — the population growth rates continue to be high.

These states account for 40 per cent of the country’s population, hence the problem remains as grave. These four states will contribute well over 50 per cent of the population growth in the coming decades.

The performance and demographic outcomes of these four states will determine the timing and size of the population at which India will stabilise in terms of population.

These four states with high fertility rates are the most poor, have a high rate of illiteracy and pitiable status of women, besides poor health, a high infant and maternal mortality rate.

A fight against poverty and ignorance is a fight against abnormal population growth.

All development strategies must address abject poverty, illiteracy and malnourishment and provide clear incentives in terms of education and employment for those who control the baby boom.

The priorities ought to be clear. The high numbers of maternal and infant deaths must come down through quality health services for institutional deliveries to make it safer for both mother and child.

Empowering the marginalised sections, educating them to have a small healthy family by choice and not through coercion should the ideal content of any successful policy. Can Indians expect the rulers and the policy-makers to pay attention?

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Unravelling a culture of torture
by Doyle McManus

Dick Cheney is right. President Barack Obama should release any evidence the government has that shows whether torture — sorry, “enhanced interrogation techniques” — induced al-Qaida detainees to give up information that saved American lives.

But Obama shouldn’t stop there.

Cheney has called for the release of memos he remembers from his days as vice president — presumably the periodic can-do reports the Central Intelligence Agency sent over to show that its hard-nosed interrogations were producing good results.

Those memos are only a starting point. There’s also a secret 2004 report from the CIA’s inspector general that described the interrogations in such horrifying terms that then-CIA Director George J. Tenet immediately suspended the program he had created.

And there are secret memos from officials in the Defense and State departments questioning whether the abuse of prisoners was producing anything that couldn’t have been learned through less ugly methods.

All those documents and more should be declassified and released so that our own government can see more clearly what it has done and learn from its mistakes.

The George W. Bush administration’s terrorist-detainee programs — the wholesale arrests of thousands in Afghanistan, the “rendition” of suspects to other countries, the secret imprisonment of detainees without legal review and the use of waterboarding, humiliation and other harsh interrogation measures — add up to the most serious violations of civil liberties by a U.S. government in a generation. They deserve some sunlight.

But there’s a reason Cheney, no fan of government openness, is calling for more disclosures. The reality of defending the United States against terrorists — and most of the remaining detainees at Guantanamo are, in fact, terrorists — may make the balance of morality in these situations a bit more ambiguous.

In 2002, when Pakistani authorities captured al-Qaida logistics chief Abu Zubaydah, CIA officials suspected he knew what al-Qaida was planning next, as well as the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. When Abu Zubaydah didn’t give up that information under conventional interrogation, the CIA sought permission to use physical force.

It turned out that Abu Zubaydah didn’t know as much as the CIA thought he did — or at least not that he spilled. In hindsight, subjecting him to physical abuse was wrong. But was it justifiable at the time? Not such an easy call.

One measure the Bush administration offered to evaluate physical treatment of detainees was whether it “shocks the conscience,” a basic test in American legal proceedings. But it’s a flexible principle, by design. Whether a particular action shocks the conscience depends on the context — on whether the interrogator thinks thousands of lives are at stake.

Former officials have sought to defend their decision to authorize physical abuse of prisoners — a decision that all of President Bush’s principal foreign policy aides initially acceded to — on the grounds that the brutality produced information that saved American lives. But not all of their claims have proved airtight.

Last week, some former officials asserted that the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed enabled the CIA to stop al-Qaida from bombing Los Angeles’ Library Tower (now the US Bank Tower). But the plot was actually foiled months earlier, according to Bush’s own counterterrorism chief. A more solid claim appears to be that Mohammed gave up the names of other suspects, who in turn gave up the names of others. Was that worth the cost? We don’t know.

Of course, the question is not whether abusive interrogations produced any useful information. It’s whether the abuse produced information that could not have been learned any other way, and whether the value of the information outweighed the damage to its victims: the detainees and the U.S. legal system.

A little-known facet of Bush’s detainee program is that it touched off furious debate inside the administration, including in-house revolts by lawyers at the Justice, Defense and State departments. Several times, Bush’s national security advisers — first Condoleezza Rice, then Stephen Hadley — asked the CIA to report whether the program was still necessary and useful.

That doesn’t mean they had no qualms. In 2004, CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson issued a secret report charging major abuses of detainees, including several deaths of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. The report was so stinging, one former official said, that Tenet actually suspended “enhanced interrogations” for a time.

And the CIA reportedly commissioned several secret audits of the program, including one by a former Clinton administration official, John J. Hamre — but shared the results with almost no one outside the agency, perhaps to avoid giving ammunition to potential critics.

There appear to have been two centers of adamant resistance to second thoughts. One, which has been chronicled in several books, was the insistence by Cheney and his chief counsel, David S. Addington, that presidential decisions were beyond challenge, even by his own aides. The other, less examined until now, was the CIA’s insistence that violent interrogations were both necessary and useful — right up until Jan. 22, when Obama outlawed the practice.

The central question today isn’t whether some CIA contractors overstepped the blurry lines of their rule book, or whether a few pliable lawyers in the Justice Department produced legal opinions to satisfy their bosses. We know they did. Now we need to ask why the government was unable to correct an erroneous course for seven years, except when the Supreme Court forced it to — and then only minimally. We don’t need criminal prosecutions; we need public accountability at the top. Starting, for example, with public testimony from Dick Cheney.

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Inside Pakistan
11 per cent Pak territory under Taliban
by Syed Nooruzzaman

Despite the Pakistan government’s claim of confining the Taliban to the Swat valley, the militant movement has enlarged its base considerably. “At least 11 per cent of Pakistan’s landmass has been ceded to the Taliban”, according to an article in The News (April 26) by Dr Farrukh Saleem, Executive Director, Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.

Here are the details Dr Saleem has given: “Five thousand square kilometres of Swat are now under Taliban control — de jure. Chitral (14,850 sq km), Dir (5,280 sq km), Shangla (1,586 sq km), Hangu (1,097 sq km), Lakki Marwat (3,164 sq km), Bannu (1,227 sq km), Tank (1,679 sq km), Khyber, Kurram, Bajaur, Mohmand, Orkzai, North Waziristan and South Waziristan are all under Taliban control — de facto. That’s a total of 56,103 square kilometres of Pakistan under Taliban control — de facto.

“Six thousand square kilometres of Dera Ismail Khan are being contested. Also under ‘contested control’ are Karak (3,372 sq km), Kohat (2,545 sq km), Peshawar (2,257 sq km), Charsada (996 sq km) and Mardan (1,632 sq km). That’s a total of 16,802 square kilometres of Pakistan under ‘contested control’ — de facto. Seven thousand five hundred square kilometres of Kohistan are under ‘Taliban influence’. Additionally, Mansehra (4,579 sq km), Battagram (1,301 sq km), Swabi (1,543 sq km) and Nowshera (1,748 sq km) are all under ‘Taliban influence’. That’s a total of 16,663 square kilometres of Pakistan under ‘Taliban influence’ — de facto.

The religious extremists may succeed in realising their larger dream of capturing Islamabad if the Pakistan Army does not change its approach of passive support to the Taliban and continues to wait for the elusive “political consensus”. As Dawn (April 26) points out, “Thus far the politicians have been woefully divided.”

Militants’ money power

The Pakistan Army has its presence in the Taliban-infested areas, but it is not fighting the kind of war needed to eliminate the militants. Daily Times suggested in an editorial: “First, our establishment must have the will to fight the Taliban. From this will flow a strategy of fighting the war against the Taliban.”

Dawn said, “It can only be hoped that the operation in Dir is not a one-off move aimed at countering western criticism of Pakistani inaction. To be successful, it has to be part of a wider strategy of taking on the Taliban with all the force the military commands. Tribesmen who opposed the Taliban have been losing heart ever since the Swat deal.”

But is it easy to launch an all-out military drive against the Taliban when the local people have lost their confidence in the government’s capacity to provide them security? People fear that more misery is there in store for them. Troops will not be there forever. Once they leave, heavily armed militants can reappear and punish all those suspected to have been cooperating with the armed forces.

“The Taliban are ‘interconnected’…. The entire network covering FATA and Malakand has sound financial backing, paying for large amounts of expensive explosives when car-bombs are used; and supplying suicide-bombers, of whom there is a reserve of hundreds of boys”, Daily Times pointed out.

Baloch on the war path

There is no end to the unrest in Balochistan continuing for a long time. A shutter-down strike was observed in this biggest province of Pakistan on Sunday on a call given by the Baloch National Front in protest against Interior Minister Rehman Malik casting “aspersions on the patriotism of the Baloch leaders killed in Turbat earlier this month,” according to The Nation.

The situation has got a new twist with Senator Lashkari Raisani, a PPP leader and brother of the Balochistan Chief Minister, resigning from the Upper House of parliament.

“The Baloch, who have been up in arms against the repressive policies of the Musharraf government, failed to find any relief in the last one year of democratic rule. Mr Raisani’s resignation should serve as an eye-opener for President Asif Zardari, whose apology to the people of Balochistan has left much to be desired”, The Nation said in an editorial.

An article by Abid Latif in The Frontier Post (April 28) says, “The political and economic deprivation of Balochi people can be attributed to many factors, the most glaring being the lack of political participation of the general masses.” 

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